Saturday, July 04, 2015

Nigeria: As Party’s Crisis Deepens...Why Tinubu, Akande Shunned APC NEC Meeting
Saturday, 04 July 2015 05:01
Written by Muideen Olaniyi & Balarabe Alkassim
Nigerian Daily Trust

The crisis rocking the All Progressives Congress (APC) continues to deepen, following the absence yesterday of Chief Bisi Akande, a former interim party chairman and one of its national leaders, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu at an emergency meeting of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) in Abuja.

Their absence had fuelled speculation that an end to the crisis over the leadership positions in the National Assembly might not be in sight. Party insiders have hinted that both Tinubu and Akande stayed away because they are unhappy over the sharing of leadership positions. Also, their loyalists hinted to them that a no-show is a safer bet, given the precarious political landscape.

The APC National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who did not want to speak on the reasons why they were absent, said none of the two chieftains are officials of the party. “If you look at our constitution, neither of them are members of the NEC. I think it is at the discretion of the NWC or NEC on who to invite or not. The bottom line is that neither of them are members of the exco of the party,” he said.

Tinubu, it was learnt yesterday, believes that the supremacy of the party must be respected by the APC leaders in the National Assembly. Daily Trust on Saturday also gathered that the absence of Chief Akande was particularly noted because of the presence of Chief Tony Momoh and Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, who were also former national chairmen of parties that merged to form the APC.

Last Sunday, the former APC interim chairman issued a statement which claimed that the emergence of Dr. Bukola Saraki and Rep Yakubu Dogara as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Reps respectively against the party’s preferred candidates of Senator Ahmed Lawan and Rep Femi Gbajabiamila was due to the support of some businessmen, an allegation which was swiftly dismissed by both Saraki and Dogara.

The letter followed the failure of fresh reconciliatory move after Saraki and Dogara ignored the lists of principal officers sent to them by the APC leaders, a move by the APC NWC which was supported by the party’s governors. The APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun had written Mr. Saraki on June 25, 2015 asking him to name Ahmed Lawan as Senate Leader, George Akume as Deputy Senate Leader, Sola Adeyeye as Chief Whip and Abu Ibrahim as Deputy Whip.

But the Senate instead named Ali Ndume as Senate Leader, Bala Na’Allah as Deputy Senate Leader and Felix Aimikhena as Chief Whip. In the House of Reps, a likely attempt to choose another set of principal officers apart from Rep Gbajabiamila (House Leader), Alhassan Doguma (Deputy House Leader), Mohammed Monguno (Chief Whip) and Parry Iriase (Deputy Whip) as nominated by the APC leaders ended in chaos.

Both chambers of the National Assembly summarily adjourned sittings to July 21.

After yesterday’s NEC meeting, an attempt by the APC governors also to unite the warring groups ended in a stalemate. The meeting, which was held behind closed door, was attended by Senate President Saraki, Speaker Yakubu Dogara, Senator Lawan, Rep Gbajabiamila.

Speaking shortly after the meeting, the Chairman of the Progressives Governors Forum (PGF), Rochas Okorocha said the meeting was successful as both parties were able to meet each other for the first time in order to resolve their differences.

Okorocha promised to give details of the outcome of the truce meeting next week.

Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole said the meeting continues today (Saturday) at night.

Yesterday’s NEC meeting of the APC ratified the completion of the composition of membership of the party’s Board of Trustees (BoT). The NEC meeting also passed a vote of confidence on Chief Odigie-Oyegun-led National Working Committee (NWC) of the party.

Speaking on the outcome of the meeting, the APC National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said the NEC meeting had provided an enabling environment to resolve the logjam occasioned by leadership positions in the National Assembly.

Mr. Mohammed said the party’s governors’ meetings with Senate President and Speaker yesterday
was “a further attempt to find a lasting solution”. He said it was in the best interest of Nigerians who voted for change for the party to talk less on the leadership crisis in the National Assembly.

Mohammed stressed that the NEC meeting agreed on two key issues, including “the supremacy of the party” and the need for the government to work and deliver its campaign promises as encapsulated in the change that the APC promised.

Earlier, the APC National Chairman, Chief Odigie-Oyegun, had said that the completion of the composition of BoT membership would enable this organ of the party undertook its constitutional responsibilities. He congratulated party members and leaders over the success at the 2015 general elections, saying President Muhammadu Buhari was the rallying point around whom the message of change was focused on. He assured party members that the issues that the challenges the APC were passing through would “be dealt with conclusively before the National Assembly re-assembles”.

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has appealed to members and leaders of the APC to always respect the supremacy of the party and continue to work together in order to meet the needs of the mandate given to the party. He made the appeal yesterday in his opening remarks at the APC NEC meeting held at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja.

“God in his infinite mercy has helped by giving us acceptance. Let us not throw this success to the wind. Let us as members of the APC no matter our personal differences get together and use the mandate given to us by this country. This is my personal appeal to you in the name of God. Whatever your personal interest or ambition, please keep it close to your heart and in your pocket. Let APC work, let the system work and let us have a government that will earn the respect of our constituencies.

“My problem is the constituencies. I thank you very much for listening to me, and I thank the leadership across the board, and I appeal to you to please continue to work together.  Please accept the superiority of the party.  I cannot confine myself to the cage or Sambisa Forest and refuse to participate in NEC or BoT. So, I respect the superiority of the party,” he further advised the party members and leaders.

The President, who also spoke on the challenges the APC went through before it achieved its current success, said the party must find a way to manage its victory. He attributed the current challenge facing the party to human errors which, he added, could be corrected through collective efforts of all the stakeholders.

He said, “The elections have come and gone, the APC has won the battle, but lost the war. This is the paradox of democracy, and we shall see how we can manage it going forward. The APC must not disappoint its constituency, that is the nation state. We have to convince our various constituencies that we are individually worthy of the sacrifices that they have made.

“They stayed awake day and night, travelling all over the country and made sure as a party, we emerged victorious. What subsequently happened is human. As human beings, we are not perfect.

But let our collective actions in this party prove that we have won the elections, the battle and we will win the war.”

He added, “As for me as a president, I have to clearly understand the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the constitution of APC, and having tried three times and successfully lost three times and successfully ended up at the Supreme Court. I think I have tasted the bitter disappointments and the sweetness of success. What happened to the APC must be given to God almighty.”

In reference to the crisis rocking the National Assembly, he said that all members should accept what has happened, forget their grievances  and move on.

He also congratulated the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for conceding defeat ‘meekly’ and thanked the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for its neutrality during the registration process of the APC.
Boko Haram Kills 53 in Fresh Borno Attacks
Saturday, 04 July 2015 05:02
Written by Hamza Idris
Nigeria Daily Trust

Suspected Boko Haram insurgents have between Thursday and yesterday killed no fewer than 53 people following sporadic attacks in villages in Askira Uba, Biu and Konduga Local Government Areas of Borno State, witnesses and security sources said.

The attacks were launched less than 48 hours after similar onslaught claimed the lives of 97 people in Kukawa Local Government Area and 48 others in Monguno Local Government, all in Borno State.

Daily Trust Saturday reports that 29 people were killed yesterday (Friday) when suspected Boko Haram terrorists attacked Mussa village in Askira Uba Local Government Area of Borno State.

Many residents of the village were reportedly trailed to the bushes and killed, survivors and vigilante officials said. Ezikiel Mala, a resident of Mussa said the attackers crossed a river near Yimradi Gwandam, another village in the area. “The terrorists were running away from assault by Nigerian troops because they have attacked many localities today before coming to our village. Much later, we saw armoured personnel carriers passing through our village after the terrorists left…probably pursuing the attackers,” he said.

Askira Uba is a border town between Borno and Adamawa states while Mussa village is 36 kilometres away from the border.

Sunday Wabba, the chairman of Mussa Youth Development Association who spoke to our correspondent on telephone, said the insurgents were well-armed. “This is a sad day for us because the terrorists have attacked us once again. They came with all sorts of weapons and opened fire on unsuspecting residents. So far, 29 people have been confirmed dead while many others sustained injuries. They operated between 1pm and left around 3pm after burning many houses. This is the fourth time they are attacking us this year,” he said.

The leader of the vigilante group in Mussa village, Umoru Jantiku, described the attack as deadly.

“They came in broad daylight and opened fire on unsuspecting people. We are now preparing to recover corpses from the bushes but so far, 29 people have been confirmed dead,” he said.

A middle-aged woman who lost her husband said the terrorists have forced her into widowhood.

“Today is a sad day for me. My husband, Sama’ila Bade was a harmless man but the terrorists killed him,” she said.

In a related development, sources said the terrorists yesterday also laid siege on Bama town in central part of Borno State. They also attacked Koshebe village in Mafa Local Government Area, also in Central Borno.

Bama is the second largest town in Borno State after Maiduguri, the state capital. The town was deserted following attacks by Boko Haram who also annexed it as part of their so called Islamic Caliphate before they were chased away by Nigerian troops in March, this year.

Though details of the attacks in Bama and Koshebe are sketchy at the time of filing this report, sources said there may be some casualties.

Similarly, in the early hours of Friday, Boko Haram insurgents reportedly trailed about 13 of their “defecting” members and killed 11 of them in Miringa village in Biu Local Government Area of Borno State.

Sources said the “defecting” members were forcefully conscripted by the terror group several months ago. It was gathered that when they saw the opportunity, the defecting members fled a base in Gwargware village in nearby Yobe State and joined hundreds of internally displaced people taking refuge in Miringa.

A member of the ‘Civilian JTF’, Bakura Kutafa, said Boko Haram militants went to Miringa around 3.30am and carefully selected their targets. “The terrorists came when most households were awake, trying to prepare meal for Sahur. They moved from house to house and picked 13 people, who according to them have committed sacrilege,” he said.

A resident of Miringa, Gwoni Tela said the assailants warned them not flee. “They said their targets are the infidels that abdicated and that we should not panic; they therefore took 13 people to the outskirts of Miringa and shot them, but two survived,” he said.

 Modu Pulgwa, another resident of Miringa said he will leave the village. “Definitely I would leave, in fact, most of us would leave because the terrorists may likely come back, it is God that saved us and no one can tell what would happen next,” he said.

Our correspondent gathered that hundreds of people from various villages that are under threat are taking refuge in Miringa. Some of the villages include Gur, Buralzi, Talata, Ajigin, Madan, Chara, Dara, Zuwa and Bam.

Similarly, two female suicide bombers on Thursday wreaked havoc in Malari and near Alaw villages in Konduga Local Government Areas of Borno State. In the two separate missions at least 13 people, including the suicide bombers, died while 21 others sustained injuries. But the police said 11 people died in the attacks.

Borno State Police Commissioner, Aderemi Opadokun who confirmed the attacks, said there was an explosion at Malari village on Thursday at about 2:00pm. “A female suicide bomber detonated IED (Improvised Explosive Device) strapped to her body and killing herself and 7 others. Thirteen people sustained injuries in the attack,” he said, adding that 13 persons sustained injuries in the first blast.

Kallamu Ango, a trader in Malari said a woman who hid explosives beneath flowing clothes attacked some worshippers who were observing noon prayer at a mosque near the village market. “Nine people were killed and many others sustained injuries,” he said. Boko Haram insurgents have stepped up attacks in the past one month and have succeeded in killing hundreds.
Buhari Condemns Boko Haram ‘Heinous’ Attacks
July 4, 2015

ABUJA/MAIDUGURI. — Nigeria’s president has described as a “heinous atrocity” the latest wave of attacks by Boko Haram militants that left more than 150 people dead.

Muhammadu Buhari also called for a faster deployment of a regional military force to fight the Islamists.

The gunmen have been launching attacks on remote villages in the north-eastern Borno State since Tuesday, targeting people attending evening prayers.

Buhari — who was sworn in in May — sees fighting Boko Haram as a priority.

According to Amnesty International, at least 17 000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since 2009, when Boko Haram launched its violent uprising to try to impose militant Islamist rule.

These are the worst Boko Haram attacks for many weeks, BBC Nigeria correspondent Will Ross reported.

In a statement yesterday, President Buhari said the recent attacks were “inhuman and barbaric”.

He said they were “the last desperate acts of fleeing agents of terrorism”.

The assaults began on Tuesday, when the militants shot dead 48 men after they had finished prayers in two villages near the town of Monguno, a resident told BBC Hausa.

He said he had heard gun shots at one of the villages attacked and saw it on fire.

“They were praying in the mosque when Boko Haram attackers descended on the village. They waited till they finished the prayers. They gathered them in one place, separated men from women and opened fire on them,” he said.

On Wednesday, more than 50 gunmen killed 97 people in the village of Kukawa, near Lake Chad, eyewitness Babami Alhaji Kolo was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

“The terrorists first descended on Muslim worshippers in various mosques who were observing the Maghrib prayer shortly after breaking their fast (for the Muslim month of Ramadan),” he said.

“They opened fire on the worshippers, who were mostly men and young children. They spared nobody.”

On Thursday, two female suicide bombers blew themselves up in another Borno village, police said.

BBC’s Will Ross said no-one knows how many people were shot or had their throats slit by the jihadists, who targeted several villages on Tuesday and Wednesday — it is impossible for people who are fleeing for their lives or rushing the injured away in wheelbarrows to stay back and count.

The fact that it took as many as 48 hours for any news of the atrocities to reach the main city in Borno State, Maiduguri, points to just how cut off and vulnerable these communities are.

Boko Haram may no longer hold territory but there is little to celebrate when large swathes of the north-east are clearly not under any kind of government control.

Meanwhile, the militant group beheaded 11 of its own fighters in north-eastern Nigeria, said an official representing witnesses to the killings.

The 11 were executed because they had left a Boko Haram camp in Sambisa Forest and wanted to surrender to the government, said Mahmud Babagana from the National Union of Road Transport Workers, members of which were witnesses to the murders.

“The truth is that many of these guys are tired of killing and are beginning to repent. But (Boko Haram) won’t let them do that,” he added.

The killings took place in Miringa Village in Borno State.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini condemned the killings and expressed confidence that “the Nigerian authorities will continue to fight terrorism with the utmost determination and urgency, respecting rules for engagement.”

Since 2009, Boko Haram has killed more than 10 000 people in northern Nigeria in its campaign to establish an Islamist state.

— AP/dpa.
The Anatomy of Another Lesotho Coup
Lesotho Defense Forces Commander Tlali Kamoli.
July 4, 2015
Greg Mills Correspondent

In early 1986, Lesotho suffered its first military coup but the mountain kingdom remained reasonably prosperous, helped by a paradox of anti-apartheid aid and remittances from its miners in South Africa.

In the intervening years, though, there were to be more coups and instability in the country.

Three decades and the country’s problems, like its population, only seem to have got bigger. The military are now serial political offenders. The latest change of government last February has its origins in a failed coup in August 2014. But there have been a routine of attempted coups and assassinations. (1986 coup plotter Major General Justin) Lekhanya was himself removed in May 1991 in a coup staged by Colonel Elias Ramaema. Democracy followed in 1993, but in September 1998, the South African National Defence Force lost 11 members during Operation Boleas, an attempt at quelling a mutiny in Maseru.

Now, this June, the former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Commander Maarparankoe Mahao was shot and killed at his farm by members of his own force, and the Police Commissioner Khothatso Tšooana fled the country, sparking further violence and posing the question, “what next”?

The answer is not reassuring, not least because South African mediation has so far served to consolidate the position of the insurrectionists.

Lesotho was supposed to hold a general election only in 2017. After the collapse of the coalition government led by Prime Minister Tom Thabane and the August putsch that saw him temporarily flee the country, South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa brokered the Maseru Facilitation Declaration – a roadmap for early polls. This also resulted in the Maseru Security Accord two months later, its aim to defuse tensions between the LDF and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS).

Under the terms of this accord, Tšooana, Mahao (appointed by Thabane as the new LDF commander, but barred from assuming the post) and the man he was supposed to replace, Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli, were required to go on special leave outside Lesotho to cool things down. Tšooana and Mahao were temporarily dispatched to Algeria and Sudan respectively, while Kamoli moved to South Africa.

They returned to Lesotho following the elections on February 28 2015 that saw former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s Democratic Congress (DC) form a coalition government with Mothetjoa Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD). Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) received the second-largest number of seats (46) behind the DC (47). Metsing’s LCD got just 12 seats of the 120 available, losing 14 compared to the 2012 result.

No party achieved an outright majority.

Underlying the political musical chairs and the muscle flexing of the military in politics, is the extent of corruption and rent-seeking. As the former minister of development and planning (as well as Lesotho’s delegate to the IMF), Moeketsi Majoro, publicly commented, “While the legacy of incomplete political reform is the accelerant in this present conflict, corruption and crime are the root causes. During the life of the previous government, instances of public funds being laundered through tenders for both party and personal gain have been investigated and are a matter of public record.”

The trajectory towards increasing corruption has been there since Jonathan’s time. It has accelerated since the disintegration of the Basotho Congress Party in 1997 into the LCD, and the further 2011 splintering of the LCD into the DC and ABC. It has become a closed system of elite “zero-summism”, says a former official, where power is the aim, gluttony the reward. What has changed, according to one au fait with government finances, is the extent of the cash being thrown around by the political players. “Previously finances came from skimming on contracts, such as printing, or over-invoicing. But now there seems to be another, new aspect, perhaps money laundering.”

Lesotho’s politicians have long careers, their fortunes part of a tireless game of musical chairs, past misdeeds always seemingly forgiven. Jonathan exiled King Mosheshoe II to the Netherlands for a few months in 1970, and again by Lekhanya to the United Kingdom in 1990, returning in 1992 and being reinstated to the monarchy three years later.

Ntsu Mokhehle, the leader of the Basotho Congress Party, went into exile in the 1970s after the abrogation of the 1970 election which his party won. Despite the BCP’s Pan-Africanist leanings, BCP cadres formed the Lesotho Liberation Army with Pretoria’s support as part of its policy of regional destabilisation in the 1980s, essentially aimed at rocking Maseru’s boat, given its succour of the South African liberation movements.

In the course of my travels in 2009 in Kosovo I met by chance with the former SADF Special Forces’ officer who had “run” the LLA. “I used to send them off on a Friday,” he said, “and on the Monday I would trawl the police stations of the Free State picking them up and bailing them out. Instead of heading over the mountains, they would head straight for the local bar and get into fights.” Yet Mokhehle not only returned to Lesotho, but also became prime minister with the restoration of democracy in 1993, when one of his close advisers was Tom Thabane.

Politics, it seems, offers one of the few decent jobs in town. Little wonder the economy is stuttering.

International assistance and interest has dried up. There are just five full-time, resident foreign diplomatic missions (China, EU, Libya, US and South Africa) resident in the kingdom. Even the United Kingdom, the once colonial master, has closed shop, today being represented by an Honorary Consul. It’s a far cry from the anti-Apartheid heyday, when “every European country, among others”, reflects one minister, “had an embassy here”.

The country still receives $300 million annually in aid, over 11 percent of gross national income. But all aid seems to have managed over time is to make Lesotho less poor and less desperate rather than more prosperous and more stable, though gauging from the tempo of violence, even that minimalist strategy too seems flawed.

Despite the decrease in the number of migrant mineworkers from a peak of over 125,000, or more than half of all foreign born labour on the mines, in the mid-1970s to just 43,000 today, Lesotho is no less dependent on South Africa. The stock of Basotho migrants in South Africa was, according to World Bank estimates, 427,500 in 2010, with remittances totaling 29 percent of the country’s GDP, the second-highest proportion for any country worldwide.

Maseru’s share of the South Africa-administered Southern African Customs Union revenue pool amounts to not less than 44 percent of Lesotho’s government income.

It’s poor. Nearly half the country’s two million people – 25 percent more than in 1985 – live in poverty, where HIV prevalence is 23 percent, the second highest in the world.

Unemployment is similarly endemic, officially a shade under one-third, and much higher among the youth. Though three-quarters of the population live in the rural areas, Lesotho produces less than 20 percent of its food needs, the result of massive soil degradation and outdated farming techniques.

These circumstances lend themselves to desperate, silver bullet solutions. Basotho openly covet bits taken from them during wars with embryonic South Africa “from the diamond fields to Port St John”, says one. During the Apartheid era, talks were supposedly held to hand over the ‘self-governing territory’ of Qwa Qwa to Maseru, an unsubtle strategy by Pretoria to dangle territory for ‘good’ behaviour as Jonathan offered sanctuary to the liberation movements.

Today Qwa Qwa’s Phuthaditjhaba is a sorry collection of RDP-type housing and three run-down industrial zones set up under the incentive-driven ‘separate development’ policy in the 1980s. Where factories once manufactured for export are depots trading imported goods, the network of roads with potholes in places capable of swallowing a minibus or two. Just down from the shiny new Mosque and Propagation Centre on Phuthaditjhaba’s main drag was a sign for the Flyway Penal Beating firm, apparently hitting the town’s problems on the head. The tiny roadside spaza shops were daubed with ‘No Credit’. They should know.

Somehow in all of this the Lesotho government has squandered even its biggest recent opportunity. The largest private employer is the textile and garment industry, with some 40,000 workers, mainly women, producing garments for export to South Africa and, under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the US. But this number has fallen from over 50,000, a result of the volatile Rand (to which the local Loti is pegged), high costs of inputs notably electricity, transport costs and challenges, and changes in the global regulatory regime.

The termination of the global Multifibre Agreement in 2005 favoured those with “cost efficiencies, essentially Asia over Africa”, says one Chinese producer. “Asian salary costs,” he notes, “are lower, and their governments offer greater incentives, including tax free imports and local sales.”

The minimum wage in Lesotho is $100, or R1 260 including benefits and overtime. Bangladesh’s is less than a half of this figure ($43) and Vietnam’s ($52), India ($49) and Cambodia’s ($50) little more. This is exacerbated by payment on a ‘piece-by-piece’ basis in Asia, not permitted in Lesotho, and the latter’s high absenteeism of 8-10 percent.

Local shipping times are longer and costs higher than Asia – $4,620 in 2011 for example for the export sea-freight of a 40” container from Lesotho compared to those of the competitors: $2,600 for Vietnam, $2,800 in Cambodia and $3,100 for Bangladesh. The long immigration and customs queues at the Maseru crossing point (and the solitary open South African counter for immigration) add costs and illustrate the extent, too, of the hassle.

These are challenges Lesotho should not be facing. Asian countries have got out of textiles and apparel as their living standards and worker expectations have risen. But despite its textile boom, Lesotho has failed to improve its competitiveness and ascend the industrialisation ladder into higher-value added goods. Its attempts to do so and efforts to create Basotho (rather than Chinese) industrialists have had poor results.

Apartheid South Africa created the conditions for removing Chief Jonathan by stopping the flow of goods at the border during Christmas 1985, starving the military into action. I once challenged Pik Botha about this relationship at a long dinner party in the late-1990s. “Every now and again we had to throw a bucket of water over them to cool things down,” drawled the veteran foreign minister, Paul Revere in hand, tapping it on the lid of a box of 30s.

(As his then personal assistant Vic Zazeraj recalls, “Those boxes of 30s were perfect for writing notes or poems on the back. While waiting around airport lounges, or bored by hostile speeches in the UN Security Council, he would write a poem and hand the box to me until he needed another smoke”.) The first time a blockade was used by Pretoria was in 1983; the second resulted in the Lekhanya coup. “A fractious lot,” growled Pik, “always niggling and fighting with each other.”

The niggling has got considerably worse. The political environment is fractured, and there seems to be little interest or ability by leadership, inside or without, to achieve consensus. Quite the opposite. Through his appointments in the LDF, for example, Prime Minister Thabane made numerous new enemies. This was not too clever. In a weak political system like Lesotho’s, the army tends to be relatively influential and powerful. Following the suspension of the National Assembly amid the attempt to change the head of the LDF from Kamoli to Mahao, the army provided a violent push to remove Thabane.

After nearly a half a century of independence, the military is now at the centre of politics, being used by (and increasingly using) politicians as an instrument. The military’s game plan seems to be for the deputy prime minister, Metsing, a former South African mineworker who has the backing of Kamoli, to step up to become prime minister. But LCD leadership would likely lead to breakdown of the coalition and a hopelessly minority government. There is nowadays a further danger, that the military marionette is fast becoming the puppet master. With the assassination of Mahao, a bridge has been crossed by the LDF. No politician is now safe.

The expanding role of the Lesotho military in politics serves to further entangle South Africa in local affairs. Pretoria has massive influence and a virtual monopoly on intervention given the geography. Or as one local observer put it, “Fixing the current situation will require exactly the sort of imperialist intervention we hate so much.” But so far Pretoria seems not to have a plan to bring the LDF under control and rebuild the local polity through democratic means, around, as more than one observer has said, “justice, values and peace”. And that is exactly what is required to stabilise the kingdom and to take the now palpable fear out of politics.

Other than South Africa, only the US has the influence to keep Lesotho’s politicians on the straight and narrow. But turning AGOA access off or reducing the funding available to Maseru under the $360 million Millennium Challenge Account would be immensely damaging both to Lesotho’s economy and in fuelling the sort of imperialism bogey that African politicians love to trot out.

Basotho hate the notion of being South Africa’s ‘tenth province’. On the cusp of its 50th independence anniversary, in economic terms it is all but that in name. And from Botha to Ramaphosa, Maseru’s behaviour suggests that politics, too, is increasingly beyond its own control, handing authority to an all-enveloping neighbour, one that might not always, at best, fully understand local political idiosyncrasies.

– Daily Maverick 
Kenya Declares Total War on Killer Alcohol as Crisis Worsens 
By Geoffrey Mosoku
July 3rd 2015 at 10:12 GMT

After spending the better part of the morning taking illicit brew at Kangemi Estate in Nyeri Thursday, this man, photographed above, fell on the roadside where he slept for hours

NAIROBI: Scenes of young men and women in a drunken stupor, some semi-comatose in filthy trenches, knocked out by lethal concoctions brewed by the ‘merchants of death’ who largely sell reinforced drinks, are now an eyesore in Kenyan villages and towns.

They stagger on the pathways, some wet their clothes, while others mumble incoherently, the sum effect pointing at a pathetic picture of how men and women, who should be an example to their children, arrive home as zombies. In some cases, the drunks are unable to separate day from night and clearly have little economic contribution to the livelihoods of those they are supposed to provide for.

Yet, unless the directive given Thursday banning second-generation drinks is effective, unlike past ones, they are never short of watering holes. So bad is the crisis of alcoholism that women particularly in Central Kenya have confronted the illegal brewers, whose deadly drinks are a threat to a generation, with young men lost to backstreet drinking dens.

Ravaged by the poisonous drinks, the young and old alike have either abandoned their families or are unable to marry, thrusting to the fore the problem racking society, which has now become a national shame. On the back of the worsening crisis, top national and county government officials Thursday declared an all-out war on killer brews that have claimed the lives of hundreds and shattered families.

The Government revoked all licences for second generation alcoholic drinks across the country effective midnight as officials gave the grim statistics: over 14,000 youths under 21 years die from alcohol incidents including car crashes, homicides, suicides, alcohol poisoning and associated injuries.

While there are no official figures of the death toll from the killer brews, the gravity of the problem was pronounced in May last year when over 100 people were killed across four counties.

And the National Authority for the Campaign against Drug Abuse (NACADA), in a survey in 2012, suggested a total of 4 million Kenyans countrywide were consuming illicit brews, and has recently warned the problem has worsened.


According to the 2012 National Survey on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, 13.3 per cent of Kenyans are currently consuming alcohol, 9.13 per cent tobacco, 4.23 per cent miraa, 1.03 per cent bhang and 0.13 per cent heroine.

Thursday, the Government said after suspension of the licences, an inter-agency inspection to certify if the drinks are safe for consumption will be carried out.

Read more at:
President Kenyatta Roots for Increased Kenya-Zambia Trade
Written by PSCU
July 4, 2015

LUSAKA, Zambia, Jul 4 – President Uhuru Kenyatta has called for increased trade between Kenya and Zambia, saying the move would boost bilateral relations for the benefit of the people of the two countries.

President Kenyatta said trade will also promote people-to-people interaction, an important ingredient in the realisation of the dream of a united and prosperous Africa that the continent’s founding fathers and liberation heroes envisioned.
He said both Dr Kenneth Kaunda and Mzee Jomo Kenyatta were visionaries as well as liberators.

“Theirs is a great legacy, and it now falls to us, the next generation, to fulfil their dream of freedom and prosperity for the peoples of Africa,” President Kenyatta said.

He was speaking Friday evening during a State banquet hosted in his honour by President Edgar Lungu in Lusaka.

He said businesses in the continent are keen to take up the emerging opportunities and emphasized the need for governments create a conducive environment for them to thrive.

“But these will remain little more than dreams if we do not unleash the energy and imagination of our entrepreneurs, our innovators, and our young people,” President Kenyatta said.

On security, President Kenyatta said Zambia is an ally to Kenya in peace and security efforts. He thanked President Lungu and his Government for standing strong as a frontline state in the conflict region of the Great Lakes.

“And you have not faltered: you stood with us in some of our most trying moments,” said the President.

Saying restoration of peace in Somalia is a priority for the long-term stability of the horn of Africa region, President Kenyatta said Kenya and Zambia – with other troop-contributing countries serving with AMISOM in Somalia – will continue work tirelessly towards ending the Somali conflict.

President Lungu assured President Kenyatta of Zambia’s cooperation in strengthening the common position on matters of mutual importance to the two countries.

He said his country will work closely with Kenya in the achievement of the African agenda 2063, United Nations reforms and the push for the post 2015 development agenda which speaks to Africa and for Africans.

President Lungu commended President Kenyatta for playing a pivotal role in the pursuit of regional peace, saying Kenya has demonstrated its commitment towards the realization of lasting peace and stability in the Horn of Africa.

“It is gratifying to note that the Kenya Government, under His Excellency’s able leadership, has remained undeterred in its efforts to combat terrorism at home and also securing peace and security for the entire East Africa region,” said President Lungu.

The banquet was also attended by an array of Zambian political leaders including the founding father and first President Kenneth Kaunda and former President Rupia Banda among other senior government officials.
Kenya is Building Africa’s Biggest Wind Energy Farm to Generate a Fifth of Its Power
Tinashe Mushakavanhu
July 03, 2015 Quartz Africa

Kenya set in motion the construction of Africa’s biggest wind power farm this week, near Laisamis, 550km north of Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

Known as the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project, the wind farm site covers 40,000 acres (162km2), which will be powered by the ‘Turkana Corridorwind.’ It is a low-level jet stream originating from the Indian Ocean and blows all year round.

The project will consist of 365 turbines and expected to achieve 68% load capacity factor, which will make it the most efficient wind power farm in the world.

It is one part of Kenya’s ambitious project to add 5,000 MW of power on the national grid in the next three years. Like many African countries Kenya has been primarily dependent on hydro and fossil fuels but wind energy is expected to insulate the country’s power tariff by providing a low cost and consistent power source.

Once the wind farm is complete, it is expected to generate about 20% of the country’s power.Kenya Power, a government entity, has signed an agreement to buy the power produced at a fixed price over a 20-year period so as to make electricity accessible to a majority of Kenyans.

Unlike many new construction initiatives in Africa in the last decade which have been funded by the Chinese, a consortium of investors under the auspices of the European Union are financing this $690 million project with the African Development Bank as the lead arranger.

The Lake Turkana Wind Power Project will surpass Tarfaya wind farm in Morocco, which is currently Africa’s biggest wind farm with 131 turbines. It will also be larger than Ashegoda power generating complex in neighboring Ethiopia, which opened in October 2013.

Wind energy is already boosting economic development in South Africa. The country has five wind farms already in full operation and several large-scale wind farms currently under construction.

Africa is on a fast track to tap its wind power potential, as more than two-thirds of the continent’s population is without electricity, and more than 85% of those, living in rural areas lack access. But this dynamic is changing. Africa is urbanizing faster than most regions of the world and projected to become 56% urban by 2050.
Somalia is Home to Two Secret US Drone Bases – Report
July 03, 2015

Up to 120 US military personnel are operating out of two secret drone bases in Somalia, carrying out attacks on Al-Shabab militants and working with African Union peacekeepers, a new report has revealed.

Somali officials have confirmed a secretive US presence in the southern port city of Kismayo, according to Foreign Policy correspondent Ty McCormick. Another base, at the airfield of Baledogle near Mogadishu, is being used for both drone strikes and for contractors training Somali security forces.

Regional administration official Abdighani Abdi Jama told McCormick that as many as 40 US personnel conduct “intelligence” and “counterterrorism” operations and operate drones from their base at Kismayo airport, about 300 miles south of Mogadishu. Somali officials and sources within the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) also indicated a similar presence at Baledogle, in the Lower Shebelle region.

Washington has not officially admitted to operating drones from Somali territory, with drone flights said to originate from US bases in the neighboring Djibouti, and outposts in Kenya and Ethiopia. The US also has an outpost in the Seychelles, an archipelago some 800 miles off the Somali coast.

US Africa Command (AFRICOM) spokesman Chuck Prichard declined to comment on the size or location of their units, saying only that the “small number” of US Special Forces deployed the region was “not tasked with directly engaging enemy forces.”

“The exact nature of this support, weapons systems or number of personnel involved in these operations cannot be disclosed in order to protect the integrity of these operations and the safety of units in the region,” Prichard wrote in an email to Foreign Policy.

US forces have conducted drone and helicopter attacks against Al-Shabab since 2007. An American drone killed the group’s leader Ahmed Abdi Godane in 2014.

On more than one occasion, US special operations teams have staged their attacks from bases belonging to Kenyan and Ugandan forces within AMISOM says McCormick, citing anonymous sources from within the peacekeeping mission.

“They come to our forward operating bases and sometimes do joint operations with us,” said one Ugandan source. “We often don’t get much notice,” he added. “They don’t trust us, and we don’t trust them.”

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalists, up to 105 people may have been killed in US drone strikes in Somalia, of which there have been no more than 13 since 2007. Most of them were not civilians. Other covert operations killed between 40 and 141 people, with civilians making seven to 47 of them.

Since 2007, Washington has spent almost $1 billion on funding AMISOM, $500 million directly and another $455 million through the UN. That has reportedly helped the African Union troops turn the tide against Al-Shabab, reducing their control from 60 percent of Somalian territory in 2010 to reportedly only 6 percent today.

According to Bronwyn Bruton, from the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, Al-Shabab has simply changed the way it operates and remains a dangerous force to be reckoned with. “They are not actually confronting AMISOM head-on anymore, which means that their forces and weapons are mostly intact,” she told McCormick. “They have shifted from a conventional force to a pure terrorist one that is increasingly focusing its attention on attacks outside of Somalia, in Kenya, and elsewhere in the region.”

Friday, July 03, 2015

Al-Shabaab Fighters Attack AMISOM Bases
JUNE 26, 2015 03:34 AM

MOGADISHU, Somalia - Islamic militants from the Al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab group attacked a remote African Union base in Somalia on Friday, causing many casualties, the AU mission and a local official said.

In a tweet, the African Union mission confirmed there had been an early morning attack on their outpost in the village Lego, but did not provide any further details.

Mohammed Haji, an official in the Lower Shabelle region told The Associated Press by telephone that militants killed some 25 combatants, but there was no way to verify his claim.

He said they attacked the base entrance with a suicide car bomb before gunmen began their assault.

"They managed to infiltrate the entrance after the blast," he said. "It was a complex attack."

The governor of Lower Shabelle, Abdiqadir Mohamed Siidi, said that a minister for the regional South-Western State and the commissioner of Lego were now missing.

"During the attack they also beheaded women and they are still in control of large parts of the area," he told the AP. He declined to give more details about the casualties.

Residents in Lego said that armed al-Shabab fighters are still patrolling parts of the village.

"The situation is still tense. Al-Shabab are back in control of Lego and arrested several people." said Mohamed Aden, a local elder by phone from Lego, with gunfire echoing in the background.

Al-Shabab, which vowed it would step up attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The group's spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said through its radio Andulus that the militants have taken control of the base which is on a key supply route for the AU forces.

The militants have been pushed out of much of the territory they once controlled across the Horn of Africa nation, including Mogadishu. But they remain a lethal threat, carrying out guerrilla attacks on government and civilian targets.

The U.N. special representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay and African Union special envoy Maman Sidikou both condemned the attack.

Sidikou said in another statement that the AU mission would continue its joint operation with the army.

"This attack will not dampen our resolve to continue to support the Somali Government and people until they are free from terrorism," he said.

- See more at:
Al-Shabab Militants Capture Three Somalian Towns: Officials
Fri Jul 3, 2015 2:22AM

​Al-Shabab militants have overrun three Somali towns recently abandoned by the soldiers of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), officials say.

"Mubarak, Tortorow and Awdheegle have fallen into the hands of al-Shabab within the past 24 hours," Awdheegle mayor, Mohamed Aweys Abokar, said on Thursday.

He added that hundreds of people, mostly civilians, fled the three towns for fear of their lives.

Officials said the AMISOM troops had started leaving the towns on Wednesday and withdrew completely on Thursday following intense clashes with al-Shabab militants.

Al-Shabab militants have been fighting to overthrow Somalia’s government since 2006.

The militants have been pushed out of the capital, Mogadishu, and other major cities by government and the AMISOM troops.

The African Union mission to Somalia is largely made up of troops from Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya and Sierra Leone.
Concert Planned Sunday to Celebrate Jazz Icon John Coltrane
July 2, 2015 5:53 PM

A celebration of the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane's seminal album "A Love Supreme," which he wrote at his Dix Hills home, is set for Sunday.

Fans and Long Island residents will celebrate the life and legacy of the late jazz icon at Coltrane Day, a free music festival in Huntington's Heckscher Park.

The day will include jam sessions; workshops for both children and adults; and live musical performances by jazz band Bangalore Breakdown, New York-based jazz group Mala Waldron Quartet and Coltrane's son, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane.

"People are gathering to celebrate the 50th anniversary of 'A Love Supreme,' which is the masterpiece that John Coltrane composed in the Dix Hills home," said Ron Stein, chief operating officer of the nonprofit Coltrane Home. "We want people to celebrate the fact that not one but two music giants lived right here in the Town of Huntington," he said, referring to Coltrane and his wife, Alice Coltrane, also a jazz artist.

"They raised their family here and left a legacy of music that should be something to make anyone who lives here very proud. And the day will offer something for everybody."

The couple lived in the Candlewood Path home between 1964 and 1967, the last three years of his life. The family stayed there until 1971.

Stein said the day will also present the opportunity to unveil a new program aimed at encouraging music education, creativity, fun and personal expression in the creation of music.

"It's a program that we have been hosting at East End Arts out in Riverhead, but we are hoping to bring it into the public school over the next year."

He added his organization hopes the day brings awareness that a historic and important landmark sits right in Huntington.

"We want to make people aware of the importance of restoring the home and fulfilling the goals of creating a museum and learning archive and outreach education center on the premises."

Coltrane Day will take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with performances and a discussion to follow at 7:30. The event is open to the public, but attendees can guarantee spots in the workshops by visiting

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Friends, Family Remember ‘Super’ Simmons in Final Funeral for Victims of Charleston Church Racist Massacre

The Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. was “super,” his friends say: A super gentleman, a super friend, a super leader of the church and servant of Christ.

He was “Super” Simmons.

Hundreds filled Columbia’s Bethel AME Church Thursday for the final service for the nine victims of the June 17 shootings at Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME Church.

They gathered as much in celebration of the life Simmons lived and the God he served as in mourning of the man they lost.

“Servant of God, well done,” Dr. William Smith, a former Emanuel pastor, said of his friend.

Simmons, 74, was among the Emanuel parishioners who gathered for Bible study when a white Columbia area man, who had sat among them as they prayed and studied, opened fire.

Simmons was the only one of the nine be taken out of the church alive. He later died at a Charleston hospital.

“Evil thought it could overtake our faith” that night of the shootings and in their aftermath, Presiding Elder Novell Goff said. “What the devil meant for evil, God meant for good.”

In the same show of faith and love that has characterized the AME church’s response to the Emanuel tragedy, Simmons’ mourners worshiped unabashedly before his casket, where he lay with an eternal smile resting on his face. They sang of peace like a river and of their Lord’s comfort and protection over his people.

Numerous friends and relatives shared memories of the man they lovingly called “Daddy,” “Dan” or – as countless knew him – “Super” Simmons.

They remembered him as the chief of his family, a devoted shepherd of his church, a confidante and adviser, a road-trip companion and lover of jazz music and cars.

“He was a great friend,” said the Rev. Dr. Charles Young, who was mentored by Simmons in his early pastoral career. “The scripture says a friend loves at all times. I’ve never known the day that Dan did not love. And I’m going to miss him, and I appreciate him.”

A graduate of Palmetto High School in Mullins, Simmons earned a bachelor’s degree from Allen University in Columbia, a masters in social work from the University of South Carolina and a masters of divinity from Lutheran Seminary.

Simmons was a fourth generation preacher who served at Wayman AME, Pleasant Grove AME, Allen Chapel AME, Greater Zion AME, Friendship AME, Olive Branch AME, St. Stephens AME and St. Luke AME before retiring in 2013.

He worked at the S.C. Department of Corrections as a teacher and a counselor. Throughout his career he also was employed at the Greyhound Bus Co., Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., Department of Veterans Affairs and the Vocational Rehabilitation Center.

Simmons was married to Annie Graham Simmons of Mullins for 24 years. He leaves two children, Daniel Lee Simmons Jr. and Rose Ann Simmons.

People have told Rose Ann Simmons all her life that she acts just like her father, she shared with the audience at his memorial.

For a long time, she said, she was shy to admit it was true.

She likened her father’s final moments to finishing the race of life, leaping the final hurdle of death.

“With no breath left in him at all and no more race to run, my father, the Right Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons Sr., fell at his finish,” she said. “But it was a strong finish because he fell at the feet of Jesus crying, ‘Holy, holy, holy art thou, oh God.’”

Simmons, an Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War and was awarded a Purple Heart, was buried Thursday afternoon at Fort Jackson National Cemetery.

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.

Read more here:
Anonymous Donors Give $3 Million to Fund Scholarships After Charleston Shooting
Widow and children of slain South Carolina State Senator
Clementa Pinckney outside the Capitol building in Columbia on
June 24, 2015.
By Abby Phillip
July 2 at 5:29 PM

A group of anonymous donors raised more than $3 million to establish a scholarship fund in the name of Clementa Pinckney, the slain pastor at Emanuel AME Church and a South Carolina state senator, Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. announced Thursday.

The fund, which Riley noted will continue to grow, is intended to ensure that Pinckney’s children and the children of the other victims of the massacre are able to pay for a college education. Additional scholarships will be awarded after criteria have been established.

In a statement, the donors said that they could not understand the “pain caused by the unimaginable tragedy” but sought to establish the fund to honor Pinckney, “who so profoundly embodied the values that bind us together as Americans.”

“We simply want members of the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church community to know that the burdens of perseverance and empathy, which they have demonstrated with such dignity, do not fall exclusively on their shoulders,” the donors wrote in a statement. “We want them to know that others, most of whom do not share their race or religion, who do not come from South Carolina, abhor the injustices from which they have suffered and admire the ways the African-American community has enriched our nation.”

On June 17, Pinckney and eight others were killed by a gunman in the basement of the Charleston church during a Bible study. Police have charged Dylann Roof, 21, with the crime, which they said was racially motivated.

According to Riley, he received a call from Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. on behalf of the donors.

“He said that he had been contacted by people who wanted to be anonymous and wanted to do something to assist those who lost their loved ones,” Riley said, noting that Pinckney was an advocate for education both in the Charleston community and as a state lawmaker.

Riley added that he knows nothing about the donors.

“All I know is they are generous, loving Americans who wanted no credit, simply wanted to do their part in responding to this hateful outrage,” he said. “These people will never get a pat on the back, and they’ll never know the recipient of these scholarships.”

The Rev. Norvel Goff, presiding elder of Emanuel AME Church, said the congregation welcomes the “tremendous” gift.

“What a tremendous opportunity to show the world once more and again that goodness of heart overtakes evil,” Goff said, “and that we continuously show the world how we respond to a tragedy.”

“Isn’t it odd that this individual who sought to divide us has brought us together as never before?” he added. “Isn’t it odd that we can take a tragedy and show that the human spirit can still triumph over evil?”

Two other funds have been established in the wake of the Charleston killings. The Mother Emanuel Hope Fund has raised more than $1.2 million so far and a second fund that supports work in South Carolina, the Lowcountry Ministries – Reverend Pinckney Fund, has raised $600,000, Riley said.

Riley, Gates and businessman William M. Lewis Jr. will serve as initial board members. Representatives from Emanuel AME also will be involved in administering the fund, Goff said.

Riley also invited donors to continue to add to the fund at

“They’ll not only get a college education, but they will be receiving an important lesson about how human beings of good will respond to challenges and come together,” Riley said.

Abby Phillip is a general assignment national reporter for the Washington Post. She can be reached at On Twitter: @abbydphillip
BP Reaches $18.7 Billion Settlement Over Deadly 2010 Spill
Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon, off Louisiana, in this April 21, 2010 file handout image.

BP Plc will pay up to $18.7 billion in penalties to the U.S. government and five states to resolve nearly all claims from its deadly Gulf of Mexico oil spill five years ago in the largest corporate settlement in U.S. history.

The agreement adds to the $43.8 billion that BP had previously set aside for criminal and civil penalties and cleanup costs. The company said its total pre-tax charge for the spill now stands at $53.8 billion. (

BP shares jumped more than 5 percent in New York trading as investors said the British company, often mentioned as a potential acquisition target, could now turn the page on one of the darkest chapters in its century-long history.

Under the agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the states, BP will pay at least $12.8 billion for Clean Water Act fines and natural resource damages, plus $4.9 billion to states. The payouts will be staggered over as many as 18 years. The preliminary settlement, subject to all sorts of variables, avoids a substantial amount of further litigation.

The rig explosion on April 20, 2010, the worst offshore oil disaster in U.S. history, killed 11 workers and spewed millions of barrels of oil onto the shorelines of several states for nearly three months.

The agreement, which still needs to be approved by courts, covers Clean Water Act fines and natural resources damages, along with claims by Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas as well as 400 local government entities.

"This is a realistic outcome which provides clarity and certainty for all parties," BP Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley said in a statement. "For BP, this agreement will resolve the largest liabilities remaining from the tragic accident."

The size of the settlement was slightly more than the $17.6 billion that investors had initially feared BP would be fined for gross negligence under the Clean Water Act alone.

U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier, who has overseen the case, was expected to rule on that issue later this year. Even then, BP would have faced years of lawsuits to address claims by states and by the federal government under a natural resource damage assessment.

The settlement announced Thursday closes off those remaining liabilities.

"This agreement will not only restore the damage inflicted on our coastal resources by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it will also allow Louisiana to continue aggressively fighting coastal erosion," said Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, the hardest hit state.

It was not immediately clear how BP will fund the settlement. BP has shed billions in assets to pay for the spill, eroding about one-fifth of the earnings base it had before 2010.

BP's smaller size among the bigger oil majors has made it vulnerable to potential takeovers, especially with the sharp drop in oil prices.

"Companies have been slightly hesitant to make a bid while this has been hanging over it, so I think it does clear the way for a potential bid," said Joe Rundle, head of trading at U.K.-based ETX Capital.

BP said the government and the states could jointly demand an acceleration of payments if the company were acquired.

Previous settlements also included an uncapped fund originally set at $7.8 billion to compensate individuals claiming economic harm from the spill.

BP also settled with Transocean Ltd, which owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, and Halliburton Co, which worked on the Macondo well.

"Now Gulf Coast restoration can begin in earnest. It's time to heal the wounds that BP tore in Gulf Coast ecosystems and communities," said David Yarnold, CEO of the National Audubon Society.

(Reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru, Ron Bousso in London and Kathy Finn in New Orleans; Writing by Terry Wade; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Lisa Shumaker)
US Jobless Rate Distorts True Picture of the Declining Labor Market
By Chico Harlan
Washington Post
July 2 at 7:06 PM

At this point in its long recovery, the U.S. economy has plenty of jobs and few of the fruits that were expected to come with them.

The nation added a solid 223,000 jobs in June, according to government data released Thursday, but the labor market was again held back by its most persistent problems: flat wages and a fresh decline in the size of the nation’s workforce.

The unemployment rate fell to 5.3 percent, the lowest mark in seven years, but only because 400,000 fewer Americans in June were actively looking for work. Only months ago, economists had figured that an unemployment rate approaching 5 percent would all but announce a return to full economic health.

The latest jobs data from the Department of Labor clouds the picture about the direction of the U.S. economy at a time of fresh global volatility, the result of high-wire negotiations between a near-bankrupt Greece and its international creditors. Although the United States faces only modest risk from the chaos across the Atlantic, its own economy is threatening to stall out on the last steps of a long, fitful recovery.

Despite nearly two years of steady hiring, the United States still has not hit the virtuous level at which potential workers leave the sidelines, employers compete for hires and wages rise as a result. In months such as June — when the number on the sidelines swells — the path toward tighter employment and larger paychecks only becomes trickier.

Economists have long expected a slow decline in the labor-force participation rate — the share of people holding jobs or seeking them — as baby boomers hit retirement age. But the dip over the past seven years has been sharper than anticipated; younger people, too, are dropping out of the workforce.

Some stay home because of mounting child-care costs, others to take care of elderly parents. Some economists place partial blame on automation, saying that traditional blue-collar workers have a harder time finding manufacturing jobs. There could also be a lingering pessimism among potential workers about their prospects should they begin applying for jobs.

“As good as these hiring numbers are, they aren’t good enough,” said Bill Spriggs, chief economist at the AFL-CIO. “Employers are still able to find people at prevailing wages.”

At its meeting in June, the Federal Reserve said it expected that wages would rise as the labor market gets closer to a full recovery, which it now defines as an unemployment rate of between 5.0 and 5.2 percent. Over the past few years, the Fed’s estimate of what constitutes a healthy job market has changed. In 2012, some Fed officials thought full employment could occur with the jobless figure as high as 6 percent, a milestone the economy has long since blown past without an accompanying increase in wages.

“I keep expecting wages to tick up, and yet they have remained totally flat,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “If you had told me a few years ago that we’d be at 5.3 percent in June of 2015, I’d have said, ‘Well, it took a long time, but at least we’re at full employment with all the benefits that portends.’ ”

Some economists and other experts cautioned that the labor force participation numbers from June could be muddled by complex calculations that the government uses to smooth out seasonal fluctuations. Normally, in June, the workforce swells with college graduates and summer workers; the Department of Labor tries to model underlying trends, but that modeling is harder in months with such churn.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said Thursday in a phone interview that he suspected June’s numbers were an “aberration, as opposed to a more troubling trend.”

Still, Perez said the labor market still has a “significant amount of slack.”

“We’re not at full employment by any stretch,” he said. “The best way to lift wages is to have tighter labor markets. We’ve had the strongest two-year job growth since the Clinton admin. The challenge for us is, we’re digging out of a much deeper hole.”

Last month, wages did not budge, and the labor-force shrinkage more than offset a major increase in May. The labor-force participation rate fell to 62.6 percent, the lowest point since 1977, when women were still pushing into the workplace. The prime age participation rate, counting workers between 25 and 54, stands at 80.8 percent, compared with 83.1 percent seven years ago.

“There is no way to read a positive on a decline in labor-force participation,” said Mark Hamrick, an economic analyst for, a personal finance Web site. “You cannot construct a scenario where you conclude that things are going so well that people opted out of the workforce.”

Still, the nation is in better shape than at the start of the year — when winter weather and a strong dollar dragged down growth — or earlier in the recovery. The auto industry is thriving, Americans are reaping the benefits of lower gas prices, and consumer spending is speeding up. Meantime, select cities and states have enacted minimum-wage increases, and President Obama has proposed a more generous policy on overtime pay.

Speaking Thursday at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Obama said the nation is “moving forward” economically, although there is more work to do.

With the year half over, the nation is on pace to add 2.5 million jobs this year as opposed to 3.1 million in 2014.

Chico Harlan covers personal economics as part of The Post's financial team.
Terror-struck Tunisia Fears Fighters Coming From Libya
Vivienne Walt @vivwalt  3:15 PM ET    

The country that started the Arab Spring casts a wary eye at its neighbor after two bloody attacks

The two massacres were 90 miles and more than three months apart. Yet there was much in common between last week’s devastating killing on a Mediterranean resort beach in Tunisia, which killed 38 mostly British people, and the mass shooting last March in the country’s premier cultural institution, the Bardo Museum in the capital Tunis, which killed 22 people—almost all Europeans.

Both targeted Western travelers, and both seemed aimed at wreaking havoc on the country’s crucial tourist industry, which provides some 20% of its income. And there was one other commonality, too: Tunisian officials say the two gunmen in March, and the lone gunman in Sousse, all received terrorist training not in their tiny home country—but in Tunisia’s huge oil-rich next-door neighbor, Libya.

Western governments have anguished in recent days over the fact that armed militants appear to have taken root in Tunisia, which they regard as the sole success story from the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011; a secular political party won Tunisia’s democratic election last December. Since the Bardo Museum attack, Tunisian officials have ramped up efforts to arrest suspected jihadists and shut dozens of unauthorized mosques, where they believe imams are radicalizing local youth. Last Saturday in Sousse, the site of the beach resort attack,, Tunisian President Mohsen Marzouk told reporters that the government was “trying to organize people in the war against terror,” which he said was “not between terrorists and the state, but between terrorists and the people.” The militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the museum attack, and this week, friends of the Sousse gunman, Seifeddine Rezgui, told the Financial Times that Rezgui had posted his allegiance to ISIS on his Facebook page.

Yet for all the hand-wringing over what to do about Tunisia’s militants, many believe that the key to averting more attacks lies not at home, but in Libya. There, regional analysts say, ISIS-affiliated organizations continue to operate unimpeded, offering training to terror operatives in how to conduct attacks elsewhere in the region. “They [ISIS affiliates] have identified Libya as their foothold in North Africa,” Matthew Sinkez, regional risk manager for Whispering Bell, a security consultant for companies operating in North Africa, said from his base in Dubai this week. In Libya, he said, “they have the ability to train people and further destabilize neighboring countries.”

The reasons are clear: Nearly four years after the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Pentagon and NATO along with their surrogate rebels drove out Muammar Gaddafi and collapsed his 40-year government, the country has been beset by warring factions fighting for power. One group of militias called Libya Dawn seized the capital Tripoli last August, in a battle that destroyed the city’s airport and drove the internationally recognized leaders out of the capital, into internal exile in the eastern city of Tobruk. Since then, Libya’s military chief Gen. Khalifa Haftar—ousted from Tripoli—has led a military campaign against Tripoli’s forces, and against ISIS-affiliated groups.

For nine months, U.N.-brokered peace talks in Morocco have failed to cobble together a deal between the two groups, and to persuade them to form a unity government to share power in Tripoli. But last week’s Sousse attack has made it clear that a peace deal is urgent. The U.N. envoy to the talks, Spanish diplomat Bernardino Leon, told reporters on Monday that he hoped to have a deal by Thursday, since the two sides needed to settle “just two, three issues.”

But Leon’s view now appears far too optimistic. On Wednesday, Libya Dawn said in a statement that it would not accept the peace conditions, and that they believed the U.N. was attempting to foist on them a “fascist dictatorship.”

The other side of Libya’s conflict is no less uncompromising, saying it would not agree to share power with the Tripoli leaders. “A unity government with criminals and terrorists? No thank you,” Rami el-Obeidi, a former intelligence officer for the post-Gaddafi government in Tripoli, told TIME on Thursday. “Lay down your arms first and give them all to the army. Then we can talk.”

That lack of a peace deal in Libya leaves a dangerous vacuum in the country—and the continued possibility of further attacks elsewhere in the region. “The reality is that the longer the protracted dialogue goes on the longer ISIS militants can exploit the security situation,” Sinkez said. “That is at the heart of this: The failure to agree on a way forward.”

This year has made clear just how tragic the consequences are of Libya’s political impasse. Until recently, Tunisia was one of the biggest sources of foreign fighters to jihadist groups in Syria—by some estimates, about 2,500 Tunisians have fought with jihadist groups since the conflict erupted in 2011. But Sinkez said the Tunisian militants’ tactics appear to have shifted this year to staying closer to home. “Libya after the [2011] revolution was just a stopover point for people going to Syria,” he said. “But especially since 2015 rather than just going to fight against Bashar Assad, they are seeing a way to take a stronger role in North Africa.”

Libya still plays a key role, however. El-Obeidi, who travels in and out of eastern Libya, said he believes that as Haftar’s forces have increasingly waged attacks against ISIS positions, ISIS groups are moving around Libya, rather than basing themselves in fixed positions in the country’s vast southern desert. “They are mobile today,” he said. “To train people in shooting an Kalashnikov, and it give them some psychological training, that does not need a camp.”
Benghazi, Where Libya's Counter-revolution Began, Now a Shattered City

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — The old courthouse in central Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city and the birthplace of the imperialist-backed counter-revolution against Moammar Gadhafi, is a shelled-out ruin — a testimony to the destruction and chaos that permeate this North African country four years after the civil war that ousted the longtime dictator.

The building is steeped in symbolism. It was here that the rallying cry first came against Gadhafi's 42-year rule. It was here that the Central Intelligence Agency-backed rebels first raised the tri-colored Libyan flag, replacing Gadhafi's green banner.

Now, the courthouse is ruin and rubble, like much of the rest of Benghazi.

Today, Libya is bitterly divided between an elected parliament and government that are cornered in the country's east, with little power on the ground, and an Islamist militia-backed government in the west. Hundreds of militias are aligned with either side or on their own, battling for power and turf.

The U.N.-backed talks between rival factions have not yet managed to strike a power-sharing deal.

Meanwhile, Libya's Islamic State affiliate is fighting on different fronts, losing ground in its eastern stronghold of Darna while expanding along the country's central northern coastline.

For Benghazi, the past year was the worst. Near-daily street fighting has pitted militias made up of a myriad of al-Qaida-linked militants, Islamic State extremists and former anti-Gadhafi rebels against soldiers loyal to the internationally recognized government and their militia allies.

Once known for its mix of architectural styles left behind by Arab, Ottoman and Italian rule, this city — shaped like a crescent moon, hugging the Mediterranean Sea on one side and sheltered by the Green Mountain on the other — has lost the flair of times past.

Many landmarks have been destroyed, including much of the Old City, with its Moorish arches and Italian facades. The Benghazi University, its archives and department buildings have been hollowed-out, occupied in turn by militiamen who put snipers on rooftops and turned the campus into a warzone.

The last destruction — albeit not on this scale — that city elders remember was during World War II, when Benghazi was captured by the British. But the city was quickly rebuilt after the war, in part thanks to the country's new-found oil wealth.

Now charred and wrecked cars, piles of twisted metal and debris act as front-line demarcations between warring factions. In many neighborhoods, Libyan soldiers have blown up entire buildings to clear snipers' nests or in search of underground tunnels used for smuggling weapons.

Schools have closed, few hospitals remain open, and wheat and fuel shortages force residents to line up for hours every day outside bakeries and gas stations. Many neighborhoods have been emptied out by fleeing residents, only to be looted and torched by marauding militias.

More than a fifth of Benghazi's 630,000-strong population has been forced out of their homes. Those with money fled abroad. The rest sought refuge in other Libyan towns and cities, or crowded into Benghazi's makeshift camps and schools turned into shelters.

The overall number of displaced within Libya has almost doubled from an estimated 230,000 last September to more than 434,000 amid escalating fighting this year, according to the latest U.N. report.

Benghazi resident Hamid al-Idrissi says he and his family fled their war-torn Gawarsha neighborhood under heavy shelling. His extended family had a total of 45 houses there, built on a vast swath of land owned by his late grandfather, he said.

"Houses were first looted, then burned down. We lost everything," al-Idrissi told The Associated Press as he and his relatives huddled inside a school turned into a shelter.

Civilians still in the city live against the backdrop of gunshots and ambulance sirens that fill the night. In May, more than 27 civilians were killed, including 12 members of one family who were preparing for a wedding party when a rocket hit their house. The groom and five children were among the dead.

The city's residents also fear abductions at the hands of militiamen from the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, an umbrella group of hard-line militias that includes Ansar al-Shariah, which the U.S. blames for the September 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Benghazi's descent into all-out war started in May 2014, when Libyan renegade Gen. Khalifa Hifter, once Gadhafi's army chief who defect to the CIA joining the opposition in the 1980s, launched an offensive against the militias blamed for a series of assassinations of the city's army officers, policemen, judges, and journalists. He soon formally joined ranks with Libya's imperialist-recognized regime and since then, Hifter's forces have taken back parts of Benghazi.

The fighting has split many Benghazi families, with relatives, even brothers, often joining opposite camps.

One of Saed Abdel-Hadi's sons joined Libya's Islamic State affiliate after returning from Syria and was killed in clashes. Another son joined the army, which is battling IS militants.

"When my other son joined the army, the extremists threatened to kill me," he said, adding that he fled with rest of the family and now lives in a friend's garage.

Even those with only a distant connection to Islamic militias or the army are targeted in retaliatory attacks.

One of Muftah al-Shagaubi's cousins joined an extremist group a while ago. Months later, al-Shagaubi lost his home as did 20 of his relatives when Hifter's forces looted, burned and blew up the buildings so they could never come back, he said.

"I have lived all my life here and now we have to leave ... because nothing is left for me in Libya," he said, adding that he was preparing to head to Turkey in the coming weeks.

Essam al-Hamali, a member of the Benghazi Crisis Committee, said there are 140,000 displaced individuals in the city alone.

"Most of these families left their homes in a hurry, taking whatever they could grab," he said. "Some only had the clothes they were wearing when the fighting began."

Over the past five months, his committee received a one-time voucher of under $100 per person for 481 families living in one Benghazi school.

In March, it got about 7,000 food parcels from international donors through the Libyan Aid Agency — less than 1 percent of what is needed. It was promised $20 million to $40 million in aid but the government only delivered $5 million.

"We have declared Benghazi a disaster zone," al-Hamali said. "But it seems that no one cares."
UN Talks on Libya Hit Setback
by Reuters

U.N.-brokered talks between Libya's two rival governments hit a setback on Thursday when one of the sides stayed away from the negotiations in Morocco, saying it needed more time for consultations.

An armed alliance known as Libya Dawn took over the capital Tripoli and declared its own government last year, driving out the internationally recognized one and deepening anarchy and division in the oil-producing North African country.

The new round of U.N.-hosted talks in the Moroccan coastal town of Skhirat had been expected to initial an agreement on creating a unified government.

But Samir Ghattas, spokesman for the U.N. Support Mission in Libya, said: "The Tripoli delegation has not attended Thursday meetings."

The Tripoli-based parliament, the General National Congress (GNC), said it was postponing its participation until next week because it needed more time for consultation.

"The draft did not include substantive amendments made by the GNC," its spokesman, Omar Humaidan, said in a televised statement.

Four years after the overthrow of veteran ruler Moammar Gadhafi, Libya is in turmoil, with its oil industry producing less than half its usual output and two armed factions battling for control. Islamist militants have also gained ground.

The U.N. proposal calls for a one-year government of national accord in which a council of ministers headed by a prime minister and two deputies would have executive authority.

The House of Representatives — the elected, internationally recognized parliament — would be the legislative body.

It also calls for the creation of a second consultative chamber, the State Council. This would have 120 members, of whom 90 would come from the rival Tripoli parliament, the agreement says.

U.N. special envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon said last week there were still points that were not agreed by the parties, including a court decision challenging the legitimacy of the elected parliament and powers to be given to a second chamber.

Last year, Libya's Supreme Court declared the internationally recognized parliament unconstitutional, a decision rejected by the assembly.

Tripoli-based GNC representatives have expressed concerns about ensuring respect for the court decision, and the U.N. has been trying to reassure them.

The internationally recognized government and the elected House of Representatives also want to review the composition of the State Council to balance it away from handing majority control to the GNC members.
Detroit Braces For a Flood of Tax Foreclosures

Joel Kurth and Christine MacDonald , The Detroit News

A fresh wave of foreclosures could destabilize neighborhoods in Detroit, just as they are beginning to recover from the mortgage meltdown.

Wayne County plans to sell 28,545 Detroit properties at auction this fall — including about 10,000 occupied homes — that are three or more years delinquent on taxes. That's a record number, in part because Treasurer Raymond J. Wojtowicz ended a long practice of avoiding foreclosure on properties with delinquencies of less than $1,700.

Officials said they're sympathetic, but the days of avoiding paying taxes in Detroit are over.

"We want to keep people in the homes. We realize it's bad for neighborhoods," said David Szymanski, the county's chief deputy treasurer.

"But there are services provided for homes. If you don't pay your taxes, your neighbor is subsidizing them for you. That's not fair."

The tally is down from about 67,000 Detroit properties served with foreclosure notices last fall. That's because 40,000 owners have agreed to payment plans and other programs offered by the treasurer.

Activists fear widespread devastation, coming atop 139,000 mortgage and tax foreclosures in Detroit since 2005.

"We need to have a debate: Are we sure it's the right public policy to foreclose on people en masse?" said Chris Uhl, a vice president with the Skillman Foundation, which is working with nonprofits to prevent the foreclosures.

"We're reaching the tipping point in neighborhoods. When you foreclose on halfway decent housing stock, it's going to destabilize communities."

Data is preliminary, but statistics indicate those now at risk of losing their homes are senior citizens and those with young children, Uhl said.

More than 80 percent of those facing foreclosures have faced a hardship in the past year — medical problems, divorce, job loss or a family death — while about 36 percent meet federal poverty levels, according to data collected by the United Way of Southeastern Michigan and other nonprofits at workshops to help families facing foreclosures.

Because of scrapping, homes in Detroit are often destroyed within weeks of becoming vacant. Demolishing them costs up to $15,000 per house.

‘A blight factory’

"We're trying to keep people in their homes, but meanwhile, there is a blight factory (at Wayne County)," said Michele Oberholtzer, whose work surveying Detroit homes for Loveland Technologies prompted her to found the Tricycle Collective to try to keep families in homes.

"We're going out of our way to create more blight. A home without a person is a blighted home in Detroit. And it costs more to demolish a building than the government gets in back taxes. It's backwards," she said. "This is a Band-Aid on a corpse."

Cornell Squires, 57, a disabled city ambulance worker, said he has no doubt his home on the far west side would be scrapped if he loses it.

His house on Electric near Outer Drive is next to a vacant lot where a stripped, stolen Chevrolet Camaro has sat for 18 months. Two doors down, a mortgage foreclosed home was picked clean. So were at least three more on the street.

"It's stressful. I've got high blood pressure. I'm losing sleep. It's so hard," said Squires, who gets by on $1,900 per month from a city pension and disability payments.

"If I leave this house, people are going to steal everything inside it within 24 hours. Who does that help?"

Squires has lived in the neighborhood all his life. His 90-year-old mother lives across the street and his brother lives a few houses away.

Squires bought the house in 2007 after it was damaged in a fire. He's fought for years to have its assessment lowered: The tax bill claims the house was worth $80,000 in 2012. At the time, homes nearby sold for $500.

A yearlong investigation by The Detroit News in 2013 concluded Detroit was over-assessing homes by an average of 65 percent, according to a review of state tax appeals. The series prompted state regulators last year to overhaul Detroit's Assessment Division.

More than half of Squires' debt is from interest because state law required the county charge 18 percent on tax debts.

The law changed this year. Now, the county can retroactively lower interest rates on old tax debts to 6 percent. It's one of several programs county officials have rolled out to help, Szymanski said.

Housing advocates, the ACLU and the Detroit City Council pressed Wojtowicz to declare a moratorium on foreclosures. He declined, even though in 2007 he refused to sell occupied homes at tax auctions because he didn't want to remove people from homes.

Since then, the county has foreclosed on 102,000 properties.

Those that sell at auction go cheap: 81 percent of the 37,980 properties sold since 2010 fetched $5,000 or less; 40 percent sold for less than $1,000, according to a Detroit News analysis.

Spurring residents to save

Szymanski acknowledged the "fly in the ointment" is whether homeowners on payment plans can stick to them. Clauses allow foreclosure if the owner doesn't stay current on taxes.

The vast majority of those facing foreclosure — about 90 percent — own their homes, so it requires "tremendous discipline" to save $3,000 or $4,000 over the year for taxes, Uhl said.

And in Detroit — after years of foreclosure, job losses and abandonment — a few hundred dollars a month is a tall order for folks such as Michael Fountain.

The former taxi driver was set to lose his home of 13 years on Iroquois near Warren in the 2015 auction.

His wife, Robin Renee Fountain, bought the home before they were married from the mother of former Tigers outfielder Ron LeFlore. The house was still in Robin Fountain's name in 2013 when she collapsed and died at a beauty salon.

Michael Fountain said he didn't know she had failed to pay several years of taxes. He's now scrambling to transfer the deed to his name and enter into a plan to pay back $5,776. Fountain isn't sure how he will: His income is about $700 per month.

"I don't know what to do," said Fountain, 60. "It's a house full of furniture. I'd hate for it to go out on the street, but I don't have a truck or money to pay for storage."

In years past, he and others could gamble and allow the home to fall into foreclosure in hopes of buying it back at auction for a fraction of the tax debt. That option is no longer available, as a new state law now requires those who bid on their own property to pay at least the full amount of the debt.

Szymanski said he's hopeful that homeowners who lose their property at the auction can work out rental agreements with new owners. Unlike other counties, Wayne County doesn't evict those who lose their homes — allowing them to live tax-free until new owners take possession, he said.

Szymanski said the treasurer is working hard to keep everyone in their homes.

"We're making payment plans (for back taxes) for as little as $150 a month," Szymanski said. "Find a place you can rent for $150 a month. You can't beat that."