Africa Media Review for February 8, 2019

US General: Strikes in Somalia Won’t Stop Al-Shabab
The U.S. military’s air campaign against al-Shabab in Somalia will not stop the jihadists, a top U.S. general said Thursday as he called on the east African nation’s army to take more responsibility in the fight. The Pentagon is running an ongoing mission in which U.S. forces work with African Union and Somali national security forces to fight the al-Shabab movement. “At the end of the day, these strikes are not going to defeat al-Shabab,” the U.S. military’s Africa Command head, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The bottom line is the Somalian national army needs to grow, it needs to step up and it needs to take responsibility for their own security,” he added.  VOA

US General Warns of Russian, Chinese Inroads in Africa
Fears that Washington is increasingly losing influence across the globe are starting to come to fruition in Africa, where a top military official says Russia is playing on perceived U.S. weaknesses to gain leverage and resources. The most alarming inroads have come in African countries where leaders are seeking to consolidate power, the commander of U.S. Africa Command, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, told lawmakers Thursday, adding Russia seems to have its sights set on areas that could give them an edge over U.S. allies. “It’s, I think, clear that’s their strategy along the northern part of Africa, southern part of NATO, the Mediterranean, to have influence inside of Libya, for example,” Waldhauser told the Senate Armed Services Committee. But he warned the Kremlin’s designs go even further, pointing to Russian inroads in the Central African Republic, where the Russian military firm Wagner has stationed about 175 mercenaries.  VOA

Observers Fear the ‘Defeat of Democracy’ in Tanzania
Tanzanians already have to watch what they publish, tweet and even sing. Now President John Magufuli’s administration is poised to put opposition parties under even greater scrutiny. Proposed amendments to the East African nations Political Parties Act would give a regulator sweeping powers to monitor the funding, membership and plans of opposition groups. Critics say it could effectively criminalize dissent, already rare three years after Magufuli took office. One firebrand lawmaker compared it to legislation in Nazi Germany. “We are watching the defeat of democracy in Tanzania,” Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., said on Twitter. It is a slow and painful death by a thousand cuts. If current trends continue, there will not be much left by the next election in 2020. Bloomberg

Uganda Police Arrest BBC Journalists, Government Demands Release
Ugandan police arrested a team of BBC journalists for illegal possession of prescription drugs, but the country’s government spokesman said the reporters had been helping to expose corruption, and demanded their immediate release. Patrick Onyango, Uganda’s police spokesman, said on Thursday five suspects had been detained overnight. They included two Ugandans and one Kenyan working for the British broadcaster, as well as the wife of a local journalist from NBS Television who was working with them, and a driver. Fourteen boxes of tablets had been seized, along with other vaccines. Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said the journalists had been cooperating with the State House Health Monitoring Unit to investigate the theft and sale of Ugandan government drugs in neighbouring South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. Reuters

French Fighter Jets Bomb Chadian Rebels in Support of Deby’s Regime
French fighter jets conducted airstrikes against rebels in northeastern Chad for three consecutive days. The French army said it had come after a rebel convoy of about 50 pick-up trucks crossed from Libya into Chadian territory. Chadian air strikes had unsuccessfully attempted to destroy them on February 1-2. “Faced with this situation, Chadian and French authorities decided on new strikes, conducted by Mirage 2000 fighter jets on 5 and 6 February,” the French army said, adding that about 20 pick-up trucks were destroyed in the operation. The strikes come as Chadian rebels have increased their activities in southern Libya since vowing last year to overthrow President Idriss Deby. The Union of Forces of Resistance (UFR), a rebel Chadian coalition created in 2009 after almost toppling Deby, has said it was behind this week’s incursion.  Euronews

AU Summit 32: Egypt Takes the Wheel at the AU
On 2 February, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi held a cabinet meeting to review final preparations for his chairmanship of the African Union (AU) which begins on 10 February. As a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity, and chair in 1964, 1989 and 1993, Egypt is not new to such important continental roles. However, this is the first time since the AU’s founding in 2002 that Egypt gets to steer the organisation’s affairs. It’s a significant development considering the frosty relationship in recent years between the AU and Egypt. In 2013, Egypt was suspended from the union following the political crisis in the country during the 2011 Arab Spring. The role comes at a time when both the AU and Egypt are undergoing major changes. AU reform is aimed at more effectively addressing the continent’s challenges. Egypt is trying to reposition itself in sub-Saharan Africa to pursue and protect its strategic interests. So the timing of Egypt’s chairmanship is an opportunity to contribute to the AU’s quest for reforms while pursuing its foreign policy goals. Daily Maverick

African Union Summit in Ethiopia Focuses on Refugees
Security across the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa has been beefed up as dignitaries and heads of states from across the continent gather for the annual African Union (AU) summit which kicked off on Thursday. Metal detectors and security officers have been placed at the entrances of major hotels in the city. This year’s summit will focus on refugees and internally displaced persons. Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than 26 percent of the world’s 25.4 million refugees, according to the UNHCR – the UN agency for refugees. That figure has recently been rising because of ongoing crises in countries like the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.  Al Jazeera

Morocco Freezes Involvement in Saudi-Led Coalition in Yemen
Government officials say Morocco has stopped taking part in military action with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s war, and has recalled its ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Tensions have been mounting between Morocco and Saudi Arabia, amid international concerns about Saudi actions in the Yemen war and other issues. A Moroccan government official said Thursday that Morocco no longer takes part in military interventions or ministerial meetings in the Saudi-led coalition. The official didn’t elaborate. Morocco’s government has not divulged details of its military’s participation in the coalition, which has been at war in Yemen against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels since 2015. The war has killed thousands and displaced over 3 million people. AP

Sudanese Take to Streets Again in Rebuff to Al-Bashir’s Promises
Sudanese protesters took to the streets of the capital Thursday, hours after long-time President Omar al-Bashir vowed to review some policies in response to almost two months of unrest.Security forces fired tear gas at demonstrators trying to march on the presidential palace in downtown Khartoum, eyewitness Ahmed Nasr said by phone. Combined with protests in some residential districts, it was the most significant unrest in the capital for more than a week. Bashir on Wednesday told a meeting of senior Sudanese journalists that his government will review a contentious public order law and military service as well as increase financial grants for youth programs. Bloomberg

S. Sudan’s Kiir Blames Outsiders for Peace Deal Inaction
South Sudan President Salva Kiir said Thursday that implementation of the revitalized peace agreement still faced many challenges, largely because of the international community’s wait-and-see stance on its implementation. Kiir told hundreds of ruling SPLM party cadres in Juba that the September deal was “not a good agreement, but I signed it because people have suffered and I do not want that to continue.” The president, meeting with members of the SPLM parliamentary caucus shortly before they left for home on recess, said the government did not have enough money to implement the deal. But his administration gave each caucus member more than $7,500 (1 million South Sudanese pounds) to share details of the peace deal with their constituents. VOA

Prominent Opposition Leader Returns to South Sudan
A long-time critic of South Sudan President Salva Kiir returned to Juba on Thursday to help speed up implementation of a peace deal that is running several months behind schedule. Lam Akol, a former minister in Kiir’s government, fled Juba in 2016 when a former peace deal collapsed and fighting erupted in the capital. He formed his own rebel movement, the National Democratic Movement (NDM). A signatory to the September 2018 peace deal, Akol said Thursday he had returned to Juba to help “speed up” implementation of the accord. “Strictly according to the agreement, all the leaders of the opposition are supposed to be here in May,” Akol told reporters upon landing at Juba International Airport. He said he had returned to send an “essential and critical” message to the people that their leaders were in place and ready to move forward with the deal.  AFP

Memo Suggests French Intelligence Knew about Attack on Rwandan President in Lead Up to Genocide
Radio France and the news site Mediapart published on Wednesday excerpts of a memo from the DGSE – the French equivalent of MI6 and the CIA – which seems to refute the idea that they knew nothing of the Rwandan genocide as it began to unfold.  The two news organisations published a note from the French exterior intelligence agency in September 1994 saying that two “Hutu extremists” were the main sponsors of an attack that triggered the genocide that year in the eastern African country. They note that this memo was “declassified by the French defence minister in September 2015” at the request of judicial authorities in Paris. “This French intelligence document understands that two extremists – Colonel Théoniste Bagosora, an aide to the defence minister; and Laurent Serubuga, a former chief of staff of the Rwandan armed forces – were the main instigators of an April 1994 attack,” says the joint Radio France and Mediapart report. “Did the French secret services really know nothing?” it continued. France 24

France to Continue Military Cooperation with Cameroon
France said on Thursday its defense cooperation with Cameroon was continuing a day after the United States said it was halting some military assistance to the West African country over allegations of human rights violations by its security forces. “France is bound by a defense partnership agreement that it conducts according to the international standards,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said in a daily briefing with reporters. “In accordance with international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict, this cooperation is also intended to help Cameroon’s defense and security forces combat terrorism, especially against Boko Haram in the north of the country, while protecting the people. This cooperation continues.”  VOA

Sahel Leaders Seek UN Help against Jihadist Attacks
Five nations waging a battle against jihadi fighters in the Sahel asked the UN on Tuesday for money and other aid to help tackle a scourge which claimed more lives even as officials met. Leaders of the so-called G5 Sahel – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger – gathered in the Burkinabe capital Ouagadougou seeking to beef up the battle against jihadists who have killed hundreds of civilians and inflicted crippling economic damage. In the latest incident, five security personnel were killed on Tuesday in a what the army called a “terrorist” attack in northern Burkina Faso. “A military detachment from forces ensuring security in the north at Oursi, in the Sahel were attacked by terrorists,” the army said in a statement. “Five gendarmes were killed and three injured, including two seriously,” it said, shortly after another similar attack Monday left 14 civilians dead.  News 24

Senegal Currency Tops Agenda for Presidential Election Debate
Senegal’s currency has become a topic of debate ahead of its presidential election at the end of this month. The CFA franc was introduced by France in 1945 and is used by 14 West African nations. Some Senegalese are opposed to it saying it is a legacy of colonialism.  Al Jazeera

Kenya Joins Global Coalition against Islamic State
Kenya has joined a grouping of countries collaborating against terror merchants Isis, even as government officials criticised what they called a “pattern” of travel advisories during attacks. On Tuesday, Kenya was formally accepted into the Global Coalition against Daesh (also known as Isil, Islamic State, or Isis), seeking to benefit from information shared and systems the countries use to tame financial flows to the terror group. The coalition brings together 79 countries across the globe. The group which also includes the US and UK says it works together to dismantle networks of Isis and countering its networks, and according to its website: “Financing and economic infrastructure; preventing the flow of foreign terrorist fighters across borders; supporting stabilisation and the restoration of essential public services to areas liberated from Daesh; and countering the group’s propaganda.”  Daily Nation

Goodbye SSA? Ramaphosa to Re-Establish National Security Council
President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced some big changes awaiting the nation’s security agencies during his 2019 State of the Nation Address on Thursday. Ramaphosa told a joint sitting of the Houses of Parliament that he would re-establish and chair the National Security Council this coming year, and also re-establish two security arms: domestic and foreign intelligence. “On the basis of the report and recommendations of the high-level review panel on the State Security Agency (SSA), which was chaired by former minister Sydney Mufamadi, I will soon be announcing a number of urgent steps to enable the reconstitution of a professional national intelligence capability for South Africa,” Ramaphosa said.  News 24

Who Was the ‘Honest’ Soldier Who Led Gabon’s Failed Coup?
Within hours on the morning of 7 January, his face had been broadcast around the world in news coverage of the foiled coup attempt against the government of Gabon’s ailing President Ali Bongo. Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, leading an operation called “Operation Dignity”, had tried to encourage the Gabonese youth and army to rise up against the authorities who had failed to “defend the superior interests of the nation” in the face of Bongo’s continuing absence for medical treatment in Morocco. The member of the elite republican guard and his cohorts broadcast an audacious message of insurrection. But what drove the deputy commander of the guard of honour to lead such a daring putsch and what can we learn about his background and motivations? RFI

Sierra Leone President Declares Rape a National Emergency
Sierra Leone’s president has officially declared a national emergency on rape and sexual violence in a major step toward addressing the issue in the West African nation. President Julius Maada Bio on Thursday said each month hundreds of cases of rape and sexual assaults are being reported against women, girls and babies. He said some fatalities included three-month-olds and that 70 percent of survivors are under 15. Bio said he wants to bring awareness since thousands of cases are unreported because of a culture of silence or indifference. He said he has now made sexual penetration of minors punishable by life imprisonment. The current law carries a maximum penalty of 15 years, and very few cases have been prosecuted. Bio’s declaration comes after months of campaigning by activists.  AP

FGM Engenders Sharp Cultural Divide
F.A. Cole was 11 when her stepmother told her to dress up for a special occasion near her hometown of Freetown, Sierra Leone. It was, instead, a traumatic occasion, Cole recalls 34 years later. Her stepmother turned her over to a small group of women, who led her into a forest and bound and blindfolded her. Then someone put a razor blade to her genitals. “Two or four of the women held me down. They spread my legs open and pinned me down, and then the woman who was the cutter, she sat on my chest,” Cole recounts. “As she began to cut my clitoris, I began to fight and scream and wriggle under her, just looking for somebody to help me, somebody to come to my rescue.” No one came then. But the United Nations has been working to eradicate female genital mutilation. To raise awareness, the U.N. since 2003 has sponsored an International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM to raise awareness. The annual observance was on Wednesday. VOA



Photo: Adam Jones