Africa Media Review for February 1, 2022

France and EU to Review Military Presence in Mali after French Ambassador Is Told to Leave

France says it will review its military presence in Mali, along with its European partners, a day after the junta in Bamako ordered the French ambassador to leave. French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said Paris and its partners in the Takuba special forces unit would work “between now and mid-February” to decide on changes to their presence in Mali. “It is clear that the situation can’t go on like this,” he told France Info radio on Tuesday. France has already started to scale back its Barkhane operation that has been fighting jihadists in the Sahel region for nearly a decade. The goal of the Takuba force, created in 2020, was to bring in European partners to support France in training Malian units, and eventually fighting alongside them. The military junta that took over in a coup in August 2020 has reportedly been hiring mercenaries from the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, and France has warned that it would be untenable for its forces to fight alongside them. … The decision [to order the French ambassador to leave] was another step in the isolation of the former French colony, said Attal, after the junta proposed to delay elections and a return to civilian rule for up to five years, despite an earlier commitment to hold a vote by the end of February 2022. RFI

EU to Blacklist Five Members of Mali’s Junta, Diplomats Say

The European Union has agreed to impose travel bans and asset freezes on five members of Mali’s junta after the military rulers went back on an agreement to organise elections in February, three diplomats said. The measures, which have political support of all 27 EU governments and should take effect later this month, follow a raft of restrictions against Mali by the ECOWAS grouping of West African states that has condemned the transitional military government’s attempts to extend its rule. The bloc is struggling to stabilise the broader Sahel region after a series of coups in Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso, despite military support, high-level political attention and development aid. … The names of the five individuals to be sanctioned were not immediately available. The diplomats said they were junta officials also targeted by ECOWAS. Mali’s foreign and defence ministers will not be targeted in order to keep diplomatic channels open, the diplomats said. Reuters

ECOWAS Delegation and UN Meet with Burkina Faso’s New Leader

Members of ECOWAS and the UN met on Monday with Burkina Faso’s ousted president Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and the new leader Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba. … “We’ve had very frank discussions with the team and with the head of state (Damiba). We’ve also come to visit President Kabore. We will go back and report to them (ECOWAS) the discussions that we’ve had. We cannot disclose the discussions, but we can say that we’ve come to see President Kabore. And on the surface, I mean, we’ve had a good conversation with him and he’s in good health,” said Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, head of the ECOWAS delegation and Ghanaian Foreign Minister. The regional bloc suspended Burkina Faso last week. … Leaders from the bloc will hold a summit in Accra on Thursday to assess whether they should impose sanctions on the country. AfricaNews

Rwanda Reopens Uganda Border to Trucks; Others Still Barred

Rwandan authorities on Monday opened the Uganda border to truckers after nearly three years of a tense standoff, but other travelers were held back by immigration officials. In deciding to reopen the border, Rwanda warned in a statement Friday that “pending issues” must be resolved before relations can be normalized with Uganda. Now Rwandan authorities say travel to Uganda via the land border is restricted to essential travelers until COVID-19 prevention measures are put in place. The decision has disappointed traders in Rwanda and Uganda who had hoped for a return to normal business. Only truckers and Rwandan citizens or returning residents are permitted to cross from Uganda into Rwanda, Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said on Twitter. … Rwanda first closed the busy Gatuna border crossing in Feb. 2019, accusing Ugandan authorities of backing rebels opposed to Rwandan President Paul Kagame and demanding the expulsion from Uganda of the business interests of a Rwandan tycoon who is critical of Kagame. Subsequent talks mediated by Angola and Congo appeared to fail to resolve the dispute, compelling Uganda to negotiate privately with Rwanda, which had ordered its citizens not to travel to Uganda. AP

Libya’s Lawmakers Push for New PM after Failing to Hold Vote

Libyan lawmakers pushed ahead Monday with plans to appoint a new transitional government, more than a month after the country failed to hold its first presidential election. Candidates may submit their bids for the post of prime minister, said Abdullah Bliheg, a spokesman for the legislature. He said parliament will convene next week for deliberations on the candidates and the appointment of a new prime minister to lead the transitional government. The parliament’s move to replace Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and his government is likely to fuel tensions between rival factions in the chaos-stricken country. The effort to replace Dbeibah stems from Libya’s failure to hold its first presidential election on his watch. Originally scheduled for Dec. 24, the vote was postponed in a major blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in the oil-rich Mediterranean nation. Bliheg spoke following a parliamentary session Monday in the eastern city of Tobruk. He said a new prime minister will be appointed after consultations with the High State Council, an advisory body based in the capital, Tripoli. There was no immediate comment from the current government but Dbeibah has repeatedly said he and his government would remain in power until “real elections” are held. He has also called for the vote to be held based on a newly crafted constitution. AP

Millions at Risk as Drought Threatens the Horn of Africa

Somalia, Kenya, and now Ethiopia have raised the alarm about the latest climate shock to a fragile region traversed by herders and others trying to keep their animals, and themselves, alive. In Ethiopia’s Somali region, people have seen the failures of what should have been three straight rainy seasons. Droughts come and go over the years, but resident Zaynab Wali told a visiting team with the United Nations children’s agency that she and her seven children have never seen one like this. The government distributed food and fodder during the last drought five years ago, she said. This time, “we don’t have enough food for our family.” More than 6 million people in Ethiopia are expected to need urgent humanitarian aid by mid-March, UNICEF said Tuesday. And in neighboring Somalia more than 7 million people need urgent help, the Somali NGO Consortium said in a separate statement, pleading with international donors to give much more. This could be the region’s worst drought in 40 years, the consortium said. AP

Southeastern Africa Cleans Up from Tropical Storm Ana

Rescue efforts continued across southeastern Africa Monday for thousands of people cut off by flooding from last week’s Tropical Storm Ana. The storm killed at least 90 people across Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi. Experts say a fresh cyclone forming near the island nation of Mauritius could hamper rescue efforts and worsen damage in the region. The storm damaged public infrastructures, including health care facilities and roads, and interrupted medical services to people affected by the storm. The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the storm killed 20 people in Mozambique and displaced 121,000 others. In Madagascar, according to the Africa CDC, 48 people were killed and 148,000 others left homeless. In Malawi, the Department of Disaster Management Affairs says Tropical Storm Ana killed 32 people and displaced 188,000 from their homes across 17 districts. … On Thursday, Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera declared a national disaster in areas hard-hit by Tropical Storm Ana and called for urgent assistance for the flood victims. VOA

War in Mozambique Follows Those Who Fled from the Coast

The insurgency in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province has shifted west, with communities attacked and thousands displaced as forces from Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) continue the operations they began last year. Following the recapture of Mocimboa da Praia, with its strategic harbour and airport, soldiers have worked to secure areas that are critical to gas exploitation — by and large along the eastern coastal area. Under that pressure, insurgents began focusing their raids further west, across the provincial border and into the district of Mecula, which itself borders Tanzania at the Ruvuma River. Local sources tell The Continent that insurgents attacked the community of Naulala just before Christmas. They looted the local health post, taking medicines and medical equipment, robbing stalls and looting food products. The local chief’s home was burned down. Another attack was reported nearby on 27 December, in which five residents were killed. The governor of the province told The Continent last week however that “the current situation is calm.” The Continent

Jihadist Leader Responsible for Mozambique Attacks Has Been Killed, Police Say

A Tanzanian jihadist leader responsible for audacious attacks in northern Mozambique has been killed, police announced Monday. Tuahil Muhidim led a 2020 attack that captured Mocimboa da Praia, the northern port used to receive cargo for multi-billion-dollar gas projects in the region. Police general commander Bernardino Rafael said on national radio that Mozambican and Rwandan forces shot dead Muhidim on Saturday morning. Muhidim was also accused of kidnapping two Brazilian nuns for more than three weeks in 2020. Rafael said Muhidim had “punished” the nuns. …  In the same operation, security forces shot dead another insurgent and recovered two guns, he added. AFP

Nigerian Army Destroys Islamic State HQ in Gudumbali

The Nigerian Army announced last week that troops dealt a deadly blow to Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP) fighters in Borno State. Soldiers stormed Gudumbali after ISWAP elements declared the northeastern town their headquarters. According to Nigerian military sources, the battle lasted around five hours, with ISWAP incurring “many casualties.” Though the Nigerian Army hasn’t made further statements on the battle, a civilian source who witnessed the battle, Malam Lawal, told The Defense Post that ISWAP indeed suffered casualties. … ISWAP fighters made an incursion into Gudumbali earlier in the week, dislodging local chieftains and declaring the town its “Manhaja Jundun Khilafah Wylaya West Africa” (caliphate headquarters). Gudumbali serves as headquarters of the Guzamali Local Government Area of Borno State, some 125 kilometers north of the state capital, so it is of strategic importance to the government. … At the peak of Boko Haram territorial conquest, Gudumbali became one of the strongest outposts of the insurgents near the Nigeria/Nigerien border. The routes were heavily mined and fortified, and several army attempts to enter the area were unsuccessful. The Defense Post

Crypto Giant Binance Restricts 281 Nigerian Accounts

Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, has restricted the personal accounts of 281 Nigerian users, citing a need to comply with international money laundering laws, its CEO said. Changpeng Zhao said in a letter to Nigerian customers dated Jan. 29 that the decision to restrict some personal accounts was to ensure user safety while more than a third of the affected accounts were restricted at the request of international law enforcement. “Currently, we have resolved 79 cases and continue to work through others. All non-law enforcement-related cases will be resolved within two weeks,” Changpeng Zhao said. Despite a central bank ban, Nigerians have continued to turn to crypto for business, to protect their savings as the naira currency loses value, and to send payments abroad because it is often hard to obtain U.S. dollars locally. Reuters

Rebels Kill 4 Senegalese Soldiers, Hold 7 Hostage in The Gambia

Separatist rebels have killed four Senegalese soldiers and are holding seven hostage after a clash on the border between Senegal and The Gambia last week, the Senegalese army said in a statement. Three soldiers died in the fighting on January 24 between the Senegalese army and rebels from the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), it said late Monday. A fourth died from wounds several days later. Seven soldiers are being held hostage by the MFDC, and all are “alive and in good health,” the army said. The MFDC is behind a low-intensity breakaway conflict in Senegal’s southern region of Casamance that dates back to 1982 and has claimed several thousand lives. A previous tally said two soldiers were killed and nine were missing, but the army said all were now accounted for. “There are no more missing persons,” it said in its statement. The Defense Post with AFP

‘Families Are Starving’: Chinese Trawlers’ Overfishing Is Destroying Lives, Say Sierra Leoneans

Every day, about 13,000 small boats like Fofana’s cast off from Sierra Leone’s 314-mile (506km) coastline. Fisheries employ 500,000 of the west African nation’s nearly 8 million people, represent 12% of the economy and are the source of 80% of the population’s protein consumption. But a dozen fishermen interviewed by the Guardian say their catch is dwindling rapidly due to sustained overfishing on a large scale. Tombo’s fishing community put the blame squarely on foreign fleets. About 40% of industrial licences are owned by Chinese vessels; though legal, locals say they pay meagre fees for their permits, under-declare their catch and add little to the local economy. At the same time, illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing is a huge problem, costing Sierra Leone $50m a year, President Julius Maada Bio said in 2018. Last year, a joint operation by the Sierra Leonean navy and the conservation organisation Sea Shepherd Global led to the arrest of five foreign-owned fishing vessels in two days, including two Chinese-flagged trawlers found to be fishing without a licence. Those in Tombo who have protested at the illegal fishing say they face violence from the crews. The Guardian

Deepfake News Videos Circulate in Mali amid Tensions with France

We take a look at one means of assembling a deepfake video online for free and see how this technique has been used to disseminate fake videos of newscasts in Mali. This comes amid a rise in tensions between Bamako and Paris. [Video] France24



Photo: Adam Jones