Africa Media Review for August 25, 2023

Thousands Camp All Night to Vote, Leaving a Nation on Edge
A chaotic presidential election left Zimbabweans anxiously awaiting the outcome on Thursday after thousands were forced to wait overnight to vote and the police arrested dozens of independent election observers tasked with ensuring a fair election. Voting in Zimbabwe, a nation of 16 million people in southern Africa, was supposed to run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday. But many polling stations, almost exclusively in urban areas that tend to favor opposition parties, had to stay open into Thursday because their ballots were not delivered until late the previous afternoon. As early results trickled out, supporters of the main candidates — the incumbent, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who leads the governing ZANU-PF party, and Nelson Chamisa, head of the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change — all claimed they were on the path to victory. … The significant disorganization with the voting was unusual even by the standards of Zimbabwe’s historically tumultuous elections, analysts said. Officials from Citizens Coalition for Change cried foul that the disruption was a deliberate attempt by the national electoral commission to tilt the playing field in favor of Mr. Mnangagwa because rural areas, his stronghold, did not experience the delays that were reported in urban communities, where Mr. Chamisa is more popular. New York Times

Zimbabwe Votes: 39 Election Activists Arrested for Preparing Projections on Poll Outcome
Zimbabwean police confirmed on Thursday the arrest of 39 activists accused of preparing projections on the election outcome, with the intention of releasing numbers ahead of the official announcement by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEP). … Earlier in the day, Roselyn Hanzi, the director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said she was informed a group she numbered at around 40 was arrested, and that the offices of two civil society groups were raided. Those arrested had been detained without access to their lawyers and had been barred from making calls, she added. … “There can be no clearer sign of the profound panic of the ruling party than this drastic and egregious action,” the spokesperrson for the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), Charles Kwaramba, said in a statement. He added the police action was “an extreme extension” of government action in the run-up to the vote, “when media, activists and observers were barred or deported from the country.” News24

Wagner’s Lucrative African Operations Thrown into Post-Prigozhin Limbo
Prigozhin’s grip on Wagner has been questioned ever since he challenged Vladimir Putin’s authority with his mutiny against the Russian army in June. Now his grisly end has cast fresh doubt over Russia’s ability to maintain the mercenary deployments it runs in Africa and the Middle East through the network he built, according to people familiar with its operations. “Africa’s all going to go to shit,” said a longtime Prigozhin acquaintance briefed on and referring to Wagner’s operations there. “They wouldn’t let him do any operations anymore and nobody’s going to take them over, because you need Zhenya for that,” he added, using Prigozhin’s nickname. “He was the only one crazy enough to make it work.” … Wagner became, in little more than five years, a crucial plank in Russian power projection in Africa. The group launched election interference schemes, misinformation campaigns and military activities, while offering plausible deniability for the Kremlin when anything went awry. Wherever there was chaos to sow or anti-western sentiment to exploit, Prigozhin and his band of retired soldiers and ex-convicts were often found doing the Kremlin’s bidding in countries across the continent. … What happens next depends to a large extent on the Russian president. Moscow suggested following the Wagner mutiny that it would begin to disband the group, but the Kremlin never provided a public plan of action on how those operations would evolve. … Prigozhin’s trip to Africa this week may have been prompted by a desire to forestall the GRU, the foreign intelligence service of the Russian military, from taking control of his operations, according to people familiar with the matter. FT

Gabon’s President Seeks Third Term in Elections That Could Extend a 55-Year Political Dynasty
The central African nation’s 800,000-plus eligible voters are to elect local lawmakers, national assembly members and the next president. Incumbent Ali Bongo Ondimba, 64, who won his current term in office by a narrow margin, is being challenged by economics professor and former education minister Albert Ondo Ossa. Bongo has served two seven-year terms and seeks to extend his family’s 55-year political dynasty with a third. Bongo, then the minister of defense, came to power in 2009 after the death of his father, Omar Bongo, who ruled the country for 41 years. … By leaving rising unemployment unaddressed, “the current regime is sowing the seeds of post-electoral violence,” said Noël Bertrand Boudzanga, a literature professor and member of a civil society organization aimed at electoral transparency in Gabon. President Bongo’s objective is “to keep power at all costs,” Boudzanga said. Nearly 40% of Gabon’s youth, aged 15-24, were out of work in 2020, according to the World Bank, a marked increase since Bongo took office. AP

Last-Minute Gabon Voting Rule Change Poses Governance Risk, Experts Say
Political analysts say a last-minute rule change in Gabon’s August 26 national elections, which now stipulates voters must select their presidential and parliamentary candidate from the same political party, poses a governance issue — if the ultimate winner is anyone other than a candidate of the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party, or the PDG. The Gabonese Center for Elections announced the new rule last month, which critics immediately denounced, saying it is meant to favor the ruling PDG. According to the rule, any vote for a local deputy would automatically be a vote for that deputy’s presidential candidate. But critics say some opposition parties have not fielded candidates for the National Assembly elections. “What’s at stake is thus to know if Gabon will find itself for the first time in its history with a president elected without a majority in parliament, which could pose a problem of governance,” she said. … Ondo Mengue Jean-Cyrille, a Libreville-based political analyst, told VOA that the rule change puts at a disadvantage any candidates who are not running on a political party’s ticket — like Alexandre Barro, who is part of the opposition supporting the candidacy of Ondo Ossa. VOA

Niger Coup: I’m Holding Back ECOWAS, Others from Military Invasion – Tinubu
Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu says he is he is the one holding back ECOWAS and other unnamed forces from invading Niger to restore constitutional order in the country. Mr Tinubu, who is also the chairperson of the ECOWAS heads of state and government, said this Thursday during a meeting with Nigerian Islamic clerics who are acting as mediators with the Niger junta. … ”Even as of this morning, I have been inundated with phone calls on the readiness of countries with their military force and contributions. However, I told them to wait. I am meeting with the Ulamas and I will get back to you.” … The Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, President Bola Tinubu, has implored a delegation of Islamic scholars (Ulamas), who were previously engaged in discussions to facilitate the restoration of constitutional democratic governance in Niger Republic, to expedite progress in their ongoing dialogue with the military junta. … President Tinubu told the Islamic delegation that the military junta must be held accountable for putting the entire people of Niger Republic in jeopardy. ”They cannot use the gun given to them to protect the sovereignty of the country and turn it against the people of the country,” he said. President Tinubu pledged that ECOWAS will remain steadfast in its commitment to diplomatically engage with all stakeholders and seek a peaceful resolution to the impasse in Niger Republic. “I will draw a line in the sand and ask you to make arrangements to go back to Niger Republic,” he stated. Premium Times

Should Niger’s Coup Heighten Fears over Terrorism in the Sahel?
In the run-up to the coup, the situation had in fact been improving… In the first half of 2023, attacks on civilians fell by 49 percent compared with the same period in 2022, while the number of deaths was down by 16 percent, according to Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) project. … While the military regimes in Mali and neighbouring Burkina Faso focus on hefty “anti-terrorist” operations that are often blamed for heavy loss of civilian life, Bazoum fostered localised peace agreements, development projects and negotiations with heads of armed groups. … A June 2022 opinion poll by Afrobarometer found a big difference between rural and urban dwellers about how they rated Niger’s security situation. People in the cities were far likelier to say that the problems were bad, even though people in the countryside were far likelier to be victims of violence. … On Tuesday, the African Union said it had suspended Niger until civilian rule was restored and would assess the implications of any armed intervention. This comes as suspected Islamic insurgents killed at least 12 Nigerien soldiers in the remote south-western region of Tillaberi. An anti-jihadist operation by national guards was reportedly “the target of an ambush” on Sunday evening, according to TéléSahel. RFI

Civilians Targeted in War-Torn Khartoum as Poor and Elderly Remain Trapped
People trapped in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and its twin city of Omdurman say civilians are being deliberately targeted in shelling by the warring parties. A woman who had been helping wounded soldiers was killed along with her three children and six neighbours when her home was shelled by Sudanese army forces earlier this week. More than two-thirds of Khartoum’s hospitals have been closed or destroyed since the conflict broke out in April between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, which began as a power struggle between the head of the RSF, Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, and the army chief and Sudan’s de facto leader, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. More than 1 million people have fled from Sudan to neighbouring states, with many doctors among those who had the means to leave the cities. The only functioning hospital in Omdurman is located in an army-controlled area. Only half of the population are estimated to remain in the capital, including those with no relatives or friends elsewhere to go to; many of those left behind are elderly and disabled. Rents in safer parts of the country have shot up as demand for accommodation there has soared. Guardian

Scores of Women and Girls Were Sexually Assaulted after Peace Deal in Ethiopia’s Tigray
Scores of women and girls in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region were sexually assaulted, often by multiple men alleged to be combatants, after a peace agreement last year ended the conflict there, according to a new study of medical records released on Thursday. … With most health facilities destroyed or looted as Ethiopian forces battled Tigray fighters, many women and girls were left without treatment for months. Some now have HIV or are raising the children of their rapists. Others live with incontinence or chronic pain, along with the cultural stigma around such attacks. … It is just a “small glimpse” of the toll, the authors say, and they fear the chance for justice will be lost if independent accountability efforts by the United Nations and others are shut down. … Almost all the women and girls said their attackers appeared to be members of a military group, often from neighboring Eritrea, whose soldiers fought alongside Ethiopian forces against Tigray fighters and allegedly remain in parts of western and northern Tigray. The findings suggest that “these acts were neither isolated nor random but a systematic use of rape as a weapon of war,” the study’s authors write in The Lancet commentary. AP

Libya: Islamic State Leader Captured – Government
A leader of the jihadist group Islamic State (EI), the “planner and sponsor” of three deadly attacks in 2018 in the capital Tripoli, has been captured, the head of Libya’s Government of National Unity announced on Thursday evening. “Our forces apprehended on Tuesday a leader of the terrorist organization Daech (Arabic acronym for EI, ed. note), involved in the planning and command of terrorist acts that targeted our country’s institutions and their fallen officials,” Abdelhamid Dbeibah, head of Libya’s UN-recognized government based in the capital, said in a live TV address. The operation was carried out jointly by the Radaa (Deterrence) Force and the Rahbat al-Dourou (Shields) Brigade from Tajoura (an eastern suburb of Tripoli), according to the government’s media office, which gave no further details on the identity or nationality of the jihadist. AfricaNews with AFP

Extremists Abduct More than 40 Women in Latest Attack in Northeast Nigeria
At least 42 women have been abducted by Islamic extremist rebels during an attack in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state, locals told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The rebels attacked the women as they gathered firewood in the Jere district of Borno, which is the epicenter of a 14-year-long insurgency launched by the extremist group known as Boko Haram, according to a member of the Civilian Joint Task Force local security group who identified himself as Abba. Locals also said the victims were from a camp for internally displaced persons in the neighboring Mafa district and had been selling firewood to boost their income as economic hardship in Nigeria under the new president bites harder. … He also said the rebels have demanded a ransom of 50,000 naira ($55) for each woman though the locals were negotiating for less amounts of money to pay for the women’s freedom. The latest abduction by the extremists occurred hours after they had ambushed security forces protecting farmers in the area, according to Abba with the local security group. AP

US Sanctions 6 Rwandans, Congolese over Conflict in Eastern DR Congo
The US is imposing sanctions on six individuals believed to have helped fuel the conflict in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The six individuals are Rwandans and Congolese rebels, or members of their respective defence forces in what could signal the cross-border complexity of the conflict. And according to the US Treasury, each of these individuals has contributed to the instability in eastern part of the country as it struggles to end decades of armed conflict. They include Apollinaire Hakizimana, a Rwandan national playing his violence in the FDLR rebel group as a ‘defence commissioner.’ He is sanctioned alongside Sebastian Uwimbabazi, also from Rwanda but now in charge of FDLR’s intelligence. Also sanctioned in the group is Ruvugayimikore Protogene, fighting for Maccabe group affiliated to FDLR. He is also from Rwanda. … The US State Department said the individuals had been involved in numerous cases, committing human rights violations including sexual violence and violence against children. EastAfrican

BRICS Payment System Would Not Replace SWIFT – S.Africa Finance Minister
South Africa’s finance minister said on Thursday that the BRICS grouping would not be looking to replace international payment systems including SWIFT, but rather consider creating one that would strengthen trade in local currencies. At the conclusion of a three-day BRICS summit in Johannesburg, the bloc’s leaders announced they would task their finance ministers to consider the issues of local currencies, payment instruments and platforms and report back in a year. De-dollarisation is a particular priority for Russia, whose economy has been crippled by sanctions imposed by the West over its invasion of Ukraine and is banned from SWIFT. Reuters

Putin Fails to Win Support for His Ukraine War Narrative from Fellow Bloc Leaders
In his address to the BRICS summit, President Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine and the West for his country’s invasion of Ukraine. It didn’t appear to gain traction with other leaders from the bloc. … In his direct response to Putin, Ramaphosa merely said, “We agree that the war can only be resolved by negotiations which you have always said you support.” In his speech to the summit, President Lula simply said: “We cannot avoid dealing with the main current conflict taking place in Ukraine with global effects.” He emphasised that “Brazil’s historic stance is to defend sovereignty, territorial integrity and all the United Nations’ purposes and principles” – principles which Russia has clearly violated by invading Ukraine, though Lula did not spell that out. Daily Maverick