Africa Media Review for July 28, 2023

Attempted Coup in Niger: Backgrounder
Members of Niger’s presidential guard detained democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, declaring that they have seized control of the government and suspended the constitution of this country of 25 million people. Protests against the unconstitutional seizure of power were violently suppressed. The rationale for the attempted coup is not apparent. Reports suggest the move may have been triggered by the departing head of the presidential guard who was disgruntled for being sidelined. As with other coups in the region, grievances over security and poverty have been put forward to validate the extraconstitutional action. … President Bazoum has refused to resign and has called on Nigeriens to resist and protect the country’s “hard-earned” democratic gains. This call has been echoed by Nigerien Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou and other senior officials. … While the situation remains fluid and much remains unclear, this backgrounder provides relevant context and framing to the attempt to overturn the democratically elected government in Niger. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Niger Coup Attempt: General Tchiani Declares Himself Leader
General Abdourahmane Tchiani has declared himself the new leader of Niger after a dramatic coup. Also known as Omar Tchiani, he staged a takeover which started on Wednesday when the presidential guards unit he led seized the country’s leader. This shatters Niger’s first peaceful and democratic transition since independence in 1960. President Mohamed Bazoum is thought to be in good health, and still held captive by his own guards. The coup has been roundly condemned by international actors including the African Union, West African regional bloc (Ecowas), the EU, and the UN. Gen Tchiani, 62, has been in charge of the presidential guard since 2011, and was promoted to the rank of general in 2018 by former President Mahamadou Issoufou. BBC

African Leaders Press Putin on Grain Deal and Peace Plan for Ukraine
African leaders pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday to move ahead with their peace plan to end the Ukraine war and renew a deal on the export of Ukrainian grain that Moscow tore up last week. While not directly critical of Russia, their interventions on day two of a summit with Putin served as pointed reminders to him of the depth of African concern at the consequences of the war, especially for food prices. … Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged Russia to revive the Black Sea grain deal which, until Moscow refused to renew it last week, had allowed Ukraine to export grain from its seaports despite the war. Sisi, whose country is a key buyer of grain via the Black Sea route, told the summit it was “essential to reach agreement” on reviving the deal. … Since withdrawing from the deal, Russia has repeatedly bombed Ukrainian ports and grain depots, prompting accusations from Ukraine and the West that it is using food as a weapon of war, and global grain prices have risen again. Reuters

Central Africans to Vote on Term Limits, Opposition Calls for Boycott
Central African Republic’s opposition is calling for a boycott of a constitutional referendum on Sunday that could see President Faustin-Archange Touadera extend his time in office. Touadera was first elected in 2016 and won reelection in 2020. He has been campaigning for the constitutional referendum which, if passed, would remove a two-term presidential limit and enable him run again. … However, the opposition coalition Republican Bloc for the Defense of the Constitution has asked Central Africans to boycott the vote and stay home. “The Political Bureau of the URCS (Union for Central African Renewal) urges the entire population… to refrain from taking part in this gigantic swindle, not to go to the polling stations and to freely go about their Sunday activities,” the opposition party said in a statement on Wednesday. … Dozens of troops from Russia’s Wagner private military company arrived in the country earlier this month to help secure the constitutional referendum, the presidency said. Reuters

UN Lifts Last Restriction on Arms for Central African Republic Government, but Not for Mercenaries
The U.N. Security Council lifted a requirement that the Central African Republic get advance U.N. approval for arms purchases and transfers for its security forces, but kept an arms embargo on mercenaries and all other armed groups despite vehement opposition from the country’s government. The resolution ending all restrictions on arms for the government was approved by a vote of 13-0 with Russia and China abstaining. Mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group have been working in the Central African Republic, known as CAR, at the government’s request, and until the vote was taken most diplomats were uncertain whether Russia would veto the resolution or abstain. … The Wagner Group, whose leader Yevgeny Prigozhin briefly threatened Russian President Vladimir Putin last month when he led his fighters from Ukraine toward Moscow, has expanded Russia’s influence in Africa. Its fighters have also brutalized civilians in CAR, Mali and elsewhere to crush dissent and fend off threats to their leaders’ power. AP

Russia Seeks to Gain Influence in Africa in Several Ways, from Disinformation Campaigns to Sending Wagner Group Mercenaries. 
Russia is trying to undermine democracy in more than two dozen African countries, according to a new study from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, an academic institution within the US Department of Defense. The main tools Russia uses are: political interference, disinformation and extraconstitutional claims on power, found the study, which was released last month. In some cases, these tools work. … Russia often sides with other autocratic countries. In October 2019, for example, after Omar al-Bashir, the former president of Sudan, was ousted in a coup, Russia blocked the call by the UN to condemn it. … Russia uses social media to spread much of its propaganda and disinformation. According to [Mark Duerksen, research associate at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies], this strategy is particularly successful in countries which lack a deep tradition of independent and free press. DW

Wagner Boss Prigozhin Spotted at Russia-Africa Summit
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has been photographed at a Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg, appearing on the sidelines of the event hosted by President Vladimir Putin just a month after launching a failed mutiny. In two pictures circulated on social media Thursday, Prigozhin is shown wearing casual jeans and a white shirt, smiling as he presses the flesh with visiting officials. In the first picture, posted to Facebook by an Africa-based aide, Prigozhin shakes hands with a suited-up African delegate. According to the watchdog All Eyes on Wagner, the African official is chief of protocol to Faustin Touadera, the president of the Central African Republic. Hundreds of Wagner mercenaries arrived in the Central African Republic last week, according to local reports. The country is holding a constitutional referendum on Sunday that may abolish presidential term limits, therefore allowing Touadera to run again. In the second picture, Prigozhin is wearing the same outfit and shaking hands with the “director of Afrique media,” according to a Wagner-branded Telegram channel. … “Yevgeny Prigozhin continues to strengthen the positions and influence of Russia and Wagner in Africa. The coup in Niger is proof of that,” the Orchestra Wagner channel said. The main channels typically used by Prigozhin have, however, remained silent. Politico

10,000 Reported Killed in One West Darfur City, as Ethnic Violence Ravages Sudanese Region
More than 10,000 people have been killed in the Sudanese region of West Darfur in the past two months, tribal leaders say, amid a deadly conflict between two warring factions that has triggered a mass exodus of refugees from the country and displaced millions internally. Approximately 80% of residents have fled the West Darfur capital of El Geneina, according to the head of the ethnic Masalit tribe Saad Abdelrahman Bahr Al-Din. A force of about 16,000 people attacked the city and killed civilians, looted houses and robbed banks, Bahr Al-Din said in an interview with Sudanese news outlet Ayin Network Sunday. After fighting erupted between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in April, West Darfur became the site of rampant violence and reported atrocities that have led to accusations of war crimes against RSF fighters and their allied militias. CNN

Sudan Health Crisis Reaches ‘Gravely Serious Levels’: WHO
The conflict in Sudan has sparked a health crisis for the 3.4 million people forced to flee to safety, whether within the country or across its borders, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday. Cases of infectious diseases and other illness have been reported among displaced populations who have sought shelter in hard-to-reach locations, where health services are limited. “The scale of the health crisis is enormous. We are working hard to step up our response, delivering critical medical and other emergency health supplies,” said Dr. Nima Saeed Abid, WHO Representative in Sudan, speaking during a virtual press conference. UN News

Essential Online Services Unavailable as Kenya Grapples with Cyberattack
Kenyans were yesterday denied access to essential services such as buying electricity tokens, transacting on M-Pesa, digital banking and various government services on e-Citizen following a cyber-attack targeted at both public and private institutions. The outage of M-Pesa services paralysed operations across many sectors including collection of revenue such as parking fees by counties, putting into question Kenya’s readiness for a full shift towards digital payments. … At 6:30pm last evening a, the Interior Ministry announced that “all services through the e-Citizen platform ( have resumed following a regrettable downtime since Sunday, July 23, 2023.” “The attack not only indicates that we are surrounded by malicious actors, both locally and internationally, but also vindicates the government’s relentless pursuit of stronger cyber security measures to safeguard our Critical Information Infrastructure and data from such threats,” the ministry said in a statement, assuring Kenyans that it was reviewing its controls to remain steps ahead of criminals. The attack comes barely four weeks after President William Ruto launched thousands of government services on the e-Citizen platform to increase efficiency and minimise corruption. Nation

Nearly Two Months into His Term, Nigeria’s Leader Finally Proposes His Cabinet to Legislators
Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu on Thursday forwarded 28 ministerial nominees to federal legislators for confirmation as he seeks to finally set up his Cabinet to lead Africa’s most populous country. The long-awaited list featuring six women was presented to the Nigerian Senate by Tinubu’s chief of staff Femi Gbajabiamila, a day before the deadline and nearly two months after the Nigerian leader took office. On the list with no assigned portfolios are four former governors and three presidential aides. … In addition to his pledge to end the deadly violence in the hard-hit northern region, the 71-year-old also promised to revive the economy, which has been struggling with surging inflation, high debt and job losses since the pandemic. … Idayat Hassan, who leads the West Africa-focused Center for Democracy and Development, said the Nigerian president should discontinue the long tradition of rewarding loyalists with ministerial positions. “He must ensure that their appointments are fit to what their expertise really is,” Hassan said. She also urged the president to focus on Nigeria’s most pressing challenges in the security and economic sectors. “There can’t be prosperity without peace and stability, so prioritizing security and the economy should go hand in hand,” Hassan said. AP

Sierra Leone and Neighbors to Fight Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea after a Chinese Ship Was Hijacked
Sierra Leone said Thursday it is working with neighboring countries to step up the fight against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea after a Chinese fishing vessel was hijacked in its waters earlier this week. The area off the coast of West Africa is one of the world’s most dangerous places for attacks on ships. Twenty-three crew members on board Shenghai-2, including six Chinese nationals, were rescued a day after the hijacking on Sunday. The ship was sailing with another fishing vessel, Aliman, when both came under attack by heavily armed pirates, Sierra Leone’s Navy Chief Commodore Philip Juana told The Associated Press. … In June last year, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution condemning piracy, armed robbery and hostage-taking in the Gulf of Guinea. The area has recorded at least three pirate attacks in recent months, including in April, when pirates targeted a Chinese-run oil tanker. AP

As More Migrants Go Missing at Sea, Many Say Bodies End Up on Senegal’s Beaches in Unmarked Graves
The small mounds of sand that dot the beach in northern Senegal blend into the terrain. But thick rope juts out from beneath the piles. Pieces of black plastic bags are scattered nearby, and green netting is strewn on top. That’s how residents in the small fishing town of Saint-Louis say they know where the bodies lie. These unmarked beach graves hold untold numbers of West African migrants who are increasingly attempting the treacherous journey across parts of the Atlantic to Europe, Senegalese authorities, residents along the coast and survivors of failed boat trips told The Associated Press. … The route from West Africa to Spain is one of the world’s most dangerous, yet the number of migrants leaving from Senegal on rickety wooden boats has surged over the past year. That means more missing people and deaths — relatives, activists and officials have reported hundreds over the past month, though exact figures are difficult to verify. … according to the International Organization for Migration, at least 2,300 migrants left Senegal trying to reach Spain’s Canary Islands in the first six months of the year, doubling the number from the same period in 2022. AP

Where Wildfires Are Raging in Europe and North Africa
Hundreds of wildfires have burned their way through Southern Europe and North Africa this week, with residents of nearby communities forced to flee the billowing smoke and advancing blazes. Firefighters in at least 10 countries in the region have mobilized firefighting planes and trucks to douse the blazes, which have blackened thousands of acres of land, consumed buildings and killed dozens of people. With the summer season typically a popular time for tourists, visitors to the region have also been caught up in the crisis as evacuations were ordered from some coastal resorts, seaside villages and islands. Some roads have also been closed and flights suspended. Stoking the flames is a recent heat wave that has seared the land and sent temperatures to sweltering highs — creating prime conditions for the blazes to take hold and spread. … In Algeria, wildfires east of the capital, Algiers, this week killed dozens of people and prompted the evacuation of more than 1,500 households; the fires also spread to neighboring Tunisia. … Countries in the region have shared firefighting resources. The European Union sent more than 490 firefighters and nine firefighting planes to Greece and Tunisia, and countries like Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania and Serbia have also contributed resources. New York Times