Africa Media Review for December 17, 2020

Kenyan Planned 9/11-Style Attack after Training as Pilot, U.S. Says
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have charged a Kenyan man with plotting a Sept. 11-style attack on a building in an American city, according to a newly unsealed federal indictment. The man, Cholo Abdi Abdullah, 30, was an operative for the Shabab, a Somali terrorist group that has been described as Al Qaeda’s largest and most active global affiliate, prosecutors in Manhattan said. Before his arrest, Mr. Abdullah had been making preparations in the Philippines to hijack an airplane and crash it into a building in the United States, prosecutors said. He was acting under the direction of a senior Shabab commander who planned a deadly 2019 attack on a hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, they said. “This chilling callback to the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is a stark reminder that terrorist groups like al Shabab remain committed to killing U.S. citizens,” Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement. The New York Times

Families of Kidnapped Nigerian Boys Fear Time Running Out
Families of more than 300 kidnapped Nigerian schoolboys worried they may be radicalised or held for years as security forces combed a vast forest on Wednesday for armed captors possibly from the jihadist Boko Haram movement. Some experts feared the boys could be taken over the border into Niger or at least split into groups to make finding them harder. Late on Wednesday, Katsina state Governor Aminu Bello Masari told the BBC Hausa service that the estimated 320 missing boys were in the forests of neighbouring Zamfara state. … If Boko Haram carried out the kidnapping in an area where it had not previously claimed attacks, it would mark an alarming expansion beyond its northeastern base, security experts say. But it may alternatively have purchased the boys from criminal gangs in the northwest with which it has been building ties. Reuters

Nigerian Gangs Kidnapped Children on Behalf of Boko Haram: Sources
Boko Haram recruited three local gangs in northwest Nigeria to kidnap hundreds of schoolboys on its behalf, security and local sources said Wednesday. The jihadist group has claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack, which targeted a secondary school in the town of Kankara, in Katsina state. But sources told AFP the operation was carried out on Boko Haram’s orders by a notorious local gangster called Awwalun Daudawa. The 43-year-old worked in collaboration with Idi Minorti and Dankarami, two other crime chiefs with strong local followings, they said. Criminal gangs, known as bandits, have terrorised communities in northwest Nigeria for years, and experts had recently warned of attempts by jihadists to forge an alliance with them. Daudawa “was an armed robber and a cattle rustler before he turned to gun-running, bringing in weapons from Libya, where he had received training, and selling them to bandits,” said a security source. AFP

Nigeria Reopens Borders after 16-Month Shutdown Raised Prices
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the reopening of the nation’s land borders, ending a 16-month shutdown that raised food prices and curbed regional trade. Buhari ordered the closing of frontiers in August 2019 to halt the smuggling of rice, arms and drugs into Africa’s largest economy. The action brought once-thriving border towns to a near-standstill, with supply constraints contributing to the highest inflation rate in almost three years. Lifting the restrictions will help smooth the implementation of the African Continental Free-Trade Area, a continent-wide agreement due to come into effect on Jan. 1. After some initial reluctance the government said in November it plans to commit to the accord. Four of Nigeria’s main land borders will reopen immediately, with others to follow by Dec. 31, Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed told reporters Wednesday. A ban on imports of rice, poultry and other products will remain in place and be enforced by border-patrol officers, she said. Bloomberg

Sudan Says Officers Ambushed by Ethiopian ‘Forces and Militias’ during Patrol
Sudan’s armed forces said on Wednesday that a number of its officers had been ambushed by “Ethiopian forces and militias” during a security patrol of the border region. “During the return of our forces from combing the area around Jabal Abutiour inside our territory, they were ambushed by Ethiopian forces and militias inside Sudanese territory, as a result of which lives and equipment were lost,” the army said, adding the attack took place on Tuesday. The Sudanese army did not specify how many officers were killed. Local residents said that reinforcements were being sent to the area, which is part of the Fashaqa locality where some Ethiopian refugees have been crossing into Sudan. Reuters

Bomb Kills Malian Soldier and Wounds Five
A Malian soldier was killed and five others were wounded when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device on a highway in the troubled west African country, the army said Wednesday. Mali is struggling with an Islamist insurgency that first erupted in the north but has since spread to the center of the country, as well as spilling over into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger. The patrol was traveling between the cities of Gao and Mopti on one of the country’s only tarred highways when the explosion occurred early Tuesday, the army said. The Defense Post with AFP

What Next for Conflict-Hit Burkina Faso after Kabore Re-Election?
On November 26, Roch Kabore won a second term as Burkina Faso’s president, securing a solid mandate for himself and his party in an election deemed by international observers to be mostly free and fair. Kabore’s re-election in the conflict-hit country came despite poor approval ratings for the government’s performance on tackling spiralling violence that has caused a snowballing displacement crisis involving more than one million people and prevented hundreds of thousands of citizens from casting ballots last month. … Since 2015, armed groups linked to banditry, al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) have overrun large portions of the country’s north and east. More than 2,000 people have been killed due to the conflict this year alone. Commentators say Burkina Faso has become the epicentre of the wider war against armed groups in the western Sahel. One of Kabore’s crucial political and military strategies has been the creation of a security “bubble” around the country’s major cities. The military has fortified Burkina Faso’s central plateau region, a natural bulwark between the capital, Ouagadougou, and the conflict raging in the north. Al Jazeera

Turkey Urged Not to Send Arms to Somali Police Unit
Somalia’s opposition has written to Turkey urging it not to send a planned shipment of weapons to a special police unit they fear incumbent President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed could use to “hijack” forthcoming elections. Political tensions are high in the Horn of Africa country, stoked by opposition anger over a delay in holding elections for both chambers of parliament. The polls were initially planned for this month but that was scrapped following disagreements over the composition of the electoral board. On Tuesday opposition supporters marched in Mogadishu denouncing the president for the delay. In the letter addressed to Turkey’s ambassador in Somalia and seen by Reuters, opposition candidates said they learned Turkey was planning to deliver a thousand G3 assault rifles and 150, 000 bullets to Harma’ad, a special unit in Somalia’s police, between December 16 and 18. Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, chairman of the Wadajir (unity) party and one of the candidates who jointly wrote the letter, confirmed its authenticity to Reuters. Reuters

Mozambique Weighs Help to Fight Insurgents in Gas-Rich North
Mozambique is considering offers from around the world to help fight an Islamist insurgency in the natural gas-rich north of the country, President Filipe Nyusi said, while striking a cautious tone in accepting outside assistance. The government has been working with some countries, but won’t publicize its tactics and strategies, Nyusi told lawmakers Wednesday in his state-of-the-nation speech in Maputo, the capital. Mozambique has for more than three years struggled to fend off an insurgency linked to Islamic State. The violence has left about 2,500 people dead and displaced at least 570,000. Fighting may jeopardize progress in developing liquefied natural-gas projects, where companies including Total SE plan to spend as much as $60 billion. The projects, Africa’s biggest investments yet, haven’t suffered direct attacks, with logistical operations limited to maritime or air deliveries. Bloomberg

Lockerbie Bombing: U.S. Said to Be near Charges for Another Suspect in 1988 Plane Crash
U.S. prosecutors are expected to unseal charges against a suspect they allege was a top bomb-maker for the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and assembled the device that blew up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, opening a new chapter in one of the world’s longest and most sprawling terrorism investigations. The Justice Department is expected to unseal a criminal complaint against Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, who is currently held by Libyan authorities, in the coming days and to seek his extradition for trial on charges in U.S. federal court, according to senior department officials. WSJ

Self-Immolation Persists as Grim Form of Protest in Tunisia
In his old life, Hosni Kalaia remembers strolling the streets of his hometown of Kasserine in central Tunisia with confidence. He flashed his heavy gold bracelets and rings, and puffed out his chest, broad and sculptured from regular workouts. Today, Kalaia hides his face from the world behind dark sunglasses and beneath a woolen hat. On his left hand, three blackened, gnarled fingers protrude from one glove; on his right, he has none at all. He lost them in the few seconds it took to disfigure his life forever, when — angry and distraught about the abuse and injustice he’d suffered at the hands of a local police chief — Kalaia doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire. … The number of self-immolations has tripled since 2011, and “the rise has persisted right into 2020,” said Dr. Mehdi Ben Khelil of Tunis’ Charles Nicolle Hospital, who studies the phenomenon. After the revolution, Ben Khelil said, “there was a contrast between what we hoped for versus what we gained. Disillusion kept on growing.” AP

Desert Locust ‘Re-Invasion’ Threatens Millions across Horn of Africa
New Desert Locust swarms are forming in the Horn of Africa, threatening agricultural livelihoods and the food security of millions of people, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned on Wednesday. According to the agency, locust infestations increased over the past month in Ethiopia and Somalia as a result of extensive breeding, favourable weather and rainfall, with populations predicted to increase further in the coming months. … The greater Horn of Africa region witnessed one of its worst ever Desert Locust infestations, earlier this year. A new crisis could have devastating consequenes for communities affected by recurrent drought, conflict, high food prices, and the coronavirus pandemic. UN News

Sierra Leone’s Tech-Aided War on Corruption
Sierra Leone has inched slowly upwards on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index in recent years. It ranks the west African country 119th out of 180 countries, three years into Julius Maada Bio’s presidency. Under Maada Bio’s leadership, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has actively tackled entrenched corruption. Government ministers and parliament members are required to declare their assets and liabilities within three months of assuming office. Their spouses and children are required to do likewise. The ACC recently published the names of officials who have failed or refused to comply, along with those who have been called upon to face trial in the Anti-Corruption Court. “The Anti-Corruption Commission is supported by the international community. Its purpose is to root out the institutional corruption within the public sector and try to curb corrupt practices and promote good governance,” Dr. Ezekiel Lakko, a lecturer at the Institute of Public Administration and Management in Freetown, told DW. DW

‘We Rise by Lifting Others’: Outstanding Women of Zimbabwe – in Pictures
In a year that Zimbabwe should have been celebrating its 40th anniversary of independence, the country has battled drought, protests and food insecurity. In response, photographer Hannah Mentz created a project showing the talents and achievements of 40 Zimbabweans, including leading women in their field. The Guardian

UNESCO Lists ‘Ordinary and Special’ Couscous as Intangible World Heritage
Couscous, the Berber dish beloved across northern Africa’s Maghreb region and beyond, Wednesday joined the UN list of the world’s intangible cultural heritage. The countries that submitted the listing to UNESCO — Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Mauritania — may have their differences, but their common love of the grain staple runs deep. “Couscous, present at every social or cultural event, is at once ordinary and special,” their joint presentation argued. “Ordinary because of the frequency of its use in a family setting, and special because of the unifying and propitiatory role it plays at convivial community occasions at which food is shared.” … After Algeria four years ago sparked the ire of regional rival Morocco by planning its own couscous nomination, the 2020 bid was a cross-Maghreb initiative. AFP