Africa Media Review for February 19, 2019

The Complex and Growing Threat of Militant Islamist Groups in the Sahel
The escalation of violent events linked to militant Islamist groups in the Sahel reflects an array of diverse actors operating within distinct geographic concentrations. The number of reported violent events linked to militant Islamic group activity in the Sahel has been doubling every year since 2016 (from 90 in 2016 to 194 in 2017 to 465 in 2018). Reported fatalities linked to militant Islamist groups have similarly doubled in recent years (from 218 in 2016 to 529 in 2017 to 1,110 in 2018). Violence against civilians has also expanded. Reported events of violence against civilians jumped from 18 in 2016 (representing 20 percent of all violent episodes) to 39 in 2017 to 160 in 2018. Violence against civilians accounted for some 34 percent of all reported violent events linked to militant Islamist groups in the Sahel in 2018. Mali remains the focal point of militant violence, accounting for roughly 64 percent of the reported events in the Sahel in 2018. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Nigerian Election Delayed Hours before Polls Were Due to Open
Nigerians who were due to cast ballots Saturday to choose a new leader from a field of some 70 candidates will now have to wait until Feb. 23. Election officials blame the delay simply on “challenges.” The Associated Press cites reports that “voting materials had not been delivered to all parts of the country.” Two men have emerged as the clear front-runners. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is trying to hold on to his position, and opposition leader Atiku Abubakar is his fiercest challenger. Buhari “was the first opposition candidate ever to defeat an incumbent president four years ago,” as NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reported. That transfer of power was peaceful, though previous elections have seen deadly violence. The candidates signed a pact Wednesday aiming to keep the vote peaceful. NPR

Army to Be “Ruthless” against Tampering in Nigeria’s Postponed Vote – Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday warned that anyone trying to tamper with Nigeria’s postponed vote risked their lives and accused the electoral commission of incompetence. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the delay in the early hours of Saturday, just as some of Nigeria’s 84 million registered voters were already making their way to polling stations Buhari said anyone trying to steal or destroy ballot boxes and voting material in the election now scheduled to take place this coming Saturday would be dealt with firmly. “I have given the military and the police instructions to be ruthless. We are not going to be blamed for the bad conduct of the election,” he told an emergency meeting of senior members of his All Progressives Congress (APC) party in the capital Abuja.  Reuters

In 1 in 4 Elections, African Voters Face Delays
A last-minute decision to delay Nigeria’s general election, now re-scheduled for Saturday, has fueled doubt about the commitment to a free and fair poll in Africa’s most populous country. For Nigerians, it’s an unwelcome, though not unfamiliar, outcome. The country hasn’t held a presidential election without a delay since 2007, when former President Umaru Yar’Adua handily beat sitting President Muhammadu Buhari. But postponed polls aren’t exclusively a Nigerian concern. Across Africa, 27 of 102 presidential elections have been delayed since 2009, based on data analyzed by VOA from various news reports and from the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, a not-for-profit organization based in Johannesburg, South Africa, focused on promoting credible elections.  VOA

Suicide Attack on Mosque in Nigeria Kills 11
Police have confirmed 11 people dead in early Saturday morning suicide attacks inside a mosque in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno State. The attacks in Gwozari/Kushari area of state capital Maiduguri were carried out by two suicide bombers and a gunman, all believed to be Boko Haram militants who have waged a violent insurgency in the region since 2009. “Eleven people including three bombers died while 15 others sustained injuries and are currently hospitalized at the State Specialist Hospital Maiduguri,” Borno Police Commissioner Damian Chukwu said in a statement read to reporters in Maiduguri. The suicide attacks occurred just hours before Nigeria’s general elections were due to commence. The polls have now been delayed for logistics reasons.  Anadolu Agency

Four Zimbabwe Generals Retired in Mnangagwa’s First Purge of Military
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa retired four generals on Monday, in the first major shake-up of the armed forces since he took office and including the man who led a deadly crackdown against post-election protests in August. The quartet’s removal also coincided with the absence abroad of Vice President Constantino Chiwenga – the retired general responsible for ousting former president Robert Mugabe in November 2017 and now widely viewed inside the country as the power behind Mnangagwa’s administration. All four generals will be appointed to diplomatic posts overseas in line with Zimbabwe’s “critical global engagement and re-engagement strategy,” a government spokesman said. Mnangagwa has been under increasing pressure to take action over allegations of brutality by the security forces since a second crackdown in January, triggered by a sharp hike in fuel costs that he had decreed.  Reuters

Zimbabwe Opposition Official Convicted of False Declaration
A Zimbabwean court has convicted prominent opposition politician Tendai Biti for announcing that his party’s leader won disputed elections held in July. Biti was on trial for “unofficial and false declaration of results” and Magistrate Gloria Takundwa fined him $200 for the offence. Biti’s lawyer Alec Muchadehama said he will appeal against the court decision. Biti told reporters after paying the fine that he was “absolutely innocent … I’m not a criminal.” The case is “just a symptom of the bigger challenges affecting our country. Our country is captured by very dangerous people,” said Biti. “It is unacceptable what is happening and we will keep on fighting.”  AP

Many Egyptian Troops Killed or Wounded in North Sinai
Funeral prayers were held in Cairo and Sharqiya on Sunday to mourn the deaths of an officer and soldiers killed in an attack on Egypt’s military in the Sinai Peninsula. The Saturday’s attack on the Egyptian army checkpoint in the restive Sinai had caused 15 casualties, while seven of the suspected Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) fighters were killed, the military said. The breakdown of the military casualties was not immediately clear. Two security sources told the Reuters news agency some of the injuries were serious. The ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq website. The armed group said it killed at least 15 Egyptian troops, revising an earlier figure of 20 dead south of the provincial capital of Arish after clashes with “various kinds of weapons”. Al Jazeera

Suicide Bombing Kills 3 Policemen Near Cairo’s Famed Bazaar
The death toll from a late-night suicide blast near Cairo’s famed tourist market rose to three on Tuesday after a police officer died of his wounds, Egyptian security officials said. The fatalities in the attack near the Khan el-Khalili bazaar in the heart of Cairo were all policemen. The explosion late Monday also wounded two other policemen and a woman, the officials said. The attack was a rarity for the central area of Egypt’s capital amid a years-long security crackdown under President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. The Interior Ministry said the attacker, 37-year-old al-Hassan Abdullah, blew himself up after police officers approached to arrest him. He was wanted in a bombing last Friday near a mosque in Cairo’s district of Giza and the police had been monitoring his movements, the statement said. The attacker’s affiliation was not known and no militant group claimed responsibility for the bombings.  AP

Inside the Kenya-Somalia Dispute over Maritime Territory
The Kenya-Somalia maritime territorial dispute has escalated into a full-blown diplomatic war with Nairobi expelling the Somali ambassador and recalling its top envoy from Mogadishu. This is after Nairobi accused Mogadishu of auctioning oil exploration rights for a disputed part of the Indian Ocean which dispute is yet to be resolved in an international court. The tussle began in August 2014 when Somalia sued Kenya at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands, for unlawful operations in her maritime territory. The disputed water is a triangular patch created by projecting the Kenya-Somali border eastwards. It measures 100,000 square kilometres. Standard Media

AMISOM Unveils Plan to Flush Al-Shabab from Somalia Hideouts
Top military commanders of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) said Saturday that they had agreed to launch new, targeted military operations against al-Shabab militants in Somalia. According to AMISOM, the new activities will be implemented in three phases in an effort to flush the terrorists from their hideouts in the region. Speaking at the end of a five-day meeting of military commanders in Mogadishu, Simon Mulongo, the deputy special representative of the chairperson of the African Union Commission (DSRCC) for Somalia, explained the approach. “The activities will consist of comprehensive operations in support of the Somalia Transition Plan and will include stability operations targeting al-Shabab hideouts and enhancing protection of population centers,” said Mulongo.  VOA

Burundi, Somali Presidents Discuss Security amidst AMISOM Withdrawal Plan
Burundi’s president Pierre Nkurunziza hosted a state banquet in honour of his Somali counterpart, Mohamed Farmaajo, who is in the East African nation on an official visit. The visit comes at a time when Burundi has been asked to withdraw up to 1,000 of its troops from Somalia. Burundi is one of the African nations that contribute troops to the United Nations and African Union funded peacekeeping mission in Somalia. […] Burundi’s soldiers are expected to leave Somalia by the end of this month, even though local authorities worry about the security implications. The president of HirShabelle state in Somalia, Mohamed Abdi Waare, warned against a rushed withdrawal plan, saying it could leave his state vulnerable to attacks.  Africa News

Burundi’s Case against Pullout of Its Troops in Somalia
The planned withdrawal of a further 1,000 troops of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), has been thrown into confusion after a directive by the African Union’s Peace Support Operations Division (PSOD) that the soldiers come exclusively from the Burundian contingent in Johwar, Hirshabelle State, also known as Sector 5, was met with resistance from Bujumbura. The withdrawal, to happen by February 28, was first directed by the United Nations Security Council in 2017, but Burundi has opposed the recent plan since it was declared last December. According to Dieudonne Ndabarushimana, the Burundi ambassador to Ethiopia, the country has a valid argument against the withdrawal of its troops following its election as a member of the African Union Peace and Security Council on February 14 — on the sidelines of the recent 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union in Addis Ababa. Shabelle Media Network

Sahel Instability Spreading to Coastal West Africa: Burkina Faso
Islamist militants are increasing their activity in West Africa despite the establishment of a regional force to combat them in the Sahel region, and they are now threatening coastal countries, Burkina Faso’s foreign minister said on Saturday. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Minister Alpha Barry gave a bleak outlook of the situation more than six years after French troops intervened in Mali to stop Islamist militants advancing on the capital Bamako. The Sahel region has since suffered violence from militant groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State, trafficking and the emergence of armed groups in one of the world’s poorest regions. The northern region of Burkina Faso, bordering Mali and Niger, has over the last 12 months been especially hard hit, leaving the government struggling to assert its authority since President Blaise Compaore was ousted in 2014 in a popular uprising.  Reuters

Spanish priest, customs officers killed in Burkina Faso
A Spanish priest and four customs officers were killed in separate attacks by suspected jihadists in Burkina Faso, which is struggling with a radical Islamist insurgency, local sources said. “The Spanish Salesian Antonio Cesar Fernandez was assassinated during a jihadist attack between Togo and Burkina Faso,” around 15:00 local time on Friday,” the Salesians of Don Bosco order said in a statement posted Friday on Twitter. Fernandez and two others were returning from a meeting in the Togolese capital Lome when they “were attacked by gunmen after crossing the border between Togo and Burkina Faso”, the head of the order, Jose Elegbede, said in a statement. “After searching the car, they pulled Cesar from the group and the men shot him,” Elegbede added. AFP

Sexual Violence on the Rise in South Sudan, U.N. Says
Some women were tied to trees, raped for hours and then beaten. Others who resisted were pummeled with rifle butts, sticks and cable wire. The assailants were armed men, mostly from forces aligned with South Sudan’s government. Nearly five months after South Sudan’s warring leaders signed an agreement to end five years of conflict in the country, which was only founded in 2011, the United Nations on Friday listed those horrific practices to voice alarm about an upsurge in sexual violence there that started late last year. United Nations investigators said they had documented the rape of 134 women and girls in northern areas of South Sudan in the last three months of 2018. Fifty of the victims were children, one of them just 8 years old. Another 41 women and girls suffered other forms of sexual and physical abuse.Many rape victims had dispersed to remote areas that could not be reached by road, and the actual number of attacks was much higher. The New York Times

Libyan Authorities Help Free 14 Kidnapped Tunisian Workers
Libyan authorities helped free 14 Tunisian workers Sunday who were kidnapped by an armed group near Libya’s capital, the Tunisian government said. The Tunisian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday night that the hostages had been seized Thursday in the town of Zawiva by militants demanding the release of a jailed Libyan. The Tunisians were released and taken to offices of the Zawiva security authorities, the statement said. Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemais Jhinaoui phoned his Libyan counterpart to thank him and the Libyan unity government for helping the hostages. Jhinaoui earlier had pressed Libyan authorities to take action. He met Saturday with Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Tahar Siala on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, according to another Tunisian government statement. The Libyan minister stressed his country was working to get the Tunisians freed, according to the statement.  AFP

Will Kagame Reforms at African Union Continue?
[…] At the closing ceremony of the 32nd AU Heads of State Summit, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who took over from President Kagame, refused to answer questions from journalists, as had been the tradition with his predecessor, raising fears that transparency may have gone out of the window. But President Al- Sisi seemed to assure his peers about the reforms during his inauguration saying, “Egypt will work hard to continue the path of institutional, structural and financial reforms, and complete achievements realised, to develop the capabilities of the Union and its Commission to meet the aspirations and hopes of African people.” But how he will achieve this remains to be seen, given that he has put security as his top priority. Moreover, if South African President Cyril Ramaphosa wins elections later in May, then the rotational AU chairman’s post will be his for the taking in 2020, putting in further doubt, the AU reform implementation, because Pretoria has been seen to resist these changes. The East African

DRC President Meets Kabila over Coalition Govt Talks
President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, Félix Tshisekedi, met his predecessor, Joseph Kabila, over the weekend for talks aimed at the formation of a coalition government following the December 30, 2018 elections. The presidency late Sunday confirmed the meeting via an official statement saying the two had met at the residence of President Tshisekedi – initially holding talks between only the two of them before two other government officials joined in. “The two personalities even shared a meal in a family atmosphere,” an advisor to the Congolese presidency told the AFP news agency. Despite Tshisekedi, an opposition candidate, winning the December polls, the former ruling coalition which Kabila heads won an absolute majority in the National Assembly elections.  AFP

Sudan Lawmakers Cancel Meeting on Constitutional Changes
Sudan’s state-run news agency says a parliamentary committee tasked with amending the constitution to allow President Omar al-Bashir to run for another term has abruptly canceled its meeting. SUNA says the meeting was scheduled for Sunday but has been postponed for “emergency reasons.” It says a new date will be announced later. Sudan has been rocked by a wave of protests since December calling on al-Bashir, who seized power in a 1989 military coup, to step down. Activists say at least 57 people have been killed, but the government tally stands at 30. Al-Bashir has vowed to run for another term, saying the country can only change leadership through elections. VOA

Arab League Says Sudan’s Protests “Internal Affair”
The Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab League (AL) Hossam Zaki has described Sudan’s protests as “internal affair”. Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, Zaki said the AL hasn’t been asked to intervene or provide assistance in the ongoing events in Sudan. “Accordingly, the Arab League has nothing to do with what is going on in the Sudanese state, he said Large protests have been ongoing across Sudanese cities since 19 December. The demonstrations first began over fuel shortages and a hike in food prices but have now morphed into full-fledged protests calling for al-Bashir to step down. The Sudanese government has confirmed the deaths of 31 people in the course of the protests but other credible reports including from Human Rights Watch say more than 51 persons have been killed. Also, dozens of demonstrators have been injured and hundreds arrested during the protests.  Sudan Tribune

Breaking Down Community Resistance in Ebola-Affected Congo
A unique project is making strides in breaking down community resistance toward international efforts to contain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has teamed up with the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to collect, analyze and implement new strategies in “real time” to tackle the major concerns of people faced with this dreaded disease. Latest World Health Organization figures put the number of Ebola cases at 829, including 521 deaths. Officials say containing the spread of this deadly virus will depend largely upon getting communities to cooperate with health care workers. This involves gaining their trust by overcoming the fears and misinformation that exist in Ebola-affected communities. Red Cross volunteers mainly come from the communities in which they work and understand their cultures and traditions.  VOA

Egypt Is Shaping up to Become a Real Energy Hub
Egypt’s oil and gas future looks very bright. The large scale concessions awarded during the EGYPS2019 conference in Cairo, 11-13 February, shows the appetite of IOCs, such as Shell, BP and ENI in this emerging energy hotspot. After years of a major slump, partly due to continuing payment and security issues, the Pharaohs are again back in the top league. Continuing concerns about security in Egypt’s Western Desert or the Sinai no longer seem to be a breaking point for investors. At the second day of EGYPS2019 the announcement of five onshore and offshore licenses by EGPC, as presented by Egypt’s minister of energy Tarek El Molla, has created a very bright future for the North African oil and gas producer. The success story of the offshore deepwater gas field Zohr, operated by Italian oil major ENI, could be supported further by positive results from current exploration efforts in the offshore Noor field. If expectations are met, a new gas hub could be in the making, combining Cypriot and Israeli production with Egypt’s existing LNG infrastructure.

Barack Obama Reportedly Set for Role with NBA-Backed African Basketball League
The NBA is helping to establish a new professional basketball league in Africa and it has the enthusiastic support of Barack Obama. In fact, the former president will reportedly have a role with the league, although the extent of his involvement has yet to be announced. Over the weekend, before the NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte, the league announced a partnership with FIBA, basketball’s international governing body, to create the Basketball Africa League. Set to debut in 2020, the BAL will feature 12 teams from across the continent, with qualifying tournaments to be held later this year. The Associated Press reported Saturday that Obama is “among those who are expected to have direct involvement with the league’s plan to keep growing the game in Africa through the league and other initiatives.” In a tweet, Obama said that he’s “always loved basketball because it’s about building a team that’s equal to more than the sum of its parts.”  The Washington Post