Africa Media Review for February 10, 2020

‘Silencing the Guns’: AU Leaders Seek End to Regional Conflicts
Heads of state and government officials from across Africa have gathered in Ethiopia’s capital for talks primarily focused on ways to end to regional violence, including the conflicts in South Sudan and Libya. The 33rd African Union (AU) summit, which opened on Sunday in Addis Ababa, is being held under the theme “Silencing the Guns: Creating conducive conditions for Africa’s development.” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is taking over from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as AU chair, announced on Sunday that he planned to host two summits in May: one focused on conflict resolution and the other on implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area. … On Saturday night, Ramaphosa met separately South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar, in an effort to jumpstart mediation efforts to form a power-sharing government in South Sudan, which descended in a ruinous civil war in 2003 that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. Al Jazeera

AU Summit: Guterres Calls for ‘Collective, Comprehensive, Coordinated’ Response to Challenges Facing Africa
Secretary-General António Guterres told the annual gathering of 55 African nations in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, that the strategic partnership between the UN and AU is “of paramount importance” and he was deeply committed to the principle that Africa’s challenges can only be solved through African leadership. There are three main challenges “of particular urgency” facing the continent, said the UN chief, highlighting first, making inroads against poverty through the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which dovetails with the AU’s own drive towards Africa’s Agenda 2063. The drive for sustainable development has yielded significant improvements, with rising living standards, better access to quality education, healthcare and services, “but progress remains slow and uneven when it comes to ending poverty and ending exclusion,” said Mr. Guterres. Calling for fairer globalization, he said African nations were working to eliminate corruption, reform taxation systems, governance and institutions, but it was up to the international community to “complement these efforts with much stronger determination,” including fighting illicit flows of capital. UN News

Cameroon Elections: Polls Overshadowed by Boycott, Separatist Violence
Polls closed in Cameroon on Sunday in an election overshadowed by a partial opposition boycott and separatist violence that displaced hundreds of thousands in the region. The elections were the first in seven years after two postponements. An opposition boycott means that the rule of President Paul Biya is unlikely to be brought to an end. Biya, one of the oldest and longest-serving leaders in the world, has held a tight grip on power in the central African country for 37 years. Large numbers of police and security forces were deployed during the day but no violence was reported in the cities. “Voting operations were completed across the country in 26,336 polling stations in calm, order and discipline,” Erik Essousse, director general of the electoral commission, told reporters. The main opposition party, the Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC), refused to field a single candidate. The boycott all but guarantees a majority win for Biya’s People’s Democratic Movement. DW

French Operations in Mali Put 30 Militants ‘Out of Action,’ as Barkhane Builds Sahel Coalition Coordination
French commando operations and airstrikes against groups linked to Islamic State and al-Qaeda in Mali put 30 militants “out of action,” the Armed Forces Ministry said. The operations come as the France-led Operation Barkhane builds command coordination with local partner forces in sub-Saharan Africa’s Sahel region, setting up dedicated coordination mechanisms for the new Sahel Coalition in Niger’s capital Niamey and Chad’s capital N’Djamena. Between February 6 and 7, forces deployed to Operation Barkhane conducted an “operation of opportunity” which “resulted in the neutralization of some 20 terrorists and the destruction of several vehicles,” the ministry said, in a Friday, February 7 release. … The action was carried out “in the west of the Gourma” region, in an area where the “katiba is rampant,” the release said. The ministry did not give further detail, but the likely target was Katiba Macina, one of the constituent groups of JNIM, which has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. The Defense Post

Police: Twelve More Bodies Found after DR Congo Militia Massacre
Another 12 bodies have been discovered in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo region of Beni, two days after a militia attack left eight people dead and around 20 people missing, police said on Sunday. On Friday, fighters from the Allied Democratic Forces militia slit the throats of eight people in Mangina commune, prompting hundreds of villagers to flee the area. The attack was the latest massacre blamed on the ADF which has carried out reprisal attacks on civilians in response to a military crackdown on their fighters since October. Eastern DR Congo has been wracked by militia violence for years, a legacy of its two Congo wars in the 1990s, but the ADF has been blamed for most of the recent attacks. “The twelve bodies found today were victims of Friday’s ADF attack,” local Mangina police chief Major Losendjola Morisho told AFP. He said the army were currently chasing militia fighters on Makiki village, two kilometers (1.2 miles) east of Mangina. The Beni region is the epicenter of the ADF campaign where activists say more than 300 people have been killed since October when the army began its offensive. AFP

Eyes on AU over Kenya, Djibouti UN Security Council Seat Dispute
The African Union Heads of State and Government meeting in Addis Ababa this weekend may have to address the continual disagreements on the validity of Kenya’s endorsement to run for the United Nations Security Council seat. Ahead of the 33rd Ordinary Summit, Kenya had formally sought clarification from the African Union on why Djibouti is still campaigning for the non-permanent member Security Council seat, yet it lost the nomination to Nairobi last year in a vote. But Djibouti, in response, officially challenged the validity of the vote, arguing in fact the rules of rotation would have automatically granted it the endorsement since it had served at the UNSC fewer times than Kenya. “Djibouti is formally challenging the process carried out within the African Union which led to Kenya’s competing nomination,” Djibouti said in a statement issued on Thursday. The East African

AU Commissioner’s Job on the Line
Late last week, a screen grab went viral in the corridors of the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, and in the WhatsApp chats of AU staff members on the continent. It showed an extract from an article published in the Indian Ocean Newsletter, which covers politics and business in the region and is read widely in diplomatic circles. The headline read: “Crisis meeting to discuss Smaïl Chergui”, and the article detailed how the future of the AU’s peace and security commissioner would be up for debate at the 33rd AU Summit taking place this week. Specifically, the article said African leaders are unhappy with Chergui’s handling of funds for the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), and are worried that this might affect relations with the European Union, the AU’s biggest funder. Several sources in the AU sent the screen grab to the Mail & Guardian. “This is the talk of the town,” said one. “Maybe his time has come,” said another. A career diplomat in Algeria, Chergui has headed up the AU’s peace and security department since 2013. With the possible exception of the chairperson, this is the most influential position in the AU Commission, making Chergui one of Africa’s most powerful diplomats. Mail & Guardian

Torture ‘Rampant’ among Nigeria’s Security Forces
BBC Africa Eye has uncovered shocking video evidence that torture is being used by multiple branches of the Nigerian police and armed forces. Torture is illegal in Nigeria. But images from social media show that a particular form of torture – a technique known as ‘tabay’ – is widely used in the interrogation and punishment of detainees, including children. This investigation looks at the origins of this technique, identifies the worst offenders, and asks why they are not being held to account. It also reveals that in 2014 a senior police officer was involved in the torture of a young man who later died from his injuries. [Video] BBC

Burkina Faso President Heads ECOWAS Committee to Investigate Nigeria’s Border Closure
The Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government has constituted a committee, headed by President Roch Kabore of Burkina Faso, to study and make a full report on Nigeria’s land border closure with her neighbours. The decision to set up the committee was agreed Sunday night in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at an extraordinary session of ECOWAS leaders convened on the margins of the 33rd AU Summit to discuss the issue and other pressing regional matters. Nigeria closed its land borders last August mainly to check smuggling of agricultural and petroleum products. The Nigerian government said the border closure has been positive for the economy as local production of food such as rice increased while local consumption of petrol has also reduced. Nigeria has vowed to continue the border closure until its neighbours, mainly Benin, Niger and Chad, ensure they properly regulate their sides of the borders. Critics says the border closure violates various ECOWAS and African Union protocols. Premium Times

More than Half of Women in Zimbabwe Have Faced Sextortion, Finds Survey
Zimbabwe has recorded an unprecedented number of women reporting being forced to exchange sex for employment or business favours. More than 57% of women surveyed by Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ) said they had been forced to offer sexual favours in exchange for jobs, medical care and even when seeking placements at schools for their children. The report, seen by the Guardian, found women in the informal sector experienced sextortion as the main form of non-monetary bribes by various officials. About 45% of women said they had received requests for sexual favours to access a service and 15% had used sex to get employment. The report, entitled Gender and Corruption, found women were increasingly vulnerable to sexual abuse amid the deteriorating Zimbabwean economy. “57.5% of these respondents noted that sexual favours are the form of non-monetary bribe they had experienced. Sextortion is thus a part of the bribery culture in Zimbabwe. Women who do not have money to pay for bribes are thus forced to use sex as a form of payment. 15% used employment favours as a form of bribery,” reads the report. The Guardian

Malawi’s Rastafarians Win Landmark Dreadlock Ruling
Makeda Mbewe was just six years old when she was kicked out of her primary school in Malawi for wearing her hair in the dreadlocks of her Rastafarian religion. Two years later, she is back in the playground, thanks to a landmark court ruling in January forcing state schools to accept children wearing their hair the Rastafarian way. The case was galvanised by her family, who joined forces with dozens of other Rastafarian parents to try to force the education system to end discrimination against children from one of the country’s smallest religious minorities. “I am delighted with the ruling because it takes a huge burden off my shoulders,” Makeda’s dreadlocked father, Wisdom Mbewe, told AFP. At first there was no problem when Makeda enrolled at Blantyre Girls Primary School, in the country’s capital. But after two years – and as her hair grew long and prominent – the child was told to leave. “They demanded that we cut her hair,” said her father, a 40-year-old truck driver. AFP

Egypt’s President El-Sissi’s One Year as Head of the African Union
When he assumed the one-year rotating chair of the African Union in February 2019, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was already a controversial figure. He had led a coup against democratically elected leader Mohamed Morsi in 2013, causing the AU to kick Egypt out of the pan-African body – although the country was readmitted a year later when el-Sissi won presidential elections. El-Sissi’s appointment as AU chairperson was also criticized by human rights organizations, who feared his authoritarian tendencies could harm the bloc’s human rights record. His rule in Egypt has been marked by the use of “torture and enforced disappearances” against dissidents from all backgrounds, a recent report by Human Rights Watch found. When Egypt took over the AU, it outlined six priority areas – economic and regional integration, building bridges among Africa’s peoples, cooperating with partners, economic and social development, institutional and financial reform of the AU, and peace and security. … The post of AU chairperson rotates between the five regions of the continent. El-Sissi will hand over to South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa at the 33rd African Union Summit being held in Addis Ababa from February 9-10. DW

For Thousands of Years, Egypt Controlled the Nile. A New Dam Threatens That.
The Egyptian farmer stood in his dust-blown field, lamenting his fortune. A few years ago, wheat and tomato-filled greenhouses carpeted the land. Now the desert was creeping in. “Look,” he said, gesturing at the sandy soil and abandoned greenhouses. “Barren.” The farmer, Hamed Jarallah, attributed his woes to dwindling irrigation from the overtaxed Nile, the fabled river at the heart of Egypt’s very identity. Already, the Nile is under assault from pollution, climate change and Egypt’s growing population, which officially hits 100 million people this month. And now, Mr. Jarallah added, a fresh calamity loomed. A colossal hydroelectric dam being built on the Nile 2,000 miles upriver, in the lowlands of Ethiopia, threatens to further constrict Egypt’s water supply – and is scheduled to start filling this summer. “We’re worried,” he said. “Egypt wouldn’t exist without the Nile. Our livelihood is being destroyed, God help us.” The dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the $4.5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam – Africa’s largest, with a reservoir about the size of London – has become a national preoccupation in both countries, stoking patriotism, deep-seated fears and even murmurs of war. The New York Times

‘In Good and Bad Times’: Africa’s Biggest Airline, Ethiopian, Sticks by China’s Side Add to List
As dozens of airlines around the world forgo massive profits and suspend flights to China amid fears of spreading the new coronavirus, Africa’s biggest airline continues to transport thousands from China every day. Ethiopian Airlines has become the loudest proponent of sticking by China and keeping trade links open. Six other African airlines, including Kenya Airways and South African Airways, have suspended their flights. “Ethiopian Airlines serves countries in good and bad times,” the airline’s chief executive, Tewolde Gebremariam, told local media in Ethiopia this weekend. “China has a strong trade and investment relationship with Africa, and Ethiopian Airlines is the major carrier that links China with many African countries. If we stop flights to China, we break that relationship.” While no coronavirus case has been confirmed on the continent, jitters have spread as preparedness to test for the disease has only slowly ramped up and the economy of China, Africa’s biggest trading partner, has taken a huge hit. The Washington Post

The Georgetown Student Who Became Justice Minister of Sudan
Late last summer, Nasredeen Abdulbari, 41, was in the Georgetown University Library, editing the fifth chapter of his dissertation on constitutional law and human rights, when he received a text message from a Sudanese civil society leader asking him to call urgently. Seismic changes were underway in Abdulbari’s home country of Sudan, where protesters had succeeded in ousting President Omar Hassan al-Bashir after 30 years of dictatorship. Abdulbari closed his laptop and stepped outside to make the call. “Civil society is nominating you to be the minister of justice,” the man on the other end of the line told him. “I hope that is not the case,” Abdulbari replied. Just over a month later, with his apartment in Virginia packed up neatly into boxes, Abdulbari was on a flight to Khartoum, the Sudanese capital. On the plane, Abdulbari devoted himself to mapping out his ideas for legal reform in Sudan. It looked overwhelming but orderly on paper: On one side were his plans for restructuring the Ministry of Justice itself; on the other side were his plans for broader changes to bring the Sudanese penal code in line with human rights protections. The Washington Post Magazine



Photo: Adam Jones