Africa Media Review for August 21, 2023

ECOWAS Rejects Niger Junta’s 3-Year Transition Plan
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has rejected Niger junta’s three-year power transition plan. ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Abdel-Fatau Musa stated this during an interview with the BBC on Sunday. Daily Trust reports that General Abdourahamane Tchiani, leader of the Niger junta, had said in a televised broadcast on Saturday night that the army will hand over power to the civilian government within the next three years. But in the interview Abdel-Fatau Musa said that General Tchiani’s proposal is just a smokescreen for dialogue and diplomacy. Earlier Saturday former Military Head of State, Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), led a delegation of ECOWAS to Niger in a last-ditch diplomatic effort to reach a peaceful solution with the Niger junta. The delegation met with Prime Minister Ali Lamine Zeine who received them at the airport and led them to the presidential palace. They later met with the ousted Niger’s president Mohamed Bazoum, after meeting General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the head of the junta. Daily Trust

Pro-junta Rallies Tolerated in Niger, but Pro-democracy Gatherings Face Crackdowns
[Video] A group of young men opposed to ECOWAS sanctions in Niger’s capital, Niamey, stop and inspect cars in a self-declared citizen’s watch drive. Demonstrations in support of the military takeover have been tolerated in Niger since the July 26 coup. But pro-democracy rallies supporting ousted President Mohamed Bazoum have been broken up, leading some activists in Niger to decry the “double standards”. France24

Niger Becomes Hotbed of Disinformation after July 26 Coup
Since the July 26 coup, Niger has become the latest hotbed of disinformation in the troubled Sahel region as West African powers grapple with crafting a response to the political crisis. From false rumours and misleading videos to manipulated audio clips, more than a dozen social media claims either backing or discrediting the coup leaders after they toppled President Mohamed Bazoum, have been debunked. … Misleading reports about foreign interference in the crisis are rising as uncertainty mounts over the possibility of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) using military force to reverse the coup. … There were also false claims about French fighter jets landing in Senegal to support a possible ECOWAS intervention, or about fighters from the Russian mercenary group Wagner and Burkinabe troops arriving in Niger to support the new leaders. … In May, Bazoum told British newspaper The Independent that Wagner had been sponsoring “disinformation campaigns against us”. … Experts told AFP that the spread of disinformation targeting Niger mirrored a pattern already witnessed elsewhere on the continent: it usually originates on encrypted platforms like Telegram and WhatsApp before being shared on other social media apps. Moreover, several anti-French and pro-Russian accounts that post propaganda about Mali and Burkina Faso have also promoted false claims about Niger. One such actor is the Pan-African Group for Trade and Investment (GPCI), a media firm founded by pro-Russian businessman Harouna Douamba, originally from Burkina Faso. Al Jazeera

23 People Killed, 12 Wounded in Central Mali Attack
Armed gunmen killed at least 23 people and wounded 12 in an attack on a village in central Mali, officials said Sunday. Sidi Mohamed El Bechir, governor of the Bandiagara region where the attack took place, said unidentified men killed nearly two dozen people Friday and set fire to several homes in the village of Yarou. “The assailants stayed in the village until 7 p.m. and burned down part of the village, smashed stores and took away the villagers’ cattle,” said Amadou Lougue, president of the regional youth organization on Sunday. The attack has not been claimed. Communities across central and northern Mali have been in the grips of protracted armed violence since 2012. Extremist rebels were forced from power in the West African nation’s northern cities the following year, with the help of a French-led military operation. But they regrouped in the desert and began launching attacks on the Malian army and its allies. … The recent uptick in insecurity in the area likely stems from the departure of a U.N. peacekeeping mission from its base in Ber, which has been under the control of separatist rebels since they signed a peace deal with the Malian government in 2015. A July U.N. resolution said the peacekeeping mission would be shuttered after a decade of operations. VOA/AP

Russia Moves to Fill Void Left by France in West Africa
The verdict of Western observers on the outcome of July Russia-Africa Summit is that it was a failure, largely because of the smaller-than-expected number of heads of state in attendance. But, according to Moscow, the conference rekindled the progress it had been making to strengthen relations with the African continent. … One of the regions Russia has targeted is the Sahel, where it has promised to re-establish some of the diplomatic missions that had not been opened in 30 years during the era of the Soviet Union. Seventeen heads of state attended the summit, down from 45 leaders who attended the maiden 2019 edition. The significance of the low turnout of heads of state, however, wasn’t lost on the Russians themselves. The Kremlin blamed it on “sabotage” by the West, singling out the US and France for pressuring African leaders to boycott the summit. … Maria Zakharova, Spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said Moscow intends to open embassies in some new countries and increase its staff in some others where they already exist. … Part of Moscow’s larger strategy in this new offensive in its war with the West in Africa is to take over where its rivals are kicked out after military takeover. This has been seen in Mali and Burkina Faso. … The Wagner Group is one of the key tools Russia has been using to expand its empire in Africa, as was seen in Mali and Central African Republic. The group has been accused of committing human rights abuses where it operates. East African

Chinese Weapons Supplier Norinco Expands Influence in West Africa, Challenging Russia and France
China is expanding its military and security engagement into West Africa, with Chinese state-owned defence conglomerate Norinco opened a sales office in Dakar, Senegal, challenging French and Russian arms suppliers. Analysts said China North Industries Corporation, or Norinco, would use the new office to help expand its military procurement operations in the region, where China has vast economic interests, including in countries such as Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Guinea, which have recently been hit by military coups. Paul Nantulya, a China specialist at the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies in Washington, said that initially China was reticent to be seen as challenging French military influence in West Africa, especially in former French colonies. Chinese ties were complicated by linguistic barriers. However, these impediments had slowly been overcome and Norinco in particular had been at the front of China’s efforts to build and expand military and security ties, Nantulya said. “The move to establish a sales office in Dakar is basically meant to capitalise on and expand this business, particularly in light of the heavy sanctions Russian defence firms have incurred and the growing mood of anti-French sentiment in the region that could complicate France’s role as the pre-eminent military partner to many of those countries,” Nantulya said. He said there had been growing militarisation in aspects of Chinese-African engagement as well as a growing willingness by Chinese defence firms to more boldly challenge their Western counterparts for business, influence, strengthened partnerships and to position China as a partner of choice. He said the Chinese company had been supplying West Africa with various military products such as battleships, offshore patrol vessels, man-portable air-defence systems, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), armoured vehicles, battle tanks, combat aircraft (jets and trainers), large artillery and transport aircraft. SCMP

Thousands Flee Homes after Rebel Attack in Southern Sudan City
Thousands of people have fled their homes in the capital of South Kordofan state in Sudan after an attack by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North rebel group, one of three forces now fighting in the area. The SPLMN has been trying to capture the city from the regular army, known as the Sudanese Armed Forces, since June, when it entered the conflict that broke out in April between the SAF, led by Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. “The situation is really bad,” a resident of the state capital, Kadugli, said. “Families ran away with nothing, no food, no money. Even the international NGOs could not feed them.” … A number of armies and militias are active in Sudan’s restive southern and western regions, and the advance by the SPLMN will raise fears that the country is sliding into a full-scale civil war. The SPLMN has taken about 10 bases from the SAF around Kadugli and the town of Dilling since June, meeting very little resistance, according to people living in the state. In the process it has expanded its territorial control of the state from about half to 60%. In a sign of the chaotic three-way nature of the conflict in the state, the RSF has taken control of the strategic town of Ed Dubeibat, which links South Kordofan to the rest of Sudan with a network of roads and railway. The Guardian

Boko Haram, ISWAP Clash in Borno, More Than 100 Terrorists Allegedly Killed
An infighting that broke out Friday between Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP) fighters near Marte, Borno State, North-east Nigeria, has allegedly led to the death of more than 100 terrorists on the two sides. Security sources aware of the clash between both Islamist groups said the fighting intensified on Saturday as more fighters were killed on both sides. Premium Times reliably gathered that the fighting broke out between the Bakoura Buduma–led faction of Boko Haram and ISWAP over the control of turf around the Lake Chad Basin. The battle continued into Saturday in the areas surrounding Bakuram on the fringes of Lake Chad. Sources told Premium Times that the ISWAP faction was trying to retaliate against the abduction of 60 of its fighters and three commanders by Boko Haram. Premium Times

Ambushes and Teargas: Zimbabwe Opposition Suffers as Election Arrives
Reports of growing repression cast doubt on credibility of polls in country struggling with corruption, inflation and poverty. A police truck carrying 40 Zimbabwean opposition supporters screeched to a halt outside a court in Harare on Thursday, where it was met by dozens of armed anti-riot officers. The Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) activists – mostly young women – had been arrested for attending a car rally on the outskirts of the capital earlier in the week. Despite spending more than 24 hours in police cells, some still summoned the strength to wave an index finger – the CCC party symbol – to family and friends who had gathered in support. … Zimbabweans go the polls on Wednesday in combined presidential, parliamentary and local elections, amid acute concern over an intensifying crackdown on the main opposition party and its supporters. … Human rights organisations have reported growing repression, casting doubt on the credibility of the polls. “We have seen people being assaulted and arrested,” said Wilbert Mandinde, head of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO forum. “It is worrying that opposition members are spending most of their time in the courtrooms rather than on the ground campaigning.” Mandinde said suppression of opposition was more intense than in the runup to the 2018 election. The Guardian

Zimbabwe: Speculation Grows about a ‘Mnangagwa Third Term’ ahead Vote for Second One
Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa is slated to pursue a second five-year term next week. According to the constitution, this term should mark his final one. However, a portion of his supporters has already begun advocating for a constitutional change that would permit him to seek a third term—an idea to which he appears somewhat open. In July, during a gathering of a Christian sect that supports him, Mnangagwa made a statement implying that continuous rule could be achieved through prayers at church. This remark reinforced the perception that the transformation he promised when he took over from long-standing authoritarian leader Robert Mugabe six years ago has not materialized. Sections of the ruling ZANU-PF party, including the youth and women’s wings, have also called for a constitutional amendment to extend his rule beyond the prescribed two terms. … Despite Mnangagwa’s appeals during campaigns, economic challenges and an active opposition led him to adopt old strategies for maintaining power, as suggested by human rights groups and analysts. According to Alexander Rusero, a political analyst, the political elite in ZANU-PF consider Zimbabwe as their property and would resort to violence whenever threatened. AfricaNews

Rights Group Says Saudi Arabian Border Guards Fired on and Killed Hundreds of Ethiopian Migrants
Border guards in Saudi Arabia have fired machine guns and launched mortars at Ethiopians trying to cross into the kingdom from Yemen, likely killing hundreds of the unarmed migrants in recent years, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Monday. The rights group cited eyewitness reports of attacks by troops and images that showed dead bodies and burial sites on migrant routes, saying the death toll could even be “possibly thousands.” The United Nations has already questioned Saudi Arabia about its troops opening fire on the migrants in an escalating pattern of attacks along its southern border with war-torn Yemen. A Saudi government official, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak publicly, called the Human Rights Watch report “unfounded and not based on reliable sources,” without offering evidence to support the assertion. … Some 750,000 Ethiopians live in Saudi Arabia, with as many as 450,000 likely having entered the kingdom without authorization, according to 2022 statistics from the International Organization for Migration. The two-year civil war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region displaced tens of thousands of people. Saudi Arabia, struggling with youth unemployment, has been sending thousands back to Ethiopia in concert with Addis Abba. Human Rights Watch said it spoke to 38 Ethiopian migrants and four relatives of people who attempted to cross the border between March 2022 and June 2023 who said they saw Saudi guards shoot at migrants or launch explosives at groups. AP

Rights Groups Urge Tanzania to Free Critics of UAE Port Deal
Rights campaigners have urged Tanzania to release three people, including a former legislator, saying they could face treason charges for criticising a deal with an Emirati company to manage the country’s ports. Amnesty International said Willibrod Slaa — a former parliamentarian and diplomat — and two activists were arrested at the weekend after speaking out publicly against the ports deal signed last October by President Samia Suluhu Hassan. The agreement paves the way for DP World, a logistics company controlled by the emirate of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, to manage all the ports in Tanzania in consultation with the government. It was ratified by parliament in June. Critics of the deal say it poses a threat to Tanzanian sovereignty and security, but the government has defended the accord, arguing that it will improve efficiency, cut costs and increase revenues. “The Tanzanian authorities’ crackdown of critics of the UAE port deal reveals their growing intolerance to dissent,” Amnesty’s east and southern Africa director, Tigere Chagutah, said in a statement earlier this week. … At least two dozen people have been arrested since June for opposing the deal, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said last week. Mail & Guardian

Somalia Orders TikTok, Telegram Shut Down
Somalia’s Ministry of Communications and Technology is ordering the country’s internet service providers to turn off access for social media companies TikTok, Telegram, and the gambling site 1xBet. The Minister of Communications and Technology, Jama Hassan Khalif, gave the order in a statement issued Sunday, citing security and fighting terrorism as reasons for blocking the companies. The statement said constant violations by terror groups using social media sites affected the safety and stability of society. In addition, the Ministry said it’s working to protect the moral conduct of the Somali people when using communication and internet tools that have affected the way of life and have increased “bad practices,” according to the statement. … The al-Shabab militant group regularly uses Telegram’s messaging service to publish its videos, press releases, and posts audio of interviews with their commanders. Al-Shabab often posts news about its attacks within minutes on Telegram and websites. The group regularly creates new accounts as soon as their Telegram accounts are taken down. TikTok is believed to be fastest growing site in Somalia. It is used by young people and even government officials. VOA

Beset by Domestic Economic Woes, China’s Xi Visits South Africa in Just His Second Trip Abroad This Year
Chinese leader Xi Jinping heads to South Africa Monday on a trip intended to bolster Beijing’s influence among developing and emerging nations, as ties with the United States remain deeply strained and economic troubles bubble up at home. The three-day state visit, which also includes a summit with leaders of the BRICS emerging economies, is only Xi’s second international trip this year – a sharp contrast to his globe-trotting days of diplomacy before the coronavirus pandemic. For Xi, the first in-person summit of the BRICS grouping since the pandemic presents another opportunity to advance that vision. … With China and the United States locked in an increasingly intense rivalry, the BRICS has taken on greater strategic relevance to Beijing, said Paul Nantulya, a research associate at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. “Xi is going to be the center of the BRICS summit, given that Vladimir Putin is not attending in person,” he said. Putin, who faces an international arrest warrant over alleged war crimes in Ukraine, will take part by video from Russia. Nantulya described BRICS as “another multilateral platform through which China can exert influence around the world – especially in the Global South.” CNN

Kenya Deploys Reconnaissance Mission to Haiti
A delegation of Kenyan police officers arrived in Haiti on Sunday. Nearly a dozen senior police officers left the Toussaint Louverture international airport in the capital, Port-au-Prince, in armored cars heading to the U.S. embassy. The Kenyan officers are on a reconnaissance mission to Haiti following the country’s offer to help the Haitian national police in their fight against gang violence. On Friday, U.N. human rights officials denounced what they called the “extreme brutality” of gangs in Haiti, with thousands fleeing several neighborhoods in the country’s capital this week amid a surge in violence. From January 1 until August 15, more than 2,400 people in Haiti were reported killed, more than 950 kidnapped, and another 902 injured, according to Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. The eastern African country has offered to lead an international effort to help Haiti’s understaffed and under resourced police department. AfricaNews

Scientists Working on AI Tools for Mastering African Languages
A group of scientists in Africa is working to create advanced artificial intelligence tools specifically designed for African languages. According to Masakhane Research Foundation’s Kathleen Siminyu, widely used AI technologies such as text-generating ChatGPT and voice-activated Siri are inaccessible to billions of people who do not speak mainstream languages such as English, French and Spanish hence the necessity for greater inclusivity and representation in language technology advancement. “It doesn’t make sense to me that there are limited AI tools for African languages. Inclusion and representation in the advancement of language technology is not a patch you put at the end — it’s something you think about upfront,” said Ms Siminyu. Many of these tools rely on a field of AI called natural language processing, a technology that enables computers to understand human languages. Computers can master a language through training, where they pick up on patterns in speech and text data. They fail when data in a particular language is scarce, as is the case with African languages. East African

Micere Githae Mugo: I Am Because We Are
Micere Githae Mugo: Mother, Daughter, Sister, Friend Public intellectual, Poet, Teacher, Mentor Social Justice Activist, Liberation Warrior Kenyan, African, Pan African, Human … We took Micere Mugo to the airport in New York City in 2015. Her daughter, Mumbi wa Mugo, was driving. At the airport, we were served by an incredibly discourteous attendant. So rude was this attendant that Micere almost missed her flight. But as we dashed to the gate, Micere handed me a twenty-dollar note. “Please give these twenty dollars to the airport attendant. It is our tip for his service,” she said as she handed me the dollar bill. … Noting my discomposure, Micere advised: “Our role is to humanise him and not to be like him.” I witnessed the transformation of the erstwhile insolent attendant who now wanted to know how else he could help Micere. Such were Micere’s creative but revolutionary acts, which she performed quietly but powerfully. … Micere, who died on June 30, 2023, in Syracuse, New York, embodied this humanising judgment. … She was born in a world that was contending with the crises and consequences of trisecting national, continental, and global events: The Second World War, colonial expansionism, and the rising resistance against it. … Graduating from one of the most vibrant intellectual sites in East Africa at the time, Micere was emboldened by the culture of debating and speaking truth to power that thrived at Makerere. … Micere’s achievements flourished in an intellectual and political environment dominated by powerful men, and she often worked in hostile environments at the university and at the national level. … Moving to Syracuse in 1993 … she taught for 22 years until her retirement in 2015. She became the first Black professor to be awarded the prestigious Meredith Professorship for Teaching Excellence after submitting a proposal on debating as a method of teaching and learning. But her influence would spread outside the university. … Micere was a model of an inviolable and incorruptible citizen and the epitome of the ideals of Pan-Africanism. The Elephant