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Ghana prepares to bury ex-leader Rawlings as parties vie over legacy

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Former Ghana President Jerry Rawlings

As Ghana prepares for the funeral of former president Jerry Rawlings, the two main political parties are squabbling over his legacy.

Rawlings held sway for two decades, first as military ruler and later as elected president.

He died in November at the age of 73 and his funeral was initially scheduled for December 23 but was postponed, because of what the foreign ministry called “unforeseen circumstances”.

It will now take place in the capital Accra on Wednesday.

Behind the scenes, Rawlings’ family, traditional chiefs and political figures have been at odds over the legacy of the former air force flight lieutenant, who twice overthrew governments but was widely seen by the poor as their champion.

Rawlings got his first taste of power in 1979 when he banded together with other junior officers frustrated over widespread corruption to take control.

He quickly handed the reins to an elected president but was soon back at the top following another coup on December 31, 1981.

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The son of a Scottish father and Ghanaian mother, he became a national icon as he headed Ghana for 20 years until 2001, being voted in as president at the ballot box in 1992 and ushering in democracy.

Starting out as a populist inspired by the left-wing policies of the Soviet Union and Cuba, he eventually turned to free-market economics to boost Ghana’s suffering economy.

He eventually became a major figure in West Africa and also a symbol of pan-Africanism.

– ‘Political trophy’ –

Days ahead of the funeral ceremony, which will be held in Independence Square, symbol of Ghana’s victory over colonial Britain, the square and adjacent avenue were already swarming with soldiers.

“They’re afraid there’s going to be trouble,” said Esther Amoo, a local business owner, as she stood watching the troops train for the ceremony.

“Everyone wants to get their hands on our former president. Since JJ died, it’s a mess everywhere!” she added.

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After Rawlings died on November 12 the organisation of the funeral became a highly coveted political trophy, even as the country was in full presidential election swing.

His status as former head of state gives him the right to a state funeral, but the National Democratic Congress (NDC), a party he founded and which has now gone into opposition, demanded that it be involved in organising it.

One party leader even threatened to “steal his remains” following the funeral so that the party could bury him again.

This is despite the fact that Rawlings made a very public split from the NDC in 2009, calling party elders “old evil dwarfs”.

Rawlings even helped current President Nana Akufo-Addo win the office for the first time in 2016.

– ‘A big joke’ –

“This whole story of political affiliation is a big joke,” said Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi, co-founder of the Afrobarometer think-tank.

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“Jerry Rawlings was deeply democratic-sceptical and never missed an opportunity to express his dislike for multiparty democracy, he added.

“For him, it was an invention of the West that did not suit Africa. It is therefore absurd that our current parties today claim it!”

Ghana today is often considered a beacon of stability in a turbulent region.

It held elections on December 7 which saw the incumbent President Akufo-Addo win a second term, defeating long-time rival John Mahama.

Rawlings’ record includes 300 documented extra-judicial executions. Up to his death he refused to offer any apologies or reparations to the families of his victims.

“His line of defence was to say that some people deserved it, or even that ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’,” said Gyimah-Boadi.

“For me, this is the darkest aspect of his legacy: the legacy of impunity.”

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Ten rebels killed in offensive in east DR Congo — Army

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Democratic Republic of Congo soldiers. Photo: AFP

The Congolese army forces on Sunday killed 10 rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in the troubled east of the country, a spokesman said.

The offensive kicked off last Thursday in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, with army and police officers assigned to replace civilian authorities under a 30-day “state of siege”.

In a clash in Halungupa, in the Rwenzori area, “our troops got the better of the ADF enemy. We in fact saw 10 dead bodies of ADF elements,” Antony Mualushayi, an army spokesman in the North Kivu city of Beni, told AFP.

The death toll is provisional, he added.

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“We are determined to finish with the ADF once and for all,” he said. “This siege should give the people of the Beni region the chance to live in a place where peace rules.”

A spokesman for a monitor called the Kivu Security Tracker (KST) said however that it had counted “only five bodies so far.”

Meanwhile, a delegation of Ugandan officers arrived in Beni on Sunday, according to an AFP reporter, while the army and government authorities declined to comment on the visit.

The ADF, a group of Ugandan Islamist fighters, has been based in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since 1995.

Branded a “terrorist” organization affiliated with the Islamic State group by the United States, the ADF has been accused of murdering more than 1,000 civilians since November 2019 in Beni alone.

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It is by far the most dangerous of scores of armed groups that operate in the east of DR Congo.

Mineral-rich North and South-Kivu which lie along the DRC’s eastern borders with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, descended into violence during the country’s two wars between 1996 and 2003, and have never regained stability.

Ituri, further to the north, has also been rocked by violence since late 2017 after 15 years of relative calm.

Under the DRC’s constitution, the president can declare a state of either siege or emergency “if severe circumstances immediately threaten the independence or integrity of the national territory, or if they interrupt the regular functioning of institutions”.

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South Sudan president dissolves parliament in line with peace deal

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South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has dissolved parliament, a long-awaited step to pave the way for the appointment of lawmakers from formerly warring parties in the country.

The move was in line with a peace deal signed to end a civil war that began in 2013.

The president dissolved parliament on Saturday and the new body will be formed in “a matter of time, not too long”, his spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told Reuters.

According to the deal that ended the civil war, parliament must be expanded from 400 members to 550 and must include members from all parties to the peace accord.

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South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011 after decades of civil war. Violence erupted in late 2013 after Kiir, from the Dinka ethnic group, sacked vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer.

The two men have signed many deals to end a war estimated to have killed more than 400,000 people. They repeatedly pushed back deadlines to form a government of national unity, but in 2020 finally did so.

Despite the peace deal, violence is still raging in parts of the country, according to United Nations reports.

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Chad rebels ‘fleeing’, says defence minister

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Rebels who launched an offensive in northern Chad, sparking clashes that claimed the life of veteran president Idriss Deby Itno, are in flight, the country’s new defence minister said on Thursday.

“The security forces are thoroughly sweeping the operational area. Most of the prisoners are in the hands of the gendarmerie (police) and are being well-treated. The enemy is fleeing,” Defence Minister Brahim Daoud Yaya told a news conference.

“We are never going to dialogue with terrorists.”

He was speaking after the first meeting of a transitional government appointed by a 14-member military junta, the Transitional Military Council (TMC), that took office after Deby’s death on April 19.

Opposition supporters, meanwhile, called for fresh anti-junta protests on Saturday.

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Demonstrations on April 29 that were violently repressed by the authorities claimed six lives, according to the authorities, and nine according to a local grass-roots organisation, while more than 600 people were arrested.

The Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), a large armed group with a rear base in Libya, mounted an offensive on April 11 as the country was to hold presidential elections.

Deby, a former general who had been in power for 30 years, led the fighting against the insurgents.

According to the authorities, he died from combat injuries in the Kanem desert region, about 300 kilometres (200 miles) north of the capital N’Djamena, close to the border with Niger.

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“Libya is the terrorists’ stronghold,” the minister said.

He added, however: “I cannot accuse Libya of supporting the terrorists, as there is no state in Libya.”

Deby’s death occurred on the same day that he was declared victor in the presidential results and that the army claimed to have killed 300 FACT rebels, according to official announcements.

Another 246 rebels have been captured and handed over to the judicial authorities, according to the authorities.

Fighting has been continuing in the area of Nokou, in the administrative region of North Kanem.

Last week, a Chadian military helicopter crashed there after what the army said was a breakdown, while FACT said it had downed the aircraft.

A junta took power immediately after Deby’s shock death, headed by his 37-year-old son Mahamat, a four-star general, and parliament was suspended.

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The military rulers have vowed to hold “free and democratic” elections following an 18-month transition period.

On Sunday, the junta unveiled a 40-member transitional government, the key posts of which have gone to members of the former president’s MPS party.

According to a report on Thursday’s first ministerial meeting, a copy of which was seen by AFP, Deby “instructed the government to urgently strengthen communal living, which has been seriously tested, to consolidate peace, ensure security and guarantee security.”

He also called for the holding of an “inclusive national dialogue.”

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