Africa Media Review for January 14, 2022

UN Chief Urges Mali Gov’t to Announce ‘Acceptable’ Vote Timetable
The United Nations chief has called on Mali’s ruling military to announce an election timetable amid anger about its suggestion of staying in power for five years before holding a vote. “It is absolutely essential that the government of Mali present an acceptable election timetable,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters on Thursday. He said he hoped to “get in contact quickly” with the military. “I am working with the ECOWAS and the African Union to create conditions which can allow the government of Mali to adopt a reasonable and acceptable position to accelerate a transition which has already been under way for a long time,” he added. This could bring back a sense of “normalcy in relations between this state and the international community, ECOWAS in particular,” Guterres said, referring to the Economic Community of West African States. … In line with ECOWAS measures, the European Union will also impose sanctions on Mali, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said earlier on Thursday. Al Jazeera

Sweden to Withdraw from French-Led Special Forces Mission Takuba in Mali
Sweden has decided to withdraw its troops this year from a European special forces mission to the Sahel region, and will review its U.N. contribution after the arrival of private Russian military contractors in Mali, its foreign minister said. … The Swedish parliament approved the deployment of up to 150 soldiers to Takuba in 2020 and it has some 250 military personnel as part of Minusma. Takuba was established as a partial successor to Barkhane, France’s counter-terrorism operation in the West African Sahel region that French President Emmanuel Macron has started to reduce from its initial 5,000-strong force. It comprises some 14 European countries, which provide special forces, logistical and tactical support to work alongside regional forces for targeted operations against Islamist militants. French officials have said it will discuss with its partners how to respond operationally, but have acknowledged that some countries in the mission are particularly uneasy after the arrival in Mali of private military contractors from the Russian Wagner Group, whose members are mostly ex-service personnel. … Linde said the confirmed arrival of the Wagner group and the junta’s efforts to stay in power were unacceptable. Reuters

Small Bands of Mercenaries Extend Russia’s Reach in Africa
… [S]oon after the French had left [Timbuktu, Mali], a contingent of Russians moved in. They are but one element of a Russian force that is perhaps 450-strong, says a French military official, who adds that most are mercenaries from Wagner Group. This is a company founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a crony of President Vladimir Putin. It is reportedly being paid $10m a month in Mali, much of it under a goons-for-gold deal. Mali’s government insists it has no hired guns fighting for it and that the Russians are there as trainers officially sent by their government. Yet armed Russians have been seen in several parts of the country. Jihadists may have recently killed one and wounded two more. Mr Putin has no interest in helping Africa become more peaceful or democratic. A key aim is to stick it to the West, says Oleg Ignatov, who is based in Moscow for International Crisis Group, a think-tank. And Mr Putin appears to be doing so with canny opportunism, deploying small numbers of fighters to prop up wobbly authoritarians or governments that are annoyed by the West. The French official reckons that Russia’s aim is to drive France and its allies out of Mali, leaving Russia “alone to exploit and deploy their influence.” How to respond? That, he says, is a “major question.” … Next on Russia’s list may well be Burkina Faso, where on January 11th the government said it had thwarted a coup plot. Already a buyer of Russian helicopters and weapons, Burkina Faso has also been bombarded by pro-Russian propaganda on social media. The Economist

Burkina Faso Likely Averted Coup Linked to Military Infighting
Burkina Faso’s military prosecutor this week said authorities had arrested eight soldiers for what local media reported was a plot to overthrow the state. Burkina Faso has been rattled by increasingly deadly Islamist militant attacks and widespread protests over insecurity. Analysts warn the military may be unhappy with the government and its efforts to halt the attacks. … Andrew Lebovch is an analyst with the Berlin-headquartered European Council on Foreign Relations. “There’s been persistent unrest and unhappiness within the ranks of Burkina Faso’s armed forces as the security situation’s gotten worse, amid feeling that the government is not doing enough or is not pursuing the right strategy in fighting terrorism… From the government side, there is likely some concern given the coups in Mali and Guinea about unrest among soldiers in more elite units,” said Lebovch. … But analysts warn that a military takeover would only further damage Burkina Faso’s security and stability. Michael Shurkin is director of global programs at 14-N Strategies, a Senegal and U.S.-based consultancy. “A coup d’etat in Burkina Faso would be disastrous for Burkina Faso and also for the region… It would undermine Burkina Faso’s government and make it less capable of dealing with the insurgency than those who would support a coup think it would… Burkina Faso’s real strength, its asset, is the vibrancy of its democracy,” said Shurkin. “Anything that undermines that asset, I think, is very shortsighted.” VOA

Western Diplomats Warn of Impending Disaster in Sahel
Western diplomats fear the spread of extremist groups and persistent economic and social problems in Western Africa and the Sahel are nearing a tipping point that could have disastrous consequences for the region and beyond. … Further complicating matters, European officials have raised concerns about Mali’s decision to bring in mercenaries from the Russia-based Wagner Group to bolster its security forces… “Given the Wagner Group’s record, any role for Russian-backed Wagner Group forces in Mali will likely exacerbate an already fragile and unstable situation,” [U.S. Defense Department] spokesperson Cynthia King told VOA. … Germany, which has about 1,000 troops in Mali, has said it would be taking another look at its mission. France, which had 3,000 troops in Mali, has slowly been reducing its military footprint, withdrawing from all but one of its military bases in the country. … “France will not abandon Mali or the other Sahel countries,” French Ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne told Thursday’s virtual conference on the region. “At the request of African nations, France is continuing to combat these armed groups in the Sahel with very appreciated support from the United States.” … “Stabilizing the Sahel in the long term will take time, and there’s a long way to go.” Emanuela Del Re, the EU special representative for the Sahel, said the goal, ultimately, is to “keep Mali engaged and not isolate it.” “We must keep the dialogue open and alive and hold the transitional authorities to their commitments,” she said. VOA

Sudan Security Forces Fire Live Rounds, Tear Gas on Anti-Coup Protesters, Activists Say
Sudanese security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas on pro-democracy protesters in the capital of Khartoum on Thursday, according to activists, as nationwide demonstrations against an October 25, 2021, military coup continued. The military takeover of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s civilian government occurred after weeks of escalating tensions between military and civilian leaders over Sudan’s transition to democracy. The coup has threatened to derail the process, which had slowly progressed since the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising in 2019. Since the civilian government’s ouster, marches by the pro-democracy movement have been held on a nearly daily basis. Protesters marched Thursday in various parts of Khartoum, its twin city of Omdurman and in the western region of Darfur under tight security, according to online footage and activists. As protesters in Khartoum demanded the removal of military leaders from power and the establishment of a civilian government to lead the transition, at least six people sustained gunshot wounds in the Bahri district when security forces fired live ammunition to disperse demonstrators, according to activist Nazim Sirag. VOA

Africa’s Fourth COVID Wave Flattens Out after Six-Week Surge
“Early indications suggest that Africa’s fourth wave has been steep and brief but no less destabilizing”, said WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti. In countries experiencing a surge in cases, the fast-spreading Omicron variant has become the dominant type. While it took around four weeks for the Delta variant to surpass the previously dominant Beta, Omicron outpaced Delta within two weeks in the worst-hit African countries, according to WHO. Southern Africa saw a huge increase in infections during the pandemic wave but recorded a 14 per cent decline in confirmed cases over the past week. And South Africa, where Omicron was first reported, saw a nine per cent fall in weekly infections. While East and Central Africa regions also experienced falling numbers of cases, North and West Africa are seeing a rise in infections, with North Africa reporting a 121 per cent increase over the past week, compared with the previous seven days. “The crucial pandemic countermeasure badly needed in Africa still stands, and that is rapidly and significantly increasing COVID-19 vaccinations,” said the senior WHO official. “The next wave might not be so forgiving.” UN News

Insurgents Planning More Deadly Attacks in Cabo Delgado, SADC Warned
While the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has noted considerable gains in Cabo Delgado, there are genuine fears that insurgents have withdrawn to regroup and are planning rejuvenated attacks. In an interview with News24, Professor Adriano Nuvunga – the Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and part of the Steering Committee of the Mozambique Human Rights Defenders Network (RMDDH) – warned the SADC not to relax because insurgents could strike at anytime. “The insurgency is not yet neutralised. The violent extremists are regrouping, launching attacks from several parts of Cabo Delgado and they are also expanding to neighbouring province Niassa where they have launched significant attacks,” he said. SADC sent in its Standby force into Mozambique’s gas-oil rich Cabo Delgado in July last year, a month after Rwanda sent in troops. At the onset of the SADC Mission in Mozambique (SMIM), Nuvunga said the insurgents were disbanding. However, six months later, they had changed their strategy. “At the beginning of the deployment, we saw violent extremists disbanding. Now we have seen them regroup and move in terms of recruitment,” he added. News24

Failure to Coordinate SADC and Rwandan Military Missions in Mozambique ‘Could Jeopardise Fight against Insurgents’
This week, Mozambique’s President, Filipe Nyusi, met separately with Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Kigali and with the leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Lilongwe, Malawi, to discuss the war against the Al-Sunnah-wa-Jama’ah insurgents, who are affiliated to the Islamic State. In Kigali, Kagame and Nyusi signed a formal cooperation agreement which included terms for the Rwandan Defence Force (RDF) providing training to Mozambique forces. … But, surprisingly to many observers, Rwanda and the SADC were not represented at each other’s meetings. This has raised concerns not only about dangers to the military mission but also to human rights and transparency of governance of the efforts to restore peace to the war zone, which is mainly in Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado. Adriano Nuvunga, executive director of the Centre for Democracy and Development in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, asked on Thursday why Kagame had not been invited to the SADC summit in Lilongwe “so they could have one meeting instead of two.” Speaking at a webinar organised by the Southern African Liaison Office and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, Nuvunga noted that Rwanda had neither been mentioned at this week’s SADC summit, nor at the last one, held in October last year, when SADC leaders decided to extend Samim’s deployment for three months, until January 15. “Rwanda seems the… elephant in the room,” he said. “They don’t talk about it.” Nuvunga said the failure of the SADC to engage Kagame and of Mozambique to reveal the terms of its agreement with Rwanda was raising concerns by Mozambicans about what Rwanda’s responsibilities were. It was also raising concerns about human rights accountability. Daily Maverick

Kenya Power in the Spotlight after Nationwide Blackout
The hashtag #KPLC has been trending on Twitter this week as Kenyans share memes and gifs about the country’s worst national blackout for years. While some tried to find some light-hearted moments in the midst of darkness, others fumed at the inefficiency of the state-run Kenya Power Lighting Company. It was the third nationwide blackout in the past four years and raised questions over KPLC’s ability to provide a stable power supply. In a statement, the company said four pylons supporting the power line, which connects the capital, Nairobi, to a hydroelectric dam in the central region, collapsed. It said vandalism had weakened the structures. Police are investigating the cause of the blackout, with the head of criminal investigations telling journalists that they can’t rule out anything, following concerns of possible sabotage following reforms at the energy ministry that were seen to have ruffled the feathers of bureaucrats. A cabinet reshuffle in September 2021 saw President Uhuru Kenyatta appoint Monica Juma and her assistant Gordon Kihalangwa at the ministry to push through the reforms which, among other things, have seen the cost of electricity fall by 15%. BBC

Facebook Owner to ‘Assess Feasibility’ of Human Rights Review on Ethiopia Practices
Facebook owner Meta Platforms said on Thursday it would “assess the feasibility” of commissioning an independent human rights assessment into its work in Ethiopia, after its oversight board recommended a review of how Facebook and Instagram have been used to spread content that heightens the risk of violence there. The board, set up by the company to address criticism over its handling of problematic material, makes binding decisions on a small number of challenging content moderation cases and provides non-binding policy recommendations. … An oversight board spokesman said in a statement: “Meta’s existing policies prohibit rumors that contribute to imminent violence that cannot be debunked in a meaningful timeframe, and the Board made recommendations to ensure these policies are effectively applied in conflict situations.” “Rumors alleging an ethnic group is complicit in atrocities, as found in this case, have the potential to lead to grave harm to people,” they said. The board had recommended that Meta commission a human rights due diligence assessment, to be completed in six months, which should include a review of Meta’s language capabilities in Ethiopia and a review of measures taken to prevent the misuse of its services in the country. Reuters

Nigerians React with Joy and Resolve to Lifting of Twitter Ban
Solomon Elusoji, a Lagos-based journalist, felt a rush of relief early on Thursday after being able to access Twitter for the first time in seven months. “It feels like freedom,” Elusoji told Al Jazeera. “As a journalist, I use Twitter a lot to track what’s happening in Nigeria, so the past few months have been quite challenging. So it was really nice to have free access to the site once again.” The Nigerian government late on Wednesday said it would lift its ban on the operations of the social media giant in the country after Twitter agreed to conditions, including opening a local office. According to a government statement, the conditions also include addressing operations and tax issues and “managing prohibited publications in line with Nigerian law.” … Social media users also inundated Twitter, reacting to the lifting of the suspension using hashtags such as #TwitterisBack and #TwitterBan. The #EndSARS hashtag trended again, as well. Al Jazeera