Africa Media Review for February 19, 2020

Russian Disinformation Campaigns Target Africa: An Interview with Dr. Shelby Grossman
In October 2019, Facebook removed dozens of inauthentic coordinated accounts operating in eight African countries that had been engaged in a long-term disinformation and influence campaign aimed at promoting Russian interests. The accounts were linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch with long-standing ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin who has been indicted for interfering in U.S. elections. Prigozhin also heads up the infamous Wagner Group, a private security contractor that has deployed former Russian military personnel into African conflict zones, including Libya, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, and Mali. … Dr. Shelby Grossman, a research scholar at the Stanford Internet Observatory, led the team that worked with Facebook to identify and analyze Russian-linked disinformation campaigns in Africa. … The Africa Center talked to Dr. Grossman about her research and its implications for recognizing and combatting disinformation in Africa. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Nigeria Military Burns Homes after ‘Pirates’ Kill Six
Nigerian soldiers torched more than 20 homes in a community in the oil-rich Niger Delta after “suspected pirates” killed six people, security sources and residents said on Tuesday. Gunmen on Sunday attacked a gunboat escorting a vessel in the volatile waters off the Nigerian coast, a Nigerian security source told AFP. “During the ensuing gun battle, four of the soldiers and two civilians on board the vessel were killed,” the source said. Security forces launched a manhunt for the assailants focused on the nearby community of Lutugbene in the wake of the attack. “Soldiers stationed at the Beneside Flow station on Monday afternoon invaded Lutugbene community claiming to be on the manhunt for suspected sea pirates that attacked their boat,” community leader Austin Ozobo told AFP. “The soldiers ended up burning a minimum of 21 houses.” The security source confirmed the village was targeted but said military personnel “torched houses owned by persons who are sea pirates.” AFP

Nigeria: Two Soldiers Killed, Many Houses Reportedly Burnt in Plateau
Two soldiers of the Operation Safe Haven have been shot dead in the hinterlands of Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State. The Plateau State Police Command confirmed the incident, which occurred Monday night. The command’s public relations officer, Ubah Ogaba, also said one other soldier sustained injuries and is receiving attention at a medical facility. “Suspected gunmen shot at officers of Operation Safe Haven. In the process, two soldiers were killed, one was injured,” the spokesperson said. In a related development, residents of Gindin Akwati, where the alleged killing took place, decried the action of soldiers whom they said burnt down many houses in retaliation. A resident, Usman Adam, said his house was burnt down by the soldiers. “Early morning, the soldiers called us for a meeting, they told us to bring out miscreants that we know among us. “But after the meeting, we saw deployment of many soldiers into our community, they began to set fire on our homes, they burnt my own home. Premium Times

Cameroon’s international partners including France and the United Nations have condemned last week’s killing of 23 villagers in a troubled English-speaking region. The incident on Friday took place in a region where armed separatists are campaigning for independence from the rest of Cameroon, which is majority French-speaking. More than 3,000 people have died and at least 700,000 have fled their homes in the nearly 29-month-old conflict. Rights watchdogs say they have documented killings of civilians and other abuses by the armed forces as well as by separatists. The United Nations on Tuesday urged authorities in Cameroon to conduct an independent investigation into the “shocking” incident and ensure the perpetrators are held accountable. … On Monday, 16 Catholic bishops from around the world sent a letter to Biya, urging his government to talk to the separatists. Biya, in power for 37 years, has repeatedly ruled out demands for autonomy or a return to Cameroon’s federal structure, although he has recently endorsed a decentralisation of some powers from Yaounde, the capital. “There will be no military victory for any side,” the bishops warned. AFP

Libya’s internationally recognized government on Tuesday suspended talks hosted by the United Nations to halt warfare over the capital after eastern forces shelled Tripoli’s port, killing three people and almost hitting a highly explosive gas tanker. The U.N. has been hosting in Geneva ceasefire talks between officers from the Tripoli government and the eastern-based Libya National Army (LNA), led by commander Khalifa Haftar. The two factions have been trying to take the capital in a near year-long campaign, displacing at least 150,000 people. The talks had been agreed by foreign powers backing rival parties at a summit in Germany a month ago, an event that has not halted a war cutting oil exports by 1 million barrels a day. … The LNA on Tuesday shelled Tripoli port, saying first it had attacked a Turkish vessel bringing weapons but saying later it had hit an arms depot. Three civilians were killed and five wounded, the Tripoli forces said. The attack came just as the U.S. ambassador Richard Norland was visiting Haftar in the first trip of a U.S. envoy to eastern Libya since the killing of the U.S. ambassador in a raid blamed on an Islamist militia in 2012. Reuters

Twelve members of an armed group died in a clash with UN peacekeepers and government troops in the northeastern Central African Republic (CAR). The fighting erupted on Sunday after the Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central Africa (FPRC) entered the flashpoint town of Birao before being repelled, government spokesman Ange-Maxime Kazagui said in a statement on Tuesday. … The UN force MINUSCA, in a statement, said “heavily armed” FPRC fighters entered the town before being pushed back. The FPRC is one of the largest armed groups in the CAR, a landlocked impoverished country where militia groups control most of the territory, often fighting for control over resources. The FPRC took over the crossroads town of Birao in 2014, giving it control over the lucrative tax of goods from neighbouring Sudan. … Kazagui said the FPRC entered Birao from three directions, apparently threatening a site for displaced people and an army base. Last Thursday, MINUSCA asked France to send warplanes over Birao to dissuade the FPRC from mounting an attack, the UN force’s spokesman, Vladimir Monteiro, said on Saturday. AFP

Kenya: Gunmen Attack Bus in Mandera County
A Moyale Raha bus headed to Nairobi from Mandera was Wednesday attacked by suspected Al-Shabaab militants. At least three passengers were killed in the attack which occurred at Sarman area in Mandera North County. The management of Moyale Raha bus company said the vehicle left Mandera town in the morning and was sprayed with bullets while on its way to Nairobi. “We are told the gunmen shot at the tyres but the driver sped off only to get into more gunfire ahead,” said a source at the offices of the bus company. Mandera County Commissioner Onesmus Kyatha confirmed the incident but said his office is yet to get details. “Something has happened but I am waiting for the finer details,” said Mr Kyatha. Daily Nation

Gunmen Kill South Sudanese Aid Worker in Pibor
Unidentified armed youth killed a South Sudanese aid worker last week after stopping his vehicle in Pibor, according to the UN humanitarian coordinator. “On 12 February, a clearly marked humanitarian vehicle belonging to an international non-governmental organization was stopped along the Pibor-Gumuruk road at a roadblock manned by unknown armed youth,” said Matthew Hollingworth. “The armed youth captured two of the four aid workers in the vehicle. One was shot and the other released” added Hollingworth in a statement issued on Tuesday. The UN official did not elaborate on the reason for the murder but added that the three surviving aid workers are receiving “ongoing support services.” … The Humanitarian Coordinator, in his statement, condemned the killing of the aid worker and called upon the South Sudanese authorities to protect humanitarian workers. “I strongly condemn the killing of aid workers and ask that those responsible for this act be brought to justice,” he stressed. Sudan Tribune

Human Rights Situation in Morocco Marked by a “Crackdown against Activists” Amnesty Says
In its annual report on the region, “Renewed wave of mass uprisings met with brutality and repression during ‘year of defiance,'” the international NGO stated that “individuals were detained as prisoners of conscience in 12 countries in the region and 136 people were arrested solely for their peaceful expression online.” According to the report, unveiled Tuesday, Morocco was one of the countries where some of these practices took place in 2019. “In Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, journalists, bloggers and activists who posted statements or videos deemed critical of the head of state or other authorities on social media found themselves targeted for arrest, questioning and prosecution,” Amnesty wrote. For its freedom of speech section, the NGO indicated that in Morocco authorities “harassed journalists, bloggers, artists and activists for expressing their views peacefully.” It revealed that, the Kingdom sentenced at least five of them to “prison terms for ‘insulting’ public officials” and allegedly targeted others “with spyware.” Yabiladi Radio

Niger’s Chance for a Democratic Transition of Power
2020 will be the last year in office for Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou. Analysts expect the power transition to be peaceful and in accordance with the constitution, despite the regime’s authoritarian proclivities. President Mamadou Tandja had refused to step down after two terms, as stipulated in the country’s constitution. He first took office in 1999 and was re-elected in 2004. Instead of obeying the constitution, he then went on to dissolve parliament and the constitutional court, simultaneously organizing a referendum on the possibility of a third term for himself. But he had not expected the reaction of the civil society and the Nigerien opposition, who boycotted the referendum and parliamentary elections and denounced Tandja’s actions as illegal. In the end, the military intervened and ousted Tandja. “The military coup in 2010 was inevitable, too great was the opposition to the unconstitutional extension of the mandate of then-President Tandja Mamadou,” Niger expert Sebastian Elischer told DW. The GIGA Institute of African Affairs researcher says that the events of ten years ago still reverberate in Niger today. The political situation in the Sahel country remains confusing. The military is still an important political actor, Elischer says. DW

Uganda Releases 13 More Rwandans
Authorities in Uganda have released 13 more Rwandan nationals ahead of a meeting between the presidents of the two countries on Friday at Gatuna. The release on Tuesday brings the total number of Rwandans released from detention in Uganda to 22, after nine others were released in January. Uganda and Rwanda are mending relations that soured early last year. Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa told a press conference in Kampala that the release follows a series of engagements that are part of last year’s Luanda memorandum of understanding to ease tensions between the two countries. Mr Kutesa said the latest release was “a further gesture of goodwill.” … In a press release on Wednesday, Rwanda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it welcomed the release of its citizens. It added that it had already stopped the prosecution of 17 Ugandans and released three others who had completed their sentences. The East African

EU Renews Arms Embargo against Zimbabwe
The European Union (EU) has announced that it will renew its arms embargo against Zimbabwe for another year, as it raises concerns about lack of action against members of the security forces accused of human rights abuses. Zimbabwe has been under western sanctions for alleged human rights violations since 2002. President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over from long-time ruler Robert Mugabe after a military coup in 2017, has been battling to gain acceptance from the international community. The EU said it was not yet convinced that the southern Africa country was on a reform path to extricate itself from over a decade of economic and political turmoil under former president Robert Mugabe. “Taking into account the situation in Zimbabwe, including the yet to be investigated alleged role of the armed and security forced in human rights abuses, the (EU) Council agreed to renew its arms embargo and targeted assets freeze against one company, Zimbabwe Defence Industries, for one year until 20 February 2021,” the EU said. The East African

Pompeo in Africa Visit Praises Angola’s Moves Against Graft
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in his latest Africa stop on Monday praised Angola’s president for his dramatic actions to recover billions of dollars looted bycorrupt officials, saying it would help attract investment to one of Africa’s largest economies. “This country has been held hostage to that corruption for far too long,” Pompeo told reporters. “This reform agenda that the president put in place has to stick.” President Joao Lourenco since taking office in 2017 has acted even against family members of former leader Eduardo dos Santos , who ruled for nearly four decade s. A recent investigation by a global consortium of journalists into dos Santos’ daughter Isabel, reputedly Africa’s richest woman, led to allegations of widespread mismanagement of state funds, which she has denied. The United States also sees oil-rich but largely impoverished Angola as a prime country in which to counter the influence of China. The southern African nation borrowed $40 billion from China between 2005 and 2019, representing about half of its external debt, according to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. AP

Ethiopia-Egypt Dam Dispute: Pompeo Says Deal Could Be Reached ‘In Months’
The US Treasury Department stepped in last year to facilitate talks between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan, another downstream country, after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reached out to US President Donald Trump, a close ally. The latest round of talks concluded in Washington last week, and officials have said they want to reach a deal by the end of February. But at a press conference Tuesday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Pompeo said the process could take longer. “A great deal of work remains, but I’m optimistic that over the coming months we can resolve this,” he said. … On Tuesday [Pompeo] met Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year in part for pursuing an ambitious reform agenda upon taking office in 2018 following several years of anti-government protests. Pompeo said the two men discussed the reforms and preparations for landmark elections planned for August 29. “A free and credible vote will show there is no false choice between democracy and security, and it will ensure that everyone has a voice,” Pompeo said. “I think the most impressive thing about these reforms is that they’re owned by the Ethiopian people,” he added. AFP

Locusts Swarm into Crisis-Hit South Sudan as Plague Spreads across East Africa
Swarms of locusts ravaging crops and grazing land across east Africa have reached South Sudan, already reeling from widespread hunger and years of civil war, the country’s agriculture minister said on Tuesday. Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti are battling the worst locust outbreak in decades, and swarms have also spread into Tanzania and Uganda. Desert locusts can travel up to 150km (95 miles) in a day and eat their own body weight in greenery, meaning a swarm just one kilometre square can eat as much food as 35,000 people in a day, according to the United Nations. The invasion is worsening food shortages in a region where up to 25 million people are suffering after three consecutive years of droughts and floods. Meshack Malo, South Sudan’s representative for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, said the locusts were mature and looking for breeding grounds that would form the basis of the next major infestation. … Teams planned to mark the place where they lay eggs and then come back to kill the young insects in 14 days, he said, since poisoning the eggs in the ground could damage the soil. The Guardian

World’s Next Gas Boom Could Transform Mozambique, but Its Challenges Are Fierce
The site is the Afungi peninsula, on the Indian Ocean coast near the Tanzania border. Companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Total SA are pouring billions of dollars into offshore gas projects around the peninsula. A city of 150,000 is being planned on a site where just a few thousand now live. … But the projects face some fearsome challenges: a raging Islamist insurgency in northern Mozambique; the threat of pirate attacks on supply ships in the nearby Mozambique Channel; angry protests by communities complaining of jobs going to outsiders; and an economy plagued by gross inequality and state corruption, which could funnel the benefits to a small elite. Exxon Mobil and Total this month reportedly asked the government to send military reinforcements to guard their operations in Cabo Delgado, the northern province where a shadowy insurgency has killed more than 500 people and forced 100,000 to flee their homes over the past two years. The Globe and Mail

African Growth Set to Suffer as Virus Outbreak Cuts Demand
Africa’s resource-dependent economies are braced for a slowdown as coronavirus hits demand from one of their biggest buyers, China, sending oil prices lower and prompting the International Monetary Fund to downgrade growth forecasts for Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy. The IMF late on Monday slashed its economic growth forecast for Nigeria, citing falling oil prices, as it urged Africa’s biggest crude producer to diversify its oil-dependent economy. Oil still provides more than half of Nigerian government revenues and 94 per cent of its foreign exchange, according to the IMF.Oil prices have fallen about 13 per cent this year on plunging Chinese demand, reflecting a a slowdown in economic activity caused by the coronavirus outbreak. “Every $10 drop in oil prices costs Nigeria about $500m per month in lost export revenue,” said John Ashbourne, economist at London-based Capital Economics. “As a major purchaser of natural resources from the continent, the impact of China’s economic engine shifting downward due to the coronavirus could have a deep impact on quite a number of African economies,” said Harry Broadman, chair of the emerging markets practice at Berkeley Research Group. FT



Photo: Adam Jones