Cash or custody: Israel kicks off deportation of African migrants

African migrants wait in line for the opening of the Population and Immigration Authority office in Bnei Brak, Israel February 4, 2018. Picture taken February 4, 2018

By Maayan Lubell and Elana Ringler

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel has started handing out notices to 20,000 male African migrants giving them two months to leave the country or risk being thrown in jail.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is offering the migrants, most of whom are from Sudan and Eritrea, $3,500 and a plane ticket to what it says is a safe destination in another country in sub-Saharan Africa.

The fate of some 37,000 Africans in Israel is posing a moral dilemma for a state founded as haven for Jews from persecution and a national home. The right-wing government is under pressure from its nationalist voter base to expel the migrants, while others are calling for them to be taken in.

The government says the migrants are “infiltrators” looking for work rather than asylum, but there is a growing liberal backlash against the plan, including from rabbis, a small group of survivors of the Nazi Holocaust and ordinary people who say Israel should show greater compassion to the migrants.

The first eviction notices were handed out on Sunday and job advertisements for immigration inspectors to implement the deportation plan have been posted on government websites.

Rights groups advocating on behalf of the migrants say many fled abuse and war and their expulsion, even to a different country in Africa, would endanger them further.

“I don’t know what to do. Rwanda, Uganda are not my countries, what will a third country help me?” said Eritrean Berihu Ainom, after receiving an eviction notice on Sunday.

The deportation notices do not name the country migrants will be flown to but Netanyahu has said it will be a safe destination. Rights groups have named Uganda and Rwanda as possible host countries.

In a poor neighborhood in the south of Tel Aviv that has attracted thousands of African migrants, shops are dotted with signs in Tigrinya and other African languages while abandoned warehouses have been converted into churches.

“I came to Israel to save my life,” said Eritrean Afoworki Kidane, sitting on a street bench.

He said he would rather go to jail than take the cash and plane ticket on offer to leave the country that has been his home for nine years.

BACKLASH BUILDING

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said Israel’s first obligation was to its own citizens, rather than the migrants.

“They are not numbers, they are people, they are human and I am full of compassion and mercy,” Deri told Army Radio. “But the small state of Israel cannot contain such a vast number of illegal infiltrators.”

But opposition to the plan has been building and some Israelis are now offering to take migrants at risk of expulsion into their homes.

On Thursday, a group of 36 Holocaust survivors sent a letter to Netanyahu asking him not to deport the migrants. The U.S.-based Anti Defamation League has also urged Israel to reconsider the plan, citing “Jewish values and refugee heritage”.

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and a Holocaust survivor, said in a statement the issue required “as much compassion, empathy and mercy that can possibly be marshalled. The experiences of the Jewish people over the ages underscore this commitment.”

Rabbi Susan Silverman has launched a campaign called Miklat Israel (Israel Shelter) for Israelis to take migrants into their homes.

“It’s unconscionable for the Jewish state to deport people to harrowing vulnerability,” she said.

Miklat Israel’s Rabbi Tamara Schagas said 600 Israeli families had already signed up and the organization would begin to connect migrants with potential hosts this week.

MORAL COMPASS

The Supreme Court ruled in August that Israeli authorities can hold illegal migrants for up to 60 days in custody.

Immigration officials have said women, children and men with families in Israel were allowed to stay for now, as was anyone with outstanding asylum requests.

Out of 6,800 requests reviewed so far, Israel has granted refugee status to 11 migrants. It has at least 8,000 more requests to process.

Israeli authorities have said Israeli officials will keep in touch with migrants accepted in a third country to oversee their progress. Rwanda has said it will only accept migrants who have left Israel of their own free will.

Nonetheless, the U.N.’s refugee agency has urged Israel to reconsider, saying migrants who have relocated to sub-Saharan Africa in the past few years were unsafe and ended up on the perilous migrant trail to Europe, some suffering abuse, torture and even perishing on the way.

Rights groups in Israel say the government is simply ridding itself of people it should be recognizing as refugees in Israel and that there was no real guarantee for their safety.

A fence Israel has built over the past few years along its border with Egypt has all but stopped African migrants from entering the country illegally. Beginning in the previous decade, when the border was porous, a total of 64,000 Africans made it to Israel though thousands have since left.

Emmanuel Asfaha from Eritrea crossed into Israel in 2011 with his wife and baby son. His second child was born in Israel.

A narrow grocery store stockroom stacked with bags of flour leads to their two-room apartment in Tel Aviv, a poster of Jesus hanging on the cracked walls above his son’s bed. Asfaha is concerned Israel will eventually deport families too.

“I am worried about the situation,” he said while cooking Shiro, a traditional stew. “Tomorrow it will be for me also.”

A few kilometers away, in a hip, upscale part of Tel Aviv, Ben Yefet, a 39-year-old stockbroker, said he had signed up with Miklat Israel to house two or three migrants in his two-room apartment.

“As Israelis and Jews we are obligated. We have a moral compass, we just have to do it,” he said.

(Writing by Maayan Lubell; editing by Jeffrey Heller and David Clarke)

Without rain, South Africa’s Cape Town may run out of water by April

By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – South Africa’s Cape Town, one of the world’s iconic tourist destinations, could run out of water by April as the city’s worst drought in a century risks forcing residents to join queues for emergency rations.

“Day Zero” – the date taps are due to run dry – has crept forward to April 22 as city authorities race to build desalination plants and drill underground boreholes.

Almost 2 million tourists flock to Cape Town every year to bathe on sandy white beaches, explore natural features like Table Mountain or to sip wine in dozens of nearby vineyards.

Travel and tourism accounted for an estimated 9 percent or 412 billion rand ($33 billion) of South Africa’s economic output last year, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

“At the current rate the city is likely to reach Day Zero on 22 April,” said councilor Xanthea Limberg, Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for water.

“There is a real risk that residents will have to line up.”

At a trial water collection site, similar to an estimated 200 the city may introduce, people line up between metal fences waiting to fill up containers from standpipes.

A maximum 25 litres of water will be provided per person, per day, officials said.

Limberg said the dire situation was being worsened by some people ignoring a push for residents and visitors to use no more than 87 litres of water per person per day.

Cape Town is home to many wealthy residents who have swimming pools and sprinkler systems, although the city does not want to play a “blame game” as lots of affluent residents are saving water, she said.

Businesses in the hospitality industry also say they are trying to help, limiting showers to two minutes and using water used for washing dishes and clothes to water gardens.

Authorities want to reduce the city’s consumption to 500 million litres a day – half the amount used two years ago.

“Everyone is taking as many steps and measures that they possibly can to try and make sure we don’t reach Day Zero,” said Gabrielle Bolton, spokeswoman for the five-star Belmond Mount Nelson hotel.

In a possible sign of things to come, security guards have been monitoring a steady flow of cars and people lining up at AB-Inbev’s Newlands brewery to get up to 25 litres of free water from a mountain stream on its property.

The popular Newlands public swimming pool across the road from the brewery has been closed due to water restrictions with still two months of the South African summer left to run.

City officials say dam levels dipped below 30 percent in the first week of the new year, with only about 19.7 percent of that water considered usable. Residents will have to line up for water when dams reach 13.5 percent.

“I am concerned we will run out of water and it is difficult,” said Susan Jones, a grandmother who regularly visits the Newlands spring taps.

“We are making do. We have to.”

($1 = 12.3427 rand)

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Joe Brock)

Migrants risk death crossing Alpine mountains to reach France

Abdullhai, 38, from Guinea, is helped by a friend as they try to cross part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, near the town of Bardonecchia, in northern Italy, December 21, 2017.

By Siegfried Modola

BARDONECCHIA, Italy (Reuters) – It took Abdullhai almost three years to get from his home in Guinea to a rocky, snow-covered Alpine mountain pass in the dead of winter, for what he hopes will be the final stage of his journey into France.

The terrain is steep and dangerous and he and a group of five other migrants face risks ranging from losing their footing on steep drops, being struck by falling rocks or succumbing to the -9C (15°F) temperatures in clothing ill-suited to the terrain.

Abdullhai, 38, is one of hundreds of migrants who over the last year have attempted to cross from Italy into France through high mountain passes, in a bid to evade increased border security put in place at easier crossing points. His group crossed into France in December.

In Guinea, he left behind his wife and three children, including a two-year old son whom he has never seen.

“Our life in Guinea is not good,” said Abdullhai, 38, who like his friends asked that his last name not be published in this story.

“There is no work there and no future for my children. Here in Europe we can have a future. We can find work and live a life with some dignity. This is worth a try for me.”

A migrant rests after crossing part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, near the town of Nevache in southeastern France, December 21, 2017.

A migrant rests after crossing part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, near the town of Nevache in southeastern France, December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

The number of migrants making perilous journeys has fallen since over one million arrived in Europe from the Middle East and Africa in 2015. There were 171,635 arrivals by boat officially recorded in 2017, down from 363,504 in 2016.

As the group huddled around a fire in a cave during a rest on their journey, others told stories of being jailed and tortured, or of being orphaned and looking at uncertain futures in their home country.

The crossings have become more perilous with heavy snowfall.

On Jan. 10, Reuters spoke with three migrants, a 24-year-old Senegalese man, a 31-year-old man from the Democratic Republic of Congo and a 37-year-old from Pakistan who were attempting to cross into France.

They managed to cross the border, but abandoned their trek, exhausted and despondent, and were returned to Italy.

But they are at least alive. The International Organisation for Migration estimates that 20,000 people have died in the Mediterranean itself while trying to reach Italy.

Nor does it compare to the hardships that some of those making the journey have already endured to get as far as they have.

Discarded clothes are seen by a mountain pass near the Italian-French border from where migrants have attempted to pass into France, near the Mediterranean coastal town of Ventimiglia in northern Italy,

Discarded clothes are seen by a mountain pass near the Italian-French border from where migrants have attempted to pass into France, near the Mediterranean coastal town of Ventimiglia in northern Italy, December 2, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

“I was imprisoned and tortured in Libya for many months. I was forced to work for free. Just look at my scars,” said Kamarra, 28, from Guinea, lifting his shirt and pulling down his trousers at the side to show marks on his body and hip.

“After all that, crossing the Alps is not a big deal for me.”

For a photo essay about the migrant crossings, click here:http://reut.rs/2EyeDmR

(Additional reporting by Eleanor Biles; Writing by Mark Hanrahan in London; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Nigeria to release $1 billion from excess oil account to fight Boko Haram

Nigeria to release $1 billion from excess oil account to fight Boko Haram

By Felix Onuah

ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigerian state governors on Thursday approved the release of $1 billion from the country’s excess oil account to the government to help fight the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency.

The account holds foreign reserves from excess earnings from sales of crude. It currently totals $2.3 billion, according to Nigeria’s accountant general.

“We are pleased with the federal government achievements in the insurgency war and in that vein state governors have approved that the sum of $1 billion be taken from the excess crude account by the federal government to fight the insurgency war to its conclusion,” said Godwin Obaseki, Edo state governor.

“The money will cover the whole array of needs which includes purchase of equipments, training for military personnel and logistics,” he told reporters after a meeting of Nigeria’s national economic council.

The release of such a large sum could raise concerns over corruption, endemic in Nigeria.

The next presidential and gubernatorial national elections are scheduled for February and March 2019. Historically, the run-up to elections has seen rampant graft and theft of public funds as politicians build war chests to contest the vote.

The insurgency in the northeast is in its ninth year. Deadly attacks on the military and civilians continue, and large areas are out of government control.

Officials have siphoned off funds meant for aid for 8.5 million people in the region.

In October, President Muhammadu Buhari sacked the country’s top civil servant, accused of having inflated the value of contracts for aid projects, part of a suspected kickback scheme.

The United Nations appealed to donors for $1.05 billion to fund humanitarian aid in the northeast in 2017, and says it will require another $1.1 billion in 2018.

Nigeria, which has Africa’s largest economy, has come under fire for devoting little of its own resources to humanitarian aid.

Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said troops are undersupplied and underpaid, with weapons, vehicles and other basic equipment often in disrepair or lacking. Some have alleged their own officers are skimming from already-meagre supplies.

The release of the funds is a further sign the Nigerian government and military may be abandoning their two-year narrative that Boko Haram has been all but defeated.

Nigeria’s long-term plan is now to corral civilians inside fortified garrison towns – effectively ceding the countryside to Boko Haram.

Earlier this month, Nigeria replaced the military commander of the campaign against Boko Haram after half a year in the post. Military sources told Reuters that came after a series of “embarrassing” attacks by the Islamists.

(Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Andrew Roche)

Zimbabwe’s military muscles into first post-Mugabe cabinet

Zimbabwe's military muscles into first post-Mugabe cabinet

By Emelia Sithole-Matarise

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa appointed senior military officials to top posts in his first cabinet on Friday in what was widely seen as a reward for the army’s role in the removal of his predecessor, Robert Mugabe.

Sworn in as president a week ago after 93-year-old Mugabe quit in the wake of a de facto military coup, Mnangagwa made Major-General Sibusiso Moyo foreign minister and handed Air Marshal Perrance Shiri the sensitive land portfolio.

The new president, who later on Friday spoke publicly about the need to draw on local expertise and skills to put the economy back on robust footing, also brought back Patrick Chinamasa as finance minister despite his chequered record in that post previously.

Most Zimbabweans remember Moyo as the khaki-clad general who went on state television in the early hours of Nov. 15 to announce the military takeover that ended Mugabe’s 37-year rule.

Shiri is feared – and loathed – by many Zimbabweans as the former commander of the North Korean-trained ‘5 Brigade’ that played a central role in the so-called Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland in 1983 in which an estimated 20,000 people were killed.

The land portfolio is a sensitive but economically crucial one since land reforms in the early 2000s led to violent seizure of thousands of white-owned farms and the collapse of the nation’s economy.

“For most observers, this (the new cabinet line-up) looks like a reward for the military – or more specifically like the military asserting its authority,” London-based political analyst Alex Magaisa wrote on Twitter.

Mnangagwa, a former state security chief known as ‘The Crocodile’, dropped allies of Mugabe’s wife, Grace, but brought back many Mugabe loyalists from the ruling ZANU-PF party, disappointing those who had been expecting a break with the past.

“Zimbabweans were expecting a sea change from the Mugabe era. After all, had there not been a revolution, or so they thought?” Magaisa said.

New information minister Chris Mutsvangwa, leader of the powerful liberation war veterans, was not immediately available for comment.

OLD WINE

Mnangagwa’s opponents from Grace Mugabe’s ousted G40 faction derided the line-up as old wine in a khaki bottle.

“Even #Nigeria didn’t have so many commanders in Cabinet in its coup days!” former information minister and G40 leader Jonathan Moyo, who remains in hiding, said on Twitter.

Chinamasa, a lawyer by training, had been finance minister since 2013 until he was shifted to the new ministry of cyber security in a reshuffle this year.

During his time in charge, though, the economy stagnated, with a lack of exports causing acute dollars shortages that crippled the financial system and led to long queues outside banks.

The issuance of billions of dollars of domestic debt to pay for a bloated civil service – a key component of the ZANU-PF patronage machine under Mugabe – also triggered a collapse in the value of Zimbabwe’s de facto currency and ignited inflation.

“I had expected a more broad-based cabinet,” said economist Anthony Hawkins, adding that Mnangagwa’s faith in Chinamasa suggested loyalty trumped ability. “Chinamasa’s appointment was to be expected, notwithstanding his appalling record.”

With elections due next year, Mnangagwa needs to deliver a quick economic bounce and has made clear he wants to curb wasteful expenditure, pointing out that his cabinet has 22 ministers compared to Mugabe’s 33.

One of his most pressing tasks will be to patch up relations with donors and the outside world and work out a deal to clear Zimbabwe’s $1.8 billion of arrears to the World Bank and African Development Bank.

Without that, the new administration will be unable to unlock any new external financing.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told Reuters this week London was thinking about extending a bridging loan to Harare to allow this to happen, although said it depended on “how the democratic process unfolds”.

Speaking publicly for the first time as president at a graduation ceremony at a university in Chinhoyi, 110 km (68 miles) south of Harare, Mnangagwa, however, appeared to be looking to local expertise to put the economy on a stronger footing.

“As we engage the world it is of great importance to have our own home-grown solutions to develop our economy and benchmark ourselves on the best in the global village,” he said.

(Reporting Emelia Sithole-Matarise; Additional reporting by Ed Cropley; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Nigeria puts fortress towns at heart of new Boko Haram strategy

Nigeria puts fortress towns at heart of new Boko Haram strategy

By Paul Carsten and Ola Lanre

BAMA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Nigeria’s government has a plan for the northeast, torn apart by eight years of conflict with Boko Haram: displaced people will be housed in fortified garrison towns, ringed by farms, with the rest of the countryside effectively left to fend for itself.

The vision for the state of Borno, ground zero for the war with the Islamist insurgency, is a stark admission of the reality in the northeast.

For two years, the military and government have said Boko Haram is all but defeated, and the remnants are being mopped up.

But the military is largely unable to control territory beyond the cities and towns it has wrested back from Boko Haram. That means many of the nearly 2 million displaced people across the northeast cannot return to their homes in rural areas.

Kashim Shettima, the governor of Borno state, said it was not possible for people to live in small villages.

“There’s beauty in numbers, there’s security in numbers. So our target is to congregate all the people in five major urban settlements and provide them with means of livelihood, education, health care and of course security,” he told Reuters. “It’s a long term solution, certainly.”

The plan for the eastern part of the state, centered on the town of Bama, is intended as a pilot scheme to be rolled out in other parts of Borno if it is successful.

Vigilantes, currently members of a group known as the Civilian Joint Task Force, will become agricultural rangers, the governor said.

Aided by Nigerian security forces, they will aim to secure and patrol a five-km (three-mile) radius around each garrison town where people can farm.

An aerial view of the Federal Training Centre camp on the road between Maiduguri and the town of Bama in northeast Nigeria, November 23, 2017. Picture taken November 23, 2017. REUTERS/Paul Carsten

An aerial view of the Federal Training Centre camp on the road between Maiduguri and the town of Bama in northeast Nigeria, November 23, 2017. Picture taken November 23, 2017. REUTERS/Paul Carsten

PROTECTION

“It’s logical. Bama is the second biggest city in Borno,” said Peter Lundberg, the United Nations Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, who heads the organization’s response in the northeast.

“People are very eager to go back if the conditions are right and if the conditions are safe, if the conditions are dignified, and of course it has to be voluntary,” he told Reuters.

Sentiment amongst the displaced is mixed.

Abubakar Goni, who lived outside Bama before fleeing to the Borno state capital Maiduguri, said he wants to return home, but if the town is safer he will agree to go there.

“I will support it as long as I will have a place to farm. I am also happy to hear the government will give us protection on the farm because I learnt Boko Haram men are still around.”

Others, like Tijja Modu Alhaji, are wary of potential disputes between residents of the towns where people will be sent and the returnees.

“I don’t want to stay in Bama because I will still be a stranger there, just as I am in Maiduguri now,” he said. “I want to go home, not to somebody else’s land.”

The governor’s plan is still in its early stages. It involves bringing back thousands of people who fled the town of Bama and the surrounding area and sought refuge in camps in Maiduguri and elsewhere.

They will eventually be housed in towns such as Bama, which was largely abandoned by its inhabitants when Boko Haram took it three years ago, but has since been recaptured by the military.

Many of Bama’s buildings are still shells, windows smashed, doors ripped out and roofs gone. Telephone and electricity wires remain torn down, more than two years after the military evicted Boko Haram.

It is not clear how the returnees will be housed. There are already 15,000 people in a crowded camp for displaced local residents set up by the military after it retook the town.

The United Nations had planned to move them gradually to new shelters accommodating 30,000 people that have been erected in the town, but the military said it could not oversee two camps there at the same time, UN and military officials told Reuters.

NEW HOMES

The government has announced plans to build 3,000 homes in the Bama area. But there are concerns about how people sent to the town will manage, since many did not originally live there.

“It’s one thing to move people to Bama,” said Lundberg. “Unless the engine of the economy can restart, the risk is that people are moving back to places where they will become very dependent (on aid).”

Aid workers said the demarcation between garrison towns and a lawless countryside means people have a choice: live in virtual quarantine, or return to their homes in the countryside, where Boko Haram roam, and be treated by security forces as potential insurgency sympathizers.

“You’re imprisoned, but you’re safe,” said one senior relief worker, speaking on condition of anonymity. “If you prefer your own life you can do it on the outside.”

Boko Haram’s recent attacks, including a suicide bombing that killed at least 50 in a mosque in Adamawa state last week, are the “last kicks of a dying horse,” Nigeria’s Information Minister Lai Mohammed said last Sunday.

But military and diplomatic officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said overstretched troops are unable to push Boko Haram out of non-urban areas. Much of Borno is not under the authorities’ control and attacks are rife.

“Borno is not getting better at all. It may have even gotten worse,” a diplomat said of the security situation outside urban areas. “There is no recovery and stabilization.”

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Kingimi in Maiduguri; editing by Giles Elgood)

Mnangagwa vows to rebuild Zimbabawe and serve all citizens

Mnangagwa vows to rebuild Zimbabawe and serve all citizens

By Emelia Sithole-Matarise

HARARE (Reuters) – New President Emmerson Mnangagwa laid out a grand vision on Friday to revitalize Zimbabwe’s ravaged economy and vowed to rule on behalf of all the country’s citizens.

Sworn in days after the overthrow of Robert Mugabe, the 75-year-old former security chief promised to guarantee the rights of foreign investors and to re-engage with the West, and said elections would go ahead next year as scheduled.

In a 30-minute speech to tens of thousands of supporters in Harare’s national stadium, Mnangagwa extended an olive branch to opponents, apparently aiming to bridge the ethnic and political divides exploited by his predecessor during his 37 years in charge.

“I intend, nay, am required, to serve our country as the president of all citizens, regardless of color, creed, religion, tribe or political affiliation,” he said, in a speech that also hailed the voice of the people as the “voice of god”.

Behind the rhetoric, some Zimbabweans wonder whether a man who loyally served Mugabe for decades can bring change to a ruling establishment accused of systematic human rights abuses and disastrous economic policies.

He made clear that the land reforms that sparked the violent seizure of thousands of white-owned farms from 2000 would not be reversed, but promised that those who lost property would receive compensation.

To some political opponents, the speech was a welcome change from the habitual belligerence of Mugabe and appeared to be drawing on Mnangagwa’s knowledge and understanding of China as a model for running an economy.

CHINA MODEL?

“His model has been the Chinese,” said David Coltart, a former education minister and MP from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

“He will drive to make Zimbabwe a more attractive investment location, and more efficient, but like China will not tolerate dissent. If you ‘behave’, you will be secure.”

Those skeptical about the new president’s commitment to change question Mnangagwa’s role in the so-called Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland in 1983, when an estimated 20,000 people were killed in a crackdown on Mugabe’s opponents by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade.

Mnangagwa was in charge of internal security at the time, but has denied any part in the atrocities.

Many Zimbabweans, especially the ethnic Ndebele who bore the brunt of the Gukurahundi slaughter, will see his appeal on Friday to “let bygones be bygones” as an attempt to gloss over his nation’s darkest chapter.

Some critics have alleged harsh treatment by soldiers of opponents of the military intervention last week – a de facto coup against Mugabe, 93, and his 52-year-old wife Grace.

Axed finance minister Ignatius Chombo was in hospital with injuries sustained from beatings during a week in military custody, his lawyer told Reuters. He was blindfolded throughout his time in detention, Lovemore Madhuku said.

“It was a very brutal and draconian way of dealing with opponents,” he added.

Asked to comment, police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said she had no information about Chombo.

THE “CROCODILE”

Since his return to Zimbabwe this month after fleeing a Mugabe-led purge, Mnangagwa has been preaching democracy, tolerance and respect for the rule of law.

Along with Mugabe, Grace – Mnangagwa’s sworn enemy – has been granted immunity from prosecution and had her safety guaranteed, part of a deal that led to Mugabe’s resignation on Tuesday, sources close to the negotiations said.

For decades Mnangagwa was a faithful aide to Mugabe, who was widely accused of repression of dissent and election-rigging and under whose rule one of Africa’s once most prosperous economies was wrecked by hyperinflation and mass emigration.

Mnangagwa earned the nickname “Ngwena”, Shona for crocodile, an animal famed and feared in Zimbabwean lore for stealth and ruthlessness.

In his speech, Mnangagwa called for the removal of Western sanctions and said he wanted to “hit the ground running”.

Those listening to his speech said they were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, but were also realistic about the chances of injecting life into an economy with 90 percent unemployment and banks devoid of cash.

In the last 15 years, an estimated 3 million Zimbabweans have emigrated to neighboring South Africa in search of a better life.

“I wanted to see for myself that Mugabe has really gone. He is the only president I’ve known,” said 33-year-old Lenin Tongoona.

“We have a new president who may try something a little different to improve the economy. I’m excited today but tomorrow is uncertain because we don’t know how he will turn out. He talks about creating jobs. How does he plan to do that?”

(Additional reporting by Ed Cropley in Johannesburg; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Andrew Roche)

Zimbabwe’s Mnangagwa to be sworn in as president on Friday

Zimbabwe's Mnangagwa to be sworn in as president on Friday

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa will be sworn in as president on Friday marking a new era for a country dominated by Robert Mugabe whose swift downfall this week ended nearly four decades in power.

The ruling ZANU-PF party has nominated Mnangagwa to fill the vacancy left by Mugabe on Tuesday and he will be sworn in on Friday, said Jacob Mudenda, the speaker of parliament.

Mugabe sacked Mnangagwa as vice president two weeks ago to smooth a path to the succession for his wife Grace, who is much younger than the 93-year-old leader. Mnangagwa fled for his own safety and the military seized control, shattering Mugabe’s authority.

Mugabe held on for a week with ZANU-PF and others urging him to resign. He stepped down finally on Tuesday moments after parliament began an impeachment process. People danced in the streets and some brandished posters of Mnangagwa and army chief General Constantino Chiwenga, who led the takeover.

Mnangagwa will land at Manyame Airbase in Harare at 6pm (1600 GMT), state broadcaster ZBC said.

“I am advised that the swearing-in ceremony is planned for Friday,” Mudenda said. Mnangagwa issued a statement from hiding on Tuesday calling on Zimbabweans to unite to rebuild the country.

Other African countries have seen veteran leaders ousted by popular uprisings or in elections.

By contrast, the military has ushered Mnangagwa to the threshold of power and for decades he was a faithful ally of Mugabe in charge of internal security in the mid-1980s when rights groups say 20,000 civilians were killed.

“OLD ELITES”

Zimbabwe’s next leader faces the task of restoring the country’s fortunes. Alleged human rights abuses and flawed elections prompted many Western countries to impose sanctions in the early-2000s that hurt the economy.

Chinese investment softened the blow but the population of 16 million remains mainly poor and faces currency shortages and high unemployment. Staging clean elections next year will be key to winning fresh investment.

Mnangagwa is almost certain to win that election but it would be a victory for the country’s “old elites” with the aid of China, said Guenther Nooke, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal representative for Africa.

“He will manage to get elected using fear or many tricks, and then we’ll have a succession from one tyrant to the next,” Nooke told broadcaster SWR2.

China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday it respected Mugabe’s decision to resign.

Mugabe leaves a complex legacy. He is among the last of a generation of African leaders who led their countries to independence and then ruled. That group includes Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Ivory Coast and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

But he also presided over a steep decline in Zimbabwe’s economy, won a series of elections after stifling the opposition and he stands accused of persecuting opponents.

The forced takeover of white-owned farms from around 2000 aimed to bolster populist support for Mugabe but crippled foreign exchange earnings from agriculture and led to a period of hyperinflation.

“President Mugabe will be remembered as a fearless pan-Africanist liberation fighter and the father of the independent Zimbabwean nation,” the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said in a statement.

It said his decision to step down would enhance his legacy.

Many Zimbabweans also remain hostile to Mnangagwa because of his human rights record.

“The dark past is not going to disappear. They will be following him around like a piece of chewing gum on his shoe,” International Crisis Group’s southern Africa senior consultant Piers Pigou said.

“For him to really be seen to be doing the right thing, he’s going to have to introduce policies that fundamentally undermine the power structures of ZANU-PF, through a shift to genuine political pluralism and a decoupling of the party and state.”

(Reporting by Harare and Johannesburg bureaus; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Zimbabwe’s parliament starts impeachment process against Mugabe

Zimbabwe's parliament starts impeachment process against Mugabe

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s parliament began an impeachment process against President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday that looks set to bring his domination of a country he has ruled since independence nearly four decades ago to an ignominious end.

In the last week, Mugabe has clung on in the face of a collapse of his authority and a Monday deadline to quit. (Graphic on players http://tmsnrt.rs/2A87YBx)

The army seized power a week ago and there have been mass protests against him and calls to resign from many sides including on Tuesday from the ruling party’s favorite to succeed him Emmerson Mnangagwa. (Graphic on economy http://tmsnrt.rs/2zFGGlq)

Parliament Speaker Jacob Mudenda said he received a motion to impeach and the parliament would adjourn to a hotel to start the proceedings on Tuesday afternoon. Zimbabwean law says a joint sitting can take place anywhere. Thousands or people demonstrated outside parliament urging Mugabe to quit. (Graphic on currency http://tmsnrt.rs/2mwbtLU)

Mugabe led Zimbabwe’s liberation war and is hailed as one of Africa’s founding fathers and a staunch supporter of the drive to free neighbouring South Africa from apartheid in 1994.

But many people in Africa and beyond also say he has damaged Zimbabwe’s economy, democracy and judiciary by staying in power for too long and has used violence to crush perceived political opponents.

(Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Zimbabwe protesters begin marching towards Mugabe residence

Zimbabwe protesters begin marching towards Mugabe residence

By Joe Brock and MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabweans celebrating the expected fall of President Robert Mugabe began marching towards his residence in the capital Harare on Saturday, live television pictures showed, as the country prepared to oust its leader of the last 37 years.

Earlier in the day tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of the capital singing, dancing and hugging soldiers in an outpouring of elation as Mugabe’s rule comes to an end.

In scenes reminiscent of the downfall of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, men, women and children ran alongside the armored cars and troops that stepped in this week to oust the only ruler Zimbabwe has known since independence in 1980.

The 93-year-old Mugabe has been under house arrest in his lavish ‘Blue Roof’ compound in Harare, from where he has watched support from his Zanu-PF party, security services and people evaporate in less than three days.

Emotions ran over on Harare’s streets as Zimbabweans spoke of a second liberation for the former British colony, alongside their dreams of political and economic change after two decades of deepening repression and hardship.

“These are tears of joy,” Frank Mutsindikwa, 34, told Reuters, holding aloft the Zimbabwean flag. “I’ve been waiting all my life for this day. Free at last. We are free at last.”

Mugabe’s downfall is likely to send shockwaves across Africa, where a number of entrenched strongmen, from Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni to Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila, are facing mounting pressure to step aside.

The secretary-general of Zimbabwe’s War Veterans Association, Victor Matemadanda, called on those at an anti-Mugabe rally to march on Mugabe’s residence, and live television footage showed hundreds of protesters marching in that direction.

“Let us now go and deliver the message that grandfather Mugabe and his typist-cum-wife should go home,” Matemadanda told the crowd in the Harare township of Highfield.

The crowds in Harare have so far given a quasi-democratic veneer to the army’s intervention, backing its claims that it is merely effecting a constitutional transfer of power, which would help it avoid the diplomatic backlash and opprobrium that normally follows coups.

NO DIS-GRACE

For some Africans, Mugabe remains a nationalist hero, the continent’s last independence leader and a symbol of its struggle to throw off the legacy of decades of colonial subjugation.

But to many more at home and abroad, however, he was reviled as a dictator happy to resort to violence to retain power and to run a once-promising economy into the ground.

Although Mugabe has been digging in his heels in the face of army pressure to quit, he appears to have run out of road, devoid of domestic or international support.

Political sources and intelligence documents seen by Reuters said Mugabe’s exit is likely to pave the way for an interim unity government led by Mnangagwa, a life-long Mugabe aide and former security chief known as “The Crocodile”.

Stabilising the free-falling economy will be the number one priority, the documents said.

The United States, a long-time Mugabe critic, said it was looking forward to a “new era” in Zimbabwe, while President Ian Khama of neighboring Botswana said Mugabe had no diplomatic support in the region and should resign at once.

“I don’t think anyone should be president for that amount of time. We are presidents. We are not monarchs. It’s just common sense,” Khama told Reuters.

In a sign of the depth of his demise, Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF called on Friday for him to go, according to The Herald, the state newspaper that has served as a loyal mouthpiece for nearly four decades.

ZANU-PF branches in all 10 provinces had also called for the resignation of Mugabe’s wife Grace, the first lady whose ambitions to succeed her husband outraged the military and much of the country.

To many Zimbabweans, Grace is more familiar as “Gucci Grace” on account of her reported dedication to shopping, or – in the wake of the alleged assault in September of a South African model – “Dis-Grace”.

Mugabe’s nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, told Reuters on Saturday that the elderly leader and his wife were “ready to die for what is correct” and had no intention of stepping down in order to legitimize what he described as a coup.

Speaking from a secret location in South Africa, Zhuwao said Mugabe had hardly slept since the military seized power on Wednesday but his health was otherwise “good”.

STUBBORN

The extraordinary scenes in Harare are indicative of the anger and frustration that has built up in nearly two decades of economic mismanagement that started with the seizure of white-owned farms in 2000, the catalyst of a wider collapse.

The central bank tried to print its way out of trouble by unleashing a flood of cash but that only made matters worse, leading to hyperinflation that topped out at 500 billion percent in 2008.

At least 3 million Zimbabweans emigrated in search of a better life, most of them to neighboring South Africa.

After stabilizing briefly when Mugabe was forced to work with the opposition in a 2009-2013 unity government, the economy has collapsed again, this time due to a chronic shortage of dollars.

In October, monthly inflation leapt to more than 50 percent, putting basic goods beyond the means of many in a country with 90 percent unemployment.

Mugabe’s only public appearance since the military took over on Wednesday was at a university graduation ceremony on Friday morning. Decked out in blue and yellow academic gowns, he appeared tired, at one point falling asleep in his chair.

A senior member of the ZANU-PF ruling party said it was only a matter of time before he agreed to his own departure.

“If he becomes stubborn, we will arrange for him to be fired on Sunday,” the source said. “When that is done, it’s impeachment on Tuesday.”

(Additional reporting by Ed Cropley; Writing by Ed Cropley and Alexander Winning; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Janet Lawrence)