Africa Media Review for December 19, 2023

Egypt’s Sisi Wins Third Term as President after Amending Constitution
The president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was voted in for a third term on Monday after an election where he faced no serious challengers…The president was able to claim the top job after Egypt’s constitution was amended in 2019, extending the presidential term to six years from four, and allowing Sisi to stand for a third term. The election, in which he took 89.6% of the vote, according to the National Election Authority, was held as Egypt struggles with a slow-burning economic crisis and tries to manage the risk of spillover from the Israel-Gaza war adjacent to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Many people in the Arab world’s most populous country expressed indifference about the 10-12 December election, saying the result was a foregone conclusion…“There were no elections, Sisi used the entire state apparatus and security agencies to prevent any serious contender from even running,” said Hossam Bahgat, head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an independent group. Reuters reporters witnessed voters being bussed into polling stations and bags of food being handed out, while some said they were put pressure on by employers to cast a ballot. The Guardian and Reuters

RSF Paramilitary Seizes Control of Wad Madani, Sudan’s Second City
Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have seized Wad Madani, the country’s second city, which had taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from the capital, Khartoum, early in the eight-month war between the regular army and the paramilitary RSF. Videos posted by the RSF on Monday showed fighters in pickup trucks driving along streets in the city, the capital of el-Gezira state. The RSF advanced after three days of intense fighting, which caused thousands of people to flee the city towards the south. Markets and homes were looted by the army, the police and some civilians on Sunday – and there were fresh reports of looting by RSF fighters on Monday. During the paramilitary advance on the city, army intelligence units were reported to have arrested civilians based on their ethnicity – particularly those from Darfur, many of whom have been living in el-Gezira for decades as agricultural workers. Aid organisations, many of which had relocated to the city from Khartoum, were reported to have suspended their work after the RSF advance. Wad Madani, which was founded about 98 years ago when the country was under British and Egyptian rule, is home to the army’s first infantry division. The Guardian

At Least 13 Dead, 178 Injured after a Massive Fuel Depot Explosion in Guinea’s Capital
An explosion and inferno at Guinea’s main fuel depot in the capital of Conakry left at least 13 people dead and 178 injured, authorities said Monday, as the West African country was assisted by other nations in managing the disaster. The massive explosion sparked the fire at the Guinean Petroleum Company depot after midnight Sunday, Guinea’s presidency said. It caused significant damage in the heart of the Kaloum administrative district, home to most government offices. At least 89 of the 178 people injured have been treated and are back home, the government said in a statement. It also updated the casualty toll that Guinea’s Civil Protection Service had earlier said was provisional. Among the 13 killed were foreigners, it added. Authorities said an investigation has started to reveal what caused the explosion at the depot that supplies most of the fuel in Guinea. The depot had been in the process of being relocated to a remote site in a bid to avoid such a disaster. There are now fears of a major supply disruption as the country relies on imported refined petroleum products…A worker at the depot was quoted by the Conakry-based Guinee Matin news website as saying the explosion occurred while a ship was offloading. AP

Congo’s Elections Face Enormous Logistical Problems Sparking Concerns about the Vote’s Credibility
Some 44 million people — almost half the population — are expected to vote for Congo’s next president Wednesday in the country’s fourth election since civil and regional wars ended in the early 2000s. Yet the election is facing enormous logistical problems sparking concern it could impact its credibility, say locals and Congo experts. Thousands of polling stations might not have the materials they need upping the chances of contested results…The papers for reporting the results arrived in the capital, Kinshasa less than two weeks before the vote and it’s unclear if they made it to villages in remote parts of the country. The ink on voting cards has smudged making many illegible, meaning people might be turned away from polling stations, and the voter registration list hasn’t been properly audited. Also, staff running the polls aren’t being updated quickly enough on evolving procedures…A key change from 2018 is that results from each of the 75,000 voting stations will be released one at a time, rather than being announced in bulk, [chair of the electoral commission Denis Kadima] said. But leading up to the vote the process has been far from transparent, which is creating a crisis of confidence, say local think tanks. Last month the European Union canceled its observation mission after Congolese authorities did not authorize the use of satellite equipment for its deployment. AP

Why EAC Won’t Send Observers to DR Congo’s Elections
The East African Community (EAC) on Monday said it will not send observers to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), becoming the second such bloc to be excluded from the elections by Kinshasa. The EAC said it would not send a team of observers to monitor the DRC elections on the ground, as is the tradition among member states, blaming the authorities in Kinshasa for refusing to accredit the team…The DRC joined the EAC in May last year but has had an on-off relationship with the bloc, although it has yet to fully accede to all the bloc’s relevant protocols. The EAC was late in deploying a military mission known as the EAC Regional Force (EACRF), but its mandate ended on December 8 amid controversy, with Kinshasa accusing the troops of failing to crush rebels such as the M23. On Sunday, Kinshasa recalled its envoy in Arusha Pierre Masala and its envoy in Nairobi, John Nyakeru, to protest a meeting of rebel leaders in Nairobi where they formed a coalition to unseat President Felix Tshisekedi. The East African

The Overlooked Crisis in Congo: ‘We Live in War’
Over 100 armed groups and several national armies are vying for supremacy across a region of lakes, mountains and rainforests slightly bigger than Florida. Meddlesome foreign powers covet its vast reserves of gold, oil and coltan, a mineral used to make cellphones and electric vehicles. Corruption is endemic. Massacres and rape are common…On one side is the M23, a well-organized but ruthless rebel group that the United States and the United Nations say is backed by Rwanda, Congo’s eastern neighbor, which is one-hundredth the size of Congo. (Rwanda denies any link.) Since October, the M23 has seized the main roads into Goma, the regional capital, as well as the hilltops overlooking Saké, 10 miles to the west. On the other side is Congo’s army, whose troops are notoriously ill disciplined. Even as fighting raged near Saké last week, drunken soldiers careened through its streets. But their strength is boosted by two new allies. One is the Wazalendo, Swahili for patriots, a coalition of once-rival militias that the government cobbled together to repel M23, despite the fighters’ reputation for factionalism and brutality. The second is a force of about 1,000 Romanian mercenaries, many formerly with the French Foreign Legion, deployed around Goma and Saké…But economic and strategic interests matter too. Rwanda has long seen eastern Congo as its strategic backyard — the Rwandan capital, Kigali, is just 60 miles from Goma — and a source of income. Congo’s finance minister says his country loses $1 billion a year from smuggling of gold and other precious minerals through Rwanda. Amid such chaos, maintaining even a facade of democracy is hard: In the Rutshuru and Masisi districts north of Goma, 1.5 million people will not be able to vote in Wednesday’s election because the M23 controls those areas. The New York Times

Commercial Ship Still Hijacked off Somali Coast
A commercial vessel hijacked by unknown assailants remains off the coast of Somalia raising fears of further instability for global shipping as attacks escalate in the Red Sea, maritime security sources said on Monday. A Spanish navy ship was dispatched at full speed on Friday towards the Maltese-flagged Ruen vessel, which sources said had been hijacked. British maritime security company Ambrey said the vessel had reached nine miles offshore from Bander Murcaayo in Puntland, Somalia on Dec. 17…The Ruen last reported its position off the coast of Somalia on Monday at 1810 GMT, according to data from ship tracking and maritime analytics provider MarineTraffic. The vessel’s Bulgaria-based manager Navigation Maritime Bulgare did not immediately respond to a request for comment. There are industry fears that there could be a spillover in attacks by other groups amid growing attacks by Iran-backed Houthis from Yemen on commercial shipping in the Red Sea in support of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in their war against Israel in Gaza, shipping sources said. Reuters

US Airstrike Targets ‘High-Ranking’ Al-Shabab Commander
The Somali government has reported that a high-ranking al-Shabab commander in the south of the country was targeted in collaboration with the United Sates military. Somali Information Minister Daud Aweis said in a post that the operation “aimed to neutralize the terrorist leader in charge for orchestrating terror attacks.” The Somali government said the strike occurred in the Middle Jubba region on December 17. The militant commander has not been identified. The United States military command in Africa, known as AFRICOM, confirmed to VOA the accuracy of the report of the Somali government. The last time a U.S. airstrike targeted a senior al-Shabab commander was in May when the head of the radical militant group’s external operations, Moallim Osman, was injured in the strike. Osman is accused of overseeing the recruitment of foreign fighters to Somalia to help with al-Shabab’s ongoing battle against the Somali government. The United States trains an elite Somali unit, donates weapons to the Somali forces and conducts airstrikes against al-Shabab — which has been fighting the Somali government and African Union peacekeeping forces for more than one-and-a-half decades. VOA

Coffee Firms Turning Away from Africa as EU Deforestation Law Looms
Importers of coffee to the European Union are starting to scale back purchases from small farmers in Africa and beyond as they prepare for a landmark EU law that will ban the sale of goods linked to the destruction of forests, a cause of climate change. Industry sources said the cost and difficulty of complying with the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR), which comes into force late in 2024, meant it was already having unintended impacts that could in time reshape global commodities markets…Under EUDR, importers of commodities like coffee, cocoa, soy, palm, cattle, timber and rubber – and products that use them – must be able to prove their goods did not originate from deforested land, or face hefty fines…The EUDR requires companies to digitally map their supply chains down to the plot where the raw materials were grown, which could potentially involve tracing millions of small farms in remote regions…In some developing countries, patchy internet coverage makes mapping difficult, while traders and industry experts say land rights disputes, weak law enforcement and clan conflict can make it dangerous to even seek data on farm ownership. Reuters

‘Worse than Death’: Surviving Sexual Violence in Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis
At 16 years old, [Sandra] was stopped at a police checkpoint and asked for her national identity card, which isn’t issued until age 18. After failing to produce one, the soldiers abducted Sandra and took her to a forest far from her neighbourhood. “They raped me brutally to the extent that I could not even feel my own body. They turned me into a playing ground and treated me like dirt,” Sandra says. “What they did to me is worse than death.” Clarisse was also raped, but by suspected separatist fighters. An armed group stormed her neighbourhood in Kumbo in Cameroon’s Northwest region. A loud noise outside woke her up before four men entered her home.“They raped me in turns. It was so painful,” Clarisse tells RFI…Between February and December 2020, the United Nations documented over 4,300 cases of sexual and gender-based violence in the two regions. Almost half of cases involved sexual or physical assault or rape, while children were victims in around 30 percent of cases. One reported incident included the rape of 20 women by government soldiers in Ebam in the Southwest region in March 2020. The following year, over 500 cases of rape were documented in both regions…French NGO We Are Not Weapons of War, which documents cases of violence and supports survivors to seek justice, said in a statement to RFI that sexual violence is used in conflicts “to instill fear among populations, disrupt family units and social cohesion, dismantle communities, and sometimes even eradicate the ethnic identity of a specific group of people.” RFI

Timbuktu: Mali’s Ancient City Defies Jihadist Siege to Stage a Festival
Local community leaders and representatives of the military government opened the city’s traditional festival with the usual pomp and ceremony. But this year things were different. Timbuktu has been under blockade by the al-Qaeda affiliated group Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) since late August…The Living Together festival has become a major event here since it was first organised eight years ago with support from the UN mission in Mali, Minusma…[T]he main goal of the festival has always been about fostering dialogue. It brings together members of different communities for debates about a range of topics – this time, a special focus was on female entrepreneurship. Music performances were held in the evenings after the blistering day-time heat has subsided, with singers and bands travelling from all over Mali and even neighbouring countries. Even though Timbuktu has been – and still is – under curfew, authorities said they wouldn’t enforce it for the duration of the event…Normality is something Mali’s military junta desperately wants to project, to reassure a population impoverished by the months of blockade and worried about the increasing number of attacks on civilians. BBC

Mauritania: Camel Corps Patrols Sahel Desert
VIDEO: The Meharistes patrol desert regions on camelback, preventing jihadi ideologies from gaining a foothold in remote communities in the Sahara. DW