Africa Media Review for December 17, 2019

West Africa ‘Shaken by Unprecedented Violence,’ UN Envoy Tells Security Council
The UN envoy for West Africa and the vast Sahel region, told the Security Council on Monday that in recent months, the region has been “shaken by unprecedented violence.” An “horrific attack against the Inates military camp, in Niger, still haunts the region,” he asserted, adding that “relentless attacks on civilian and military targets have shaken public confidence.” International forces in the region have also endured significant losses. While acknowledging the nexus between terrorism, organized crime and intercommunal violence, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) argued the importance of distinguishing each as a driver of violence. Concerning violent extremism, he noted that the strategy and objectives of armed groups in the region are “in the public domain,” and cited Al Qaeda militants as using local dynamics to spread extremism. … “Ideologically-motivated violence can feed on conflicts tearing apart communities over land or water disputes,” said the UNOWAS chief. He flagged that responses and frameworks addressing multi-dimensional violence are anchored in building partnerships and implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). UN News

Guinea Protests Turn Bloody in Fight to Stop President’s Third Term
Dr Christopher Fomunyoh, the regional director for central and west Africa at the National Democratic Institute, said: “After the enthusiastic embrace of democratic transitions in Africa in the early 1990s, some of the continent’s nascent democracies are under assault from recalcitrant autocrats who do believe they are the only individuals capable of running their countries. “It is quite feasible that civil society organisations, labor unions and political parties opposed to the constitutional manoeuvring succeed in rolling back ongoing attempts in Guinea. We saw similar successes in blocking presidential term elongations in Senegal in 2012, with former president, Abdoulaye Wade, and, more recently, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2016, with former president, Joseph Kabila.” But resisting the will of the government could come at a bloody cost in Guinea, a former French colony that is rich in minerals but ranks among the poorest countries. The Guardian

Apple and Google Named in US Lawsuit over Congolese Child Cobalt Mining Deaths
A landmark legal case has been launched against the world’s largest tech companies by Congolese families who say their children were killed or maimed while mining for cobalt used to power smartphones, laptops and electric cars, the Guardian can reveal. Apple, Google, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla have been named as defendants in a lawsuit filed in Washington DC by human rights firm International Rights Advocates on behalf of 14 parents and children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The lawsuit accuses the companies of aiding and abetting in the death and serious injury of children who they claim were working in cobalt mines in their supply chain. The families and injured children are seeking damages for forced labour and further compensation for unjust enrichment, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It is the first time that any of the tech companies have faced such a legal challenge. The Guardian

Cameroon Separatists Kidnap Candidates to Protest Election
Separatist fighters in western Cameroon have abducted at least 40 candidates for parliament and local councils, in an effort to derail elections set for February. The government is promising to free the hostages and protect candidates and election officials for what it says must be successful polls. In an audio shared by separatist fighters, Samuel Nforba, a candidate for the February 9, 2020 local council election, says he is being punished by separatists for defying their warning that no one should vote or be a candidate in the joint local council and parliamentary elections. Among those listening to the audio is 51-year-old teacher Wilson Bate. He says the separatists should free innocent Cameroonians who simply want to carry out their civic duties. “It’s embarrassing. I feel very bad that politicians should be kidnapped for simply wanting to perform their fundamental rights,” he said. “Government should do all what it can to make sure that there is a safe ground for all political events, make sure that they provide the necessary security for these upcoming elections.” VOA

Ex-CAR President Francois Bozize ‘Returns Home’ from Exile
Francois Bozize, the former president of the Central African Republic (CAR), has returned to the country more than six years after he was forced from power and fled abroad, according to his party. “Francois Bozize has definitely been in the capital of the CAR since yesterday,” Bertin Bea, the secretary-general of Kwa na Kwa party, told the AFP news agency on Monday. “These aren’t just rumours, it’s true.” Francois Bozize, the former president of the Central African Republic (CAR), has returned to the country more than six years after he was forced from power and fled abroad, according to his party. “Francois Bozize has definitely been in the capital of the CAR since yesterday,” Bertin Bea, the secretary-general of Kwa na Kwa party, told the AFP news agency on Monday. “These aren’t just rumours, it’s true.” The CAR has been rocked by violence since 2013 when a coalition of mainly Muslim armed groups known as the Seleka overthrew Bozize – a former armed forces chief who had seized power 10 years earlier -prompting reprisals from mostly Christian militia. Nearly a quarter of the country’s 4.6 million people have fled their homes due to the violence. Al Jazeera

Libyan Authorities Say Prominent Journalist Arrested
A prominent Libyan journalist was detained by an intelligence body that’s loosely allied with the U.N.-backed government, authorities said Monday. Intelligence agents arrested Reda Fhelboom at the airport outside the capital Tripoli after he arrived Saturday from neighboring Tunisia, according to the interior ministry of the Tripoli-based administration. Fhelboom is the founder of The Libyan Organization for Independent Media, which works to document rights violations against Libyan journalists, as well as to advocate for independent news media and to combat incitement of violence online. In a statement, the interior ministry denied playing any role in Fhelboom’s arrest, and pointed a finger at the government’s intelligence services, asking them to clarify why the detainment took place. … Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said Fhelboom’s arrest highlighted the specific dangers that journalists face in Libya. “There are too many government and non-governmental actors that enforce their own rules and try to exert influence amid the ongoing chaos of the war,” he told The Associated Press. AP

Hemeti ‘Set to Hand Jebel Amer Gold Mines to Sudan Govt’
Deputy Chairman of the Sovereign Council, Lt Gen Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemeti’, has reportedly started arrangements to hand over the mining areas in North Darfur’s Jebel Amer to the Sudanese government. A source close to the independent Sudanese news website El Rakoba said that Hemeti’s move must be seen in the framework of his support to the Hamdok government. He claimed that Hemeti submitted his offer to hand over all mining areas in Jebel Amer in mid-October, but announcing the move was delayed by legal and military reasons. … The anti-corruption NGO Global Witness issued a statement about Hemeti’s move. “If true, this news is significant. Just days ago, Global Witness revealed new evidence of Hemeti’s capture of a large part of the gold market in Sudan. We also exposed the Rapid Support Forces likely front companies, as well as the purchase of nearly a thousand vehicles with the potential to be weaponised to violently suppress peaceful democratic protests in the country.” Radio Dabanga

US Sanctions Two South Sudanese Officials
The United States has imposed sanctions on two senior South Sudanese officials it accuses of fomenting conflict, the US Treasury Department said on Monday, in its latest move to pressure the country’s politicians to form a unity government. Minister of Cabinet Affairs Martin Elia Lomuro and Minister of Defense and Veteran Affairs Kuol Manyang Juuk were blacklisted for their role in perpetuating the conflict by obstructing the peace process, the Treasury said in a statement. Civil war broke out in South Sudan in 2013, less than two years after the country gained independence from Sudan. The conflict has killed an estimated 400,000 people and forced millions from their homes. … Deputy US Treasury Secretary Justin Muzinich said the cabinet officials were targeted for “their role in inhibiting political unification, expanding the conflict, and profiting from South Sudan’s war economy.” Reuters

Ethiopia Tensions Could Force Election Delay: Report
Ethnic violence and mounting rancour among political elites could force Ethiopia to postpone landmark elections set for May, according to a report released Monday by conflict analysis and prevention group ICG. If tensions continue to rise, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed “may have to seek an election delay,” the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned. “A divisive and bloody campaign, with candidates making openly ethnic-based appeals for votes, could tip the country over the edge,” it said. Following several years of anti-government protests, Abiy was appointed prime minister in April 2018 by the ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which came to power in the early 1990s. … Despite security concerns, Abiy is keen to move ahead with elections in May to stave off challenges to his legitimacy and secure a mandate for his agenda, which includes dramatically reshaping one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. But there are multiple flashpoints that could derail that timeline, ICG said in its report. AFP

Mozambican Navy Intercepts ‘1.5 Tonnes of Heroin’
The Mozambican authorities are detaining 12 Iranians caught allegedly shipping drugs off the coast of the northern province of Cabo Delgado. The boat was intercepted on Saturday in a joint operation carried out by the Mozambican navy and the National Criminal Investigation Service (Sernic). The interception occurred about 50km (31 miles) from the Mozambican coast. Occupants of the vessel are said to have set it on fire moments before their arrest. Police say the fire destroyed the approximately 1.5 tonnes of heroin suspected to be on board. They then jumped off the ship into the Mozambique Channel. Three of them died, while 12 others were rescued by the navy. The suspects, all of Iranian nationality, are being detained in the provincial capital, Pemba. Local media reports indicate the operation resulted from intelligence gathered from the various agencies involved in fighting against drug trafficking. BBC

Burundi’s Exiled Main Opposition Alliance Plans to Participate in 2020 Vote
Burundi’s main opposition alliance in exile, the National Council for Compliance with the Arusha Agreement (CNARED), says it plans to participate in the 2020 national elections. A recent announcement, at a news conference with CNARED press officer Mames Bansubiyeko, took many politicians by surprise. On Wednesday, the alliance’s executive secretary, Anicet Niyonkuru, arrived in the capital, Bujumbura, from Brussels, Belgium, along with 15 other opposition politicians who have lived in exile the past four years. Niyonkuru said elections were the only way to improve conditions in Burundi, which has been stuck in political turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for and won a controversial third term in 2015. Niyonkuru also said that his party, CDP, and his alliance CNARED would not repeat the same mistakes made in 2010 and in 2015 when they boycotted the elections, paving the way for an easy win by the ruling CNDD-FDD party. … The decision has triggered both criticism and praise from other political organizations. VOA

Concerns Grow over Cost, Viability of Burundi’s New Capital
Move from previous capital Bujumbura to Gitega will cost billions of dollars, tax resources, say some critics. Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza announced in late 2018 that he would make Gitega the new capital. But some critics are wondering, in the face of next year’s general elections, whether the move is political. Bujumbura, the old capital, is an opposition base. Others say Burundi cannot afford the relocation cost. [Video] Al Jazeera

Zimbabwe Vice President’s Wife Charged with His Attempted Murder
The wife of Zimbabwean Vice President Constantino Chiwenga was charged with trying to kill her husband when she appeared in court on Monday. Prosecutors say Marry Mubaiwa tried to unplug Chiwenga’s life support tubes in a South African hospital in June. She was initially arrested on Saturday by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) on charges of fraud, money laundering and breaching exchange control rules, and is accused of illegally transferring $900,000 to South Africa. She denies all the accusations against her and her lawyer said she would seek bail at Zimbabwe’s High Court. … Opposition politicians took to social media to accuse Chiwenga of using his position to influence a divorce settlement. Chiwenga could not be reached for comment. … Prosecutors also told the court that Mubaiwa was being investigated for misusing U.S. dollar allowances meant for her husband’s security details. Reuters

South Africa to Push UAE on Failure to Ratify Extradition Treaty
A South African delegation will meet officials in the United Arab Emirates to discuss why the country has not ratified an extradition treaty, South Africa said on Monday, as it tries to investigate a case of alleged influence-peddling. The treaty, ratified by South Africa in November 2018, could help the country extradite three Indian-born brothers – Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta – who are at the centre of a corruption scandal that contributed to the downfall of former president Jacob Zuma. While at a news conference on a sentence remission targeting thousands of prisoners to help with overcrowding, also announced on Monday, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola responded to local media reports the delegation would try to secure the Gupta’s extradition while in the UAE for an anti-corruption conference. “It’s not like we are going to Dubai with a suitcase to fetch the Guptas,” he told reporters, adding the engagements would be around the non-ratification of the treaty and that at this stage South Africa expects the UAE will cooperate. Reuters

Should Surfing the Web Count as a Human Right? The View from South Africa.
In 2015, South Africa’s capital Pretoria began setting up free Wi-Fi hotspots across the city. Local media interviewed a teenage boy from Atteridgeville, a poor black community on the city’s fringes, who regularly walked four miles roundtrip to use the nearest hotspot. Why is this free Wi-Fi so important to you? they asked. “I live in a shack,” Ms. Makwakwa remembers him replying. “But when I’m on the internet I’m no longer a kid living in a shack.” The internet, in other words, opened the world to him. Today, roughly half the planet’s population is online, and the gap between the vast universe they can access there – from information to employment to digital money – and the analog existence of the other half is opening wider every year. Activists like Ms. Makwakwa, Africa coordinator for the Alliance for Affordable Internet, say that’s a crisis. Without internet, many of the world’s poorest are being left behind in the global economy. Those who are most oppressed are being denied knowledge and ways to organize. But increasingly, activists are finding success in pulling down barriers to internet access by framing their campaigns as a matter of human rights. The Christian Science Monitor

France, UK Say They Look beyond Brexit in Mali Cooperation
Sharing the cockpit of a helicopter on sizzling tarmac, French and British air force chiefs vowed to pursue the joint fight against jihadists in the heart of the Sahel even as the shadow of Brexit looms over their countries. “We’ve got a long, fabulous history of working alongside each other, and I don’t expect anything to change anytime soon,” Royal Air Force (RAF) Chief of Air Staff Mike Wigston told AFP on a visit to the city of Gao with French counterpart Philippe Lavigne. “If anything, we are going to work stronger together,” he said. Backed by 100 British personnel, France has a 4,500-strong Sahel force supporting national armies struggling with a seven-year-old jihadist revolt. Thousands of civilians have been killed, and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes. The two generals this weekend visited Mali, Niger and Chad, which with Burkina Faso and Mauritania form the so-called G5 Sahel, an anti-terror force. Wigston said Mali and its neighbors were “the front line of instability.” The priority of the Sahel deployment “is to stamp out the violent extremism which is making people’s lives a misery,” he said. VOA

France to Return Benin Artefacts by 2021
France is to return artworks taken from Benin in 1892 as part of President Emmanuel Macron’s pledge to hand back artefacts to its former colonies, Culture minister Franck Riester said on a visit to the West African country. … Riester said the artworks would be returned “in the course of 2020, perhaps at the beginning of 2021” as he met Benin’s president Patrice Talon in Cotonou. Benin has welcomed France’s decision to return the objects, but has warned against doing so too quickly as it works to build a proper facility to showcase the heritage. Benin’s culture minister Jean-Michel Abimbola told a joint press conference that the two countries had agreed that the artworks would be handed back “in several stages.” He welcomed the commitment of the French president to return the works and “the opening of a broader discussion” concerning other artefacts. RFI



Photo: Adam Jones