Africa Media Review for January 11, 2023

Russian Ship’s Secretive South Africa Stop Prompts U.S. Questions
A Russian merchant ship whose owner has allegedly carried weapons for the Kremlin turned off its transponder last month before surreptitiously docking at South Africa’s largest naval base, where it delivered and loaded unidentified cargoes, according to witnesses and a senior U.S. official. South Africa has declined to say what the ship was carrying or what was loaded onto it at the Simon’s Town navy base. The country’s defense minister shrugged off U.S. concerns, saying Washington “threatens Africa, not just South Africa, of having anything that is even smelling of Russia.” The visit by the ship, the Lady R, owned by Russian shipping company MG-FLOT LLC, has strained relations between Washington and Pretoria. It also demonstrates the difficulty for the U.S. and its allies of enforcing sanctions against Moscow. Wall Street Journal

Chinese Top Diplomat Arrives in Africa to Strengthen Cooperation
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed welcomed Qin to Addis Ababa as the Chinese foreign minister began his week-long tour. After visiting African Union headquarters Tuesday, the Chinese foreign minister will go to Angola, Benin, Egypt and Gabon. David Monyae, head of the Center for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg, offered some insight into what Qin and his hosts are likely to discuss. “At AU level there might be some issues in terms of requests by Africans for China to help on the issues of reform of the United Nations.” he said. “The AU itself is going to get a seat within the G-20 and there are a number of issues within multilateral institutions and China is a permanent member of the Security Council.” Voice of America

Kenya: Meta’s East African Content Moderation Hub Shuts Down
Meta’s east African content moderation hub is shutting down as the social media giant’s third-party contractor moves away from policing harmful content, cutting around 200 staff and leaving several employees without work permits. The owner of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram first contracted Sama in 2017 to assist with labelling data and training its artificial intelligence, hiring around 1,500 employees. But within two years, the Nairobi office was moderating some of the most graphic and harmful material on Meta’s platforms, including beheadings and child abuse. Sama staff were told on Tuesday morning that the company would focus solely on labelling work — also known as “computer vision data annotation” — which includes positioning animations in augmented reality filters, such as bunny ears. “The current economic climate requires more efficient and streamlined business operations,” Sama said in a statement encouraging employees to apply for vacancies at its offices in Kenya or Uganda. Some Sama staff rely on work permits to remain in the region. Financial Times

Uganda Court Quashes Key Part of Controversial Internet Law
Uganda’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday quashed a key part of a controversial internet law which rights groups charged was aimed at stifling free speech. A section of the Computer Misuse Act made it an offence for anyone to “use electronic communication to disturb or attempt to disturb the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person with no purpose of legitimate communication.”…Rights groups have complained about the communications law as a way for the government to curb freedom of expression and crack down on opponents of veteran President Yoweri Museveni. The government has yet to say if it will appeal the ruling, which was hailed by rights campaigners. AFP

Uganda’s Worst Ebola Outbreak Declared over
Uganda on Wednesday declared an end to an Ebola virus outbreak that emerged almost four months ago and claimed the lives of 55 people. “We have successfully controlled the Ebola outbreak in Uganda,” Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng said at a ceremony in the central district of Mubende, where the disease was first detected in September. The move was confirmed in a statement issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO), whose chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed the country’s “robust and comprehensive response” to the widely-feared haemorrhagic fever. Dr Aceng said January 11 marked 113 days since the start of the epidemic, which also spread to the capital Kampala. East African

Tigray Rebels Start Handing Over Weapons to Ethiopian Army
Tigrayan rebels have begun handing in heavy weapons, a key part of an agreement signed more than two months ago to end a deadly conflict in northern Ethiopia, a spokesperson for the rebel authorities said. The demobilisation of Tigray forces is seen as central to the 2 November ceasefire agreement, alongside the restoration of services, resumption of humanitarian aid and withdrawal of Eritrean troops, who fought alongside Ethiopia’s army but were not party to the truce…“Tigray has handed over its heavy weapons as part of its commitment to implementing the #Pretoria agreement” that was signed between Ethiopia’s government and Tigrayan rebels, Tigray People’s Liberation Front spokesperson Getachew Reda tweeted Wednesday. Guardian

Sudan Factions Start Talks for Final Transition Deal
Sudanese political parties began talks on Monday to try to reach a final deal to form a civilian government and resolve other outstanding issues more than a year after a military coup. Last month, the parties signed an outline deal with the military to launch a new political transition towards elections, but protesters criticised the agreement as unrepresentative, and it left contentious points for further talks. One of those points, the policy for dismantling the administration of Omar al-Bashir after his overthrow in an uprising in 2019, is the first to be tackled in talks this week. The process of dissolving Bashir-era institutions and retrieving funds was one source of tension between political leaders and the military in the run-up to the October 2021 coup. Reuters

Sudan’s Troubled East Is a Microcosm of a Wider Crisis
Sudan’s economy, already in a tailspin, tipped into recession last year. Although this may have brought inflation down a bit, it remains in triple digits, among the highest rates in the world. Roughly one-third of Sudanese (some 15m of a population of 44m) need emergency aid such as clean water, shelter or food, according to the un. Almost 12m people are going hungry. Eastern Sudan, in theory the country’s breadbasket, should be faring relatively better. But the long-standing neglect of the region by successive rulers in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, left deep wounds. The latest crisis threatens to reopen them. Economist

Ouattara Hopes for Normal Relations with Mali After Release of ‘Mercenaries’
Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara has said he hopes Côte d’Ivoire and Mali can move on from the diplomatic crisis sparked by the arrest last year in Bamako of a contingent of Ivorian soldiers, accused by Mali of being mercenaries…Relations between Mali and its West African neighbours were strained before the arrests, since elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was toppled in August 2020 by officers angered at failures to end a jihadist insurgency. Ivorian President Ouattara has frequently criticised Mali’s junta. After the troops were detained, the UN acknowledged some procedural “dysfunctions” admitting that certain formalities had not been followed. RFI

After Eight Dismal Years, Nigeria Prepares to Replace President Buhari
When Mr Buhari was first elected in 2015 many hoped Nigeria was about to turn a corner. This newspaper cautiously endorsed him. Yet he has floundered on almost every measure. Between 2015 and 2020 the average income per person (adjusted for local purchasing power) slid from $5,400 to $4,900 a year. The share of Nigerians living on less than $1.90 a day, which had fallen from about 43% to 37% in the previous five years, increased to almost 40% in 2019, before covid-19 hit. Violence has spread across the country. Last year jihadists, bandits, and separatists hit at least 550 of the country’s 774 local government areas (see map.) More than 3,000 people were kidnapped last year, an almost 30-fold increase on 2016. Economist

Court Orders Release of Senegal Government Critic
A judge on Tuesday ordered the release of a Senegalese journalist and prominent anti-government critic after more than two months in detention, his lawyers said. Pape Ale Niang, head of the Dakar Matin online news site, was arrested on November 6 and charged with “divulging information likely to harm national defense.” Widely followed in Senegal for his regular columns on current affairs, Niang was released on December 14 but sent back to prison a week later and had since been on a hunger strike in protest over his detention…He was “extremely strained” from a hunger strike launched in protest at his detention, the lawyer said, adding that he is still in hospital…Another of his lawyers, Cire Cledor Ly, said the case was “political” and Diang ought to end the hunger strike. AFP

‘Unprecedented’ Insecurity in West Africa and the Sahel, Security Council Hears
In her briefing, Giovanie Biha, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Officer-in-Charge of the UN Office for the region, UNOWAS, urged ambassadors to continue to support a strategy centred on building resilience, promoting good governance, and strengthening peace and security. …“Despite efforts by national security forces and international partners, insecurity has again deteriorated in large parts of the region,” she told the Council.  Operations by armed groups, violent extremists and criminal networks forced the closure of more than 10,000 schools, with millions of children affected, and some 7,000 health centres.These non-state groups are fighting among themselves for supremacy and control of resources, she said, which is pushing States to the margin and causing untold misery to millions who have fled elsewhere to safety.  “Indeed, the central Sahel continues to face multidimensional challenges, unprecedented levels of security and humanitarian challenges, socio-political instability, further compounded by the impact of climate change, and food insecurity which was exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine,” she added. UN News



Photo: Adam Jones