Africa Media Review for February 27, 2020

How Violent Extremist Groups Exploit Intercommunal Conflicts in the Sahel

Violence in the Sahel has accelerated in recent years, with violent events linked to the militant Islamist groups doubling every year since 2015. There were roughly 2,600 fatalities related to violent extremist organizations in 2019 alone. This escalating violence has increased instability in the Sahel and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Less understood has been the role of violent extremist groups in stoking intercommunal violence, which simultaneously has been on the rise in the region. These groups have sought to profit from the increased insecurity and to use intercommunal tensions as a tool to boost recruitment. Left unaddressed, the escalation of intercommunal clashes could rapidly intensify the scale and complexity of instability in the region. Tensions between pastoralists, semi-pastoralists, and sedentary populations have historically always existed. However, violence among them had remained relatively rare in the Sahel. This situation has changed with the rise of violent extremism in the region. Today, intra- and intercommunal rivalries increasingly involve armed violence that is exacerbated by militant Islamist groups. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Killings, Arrests as Elections Draw Near in Burundi

Burundi’s government said on Tuesday that it killed at least 22 “wrongdoers” in the outskirts of the capital, Bujumbura, in violence that appeared to be linked to upcoming presidential elections. Two police officers were also killed and six attackers arrested before security was restored, a police spokesperson told reporters, providing few further details of the incident. … Last month, the ruling CNDD-FDD party picked its secretary-general, Evariste Ndayishimiye, as its presidential candidate, ruling out the possibility of Nkurunziza seeking re-election. The latest flare-up follows a wave of arrests last month targeting members of the opposition National Council for Liberty (CNL) that a party spokesperson said constituted “harassment” ahead of the May polls. In a report published last month, the Burundi Human Rights Initiative said CNL supporters had been beaten to death by members of the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, and buried in secret cemeteries. “Serious human rights violations continued in 2019, but were often hidden and quickly covered up, making it difficult to establish the circumstances in which they took place,” the report said. The New Humanitarian

Candidate in Chaotic Guinea-Bissau Vote Says Inauguration Set for Thursday

One of two candidates in Guinea-Bissau’s presidential elections said he would be sworn in on Thursday, even though a bitter row over the vote remains unresolved after nearly two months. Umaro Sissoco Embalo made the announcement on social media on Wednesday, referring to a decision in his favour by the country’s electoral commission. … Embalo, a 47-year-old former general and prime minister, won 53.55% of the votes in the December 29 elections, according to the National Electoral Commission. … The Supreme Court, responding to a petition filed by the PAIGC, has issued rulings requiring a check of the vote tally sheets. However, this has failed to resolve the dispute, and a row has brewed between the Supreme Court and the election panel. On Tuesday, the election commission confirmed the results that it had announced, while the PAIGC stood by its objections. A Guinea-Bissau lawyer, Armando Tchoba Dos Santos, told AFP that the Supreme Court was required to issue a new ruling in the affair within 48 hours. AFP

Guinea President Conde Hints at Third Term Bid despite Protests

Guinea’s President Alpha Conde has suggested publicly for the first time that he could run for a third term if the constitution is changed, a move likely to fuel further unrest. Guineans vote on Sunday in parliamentary elections and a referendum on constitutional reforms that could allow the 81-year-old to stand again, and the prospect of him staying longer in office has already led to months of sometimes violent protests. Opponents see the process as a plot to enable Conde, who approaches the end of the two terms allotted under the present constitution, to stay in power for up to another decade. For Conde, who became Guinea’s first democratically elected leader in 2010, the changes will create a “modern constitution.” … In some other African countries, leaders have used a constitution change as an excuse to reset their term limits. … Conde’s first election victory in 2010 raised hopes for democratic progress in the former French colony after two years of military rule and nearly a quarter of a century under authoritarian President Lansana Conte, who died in 2008. But Conde’s critics have accused him of cracking down on dissent and violently repressing protests – charges he has denied. He asked his government last year to draft a new constitution that would permit him to run for office again. Al Jazeera

Tunisia Approves Government after Months of Deadlock

Tunisia has a new government at last, after four months of arguing among rival parties in the young North African democracy. After a 15-hour debate, the Tunisian parliament voted 129-77 with one abstention to approve the government of Prime Minister-designate Elyes Fakhfakh early Thursday. A previous effort to form a government by a different prime minister failed last month. The Islamist party Ennahdha has six ministerial posts, more than any other party, because it came out on top in a parliamentary election in October. But it didn’t win a majority and has struggled to reach compromise with other parties about who should run the government. President Kais Saied had threatened to dissolve parliament and call a new election if it couldn’t agree on a new government. Tunisian union and business leaders intervened, organizing weeks of shuttle diplomacy to try to get rival parties to agree on a compromise solution. Six of the 30 new government ministers are women, and for the first time one holds one of the most senior posts, Justice Minister Thouraya Jeribi. AP

Was Magufuli vs Erick Kabendera Intended to Intimidate Tanzania’s Journalists?

Kabendera had fallen seriously ill in the Segerea maximum security prison during his incarceration. He appeared in court a dozen times, often looking frail. … “The only way was to enter a plea of guilty in order to get his own freedom,” Kabendera’s lawyer Jebra Kambole told DW. Political dissidents in Tanzania often face harsh sentences of five to six years in prison without trial, he noted. The plea deal compels Kabendera to pay the fine and bars him from appealing his case. “Fresh charges could be brought against him if he refuses to pay the fine,” Kambole said. International and local human rights groups and press freedom activists say that Kabendera is just one more case in the government’s playbook of media suppression since Magufuli was elected five years ago. Kabendera’s ultimate guilty plea was due to his failing health, Amnesty International said in welcoming his release. The watchdog organizastion had campaigned for his freedom saying the case brought against the journalist was politically motivated. Magufuli’s tenure has coincided with the disappearance or imprisonment of several journalists. Media self-censorship is widespread, as journalists fear reprisals for criticizing the president or his government. DW

Riek Machar Free, No Longer under House Arrest: Igad Envoy

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) says South Sudan’s First Vice President Riek Machar is now fully freed from house arrest, giving him room to start working. Mr Ismail Wais, the Special Envoy for regional bloc Igad, says Dr Machar will no longer face restrictions of house arrest or require special permission to travel in the region. “He is now the First Vice president of Republic of South Sudan, no matter what existed before. Dr Riek Machar is now the leader of this country and therefore he doesn’t need any more permission…He can now fully enjoy his rights and freedoms,” the Djiboutian diplomat told journalists in Juba, after meeting members of Dr Machar’s party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in Opposition (SPLM-IO). Dr Machar had been put under house arrest by Igad, following his 2016 fall-out with President Salva Kiir. … The new announcement was meant to clarify any doubts, officials said. … Last week, Dr Machar was sworn in with other vice presidents, which marked the formation of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity. However, President Kiir is yet to appoint advisers, minister and their deputies, governors and chief administrators in line with the 2018 revitalized peace deal. The East African

Sudan Women Want Greater Role in Juba Negotiations

Three Sudanese women advocacy groups presented a memorandum to the government negotiating delegation in Juba yesterday. They wish to play a bigger role in the peace negotiations, and especially in the implementation of the peace agreement. The memorandum of the women’s groups contains 28 points. It states that the conflicts and wars in Sudan affected women the most. Spokeswoman Sara Mousa said that her delegation was composed of 19 women and represented the No to Women Oppression Initiative, the Sudanese Women’s Union and several other civil society organisations. She called the meeting with the government delegation “fruitful,” and said that many opinions and views on how to reach a comprehensive and lasting peace were exchanged. Mohamed El Taayshi, member of the Sovereign Council and spokesman for the government negotiation team in Juba, affirmed his government’s support for women’s groups in Sudan. He stressed that the peace agreement, that is to be reached soon, will address all the country’s issues and women’s issues in particular. He also said that the memorandum of the women advocacy groups will contribute to “push others towards reaching a peace agreement soon.” Radio Dabanga

Mali: ‘Line in the Sand’ over Talks with Jihadists

Mali’s government has certain “red lines” in its negotiations with jihadists, the country’s ambassador told France’s senate during a hearing on Wednesday. Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita had earlier this month confirmed that contact had been established with jihadi groups with the aim of ending conflict in the Sahel country. “It’s clear that there are red lines,” said Toumani Djime Diallo, Mali’s ambassador to France, outlining issues that the Malian authorities would not budge on including sharia law, the territorial integrity of Mali and the equality of women. “It’s simply to make use of all the possibilities that there are,” said Diallo, explaining that the negotiations with the jihadists came about following recommendations during a process of national dialogue. “The president had always been opposed to that,” added the ambassador during the senate hearing with ambassadors of the G5 Sahel countries “All the same, if we find a solution in an agreement, those who have blood on their hands will be dealt with, that’s how it finished in Algeria,” said Diallo, appearing to refer to the Islamist insurgency in the north African country during the 1990s. RFI

Ethiopia Asks U.S. to Postpone Final Talks on Blue Nile Dam

Ethiopia has asked the United States to postpone what was expected to be the final round of talks on the giant Blue Nile hydropower dam, it said on Wednesday, delaying the potential resolution of a dispute that sparked a years-long diplomatic crisis. “We have asked that we need more time for consultation,” Bizuneh Tolcha, spokesman for Ethiopia’s ministry of water, irrigation and energy told Reuters, without providing details. The final round of talks were scheduled for Thursday and Friday in Washington. The U.S. has hosted several rounds of talks in Washington with ministers from the three regional powers and the World Bank after years of trilateral negotiations failed. Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan said on Jan.31 they would sign an agreement by the end of this month to end their differences over the filling and operation of the $4 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Ethiopia is building the dam near its border with Sudan on the Blue Nile, which flows into the Nile river – the main water source for Egypt’s 100 million strong population. The dam is the centrepiece in Ethiopia’s bid to become Africa’s biggest power exporter. Reuters

Phones of South Africa’s State Security Minister, Other Officials, Found to Be Cloned

Mobile phones belonging to South Africa’s state security minister Ayanda Dlodlo, her deputy and several officials from the State Security Agency (SSA) were found this week to have been cloned, Dlodlo’s spokesman said on Wednesday. The spokesman said the incident was being investigated by police. He said it was not who known who was behind the attack or if any sensitive information had been compromised. “We don’t have further information, all we know is that the phones were cloned,” the spokesman told Reuters, adding that the cloning was discovered when individuals received texts from deputy minister Zizi Kodwa’s phone that he had not sent. The incident is the latest to raise embarrassing questions for the agency over its ability to properly protect the sensitive materials it handles in the course of its work. It follows a robbery at SSA headquarters in Pretoria earlier in February in which money and documents were stolen. U.S. News & World Report

Uganda’s ‘Locust Commander’ Leads the Battle against a New Enemy

S itting at a plastic table in the garden of Timisha hotel in Soroti, eastern Uganda, Major General Samuel Kavuma takes a drag of his cigarette and looks down at his phone, which has barely stopped ringing for the past hour. A military figure for nearly 40 years, Kavuma fought the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgent group. Now, he’s become the “locust commander,” the man leading the fight against the country’s worst locust outbreak in decades. Swarms of locusts – billions in total – have spread to eight countries in east Africa, after they crossed the Red Sea from Yemen at the end of last year. The insects can travel roughly 90 miles a day and eat their own body weight in crops. The UN has warned the locust swarms could increase 500 times by June, posing a major threat to the region. In response, Uganda has deployed its army. Kavuma, 59, doesn’t know why he was put in charge, but he sees the locusts as a formidable enemy. “When we started two weeks ago we did not know much about these creatures,” Kavuma says. “Now I am a professor. I know how they behave, the pattern of their movements.” The Guardian

India Seeks Greater Defence Role in Africa with Revitalised Strategy

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is often described as a charismatic politician with some sort of nationalistic credentials. This week, he is hosting US President Donald Trump where defence deals are likely to be cemented. But he also wants his country to be a leading defence equipment exporter in the coming decades, targeting developing countries in Africa and his neighbourhood. And the Indian leader has been making it known whenever he speaks to a gathering. At a Defence Expo in Lucknow, northern India, Mr Modi said his country’s rising tech enthusiasts were positioning it better to start rolling out affordable military defence equipment, which could easily be tapped into by developing countries, especially in Africa. … The Expo is India’s latest bid to attract both investors and buyers of military equipment and it runs biennially. This year’s was the 11th edition and saw some 856 Indian defence companies showcasing their wares. “Be it artillery guns, aircraft carrier, frigates, submarines, light combat aircraft, combat helicopters, many such equipment are being manufactured in India,” Mr Modi said. The East African

Mexico Returns Ancient Sculpture to Nigeria

The Mexican government delivered to Nigeria on Tuesday an ancient bronze sculpture seized by customs agents at Mexico City airport as its buyer tried to bring it into this country. The sculpture, from the 6th century southwestern Yoruba city of Ife, shows a man wearing woven pants and a hat, sitting with his legs crossed and holding an instrument. “Specialists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History determined that it was a piece of Yoruba origin,” Diego Prieto, head of the agency, told a press conference. “A beautiful bronze piece, and that being of Nigerian heritage, it should return to its home.” Officials did not offer more details about the sculpture’s exact origins or the circumstances of its confiscation. “It was also determined that it had been illegally exported,” the Mexican foreign ministry said. Nigerian Ambassador Aminu Iyawa acknowledged the work of the Mexican authorities in recovering the sculpture. AFP

Chinese Bank Loans Cripple Latin America and Africa, Says NGO

Countries in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa have taken out at least $152bn in oil, mineral and metal-backed loans from China since 2004, money that has contributed to crippling debt levels, according to a report on Thursday by a Washington-based non-governmental organisation. The Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) calculated that, including loans from other countries such as Russia and global commodity traders, the total amounted to $164bn. Two Chinese state banks, China Development Bank and Exim Bank, alone accounted for 77 percent of all the loans, the NRGI said in its report. …The NRGI said such loans appealed to developing countries that have limited access to global capital markets. However, the advantages, such as cheaper terms, were undermined by weak governance and opaque conditions. “While these loans have often provided much-needed infrastructure, such as roads and hydro-dams, in many cases they have led to crippling levels of debt and the risk of losing collateral that is itself worth more than the value of the loan,” wrote co-author David Mihalyi, a senior economic analyst with the NRGI. Reuters

African Growth Dampened as South Africa Slumps, Chinese Demand Falters amid Virus Outbreak

South Africa says it expects three more years of sluggish economic growth, the latest blow to Africa’s faltering recovery, as the continent braces for the impact of plummeting Chinese demand amid the coronavirus outbreak. Plagued by soaring deficits and electricity shortages, the South African government announced Wednesday that it aims to slash public-sector wages by more than US$10-billion over the next three years in an attempt to avoid a junk credit rating. After enduring five years of declining per-capita income, South Africa is now forecasting three more of the same. It expects GDP growth of barely 1 per cent annually, less than the population growth of 1.4 per cent. … South Africa’s economic weakness and China’s slowdown are two of the biggest obstacles to African growth this year. The continent is particularly vulnerable to the Chinese economy because of its rapidly growing resource exports to China over the past decade. Globe and Mail

Netflix: Will First African Series Launch a New Chapter in African Filmmaking?

A secret agent from South Africa is searching for the truth about her mother’s murder while also protecting her country from dark forces. That, in a nutshell, is the plot of “Queen Sono,” Netflix’s first original African series is scheduled for release on February 28. And if the US streaming service is to be believed “Queen Sono” is just the beginning. “This is exactly what we’re going for,” Netflix told DW in a written statement. “African thrillers, entertaining and smart political dramas.” Netflix says it wants to tell local stories with a global appeal. Melissa Adeyemo, a Nigerian-American producer who founded Ominira Studios in New York, has been in Africa’s film market for years. Her latest movie just wrapped production in Lagos. The fact that Netflix has come to discover the potential of the African continent makes sense to her. She says there’s a huge appetite and a huge demand for stories, especially in Nigeria. Point in case: the emergence of the “Nollywood” film industry in Nigeria. DW