Africa Media Review for February 9, 2023

Russia’s Foreign Minister Heads to Mali, His Third Trip to Africa in Recent Months.
Russia provided about 45 percent of major arms to Africa between 2012 and 2021, according to a study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. In recent years, a growing number of countries have established contracts with Russian mercenary groups, including Wagner, whose fighters are active in the war in Ukraine. In most African countries where they have deployed, Wagner operatives have been accused of widespread abuses, including killings of civilians, sexual violence and torture. In Mali, United Nations experts have said that Wagner mercenaries may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity along with the country’s military. On Sunday, Mali’s government said it was expelling the head of the human rights division of the U.N. peacekeeping operation stationed in the country. New York Times

Lavrov in Africa: Have Wagner mercenaries helped Mali’s fight against jihadists?
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has promised continued military support for Mali, which has been battling a jihadist insurgency since 2012. Last year, Mali turned its back on former colonial power France favouring help from Russia instead. This is the foreign minister’s second visit to Africa in two weeks. Russia aims to shore up allies as the Ukraine war continues, but its involvement in West Africa pre-dates that and has been growing over time. Mr Lavrov, who is on a two-day trip to Mali, outlined Moscow’s ambition to provide military backing for governments across West Africa in the battle against Islamist militants…Wagner’s deployment was in response to waning patience with French forces which had initially made significant strides against militants when first deployed in 2013. The capacity of the nearly 18,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission (Minusma) to protect civilians threatens to be weakened with the impending withdrawal of nearly 3,000 troops from Germany, the UK, Ivory Coast and Benin. BBC

‘A Mammoth Task’: Joyce Banda on Helping Ukraine Supply Grain to African Countries
Ex Malawi president has promised to help Kyiv identify nations that badly need exports as Ukraine tries to counter Russian influence in Africa…Beginning work as one of Ukraine’s three “grain ambassadors”, the ex-president described Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s wartime direction as “an inspiring story”, part of an effort to boost Kyiv’s standing in Africa, where Russian influence remains strong. Her job, she said, was “a mammoth task” because climate breakdown was badly affecting parts of Africa “like the northern part of Kenya, that didn’t get rain at all the past season”, meaning they need more help than ever with food security. Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest grain exporters, and a main supplier to several African nations, but Banda said the country’s profile on the continent had minimal, as was her own understanding of its strategic position. Guardian

The People Onscreen Are Fake. The Disinformation Is Real.
“Deepfake” technology, which has progressed steadily for nearly a decade, has the ability to create talking digital puppets. The A.I. software is sometimes used to distort public figures, like a video that circulated on social media last year falsely showing Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, announcing a surrender. But the software can also create characters out of whole cloth, going beyond traditional editing software and expensive special effects tools used by Hollywood, blurring the line between fact and fiction to an extraordinary degree. With few laws to manage the spread of the technology, disinformation experts have long warned that deepfake videos could further sever people’s ability to discern reality from forgeries online, potentially being misused to set off unrest or incept a political scandal. Those predictions have now become reality. Although the use of deepfakes in the recently discovered pro-China disinformation campaign was ham-handed, it opens a new chapter in information warfare. In recent weeks, another video using similar A.I. technology was uncovered online, showing fictitious people who described themselves as Americans, promoting support for the government of Burkina Faso, which faces scrutiny for links to Russia. New York Times

In South Africa, ‘Load Shedding’ Takes a Toll on Small Businesses
Some are already warning that there will be job losses as the power cuts continue, and that could have a ripple effect in Africa’s most industrialised economy. South African small businesses, often seen as the lifeblood of the economy, account for a third of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). South Africa depends on coal for 80 percent of its energy needs. But since 2008, national utility company Eskom, which supplies more than 90 percent of the country’s electricity, has been implementing load shedding as demand outpaces supply. Power cuts have now increased from only a couple of hours a day at the beginning to Eskom’s “Stage 6” – as much as half a day – in the last year, as it tries to protect the country’s grid from total collapse. Al Jazeera

Obasanjo Speaks on Alleged Plot to Scuttle Nigerian Elections
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has expressed optimism that nothing will stop the February and March general elections from holding. Mr Obasanj expressed concern over the elections while hosting members of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) at his penthouse residence located in the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) complex, Abeokuta, Ogun State. The former president stated this against the backdrop of concerns by Nigerians that public disturbances over the scarcity of Naira notes and fuel may force the elections to be postponed. Premium Times Nigeria

Nigerian Military, Security Agencies Meet INEC, Assure General Elections Will Be Rancour Free
The National Security Adviser (NSA) to the President, Babagana Monguno, has assured Nigerians that the 2023 general elections would be conducted in an atmosphere devoid of rancour. Mr Monguno, a retired major general, gave the assurance on Tuesday during his meeting with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and leadership of security agencies in the country. There have been fears and concerns that the scarcity of the new naira notes and fuel may disrupt the forthcoming polls. But Mr Monguno advised Nigerians to dispel any form of misinformation, fake news and fear on the conduct of 2023 general elections, saying the election would be conducted under a peaceful atmosphere. He said that the meeting was to look at certain issues that dominated both the political and economic spaces in the country in the last couple of weeks, leading to apprehensions, agitation, fear and uncertainty with regards to the general Elections. Premium Times Nigeria

Nigeria’s Naira Crisis: Supreme Court Suspends Banknote Deadline
Nigeria’s Supreme Court has temporarily suspended Friday’s deadline to stop using old banknotes, which had caused a cash crisis in the country. Banks have not been releasing enough of the new naira notes, leading to desperate and chaotic scenes as people tried to get their hands on them. There were fights at ATMs, protests and mob attacks on commercial banks. The chaos led to concern that it could affect this month’s elections, as many Nigerians do not have bank accounts. The head of the election commission said some election service providers will need to be paid in cash, and that could prove to be difficult. A spokesperson for the presidential campaign of Bola Tinubu, running for the ruling APC, welcomed the Supreme Court ruling. “Our people have suffered greatly due to the incompetence of officials,” said Ajuri Ngelale. BBC

South Sudan Summons Kenya’s Envoy over Border Dispute
South Sudan on Wednesday summoned Kenya’s envoy to Juba Samwel Nandwa to protest an alleged encroachment on its territory. A statement issued by South Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation says Juba wants a diplomatic solution but wants the two countries to address a border dispute with Kenya…In South Sudan, local and state officials in Eastern Equatoria claimed in several interviews last week that a convoy of Kenyan security officers strayed briefly into South Sudan territory. This resulted in demonstrations by Taposa youth, calling on the national government to engage the Kenyan government to resolve the issue. The two countries, however, have a portion of their border largely undetermined at the Ilemi Triangle, a sparsely populated area of about 14,000km2. In 2019, both countries had agreed to establish a joint team to help mark the border which South Sudan inherited from Sudan. East African

Relatives of Eritrean Military Draft Dodgers ‘Punished’
Human Rights Watch says the authorities in Eritrea are punishing the relatives of people accused of evading forced military conscription. The campaign group says it has spoken to parents who were evicted from their homes, and an 80-year old man who was detained for failing to hand over his youngest son. There are other cases where people were forced to sleep on the streets. Eritrea has a policy of indefinite national service – which is often cited as a reason why thousands of young Eritreans try to flee to Europe. Round-ups by the military intensified as a result of Eritrea’s recent involvement in the civil war in neighbouring Ethiopia. BBC

Domestic Violence, Child Marriages Soar in Drought-Hit Ethiopia
The drought has inflicted another toll, doctors and social workers say — a spike in forced marriages and sexual violence. Unicef says child marriages, which are illegal in Ethiopia, have more than doubled in the country’s four hardest-hit regions in the first six months of 2022 compared to the previous year. For many desperate families, marrying off a daughter pays off twice: it reduces the number of mouths to feed, and the dowry given by the husband’s family helps cover costs…In the wider region, temporary camps for people forced to flee the drought put women and girls at risk, he said. “Violence is common” in the camps, said Dr Fahad. He said a seven-year-old girl had been brought to the clinic after being raped in a camp in Abaqoro, a nearby district. AFP

Algeria Recalls Envoy from France as New Dispute Erupts
Algeria recalled its ambassador to France for consultations, in what appeared to be the latest spat between the OPEC nation and its former colonial ruler. The move comes against the backdrop of the alleged involvement of French diplomats and security personnel in the “illegal and unofficial” smuggling of an Algerian citizen who was supposed to be in the North African nation, state television reported. It didn’t give details. Bloomberg

Egypt’s MNT-Halan Is Africa’s Newest Unicorn
Egyptian payments solutions firm, MNT-Halan has breached the billion-dollar valuation mark, becoming Africa’s first unicorn in almost two years…MNT-Halan’s feat entrenches Egypt in the elite club of African states with unicorns, boosted by growing investor confidence in the land of Pharaohs. But it has not come as a surprise. In 2021, Egypt topped the list as the most robust market for investment on the continent, according to a Rand Merchant Bank report. Another 2021 report by Disrupt Africa showed that Egypt was on course to edge out more established startup ecosystems like South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya for levels of entrepreneurial innovation and investment. Since January 2015, it notes that more than $791 million have been raised by some 318 tech startups across 447 individual rounds. Quartz Africa

Can Kenya Bring Peace to Eastern Congo?
Many Congolese cheered when the East African Community (EAC), a regional economic bloc, announced plans in June to deploy an intervention force. True, Uganda and Burundi, both past invaders with less-than-cuddly reputations, are contributing men. But Kenya, untainted by such grubbiness, was to lead the force. Here, at last, was an honest broker with sufficient diplomatic and economic heft to make a difference, with a genuine belief that stability will make the region richer. Better still, the force had a robust mandate to “contain, defeat and eradicate negative forces”. With eastern Congo facing its gravest crisis in a decade, a Kenyan show of leadership could not have been more timely. Economist