Kinshasa, Dec 27 (AP/UNB) — He wants to run Africa's second-largest country, one of vast mineral wealth, sprawling poverty and vicious fighting that has cost millions of lives. Noel Tshiani Muadiamvita's chances are slim to none but he's convinced he's perfect for the job.
Among 21 candidates vying to succeed President Joseph Kabila in Sunday's election, Tshiani promotes himself as someone Congo has never had: a truly qualified head of state. Former colonizer Belgium departed without training Congolese to rule. Mobutu Sese Seko, who led for more than three decades, had been an army sergeant major. Laurent Kabila was plucked from exile to unseat him. Joseph Kabila, after his father was assassinated, took power at age 29.
Tshiani, wielding a resume featuring Harvard and the World Bank, speaks in terms of glory.
"Muadiamvita means 'invincible warrior,' which means that when you go into a presidential election, my competition is well advised to stay aside," he said. "At the end of the day, no matter what they do, I will win."
The odds say otherwise, but big talk is a staple of Congo's boisterous run-up to the vote.
Kabila is stepping aside after ruling since 2001, and the election has been delayed since late 2016. Now tensions are rising again. The electoral commission on Wednesday delayed the vote in two key areas until months after the new president is inaugurated, meaning more than 1 million votes effectively don't count.
Amid the noise, the 61-year-old Tshiani remains an unknown for many.
"I know his name, because he wants to become president. But I don't know him," said Olivier Bonte as he waited in Kinshasa to catch a bus. Others didn't even recognize the name.
Tshiani describes himself as a technocrat, and pointedly not a politician. After completing his doctorate in economics in Paris, he went to Harvard for a postdoctoral degree in leadership and management. He worked for a number of commercial banks in New York and spent 28 years at the World Bank.
Now he wants to bring that experience home, and has published a book outlining his economic vision for Congo, "The Force of Change."
"We must be ashamed of ourselves, and the politicians should be ashamed of themselves, because this is the result of the management style of the country," Tshiani said, pointing to Congo's widespread lack of basic services and infrastructure despite staggering mineral wealth. "I believe there is a case to be made for somebody who is not a politician, who is not part of the problem ... for somebody like me to become president of Congo."
He said he is financing his campaign with his savings. Leading up to the election, he travelled around Kinshasa accompanied by dark-suited bodyguards and an armed police escort, looking the part of a big-time candidate.
But observers said they doubt his chances in a country where connections are everything.
"I know professor Noel Tshiani," said A.L. Kitenge Lubanda, a political and economic analyst. "He is a brilliant person but he has no (political) machine. His political party is very weak and I don't think he has any chance to win."
Rarely smiling in public, Tshiani often seems taken aback by Congo's vibrant political scene. He addresses a crowd like a professor intent on schooling the people on economic reforms.
He worked a crowd of about 300 people earlier this month, shaking hands as they danced and cheered him on: "Viva Tshiani, Viva!"
After they settled, Tshiani held up his book and explained his vision.
Congo has never had a peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960. This election could be the first.
The opposition fears that the vote will be rigged in favor of the ruling party, and that Kabila's preferred successor, Emanuel Ramazani Shadary, has the state machinery behind him. Kabila, meanwhile, has hinted he might run again in five years' time.
Tshiani said no, it is time for a change.
"He has spent 17 years in power. He has amassed a lot of wealth. I think it is time for him to just retire and leave Congo in the hands of another leadership, so that we can use the natural resources — not to enrich ourselves, but to develop the country and create good conditions for the people of Congo."
Maiduguri, Dec 26 (AP/UNB) — Nigeria's military says 14 military and police personnel have been killed in an ambush by Boko Haram extremists.
An army statement says the security forces were on escort duty when they were attacked on Monday just outside Damaturu town in Yobe state in the north of the country.
The statement signed by army spokesman Col. Onyema Nwachukwu says efforts to pursue and "eliminate" the Boko Haram extremists are ongoing.
Nigeria's military has been fighting Boko Haram's Islamic insurgency for nearly a decade. The continued threat is a major issue for President Muhammadu Buhari as he seeks a second term in February's election.
After a recent series of deadly attacks on Nigeria's military, Buhari and others have warned that the extremists have begun using drones to as part of a resurgence.
Cairo, Dec 26 (AP/UNB) — Police used tear gas and fired in the air Tuesday to disperse thousands of protesters attempting to march on the presidential palace to demand that Omar Bashir, Sudan's president of 29 years, step down, according to activists and video clips posted online. Organizers say hundreds were injured and at least eight received gunshot wounds.
The clips purported to show crowds of several hundred each gathering on side roads and headed toward the palace on the bank of the Blue Nile in the heart of Khartoum. They sang patriotic songs and chanted "freedom," ''peaceful, peaceful against the thieves" and "The people want to bring down the regime." The latter was the most popular slogan of the 2010 and 2011 Arab Spring revolts.
One clip showed the seemingly lifeless body of a protester in Khartoum being carried away and placed inside a car that drove away. The protester's head showed a gaping wound and the voice of another protester could be heard saying he was deliberately shot by a sniper. Earlier images circulated by activists showed police snipers on rooftops near the palace ahead of the march.
Another clip purported to show two other protesters suffering gunshot wounds to the head and the legs as they were being attended to in a clinic. There were no reliable casualty figures available.
The march's organizer, an umbrella of independent professional unions, said at least eight protesters received gunshot wounds, three of whom were in serious condition and that hundreds were hurt when police hit them with batons or used tear gas to disperse them.
Large numbers of security forces were deployed across much of Khartoum Tuesday in anticipation of the march, with soldiers riding in all-terrain vehicles. Police fired in the air, used tear gas and hit demonstrators with batons to disperse them, only for the crowds to assemble again and try and continue their march in pitched battles. Activists said the fighting continued after nightfall.
The protest was called by the umbrella of independent professional unions and supported by the country's largest political parties, Umma and Democratic Unionist. The organizers want to submit a petition demanding that Bashir, who has ruled since he seized power in a 1989 military coup, step down.
It said late Tuesday that it would continue to work for the ouster of Bashir, an objective that "we trust we are more able to collectively realize now than at any time before."
Tuesday's march follows nearly a week of protests initially sparked by rising prices and shortages of food and fuel, but which later escalated into calls for Bashir to go. The Sudanese leader was in the al-Jazeera region south of Khartoum on a previously scheduled visit Tuesday. Live TV coverage showed him addressing supporters there in a rally and the country's state news agency said he inaugurated a road and a girls' school there.
In an address in which he frequently quoted verses from the Quran, Bashir, who is an Islamist, blamed the country's economic woes on international sanctions and enemies of Sudan who don't want it to progress.
The petition the protesters wanted to submit at the palace demands that the general-turned-president hand over power to a "transitional government of technocrats with a mandate agreed upon by all segments of Sudanese society."
"We are asserting that we will continue to exercise all popular and peaceful options, including general strike and civil disobedience, to bring down the regime," it warned.
The march followed a joint statement late Monday by the United States, Britain, Norway and Canada, which said they were concerned by "credible reports" that Sudan's security forces have used live ammunition against demonstrators. They urged all parties to avoid violence or the destruction of property while affirming the right of the Sudanese people to peacefully protest to express their "legitimate grievances."
The London-based rights group Amnesty International meanwhile said it had "credible reports" that Sudanese police have killed 37 protesters in clashes during the anti-government demonstrations.
An opposition leader said over the weekend that 22 protesters were killed. The government has acknowledged fatalities without providing any figures.
The military vowed Sunday to rally behind Bashir and emphasized in a statement that it was operating in harmony with the police and Sudan's feared security agencies. Also Monday, Bashir said his government would introduce measures to remedy the economy and "provide citizens with a dignified life."
He also warned citizens against what he called "rumor mongers."
The protests over the past week have been met with a heavy security crackdown, with authorities arresting more than a dozen opposition leaders, suspending school and university classes, and imposing emergency rule or nighttime curfews in several cities. There has also been a near-total news blackout on the protests and tighter than usual censorship of newspapers.
Bashir, in his mid-70s, overthrew an elected but ineffective government when he seized power in 1989 in collaboration with Islamists. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court for committing crimes against humanity and genocide in the western Darfur region, where disgruntled ethnic African tribesmen revolted for a larger share of the nation's resources and an end to discrimination by the Arabized and mostly Muslim north.
Bashir has ordered the use of force against protesters in the past — including in the last round of unrest in January — successfully crushing them to remain one of the longest-serving leaders in the region. Although his time in power has seen one crisis after another, he is seeking a new term in office, with loyal lawmakers campaigning for constitutional amendments that would allow him to run in the 2020 election.
Sudan, a country of more than 40 million people, lost three quarters of its oil wealth when the mainly animist and Christian south seceded in 2011 after a long and ruinous civil war against the Khartoum government. More recently, a currency devaluation earlier this year caused prices to surge and a liquidity crunch forced the government to limit bank withdrawals, leading to long lines outside ATMs.
Johannesburg, Dec 23 (AP/UNB) — His skull still open, a South African musician with a brain tumor played several notes on his guitar during a successful operation to remove most of the growth.
Musa Manzini's guitar-playing helped guide the medical team in their delicate task while preserving neural pathways, said Dr. Rohen Harrichandparsad, one of the neurosurgeons. Manzini was given local anesthetic during what doctors call an "awake craniotomy" this month at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital in Durban.
"It increased the margin of safety for us, in that we could have real-time feedback on what we were doing intraoperatively," Harrichandparsad said Saturday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
The procedure is not uncommon, and there have been several cases in other countries of musicians playing an instrument or singing during similar operations. The intention was to test Manzini's "ability to produce music," which requires the complex interaction of pathways in the brain, the doctor said.
Manzini was given his guitar toward the end of the hours-long procedure, as doctors checked that everything was in order.
A photo and video taken by the medical team show Manzini lying with his guitar in the operating room.
"There you are, do your thing," a team member says as he begins playing.
Starting slowly, Manzini picks out a series of notes and eases toward a tune, with the beeping of monitors as accompaniment.
In an "awake craniotomy," some doctors stimulate parts of the brain with a mild electrical current as a way of testing and mapping areas that control key functions such as movement and speech. If a patient struggles to speak when the current is applied to a particular area, for example, doctors know they must protect it during tumor removal.
Despite the procedure's name, patients are given medication to make them sleepy during parts of the lengthy operation.
In 2015, a musician played his saxophone during brain surgery in Spain. An opera singer sang during a brain operation in the Netherlands in 2014.
Dr. Basil Enicker, another neurosurgeon who operated on Manzini, said 90 percent of the tumor was removed and that the musician was at home near Durban and doing well.
"Our main aim was to make sure that we do the best that we can for our patient," Enicker said. He said the response from the public to news of the operation was very positive.
"We are pleasantly surprised," he said.
Nairobi, Dec 22 (AP/UNB) — An explosives-packed vehicle detonated at a military checkpoint near Somalia's presidential palace, killing at least six people and wounding several others, police said. The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group, which often targets Mogadishu, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Those killed include three staffers from the London-based Universal TV station, including prominent journalist Awil Dahir Salad, said police Capt. Mohamed Hussein.
The bomber targeted the checkpoint near the rear entrance of the heavily fortified palace, Hussein said. A lawmaker and a deputy mayor of Mogadishu were among the more than 20 people wounded, he said.
Soldiers also were among the dead, Col. Ahmed Mohamud said.
The blast and a second, smaller one nearby appeared to target those heading to work on what was a business day in the Horn of Africa nation.
A plume of smoke rose over the capital as ambulances rushed to the scene.
"At first I saw a vehicle driving to and fro, then we tried to stop people walking here and there, and then in the blink of an eye the vehicle exploded, causing havoc," traffic police officer Mohamed Harun told The Associated Press.
Al-Shabab, the most active Islamic extremist group in sub-Saharan Africa, was pushed out of Mogadishu years ago but continues to control large parts of rural southern and central Somalia.
The U.S. military, which partners with Somali forces and an African Union peacekeeping mission, has greatly increased airstrikes against al-Shabab under the Trump administration. At least 47 U.S. strikes have been carried out this year.