Africa Media Review for January 10, 2022

West African Bloc Slaps Tough New Sanctions on Mali over Election Delay
West Africa’s main regional bloc will close borders with Mali and impose sweeping economic sanctions in response to delays holding promised elections after a 2020 military coup, the president of the bloc’s commission said on Sunday. The announcement followed an extraordinary summit of the leaders of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Ghana’s capital, Accra. … The list of tough new sanctions were a sign of the significant hardening of the bloc’s stance on Mali, whose interim authorities have proposed holding elections in December 2025 instead of this February as originally agreed. In a communiqué issued after an emergency summit, ECOWAS said it found the proposed timetable for a transition back to constitutional rule totally unacceptable. This schedule “simply means that an illegitimate military transition Government will take the Malian people hostage,” it said. The 15-member bloc said it had agreed to impose additional sanctions with immediate effect. These included the closure of members’ land and air borders with Mali, the suspension of non-essential financial transactions, and the freezing of Malian state assets in ECOWAS commercial banks and by the central bank of the eight-nation West African CFA franc zone. France24 with AFP and Reuters

Mali: It’s Clear ECOWAS Will No Longer Accept Coups, Says Osinbajo
There is clear evidence the international community will no longer accept unconstitutional takeover of government in West Africa, the Vice-President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), has said. He was reacting to the sanctions slammed by the Economic Community of West African States on Mali following the ouster of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta in August 2020. Osinbajo was in Accra, Ghana, on Sunday where he represented the Nigerian President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) at an Extraordinary Summit of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government to discuss the political situation in the Republic of Mali. … In a statement by his spokesman, Laolu Akande, Osinbajo was quoted as saying, “What is being done is unprecedented. In the years gone by, the African Union, then known as OAU and ECOWAS, never came down heavily on coup de’tats; but there is evidence now that there is a very strong resolve that ECOWAS and, indeed, AU and the international community will not accept unconstitutional take over of government.” … Continuing, he said, “It’s very evident that there is very strong resolve, which is why we are here today. We expect that the actions that will be taken will point the junta in Mali in the right direction.” Punch

Ethiopia Frees Prominent Political Prisoners, Calls for Reconciliation
Ethiopia’s government said Friday it would release several prominent political prisoners, including members of the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front, as a step toward peacefully resolving the country’s civil war, now in its fifteenth month. Those to be released included Jawar Mohammed, a prominent critic of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was arrested in July 2020 during popular protests in which hundreds of demonstrators were killed. The announcement, which coincided with Orthodox Christmas, comes weeks after Mr. Abiy’s forces scored a string of battlefield victories against rebels from the country’s northern region of Tigray, and stoked rare hopes that some form of conciliation might be possible. In a statement, Mr. Abiy’s government said it would release the prisoners “to pave the way for a lasting solution to Ethiopia’s problems in a peaceful, non-violent way” through a “national dialogue.” But there was no mention of peace talks with his main enemy, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or T.P.L.F. which was forced to retreat to its stronghold in northern Ethiopia last month. The New York Times

Aid Agencies Suspend Work in Northwest Tigray after Deadly Air Strike
Aid agencies have suspended their work in an area of Ethiopia’s Tigray region after a deadly air strike on a camp for people displaced by the brutal war, the UN’s emergency response agency said Sunday. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement to AFP that the attack at midnight Friday in the town of Dedebit in northwestern Tigray had “caused scores of civilian casualties including deaths,” according to its preliminary information. “Humanitarian partners suspended activities in the area due to the ongoing threats of drone strikes,” it said. Tigray rebels said Saturday that the attack had killed 56 people, but it was not possible to independently verify the claims because access to war-hit Tigray is restricted and it remains under a communications blackout. … OCHA said the lack of essential supplies, especially medical supplies and fuel, was “severely disrupting the response to the injured, and (has) led to the nearly total collapse of the health system in Tigray.” “The intensification of air strikes is alarming, and we once again remind all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law,” it said. AFP

This Will Be South Sudan’s Hungriest Year Ever, Experts Say
More people will face hunger this year in South Sudan than ever, said aid groups. That’s because of the worst floods in 60 years, as well as conflict and the sluggish implementation of the peace agreement that has denied much of the country basic services. … While the latest food security report by aid groups and the government has yet to be released, several aid officials familiar with the situation said preliminary data show that nearly 8.5 million people — out of the country’s 12 million — will face severe hunger, an 8% increase from last year. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media. Aid officials say worst affected Fangak county is now as bad as Pibor county was this time last year, when global food security experts said some 30,000 Pibor residents were likely in famine. During trips to three South Sudan states in December, some civilians and government officials expressed concern to The Associated Press that people were beginning to starve to death. … In a speech to the U.N. Security Council in December, the head of the U.N. mission in South Sudan, Nicholas Haysom, warned of a collapse in the country’s peace deal if all parties didn’t renew their political will. AP

Sudan Protest Group Rejects UN Offer for Talks with Military
A leading Sudanese protest group on Sunday rejected a United Nations initiative to hold talks with the military aimed at restoring the country’s democratic transition following an October coup. At least one demonstrator, meanwhile, was killed when security forces violently broke up anti-coup protests in the capital, activists said. … The U.N. offer Saturday came a week after embattled Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok resigned, citing a failure to reach compromise between the generals and the pro-democracy movement. The Oct. 25 coup scuttled hopes of a peaceful transition, over two years after a popular uprising forced the military overthrow of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir and his Islamist government. In a statement, the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, which led the upraising against al-Bashir, said the “only way” out of the ongoing crisis is through the removal of the generals from power. It seeks a fully civilian government to lead the transition, underlined by the motto “No negotiations, no compromise, no power-sharing” with the military. The SPA has been the backbone of anti-coup protests, alongside youth groups known as the Resistance Committees. AP

UN Security Council to Meet Wednesday on Sudan
The UN Security Council will meet next Wednesday in an informal session to address the latest developments in Sudan as demonstrations against military rule in the African nation continue, diplomatic sources said. The session will be behind closed doors, the sources said Friday, adding that the meeting was requested by six of the council’s 15 members: the United States, Britain, France, Norway, Ireland and Albania. A common position of the Security Council “is not expected, as China and Russia would oppose it,” a diplomat said on condition of anonymity. … The meeting will allow the UN special representative for Sudan, Volker Perthes, to brief Security Council members on conditions there since Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok resigned Sunday amid protests against the junta. Hamdok had been the face of the transition to civilian rule launched after the ouster of General Omar al-Bashir, but concerns have swelled about a slide back to dictatorship. The United States and European Union warned Sudan’s military against naming its own prime minister after Hamdok quit. On Thursday three demonstrators were shot dead in the capital Khartoum and its suburbs, according to doctors and witnesses, as people gathered there and elsewhere in the country to protest against military rule. AFP

Somalia’s Leaders Agree to Hold Delayed Election by February 25
Somali leaders have announced they struck a deal to complete parliamentary elections by February 25, after repeated delays that have threatened the stability of the country. The agreement on Sunday was reached after several days of talks hosted by Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble with state leaders aimed at ending an impasse over the polls. … Roble and Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known by his nickname Farmaajo, have long been at loggerheads over the long-delayed elections with fears their squabbling could erupt into violence. … The feud between the two leaders erupted again last month when Farmaajo suspended Roble, the man he had himself chosen as premier in September 2020. But Roble accused the president of violating the constitution and of an “attempted coup” and defied the order, while Farmaajo himself faced calls by opposition leaders to vacate his office. Farmaajo’s four-year mandate expired in February 2021, but was controversially extended by parliament in April, triggering deadly gun battles on the streets of Mogadishu, with some rivals viewing it as a flagrant power grab. Roble then brokered a new timetable to a vote, but in the months that followed, the pair’s bitter rivalry derailed the polls again. AFP

Scores Killed in Northwest Nigeria during Reprisal Attacks by Armed Bandits
Around 58 people have been killed in villages in the northwestern Nigerian state of Zamfara during deadly reprisal attacks by armed bandits following military airstrikes on their hideouts this week, government authorities told CNN. But residents told Reuters that an estimated 200 people or more were killed. Residents gained access to the villages on Saturday after the military captured the communities to organize mass burials, they told Reuters. Zamfara’s commissioner for information, Ibrahim Dosara, told CNN on Sunday that four communities in the state’s Anka and Bukkuyum districts were targeted in the deadly raids while disputing widely reported casualty figures. … The military said it had conducted airstrikes in the early hours of Monday on targets in the Gusami forest and west Tsamre village in Zamfara state, killing more than 100 bandits including two of their leaders, following intelligence reports. One resident who declined to be identified told Reuters the attacks on the villages could be linked to the military strikes. CNN

Dictators in Africa Using Social Media to Cling to Power
In early 2021, Facebook (Meta) deactivated more than 20 accounts linked to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. Shortly afterward, Twitter also followed suit, closing 11% of the nearly 3,500 accounts worldwide that allegedly spread pro-government propaganda. Thus in total, almost 440 Ugandan social media accounts close to the Ugandan government have been blocked by social media networks in the East African country to date. Both Twitter and Facebook accuse the Ugandan government of using social media as a tool politicians to manipulate public opinion, spread disinformation, and intimidate the opposition. Facebook also stated that as part of its strategy, the Ministry of Information had been using “fake and duplicate accounts” for propaganda purposes. … “The spread of fake news is a real problem,” said Ugandan human rights activist Nicholas Opiyo in a DW interview. “This method is gaining ground in countries whose leaders are desperately struggling to maintain their image and reputation on social media.” According to Opiyo, this involves using bots and trolls, computer programs, and paid users who use fake accounts to flood social media with posts favorable to the government. DW

Pen Prize-Winning Ugandan Novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija Illegally Detained and Tortured
Ugandan satirical novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, who was named International Writer of Courage by PEN last year, has been illegally detained and tortured for criticising the president and his son, his lawyer said. Gunmen came to the writer’s house on 28 December after a series of tweets about the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, including one calling him a thief and his son and presumed successor “an incompetent pig-headed curmudgeon.” In his last tweet Rukirabashaija said he was under house arrest and the men were entering by force. He has not been able to contact his lawyers since then, and no charges have been brought. On Monday police took him with them to search the family’s country home. His wife was there and was horrified to see her husband weak, injured, limping and wearing bloodstained underwear. … His lawyer Kiiza Eron is demanding that the author be released, as under Ugandan law police can only detain people for 48 hours without charge. He has obtained a court order for Rukirabashaija’s release, but the authorities are ignoring it. “Police have admitted holding him, but they are not willing to allow us access… he has been incommunicado apart from the day of the search,” Eron said. The Guardian