Africa Media Review for January 8, 2024

After Niger Coup, U.S. Scrambles to Keep a Vital Air Base
As the ruling Nigerien junta consolidates its grip on power, the Biden administration now faces wrenching new challenges in its fight against Islamist militants in Africa. Chief among them is how to resume operations at U.S. Air Base 201 — the top military asset in a region that is emerging as a global center of terrorist activity. Having labeled the takeover a coup, the United States is required by law to suspend security operations and development aid to Niger, and cannot fully resume them until democracy is restored. So while American officials have signaled that they would like to re-establish security cooperation with Niger’s government, doing so with the former Nigerien president, Mohamed Bazoum, under house arrest will require their threading a diplomatic needle…Then there is the looming threat of Russia, eager to exploit any breaches in relations between Niger and the Western nations to further expand its regional influence. The Kremlin, which recently signed a new defense agreement with Niger, is already the preferred security partner of two neighboring countries fighting Islamist rebellions, Mali and Burkina Faso. “Russia is going to be there no matter what — whether the U.S. is at the table or not,” said Daniel Eizenga, a research fellow at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. The New York Times

Congo’s Election Commission Cancels 82 Candidates in Disputed December Polling
Congo’s election commission said it has cancelled votes cast for 82 of the 101,000 legislative candidates in the disputed December general election over alleged fraud and other issues, amid fresh opposition calls for a re-run of the vote. Those disqualified include contenders for national, provincial and municipal assemblies, the results of which are yet to be published amid the fallout from the Dec. 20 poll that threatens to further destabilise the Democratic Republic of Congo, a top producer of cobalt and Africa’s second-largest country. A CENI election committee statement on Friday did not address the presidential vote that also took place on Dec. 20, handing President Felix Tshisekedi a landslide victory…Four acting provincial governors and three government ministers were among the 82 excluded. CENI’s move has not appeased the opposition, many of whom accuse the commission of helping tip the election in Tshisekedi’s favour…Tresor Kibangula, a political analyst at Congo’s Ebuteli research institute, said it was difficult to see how the such irregularities had not also affected the presidential election, “especially considering that all these ballots were conducted on the same day with the same electronic voting device”. Reuters

UN Sounds Alarm at Rising Hate Speech in DRC
The United Nations’ top human rights official voiced alarm on Sunday about rising ethnic tension and calls to violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo following disputed elections. Massive delays and bureaucratic chaos marred the December 20 ballots to choose the president, lawmakers for national and provincial assemblies, and local councilors. So far the election commission has only announced the result of the presidential vote -– a landslide victory for incumbent Felix Tshisekedi that the opposition has rejected as a sham…[U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk] said the post-election calls for violence were particularly concerning in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu -– which have been plagued for decades by armed groups and ethnic killings -– as well as the regions of Kasai and Katanga. Tshisekedi hails from Kasai and Moise Katumba, one of his main rivals, from Katanga…Some 250 different ethnic groups live in the vast country. AFP

Somalia Signs Law ‘Nullifying’ Ethiopia-Somaliland Berbera Port Pact
Somalia’s president has signed a law “nullifying” a contentious agreement between Ethiopia and Somaliland in a largely symbolic gesture of his government’s displeasure over the deal to grant port access. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said the law voided the “illegal” pact giving landlocked Ethiopia long-sought access to the Red Sea through Somaliland, a separatist northwestern region over which Somalia exercises little real authority…Somalia called the surprise pact signed on Monday an act of “aggression” and a violation of its sovereignty, and appealed for international support. It staunchly opposes Somaliland’s claim to independence but in reality has little say over the affairs of the de facto state, which has its own government, security forces and currency and a long coastline on one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. Somaliland’s leadership has said Ethiopia would “formally recognise the Republic of Somaliland” under the deal, but this has not been confirmed by the government in Addis Ababa…The memorandum of understanding gives Ethiopia access to commercial maritime services and a military base, with Somaliland leasing it 20 kilometres (12 miles) of coastline for 50 years. AFP

Somaliland Defence Minister Resigns over Sea Access Deal with Ethiopia
Somaliland’s Defence Minister has resigned in protest over a deal allowing Ethiopia to use a port in the breakaway Somali region. Abdiqani Mohamoud Ateye criticized President Muse Bihi Abdi for not consulting the ministers on the Ethiopia port deal, learning about it through the media. Ateye, from Somaliland’s Awdal region, where Ethiopia aims to establish a military base in Lughaya, cited a lack of consultation. The agreement is said to grant Ethiopia access to the Red Sea, with reports suggesting it recognizes Somaliland’s independence. Somalia deems it an “aggression,” recalling its ambassador to Addis Ababa. Diplomatic tensions led to Ethiopia’s ambassador also returning to Addis Ababa. Africanews

Sudanese Civilian Coalition Reiterates Readiness to Meet Al-Burhan
Omer al-Digair, head of the Sudanese Congress Party and a leadership member of the coalition of civilian forces ‘Tagadum’, announced their readiness to meet with Lt Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Chairman of the Sovereign Council and Commander-in-Chief of the Sudanese Army, to discuss the possibility of a ceasefire and an inclusive national dialogue. This statements come after al-Burhan rejected the Addis Ababa Declaration signed between Tagadum and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on Friday, but expressed his willingness to meet the political and civil society leaders in Port Sudan…The Tagadum leadership noted that they had yet to receive an official response from al-Burhan regarding the meeting, despite his call for a meeting with them in Port Sudan…The Addis Ababa Declaration, signed by Abdallah Hamdok and Mohamed Hamdan Hemetti, commits the paramilitary forces to an immediate and unconditional ceasefire to be negotiated with the army, facilitate the return of displaced people, open humanitarian corridors, release prisoners of war, and cooperate with investigations into violations. Sudan Tribune

Eritrea: An African Gulag So Ghastly That Inmates Risk Death to Escape
Eritrea is riddled with an appalling variety of prisons: Underground cells of crumbling concrete, and sweltering jails fashioned from converted metal cargo containers. Cages crammed with hundreds of men who must sleep on their sides like sardines, as their cellmates wearily stand to make room, and shallow holes scraped from the earth with log and dirt ceilings so low that inmates cannot stand up. The conditions, former prisoners recounted, are often so ghastly and the prison terms so open-ended that desperate inmates frequently attempt to escape, but those who try are often gunned down. Unlike in many other authoritarian countries, where people can frequently avoid prison by keeping their heads down and steering clear of politics, most Eritreans face the inevitability of detention if they refuse mandatory national service that can stretch for decades, mostly in a military infamous for leaving conscripts impoverished and brutalized…Although Eritrea has long been highly repressive, the prison population has swollen within the past three years. After Eritrea sent troops to help the Ethiopian government battle rebels in the Tigray region, Eritrea intensified its aggressive conscription campaign — sweeping up men and women, young and old. Evasion meant jail. The Washington Post

Former Gambian Interior Minister on Trial in Switzerland Over Alleged Crimes Against Humanity
A former interior minister of Gambia was going on trial Monday in Switzerland on charges including crimes against humanity for his alleged role in years of repression by the west African country’s security forces against opponents of its longtime dictator. Advocacy groups hailed the trial of Ousman Sonko, Gambia’s interior minister from 2006 to 2016 under then-President Yahya Jammeh, as an opportunity to reach a conviction under “universal jurisdiction,” which allows the prosecution of serious crimes committed abroad…He applied for asylum in Switzerland in November 2016 and was arrested two months later. The Swiss attorney general’s office said the indictment against Sonko, filed in April, covers alleged crimes during 16 years under Jammeh, whose rule was marked by arbitrary detention, sexual abuse and extrajudicial killings…Swiss prosecutors say Sonko is accused of having supported, participated in and failed to stop attacks against regime opponents in the country, which juts through neighboring Senegal. AP

Uganda Gay Activist Blames Knife Attack on a Worsening Climate of Intolerance
A well-known gay rights activist in Uganda who was stabbed by unknown assailants [last] week attributed the attack to what he described Thursday as a growing intolerance of the LGBTQ+ community fueled by politicians. The climate of intolerance is being exacerbated by “politicians who are using the LGBTQ+ community as a scapegoat to move people away from what is really happening in the country,” Steven Kabuye said in an interview from a hospital bed on the outskirts of Kampala…Kabuye is the executive director of the advocacy group Colored Voice Truth to LGBTQ…In May, Uganda’s president signed into law anti-gay legislation supported by many in Uganda but widely condemned by rights activists and others abroad. The version of the legislation signed by President Yoweri Museveni doesn’t criminalize those who identify as LGBTQ+ — which had been a key concern for some rights campaigners. But the new law still prescribes the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” which is defined as sexual relations involving people infected with HIV, minors and other categories of vulnerable people. AP

US Expresses Concern after Burundi President Says Gay People Should Be Stoned
The United States said on Friday it was troubled by comments from Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye, who last week called on citizens of the small African country to stone gay people. The comments escalated a crackdown on sexual minorities in a nation where LGBT people already face social ostracism and jail terms of up to two years if convicted of same-sex offences. “The United States is deeply troubled by President Ndayishimiye’s remarks targeting certain vulnerable and marginalized Burundians,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement…The statement did not refer specifically to the remarks about stoning. In May, Uganda passed a law that carried the death sentence for certain categories of same-sex offences. The United States has imposed a range of sanctions including travel restrictions and removing Uganda from a tariff-free trade deal. Reuters

Guinea: World’s Biggest Mining Project to Start after 27 Years of Setbacks and Scandals
The world’s biggest mining project, a $20bn iron ore, rail and port development in a remote corner of west Africa, is expected to start this year after a 27-year wait beset by setbacks, scandals and several false dawns. UK-listed Rio Tinto first secured an exploration licence in the Simandou mountains in south-eastern Guinea, 550km from the coastal capital, in 1997…Finally, in 2024, once Rio Tinto’s state-owned Chinese partners receive the last approval from Beijing, the Anglo-Australian miner intends to fire the starting gun on the most complex project in its history…Too expensive for any single miner to develop alone, the project is now a partnership between Rio Tinto, the Guinean government and at least seven other companies, including five from China. Rio Tinto will build one iron ore mine — known as the Simfer project — in partnership with a consortium led by the world’s largest aluminium producer, Chinalco…At the same time, the parties will co-finance the construction of a 552km railway that will curve through Guinea’s mountainous interior to the sea and the development of a deepwater port on its Atlantic coast. Rio Tinto and the Chinalco consortium must also fund an additional 70km rail spur to connect its mine with the main line. Financial Times

Season of intimidation: Attacks on Ghana press escalate ahead of 2024 polls
In Ghana, free expression has long been a cornerstone of its vibrant democracy but there has been a surge in attacks on journalists by political actors and security agencies ahead of the 2024 general elections. These attacks range from physical assaults to intimidation and cyber-threats and have cast a shadow over the West African nation’s commitment to media freedom…The year 2023 witnessed the highest number of annual cases, with four of the nine cases reported in October…For the second consecutive year, Ghana experienced a decline in the yearly global press freedom rankings published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The country dropped two positions, from 60th in 2022 to 62nd in the 2023 rankings…In May 2021, the government opened the Coordinated Mechanism on the Safety of Journalists office under the National Media Commission – a state body tasked with filing and investigating complaints of attacks against journalists…However, observers say it is all talk and no action from the Ghanaian government as previous attacks have barely been investigated. “Ghana’s leadership have so far failed to take the necessary actions to ensure security forces do not perpetrate violence against journalists,” Angela Quintal, Africa programme coordinator for Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said in a statement last October referencing the detention of Akyemansa FM broadcaster Nicholas Morkah by six soldiers that month. Al Jazeera

Kenya Says First ‘Visa-Free’ Tourists Arrive in the Country
Kenya said Friday it had welcomed the first batch of foreign tourists who arrived under a simplified entry system it hopes will encourage more visitors. The government’s immigration services department said the “maiden visa-free arrivals” landed in Nairobi from Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa and more were expected to touch down in the coming days. Immigration and Citizen Services Principal Secretary Julius Bitok said visa requirements would be waived for all travellers to Kenya regardless of nationality. Under the new system, travellers apply online for an electronic travel authorisation (ETA) and pay a $30 (R560) “processing” fee…Last year President William Ruto announced that Kenya would become a “visa-free country” and existing requirements would be waived in January. Even so, as recently as last Tuesday the Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority warned the new ETA system was “in the process of development and implementation.” The number of tourist arrivals in 2022 rose to 1.54 million, still below pre-pandemic levels, according to tourism ministry figures. Kenya Tourism Board chair Francis Gichaba voiced hope in November that the figure could top two million in the latest financial year, surpassing the 2019 figure of 1.9 million. AFP