10,000 Eritreans kidnapped for ransom in Egypt (BBC)

(BBC) — An Eritrean man who says he will be killed by an Egyptian trafficking gang in Sinai unless a $25,000 ransom is paid within days has spoken to the Today programme’s Mike Thomson.

Mike was given a mobile number to reach 22-year-old Philemon Semere by an Eritrean pastor who knows his family and has been in direct contact with the kidnappers himself. Pastor Mulugeta Mengsteab had earlier contacted the captive Philemon and checked that he was happy to do the interview.

Philemon began by telling Mike, who made it clear that he was calling from the BBC, that he had been held for four months and been treated very brutally.

“I have not enough food, I have not enough water,” he explained. “I’ve been hit by sticks and burnt by fire with electricity. Daily, burnt by fire and hit by sticks. My body is burning.”

Throughout the interview background noises were very audible and it seemed clear that the phone conversation was being conducted on a speaker phone.

Half way through the conversation a man, who said he was in charge of those holding Philemon, butted into the conversation and confirmed that the family will have to pay $25,000 if they want to see him alive again, adding “if he don’t give any money I must kill Philemon here.”

Over the last few years an estimated 10,000, mainly Eritrean, refugees have been kidnapped by people traffickers, largely based in Egypt’s Sinai region. Most disappear on the way to seek a better life in Israel.

During what is often months of captivity the captives are beaten and tortured and their families asked to pay ransoms as high as $40,000 for their release. Those who don’t pay are killed. As many as 2,000 are thought to have died in this way.

Since carrying out the interview with Philemon the BBC has contacted the Egyptian authorities and alerted them to his situation. We have also spoken to charities who have taken up his case including Christian Solidarity Worldwide who first drew attention to his story. The BBC have also spoken to a member of Philemone’s family who have said they are willing for his case to be publicised and for the interview with him to be broadcast.

It is impossible, from so far away, to verify Philemon’s case. But Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and other non-governmental organisations who have studied the kidnap trade, say it bears all the hallmarks of what is now an awful but thriving business in the Sinai region.

Convinced that his family does not have the money to meet the kidnapper’s demands, Philemon is clearly becoming desperate as their deadline nears: “Please help. Please help me Mike. I haven’t enough money, they will kill me. Please help me.”

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Ethiopian regime’s Nile dam project becomes regional sore point

By E.G. Woldegebriel

ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopia’s government has begun construction of a 6,000 megawatt (MW) hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile river, a move that has been greeted enthusiastically by many Ethiopians but that is causing concern in the downstream nations of Sudan and Egypt.

The project, which is scheduled to take six and a half years to complete, is being managed by the state-owned power utility company, Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo). The dam is being built about 900 km (560 miles) north-east of the capital, Addis Ababa, and just 40 km (25 miles) from the Sudanese border.

Ethiopia’s government hopes to capitalize on the energy potential of a river that is revered by the Ethiopian population but that until now has not been significantly exploited to feed the country’s growing need for electric power.

Ethiopia is the source of the Blue Nile, and its territory contributes up to 86 percent of the river’s water. The Blue Nile in turn is responsible for more than half of the water in the Nile, the world’s longest river system. The other main source, the White Nile, originates on the Ugandan side of Lake Victoria.

The new project is not the first dam to be constructed on tributaries of the Nile in Ethiopia. Three smaller projects with a combined capacity of about 760 MW have already been completed, and EEPCo is seeking financing for a 278 MW dam on another tributary, the Chemoga-Yeda River. But the planned Grand Renaissance Dam (GRD) dwarfs these projects in scale and cost.

The 6,000 MW dam will be built by Italian construction company Salini Costruttori, which received the construction contract in late 2010, while electromechanical work is being done by a local company, Metal and Engineering Corporation.

Ethiopia has been dubbed “the water tower of east Africa” because of its numerous river and lake systems. The Nile is an emblematic part of the country, immortalized in poems and songs and even on coins and bank notes. But its potential for hydroelectric power has until now gone largely unused.

For many Ethiopians, the new planned dam is not only about lighting their houses and providing power for businesses and to export, but it also holds a symbolic significance, a way of looking forward from memories of famine and conflict.


Despite its popularity among Ethiopia’s population, the dam project has caused consternation in neighboring Sudan as well as in Egypt, both downstream countries that rely upon the Nile for almost all their water and fear the dam will cause a reduction in water available to them.

The new dam will eventually create a lake containing more than 60 billion cubic metres of water, twice as much as Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest body of water.

There are also concerns about the potential environmental impact of the dam, although the scale of opposition has been smaller than that provoked by the Gibe III dam. Gibe III has provoked opposition from groups concerned about the drying up of Kenya’s Turkana Lake, the world’s largest desert lake, which is fed by the Gibe river, and the possible displacement of tribal people in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Gossaye Mengiste, an official of the ministry of water and energy, which oversees EEPCo, said he believed the environmental impact of the project would be minimal and that because the area around the dam is sparsely inhabited, no mass relocation of people would be necessary.

“The dam will lessen evaporation in downstream areas in Sudan and Egypt, as well as (providing) a reduced risk of flooding and siltation which the Aswan dam in Egypt is particularly affected by,” Mengiste said.

Ethiopia has periodically had tense relationships with Egypt and Sudan, countries which rely heavily upon the Nile for water and agriculture. Concerns about the effects of an Ethiopian dam upon water levels in the Egyptian Nile date back to the late 1970s, when then-president Anwar Sadat reacted angrily to Ethiopia’s announcement of a plan for a dam on the Blue Nile.

Recent articles in Ethiopian newspapers, referring to documents leaked to Wikileaks, have suggested that Egypt might be preparing contingency plans to sabotage the dam with air strikes if it is built.

Magdy Amr, Egypt’s assistant foreign minister for Nile Basin state affairs, dismissed the reports, pointing out that the files in question date back to 2010, before construction of the new dam was even announced. Egypt has about $2 billion in business investments in Ethiopia.

Abdelrahman Sirelkhatim, Sudan’s ambassador to Ethiopia, firmly dismissed Ethiopian fears that his country is conspiring with its northern neighbour to damage the dam, widely known by its initials, GRD.

“I don’t know how we can threaten the GRD when we are trying to contribute financially to build the dam, and our engineers are contributing technically,” Abdelrahman said.

Despite broad public support in Ethiopia for the GRD, the government still faces the challenge of securing enough financing to cover the $4.8 billion cost of the project. The money is meant to come from within Ethiopia, and the government is selling five-year treasury bonds, but a recent report by the International Monetary Fund warns that the dam could be a great burden on the country’s economy, costing as much as 10 percent of the country’s estimated GDP in 2012-13.

The fund said Ethiopian authorities have acknowledged that raising domestic financing for the flagship project for the country is a challenge, but the government emphasises that the GRD is a high priority and that other projects may be postponed if necessary in order to ensure its completion.

E.G. Woldegebriel is a journalist based in Addis Ababa with an interest in environmental issues.

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Ethiopian go’vt drafted a new labour agreement with UAE

DUBAI (The National) — The Ethiopian government has finished drafting a new labour agreement designed to protect the rights of its citizens who move to the UAE for jobs as domestic workers.

The agreement – to be handed to the UAE Embassy in Addis Ababa – will stipulate a minimum wage, mandatory insurance and outline workers’ rights.

It could also remove within three months a ban on Ethiopians migrating to the UAE for such jobs.

“We are ready to communicate with the UAE,” said Mesganu Arga Moach, the Ethiopian consul general in Dubai. “We are working on the legal structuring. It will be given to the UAE this month.”

In July, Addis Ababa banned domestic workers from applying to work in the UAE until an agreement was drawn up between the two countries to protect them from abusive recruiters and sponsors.

The UAE Embassy in Ethiopia said it was aware the agreement was in its final stages. “We are still waiting to receive it,” said the ambassador, Dr Yousif Eisa Hassan Alsabri. “It is still with the ministry of foreign affairs in Ethiopia.”

He said it would be signed and ratified “some weeks” after it was received but did not give an exact time frame.

The Ethiopian consulate in Dubai said it introduced the temporary freeze on workers moving to the UAE after receiving “five to 10” reports of abuse and unpaid salaries each day.

In August, at the consulate’s request, the UAE stopped issuing visas for domestic and blue-collar workers to Ethiopian nationals.

There have been several recent cases of attempted suicide among Ethiopian maids in the UAE, and a court case is taking place in Abu Dhabi involving an Emirati sponsor accused of torturing her maid to death for “laziness”.

The victim was allegedly whipped and tied up with electrical wire, had boiling water poured over her and pepper rubbed in her eyes. She died after burns became infected.

“It is a very disturbing and sad case,” said Mr Moach. “We want to avoid these kind of things. We are getting a lot of support from the UAE prosecutors. The issue is about abusive sponsors, agencies and individuals, which is why we want to make sure there is a system to protect their rights. Abuse cannot be avoided but with a system, we know they can reach us.

“Ethiopian maids can come back in two to three months time with their rights protected, proper salary and insurance. There will be a minimum salary and insurance will be obligatory. We have checked with other countries for reference. Many have similar problems.”

Mr Moach added that the Ethiopian government had examined the requirements of other countries that send workers to the UAE but will implement a salary scale best suited to its citizens. Training for domestic workers will be an integral part of the system.

“We are preparing the groundwork now,” added Mr Moach. “We will be giving training to domestic workers before coming to the UAE.

“The skills training will inform them of their rights, the nature of the work in the UAE, how to contact missions and everything related.”

The diplomatic mission is also working on ways to include existing workers in the agreement. “This is one of the issues we are negotiating and have to see how they can be incorporated into the system,” said Mr Moach.

Ethiopia will open an embassy in the capital soon to ensure “full diplomatic representation”.

More than 100,000 Ethiopians live in the UAE. Before the ban, it was estimated up to 300 a day were arriving in the Emirates to work as housemaids, security guards and in other blue-collar jobs.

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Djibouti government freed journalist Houssein Ahmed Farah

(RSF) – 20 November 2012 – Reporters Without Borders is relieved to learn that the journalist Houssein Ahmed Farah was finally released on 18 November after being held without trial for more than three months.

“Farah has finally been let out of jail thanks to the determination of his lawyer, Zakaria Abdillahi, who submitted a weekly release request that was unsuccessful until this week, when it was granted,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

“While it is a relief to know he is no longer in prison, his release is conditional and he is still under judicial control. We call for the withdrawal of all the charges against him. We continue to be worried by the way the judicial authorities are handling his case. We are also disturbed by the attempts to intimidate his lawyer.”

A reporter for La Voix de Djibouti, an exile news website, Farah was arrested on 8 August and had been held since 11 August in the capital’s Gabode prison despite his poor health and the lack of evidence for any of the charges against him.

He is accused of evading judicial control and distributing “forged” voter cards on behalf of a political party dissolved by presidential decree.

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Museveni launches Kampala-Entebbe express road construction

(New Vision) – President Yoweri Museveni has commissioned work on the Kampala-Entebbe Expressway, a four-lane dual carriage toll road linking Kampala to Entebbe Airport.

Museveni Wednesday officially launched the works at a ground-breaking ceremony at Kyengera, off the Kampala-Masaka road.

Museveni hailed the Chinese Government for supporting the construction of the highway through a $350m concessional loan from China EXIM Bank.

The loan is repayable over a 40-year period, at a 2% annual interest while the Government contributes sh324b, in addition to $40m (about sh103b) to compensate land owners living along the route of the proposed highway.

The 51-km highway will also connect to Munyonyo, a prominent Kampala suburb, located on the shores of Lake Victoria.

According to the plan, the road will have 15 overpass bridges, 15 underpass bridges, two swampy crossing bridges and three interchanges at Busega, Kajjansi and Abayita Ababiri along Entebbe road.

The contract was awarded to China Communication Construction Company, which also constructed the Soroti-Lira Road.

According to the executive of the Uganda National Roads Authority, Peter Ssebanakitta, the first 6km of the road have been handed over to the contractor to start work. Compensation of residents affected by the construction is underway, with 250 people so far paid.

Museveni hailed China for not tying its loan to conditionalities, unlike some donor countries, whose support he said was bent on creating subservience instead of independence.

“Chinese support is not like a poor man’s support. If a poor man gives you a cock, he will always remind you about it, and expect you to thank him all the time,” Museveni said.

He urged Ugandans to emulate the discipline and patriotism of the Chinese, which he said had catapulted it from a third world nation in the 1950s to a super power.

“Ugandans should learn from Chinese people. They are organised and when government tells them to do something, they do it. They do not waste time in useless arguments like here, where there are so many political parties and bad behaviour, especially among leaders,” Museveni said.

“In their country, if you are caught stealing, they shoot you dead. If we did that here, we would have fewer thieves,” the President said.

Museveni blasted the Busiro East MP, Medard Ssegona, for asking the Government to return the properties of Buganda Kingdom. He advised Ssegona to focus on uniting the people for development, instead of peddling demands based on ethnic differences. Ssegona had earlier asked the President to ensure that the Government returns the property and pay all rent arrears owed to the Buganda Kingdom.

“Your Excellency, we are grateful for the return of Buganda Kingdom, but please fulfill the rest of our demands. We still demand for federo and we know discussions are ongoing,” Segona remarked.

“In the meantime, at least return our land and pay all rent on it in full,” he added.

In his response, Museveni said: “You cannot come here to lecture me on the Kabaka. I knew him and I know where I found him, and I don’t want to be lectured on that.

“The NRM united all people regardless of their ethnic or religious background. That is what has helped us to prosper. Instead of tightening that bolt, you are loosening it. Besides, if we were not there, the Kabaka would perhaps not have returned.

“I would still have come here and commissioned this project, with or without an area MP. I didn’t expect to find him here anyway, because the presence of an MP was not necessary. It is even my first time to see him in this area,” Museveni said.

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Three arrested over Eastleigh bombing

NAIROBI, KENYA (Standard Digital) – Police are holding three Kenyans over the bombing on Sunday of a minibus that claimed 10 lives in the business hub of Eastleigh in Nairobi.

The three are alleged to have been behind the delivery of the improvised explosive device that ripped apart the minibus and tore into its 40 passengers.

Police have also warned Kenyans that the suspects’ accomplices are planning more deadly attacks in the city.

Nairobi Area police boss Moses Ombati said detectives charged with monitoring terrorist activities say the group planned to attack supermarkets, churches, markets and other social places.

He also appeared to echo a view expressed by the Internal Security Minister Katoo Ole Metito that there could be a political hand in the attacks that have rocked the country.

On Thursday, the Cabinet chaired by President Kibaki condemned the spate of attacks by suspected terrorists.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga also condemned the Eastleigh incident and warned that the Government would not allow terrorism take root in the country. “All necessary steps should be taken to fight against forces that are out to create insecurity in the country,” said a Cabinet statement released after the meeting.

“As a Government we will not abdicate our responsibility to provide security to people and their property,” said Raila.

The PM made the remarks in Eastleigh where he had gone to console those affected by the bombing of the minibus in which people also lost property worth millions of shillings.

Raila who arrived in the country today after a weeklong official visit to Malaysia and Korea also lashed out at the attacks against members of the Somali community that followed the bombing of the minibus.

He appealed to all Kenyan communities to live peacefully together, saying they should enjoy equal rights irrespective of their ethnicity. He said, “Our diversity is should be our source of strength and not weakness.”

The Prime Minister especially called for religious tolerance among people of different faiths saying terrorism transcended religion, race, and tribe. He said criminals must be treated as individuals not as members of a tribe by apportioning blame to their tribes.

The killing shocked many Kenyans leading to inter-ethnic violence, looting and damage of property worth millions of shillings.

Many youth arrested following the violence were held in police stations until Wednesday, when a Kibera court released them.

“We have to exercise caution all the time because the gangs are here and planning attacks even as police also try to tame them,” said Ombati.

Trained for terror

He said they arrested more than 80 suspects for rioting following the bombing of the bus on Sunday. The suspects have since been charged before court and released on bond.

Ombati said the explosive used in the Eastleigh attack was assembled in a house in Majengo.

He said the three men in custody had been coached and recruited into a terror cell.

Ombati said three main planners and mentors of the Eastleigh attack are at large, but police are pursuing them.

He revealed that the attackers were using a motorbike on the material day before one of them boarded the bus and abandoned the explosive inside.

The matatu was headed for Kariobangi and had picked up 25 passengers from Eastleigh when the explosion went off near St Teresa’s area.

Ombati said investigations have shown the attackers trailed the matatu on a motorbike up to the point where their accomplice alighted and later detonated it using a remote device.

“These people assemble the bombs in houses and are known to Kenyans. We urge Kenyans to be cautious and cooperate with the security agencies in efforts to tame the terrorism.”

He also urged matatu operators to take measures and always screen passengers for weapons before they board. Ombati made a similar appeal to learning institutions and other social areas to take measures to deter terror attacks.

“The terrorists are spending days and nights planning to attack us and the public in general. We must take measures to address the problem because it is here with us for now.”

The Sunday explosion sparked protests in the area with some residents targeting the Somali community accusing them of harbouring terrorists.

Businesses were affected in the busy larger Eastleigh area for two days as police battled with criminal gangs that looted and robbed homes, business and pedestrians.

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Sudan’s ex-spy chief Salah Gosh arrested in connection with sabotage attempt

Khartoum (Reuters) – Sudan arrested its former spy chief and other senior military and security officers on Thursday after foiling what officials said was a plot to incite chaos and target leaders in this oil-producing African state.

Witnesses told Reuters they saw army tanks and armoured vehicles moving down a main street in the centre of Khartoum around midnight, but life in the city was normal during the day with shops in the centre bustling with customers.

Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has kept up a 23-year hold on power, even as a series of uprisings troubled the country’s poor border areas, including the conflict-torn region of Darfur.

But Sudan has been stuck in economic crisis since the south – the source of most of its known oil-reserves – declared independence last year under the terms of a peace deal.

High prices for food have added to widespread public anger over losing the south and have emboldened opposition activists to call for protests. Analysts say the crisis has also exacerbated divisions in the government and squeezed the patronage system they say Bashir has relied on.

Unrest over price rises and food and fuel shortages has preceded coups in Sudan in the past.

Salah Gosh, former head of Sudan’s powerful intelligence and security agency, was arrested with 12 others on suspicion of “inciting chaos”, “targeting” some leaders and spreading rumours about Bashir’s health, the information minister told reporters.

Bashir, 68, has undergone throat surgery twice since the summer. Officials insist he is in good health.

“A lot of evidence was gathered showing there is a movement aiming to incite chaos, target some leaders and undermine the country’s stability,” the minister, Ahmed Belal Osman, said.

“The situation is now totally stable,” he added, naming Gosh, and another arrested officer, Wad Ibrahim, a prominent Islamist in the army.

Some Islamists inside the army and the ruling National Congress Party have said that Bashir and other senior leaders have abandoned the religious values of the 1989 coup and have concentrated decision-making in the hands of a few people.

Some also feel Bashir has been too soft on South Sudan, which temporarily wrong-footed the Sudanese army by seizing a major oilfield during border fighting in April – a shock to many officers.

Harry Verhoeven, an Oxford University researcher who has studied Sudan extensively, said the arrests’ timing suggested the incident was connected to a conference of Sudan’s Islamic Movement last weekend that illustrated these tensions.

The Islamic Movement is a part of Sudan’s ruling establishment that counts many of the country’s most powerful politicians as members.

Analysts say reform-minded members of the group were unhappy with the new secretary-general elected at the conference.

The arrest of Gosh – who is not seen as overly close with the Islamists – may have been a signal to the reformists that authorities would not tolerate serious dissent, Verhoeven said.

“I think the key question is what the reformists do. Do they form a new party? Do they stay quiet?” he added.

Officials have cited a plot but have stopped short of saying this constituted a coup attempt.

Witnesses said they saw military vehicles on a major street that runs alongside the city’s airport overnight.

“We saw something unusual in Khartoum… four armoured vehicles and two tanks on Abeid Khatim Street heading in the direction of downtown,” one witness said, asking not to be named.

Security at the defence ministry, intelligence headquarters and other buildings associated with military and security authorities appeared normal, a Reuters witness in the city said.

Sudan has been plagued by political conflicts and crises for most of its history since independence from Britain in 1956.

Decades of civil war between the north and south culminated with South Sudan’s independence in July last year under a 2005 peace deal.

Tensions in both nations and between the two states have been high since then. The two countries accused one another of incursions in disputed border zones on Wednesday, a setback to recent security and border deals.

Small demonstrations against cuts in fuel subsidies and other austerity measures broke out across Sudan in June but petered out after a security crackdown and the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadaan.

Gosh was once among Sudan’s most influential officials. As chief of the National Intelligence and Security Service, he headed what is one of the country’s most powerful institutions alongside the army.

Bashir removed Gosh as spy chief in 2009, replacing him with the current head Mohammed Atta al-Moula. Officials did not explain the decision to sack Gosh at the time, but Khartoum political circles widely speculated the former chief was suspected of plotting against Bashir.

A leaked US diplomatic cable from 2008 quoted a government official as saying Gosh had mused about the possibility an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for Bashir could lead some to try to replace the president.

“Conspiracy and plotting is like breathing in Sudan,” the cable noted.

Gosh had been appointed presidential adviser on security affairs, but was also removed from that position last year.

Western rights groups have accused Gosh of complicity in abuses in the country’s Darfur region, which has endured a nearly decade-old insurgency.

But while the ICC has issued arrest warrants for Bashir and other officials on charges of war crimes in Darfur, Gosh has never been indicted.

The former spy chief is also described by historians and analysts as a key interlocutor with US officials when Sudan was co-operating with the United States by providing information on al-Qaeda in the years after the September 11 attacks.

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Congo M23 rebel leader in Uganda for crisis talks

(CNN) — The political leader of a rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo flew to Uganda Thursday for talks with that country’s president, two days after his group took over a key city in the eastern part of the DRC.

M23 leader Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero was summoned to Kampala by President Yoweri Museveni, who is hosting a conference of regional leaders Saturday aimed at ending the crisis in the DRC, according to an M23 source close to Lugerero.

Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda are also in Kampala for the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region, which is set to start there Saturday.

The M23 rebel movement gained control of Goma earlier this week and then announced that it plans to “liberate” the entire country.

Fierce fighting erupted Thursday in Sake, a city west of Goma that M23 rebels captured Wednesday. Sake is strategic since it is a gateway to Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu.

Residents were seen streaming out of Sake seeking safety as government forces and other militia groups fought to halt the rebel advance.

Those who remained in Goma Thursday had no water, electricity or gas service, and no way out by land or water.

Oxfam, which is monitoring humanitarian conditions in the area, warned Thursday that the fall of Goma to the rebels creates “a very real risk of complete collapse of state authority and the humanitarian crisis reaching new depths.”

It estimates 120,000 people are in urgent need of help, with many sleeping in the open or in schools and other buildings without humanitarian aid.

“People are living in chaotic conditions,” Tariq Riebl, Oxfam’s humanitarian coordinator, said. “There are real fears that cholera and other fatal water-borne diseases could spread, as shortages of power and water in Goma have left thousands of people with no choice but to get water straight from Lake Kivu.”

An M23 spokesman said Tuesday that the capture of Goma, the culmination of several days of heavy fighting against government forces, was just the beginning.

“We will push on to Bukavu, then Kisangani, and finally take Kinshasa and overthrow the government,” Lt. Col. Vianney Kazarama said to enthusiastic cheers from a crowd of several hundred at Goma’s stadium, according to a Congolese reporter there.

Kazarama said that once the rebels overthrow the government, they will call for elections.

Kinshasa, the country’s capital, lies nearly 1,000 miles west of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.

The eastern part of the DRC, which includes Goma, has been embroiled in violence since 1994, when Hutu forces crossed the border from Rwanda fearing reprisals following the genocide in that country.

The M23 group was named for the peace deal of March 23, 2009, which they accuse the government of violating. The soldiers, mostly Tutsis, became part of the national army through that accord. However, they broke away from the Congolese army in April, complaining they weren’t being promoted as promised, and because of a lack of pay and poor conditions.

Tens of thousands of Congolese, already displaced by previous rounds of fighting in the volatile region, have fled camps around the edges of Goma, according to UNICEF and the medical charity Doctors Without Borders.

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VayuGrid Signs MoU for biofuel park in Ethiopia

BANGALORE (Business Line) – VayuGrid, a biofuel supply chain company based in Bangalore, has signed a memorandum of understanding to create a biofuel cluster for its VayuSap — high-yield Pongamia — in Ethiopia.

The company said the cluster will create a $2.5-million biofuel investment opportunity and is part of a larger government plan to develop a biofuel park in Ethiopia. Starting with a 2,000 acre, the long-term goal is to create a cluster of 100,000 acres under a collaborative model.

The biofuel park is a critical step to reduce the country’s commitment of 87 per cent of free cash on imported crude while at the same time creating local job opportunities and an ecosystem of value-added businesses.

Ethiopia was chosen strategically based on the economics and agriculture. Its large land bank of arid and unproductive land lends itself perfectly to creating a green energy supply base for local and global markets.

Phase 1 is a 2,000-acre footprint under a collaborative model involving the participation of a local partner bringing in land and labour, investors putting the capital and VayuGrid providing the IP and downstream contracts, thereby creating a sustainable and replicable business model.

“VayuGrid is bringing together local and global businesses that are dependent on crude and looking for ways to hedge against currency fluctuations while ensuring a predictable supply of green energy,” said Doug Peterson, CEO, VayuGrid.

“Our biofuel clusters ensure a sustainable biofuel supply for downstream markets and high returns for governments, land owners and investors,” he added.

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Kenya is set to have its fifth fiber optic cable

NAIROBI, Kenya (CapitalFM) – Plans to land a fifth undersea fibre optic cable in Kenya are underway, a move that would see the country more than quadruple its current bandwidth capacity.
Information Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo said increased uptake of the existing cable capacity will only multiply once the country goes into 4G in the near future.
Although the PS did not give specific timelines, he revealed that a firm from the Middle East is in talks with the government to begin the procurement process.
“We would have 15 terabytes once the fifth cable lands,” Ndemo said on the sidelines of a national ICT conference in Nairobi.
At the moment Kenya has four undersea cables including EASSy, TEAMS, SEACOM, and LION-2, which hold more than 2.8 terabytes of bandwidth.
The cables also service all of Kenya’s neighbouring countries and provide over 5,261,919 Mbps international connectivity.
Initially, Kenya relied on satellite access; however bandwidth and issues surrounding the cost of Internet served as obstacles to growth in web access.
According to the latest sector statistics by the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) 17.38 million people in the country had access to the Internet as of December last year, marking a penetration rate of 44.12 percent.
Ndemo said the government plans to construct two Tier 4 data centres at the proposed technopolis, Konza City.
So far Kenya has two data centres including the National Data Center and the Kenya Data Networks Data Center. To solidify the country’s foothold in the region as an ICT hub, the government is expected to roll out the National ICT Master Plan this month.
The plan seeks to set up Kenya as a leader in ICT investment and innovation by the year 2017.
It is projected that by 2017, the ICT Industry would contribute an estimated $2 billion (25 percent of GDP), create 500 ICT companies, and bring in 50,000 jobs.
Priority areas in the plan include health and education followed by agriculture and retail/wholesale trade.

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GE to construct two wind power projects in Kenya

Nairobi (allAfrica)— Global infrastructure development giant General Electric Company (GE) last week announced a grand plan of investing some $100 million towards power generation in Kenya over the next one year.

The funding will go towards the construction of two wind power projects to boost generation to the national grid.

The two projects to be constructed in Kenya Rift Valley town of Kinangop will have the capacity to general about 150 Megawatts in what will be a major boost to Kenya current generation deficit.

According to GE President in charge of Africa Mr. Jay Ireland, the company is currently engaging the Kenyan government in negotiations over the required Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) before the project takes off the ground. The government is being represented by the national power distributor Kenya Power.

“Our negotiations with Kenya Power are at a very advanced stage and the groundbreaking could come as early as the beginning of next year. The negotiations are centering on the requisite PPA,” said Ireland.

The project is all goes according to schedule could be complete by close of next year, according to the Mr. Ireland.

The success of the first project according to Ireland will inform the company’s projection of putting up other projects with a goal of producing some 1,000 Megawatts over the next two years.

Other investment opportunities being eyed by the multinational include the railway sector where the African President said the company will working in conjunction with the Rift Valley Railways (RVR).

Our engagement with RVR is towards building the requisite capacity to provide high class locomotives among other things. This is one area we have a lot of specialty in as a company through the GE Transportation arm,” he said.

GE is also involved in projects in other sectors among them health, water, aviation in partnership with the government and other entities.

The increased investments in Kenya follow a meeting the multinational had with the Kenyan government in 2010 and spearheaded by Prime Minister Raila Odinga on how the company could employ its experience to help solve Kenya’s infrastructure challenges.

GE currently operates in 35 countries in Africa. They include, Angola, Congo, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania among others.

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Biometric Voter Registration exercise kicks off

NAIROBI (VOA) — Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has officially launched a nationwide voter registration campaign for the March 4 general elections. The 30-day process begins as the country faces security challenges and the growing fear of election-related violence.

Kenya’s electoral commission has kicked off a nationwide voter registration drive. The exercise aims to register more than 18 million voters within 30 days.

The chairman of the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Isaac Hassan, said at a launch ceremony in Nairobi his commission is ready to carry out the task.

“We appeal to Kenyans and all our partners to support us through this critical process,” said Hassan. “Please help us mobilize Kenyans to come out in large numbers and register. Let them not wait for the last day or the last week to start piling up on the register. We have got 30 days these officers will be there every morning, every day, Sundays and public holidays. Please avail yourself and get yourself registered.”

Voters will register for the March election using a Biometric Voter Register system that uses fingerprints and facial features to uniquely identify each voter.

Hassan says one key feature of the system is the ability to detect if a voter has tried to register more than once. He says this one way of guaranteeing a credible voter register.

The electoral body also faces security challenges in Coast Province, where a secessionist group has threatened to disrupt the registration process.

According to the chairman of the IEBC, the first incident of violence targeting the process took place early Monday.

“We know the security challenges we have especially in the country,” he said. “This morning I was just informed that we had an incident in Matuga. A center there was disrupt[ed], but the police moved in very quickly and security was restored.”

During the launch, President Mwai Kibaki assured the commission and Kenyans of their security. He also warned civilians against obstructing the work of security officers or endangering their lives.

Kenya’s last general elections in 2007 were marred by post-election violence in which more than 1,000 people were killed.

Government officials say this time, mechanisms are in place to prevent a repeat of the fighting.

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Britain suspends budget aid to Uganda over corruption allegations

(Aljazeera) – Britain has suspended all financial aid to Uganda over a corruption scandal in which millions in donor funds were allegedly embezzled in the office of the prime minister, Amama Mbabazi.

Britain’s international development department, or DFID, said in a statement on Friday that it was suspending development assistance immediately “as a result of initial evidence” from an ongoing audit.

Britain planned to give £27m (about $42m) to the East African country this year.

Justine Greening, international development minister, said payments worth £11.1m ($17.6m) that were due before
the end of the financial year had been halted.

“Unless the government of Uganda can show that UK taxpayers’ money is going towards helping the poorest people lift themselves out of poverty, this aid will remain frozen,” the international development ministry said.

“We will expect repayment and administrative and criminal sanctions.”

Inquiry sought

Britain, Denmark, Ireland and Norway had already suspended aid to the office of the prime minister following claims that staff funnelled 10m euros ($12.7m) from an aid programme into private accounts.

Mbabazi has expressed shock over the scandal, saying it must be investigated. However, some politicians have called for an inquiry into his role in the scam.

Uganda’s auditor general reported last month that money intended to help develop areas devastated by the war against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels had been stolen.

The report, released last month, said that the funds were lost through widespread fraud and embezzlement, with a network of officials perpetrating a scam in which some of the money was deposited into the private accounts of individuals.

The report documented numerous cases of forgery to justify fictitious expenses, and an accountant has since been
taken to court over the scam.

A dozen Ugandan officials have been suspended pending investigations.

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