Africa Media Review for February 20, 2020

Somalia: Al-Shabab Fighters Attack Military Bases
Al-Shabab has attacked two Somali military bases using an explosive-laden vehicle driven by a suicide bomber along with dozens of heavily-armed fighters. At least 12 Somali soldiers were killed in the attack on Wednesday, and the attackers briefly captured a base southwest of the capital, officials said, underscoring the group’s ability to launch attacks despite a government offensive. A suicide bomber detonated at the el-Salini base before gunmen stormed in and briefly occupied it, police said. The military recaptured the base after reinforcements arrived. “They took the base and took weapons and ammunitions, this includes anti-aircraft guns fixed on pickups,” said Nur Ahmed, a police officer from Afgoye in Lower Shabelle region. Military Officer Ismail Ali said 12 soldiers were killed and the commander of the base was injured. African Union troops stepped in to help repel the second, larger attack after a bomber drove a vehicle onto a bridge leading to the Qoryooley army base, 95 kilometres (59 miles) west of the capital Mogadishu and detonated it. Al Jazeera

The field marshal stares from billboards into the wreckage of the Libyan city of Benghazi. His uniform is festooned with epaulets and honors, even as the civil war he is waging has stalled into a bloody stalemate. His plainclothes security agents loiter and listen in cafes and hotel lobbies. He has handed control of the mosques to extremist preachers. And he has showered patronage on a tribal death squad called the Avengers of Blood, blamed for a long string of disappearances and killings of his political opponents. “We are living in a prison,” said Ahmed Sharkasi, a liberal activist from Benghazi who fled to Tunis because of threats on his life. Khalifa Hifter, the 76-year-old commander known in his dominion as “the marshal,” is the military ruler of eastern Libya. He has been fighting for nearly six years to take control of the country, and he has been waging an assault on the capital, Tripoli, for the last 10 months. … Mr. Hifter has promised to build a stable, democratic and secular Libya, but he has largely shut Western journalists out of his territory. A rare visit there by a New York Times correspondent and photographer revealed an unwieldy authoritarianism that in many ways is both more puritanical and more lawless than Libya was under its last dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. The New York Times

Tunisia Names New Government, Avoids Risk of Early Election
Tunisia’s designated Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakhon Wednedsay named a new coalition governmentafter reaching an agreement with Ennahda moderate Islamist Party, the biggest power in Parliament, ending an ongoing political crisis of four months. With this agreement, the proposed government will likely win a confidence vote in Parliament in coming days and the country will avoid an early election. Fakhfakh proposed the line-up of a new government on Saturday and then said negotiations would continue after Ennahda party sought some changes. President Kais Saied said on Monday he would dissolve parliament and call for an early election if the new government failed to win a parliamentary confidence vote. Fakhfakh submitted a list of cabinet nominees to President Saied, with Nizar Yaich as finance minister, Nourredine Erray as foreign minister and Imed Hazgui as defence minister. The proposed government must be approved by the deeply fragmented parliament in next days. Reuters

Chad Says It Has Repelled Rebel Attack in Gold Region
Chadian soldiers on Wednesday repelled an incursion into a volatile northern gold-mining region from neighbouring Libya, the army said. The rebel group, the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (CCMSR), acknowledged the deadly fighting, saying its forces had carried out a “strategic pullback.” The clash took place early Wednesday near Kouri Bougoudi, a town hard by the Libyan border in the Tibesti massif, a mountainous gold-mining region where lawlessness and trafficking are rampant. CCMSR rebels “attacked army positions at 6 am,” army spokesperson Colonel Azem Bermendoa Agouna told AFP. The army “routed them and is currently pursuing them,” he said. A senior army officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 40 rebels had been killed and 38 captured, against the loss of three soldiers. The CCMSR’s spokesperson, Ali Saleh Hassaballah, reached by phone from Libreville, told AFP that about 50 soldiers had been killed, against the loss of only three rebels. The starkly contrasting tolls could not be verified independently, as the zone is barred to journalists. AFP

South Sudanese Demand Leaders ‘Show Us There Is Peace’
From behind the razor-wire fence that she is too afraid to leave, under armed protection in her own land, Jenty John Musa hears that peace is apparently coming to South Sudan. “We just hear on the radio, ‘There is peace, there is peace.’ But we’re not sure,” she tells AFP in Wau, where thousands fled during the carnage of the civil war seeking UN protection. “Let them come to us, and show us that now there is peace.” After a string of failed truces and hollow promises, distrust runs deep in South Sudan as its warring leaders are once again pushed to end the ruinous conflict in their young country. International pressure is mounting on President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, to honour a February 22 deadline to form a power-sharing government in Juba. The old rivals signed a ceasefire in September 2018, halting five years of bloodshed that left 380,000 of their countrymen dead and four million on the run. But they have since missed two deadlines to form a coalition, postponing again and again a major step towards a permanent truce. … The haggling in Juba is painfully familiar to South Sudanese in Wau, who still bear the scars of past failed efforts at peacemaking. AFP

Five Dead Hostages Found after Eastern DRC Massacre
Five hostages taken by an armed group that killed 10 people in eastern Democratic Republic Congo this week have been found dead, a local official said on Wednesday. Five bodies “were discovered in the neighbourhood of the Virunga National Park,” John Kambale Sibendire, a local leader in Malambo district southeast of the city of Beni, told AFP. “They are the bodies of inhabitants who were taken hostage in the attack,” he said. Ten people were killed late Monday when suspected members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) attacked the village of Manzahalo. Eight civilians, a soldier and an intelligence agent died, Kambale said. The ADF began as an Islamist-rooted rebel group in Uganda that opposed President Yoweri Museveni. It originally operated in Uganda but fell back to North Kivu, DRC’s border province with Uganda, during the Congo Wars of the 1990s. AFP

Rwanda has lashed out at the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the death of a dissident singer in Rwandan police custody has revived long-running criticism of Kigali. Kizito Mihigo, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide whose songs angered the government of strongman President Paul Kagame, was found dead in a police cell in the capital on Monday, according to the Kigali authorities. His death was announced three days after he was caught trying to flee the country. The announcement revived smouldering anger in the DRC, where Rwanda is frequently accused of trying to interfere in Congo’s volatile eastern border region and “balkanise” it. Two Congolese lawmakers, Patrick Muyaya and Andre Claudel Lubaya, were among those who attacked the official account of suicide. … Congolese rights activists as well as Amnesty International have called for a full investigation into the singer’s death. AFP

Togo Bars Observer Group from Monitoring Election
Togo’s election authorities on Wednesday barred a main independent observer group from monitoring an upcoming poll expected to see President Faure Gnassingbe extend his family’s decades-long rule. … The leader took over in 2005 after the death of his father Gnassingbe Eyadema, who led with an iron fist for 38 years after seizing power in a coup in 1967. The electoral commission said it had cancelled the accreditation of the National Consultation of Civil Society of Togo to field their 500 observers nationwide, accusing the coalition of “preparing to carry out interference” in the vote. The authorities have already blocked monitors from the Catholic Church from observing the election. Gnassingbe and his allies maintain a stranglehold over the country and critics insist that the vote will not be free and fair. A wave of major protests swept the country in 2017 and 2018 demanding that Gnassingbe leave power. AFP

Algerian President Honors Protest Movement on Anniversary
Algeria’s president has declared Feb. 22 a special holiday to honor the peaceful “smile revolution” protest movement that ousted the gas-rich country’s longtime leader last year. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune made the announcement Wednesday, ahead of what are expected to be big protests this week to mark the Hirak movement’s first anniversary. The move appears to be an attempt to mollify protesters who feel authorities are ignoring their calls for deeper political change. It’s a symbolic decision, but a key recognition of the importance of the protest movement that has led to major changes in the leadership of Africa’s largest country. Tebboune is a product of Algeria’s old power structure, which remained largely in place after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his entourage were pushed out last year. Protesters are planning their 53rd straight week of marches Friday for what is now called the “Feb. 22 Revolution,” marking the day of the first major nationwide protests against Boutflika’s rule. AP

Sudan and South Sudan: Khartoum and Juba Agree to Maintain Security in Abyei Region
Sudan and South Sudan have reached a formal arrangement for joint security management of the troubled Abyei region, so as to prevent further bloodshed. After the Joint Security Political Committee meeting between the two countries on Wednesday, the two sides said they would coordinate the movement of people and security. The Committee was created last month after local rebel groups attacked civilians, killing more than a dozen and injuring several others. In Juba, the issues of identifiable crossings between the two countries, security details and a programme for the actual border demarcation were some of the issues considered as long-term solutions to the violence. Abyei lies on the estimated border flow between South Sudan and Sudan and is one of the issues that have not been determined since Juba seceded from Khartoum in 2011. In the meantime, the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (Unisfa) was created to act as a peacekeeping force. But as other blue-helmet UN forces, the troops are non-combat missions, which means they are legally barred from battling rebels and must only work as guards for civilians. The East African

Revolutionary Squads Guard Sudan’s Bakeries to Battle Corruption
As bakers in flour-stained clothes knead dough and slide trays of loaves into ovens in Sudan’s capital, a cluster of yellow-vested volunteers keep watch. The goal of the self-styled guardians of the uprising that toppled ruler Omar al-Bashir is to stem the smuggling of heavily subsidised flour and bread destined for citizens struggling through a long-running economic crisis. Bread was a symbol of the revolution – an attempt to raise bread prices was a trigger for the first major protests, in the city of Atbara. But flour and fuel are still being siphoned off onto the black market, contributing to shortages that have dampened spirits six months into a 39-month transition and left a weak civilian government struggling to respond. “We are monitoring what enters and leaves the bakery – the flour before it is made into bread, the bread that comes out, who it goes to, at what time and why,” said 20-year-old student Mohaned Babeker, standing watch at the bakery in the Khartoum neighbourhood of Arkawit. Reuters

Nigeria: Borno Governor – Nigeria Needs 100,000 More Soldiers to Crush Boko Haram
Borno State Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, Wednesday said that Nigeria would require about 100,000 more soldiers to win the war against Boko Haram. He, however, suggested at least 50,000 of the recruits should come from Borno, irrespective of whether or not they have western education, to prosecute the ongoing war against terror. The governor urged President Muhammadu Buhari and the military to revisit the strategy used in 2016/2017 when Nigerians were almost celebrating the demise of Boko Haram so that the insurgents would be defeated once and for all. Zulum spoke yesterday in Maiduguri while playing host to the House of Representatives’ Committee on Defence led by its Chairman, Hon. Babajimi Benson. Also yesterday, the governor, in a broadcast, declared Monday a day for statewide fasting and prayers against Boko Haram insurgents. He said the war against insurgents could not be successfully won without manpower, technology and proper funding. This Day

Nigerian Lawmakers Want New Agency to Tackle Proliferation of Small Arms
A bill for the establishment of the national commission against the proliferation of small arms and light weapons passed second reading on Wednesday. The bill seeks to empower the commission to coordinate and implement activities to combat the problems of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria in line with ECOWAS states convention on small arms and light weapons. The bill was read for the first time in this Senate on December 18, 2019. Many analysts and observers have identified the proliferation of small arms as one of the main causes of insecurity and killings across Nigeria. … On Tuesday, during the lead debate, the sponsor of the bill, Smart Adeyemi (APC, Kogi), highlighted the objectives of the bill which include, “(to) identify sources and main routes of small arms, ammunition and light weapon; identify why illicit trade thrives in Nigeria; liaise with the relevant authorities, agencies and organisations with the aim of tackling the menace.” Premium Times

In Violence-Hit Burkina Faso, Love Wins for Interfaith Couples
[Burkina Faso] has historically been a bastion of religious and ethnic tolerance in the region. Interfaith marriages are relatively common and it is unusual for extended families not to include followers of both Islam and Christianity. In the face of rising religious and ethnic tensions, some religious leaders are helping to uphold Burkina Faso’s values of multiculturalism and tolerance by supporting interfaith couples such as the Boudas. Among them are Bourima Drabo, an imam in Ouagadougou, and Joseph Clochard, a priest within the Missionaries of Africa, a Catholic organisation of about 1,200 clerics spread across the continent. They support Muslim and Christian marriages by organising workshops on the last Saturday of every month where interfaith couples discuss the problems that can arise as a result of their different faiths – from the choice of a child’s name and their education to difficulties surrounding the attendance of religious ceremonies and events. … When asked about what the initiative meant for the current security situation, Clouchard said: “The strengthening of the social fabric is at stake. These marriages are more and more numerous and can be a way to promote community and rapprochement.” Al Jazeera

‘Afro-Optimism’ on the Rise among Continent’s Youth, Finds Survey
Young people across Africa are confident that the continent is heading for an era of success fuelled by technology and entrepreneurship, according to a new survey. The Africa Youth survey, which claims to be the largest of its kind, said there is growing belief in the concept of “Afro-optimism,” fighting persistently negative stereotypes of the continent. Though most people interviewed were dissatisfied with the state of their own country, almost half believed the continent as a whole was in a healthier state than previously, and two-thirds thought they were living through a transformative “African century.” Ivor Ichikowitz, chairman of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, which commissioned the survey, said the results “are a loud wake-up call to all the Afro-sceptics.” “We have found a youth that refuses to shy away from the very real challenges of Africa, that is honest about what needs to be done and what their role has to be to achieve this – and they are overwhelmingly keen to make that difference.” The survey covered 14 countries, and included 4,200 interviews with young people aged between 18 and 24. The average age in Africa is younger than 20, according to the UN, more than 10 years younger than any other continent. The Guardian



Photo: Adam Jones