Africa Media Review for April 29, 2019

Benin Holds Vote with No Opposition Candidates
People in Benin are voting for a new parliament but without a single opposition candidate taking part. The electoral authorities ruled last month that only two parties – both loyal to President Patrice Talon – met the requirements to take part. New electoral laws mean a party had to pay about $424,000 (£328,000) to field a list for the 83-seat parliament. Internet access has been restricted with social media and messaging apps blocked in the West African nation. Five million people are registered to vote in the country, known as one of Africa’s most stable democracies.  BBC

Benin’s Government Has Shut the Internet Ahead of an Election That Has No Opposition
Benin’s legislative elections today will have no one contesting from the opposition parties. Another thing that voters won’t have access to: the internet. Research from the digital monitoring organization NetBlocks shows the country’s leading internet provider Spacetel has been shut down. The move comes hours after applications including WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, and Instagram were blocked approximately midnight on Sunday (Apr. 28). Virtual private networks including Tunnelbear, Hola, and PureVPN, usually used to circumvent online censorship, were also inaccessible in the country. The West African nation now joins the list of African states, including Sudan, DR Congo, and Egypt who have limited online access ahead of key elections, political referenda, or anti-government protests this year. Activists say the cut-offs usually have significant economic, political, and social costs, particularly given how popular messaging apps like WhatsApp are crucial for voters, journalists, and election observers.  Quartz

Sudan’s Military and Opposition Agree on Joint Council after Bashir Ousting
Sudan’s powerful generals and opposition leaders have agreed in principle to the formation of joint civilian-military council to lead the country’s political transition following three decades of autocratic rule by former president Omar al-Bashir. However, in the latest evidence of the sharp challenges facing Sudan, the two sides failed to agree on how big a role the generals would have on the new council. The two sides met as the huge protest sit-in continued in the centre of Khartoum outside the military headquarters, where activists committed to remain until there is civilian rule. A 10-man transitional military council, led by Lt Gen Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, was established after the military and security forces removed Bashir on 11 April.  The Guardian

Sudanese Police Officers Strike amid Tension
Sudanese police officers staged a one-day strike on Sunday for pay raise amid tension since the ouster of long-serving President Omar al-Bashir earlier this month. According to eyewitnesses, citizens gathered in front of service complexes — that remained closed due to the strike — and protested against the authorities. On Saturday, police captains and other ranks announced their plan to stage a strike. Police officers said the strike aims at “delivering a message to the senior leaders” to deal with the “widespread corruption and injustice in the police establishment”. On April 11, the Sudanese army announced al-Bashir’s ouster following months of popular demonstrations against his 30-year rule.  Anadolu Agency

Sudan’s Military Rulers Condemn Attack on Islamist Party
Sudanese protest leaders held talks with the ruling military council on Sunday after the military condemned an attack on an Islamist party close to President Omar al-Bashir, who was removed from power and jailed earlier this month. Dozens of protesters on Saturday surrounded a building where the Popular Congress Party was holding a meeting, chanting: “No place for Islamists.” The state-run SUNA news agency quoted party leader Idriss Suliman as saying that protesters attacked the party members as they left the building, wounding at least 64 people. No protesters were reported injured. The party was established in the late 1990s by Hassan al-Turabi, the Sudanese Islamist who played a key role in the 1989 coup that brought al-Bashir to power. It is a symbol of the lingering power of al-Bashir’s regime, which was built on a close alliance between the military and Islamists.  AP

Four Dead in Suspected Boko Haram Attack in Cameroon
Jihadists from Nigeria’s Boko Haram killed at least four people and badly wounded four others in an attack on Kofia, a Cameroonian island on Lake Chad, an official source told AFP on Sunday. The attackers also destroyed part of a military post and vandalised shops in the attack late Saturday, the source said, adding three civilians and one soldier were killed. Kofia island is in the far north of Cameroon near the border with Chad. “Cameroon and Chadian forces” were pursuing the assailants, the source said. The jihadist group has stepped up attacks in Cameroon and neighbouring countries. Earlier this month, they were blamed for an attack that killed 11 civilians in the northern locality of Tcharkamari. France 24

South Sudan Court Drops Treason Charge against Economist
A South Sudanese court threw out charges including treason against a prominent economist on Friday but said he still must face trial on new charges of disturbing the peace over interviews he gave to foreign media. The case of Peter Biar Ajak, a former child refugee who returned to his native South Sudan as an internationally renowned academic, has thrown a spotlight on what rights groups say is repression of dissent in Africa’s youngest country. The South Sudan country director for the International Growth Center which is part of the London School of Economics, Biar was arrested in July 2018 and later charged with treason. He had been critical of the way President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar approached peace talks to end a civil war. “The previous charges have been rubbished and dropped by the court because the prosecution couldn’t prove each of those charges,” Ajak’s lawyer Philip Anyang said. However, judge Sumaya Saleh Abdalla ordered him to be tried on new charges.  Reuters

5 Teachers among 6 Killed in Jihadists Attack on Burkina Faso School
Armed jihadists attacked a village school in eastern Burkina Faso, killing five teachers and a municipal worker, officials said Saturday. Burkina Faso, a former French colony, has seen a surge in attacks blamed on radical Islamist groups – mainly the Ansarul Islam group and the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) – in the last four years. The latest attack happened on Friday evening at Maitaougou village in the Koulpelogo province, which has been targeted by extremists. “Jihadists led an incursion into Maitaougou village… and killed five teachers,” a security source said. “Four teachers died instantly in the attack, which took place at around 5:00 pm in the heart of the school, while a fifth succumbed to his injuries a few hours later.”  AFP

U.S. Kills Three Suspected ISIS Militants in Somalia Air Strike 
The U.S. killed three suspected Islamic State militants in an airstrike in Somalia as part of a long-running campaign to curb the activities of extremist groups in the country. The raid took place in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, the U.S. military said in a statement on Saturday. The area is on the Gulf of Aden, near the key shipping lanes that pass through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. At this time, it is assessed the airstrike on April 26 killed three terrorists, the U.S. Africa Command said.  Bloomberg

South Africa Marks Freedom Day, Apartheid Ended 25 Years Ago
Calls for more jobs for South Africa’s black majority and respect for the rights of the LGBTI community marked Freedom Day celebrations on Saturday commemorating the 25th anniversary of the end of apartheid. Singing and dancing punctuated one gathering of about 3,500 people on the outskirts of Johannesburg. A quarter-century ago South Africa’s blacks finally were able to vote, bringing democracy to the country. But long after the brutal apartheid system of racial discrimination, speakers said many still struggle to find a decent life. “What is the meaning of freedom if many people in a township are unemployed?” asked David Makhura, premier of Gauteng province, which includes South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria.  AP

Air Strike Hits Tripoli as Eastern Libyan Forces Send Warship to Oil Port
Air strikes hit the Libyan capital late on Saturday as eastern forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar pursued a three-week campaign to take Tripoli and also confirmed for the first time they had dispatched a warship to an oil port. The Libyan National Army (LNA) force of Haftar, which is allied to a parallel government, has repeatedly flown air strikes since starting an offensive three weeks ago to take the capital held by the internationally recognised government. The offensive has exacerbated chaos in Libya since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, threatens to disrupt oil supplies, boost migration across the Mediterranean to Europe and scupper U.N. plans for an election to end rivalries between rival administrations in east and west. Reuters

Algeria’s Ex-Police Chief to Face Graft Probe
A former Algerian police chief once considered a pillar of the regime of ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been summoned for questioning about allegations of corruption, state media said Sunday. Since Bouteflika resigned in early April after weeks of mass protests against his rule, several regime officials and businessmen who were close to him have been sacked or detained over alleged graft. General Abdelghani Hamel, the former police chief once tipped as Bouteflika’s successor before he was fired by the veteran leader in June 2018, is due to appear in court on Monday with one of his sons, state radio said. They are expected to be questioned as part of a judicial inquiry into “illegal activity, bribery, embezzlement of funds and abuse of power,” according to state television. AP

In Eritrea, Jailed Journalists Continue to Languish
Yirgalem Fisseha will never forget the moment her world turned upside down. On February 19, 2009, Yirgalem, a poet and journalist, was working her shift at Radio Bana, a station in Asmara, Eritrea. Suddenly, at 4 p.m., Yirgalem and her colleagues were ordered to an impromptu meeting. Government officials accused the station, which broadcast educational programs, of disloyalty. Uniformed soldiers surrounded the building and arrested about 30 journalists inside. Officials held Yirgalem at Adi Abeto, a prison just outside the capital. As the interrogation dragged on and the questions became more bizarre, Yirgalem believed it was simply a case of mistaken identity. VOA

Leader of Cameroon’s Main Opposition Party Released by Kidnappers
The chairman of Cameroon’s main opposition party Ni John Fru Ndi has been released after being kidnapped earlier Saturday in the Northwest Region, one of two English-speaking provinces in the grip of an armed conflict for over a year, his party said. The SDF leader was abducted while leading a funeral procession, his party said earlier, without giving any indication of whether the kidnappers were believed to be separatists. “President Ni John Fru Ndi has just been freed at 1834 (1734 GMT),” Social Democratic Front (SDF) official Jean Robert Wafo said in a statement. A number of officials and members of the SDF have already been targeted in similar attacks. In October 2018, Fru Ndi’s home was attacked by arsonists and his sister kidnapped and later released.  France 24

U.N. to Probe Sex-for-Food Aid Allegations after Mozambique’s Cyclone Idai
The United Nations said on Friday it will investigate allegations that survivors of a deadly cyclone in Mozambique are being forced to have sex with community leaders for food. More than 1,000 people died and tens of thousands were forced from their homes when Cyclone Idai hammered Mozambique before moving inland to Malawi and Zimbabwe, in one of the worst climate-related disasters to hit the southern hemisphere. The U.N. pledge came a day after Human Rights Watch (HRW) published accounts of female survivors who said they were abused by local leaders and as a second powerful storm, Cyclone Kenneth, pounded the impoverished southeast African nation. “As with any report on sexual exploitation and abuse, we are acting swiftly to follow-up on these allegations, including with the relevant authorities,” the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said in a statement. Reuters

Why Health Workers in the Ebola Hot Zone Are Threatening to Strike
The doctors and nurses who work in the heart of the Ebola outbreak zone in Democratic Republic of the Congo say they’ve had enough. For weeks they’ve been subjected to threats of violence and even actual assaults. On Wednesday they gave the government an ultimatum: Improve security within one week or we’ll go on strike. The workers making these demands include the Congolese staff of two government-run treatment centers for patients with Ebola, but the demand mostly comes from about 200 doctors and more than 1,000 nurses who work at hospitals and health centers across Butembo, a city that’s the current hot spot of the outbreak. In many ways the staff members at these medical facilities are at the front line of the Ebola response. They are often the ones who first notice possible signs of infection in patients and refer them to an Ebola treatment center. But after years of civil war, the population in the area is deeply mistrustful of authorities.  NPR

Kenya’s Rising Debt and Doubts over Repayment
Kenya’s borrowing spree has increased the accumulation of new debts with signs that the country’s capacity to repay the loans could be impaired by falling revenue collections. The total national debt exceeds over Ksh5 trillion ($50 billion) and the country has already breached key debt service to revenue ratios, with economists raising concerns on the increased proportion of commercial loans with high interest rates. Data released by economists at the Kenya’s Institute of Economic Affairs this past week shows that in 2017, 2018 and 2019, Kenya’s debt service to revenue ratio stood at 35.8 per cent, 30.5 per cent and 33.4 per cent respectively against the threshold of 30 per cent. Interest payment on loans is expected to increase by 31 per cent to Ksh400 billion ($4 billion) in 2018/19 from Ksh305 billion ($3.05 billion) in the revised budget of 2017/18.  The East African

China’s Belt and Road Forum: Does Africa Need New Funding Options?
Several African leaders were among nearly 40 world leaders who travelled to Beijing for China’s second Belt and Road forum. They included Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and representatives from Ethiopia, Mozambique and Djibouti. They went with the intention of pressing Beijing to reduce the debt burden caused by the initiative (BRI) through the building of ports and other trade-related infrastructure. Critics say BRI is an effort to cement Chinese influence around the world by financially binding countries to Beijing through “debt trap diplomacy.” James Shikwati, a Kenyan economist, singles out two aspects of the critique against China’s ambitious initiative. “One of them is that African political leaders (…..) are forgetting that it is African citizens who will have to pay the Chinese, or the debt.” The second aspect is that western countries are traditionally the ones who have been using debt diplomacy on African countries. “Now they can see the Chinese trying to edge them out.”  Deutsche Welle