Africa Media Review for February 22, 2022

Russia Steadily Rebuilding Presence in Africa
Since at least 2007, especially in the last few years, Russia has been increasing military and other economic involvement in Africa. …while the Soviets tried to sell socialist ideas of modernization in Africa, Russians today “are not offering any ideological vision,” [Maxim Matusevich, a history professor who directs Russian studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey] said. “What they’re essentially doing is they’re contracting with African elites on a one-on-one basis.” … Private military contractors also are helping advance Moscow’s agendas in Africa, Western observers say. These include fighters in the shadowy Wagner Group, allegedly controlled by Putin associate Yevgeny Prigozhin. … Those private fighters operate in parallel with the Kremlin, said Joseph Siegle, who directs research for the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, part of the U.S. Defense Department. He said they are part of Moscow’s tool kit to prop up weak African leaders in exchange for economic or other advantages. “Every place we’ve seen Wagner deployed around the world and in Africa – be it Libya, Sudan, Mozambique, Central African Republic – it has been a destabilizing force,” Siegle said. “What Russia has been doing has been deploying mercenaries, disinformation, election interference, arms-for-resources deals, opaque contracts … aimed at capturing wider influence.” VOA

Russian Invasion Risks Pushing Families across Middle East and North Africa into Severe Hunger
The threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine is causing food prices to fluctuate, and risks pushing families across the Middle East and North Africa into severe hunger. Russia is the largest exporter of wheat in the world, while Ukraine has significantly climbed the ranks in grain exports over the last decade. Families who already face skyrocketing food prices could see the cost of staple items climb even higher if supply chains are disrupted, experts have warned. Abeer Etefa, spokesperson for the World Food Programme, said: “We’ve had volatility in the market even in the past few days, because of worries of potential conflict. The price of grains has started to fluctuate.” Ms Etefa added: “Food prices are already at a high. We’re worried that people in the Middle East and Africa could become even more vulnerable if supplies are disrupted.” In the Middle East and North Africa food prices are at a 10-year high, reaching levels comparable to those during the Arab Spring, according to the US Department of Agriculture. An extensive conflict or a blockade of the Black Sea would mean that supplies from Ukraine would need to be replaced by those from another source, resulting in a hike in prices. Telegraph

UN to CAR Military, Russian Mercenaries: Stop Obstructing Rights Investigations
The U.N.’s Yao Agbetse says the C.A.R. military and Russian mercenaries prevent access for U.N. investigators and are believed responsible for nearly half the country’s rights violations. Clashes are still going on in the Central African Republic countryside, where the national army and Russian mercenaries are chasing the rebels who attacked the capital of Bangui last year. During the past four months, at least 229 civilians have died, according to a recent U.N. report. But that figure could be underestimated, because U.N. investigators are prevented from accessing sites of various alleged crimes. The U.N. recently sent Agbetse to Bangui with a message for the Central African government: Draw a red line that allies cannot cross, he said. If U.N. investigators are impeded from accessing places where violations could have been committed, he added, the assumption is that the government doesn’t want the truth to be known. The U.N. said it documented at least 4 cases of mass executions since October, mostly around mining sites. … Experts say Russian mercenaries from the private company Wagner Group gain mining contracts in the C.A.R. in exchange for their military support. VOA

Gold Mining Site Blast Reportedly Kills 59 in Burkina Faso
A strong explosion near a gold mining site in southwestern Burkina Faso killed 59 people and injured more than 100 others Monday, the national broadcaster and witnesses reported. The provisional toll was provided by regional authorities following the blast in the village of Gbomblora, RTB reported. The explosion was believed to have been caused by chemicals used to treat gold that were stocked at the site. … Burkina Faso is the fastest-growing gold producer in Africa and currently the fifth largest on the continent, with gold being the country’s most important export. The industry employs about 1.5 million people and was worth about $2 billion in 2019. Small gold mines like Gbomblora have grown in recent years, with some 800 across the country. Much of the gold is being smuggled into neighboring Togo, Benin, Niger and Ghana, according to the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies. The small-scale mines are also reportedly used by jihadis linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State, which have staged attacks in the country since 2016. The groups reportedly raise funds by taxing miners, and also use the mine sites for recruiting fighters and seeking refuge. AP

West Trains Africa Forces as Coastal Nations Fret Attacks
While patrolling a mock village to train in fighting extremists, a Ghanaian soldier wondered how he would cope if one day the drill became real. The 24-year-old special forces officer, who has never experienced war, is part of a select group of African soldiers being trained by Western armies to combat surging jihadi violence across the Sahel, a vast expanse below the Sahara desert, that is now spreading south into coastal states. Huddled in a circle after the reconnaissance exercise at the training site in Ivory Coast, the officer said he has watched neighboring countries be overrun by jihadis for nearly 10 years. The soldier, whose identity is kept anonymous according to security regulations, is among less than 200 troops from four West African nations being led in exercises as part of the annual U.S. military-led counterterrorism training known as Flintlock. … Sahel experts say some coastal militaries, like Ghana and Ivory Coast, are somewhat better equipped and capable at stemming the jihadi threat, but many still lack basic skills and have never faced battle. … Flintlock [is being] held at Ivory Coast’s International Counter Terrorism Academy, a new $65 million complex partly funded by France to train soldiers across the continent… AP

German President Urges Greater Cooperation on Senegal Trip
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for greater cooperation between Europe and Senegal on Monday as President Macky Sall welcomed him to the capital Dakar with military honors to kick off a three-day trip to the West African nation. “For all the differences that exist: We must find the way to a closer, fruitful partnership,” Steinmeier said after talks with President Sall as he praised the nation for its “key” role as a stable democracy in the region.  Steinmeier added that he hoped to facilitate a “new impetus to the long-standing close partnership between Germany and Senegal.” Steinmeier spoke of the tense security situation currently dominating the entire Sahel region, especially in neighboring Mali. … Steinmeier said Germany was “earnestly” weighing its next moves regarding the deployment of troops in the region after France’s announced withdrawal. … Germany currently has some 1,170 soldiers deployed to Mali as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSMA. A further 328 troops are part of the EU military training mission in Mali, or EUTM. DW

Turkey’s Erdogan Seeks to Boost Ties with Africa in Four-Day Visit
Turkey’s president has promised to boost relations with African countries as he visited the Senegalese capital Dakar during a four-day tour of Central and West Africa. “We will continue to enhance our relations with African countries on the basis of sincerity and solidarity,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday during a joint press conference with his Senegalese counterpart Macky Sall. … In 2021, the volume of bilateral trade between Turkey and Senegal reached $540m. Erdogan has said the goal is to bring the figure to $1bn. … Sall praised Turkish companies that have initiated various investment projects in the country and said investments between the two countries should increase even more. … Erdogan, who set out on Sunday for the tour, will also visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Guinea-Bissau. In Dakar, the Turkish president noted that the 3rd Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit, held in Istanbul in December, set out a roadmap in Turkish relations with Africa for 2022 to 2026. Leaders from more than a dozen African countries attended the summit, highlighting Turkey’s expanding influence on the continent. Since its 2019 intervention in the Libyan civil war, Istanbul has steadily expanded its African footprint as it seeks to replace Western influence on the continent. Al Jazeera

The U.S. Is Ramping Up Vaccination Assistance to 11 African Countries.
The United States will increase coronavirus vaccine assistance to 11 African nations, officials said on Thursday, in an effort to prevent future variants and bolster inoculation efforts in the least vaccinated continent. Through the Initiative for Global Vaccine Access, or Global Vax, the Biden administration will provide “intensive financial, technical and diplomatic support” to African countries that have recently shown the capacity to hasten vaccine uptake, according to a statement from Rebecca Chalif, a spokeswoman for the United States Agency for International Development. The agency said it selected a group of countries in sub-Saharan Africa — Angola, Eswatini, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Lesotho, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia — based on the burden of Covid-19 on their populations, the capacity of their health systems, their readiness to quickly administer vaccine doses in the absence of supply constraints and their ability to effectively deploy additional U.S. investments. … Currently, just 12 percent of the African population — or 168 million people — have been fully vaccinated, according to the W.H.O., with Africa accounting for just 3.5 percent of the 10.3 billion doses administered globally. The New York Times

US, Egypt Launch Group to Prepare for COP27 Climate Summit
The United States and Egypt launched a joint group Monday to prepare for the U.N. climate change summit in Egypt this year, as a U.S. envoy called for a sharp slash in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. John Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy for climate, said the working group is focused on the U.N.’s COP27 conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in November. He said Egypt, which is chairing the summit, has already begun its preparations and set ambitious goals. … The former U.S. senator and secretary of state, who landed in Cairo on Sunday, spoke at the American University in Cairo on the future of international climate action in the leadup to COP27. He called for concerted efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions by a minimum of 45% by 2030, to be able to reach a pollution-neutral planet by mid-century. “The test ahead of us is not just a political and diplomatic challenge to tame mother nature — it is a test pitting human nature against itself,” he said. In the news briefing, Kerry said they aim to implement all promises made in last year’s U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. In the 2021 summit, almost 200 nations accepted a compromise deal, which outside experts said showed progress, but not success. AP

Ethiopia Starts Electricity Production at Blue Nile Mega-Dam
Ethiopia began producing electricity for the first time from its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) – a massive hydropower plant on the River Nile that neighbours Sudan and Egypt say will cause severe water shortages downstream. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed officially inaugurated electricity production on Sunday from the mega-dam, a milestone in the controversial multibillion-dollar project. Abiy, accompanied by high-ranking officials, toured the power generation station and pressed a series of buttons on an electronic screen, a move officials said initiated production. … Egypt’s foreign ministry, however, accused Ethiopia of “persisting in its violations” of a preliminary deal signed between the three nations in 2015, prohibiting any of the parties from taking unilateral actions in the use of the river’s water. The first violations of the initial agreement related to the filling of the dam, the ministry said in a statement on Sunday. … The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is set to be the largest hydroelectric scheme in Africa but has been at the centre of a regional dispute ever since Ethiopia broke ground there in 2011. Ethiopia’s downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan view the dam as a threat because of their dependence on Nile waters, while Addis Ababa deems it essential for its electrification and development. Al Jazeera

Facebook ‘Lets Vigilantes in Ethiopia Incite Ethnic Killing’
Facebook is under renewed scrutiny this weekend, accused of continuing to allow activists to incite ethnic massacres in Ethiopia’s escalating war. Analysis by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Observer found Facebook is still letting users post content inciting violence through hate and misinformation. This is despite being aware it helps directly fuel tensions, prompting claims of inaction and indifference against the social media giant. … TBIJ and Observer investigators also interviewed a number of fact-checkers, civil society organisations and human rights activists in the country. They described Facebook’s support as far less than it should be. Others said they felt requests for assistance had been ignored and meetings failed to materialise. These failures, they said, helped to fuel a conflict in which thousands have died and millions been displaced since fighting broke out between government forces and armed opposition groups from the Tigray region in November 2020. Both sides have been accused of atrocities. Rehobot Ayalew, of the Ethiopian factchecking initiative HaqCheck, said: “Most of the people have low media literacy, so Facebook is considered to be credible. We come across [Facebook] images that are horrifying and hateful content. You’re not getting the support from the platform itself, that is allowing this kind of content. The Guardian

Sudan: At Least 200 Injured in ‘Break the Chains’ Marches of the Millions
Large crowds demonstrated in Khartoum and other states in the February 21 Marches of Millions yesterday, which the Resistance Committees called the ‘Breaking the Chains’ demonstrations in order to demand the release of detainees. More than 200 protesters were injured as authorities intervened with excessive violence. Demonstrators reported that the February 21 protests against the military regime were subjected to excessive violence, including the heavy firing of live ammunition and tear gas. Activists from the Resistance Committees told Radio Dabanga that the Omdurman processions were subjected to excessive repression near the El Azhari square to prevent the protesters from reaching the Shambat bridge to Khartoum North to participate in the Marches of the Millions there. … In all places, the demonstrators demanded the immediate release of all political detainees, the overthrow of the military coup regime, and a full transition to civilian democratic rule. … Yesterday’s demonstrations had been pre-planned, but surprise demonstrations took place on Sunday, in which at least 92 protesters were injured and one person was killed. Another spontaneous demonstration has been called in Wad Madani today. Radio Dabanga

Thousands Hail Zimbabwe Opposition Leader at New Party Rally
Zimbabwe’s leading opposition figure Nelson Chamisa drew thousands of cheering supporters on Sunday to his first political rally since forming a new party weeks ago, as the country gears for elections that have been postponed due to COVID-19. Nelson Chamisa formed the Citizens Coalition for Change party in January, making a break from the country’s longtime opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC. The 44-year-old lawyer and pastor lost a disputed presidential election in 2018 to President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the country’s Constitutional Court threw out his challenge to the result. The courts later ruled that Chamisa was not the legitimate leader of the MDC, a decision that handed control of the party to rivals seen close to Mnangagwa. Chamisa was no longer the leader of the MDC’s members of parliament and was not able to use the party’s headquarters or access state funding to the party. … While Chamisa’s party is new, the problems that have prevented the opposition from taking over power in Zimbabwe remain. These include arrests, detentions, beatings, harassment and alleged partisan security forces that act in favor of the ruling party. AP

Libya to Hold Legislative Elections by End of June
Libya’s interim prime minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah reaffirmed Monday that he will only cede power to an elected government and announced a plan for legislative elections before the end of June, in the wake of an attempted ouster by parliament. Already plagued by divisions between rival administrations in the east and west, Libya has found itself with two rival prime ministers in Tripoli after missing a crucial deadline for December elections. The parliament sitting in the east appointed former interior minister Fathi Bachagha to replace Dbeibah at the head of the interim government on February 10. … In his speech on Monday, Dbeibah said that legislative elections would be followed by the drafting of a constitution, which would set the legal basis for the presidential poll, the date of which has not been specified. AFP

Morocco Creates New Military Zone Along Algeria Border
Morocco has established a new military zone bordering Algeria, a Moroccan military publication said Monday, amid mounting tensions between the two North African countries. The establishment of the new zone redefines Morocco’s military borders, introducing a new eastern military zone alongside the previously designated northern and southern military zones. Algeria borders Morocco to the latter’s east and south. The Moroccan armed forces’ magazine said in its latest edition on Monday that the creation of the new zone dates back as early as January 5, when its command was handed over to Major General Mohammed Miqdad during a ceremony. The zone was created to allow for “more flexibility and freedom for necessary action in the accomplishment of different missions,” the magazine said. After months of mounting tensions, Algeria cut diplomatic ties with Morocco in August, citing “hostile actions” — a charge Rabat has denied. Rabat and Algiers are at loggerheads over the Western Sahara, as well as Morocco’s normalization deal with Israel in late 2020. The Defense Post with AFP

Mozambique Govt’s Website Down for Several Hours after Hack
Mozambique on Monday said the portal hosting government websites was hit by a cyberattack forcing it to take the system offline for several hours. He described the attack as “web defacement type,” and a local private-run news website, Carta de Mozambique, said the webpages had been replaced by images associated with the jihadists. “Portals that publish information for public consumption were attacked,” a senior government official responsible for electronic communications systems Herminio Jasse, told reporters. “After the attack we immediately shut down the server. This created some concern from people trying to access the sites,” he said. AFP

Cyclone-Hit Madagascar Braces for Another ‘Big One’
The island of Madagascar off the east coast of Africa is bracing for yet another cyclone having already been hit by three major tropical storms in the last month. Cyclone Emnati is expected to make landfall on the eastern coast of Madagascar late Tuesday amid fears it will be a stronger storm than the three that have left nearly 200 people dead this cyclone season. Most of those deaths have been on the Indian Ocean island but people have also died in Mozambique and Malawi on mainland Africa. Tropical storm Ana hit Madagascar in late January. The devastating Cyclone Batsirai left more than 120 people dead and displaced around 143,000 on the island early this month, and destroyed buildings and roads. Cyclone Dumako made landfall just last week. A red alert has been issued for Emnati, which is moving over the Indian Ocean and currently has maximum wind speeds of 222 kilometers per hour (138 miles per hour), according to the U.N. weather station on the island of Reunion, which monitors the cyclones. AP



Photo: Adam Jones