Central African Republic calls on Russia to train its army

The army is helpless as it deals with an arms embargo and 14 militia groups fighting for control.

    Al Jazeera has been given unprecedented access to Russian military instructors on the ground in the Central African Republic (CAR).

    CAR President Touadera has called on Russia for help in controlling the country, which has an arms embargo on it and 14 militia groups fighting for control of the territory.

     

    Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque reports from Berengo on the outskirts of the capital.

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    Africa Top10 News

    1African Plant and Animal Species “Winners” in the New Red List

    The latest assessments by the International Union for Conservation of Nature come as governments convene in Egypt for the Convention on Biological Diversity. Almost 100,000 plants and animals have now been evaluated for extinction threats and Africa has managed to turn the tide on key species.

    SOURCES: BBC, Mail & Guardian 

    2Diabetes is the Second most Common cause of Death in South Africa

    November 14, is World Diabetes Day and the country is observing the day under the theme “The Family and Diabetes”. About 6% of the South African population – about 3.5million people – suffer from diabetes, and 5 million more are estimated to have pre-diabetes – when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered as diabetes. Most cases of pre-diabetes in South Africa are undiagnosed.

    SOURCES: IOL

    3Everyone Wants a Piece of the Djibouti Pie

    In July, Djibouti started the first phase of a $3.5 billion free trade zone. China, the U.S. and France together with Japan and Saudi Arabia, have military bases in Djibouti, ostensibly for fighting near-endemic piracy. In the future, Djibouti could cater to the rising volume of exports from Ethiopia’s manufacturing zones. Djibouti could also beef up its role as a transshipment hub to terminals farther down the African coast, such as Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Maputo in gas-rich Mozambique and Durban in South Africa.

    SOURCES: Ozy, VOA

    4Zimbabwe’s Days of Hyperinflation Loom a Year after Mugabe’s Departure

    Statistics agency Zimstat said the annual inflation rate shot up 20.85% in October from 5.39% in September after the dollar shortage led to a collapse in Zimbabwe’s parallel currency called the bond note, triggering sharp price hikes in many goods and services. This is the highest level since 2008.

    SOURCES: Business Day Live

    5More than Eighty Percent of Street Children in this Nigerian State are Accused of Witchcraft

    In the Niger Delta, where an extreme form of Christianity has taken root and blended with indigenous beliefs, an alarming number of children have been accused of practising witchcraft with malicious intent. The accusations have created a generation of outcasts who live at the mercy of a system ill-equipped to protect them.

    SOURCES: Al Jazeera

    6Bamboo Enhances the Livelihoods of Ghana’s Artisans

    Bamboo and rattan trees have been identified as important commodities in the country. The processing of this – from raw material to finishing — employs thousands of people across the country. But many of these local artisans use outdated technology, which results in lower quality designs and less durable products. And this subsequently results in lower income.

    SOURCES: Africa.com

    7Members of Tanzania’s LGBT Community are Fearing for their Lives

    Activists say they are hiding in their homes and even fleeing the country after threats from a powerful politician to round up gay Tanzanians. The announcement from the regional governor of Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, has also led to a new travel warning by the US State Department warning US citizens to remove any material on social media that could “run afoul” of Tanzania’s anti-homosexuality laws.

    SOURCES: CNN

    8Countering the Effects of Drought in Africa

    The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization warns that the effects of a possible drought predicted in the southern Africa region can be reduced if countries invest in irrigation. The prediction comes at a time when Zimbabwe’s farmers are appealing for assistance so they can move away from depending on rain-fed agriculture.

    SOURCES: VOA

    9SA President Irons out the Land Issue

    The land reforms in South Africa will not violate the country’s constitution says President Cyril Ramaphosa. South Africa’s ruling African National Congress aims to change the constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation to address racial disparities in ownership that persist more than two decades after apartheid’s demise in 1994.

    SOURCES: CGTN Africa

    10Bleisure in Ghana

    Traveling on business can be a big chore, especially if you are scrambling to get work done on a deadline. And it is at these times you need far more than just a good location and free coffee. Hotels in the capital, Accra give far beyond that and focus on meeting the needs of the most demanding business travellers.

    SOURCES: AFK Travel

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    Africa Top10 Business News

    1The Biggest Single Deal of the Day at the Africa Investment Forum

    South Africa and Ghana signed a $2.6-billion deal that is expected to improve Accra’s public transport system through an elevated light railway system which would provide low cost transport to it citizens. The Ai Skytrain is an elevated light rail, public mass transit system that uses air propulsion technology to drive lightweight, high passenger volume vehicles. The investment forum is the first of its kind in Africa and is taking place at the Sandton Convention Centre this week.

    SOURCES: Mail & Guardian

    2Linking up Central and West Africa with Fibre Optic

    Liquid Telecom was founded 14 years ago by Zimbabwean entrepreneur and businessman Strive Masiyiwa. Last July the company connected Cape to Cairo with fibre optic cable. When it comes to their next target on the map, West Africa from Cameroon to Nigeria and Mali to Senegal, Mokhles says the firm will explore all options including co-builds, which will also mean partnering with local players in the market.

    SOURCES: African Business Magazine

    310 Reasons to Invest in South Africa

    The investment potential lies in its diversity of sectors and industries. South Africa is also a major trading nation, exporting and importing billions worth of goods every year. It is a gateway into African markets.

    SOURCES: Africa.com

    4Mozambique was One of the World’s Ten Fastest-growing Economies

    A few years ago Mozambique was perky. With 30m people and a coastline longer than that of the western United States, the country was feted by aid agencies and plucky investors. A peace deal signed in 1992, at the end of a 15-year civil war, had more or less held. From 1995 to 2015 gdp had grown on average by more than 8% a year.

    SOURCES: The Economist

    5South Africa’s Biggest Tea Garden gets New Lease of Life

    The Magwa farm stretches over 1,800 hectares, and is said to be the largest operating tea farm in the southern hemisphere, was closed for years. But thanks to a government bailout, it’s now back in business, providing much-needed work in an area of high unemployment.

    SOURCES: Al Jazeera

    6Where are the Highest Paying Jobs in Africa?

    Thanks to growing economies and the improving political situation in many African countries, Africa now has plenty of job opportunities to explore. Different countries have their own main economic activities, which largely determine what kinds of job opportunities are available locally. The entry of large multinational companies into Africa has further opened up a competitive job market that is constantly in search of top talent from across the continent, as well as across the globe.

    SOURCES: Africa.com

    7Angola Invests in Different Income Streams

    Angola’s Minister of Fisheries and the Sea, says government is committed to giving greater quality of life to Angolan communities dependent on fishing by investing in infrastructure and training to support the sector on good practices and sanitary conditions for the handling of fish. Officials note that the artisanal fishing subsector continues to be the driving force behind the economic and social progress of communities in Angola.

    SOURCES: Ventures Africa

    8DRC Children Suffer for the World’s Green Ambitions

    Human rights groups say demand for electric vehicles is fueling a rise in child labour in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, urging companies to take action as the industry expands. Cobalt is a key component in batteries for electric cars, phones and laptops, and the DRC provides more than half of global supply. Tens of thousands of children as young as six dig for the toxic substance in artisanal mines in the country’s south-east, without protective clothing.

    SOURCES: Business Day Live

    9Key Areas for US FDI in Africa

    According to Ernst & Young’s Global’s 2018 Africa Attractiveness report, United States businesses and investors made more foreign direct investments (FDI) in Africa than counterparts from any other country last year. These US entities increased the number of American FDI projects in Africa by 43% to 130 in 2017 nearly twice the next country.

    SOURCES: Quartz Africa

    10Women who make Running a Fashion Magazine in Nigeria Look Easy

    The New York Times, profiles four entrepreneurial women, ranging in age from 28 to 61, who are leading publications both new and old to capture this cultural milieu. In doing so, they are serving a wide audience throughout the African continent and within diasporic enclaves in the United States and Britain and telling the story of Nigeria to the world.

    SOURCES: New York Times

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    WHO Africa Innovation Challenge Calls For New Solutions To Improve Health In Africa

    Promoting African Solutions for African people

    The World Health Organization (WHO) in the African Region has launched the first WHO Africa Innovation Challenge calling for health innovations with the potential for having significant social impact and addressing the unmet health needs on the continent.

    “This Innovation Challenge recognizes the critical need for innovations to address the continent’s challenges in healthcare,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “WHO champions the promotion of homegrown solutions to address health challenges in reproductive, maternal and child health, infectious diseases, noncommunicable diseases and other key areas. We hope this challenge will spark the entrepreneurial spirit of innovators and lead to credible health innovations across the continent”.

    The deadline for submission of entries is Monday 10th December 2018 at midnight.

    This Challenge will prioritise innovative and scalable healthcare solutions for selection. The three submission categories are Product, Service and Social Innovation. Detailed information on the criteria and the application form is available at: www.afro.who.int/innovchallenge

    There will be a dedicated website/platform which will highlight these healthcare innovations. The platform will serve as a dynamic marketplace to connect diverse stakeholders such as ministries of various sectors of the government as well as health experts, academics and public and private investors. Qualifying users on the platform will be able to leverage the global network.

    Entries will be assessed by a panel of independent evaluators based on the innovation’s potential impact on health in Africa as well as the possibility of being replicated or scaled-up.

    The launch of this Challenge and platform serves as a precursor to the Africa Health Forum to be held in Cape Verde in March 2019, the premier gathering of political and business leaders in the region devoted to health.

    Selected Finalists will be awarded a sponsorship covering flights, accommodation to attend the Forum. At this event, they will get the opportunity to exhibit their innovations and meet with top political, government and business leaders in the health space. They will also get a chance to exhibit their solutions at the annual meeting of Ministers of Health from the WHO African Region in August 2019, in Brazzaville, Congo.

    Distributed by African Media Agency (AMA) on behalf of WHO Regional Office for Africa.

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    Nova Scotia students to mark Remembrance Day honouring graves of Canadian soldiers in The Gambia

    A class of Halifax university students is about to make history, marking Remembrance Day at a group of little-known graves for Canadian soldiers in the West African country of The Gambia.

    But it’s how the class of Saint Mary’s University (SMU) students discovered the information that makes their trip even more remarkable.

    Catherine Conrad, a professor of geography at SMU, says that for the past decade she has taken a class to The Gambia every other year to have them learn about the Gambian culture and gain a better understanding of West African culture.

    This year, she realized that the group would be there on Nov. 11 and contacted people in The Gambia to ask whether there were any Remembrance Day ceremonies they could attend.

    The Gambia, which is part of the British Commonwealth and marks Remembrance Day, told Conrad about a ceremony for Gambian war veterans at the Fajara War Cemetery in the city of Banjul  — and that Canadian soldiers are also buried there.

    “I know the exact war cemetery they were talking about because I’ve driven past it a thousand times,” Conrad told Global News.

    “I was really taken aback and to be honest I thought they were just saying that to intrigue me … I really did not believe it.”

    Conrad says once she shared the revelation, the response from the class took on a life of its own. In a few hours, one of the students emailed her about the Canadians who were buried there.

    “I was blown away. I shared that with the whole class and over the course of the weekend, half a dozen in the class, including myself, were digging into archives trying to figure out why on earth Canadians would be there,” she said.

    So far Conrad and her class have been able to confirm that 10 servicemen were in the region with the Royal Canadian Air Force and died during the Second World War.

    The men served there as part of an effort to supply troops in Northern Africa as well as combat German U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean.

    One of the dead hails from Nova Scotia.

    Warrant Officer Basil Ralph Yorke was born in Wharton, N.S., and died on Nov. 3, 1942, as the result of an accident involving an airplane propeller.

    A document discovered by Catherine Conrad’s students that shows how Basil Yorke had requested to marry his fiancee Marth Gordon in 1940.

    A letter notifying the wife of Basil Yorke about his death.

    An official Royal Canadian Air Force casualty notification.

    Documents discovered by Conrad’s class chart Yorke’s life in the military up until his death.

    Other buried in the Fajara War Cemetery include Warrant Officer Claude Blamey, Pilot Officer Joseph Lawless, Flight Sgt. Charles Crombie, Warrant Officer Samuel McCammon, Warrant Officer Kenneth Marshall, Pilot Officer Theodore Moore, Flight Sgt. Joseph Rozon, Warrant Officer Samuel Santy and Warrant Officer Joseph Shulman.

    As a result of their research, the class will bring Canadian poppies and several wreaths provided by Veterans Affairs and the Canadian Legion with them on their trip.

    On Nov. 11 they’ll take part in the Remembrance Day ceremony and lay the objects on the hallowed ground that marks the graves of the 10 Canadians — an act that Conrad says her research indicates has not been carried out by Canadian citizens in some time.

    “It’s a piece of our history that had possibly been lost or at least not very well known until now,” said Conrad.

    “The more we look into it, it’s like pulling a thread from a sweater and we keep unravelling it to find out more.”

    The class leaves on Nov. 8 and is set to return to Canada on Nov. 20.

    Source: Read Full Article

    Africa Top10 News

    1Frosty Welcome for Journalists Visiting Tanzania

    Tanzania released two staff members of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a day after they were detained and their passports seized. Tanzanian officials said Angela Quintal and Muthoki Mumo were arrested for violating the terms of their visas by holding meetings with local journalists.

    SOURCES: Reuters, Quartz Africa

    2Where are the Highest Paying Jobs in Africa?

    Thanks to growing economies and the improving political situation in many African countries, Africa now has plenty of job opportunities to explore. Different countries have their own main economic activities, which largely determine what kinds of job opportunities are available locally. The entry of large multinational companies into Africa has further opened up a competitive job market that is constantly in search of top talent from across the continent, as well as across the globe.

    SOURCES: Africa.com

    3African Scientists Embark on a Project to Break the Malaria Cycle

    In experiments conducted over 50 years ago, researchers showed that blood could be taken from adults who had become immune and used to treat children admitted to hospital with malaria. Developments in technology now mean that it’s possible to do this much more efficiently. And we’re really excited that we have been able to exploit these new innovations in Africa.

    SOURCES: Quartz Africa

    4Cameroon Students Safe and Sound

    Students kidnapped from a boarding school in Cameroon’s restive North-West region have been reunited with their parents amid joyful scenes. A driver was also freed, but the principal and a teacher are still being held. The government and English-speaking separatists have accused each other of orchestrating the kidnapping.

    SOURCES: BBC

    5Madagascar’s Former Foes Come up Tops in the Polls

    Former presidents Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana were neck-and-neck in the country’s presidential race according to partial results published by the electoral commission on Thursday. Rajoelina has 43.5 percent of votes, while Ravalomanana secured 42.44 percent, the incumbent President Hery Rajaonarimampianina trailed with 2.93 percent of the votes counted so far.

    SOURCES: Al Jazeera

    6FGM Awareness Campaigns Yield Results

    Research shows that female genital mutilation has dropped drastically among African children this century. Cutting is a rite of passage in many societies, often with the aim of promoting chastity. It can cause chronic pain, menstrual problems, recurrent urinary tract infections, cysts and infertility. Some girls hemorrhage to death or die from infections. It can also cause fatal childbirth complications in later life. The ritual usually involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, including the clitoris.

    SOURCES: VOA

    7Lifeline for Senegal’s Fishing Industry

    Commercial overfishing to feed European and Asian appetites has emptied West Africa’s waters and destroyed the livelihoods of many artisanal fishing communities, including those in Senegal with its long Atlantic coastline. Now the fishmongers of Soumbedioune are moving. A new €2m fishing quay, funded by Morocco and sitting across the bay from the existing market, has been finished. It contains an ice factory, a cold room, a fish-processing area and rows of gleaming counters in the retail market.

    SOURCES: The Guardian

    8Women who make Running a Fashion Magazine in Nigeria Look Easy

    The New York Times, profiles four entrepreneurial women, ranging in age from 28 to 61, who are leading publications both new and old to capture this cultural milieu. In doing so, they are serving a wide audience throughout the African continent and within diasporic enclaves in the United States and Britain and telling the story of Nigeria to the world.

    SOURCES: New York TImes

    9Large Group of Buffaloes Drown in Botswana

    Early investigations suggest the herd was being chased by lions and ran into the river. A local lodge owner told the BBC that it looks like the buffaloes then got stuck because the bank on the other side of the river was too high and that they panicked and stampeded. People living in the area collected the buffaloes and took them home to eat.

    SOURCES: BBC

    10Blockchain Startup Tackles Africa’s Energy Crisis

    OneWattSolar, has come up with a way of allowing thousands of Africans to pay for solar energy using blockchain tokens without having to pay for the solar system infrastructure, which is funded through financial backers. It was a concept Victor Alagbe, the company’s vice president of operations and blockchain strategy, had been thinking on when reading about Elon Musk.

    SOURCES: CNN

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    Cameroon child hostages released by kidnappers

    All 78 children, abducted in the country’s Anglophone region, released but principal and a teacher are still being held.

      All 78 children and a driver kidnapped in west Cameroon were released on Wednesday, but the school principal and one teacher are still being held by the armed men, a priest conducting negotiations said.

      The group was abducted in Bamenda, a commercial hub of Cameroon’s restive English-speaking region, on Monday.

      “Praise God 78 children and the driver have been released. The principal and one teacher are still with the kidnappers. Let us keep praying,” Samuel Fonki, a minister of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, said. 

      He had earlier put the number of children taken at 79 but later said one of their numbers was, in fact, a teacher, who remained with the kidnappers.

      A video purportedly of the kidnapped children was released on social media by “Amba boys”, a reference to the state of Ambazonia that armed separatists are trying to establish in Cameroon’s northwest and southwest regions, The Associated Press news agency reported.

      In the video, the kidnappers force several students to give their names and the names of their parents. The children say they were kidnapped by the Amba boys, and they do not know where they are being held.

      Fonki and the Cameroonian military have accused anglophone separatists of carrying out the kidnappings, but a separatist spokesman denied involvement.

      In an inauguration speech following last month’s election to extend his 36-year rule, President Paul Biya told the separatists to lay down their arms or face the full force of the law, offering no concessions to them.

      Anglophone secessionists have imposed curfews and closed schools as part of their protest against Biya’s French-speaking government and its perceived marginalisation of the English-speaking minority, although they had never kidnapped children before.

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      Madagascar votes in presidential elections in bid to end poverty

      President Hery Rajaonarimampianina is seeking a second term and faces strong challenge from two former presidents.

        Millions of voters in Madagascar queued in long lines early on Wednesday to cast their ballots in a presidential election, as the Indian Ocean island struggles to create jobs, fight poverty and end corruption.

        President Hery Rajaonarimampianina is seeking a second term in office and his two main challengers are former heads of state Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina.

        All three have crisscrossed the island in a hunt for votes and each has pledged to accelerate recovery for an economy the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts will grow at more than five percent this year, its highest rate in a decade.

        Civil society groups accuse the three wealthy frontrunners of enriching themselves in office, something each denies.

        The groups said a fisheries deal the incumbent signed with Chinese firms in September is opaque and will impoverish local fishermen.

        They also said Ravalomanana failed to tackle corruption during his time in office that ended in 2009, when he was forced out by protests led by Rajoelina in what international organisations like the African Union said was a coup.

        Conservation groups then accused Rajoelina, the man who overthrew him, of profiting from the plunder of natural resources.

        Praying for change

        As queues started forming on Wednesday morning in the capital, Antananarivo, voter Sahondramalala Nirisoa told Reuters news agency she had arrived early because she needed to get to work. 

        “I hope and I pray for a change,” she said. “That is why I came to vote.”

        According to a World Bank report, more than 80 percent of the population lives in poverty. 

        There are nearly 10 million registered voters in the country of 25 million people, data from the electoral commission showed.

        Few analysts expect an outright winner from the 36 total who are contesting.

        If the poll needs to go to a second round, it will involve only the two top candidates and take place on December 19.

        Since a peaceful election in 2013, investors and donor governments re-engaged following a four-year freeze that began after Rajoelina came to power.

        The events of 2009 prompted an exodus of foreign investors from a country that is one of the world’s poorest despite reserves of nickel, cobalt, gold, uranium and other minerals.

        The island was hit by a fresh political crisis in April sparked by a legal amendment by Rajaonarimampianina’s government that would have prevented Ravalomanana from standing for office.

        Rajaonarimampianina approved a new law removing that provision the following month, allowing Ravalomanana to register as a candidate.

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        Madagascar presidential election: What you need to know

        World’s fourth-largest island to vote on next head of state amid political crisis, rampant poverty.

          Four former presidents, three former prime ministers, a pastor and even a popular rock singer; when it comes to picking their next head of state, voters in Madagascar are not short of options.

          Far from it. Overall, the names of 36 hopefuls will be on display in the A3-sized ballot papers on Wednesday, when nearly 10 million registered voters will take to the polls to determine who will lead the Indian Ocean nation for the next five years.

          Polling stations will be open from 6am local time (03:00 GMT) until 5pm local time (14:00 GMT).

          But the build-up to the high-stakes vote has been marred by controversy over campaign spending and allegations of corruption, as well as protests against proposals to change the country’s electoral laws.

          Here’s all you need to know about Wednesday’s presidential election.

          Why does the vote matter?

          The world’s fourth-largest island and home to about 25 million people, Madagascar has been beset by frequent political upheaval since becoming independent from France in 1960.

          A disputed 2001 presidential election led to violent clashes that ended with Marc Ravalomanana, then-mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, taking power.

          The outgoing leader was Didier Ratsiraka, a one-time Marxist who had ruled since 1975 and went into exile.

          In in 2009, Ravalomanana was toppled in an army-backed coup by Andry Rajoelina, another Antananarivo mayor.

          But neither of them was allowed to run in the last elections, in 2013, which were won by Hery Rajaonarimampianina.

          Earlier this year, Rajaonarimampianina’s attempt to amend electoral laws sparked months of protests, with political opponents claiming the proposed changes were aimed at barring their candidates from taking part in Wednesday’s poll.

          Following the demonstrations, the Constitutional Court ordered the 60-year-old to form a government of national unity with a “consensus prime minister” in order to avert a full-blown crisis.

          Sahondra Rabenarivo, a member of locally-based electoral observer organisation Sefaifi, told AFP news agency the “challenge of this year’s election is to consolidate peace”.

          In Madagascar, presidents operate as the head of state, positioned above the country’s prime minister and its bicameral parliament.

          The multitude of candidates hoping to fill the post – only five of which are women –  points to a “weakness of political parties” in the country’s fragile democracy, Rabenarivo said.

          Meanwhile, Madagascar’s considerable diversity means none of the candidates can “pretend to represent and aggregate the interests of the majority of voters”, Adrien Ratsimbaharison, an expert on Malagasy politics, told Al Jazeera.

          “This high number of candidates is due to the fragmentation of the Malagasy society: there are traditionally about 18 or so ethnic groups, and a marked difference between the lifestyle of coastal people (Cotiers) and those of the centre (of Merina and Betsileo ethnic groups),” said Ratsimbaharison.

          “So each candidate is representing some group and some interests, but many of them almost run just to be famous, and some are running so that they can negotiate a ministerial position with the eventual winner,” he added.

          Who are the top contenders?

          Rajaonarimampianina, Ravalomanana and Rajoelina – all former presidents – are widely seen as the frontrunners among an assortment of political leaders, business figures and celebrities.

          A pre-vote poll conducted by the German-headquartered Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) gave Rajoelina 25 percent of votes, Ravalomanana 17 percent and four percent for Rajaonarimampianina.

          The Malagasy government banned publication of the study, citing a threat to “public order”.

          It was later obtained by and reported on by AFP, however.

          Ranked in pole position by the FES study of voter intentions, Rajoelina has drawn impressive numbers to his pre-election rallies.

          Nicknamed the “disc jockey” on account of his past as a party-promoter in Antananarivo, the 44-year-old has proposed to make the eastern port city of Tamatave the “Miami” of Madagascar. He has also vowed to install electronic tracking devices on cattle to curb widespread theft of the animals.

          For his part, Ravalomanana, a 68-year-old self-made agro-business mogul, has promised to equip school children with electronic tablets.

          Rajoelina and Ravalomanana were both prevented from running during the previous election five years ago – Rajoelina for not filing his candidacy papers before the deadline, an electoral court ruled, while Ravalomanana was prevented from entering the country after fleeing into exile following his 2009 removal from power.

          Fellow contender Rajaonarimampianina, a beneficiary of the pair’s ban in 2013, has promised to initiate “a new phase in development” if elected.

          In line with article 46 of Madagascar’s constitution, he resigned 60 days prior to this year’s polls, on September 7.

          How does voting work?

          If none of the three-dozen hopefuls win more than 50 percent of the votes cast, a runoff between the two best performers will be held on December 19.

          The winner will serve a five-year term, beginning in January 2019.

          According to reports, 9.9 million people are eligible to take part in the elections. 

          Preliminary results are expected by November 14 and officials have until two weeks past then to declare the final outcome.

          Have there been any controversies?

          A number of the less-fancied candidates have alleged irregularities in Wednesday’s voters roll and unsuccessfully called for the polls to be delayed.

          Campaign spending has also presented a source of controversy.

          There are no laws capping the financing of candidates’ bids for office, prompting concerns some contenders have disproportionately large election war chests.

          The three frontrunners have crisscrossed the island – which is bigger than Spain, Thailand or Iraq – by helicopter in a bid to reach would-be voters, a strategy not all candidates can afford.

          “While most of the other candidates were barely able to campaign in a few big cities, traveling by cars, these three candidates were spending millions [of dollars] to rent helicopters which allow them to cover all of the regions, including the smallest towns,” said Ratsimbaharison, visiting scholar at the US-based University of South Carolinas Walker Institute of International Studies

          This year is not the first time campaign spending has posed an issue in Madagascar, however.

          According to FES spokesperson Marcus Schneider, the 2013 election was “one of the most expensive in the history of Madagascar”.

          “A study by the European Union, which came out in 2016, claimed the campaign budget of the winner in 2013 [Rajaonarimampianina] was $43m, meaning he spent more per-voter than US President Donald Trump did [in the 2016 US election],” Schneider told Al Jazeera.

          What are the key issues?

          Many voters see access to basic services such as water and electricity, as well as finding employment, as their basic priorities.

          Ratsimbaharison cited public safety, job creation and local and foreign investment to kick-start the economy as the three main issues “for the survival of the country”.

          “Nevertheless, most of the voters just want more rice to eat, more public schools and medical facilities,” he noted.

          Despite being the leading global producer of vanilla and a major exporter of Sapphire gems to the international market, more than 76 percent of Malagasys live in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank, subsisting on less than $2 a day.

          The United Nations Human Development Index – which measures health, education and economic performance – ranks Madagascar 161st out of 189 countries.

          Its agriculture sector, the main source of income for most people, is vulnerable to regular weather-related disasters such as tropical storms, flooding and drought.

          Nearly 50 percent of children under the age of five are affected by malnutrition, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), making Madagascar the fifth worst affected country in the world.

          Meanwhile, fewer than eight percent of the population, about two million people, are active internet users.

          “We hope, [the new president] will be able to recover the country and to defeat its most persistent demons: poverty, corruption, impunity, bad governance,” Ketakandriana Rafitoson, director of anti-corruption NGO Transparency International’s Madagascar branch, told The Associated Press news agency.

          “Unfortunately, this looks bad because those who are likely to win these elections are the specialists and sources of these vices mentioned above … One after another, they have pushed this country into the abyss in which it is today,” Rafitoson said.

          Madagascar was ranked 155th out of 180 nations in Transparency International’s 2017 corruption perceptions index.

          Additional reporting by David Child: @DavidChild90

          Special series

          Madagascar: Return of a President

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