Africa Media Review for January 28, 2020

Market Attack Kills at Least 30 in Northern Burkina Faso
Suspected Islamic extremists attacked a busy market in Burkina Faso and killed more than 30 people over the weekend, authorities said, as the West African country’s security situation deteriorates. The death toll could be as high as 50, Burkina Faso’s national television reported Monday evening. It was the second attack in northern Burkina Faso in a week that has left dozens dead. Meanwhile, the Norwegian Refugee Council warned that as many as 900,000 people could be displaced in the country by April, up from current estimates of 560,000. Information about the latest violence in Silgadji in Soum province was difficult to obtain because the jihadists reportedly disabled the local phone network before the massacre near the country’s troubled border with Mali. Days earlier, militants killed 36 civilians in a marketplace in neighboring Sanmatenga province. … Burkina Faso’s defense ministry is trying to recruit 2,000 more soldiers, and parliament has approved the use of civilian volunteers in the fight against extremism, a move that has concerned human rights groups. AP

A surge in violence in the central Sahel region in Africa means nearly five million children will need humanitarian assistance this year, up from 4.3 million, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned on Tuesday. The agency reported that children have been attacked, abducted or recruited into armed groups due to the spike in armed conflict and insecurity in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Since the start of the year alone, more than 670,000 children across the region have been forced to flee their homes. “When we look at the situation in the Central Sahel, we cannot help but be struck by the scale of violence children are facing. They are being killed, mutilated and sexually abused, and hundreds of thousands of them have had traumatic experiences”, said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. Attacks against children have risen over the past year, according to agency figures. In Mali, 571 grave violations against children were recorded during the first three quarters of 2019, compared to 544 in 2018 and 386 in 2017. UN News

Six Chad Soldiers Killed in Boko Haram Attack
Six Chadian soldiers were killed and 10 injured in an ambush attributed to the Boko Haram jihadist group in the volatile Lake Chad region on Monday, the country’s army said. The latest in an intensifying wave of jihadists attacks took place in the afternoon close to Tetewa island in the lake. “Our men were on patrol when they were attacked by Boko Haram elements,” army chief of staff Taher Erda said. “Our forces were looking for Boko Haram elements when they were ambushed around Mandrari, a place with lots of tall grass,” a local official speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP. For the last several months jihadist attacks have intensified around Lake Chad, which is riddled with islands and swamps and shared by Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria. Chad has suffered a particularly heavy toll since the beginning of the year. On January 20 a female suicide bomber killed 9 civilians in the village of Kaiga Kindjiria, near the lake. AFP

Gunmen Kill 13 in Central Nigeria Attack
Unknown gunmen have killed 13 people in an attack in central Nigeria, police said on Monday, in an area known for ethnic clashes. A local resident said the assailants opened fire late Sunday on a bar where people were drinking beer in the village of Kwatas, 80km south of the city of Jos. “Thirteen persons lost their lives while five persons were critically injured and are receiving treatment,” regional police spokesperson Ubah Agaba said. The reasons for the attack were not immediately clear. Central Plateau state is part of Nigeria’s so-called middle-belt that divides the mainly-Muslim north from the predominantly Christian south. Deadly clashes between nomadic Fulani herders and farmers over land, grazing and water have plagued the area for years. Local resident Usman Hardo said that some hamlets where Fulani live were burnt down following the attack. … Attacks in remote areas often go unreported but the authorities in Plateau state insist the bloodshed has decreased following reconciliation efforts between the communities. AFP

The ‘Leopard Unit,’ Vigilantes, and Nigeria’s Kidnap Crisis
Last week, I helped pay a ransom to free the kidnapped wife and two daughters of a friend. The three had been held for eight days after being snatched from their home in the northern city of Kaduna. What I did no longer seems unusual and it’s just one of the many stories resulting from the current insecurity in this vast country. The federal government has been accused of ineffectiveness and the governors of six states in south-west Nigeria have come up with their own answer. They have announced that they plan to set up their own security outfit to be known by the Yoruba word for leopard – amotekun. Exactly how it will operate is not yet known as the states are still finalising the plans, but it is set to involve employing new security personnel with the power to arrest. Amotekun will also share intelligence and security infrastructure across the states. The plan has riled the national authorities and led some to accuse the six states of plotting to secede from Nigeria, a diverse country of 200 million people. Yorubas are one of its three main ethno-linguistic groups. To ease suspicion the governors met Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and top police figures last week. But if anyone had expected that that would be the end of the controversy then they were disappointed. BBC

Gold Miners Face Dangerous Life in Nigeria’s ‘Bandit’ Country
From dawn, before the sun starts to sear the earth, Biltamnu Sani is already hard at work, pounding away at the dusty soil in his perilous quest for gold. The mineral-rich earth of Zamfara State, northwest Nigeria, has provided generations of families with the means to make ends meet. Never easy, it is a work that today is fraught with danger, from the armed groups that rove the region and from the toxic lead that lurks in its soil. “I’ve been doing this since I was 12 years old,” Sani, now 26, said. “It’s very challenging work, but this is our livelihood.” The mines lie within the reach of heavily-armed groups – “bandits” in the lexicon of the local authorities – that have been terrorising this remote region. Gangs of mainly Fulani herders started cattle rustling and small-scale criminality decades back. Lately, they have exploited a security vacuum to become essentially an insurgent army of thousands. As the struggle with farmers over land expanded, other communities took up arms in a spiral of bloodshed that has seen an alarming proliferation of weapons. The violence claimed more than a thousand lives in 2019, the regional government estimates. In the scramble for resources, the fighters have increasingly exerted control over artisanal mining – one of the few reliable sources of income in this impoverished region. AFP

Gambia Arrests 137 in Protests Urging President to Step Down
Gambia’s police have arrested 137 people amid protests calling for the president to step down after three years in power, the government said Monday, a startling turn for a country whose leader has vowed reforms and justice for the repression of the past. Security forces used tear gas Sunday to break up the thousands of demonstrators, worrying many Gambians who lived under the oppressive rule of former President Yahya Jammeh for more than 22 years. Jammeh flew into exile in 2017 after an election loss to Adama Barrow. At least 18 paramilitary members and seven civilians were injured in Sunday’s confrontation, the government said. Barrow’s election win in 2016 was celebrated as a new beginning for the tiny West African nation. When he came to power he said he would look into calling for new elections after three years. Last year, however, some members of the coalition that backed him supported his remaining in office for the five years allowed in the constitution. Some Gambians have formed a movement called Operation 3-Years Jotna, which means Three Years is Enough. AP

Ex-C. African Republic Leader Insists Return Is Peaceful
Former Central African Republic President Francois Bozize insists he has returned from exile with peaceful intentions, even as concerns are growing that he will run in the upcoming presidential election. Bozize, who came to power in a coup and ruled for a decade, was ousted by a coalition of rebel groups in 2013, leading to years of conflict. Fears have grown in recent weeks about Central African Republic’s fragile political stability as Michel Djotodia, the rebel leader who ousted Bozize, also recently returned home. In his first press conference Monday since returning in mid-December, Bozize said his party will decide on whether he is their candidate. “As far as I am concerned, until proof to the contrary, nothing prevents me from being a candidate,” he told journalists. The election is set for December. “I returned in a spirit of appeasement and search for peace, contrary to what some propaganda has tried to be spread in recent days,” he added. The U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on Bozize the year after his ouster, accusing the former leader of “engaging in or providing support for acts that undermine the peace, stability or security of CAR.” AP

UN Rights Chief Says Most DR Congo Violations by State Agents
DR Congo’s army and other agents of the state commit a majority of the rights violations in the conflict-wracked central African country, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Monday. “I appeal to the state to stop these violations,” the former Chilean president said in the capital Kinshasa on the final day of her visit to the country. During an interview with the UN Okapi radio station, she called for measures to curb the “abuses committed by the Congolese army in particular.” Her comments come after a meeting on Friday with President Felix Tshisekedi, who succeeded the country’s long-ruling Joseph Kabila in January last year. “Overall, there has been a three percent reduction in human rights violations and abuses” during that time, she said. “State actors are responsible for 54 percent of these violations… the army is responsible for 28 percent of these abuses,” she said, quoting monthly statistics from MONUSCO, the UN’s peace-keeping mission in the country. AFP

Street Children Arbitrarily Detained, Abused in Rwanda: HRW
Street children in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, are being arbitrarily detained and abused at a holding centre, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The New York-based rights group said in a report on Monday that vulnerable minors held in the facility, known as the Gikondo Transit Centre, were regularly beaten and exposed to overcrowded and unhygienic conditions. Johnston Busingye, Rwanda’s minister of justice, denied the accusations made in the HRW report, describing Gikondo as a “rehabilitation” centre set up to provide children with skills and “protection.” … HRW said its 44-page report was based on 30 interviews conducted between January and October 2019 with children aged 11 to 17 who were formerly detained in Gikondo for periods of up to six months. Twenty-eight of the interviewees said they were beaten, according to HRW. Children were also quoted as saying that they had to share mattresses and blankets, which were often infected with lice, while access to medical care was sporadic. Al Jazeera

Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia Agree to 2020 Joint Plan of Action after Asmara Summit
Eritrea’s president Isaias Afwerki, Somalia’s Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali have agreed a joint plan of action for this year after the third edition of a tripartite summit in Asmara. The three leaders met for discussions on Monday in what the Eritrean information ministry said were “candid and extensive discussions on the situations in their respective countries.” The statement by the ministry said the three nations reaffirmed their commitment to the September 2018 deal signed in Asmara with a view to consolidating it and expanding it across the Horn of Africa. … The statement expatiated further: “On the security front, the three leaders formulated a comprehensive plan to combat and neutralize the common threats they face, including terrorism, arms and human trafficking and drugs smuggling. “Regarding economic and social development, they agreed to prioritize the mobilization of their bountiful human and natural resources; build, modernize and interface their infrastructure and develop their productive and service sectors. Africa News

Ethiopian Who Demanded Justice Now Has Half a Year to Deliver It
Mustafa Muhumed Omer began demanding justice after his uncle disappeared and continued despite threats to his mother and sister, and the torture and death of his brother. Now in charge of the sprawling Ethiopian Somali region, the former activist and aid worker has seven months before people vote on his reforms to a system where extrajudicial killings were rife. Authorities this month set Aug. 16 as the date for Ethiopia’s landmark elections. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promised free and fair polls when he took power in April 2018, and wider change after years of deadly political violence. The vote will be a litmus test of whether Abiy has won over a population traumatised by decades of repression and ongoing ethnic and political bloodshed. So far, Abiy has overseen the release of political prisoners and lifted a ban on political opponents. He has also appointed several former dissidents to powerful positions, including Mustafa, 46, whom he made president of the eastern Somali region in August 2018. With simmering ethnic strife forcing millions from their homes across Ethiopia in spite of Abiy’s steps, Mustafa knows his job is not done. Reuters

Growing Outcry in Ethiopia over Abducted University Students
Ethiopians are expressing anger and frustration over several university students, most of them female, who remain missing after their kidnapping two months ago. A growing social media campaign echoes the #BringBackOurGirls activism in Nigeria over the mass kidnapping there of scores of schoolgirls in 2014. Ethiopians are pressuring the government for answers in the abduction in the Oromia region. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has been praised for appointing women to prominent positions “but with regard to the abducted girls, in its silence, it is violating a tremendous number of their human rights,” Yared Hailemariam, director of the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, said in a statement Monday. “Ethiopian authorities have failed to protect the victims of the abduction and to take necessary measures to bring them back.” It is not clear how many of the students remain captive. The prime minister’s press secretary, Nigussu Tilahun, disclosed on Jan. 11 that 21 students from Dembi Dollo University were released while six remained captive. AP

Erdogan in Africa: From Algeria to the Gambia, Final Stop Senegal
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan flew into Banjul from Algeria as he continued his mission to gather African backing for his intervention in Libya to shore up the Tripoli-based government. His host, President Adama Barrow said the two countries agreed to strengthen ties. “The various acts that have been signed between the two countries especially during my last visit to Ankara, amply demonstrate the high level of corporation between our two countries.” “My government gains your support to build the capacity of our security forces by training 500 officers on peace-keeping,” president Barrow added. Erdogan is on a three-nation tour of Africa in a show of Turkey’s growing influence. Ankara’s Libya ceasefire co-sponsored by Russia is largely holding despite occasional skirmishes. From the Gambia, he’s expected to fly to Senegal. Africa News

Sahel: Czech Republic to Deploy Anti-Terrorism Troops
Czech Republic’s defence ministry plan to deploy troops to the African continent was on Monday approved by the government. The service members will join Operation Barkhane, France’s largest overseas military mission. It has been working to root out Islamic militants roaming the Sahel region. The government said Mali, Niger and Chad approved the Czech deployment. The Czechs will help local troops fight Islamic militants. The plan to deploy Czech forces in the mission until the end of 2022 still needs parliamentary approval. The Czechs already have some 120 troops in Mali as a part of a European Union training mission. AP

US Gives Niger Air Force Hangar for C-130 Transport Aircraft at Agadez Base
The United States on January 22 handed over to the Niger Air Force a hangar that will house two C-130 transport aircraft in Agadez in northern Niger, U.S. Africa Command said in a release. The handover comes as the U.S. is considering a reduction of its military footprint in Africa, a possibility that West African leaders and France have said could hamper the fight against Islamic State- and al-Qaeda-linked groups in the region. “The hangar will ultimately shelter up to two C-130 mobility aircraft, recently purchased by the Nigerien [sic] Air Force from the United States,” AFRICOM said in the January 24 release. The U.S. Department of State funded the 2,800 square metre hangar, which includes an engine maintenance room, supply storage, training area, battery, and tool rooms, and has a taxiway and apron measuring almost 13,000 square metres. … “This hangar, which will not only boost the operational capabilities of the Nigerien Armed Forces by allowing the deployment of C-130 flights, but will also strengthen joint actions between the Nigerien and U.S. forces,” said Colonel Abdoul Kader Amirou, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Niger Air Force, during remarks at the handover. The Defense Post

Cold-Shouldered by China and the West, Zimbabwe Warms Up to UAE
Sanctioned by the West and spurned by China, Zimbabwe has turned to the United Arab Emirates in its latest bid to find a savior that can arrest the collapse of its economy. Zimbabwe’s government has approached the U.A.E. in hopes of selling a stake in its national oil company, according to three company and government officials familiar with the plan. It also wants companies in the U.A.E. to buy more of its gold, they said. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has said U.A.E. investors will build solar plants in Zimbabwe, and U.A.E. President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan a year ago issued a decree to open an embassy in Zimbabwe. Dubai also contributed to relief efforts when Zimbabwe was hit by a cyclone last year. Zimbabwe’s economy is in free-fall: It likely contracted by more than 6% last year, according to government estimates. Half the population is in need of food aid, inflation is running at over 500% and its currency has depreciated by more than 90% against the dollar since a 1:1 peg was abolished in February last year. Al Jazeera and Bloomberg

‘This Is Huge’: Locust Swarms in Africa Are Worst in Decades
The hum of millions of locusts on the move is broken by the screams of farmers and the clanging of pots and pans. But their noise-making does little to stop the voracious insects from feasting on their crops in this rural community. The worst outbreak of desert locusts in Kenya in 70 years has seen hundreds of millions of the bugs swarm into the East African nation from Somalia and Ethiopia. Those two countries have not had an infestation like this in a quarter-century, destroying farmland and threatening an already vulnerable region with devastating hunger. “Even cows are wondering what is happening,” said Ndunda Makanga, who spent hours Friday trying to chase the locusts from his farm. “Corn, sorghum, cowpeas, they have eaten everything.” When rains arrive in March and bring new vegetation across much of the region, the numbers of the fast-breeding locusts could grow 500 times before drier weather in June curbs their spread, the United Nations says. “We must act immediately,” said David Phiri of the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, as donors huddled in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, a three-hour drive away. AP

Coronavirus: Africa on Alert as Kenya, Ivory Coast Test Suspected Cases
The coronavirus was confirmed in the Chinese city on January 7, 2020. Cases have since been confirmed in several other Asian countries, Europe and the United States. The World Health Organisation’s Africa emergency response program manager Michel Yao advised health ministers in the region to activate standard flu screening at airports for passengers coming from mainland China. There is a considerable community of students in China from African countries, and a number of them have expressed their desire to return home as authorities struggle to contain the virus. Other countries across the world are considering the option of evacuating their citizens. Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda among other countries have started implementing surveillance and screening at airports, especially for travelers arriving from Wuhan in China where the outbreak began in December. Kenya Airways on Tuesday confirmed that one of its passengers who had travelled from the Chinese city of Wuhan to Nairobi had presented coronavirus-like symptoms and was rushed to hospital on arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. … Ivory Coast on Monday became the first African country to test a suspected Coronavirus case, when a female student arrived at an airport in the capital with suspicious symptoms. Africa News



Photo: Adam Jones