Africa Media Review for February 9, 2022

Trajectories of Violence Against Civilians by Africa’s Militant Islamist Groups
Africa has been experiencing a steady increase of militant Islamist violence over the past decade. This escalation has been characterized in recent years by an upsurge of violence targeting civilians. In 2021, a quarter of all militant Islamist-linked attacks were on civilians. This compares to 14 percent in 2016. The frequency of attacks against civilians has varied in Africa’s five major theaters of militant Islamist violence—the Sahel, Somalia, the Lake Chad Basin, northern Mozambique, and North Africa—underscoring the distinct drivers and strategies of these groups. Understanding the variations in the patterns of violence against civilians across these local contexts, therefore, holds keys to enhancing civilian protection from these attacks. … This review of militant Islamist group violence against civilians in Africa highlights how civilians are often targeted as part of intercommunal grievance narratives and as means of intimidation as violent extremists attempt to assert their territorial control. Heavy-handed security force responses, meanwhile, almost always have an escalating effect, driving recruitment for violent extremist groups and further endangering civilians in contested areas. Each context is different and calls for a course correction must be attuned to local specificities and demands. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Congo Warns of Security Threat amid Coup Plot Reports
Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi’s government has “serious evidence” of a national security threat, a spokesman said on national television Tuesday night in the first official comments since reports of a failed coup plot emerged. Presidential spokesman Tharcisse Kasongo Mwema said that investigations were ongoing. “No attempt to destabilize our democratic institutions will be tolerated,” Kasongo said. Presidential security adviser Francois Beya was arrested by forces from Congo’s National Intelligence Agency last Saturday on suspicion of undermining state security, according to human rights activist Georges Kampiamba. No details have been released about his arrest, though he was believed to still be in National Intelligence Agency’s custody. The reports were enough to prompt members of the president’s political party to demonstrate in front of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party headquarters in Kinshasa in a show of support for Tshisekedi. AP

UN Warns of More Ethnic Violence in Eastern DRC
The U.N. human rights office says it fears heightened tension between Hema herders and Lendu farmers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo may erupt into more violence following last week’s deadly attacks. At least 62 internally displaced members of the Hema ethnic community were killed and 38 injured when their camp was attacked by an armed group last week. Fighters from CODECO, the Cooperative for the Development of Congo, staged a night-time raid on the Plaine Savo IDP camp in DR Congo’s Ituri province. The attack, which took place February 1, is only the latest in a string of devastating assaults on IDP sites by CODECO, which is mainly composed of Lendu farmers. U.N. human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssel says all the victims in the camp of 24,000 people were either shot or attacked with machetes and knives. … The human rights agency is calling on DRC authorities to immediately strengthen the protection of civilians in the troubled areas. It says they must ensure the safety and security of people who have sought refuge from violent inter-ethnic attacks in IDP camps. VOA

Nigeria Sends Displaced People Home despite Ongoing Conflict
Usman Mohamed’s hometown of Baga on the shores of Lake Chad was once overrun by jihadists, forcing him to flee, like millions of others across the restless region. Now, with what officials say is improved security and a need for people to return to farms as famine looms, he is among hundreds of thousands of Nigerians being urged to go home after almost a decade spent in a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in the state capital Maiduguri. But on his way back home last month, the 53-year-old was shot by insurgents in a road ambush… His story is one of many others indicating that areas of Borno state are still unsafe, despite an overall decline in attacks on civilians compared with previous years. The government is however pushing ahead with its plan to close all camps by 2026, and so far it has shut seven of Maiduguri’s 13 camps which host between 100,000 and 150,000 people. … Under the programme, people may relocate to towns closest to their village of origin which has a military presence or to areas where soldiers are ready to be deployed. But aid groups cannot go to most of those locations because they are at risk of being directly targeted by insurgents. AFP

Cyclone Batsirai Leaves Devastation and Death in Madagascar
Aid groups in Madagascar were surveying widespread damage on Tuesday from Cyclone Batsirai, the second devastating storm to batter the island nation in less than a month, leaving more than 20 people dead and tens of thousands without homes. The storm slammed into the island’s southeast on Friday, battering coastal towns and villages before moving across inland areas and flooding crops. It spun off the island from the west coast on Monday, causing flash floods in a desert area, aid groups said. The toll of devastation and death could worsen, officials warned, as relief workers begin reaching the most heavily affected areas. Already, the United Nations Children’s Fund said, more than 60,000 people are known to have been displaced across the island nation, which lies off the southeastern coast of continental Africa. In the last decade, as climate patterns in the southern Indian Ocean have changed, areas of Madagascar unaccustomed to storms have been caught unprepared. The storms and resulting floods have also become more intense, and deforestation has made the island’s hinterland more vulnerable, aid agencies said. The New York Times

Ethiopia Accused of ‘Serious’ Human Rights Abuses in Tigray in Landmark Case
Ethiopia has committed a wide range of human rights violations in its war against Tigrayan rebel forces, including mass killings, sexual violence and military targeting of civilians, according to a landmark legal complaint submitted to Africa’s top human rights body. Lawyers acting for Tigrayan civilians said the complaint, filed on Monday, marked the first time that the African Union’s human rights commission had been asked to look into the conduct of Ethiopian troops in their war with the northern region’s rebel forces. The alleged violations, “could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, but further investigation would be required,” said Antonia Mulvey, executive director of the rights organisation Legal Action Worldwide (Law), which submitted the complaint with the US legal firm Debevoise & Plimpton and the Pan African Lawyers Union (Palu). … Reporting to the 55-member African Union, the commission’s role is to investigate alleged human rights violations and make recommendations to heads of state and government. It can also make referrals to the African court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the union’s judicial arm. The Guardian

U.S. Restricts Visa Issuance for Somali Officials Accused of ‘Undermining Democratic Process’
The United States on Tuesday barred current or former Somali officials and others accused of undermining the democratic process in Somalia from traveling to the United States as Washington pushes for quick and credible elections in the Horn of Africa country. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the visa restrictions will apply to those who have encouraged and engaged in violence against protesters, intimidation of journalists and opposition members, and manipulation of the electoral process. “The best path toward sustainable peace in Somalia is through the rapid conclusion of credible elections,” Blinken said. “Somalia’s national and federal member state leaders must follow through on their commitments to complete the parliamentary process in a credible and transparent manner by February 25,” he added. Somalia, where no central government has held broad authority for 30 years, is in the midst of a protracted indirect election process to choose new leadership, repeatedly held up amid confrontation between rivals President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble. Reuters

Taiwan, Somaliland Ties Growing despite Diplomatic Isolation
Taiwan and Somaliland are expanding economic and political ties despite being two of the world’s most diplomatically isolated governments. Somaliland Foreign Minister Essa Kayd met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday and said his visit to Taipei “signifies our mutual determination and resolve to upscale, expand and deepen our friendship and cooperation to new heights for the mutual benefits of our two countries.” Tsai hailed the relationship as one of her administration’s chief diplomatic breakthroughs. Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 and has no formal diplomatic relations with any nation. Self-governing democratic Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, has diplomatic ties with just 14 countries, but maintains robust informal ties with the U.S. and most other major nations. It has formal relations with just one African nation, the kingdom of Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland. Taiwan opened its de facto embassy in the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa in August 2020, with Somaliland opening a representative office in Taipei on Sept. 9 the same year. AP

African Union to Open Mission in Beijing
The African Union will open a permanent mission in Beijing this year in what could signal intent to strengthen ties with the continent’s biggest trading partner. Heads of state and government gathered in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa this past weekend endorsed a proposal by the Council of Ministers, the body of foreign ministers from member states, which had asked for the establishment of a permanent mission to directly engage with China. A document on the resolutions reached after the 35th Ordinary Assembly of Heads of State and Government said leaders had adopted the creation of the mission as part of new offices to be established under the reforms by the continental body. … The creation of this Mission now means the continental bloc will have permanent missions to the US in Washington, to the UN in New York, to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, to the European Union in Brussels, to the Southern Africa Development Cooperation (SADC) in Lilongwe and another Mission to the League of Arab States in Cairo. The EastAfrican

Twitter Quietly Unblocks Phone Authentication for Sudan
Sudanese Twitter users were pleasantly surprised on Tuesday morning after discovering that they can now use their local mobile numbers to link to their accounts. On Twitter, jubilant Sudanese celebrated the move predicting a mass migration of users from Facebook. For many years users in Sudan were denied this feature which forced them to rely on friends and family members outside the country to help them authenticate their Twitter accounts using non-Sudanese numbers. But this workaround was as reliable as the person overseas and in some cases, accounts were permanently locked when Twitter flags the account for suspicious activity. Twitter has stubbornly resisted explaining the reason for excluding Sudan which created a huge inconvenience for activists in a country undergoing political upheaval. In 2018 former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted that they are working on setting up Sudanese numbers before going mum. In late January, the San Francisco-based company again refused to provide any explanation or offer clues on when Sudanese users can expect to receive this functionality. A Twitter spokesperson today confirmed the addition of Sudan to the phone list. ST

‘Everyone’s Using’: Mozambique Scrambles to Stem a Rising Tide of Drug Addiction
Mozambique has been a key transit point on the international drug route for the last 25 years but it has had historically low rates of drug usage compared to its northern neighbours, Kenya and Tanzania. Now, this appears to be changing and both drug users and those working in drug recovery report an increase in the number of people using heroin across the country. Aid agencies and the government are scrambling to stem the rising tide of addiction. Experts estimate that between 10 and 40 tons of heroin move through Mozambique on dhows each year, and more comes through the country’s ports. With an export value of approximately USD $20 million per ton, making heroin one of Mozambique’s largest exports. The drug trade has well-established links to government officials in Frelimo, the country’s ruling party. It’s estimated that more than USD $2 million per ton of heroin stays in Mozambique in the form of bribes and payments to senior Mozambicans. Telegraph

Missing Migrants Project Helps Families Find Peace
Cornilia Chiwedzerero spent more than two decades wondering what had happened to her son George. He left their village in the Zaka district of Zimbabwe’s Masvingo province for South Africa and was not heard from again. Chiwedzerero, who is in her late 50s, cannot remember the exact date her son set off, but he was born in 1981 and left home when he was in his late teens. She heard about the Missing and Deceased Migrants and their Families programme from community leaders and signed up with the Zimbabwean branch of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), hoping it could help find George. The ICRC found that he had died and been buried in South Africa a few years ago. The organisation told Chiwedzerero and offered her counselling. “I was very pained to ultimately know about my son’s death. But it helped me a lot as it brought closure rather than remaining expectant indefinitely, hoping that he would one day return home – as happens with many who have gone to South Africa but finally come home after many years,” she says. Marie-Astrid Blondiaux is the protection coordinator at the ICRC’s regional head office for southern Africa in Pretoria. Blondiaux says many migrants do not have valid travel documents and end up losing contact with their families involuntarily because of injury or illness, or because they have been detained or trafficked. Some migrants die and are buried without identification because of a lack of documents. New Frame