Africa Media Review for February 27, 2017

Pentagon Seeks to Expand Fight Against Extremists in Somalia
The Pentagon wants to expand the military’s ability to battle al-Qaida-linked militants in Somalia, potentially putting U.S. forces closer to the fight against a stubborn extremist group that has plotted attacks against America, senior U.S. officials said. The recommendations sent to the White House would allow U.S special operations forces to increase assistance to the Somali National Army in the struggle against al-Shabab militants in the fragile Horn of Africa nation, the officials said. They said the proposal would give the military greater flexibility to launch airstrikes against extremists that appear to be a threat. Beefing up the military effort in Somalia fits with President Donald Trump’s broader request for a Pentagon plan to accelerate the U.S.-led battle against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and defeat other extremist groups, including al-Qaida and its affiliates. VOA

Puntland Troops Stage Short Mutiny ‘Over Unpaid Salaries’
Troops in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland have briefly staged a mutiny. Dozens of soldiers seized the parliament compound in the administrative capital Garowe and blocked nearby streets. However one of the region’s most respected clan elders, Islan Issa Islan Mohamed, told them to return to their barracks. He told the BBC that the “drama” was now over. It had been reported that the soldiers were protesting about a delay in the payment of salaries as well as poor working conditions. BBC

UN Warns Burundi’s President over Fourth Term
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is warning Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza against seeking a fourth term, saying such a move risks deepening the crisis in the African country. In a report obtained by AFP, the UN chief says he is “very concerned” by recent statements by Nkurunziza, in power since 2005, suggesting he could seek a fourth term in office, which would require changes to the constitution. “An attempt by the president to seek a fourth term in office under the current circumstances would risk intensifying the crisis and undermining collective efforts to find a sustainable solution,” wrote Guterres in the report sent to the Security Council on Thursday. Hundreds have died in violence in Burundi triggered by the president’s decision in April 2015 to stand in elections for a third term in office, which he went on to win. News 24

Tunisia Fears the Return of Thousands of Young Jihadists
Tunisia has sent more fighters abroad to join the ranks of the Islamic State than any other country. And now, as the Islamic State takes a battering on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, the country is at odds over what to do if and when they come home. Tunisians have been dealing with a frenzied polemic in recent weeks, as secularists have raised fears that a returning wave will bring further mayhem to this fragile state and Islamists have been forced to condemn the jihadists. “How can we accept those people who are professionals in war, in the use of arms and have a culture of being terrorists?” asked Badra Gaaloul, a civil-military analyst who heads the International Center of Strategic, Security and Military Studies. “We in Tunisia are in crisis, and we cannot accept these people.” “It is a nightmare for Tunisia,” she added. “We are not ready for that.” The concern is not academic. Ms. Gaaloul, among others, points to the experience of Algeria, which suffered through a decade-long insurgency in the 1990s when jihadists returned from Afghanistan set on establishing Islamic law, and the army led a brutal war to crush them. The New York Times

Tunisia’s Security Crackdown Breeding New Generation of IS Fighters: Hedi Hammami
Hedi Hammami feels like a marked man in Tunisia. The former Guantanamo Bay detainee is incensed at his government’s decision to extend the state of emergency this monthas it means more police harassment for him. “I would rather go back to Guantanamo than live here in my own country like this,” he told Fairfax Media. “I am tired of this suffering.” Hammami was captured in Pakistan in 2002 and then transferred to Guantanamo Bay for participating in al-Qaeda training camps. He spent eight years in detention in the military base in Cuba, suffering trauma from prolonged periods of enforced darkness and solitary confinement before he was released by US authorities and sent to Georgia in March 2010. After Tunisia’s “Jasmine revolution”, he petitioned the country’s new government to return to his homeland in 2012. Sydney Morning Herald

Egypt’s Christians Flee Terror in North Sinai Security Void
After Islamic militants barged into his uncle’s house, shot him and his son dead, then looted the place and set it on fire, Said Sameh Adel Fawzy knew it was time to leave. The 35-year-old Christian, who owns a plumbing supply business in Egypt’s troubled northern Sinai town of el-Arish, packed up a few belongings and brought his family to the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, joining hundreds of Christians fleeing a spate of sectarian killings last week. “My cousin went to open the door after he heard knocking,” Fawzy said, speaking from a youth hostel where authorities were putting up dozens of families who fled the town. “Masked extremists, terrorists with a pistol, took him inside and shot him in the head,” then dragged his screaming mother out to the street half-dressed and killed her husband. The woman, still in shock after the Tuesday night slayings, sat nearby. AP

Morocco Says Forces to Withdraw in Western Sahara’s Guerguerat Standoff
Morocco on Sunday announced the withdrawal of its forces from a U.N. buffer zone in the disputed Western Sahara territory, where for months they had been in a standoff with troops from the Polisario independence movement. The move took place days after a phone call between Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, and will reduce military tensions in Guerguerat, a remote area in Western Sahara near Mauritania. The military moves last year were one of the most tense in recent years between Morocco and Polisario, which declared an independent republic in the disputed desert land in the 1970s and fought a guerrilla war with Morocco until a 1991 ceasefire. The standoff in Guerguerat began last year when U.N. troops stepped in after Moroccan gendarmerie crossed beyond Moroccan-controlled areas in what they said was a road clearing operation, prompting the mobilization of Polisario forces. Reuters

Morocco Seeks to Join ECOWAS
Morocco, a north African country has officially asked to join the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as a full member. The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation in a statement said the plan to join the 15-member West African bloc is in line with provisions of ECOWAS founding treaty and in full satisfaction of its membership criteria. According to Morocco, the decision was informed by the need “to crown the strong political, human, historical, religious and economic ties at all levels with ECOWAS member countries”. The kingdom of Morocco has informed, President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the current chair of ECOWAS of “its interest to join the regional group as a full member” a statement from the ministry said. Africa News

South African Police Use Force to Disperse Anti-Immigration Protesters
South African police have used stun grenades, rubber bullets and water cannon to try to disperse anti-immigration protesters in the capital, Pretoria, and keep them from foreign nationals who had gathered to express alarm about recent attacks. A police official said 136 people had been arrested in the past 24 hours. Resentment against foreign nationals has sometimes turned deadly amid accusations that they take jobs from locals in a country where unemployment is more than 25%. Others are blamed for drug-dealing and other crimes. In 2015, anti-immigrant riots in and around the city of Durban left at least six people dead. About 60 people were killed in similar violence seven years earlier. On Friday protesters in Pretoria marched towards the foreign ministry, some carrying sticks or pipes. A petition was handed to the ministry in which they suggested the government teach immigrants to “speak properly”. The petition added: “They are arrogant and they don’t know how to talk to people, especially Nigerians,.” The Guardian

How Migrant Entrepreneurs Are a Force for Good in South Africa
Since the advent of democracy in South Africa in 1994, migrant entrepreneurs have been portrayed as driving small local businesses to the wall, taking jobs and engaging in illegal and other nefarious business practices. A survey in 2010 found that 60% of South Africans believed that migrants take jobs. Only 27% believed they created them. Nearly 60% felt that one of the reasons for the xenophobic violence that broke out in 2008 was that migrants were taking jobs from South Africans. This sentiment was echoed in the 2015 xenophobic attacks. But research indicates that migrant entrepreneurs create jobs for other migrants and South Africans. A study of migrant entrepreneurs from Somalia, Nigeria and Senegal living in Cape Town found that 96% employed South Africans. These findings about job creation were confirmed in the 2014 Southern African Migration Programme survey conducted in Johannesburg and Cape Town. These findings have not yet been published. Mail and Guardian

U.S. Wary of Its New Neighbor in Djibouti: A Chinese Naval Base
The two countries keep dozens of intercontinental nuclear missiles pointed at each other’s cities. Their frigates and fighter jets occasionally face off in the contested waters of the South China Sea. With no shared border, China and the United States mostly circle each other from afar, relying on satellites and cybersnooping to peek inside the workings of each other’s war machines. But the two strategic rivals are about to become neighbors in this sun-scorched patch of East African desert. China is constructing its first overseas military base here — just a few miles from Camp Lemonnier, one of the Pentagon’s largest and most important foreign installations. With increasing tensions over China’s island-building efforts in the South China Sea, American strategists worry that a naval port so close to Camp Lemonnier could provide a front-row seat to the staging ground for American counterterror operations in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa. The New York Times

Malian Govt, Armed Groups to Return Authorities to North
Armed groups in northern Mali have agreed on the return of interim authorities to towns there next week, a government statement said, overcoming a stumbling block in the implementation of a 2015 peace deal. Most government posts in northern Mali have been empty since desert jihadists usurped them in 2012 before being chased out themselves by a French military intervention. However, an attempt by authorities from the southern capital Bamako to visit the Tuareg rebel bastion of Kidal in 2014 led to heavy fighting between the army and local fighters who were formerly allied with the jihadists. The army had to retreat. The government statement said the agreement between rival armed groups with the government was reached on Friday and that the interim authorities would be instated in Kidal on Feb. 28 followed by Gao on March 2 and Timbuktu on March 3. Reuters

France to Send Counterterror Forces to Niger
France is to send a contingent of counterterror forces to help the army in Niger after militants ambushed a military patrol killing 16, the defence ministry said. The decision, announced late Saturday, was taken following a request from President Mahamadou Issoufou after Wednesday’s attack near the border with Mali. The deadly ambush, which took place in an area some 200 north of Niamey, the capital, also wounded another 18 Niger troops, with the army blaming “terrorist elements”. Following talks with Issoufou, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France was preparing to send a detachment of troops “to help our Niger colleagues.” RFI

Kidnapped German Archaeologists Freed in Northern Nigeria
Nigerian security forces have freed two German archaeologists kidnapped by gunmen at a remote dig site. The two academics were at the German embassy in Abuja on Sunday, and were doing well considering the circumstances, according to the German foreign ministry. Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, the governor of northern Kaduna state, commended the security agencies for their efforts in securing the release of the Germans, a statement said. It did not say whether anyone had been arrested for the kidnapping. Gunmen had been demanding a ransom of 60 million naira (about £150,000) for the release of Prof Peter Breunig, and his assistant, Johannes Behringer, who were abducted at gunpoint on Wednesday and walked into the bush from an archaeological dig near Janjala village in Kaduna state. Two villagers who tried to help the Germans were shot and killed by the kidnappers, the police said. The Guardian

Experts: African Hunger Crisis Largely Man-Made
This year, more so than usual, hunger is stalking Africa. The United Nations has declared a famine in parts of South Sudan and food insecurity is affecting tens of millions in nearly every geographic region of the continent. The causes vary, as do the proposed solutions. But, experts say the worst crises are being fueled by war. “Drought is an exacerbating factor in some contexts but conflict is really, really the major driver in the biggest emergencies,” said Chris Hillbruner, a senior official for the U.S.-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET).  […] Joseph Siegle, director of research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, said the latest food crises, particularly those in South Sudan and northeast Nigeria, show that famines may have climactic roots, but are made worse by man-made factors. “The difference between the natural factors which create a challenge and then the actual outcome of famine is usually a human-made response or the lack thereof,” he said. “And I think that’s what we’re looking at today.” VOA

Pope Says He’s Studying Possible Trip to South Sudan
Pope Francis says he’s studying the possibility of going to South Sudan, the East African nation suffering famine and civil war. Francis said while visiting an Anglican church in Rome on Sunday that Anglican, Presbyterian and Catholic bishops had asked him to “please come, even for a day.” The pope says they asked him to visit with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the Anglican leader who also has decried the suffering in South Sudan. AP

South Sudan and the Lure of a Gleaming New Capital
When Morocco’s king visited South Sudan earlier this month, he inked a thick stack of “cooperation agreements” with the young country, promising the two nations would soon work together on everything from mining to fisheries to vocational training. But nestled among the typical diplomatic agreements was a more unusual one. Morocco agreed to fork over $5 million to help the world’s youngest country decide whether it should build itself a brand new capital city. In particular, the South Sudanese wanted to know if it was feasible to pick up their current national government in Juba and transport it about 130 miles north to a sparsely inhabited, swampy patch of land in the geographical center of the country called Ramciel. That may be a tough sell at the moment in a country wracked by violent conflict, and where famine has been declared in certain areas. But the concept of a new country building itself a new capital from scratch is a powerful one, and not just in South Sudan. Across the globe, from Kazakhstan to Nigeria to the United States, many countries have concocted new capital cities soon after independence as a way of quite literally constructing a new national identity – brick by brick. CS Monitor

Congolese Flee to S. Sudan to Escape Rebel Attacks
Scores of Congolese fleeing fresh Lords Resistance Army (LRA) attacks have arrived in South Sudan, officials said. A statement by the South Sudan Commission for Refugee Affairs indicated that the Congolese had arrived in Western Equatoria State. The Commission said it had registered 102 households, consisting 297 new refugee arrivals from the Democratic of Republic of Congo (DRC), fleeing from fresh attacks by the LRA. The refugees had reportedly fled from three locations: Mogoroko, Ngbamunga and parts of Kpanangbara. The Commission said most of the refugees reported that the LRA rebels killed two DRC soldiers and their wives, and abducted many other people and looted property. The new arrivals, according to the Commission, were staying with fellow refugees at the Ezo settlement and with the host community. The East African

UN Air Strikes in Central African Republic Target ‘Heavily Armed’ Militia
UN peacekeeping mission MINUSCA said it had conducted air strikes in the Central African Republic Sunday against a “heavily armed” group of fighters advancing on the city of Bambari. This is the second time in as many weeks the UN has fired on gunmen moving toward the central city. In a statement, MINUSCA said it spotted about 40 fighters from the Popular Front for the Renaissance of the Central African Republic (FPRC), “heavily armed with AK47s and RPGs (rocket propelled grenades)” on Sunday morning a few kilometres north of Bambari. It remained unclear whether the air strikes resulted in any casualties, though the mission alerted the International Red Cross for any possible injuries, a MINUSCA spokesman told AFP. The region has seen rising violence as the result of a conflict between the FPRC and a rival group, the Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC). AFP

How Money Flowed to Gambia’s Ex President
Funds from a dollar bank account in the name of the Jammeh Foundation for Peace, a charity founded by Gambia’s former president Yahya Jammeh, flowed to Jammeh himself, not to foundation projects, according to bank records and interviews with a former charity official and a former presidential staff member. In 2012 and 2013, over $8 million was paid into the account at Gambia’s Trust Bank. Over half of the money was withdrawn in cash, Reuters has found. Reuters was unable to determine whether donors intended to support the charity, or if donors, charity officials and the bank were aware that Jammeh was using the account to build his personal wealth. Reuters could not determine how the withdrawn money was spent. Gambia’s new government has accused the former president of plundering many millions of dollars during his 22-year rule. On Monday, Finance Minister Amadou Sanneh said Jammeh had committed fraud on a massive scale including siphoning off tens of millions of dollars in public money into various bank accounts not in his name but from which he withdrew cash, including at the central bank. Reuters

Seized Weapon Sheds Light on Mystery of Rwandan Genocide
In a new twist to the unsolved mystery of the assassination that triggered the Rwandan genocide, United Nations peacekeepers have found a missile launcher with remarkable similarities to the weapon that killed Rwanda’s president in 1994. More than two decades after the assassination, new clues are beginning to surface, while a French investigation remains active. The latest discovery could bring the world closer to the truth by shedding light on the murder weapon itself. A confidential report by the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, obtained by The Globe and Mail, documents a Soviet-made surface-to-air missile launcher that was seized by Congolese forces from a Rwandan rebel group last August. The Globe and Mail



Photo: Adam Jones