Africa Media Review for December 8, 2021

Guānxì: Power, Networking, and Influence in China-Africa Relations

Guānxì (关系) is a defining feature of how China cultivates its diplomatic partnerships. Guānxì is a system of beliefs in Chinese culture that shapes how reciprocity is built through personal ties and mutual obligations. An individual who benefits from another’s guānxì is obliged to return the favor to enable the relationship to continue and to ensure one’s goals are secure. This is called “win-win solutions” (liǎng quán qí měi; 两全其美) where both sides “get the best of both worlds.” … While guānxì should theoretically give African countries leverage in their Chinese engagements, African leaders tend to use this reciprocity to obligate their Chinese partners to invest in leaders’ personal projects. A study of the geography of Chinese foreign assistance in Africa found that Chinese-funded projects in 49 countries between 2000 and 2012 were substantially more likely to be allocated to the birth regions of African presidents. The net effect of guānxì is that African elites reap financial rewards and entrench their patronage networks while Chinese firms benefit by increasing their political clout, which they use to further their interests. In short, it is a “win-win” arrangement—for the individuals involved. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Re-Elected Gambian President Barrow Promises New Constitution, Term Limits

Gambia’s newly re-elected president, Adama Barrow, said on Tuesday that his government plans to draft a new constitution that would introduce presidential term limits, but fell short of saying whether he personally would seek additional mandates. Barrow comfortably won re-election on Sunday, despite challenges from some opposition candidates who initially rejected the results. Election observers have said the poll was conducted fairly. In his first news conference since the election, Barrow said that in addition to imposing term limits, a new constitution would restructure the polling process to include potential runoff polls if no candidate wins 50% of the votes. “I promise Gambians and the world that my government will introduce a new constitution, which will include term limits and absolute majority,” Barrow said. … The current constitution, drafted in 1997 at the dawn of former President Yahya Jammeh’s oppressive 22-year rule, does not include term limits. Jammeh lost to Barrow in 2016 and was later forced into exile. Gambia’s parliament last year rejected a revised constitution that included a two-term limit, which also would have prevented Barrow from using the new charter to reset his term count. Reuters

17 African Countries to Join U.S. Democracy Summit

The two-day summit, with a participant list that includes 110 countries, will be hosted by President Joe Biden, who emphasized soon after taking office last January, that “democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.” The summit is the first in a year-long campaign during which participating nations will take initiatives, in the words of the Biden administration, “to make democracies more responsive and resilient, and to build a broader community of partners committed to global democratic renewal.” The Biden administration says this week’s “Summit for Democracy” will focus on three objectives: “strengthening democracy and defending against authoritarianism; addressing and fighting corruption; and promoting respect for human rights.” AllAfrica

US Hits Iran, Syria and Uganda with New Sanctions for Human Rights Abuses

The sanctions announced by the Treasury and State Department targeted government officials and organisations involved in the repression of protesters and political activists, and prisons where activists have been held in brutal conditions. The Treasury also placed several Syrian officials on its sanctions blacklist for their roles in political repression and chemical gas attacks, and Uganda’s military intelligence chief was hit with sanctions for extreme abuse of people arrested for their nationality or political beliefs. The announcement came ahead of the Washington-hosted Summit for Democracy later this week, billed as a push to promote more free and open societies. “The United States is committed to promoting democracy and accountability for those who abuse human rights around the world,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement. he said: “The United States will utilise its full range of tools to highlight and disrupt these abuses of human rights.” … The Ugandan hit with sanctions was the commander of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, Major General Abel Kandiho. People arrested by Kandiho’s bureau “were subjected to horrific beatings and other egregious acts by (military intelligence) officials, including sexual abuse and electrocutions, often resulting in significant long-term injury and even death,” the Treasury said. AFP

Jihadist-Hit Niger Urges Crackdown on Libya Arms Traffic

President of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum on Monday urged his country’s allies to step up the fight against arms trafficking from Libya, which he said is fueling the Sahel’s jihadist insurgency. Bazoum made this call at the opening of a major security forum in Senegal. … “The partners’ biggest failure has been their weak involvement in the fight against arms smuggling from Libya, which is the most important factor in the prevalence of this terrorism.” “They (African states) also need – and this is important – better-tailored help from their partners, based on intelligence, air support and strengthening the capacities of their armed forces.” The region’s former colonial power, France is leading European efforts to fight the jihadists, while the UN has a large peacekeeping force in Mali. “If France and its partners are opposed to Wagner, it is because they have seen in the Central African Republic their destabilizing potential, the exploitation against the population, the loss of state sovereignty, the predation of resources, the failure on the operational level, the particular and economic interests that are placed above that of the population and that is not compatible with our vision.” He was speaking at the opening of the two-day Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security, an event now in its seventh year. AfricaNews with AFP

35.8 Million Face Lean Season Food Crisis in West Africa and Sahel

Growing food insecurity that is already affecting tens of millions of people across West Africa and the Sahel, must not be ignored by the international community, UN humanitarians said on Tuesday. The alert comes as new data from the region indicated that almost 36 million people are expected to be acutely food insecure by the time next year’s lean season comes round. This is usually in June, July and August, but it could start as early as March. This represents an alarming 24 per cent increase on 2020, according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) survey, which aid agencies use to gauge levels of need. … Among the reasons for this deteriorating situation are years of exceptionally dry conditions and poor harvests in the Sahel, which have increased competition for land and water and heightened tensions between farmers and herders. … Persistent insecurity in the Sahel and Nigeria is also driving the acute hunger crisis, since farming communities now feel too unsafe to stay to plant seed or harvest their crops. UN News

Gunmen Torch Bus, Kill 30 Passengers in Nigeria’s Sokoto State

At least 30 passengers on a bus in Nigeria’s Sokoto state were burnt to death when gunmen torched it on Tuesday, police and residents said, in yet another reminder of growing insecurity in Africa’s most populous country. Gunmen, known locally as bandits, have in the past year carried out violent attacks targeting villagers and commuters travelling on highways and kidnapped hundreds of school children for ransom in the north of the country. Sanusi Abubakar, spokesman for the northwestern Sokoto state police, said the bus was carrying 24 passengers when it was set alight by armed men and that seven people had escaped with injuries and taken to hospital. But two residents who reached the scene and helped retrieve bodies told Reuters that the bus was overloaded and the bodies were burnt beyond recognition. They counted body parts of at least 30 people, including women and children. The residents said the villagers were ambushed on a road linking the Sabon Birni local government area and the village of Gidan Bawa in Sokoto state. Reuters

Surge in Piracy Costing West Africa Nations – UN

The surge of maritime piracy in Africa’s Gulf of Guinea is not just a threat to foreign ship and cargo owners but also carries significant costs for the coastal nations, a new UN report said on Tuesday. The newest hotspot for piracy saw 106 incidents in 2020 with 623 seafarers affected by kidnapping, according to the report, “Pirates of the Gulf of Guinea: A Cost Analysis for Coastal States.” The report, made together with the Stable Seas research group, said that most of the direct costs of the kidnappings and ship seizures would be borne by foreigners, with some $5 million paid last year for kidnappings of mostly non-African ship crew members. But it said the countries along the Gulf of Guinea coast will pay far more than that to deal with the rise in piracy, from expanded patrols to rescue missions to greater security costs in ports. … The report was released nearly two weeks after a Danish naval patrol killed four pirates in an exchange of fire off the coast of Nigeria in the piracy hotspot. Anniken Huitfeldt, Norway’s minister of foreign affairs, told officials at the Untied Nations Tuesday that the number of attacks had declined this year, possibly due to an increase in international patrolling and the Nigerian Deep Blue Project, a maritime security project. UN

US, 5 Other Nations Call on Ethiopia to Stop Mass Detentions

Six nations including the United States say they are “profoundly concerned” about reports that the Ethiopian government is carrying out mass detentions based on ethnicity and without charge. The Ethiopian government on November 2 declared a state of emergency as rebel forces from the Tigray region began approaching the capital, Addis Ababa, following a year-long war with government forces. Ethiopia’s government says it is detaining people suspected of supporting the Tigray rebels. But human rights groups including the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International and Ethiopia’s own Human Rights Commission report widespread arrests of ethnic Tigrayans, including Orthodox priests, older people and mothers caring for children. The groups say Tigrayans are being arrested and detained without charges or a court hearing and are reportedly being held in inhumane conditions. The joint statement issued Monday said many of these acts are likely violations of international law and must cease immediately. Monday’s statement, signed by the U.S. government, along with Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, and the Netherlands, said the declaration of a state of emergency is no justification for the mass detention of individuals from certain ethnic groups. VOA

They Fled Hundreds of Miles to Escape War in Ethiopia. But They Fear It Wasn’t Far Enough.

They watched friends die in the mountains of Tigray. They survived imprisonment. They paid bribes and suffered from injuries as they fled the civil war devastating Ethiopia. When the four Tigrayan asylum seekers made it to Nairobi this spring, at first they felt safe. Living in a one-room apartment more than 1,000 miles from the fighting, the friends — three medical workers and one journalist — said they were reassured to be in Kenya, a democracy and one of the region’s most stable countries. But it was not long before their sense of security dissipated. Rumors abounded about intelligence officers surveilling Tigrayans on behalf of the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments. Then, late last month, in an incident that sparked an outcry in Kenya and attracted international attention, two men dragged a prominent businessman of Tigrayan descent out of his Bentley and into a Subaru as he sat in Nairobi traffic. … More than two weeks after Teklemichael was taken, it is not clear who was responsible or what their motivation was, said Kenya police spokesman Bruno Isohi Shioso. Police are still investigating, he said, and seeking tips from the public. … Teklemichael’s wife, Milen Haleform Mezgebo, said in an interview that she had not heard from her husband since he was taken. The Washington Post

Dozens Killed in Massive Pre-Dawn Fire at Overcrowded Burundi Prison

A massive fire ripped through an overcrowded prison in Burundi before dawn on Tuesday, killing dozens of inmates and seriously injuring many more, the country’s vice president said. Many inmates were still sleeping at the time of the blaze that destroyed several parts of the facility in Burundi’s political capital Gitega, witnesses said. Vice President Prosper Bazombanza, who visited the scene of the tragedy with several senior ministers, told reporters that 38 people were killed and 69 seriously hurt. The blaze broke out at about 4:00 am (0200 GMT). The interior ministry said on Twitter it was caused by an electrical short-circuit. “We started shouting that we were going to be burned alive when we saw the flames rising very high, but the police refused to open the doors of our quarters, saying ‘these are the orders we have received,’” one inmate reached by phone told AFP. … The nearly 100-year-old facility, the third largest in Burundi, housed a number of political prisoners in a high-security compound, and there was also a women’s wing. In all, there were more than 1,500 inmates at the end of November, according to prison authority figures, far higher than its designed capacity of 400. AFP

How Nairobi’s ‘Road for the Rich’ Resulted in Thousands of Homes Reduced to Rubble

About 40,000 people have been made homeless by demolition works for a major Chinese-backed toll road in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Amnesty International Kenya says it believes the roadworks have created a humanitarian crisis, as schools, businesses and 13,000 homes spread across nearly 40 hectares (100 acres) of the Mukuru Kwa Njenga slum have been demolished since October, clearing land for a link to the Nairobi expressway. People lost clothing and other personal belongings, and dozens of families are now sleeping in makeshift tents in the rubble amid open sewage, during the seasonal rains. Left with no way of making money, some told the Guardian they have not eaten in days. At least one person has died in a partially demolished building, with unconfirmed reports of children being injured in the chaos, says Amnesty’s Diana Gichengo. … The road is financed by the Chinese state-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation, which will use the tolls to recoup their $550m (£410m) investment. But critics point to the fact that the vast majority of people will not be able to afford the road in a city where walking is the dominant mode of transport, accounting for 45.6% of commuters, compared with 40.7% by bus, 13.5% by private vehicle, and 0.2% by rail. People walk because they cannot afford a bus fare. … Even its bus lane is expected to carry only larger coaches, not the matatus favoured by the poor. The Guardian



Photo: Adam Jones