Africa Media Review for January 3, 2018

Ethiopia to Release All Political Prisoners, Says Prime Minister
Ethiopia is to release all political prisoners and close a detention centre notorious for allegedly using torture to extract confessions, the prime minister has said. Hailemariam Desalegn told a press conference charges would also be dropped for those still awaiting trial. The move is designed to allow political dialogue, he said. Ethiopia is accused by human rights groups of using mass arrests and detention to stifle opposition. BBC

Ethiopia: Crisis in the Land of the Economic Miracle
Journalist Martin Plaut considers this to be the beginning of the problems facing modern Ethiopia. “The TPLF and Meles Zenawi were never prepared to allow democracy and real federalism,” he told DW. But the focus on ethnic differences in the constitution has not been without consequence:”As soon as you increase the focus on ethnicity and make ethnicity the basis of the state, you basically stoke up ethnic tensions,” said Plaut. For some observers, the deadly clashes over the past few weeks would appear to be harbingers of an ethnically-motivated civil war. It seems like ethnic tensions are being expressed with increasing intensity. But the causes are complex. Deutsche Welle

Death Toll from DRC Violence Now 12: Protesters
The death toll from a crackdown on New Year’s Eve protests in Democratic Republic of Congo has risen to 12, protesters said on Tuesday. “Eleven people died in Kinshasa and one in Kananga,” Jonas Tshombela, a spokesperson for the protest organisers, told AFP. Catholic and opposition groups on Sunday defied a ban on demonstrations demanding that President Joseph Kabila leave office. They were met with a deadly crackdown by authorities, who fired tear gas into churches and bullets in the air to break up gatherings. The protests took place on the first anniversary of a deal under which Kabila was scheduled to leave office in 2017 after fresh elections – a vote that has since been postponed until December 2018. AFP

Congo’s Top Catholic Slams State ‘Barbarism’ after Deadly Protests
The head of the Roman Catholic Church in Congo on Tuesday condemned a crackdown on protests against President Joseph Kabila as “barbarism,” escalating a confrontation between the government and one of the country’s most powerful institutions. Security forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo killed at least seven people in the capital, Kinshasa, on Sunday during demonstrations that Catholic activists organized to protest Kabila’s refusal to step down from office, according to the United Nations. Police spokesman Pierrot Mwanamputu, however, said Tuesday that five people, including one police officer, had died in Sunday’s violence and that the police had acted justifiably in each case against militants and gangsters. VOA

Three Killed in DRC’s Kasai Opposition Stronghold
Fighting on Tuesday in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s southern opposition stronghold of Kasai killed three men thought to belong to the anti-government Kamwina Nsapu militia, military and local sources said. Witnesses reported hearing light and heavy weapons fire near the region’s main Kananga airport early on Tuesday morning. Around 30 youths wearing red headbands had staged an impromptu rally near the airport shouting slogans associated with Kamwina Nsapu, an airport source said. “The army responded with heavy weapons fire and three youths fell,” a military source who requested anonymity told AFP, confirming that they belonged to the militia group spawned by the death of tribal chieftain Kamwina Nsapu in August 2016. AFP

Ugandan Leader Signs Bill Removing Presidential Age Limit
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has signed into law a bill that removes a presidential age limit from the constitution and allows him to run for election again, deputy spokeswoman Linda Nabusayi confirmed Tuesday. Museveni, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders and a U.S. ally, is 73 and would have been ineligible to run in 2021. Now he could rule until 2031. Critics in the East African nation saw the bill as an attempt by the president to rule until the grave. The age limit had prevented anyone younger than 35 or older than 75 from holding the presidency. Museveni, who took power by force in 1986, is the latest in a string of African leaders who have tried to prolong their time in office by changing the constitution or other means. At least 10 countries on the continent have seen term limits dropped, and “leaders in more than 20 countries effectively do not face restrictions on their time in power,” according to the U.S.-funded African Center for Strategic Studies. AP

U.S. Says Air Strike Kills Two Militants in Somalia
The U.S. military said on Wednesday it had killed two militants in Somalia in an air strike targeting al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked Islamist group that is fighting to topple the U.N.-backed government. The military’s Africa Command said the strike took place around 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of the capital Mogadishu on Tuesday, and that a “vehicle-borne improvised explosive device” had also been destroyed in the early morning attack. Last month Washington warned of a threat to its diplomatic staff in Mogadishu and directed all non-essential staff to leave the city.  Reuters

Egypt Extends State of Emergency for Three Months
Egypt is extending its state of emergency, first imposed following bomb attacks on two churches in April last year. An Islamist insurgency in Sinai has increasingly crept into other parts of Egypt, including Cairo. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Tuesday issued a decree prolonging a nationwide state of emergency for another three months starting on January 13. The decree comes as an Islamic State (IS) insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula has increasingly crept into other parts of the country, including the capital, Cairo. The general-turned-president has vowed to crush Islamist militants, who have killed hundreds of civilians and security forces since the army toppled president Mohammed Morsi in 2013. Deutsche Welle

UN Security Council Welcomes 6 New Members
The U.N. Security Council has welcomed six new non-permanent members — Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Peru, and Poland. The six new countries, voted on by the 193-member General assembly for two-year terms, will have a strong voice in matters dealing with international peace and security during their time on the U.N.’s most powerful body. “Peace and security are difficult to achieve,” Kazakh envoy Kairat Umarov, who took the rotating presidency in January, told council members at a special ceremony. “You are going to have a real chance to make a difference.” Flags of the six new member countries were installed outside the council chambers Tuesday in a ceremony arranged by Umarov. VOA

Suicide Bombing in Mosque in Northern Nigeria Kills 10
Residents say a suicide bomber entered a mosque in a northern Nigerian town and detonated his explosives, killing at least 10 people during early morning prayers. Bukar Jibril, a youth volunteer in Gamboru Ngala town, says nine bodies were found immediately after the blast and two other people died later, including the bomber. Two other residents confirmed Wednesday’s attack in Borno state. The Borno state government on Tuesday tightened a curfew and increased security checks around its capital, Maiduguri, after a resurgence of violence in the city where Islamic extremist group Boko Haram was formed. Boko Haram’s eight-year insurgency has killed tens of thousands of people. AP

Boko Haram Says It Carried out Christmas Attacks in Nigeria
A leader of the militant group Boko Haram has released a video claiming it carried out a series of attacks in north-east Nigeria over the Christmas period. Abubakar Shekau, the head of one of Boko Haram’s three factions, declared the group active and operational a day after the Nigerian president said the militants had been defeated. “We are in good health and nothing has happened to us,” he said in the video released on Tuesday. “Nigerian troops, police and those creating mischief against us can’t do anything against us, and you will gain nothing. “We carried out the attacks in Maiduguri, in Gamboru, in Damboa. We carried out all these attacks.” There has been a surge in violence in recent months, with dozens of people killed in suicide bombings and attacks on military bases in the region. Authorities have put this down to desperate insurgents trying to find food, weapons and ammunition. The Guardian

Nigeria Proceeding with Super Tucano Purchase
The United States and Nigeria are moving ahead with the sale of 12 Super Tucano aircraft to the West African nation, with the letter of offer and acceptance presented to the Nigerian Air Force (NAF). Air Vice Marshal Olatokunbo Adesanya, Director of Public Relations and Information at the NAF, on 27 December said the letters of offer and acceptance were presented to the NAF by US Ambassador to Nigeria Stuart Symington. The Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) represents the official US Government offer to sell US defence articles and services to the Nigerian Government. Speaking while presenting the LOA to the Chief of NAF Air Staff Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, at NAF Headquarters in Abuja, the US Ambassador said the capacity of the NAF could greatly be enhanced by the acquisition of the Super Tucanos. According to him, the US Government would therefore continue to support the NAF in its capacity building efforts, including the timely supply of needed aircraft spares. DefenceWeb

Israel Orders African Refugees to Leave Country within Three Months or Face Prison
The Israeli government has ordered thousands of African refugees and migrants to leave the country within three months or face prison. The Population and Immigration Authority called this week on those from Sudan and Eritrea to leave “to their country or to a third country”, meaning Rwanda or Uganda. Those who leave by the end of March will be given $3,500 (£2,600), along with money to cover their airfare. But those who do not have been threatened with imprisonment. Children, the elderly and victims of human trafficking are exempt from the action. Campaign group the Hotline for Migrant Workers condemned the move, saying expulsions “put the refugees’ lives in danger”. The Independent

U.S, Britain and Norway Warn South Sudan Parties over Ceasefire Violations
The United States, Britain and Norway have called on parties in South Sudan’s conflict to stop violating a ceasefire signed last month, their heads of mission in Juba said on Tuesday. The deal aimed to end a four-year war between the government of President Salva Kiir and rebels in which tens of thousands of people have been killed. But since the signing in the Ethiopian capital there have been five reported violations for which both sides have been blamed. The United States, Britain and Norway form a group that supported the 2005 accord leading to the independence of South Sudan from Sudan. They have threatened to impose individual or group sanctions for those violating the ceasefire. Reuters

S. Sudan Army Says Associates of Ex-Army Chief Fled to Sudan
The South Sudanese army (SPLA) admitted on Monday that associates of General Paul Malong Awan, the former army staff of staff fled the country to neigbouring Sudan. Lieutenant General Santino Deng Wol, commander of the ground forces told Sudan Tribune that the former Aweil North county commissioner and his Madhol county counterpart fled the country. The two former officials, according to the army officer, were still in active list in the army with ranks of colonel and lieutenant colonels. “It is true we have received a report from local people that former Madhol county commissioner Manut Yel Lual and former Aweil North county commissioner Kuol Athuai Hal, are not in the area. We are told they fled the country to an area called Merrem in Sudan,” said Wol. Sudan Tribune

The Eight African Elections to Watch out for in 2018
For many African countries, 2017 was the beginning of a new era. Long-term rulers departed in Zimbabwe, Angola, and the Gambia; internal dissent, economic challenges, and increasing unemployment rates pressured many countries including Ethiopia and Nigeria; and a divided ruling party in South Africa showed an electorate disenchanted with liberation movements. Some of these internal and external pressures will feature in elections across the continent in 2018. More than 20 nations will hold presidential, legislative and municipals elections this year, with the expectation that some of the results might herald a political sea change for party juggernauts. Presidential campaigns in both South Africa and Nigeria will also heat up ahead of the 2019 polls, with African National Congress leader Cyril Ramaphosa and president Muhammadu Buhari both hoping to win, respectively. Quartz

Egypt Wants ‘Sudan out’ of Contentious Dam Talks
Egypt has proposed excluding Sudan from contentious negotiations over the future of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the largest hydroelectric dam project in Africa, according to an Ethiopian newspaper. The Egyptian proposal, sent by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopia’s prime minister, has suggested the talks proceed with Ethiopia alone, Addis Fortune newspaper reported. Egypt has been at odds with its neighbours over the $4.8bn megaproject, with Cairo fearing that its position downstream may affect its access to water from the Nile River basin, which will feed the dam. Al Jazeera

How Morocco Has Weakened Its Press, Pushing Readers to Social Media for News
[…] Last year, Morocco overhauled its speech and press laws, a move the country heralded as a major step toward a free press. The intent was to decriminalize all speech that does not incite violence. But as a Human Rights Watch report noted, Morocco’s penal code undercuts the new laws. The judiciary hands out prison sentences for reporting it deems harmful to Islam, the king, or the country, which doesn’t leave much room for critical coverage of the most influential issues in Morocco. The threat of harassment, arrest, fines, and suspension – as well as economic pressure from advertisers close to the monarchy – has stifled coverage of the government and of citizen protests, including the mostly peaceful demonstrations that have taken place in Morocco’s northern Rif region since a fish seller was crushed to death last year in a garbage truck as he tried to retrieve fish confiscated by police. CS Monitor