Africa Media Review for August 8, 2023

Senior State Dept. Official Visits Niger to Negotiate with Junta
A top State Department official held what she described as “difficult” talks in the West African country of Niger on Monday in a bid to start negotiations with the military junta that last month deposed the elected president, a key U.S. ally in the region. Acting deputy secretary of state Victoria Nuland visited the Nigerien capital, Niamey, to try to “get some negotiations going, and also to make absolutely clear what is at stake in our relationship and the economic and other kinds of support that we will legally have to cut off if democracy is not restored,” she told reporters in a phone briefing as she departed the country. “These conversations were extremely frank and at times quite difficult.” Nuland’s visit, which reflected the importance of Niger to U.S. efforts at combating Islamist extremism in Africa, sought to counter political backsliding in the country. The ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum, took office in 2021 in the first democratic transfer of power since Niger gained independence. But Nuland gave little indication that she had gained traction with the junta, which is led by the head of Niger’s presidential guard. “Their ideas do not comport with the constitution. And that will be difficult in terms of our relationship if that’s the path they take,” she said. She was not granted access to Bazoum or to the head of the junta, she said, over the course of conversations that lasted hours. … For more than a decade, the nation has been ravaged by an Islamist insurgency. But after U.S. and French forces spent years training elite military units, militant activity dipped — the first six months of 2023 were the most peaceful since 2018, said J. Peter Pham, the former U.S. envoy to the Sahel. Most of those units were out on the front lines when the coup occurred, he said. Washington Post

West Africa Bloc Pins Hopes on Niger Coup Mediation ahead of Summit
West African countries and global powers hope there is still a window of opportunity for mediation with Niger’s coup leaders before a Thursday summit that could agree on military intervention to restore democracy. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has scheduled the summit to discuss its standoff with the Niger junta, which seized power on July 26 and ignored an Aug. 6 deadline to stand down. The coup leaders have vowed to resist external pressure to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, after ECOWAS imposed sanctions and Western allies suspended aid. The seventh power grab in West and Central Africa in three years has attracted global attention, partly due to Niger’s pivotal role in a war with Islamist militants and its uranium and oil reserves that give it economic and strategic importance for the United States, Europe, China and Russia. “There’s no doubt that diplomacy is the best way to resolve this situation,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told French radio station RFI on Tuesday. The 15-nation ECOWAS bloc has taken a harder stance on the Niger coup than it did on other recent government overthrows. Its credibility is at stake because it had said that coups would no longer be tolerated. Reuters

What’s Behind the Niger Coup?
After last week’s surprise coup in Niger, the Russian military group Wagner is taking advantage of the chaos and anti-French sentiment, says journalist Garé Amadou in Niamey, while ordinary Nigeriens are preparing for the worst. Is there real, solid support for Russia in Niger? Russia’s support in Niger is limited to so-called pan-Africanist or alter-globalisation circles, mainly through social media networks. Occasionally, however, street demonstrations calling for the withdrawal of the French army from Niger are made by civil society or trade unions. During these, Russian flags are regularly waved. M62, a civil society umbrella organisation set up in 2022, is one of the leading movements surfing a wave of anti-French sentiment, along with the belief that Russian military support through the Wagner group can help Niger in the fight against terrorism. Some members of M62 make no secret of their desire to see Niger forge relations with the paramilitary Wagner. But the pro-Russia movement can also be found among politicians. The first, who is known for his pan-Africanist ideas and links with Russia, is Abdouramane Oumarou of the Incin Africa party. He frequently travels back and forth to Russia to meet leading figures. The second is the MPD party president, Sulhu. He was arrested on charges of colluding with a foreign power to destabilise Niger. According to our information, that power is Russia. He is said to have received a substantial sum of money to make contacts in this direction. Another group, the Umoja party, has the the same pro-Russian stance. … Generally speaking, the people of Niger take a positive view of Russia’s presence in Mali. They are victims of the propaganda from the Malian junta – the CNSP (National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland) – about the Wagner group’s supposed effectiveness in the fight against terrorism. The Guardian

Suspected Jihadist Attack Kills around 20 People in Burkina Faso
Around 20 people were killed in a suspected jihadist attack in Burkina Faso, security and local sources told AFP on Monday, August 7. The Sunday attack in the Centre-East region near the Togolese border killed “around 20 people, mostly traders,” a security source told AFP while a trader put the toll at 25, and another said there were a dozen wounded. More than 16,000 civilians, troops and police have died in jihadist attacks, according to an NGO count, including more than 5,000 since the start of this year. More than 2 million people have also been displaced within their country, making it one of the worst internal displacement crises in Africa. Captain Ibrahim Traoré seized power in Burkina Faso in a September 2022 coup that ousted Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who in January that year had toppled the country’s last elected president, Roch Marc Christian Kabore. The motive for both coups was anger at failures to stem a jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives since spilling over from neighboring Mali in 2015. Le Monde

Mali’s Troops, Foreign Partners Target Women to ‘Spread Terror’ – UN Report
Mali’s troops and its foreign security partners, believed to be Russia’s Wagner mercenaries, are using violence against women and other “grave human rights abuses” to spread terror, U.N. sanctions monitors said in a report seen by Reuters on Monday. The monitors also warned in their report to the U.N Security Council that the sexual violence by Mali’s troops and their foreign security partners is “systematic.” They said the foreign partners were “presumed to be elements of the Wagner Group.” Mali has long been battling an Islamist insurgency and the West African country’s junta, which seized power in coups in 2020 and 2021, teamed up with Russia’s Wagner mercenary group in 2021. There are about 1,000 Wagner fighters in Mali. … “The Panel believes that violence against women, and other forms of grave abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law are being used, specifically by the foreign security partners, to spread terror among populations,” wrote the U.N. sanctions monitors, known as a panel of experts. “These practices potentially create a fear of reprisals, which acts as a deterrent for communities and armed groups who would otherwise seek to threaten the foreign security partners or harm them,” they said. Reuters

Sudan Lawyers ‘Outraged’ as Three Human Rights Defenders Slain
The Darfur Bar Association (DBA) released a statement condemning the murder of prominent human rights defender Ahmed ‘El Lord’ Abdallah and advocate Adam El Rab in Nyala on Friday. Sudan’s Emergency Lawyers expressed outrage over the death of lawyer Mohamed Mirsal after his house in Omdurman was shelled on Friday. According to the DBA statement, human rights defenders Ahmed Abdallah, also known by his nickname ‘El Lord’, and Adam El Rab “were kidnapped by armed men in Nyala, capital of South Darfur, on Friday”. As reported by Radio Dabanga yesterday, their captors demanded a major ransom for their release before they were murdered. … Radio Dabanga previously reported that both the Sudanese army (SAF) and the RSF are accused of having detained hundreds of activists and volunteers in Khartoum state since the start of the war. Since the outbreak of war on April 15, Nyala witnessed violent clashes between the army and the RSF, which left countless civilians dead. On Thursday, Radio Dabanga highlighted various reports from Nyala of killings, rapes, looting, and “the complete breakdown of the region’s infrastructure and security apparatus”. Dabanga

Neighbouring Countries Craft Plan for Ending Sudan’s Ongoing Conflict
In a meeting held in N’Djamena, the foreign ministers of Sudan’s neighbouring countries on Monday gave their endorsement to a comprehensive plan aimed at bringing an end to the four-month-long conflict within the country. The two-day gathering of foreign ministers had been convened following a summit of Sudan’s neighbouring leaders last month in Cairo. The Committee of Ministers of Foreign Affairs has formulated an action plan, which is slated for consideration and approval by the Heads of State and Government, said a statement issued at the end of the meeting. This plan, in addition to leveraging existing mechanisms of the African Union and IGAD, is devised to facilitate a multi-faceted resolution, they said. “The action plan has been structured into three key components, namely the achievement of a conclusive ceasefire, the organization of an all-encompassing intra-Sudanese dialogue, and the effective management of humanitarian concerns,” read a statement issued in French. Sudan Tribune

CAR Approves Constitutional Changes as Opposition Cries Foul
Central African Republic (CAR) voters overwhelmingly approved a controversial draft constitution that could see President Faustin Archange Touadera seek a third, longer term in office. The national poll body said on Monday the constitutional amendments which remove the two-term limit and extend the term from five to seven years, were approved by 95.27%. The body added that there was a 61.10% turnout among the eligible population. The constitutional court is set to publish the definitive results on August 27. The referendum took place on July 30, without the participation of the main opposition parties, civil society organizations or the armed rebel groups. Opposition parties blasted what they said were outdated electoral registers, doubting the vote’s independence. “It’s a comedy,” said Crepin Mboli-Goumba, coordinator of the BRDC opposition coalition. “We’ve all seen that people didn’t go out to vote and it doesn’t reflect the will of the Central African people.” DW

UN Investigator: Eritreans Experienced Torture, Sexual Violence During National Service
Eritrean refugees and asylum-seekers report that during compulsory national service they experienced torture, inhumane or degrading treatment, sexual and gender-based violence, forced labor and abusive conditions, a U.N. independent investigator on human rights said in a report circulated Monday. Mohamed Babiker said Eritrea has a policy of indefinite national service, including a civil service component and a military service component. He said it has ignored numerous calls from human rights bodies to ensure legal limits for the duration of such service and to protect the human rights of all participants. While Eritrea maintains its national service program is “unfairly judged,” Babiker said he continues to receive “numerous and credible reports of grave human rights violation in the context of forced national/military service.” Conscientious objection is not allowed in Eritrea, he said, “and deserters and draft evaders continued to be subjected to arbitrary detention in highly punitive conditions, enforced disappearance and torture.” VOA/AP

Rebel Attacks in Restive Northeastern Congo Kill at Least 21 People over the Weekend, Officials Say
Rebel groups, including one with ties to the Islamic State group, killed at least 21 people in restive northeastern Congo over the weekend, local officials said Monday. Isaac Kibira, deputy delegate of the governor in the Central African nation’s northeastern Bwito township, said the victims in one attack were shot and killed early Sunday by members of M23, a rebel group the United Nations says has links to neighboring Rwanda. Rwanda denies the accusation. In a second attack on Saturday, armed rebels with ties to the Islamic State group killed 10 civilians in a northeastern province, a local human rights activist said. Conflict has simmered in eastern Congo for decades as more than 120 armed groups fight for control of valuable mineral resources and some to protect their communities. Mass killings by rebel groups are frequent, and the violence has triggered an exodus of refugees. AP

Iran’s President Will Probably Attend BRICS Summit, Says SA’s Pandor
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, Russia’s close military ally, will probably attend the BRICS Summit in South Africa from 22-24 August. Iran has also formally applied to join BRICS, along with Cuba, Venezuela and 20 other countries. But this does not mean BRICS is becoming pro-Russian or anti-Western, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor insists. Pandor confirmed on Monday that Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Brazilian President Lula da Silva would attend the summit in Sandton in person. Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend in person but would “actively participate” in most of the sessions virtually. He cannot attend as he is under a warrant of arrest from the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. … Pandor said that 23 other countries had formally applied to join BRICS and many more had expressed interest in doing so. The 23 are: Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Morocco, Nigeria, State of Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and Vietnam. Daily Maverick

2 People Are Fatally Shot on a Fifth Day of Protests in the South African City of Cape Town
Two people were fatally shot on a fifth day of violent protests in the South African city of Cape Town on Monday sparked by a dispute last week between minibus taxi drivers and authorities. A person was killed and three others were wounded in a shooting near the Cape Town International Airport after a group of protesters pelted a car with stones and the driver responded by firing shots at them, police said. The shooting happened while minubus taxis blockaded a road near the airport, police said. Police said the shooter would be investigated for murder and attempted murder. A man died of multiple gunshot wounds in a separate shooting that police said they believed was also related to the protests. The unrest on the outskirts of South Africa’s second-largest city followed an announcement last Thursday of a weeklong strike by minubus taxi drivers, who are angered at what they call heavy-handed tactics by police and city authorities in impounding some of their vehicles. … The areas on the city’s outskirts have some of the highest homicide rates in the country and residents say they have been neglected for years and are now deeply troubled by violence and poverty. AP

Investigating the ‘Spiritual Healers’ Sexually Abusing Women
A hidden world of sex abuse and exploitation by men working as “spiritual healers” has been uncovered by BBC Arabic. Spiritual healing, also known as “Quranic healing”, is a popular practice in the Arab and Muslim world. It is mostly women who visit healers – believing that they can solve problems and cure illness by expelling evil spirits known as “jinn”. Testimonies gathered by the BBC from 85 women, over a period of more than a year, named 65 so-called healers in Morocco and Sudan – two countries where such practices are particularly popular – with accusations ranging from harassment to rape. We spent months speaking to NGOs, courts, lawyers and women, gathering and verifying stories of abuse. An undercover reporter who underwent treatment with one such healer for our investigation, was herself inappropriately touched before fleeing the scene. … Despite all the evidence we have gathered, Moroccan and Sudanese authorities are reluctant to take action. So the burden remains on women to speak up against those hiding behind a healing profession. BBC

Women Face Sexual Assault in Ugandan Mental Health Hospitals
Rape is common inside facilities, patients and others say. But accusers frequently aren’t believed, and justice is rare. About 32% of Uganda’s approximately 43.7 million people have a mental illness, according to 2022 data from Uganda’s health ministry. … Uganda is also ranked among the top six countries in Africa in rates of depressive disorders, while 2.9% live with anxiety disorders. About 5.1% of women and 3.6% of men are affected. The country’s primary care system is poorly funded and short-staffed. … But lack of mental health services is only part of the problem those struggling with mental illnesses face. According to a 2014 investigation into psychiatric hospitals in Uganda, sexual assault is among the human rights abuses common in the country’s mental health institutions. The study in BMC Public Health also reveals that women with mental illnesses were vulnerable to rape both in communities and in mental health institutions. … In January, mental health advocacy groups in Uganda released a statement asking the Ministry of Health and Uganda police to investigate allegations that patients at Butabika National Referral Mental Hospital are being sexually abused while in the hospital’s care. … Already, rape cases in Uganda rarely result in convictions. Of the 1,623 cases of rape reported to police in 2022, only 557 were prosecuted, and only three secured a conviction. … The lack of sensitivity in the way authorities handle such cases ensures that few are reported, further perpetuating the violence as perpetrators get away with their crimes, says Patricia Atim P’Odong, the project officer of Disability and Law at Makerere University’s Rights Centre School of Law. Global Press Journal

New Study Rings Alarm Bells over Wetlands Destruction on Eacop Route in Uganda
A new study is laying further criticism on the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (Eacop) for its likely risk on some 158 wetlands along its design route in Uganda alone. The findings cast a new shadow on the project that has been the subject of debate, as climate activists target it over possible environmental damage. The Factsheet: Eacop Impacted Wetlands in Uganda, released on July 28, lists five massive wetland systems that the pipeline will cross, putting swamps and their wider ecosystems at risk. These wetlands drain into critical water bodies, including Lake Victoria, Lake Albert and the Victoria Nile. But oil chiefs behind the Eacop project dismissed the findings as biased and authored by a group that has been consistent in undermining Uganda’s quest to exploit its oil. The African Institute for Energy Governance (Afiego), which commissioned the study, argues that while horizontal direction drilling is deployed for river crossings, Eacop’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) downplayed the potential impact that the project would have on the wetlands. East African

Afrobeats Artists Enjoying Historic Year in 2023
[Gallery] Wizkid made history on July 29 when he became the first African artist to sell out Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, performing in front of 45,000 fans. It is the latest event in a record-breaking year for Afrobeats, as the music genre continues to skyrocket in popularity around the world. In June, Burna Boy became the first African artist to sell out a show at London Stadium (pictured). He followed up with more history when he sold out a US stadium show in July, at Citi Field in New York City. Often referred to as the “Queen of Afrobeats,” Tiwa Savage (pictured here during a performance at the Coronation Concert in May 2023) is slated to make history of her own in November, when she will become the first female African artist to headline OVO Arena Wembley in the UK. Afrobeats took center stage during the 2023 NBA All-Star Game in Salt Lake City, Utah. Rema (pictured) joined fellow Nigerian stars Burna Boy and Tems for the performance in February. Tems, pictured here on the red carpet of the Grammy Awards in February, also made history at the 2023 Academy Awards, becoming the first Nigerian to earn a nomination for her work on a song from the film “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. … Alongside Afrobeats, Amapiano is also taking the spotlight. Pictured, popular South African DJ Uncle Waffles performs at Coachella in California in April. CNN