Zimbabwe military supports anti-Mugabe rally

Soldiers are seen on the street in central Harare, Zimbabwe, on Thursday. (REUTERS)
Updated 18 November 2017

Zimbabwe military supports anti-Mugabe rally

HARARE, Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe’s military says in a new statement it supports a rally called for Saturday in the capital that will urge President Robert Mugabe to step aside.
The statement read out on state-run television also says the military’s operation “remains solid” and Zimbabweans are urged to remain patient.
The military is pursuing talks with Mugabe on the “way forward” while arresting some top allies of him and his wife.

Zimbabwe’s state-run broadcaster is reporting that the ruling party is seeking the departure of President Robert Mugabe, under the previously unthinkable headline “ZANU-PF calls on Pres Mugabe to resign.”
The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation report at the top of the nightly news comes as Zimbabweans are using the political limbo to express themselves.
Opposition members and others have called for a rally Saturday in the capital, Harare, to urge Mugabe to go. They say the rally has the backing of the military, which stepped in this week amid alarm that Mugabe was positioning his wife to succeed him.
The ZBC television report includes party members speaking out against the president.

A UK-based official with Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party says all 10 of the party’s provincial branches are calling for the removal of President Robert Mugabe.
Nick Mangwana says on Twitter that the branches have agreed to direct the party’s Central Committee to recall Mugabe as party leader. Recently fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa would assume the acting leadership until the party’s congress next month.
Whoever leads the party would run for president of Zimbabwe in next year’s elections.
It is not clear when the ruling party’s Central Committee would meet.
The privately owned Zimbabwean newspaper Newsday is reporting that all 10 of ZANU-PF’s provincial branches have passed votes of no confidence in Mugabe as leader.

A poster circulating in Zimbabwe’s capital is calling on citizens to rally on Saturday to “remove Mugabe from power.”
Calls for the solidarity march to the State House say both the military and the opposition are supporting it.
“We can’t have a 93-year-old person ruling more than 15 million people,” the poster says.
Those encouraging participation in Saturday’s rally include pastor Evan Mawarire, whose #ThisFlag social media campaign last year led to the largest anti-government protests in a decade.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is calling for a return to civilian rule in Zimbabwe and says the country has a chance to put itself on a “new path” amid signs longtime authoritarian President Robert Mugabe will be forced from power after 37 years in a bloodless coup.
Speaking at a meeting of African foreign ministers at the State Department on Friday, Tillerson said that whoever replaces Mugabe at the helm must respect democracy and human rights. He said the choice of leadership is solely the choice of the Zimbabwean people.
His comments came as the 93-year-old Mugabe made his first public appearance since the military put him under house arrest this week. The military has announced “significant progress” on talks for his departure and arrested some of his allies.

China’s government says it hopes Zimbabwe’s political situation can be resolved “under the legal framework.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters that China would be “glad to see an early restoration of national stability and social order in Zimbabwe.”
Geng did not say what role China is playing in Zimbabwe’s situation. Longtime President Robert Mugabe is under house arrest after the military moved in, and negotiations continue on his departure.
Questions have been raised about China’s role because Zimbabwe’s army commander visited the country last week. On Monday, he threatened to “step in” to calm Zimbabwe’s tensions over Mugabe’s firing of his longtime deputy.
China has called the visit by Gen. Constantino Chiwenga a “normal military exchange.”

High-level supporters of the Zimbabwe vice president whose firing led the military to step in say reports of Emmerson Mnangagwa’s return to the country are false.
The supporters say Mnangagwa, who is expected to lead any new government, will return to Zimbabwe only after processes to remove President Robert Mugabe are complete. They say he doesn’t want his presence to be destabilizing.
They hope a rally on Saturday in the capital, Harare, in support of the military’s move will increase pressure on Mugabe to step aside.
They say that if that fails, the impeachment of Mugabe would be the next step when Parliament resumes Tuesday.
The supporters spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media about the matter.
— Farai Mutsaka in Harare.

An official says another provincial branch of Zimbabwe’s ruling party has passed a no-confidence vote in President Robert Mugabe as the world’s oldest head of state struggles to remain in power.
The official with knowledge of the meeting says Mashonaland East province passed the no-confidence vote. Other ruling party branches in Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces are said to be following suit.
Parliament is expected to resume sitting on Tuesday. It is possible that the ruling ZANU-PF party could use party procedures to impeach Mugabe with the support of opposition lawmakers.
Mugabe has been under house arrest since the military moved in this week, angered by his firing of longtime deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa. Negotiations continue on his departure, though he is said to be asking for more time.
— Farai Mutsaka in Harare.

At least one regional branch of Zimbabwe’s ruling party has called on President Robert Mugabe to resign, and others are said to be following suit.
The Manicaland provincial committee in the eastern city of Mutare has called for the resignation as other party meetings are held across the country.
And the chairman of the influential war veterans’ association in Zimbabwe has just read out a note to reporters saying other ruling party branches in Midlands, Masvingo and Harare have passed no-confidence votes in Mugabe.
Chris Mutsvangwa says other provinces are following suit.
A ZANU-PF provincial youth league meeting in the capital, Harare, was attended by some formerly expelled members who have supported the recently fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. He is expected to lead any new government.
There was no sign of activity at the party’s main headquarters, which is under military guard.

The chairman of the influential war veterans’ association in Zimbabwe says three Cabinet ministers under President Robert Mugabe have been arrested.
Chris Mutsvangwa told reporters in the capital, Harare, that higher education minister Jonathan Moyo, local government minister Savior Kasukuwere and finance minister Ignatious Chombo “are in jail” along with a number of others.
The information could not immediately be confirmed.
Mutsvangwa is an ally of the recently fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa who is expected to lead any new government.
Moyo was listed on the program for the graduation ceremony that Mugabe attended Friday morning, but there was no sign of him.
Zimbabwe’s military said earlier Friday that it had arrested some Mugabe allies. It did not name names.

The chairman of the influential war veterans’ association in Zimbabwe says President Robert Mugabe has asked for “a few more days, a few more months” amid negotiations on his departure from power.
Chris Mutsvangwa, an ally of the recently fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa who is expected to lead any new government, told reporters in Zimbabwe’s capital that “between now and tomorrow” they will warn Mugabe that the game is over.
“He has to make a decision today to leave. ... If he doesn’t leave, we will settle the scores tomorrow.”
Mutsvangwa calls the president “a senile old man who had lost control of his wife.” Fears that first lady Grace Mugabe would replace Mnangagwa led to the military stepping in.
Mutsvangwa said Mugabe’s first public appearance since his house arrest, at a graduation ceremony Friday morning, was a “pretense.”
The war veterans association chair says they are “on the same page” with their friends in South Africa’s government, which has sent Cabinet ministers to negotiate with Mugabe.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s first public appearance since a military takeover is at a university graduation ceremony on the outskirts of Harare.
Clad in academic gown and hat, Mugabe walked slowly in a procession on a red carpet to a podium as a marching band played.
Several thousand graduates of the Zimbabwe Open University and guests stood as Mugabe and other dignitaries entered a tent set up for the event.
Once on the podium, Mugabe joined the crowd in singing Zimbabwe’s national anthem. He announced the opening of the graduation ceremony, and the crowd applauded.
Mugabe’s presidential security detail was present.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is making his first public appearance since the military put him under house arrest earlier this week, attending a graduation ceremony in the capital, Harare.
The appearance comes during an extraordinary series of negotiations with regional leaders over Mugabe’s departure after 37 years in power.
The military is taking pains to show respect for the 93-year-old leader, the world’s oldest head of state, by referring to him as the president and the commander-in-chief.
Friday’s event appears to allow Mugabe to project the image of leadership, even as calls for his departure grow stronger.

Zimbabwe’s military says it is continuing talks with President Robert Mugabe for his departure while it pursues those who were close to the leader and his wife.
Zimbabwe state media reported Friday morning a military statement saying talks with Mugabe “on the way forward” are ongoing.
The Zimbabwe Defense Forces said “significant progress has been made in their operation to weed out criminals around President Mugabe,” adding that they had arrested some although others were still at large.
The statement said Zimbabwe’s military is “currently engaging with the Commander-in-Chief President Robert Mugabe on the way forward and will advise the nation of the outcome as soon as possible.” The state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation television aired a similar report in its early morning bulletin.

Desertification an imminent threat, creating unstable grounds for development

A total of 45 percent of the food consumed globally comes from the world’s dryland areas — and falling productivity, food shortages and water scarcity in these regions is creating insecurity.
Updated 34 min 9 sec ago

Desertification an imminent threat, creating unstable grounds for development

  • Arable land is turning to desert at an alarming rate, especially in the Middle East — affecting food security, biodiversity, socio-economic stability and economic development
  • With 70-90% of the Arabian Peninsula under threat of desertification, new measures must be attempted to sustain development in the region

DUBAI: More than 3.2 billion people, or two in every five, are affected by land degradation today and up to 143 million could move within their countries by 2050 to escape water scarcity and falling crop productivity caused by climate change.

These are the alarming figures provided this summer by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). And with the report issued this week by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stating that the planet will reach a 1.5C increase in temperatures as early as 2030, leading to extreme drought, food shortage and floods, action must be taken.

“Land is worth so much more than the economic value we attach to it,” said Monique Barbut, UNCCD’s executive secretary. “It defines our way of life and our culture — whether we live in the city or villages. It purifies the water we drink. It feeds us. It surrounds us with beauty. But we cannot meet the needs and wants of a growing population if the amount of healthy and productive land continues to decline so dramatically.”

According to The Global Land Outlook of 2017, 45 percent of the food consumed globally comes from the world’s dryland areas and falling productivity, food shortages and water scarcity in these regions is creating insecurity. It warns that about 20 percent more productive land was degraded from 1983 to 2013, with Africa and Asia facing the greatest threats.

Desertification is the degradation of arable and productive
land, of which the region does not have much to begin with. The added use of intensive agriculture coupled with chemicals, pesticides and salt water, have worsened levels of land productivity.

“We consider desertification a major environmental problem but, in reality, it’s also economic and social in the region mostly,” said Dr. Azaiez Ouled Belgacem, regional coordinator of the Arabian Peninsula Regional Program at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (Icarda) in Dubai. “We have a very precarious and harsh environment with very high temperatures, low rainfall and high humidity but it’s now worsening because of climate change.”

Belgacem, also a rangeland scientist, pointed the finger at socio-economic changes in the region, where pastural communities sustainably managed natural resources for centuries. Their mobility created a balance in the use of resources — called the hema system — allowing rangeland to rest for some period. “They followed rainfall and there was no intensive farming system — only fishing and date palms,” he said. “The movement is a rotational system and complements the use of resources and water.”

The discovery of oil and rising population wealth led to settlements and sedentarization, adding stress to lands. Subsidies increasing livestock numbers, coupled with herd mobility and overgrazing, led to further land degradation, loss of biodiversity and desertification. To date, a third of the world’s land is considered impacted by the phenomenon, excluding natural deserts. “It’s not a national challenge, it’s regional and global,” Belgacem explained. “Each country must establish its national strategy, which should build on international partnerships, because there are no borders in desertification.”

According to the UN, drought and desertification cause the annual loss of 120,000 sq kilometers of land globally — an area larger than the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain combined. It has become one of the dominant present-day environmental calamities, affecting hundreds of millions of dryland inhabitants and an area estimated between 1,000 to 3,000 million hectares. “This has a severe impact on food security, biodiversity, socio-economic stability and economic development,” said Diana Francis, atmospheric scientist at New York University — Abu Dhabi. “The Arab world contains around one third of the world’s deserts.

Most Arab countries have insufficient water resources, making the region especially vulnerable to desertification and drought. However, even with these risk factors, mismanagement of water resources and unsustainable land practices are rife across the region.”

She used Saudi Arabia as an example of an arid country with no rivers and a daily per capita water use double the European average. Iraq, considered a regional breadbasket in the 1970s, also lost a significant amount of its farmland to wars and neglect. “The effects of drought and desertification across the region are not only environmental, but also come at an extreme human cost,” she said. “Desertification not only causes loss of productivity with serious impacts on food production, future food security and economic development but also causes the release of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, thereby accelerating global warming.”

Decomposition of soil organic matter and biomass during the past 7,800 years caused by land degradation and desertification has resulted in carbon dioxide emissions estimated at 450 to 500 gigatons, equating to more than the total amount of CO2 emitted from fossil fuel combustion so far. “The most vulnerable areas are along the coast of the Mediterranean, including Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Turkey,” she said. “It also affects Iran, Kuwait and the UAE significantly.”

The UN estimates some 50 million people will be displaced over the next decade due to the effects of drought and desertification. Statistics estimate global soil degradation by 1 percent annually. “Desertification in the Middle East is caused mainly by four human actions linked to farming and agriculture,” Francis said. “They include overgrazing, overcultivating, deforestation and poor irrigation. Indirect causes of desertification include poverty, population growth and loss of traditional knowledge so public understanding is important.”

According to Dr. Taoufik Ksiksi, associate professor in biology at the United Arab Emirates University, too many wrong types of animals are overgrazing precious regional land, exposing the soil and increasing erosion by wind or water. “These are all anthropogenic problems,” he said. “The added issue is that we’re in a hyper-arid environment — plants grow very slowly and climate change worsens the situation. We don’t have the option to go beyond 1.5C in the future and we’re very close.”

He suggested acting aggressively in legislation to minimize overgrazing, while raising awareness on land management. Monitoring desertification will also prove key, much like the Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTER) in North America, where decades of data have been collected to monitor ecosystems’ health. “These aren’t present in the region and we need to do more on long-term sites where we monitor land yearly so we know where we’re heading,” he said. “Revegetation of a lot of land with native plants in the UAE, such as the Ghaf tree, and Saudi Arabia, with the Samer tree, local to the Gulf, the Andab, a grass-like species, and the Salam and Sidr trees, are promising practices for the recovery of the ecosystem’s health and we should set up protected areas to bring it back to its original status.”

Countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE have started planting trees. But it could take five to 10 years for them to affect the land. “Sand is invading the land,” said Dr. Muhammad Shahid, geneticist in the Plant Genetic Resources Program at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture. “Trees help stop desertification and sand because they are a stabilizer of soil. They have good long root system, so it helps as a wind breaker, as wind is responsible for sand moving from place to place. But it needs funding and expertise, and it should be more of a priority.”

Abu Dhabi is also playing its part with Masdar City, promoting the mitigation of desertification from an ecological perspective. “As water is a key component within a desert environment, Masdar has recommended the treatment of greywater within private plots and sole use of treated sewage effluent within the public realm for landscape purposes,” said Peter Spellmeyer, landscape manager at Masdar City. “Masdar has endorsed a 70 percent minimum use of native and drought adaptive plant species. This sustainable approach will serve the community and fulfill shading requirements related to outdoor thermal comfort.”


In the Arabian Peninsula, land threatened by desertification ranges from 70 to 90 percent.

“The situation became more difficult with climate change, as even the resilience of the current ecosystem is threatened,” Belgacem said. “Some desert plants adapt to climate change effects up to a certain degree. But if we continue as is, that could stop by 2050. Science and technology must be used to counter this.”

The Gulf is considered a testbed and a laboratory for extreme weather conditions with a number of institutes working on developing solutions. Such conditions are said to take root in North Africa in the future, should no action be taken. “We are working on a 4C temperature increase, as we’re now expecting 1C to 2C,” he said. “We’re working with farmers in the Middle East and North Africa, and all dry areas of the world, including Sub-Sahara, west, south and east Asia, developing (systems) for agricultural drought and heat-tolerant varieties of wheat, barley and food legumes, as well as technologies to harvest rainfall water.”

The center is also attempting to revive the hema system with local communities and ministries. “We’re looking to establish different distributed water points in rangeland, and to close wells each season to have services in other areas for feed and animal health, and to encourage herders to graze in these areas. This would allow sustainably managed natural vegetation and carbon sequestration. Climate change has started its impact and it will disturb the cycle of plants.”