Africa Media Review for December 21, 2023

Congo Enters Its Second Day of Voting after a Chaotic Rollout Forced the Election’s Extension
Congo entered its second day of voting Thursday after a chaotic rollout and lengthy delays forced the election’s extension, drawing criticism from some opposition candidates as concerns mount that the logistical hurdles could challenge the result’s credibility. At stake is the future of one of Africa’s largest nations and one whose mineral resources are increasingly crucial to the global economy. Congo has a history of disputed elections that can turn violent, and there’s little confidence among many Congolese in the country’s institutions. President Felix Tshisekedi, who is seeking his second and final five-year term, has spent much of his presidency trying to gain legitimacy after a disputed 2018 election. There is no second round of voting and the winner, expected to be announced no later than Dec. 31, needs to get a majority of votes. … Election observers say they’re preparing for the post-electoral period, when the results could be contested. Nicolas Teindas, the director for the international observation mission for the Carter Center, warned that there were high levels of disputes in the past. AP

Inside a Chaotic Billion-Dollar Election in a Pivotal African Nation
After polling stations opened — or failed to open — creating long lines and scenes of disorder, the election took a rocky turn. In the capital, Kinshasa, where polling stations opened hours late, heated confrontations ensued between voters and officials. In several provincial towns, frustrated voters ransacked polling sites. By midmorning, the largest poll monitoring body, run by the Roman Catholic Church, had reported violence at 8 percent of polling stations. By Wednesday evening, the national election commission announced that voting would continue on Thursday in areas where polling stations had failed to open at all. … At Kinshasa main prison last Saturday, Stanis Bujakera, one of Congo’s best-known journalists, sat in the sweltering courtyard. Nearly 100 days earlier, the police had arrested him on charges of “spreading false information.” Now they were pressing him for his sources. Mr. Bujakera, who is 33 and a U.S. resident, refused to talk. ”It’s not just me,” he said: Four other reporters have been threatened or assaulted by government officials or Tshisekedi supporters in the past month, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement. New York Times

SADC Troops Set to Enter DRC in Face of Turbulent Elections and Surge in M23 Rebel Activity
South Africa and SADC could be stepping into a dangerous minefield as they prepare to deploy another military force into wartorn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), experts have warned. Millions of citizens will cast their votes in national elections on Wednesday. The force of some 5,000 troops, likely from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi, budgeted to cost about $554-million for its first year of operation, is expected to arrive any moment in a chronically unstable region, riven by vicious fighting among countless armed rebel groups and regional armies. Leaders of the 16-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) approved the deployment of the SADC Mission in DRC (SAMIDRC) at a summit in Windhoek in May this year. … Its main aim, though, is clearly to defeat and neutralise the M23 armed rebel group backed by Rwanda. The M23, comprising mainly ethnic Tutsi Congolese, is steadily overrunning more and more territory in North Kivu province in eastern DRC. There is a strong sense of déjà vu here as the same three SADC countries, South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi — then acting under UN command — did rout the M23 in 2013. Daily Maverick

Sudan’s Army Faces Scrutiny After Major City Falls to Rival Forces
The swift takeover on Tuesday of a major city in Sudan’s agricultural breadbasket by the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group has sent shock waves throughout the country, cast doubt on the might of its rival — Sudan’s army — and opened a new and potentially deadlier phase in the eight-month civil war that has devastated one of Africa’s largest nations. … The army’s loss has raised questions about the future of its leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who is also Sudan’s head of state. It also heightens the risk, analysts said, that neighboring countries could be pulled into the war, and that foreign powers, such as the United Arab Emirates, already accused of fueling the war, will further intervene. … The army had an aerial advantage over the Rapid Support Forces and has used aircraft to attack their bases. But the paramilitary forces have fired back at them using antiaircraft missiles provided by the Russian Wagner group, according to American officials. The paramilitaries have also taken over large parts of Khartoum and the adjoining cities across the Nile, besides sweeping through cities in the western Darfur region. … “It was a highly politicized army, people were promoted often because of ideology and nepotism. It became very corrupt,” [Alan Boswell, the Horn of Africa director at the International Crisis Group] said. New York Times

Sudan: Central Darfur Faces Severe Forest Destruction Due to War
Environmental degradation is intensifying in Central Darfur State, with the forest sector experiencing a devastating collapse. Particularly in the city of Zalingei and its suburbs, forests are undergoing unjust and unprecedented felling, directly influenced by the ongoing war between the army and the Rapid Support Forces, leading to both direct and indirect effects on the area’s trees. Khader Al-Salik, an environmental activist and forestry specialist, revealed to Radio Tamazuj that the indiscriminate tree-cutting has adversely affected all the forests in the state, aggravating the situation in Central Darfur. Al-Salik highlighted that the forests were already in a compromised state before the war, and the ongoing conflict has pushed them to the brink of collapse, with encroachment on the best areas. The destruction is particularly impacting vital trees used for firewood in bakeries and charcoal production…[Professor Imad] Mahmoud attributes the forest damage to the booming charcoal market and the high demand in Zalingei and surrounding areas. The price of a bag of charcoal has surged to 4,000 Sudanese pounds, signaling potential environmental disasters. Radio Tamazuj

Separatist Tuaregs Announce Blockade in Northern Mali
Separatist Tuareg forces on Wednesday announced they had set up a blockade on the major roads in northern Mali, where the army has made inroads in recent weeks. The Permanent Strategic Framework (CSP), an alliance of rebel forces, said it had decided to set up roadblocks across all roads leading to northern borders with Mauritania, Algeria and Niger. It would cover roads leading out of the cities of Menaka, Kidal, Gao, Timbuktu and Taoudeni, the CSP statement said, and it would cover all products and all means of transport. The mainly Tuareg rebel forces have in recent weeks lost ground to a Malian army offensive that in mid-November led to the recapture of the northeast city of Kidal. Fighting between the separatists and government troops broke out again in August after eight years of calm, as both sides scrambled to fill the vacuum left by the withdrawal of U.N. peacekeepers. AFP

Rough Waters: Houthi Rebel Attacks Affect East African Shippers
East African ports should expect slower business in the coming days after Yemen’s Houthi rebels stepped up attacks on ships travelling through the Red Sea to the western end of the Indian Ocean. That means traders using the ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, for example, could face higher costs as shipping lines avoid the shorter route to avoid attacks by the Iran-backed Yemeni rebels. The uncertainties have emerged at a sensitive time for car dealers in Kenya, who have until December 31 to import vehicles whose year of manufacture is older than 2016. … On Monday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd J Austin III announced Operation Prosperity Guardian, a naval operation to defend ships. “This is an international challenge that demands collective action,” he said of the Houthi attacks. “Operation Prosperity Guardian is bringing together multiple countries, including the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain, to jointly address security challenges in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, with the goal of ensuring freedom of navigation for all countries and bolstering regional security and prosperity.” EastAfrican

Hijacked Cargo Ship Has Moved toward Somalia, Says EU Naval Force
Eighteen crew were on board the bulk carrier Ruen – now located in Somali waters. One crew member was reportedly evacuated for unknown medical reasons. The EU naval force EUNAVFOR said it was working with local Somali authorities to monitor the vessel, which was hijacked last Thursday, adding that the identity and demands of the hijackers remain a mystery. If confirmed as Somali piracy, it would be the first successful hijacking involving Somali pirates since 2017. An Indian maritime patrol plane on Friday spotted the Ruen, which was en route from South Korea carrying a cargo of metals, and made radio contact with the crew – who had locked themselves in a safe room. The hijackers broke into the room and “extracted the crew” hours later, the EU Naval Force said. RFI

Unmasking EU Fisheries in West Africa’s Troubled Waters
In 2020, the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), an international organisation committed to monitoring economic and environmental abuses, designated Cameroon’s flag as a “flag of convenience.” According to marine experts, this label is a tool used by unscrupulous operators to escape accountability for illegal fishing, human rights violations, and other crimes through the manipulation of vessel registrations. EJF’s findings also revealed a disconcerting fact: more than half (55%) of the vessels in Cameroon’s fleet had been added in the last five years. Even more noteworthy, these new vessels constituted 90% of the fleet’s total tonnage, with 94% of these newcomers under foreign, non-Cameroonian ownership. Nearly all of them operated outside of Cameroon’s waters…This concerning state of affairs led to the issuance of a “Red Card,” by the European Commission in January 2023…Dr. Aristide Takoukam, a dedicated conservationist and the founder of the African Marine Mammal Conservation Organization (AMMCO), characterized the actions of these large fishing vessels operating in the EZZ of West Africa as having “detrimental and destructive economic ramifications.” He pointed out that the intrusion of some large foreign vessels into areas designated for local fishermen leads to “conflicts, as these vessels target the primary livelihood of artisanal fishermen, thereby jeopardizing food security.” iWatch Africa

Israel’s War in Gaza Also Impacts African Geopolitics
Africa has always held strategic importance for Israel and Palestine. The AU’s 55 member states represent a vital voting bloc in the United Nations and other international bodies. And both Israel and Palestine have prioritized foreign policy with African states throughout their history. Throughout two months of bloodshed in Gaza, the bloc has split into three broad camps divided by clashing stances on the war. On the one hand, Zimbabwe and South Africa along with the Arab League states of Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan, and Chad, have expressed support for Palestine. Kenya, Ghana, Zambia, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo openly backed Israel. Smack in the middle are Nigeria and Uganda, whose neutrality consists of supporting neither side while calling for de-escalation…Africa’s response to the Israel-Palestine war also shows the result of Israel’s diplomatic offensive to reconnect with Africa. In recent years, Netanyahu has spearheaded an Israeli push to make inroads in Africa. He stopped over in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda during a state visit in 2016. The following year, Netanyahu addressed the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Heads of State and Government Summit in Liberia — becoming the first leader outside of Africa to do so…According to Israel’s defense ministry, the country’s defense exports to Africa rose to $6.5 billion in 2016 — a staggering $800 million increase from the previous year. Inkstick Media

Hamas Leader Ismail Haniyeh Arrives in Cairo for Ceasefire Talks
Hamas’s Qatar-based leader Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Cairo on Wednesday for talks on a ceasefire in the group’s war with Israel in Gaza and a prisoner exchange. Haniyeh arrived “in the Egyptian capital Cairo to hold discussions with Egyptian officials over the developments of the Zionist (Israeli) aggression on the Gaza Strip and other matters”, the group said in a statement. Prior to his arrival in Cairo, Haniyeh had met in Doha with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, though details on the meeting were scant. … A source close to the Islamic Jihad group, which fights alongside Hamas in Gaza, told AFP the group’s leader Ziad Nakhaleh is also expected in Cairo early next week for talks. Both groups had posted videos earlier this week showing what they claimed were hostages still held in Gaza pleading for the Israeli government to secure their release. During a week-long truce late last month that Qatar brokered with help from Egypt and the United States, 80 Israeli hostages were freed in exchange for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli jails. AFP

Ethiopia and Egypt Say No Agreement in Latest Talks Over a Contentious Dam on the Nile
Ethiopia and Egypt said the latest round of talks over a huge, highly contentious hydroelectric dam Ethiopia has built on the Nile’s main tributary again ended with no deal. The countries blamed each other after three days of discussions in Addis Ababa concluded on Tuesday…Sudan was also a part of the negotiations. The countries have been trying to find an agreement for years over the $4 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which Ethiopia began building in 2011. The dam is on the Blue Nile near the Sudan border and Egypt fears it will have a devastating effect on its water and irrigation supply downstream unless Ethiopia takes its needs into account. The Blue Nile meets the White Nile in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and then flows onwards through Egypt. Egypt has referred to Ethiopia’s dam as an existential threat as the Arab world’s most populous country relies almost entirely on the Nile to supply water for agriculture and its more than 100 million people. Egypt is deeply concerned over how much water Ethiopia will release downstream from the dam and wants a deal to regulate that. Ethiopia is using the dam to generate electricity. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed resolved in July to come to an agreement on the dam within four months. Another round of talks between the three countries in September also ended acrimoniously. AP

Rwanda Explained: From Politics to Human Rights and Refugees
Rwanda hosts nearly 135,000 refugees, mainly from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. … The vast majority (93%) live in camps and rely on a meager cash assistance of 10,000 Rwandan francs ($7.94 or € 7.27) a month to buy food…Last month, Rwanda received a new batch of refugees evacuated from Libya’s notorious detention centers under a UNHCR partnership. The country was also part of a now defunct and controversial policy to receive rejected asylum seekers from Israel. More recently, Rwanda signed agreements with the UK and Denmark to process asylum seekers, although either nation has yet to send any migrants. Rwandan government spokesperson Yolande Makolo told local news site KT Press that Rwanda kept an open policy for refugees because people in the country know “what it is to be on the move, or to be displaced, just because of the history of our country.” But for global politics expert Toni Haastrup, Rwanda’s refugee policy serves another purpose. “It’s a way of legitimating Rwanda within the international community,” she told DW. “You’re not going to scold Rwanda in global politics if it’s been accepting all of these refugees on your behalf.” DW

Gunmen Kidnap Nigerian Judge and Kill Her Guard
Justice Joy Uwanna, a distinguished high court judge in Nigeria, was kidnapped while returning from a court session on Monday night in southern Akwa Ibom state. The incident occurred along Uyo-Okoboin in Oron town, where unidentified gunmen ambushed the judge’s vehicle. Tragically, the assailants not only kidnapped Justice Uwanna but also fatally shot her police guard during the abduction. The incident unfolded as the gunmen opened fire, targeting the judge’s security detail before swiftly taking Justice Uwanna and her driver away. The police spokesperson in Akwa Ibom state, Odiko Macdon, termed the incident as “unfortunate” and confirmed that security forces are actively investigating the matter. As of now, no group has claimed responsibility for the abduction. However, it’s noteworthy that criminal gangs frequently engage in abductions for ransom in certain regions of Nigeria. The abduction of Justice Joy Uwanna highlights the ongoing security challenges in the country, prompting intensified efforts by law enforcement agencies to address and prevent such incidents. Africanews

Guinea-Bissau President Sacks Prime Minister, Names Replacement
Guinea-Bissau’s President Umaro Sissoco Embalo has dismissed Geraldo Martins as prime minister just a week after his reappointment and appointed former prime minister Rui Duarte de Barros in his place, presidential decrees on Wednesday showed. Embalo dissolved Guinea-Bissau’s parliament days after what he said was a foiled coup on Dec. 1, accusing the government of passivity in response to the clashes. He then reappointed Martins as prime minister on Dec. 12. The presidential decrees did not provide a reason for sacking Martins, who is a member of the former ruling PAIGC party which now leads the main opposition coalition. Sources close to the matter said the prime minister and the president were at odds. De Barros previously worked as the West African country’s minister of economy and finance and as a commissioner at the West African Economic and Monetary Union, before serving as prime minister in a transitional government between 2012 and 2014. Guinea-Bissau has often been in political turmoil and has seen several coups since it gained independence from Portugal in 1974. Police fired tear gas last week to disperse opposition members of parliament who had tried to convene in defiance of Embalo’s decision to dissolve the house. A date for new legislative elections has not yet been set. Reuters

Could New Malaria Drug Give Babies a Better Chance of Survival?
Although the World Health Organization requires testing where malaria is suspected, hospitals do not always perform routine tests on babies due to shortages of diagnostic kits or lab staff. Scientists and medical practitioners say the assumption that mothers confer immunity to babies has meant they have been left out of clinical trials for treatments. The RTS,S and R21 vaccines approved for malaria prevention have only been tested in children aged five months and above. However, the Novartis drug undergoing stage 3 trials in Burkina Faso, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Mali and Zambia is looking promising. Results are expected in early 2024…There is no accurate data on the prevalence of newborn malaria but it is thought to be not as common as in older children, while still being under-diagnosed…Findings on the extent of maternal immunity protections vary, but the risk of malaria to a newborn rises when a mother contracts the disease during pregnancy, or where the newborn is exposed to mosquitoes because the family doesn’t have insecticide-treated bed nets. In 2022, about 35.4 million pregnant women in 33 moderate and high-transmission African countries were exposed to malaria. Medical experts say that treatments for newborns need to be prioritised. The Guardian