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Diversification key to safeguarding African economies

According to a new report by ICAEW, African countries are starting to diversify sources of growth away from commodities. Although times are challenging, the regional outlook remains bright with growth above the world average, according to the first Economic Insight report for the region. LONDON, 15 May 2015, -/African Media Agency (AMA)/-Economic Insight: Africa Q2 2015 […]

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Antibiotic advance wins African innovation prize

This year's Innovation Prize for Africa has been awarded to biotechnology professor Adnane Remmal.

The $100,000 cash prize recognizes his development of a natural alternative to normal antibiotics for livestock.

The treatment, which can either be added to the animal's feed or to drinking water, was developed from naturally-occurring molecules he found had anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic and anti-fungal properties.

"My innovation provides farmers with solutions to improve their production," said Adnane Remmal in a statement.

"It is cost-effective and can be easily adopted, giving farmers increased benefits without the side effects of antibiotics."

His discovery was heralded as being especially important, given the rise of drug-resistant diseases and the increasing use of antibiotics in farming.

Two other $25,000 prizes were awarded, at Wednesday's ceremony in Skhirat, Morocco.

The winner of innovation with the best business potential was Alex Mwaura Muriu from Kenya.

He developed a business model which allows farmers to find investors and share the risk of growing crops, even on small farms.

Highest social impact

The prize for innovation with the highest social impact was awarded to South African Lesley Erica Scott.

She developed a machine that examines the accuracy of machines used to diagnosis TB, reducing instances of inaccurate diagnosis.

This year the Innovation Prize for Africa attracted 925 entries from 41 countries.

Other finalists included an early-warning fire detector, which uses radio signals to spread the alarm and stop fires in slums and shanty towns.

An environmentally friendly hydrogen-fuelled minicab, which offers Wi-Fi access and mobile charging while you ride, was also among those shortlisted.

Educational projects also featured. One was a mobile phone fund-raising app from Kenya called M-Changa. It lets individuals and organisations run fundraising via SMS or web devices.

"In Kenya and in Africa we rely on our extended family when it comes to our times of need," says developer Kyai Mullei, co-founder of M-Changa.

"If you think about medical emergencies, education bills, funerals and weddings, M-Changa is a platform that is designed to allow you to do that activity in a more efficient and transparent manner."

Electronic circuits

Another finalist was an educational tool called Seebox.

It is designed to help children explore science and engineering, by playing with its electronic circuits, even in the absence of qualified teachers.

"While the child playing this game he basically works up a record for himself," Johann Pierre Kok, the developer, told Al Jazeera.

"If you're a technology company and you want to know who to give a bursary to, you will go with that data not academic achievement so much because you want to capture the natural engineers, the little problem solvers."

The African Innovation Foundation hopes the awards will give the particular projects a boost and also help promote social and economic transformation Africa-wide.


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Belgium suspends financial aid for Burundi elections

Belgium said it has suspended aid for elections in Burundi following violent clashes between security forces and protesters against President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term.

Belgium, the biggest bilateral backer of Burundi's voting process, has also halted support for a police mission in the country, international development minister Alexander De Croo said in a statement on Monday.

"De Croo believes that in the current circumstances the payment of the remaining tranche of two million euros [$2.2m] must be suspended," with two million euros of an overall budget of four million having already been paid out, the statement said.

It cited the fact that the EU's electoral mission in Burundi had said last week that "conditions for free elections have not been met at the moment".

In addition, Belgium said its involvement in a police cooperation mission with Burundi, which also involves the Netherlands, "must be temporarily suspended".

At least 19 people have died in Burundi since Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a third term in elections due next month, sparking weeks of angry demonstrations.

More than 50,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries fearing violence, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

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South Africa opposition party elects first black leader

South Africa's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has elected Mmusi Maimane as its new leader to succeed Helen Zille.

Maimane, 34, becomes the first black leader of the party.

The part-time pastor is expected to the challenge the African Nation Congress (ANC) which has governed the country since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Zille, a white woman, announced last month she was leaving after leading the party for the last eight years.

South Africa remains deeply divided racially, with most blacks preferring to vote for the ANC.

"Black South African people are scared of being led by a white person. But I don't think it will actually make a difference." Zintle Mabongo, a resident of Port Elizabeth where party delegates elected the new leader, told Al Jazeera.

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Tarek Osman on the cost of migrant smuggling

The lives of thousands of migrants are at risk, as unprecedented numbers try to make the sea crossing from North Africa to Europe.

Thousands are choosing to make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, fleeing from conflict, persecution and poverty at home. But they are often paying a high price.

It is a business as well as a human tragedy. It is estimated that the human trafficking industry as a whole produces almost $26bn a year, and smuggling is part of that.

So what is the cost of migrant smuggling? And who benefits? What is the European Union doing to address the migrant crisis?

Tarek Osman from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, joins Counting the Cost to discuss the business of migrant smuggling.


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Cheap imports threaten Ghana’s textile industry

West African prints have made it to the fashion catwalks of the Western world, yet at home the fabric industry is suffering because of cheap fake imports.

In response, the government is encouraging people to support the industry and promote their culture by wearing local fabrics.

Al Jazeera's Ama Boateng reports from Ghana's capital Accra.


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Development and democracy debate ahead of Ethiopia vote

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - If Ethiopians ever possessed a strong desire to express their political views through the ballot, that sentiment seems to have dwindled in the run-up to national elections on May 24.

One 28-year-old student, who requested anonymity fearing reprisals, shrugged at the thought of the upcoming vote.

"To say we have elections, there have to be real alternatives," he said. "This election is just so we can tell Western governments we are a democratic country," the finance and accounting master's degree student told Al Jazeera at Addis Ababa University's Siddist Kilo campus.

Such views are not uncommon among the electorate and opposition members in the capital, many of whom have dismissed the upcoming vote as a formality.

The results of the 2010 election left the opposition with a single seat in the 547-seat parliament, and afterwards the EU said Ethiopia's electoral process failed to create "a level playing field for political parties".

It wasn't always this way.

In 2005, the then high-school student took part in political rallies in support of the Oromo National Congress Party running under one of the main opposition coalitions, the United Ethiopian Democratic Front.

Back then, he said, the opposition was strong and united, and people thought supporting it would bear fruit.

In the election that year - preceded by a relatively open political climate - the opposition surprised the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) by taking 31 percent of parliamentary seats.

However, the aftermath of the vote was marked by mass arrests of student protesters and opposition leaders.

The student told Al Jazeera he was detained for months, a fate he shared with thousands of students who took to the streets.

The country's controversial 2009 anti-terrorism proclamation has been criticised for its broad application to journalists and opposition members in the run-up to this year's vote, including six "Zone9" bloggers currently on trial for terrorism-related charges.

Registration complaints

According to Ethiopia's National Electoral Board, 47 parties and 5,819 candidates are contesting the ballot for the national parliament and the regional councils.

The ruling party has fielded 501 candidates for the 547-seat parliament, followed by the Ethiopia Federal Democratic Union Form (MEDREK) and the Blue Party with 270 and 139 candidates, respectively.

Opposition members complain that navigating the political landscape ahead of the election has proven difficult.

"We are more consolidated and better positioned compared to previous elections, but the space is more closed," Professor Beyene Petros, chair of the centre-left MEDREK, told Al Jazeera.

Both MEDREK and the Blue Party have also cited difficulties registering candidates.

The Blue Party's chairman said more than half of the party's 380 registered candidates were removed from the party list in February on administrative grounds.

"This is politically motivated to hinder Blue Party activities. The electoral board is not independent," Yilkal Getent told Al Jazeera.

The cancellation of candidates, Getent said, has thwarted the party's ability to mobilise voters through ongoing political debates aired on state media, as time allocations are determined based on the number of candidates.

The Blue Party considers itself centre-right and wants to appeal to the country's young electorate, but government officials dismiss it as a far-right movement.

The government also accused the Blue Party of inciting violence last month at a government-organised rally in Addis Ababa following the killing of Ethiopian migrants in Libya by ISIL - allegations the party's leaders dismissed.

'Dilute the vote'

Despite the large number of parties registered, the opposition alleges many are allied with the ruling party.

"No more than two to three parties are real opposition parties. The others don't run to win, their role is to dilute the vote for the opposition," Merera Gudina, associate professor of political science at Addis Ababa University and a leading opposition figure, told Al Jazeera.

Some also criticised the voter registration process that ended in February, allegedly covering more than 80 percent of the eligible electorate.

Selam Gebrehiwot, a 19-year-old philosophy student, said the government is pressuring voters by tying registration to government services.

"The officials came to my house to give me the registration card although I didn't ask for it. I was scared, so I took the card."

The deputy chairman of the National Election Board, Addisu Gebreigzabhier, denied such allegations.

"We are just doing civic education," Gebreigzabhier said. "The high voter registration is a result of the electorate's desire to exercise their democratic rights."

The pre-election process, he added, has been professionally run according to the country's electoral laws and has been "to the satisfaction of all parties".

Development first, democracy later

Yohannis Getachew, a 32-year-old taxi driver in Addis Ababa, has been following the ongoing political debates on the radio. He said the opposition has failed to present a convincing alternative.

"At least the government is building roads and railways. I think that's good. I don't know what the opposition would do," said Getachew.

The ruling party's growth and transformation plan has resulted in double-digit economic growth over the past five years.

Government officials often cite EPRDF's economic track record as its main source of voter support.

"It's very difficult for any party to come up with an idea that can match an 11 percent growth rate," said Ganenu Asefa, a political adviser at the Government Office for Communication Affairs.

Opposition parties, however, say that growth has benefited only a small elite aligned with the ruling party.

"The so-called growth agenda has been impressing the foreigners, not the citizens," Professor Gudina, whose Oromo Federalist Congress party runs under MEDREK's ticket, told Al Jazeera.

"Development without democracy is very difficult to sustain," he added.

The government Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) - characterised by state intervention in the economy as well as massive public investments in infrastructure - aims to turn Ethiopia into a middle-income country by 2025.

International institutions have largely praised the EPRDF's growth agenda.

"The targets they set in the GTP were very ambitious, and even if they achieve 75 percent of those targets, it will be a tremendous achievement for a country coming from such a low base," said the World Bank's country director for Ethiopia, Guang Z Chen.

Chen said in order to sustain strong growth going forward, the government will need to make policy adjustments so as to stimulate the industrial sector, which currently contributes only 12 percent to the GDP.

With urbanisation advancing at twice the rate of overall population growth, job creation for Ethiopia's idle urban youth is another priority. Analysts say although the government has recognised the need for structural reform, corruption and insufficient technical capacity could hamper its ability to manage the process.

Follow Simona Foltyn on Twitter: @simonafoltyn

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China ‘negotiates military base’ in Djibouti

China is negotiating a military base in a strategic port of Djibouti, the president said, according to the AFP news agency.

The move raises the prospect of US and Chinese bases side-by-side in the tiny Horn of Africa nation.

"Discussions are ongoing," President Ismail Omar Guelleh said in an interview in Djibouti, saying Beijing's presence would be "welcome".

The AFP did not say when the interview was conducted.

Djibouti is already home to Camp Lemonnier, the US military headquarters on the continent, used for covert, anti-terror and other operations in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere across Africa.

France and Japan also have bases in the port, a former French colony that guards the entrance to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, and which has been used by European and other international navies as a base in the fight against piracy from neighbouring Somalia.

China is already financing several major infrastructure projects estimated to total more than $9bn, including improved ports, airports and railway lines to landlocked Ethiopia, for which Djibouti is a lifeline port.

"France's presence is old, and the Americans found that the position of Djibouti could help in the fight against terrorism in the region," Guelleh said.

"The Japanese want to protect themselves from piracy - and now the Chinese also want to protect their interests, and they are welcome," he said.

Djibouti overseas the narrow Bab al-Mandeb straits, the channel separating Africa from Arabia and one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, leading into the Red Sea and northwards to the Mediterranean.

Djibouti and Beijing signed a military agreement allowing the Chinese navy to use Djibouti port in February 2014, a move that angered Washington.

China aims to install a permanent military base in Obock, Djibouti's northern port city.

In recent years, Guelleh has increasingly turned to China as a key economic partner. Last year he switched the port operating contract to a Chinese company, after the previous Dubai-based operator was accused of corruption.

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S Africa government blamed for Cape Town gang violence

The murder rate has slowed down across South Africa, except for the city of Cape Town, which sees widespread violence as drug gangs fight over territory in the Cape Flats communities.

Charles Goredema, an expert on organised crime in South Africa, told Al Jazeera that public officials, including law enforcement agencies, have been either complicit with criminal networks or turned a blind eye to their illegal acts.

In an exclusive interview, Al Jazeera's Sue Turton talks to a gang leader who blames the government for turning his neighbourhood into a ghetto.


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Ivorian child smuggled to Spain in suitcase

Spanish Police have found an eight-year-old Ivorian boy hidden in a suitcase that was smuggled across the border into territory in north Africa, officials have said.

A 19-year-old woman took the case through a pedestrian crossing from Morocco into the small Spanish-governed territory of Ceuta on Thursday, a spokesman for the Civil Guard police force said.

"When they put the suitcase through the scanner, the operator noticed something strange, which seemed to be a person inside the case," he told the AFP news agency.

"When it was opened they found a minor, in a terrible state."

The boy said he was eight years old and from Ivory Coast, according to the spokesman.

The Civil Guard arrested the woman, who was due to go before a judge.

OPINION: The Mediterranean: Graveyard of European values

They also arrested the boy's father when he tried to cross the border a few hours later. The father is Ivorian and lives in Spain's Canary Islands.

Thousands of migrants each year risk their lives trying to enter Ceuta and another Spanish territory bordering Morocco, Melilla, in search of a better life in Europe.

Many Africans try to scramble over the seven-metre (23-foot) fences that separate the Spanish cities from Morocco.

Others smuggle themselves over the border hidden in vehicles and cargoes or try to swim or sail from shores on the Moroccan side.

Earlier this week a 23-year-old Moroccan was found in a shipping container in the port of Melilla.

He was dehydrated after four days cooped up without food or water, since the container was left unattended over the May holiday weekend.

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