Africa Media Review for July 8, 2024

Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali Sign ‘confederation’ Treaty Marking Divorce from West Africa Bloc
The military regimes of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso marked their divorce from the rest of West Africa Saturday, July 6, as they signed a treaty setting up a confederation between them…The “Confederation of Sahel States”, which will use the acronym AES and be headed by Mali in its first year, will group some 72 million people…The exit came as the trio shifted away from former colonial ruler France, with Tiani calling for the new bloc to become a “community far removed from the stranglehold of foreign powers”. All three have expelled anti-jihadist French troops and turned instead towards what they call their “sincere partners” – Russia, Turkey and Iran…After several bilateral meetings, this is the first meeting of all three Sahelian strongmen since coming to power through coups between 2020 and 2023. Le Monde with AFP

West Africa’s ECOWAS Decries Lack of Progress with Junta States
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said it was disappointed with a lack of progress in reconciling with breakaway, junta-led Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger and will make “more vigorous” reconciliation efforts. ECOWAS commission president Oumar Touray said at the start of a summit in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Sunday the region risks disintegeration and worsening insecurity after the three Alliance of Sahel States (AES) signed a confederation treaty…Their departure could weaken ECOWAS and Touray said the freedom of movement and a common market of 400 million people offered by the bloc were under threat. ECOWAS re-elected Nigerian President Bola Tinubu chairman for another year and tasked Senegalese and Togolese leaders to negotiate with the juntas to try bring them back into the bloc. The ECOWAS leaders approved a decision to mobilise a 5,000 strong regional standby counter-terrorism force. The force would start as a 1,650-man brigade to be increased over time. Member countries are expected to fund the force and will also approach the African Union for financial support. Reuters

A Weakened West Africa Bloc Asks Senegalese Leader to Try to Convince Breakaway States to Return
West Africa’s divided regional bloc Sunday asked Senegal’s President Basirou Diomaye Faye to have a dialogue with the three military junta-led member states to try to reunite the region whose stability has been under threat following their decision to leave the group in January. At its summit in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, the bloc — known as ECOWAS — appointed Faye as its envoy to meet with Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, which formed their separate union after their respective coups fractured relations with neighbors. It was not immediately clear what the terms of the dialogue would be. The Senegalese president, who became Africa’s youngest leader after his election victory in March, “has all the credentials required to serve as a facilitator,” Omar Alieu Touray, the president of the ECOWAS Commission, said at the summit. AP

Mali’s Army and Russian Mercenaries Accused of Killing Dozens of Civilians in Kidal Region
Mali’s army and Russian mercenaries killed dozens of civilians during a military operation last month in northern Mali, civil organization and community members alleged Friday, amid a surge in violence after the ruling junta broke off a peace agreement with rebel groups. The killings took place from June 20 to 29 in the Abeibara in the Kidal region, the civil society groups and residents said…Citizen’s Observatory for Monitoring and Defending the Human Rights of the Azawad People, a civil society organization also known as Kal akal, said in a statement Friday that there were at least 60 civilians killed in the Abeibara area and that they were buried in mass graves. The group denounced “a vast campaign of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Russians of the Wagner group, in the company of the Malian army”…[I]n 2015 the Tuareg rebel groups signed the peace deal with the government that was welcomed by the United Nations. But following the military coup in 2020, Mali’s junta broke the peace agreement with the Tuareg rebel groups and attacked their stronghold of Kidal in 2023. Since then, Kidal has been plagued by violence, particularly against civilians. AP

US Troops Pull Out of Niger’s Air Base 101
The U.S. military withdrew its personnel from Niger’s Air Base 101 near the airport in the capital Niamey on Sunday, ahead of its exit from a major drone base near the desert city of Agadez in the coming weeks. Niger’s ruling junta in April ordered the U.S. to withdraw its nearly 1,000 military personnel from the country following a coup last year in the West African nation… The focus will next shift to withdrawal from the $100 million drone base near Agadez in central Niger, which had provided crucial intelligence about jihadist-linked groups, U.S. Air Force Major General Kenneth Ekman said on Friday. The pullout from that base, known as Air Base 201, will likely take place in August, he said. Niger’s ruling junta has given the U.S. until Sept. 15 to remove troops from its territory. Reuters

After Deadly Protests, Kenyans Tell of Brutal Abductions
At least 32 people, including activists, medical workers and social media influencers, have been abducted or arbitrarily detained, according to interviews with human rights monitors and dozens of activists, including five who recounted being seized. Some spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution. They told how armed men in balaclavas and unmarked vehicles yanked them from the streets or their homes in the middle of the night, blindfolded them, beat them and interrogated them about their involvement in the protests…A few of those seized are still missing, lawyers said. The disappearances have rattled Kenya, a longstanding anchor of stability in the Horn of Africa…Last week, a High Court judge called the incidents “abductions” and ordered the police and the National Intelligence Service, a civilian agency whose director is nominated by the president, to stop, citing the Constitution. The New York Times

Cairo Discussions on Sudan Stall Amidst Division over Condemning RSF Abuses
Sudanese political forces participating in the Cairo conference expressed support for ending the war, but leaders of movements supporting the army refused to sign the final statement. They cited the lack of explicit condemnation of human rights violations committed by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) against civilians. The Egyptian government organized the conference on Saturday aiming at uniting Sudanese political forces and garnering support for resolving the conflict, but disagreements between them overshadowed the proceedings…Pointing to the role of external actors in the conflict, The statement called upon countries and entities supporting the warring parties, either directly or indirectly, to stop fuelling the war in Sudan. On the humanitarian front, the meeting participants agreed on the importance of delivering aid to save the lives of millions of Sudanese, calling for the protection of humanitarian workers and ensuring they are not exposed to danger or persecution by the warring parties. Sudan Tribune

UN Human Rights Expert Visits Port Sudan to Assess Sudan Crisis
Radhouane Nouicer, the UN-designated expert on human rights in Sudan, is set to visit Port Sudan from July 7th to 11th to evaluate the human rights situation amidst the ongoing conflict. This marks his first visit since the outbreak of hostilities…The findings from Nouicer’s visit will be instrumental in shaping the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights annual report on Sudan’s human rights situation, due to be presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2025. Appointed in December 2022, Nouicer previously visited Sudan in February 2023, just before the conflict erupted. This upcoming visit marks his second official trip to the country in his capacity as the UN’s designated expert. Sudan Tribune

South Sudan: NEC declares 22 December 2024 Election Day
South Sudan’s National Election Commission (NEC) has announced 22 December 2024 as the election date as per Section 16 (1) of the National Election Act 2023. Prof. Abednego Akok Kacuol, the NEC chairperson, told the press on Friday that delays by the parties to agree on the elections have deferred the voter registration exercise which was supposed to have started in June…On 19 June, the NEC chairperson established electoral committees for the country’s ten states and named individuals to head them. However, he did not form committees for the three administrative areas of Abyei, Greater Pibor, and Ruweng. When asked about the fate of these three administrative areas, Prof Akok said that he would name chairpersons for the state committees after the commission’s meeting. The elections in December will be the first to be held in South Sudan after it gained independence from Sudan in 2011. Radio Tamazuj

Ethiopia, South Sudan Agree to Build Alternate Oil Pipeline Route
South Sudan and neigbouring Ethiopia have agreed to enhance border security and trade by building alternate oil infrastructure…One of the important resolutions is the understanding reached by the two sides is the agreement on infrastructure development. it has been agreed to work together to mobilize resources to build the road connecting the state of Upper Nile, especially the Gambella-Pagak through Maiwut to Malakal-Maluth and Paloich. This is an important road. It will be used for transportation of the oil through the port of Djibouti. This means the security of the road will be coordinated and enhanced for trade and movement of people and goods between both nations…David Nyang, the minister of cabinet affairs in Upper Nile state issued a statement commending the efforts of the governments of Ethiopia and South Sudan, saying it represents an opportunity for the two countries to consolidate peace and stability in the region through trade and economic cooperation. Sudan Tribune

Tunisian Court Jails Prominent Critic of President
Sonia Dahmani, a prominent Tunisian lawyer known for her criticism of President Kais Saied, has been sentenced to one year in prison, her legal representative said on Saturday. The court ruling reinforces opposition concerns that critical voices will continue to be targeted ahead of a presidential election on Oct. 6 “The one-year prison sentence is unjust and confirms the targeting of free speech,” Dahmani’s lawyer Sami Ben Ghazi told Reuters. Dahmani was arrested in May after appearing on a television program in which she said Tunisia is a country where life is not pleasant. Opposition parties, many of whose leaders are in prison, have accused Saied’s government of exerting pressure on the judiciary to target his election rivals. They say fair and credible elections cannot be held unless imprisoned politicians are released and the media is allowed to operate without pressure from the government. Reuters

A Bench and a Grandmother’s Ear: Zimbabwe’s Novel Mental Health Therapy Spreads Overseas
Older people are at the center of a homegrown form of mental health therapy in Zimbabwe that is now being adopted in places like the United States. The approach involves setting up benches in quiet, discreet corners of community clinics and in some churches, poor neighborhoods and at a university. An older woman with basic training in problem-solving therapy patiently sits there, ready to listen and engage in a one-on-one conversation. The therapy is inspired by traditional practice in Zimbabwe in which grandmothers were the go-to people for wisdom in rough times. It had been abandoned with urbanization, the breakdown of tight-knit extended families and modern technology. Now it is proving useful again as mental health needs grow…The network in Zimbabwe, which now partners with the health ministry and the World Health Organization, has grown to over 2,000 grandmothers across the country. Over 200,000 Zimbabweans sat on a bench to get therapy from a trained grandmother in 2023, according to the network. AP