Africa Media Review for August 16, 2023

A Human Rights Group in Niger Says It Can’t Get Access to Officials Who Were Detained after Coup
Human rights activists in Niger say they have been unable to gain access to top political officials who were detained after mutinous soldiers ousted the African country’s democratically elected president nearly three weeks ago. The military officers who carried out a coup against President Mohamed Bazoum also arrested several former government ministers and other political leaders, according to Ali Idrissa, executive secretary of the Network of Organizations for Transparency and Analysis of Budgets, a local human rights group. Requests to see them and check on their well-being have gone unanswered, he said. The junta that seized power has held Bazoum, his wife and son under house arrest in their compound in the capital since July 26. It says it plans to prosecute Bazoum for “high treason” and undermining state security, crimes that are eligible for the death penalty in Niger. AP

Niger Junta Has ‘No Legitimacy’ to Try President Bazoum, Exiled Minister Tells FRANCE 24
Niger’s exiled Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massoudou said the military junta has no right to prosecute the country’s deposed president, Mohamed Bazoum, and called for constitutional order to be restored through negotiations in an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24 and sister radio station RFI. Bazoum, Niger’s democratically elected leader, was ousted by members of the presidential guard on July 26. He has since been under house arrest with his wife and son in the presidential compound in the capital, Niamey. Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massoudou, a close ally of Bazoum, said the deposed president was being “held hostage” by the military junta that has seized power in the impoverished West African nation. Speaking from neighbouring Nigeria, where he sought refuge in the wake of the coup, Massoudou condemned the putschists’ announcement on Monday that they would prosecute Bazoum for treason, saying the junta had “no legitimacy to try anyone”. “These people who carried out this coup, this corrupt act we’re witnessing … they cannot pretend to have the moral status to put anyone on trial,” Massoudou said. France24

Niger: ECOWAS Chiefs of Staff to Meet in Ghana on Thursday and Friday
The chiefs of staff of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will meet in Ghana on Thursday and Friday to discuss a possible military intervention in Niger, regional military sources said on Tuesday, a source at ECOWAS confirmed. The meeting was due to take place on Saturday, but was postponed for “technical reasons”. It will take place a week after the decision taken by the organisation’s leaders to deploy their “standby force” to reinstate Mohamed Bazoum, the president of Niger overthrown by a military coup on 26 July. While several countries, such as Côte d’Ivoire, have said they are ready to send their armies to Niger, ECOWAS says it wants to give priority to “diplomatic channels”. AfricaNews/AFP

Seventeen Niger Troops Killed in Terrorist Ambush
Seventeen troops died in a jihadist ambush in Niger, the government said, in a reminder of the nation’s deep security crisis as its military rulers face off against neighbours determined to reverse last month’s coup. An army detachment was “the victim of a terrorist ambush near the town of Koutougou” in the Tillaberi region near Burkina Faso on Tuesday, said a defence ministry statement published later that day. It added that another 20 soldiers had been wounded, six seriously, with all the casualties evacuated to the capital Niamey. More than 100 assailants, who were travelling on motorbikes, were “neutralised” during their retreat, the army said. A jihadist insurgency has plagued Africa’s Sahel region for more than a decade, breaking out in northern Mali in 2012 before spreading to neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015. The so-called “three borders” area between the three countries is regularly the scene of attacks by rebels affiliated with the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda. News24/AFP

Sudan Crisis: Situation ‘Spiraling Out of Control,’ UN Says
UN agencies and NGOs are urging global action amid what they say could possibly amount to “crimes against humanity” in Sudan. The UN is particularly worried about women and girls tied up in the conflict. Four months into Sudan’s conflict, the situation is rapidly deteriorating with widespread displacement and the looming threat of famine, humanitarian organizations warned on Tuesday, urging immediate global action. Since the eruption of conflict in Sudan on April 15, the country has been witnessing a severe humanitarian crisis. UN warnings of arbitrary killings and rampant sexual abuse show the critical situation in the country. UN agencies and NGOs said in a joint statement that the situation in Sudan “is spiraling out of control.” The signatories from 20 global organizations pointed out that “more than six million Sudanese people are one step away from famine.” “More than 14 million children need humanitarian aid and over four million people have fled the fighting, either within the war-ravaged country or as refugees to neighboring states,” the statement said. The UN voiced particular concern for women and girls caught up in the conflict, amid “shocking incidence of sexual violence, including rape.” DW

Journalists Become Collateral as Four-Month Sudan War Rages On
As the war in Sudan enters its fourth month, journalists have become collateral. Media activists in the country issued a joint statement, signed by editors and managers of leading outlets, on Tuesday, titled Sudanese Media: Four Months of Violations. It contains details of the predicament Sudanese journalists face as they become caught between opposing factions. … The journalists said: “Throughout the four-month span, journalists in Sudan have encountered grave threats to their safety and freedom. Accusations of bias, loyalty, and allegiance to warring parties have subjected them to arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, and even death, driven by the whims of the conflict’s actors. Female journalists are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence, exacerbating the gender disparities prevalent within Sudanese society,” the statement read. The journalists said many of their colleagues left Sudan for safety reasons. As such, media organisations have been abandoned or directly targeted, leading to a media blackout in conflict zones. News24

Dozens Dead in Worst Violence This Year between Libyan Factions
Two powerful armed factions battled in Libya’s capital on Tuesday in the city’s worst violence this year, but the deadly clashes calmed after one side released a commander whose detention had triggered the fighting. A Tripoli health agency said 27 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the violence, without saying if the figure included both combatants and civilians. The Special Deterrence Force and the 444 Brigade are two of the strongest military forces in Tripoli, and their fighting from late on Monday rocked districts across the capital. Dark smoke hung over parts of the city for much of Tuesday, and the sound of heavy weapons rattled through the streets as fighting erupted in different suburbs. Both factions had backed the interim Government of National Unity during brief battles last year, and their sudden bout of fighting shattered months of relative calm in Tripoli, underscoring the risks in a conflict that remains unresolved. VOA/Reuters

A Nigerian Military Helicopter Crashed on a Rescue Mission, Witnesses Say It Was Shot Down by Gangs
A Nigerian helicopter which had been sent to rescue military personnel from a deadly attack crashed after being fired on by gunmen in the north-central region, killing those on board, witnesses said on Wednesday. The Nigerian Air Force said the MI-171 Helicopter was on a “casualty evacuation mission” in Niger state, one of the worst-hit states in deadly attacks carried out by gangs of bandits in the hard-hit north of the country. The air force said the reason for the crash is being investigated and did not provide details of the casualties from the incident, which happened on Monday. Residents, however, told The Associated Press the helicopter was shot down by bandits in the state’s Shiroro district as it conveyed soldiers wounded and killed in an earlier attack. The gangs of bandits mostly comprise former herdsmen who have taken up arms after clashing with farming communities for several decades over limited access to land and water. AP

Why Ethiopia’s Amhara Militiamen are Battling the Army
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has found himself at the centre of a new conflict – this time in the vitally important Amhara region that marshalled its troops to help him thwart an attempt by rival Tigrayan forces to topple him. … Mr Abiy is facing a formidable challenge to his power from militias known as Fano – an Amharic word loosely translated as “volunteer fighters”. The phrase was popularised in the 1930s, when “volunteer fighters” joined the army of Emperor Haile Selassie to fight Italian invaders. It is still used today by the farmers and young men who have formed militias to defend the Amhara people whose future, they believe, is threatened by the government and other ethnic groups. … The crisis is so serious that many people say the Amhara state government – controlled by Mr Abiy’s ruling Prosperity Party (PP) – is on the brink of collapse, with key officials having fled to the federal capital, Addis Ababa, for fear of being attacked. The violence can be traced back to the peace deal signed by the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to end the two-year civil war that saw Tigrayan forces advance towards Addis Ababa in 2021, before being forced to retreat back north. … But the deal was met with deep suspicion among Amharas as they were excluded from the talks despite the fact that the Fano militias and Amhara special forces – a paramilitary group linked to the regional government – fought on the side of the federal army. … Nevertheless, the perception took root in Amhara, especially after Mr Abiy then announced plans to dismantle the special forces present in each of Ethiopia’s 11 ethnically based regions. BBC

Somali Army, Local Militia Launch Large Scale Offensives against Al-Shabaab in Central Regions
Somali National Army and local militias have launched a large-scale offensive against Al-Shabaab in Galgadud and Mudug regions in central Somalia in what has been billed as one of the largest mobilisation of forces against the terrorist group. President Mohamud who has been in Galmudug state for about two weeks is leading the operations from Dhusamareb, the capital of Galmudug state. The operation which began on Monday brought together various brigades of the SNA, the US-trained Danab Special Forces and allied clan militia. According to military sources, the allied forces deployed in Elbur, Galhareeri, Wabho, and Diri in Galgadud as well as parts of northern Mudug. The fiercest fighting is expected to happen in these areas as the allied forces aim to dislodge Al-Shabaab which has been in control for over 15 years. Goobjoog

UN Force Leaves Base in Northern Mali Early Due to Insecurity
The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as Minusma, started its departure from the camp of Ber in northern Mali, near Timbuktu, over the weekend. “Minusma has expedited its withdrawal from Ber due to the deteriorating security situation in the area and the high risks posed to our Blue Helmets,” the force wrote on its social media on Sunday. During the operation, three of its soldiers were wounded when they came under fire, the force added a few hours later. In a message posted later on Sunday, the force said that its convoy was attacked twice as it withdrew from Ber, adding that three peacekeepers had been evacuated to Timbuktu for treatment. Attacks against peacekeepers can constitute war crimes under international law, the statement added. It came after former rebels from the Tuareg ethnic group said the army and the Russian mercenary group Wagner, which is assisting Mali’s armed forces, had attacked their forces in Ber on Friday. RFI

Zimbabwe Police Arrest 40 Opposition Campaigners
Police in Zimbabwe have arrested 40 members of an opposition coalition who were campaigning ahead of elections next week. They were detained in the Glenview suburb of the capital, Harare, on Tuesday. Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said that Gladmore Hakata, the party’s Glenview South MP candidate, was among those arrested. A police statement shared on social media said the CCC had engaged in activities not mentioned in their notification for a rally in the suburb. They held a vehicle procession, obstructed traffic and chanted party slogans on the streets, prompting a police response after a resident reported the matter, police said. Last month, the opposition called on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to take action against the use of the police to disrupt their rallies. The CCC says the police have banned several of its meetings since 9 July, and nearly 100 gatherings since the party was formed in January last year. BBC

Zimbabwe Polls to Go Ahead without Provision of Updated Voters’ Roll by Electoral Commission
The general elections in Zimbabwe are going ahead in about a week’s time. This after the opposition failed to obtain an up-to-date voters’ roll from the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC). High Court Judge Never Katiyo dismissed a court appeal by Citizens Coalition for Change’s (CCC) chief elections officer, Ian Makone, on Monday, saying it was “not urgent”. Makone had sought a directive for the ZEC to provide an up-to-date copy of the voters’ roll and a final list of polling stations. Denial of access to the voters’ roll has dented the credibility of elections in Zimbabwe since the turn of the millennium, and it is destined to be the same once more. In a post on X, formerly Twitter, CCC spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said, “regrettably, they’re keeping it a secret [voters’ roll] despite their constitutional obligation to release it”. The CCC legal team had since requested an “audience before the judge on the question of urgency”, according to a letter from CCC lawyers to the Registrar of the Electoral Division of the High Court. Team Pachedu – a transparency, responsibility, and accountability pro-democracy organisation – argued the ZEC was in violation of Section 21 of the Electoral Act which instructed the ZEC to avail the voters’ roll “to be used in the election”. Team Pachedu raised fears the reason behind keeping the voters’ roll a secret could be linked to attempts at rigging the polls. New Zimbabwe

Shift in Media Freedoms a Concern for Senegalese Journalists
Internet shutdowns, a TikTok ban and journalist arrests show a downward trend in press freedom in Senegal, a country once hailed as an example of “democratic success.” Press freedom advocates and journalists working in the West African country say the decline comes amid mass protests over the arrest of a key opposition figure and ahead of elections scheduled for early 2024. “Once a beacon of press freedom, the country’s reputation has been tarnished by many factors, the most important of which being the multiplication of threats of physical and verbal violence from political actors,” Sadibou Marong, West Africa director of media watchdog Reporters Without Borders told VOA. Between April 2022 and August 2023 his organization recorded at least 20 violations against journalists “with various level(s) of atrocity, including unlawful arrests, attacks and judicial persecution.” Those incidents, “as well as the suspension of mobile phone internet access and the ban on TikTok, fuel concern about a decline in press freedom in Senegal,” the Dakar-based advocate said. VOA

‘Traumatic’ Trend: Ransom Kidnappings Thrive in South Africa as Crime Soars
[…] Over the past decade, kidnappings have risen nearly 200 percent. According to crime statistics from the South African Police Service (SAPS), the figure ballooned from 3,832 cases in 2013 to nearly 11,000 in 2021. Between January and March 2023, 3,641 cases were recorded, a 10 percent rise compared with the same period in 2022. Data on the estimates of ransom paid over the last decade is not readily available. But according to a 2022 risk assessment of South Africa, conducted by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, the figures for kidnapping for ransom and extortion could be much higher than what is reported to the police. As per the report, many cases are likely under-reported due to “persistent threats to the victim’s well-being and that of his/her family, even after release”. This increase in kidnappings, experts say, has been largely driven by a surge in transnational organised crime syndicates operating in the country. In neighbouring Mozambique, Asian businessmen and their families have often been targets of similar syndicates for decades. This has now spilled over to South Africa where armed gangs, some sophisticated and others running small operations, have targeted foreign nationals operating businesses here. Al Jazeera

Millions of Dollars Plus Guns Seized at Zambian Airport
Zambia’s anti-money laundering and drug trafficking body has seized close to $6m (£4.7m) in cash at the main airport in the capital, Lusaka. Also seized were five pistols, seven magazines, 126 rounds of ammunition, 602 pieces of suspected gold weighing 127kg (279lb) and equipment used for measuring gold. The Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) received a tip-off that a chartered aircraft carrying dangerous goods had landed at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport on Sunday evening, according to the body’s director general Nason Banda. “The Commission has since seized the Global Express T7-WW on which the above items were found and another aircraft belonging to a local airline whose make is King Air B190.The 10 suspects including a Zambian, have been detained awaiting further investigations,” he said in a press statement. BBC

Kenya Reinstates Fuel Subsidy after Months of Violent Protests
Kenya has reinstated a small subsidy to stabilise retail fuel prices for the next 30 days, the energy regulator says, in a reversal of government policy after public anger over the high cost of living. After taking office in September, President William Ruto removed fuel and maize flour subsidies put in place by his predecessor, saying he preferred subsidising production rather than consumption. The move was also aimed at cutting government spending as the government seeks to get a handle on debt repayments that have forced it to deny market speculation about a possible default. But the subsidy cuts as well as recent tax hikes have increased living costs and contributed to violent anti-government protests in recent months. … The protests organised in response to that law were called off last month after the opposition and Ruto agreed to talks to resolve their differences, the second such attempt this year. Both sides agreed that opposition to a financial bill signed into law in June “should be decided in court”, where it is being challenged by the opposition. In July, an appeals court lifted a suspension placed on a law that would double the value-added tax on fuel and introduce a new housing levy. Al Jazeera

How Undercover Sting Outwitted Pangolin Traffickers
The leaders of a global wildlife trafficking gang have been convicted after a four-year investigation and a trial in Nigeria. They pleaded guilty last month to smuggling the scales of endangered African pangolins. These “top-of-the-pyramid” traffickers were responsible for half the illegal trade in pangolin scales. This is the story of how they were outwitted by fake buyers and sting operations – conducted by a small European charity. … Corruption is a major driver of wildlife crime. Carmody describes the hardest part of any global investigation as finding a “small group of dedicated law enforcement officers that can’t be bought. And once you find them, it’s like finding gold”. In Nigeria, that means the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). … For Steve Carmody, the convictions are ground-breaking. He says until now the focus in Africa has been on big sentences for wildlife poachers. Targeting the key players has been rare: “I can’t underestimate the value of this trial. These guys are the top of the pyramid.” BBC

Google to Train 20,000 Nigerians in Digital Skills
Google plans to train 20,000 Nigerian women and youth in digital skills and provide a grant of $1.6 million to help the government create 1 million digital jobs in the country, its Africa executives said on Tuesday. Nigeria plans to create digital jobs for its teeming youth population, Vice President Kashim Shettima told Google Africa executives during a meeting in Abuja. Shettima did not provide a timeline for creating the jobs. Google Africa executives said a grant from its philanthropic arm in partnership with Data Science Nigeria and the Creative Industry Initiative for Africa will facilitate the program. Shettima said Google’s initiative aligned with the government’s commitment to increase youth participation in the digital economy. The government is also working with the country’s banks on the project, Shettima added. Google director for West Africa Olumide Balogun said the company would commit funds and provide digital skills to women and young people in Nigeria and also enable startups to grow, which will create jobs. VOA/Reuters