The dusty African town that has produced three presidents, powerful Nigeria minister's kin seized and Rwanda partially bans BBC - five quick stories for you

United Nations also tightens noose around Al-Shabaab, as South African mourns fallen world beating athlete.

TUCKED away in the sparse savanna of central Botswana, the town of Serowe is off the radar for most travellers despite being the home town of three of the country’s four presidents.

Even as the nation voted in general elections Friday, the unassuming town 300 kilometres (185 miles) north of the capital Gaberone showed little evidence of its rich political history—apart from the fact that President Ian Khama cast his vote there.

It’s the birthplace of Khama’s father, the southern African country’s founding president Seretse Khama, as well as former president Festus Mogae.

“We are privileged to call ourselves residents of Serowe, it’s a special place for most Batswana, because of of its links with Sir Seretse Khama,” said Ida Maja, a 45-year-old resident shuffling along in the queue outside a voting station.

“We consider the old Khama to be our father and his son president Khama is not only the president, he is also our traditional leader,” she boasted.

It is this attachment to the Khamas, along with solid support in other rural areas, that appears to ensure that Khama will retain power, despite facing an increasing challenge from opposition parties in urban areas.

Khama’s party, the Botswana Democratic Party has been in power since independence from Britain in 1966.

“He has been a great leader and respects his people. My vote goes to his party,” said Maja.

Khama’s ancestral home, even though none of his family members now live there, has escaped the influx of the high-end tourism establishments dotting this remote part of the country.

The 61-year-old, whose mother Ruth was a white English woman, was born in England and his parents returned to Botswana after years in exile when he was a toddler.

His parents are buried in Serowe, which falls under the area he rules over as tribal chief, a position he inherited from his father.

But the young people of the town of some 60,000 people are less sentimental about its political links.

“We need to look beyond the history and sentiments and ask ourselves what does all this history mean for us,” said Thuto Matswiri a college student.

“Personally it has little significance, considering our present circumstances as residents who live on so little,” said Matswiri.

A handful of shops and a clutch of government buildings are the town’s lifeblood, providing no material for the glossy travel magazines marketing Botswana as southern Africa’s premier safari destination.

The town boasts the largest health facility in the country, the Sekgoma Memorial Hospital, named after Khama’s great grandfather.

Powerful Nigeria minister’s kin seized

In Nigeria, the sister of the country’s powerful petroleum minister has been kidnapped in the oil hub of Port Harcourt, police said Friday, in the latest abduction targeting a prominent political family.

Osio Agama, whose sister Diezani Alison-Madueke leads Africa’s largest oil industry, was seized at gunpoint as she approached her car on Tuesday night, Rivers state police spokesman Ahmad Muhammad said.

Muhammad said police “were not aware if any ransom demand had been made” and the motive for the abduction was unknown but the southern oil-producing Niger Delta region has seen waves of ransom kidnappings in recent years.

One of the most prominent cases came in December 2012, when Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s 82-year-old mother Kamene Okonjo was abducted from her home, in neighbouring Delta state.

Okonjo-Iweala and Alison-Madueke are widely seen as the two most powerful members of President Goodluck Jonathan’s cabinet.

Jonathan’s 70-year-old uncle was also kidnapped earlier this year in Bayelsa state, also in the Niger Delta.

The security forces and affected families almost never confirm ransom payments but most believe kidnappers in the Niger Delta are seeking financial gain, despite attempts to imput political motives to the abductions.

Rwanda partially suspends BBC

Rwanda on Friday partially suspended BBC broadcasts over a controversial documentary on the central African country’s leadership and the 1994 genocide.

The Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) said the BBC radio services in the local Kinyarwanda language would be blocked while the affair was investigated, but English and French programmes could continue.

The BBC documentary, “Rwanda’s Untold Story”, was broadcast earlier this month.

It highlighted growing criticism of President Paul Kagame and revived allegations that his Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF)—then a rebel group, now the ruling political party—was behind the shooting down of a plane carrying the country’s then Hutu president that triggered the genocide.

“Over the last three weeks, we have received complaints directed at the BBC. These have come from members of the public and civil society, especially genocide survivor organisations. They accuse the BBC of denying the history of 1994 genocide against the Tutsi,” RURA official Beata Mukangabo told reporters.

“After reviewing the complaints, RURA has assessed that these accusations are serious enough to warrant the temporary suspension of all BBC Kinyarwanda language programmes while investigations are conducted.”

“RURA will investigate the allegations of genocide denial and revisionism (and) the findings of the enquiry will determine further action to be taken,” Mukangabo said.

President Kagame told parliament earlier this month that the BBC had chosen to “tarnish Rwandans, dehumanise them” and accused it of “genocide denial”.

An estimated 800,000 people, mostly minority Tutsis, were killed in just 100 days by Hutu extremists—a rate of killing that was far faster than the Holocaust in World War II.

Prominent international academics, experts and diplomats have also accused the BBC of being “recklessly irresponsible” by allegedly promoting a revisionist account of the genocide in the documentary, notably by questioning the number of Tutsis who were killed.

The BBC, one of the country’s most popular broadcasters, said the programme in “no way” sought “to downplay or conceal the horrifying events of 1994” and subsequent events.

Earlier Friday, a Rwandan media regulatory body said it opposed calls in Rwanda’s parliament for the BBC’s FM licence to be withdrawn.

The Rwanda Media Commission, an independent body, said the BBC documentary was “insulting” and that the BBC was guilty of “distorting the history of genocide”, but added a ban “should not be the solution”.

UN tightens noose around Al-Shabaab

 The UN Security Council on Friday authorized ship inspections off Somalia’s coast to clamp down on the charcoal trade providing a lifeline to Shabaab Islamists.

About a third of some $250 million in annual revenue from Somalia’s charcoal trade flows directly to the coffers of the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab fighting the Mogadishu government, according to a UN monitoring group.

The British-drafted resolution was approved by 13 of the 15 members of the Council, with Jordan and Russia abstaining, but not opposing, the measure intended to enforce an embargo on the charcoal trade.

South African mourns fallen world-beater

In South Africa former world 800-metre champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi died Friday aged 34 in a car crash on his way to a Johannesburg athletics meeting, President Jacob Zuma said in a statement.

“The nation has lost a true hero and one of our most disciplined and talented athletes, who flew the South African flag across the sporting world,” said Zuma.

“We wish to convey, on behalf of the government and the entire nation, our heartfelt condolences to his family, Athletics South Africa, the South African sports fraternity and the International Olympic Committee.”

Earlier, sports minister Fikile Mbalula announced the death of Mulaudzi in a statement without giving details.

“Sports minister Fikile Mbalula has just received the sad news of the untimely death of South African 800m icon Mbulaeni Mulaudzi,” his office said.

“Mulaudzi was one of the most decorated track athletes that South Africa has seen and, unfortunately, never had the recognition for his achievements, so it’s indeed a sad day,” said his agent, Peet van Zyl.

Global athletics body IAAF said in a statement it was “deeply saddened” to learn of the death of Mulaudzi.

Mulaudzi was the surprise winner of the 2009 world championships 800m title in Berlin and retired from athletics last year. (AFP)

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