Africa Media Review for August 11, 2023

Tensions Rise as West African Nations Prepare to Send Troops to Restore Democracy in Niger
Tensions are escalating between Niger’s new military regime and the West African regional bloc that has ordered the deployment of troops to restore Niger’s flailing democracy. The ECOWAS bloc said on Thursday it had directed a “standby force” to restore constitutional order in Niger after its Sunday deadline to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum expired. Hours earlier, two Western officials told The Associated Press that Niger’s junta had told a top U.S. diplomat they would kill Bazoum if neighboring countries attempted any military intervention to restore his rule. It’s unclear when or where the force will deploy and which countries from the 15-member bloc would contribute to it. Conflict experts say it would likely comprise some 5,000 troops led by Nigeria and could be ready within weeks. After the ECOWAS meeting, neighboring Ivory Coast’s president, Alassane Ouattara, said his country would take part in the military operation, along with Nigeria and Benin. “Ivory Coast will provide a battalion and has made all the financial arrangements … We are determined to install Bazoum in his position. Our objective is peace and stability in the sub-region,” Ouattara said on state television. … On Friday the African Union expressed strong support for ECOWAS’ decision and called on the junta to “urgently halt the escalation with the regional organization.” … “The threat to kill Bazoum is grim,” said Alexander Thurston, assistant professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati. AP

African Union Calls for Release of Ousted Niger President
The African Union (AU) has called for the immediate release of President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger who was ousted in a coup at the end of July. “The president of the Commission [of the African Union] calls for the immediate release of President Bazoum,” Commission President Moussa Faki Mahamat said in a statement published on Friday. Bazoum was removed from office on July 26, when Nigerien military forces carried out a coup and placed him under arrest. The AU said on Friday that it was concerned about “the deterioration of President Mohamed Bazoum’s detention conditions.” “Such a treatment of a president elected democratically through a regular democratic process is unacceptable,” the statement added. DW

Niger Coup: What Is Russia’s Role?
“There really isn’t a lot of evidence that Russia was behind the coup,” Washington-based Wagner expert Elena Pokalova told DW. Instead, it appears the trigger for the coup was personal ambition. …Pokalova said she believes Niger is “important enough” for Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Kremlin would back sending fighters there. … Pokalova warned that if Niger contracts Wagner, the uranium-rich nation could see more instability, human rights violations, authoritarianism and the suppression of democratic protests. … It’s well known that Russia runs sophisticated digital disinformation campaigns in Africa, including in Niger… Campaigns typically agitate against France and the United States, accusing them of colonialism and advocating for a broader revolution across the Sahel, a belt of semiarid land stretching across Africa just below the Sahara Desert. According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a US Department of Defense institution, pro-Russia Telegram channels suggested Niger as a future target following the Burkina Faso coup in 2022. “Disinformation networks connected to the Wagner Group have twice sought to spark rumors of a coup in Niger, including through what appears to have been a carefully orchestrated online scheme coinciding with a trip abroad by President Bazoum in February 2023,” said a report in late July. … [T]he coup has opened a window of opportunity for Russia to expand its interests in the Sahel… Russia could also help with so-called regime security [for the junta]. Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, would pay big money for Wagner services, possibly settling their fees with natural resources like the Central African Republic and Mali. DW

After 4 Months, Sudan War Stalemated, Plagued by Abuses
Four months into a battle both believed they would win, Sudan’s army has lost its grip on Khartoum to paramilitaries, who are unable to declare victory and instead are accused of waging war on civilians. When fighting began on April 15, Sudan’s army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan was certain it would be over “within two weeks.” His former deputy, turned enemy, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, has sworn his Rapid Support Forces will achieve “victory.” Yet neither has been able to gain a decisive advantage, while fighting has killed at least 3,900 people, uprooted more than 4 million, worsened food shortages and sparked war crimes allegations. … While the armed forces try to hold key Khartoum bases, they dominate the skies, raining regular air strikes on the capital. But they lack the RSF’s infantry power, which is “essential given the urban nature of the war,” Abdelkarim told AFP. … Before the war, Washington sanctioned companies that it said served as a cover for Russian mercenary force Wagner and were also linked to Sudan’s gold. The United Arab Emirates is the largest buyer of Sudanese gold and, “according to some reports, is still supplying him with weapons,” said [Sudan expert Alex de Waal] of Daglo. Backing the army are Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayipp Erdogan. VOA

Bodies Pile Up without Burials in Sudan’s Capital, Marooned by a Relentless Conflict
There is limited data on the casualties in Sudan. The country’s health minister, Haitham Mohammed Ibrahim, said in June that the conflict has killed upward of 3,000 people but there has been no update since. The true tally is likely far higher, say local doctors and activists. Likewise, no medical group has provided a toll on the number of unburied corpses, with mass graves and widespread ethnic killings being uncovered in the country’s southern Darfur region. Most civilians from the capital have been killed in crossfire, as the once sleepy city turned into an urban battlefield, the country’s doctors union says. Others died because they were unable to access basic medicine, while some reportedly starved to death, imprisoned by the gun battles that raged outside. … Several said reaching any of the capital’s roughly two dozen cemeteries has proved impossible when they were trying to bury family members, friends, or those with whom they were trapped. Over 100 university students were caught in Khartoum University when the conflict broke out on April 15. Khaled, a student, was shot in the chest by a stray bullet, dying shortly after being hit, a fellow student said. “We dragged his dead body to the lower levels (of a building) to stop it rotting,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted. AP

Drought and Conflict Are Hurting Kenyan Forests. Can the Army Fix Things?
Decades of poor management by the Kenya Forest Service, the state agency tasked with managing forests and increasing forest cover, allowed large-scale logging and rampant firewood collection. The impact has been severe. From 2002 to 2022, Global Forest Watch estimated that Kenya lost more than 50,000 hectares (193 sq miles) of primary forest or 14 percent of its tree cover. At the peak of the drought, thousands of pastoralists from tribes such as the Samburu, Sakuye, Rendille, and Marakwet flocked from the more arid counties of Samburu and Laikipia to Nyeri. They made a beeline to what greenery was left in Mount Kenya National Park and Reserve, hundreds of kilometres away. … With the herders came violence too as they tussled for declining resources. … According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, pastoral violence constituted nearly a third of all political violence in the first quarter of 2023, resulting in at least 73 recorded casualties. … Given the complexities surrounding resource scarcity and how militarised interventions have previously worsened the conflict, Kenya’s military is trying a more holistic approach. Kenya’s military is embarking on a tree-planting spree to counter Mount Kenya’s present state of degradation and partnering with grassroots nonprofits to renew forest cover. Al Jazeera

China and Wagner in Africa: Friends or Foes?
China’s “friendship without limits” with Russia may be tested in Africa, where Beijing’s long-established economic interests are at risk of clashing with the growing footprint of Moscow’s paramilitary Wagner Group. The most recent point of potential friction is Niger, where leaders of a July 26 military coup are reported by The Associated Press to have reached out to Wagner for help in cementing their hold on power. That news is unlikely to have been welcomed in Beijing, where a foreign ministry spokesman last week described the deposed president, Mohamed Bazoum, as “a friend of China” and said the country hoped for a political solution to the crisis. … “Chinese projects may have benefited from its presence. But in some other cases, China has also suffered from it,” Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center, said of Wagner in Africa. She noted that it has been widely speculated that Wagner was responsible for the deaths of nine Chinese nationals at a mine in the Central African Republic, or CAR, earlier this year. CAR rebel groups and several Western officials told the New York Times after the incident that they believed Wagner or Wagner-backed locals were behind the armed attack. VOA

Jacob Zuma Released After Brief Return to Prison in South Africa
Former President Jacob Zuma of South Africa returned to prison early Friday morning to continue serving a sentence for contempt, but was released almost immediately under a program to relieve overcrowding in the country’s jails, the authorities said. With his release under the program, it is unlikely that Mr. Zuma will serve more time in prison on the contempt charge. Political opponents accused the government, run by Mr. Zuma’s political party, of giving him preferential treatment, saying it had intentionally started to roll out the overcrowding program on the day he reported to jail. Mr. Zuma had served just two months of a 15-month sentence in 2021 for defying a court order to testify before a national inquiry on corruption when he was released on medical parole by the corrections commissioner at the time, a close political ally. But last year, an appeals court ruled that Mr. Zuma’s release was unlawful and that he had to return to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence, a decision upheld by the country’s highest judicial body last month. New York Times

Zimbabwe Presidential Hopefuls Use Music, Stars to Woo Crucial Youth Vote
The local version of Jamaican dancehall has become the unofficial soundtrack of Zimbabwe’s presidential election as candidates go all out to woo a key generation of voters who were children when long-time ruler Robert Mugabe was ousted six years ago. But while many young voters have been energised by a high-tempo campaign featuring pop stars and sporting heroes, a generation that has only known economic chaos and rocketing prices is taking some convincing that real change is possible. The leading candidates on the Aug. 23 ballot are incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa of the longtime ruling ZANU-PF party and Nelson Chamisa of the new Citizens Coalition for Change. Mnangagwa, who became leader in 2017 after the army kicked out Mugabe, beat Chamisa in 2018 by 6%, just over 300,000 votes. Any path to victory has to lie through the three-quarters of Zimbabwe’s population that is under 34. The one-sixth of the registered electorate who are first-time voters will be crucial. “There is a high probability that this election will be decided by the first-time voters,” said Brighton Tamberekera, a projects officer at vote watchdog Zimbabwe Election Support Network. “We hope that the youths who are registered do turn up to vote.” … While the election is competitive, few believe it will be free and fair, as so many past votes were marred by systematic violence and voter intimidation. Reuters

LGBTQ+ People in Ethiopia Blame Attacks on Their Community on Inciteful and Lingering TikTok Videos
Members of Ethiopia’s LGBTQ+ community say they face a wave of online harassment and physical attacks and blame much of it on the social media platform TikTok, which they say is failing to take down posts calling for homosexual and transgender people to be whipped, stabbed and killed. A local LGBTQ+ support group, House of Guramayle, said that some TikTok users are also outing Ethiopians by sharing their names, photographs and online profiles on one of the country’s most popular social media platforms. In Ethiopia, homosexual acts are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The East African country whose population of close to 120 million is split between Christianity and Islam is largely conservative, and while LGBTQ+ people have long suffered abuse, activists say the hostility has reached a new level. … “TikTok is being used to incite violence,” said Bahiru Shewaye, co-founder of House of Guramayle. Bahiru said several videos have been reported to TikTok but “we are still waiting for them to take action.” AP