Africa Media Review for January 7, 2019

Soldiers in Gabon Fail in Coup Attempt against Absent President
Soldiers in the oil-rich Central African country of Gabon seized control of the national broadcaster early Monday morning and issued a statement claiming they had deposed the country’s absent leader to “restore democracy.” Four hours later, a spokesman for Gabon’s government called the soldiers “mutineers” and “jokers” and said four out of five of them have been arrested. Reports from news agencies said the coup attempt was accompanied by scattered gunfire in the capital, Libreville, and videos posted on social media showed armored vehicles speeding through the streets, while helicopters circled overhead. After suffering from an apparent stroke in October, Gabon’s president Ali Bongo traveled for treatment to Saudi Arabia and then to Morocco, where he has been recovering ever since. In his first public statement since falling ill, he issued a New Year’s address from the Moroccan capital Rabat acknowledging he had been “through a difficult period” and promised to return soon.  The Washington Post

Congo Election Results Delayed past Sunday Deadline
Preliminary results from Democratic Republic of Congo’s tumultuous presidential election will be delayed past Sunday’s deadline, the head of the election commission told Reuters. The commission, known as CENI, had received only 47 percent of vote tally sheets as of Saturday, said its president, Corneille Nangaa, and it was not yet clear when the results would be ready. The delay is the latest setback in a disorganised poll to pick a successor to President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the country of 80 million people since his father was assassinated in 2001. The Dec. 30 vote could mark Congo’s first democratic transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960. But tensions rose after observers reported a litany of irregularities that the opposition says are part of the ruling party’s effort to steal the election. Reuters

US Deploys Troops to Gabon amid Fears of Unrest in DRC
The US military has deployed soldiers to Gabon amid fears of violent protests in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after its presidential election. US President Donald Trump told US Congress on Friday that the first of about 80 troops had arrived in Gabon on Wednesday to protect US citizens and diplomatic facilities should violence break out in DRC’s capital Kinshasa. Voters in the DRC went to the polls on December 30, two years after the election was first scheduled to be held, to elect the successor to President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power for 18 years. “The first of these personnel arrived in Gabon on January 2, 2019, with appropriate combat equipment and supported by military aircraft,” Trump’s letter to Congress read. Al Jazeera

South Africa Missing in Action as DRC Election Results Postponed
The much-anticipated announcement of presidential election results in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been postponed while government and the opposition accuse each other of wrongdoing. South Africa, once a crucial ally to Congolese democracy, is taking a wait-and-see approach as two tales of an election unfold. President Cyril Ramaphosa has spent most of his first 11 months in office shaking up government, but in foreign policy, much has remained the same. South Africa appears to have sided with China and Russia in the first meeting of its current term as non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, dashing the hopes of some Western powers that one of Africa’s strongest democracies could be a valued ally. The meeting on the aftermath of the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at the UN headquarters in New York on January 4 2019, took place behind closed doors. France called for the gathering amid concerns from Congolese civil society and the opposition, and some foreign powers, that a delay in the announcement of results could affect the legitimacy of the new government and spark tensions similar to those that followed the 2006 and 2011 elections.  Daily Maverick

Sudanese Security Disperses Protests, Arrests University Professors and Journalists
Sudanese security authorities Sunday dispersed demonstrators in Khartoum streets who marched towards the presidency to demand President Omer al-Bashir to step down. Also, the riot police arrested university teachers and journalists. Sunday’s march was a continuation of the two-week nationwide protests that have posed a first serious challenge for the regime of al-Bashir following the regime’s failure solve the endemic economic crisis and the hike in bread prices. According to the Sudanese Professional Association who called for the rally, the protesters had moved from four gathering points in key areas of Khartoum and then head towards the Presidential Palace in a synchronized manner at 00:01 pm but the security forces had already blocked these sites since the early morning. Sudan Tribune reporters saw security forces in uniform ridding white vehicles without plates roaming the area of Abu Hamama in southern Khartoum, which was supposed to be one of the gathering points of the demonstrators. The same vehicles also toured the neighbourhoods of Al-Daim which is not far from the first. Sudan Tribune

‘Bashir Will Not Budge:’ Nationwide Protests in Sudan Take Aim at the President
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Sudan on Sunday to demand the resignation of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, whose nearly 30 years in power have been punctuated by civil war, ethnic conflict and a crumbling economy. The protests were the latest — and among the largest — in more than two weeks of demonstrations in the North African country. Security forces have responded with tear gas and live rounds, witnesses said. Backed by some of the president’s former allies and even members of his ruling party, the protests present a serious threat to Bashir’s leadership. The protests began when Bashir’s government announced a raft of price hikes to cope with spiraling inflation in mid-December, and thousands formed spontaneous, leaderless crowds — and not just in the capital, Khartoum, where past anti-government movements have briefly surged before being quashed. The protesters, who chanted slogans borrowed from the “Arab Spring” movements in neighboring Egypt and nearby Libya, have been numerous enough to fill stadiums and the square in front of Bashir’s palace.  The Washington Post

Pentagon Denies Scaling Back Operations in Somalia
The U.S. Defense Department is denying a media report the U.S. is planning to reduce its operations in Somalia. Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Commander Candice Tresch told VOA Friday: “There have been no recent policy changes regarding U.S. operations in Somalia. We continue to support the Federal Government of Somalia’s efforts to degrade al-Shabab.” NBC News reported Friday the U.S. is planning to scale back its operations in Somalia because U.S. airstrikes have “taken out” a number of the militant group’s senior operatives. The Pentagon says “the U.S. conducted 47 precision airstrikes in 2018 against al-Shabab militants. In 2017, the U.S. conducted 35 air strikes and in 2016, conducted 15 air strikes. The first U.S.-led air strike of 2019 occurred Jan. 2 to diminish al-Shabab’s freedom of movement and to increase pressure on the terrorist network in the area.”  VOA

UN Security Council ‘Regret’ Somalia’s Decision to Expel UN Envoy
The UN Security Council on Saturday said it regretted the expulsion of the UN envoy to Somalia, but said it expects to see “full cooperation” between Somalia and the UN. The statement followed an announcement by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres saying he intends to appoint a new envoy to replace Nicholas Haysom who had fallen foul of the Somali government. Members of the UN Security Council “expressed their regret” at the Somali government’s decision to declare UN envoy Nicholas Haysom as persona non grata. At the same time it “underscored the strong and continued commitment of the international community to support peace, stability and development,” said the press statement. RFI

Dozens Killed in Ethnic Violence in Burkina Faso
About 46 people were killed in ethnic clashes in central Burkina Faso this week, the government said on Friday. After nightfall on Dec. 31, armed men on motorbikes descended on the village of Yirgou, made up largely of people of Mossi ethnicity, and killed seven people, the government said. The following day, Yirgou residents killed 39 people in Fulani herding communities across the region in retaliation. The government earlier this week told Reuters that only 13 people had been killed. To the north of Burkina Faso, in Mali, ethnic clashes are being fuelled by the presence of Islamist militants as Fulani communities are accused of hiding jihadists. Reuters

South Africa’s Ruling Party Set to Dominate May Vote, Poll Shows
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress appears on track to dominate its sixth straight national election in May as it increasingly wins back supporters alienated by former President Jacob Zuma’s scandal-marred rule, an opinion poll released Sunday shows. Sixty-one percent of 3,571 adults interviewed face-to-face by research company Ipsos between Oct. 23 and Dec. 4 last year said they’d vote for the ANC, while 14 percent said they’d back the Democratic Alliance, 9 percent the Economic Freedom Fighters and 2 percent the Inkatha Freedom Party. No other party polled more than 1 percent support. Six percent of respondents said they wouldn’t vote or didn’t know who they’d support, and 5 percent declined to answer.  Bloomberg

Nigeria Soldiers Raid Paper ‘Over Boko Haram Article’
Nigerian soldiers have raided the main office of the private Daily Trust newspaper and confiscated computers. It follows the arrest of some staff at the newspaper’s office in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency. The Daily Trust says it may be connected with its lead story on Sunday about the military preparing an operation to recapture territory. The army denies it recently lost control of some towns to militants. The military has not given a reason for its actions against the Daily Trust. The insurgents, who have caused havoc in north-eastern Nigeria since 2009, are fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state. BBC

Egypt Policeman Killed Defusing Bomb Near Coptic Church
Mustafa Abid was reportedly a specialist in mine clearance. The explosion injured two other officers and an onlooker. The device was one of two hidden in a bag on a roof by the church in Nasr City outside Cairo. It comes two days before Egypt’s Christians celebrate their Christmas. About 10% of Egypt’s population are Copts, and many say the state discriminates against them and does not offer them enough protection. Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi – who declares himself a defender of Christians against extremists – is due to open Cathedral of Nativity on Sunday outside the capital, the day before Coptic Christmas on 7 January. BBC

Rwanda’s President Kagame Stokes Tension with Neighbors
The past year was a good one for Rwanda, that was President Paul Kagame’s message to his people. Rwanda’s relationship with its “African brothers” is stronger today, Africa is more united and Rwanda has contributed to this process, he said. But the speech also contained a hefty dose of criticism for Rwanda’s direct neighbors. “Some neighbors have tried to revive the danger posed by the FDLR, the RNC, and other negative forces,” Kagame said. He was referring to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda rebel group, which is mainly operating in Congo, and the Rwanda National Congress, an opposition party in exile. “This jeopardises the otherwise good progress in East African integration, as well as regional security,” Kagame said, adding that he had expected this from one neighbor but another had surprised him. Although Kagame did not name specific countries, there is reason to believe he was referring to Burundi in the latter case. The relationship between the two countries is tense. “The evidence we have, and which they must also have, shows clear complicity, despite public denials,” the president said. Kagame called on his compatriots to remain vigilant and  “not allow themselves to be distracted.”  Deutsche Welle

Fears Grow in Africa That the Flood of Funds from China Will Start to Ebb
Concerns over Chinese growth could spell problems for Africa and other parts of the developing world. Beijing funded an overseas investment boom in the past few decades as it strove to become the world’s second largest economic superpower, while also buying vast amounts of the natural resources produced by emerging nations. The scale of the expansion forms part of China’s multibillion-dollar “Belt and Road” Initiative, a state-backed campaign to promote its influence around the world, while providing stimulus for its own slowing economy. The transcontinental development project launched by China’s president, Xi Jinping, in 2013 aims to improve infrastructure links between Asia, Europe and Africa, with the aim for China to reap the benefits from increasing levels of global trade. The Guardian

Cameroon’s Biya: Why the Swiss Won’t Stop His Geneva Stays
Reports in 2018 that alleged Cameroon’s president Paul Biya runs his country from a Geneva hotel raise questions whether official Switzerland can intervene in such cases. Neutral Switzerland, and international Geneva in particular, have long been known as a playground for the rich. But should the Swiss clamp down when some of these people, like Biya, are linked to regimes with dubious democratic records in corrupt countries? According to a report in early 2018 by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), the Cameroonian president has spent at least 1,645 days on private visits abroad since he came to power in 1982, and Geneva is by far his favourite destination. The Hotel Intercontinental in Geneva with its swimming pool and view of Mont Blanc is the residence of choice for the Cameroonian presidential couple. Swiss Info

Morocco Shuns Joint Naval Exercise in Saudi Arabia as Tension Increases
Morocco’s Royal Navy units did not participate in the Red Wave naval exercise held in Saudi Arabia from December 30 to January 4, 2019, in the Red Sea. The military exercise convened units from Egypt, Jordan, Djibouti, Yemen, UAE, and Saudi Arabia. Morocco’s no-show in the military event might be translated as further evidence that Moroccan-Saudi diplomatic ties are strained Despite formal congratulatory messages between the leaders of the both countries, diplomatic ties between the two countries are tense since Morocco’s decision to stay neutral on the Gulf crisis between the Saudi-led coalition and Qatar.  Morocco World News

Africa Is Divided over Ivory Trade Ahead of Wildlife Meeting
Several African countries with some of the largest elephant populations are calling for looser controls on legal ivory trade, while another group of countries on the continent say tighter controls are the best way to curb the illegal killing of elephants for their tusks. The dueling proposals were released by the office of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES. They will be discussed when member countries of CITES meet May 23-June 3 in Sri Lanka. Colman O’Criodain of the WWF conservation group says there “isn’t really any appetite” in the international community for relaxing ivory trade restrictions. O’Criodain said Saturday that CITES members should focus on how to disrupt ivory traffickers and not engage in “sterile debates” at the Colombo meeting.  AP

‘Take Advantage of Refugee Crises’: Magufuli Tells Tanzanians
Tanzania’s president John Magufuli told members of his cabinet to “take advantage” of refugee crises and make money by selling food to international aid organisations. The country hosts around 300,000 refugees, mainly from Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo, largely in three camps in the north-west of the country, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council. Speaking in Dar es Salaam, Magufuli celebrated the signing of a contract to deliver 36,000 tons of maize to the UN World Food Program (WFP) for around $9.1 million. “These funds are allocated to help our refugee friends from other countries in conflict, it is our duty to take advantage of them,” said Magufuli in Swahili, to laughter in the room. “We must take advantage of their problems. They fight at home and we get the money.”  Africa News

The Bicycle Horn of Africa: How Cycling Became a Part of Eritrea’s National Identity
It’s racing day in Asmara, and the whole city has come out to watch: lining the streets, packing the grandstands, expertly studying the cyclists as they whoosh past, wildly cheering the front-running Eritreans and sportingly encouraging the lagging Nigerians. This is the launch of the Africa Cup, a new cycling championship, but it’s nothing at all unusual here. Cycling races are held almost every weekend in Eritrea. Police block cars from the streets and whip any disorderly youths who cross the barriers, but for most people the excitement outweighs the inconvenience. Cycling is the biggest sport in Eritrea, and its cyclists are the best in Africa – and increasingly among the best in the world. It’s an odd byproduct of Eritrea’s unique history, geography and culture. The Globe and Mail



Photo: Adam Jones