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OPINION: Thought Subsidy Was Bad. Why is Tinubu Bringing it Back? – Farooq A. Kperogi

A September 21, 2023, enterprise news report (i.e., a news report that’s not from a news release or a press conference) from the Daily Trust found that “Despite the numerous assurances by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu that… subsidy is gone… the federal government paid N169.4 billion as subsidy in August to keep the pump price at N620 per litre.”

What happened? I thought petrol subsidies were evil, harmful, no-good drains on the economy that should be avoided at all costs. I thought the government had no responsibility to tame the savagery of market forces and to protect citizens from the full fury of the vagaries of international oil prices.

I thought the “invisible hand” was supposed to regulate prices unaided by any governmental intervention (which has been thoroughly disproved by the fact that petrol marketers arbitrarily increased their pump prices after Tinubu precipitously announced that subsidies were gone even though they were selling the old stock of petrol that had been subsidized by taxpayers.)

I thought it didn’t matter that unaffordable and extortionate petrol prices are causing hundreds of thousands of Nigerians to starve and die, small- and large-scale industries to collapse, unemployment to skyrocket, the economy to shrink, quality of life of the average citizen to plummet, and Nigeria as a whole to regress to the Stone Age.

With the naira on an unprecedently free fall against the dollar and global petrol prices on the rise, it’s inevitable that a liter of petrol would have been at least 1,000 naira a liter by now if the “invisible hand” that conservative economists have invested so much faith in were left to determine the pump price of petrol. It’s conceivable it could climb to 2,000 naira per liter in the coming months if the government doesn’t interfere with the vagaries of the market.

Why is Tinubu committing “economic blasphemy” by misdoubting the power of the omniscient and omnicompetent Invisible Hand to take care of everything? Why is he intervening to stop the pump price of petrol from getting to its appropriate rate? Does he want our petrol to be so affordable that our neighbors will smuggle it?

Does he no longer want to save money to build and renew infrastructure and fund education? (Never mind that we haven’t seen where the money saved from the withdrawal of subsidies since May has been put to productive use. Or that only the living and the healthy can use infrastructure and go to school.)

Well, I guess Tinubu and his ideological cheerleaders in and out of government are beginning to see what some of us have been saying for years: that subsidizing an essential commodity like petrol in Nigeria whose price affects every facet of life is not an option; it is an abiding moral imperative.

The government’s primary reason for existing is to protect lives. As is by now evident, withdrawing fuel subsidies in an oil-producing country that is the poverty capital of the world, that has one of the world’s lowest minimum wages, and that has no public transportation system is a trigger for mass suffering and mass deaths.

There is something else that must have informed Tinubu’s decision to stealthily halt the impending rise in the pump price of petrol: insurance against mass anomie and revolt.

Although Nigerians can be some of the most incredibly docile and self-hypnotic people on earth, it’s stupid to assume that they will always be so. As someone once remarked, “The day when large numbers of men have to choose between feeding their children and providing a roof over their heads—is the day when nothing will stop the torches and pitchforks.”

In other words, there is a limit to human endurance of pain and deprivation. Most people won’t listlessly just roll over and perish because of persistent adversity. People with an overpowering will to live who can’t survive government-engineered suffocation of their lives (which withdrawal of subsidies amid endemic poverty represents) will turn to crime out of desperation. That’s why the crime statistics in Nigeria have quadrupled since May.

But it’s going to get worse. For now, the victims of crimes are the poor and the disappearing middle class. The rich and the powerful are next if the current subsidy-removal-activated excruciation doesn’t abate. After the poor, the lower middle class and the middle class are dispossessed, the rich will become the next meal of the desperately poor.

“Eat the rich” is an enduring, often metaphoric, revolutionary catchphrase usually mouthed by conscientious, socially sensitive middle-class intellectuals to denote redistributive economic justice, but it could become literal in Nigeria once it gets to the point when only the rich—politicians and their underlings, wealthy businesspeople, and other government-subsidized fat cats—have all the food. That’s why so-called bread riots are historically the most common triggers of momentous mass insurrections.

Cynical conservatives in the West like to say subsidies for the poor are basically protection money to stop the poor from stealing and revolting. The rich in the West don’t want to be awake because the poor can’t sleep. The late Professor Sam Aluko captured it brilliantly in 1999 when he memorably said, “The poor cannot sleep because they are hungry, and the rich cannot sleep, because the poor are awake and hungry.”

That is why the welfare state was brought forth in the West. The International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences defines a welfare state as “a state that is committed to providing basic economic security for its citizens by protecting them from market risks associated with old age, unemployment, accidents, and sickness.”

Ironically, it is the same welfarist West whose institutions (such as the IMF and the World Bank) encourage, in many cases compel, developing countries like Nigeria to strip the poor of basic economic security through the removal of subsidies.

Of course, our rapacious, self-loving leaders who want exclusive control of the state’s resources for themselves and their families welcome the freedom from being responsible to struggling citizens that removal of subsidies represents. And slavish, unthinking ideologues of the “Washington Consensus” cheer on.

There is not an example of a single country on earth that has made progress on the basis of the cruel policies that the World Bank and the IMF impose on countries.  As Professors David Held and Anthony McGrew persuasively showed in their book, Globalization/Anti-Globalization: Beyond the Great Divide, “Developing countries that have benefited most from globalization are those that have not played by the rules of the standard [neo]liberal market approach, including China, India and Vietnam” (p. 226).

In fact, even America, the patron saint of capitalism, doesn’t practice the sort of cruel, extreme capitalism that Tinubu is practicing and that even his opponents promised they would practice if they got a chance to be elected president.

As I pointed out in my December 10, 2016, column titled “Dangerous Fine Print in Emir Sanusi’s Prescriptions for Buhari,” when it comes to the welfare of its citizens, America doesn’t practice on its soil what its institutions preach to developing countries.

I wrote: “But when the United States went into a recession between 2007 and 2009, it didn’t follow any of these neoliberal prescriptions. The dollar wasn’t devalued. Subsidies weren’t removed. The state wasn’t rolled back. The government didn’t retrench workers. Taxes weren’t raised.

“On the contrary, the government increased expenditure. The financial burden on the populace was eased with lower taxes.  Government, in fact, sent lots of money, called tax rebate checks, to lower- and middle-income families so they could have money to spend, since recession is essentially the consequence of people not having enough money to spend. I was a beneficiary of the tax rebate, so I know what I am talking about. Financially distraught private companies (particularly car manufacturers and banks) were bailed out by the government.”

I don’t know if Tinubu and his team are finally realizing that the problem with fuel subsidy was the monstrous corruption in it and not the subsidy itself. Most of what passed as fuel subsidy was fraud. Any government worth the name should be able to tackle corruption and administer subsidies for the collective benefit of Nigerians.

But Tinubu was swept over by the idiotic anti-subsidy mass hypnosis that has engulfed Nigeria in the last few years.

This has ensured that Tinubu has had by far the shortest honeymoon in power. Why won’t he? He promised to hit the ground running but instead hit the ground ruining— with his infamous “Subsidy is gone for good” declaration on inauguration day. He promised renewed hope but is giving renewed hell. He promised the dawn of a new era, but people are seeing the dawn of a new error after Buhari.

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POLITICS: Opponent leader Fayulu confirms presidential candidacy

The opponent Martin Fayulu, who has maintained suspense in recent weeks, confirmed Saturday in Kinshasa his candidacy for the presidential election of December 20 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

He will face the current president, Félix Tshisekedi, in power since January 2019, candidate for re-election.

“The Lamuka coalition (“Wake up”, in Lingala) decided to run for president,” Fayulu told reporters.

By July 2022, his party Ecidé (Engagement for Citizenship and Development), which belongs to the Lamuka coalition, had made Martin Fayulu his official candidate for the next presidential election, coupled with the legislative, provincial and municipal elections.

But a year later, while refusing to talk about a “boycott”, he assured that if he did not obtain a new audit of the electoral register, his party would not file candidacy files for the elections.

According to him, out of 43.9 million registered voters, there would be “10 million fictitious”. ” This time, it will not pass… We refuse to launder fraud (…), we must mobilize to prevent the electoral parody in preparation from happening,” he told the press.

In fact, his party has not aligned any candidates in the legislative and provincial elections, which could suggest that Mr. Fayulu, 66, former executive of the oil major ExxonMobil, would not be on the presidential ranks either.

The electoral register was not subject to a new audit, but Mr. Fayulu nevertheless considered that the “pressure” had made progress. The chairman of the electoral commission, he noted, for example, recently said that the election results would be published “polling station by polling station”.

At the presidential election of December 2018, he had among his competitors the then-ruling candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, and that of the historical opposition party Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), Félix Tshisekedi.

The latter was proclaimed the winner with 38.5% of the vote, with Martin Fayulu coming in 2nd (34.8%) and Emmanuel Ramazani in 3rd (23%).

Mr. Fayulu claimed to have won with 61% of the vote and shouted at the “electoral coup”. Felix Tshisekedi denies and claims to have won the election.

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Nigeria: Election tribunal upholds Tinubu’s victory

Nigeria’s presidential election tribunal ruled on Wednesday that Nigeria’s main opposition parties failed to prove claims of electoral malpractice against the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) in February’s disputed elections.

“This petition is as a result of this declared unmeritorious,” one of the judges said, as the tribunal rejected the opposition challenge to Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s win in the presidential election

The challenges came after one of the country’s most tightly fought elections, in which former Lagos governor Tinubu won 37 percent of the vote, beating Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party to secure the presidency of Africa’s most populous nation.

Abubakar and Obi had asked the court to invalidate the election, alleging irregularities.

Judges rejected all claims made by Labour Party candidate Obi, including fraud, charges electoral authorities broke the law and allegations Tinubu was ineligible to run

The court was also reading its judgement on a second opposition party petition, which is also expected to be dismissed. Filed by PDP candidate Abubakar, it lays out similar complaints against the February 25 election results

No legal challenge to the outcome of a presidential election has succeeded in Nigeria, which returned to democracy in 1999 after three decades of almost uninterrupted military rule and has a history of electoral fraud.

Record-low turnout
Atiku and Obi can appeal to the country’s Supreme Court to strike down the tribunal’s ruling. Any appeal must be concluded within 60 days of the date of the tribunal judgement.

Tinubu’s government had dismissed all claims of wrongdoing and appeared confident before Wednesday’s decision. Currently, he is in India for the G20 summit, where he hopes to drum up foreign investment.

While favourable to Tinubu, the tribunal’s ruling was unlikely to generate any particular euphoria or momentum for the president after an election marked by a record-low turnout of 29 percent.

In a nation of more than 200 million people, of whom 87 million were registered to vote, Tinubu garnered just 8.79 million votes, the fewest of any president since the return to democracy.

‘Vote was free and fair’

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) introduced biometric technology and IReV, a central database for uploading results in real-time to ensure transparency.

INEC acknowledged “glitches” but dismissed claims the vote was not free and fair. But critics said the technical problems and delays had allowed opportunities for vote manipulation.

The court ruling comes as Nigerians struggle with a rising cost of living after the government ended a fuel subsidy programme that kept petrol prices low and also freed up the naira currency.

Government officials say the policies are needed to revive the economy, calling for patience and supplying state governments with funds to help offset the impact.

Tinubu inherited anaemic economic growth, high unemployment, the highest inflation rate in two decades, record debt, massive oil theft that has hit government revenue and widespread insecurity from predecessor Muhammadu Buhari

The government is also tackling huge security challenges, from armed groups still fighting a long war in the northeast to intercommunal clashes and kidnap gangs operating in other regions.


Source: Aljazerra

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Internet blocked, imposes curfew amid election voting delays in Gabon

Gabon’s government announced a nationwide curfew and cut off internet access Saturday evening as voting in major national elections was wrapping up.

The Central African nation’s communications minister, Rodrigue Mboumba Bissawou, said on state television that there would be a nightly curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. He said internet access was being restricted indefinitely, saying there had been calls for violence and the spreading of disinformation.

The announcement came after voters cast ballots to elect new local leaders, national legislators, and Gabon’s next president.

Incumbent President Ali Bongo Ondimba was seeking a third seven-year term to continue a 55-year political dynasty. Bongo came to power in 2009 after the death of his father, Omar Bongo, who ruled the country for 41 years.

Bongo, 64, won his current term in office by a narrow margin in 2016 amid violent protests. This year, the opposition united in favor of his main challenger, economics professor Albert Ondo Ossa, one week before Saturday’s elections.

Around 847,000 people were eligible to cast ballots Saturday. Voters in Libreville, Gabon’s capital, complained of polling stations opening late. Voting was scheduled to begin in the morning, but many election sites had failed to open as of 2 p.m.

“I’ve finally voted. I’ve been here since 6 a.m. It was at 12 noon that I was able to vote because the polling station opened at 11 a.m.,” Ballack Obame, a former student leader, said.

“I’ve never seen an election in Gabon that doesn’t start before 10 o’clock. It’s really sad. I’m going home,” said Théophile Obiang, a pensioner leaning on his cane.

Authorities did not explain the reasons for the delays or indicate when results would be announced.

“Voters must benefit from the 10-hour period provided for by electoral law,” said Paulette Missambo, who withdrew from the presidential race in favor of Ossa, an independent candidate.

Ossa’s platform revolves around breaking Gabon out of the status quo. He said that if elected, he would dissolve the National Assembly, redraw the electoral map and organize a new legislative election, with a goal of forming a government committed to addressing economic inequality.

“Sixty years in power is too much. I’m not afraid of (President Bongo),” Ossa said after casting his ballot at a Libreville school on Saturday afternoon.

Every vote held in Gabon since the country’s return to a multi-party system in 1990 has ended in violence. Clashes between government forces and protesters following the 2016 elections killed four people, according to official figures. The opposition said the death toll was far higher.

In anticipation of post-electoral violence, many people in the capital went to visit family in other parts of the country or left Gabon altogether. Others stockpiled food or bolstered security in their homes.

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Zimbabwe Election 2023: President Mnangagwa wins second term, opposition rejects result

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa has won a second and final term in office in an outcome rejected by the opposition and questioned by observers.

Mnangagwa, who took over from longtime leader Robert Mugabe after a 2017 army coup, was widely expected to secure re-election despite the country’s continuing economic crisis, with analysts saying the contest was heavily skewed in favour of the ZANU-PF party, which has ruled the country since independence and the end of white minority rule in 1980

Mnangagwa won 52.6 percent of the vote compared with 44 percent for Nelson Chamisa, his main challenger, according to official results announced by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) late on Saturday.

“Mnangagwa Emmerson Dambudzo of ZANU-PF party is declared duly elected president of the Republic of Zimbabwe,” ZEC chairwoman Justice Chigumba told journalists.

The elections were marred by delays that fuelled opposition accusations of rigging and voter suppression but a small group of ruling party supporters celebrated the outcome on Saturday.

But Promise Mkwananzi, a spokesman for the Chamisa’s Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) said the party had not signed the final tally, which he described as “false”.

“We cannot accept the results,” he told the AFP news agency, adding the party would soon announce its next move.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa casts his vote in the election, He has a scarf in party colours draped around his shoulders
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa is known as ‘The Crocodile’ for his ruthlessness [AP Photo]
The vote was being watched across southern Africa as a test of support for Mnangagwa’s ZANU-PF, whose 43-year rule has been battered by its disastrous management of the economy and charges of authoritarianism.

Foreign poll monitors said on Friday that the elections had failed to meet regional and international standards.

The head of the European Union’s observer mission on Friday said the vote took place in a “climate of fear”. Southern African regional bloc SADC’s mission noted issues including voting delays, issues with the voter roll, bans on opposition rallies and biased state media coverage.

“The elections were fraught with irregularities and aggrieved the people of Zimbabwe,” political analyst Rejoice Ngwenya said.

“The CCC has good grounds to go to court and challenge the outcome”.

ZANU-PF denies it has an unfair advantage or seeks to influence the outcome of elections through rigging.

Chigumba of ZEC said 80-year-old Mnangagwa had won more than 2.3 million votes, while 45-year-old Chamisa had more than 1.9 million.

By securing more than half the votes cast, the president avoided a run-off. Voter turnout was 69 percent.

Nicole Beardsworth, a politics lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand, said she thought the late Saturday announcement was probably a response to the critique by SADC and other election observers.

“We all have a lot of questions about the speed with which ZEC is announcing presidential results,” she said.

ZANU-PF wins parliamentary vote

Nicknamed “The Crocodile” and long seen as Mugabe’s “enforcer”, Mnangagwa outmanoeuvred the ailing Mugabe to win power amid mass protests.

In 2018, he narrowly beat Chamisa in a poll the opposition leader condemned as fraudulent, but the constitutional court upheld the result

This week, voting was forced into an unprecedented second day because of delays in the printing of ballot papers in some key districts including the capital Harare, an opposition stronghold.

Chamisa condemned the delays as “a clear case of voter suppression, a classic case of Stone Age… rigging”.

As a white-ruled British colony named Rhodesia, the country broke away from London in 1965.

It finally gained independence in 1980 after a long guerrilla war and was renamed Zimbabwe.

But under Mugabe, an independence fighter turned politician, the economy spiralled into crisis, with hyperinflation wiping out savings and deterring investment. Mnangagwa was a key member of Mugabe’s government holding a series of portfolios including minister of state security, minister of justice and vice president.

The opposition hoped to ride a wave of discontent over continued corruption, high inflation, unemployment and entrenched poverty.

ZANU-PF was also declared the winner in the parliamentary race, securing 136 of the 210 seats up for grabs under a first-past-the-post system, against 73 for the CCC. One seat was not assigned due to the death of a candidate.

A further 60 seats are reserved for women appointed through a party-list system of proportional representation.



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POLITICS: Zimbabwe extends voting to next day after multiple delays

Voting continued into the early hours of Thursday in Zimbabwe’s crucial general election, the second since the exit of longtime ruler Robert Mugabe in a 2017 coup.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa issued a proclamation on Wednesday evening to permit voting to continue into a second day after delays in delivering ballot papers to many polling units.

Mnangagwa, 80, is seeking a second term in office. There are 12 candidates running for president, but his main rival is Nelson Chamisa, 45, of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).

Ballot counting began at some polling units after voting closed on Wednesday, but in Harare suburbs such as Glen Norah and Kuwadzana, voting had yet to begin as at 7pm (17:00 GMT), which was when the polls were meant to have officially closed.

In several towns and rural areas in the eastern province of Manicaland, voting will also occur on Thursday.

Many stations in the two biggest cities, Harare and Bulawayo, permitted voting into the early hours of Thursday even as some people left the polling units out of frustration at being unable to vote

First-time voter Takunda Mangwiro from Dzivarasekwa in the capital, Harare, had been waiting since 5 am on Wednesday and finally got the opportunity to vote on Thursday morning.

“I was so excited when I came to vote yesterday morning only to find that there were no papers … I waited again till midnight only for voting to be postponed to this morning. I finally voted around 10 am and I feel good. I hope my vote makes a difference in the next five years,” he said.

Despite the frustration of late voting, most areas remained calm on Wednesday.

Former Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who is one of the CCC’s vice presidents, described the process as “shambolic”.

“This was already a fatally flawed election, it is now graduating into a farce,” he posted on Wednesday night on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Unfolding controversy

On Thursday, CCC spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere told reporters the party has had challenges with the release of results from some stations in Harare as officials from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) claimed they were waiting for authorization to release results.

Mahere, who is also running for a parliamentary seat, appealed for the release of all results from Hiller Road, a polling station in Harare where only 5 of 13 results have been issued.

“We just want the number that was counted to be the number that was read out. We don’t want them to stuff their postal ballot here, we don’t want them to tinker with the numbers, we don’t want them to abuse our polling agents, we just want a free and fair result,” she said.

Before the election, there had been concerns from human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that the government was seeking to silence dissent. Accreditation was also not granted to many journalists and international observers.

On Wednesday evening, police raided the local election observation data centre run by two watchdogs, the Zimbabwe Election Service Network (ZESN) and the Election Resource Center (ERC). All computers and personal phones were confiscated and at least 37 staff conducting election monitoring for both organisations, were arrested.

Roselyn Hanzi from the civil society group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) told Al Jazeera that it was currently negotiating the release of those arrested, but could not comment further on the case.

On the streets, people are back to facing the everyday challenges of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis. Long queues are back at the banks as people line up to withdraw cash in the city centre; in the poorer neighborhoods, people have been queuing at boreholes to fetch water even the street markets are teeming with vendors selling their wares.

Soneni Mnkandla, a pensioner and resident of Mzilikazi township in Bulawayo, has gone back to selling tomatoes to support her four grandchildren, but she hopes delivery of the election results will be prompt and positive news for her.

“I want the election results without any delay because I hope the leaders I voted for will do something for my community. The Councillor and the President are the most important to me because they will decide on things such as water, sanitation, and money,” she said.




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Nigeria: Tinubu inaugurates Ali Pate, Umahi, Fagbemi, other Ministers

The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Olukayode Ariwoola, administered the oath of office to the newly appointed Ministers.

David Umahi (Ebonyi) and Festus Keyamo (Delta) officially took office as the Minister of Works and the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, respectively.

Meanwhile, Lateef Fagbemi (Ogun) and Ali Pate (Bauchi) were also sworn in as the Federation’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, as well as the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, respectively.

Prior to this, Aguri Ngelale, the Special Adviser to President Tinubu on Media and Publicity, presented the citations of the Ministers, followed by the administration of the oath.

It’s worth noting that the Senate had confirmed 45 out of the 48 ministers-designate presented by the President on August 7.

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POLITICS: CAR braces for referendum that may extend President Touadera’s tenure in office

The Central African Republic (CAR) will hold on Sunday a contested constitutional referendum that could allow President Faustin-Archange Touadera to extend his rule.

Voters will be asked to decide on whether to scrap the existing two-term presidential limit and effectively allow Touadera to run for a third time in 2025. Opposition parties have called for a boycott of the vote.

First elected in 2016, Touadera was voted in again four years later after a polarising election that was marred by allegations of fraud. At the time, Russian security contractors including members of the Wagner Group helped Touadera beat back a rebel offensive.

The proposed constitutional changes, if passed, would also raise the presidential term from five to seven years and introduce the role of a vice president, a figure to be appointed by the president. The new constitution would also pave the way for changes in the composition of the Supreme Court by allowing the president to appoint more judges.

“The referendum will institutionalise the authoritarian drift that was already under way in the country,” said Enrica Picco, Crisis Group’s expert for CAR, adding the referendum was the culmination of a long-term project by the president to tighten his grip on power.

Russian officers from the wagner group are seen around Central African president Faustin-Archange Touadera as they are part of the presidential security system during the referendum campaign to change the constitution and remove term limits, in Bangui, Central African Republic July 17, 2023. REUTERS/Leger Kokpakpa
Wagner officers seen near CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera in Bangui earlier in July [Leger Kokpakpa/Reuters]

The idea of a constitutional revision was first put forward during a public dialogue that was organised last year with the stated intent of reconciling the country after a decade of war and turmoil.

Touadera’s argument for holding the vote was that the current constitution does not reflect “sufficiently the deep aspirations of the Central African people”.

In September last year, he set up a committee tasked with drafting the new chart. The country’s constitutional court, however, declared the newly established body unconstitutional and annulled it.

In January, Touadera dismissed the court’s chief Daniele Darlan in a move decried by the president’s critics.

Low turnout expected

Critics have said the proposed amendments are being rushed without allowing time for proper public scrutiny. The draft was submitted to Parliament and made public on July 10, only 20 days before the vote.

Human Rights Watch said in a report last month that the government prevented an open debate over the changes in the lead-up to the polls. It allowed the president’s supporters to hold rallies, often with security protection, while it cracked down on opposition parties and civil society groups protesting against the changes, the rights group added.

“The attitude of power towards the opposition since the beginning of this referendum did not favour the freedom of expression of opponents,” said Vianney Ingasso, a CAR-based political analyst.

The opposition has also not been able to mount a unified front, Picco said, noting that calls for demonstrations from political leaders living in exile failed to resonate with people inside CAR and international actors failed to provide sufficient support for the opposition.

There are nearly two million people who are eligible to vote in the referendum, but Ingrasso said there was widespread apathy in the country about a poll whose result was expected to be a “Yes”.

“The Central African population as a whole does not seem at all interested in the referendum,” he added. “Considering the enthusiasm around this project, what is certain is that the turnout will be very low.”


The CAR, a gold- and diamond-rich country of 5.5 million people, has struggled to find stability since gaining independence from France in 1960. It descended into further chaos in 2013 after then-President Francois Bozize was removed by a rebel alliance. Following the coup, militias fought back and the country fell into a spiral of bloody violence and revenge attacks, with armed groups controlling large swaths of territory.

In 2018, Touadera turned to mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group to quell the violence and push fighters out of main urban centres. Since then, ties between the CAR and Russia have grown stronger, with Moscow securing contracts to exploit the country’s vast mineral resources.

Speaking on Friday, at the second day of the Russia-Africa summit held in St Petersburg, Touadera thanked Moscow “for helping us to oppose foreign hegemony”. He added that Russia had helped his country to avoid a civil war and save its democracy.

This month, a spokesman for Touadera said hundreds of Wagner fighters had arrived in the country to help secure the constitutional referendum.

Russia’s ambassador to the CAR said earlier this year that there were 1,890 “Russian instructors” in the country.

Human rights groups and the United Nations have repeatedly accused Wagner mercenaries in CAR of committing human rights abuses.


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President Mohamed Bazoum detained by the presidential guard in Niamey

Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum was detained in Niamey on Wednesday by the presidential guard after “talks” which failed and the army issued “an ultimatum” to the guard, AFP learned from a source close to the presidency.

“At the end of the talks, the presidential guard refused to release the president, the army gave him an ultimatum”, declared this source on condition of anonymity, following a “movement of mood” of members of the presidential guard who blocked access to the presidency in Niamey.

In a message posted on Twitter, renamed “X”, the presidency of Niger indicates that on Wednesday morning, “elements of the presidential guard (GP) engaged in an anti-republican mood movement and tried in vain to obtain the support of the national armed forces and the national guard”.

The history of Niger, a former French colony, a poor country plagued by jihadist violence, has been marked by putschs and attempted coups since its independence in 1960.

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POLITICS: Nineteen people to vie for Gabon’s presidency in August 26 vote

Gabon has validated the candidacies of 19 people, including President Ali Bongo and several former ministers, for a presidential election next month, the election commission says.

Bongo’s candidacy was approved despite opposition claims that he is unfit for the presidency. He suffered a stroke in October 2018 and was flown to Morocco for medical treatment.

The president of the Gabonese Elections Center, Michel Stephane Bonda, said on Sunday that 27 applications were received by the deadline for filing nomination papers and 19 were approved.

Bongo came to power in a contentious 2009 election after the death of his father, Omar Bongo – who had been in power for 42 years – and won re-election in 2016. Both election wins were disputed by the opposition, who said he won fraudulently.

He is standing for a third term in a country that has no constitutional term limits.

Former Mines Minister Alexandre Barro Chambrier is seen as Bongo’s main challenger. The Paris-born economist is taking part in the presidential election for the first time.

Other candidates include Pierre-Claver Maganga Moussavou, founder and president of the Social Democratic Party, and Raymond Ndong Sima, former prime minister.

The campaign for the presidential election will start on August 11, and the voting will take place on August 26.

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