Africa Media Review for February 26, 2024

The West African regional bloc said on Saturday it would lift strict sanctions on Niger as it seeks a new strategy to dissuade three junta-led states from withdrawing from the political and economic union – a move that threatens regional integration. Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met to address a political crisis in the coup-hit region that deepened in January with military-ruled Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali’s decision to exit the 15-member bloc. After closed-door talks, ECOWAS said it had decided to lift Niger sanctions including border closures, the freezing of central bank and state assets, and the suspension of commercial transactions with immediate effect. In a communique it said this was done for humanitarian reasons, but the move will be seen as a gesture of appeasement as ECOWAS tries to persuade the three junta states to remain in the nearly 50-year-old alliance. Reuters

Since 1978, presidential elections have always taken place in Senegal in February. This Sunday was the first time that this tradition was not observed. However, voters didn’t want to stay home. Instead they took part in symbolic voting by turning up at their polling stations. The civil society group ‘Senegal Vote’  invited citizens to go to the polls even though they couldn’t vote…And many answered the call, including candidates like Anta Babacar, and some journalists. According to a note from the Interior Ministry, talks to set a new date for Senegal’s presidential vote will start on Monday at 4pm. Sixteen presidential candidates have already said they are refusing to take part in this dialogue. RFI

Several hundred people demonstrated in the Senegalese capital Dakar on Saturday calling on President Macky Sall to set a date to elect his successor before his term ends on 2 April. Meanwhile, researchers, teachers, economists and analysts have been gathering to try and break the political stalemate…In Dakar, civil society and opposition parties under the initiative of the F24 grouping took to the streets on Saturday and have organised…a “dead city” operation for Tuesday…The Academic Council of Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar met yesterday Friday, and finally decided to resume face-to-face teaching from next Monday. On Friday as well, researchers from Wathi, a Dakar-based West African think tank, held a roundtable to share good practices and discuss solutions to the multifactorial crisis. RFI

At least 15 Catholic worshippers were killed in a Burkina Faso village [called Essakane] on Sunday when gunmen attacked a community as they gathered for prayers in the country’s conflict-hit northern region, church officials said…No further details were provided about the attack, which no group claimed responsibility for. But suspicion fell on jihadis who have frequently attacked remote communities and security forces, especially in the northern region…The country’s junta has struggled to restore peace in violence hot spots since the first coup in January 2022, the number of people killed by jihadis has nearly tripled compared with the 18 previous months, according to a report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in August. AP

Authorities loyal to the army in war-ravaged Sudan have blocked cross-border aid to the western Darfur region, a move decried by aid workers and the United States. The vast Darfur region, bordering Chad, has been one of the hardest hit parts of Sudan since war began 10 months ago between the Sudanese Armed Forces and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF)…In their current battle against the army, which started last April, the RSF have taken over four out of the five Darfur state capitals. More than 694 000 people have fled over the border to Chad, according to the International Organization for Migration, but many more remain trapped in Darfur and in need of assistance. The United Nations has had to limit its work in Darfur to cross-border operations from Chad, but last week the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) country director Eddie Rowe told reporters that “authorities have restricted the Chad cross-border operation”. AFP

Since civil war erupted in Sudan last spring, paramilitary fighters battling the country’s army have carried out a campaign of abductions, kidnapping civilians for ransom or pressing them into forced servitude, according to 10 victims who have since been released and other witnesses. Elements within the Rapid Support Forces, which have captured most of the capital, Khartoum, and swept across most of the western region of Darfur, have made these abductions a lucrative source of revenue, victims, other witnesses and activists said. Some of the victims said they have been enslaved and sold to work on the farms of RSF commanders, and others recounted being held while their families were forced to ransom them. Some victims said they were seized several times. Among those abducted, witnesses and activists said, have been girls and young women who were chained, bound and sold as sex slaves…While both sides have been implicated in violence against civilians, witnesses and activists say the RSF has been primarily responsible for the wave of kidnappings. The Washington Post

A French Journalist Has Been Detained in Ethiopia, His Publisher Says
Antoine Galindo, a Paris-based correspondent for the Africa Intelligence website, was detained in the capital Addis Ababa last Thursday by plainclothes security officers, the news outlet’s publisher, Indigo Publications, said in a statement. Galindo had arrived in Ethiopia earlier this month to report on an annual African Union summit and had a visa authorising him to work as a journalist, the statement said…He has been accused of “conspiracy to create chaos in Ethiopia,” the publisher said and called on the authorities to release him…Ethiopia is the second-biggest jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa, [the Committee to Protect Journalists] said, and joined calls for Galindo’s immediate release. AP

An airstrike in Ethiopia’s Amhara region killed at least 15 civilians, including children and elderly people, when it hit a truck carrying them to a village [last] week, three residents said. The strike took place on [last] Monday around 24 km (15 miles) from where Ethiopian troops were fighting militiamen, according to the residents who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals. Some of the victims were fleeing the clashes, while others were returning home from a baptism ceremony, they said…”We first heard an explosion and the area was covered with smoke and dust,” a priest said. “We collected 15 bodies. It was more a matter of collecting their dismembered bodies. Hands, legs and heads were everywhere”…The Ethiopian military has used drones extensively during the fighting, according to the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC). Reuters

The head of Africa’s largest carrier Ethiopian Airlines has called for the continent to implement an agreement allowing airlines to operate freely to increase competition and reduce the costs for travellers amid rising demand for flying. It is “a big obstacle” for Ethiopian Airlines and affects “nearly all African airlines” who are not able to expand their services, Ethiopian Airlines Group chief executive Mesfin Tasew told the Financial Times. An African initiative to liberalise the aviation space to which 37 countries have signed up was launched in 2018. However, the Single African Air Transport Market has not yet been fully implemented, in part due to countries protecting their national carriers. Unlike in other regions that have deregulated aviation, airlines operating in Africa have to sign bilateral agreements to fly between two countries on the continent.  Financial Times

Tunisia’s Ex-president Moncef Marzouki Sentenced to 8 Years in Absentia
A court in Tunisia sentenced former president Moncef Marzouki to eight years in prison in absentia as part of the country’s crackdown on opponents of President Kais Saied. The charges against Marzouki, who lives in Paris, stemmed from remarks he made that authorities said violated laws against incitement and calling for the overthrow of the government, court spokesperson Mohamed Zitouna told Tunisia’s state news agency TAP on Friday evening…Marzouki served as the first democratically elected president of Tunisia from 2011 to 2014, after Arab Spring protests led autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to step down and flee the country. A longtime human rights activist, Marzouki has emerged as a vocal critic of President Kais Saied’s moves to consolidate his own power and revise Tunisia’s post-Arab Spring constitution. AP

A Tunisian court sentenced on Saturday prominent opposition figure Jawher Ben Mbarek to six months in prison after he criticised the 2022 parliamentary election, his lawyer and sister Dalila Ben Mbarek said. Ben Mbarek, a fierce critic of President Kais Saied and senior member of the Salvation Front opposition coalition, was detained last year on suspicion of conspiracy against the state. Lawyer Dalila Ben Mbarek also said that she would go on hunger strike to protest against judicial injustices. Reuters

South Africa: ANC Manifesto Promises ‘Prescribed Assets’, NHI in Five Years, 3.5m New State Job Opportunities
As the ANC fights its most challenging election in 30 years, the governing party has promised to create 3.5 million work opportunities in the next five years if it wins the May 29 election. Jobs are Issue Number One for South African voters, the largest poll has shown…Despite crime and corruption being one of the most pressing issues for the governing party, there is nothing new in its pledges, but rather a continuity of existing policies…As immigration becomes a hot-button topic on different campaign trails, the usually laissez-faire ANC turns tough. It highlights the ongoing overhaul of three significant pieces of migration legislation, and says that refugee and asylum centres should be placed closer to border posts. Daily Maverick

Press freedom monitor groups in Africa are worried after an online investigative publication in Zimbabwe said it will halt its coverage of corruption in the army after receiving “threats and direct pressure” from state security agents. The online publication The NewsHawks said in a statement it will stop pursuing articles on issues of transparency and accountability in the Zimbabwe National Army following “subtle threats and brazen direct pressure from state security agents, particularly military intelligence operatives.” The publication rankled the army recently when it reported that three senior generals were getting at least $400,000 for housing but still subsidizing themselves through corruption to get upmarket housing in a price range that was above their pay grade. VOA

Mansir Muhammed, a journalist with HumAngle Media, has been shortlisted for the prestigious Sigma 2024 awards competition. He was selected for his investigative report titled ‘Finding Nigeria’s Forgotten Mass Graves Through Satellite Data’. It was published on Sept. 18, 2023, alongside an extensive investigation by HumAngle’s investigations lead, Kunle Adebajo, on the victims of extrajudicial killings and clandestine mass burials by the army. The investigation was done and published in collaboration with New Lines Magazine. Mansir, a senior GIS/OSINT specialist at HumAngle, with expertise in leveraging information technology, geographic research, open-source data, and visualisation techniques, used satellite imagery and other open-source intelligence to reveal the burial sites of victims of extrajudicial killings during the counterinsurgency operations in North East Nigeria between 2012 and 2018. HumAngle

Namibian President Hage Geingob was laid to rest in the country’s Heroes’ Acre cemetery on Sunday following a state funeral attended by African leaders, the German president and Princess Anne, the sister of Britain’s King Charles III. Geingob died earlier this month at the age of 82 while receiving treatment for cancer. He was Namibia’s third president since it gained independence from apartheid South Africa in 1990. Before that, the southern African country was a German colony…He had been president since 2015 and was set to finish his second and final term this year. Geingob also served as Namibia’s first prime minister after independence from 1990 to 2002 and was prime minister for a second time from 2012 to 2015. AP