Africa Media Review for January 28, 2019

Progress and Setbacks in the Fight against African Militant Islamist Groups in 2018
Declines in violent activity linked to Boko Haram and al Shabaab are balanced by increases in the Sahel, generating a mixed picture of the challenge posed by militant Islamist groups in Africa. Militant Islamist group activity in Africa remains primarily concentrated in four theaters: Somalia, the Lake Chad Basin, the Sahel (Central Mali and border areas), and Egypt. However, the number of groups active in these theaters has been growing, largely due to splintering. Thirteen African countries are facing regular attacks by militant Islamist groups, roughly equivalent to the previous year. Reported fatalities linked to militant Islamist group events declined by 12 percent to 9,347 in 2018. This continues a 3-year trend and is a 50-percent drop from the 2015 peak of 18,728. This primarily has to do with a decrease in reported fatality numbers linked to Boko Haram (a 35-percent drop), as well as al Shabaab (15-percent drop) and ISIS (21-percent decline). Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Nigeria’s Main Opposition PDP Party Halts Campaign over Suspended Chief Justice
Nigeria’s main opposition party has halted its presidential election campaign for 72 hours weeks ahead of the vote in protest at the suspension of the country’s most senior judge by President Muhammadu Buhari, it said on Saturday. The president on Friday said he had suspended chief justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen who has been asked to appear before a tribunal over allegations of breaching asset-declaration rules. Onnoghen has not responded to the charges and his lawyers say the tribunal does not have the authority to try him. Buhari, who was a military ruler in the 1980s and voted into office in 2015, is seeking a fresh term in an election scheduled to take place on Feb. 16. At stake is control of Africa’s top crude oil producer and one of the continent’s biggest economies.  Africa News

US, EU Express Concern after Nigeria Chief Justice Suspended
The United States, Britain and the European Union expressed concern on Saturday after Nigeria’s president suspended the country’s chief justice three weeks before the presidential election, with the US warning it could “cast a pall” over the vote in Africa’s most populous nation. President Muhammadu Buhari set off an uproar on Friday by announcing the suspension, citing corruption allegations. The chief justice would play a key role in any legal challenge to the election in which Buhari seeks a second term. The US said Buhari acted “without the support of the legislative branch” and noted widespread criticism in Nigeria that the move was unconstitutional. It urged Nigerian authorities to quickly resolve the crisis that could undermine the credibility of the February 16 vote. At stake is a country that is Africa’s largest oil producer, with a population of some 190 million and multiple security challenges, including the decade-old Boko Haram extremist insurgency. Buhari’s election in 2015 was a rare peaceful transfer of power.  AP

US, UK Will Deny Visas to Those Who Instigate Violence in Nigeria Elections
Those who take part in election violence and rigging in the upcoming Nigerian elections will be denied visas, the United Kingdom and the United States have said in a joint statement. The UK government said its observers would monitor polling stations and social media during the February 16 vote and those found inciting violence may also face prosecution. “We would like to remind all Nigerians that where the UK is aware of such attempts, this may have consequences for individuals. These could include their eligibility to travel to the UK, their ability to access UK based funds or lead to prosecution under international law,” the government said in the statement released on Thursday. Travel restrictions may also extend to family members, the US government said, adding that the peaceful conduct of the 2019 elections was not only crucial to Nigeria but also the continent.  CNN

10 Dead in Burkina Faso ‘Terrorist Attack’
Ten people were killed Sunday in northern Burkina Faso in a “terrorist attack”, according to a security source and a local elected official. “Around 10 armed individuals in the morning carried out a terrorist attack in the village of Sikire,” which left “10 dead and two seriously wounded,” a security source said. Sikire is in the Sahel region and is frequently a target of extremist attacks. According to a local official in Arbinda, about 20 kilometres away, contacted by phone from Ouagadougou, “the assailants armed with Kalashnikovs made several tours of the village opening fire on the inhabitants.” “They ransacked and set fire to shops and other businesses and took motorbikes,” added the official who requested anonymity.  AFP

Two UN Peacekeepers Killed by Mine in Central Mali: Sources
Two UN peacekeepers from Sri Lanka died and several were wounded on Friday in central Mali when their vehicle hit a mine, UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) sources announced. “This morning at around 0600, a vehicle in a MINUSMA logistics convoy hit a mine near Douentza, Mopti region,” a UN statement said. It added that some of the wounded were badly injured. The men who died were Sri Lankan members of the 14 000-strong UN military and police mission, the source told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that the injured had been evacuated. The UN force deployed in Mali since 2013 to help counter jihadist activity “sent reinforcements to the scene not far from Douentza to secure it” after the attack, the source said. The casualties come after jihadist gunmen killed 10 Chadian peacekeepers and injured at least 25 others in an attack on a UN camp in Aguelhok, northern Mali on Sunday.  AFP

Sudan’s Bashir Visits Egypt, Says Protesters Trying to Imitate Arab Spring
Beleaguered Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has met his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on his second trip abroad since anti-government protests kicked off across Sudan in December. “This is an attempt to copy the Arab Spring in Sudan, these are the same slogans and appeals and the very wide use of social media sites,” said Bashir, referring to the uprisings across the region that began in 2011. This is Bashir’s biggest challenge to his authority since coming to power in a coup d’état in 1989. The government says that at least 30 people have been killed in the protests since they began. Human rights groups and professional associations along with the media say the number is closer to 45 killed.  RFI

South Sudanese Fear Leaving UN Protected Camps despite Peace
Tracing his fingers over the metal fencing at a United Nations protected site in South Sudan’s capital, Nhial Nyuot Nhial hung his head as he contemplated going home after years of civil war. “At the moment it’s impossible for someone to leave,” he said. The 33-year-old is among tens of thousands of people who are still sheltering in such camps across the country, the legacy of an unprecedented decision by a UN peacekeeping mission to throw open its doors to people fleeing war. Nhial has been in the Juba camp since 2014, shortly after the country erupted in fighting. A fragile peace deal signed between President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar in September has brought little comfort. Like many in the camps, Nhial still fears for his life and refuses to leave. What began as a temporary experiment is looking more like a permanent refuge for more than 190 000 people living in squalor in the six UN protected sites. Now the UN is pushing for the camps to close, amid warnings by the international community that rushing the process could re-ignite violence among ethnic groups.  AP

Central African Republic Peace Talks Open in Khartoum
Peace talks to end chronic violence in the Central African Republic began in Khartoum on Thursday, attended by representatives of the government and 14 armed groups, the UN peacekeeping mission in the CAR said. The meeting, brokered by the African Union after 18 months of exploratory work, will be the eighth bid in almost six years to forge peace. Since 2013, thousands have been killed and a quarter of the population of 4.5 million have fled their homes. Warlords will dialogue directly with high-ranking emissaries of the Bangui government, including ministers and President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s chief of staff. The talks, aimed at reaching an accord and setting up a follow-up committee, could last up to three weeks, according to Sudanese authorities.  AFP

French President in Egypt to Boost Ties, Raise Human Rights
French President Emmanuel Macron aims to speak out stronger than in the past about human rights issues while in Egypt, where France seeks to reinforce strategic ties with a country he considers a key regional partner, he told reporters on Sunday. Heading a large delegation on a three-day trip to the Arab world’s most populous country, Macron said he wants to “pursue a truthful dialogue on topics of public freedoms and human rights,” an area he feels Egypt has not progressed enough on since he raised it with officials earlier in his mandate. France, which considers itself the birthplace of human rights, has come under pressure by advocates to raise the issue with general-turned-President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, whose human rights record has been widely condemned and is seen as worsening. Macron said that too many people who present no threat to the country were being jailed.  AP

Cameroon Struggles to Secure Neighbors, Its Own Territory
While Sudan hosted a new round of Central African Republic (C.A.R.) peace talks this week (Thursday, Jan. 24), Cameroon’s military was announcing new troop deployments to contain spillover from fighting inside C.A.R.’s border. In Bossangoa, the capital of Ouham, more than 200 people came to hear Gaston Guella, an official of the Bossangoa council in the Ouham prefecture in western C.A.R., assure them in the Sango language that forces of the Multi-Dimensional United Nations Peacekeeping Operation in Central Africa (MINUSCA) would track down a group of armed men that attacked their city Friday night. Bossangoa Mayor Pierre Denamge said Friday’s attack, which residents said left six people wounded and caused many to flee their homes for safety, indicates the population and peacekeeping forces should remain on high alert. The town has not had an attack in the past six weeks, and Denamge credited Cameroonian troops, who constitute the bulk of the U.N. peacekeeping force, saying they are doing a good job. VOA

Algeria Islamists Name Abderrazak Makri Candidate for President
Algeria’s Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP) has decided to take part in April’s presidential election, naming the party’s head as its candidate. Abdellah Bouadji, the MSP’s head of communications, told the AFP news agency that the consultative council made the decision overnight on Saturday “by an overwhelming majority” and presented Dr Abderrazak Makri as the party’s candidate. Identifying itself as Islamist and moderate, the MSP had supported ailing incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika within a governing alliance, before going its own way in 2012. Bouteflika, 81, who uses a wheelchair and has rarely been seen in public since a stroke in 2013, is due to complete a fourth term in office on April 28. The election is set for April 18. Al Jazeera

Are Rwanda and South Africa Irreconcilable?
The slow but stubborn unfolding of justice in a humble magistrate’s court in South Africa continues to embarrass both Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa. It also undermines their intentions to normalise relations between their countries. Last week the Randburg court was meant to start an inquest into the death of Kagame’s estranged former external intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya on New Year’s Eve 2013 in a five-star hotel room in Sandton. But Magistrate Mashiane Mathopa stopped the inquest, agreeing with AfriForum’s Gerrie Nel, the lawyer representing Karegeya’s family, that first the police and the National Prosecuting Authority must demonstrate that they have done all they can to arrest the four Rwandans suspected of murdering him. The suggestion is that for over five years South Africa has been sitting on enough evidence to prosecute the suspects but hasn’t tried to extradite them, to avoid further souring relations with Rwanda. Daily Maverick

Desperation Erodes Fear as Zimbabwe Protesters Brave Crackdown
In four decades of independence, Zimbabwe’s rulers have been able to deploy the security forces to crush protests even as the southern African nation sank deeper into economic crisis. Judging from the latest bout of unrest, that may no longer be true. Crowds showed little fear as they poured onto the streets of the capital, Harare, and other major cities when the main labor federation called a three-day stay-away this month after fuel prices were more than doubled. The army’s response to the worst rioting since 1995 claimed the lives of at least a dozen people, and gunshot wounds accounted for 78 of the about 360 injuries. Fueling the anger of young people — three-fifths of Zimbabweans are under 25 — is a sharp decline in buying power of mostly unemployed urban residents and shortages of everything from gasoline to bread. Most are too young to remember Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front leading the country to independence from the U.K. in 1980.  Bloomberg

UN Unearths 50 Mass Graves in Democratic Republic of Congo
A United Nations rights group has unearthed more than 50 mass graves in the western Democratic Republic of Congo after a spate of killings were reported in the region last month. Abdoul Aziz Thioye, the director of the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO), said on Saturday that “more than 50 mass graves, as well as common and individual graves that we have identified,” were uncovered in the town of Yumbi in the DRC’s western province of Mai-Ndombe. “This suggests that the number [of deaths] is quite high because a communal grave depending on size may contain five, ten bodies” or even “one hundred bodies or four times more,” Thioye said following a joint fact-finding mission with local authorities. General Fall Sikabwe, the army chief in western DRC, told the AFP news agency that an investigation had begun.  Al Jazeera

Ebola Patients Stranded by Violence in Democratic Republic of Congo
An Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is growing, the World Health Organization said Friday, having killed 436 of more than 700 infected. This region also volatile, where health workers are attacked and armed conflict is preventing emergency responses for treatment. PBS

Ethiopia to Charge Restive Region’s Former Leader with Civil War Plot
Prosecutors will charge the former head of Ethiopia’s strife-torn Somali region and dozens of other officials with plotting to incite a civil war and ordering abuses including beheadings, officials said on Friday. Abdi Mohammed Omer was arrested after three days of deadly violence in the regional capital Jijiga in August. Rights groups said his administration had set out to provoke ethnic bloodshed and had ordered a paramilitary force to attack minorities. After a five-month investigation, prosecutors had decided to charge Abdi and 45 other officials, 40 of them who are still on the run, the Federal Attorney’s Office said. Abdi has made no public statement about the charges. “Horrific crimes have taken place. It had become a country where victims’ throats were slit, others burnt alive or buried alive and left for dead,” the Office’s communications director, Zinabu Tunu, told reporters.  Reuters

Riyadh Releases Ethiopian-Born Billionaire It Held Since 2017
The Saudi government has released Sheikh Mohammed Hussein al-Amoudi, an Ethiopian-born billionaire who was arrested in November 2017, in an anti-corruption sweep. Ethiopia’s Office of the Prime Minister confirmed the news. The Reuters news agency, citing Ethiopian state television and two Saudi sources, also confirmed the release and reported that al-Amoudi was in transit to Jeddah, a Saudi city on the Red Sea. The high-profile sweep in 2017 netted hundreds of top Saudi officials and influential business people and consolidated Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s power in the Kingdom, and beyond. The Saudi government has remained tight-lipped about the charges brought against those arrested and the impact of the detentions on their vast wealth.  VOA

International Action Needed to Stop Piracy – Shipping Association
BIMCO, the world’s largest international shipping association, has said that only international action will stop an increase in piracy. The comments come amid increasing attacks in West Africa. The Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) said that a fresh annual report from the International Maritime Bureau shows that attacks in West Africa pushed piracy numbers up in 2018. In terms of military and law enforcement, an international operation is not complicated, so what is needed above all is the will to act. According to the bureau’s report, there were 201 incidents reported to the bureau last year (including six hijackings) – all of which happened in the Gulf of Guinea. That is a rise from 180 incidents in 2017 and from 191 in 2016. The report also showed that the region saw a considerable spike in violence in the last quarter of the year, with 41 kidnappings in the waters off Nigeria alone. In West Africa, there appears to be challenges with underreporting, which is estimated at as much as 40%, the report says.  DefenseWeb

Quest to Solve Assassination Mystery Revives an AIDS Conspiracy Theory
When South Africa opened its books on the atrocities of the apartheid era in the 1990s, a tantalizing series of faded documents reignited one of the continent’s enduring mysteries. The records suggested that a white militia, operating with the support of the C.I.A. and British intelligence, orchestrated the 1961 plane crash that killed the United Nations secretary general, Dag Hammarskjold.Twenty years later, a team of documentary filmmakers set out to investigate the shadowy militia, known as the South African Institute for Maritime Research, and to determine whether it had really assassinated Mr. Hammarskjold. What they uncovered, if it is to be believed, was an even more shocking allegation.In the film, “Cold Case Hammarskjold,” which debuted Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival, a former militia member claims that his organization used phony vaccinations in the early 1990s to spread H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, in an attempt to wipe out the black population.“We were at war,” said the former militia member, Alexander Jones. “Black people in South Africa were the enemy.”Scientists immediately cast doubt on the claim, which they called medically dubious.  The New York Times



Photo: Adam Jones