Africa Media Review for February 14, 2020

Reconstituted Malian Army Returns to Town of Kidal
Mali’s military returned to a longtime rebel stronghold with former rebels as well as regular soldiers making up the arriving force of hundreds Thursday, some six years after army forces retreated from the northern town of Kidal amid violence. Kidal has been under the control of ex-separatists belonging to a coalition known as the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA) which entered into a fraught peace agreement with the Malian government in 2015. The one-time separatists who had sought to create an independent state called Azawad now have allowed for the return of reconstituted forces as stipulated in that accord, which has taken years to fully implement. Army Col. Maj. Diarran Kone confirmed to The Associated Press that the arriving forces included 200 regular army personnel, 200 former rebels and 200 men who previously fought for a self-defense group in the area. CMA spokesman Sidi Ag Baye acknowledged the stakes were high. “If it succeeds, I think the rest of the process will succeed,” he said late Thursday. AP

S. Sudan ‘Unity’ Army Not Ready for Peace as Deadline Looms
At a remote and spartan bush barracks in South Sudan, a motley collection of government soldiers and their rebel enemies chanted in unison, raising their mock wooden guns to the sky. … Away from the parade ground, however, optimism is in short supply. This ragged band of war-weary troops is nowhere near ready to protect South Sudan, just days before a critical milestone in its tenuous peace process. Under an accord meant to end six years of bloodshed, these adversaries were brought together in military camps for retraining to graduate as comrades in a new, unified army. … Formal training hasn’t even begun, and the tens of millions of dollars needed for it has not materialised, derailing any chance of deploying on time. … The disarray comes as President Salva Kiir and the rebel leader, Riek Machar, face intense pressure to form a coalition government by February 22, a major step in the transition to peace. But the old foes have already missed two deadlines, and the latest talks are gridlocked again. Both men have violated past accords, raising fears this ceasefire may also not hold. Merging their fighters into a truly national force, one not beholden to ethnic and political allegiances, was a precondition of the pact they signed in September 2018 that halted the carnage. AFP

Nigeria’s Military Razed Villages in War on Islamist Insurgents -Amnesty International
Nigeria’s military burned down villages and forcibly displaced hundreds of people in its fight against Islamist insurgents in the country’s northeast, rights group Amnesty International alleged on Friday. Nigeria’s military, which has frequently been accused of human rights abuses in its decade-long fight against Boko Haram and more recently Islamic State’s West African branch, did not respond to requests for comment. Three residents interviewed by Reuters confirmed Amnesty’s findings. Previous allegations have sparked investigations by the International Criminal Court in the Hague and hampered Nigeria’s ability to purchase arms, a source of frustration for its military’s leaders. However, convictions of soldiers have been rare and the military has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. In the latest allegations, Amnesty said Nigerian soldiers razed three villages after forcing hundreds of men and women to leave their homes in the northeastern state of Borno in January. The human rights group said it interviewed 12 victims and reviewed satellite images that showed several large fires in the area and almost every structure razed. Reuters

Family Burnt Alive as ‘Bandits’ Kill 21 in Nigeria
Armed attackers burned 21 people alive, including 16 members of the same family, in a revenge attack by criminal gangs on a village in northern Nigeria, residents said on Thursday. Gunmen on motorcycles raided the village of Bakali in Kaduna state on Tuesday, shooting and burning homes and vehicles to avenge a raid on their hideout by local vigilantes, inhabitants said. “They killed 21 people in the attack,” Bakali’s community leader, Sani Nuhu, told AFP. Residents said the assailants burned alive 16 members of the same family, including six children, and five members of a local self-defence group after locking them in a house. A police spokesperson said the force had “received report of an attack by bandits on Bakali village” but was “still awaiting details.” The area where the attack happened has in recent years been a haven for criminal gangs who steal cattle and kidnap people for ransom. … Residents said that prior to the attack vigilantes working together with the Nigerian security forces had stormed the criminal gang’s camp in a nearby forest. AFP

Nigeria Court Voids Governor Election in Ruling Party Blow
Nigeria’s Supreme Court on Thursday anulled the election of the governor of oil-rich Bayelsa state, just hours before his inauguration and ordered his main challenger to take over. The decision was a blow for President Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC), whose candidate, David Lyon, had claimed victory in the opposition stronghold in November’s vote. The state is a key political battleground because of its oil and gas sector. It had been held by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999. The Abuja-based Supreme Court nullified Lyon’s victory on the grounds that his deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, had presented false information to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The court ordered INEC to declare opposition PDP candidate Diri Duoye, who came second in the ballot, as winner. It said he should be sworn in on Friday. AFP

Libya ‘More Dangerous for Everyone,’ Says UN amid Fresh Clashes
A new round of violence on the southern outskirts of Tripoli on Thursday left civilians dead and wounded, triggering warnings from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) about the worsening humanitarian situation. “It has got more and more dangerous for everybody in Libya,” Caroline Gluck, Senior External Relations Officer at UNHCR Libya, said Thursday, hours after clashes between rival forces caused new civilian casualties. “150,000 people have been displaced due to conflicts since last April in Tripoli,” Gluck told RFI, adding that the insecurity had made it harder to reach civilians. Thursday’s violence, which came a day after a UN Security Council resolution calling for a “lasting ceasefire,” will do little to improve the situation. The Tripoli capital’s sole functioning airport of Mitiga, frequently shut down by violence, announced it was again suspending flights following a rocket strike. Witnesses heard explosions in the largely agricultural area of Machrou al-Hadhba about 30 kilometres (18 miles) south of the Tripoli city centre. Rockets also struck residential neighbourhoods, killing one woman and wounding four other civilians, according to a spokesman for the health ministry, Amin al-Hachimi, who accuses forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar of repeatedly violating the ceasefire. RFI

Thousands of Cameroonians Flee to Nigeria as Violence Flares
Nearly 8,000 Cameroon refugees have fled to eastern and southern Nigeria in the past two weeks, the United Nations refugee agency said on Thursday, as violence flared between security forces and separatist insurgents. The spike in refugees, coming in the run-up to last weekend’s general elections, brings the total number of Cameroonians who have fled to Nigeria to almost 60,000, the U.N. agency said. Conflict between Cameroon’s army and English-speaking militias seeking to form a breakaway state called Ambazonia began after the government cracked down violently on peaceful protesters complaining of being marginalised by the French-speaking majority. The insurgency has forced half a million people to flee their homes and presented President Paul Biya with his biggest challenge since he took power nearly 40 years ago. The U.N. refugee agency “expects further arrivals as refugees inform that more people are still in remote border areas and could be on their way trying to reach Nigeria,” Thursday’s statement said. “Refugees reported fleeing violence and some even arrived across the border with gunshot wounds,” it said. “According to new arrivals, most come from areas near the border and have trekked across savannah and forests to reach Nigeria.” Reuters

Protesters Padlock Malawi Electoral Commission Offices
Protesters on Thursday padlocked Malawi’s electoral commission offices in a new bid to force the panel’s chief to quit after a top court overturned last May’s presidential elections. The Constitutional Court on February 3 annulled results that declared President Peter Mutharika, who had a narrow lead, victor and lashed the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) for “incompetence.” The unprecedented verdict was triggered by the use of correction fluid on tally sheets – the papers on which election overseers entered ballot counts. About 1,000 protesters marched for five kilometres (three miles) to the MEC offices in the commercial capital Blantyre and used rusty chains to lock its entrance gates. The military kept watch but did not intervene. In the administrative capital, Lilongwe, about 5,000 people braved the rain to march to the MEC offices. After chaining and padlocking its entrance, they handed the keys to an army officer. The protesters demanded the commission’s chairwoman, Jane Ansah, step down. Al Jazeera

Ethiopians Brave Deserts and Smugglers on the Way to Saudi
“Patience,” Mohammed Eissa told himself. He whispered it every time he felt like giving up. The sun was brutal, reflecting off the thick layer of salt encrusting the barren earth around Lac Assal, a lake 10 times saltier than the ocean. Nothing grows here. Birds are said to fall dead out of the sky from the searing heat. And yet the 35-year-old Ethiopian walked on, as he had for three days, since he left his homeland for Saudi Arabia. Nearby are two dozen graves, piles of rocks, with no headstones. People here say they belong to migrants who like Eissa embarked on an epic journey of hundreds of miles, from villages and towns in Ethiopia through the Horn of Africa countries Djibouti or Somalia, then across the sea and through the war-torn country of Yemen. The flow of migrants taking this route has grown. According to the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration, 150,000 arrived in Yemen from the Horn of Africa in 2018, a 50% jump from the year before. The number in 2019 was similar. They dream of reaching Saudi Arabia, and earning enough to escape poverty by working as laborers, housekeepers, servants, construction workers and drivers. … Associated Press reporters traveled along part of the migrants’ trail through Djibouti and Yemen in July and August. Eissa was among the travelers they met. AP

Negotiators from Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt Optimistic on Nile Dam Standoff
Delegations from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan continue to negotiate water usage issues relating to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam being built on the Nile River. Following two days of meetings in Washington, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a statement saying the technical and legal teams from all countries are making progress toward a final agreement that will be reviewed by leaders in the respective countries. … Sudanese Irrigation and Water Resources Minister Yasser Abbas said his country is leaving the meetings feeling optimistic. “I must say we have made huge progress since then and it dealt mainly with how to fill the dam at the beginning and how to operate the dam,” he told VOA. “And in Sudan, we see the dam as a potential opportunity for regional cooperation.” … Ambassador Mohamed Higazy, a former assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister, said he would like to see the dam be a vehicle for regional integration including integrating the power grids of the three countries. … Higazy added that he is cautiously optimistic about the talks, but hopes all parties will look at the bigger picture of regional prosperity and environmental stewardship instead of their own, narrow interests. VOA

Year-Old Peace Agreement Must Be Implemented for ‘Lasting Peace’ in Central African Republic
“The first anniversary of the Khartoum Peace Agreement, celebrated on 6 February, provided an opportunity for all parties to review its implementation, which will lead to a lasting peace”, Yao Agbetse, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic, said on Thursday. … During his visit, Mr. Agbetse took note of ongoing reform of the security sector as well as the beginning of the Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Repatriation (DDRR) process whereby weapons are physically removed from ex-belligerents, armed groups are disbanded, and former combatants are reintegrated into civilian society. He urged all involved to mobilize the necessary technical and financial resources to implement the nationwide process as early as possible. Despite the steps already taken to improve the security situation, much remains to be done to prevent a resurgence of violence, keep young people at home, support the peace process, and punish Peace Agreement violations, according to the UN expert. He observed that despite laudable efforts by local actors, school closures, especially in the countryside, forces children out of the education system, making them vulnerable to human trafficking and recruitment by armed groups. UN News

A court in southern Zimbabwe on Friday halted proceedings after police fired teargas outside to disperse supporters of an opposition politician facing subversion charges, a party official and lawyers’ group said. The court was making a ruling on a request by Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) deputy national chairman and lawmaker Job Sikhala to drop the charges, which carry up to 20 years prison term upon conviction. MDC vice president Tendai Biti and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who were present in court, said the judge in the case was forced to adjourn proceedings after teargas started filtering into the court room in Masvingo, 300 km (210 miles) south of Harare. Police were not available to comment. Dozens of government opponents have faced subversion charges, with critics saying this shows the government is muzzling the opposition by reverting to harsh security laws from the era of Robert Mugabe, who died last September. Reuters

The US government has officially lifted sanctions on Somalia’s group of companies that had been fingered for allegedly sponsoring terrorism activities. Al-Barakat is a conglomeration of firms that deal in informal money transfer services known as Hawala, telecom and internet services as well as logistics. It was banned by the US Office of Foreign Asset Controls (OFAC) in November 2001. On Thursday, the US Treasury announced it had deleted the group from the list of Specially Designated Nationals (SDN), which lists companies and individuals deemed to have supported terrorist activities. … Al-Barakat argued that its services sustain the Somali economy by helping thousands of Somali diaspora to send money home to relatives. Formed in the late 1980s, the company somewhat worked to sustain Somalia’s informal economy in the absence of a central bank or a recognised government, helping send in about $140 million a year. Daily Nation

Sudan Says It Agrees to Compensate Families of U.S.S. Cole Bombing
Sudan’s interim government said on Thursday that it had reached a financial settlement with families of the victims of the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, an effort to persuade the United States to remove Sudan from a list of state sponsors of terrorism. Seventeen sailors died and another 39 were wounded in the attack, which took place in 2000. Sudanese officials said a settlement had been reached with the families on Feb. 7, but did not specify how much compensation would be given. There was no confirmation of a deal from American officials. A spokesman for the U.S. State Department on Thursday morning in Washington had no immediate comment. The U.S.S. Cole, a Navy destroyer, was attacked by suicide bombers in an explosive-laden skiff as the destroyer was preparing to refuel in the Yemeni port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000. … Sudan’s announcement of a compensation deal comes as the African nation undergoes a fragile transition after the fall last year of president Omar al-Bashir, who ruled with an iron fist for nearly three decades. Sudan’s interim ruling council, composed of civilian and military officials, is now seeking to shake off decades of diplomatic and economic isolation. Being removed from the American list of state sponsors of terrorism would be a significant step. The New York Times

German Bundestag Authorizes Resumption of Economic Cooperation with Sudan
The German parliament, the Bundestag, ended a ban of economic cooperation with Sudan on Thursday paving the way for the government of Angela Merkel to support the east African country after a collapse of the regime of Omer al-Bashir. Germany like many other western countries stopped economic cooperation and development aid programme to Sudan after the Islamist coup that overturned a democratically elected government on 30 June 1989. Since there is no German financial and technical cooperation to Sudan. All the development programmes, contribution to the European efforts to against human trafficking and peace programmes are implemented via international regional, and non-governmental organisations. Upon an initiative by the Foreign minister who was the first western official to visit Khartoum in September 2019, the Bundestag has authorized the resumption of economic cooperation with Sudan. In his speech before the federal parliament, Heiko Maas underlined the need to support the Sudanese transitional government to overcome the difficult path towards democracy and economic development. Sudan Tribune

Scientists Say the Pangolin Endangered by Chinese Smuggling May Have Passed the Coronavirus to Humans
The pangolin was reported to be the most likely intermediate host from which humans contracted the novel coronavirus. The pangolin-vector claim was made public on Feb. 7 by researchers at South China Agricultural University who said they found the genome sequence of the coronavirus separated from pangolins to be 99% identical to that collected from infected people. … The claim that the SARS-CoV-2 virus may have passed to humans by a pangolin to many didn’t come as a surprise. China has been in the news as the major consumer of pangolin which is smuggled in mostly from Africa. The massive demand for pangolin in China and Vietnam, where the animal is consumed as meat and their scales used for traditional medicine, has led to the decimation of the animal in these countries. Though trade in pangolin meat and scales has been banned internationally, domestic sales of medicines containing pangolin scales are still allowed in China. Many of the first people to become infected by the coronavirus worked at a seafood and wild-animal market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and the virus is thought to have first spread to humans there in December. Quartz



Photo: Adam Jones