Africa Media Review for April 25, 2022

Russian Mercenaries Are Putin’s ‘Coercive Tool’ in Africa
The Wagner Group passes itself off as a private military contractor and the Kremlin denies any connection to it or even, sometimes, that it exists. But Wagner’s commitment to Russian interests has become apparent in Ukraine, where its fighters, seen wearing the group’s chilling white skull emblem, are among the Russian forces currently attacking eastern Ukraine. In sub-Saharan Africa, Wagner has gained substantial footholds for Russia in Central African Republic, Sudan and Mali. Wagner’s role in those countries goes way beyond the cover story of merely providing a security service, experts say…The African leaders get recognition from the Kremlin and military muscle from Wagner. They pay for it by giving Russia prime access to their oil, gas, gold, diamonds and valuable minerals. Russia also gains positions on a strategically important continent. But there’s another objective of Russia’s “hybrid war” in Africa, said Joseph Siegle, director of research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Siegle said Russia is also waging an ideological battle, using Wagner as a “coercive tool” to undermine Western ideas of democracy and turn countries toward Moscow. Putin wants to challenge the international democratic order “because Russia can’t compete very well in that order,” Siegle said. “If democracy is held up as the ultimate aspirational governance model, then that is constraining for Russia,” Siegle said. Rather, Wagner promotes Russian interests with soldiers and guns, but also through propaganda and disinformation, as Prigozhin has done for Putin before. AP

Huge Blast at Illegal Oil Refinery in Nigeria Kills Scores of People, Including Children
Women and children are among the scores of people killed in an explosion at an illegal oil refinery in a border town in southern Nigeria, authorities say. “The fire occurred in an illegal bunkering site situated at the boundary between Rivers State and Imo State,” the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) said in a statement sent to CNN on Sunday. It said the fire had led “to the death of men, women and children in the hundreds,” adding that the remains of some victims “were burnt beyond recognition.” According to local media reports, emergency response teams have counted 109 bodies, while others remain missing. In October last year, 25 people, including children, were killed in a blast at an illegal refinery in Rivers State, one of Nigeria’s top oil producing areas. Oil theft and artisanal refining of crude oil is a common practice in the country’s delta region. The practice involves boiling crude oil to extract fuel which contributes to the pollution in the region. CNN

Arab Militia Kills Scores in Sweeping Attack in Sudan’s Darfur
Hundreds of Arab militia fighters, many riding motorbikes or driving vehicles mounted with guns, attacked a village in Sudan’s western Darfur region on Sunday, torching homes and shops and killing at least 150 people, aid groups and United Nations officials said. The violence, which later spread to a nearby town, was the latest in a series of clashes involving Arab and ethnic African groups in Darfur in recent months, and one of the country’s deadliest episodes in years. The attack highlighted the growing security vacuum that experts say has worsened in tandem with a political crisis in Sudan, where the military seized power in October. The General Coordination for Refugees and Displaced in Darfur, an aid agency, said 168 people had been killed and another 98 injured in the violence around Kereneik in West Darfur. A United Nations official in Sudan confirmed that account, saying the U.N. had received reports of 150 and 200 deaths. The New York Times

Sudan Junta Releases 25 Detainees – Dozens Remain in Prison
The ruling Sudan junta has released 25 leaders of the Resistance Committees who were detained during the protests against the military coup, however leading members of the opposition Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the leaders of the suspended Empowerment Removal Committee (ERC), remain in detention. This follows a pledge last week by the head of the ruling junta, Gen Abdelfattah El Burhan, to review the State of Emergency, and release political detainees ‘within days’, to prepare the atmosphere for dialogue. However, on Thursday, the security forces arrested a prominent leader of the National Umma Party and took him to an unknown destination after he was summoned to the headquarters of the suspended empowerment committee. Dabanga

Analysis-Under Military’s Watch, Sudan’s Former Ruling Party Making a Comeback
Since Sudan’s military staged a coup six months ago many former allies of toppled autocrat Omar al-Bashir have been allowed to rejoin the civil service while others have been freed from jail in an apparent push to form a government and reassure donors. The rehabilitation of the Islamist National Congress Party (NCP), which ruled Sudan under Bashir before he was ousted by a popular uprising in 2019, comes amid a worsening economic crisis and ongoing street protests demanding a return to civilian rule. At a news conference on Monday, members of several Islamist factions, including the NCP, inaugurated a “Broad Islamist Current” to signal their formal return to politics. Meanwhile, officials heading up a taskforce appointed to dismantle Bashir’s system of wealth and patronage have been imprisoned. The developments echo counter-revolutionary trends across the Middle East since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. Pro-democracy groups that helped overthrow Bashir but were forced out of a power-sharing arrangement by the coup fear a return of the autocratic rule they have struggled to consign to history. Reuters

Tunisian President Seizes Control of Electoral Commission
Tunisia’s president seized control of the country’s election commission on Friday, saying he would replace most of its members in a move that will entrench his one-man rule and cast doubt on electoral integrity. The commission head Nabil Baffoun told Reuters that President Kais Saied’s decree was a blow to the democratic gains of the country’s 2011 revolution and meant the body was no longer independent. “It has become the president’s commission,” he said. President Kais Saied has already dismissed parliament and taken control of the judiciary after assuming executive authority last summer and saying he could rule by decree in moves his opponents denounce as a coup. Saied, who says his actions were both legal and needed to save Tunisia from a crisis, is rewriting the democratic constitution introduced after the 2011 revolution and says he will put it to a referendum in July. Reuters

Leaders of Egypt, Jordan and UAE Meet To Discuss Jerusalem Tensions
The leaders of Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have met in Cairo to discuss the tensions in Jerusalem. A statement after the talks said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el- Sissi, King Abdullah II of Jordan, and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates had called for calm in Jerusalem and for Israel to respect the status quo of Al- Aqsa mosque. They also urged Israel to “stop all measures that undermine the two-state solution,” and to find a way to return to serious negotiations with the Palestinians. The Temple Mount, known as Haram al-Sharif or referred to as the Al-Aqsa compound is a holy site for both Muslims and Jews and is governed through a tenuous power-sharing agreement. It has been a perennial flashpoint for violence and over the past week more than 200 people, mostly Palestinians, have been wounded in clashes there. Palestinians have been outraged by a massive Israeli police deployment and repeated visits by Jews to the holy site. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has ruled out peace talks and opposes Palestinian independence. AfricaNews with AFP AP

Algeria Will Not Abandon Its Commitment To Supply Spain With Gas, Tebboune Says
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Saturday said his country will not abandon its commitment to supply Spain with gas despite a diplomatic row with the European country over Western Sahara. “We assure the Spanish friends, the Spanish people that Algeria will never abandon its commitment to supply Spain with gas under any circumstances,” Tebboune said in an interview aired on state television late on Saturday. Algeria said in March it was recalling its ambassador to Madrid for consultations after Spain backed Morocco’s plan for autonomy in Western Sahara, which is rejected by the Algeria-backed Polisario Front independence movement. France24

Former Guinean Leader Alpha Conde Set Free by the Military Junta
Guinea’s ousted president Alpha Conde is “finally free” and can receive visitors, the junta who overthrew him has said. Conde became Guinea’s first democratically elected president in 2010, but the 84-year-old was deposed by army officers last year and replaced by Colonel Mamady Doumbouya. He was allowed to go to the United Arab Emirates for medical treatment in January, coming back to Guinea on April 10. His party, Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) has said that he was not truly free before or after his trip, and demanded his “total and unconditional freedom.” To back up its call, the RPG suspended its participation at a junta-organized national reconciliation conference in protest at his detention. A statement by the junta published late Friday said that Doumbouya “informs national and international opinion that the former president of the republic is finally free.” AfricaNews with AFP

Cameroon Signs Agreement With Russia in Further Boost to Military Ties
Cameroonian Defence Minister Joseph Beti Assomo has signed a military cooperation agreement in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Choigou, as Wagner mercenaries are boosting Russia’s influence in West Africa. The agreement was signed a week ago, on 12 April, but revealed on Thursday this week.In the text, the two countries agree to exchange opinions and information in the field of international defence and security policy, training troops, military education, medicine, and topography. The terms appear vague and makes no mention of either the separatist Anglophone crisis in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon, nor the fight against Boko Haram in the Far North region. Cameroon has held bilateral relations with Russia since 2015. For researcher Thierry Vircoulon, coordinator of the Central and Southern Africa Observatory at the French Institute of International Relations, the agreement marks a continuation of military ties with the West African country. When Cameroon first signed in 2015, “it was after the first Ukrainian crisis and at the beginning of the Russian offensive’ in Africa” as well as arms deals with Russia, Vircoulon tells RFI. During the UN General Assembly vote in February calling for the Russian withdrawal from Ukraine, Cameroon was absent, and for the second vote, it abstained. RFI

15 Soldiers, 6 Civilians Killed in Attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso
Fifteen soldiers and six civilians have been killed in attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso, neighbouring West African countries that are struggling against armed groups. Vehicles packed with explosives were driven into three military camps in central Mali before dawn on Sunday, the military said in a statement. Six soldiers were killed and 15 wounded at the Sevare camp, and five were wounded at two other locations. Across the border in northern Burkina Faso, simultaneous attacks early Sunday on military detachments in Gaskinde and Pobe-Mengao killed nine soldiers and six civilians, including two who were members of an armed self-defence group, the military said in a statement. About 30 soldiers were also wounded in the three attacks in Mali that were claimed by Katiba Macina, a group linked to the firebrand preacher Amadou Koufa. Katiba Macina is part of the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, an Al-Qaeda-linked alliance operating in the Sahel. Al Jazeera

Jammeh Ally on Trial in Germany Over Role in Gambian Death Squad
The trial of a Gambian man accused of being part of a death squad that assassinated opponents of former President Yahya Jammeh, including a journalist of the AFP news agency, has begun in Germany. The suspect, identified by media as Bai Lowe, is accused of crimes against humanity, murder and attempted murder, including the 2004 killing of longstanding AFP correspondent Deyda Hydara, who was also co-founder of Gambian independent daily The Point. Lowe, arrested in Hanover in March 2021, will appear in court on Monday in the nearby town of Celle. The trial is “the first to prosecute human rights violations committed in [The] Gambia during the Jammeh era on the basis of universal jurisdiction”, according to Human Rights Watch. Universal jurisdiction allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, regardless of where they were committed. Outside the courtroom on Monday, activists held a placard demanding that Jammeh “and his accomplices be brought to justice”. Lowe is accused of being involved in two murders and one attempted murder while working as a driver for the hit squad, known as the Junglers, between December 2003 and December 2006. Al Jazeera

New Ebola Outbreak Declared in DRC After Single Case Confirmed
Health authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) declared a new Ebola outbreak on Friday, after a case was confirmed in the city of Mbandaka, in the northwestern Equateur Province, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement Saturday.This is the third outbreak in the province since 2018 and the 14th Ebola outbreak for the country since 1976, the WHO said. “Time is not on our side,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “The disease has had a two-week head start and we are now playing catch-up. The positive news is that health authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have more experience than anyone else in the world at controlling Ebola outbreaks quickly.” So far, only one case has been confirmed, the WHO said. The patient was a 31-year-old man, who began experiencing symptoms on April 5. He sought treatment at a local health facility after being sick for more than a week at home. The man was admitted to an Ebola treatment center on April 21 for intensive care but died later that day, the WHO said. Health workers recognized the symptoms of Ebola and “immediately” submitted samples for testing, WHO said. “Efforts to stem the current outbreak are already underway,” the organization said, and vaccinations will start in the coming days. CNN

South Africa’s Ruling Party Weighs More Private Involvement in Economy
A draft policy document compiled by South Africa’s governing party suggests the private sector play a greater role in the economy, a proposition that’s favored by President Cyril Ramaphosa and provides further evidence of a shift in thinking in an organization that’s traditionally backed state-led growth. The African National Congress document, seen by Bloomberg, recommends that private companies invest in infrastructure and take over state-owned firms. It also envisions businesses and individuals donating land to kickstart a program to improve access for Black farmers. Bloomberg

An American Consulting Firm Became a Power Broker, and Then a Pariah, in South Africa
As a tax fraud investigator with the South African Revenue Service for 18 years, Ronel van Wyk led a squad that tracked down smugglers and other criminals, with a 90 percent conviction rate. Then she got an email that left her mystified: A team from the American consulting firm Bain & Company had been hired to overhaul the revenue service, even though the agency had been regarded as effective by the International Monetary Fund and other international organizations. Consultants with Bain, empowered to make personnel decisions, soon told her that she and her entire team were being demoted — stripped of their ability to go after tax cheats. Ms. van Wyk was one of dozens of revenue service employees who were sidelined in 2015 in what is now widely seen as an effort by Jacob Zuma, the country’s president at the time, to control the tax agency, according to a report that emerged in January from a far-reaching judicial inquiry into the nine graft-ridden years of his administration. New York Times

Kagame, Museveni Hold Bilateral Talks in Uganda
Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni on Sunday held bilateral talks in Kampala. The two leaders agreed to push for regional peace and stability by jointly addressing the security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as part of the East African Community. The talks came on the backdrop of last week’s meeting in Nairobi by the bloc’s Heads of State in which they agreed to set up a regional military force bent on ending decades of insecurity in eastern DRC, caused by militia groups. DR Congo in early April signed the treaty of accession into the EAC, becoming the seventh member of the bloc…On Sunday, in a meeting at State House Entebbe, Museveni briefed Kagame about the talks that were held in Nairobi. According to a statement from State House, Museveni assured his Rwandan counterpart who was on a one day private visit that the problems affecting the region like the crisis in DRC needed collective approach from all regional members. “This time we must insist on working together because these people have suffered a lot. I told President Kenyatta that if we don’t come in as a region, Congo may become like Sudan,” Museveni said. Kagame also said the DRC problem can be resolved if leaders of all the armed groups hold talks and agree on a way forward. “They need to talk without leaving anyone behind,” Kagame said according to the State House statement. East African

Senegal’s Viral Code Crackers Brave Mobs and Gunmen To Stay Ahead of Deadly Diseases
The young Senegalese doctor carefully packed a suitcase full of genetic equipment and prepared for the toughest assignment of his life. The next morning he traded the sunbaked western edge of Africa for the dense rainforest of eastern Congo. The rolling hills of North Kivu, though spectacularly beautiful, are known for being one of the most dangerous places on Earth. It was August 2018 and the Ebola virus was ripping through remote communities like a forest fire. Bandits and jihadists roamed the land as emergency response teams desperately tried to control a hemorrhagic fever that left children bleeding from their eyes. When Dr Moussa Moise Diagne arrived he set up a white box in a tiny bush lab. It looked like a printer designed by Apple in California, but it was powerful enough to crack the deadly pathogen’s genetic code like a walnut. “I was there to genetically contact trace the Ebola samples in real-time,” he says. “If you know what to do, you can genetically track each cluster of infections so that the Congolese know what is happening. That way they know how different clusters of infections are connected to each other. It’s absolutely critical information.” While few in the anglophone world have heard of the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, their exploits are well known in scientific circles across the southern hemisphere. Telegraph