Africa Media Review for January 18, 2024

Africa’s 2024 Elections: Challenges and Opportunities to Regain Democratic Momentum
Africa has a busy election calendar in 2024, with 19 countries slated for presidential or general elections. The elections are a gamut of competitive multiparty elections to perfunctory electoral exercises. Two-thirds of these elections are packed into the last quarter of the year…Roughly half of the elections are unlikely to be competitive because of heavy-handed management of the electoral process by well-entrenched incumbents. These processes raise questions for the continent of what qualifies as a genuine election—and the legitimacy that emerges from an authentic popular mandate. Many of these countries must overcome long legacies of direct or indirect military government…These highly controlled electoral settings pose challenges for the respective Regional Economic Communities, the African Union, media, and international democratic actors that must navigate how to differentiate exercises from competitive elections and, in the process, further define electoral norms. Failure to do so will further lower the bar of expectations. A common and enduring theme across these countries is a strong desire for citizens to have their voices heard as part of the continent’s aspiration for more responsive, public service-oriented, and democratic governance. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Night Curfew Imposed in Comoros after Protests over President’s Re-election
An overnight curfew has been imposed in the Indian Ocean nation of Comoros, the interior ministry said, after violent protests against President Azali Assoumani’s re-election. Assoumani won a fourth five-year term after the country’s electoral body on Tuesday declared him the winner of Sunday’s election against five opponents. The army fired tear gas to disperse protesters in Moroni on Wednesday, and protesters were still on the streets in the north of the capital in the early hours of Thursday. The interior ministry announced the curfew on Wednesday…At least four people told Reuters on Thursday that they had trouble connecting to the internet to use social media platforms because of service disruptions. Assoumani’s opponents have said the election was tainted by voter fraud, alleging instances of ballot stuffing and of voting ending before the official closing time…Assoumani first came to power through a coup in 1999. He stepped down in 2002 and then won elections 14 years later. Constitutional reforms in 2018 removed a requirement that the presidency rotate among its three main islands every five years, allowing Assoumani to seek re-election in 2019. Reuters

Sierra Leone Allows Ex-president Koroma to Leave Country on Medical Grounds
A Sierra Leone high court on Wednesday allowed ex-president Ernest Bai Koroma, charged this month with treason, to travel abroad on medical grounds. Koroma, 70, was charged with four offences for his alleged role in a failed military attempt to topple the West African country’s government in November. There are concerns Koroma’s indictment could stoke tension brought by a contentious election in which President Julius Maada Bio was reelected for a second term in June 2023. The main opposition candidate rejected the results and international partners questioned the vote…The magistrate overseeing the case on Wednesday ruled in favour of Koroma’s lawyers, who had asked the high court to grant Koroma a trip abroad for medical reasons. The ex-president will be allowed to travel to Nigeria for no more than three months, the magistrate said before adjourning the case to March 6…Nigeria had previously offered to host him on a temporary basis, which he had accepted, according to a letter from West Africa’s main regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States, seen by Reuters. According to Sierra Leone’s penal code, a person found guilty of treason could face imprisonment for life. Reuters

Red Sea Ship Diversions Boost Bunker Demand, Prices in Africa, Mediterranean
The re-routing of a growing number of ships around Africa to avoid potential attacks in the Red Sea is altering refueling patterns and boosting demand for bunker fuel at far-flung ports, from Mauritius to South Africa to the Canary Islands. Ships are also expected to top up more at Singapore and Rotterdam, the two busiest bunkering ports and where fuel is competitively priced, as they try to hedge against uncertainty over route changes, traders and analysts said. Attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militia on merchant ships in the Red Sea and retaliatory U.S. strikes have ratcheted-up tensions in the Middle East as the Gaza war rages on. The attacks by the Iran-allied Houthis, which they say are in support of Palestinians, target a route that accounts for about 15% of the world’s shipping traffic and acts as a vital conduit between Europe and Asia. Hundreds of large vessels have rerouted around the southern tip of Africa, adding 10-14 days of travel, to avoid drone and missile attacks by the Houthis…Bunker fuel demand has risen at ports including Mauritius’ Port Louis, Gibraltar and ports in the Canary Islands and South Africa, said traders and industry sources, with sales jumping in Cape Town and Durban. Reuters

Rwanda President: Efforts to Implement Asylum Plan Cannot ‘Drag On’
Rwanda’s president has said there are limits to how long attempts to implement an asylum deal with Britain can “drag on”, indicating he would be happy for the scheme to be scrapped. Paul Kagame’s comments on Wednesday came before Rishi Sunak faced a potentially leadership-ending rebellion by Conservative MPs threatening to vote down his Rwanda deportation bill on Wednesday night. Asked by the Guardian after an event at the World Economic Forum in Davos if he was following the debate in London, Kagame said: “It is the UK’s problem, not ours”…But in comments that are likely to set alarm bells ringing in London, Kagame expressed frustration at the drawn-out debate about whether asylum seekers would be processed in Rwanda. “There are limits for how long this can drag on,” he said…Kagame also appeared to signal a shift in the Rwandan government’s position on returning funding that the UK has already provided as part of the deal. When asked about the money the UK had spent on the scheme, he said: “The money is going to be used on those people who will come. If they don’t come we can return the money”…A Rwandan government spokesperson had said last year there was no provision for refund as the money has already been allocated to a number of infrastructure projects. The Guardian

Two Commanders Killed in DRC Army Attack, M23 Rebels Say
The M23 rebel group on Wednesday said that two of its commanders had been killed in fighting with army troops in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The two men died in a drone strike by the Congolese army on Tuesday in the town of Kitshanga in North Kivu province’s Masisi territory, according to security sources speaking on condition of anonymity. After years of dormancy, the M23 (March 23 Movement) rebels took up arms again in late 2021 and have seized vast swathes of the province. Neighbouring Rwanda has been accused by Western governments and the United Nations of supporting the M23, though Kigali denies the claim. The fighting has pitted the M23 rebels against the Congolese army, armed militias known locally as “Wazalendo” and two private military companies contracted by the government. Last month, the army and its allies began using combat drones against rebel positions. AFP

African Union Urges Restraint Over Ethiopia-Somaliland Deal
The African Union’s conflict resolution body met on Wednesday amid escalating tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia over a coastline deal and called for “restraint” between the parties. Landlocked Ethiopia signed a surprise maritime accord with Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland on January 1, in a move Mogadishu has rejected as violating international law. The AU’s Peace and Security Council said it had heard representatives of Ethiopia and Somalia in Addis Ababa and urged the Horn of Africa neighbors to pursue “meaningful dialogue”…Under a memorandum of understanding, Somaliland agreed to lease 20 kilometers (12 miles) of its coast for 50 years to Ethiopia, which indicated it wants to set up a naval base and a commercial port. Somaliland is a former British protectorate facing the Gulf of Aden that declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but isn’t recognized by the international community. Somalia vowed to defend its territory by “all legal means” after the deal and appealed to the United Nations and the African Union for urgent meetings. AU’s security council said it “unequivocally reaffirmed its strong commitment” to preserving the territorial integrity of all member states. International players that include the United States, European Union, China and the Arab League have called for Somalia’s sovereignty to be respected. AFP

Somalia: No Talks Unless Ethiopia Retracts Somaliland Deal
Somalia said on Thursday there was no room for mediation in a dispute with Ethiopia unless Addis Ababa cancelled a controversial maritime deal with the breakaway region of Somaliland. Tensions in the Horn of Africa have escalated after landlocked Ethiopia reached a memorandum of understanding with Somaliland on January 1 that gives it much sought-after access to the sea…The comment comes after the African Union’s conflict resolution body on Wednesday discussed the crisis between the two neighbours. The Peace and Security Council called on them “to exercise restraint, de-escalate and engage in meaningful dialogue towards finding a peaceful resolution of the matter”…Ethiopia and Somalia have a history of stormy relations and territorial feuds, fighting two wars in the late 20th century. AFP

AU Appoints 3 Prominent Africans to Sudan Peace Panel
The African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki on Wednesday appointed three prominent African personalities as members of the AU High-level Panel on Sudan. In a statement on Wednesday, Mr Faki said that the panel would work with all parties in the Sudan crisis “to ensure an all-inclusive process towards the swift restoration of peace, constitutional order and stability” in the country. The AU High-Level Panel on Sudan will be headed by top Ghanaian diplomat Mr Mohamed Ibn Chambas. Former Ugandan vice president Ms Speciosa Wandira-Kazibwe and Mr Francisco Madeira, a Mozambican diplomat are members…Ms Kazibwe is the current chair of the AU High Representative for Silencing the Guns, while Mr Madeira served as the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission (SRCC) to Somalia and head of the UN-backed African Union Mission in Somalia – Amisom/Atmis until 2022…The panel will be required to work with all stakeholders: civilian forces, warring military parties, regional and global actors including the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the United Nations and the League of Arab States. The East African

Morocco’s Irrigated Area Shrinks as Drought Empties Dams
Six consecutive years of drought have left Moroccan dams at critical levels, prompting a big drop in the area of land being irrigated, Morocco’s water and agriculture ministers said. By mid-January, Morocco’s average dam filling rate had dropped to 23.2% from 31.5% a year earlier, water minister Nizar Baraka told a meeting on Tuesday, according to a royal palace statement. Rainfall was 70% lower than in an average year, he said…The country’s second biggest dam, Al Masira, which serves the economic hub of Casablanca, is almost empty. The worst drought in more than two decades prompted authorities to ban the use of drinking water to clean streets or irrigate parks in cities and to stop dam water being used to irrigate some key farming areas. The decision took many farmers by surprise in the area of Taroudant in the Souss region, the main source of Morocco’s fresh produce, which supplies supermarkets across Europe and is a major source of export revenue…This “violent drought” had forced a reduction in the dam-irrigated area to 400,000 hectares from 750,000 hectares before the dry spell, agriculture minister Mohammed Sadiki said. Reuters

Kenya: In Africa’s First ‘Safe City,’ Surveillance Reigns
Nairobi launched its massive traffic surveillance system in 2014 as the country was grappling with a terrorism crisis. A series of major attacks by al-Shabab militants, including the September 2013 attack at Nairobi’s Westgate shopping complex in which 67 people were killed, left the city reeling and politicians under extreme pressure to implement solutions…A joint contract between [Chinese tech hardware giant] Huawei and Kenya’s leading telecom, Safaricom, brought us the Integrated Urban Surveillance System, and we became the site of Huawei’s first “Safe City” project in Africa. Hundreds of cameras were deployed across Nairobi’s Central Business District and major highways, all networked and sending data to Kenya’s National Police Headquarters. Nairobi today boasts nearly 2,000 CCTV cameras citywide…Early on, Huawei claimed that from 2014 to 2015, crime had decreased by 46% in areas supported by their technologies, but the company has since scrubbed its website of this report. Kenya’s National Police Service reported a smaller drop in crime rates in 2015 in Nairobi, and an increase in Mombasa, the other major city where Huawei’s cameras were deployed. But by 2017, Nairobi’s reported crime rates surpassed pre-installation levels…Nairobi was the first city in Africa to deploy Huawei’s Safe City system. Since then, cities in Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa and a dozen other countries across the continent have followed suit. All this has drawn scrutiny from rights groups who see the company as a conduit in the exportation of China’s authoritarian surveillance practices. Coda

African Leaders Launch R19bn Innovation Fund at the World Economic Forum
A new initiative to spark Africa’s start-up revolution with a focus on the youth was launched on Wednesday at the 24th World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, with its headquarters set to be in Rwanda. Known as Timbuktoo, the project is an African innovation fund with a 10-year set target to promote at least 1 000 start-up projects with a R19 billion purse with the hope of impacting about 100 million livelihoods and growing investments into a R190 billion economy. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana, the Secretary General of the African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat, Wamkele Mene, and United Nations Development Programme’s Administrator, Achim Steiner, presented the initiative at a WEF side event…Africa accounts for only 0.2% of global start-up value, compared to 2% of total commerce value. The vast majority, 89%, of venture capital entering Africa is foreign capital, with 83% concentrated in four countries: Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and Egypt, with more than 60% of funding flowing to the fintech sector. News24