Africa Media Review for December 14, 2016

Gambia Troops Take over Electoral Commission Offices
Gambia’s security forces have entered the building of the Independent Electoral Commission, instructed its chairman to leave and barred other employees from entering, according to the commission chairman. Tuesday’s developments came as West African heads of state began arriving in the country to try to convince long-term President Yahya Jammeh to relinquish power after losing an election this month. “The military came to my office and said I am not to touch anything and told me to leave,” Alieu Momar Njie, the electoral commission’s chairman, said. “I am worried for my safety.” The Independent Electoral Commission had announced the news of Jammeh’s defeat at the hands of Adama Barrow. Al Jazeera

Gambia’s Jammeh Digs In as Regional Leaders Fail to Reach Deal
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s ruling party challenged his defeat in a Dec. 1 election at the Supreme Court on Tuesday as West African leaders failed to reach a deal that would see him accept the result and end a deepening political crisis. Soldiers also seized the headquarters of the national elections commission and sealed it off just hours before the mediation delegation representing regional bloc ECOWAS touched down in the tiny riverside nation. Jammeh, who has ruled Gambia since taking power in a 1994 coup and is accused of widespread rights abuses, initially conceded defeat to his main challenger, Adama Barrow. But in a dramatic about-face that drew international condemnation he then rejected the poll results last Friday. The legal petition filed by the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction now raises the prospect that Barrow’s narrow victory, which was poised to end years of Jammeh’s autocratic rule, may be overturned. Reuters

Young Gambians Are Risking Their Lives to Chase a European Dream They See on Facebook
Backed by a cellphone network that is better than any other local infrastructure—water round here is still pumped from wells—villagers can surf the web as easily as in Europe, keeping up with friends and family by social media. And there, for Gambia’s government, is the problem. In the old days, those who took the Back Way tended to be largely incommunicado once they reached Europe. Today, they remain constantly in touch—bombarding Mandinaba with images of what invariably looks a richer, happier world. “People always think life will be better in Europe,” says Manneh, as he sat with three pupils in the shade of a tree. “Speaking personally, though, I wouldn’t want to be an illegal migrant anywhere. It it is better to be a farmer here than to take the Back Way.”  Quartz

S. Sudan Rebel Leader Under House Arrest in Pretoria: Report
South African authorities have confined the former First Vice-President and leader of the rebel SPLM-IO, Riek Machar, in a residence outside Pretoria in order to prevent him from leaving the country again. Machar embraced the South African government when he reached Khartoum and Addis Ababa on 21 November without their information, while he was hosted there on regional and international demands to prevent the escalation of the fighting in the troubled South Sudan. According to Reuters “Machar was being held “basically under house arrest” near Pretoria with his movements restricted and his phone calls monitored and controlled. Sudan Tribune

UN Finds South Sudan Bodies With Signs ‘They Were Executed’
Internal United Nations reports obtained by The Associated Press say U.N. officials in South Sudan found bodies with gunshot wounds “which indicate they were executed.” One report says some of the six bodies found beside a road outside the western town of Yambio were handcuffed and blindfolded. The report cites local residents as saying South Sudanese government troops carried out the killings “on the premise that they were suspected rebels.” U.N. officials also found burned huts near the bodies and estimated the killings were in early December. The deputy spokesman for South Sudan’s army, Santo Domic Chol, says civilians frequently accuse the military of abuses and have a “political agenda.” AP on ABC News

UN Chief Appoints New Head of UN Mission in South Sudan
UN chief appointed New Zealand diplomat David Shearer as his Special Representative and the head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. Shearer will succeed Ellen Margrethe Loj of Denmark, who completed her tenure at the end of November 2016. In a statement, Ban extended his gratitude for contributions to the UN in the world’s youngest nation blighted by over three years civil war. “The Secretary-General is grateful for Ms. Loj’s dedication and excellent leadership,” read the statement. The UN chief said Shearer would play a pivotal role in the search for peace in the troubled nation.  Anadolu Agency

New Report Says Ethiopia Blocked Social Media, News Sites
Ethiopia’s government illegally blocked social media and news websites during the months of turmoil that led to the country’s ongoing state of emergency, a new report says. The report by Amnesty International and the Open Observatory of Network Interference also found “systematic interference” with access to political opposition sites and ones supporting freedom of expression and gay rights. “This raises serious concerns that overly broad censorship will become institutionalized under the state of emergency,” said Michelle Kagari, an Amnesty International deputy regional director. The report says access to WhatsApp and at least 16 news sites was blocked. AP on The Washington Post

Fears of Instability As Hopes Fade for DR Congo Talks
Negotiations aimed at ending the political stalemate in the DR Congo were set to resume on Tuesday. The talks between officials loyal to President Joseph Kabila and the anti-Kabila coalition known as Gathering (Rassemblement), which backs veteran politician Etienne Tshisekedi, were launched last week by DR Congo’s Catholic Church, which is also acting as a mediator. It seems unlikely that Kabila will bow to the opposition’s main demand that he leave office when his mandate expires on December 19. “He is preparing for a violent confrontation with the opposition in Kinshasa. The security services in Kinshasa have been on the alert for several weeks and security in the capital has been reinforced. It is pretty clear that President Kabila does not intend to leave and wants to remain in power even by force,”   Thierry Vircoulon, a researcher at the Paris-based French Institute for International Affairs, told DW. Deutsche Welle

DRC: US, EU Sanctions on High Ranking Officials Illegal – Minister
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s communication minister Lambert Mende has said that the sanctions imposed by the US and EU, on several of the country’s high ranking officials are ‘illegal’ under international law. He has said that the DRC government is going to appeal against them at the UN Security Council and ‘‘in several European courts’‘. The sanctions have however been welcomed by the Human Rights Watch. On Tuesday, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control slapped sanctions on Evariste Boshab and Kalev Mutondo, accusing them of suppressing political opposition and delaying political progress in the country, often through violent means. Africa News

Rwanda Confirms August 2017 Presidential Election Date
Rwandans will go to polls on August 4, 2017, to elect the Head of State in the country’s third multiparty presidential elections, a government statement has confirmed. The date for the presidential election was announced following a Cabinet meeting last week. Rwandans abroad will cast their votes on August 3, and those resident in Rwanda will follow suit on August 4, a communique in the local Kinyarwanda language said. A constitutional amendment passed this year means that President Paul Kagame — in charge since taking power at the head of a rebel army in 1994 — is able to stand for re-election for another seven-year term. Data from the National Electoral Commission indicate that about 6.6 million Rwandans are expected to cast their vote in the election. Africa News

Interviews for Dlamini Zuma’s Job Skirt the Divisive Issues
Up until the last moment, many thought it wouldn’t happen – and then it did. The live question-and-answer session – broadcast from Addis Ababa to the continent, with the five candidates vying for the position of African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson – was a definite first for the African Union (AU). Two journalists moderated the debate on Friday 9 December. They asked the candidates about their vision for Africa, how to include women and the youth and what to do about regional integration, financing the AU and conflict prevention. According to the AU Department of Political Affairs, the #MjadalaAfrika debate was watched online by 19 000 people and beamed to three million television viewers. ‘Mjadala’ is Swahili for debate. The debate can be viewed on the AU website. Of the five candidates, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi and Agapito Mba Mokuy – respectively the foreign ministers of Botswana and Equatorial Guinea – were at a slight disadvantage. They had already been candidates in July this year, and failed to get the requisite two-thirds of the vote by heads of state to get the job. ISS

ICC Accuses UN Council of Failing to Act on Darfur Fugitives
The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court accused the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday of failing to take “swift and concrete action” against countries refusing to arrest Sudan’s president and others accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. Fatou Bensouda told the council that President Omar al-Bashir has crossed international borders 131 times since March 2009, including 14 visits to ICC member countries that are required to carry out arrest warrants. She said ICC judges have issued 13 decisions against Sudan and countries that are ICC members seeking U.N. action for the failure to arrest al-Bashir and four others. Recently, Uganda and Djibouti were held in non-compliance and last week the court announced that a public hearing would be held on April 7 “in relation to a possible finding of non-compliance” for South Africa’s failure to arrest al-Bashir, she said. AP on The Washington Post

UNICEF: 80,000 Children Will Starve to Death in Nigeria
Nearly a half million children will face starvation in northeastern Nigeria next year and 80,000 will die if they don’t get treatment in the humanitarian crisis created by Boko Haram’s Islamic uprising, the U.N. Children’s Agency warned Tuesday. “What is already a crisis can become a catastrophe,” UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake said. His statement said the 400,000 children at risk of starvation represent just a fraction of the suffering among some 2.6 million refugees in the seven-year insurgency that has killed more than 20,000 people. “If they do not receive the treatment they need, one in five of these children will die,” Lake said. “Large areas of Borno state are completely inaccessible to any kind of humanitarian assistance. We are extremely concerned about the children trapped in these areas,” he added. AP on The Washington Post

Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Cairo Church Bombing
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a Cairo church on Sunday that killed 25 people, mainly women. In a statement circulated online, it said the bomber had killed and injured 80 people, vowing “to continue war against apostates”. The Egyptian government earlier released footage showing images said to show the alleged suicide attacker. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Monday identified the bomber as 22-year-old Mahmoud Shafiq Mohammed Mustafa. Isis named him by what appeared to be a nom de guerre, Abu Abdullah al-Masri. CCTV footage from outside a chapel adjacent to St Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of Egypt’s ancient Coptic Orthodox church, shows a dark figure crossing the street and walking through the gates of the church. Moments later, the blast sends clouds of dust and debris through the windows. The Guardian

The Islamic State Is Losing in Africa
[…] This is the story of the Islamic State in sub-Saharan Africa. It has achieved a number of symbolic victories — a pledge of allegiance from Boko Haram in Nigeria, the loyalty of at least one faction of the militant group al-Mourabitoun in Mali, and the support of a few minor al-Shabab sellouts like Mumin — but it has failed to displace al Qaeda as the continent’s premier jihadi franchise. That’s partly because the Islamic State misjudged the jihadi movements it targeted in Africa, failing to appreciate both the strength of their ties to al Qaeda and the degree to which their leaders valued their autonomy. But it’s also because al Qaeda affiliates have fought back hard against encroachment on their turf — and the Islamic State has offered its own fledgling affiliates little in the way of military support. Foreign Policy

Burundi Opposition Reject Mediator Days After His Arrival
Burundi opposition groups demanded an international mediator resign just days after he arrived, casting a shadow over already troubled efforts to resolve months of political violence. Mediator Benjamin Mkapa flew in on Friday at the head of an African peace mission, then gave a speech at the airport that anti-government groups said appeared to recognise the legitimacy of Burundi’s leader – the issue at the heart of the conflict. The main opposition grouping CNARED released a letter dated Monday telling Mkapa, a former president of Tanzania, to go. “The CNARED does not recognize you as facilitator in inter-Burundian conflicts any more,” it said. Mkapa, who is representing the East Africa Community bloc, was not immediately available for comment. Burundi has been mired in political crisis and sporadic violence for almost two years, triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term in office, which he secured in a disputed election in July 2015. Reuters

Can $2.2 Billion Buy Peace and Prosperity in Central African Republic?
The funding is a vote of confidence in President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, sworn in six months ago. In November, his government presented donors in Brussels with a peace and recovery plan to lift CAR out of the crisis it’s been in for at least the past three years, and arguably for the last two decades. The plan focuses on three broad areas: peace, security, and national reconciliation; revived basic services, especially education and health; and finally, economic recovery. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini considered the Brussels meeting a success. “Our EU pledge today will support the efforts of the national government’s ambitious reform agenda to give its population the peace, security and economic prosperity they deserve,” she said in a statement at the time. But arriving back in the capital, Bangui, Touadéra was more downbeat, warning that the spending taps were not about to open. “It is when we start projects that we will use these funds progressively to build schools, hospitals, repair roads and solve the displacement issue,” he said. IRIN

State Security Agents Have Been Spying on Journalists at South Africa’s Public Broadcaster
South Africans journalists and former executives have been testifying this week about political interference, intimidation and espionage within the towers of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). It’s often been more intriguing than anything the broadcaster airs on television or radio. The SABC used to be the mouthpiece of the apartheid government but was restructured in 1998 and modeled after the BBC. With three free-to-air channels channels, one 24-hour news channel and 18 radio stations in all 11 official languages, the SABC is the main source of news and information for the majority of South Africans. Under the stewardship of the often authoritarian and sometimes incoherent Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the SABC has started to resemble its apartheid-era self once again, according to testimonies that harkened to George Orwell’s 1984. Key news events were blacked out, while the stations were forced to air soundbites from government officials, especially Motsoeneng himself. The SABC is funded by the government and an annual TV license fee mandatory with the purchase of a television set. Quartz

Off-Grid Solar Power Booms in Africa as US Backs Technology Roll Out
More than 600 million people in Africa have no access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. But new technology could provide the solution. So-called off-grid solar systems have plummeted in price. Now consumers can spread the cost by renting the equipment and paying for the electricity as they need it, for less than a-half-dollar a day. Lumos Global is among the firms rolling out the technology in Nigeria, alongside mobile phone operator MTN. The company’s CEO, Nir Marom, says installation is simple. “He puts the solar system on the roof, and he puts the indoor unit in the home,” said Marom. “There is a cable to connect them. It is a plug on both sides, you do not need to be an electrician to do anything like this. And then you need to charge this [the rental] by credit. So the sun charges the electricity, but you need to provide the credit to power the system up, and you do this using your mobile phone.” VOA

Nigeria Is Planning a Six-lane ‘Superhighway’ Through a Remote Rainforest. Environmentalists Are Not Happy
Pressure is mounting to stop construction of a proposed six-lane highway through a Nigerian rainforest that is home to hundreds of thousands of people and vulnerable wildlife. The road, locally referred to as a superhighway, is planned in southeastern Nigeria’s Cross River state, and would be 162 miles long with six miles of cleared land on either side. Conservationists say the construction would displace at least 180 indigenous communities and slice through a national park and adjoining forest reserves that provide habitats for some of the country’s most beleaguered species, including the endangered Cross River gorilla, chimpanzees, forest elephants and pangolins— the world’s most poached mammal, whose scales are prized in traditional medicine. The project pits advocates for environmental and cultural habitat preservation against those who believe the region could benefit from much-needed infrastructure improvement, and spotlights the often-contentious global development issue of conservation versus growth.  Los Angeles Times



Photo: Adam Jones