Africa Media Review for January 12, 2018

Gabon Parliament Votes to Change Constitution, Gives Bongo More Power 
Gabonese President Ali Bongo on Wednesday defended a plan to change the constitution after the fiercely-contested draft cleared a key hurdle. Parliament on Wednesday approved a raft of changes that the opposition has slammed as a power grab, and the draft now goes to the constitutional court for its approval. Under the changes, the president will “determine the policy of the nation,” whereas the previous text stated only that he or she would govern “in consultation with the government”. Rejecting an opposition campaign to limit Bongo’s time in office, the new constitution like its predecessor sets no restrictions on the amount of times the president can be re-elected. However, it introduces a two-round voting system, something the opposition had demanded. AFP

Equatorial Guinea Claims Failed Coup Planned in France 
Equatorial Guinea has said that an alleged coup attempt foiled last month was probably plotted in France. Guinean Foreign Affairs Minister Agapito Mba Mokuy told a press conference on Wednesday that the coup appeared to have been planned on French territory but added that it “has nothing to do with the French government”. “We will cooperate with France as soon as we have more information,” he said. Relations between the two countries have been tense since a French court found Teodorin Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, guilty of embezzlement in a trial he did not attend. He was given a three-year suspended sentence and 30-million-euro fine. RFI

At Least 15,000 Cameroonian Refugees Flee to Nigeria amid Crackdown 
More than 15,000 Cameroonian refugees have fled to Nigeria amid a crackdown on Anglophone separatists, the United Nations (UN) refugee agency and Nigerian government officials said on Thursday. The once-fringe English-speaking movement in majority French-speaking Cameroon has gathered pace in the last few months after a military crackdown on protests, leading it to declare independence in October for a breakaway “Ambazonia” state it wants to create. The move poses the biggest challenge yet to the 35-year rule of President Paul Biya, who will seek re-election this year, and the violent repression he has unleashed has driven thousands of people from English-speaking regions across the border into Nigeria. Reuters

Zimbabwe: Tsvangirai’s Ill-Health Forces Debate on Succession into the Open 
Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, 65, this week indicated his intention to leave active politics, citing the need to pass the baton to a younger leader within the country’s most popular opposition. The ex-Prime Minister, who is battling colon cancer, hinted in his New Year message that he was contemplating leaving his job which has taken him through a protracted struggle for democracy under ousted long serving President Robert Mugabe, to whom he lost in three successive polls. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) leader, who disclosed his health status in June 2016, has been frequenting a South African hospital, where he is getting his cancer treatment. His deteriorating health has left the party divided. Last year, a senior party member and Member of Parliament for Bulawayo South Eddie Cross was summoned for posting on his blog that Tsvangirai’s ill health will not enable him to stand the rigorous election campaigns. Daily Maverick

Majority of Egypt’s Lawmakers Want President to Run Again 
More than 500 of Egypt’s 596 lawmakers have signed “recommendations” supporting a re-election bid by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, even before he has formally announced his candidacy, according to news reports published Thursday. El-Sissi is considered virtually certain to run in the March 26-28 election and to win a second four-year term. So far, no candidate who can pose a serious challenge to the general-turned-president has emerged. One prominent potential candidate announced last week he wouldn’t enter the race; two others have faced prosecution in the courts. Most opposition figures are either in jail, living abroad or staying on the sidelines after a general crackdown on dissent since el-Sissi led the military’s 2013 ouster of an Islamist president. AP

Tension Keeps Rising in Cairo over Turkey-Sudan Island Pact
January is Egypt’s coldest month as far as temperatures go, but things are heating up rapidly there over Turkey’s recent deal to lease Suakin Island from Sudan. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey just plans to renovate the island and restore Ottoman relics. But Egypt, as well as Saudi Arabia, fears Ankara’s plans go much further, to include a military base that could threaten their security. “The Suakin Island deal is provoking anger in Egypt because it has ambiguous objectives, and because there is [already] a problem between the parties that signed the agreement and Egypt,” Maj. Gen. Kamal Amer, the head of the Egyptian parliament’s National Defense and Security Committee, told Al-Monitor. Amer was referring to the Egyptian-Sudanese territorial dispute over the Halayeb and Shalateen triangle, and Sudan’s position against Egypt in Cairo’s argument with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. As for Turkey, Egypt distrusts Ankara’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt considers a terrorist group. Al Monitor

Egypt-Sudan Spat Muddies Prospects for Deal on Big Nile Dam 
[…] All the regional rivalries around the Red Sea are intertwined, said Kelsey Lilley, associate director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, “but the dam itself is a big irritant among the three countries.” And while the three countries have butted heads over the dam for years, the feud between Egypt and Sudan is escalating quickly. “The tensions are significant and real and higher than they’ve been,” said Steven Cook, a North Africa and Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Things are starting to come to a head.” The broader dispute has cemented a freeze in talks between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia on how to manage the impact of the dam, even as the clock is ticking. The dam is more than 60 percent complete, and Ethiopia could start to fill the reservoir as soon as this summer, leaving little time to find workable solutions. Foreign Policy

Sudan Speaks about Egyptian and Eritrean Threats to Its Security 
For the first time on Thursday Sudan officially admitted that the deployment of troops along the Eritrean border came as result of military threats from Eritrea and Egypt against the country. Last Saturday 6 December, Sudan closed its border with Eritrea after the deployment of thousands of troops from the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) fighters to Kassala State on the border with Eritrea. Also, the local authorities formed a higher committee for popular mobilization. A meeting of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP)’s leadership office “has directed to continue security arrangements on the eastern Sudan borders after being briefed about possible threats from Egypt and Eritrea in the region of Sawa (located near the Sudanese border),” said Presidential Assistant Ibrahim Mahmoud who is also the deputy chairman of the ruling party. Sudan Tribune

Malian Army Plans Anti-Jihadist Operation in Restive Centre 
Mali’s army is to deploy patrols in an operation to fight jihadists in the country’s restive centre, according to documents and sources consulted by AFP, as the government expresses concern over extreme instability in the area. Newly-appointed Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga said last week “urgent measures” were required to address Al-Qaeda-linked groups who control territory in the area. The eventual deployment of around 1 000 soldiers is aimed at “assuring the security of people and goods as well as fighting the jihadists,” a Malian defence ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity. A security plan will include foot and motorbike patrols in the community, copying the modus operandi of jihadist networks in the area, according to a document outlining the measures. AFP

Britain to Join France in West Africa Counter-Terrorism Mission 
Britain is in talks with France to join a French-led campaign in West Africa, with British deployment looking set to include military helicopters and surveillance aircrafts, according to a British government source. British deployment would bolster French ground forces that have been sent to quell militancy across the restive Sahel region. British troops are not thought to be on the cards. “We are looking at rotary support or Istar [Intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, reconnaissance],” a Whitehall source said to the Times. “The effort is counter-terrorism, to counter organised crime and to help re-establish state authority.” The talks come amid French efforts to secure funding and military support for Operation Barkhane, which includes 4,500 French troops deployed across the former French colonies of Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania, known collectively as the G5. Middle East Eye

Mali Mourns for 48 Who Drowned in Single Day Trying to Reach Europe 
Flags flew at half-staff in Mali on Thursday as the government announced 48 of its citizens drowned in the Mediterranean on a single day over the weekend, all trying to reach Europe. The West African nation accounted for the fifth-largest contingent of arrivals to Italy by sea last year, according to the International Organization for Migration, fleeing poverty, unemployment and instability. “Forty-eight of our compatriots lost their lives in the Mediterranean on Sunday, January 7,” said a foreign ministry statement issued late Wednesday. Sixty-nine people escaped with their lives, including four children, and were identified on Monday in Libya by an embassy delegation, the statement added. AFP

Migrants Risk Death Crossing Alps to Reach France 
It took Abdullhai almost three years to get from his home in Guinea to a rocky, snow-covered Alpine mountain pass in the dead of winter, for what he hopes will be the final stage of his journey into France. The terrain is steep and dangerous and he and a group of five other migrants face risks ranging from losing their footing on steep drops, being struck by falling rocks or succumbing to the -9C (15°F) temperatures in clothing ill-suited to the terrain. Abdullhai, 38, is one of hundreds of migrants who over the last year have attempted to cross from Italy into France through high mountain passes, in a bid to evade increased border security put in place at easier crossing points. His group crossed into France in December. In Guinea, he left behind his wife and three children, including a two-year old son whom he has never seen. Reuters

Maritime Piracy and Armed Robbery Hits 22 Year Low in 2017 – IMB 
A total of 180 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships were reported to the International Chamber of Commerce’s (ICC) International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in 2017, according to the latest IMB report. This is the lowest annual number of incidents since 1995, when 188 reports were received. In 2017, 136 vessels were boarded, while there were 22 attempted attacks, 16 vessels fired upon and six vessels hijacked. In 15 separate incidents, 91 crew members were taken hostage and 75 kidnapped from their vessels in 13 other incidents. Three crew members were killed in 2017 and six injured. DefenseWeb

Nigeria’s Benue Clashes: Mass Burial after Farmer-Fulani Clashes 
A mass burial of more than 70 people is under way in Nigeria’s central Benue State. Dozens have been killed in conflicts between nomadic herdsmen and farming communities in three states – Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba – in recent weeks. The Nigerian army says it has deployed special forces to all three to “stem the menace”. Herders, mostly from the Fulani ethnic group, and farmers often clash over land in the region. Since the New Year, the number of clashes has intensified, with more than 100 deaths reported in Benue and Taraba states. BBC

Explosion Hits Major Gas Pipeline in Nigeria 
An explosion ruptured a major Nigerian gas pipeline on Thursday, the state oil firm said in a statement, days after the same line was repaired following damage from a fire that shut it down earlier this month. The Escarvos-Lagos Pipeline was hit by an explosion along Egbokodo-Omadino in the Warri region of Delta state, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said. The NNPC did not say whether gas distribution had already been hit, but added that supplies from other sources would be increased to offset any shortfalls as repair works commence. The pipeline supplies gas to plants producing about one-sixth of Nigeria’s power, as well as the West Africa Gas Pipeline System. Reuters

Genocide Negotiations between Germany and Namibia Hit Stumbling Blocks 
Namibian-German negotiations about the genocide perpetrated in the former German colony South West Africa in 1904-1908 have just entered their third year. The start of the negotiations in late 2015 marked a turning point after more than a century of German denialism. But now tangible progress seems elusive, and a crisis may be imminent, delaying justice for the Ovaherero and Nama descendants of the main victim groups. There’s always been unity in Namibia about the broad demands towards Germany – recognition of the genocide, an apology and reparations. This has been true even though there’s been considerable controversy about the issue of representation at the negotiations, with the feud between groups representing the victims and the Namibian government turning bitter at times. Times Live