Africa Media Review for February 18, 2020

Five Issues to Watch in Togo’s Presidential Election
On February 22, Togolese will head to the polls to choose a new president-the first national elections in Africa this year. The main question will be whether the election will allow President Faure Gnassingbé to stay in power for a fourth term or whether newly imposed term limits will lead to the country’s first peaceful transfer of power, after more than 50 years of the Gnassingbé family’s rule. Here are five things to watch as the election unfolds… Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Twenty-Four Killed in Burkina Faso Church Attack
Gunmen have killed 24 people and wounded 18 in an attack on a Protestant church in a village in northern Burkina Faso, officials said Monday. In a separate incident, five Burkinabe soldiers in the troubled region were killed by a roadside, security sources said. A group of “armed terrorists” raided the village of Pansi, in Yagha province “and attacked the peaceful local population after having identified them and separated them from non-residents,” the governor, Colonel Salfo Kabore, said in a statement sent to AFP. The assault occurred on Sunday during a weekly service at a Protestant church, security officials said. “The provisional toll is 24 killed, including the pastor… 18 wounded and individuals who were kidnapped,” Kabore said. A resident of the nearby town of Sebba said Pansi villagers had fled there for safety. Christians and churches in northern provinces have become frequent targets by armed Islamists. On February 10, suspected jihadists in Sebba seized seven people at the home of a pastor. Five bodies were found three days later, including the pastor, according to the local governor. AFP

31 Reported Dead in Mali, as Attackers Return to Scene of a Massacre
At least 31 people were killed on Friday in an attack on a village that was the scene last year of Mali’s worst civilian massacre in recent memory, the government said. A government statement did not say who carried out the early-morning attack on Ogossagou, a village of Fulani herders in central Mali. Last March, men believed to belong to a rival group’s militia killed more than 150 civilians in Ogossagou, an attack that highlighted the rising ethnic and jihadi violence in West Africa’s vast Sahel region. Moulaye Guindo, mayor of the nearby town of Bankass, said the latest assault came less than 24 hours after Malian troops stationed near Ogossagou had left their base. Central Malian residents have criticized the army for failing to protect them against recent violence, which has displaced 200,000 people and left many communities with no local government or means of defense. They have turned to militias for protection against jihadists and rival ethnic groups, though the militias have themselves used their weapons to settle scores. Reuters

Niger Stampede Kills at Least 20 at Handout for Refugees
Twenty people, many of them women and children, were trampled to death on Monday in a stampede for food and money for refugees in southeast Niger, sources said. “We have a provisional toll of 20 dead,” a medical source said. Aid workers confirmed the account and said about 10 people had been injured. The accident occurred at a culture centre in Diffa, the main town of a region of that name that abuts Nigeria and Chad. The region has been repeatedly hit by attacks by Nigeria’s Boko Haram jihadist group since 2015. It hosts 119 000 Nigerian refugees, 109 000 internally-displaced people, and 30 000 Nigeriens who have come home from Nigeria because of the instability in its northeast, according to UN figures released October. The aid being distributed had been given by Babagana Umara Zulum, the governor of Borno state in northeast Nigeria, a Nigerian official told AFP. AFP

‘It Was an Accident’: Cameroon Army Explains Massacre in Anglophone Region
Cameroon’s army on Monday explained the incident in which 22 civilians were killed in the Northwest region, described it as an “unfortunate accident” caused by an explosion of fuel during a firefight. Opposition parties had accused the army of orchestrating a massacre, but army spokesman Colonel Cyrille Atonfack Guemo described the allegations as “duplicitous.” The United Nations said up to 22 civilians, 14 of them children, died in Friday’s incident, which happened in in the village of Ntumbo in Cameroon’s Northwest Region, one of two English-speaking regions that have been grappling with separatist violence since October 2017. … On Sunday, James Nunan, a local official with UN humanitarian coordination agency OCHA, told AFP that “armed men” had killed as many as 22 civilians, including a pregnant woman and 14 young children. Eleven of the children were girls, said Nunan, head of OCHA’s office for the Northwest and Southwest regions. Aid workers contacted by AFP said witnesses had told them that between 40 and 50 armed men, some wearing army uniform and some wearing masks, entered Ngarbuh, a district of the village, before shooting inhabitants dead and burning them. Africa News

Rebel Attack in Eastern Congo Kills 12 Civilians and Soldier
Rebels have killed 12 civilians and a soldier in the latest overnight attack on a village in eastern Congo, a local official said Tuesday. “They surprised the people in their homes,” the administrator of Beni territory, Donat Kasereka Kibwana, told The Associated Press. The attack by Allied Democratic Forces rebels on Alungupa village, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) outside the often-targeted city of Beni, occurred while the president of the National Assembly was visiting the city and meeting with survivors of past massacres. Jeanine Mabunda during her visit vowed that the assembly would create laws to augment the Congolese military presence in the Beni region. Residents have long accused the government in faraway Kinshasa of neglect. Dozens of armed groups are active in mineral-rich eastern Congo. Attacks have caused tens of thousands of people to flee their homes and complicated health workers’ efforts to contain an Ebola virus outbreak in the region. AP

EU Agrees to Deploy Warships to Enforce Libya Arms Embargo
The EU has agreed to deploy warships to stop the flow of weapons into Libya, as the bloc wound down a military mission that had once rescued migrants and refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean. Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, announced that 27 foreign ministers had agreed to launch a new operation with naval ships, planes and satellites in order to enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya. To counter objections that the operation could morph into a rescue mission, Borrell promised the ships would be withdrawn if they became “a pull factor” that encouraged people to attempt the risky crossing from Libya to Europe. This commitment helped lift opposition to the mission from Italy and Austria, whose governments had blocked an earlier compromise. … Weapons and foreign mercenaries have been pouring into the war-torn north African country, exposing Europe’s weakness in its own neighbourhood. Over the weekend, the UN deputy special envoy for Libya, Stephanie Williams, described the arms embargo as a joke. The Guardian

Unexploded Bombs Pose Rising Threat to Civilians in Libya
The threat posed by unexploded bombs is rising exponentially in wartorn Libya, experts have warned, with the use of banned cluster weapons a source of particular concern. The UN’s Mine Action Service (Unmas) said that even parts of the country previously cleared of explosive material had been recontaminated following a surge in fighting since April last year, when the warlord Khalifa Haftar launched a campaign to seize the capital, Tripoli. “The threat posed by explosive remnants of war has increased,” said Bob Seddon, Unmas’s threat mitigation officer, at a meeting of experts in Geneva last Wednesday. The UN’s mission in Libya reported last month that the volume of unexploded ordnance in Tripoli had increased “exponentially” and it had received hundreds of reports from civilians living in areas affected by fighting. “It is estimated that there are between 150,000 to 200,000 tonnes of uncontrolled munitions across Libya,” said Seddon. The Guardian

South Sudan Rebels Reject President’s Peace Compromise
South Sudan rebels rejected on Sunday a peace offer by President Salva Kiir to return to a system of 10 states, paving the way for a unity government. The rejection by rebel chief Riek Machar dashes hopes of breaking a deadlock and ending a six-year conflict that has left at least 380 000 people dead and millions in dire poverty. Kiir and Machar – who lives in exile – are under increasing international pressure to resolve their differences by a February 22 deadline. Kiir on Saturday said the country would now be divided among the original 10 states – a key opposition demand – plus three “administrative areas” of Pibor, Ruweng and Abyei. But rebel leader Riek Machar said Sunday he objected to the three administrative areas. It “cannot be referred to as reverting to 10 states (and) as such cannot be accepted,” Machar wrote in a statement. “We therefore call upon President Kiir to reconsider this idea of creating administrative areas,” he added. Machar warned the three areas risked causing further problems, calling the issue a “Pandora’s box.” AFP

Sudan Accepts Primacy of Peace Agreements over Transitional Constitution
The Sudanese government negotiating delegation Monday declared accepting the demand of the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) to include the would-be signed peace agreements in the transitional constitution and amend it in case of conflict between the two documents. On Monday, the government and the RSF inked the extension of the talks for three weeks, bypassing the transitional constitution which provides to achieve peace in the country within the first six months of the transition. The government negotiating delegation headed by Mohamed Hassan al-Taishi, who is a member of the Transitional Sovereign Council and a negotiating team of the RDF Darfur on Monday held two sessions that dealt with the issues of power in the Darfur region and its relations central authority. In statements to the media after the evening session in Juba, al-Taishi said that the talks dealt with issues of power-sharing and the future interaction between peace agreement and the constitutional document. “We agreed on the primacy of peace agreements over the constitutional document in case of conflict between them,” he said pointing to the importance of peace for the Sudanese people and the stability of the transitional period. Sudan Tribune

ICC Trial in The Hague One Option for Sudan’s Bashir -Minister
Sudan could send former leader Omar al-Bashir and other suspects to The Hague for trial before the International Criminal Court, but any decision would need approval from military and civilian rulers, the information minister said on Monday. Sudanese authorities said last week that they had agreed for Bashir and three other suspects to appear before the ICC, without giving details of how this could happen. “One possibility is that the ICC will come here so they will be appearing before the ICC in Khartoum, or there will be a hybrid court maybe, or maybe they are going to transfer them to The Hague…That will be discussed with the ICC,” Information Minister Faisal Salih told Reuters. Sudan’s offer to cooperate with the ICC marks an important step in rebuilding relations with the international community after three decades during which the country was isolated and sanctioned for its links with Islamist militants and the violence in Darfur. Reuters

Tunisian President to Call Early Poll If Govt Loses Vote of Confidence
Tunisian President Kais Saied said on Monday he would dissolve parliament and call for an early election if the new government fails to win a parliamentary confidence vote amid what he called the worst political crisis since independence in 1956. Designated prime minister Elyes Fakhfakh proposed the line-up of a new government on Saturday and then said negotiations would continue after the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, the biggest in parliament, rejected it. But with the largest parties opposed to his coalition or unenthusiastic about its makeup, Fakhfakh may struggle to gain the strong parliamentary majority needed for any significant political programme to tackle a severe economic crisis. “I say it very clearly: if the government fails to win the confidence of parliament, the word will return to the people,” Saied said. Unemployment has been high and growth low since the 2011 revolution, while the government has sunk further into debt with a series of big budget deficits that foreign lenders demand it bring under control. Reuters

Nigerian Insecurity: 1,013 Killed in Niger Delta in 2019 – Report
No fewer than 1013 people were killed in at least 416 conflicts and violent attacks in the Niger Delta in 2019, a report shows. According to the Foundation for Partnership Initiative in the Niger Delta (PIND) in its Niger Delta Annual Conflict Report, the deaths from such violence increased in 2019 to 416 and 1013 respectively as against what was obtainable in 2018. In 2018, there were 351 incidents and 546 deaths. The report was released on Sunday. The group’s reports track the violence trends at the regional, state and local levels. “These conflict risk factors included historical tensions and a proliferation of armed groups (militant, criminal, and ethno-sectarian).” “Organized criminality, cult clashes, political tensions, land disputes and communal clashes were the primary causes of lethal violence during the period. Gang and political violence increased while communal violence decreased during the year,” the report states. “The most reported incidents of violence related to criminality (including piracy, abductions, robberies, and killing for ritualistic purposes) which totalled 260 incidents resulted into 444 fatalities.” Premium Times

Burundi’s Opposition Choose Agathon Rwasa to Contest Presidential Elections
Burundi’s main opposition candidate in the upcoming presidential elections is Agathon Rwasa, a former rebel leader and rival of outgoing President Pierre Nkurunziza. The National Congress for Liberty, known by its French acronym CNL, selected Rwasa to be its candidate in the May 20 presidential election. Rwasa was the leading opposition candidate in two previous elections but boycotted the 2010 and 2015 polls charging there was too much repression of his supporters. Both those elections were won by Nkurunziza. The 2015 election sparked off protests that led to an attempted coup by those unhappy at Nkurunziza extending his time in power to a third term. The military quashed the coup attempt and those involved have been jailed or are facing trial. Political violence persists in Burundi even though Nkurunziza will not be a candidate in the May elections. Nkurunziza, who has served three terms, is expected to remain influential behind the scenes. AP

Popular Rwandan Singer Found Dead in Police Cell: Police
A popular Rwandan gospel musician who in 2015 was found guilty of conspiracy to murder or harm President Paul Kagame was found dead in a police cell in the capital, Kigali, in what authorities called a suicide. Kizito Mihigo, 38, an ethnic Tutsi survivor of the 1994 genocide that killed more than 800 000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus who tried to protect them, killed himself on Monday morning, a police statement said. Described by many as Rwanda’s biggest cultural icon and a devout Roman Catholic known for songs promoting healing and forgiveness, Mihigo had been pardoned in 2018. But he was rearrested three days ago over what police said was a violation of the terms of his release by trying to leave the country without permission and attempting to bribe Rwandans who spotted him trying to cross into neighbouring Burundi. The Rwanda Investigations Bureau tweeted on Thursday that the country’s security organs had handed over Mihigo, saying the charges against him included illegally crossing to Burundi, joining “terrorist” groups and corruption. Al Jazeera

Civilians Bear Brunt of Terror as Kenya’s Operation against Al-Shabab Continues in Forest
Kenya launched an operation to flush out al-Shabab terrorists from the northeast Boni Forest on the border with Somalia in 2015. The operation was meant to last a few months but – nearly five years later – security forces are still struggling to stamp out the Islamist militants. Villagers are afraid to venture into the forest and a deadly January attack on a joint Kenya-U.S. military base has highlighted ongoing insecurity. Twenty-year-old Bilai Abdi said she was excited about getting her two children new clothes one afternoon in 2017. She and six other civilians got into a police vehicle to get to the next town. They never reached their destination, as the car hit a roadside bomb and was then attacked with gunfire, killing all the civilians except Abdi. … Kenyan authorities have since banned civilians from traveling with security, says Lamu County Commissioner Irungu Macharia. “The terror group mainly targets our security vehicles and security officers. So, by having civilians on those vehicles they also become a target,” said Macharia. VOA

ECOWAS Countries Seek Solutions to Nigeria’s Border Closure
Members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are determined to find solutions to the ongoing unilateral border closure by Nigeria. ECOWAS’ fifteen member countries met on Saturday in Ouagadougou to find what they described as “realistic solutions” in the “short term.” “The closure of Nigeria’s land borders to goods is very worrying because it affects the very foundations of our community, namely the free movement of people and goods,” said Nigerien Lieutenant General Salou Djibo. “This meeting (…) must propose realistic and applicable solutions in the short term,” he said at the opening of the meeting which brings together ECOWAS foreign affairs and trade ministers. “The unilateral closure of borders goes against all the trade and free movement treaties signed by Nigeria within the framework of the Economic Community of West African States.” In August 2019, Nigeria unexpectedly closed its land borders to trade in goods, explaining that it wanted to put an end to smuggling, particularly of frozen rice or chicken from Benin, which crosses the porous border illegally. AFP

DRC Halves Budget in Blow to Tshisekedi Plans
The Democratic Republic of Congo must nearly halve government spending plans this year, the finance ministry said on Monday, in a blow to President Felix Tshisekedi’s much-touted anti-poverty schemes. The government’s budget for 2020 set down the equivalent of $10.59 billion dollars in spending but only $5.45 billion is being allocated, the finance ministry said. Its so-called cashflow plan factors in “unfavourable trends in the current situation,” the ministry said in a statement, referring to the “collapse” in the price of cobalt in the last quarter of 2019. DRC is the world’s biggest producer of cobalt, a key ingredient in batteries. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in December granted the country emergency credit of $368.4 million to meet urgent balance-of-payments needs, but warned that its initial budget lacked “realism.” The 2020 budget has to take into account the estimated $2.6 billion cost of Tshisekedi’s pledge, initiated in September, to make primary-school education free. AFP

Young Somalis Step In Where Government Fails
She had just finished battling the floods, and then the bomb went off. For a month of 10-hour days, Dr. Amina Abdulkadir Isack, 27, tended to anemic mothers, children with malaria and pregnant women as a volunteer in central Somalia, where record floods had left thousands of people in dire need of help the government could scarcely provide. But only days after she came home, on a hot Mogadishu morning in late December, terrorists detonated an explosives-laden truck in a busy intersection, killing 82 people and injuring nearly 150, including university students studying to become health specialists and doctors like her. Dr. Isack sprang right back into action, helping a youth-led crisis response team of volunteers who tracked the victims, called their families, collected donations and performed many services the government was too overwhelmed to manage on its own. “The youth are the ones who build nations,” Dr. Isack said. “We have to rely on ourselves.” The New York Times



Photo: Adam Jones