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In presidential vote, DRC seeks first democratic transfer of power

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By REUTERS
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In his 74 years, Congolese historian Isidore Ndaywel has lived through independence from Belgium, two coups d’etat, multiple civil wars and three changes to the country’s name.

On Sunday, he hopes to witness another milestone: a presidential election meant to lead to Democratic Republic of Congo’s first democratic transfer of power. But like many of his compatriots, he’s keeping his expectations in check.

“There is no freedom,” said Ndaywel, who has lived in hiding since last year because of his work with a Catholic group that has organised protests against President Joseph Kabila, who is stepping aside after nearly 18 years in power.

“There isn’t much of a chance that these elections will be transparent,” Ndaywel told Reuters.

Even so, for many of Congo’s 80 million citizens, half of whom are registered to vote, the election offers a chance to draw a line under decades of conflict and economic stagnation.

Repeated crises have left the country mired in poverty and 15 million people in need of food assistance despite its immense reserves of prized commodities such as copper and cobalt, which is important to the electric vehicle revolution.

That the election will happen at all represents progress of sorts.

The vote to replace Kabila, who succeeded his assassinated father in 2001, was first scheduled for November 2016 but has been repeatedly delayed.

Kabila’s opponents accused the increasingly unpopular president of trying to cling to power, and security forces shot dead dozens of people protesting against him.

The violence raised fears of a slide back into the kind of open conflict in which millions were killed around the turn of the century.

After refusing to comment publicly on whether he would defy the constitution to seek a third term, Kabila finally announced in August that he would step down and threw his support behind former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

For some Congolese, most of whom live on less than $2 a day and eke out their survival through informal odd jobs, the announcement provided a rare glimmer of hope.

“I congratulate Mr Kabila on having organised the elections. (It’s) something serious we did not expect,” said Joseph Mukuna, 32, a taxi driver in the capital, Kinshasa. “We … think there will be big changes in our country.”

Ndaywel, however, is wary of false dawns.

He recalled how, when he was a student in 1965 at Kinshasa University, a young army general named Joseph Mobutu seized power in a bloodless coup to the delight of much of the country, then known as the Republic of Congo.

“Certain students knew something was going to happen and they stayed up all night listening to the radio,” Ndaywel said.

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“People were happy to have an energetic president at last.”

But Mobutu, who later renamed the country Zaire and himself as Mobutu Sese Seko, did not organise open elections for the next 32 years.

Sunday’s vote, in which Shadary’s main rivals are two opposition candidates, Felix Tshisekedi and Martin Fayulu, could be delayed by a few days because of delays getting voting materials to polling stations.

Campaigning turned violent last week when security forces cracked down on Tshisekedi and Fayulu’s supporters, killing at least seven people and causing parallels to be drawn with the violence-plagued 2006 and 2011 elections.

And a fire, which authorities blamed on unidentified criminals, destroyed about 8,000 of 10,000 voting machines earmarked for Kinshasa, leaving election officials trying to recall machines from Congo’s vast forested interior.

On Wednesday, Kinshasa’s governor ordered campaigning in the city halted for security reasons and clashes broke out between police, who fired teargas, and rock-throwing supporters of Fayulu.

Kabila’s opponents accuse authorities of conspiring to rig the election with untested electronic voting machines, and have urged their supporters to be vigilant.

“After you have voted … stay in front of the polling place until our observers have obtained the vote tally sheet to prevent any cheating,” Tshisekedi, the president of Congo’s largest opposition party, told supporters at a rally.

The government says the vote will proceed smoothly although its spokesman, Lambert Mende, accused opposition factions last week of “a radical desire to sabotage the electoral process”.

The government refused to accept election observers from the European Union and US-based Carter Center, which criticised Kabila’s re-election in 2011 as marred by widespread fraud.

Observers from the African Union and Southern African Development Community (SADC) will be present. Their criticisms tend to be more muted.

A poll in October by a research group at New York University showed Tshisekedi leading the race with 36 per cent support.

Shadary and Fayulu trailed with 16 and 8 per cent, respectively.

But Shadary, who is under EU sanctions over crackdowns on protests while he was interior minister, is expected to benefit from the ruling coalition’s grip on state institutions, including state media.

Victory for Shadary could help Kabila maintain influence behind the scenes.

Opposition candidates say they will make a clean break with the Kabila era but have offered few specific policy proposals and many Congolese are not convinced they can bring about real change.

“Our politicians are incapable of telling the truth,” said Christian Boka, a 24-year-old student who was selling power to recharge mobile phones in Kinshasa.

“Our politicians are mainly concerned about their own personal interest but want us to believe they care about the common interest.”

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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.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

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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