Seychelles’ founding president Mancham dies

James Mancham, who spent his years in retirement writing several books and promoting his island nation, was found dead at home on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 09 January 2017

Seychelles’ founding president Mancham dies

VICTORIA: Seychelles’ founding president James Mancham, who spent only a year in office before being ousted in a coup, died Sunday aged 77, his nephew and staff said.
The former politician and lawyer, who spent his years in retirement writing several books and promoting his island nation, was found dead at home.
“His wife informed us that Mancham was not moving and we did the necessary to get him transported to hospital,” said one of his security guards Philippe Figaro.
“Doctors confirmed he was dead,” said the former president’s nephew Derick Pothin.
Mancham, who initially opposed the Indian Ocean archipelago’s breakaway from British rule, won the country’s first election by a small margin in 1976.
A year later he was overthrown in a bloodless coup by his prime minister, France-Albert Rene, while he was attending a Commonwealth conference in London. Rene set up a one-party socialist state.
In 1981, South African mercenaries led by notorious British soldier-for-hire in Africa Col. “Mad Mike” Hoare planned a coup to return the pro-Western Mancham to power.
The group entered the country disguised as a tourist party called “The Ancient Order of Froth-Blowers.”
Their plan, however, came undone when an airport inspector found a weapon in their luggage and a gunfight broke out.
The men then hijacked an Air India flight and forced the pilot to take them to Durban in South Africa to escape.
South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission later found the apartheid government — keen to do away with leftist powers on the continent — had been involved in planning the attack.
After his ouster, Mancham fled into exile until 1993, when multi-party democracy was restored in the islands.
Mancham again vied for the presidency in 1998 but lost to Rene.
The Seychelles comprise some 115 islands scattered off the east coast of Africa, whose white sandy beaches and turquoise waters have made it a magnet for wealthy foreigners, some of whom also enjoy the country’s reputation as a tax haven.


Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

Updated 51 min 33 sec ago

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

  • Young volunteers tackle tough terrain, pandemic myths in isolated northern region

JAKARTA: A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, told Arab News that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he told Arab News.

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he told Arab News.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.