Many developing economies suffer from a lack of reliable rainfall measurements due to a lack of funds and a shortage of equipment – such as gauges and radars. Even if countries are equipped with these monitoring instruments, they all have limitations.

Rain gauges, meteorological instruments that collect falling water drops, only provide a very local observation. However, the intensity of rainfall can be completely different from one location to another, sometimes even if it’s less than a few hundreds of metres away.

Radars use radio waves to get precipitation estimates but they may not always be efficient. For example, their beams might get blocked in mountainous regions.

Earth-observing satellites can also provide estimates of rain. These are made from space, using remote sensors. However, the spatial images are coarse, making it hard to analyse rainfall distribution across small areas on the ground.

These constraints pose problems when it comes to monitoring crop yields because many smallholder farmers in developing economies rely on rain-fed agriculture.

Accurate precipitation measurements are essential to farmers. For example, for prevention of over irrigation – this would lead to water saving and more efficient use of fertilisers. Accurate measurements are also desirable for rainfall-based insurance, an important resource to mitigate risk for farmers in developing countries.

In our research venture, we use commercial microwave links – wireless connections between mobile phone towers – from different locations in the world, as an effective low-cost way to estimate rainfall. This adds to previous studies which have shown the same.

However, most of the academic work done so far has been conducted in developed countries pointing mainly to hydro-meteorological applications such as flood prediction.

Our initiative focuses on developing this approach for agricultural needs in developing economies.

Using commercial microwave links

Commercial microwave links are wireless connections which transfer data between mobile phone towers. These links are widely deployed, several tens of meters above the ground, by mobile phone providers all over the world.

Rainfall reduces the signal strength of radio beams between the transmitting and receiving towers. As a result, we can estimate how much rainfall there is based on changes in the quality of the electromagnetic signals. The system can be configured so that signals between towers are recorded over short time periods; for instance, every 15 minutes. This makes it useful for rain monitoring.

This method has been demonstrated in various places across the world, including Israel,the Netherlands,Germany, the Czech Republic, and more.

In recent years, efforts have been made by the academic community and the private sector to promote the application of this technique in developing countries. However, in terms of scientific publications, until now only a few papers have been published.

In our research venture, we analyse data from a number of mobile phone providers.

An example of such a study recently demonstrated the possible advantage of commercial microwave links, over rain gauges, to detect rainfall in an agricultural field. This was at a tea farm near the town of Kericho, in western Kenya.

Rainfall estimates, acquired by a number of links, were compared with measurements from rain gauges located adjacent to them. While a compelling correlation was observed between the link measurements and rain gauges, the rain gauge method missed a complete rainy episode. Though the gauge is more precise, it provides only a very local observation.

This demonstrates that there’s huge potential in using microwave links in developing countries, where weather monitoring capabilities are often limited.

A sustainable low-cost solution

Many towers are installed in remote areas. This means observations can now happen in places that have been hard to access in the past or where rainfall has never been measured before.

Additionally, the implementation cost is low because the data is already collected and logged by many mobile phone operators in the course of their service quality.

Considering the mobility, and relative ease of installation of the wireless technology in the field, the total number of installed links will likely continue to grow, including particularly, in Africa. Therefore, the proposed method is expected to be available, and sustainable, into the future.

But there are limitations.

Commercial microwave links were designed for communication needs, not measuring rainfall. And so, major uncertainties in measurements do happen.

For example, in rural areas, since towers are sparser, the link lengths will be longer than in urban areas. Technically, in this situation the links are operated in beam wavelengths that are less sensitive to rainfall. As a result of the lower density of the link network and the lower sensitivity of each link in this case, readings will be less accurate.

Therefore, an ideal approach would be to use this technology as a complement to existing tools like rain gauges, radars and satellites. That being said, considering the many cases where there are no monitoring assets at all, the ability to provide information regarding rainfall in the area using mobile phone towers would still be invaluable.

Rainfall-based insurance

One of the ways this information can be used is in rainfall-based insurance, an important resource to mitigate risk for farmers in developing countries.

Precipitation amounts are closely correlated to agricultural production, so this insurance pays out based on the rainfall measured (by a rain gauge, for example) as an index. A major concern with this insurance is that the contract will fail to properly reflect actual agricultural losses. One key source of this is the potential difference between the local rainfall experienced by farmers covered by such insurance, and the rainfall measurements used to calculate the indemnity.

Since measurements from commercial microwave links can improve the spatial rainfall picture, they present a sustainable solution to reducing such basis risk.

Ultimately, we hope that our findings will mean that farmers will benefit from better designed rainfall-based index insurance and poor households will benefit from more accurate crop yield monitoring.

The study conducted in Kericho, Kenya, was done alongside researchers Prof. Zhongbo (Bob) Su, Prof. Joost C.B. Hoedjes and PhD candidate Kingsley Kwabena Kumah from the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation at the University of Twente in the Netherlands.The Conversation

Noam David, Founder of AtmosCell and Consulting Expert, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ; H. Oliver Gao, Professor, Cornell University, and Yanyan Liu, Senior Research Fellow, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Apr 21, 2020

Airlines have cut international capacity to just half a million seats a week from an average of 5.9 million before the coronavirus shut borders and decimated travel demand, according to OAG Aviation Worldwide.

“There isn’t much more international capacity that can be dropped around the globe,” OAG senior analyst John Grant wrote in a post dated April 20.

Strong domestic capacity has at least helped stem declines in countries such as the U.S., Japan and Indonesia, though demand is lacking, Grant said, adding that nearly 9 in every 10 seats scheduled this week will be on domestic flights.

Total capacity for international and domestic routes has dropped to 29.8 million seats, down more than 70% from January, and could slide below 29 million next week as some more cuts are expected from major carriers. Nobody could have planned for nearly three-quarters of global capacity being cut in just 14 weeks, Grant wrote.

Falling through the 30 million capacity mark highlights how damaging the pandemic is to the airline industry, though it could now be “close to the bottoming out of the capacity crisis,” he said.



Apr 21, 2020

Crude oil prices plunged into negative territory on Monday for the first time ever, with U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate trading at minus $37.63 per barrel for oil purchased for delivery in May.

That means producers selling oil would have to pay buyers to take it off their hands.

But while it is historic, the floor hasn’t actually collapsed, because oil for June delivery is still trading around $20 a barrel, about where it’s been for several weeks.

Rather, Monday’s price plunge reflects what’s likely a one-day anomaly triggered by the last day of trading for next-month delivery of oil that buyers have no place to store, experts said. Storage tanks are either filled or near full after the coronavirus lockdown cut global demand by about 30% as factories, cars and airplanes sit idled around the world.

When trading for June delivery opens on Tuesday, prices are expected to bounce back to the $20-per-barrel range, said Raye Miller, a longtime New Mexico oilman and president of Regeneration Energy Corp. in Artesia.

“Monday saw the biggest one-day drop in oil prices in history,” Miller said. “But Tuesday, we’ll see the biggest one-day increase in oil prices ever recorded.”

Still, New Mexico producers will take a hit from Monday’s drop, because buyers base the price they pay for oil delivered in May on the average daily price recorded in April. That means Monday’s negatively priced crude will factor into the final price local producers get in May for the oil they put in the pipeline this month, Miller said.

Miller’s company received about $29 per barrel this month for oil it delivered in March.

“The price fluctuations we saw today demonstrated a phenomenon inherent in futures markets that can happen as commodities contracts begin to expire,” New Mexico Oil and Gas Association Executive Director Ryan Flynn told the Journal in an email. “Traders were working to quickly exit positions in the context of infrastructure and storage constraints that have manifested due to a sharp drop in demand.”

Still, Monday’s price plunge shocked many. After the Plains Crude Oil Price Bulletin posted negative oil prices Monday afternoon, Regeneration Energy took a photo of it.

“We’ll frame it to hang on our wall as the lowest price we’ll ever see,” Miller said.

The price of oil has a major effect on New Mexico, which is home to the western section of the massively productive Permian Basin – and tens of thousands of associated jobs. New Mexico’s state government also relies heavily on the energy industry for taxes and royalties. For every $1 drop in price, the state’s budget loses an average of about $22 million in direct oil and gas revenue over a year.

Meanwhile, the plunge in oil sent energy stocks in the S&P 500 to a 3.7% loss, the latest in a dismal 2020 that has caused their prices to nearly halve.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 592.05 points, or 2.4%, to 23,650.44, and the Nasdaq dropped 89.41, or 1%, to 8,560.73. The S&P 500 fell 51.40 points to 2,823.16.

The losses ate into some of the big gains indexes have made since late March, driven lately by investors anticipating the potential reopening of businesses as infections level off in hard-hit areas.


Credit: Albuquerque Journal

Apr 21, 2020

Nigeria’s Rivers State has freed 22 Exxon Mobil Corp. employees quarantined last week after their arrest for violating an order restricting movement into the state to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the state government said on Sunday.

Port Harcourt, capital of the southern state, is the hub of the oil industry in Africa’s biggest producer of crude.

On Friday, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike said the workers were arrested after entering the state from neighbouring Akwa Ibom State in violation of an executive order restricting movement into the state as part of measures imposed last month to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

He said the workers, whose coronavirus status was unknown, were quarantined in line with relevant health protocols and would be charged in court.

“The Rivers State Government on Sunday released the 22 Staff of Exxon Mobil who were arrested for violating the State Executive Order restricting movement in the state,” said a statement issued by the governor’s spokesman, Simeon Nwakaudu.

They were released without charge “following interventions by well-meaning Nigerians” and no charges will be pressed, the statement said.

Exxon Mobil did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Rivers State has recorded two cases of coronavirus so far. Nigeria has 541 confirmed cases nationwide and 19 deaths. The most high profile victim was the president’s chief of staff, Abba Kyari, who died on Friday.

Nigeria’s petroleum regulator has ordered oil and gas companies to reduce their offshore workforce and move to 28-day staff rotations, instead of the usual 14 days, to help to curb the spread of the coronavirus.



Apr 20, 2020

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Sunday extended a lockdown to contain the spread of the new coronavirus by two weeks, but will allow mining companies to get back to work.

Mnangagwa said the lockdown would continue because the country had not yet met conditions set down by the World Health Organization to lift the measures.

Three people have died from the virus out of the 25 confirmed infected in the southern African country, but health experts expect the figures to rise once authorities ramp up testing.

“It has been a very hard decision that my government has had to take reluctantly,” Mnangagwa said in a live television broadcast.

Mnangagwa said the government would allow mining companies, which generate the most foreign currency, to resume full operations while manufacturers would work at limited capacity. Mining companies operating in Zimbabwe include local operations of Impala Platinum Holdings and Anglo American Platinum.

Zimbabwe began a 21-day lockdown on March 30, which has confined most people to their homes. But in poor townships, people are venturing out in search of staples like maize meal, leading to long queues at the shops.

The lockdown has left many citizens without an income and food at a time the country is grappling with the worst economic crisis in a decade, marked by shortages of foreign exchange, food and medicines.

In the capital Harare, city council officials, with the help of police and soldiers, were on Sunday tearing down illegal market stalls used by informal traders in townships.

The move was strongly criticised by citizens in the country where more than 80% of the working population have no formal jobs and eke a living from informal markets.

City authorities defended the move saying it was necessary to restore order in the city and that informal traders would be relocated to new and better facilities.



Apr 20, 2020

African diplomats have threatened to shut down their consulates following the racist attacks and maltreatment of Nigerians and other Africans by Chinese officials in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.

The African Consuls-General in a protest letter to the Chinese Government noted that Africans were being denied hotel accommodation upon arrival in Guangzhou, adding that they were also subjected to an additional 14-day quarantine at various isolation centres after being cleared and issued an appropriate certificate of release by the Centralised Quarantine and Medical Observation.

They warned Beijing that their home countries might retaliate against Chinese nationals if the stigmatisation of Nigerians and other Africans was not speedily resolved.

A viral video had shown some Nigerians in Guangzhou being evicted from their homes and hotels and chased down the streets by Chinese policemen.

The Nigerians complained that they were placed under compulsory 14-day quarantine, adding that despite testing negative for COVID-19, the authorities insisted that the quarantine period would be extended by another two weeks, a directive they resisted.

The Chinese officials were also said to have confiscated the passports of the Nigerians.

A video of Mr Razaq Lawal, head of the Nigerian consulate in Guangzhou, tackling a Chinese official for seizing the passports of some Nigerians later surfaced on the Internet.

Following the incident, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, had summoned the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr Zhou Pingjian, twice in a week to express the displeasure of the Federal Government on the development.

The minister said the government would hasten the evacuation of Nigerians in China and also demand compensation from the Chinese authorities.
But taking up the matter with Beijing, the African diplomats accused China of discriminating against their nationals, warning that the situation could degenerate if not properly handled.

In line with Article 5 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963, they called on the Chinese Foreign Affairs Office to intervene and address the complaints.

The Consuls demanded a prompt reversal of Guangdong’s policy on “the selective attack on Africans as well as unannounced visits to homes after the working hours.”

They also asked the Chinese authorities to direct hotels to accommodate Africans and stop forcible eviction of the nationals from their apartments.

The diplomats stated, “In the consequence that the issues are not properly resolved promptly, the African Consulates-General will be left with no option but to communicate to our home country the racial bias and discrimination against Africans in China.

“We would also bring the same to the attention of the international community-United Nations, International Criminal Court, International Court of Arbitration, World Health Organisation, Amnesty International, African Union, among others.

“We would have no option but to retaliate the same ill-treatment meted out on our nationals to the Chinese nationals in our various countries; close all the African Consulates in Guangzhou until further notice and engage in general street protest by the African Consulates-General and nationals,” the diplomats warned.


Credit: PUNCH

Videos showing the recent mistreatment of Africans living in the Chinese city of Guangzhou have ricocheted around African broadcast and social media in recent days.

Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province in southern China, is closely linked to Hong Kong and Macau, and has the largest African community in Asia. The majority are from the West African countries of Nigeria, Ghana and Mali. As a pioneering city at the heart of China’s economic reform, Guangzhou is the hub of the country’s export-driven manufacturing sector, an industry which has always been considered open, tolerant and progressive.

But amid fear of imported coronavirus cases and a second wave of the pandemic in China, the local government implemented surveillance and mandatory testing and an additional 14-day quarantine for all African nationals in the city, regardless of whether they tested positive for COVID-19. These measures paid no regard to whether people had recently travelled out of China, or how they would be mistreated by landlords, hotel managers and shopkeepers.

As a result, many Africans in Guangzhou, including Nigerians, Ugandans and Ghanaians, have been subject to unfair treatment. Some have being evicted by landlords or rejected by hotels, and some even left homeless.

Diplomatic anger

The city, and the government in Beijing, are now facing a full-blown diplomatic crisis and PR disaster amid accusations of racism. A group of African ambassadors in Beijing wrote a letter of complaint to the Chinese government about the “stigmatisation and discrimination” being faced by Africans. Other African diplomats, facing domestic pressure, have held discussions with representatives from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Many African countries will be particularly disappointed given how much their diplomats have spoken up for China on the international stage. African governments have supported China on issues including its membership of the UN in the 1970s, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang.

In recent weeks, China has been working hard on its “coronavirus diplomacy” to show it is on the path to recovery from the pandemic. Such incidents threaten its propaganda battle. In Kenya, the hashtag #DeportRacistChinese was trending on Twitter in mid April after Kenyan internet users saw reports of Kenyans and other Africans being treated unfairly. Moses Kuria, an MP from Kenya’s ruling party, even advocated Chinese people in Kenya should go back to China with immediate effect.

Xenophobia and racism online

Previous research has shown how comments with characteristics of right-wing populism and supremacism of ethnically Han Chinese people, xenophobia and racism have increased in Chinese cyberspace in the past decade, with little public criticism.

After reports in early April that a Nigerian coronavirus patient had attacked and bitten the face of a Chinese nurse in a bid to escape quarantine, Chinese social media platform Weibo erupted with xenophobic and racist sentiment.

China’s official discourse on the China-Africa relationship has always been portrayed as either a “win-win” or an “all-weather” friendship. Public sensitivity in China to racism, particularly to Africans, has been low and China’s censorship department appears to tolerate racism online.

Little effort has been made to educate the Chinese public against racism, or to emphasise the importance of political correctness. So it’s not surprising the past few years have seen racist tropes appear in a Chinese detergent advert and on China’s biggest lunar new year television show.

Many Chinese believe that foreigners have been given extra benefits, leading to concerns about unfairness and inequality. In late February, when the government published draft regulations to ease conditions for foreigners to get permanent residency in China, it was met with strong opposition online amid rising nationalist sentiment. Africans in Guangzhou were frequently mentioned by Chinese internet users as an example of why foreigners should not be welcomed in the country.

Local and central government agendas

The recent mistreatment of Africans in Guangzhou shows the different priorities of local and central politics in China. The Guangzhou municipal government faces unprecedented pressure to stop a second wave of coronavirus. If the local government can successfully avoid a second outbreak, it might determine the future promotion of some senior officials.

China’s central government is concerned with containing the virus and restoring economic growth. As countries such as the US have begun to use China as a scapegoat for their own slow response to the pandemic, the party-state is more concerned than ever about its global image.

But there’s a big gap between the central government in control of foreign policy and the local agencies that enforce immigration. So when local governments like those in Guangzhou make decisions in a crisis, they won’t prioritise national and diplomatic interests until they receive pressure and guidance from Beijing.

Beijing has now begun to repair the diplomatic damage. On April 13, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it would adjust its coronavirus restrictions on African nationals, provide them with health services without discrimination and adjust accommodation prices for those in financial difficulties. Chinese Weibo also closed 180 accounts for “inciting discrimination” and is discouraging its users from sharing news involving foreigners and foreign countries.

Officials and community leaders in Guangzhou have also began to realise the importance of treating Africans decently and started to send them flowers and gifts, according to people I’ve spoken to in the city in recent days. Civil society groups are also making an effort, with volunteers offering supplies and psychological support to people in need.

It’s possible this may be too little too late. Many African hearts have been broken, but it’s still possible to make amends.The Conversation


Hangwei Li, PhD Candidate in Politics and International Studies, SOAS, University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Apr 20, 2020

Germany's confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 1,775 to 141,672, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Monday, marking the second consecutive day that the number of new infections had fallen.

The reported death toll rose by 110 to 4,404, the tally showed.



Apr 20, 2020

The 35-day lockdown period to curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, will have a major impact on the 525,000 small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMMEs) in South Africa, putting 6.6 million jobs at risk.

This is according to Adrian Gore, a member of the CEO Initiative, chairman of the SA SME Fund, and chief executive officer of Discovery, who said: “Given the lockdown, the vast majority are unable to pay their rent, utilities, and importantly, their employees.

“Initial surveys indicate that 60% of SMEs are either considering retrenching employees, or already have. This is a significant threat to the SA economy, with many millions of jobs at risk.”

The CEO Initiative, which was established in 2016 as a collaboration between government and business to address some of the most pressing challenges to the country’s economic growth, is supporting the call of Business for SA (BSA) for all large companies to pay their SME creditors by Monday 20 April 2020.

Sim Tshabalala, a member of the CEO Initiative, and chief executive officer of Standard Bank, said: “These are extraordinary times that require extraordinary commitment from CEOs and large corporates. The Government has asked South Africans to stay home under a 35-day lockdown. This is tough for every individual, and every business, but most especially difficult for small and
medium enterprises.”

“They are under enormous strain and we are already seeing many businesses having to close their doors, which has a significant impact on their ability to sustain their employees.

“Even outside of the lockdown, many of these businesses often do not have the cash flow needed in order to maintain sustainability. We believe early payment is the right thing to do and will have a significant impact on their ability to survive and keep paying their employees.”

University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) visiting lecturer in corporate finance, Brett Hamilton, said the Covid-19 pandemic will lead to business failures, with the SA Reserve Bank estimating an additional 1,600 business insolvencies this year, while the “fattest” – those with the strongest cash reserves – will likely survive.

“We find ourselves in one of the most uncertain periods of human history. It is blurring the lines between business, government and society. Policymakers are confronted with an unprecedented, and impossible, trade-off between public health and economic growth.

“Given the speed and uncertainty under which these complex decisions are made, we have seen unprecedented actions from governments, central banks and businesses. In many cases, governments have overstepped their usual political and ideological boundaries and business has somewhat embraced stakeholders over shareholders.

“Fighting the spread of the coronavirus requires ‘big government’ and ‘business with a heart’ to work together – it may be expected and the right thing to do in a crisis, but the question is if these roles will remain after the pandemic,” he said.

Hamilton, a director at First River Capital, said cashflow is “the lifeblood of any organisation” but lockdown has severely restricted businesses’ ability to generate cash through operations, while accessing cash through debt or equity investment are limited in the current economic climate, and possibly unwise.

The latest downgrade by Moody’s of South Africa’s credit rating to sub-investment grade severely restricts the country’s access to debt and has seen a spike in the cost of debt, he said, noting that the South African 10-year government bond yield reached a maximum of 12.36% on 24 March compared with a low of 7.9% in 2018.

“So, debt may do more harm than good during these times, even with the debt relief pledges made by banks,” he said.

This leaves “Alpha companies” – large, mature and cash-flush – in prime position to weather the storm, buy out their competitors and continue to invest for growth after the pandemic, he said.

“Markets will become more concentrated and the position of incumbents more entrenched. The business world will look different after the pandemic and it will most likely fall on governments to regulate the new ‘Alphas’ to ensure better competition.

“If it should do so and how it should be achieved remains to be seen,” he said.

Hamilton noted that during the pandemic we have seen many companies shift to a more socialist stance, offering free products, expertise and financial aid to their employees and to other virus-related efforts.

Is this perhaps the dawn of a new social contract?

Hamilton pointed to a 2017 report funded by the South Africa Department of Trade and Industry and published by the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Competition, Regulation and Economic Development which held that South African companies were accumulating reserves as opposed to investing it in the economy and, thus, stimulating economic growth.

The report noted that between 2005 and 2016, the cash reserves of the top 50 companies on the JSE increased from R242 billion to R1.4 trillion and called for policy intervention from government to stimulate domestic investment by these companies and put an end to the “investment strike”.

He said that while there were counter-arguments to this – that “cash hoarding” was a myth and merely a reflection of the business environment at the time – if government policy had been used then to force South African companies to spend their cash holdings, fewer would now be in a position to weather the current storm.

“This could support the view for lower government involvement in business and the protection of the free market. That being said, government intervention during the pandemic has not only been welcomed by many, but in most cases has been expected.

“Similar to the financial crisis of 2008/9, governments have moved to act to protect the free market, but in many countries the interventions for the coronavirus have been more radical.

“Putting a freeze on the free market by way of lockdown is counter to the political and economic ideologies of many countries, but they have acted nonetheless,” he said.

Hamilton said that government intervention should also focus on the ability of the economy to recover after lockdown has lifted – “to ensure that enough businesses remain standing and that people are employed through the crisis to quicken the pace of recovery after the pandemic”.

“What is required is the ability for companies to maintain payroll, gain access to debt financing and for central banks to provide the latitude for banks to reschedule loans (possibly with forbearance through credit guarantees).

For this, governments must pull out all stops in terms of fiscal action,” Hamilton said.

With South Africa’s “limited fiscal latitude”, external finance would be required and should be accessed from as many sources as possible, including bonds, accessing the capital market, as well as a reliance on development banks such as the IMF.


Culled from 

Apr 19, 2020

Lesotho's embattled prime minister has announced that he has sent troops onto the streets to "restore order", accusing unnamed law enforcement agencies of undermining democracy.

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane is under pressure to step down after police said they suspect him of having had a hand in the murder of his estranged wife in 2017, a case that has thrown the country into political turmoil.

In an address on public television on Saturday, 80-year-old Thabane said he had "deployed the army to take control of this situation and take necessary measures against these elements in alignment with the security orders and restore peace and order".

"This is to avoid putting the nation in danger," he said.

A highly placed government source said police commissioner Holomo Molibeli, his deputy Paseka Mokete and another senior police officer have been arrested by the army.

"The general informed the prime minister that he has arrested Holomo, Mokete ... They are temporarily detained at Makoanyane Barracks," the source told AFP in the capital Maseru.

There was a heavy presence of armed soldiers, in bulletproof vests and helmets, patrolling the streets.

Other soldiers drove around Maseru in armoured cars.

The prime minister said he was "surprised" that some "institutions entrusted with maintaining order and adhering to law are busy tarnishing the very principles" of the country's stability and democracy.

He said the army would also help enforce a 24-day coronavirus lockdown in the country, which has so far not recorded a single case.

The prime minister's order is the latest twist in a saga that has gripped the southern African kingdom.

No-confidence vote

The murder accusations against Thabane came after communications records from the scene of his estranged wife's murder included the prime minister's mobile phone number.

His order to deploy the army came a day after the constitutional court set aside his decision to suspend Parliament for three months.

In March, Thabane imposed a three-month suspension of Parliament shortly after the national assembly passed a bill barring him from calling fresh elections if he loses a no-confidence vote hanging over his head.

Last month, he ordered the security forces and intelligence service to investigate his governing All Basotho Convention (ABC) party rivals, whom he accused of plotting to topple his government.

Citing his advanced age, the prime minister had earlier this year offered to step down from office by July 31 following the accusation of his possible involvement in the murder of his then-estranged wife.

He faces allegations he acted in "common purpose" in the killing of 58-year-old Lipolelo Thabane, whom he was in the process of divorcing.

Lipolelo's murder, two days before his inauguration as prime minister, sent shock waves through the tiny picturesque mountainous kingdom of 2.2 million people.

His current wife, Maesaiah Thabane, 43, whom he married two months after Lipolelo's death, is considered a coconspirator in the murder case and has already been charged.

Thabane's ABC rivals are pushing for his early departure and have teamed up with opposition with the goal of forming a coalition government.

Lesotho has a long history of political turmoil.

It has been more than a decade since a prime minister served out a full five-year term in the country which is completely surrounded by South Africa.



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