Africa Media Review for August 23, 2021

Chad to Bring Home Half of Its Troops Fighting Sahel Militants
Chad has decided to recall half of its 1,200 troops battling Islamist militants in the tri-border area of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, a spokesperson for Chadian authorities said Saturday. Chad deployed the soldiers in February to support a France-backed regional fight with insurgents linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State who have destabilized swaths of territory in West Africa’s Sahel region in recent years. The decision to withdraw 600 of these soldiers was made in agreement with Chad’s Sahel allies, General Azem Bermandoa Agouna said, speaking on behalf of the Transitional Military Council in Chad. The recalled Chadian troops would be redeployed elsewhere, Agouna said, without giving further details. The authorities in Chad have faced a separate conflict this year with insurgents in the north. France has also said it plans to reduce its presence in the Sahel to around half the 5,100 soldiers there, although it has given no timeframe. … Mahamat Idriss Deby, who leads the Transitional Military Council (CMT), has run Chad since his father, the former president, was killed while visiting the front line in April. Earlier in August, Deby invited the rebels to participate in a national dialogue. A military source said the 600 troops would be sent to Chad’s northern border with Libya and Sudan to disarm rebels seeking to return to take part in these talks, which are scheduled for the end of the year. Reuters

ECOWAS Demands Justification for Detention of Mali’s Former Interim Leaders
The court of justice of the West Africa bloc ECOWAS has demanded that Mali justify the alleged detention of ex-leaders Moctar Ouane and Bah Ndaw, a lawyer for the two men said Friday. The men were deposed following a second coup in May. Ouane and Ndaw were respectively appointed the interim prime minister and president of Mali following a military coup in August 2020 led by Colonel Assimi Goita. As leaders of a post-coup transitional government, they were tasked with steering the troubled Sahel state back to civilian rule by February 2020. But in May, Goita deposed Ouane and Ndaw after a government reshuffle following a second coup. The army strongman was later declared interim president himself. The current whereabouts of Ouane and Ndaw are unknown, but they are believed to be under house arrest in Mali. Mamadou Ismaila Konate, a lawyer representing the former leaders, said on social media on Friday that his clients had appealed to the court of justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). He also shared a court order demanding that Mali’s government “explain the violations of the rights and freedoms” of Ouane and Ndaw by 28 August. RFI

For France’s Sahel Mission, Echoes of Afghanistan
If there are many stark differences between America’s war in Afghanistan and France’s in the Sahel — from their size and nature to their Islamist targets — there are also haunting similarities, analysts say. Both involve years-long foreign involvement in countries with weak and unstable governments. Both operations have struggled against troop fatigue, casualties, and dwindling support at home. Both are against Islamist groups which, many say, are patiently confident they will outlast their enemy. … Unlike the U.S., France for now has no intention of withdrawing from the Sahel, a vast area below the Sahara. It will, however, soon begin decreasing its 5,100-troop Barkhane operation, the linchpin of a regional counterterrorism fight spanning five West and Central African countries. … For France, moving forward in the Sahel means focusing southward, where the insurgency has spread, and beefing up the Takuba Task Force. Nearly a dozen European countries, including Estonia, Italy, Denmark and non-EU-member Norway have joined or promised to take part in the military mission. But many others remain on the sidelines, including Germany. “The fear of many European countries is to commit troops and then be confronted with a fiasco or death of soldiers,” Guichaoua said. … Not under French consideration, though, is any dialogue with extremists — an effort controversially tried with the Taliban that is earning support among some Sahel authorities, at least when it comes to homegrown groups. VOA

Sudan, South Sudan to Reopen Borders After 11 Years
Sudan and South Sudan have agreed to open their borders after 11 years. This was announced after a meeting between South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok according to President Kiir’s office. According to a press statement seen by The EastAfrican at the weekend, the diplomatic meeting convened in Juba also resolved the re-opening of water transport. “The two parties engaged in extensive talks and candid discussion on all aspects and fields of cooperation. The opening of four border crossing posts; Jebeleen-Renk, Meriam, Buram -Tumsah and Kharsana-Panakuac. The official launch will take place on October 1, 2021 by the two parties,” reads the joint press statement. During Omar Bashir’s regime, South Sudan and Sudan closed most of the 2,000 borders – hitting traders and communities on both sides of the disputed line. The borders were closed in 2011 when relations deteriorated after the south seceded following a long civil war, taking with it three quarters of the country’s oil. In January 2016, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan ordered the opening of his country’s border with South Sudan but this did not last. The EastAfrican

‘My Blood Is Boiling’: War Fever Surges in Ethiopia as Its Civil War Spreads
Ethiopian authorities have ramped up mass recruitment drives, calling on popular musicians and artists to galvanize the war effort. This past week, the military posted photos from the town of Debark in the northern Amhara region where young men — wielding machetes, guns and sticks studded with nails — rallied in support of the war and enlisted in droves. … As the recruitment drive has gotten underway, rebel forces have continued to advance in western Tigray, an area that ethnic Amharas historically claim as their own and took over in the early stages of the conflict. Heavy fighting, including artillery fire, has been reported in the Amhara, Oromia and Afar regions, according to an internal United Nations security document seen by The New York Times. The dynamics of the war are also shifting as the fighting escalates. This month the Oromo Liberation Army, designated a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian government, declared an alliance with the Tigrayan forces, raising the prospect of other splinter groups or regional governments becoming involved in the fighting. … Last week, the U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, was back in the region in a bid to halt the fighting. In addition, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey offered to back a peaceful mediation to the war. But with Mr. Abiy rebuffing a meeting in early August with Ms. Power, Tigrayan forces advancing and fresh government recruits heading to face them, there is little prospect so far for a substantial de-escalation, experts say. For many Ethiopians, that means bracing for more bloody days ahead. The New York Times

Caught in the Crossfire, Ethiopian Minority Flees to Sudan
Dragged into a conflict not of their making, members of Ethiopia’s Qemant ethnic group say their only choice was fleeing to Sudan – marking another bleak turn in a widening war. “Houses were burned and people killed by machetes,” said refugee Emebet Demoz, who, like thousands of others, ran from her village last month. “We couldn’t even take the bodies and bury them.” Thousands have been killed since fighting erupted in November in Ethiopia’s northernmost Tigray region, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent in troops to topple the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the regional ruling party, saying the move came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps. The violence has since sucked in other groups in bitter battles over land, and has spread from Tigray into Ethiopia’s neighbouring Amhara region, homeland of both the Amhara people and the ethnic minority Qemant. Amhara fighters supported Abiy’s forces, in an attempt to settle a decades-long dispute over territory they claim was seized by the TPLF during its nearly three-decade rule before Abiy took power in 2018. The Qemant have long chafed under the cultural and economic influence of the dominant Amhara people, and in recent years have called for self-rule. AFP

‘Nothing to Eat’: Somalia Hit by Triple Threat of Climate Crisis, COVID and Conflict
Such was the horror that erupted in her village earlier this year that Fadumo Ali Mohamed decided she had no choice but to leave. Through the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia, she walked for 30 kilometres, along with her nine children, eventually getting help to reach the capital by car. Now in Mogadishu, she is one of more than 800,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in the capital living in cramped, informal settlements with limited access to food, water and healthcare. She doesn’t like to recall the violence she fled. … Prolonged droughts, shrinking water resources and lack of fertile land are fuelling tensions between clans and creating large-scale displacement across Somalia. A cluster of overlapping crises are menacing the fragile east African country, with the climate crisis exacerbating existing conflicts and contributing to new ones, Covid-19 claiming lives and livelihoods, and political instability never far away. The result, warn humanitarian agencies, is hunger: the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) warned earlier this month that Somalia is “on the cusp of a humanitarian catastrophe,” with one in four people facing high levels of acute food insecurity and more than 800,000 children under the age of five at risk of acute malnutrition. The Guardian

Kenyan Appeals Court Upholds Order to Halt President’s Constitutional Changes
Kenya’s Court of Appeal upheld a decision to stop President Uhuru Kenyatta from making broad constitutional changes, limiting his ability to prevent his estranged deputy from succeeding him next year. The proposed amendments, popularly known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), would have been the biggest change to governance since a new constitution in 2010. The court upheld a High Court decision in May that declared the proposed reforms illegal on the basis that Kenyatta acted unconstitutionally. “The days of (an) unaccountable presidency are long gone,” said Patrick Kiage, one of the appellate judges, rejecting the government’s appeal. The BBI has served as a lightning rod for the rhetoric of politicians jostling ahead of a general election due in August 2022. Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto have fallen out and they and their supporters are at odds over the proposals. Reuters

Cameroon Military Raids Separatist-Held Roads, Kill Seven Self-Proclaimed Separatist Generals
Cameroon says its military has killed seven self-proclaimed separatist generals who blocked traffic for a month on roads in the central African state’s English-speaking western regions. The military says during a two-week operation, it recovered 70 vehicles the fighters had seized from civilians and rescued several women and children held hostage in separatist camps. Cameroon said Friday its military had eliminated separatists from roads the fighters had illegally occupied in the English-speaking North-West region since July. Lieutenant Conrad Onana says he commanded government troops in one of several operations to neutralize fighters blocking roads. Onana says a heavy exchange of fire lasted for over two hours starting at 1 a.m. Friday, when government troops attacked the fighters in Bafut. He says many of the separatists and their five self-proclaimed generals killed by government troops had been wanted by the military. … Violence erupted in 2017 in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions when teachers and lawyers protested alleged discrimination by the French-speaking majority. The military reacted with a crackdown and separatist groups took up weapons, claiming that they were protecting civilians. The United Nations says over 3,000 people have been killed and 550,000 displaced in Cameroon and neighboring Nigeria since the conflict began. VOA

Gunmen Kidnap More than 75 People in Northwest Nigeria
Armed gunmen kidnapped at least 75 people from a village in northwest Nigeria, residents said on Saturday, the latest in a slew of abductions that have plagued the West African country’s west. The spate of kidnappings has thwarted all security forces’ efforts to stem the crimes, often carried out for ransom, and posed a challenge to the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. “The number of people kidnapped from (the village of) Rini must be more than seventy five,” said Aliyu Tungar-Rini, a resident of the community in northwest Nigeria’s Zamfara state. Habu Abubakar, also a resident of Rini village, said more than 80 people were kidnapped by the gunmen, who he said came wearing black clothes on more than 50 motorbikes. Reuters

eSwatini Cop Says ‘Not in My Name’
Sergeant Cebile Shongwe has resigned from the Eswatini police service saying she was tired of serving a government that continues to oppress and kill innocent civilians. The resignation of the policewoman, who was based at Malkerns police station, comes amid calls among civil society organisations and political parties that King Mswati III must be charged by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. At the end of June protests against Africa’s last absolute monarch, turned violent. Some buildings connected to the king were torched by protesters, and police reportedly assaulted and arrested political opponents. The protest manifested after three pro-democracy MPs advocated in parliament that the country should be ruled by a democratic government. After Shongwe’s resignation, the online news site Swaziland News released electronic evidence in which army commander Jeffrey Tshabalala revealed state secrets regarding the killing of civilians, as well as assassination plots on pro-democracy MPs and the editor. Tshabalala was recorded by Shongwe, the whistleblower, who told Swaziland News that she decided to resign and skip the country so she could share more evidence with the international community. Mail & Guardian

Container Ship Ever Given Returns to Suez Canal for Another Attempt
In a rematch of the struggle that dominated global headlines earlier this year, the 400-metre, 220,000 tonne container ship that became lodged in the Suez canal for nearly a week, disrupting trade on a global scale, is having another go. Several weeks after finally docking at the UK port of Felixstowe – after a months-long negotiation over who should bear the costs of blocking the shipping lane for six days in March – the vessel returned to Port Said, Egypt, on Thursday night. On Friday, the Panamanian-flagged, Japanese-owned ship began its journey through the canal, accompanied by two tug boats, the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram reported. Live ship-tracking showed the vessel successfully negotiating the early stages of the canal on its way toward the Red Sea. The operation in March to free the ship from the canal caused a backlog that delayed the journeys of hundreds of ships, forcing some to take a much longer route around the southern tip of Africa. The Guardian



Photo: Adam Jones