Africa Media Review for December 13, 2021

She could have been Benin’s first female president. She was just sentenced to 20 years in prison.
She would have been the first female presidential candidate for a major political party in Benin, where analysts predicted she had the best shot at dethroning the incumbent strongman. But the historic bid of Reckya Madougou, former justice minister in the West African nation, ended abruptly in March when security agents arrested her on charges related to financing terrorism. A judge on her case fled to France, condemning the charges as “phony,” “tragic” and “entirely politically motivated.” Early Saturday, a special Beninese court ruled her guilty of plotting to assassinate “several political figures.” Madougou, who has maintained her innocence, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. “Without witnesses, without documents, without evidence, Madame Reckya Madougou was sentenced to 20 years in prison by three government henchmen,” said one of her attorneys, Antoine Vey, in a statement. “Her crime: Embodying a democratic alternative to the regime… We dreaded it: There is no justice in Benin.” Vey left the courtroom in protest Friday after less than an hour. The judges, he said, gave him only five minutes to mount a defense. The Washington Post

Libya Delays Candidate List as Likely Election Postponement Looms
Libya’s election commission said Saturday it would not publish a list of presidential candidates until after it settles some legal issues, leaving almost no time to hold the vote as planned on December 24. While most Libyan and foreign figures involved in the process have continued to publicly call for the election to go ahead on schedule, politicians, analysts and diplomats all say in private that this would be very hard to achieve. Significant delays could increase the risk of derailing the wider peace process in Libya, though a disputed election conducted without clear agreement on rules or eligible candidates also poses immediate dangers to stability. “Given the sensitivities of this stage and the political and security circumstances surrounding it, the commission is keen to exhaust all means of litigation to ensure its decisions comply with issued judgements,” the commission said in a statement. … Disputes over fundamental rules governing the election have continued throughout the process, including over the voting timetable, the eligibility of major candidates and the eventual powers of the next president and parliament. Reuters

West African States Demand Mali Polls in February, Eye Sanctions
West African leaders meeting at a summit in Nigeria on Sunday demanded military-ruled Mali stick to plans for February polls, threatening further sanctions if Bamako fails to commit to returning to democracy. “The heads of state… decided to keep the (deadline) of February 27, 2022 for elections in Mali,” president of the West African ECOWAS bloc Jean-Claude Brou told reporters in Abuja, adding sanctions would be imposed in January if Mali did not move to stage polls. The head of Mali’s government had earlier on Sunday promised he would provide the bloc with an election timetable by the end of January 2022. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Mali following military coups in August 2020 and May 2021, sanctioning officials deemed responsible for delaying elections and threatening further measures. Malian procrastination and the possibility of a stronger response from ECOWAS were the main items for discussion among African leaders, along with the situation in Guinea, Covid-19 and economic recovery. ECOWAS also decided to maintain sanctions against the junta that seized power in Guinea on 5 September, demanding a timetable for the return of civilian rule there. AFP

Burkina Faso President Names Lassina Zerbo as Prime Minister
Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore has named Lassina Zerbo as the country’s new prime minister, according to a decree. Zerbo, a 58-year-old geophysicist and the former head of a top nuclear watchdog, is to take office in the face of growing popular dissatisfaction over a deteriorating security crisis that has gripped Burkina Faso for years. … Under pressure to make changes, Kabore fired Prime Minister Christophe Dabire on Wednesday, the latest upheaval in a leadership shake-up that has included military top brass. … In Burkina Faso, the peak of the violence came last month when dozens of people, mostly gendarmes, were killed in the country’s north. Two weeks before they were attacked, the gendarmes had warned headquarters that they were running short of supplies and were having to trap animals to eat. They had been waiting in vain for several days for a relief force when they came under attack from hundreds of fighters on pick-up trucks and motorcycles, according to accounts of the battle. … Late on Thursday, the armies of Burkina Faso and neighbouring Niger said they had killed about 100 “terrorists” in a joint military operation against armed groups on the border between November 25 and December 9. They had also dismantled two bases, one on either side of the frontier, they said in a joint statement. Al Jazeera

Sudanese PM Replaces Acting State Governors Named after Coup – Document
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has replaced all acting state governors appointed by the country’s military leader after a coup in late October, a document seen by Reuters on Sunday said. The decision is part of efforts by Hamdok, who returned to the premiership under a deal with the military, to roll back changes made by the military following the takeover. Hamdok’s office confirmed the decision. Hamdok has also replaced most of the caretaker deputy ministers appointed by the military, some of them veterans of the rule of Omar al-Bashir, who was toppled amid a popular uprising in 2019. However, Hamdok has yet to name a cabinet of technocrats as stipulated by the Nov. 21 deal he struck with the military, and faces a challenge in doing so due to opposition to the deal from political parties and protesters. Reuters

Sudan: Mistrust Deepens Following Military Takeover
In the wake of the 25 October military takeover in Sudan, discussions on the way forward are underway but restoring trust will be a challenge, the top UN official in the country, Volker Perthes, told the Security Council on Friday. … “The military takeover has exposed and deepened the mistrust between the military and civilian components and within the civilian component itself. And the 21 November Agreement has not led to a rebuilding of lost trust,” said Mr. Perthes, who also heads the UN assistance mission in Sudan, UNITAMS. The agreement faces “significant opposition” from key stakeholders, including within the Forces of Freedom and Change, a civilian coalition, many of whom feel betrayed by the coup and now reject any dealings with the military. Forthcoming decisions on government formation, high-level appointments, and the establishment of transitional institutions, will test the will and ability of the stakeholders to seek a common way out of the crisis,” he added. The UN envoy warned of the potential for further fragmentation. The agreement stipulates the formulation of a political declaration, which would likely entail constitutional amendments, and proposes the formation of a “technocratic cabinet.” UN News

Tigray Rebels Executed Dozens of Civilians, Report Says
The Tigrayan rebels fighting Ethiopia’s government carried out dozens of executions against civilians in two towns they controlled in August and September, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Friday, adding to the list of alleged violations committed by the forces since the civil war in Ethiopia began 14 months ago. The fighters “summarily executed” 49 people in the village of Chenna and the town of Kobo in the northern Amhara region between Aug. 31 and Sept. 9, the rights group said. In Chenna, over the span of five days, Tigrayan rebels killed 26 civilians on 15 separate occasions before leaving the village on Sept. 4, the report found. Those killed included farmers, grandparents and residents who had declined to slaughter livestock for the fighters, it said. … The report adds to the mounting violations committed by the warring parties since the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region began in November 2020. The Ethiopian defense forces and their Eritrean counterparts, along with Amhara regional forces and Amhara militias, have all been accused of carrying out transgressions including extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and attacks on refugees. The New York Times

Tigray Rebels Retake Town of Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia
Tigray rebels on Sunday recaptured the north Ethiopian town of Lalibela, home to a UNESCO world heritage site, local residents told AFP, 11 days after Ethiopian forces said they had re-taken control. “Yes they came back. They are already here,” said a second resident, adding that they appeared to have come from the east, in the direction of Woldiya. “The population, most of the people are scared. Some are running away. Most of the people, they already left because there might be a revenge. We expressed our happiness before when the junta left.” The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group’s military leadership said in a statement shared with pro-TPLF media they had launched “comprehensive counter-offensives” in numerous locations including along the road linking Gashena and Lalibela. … Communications have been cut in the conflict zone and access for journalists is restricted, making it difficult to verify the claims. But in a tweet late on Saturday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office said he had “headed to the front again” and forces under his leadership had captured several strategic locations in Afar and Amhara including the towns of Arjo, Fokisa and Boren. France24 with AFP

South African President Tests Positive for COVID, Mildly Ill
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is receiving treatment for mild COVID-19 symptoms after testing positive for the disease Sunday, his office said. Ramaphosa started feeling unwell and a test confirmed COVID-19, a statement from the presidency announced. He is self-isolating in Cape Town and is being monitored by the South African Military Health Service, the statement said. He has delegated all responsibilities to Deputy President David Mabuza for the next week. Ramaphosa, 69, is fully vaccinated. The statement didn’t say whether he had been infected with the omicron coronavirus variant. … Ramaphosa said his own infection serves as a caution to all people in South Africa to be vaccinated and remain vigilant against exposure, the statement said. Vaccination remains the best protection against severe illness and hospitalization, it said. … South Africa is currently battling a rapid resurgence driven by the omicron variant, health officials say. The country recorded more than 18,000 new confirmed cases Sunday night. More than 70% of the cases are estimated to be from omicron, according to genetic sequencing surveys. AP

DR Congo Declares Fourth Wave of COVID-19
The Democratic Republic of Congo has entered the fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Jean-Jacques Muyembe, head of the technical secretariat of the response against the Covid-19 has announced. DR Congo is experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases. According to the bulletin of the Technical Secretariat of the Multisectoral Committee on the response against the Covid-19 published on December 10, 2021, in DR Congo. The country has recorded a total of 723 new positive cases within a span of 24 hours. This is a significant increase in infection rate, compared to October this year when the number of recorded cases were less than 50 per day. The city of Kinshasa, with a population of over 12 million, is the epicentre of the disease. Health authorities in the country say the rise in positive cases is a worrying trend. And although the new Omicron variant has not yet been detected in the country, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who is also Director General of the National Institute for Biomedical Research, says “it is urgent to observe the barrier measures decreed by the national authorities. It is a question of respecting the barrier measures (wearing masks, observing physical distance, reducing the number of people in places of funerals or celebrations).” The EastAfrican

US Sanctions Liberia’s Ex-Warlord and Senator Prince Johnson
The U.S. government has sanctioned Liberia’s ex-warlord and current senator Prince Yormie Johnson for alleged corruption. The sanctions against Johnson come under the Global Magnitsky Act, which authorizes the U.S. government to sanction those it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets, and ban them from entering the U.S. Johnson was responsible for the slaying in 1990 of President Samuel Doe, who had been captured by his forces during the country’s 14-year civil war. Johnson sipped beer as he watched his men torture and mutilate Doe who begged in vain for mercy in a widely circulated video. Now a trusted political ally of former international soccer star President George Weah, Johnson is accused in a U.S. embassy statement of large-scale corruption. “As a senator, Johnson has been involved in pay-for-play funding with government ministries and organizations for personal enrichment,” a statement issued by the U.S. embassy said. … “Johnson has also offered the sale of votes in multiple Liberian elections in exchange for money,” it said. … The United States also imposed sanctions against Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of former Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, for allegedly “misappropriating public funds for her personal benefit” while she was chair of the state oil company. AP

Seychelles: Top Figures Charged as Govt Tries to Clean Up Nation’s Reputation
One of the Seychelles’ wealthiest and most powerful men, his wife and former senior government officials face charges of laundering U.S. $50 million as a new government, elected last year, attempts to clean up the nation’s reputation as a centre of financial crime. Mukesh Valabhji and his wife, Laura Alcinder Valabhij, were arrested in November on suspicion of the embezzlement and laundering of money donated to the Seychelles government by the United Arab Emirates in 2002, report Scilla Alecci and Will Fitzgibbon for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). … The Valabhjis are reported to have been close to former President Albert René, who ruled from when he seized power in coup in 1977 until 2004, and whose party continued to govern until 2020 when the opposition, the Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS), swept to power in a landslide victory. When the new president, Wavel Ramkawalan, was sworn in he pledged that the rule of law would be maintained under his leadership, saying “nobody is above the law and the rule of law will remain as one pillar of our democracy.” The money-laundering case is being brought to court by the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles (ACCS). AllAfrica

Spiral of Violence Shuts Schools in Cameroon’s Anglophone Region
There are no students in the playground of the high school in the Bomaka district of Buea – just the odd goat grazing on overgrown grass. Buea is the capital of Cameroon’s Southwest region, one of two regions gripped by violence after anglophones launched a campaign to break away from the country’s French-speaking majority. In Bomaka, almost all the schools have been closed since 2016. It has just one junior school that remains open, but whose roll call has slumped from around 600 to just 69 today. “The crisis has killed the schools,” said Isaac Bissong, its headmaster. “Many pupils have left this neighbourhood to study elsewhere because they are afraid.” Unlike other schools in the country, the green, red and yellow flag of Cameroon was nowhere to be seen. “That could get us into trouble,” said Bissong. … Anglophone separatists in the Southwest and neighbouring Northwest regions regularly attack schools that they accuse of teaching in French. Teachers and other civil servants have been killed after being accused of “collaborating” with the central government in Yaounde. … In October 2020, a dozen men stormed the Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy in Kumba, in the Southwest region, opening fire on pupils. They killed seven children aged between nine and 12. A dozen others were shot or macheted. On November 24 this year, four students and a teacher were killed by gunmen in the Southwest. Al Jazeera

World Bank $150M Project to Boost Electrification in Somalia
The World Bank has announced a $150 million electricity recovery project to help light up Somalia. According to a statement released last week BY the Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), the project will increase access to cleaner, lower cost electricity for 1.1 million households, or approximately 7 million people, of which 3.5 million are women. “The project also aims to reestablish a stable electricity supply and support regional integration,” the statement indicated. The project resulted from findings that out of a population of about 15 million, 9 million Somalis lack access to electricity services, and the cost of power in the country is among the highest in the world. In addition, almost nine out of ten Somali households are deprived in at least one dimension of poverty—monetary, energy, education, or water and sanitation, according to a World Bank (2019) Somalia Poverty and Vulnerability Assessment. … Kristina Svensson, World Bank Country Manager for Somalia, said, “Access to affordable electricity is critical for reducing poverty, as it helps increase household income, improve the business climate, and create jobs.” The EastAfrican

Democracy and Its Digital Discontents under the Microscope at Biden Summit
A decade ago, during the Arab Spring, social media helped topple dictators. Now digital technology has been thoroughly co-opted by autocrats and is mostly used to destabilise elections and spy on political opponents. The world’s democracies resolved to take steps to recover their lost digital space from those authoritarian governments, at US President Joe Biden’s virtual Summit for Democracy last week. More than 100 leaders of global democracies participated in the summit, most of whom expressed concern about the retreat of democracy across the world. Africa was represented by Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, Senegal’s Macky Sall, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Zambia’s Hakainde Hichilema, Namibia’s Hage Geingob and Malawi’s Lazarus Chakwera, among others. … Samantha Power, administrator of the US’s international development agency, USAID, chaired a discussion on one dominant theme; “Countering Digital Authoritarianism and Affirming Democratic Values.” She noted that 10 years ago, social media had been a cause for celebration because it had helped bring down dictators in the Arab Spring. … “Today, it seems the opposite has happened,” Power said. Digital technology had contributed to democratic recession in the world by governments’ ability to monitor, censor and repress their people as never before. “Authoritarians learnt that Big Data, social media control the internet, and artificial intelligence could make them even more powerful.” Daily Maverick



Photo: Adam Jones