Africa Media Review for January 10, 2020

Suspected Islamist Militants Kill 25 Soldiers in Niger

An attack by suspected Islamist militants on motorbikes killed at least 25 soldiers Thursday in the West African nation of Niger, adding to a death toll that has surged in recent weeks as troops struggle to contain violent extremism in the region. The clash unfolded in the western village of Chinegodar near the border with Mali, according to Nigerien defense officials, as fighters with ties to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda look to seize new swaths of territory. The bloodshed came about a month after gunmen ambushed a Nigerien army post in another border town, killing 71 soldiers in the deadliest strike on the nation’s forces in recent memory. The Islamic State West Africa Province asserted responsibility for that massacre two days later. Extremist groups routinely carry out attacks across the Sahel region, which lies south of the Sahara Desert. The scourge took root nearly a decade ago, and authorities warn it is spreading as governments struggle to combat it amid limited resources. The Thursday battle in western Niger also killed 63 “terrorists,” Col. Souleymane Gozobi, a Nigerien defense spokesman, said on national television. The Washington Post

More than 50 ‘Terrorists’ Killed in French Commando Operations in Mali

More than 50 “terrorists” were “put out of action” in a series of operations conducted in Mali by forces deployed to Operation Barkhane between December 20 and January 5, the French Armed Forces Ministry said. The first operation between December 20 and 21 had previously been announced by French President Emmanuel Macron. In a helicopter-borne assault on a large camp in a densely forested area of central Mali’s Mopti region, “33 terrorists were neutralized by several dozen commandos supported by Tigre helicopters in fighting that lasted several hours,” the ministry said in a Thursday, January 9 release. Previous AFP reporting put the location of the commando raid in the Ouagadou forest, 150 km (90 miles) from Mopti town. At the end of the day on December 21, commandoes were attacked as they searched the area. A Reaper drone that was then supporting the operation conducted an airstrike “to neutralize seven GAT [armed terrorist group] fighters who had infiltrated by motorcycle.” The Defense Post

Africa’s Sahel Seeks New Ways to Fight Terrorism

French President Emmanuel Macron was on Friday hosting a summit of leaders from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Chad. The three-hour meeting in the French city of Pau was expected to focus on the fight against terrorism in Africa’s Sahel region. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, EU Council President Charles Michel and the President of the African Union Moussa Faki were also invited to the working lunch. … The goal of the Pau summit was to adopt a new, common strategy for military missions in West Africa. French troops have been stationed in West Africa since 2014 under the military Operation Barkhane. The five states on the southern edge of the Sahara founded their own joint reaction force in 2018 with 5,000 soldiers from all five countries. The United Nations is also in Mali with its MINUSMA mission. But the lack of coordination, frequent fatal accidents and attacks has shaken trust in the mission. “Despite all military efforts that have been put in, more is needed to tackle the problem of jihadist terrorism in the Sahel,” said Paul Melly, a West Africa expert at the London-based think tank Chatham House. DW

Libya’s East-Based Forces Shoot Down Suggestion of a Truce

A spokesman for one of Libya’s rival factions has said its forces will keep fighting for the country’s capital after Russia and Turkey called for a ceasefire yesterday. Spokesman for the self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces Ahmed al-Mosmari said in a video statement late Thursday that group’s battalions will still try to take control of country’s capital Tripoli from ‘terrorist groups.’ The armed forces, led by ex-general Khalifa Hifter, have been waging an offensive to try to take the city for months. Russia has helped them with expertise and mercenary fighters. Both Russia and Turkey have been accused of exacerbating the conflict by giving military aid to its parties. Most recently, the Turkish parliament approved last week the deployment of troops to fight on behalf of the United-Nations supported government in Tripoli. The U.N.-backed government, led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, meanwhile, welcomed the proposed ceasefire. It released a statement late Wednesday expressing its full support for “the resumption of the political process and the elimination of the specter of war.” AP

Gunmen Kill 12 in Central Nigeria Attack

Gunmen have killed 12 people in an attack on a village in a region of central Nigeria known for bloody clashes between cattle herders and farmers, police said on Thursday. Unknown armed assailants “suspected to be herdsmen” attacked the residents of Kulben village in Plateau state on Wednesday night, the regional police said in a statement. The raid left 12 dead and one person seriously wounded, the authorities said. Local people said 19 people had died. Plateau state is part of Nigeria’s so-called middle-belt that divides the mainly-Muslim north from the predominantly Christian south. Deadly clashes between nomadic Fulani herders and farmers over land, grazing and water have plagued the area for years. Aid group Mercy Corps said in May last year that violence between farmers and pastoralists in Nigeria had “contributed to more than 7,000 deaths in the past five years.” Attacks in remote areas often go unreported but the authorities in Plateau state insist the bloodshed has decreased following reconciliation efforts between the communities. AFP

Nigeria: UN Commends Nigeria Over Handling of Cameroonian Refugees

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Antonio Jose Canhandula, has commended the Nigerian government on its handling of Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria. Canhandula gave this commendation while speaking at the joint valedictory press conference by the UNHCR and the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, NCFRMI, in Abuja on Thursday. No fewer than 40,000 Cameroonian refugees were registered in Akwa-Ibom, Benue, Cross River and Taraba States in Nigeria as at July 2019 following the crisis in some parts of the country. While noting that Nigeria’s treatment of refugees ranked best in Africa, Canhandula added that; “the way we have received and treated the Cameroonian refugees is the most fascinating thing to me. “In this country, the government said they should not be isolated in the camps but they have been settled within the communities.” Daily Trust

Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan Deadlocked over Giant Nile Dam, Look to Washington Talks

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan remained deadlocked after two days of talks in their disputes over a giant hydropower dam on the Nile though Cairo said it hoped the issues would be resolved by Jan. 15 in line with a deadline agreed with Washington. “We did not reach an agreement today but we achieved clarity at least on all issues including the filling. We hope to reach a deal next week in Washington,” Egyptian Water Minister Mohamed Abdel Aty told Reuters late on Thursday after two days of meetings in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. The countries are due to convene on Jan. 13 in Washington with the aim of resolving their disagreements by Jan. 15 over the filling and operation of the $4 billion hydroelectric dam that Ethiopia is building on the Nile. They agreed to the timeline after a meeting in Washington with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and World Bank President David Malpass in November. After the meetings in the Ethiopian capital ended with no progress, Ethiopian Water Minister Sileshi Bekele accused Egypt of coming to the talks with no intention of reaching a deal. Reuters

Sudan’s PM Embarks on Peace Mission to Rebel Stronghold

Sudan’s prime minister, accompanied by United Nations officials, embarked on a peace mission Thursday to a rebel stronghold, in a major step toward government efforts to end the country’s long-running civil conflicts. A crowd of tens of thousands, including thousands of armed rebels, welcomed Abdalla Hamdok to the Nuba Mountain’s town of Kauda, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) south of the capital Khartoum, for a meeting with Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu, who leads the powerful faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement-North. Al-Hilu’s movement is Sudan’s single largest rebel group and is active in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan provinces, where it controls significant chunks of territory. … The Sudanese prime minister arrived with five Cabinet ministers, the head of the U.N. World Food Programme and American, British and Norwegian diplomats. Calling the visit “truly historical,” Hamdok said he hoped it would be a start to achieve sustainable peace in his country, and “to end the suffering of our people in these areas.” “This is the start of the new Sudan,” he told The Associated Press. “Together, we will make miracles.” AP

Sudan Opens Up Gold Market in Bid to Raise Revenue

Sudan has begun allowing private traders to export gold, a measure designed to crack down on smuggling and attract foreign currency into the country’s cash-strapped treasury. Until now Sudan’s central bank has been the sole body legally allowed to buy and export gold and set up centers to buy the metal from small-scale miners. Acting central bank governor Badr al-Din Abdel Rahim Ibrahim said on January 1 the bank would end its gold purchases entirely. Last week, a little-known private company founded in 2015, al-Fakher, became the first to take advantage of the new regulations, exporting an initial 155 kg. Any added revenue from the new system would help Sudan’s government cope with severe economic pressure as it tries to navigate a three-year political transition. The government is serving under a military-civilian power-sharing deal struck after president Omar al-Bashir was ousted last year. … Before the new regulations, the central bank bought gold at a discount to the international price. As a result, an estimated 70-80% of it was smuggled abroad, according to government officials. The smuggling has hurt. The government lost its main source of foreign exchange when South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011, taking most of the country’s oil with it. Reuters

South Sudan Seeks to Boost Ties with Turkey

South Sudan and Turkey on Wednesday vowed to deepen cooperation in various fields and boost bilateral relations. This came during a joint press conference held in Ankara by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and visiting South Sudanese Foreign Minister Awut Deng. Minister Awut stated that South Sudan wants to develop relations with Turkey in various fields. “South Sudan will renew its institutions during the transition and we believe from our hearts that we will be taking your experiences as models and benefit from them,” she said. Expressing her satisfaction with her visit to Turkey, Awut drew attention to Turkey’s historic ties with South Sudan. The South Sudanese minister noted that the relations between the two countries are not new and said: “I am here to deepen our relations and share our richness in South Sudan with you.”Awut expressed that they want to benefit from Turkey’s technical experience in petroleum, mining, agriculture and fishery. Minister Awut invited Turkish business people to invest in South Sudan and underlined that government institutions in the capital Juba are ready to provide consultancy services. Radio Tamazuj

UN: South African Military Plane Crash-Lands in Congo

A South African air force plane crash-landed and caught fire Thursday at the Goma airport in eastern Congo but there were no casualties, authorities said. The C-130BZ military aircraft was transporting 59 passengers and eight crew members from the U.N mission when its left engine caught fire upon landing, said Mathias Gillman, acting spokesperson for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo known as MONUSCO. “MONUSCO sent a rescue team that brought the fire under control and everyone was safely evacuated,” Gillman told The Associated Press. The plane was returning from the eastern Congo city of Beni, where it was providing logistical support to the South African contingent deployed in the region, he said. The South African National Defence Force in a statement confirmed the incident with one of its aircraft and said a board of inquiry will be convened to investigate what happened. South Africa is one of the top five troop contributors to the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo. AP

UN Refugee Agency Probing Corruption in Uganda, Kenya

The UN refugee agency said on Thursday it was probing new allegations of fraud in its resettlement programme in Kenya and Uganda after a report in German magazine Stern alleging graft. “We can confirm that we have received allegations related to resettlement fraud in Uganda and Kenya,” UNHCR spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly told AFP, without elaborating. Stern reported that an illegal “market” had grown up around the resettlement programme in the Ugandan capital Kampala in which intermediaries acted between local UNHCR officials and refugees willing to pay to be resettled. Under the programme, vulnerable refugees are given a home in third countries. The leading host countries for resettled refugees last year were the United States, Canada and Britain, according to UN data. The Stern report said refugees were paying about $2 500 each to get resettled, with the corruption also including fake medical certificates to ease entry. AFP

Despite Fewer Killings, Somali Journalists Remain Targets

Somali government forces beat and detained a record number of journalists in 2019, according to a new report by a Mogadishu-based journalists trade union. Abdalle Ahmed Mumin of the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) says the findings, issued Sunday, indicate media professionals in the East African nation now face a greater threat from the state than from regional terror networks such as al-Shabab. “Eighty-one journalists were physically assaulted during 2019,” said Mumin, adding that at least seven media outlets were shuttered and dozens of journalists were detained, the majority of whom were quickly released without charges. “Three journalists were wounded, two of them sustained gunshot wounds,” he told VOA. Although the number of media professionals killed in the field during 2019 – two – is far lower than earlier years, Mumin called the trend of increased detentions and harassment by government actors a serious concern. “The government is not allowing journalists to report,” Mumin recently told Reuters, explaining that most reporters were detained while covering bombings, insurgent attacks, and sometimes corruption. … “Journalists are not allowed to report security-related issues,” he said. VOA

AFRICOM Sends Top Brass to Kenya to Investigate Al-Shabab Attack

The commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has ordered an investigation into the al-Shabab attack this week that killed three Americans, dispatching two of his top generals Thursday to Manda Bay, Kenya. “I want ground truth to assess the situation and hear from the troops to ensure they have what they need to accomplish their mission,” AFRICOM commander U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend said. U.S. Africa Command said that U.S. Army Major General Michael Turello, the commander who oversees operations in the Horn of Africa, and U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Leonard Kosinski, the command’s director of logistics, visited Camp Simba base and Manda Bay Airfield on Thursday with the command’s top senior enlisted leader and an investigating officer. Three U.S. Department of Defense personnel, including one U.S. soldier, were killed Sunday when fewer than 20 al-Shabab fighters assaulted the Manda Bay Airfield, which is used by Kenyan and U.S. counterterrorism forces. U.S. and Kenyan forces repelled the attack after using indirect and small-arms fire for about an hour, according to an AFRICOM official. The Kenya Defense Forces said in a statement that five attackers were killed. VOA

Ethiopia Passes Gun Control Law to Tackle Surge in Violence

Ethiopia’s parliament passed legislation on Thursday aimed at curbing gun ownership after a surge in regional ethnic violence blamed on a proliferation of small arms in private hands. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government said last April that it had seized 21 machine guns, more than 33,000 handguns, 275 rifles and 300,000 bullets in different parts of the Horn of Africa country over the previous year. In October security forces confiscated a further 2,221 handguns and 71 Kalashnikov assault rifles in Gonder in the Amhara region, one of the areas particularly affected by ethnic strife, domestic media said. The rifles had been smuggled into the country in oil trucks from Sudan, they said. The spread of small arms has been partly blamed for hundreds of killings in various ethnic conflicts over the past two years that have displaced more than 2.7 million people. … More Ethiopians have resorted to arming themselves due to the volatile political situation and a “perception of weakening law enforcement”, according to William Davidson, an analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank. “The proliferation of illegal arms risks fuelling further turmoil,” he said. Reuters

South Africa: Western Cape Top Cop Wants to Rebuild Trust in Police

The Western Cape’s new top cop, Yolisa Matakata, is under no illusion about the task ahead of her. She has been appointed to oversee crime-fighting in what has been described by national police commissioner Khehla Sitole as one of the most “complex” provinces to police. At the press conference to announce Matakata’s appointment, Sitole said that the fight against crime in the province was hampered by a mix of economic and societal inequality, together with dangerous and violent criminality. The 2018-2019 provincial crime statistics indicated that the province experienced its bloodiest year in a decade. Cape Town was described as South Africa’s murder capital: seven of the 10 police stations reporting the highest levels of murders nationally are based in the city. In the province as a whole, 3,974 people were murdered, 3,860 people had attempts made on their life and 24,488 cases of grievous bodily harm were reported. … Matakata, a career police officer of more than 20 years was most recently the acting head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks). She tells the Mail & Guardian it is time to take a step back and look at the root of gang violence. Mail & Guardian

Lesotho PM’s Party Seeks His Ouster over Wife’s Murder

Lesotho’s ruling party on Thursday asked Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to resign over alleged links to the 2017 murder of his wife, calling him a “threat to the nation.” In court documents seen this week, the country’s police chief accused Thabane of involvement in the killing of Lipolelo Thabane on the outskirts of the capital Maseru two days before her husband’s inauguration. The accusations came after the prime minister suspended police commissioner Holomo Molibeli whose investigations revealed that communication records from the day of the murder picked up Thabane’s mobile phone number. Thabane, who is now 80, and wife had been embroiled in bitter divorce proceedings. “It’s obvious that the prime minister is a suspect in a horrendous criminal matter that involves his estranged wife,” said Nqosa Mahao, deputy leader of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) party. “And most importantly, the action he took to remove Molibeli from office is an attempt to defeat the ends of justice and frustrate justice being done,” he told a news conference in Maseru. AFP

What Will It Take to Finally End Congo’s Ebola Outbreak in 2020?

Last fall, Félix Tshisekedi, the president of Democratic Republic of Congo, made a triumphant prediction: Before 2019 was over, the Ebola outbreak that had ravaged his country for more than a year would finally be brought to a close. Already, health workers had managed to quash the Ebola virus in all but a small set of remaining hot zones. New infections had slowed to a trickle. Then, on Nov. 28, unidentified armed men launched a series of attacks on the offices and living quarters of several Ebola response teams, killing three workers and forcing scores of others to evacuate. Within days, new Ebola infections were once again on the rise. It was just the latest setback in an outbreak that has proved devilishly difficult to contain as it has unfolded in a part of Congo with a long history of conflict between the government and multiple armed groups. Since the epidemic was declared on Aug. 1, 2018, more than 3,300 people have been infected with Ebola, making the outbreak the worst on record for Congo, and the second worst in human history after the much larger West Africa Ebola outbreak of 2013-2016. NPR

Government-Led Internet Shutdowns Cost the Global Economy $8 Billion in 2019, Research Says

Deliberate internet shutdowns cost the global economy more than $8 billion last year, according to a new report. Research published Tuesday by internet research firm Top10VPN analyzed the economic impact of internet shutdowns around the world throughout 2019. The cost of internet blackouts were calculated on Netblocks’ and the Internet Society’s cost of shutdown tool, which uses indicators from the World Bank, International Telecommunication Union, Eurostat and U.S. Census Bureau. … The analysis found that shutdowns most often occurred in response to protests or civil unrest as “authoritarian regimes looked to restrict the flow of information and maintain their grip on power.” In terms of individual regions, the Middle East and North Africa took the biggest economic hit from internet shutdowns in 2019, with costs exceeding $3 billion. Sub-Saharan Africa followed suit, with costs of almost $2.2 billion, while Asia – the region with the most documented shutdown hours at 9,677 – had a blackout cost of $1.7 billion. CNBC

Debt ‘Crisis’ in Poor Countries Driving Public Spending Cuts

Rising debt burdens are forcing some of the world’s poorest countries to cut already meagre levels of public sending still further, campaigners have warned. All but one of a group of 15 low-income countries where debt servicing costs consume 18 per cent or more of government revenues have cut non-debt related public spending since 2015, according to the Jubilee Debt Campaign. Real public spending per person in the Republic of Congo more than halved between 2015 and 2018, the debt charity said, while it fell 35 per cent in Chad and 21 per cent in Mozambique, a country already in default after it borrowed more than $2bn, much of it concealed from the IMF, ostensibly to finance a tuna fishing fleet and maritime security projects, only for much of the money to be diverted to kickbacks for bankers and government officials, according to US prosecutors. The findings come after the IMF warned in October that almost half of frontier market countries are either at high risk of falling into debt distress or are already distressed, up from zero as recently as 2014. Financial Times