Africa Media Review for June 1, 2022

Putin’s Shadow Soldiers: How the Wagner Group Is Expanding in Africa
Mercenaries are enjoying a resurgence in Africa, hired to fight in some of the continent’s most intractable conflicts. Perhaps the most famous outfit is the Wagner Group, a nebulous network that combines military force with commercial and strategic interests, now at the vanguard of Russia’s expanding ambitions in Africa. Wagner fighters have been active in the wars of Mali, Central African Republic, Mozambique and Libya. They ally with embattled leaders and militia commanders who can pay for their services in cash, or with lucrative mining concessions for precious minerals like gold, diamonds and uranium. Wagner troops have faced frequent accusations of torture, civilian killings and other abuses. But Wagner is far more than a simple guns-for-gold scheme. Operating through a sprawling web of shell companies, it has become a byword for a broad spectrum of Kremlin-backed operations in over a dozen African countries. Wagner meddles in politics, props up autocrats and orchestrates digital propaganda campaigns. It donates food to the poor and produces action movies set in Africa. It has even organized a beauty pageant. New York Times

‘The Killings Didn’t Stop.’ In Mali, a Massacre with a Russian Footprint.
Both Malian soldiers and foreign mercenaries killed captives at close range, often without interrogating them, based on their ethnicity or clothes, according to witnesses. The foreigners marauded through the town, indiscriminately killing people in houses, stealing jewelry and confiscating cellphones to eliminate any visual evidence. However, using satellite imagery, The New York Times identified the sites of at least two mass graves, which matched the witnesses’ descriptions of where captives were executed and buried. The Malian authorities and military did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Mali has been fighting armed militants for the past decade, initially with the help of French and later European forces. But as the relationship has deteriorated between France and the Malian military junta, which seized power last year, French forces are withdrawing from Mali, and the Wagner Group has moved in — a step denounced by 15 European countries and Canada, as well as the United States. New York Times

AU Summit Concerned About “Resurgence” of Coups on Continent
A weekend African Union (AU) summit in Malabo had at its core stemming “the upsurge of an increasingly worrying situation” as regards issues affecting peace, security, sovereignty and territorial integrity of member countries. The extraordinary summit on terrorism and unconstitutional changes of government in the Equatorial Guinea capital concerned itself with the expanding threat of terrorism and violent extremism across the continent, including the influx of foreign terrorist fighters, private military companies and mercenaries, the proliferation of armed groups, as well as transnational organised crime…On the link between terrorism and unconstitutional changes of government Moussa Faki said: “The return in force of military coups in some member states was cause for consternation and concern”. “We are witnessing resurgence of a practice we thought was gone forever with the advent of a new age, which promised a democratic era. The stability of democratic institutions is a guarantee for economic and social development. Conversely, breaks from democratic processes bring about problems on the continent. Consequently, we need to analyse the causes of the resurgence of military usurpation of power and determine the appropriate therapy.” DefenceWeb

US Troops Back in Somalia to Fight Al-Shabab
The US’ decision to redeploy 500 troops to Somalia to help in the fight against militant Islamists is a clear sign of its support for new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud…The announcement of what US Africa Command (Africom), describes as a “small, persistent US military presence” will come as a relief to Somalis who have experienced a surge of Islamist attacks since their departure – and to the US troops in neighbouring Djibouti who went in and out of Somalia to fill the security vacuum created by Mr Trump’s decision. According to The Africa Center for Strategic Studies, the number of al-Shabab attacks rose from 1,771 to 2,072 in the year following the US pull-out, an increase of 17%. The number of battles with the security forces went up by 32%. Last month, security officials said that about 450 al-Shabab fighters attacked an African Union base in southern Somalia, killing at least 40 Burundian soldiers. United Nations experts have described al-Shabab as al-Qaeda’s most powerful and wealthy affiliate. They estimate it has as many as 12,000 fighters and an ability to raise a monthly revenue of about $10m (£8m). BBC

UN: Eritrean Troops Shelled School in North Ethiopia
Eritrean forces shelled a town in northern Ethiopia over the weekend, according to internal United Nations documents and regional forces. It was a rare bombardment after two months of relative peace in a conflict which began in November 2020. Bulletins from the UN seen by Reuters cited information from humanitarian organisations in Shiraro saying at least 23 rounds were fired, some hitting a school housing displaced families. A 14-year-old girl was killed, at least 18 people were injured and 12 houses were damaged, one of the documents said. Late on Monday, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the party that controls most of the Tigray region, accused Eritrean forces of attacking its troops on Saturday and Sunday in Shiraro, about seven miles from the Eritrea-Ethiopia border. Eritrea has supported Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal forces in its war since late 2020 with the TPLF. Al Jazeera

DRC Agrees to Free Detained Rwandan Soldiers
The Democratic Republic of Congo will release two detained Rwandan soldiers as step towards easing growing tension between the two countries, Angola has announced following efforts to mediate between the two countries. Rwanda had earlier claimed that the two soldiers were abducted as they patrolled the country’s border with DRC’s following conflict near the area, but Kinshasa had insisted that the two soldiers were captured and detained for trespassing into Congo territory. Tension has been building up between DR Congo and Rwanda following accusations of supporting rebels. Kinshasa accused Kigali of supporting the M23 rebel group that has been recently engaged in fighting with government forces, a claim that Kigali denied, while Rwanda also accused DRC of supporting the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) rebels hostile to Kigali. On Tuesday, DR Congo President Félix Tshisekedi travelled to Angola for talks on the DRC-Rwanda tension following a suggestion by African Union Chairman Macky Sall (Senegalese president) that Angolan President João Lourenço mediate in the Congo-Rwanda issue. Lourenço chairs the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). East African

Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Killing 15 in East Congo Village
Islamic State on Tuesday claimed responsibility for an attack that killed at least 15 civilians in a village in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday, the militant group said on an affiliated Telegram channel. A rights group and a local official said on Monday that fighters believed to be members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) stormed the village of Bulongo in North Kivu province after dark on Sunday, pillaging homes, murdering inhabitants that crossed their path and setting fire to six vehicles. Read full story. The ADF is a Ugandan militia that has been active in east Congo since the 1990s and killed scores of civilians, many in middle-of-the-night attacks carried out with machetes and hatchets. It pledged alliance to Islamic State in 2019. Islamic State claimed its members killed nearly 20 Christians and set fire to six trucks in the attack using machine guns, and returned to their bases unhurt. Voice of America

Faltering Insurgency in Mozambique Still Threatens Lives – And Gas Projects
Attacks have resumed in Mozambique’s north-east, after a lull in April. These include in the district of Palma — home to the liquefied natural gas projects that carry the hope of transforming Mozambique’s economy (if they go ahead, and if the money is not stolen by elites). Insurgents raided the village of Olumbe, 20km down the coast from the gas project site on the Afungi Peninsula. But the raid, although backed by the threat of violence, was not a murderous one. Instead, the insurgents — along with women and children hostages who accompanied them — had arrived to take food.  A source said that the unrest in Olumbe began in the late afternoon of 6 May, when militants “accompanied by women and children fired several shots into the air”, forcing the local population, which had recently returned to the village, to flee again. “The people who had returned and had started their lives over, were left with nothing again.” The incident is not a positive sign for the insurgency, which seems to be struggling this year during the lean months that follow the rainy season. Mail & Guardian

Group Urges ICC to Probe Alleged Use of Mines in Libya War
Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on the International Criminal Court to investigate allegations of landmine use in 2019 by Russian paramilitaries fighting in Libya. According to the New York-based watchdog, new evidence has emerged from Libyan demining groups linking mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner group to the use of “banned mines” in Libya during an offensive by Libyan forces based in the east of the country, attempting to retake the capital Tripoli from rival militias. The Wagner group supported the offensive by the eastern-based forces led by commander Khalifa Haftar, who was also backed at the time by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia. Haftar’s offensive collapsed in the spring of 2020 when Turkey and Qatar stepped up their military support for their rivals in western Libya. Libya plunged into turmoil after a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled President Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. For years, the country has been divided between rival administrations, each supported by different militias and foreign powers. Lama Fakih, HRW’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said a “transparent and international” investigation was needed into the use of landmines around Tripoli. AfricaNews

Nigeria: UNDP, YIAGA Aim to Mobilise 65% Eligible Voters for 2023 Election
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Yiaga Africa have initiated a project aimed at mobilising at least 60 percent of eligible young voters to register, collect their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) and vote in the 2023 elections using traditional and non-traditional tools of political mobilisation.  Both bodies made this vow on Friday in Abuja at an event to award N1 million grants to 13 young Nigerians to mobilize at least 5,000 young voters each to register in the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise, collect their PVCs and vote in the forthcoming 2023 elections. UNDP Nigeria Resident Representative, Mohamed Yahya, said increasing voter participation and making the voting processes accessible to young Nigerians is essential to ensure the country’s future. According to Yahya, the #Powerof18 Initiative has proven that youth in Nigeria are not only ready but that they have the ingenuity, talent and determination to make a significant impact in the 2023 election. Guardian Nigeria

UN Condemns Piracy in World’s Hotspot – The Gulf of Guinea
The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday strongly condemning piracy, armed robbery and hostage-taking in the Gulf of Guinea, the world’s top hotspot for attacks on shipping and seafarers. The resolution sponsored by Ghana and Norway calls on countries on Africa’s west coast along the Gulf of Guinea to criminalize piracy and armed robbery at sea and take action to penalize perpetrators. It stresses the importance of enhanced coordination among countries on the Gulf of Guinea and international and regional organizations to deter pirates and robbers. It also urges all countries to share information with Interpol, the international law enforcement body. Ghana’s U.N. ambassador, Harold Agyeman, told the council that despite a resolution it adopted 10 years ago and a code of conduct on the way in which states in the region address the issue of piracy, 130 of the 135 kidnappings of ships’ crews worldwide in 2020 took place in the Gulf of Guinea. According to the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center, global piracy dropped in 2021 but the threat level in the Gulf of Guinea region remains high. AP

Insecurity in the Sahel: What You Need to Know
The coup plotters in Mali and Burkina Faso came to power justifying their power grabs by citing the inability of the civilian authorities to restore security. But the figures that DW has gathered show that the military’s action has brought no results in this respect. Worse still, the killing of civilians has increased, especially in Mali. Attacks by rebel groups, jihadis or otherwise, have not decreased since the first coup in Mali on August 18, 2020. On the contrary, they have increased in 2021, with 689 deadly incidents, and at this rate the number could reach nearly 1,000 attacks this year. In addition, 550 people have been killed in Mali since the beginning of the year in violence committed against civilians by the armed forces. This is more than the number of people killed by rebel groups. The massacre in Moura was a major factor. The killings in this village, located between Mopti and Djenné in central Mali, took place over several days. DW

Cameroon’s Military Frees Senator, Other Separatist Hostages
Cameroon’s military says it has freed a senator who was held captive by separatists for a month along with other hostages. Cameroon’s military on Tuesday said it managed to rescue Senator Regina Mundi, after what a spokesman called two days of heavy battles with rebels who had taken her hostage. Military spokesman Serge Cyrille Atongfack said in a press release that the clashes took place in Batibo district in Cameroon’s Northwest region. Atongfack said separatists tried to escape advancing government troops on Sunday with six hostages, including Senator Mundi. But he said the troops stopped the rebels, killing ten of them and capturing three, without any harm to the captives. The military did not identify the other hostages but said they were receiving medical treatment after the ordeal. Rights groups in Cameroon welcomed Senator Mundi’s release after a month in captivity. Voice of America

African Development Bank Invests Billions in Climate Change Adaptation
Funded by both the African Development Bank and the Ghanaian government, the Pokuase road project cost $83.9m, or approximately €78m. Kwabena Bempong, an engineer on the project, said the new road network has not only helped solve congestion and reduced CO2 emissions, it has also dramatically improved safety on one of Ghana’s busiest roads.  “So this interchange, especially on the N6, takes 50,000 vehicles a day and it has reduced accidents to a very minimum level. It has also improved mobility,,, I’m talking about the entire interchange and the local roads.” In addition to building the new interchange, the project also repaired 10km of road in the area. There was also support for the local community, including IT training for more than 12,000 schoolchildren. Women’s groups also received training and had their workplaces renovated. The African Development Bank and African Union once again used this year’s event as an opportunity to strengthen international partnerships. Norway has worked with many African countries for decades. The AFDB and AU are currently working on ways to leverage the Nordic nation’s renewable energy and blue economy expertise, while Norway’s State Secretary Bjorg Snadkjaer said her country was keen to support Africa’s efforts to become food secure. AfricaNews

‘We Must Work Together’ – WHO Says Africa Must Not Be Left Behind in Monkeypox Fight
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is rallying its partners to come up with a plan that won’t leave Africa behind in the fight against monkeypox. “We must avoid having two different responses to monkeypox – one for western countries which are only now experiencing significant transmission and another for Africa,” said the WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti. Twenty-three non-endemic countries in Europe, America and Africa have reported 257 cases to the WHO. Seven African countries reported nearly 1 400 monkeypox cases so far this year –  1 392 suspected and 44 confirmed cases – in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, and Sierra Leone. There has been a noticeable spread in Nigeria. “For example, until 2019, monkeypox in Nigeria was reported mainly in the south of the country but since 2020, the virus has moved into central, eastern, and northern parts of the country,” the WHO said in a statement. The first monkeypox case recorded outside Africa was detected in the United Kingdom in a person who had a travel history to Nigeria in early May. At the time, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) revealed that 15 cases had been recorded since January, but said it did not constitute an outbreak. News24



Photo: Adam Jones