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Congo election preparations shaky, monitors say

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Polling stations in Democratic Republic of Congo are ill-prepared for Sunday’s presidential election, diplomats and an observer mission said, as new polling showed opposition candidate Martin Fayulu favoured to win.

Frustration has mounted across the vast, shakily governed Central African country after repeated election delays and blunders as well as a decision this week to shelve voting in several opposition strongholds.

Protests flared for a second straight day in eastern cities in response to the decision to cancel voting in Beni and Butembo in the east and Yumbi in the west. Demonstrators see it as a manoeuvre by the government to suppress the vote, rather than a precaution due to an Ebola outbreak and militia violence.

In the eastern city of Goma, police fired tear gas during a standoff with protesters and demonstrators in Butembo barricaded streets and set fires at crossroads, according to local police.

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Activist group Lucha said police had arrested 18 of its members during the protest in Butembo. The police confirmed arrests had been made but did not say how many.

The election is meant to bring about the first democratic transition of power in mineral-rich Congo, where regional wars around the turn of the century resulted in millions of deaths.

But a chaotic election day could ignite new violence, as was the case after the 2006 and 2011 elections.

Last week the election was pushed back to Dec. 30 due to a lack of ballot papers in the capital Kinshasa. At the time, the national electoral commission (CENI) said preparations would be complete by the new date.

But two days ahead of the ballot, only about 60 percent of election materials – including sheets to tabulate the vote – have been delivered to balloting stations across the country, three foreign diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Opposition leaders have accused authorities of trying to rig the vote in favour of outgoing President Joseph Kabila’s preferred candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, using electronic voting machines. The government denies this.

“If the results sheets don’t arrive on time then it means that the vote results will be transferred via the voting machine, and that is going to inflame suspicions of fraud,” said one of these diplomats, who has been in recent contact with CENI officials.

CENI spokespeople could not be immediately reached for comment, but have said that the announced results will be based on hand counts of print-outs from the machines – as the opposition has demanded.

20-HOUR QUEUES

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According to an internal U.N. document seen by Reuters, the CENI has increased the number of voters per polling station in Kinshasa to 700 from the promised 600 by removing 1,094 polling stations.

As a result, the capital could face daunting 20-hour queues to vote, based on the average time it takes to use the voting machines, said Sylvain Lumu, of SYMOCEL, a domestic election observation mission.

Polls are scheduled to remain open for 11 hours.

“All these measures aim to decrease Kinshasa’s voting power, since as you know Kinshasa is a city whose heart goes to the left,” he said, adding that 5,000 of his roughly 20,000 observers were still waiting for accreditation.

CENI has acknowledged that polling stations were reorganised, but said it was necessary after a warehouse fire two weeks ago burned 80 percent of voting machines in Kinshasa.

Observers from the Catholic Church, African Union and Southern African Development will be present for the vote. But the government has refused to accept election monitors from the European Union and U.S.-based Carter Center, which said Kabila’s re-election in 2011 was marred by widespread fraud.

Public support for Kabila’s preferred successor, Shadary, has remained flat in recent weeks even as the popularity of Fayulu, the joint opposition candidate, has soared.

The latest poll by the New York University-affiliated Congo Research Group (CRG) showed Fayulu leapfrogging from third place in October to the top spot with 47 percent support. He was ahead of the former frontrunner, opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi, on 24 percent, and Shadary on 19 percent.

CRG updated those figures slightly from earlier on Friday so as not to take into account non-respondents.

Fayulu, a former Exxon Mobil company manager, was little known when he was picked as the joint candidate of an opposition coalition in November, but extensive campaigning, including in Ebola-hit Beni, has since heightened his profile.

The unrest seen over the past week could spread depending on the outcome of the election, according to the poll, which found that 48 percent of respondents would certainly or probably protest if the vote appeared to be rigged.

That would also affect the response to the ongoing Ebola virus outbreak – the second-deadliest history – which is believed to have killed more than 350 people this year.

International relief group Oxfam said on Friday it was suspending its response near Beni and Butembo due to the past days’ street protests.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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