Africa in the news: Kenyan schools close, Burkina Faso’s coup is overturned, and Africa’s first light rail train opens

Kenyan teacher strike prompts schools shutdown

Public schools in Kenya were declared indefinitely shut by the education ministry this week due to the continuing teachers’ strike. Teachers in Kenya have been on strike since end of August in response to government’s refusal to raise their wages. Salary negotiations between the Teachers Service Commission and teachers have been ongoing since 2013 as teachers insist that increased wages promised by the government in 1997 have not yet been honored. Last month the Industrial Court awarded pay increases for teachers of up to 60 percent, a ruling that the government has appealed in the Kenyan Supreme Court. President Uhuru Kenyatta ruled out giving in to teachers’ demands, citing financial concerns as the court award to teachers will cost the government about $170 million. The treasury has insisted that additional revenue to pay for this cost has not been budgeted this year and would have to be financed either by an increase in the VAT, government borrowing, or suspension of development programs—all of which would have repercussions on the country’s cost of living, economic growth, and unemployment.

The repercussions of the school closures have not just been felt by students and families but also matatu operators who are incurring huge losses since the strike started, as most of their customers were teachers and students. The issue is thus of key public interest, and the opposition party is using this shutdown as an opportunity to gain support: It has submitted a motion in parliament to impeach the president over his handling of the strike.

Chinese-funded light rail train service launches in Addis Ababa

After three years of construction by the China Railway Group Ltd., the $475-million electrified Addis Ababa Light Rail Transit (AA-LRT) project launched its inaugural service on Sunday, September 20, becoming the first light rail service in sub-Saharan Africa. The AA-LRT railway runs for 34 kilometers through the capital’s main economic and residential districts and, once fully operational, will transport an estimated 60,000 passengers a day at a relatively low fare (compared to buses and taxis) of $0.50 due to heavy subsidies from the government. The government secured 85 percent of the funding for the AA-LRT from the Export-Import Bank of China, while Chinese companies have trained the drivers and maintenance staff and implemented the electrical system that powers the trains.

This AA-LRT is the first of several major Chinese-funded infrastructure projects in Ethiopia that will become operational over the course of the next year: A railway to Djibouti is scheduled to launch in 2016, and the Gibe III hydropower dam, capable of producing 1,870 megawatts (nearly doubling Ethiopia’s current electricity generation), is also nearing completion. Infrastructure projects such as these are a vital component of Ethiopia’s national development agenda, which strives to maintain the high levels of economic growth (averaging 10 percent annually) that the country has achieved in recent years.

Coup d’état in Burkina Faso ends after regional intervention

The coup d’état that briefly ousted interim president of Burkina Faso Michel Kafando ended this week, with the leader of the rebellion, General Gilbert Diendéré, expressing regret for his actions and stepping down. Diendéré, a commander in Burkina Faso’s Regiment of Presidential Security (RSP), took control of the country on Wednesday of last week, citing concerns about heightened levels of insecurity as the country approaches its October 11 national elections. The timing of his action, however, also corresponded with the decision on the part of the interim government to exclude members of the former President (and founder of the RSP) Blaise Compaoré’s political party from participating in the election and the pending release of autopsy results, which some believe might implicate Diendéré and other Compaoré’s loyalists in the murder of the country’s first President Thomas Sankara. West African regional leaders, under the auspices of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), brokered the end of the coup, though significant questions remain about peace and stability in the country. For example, the RSP has demanded amnesty for the coup leaders and an end to the electoral ban on those connected with former President Compaoré’s political party. These unresolved issues pose a challenge to the overall viability of holding national elections next month.