Africa Media Review for June 21, 2023

Sierra Leone Gears Up for Presidential Election amid Economic Crisis, Looming Protests
With mounting frustration due to an ailing economy, rising unemployment and looming deadly protests, Sierra Leoneans are heading to the polls on Saturday, June 24, to select their next president. Thirteen people are vying for the top job in the west African country. But experts say it’s likely to be a two-horse race between incumbent President Julius Maada Bio — elected in 2018 and fighting for his second term — and Samura Kamara, the head of the All People’s Congress Party, Sierra Leon’s main opposition camp. The winner needs 55% of the vote to clinch victory in the first round or it goes into a runoff within two weeks. More than three million people are registered to vote in the coming week. This would mark the country’s fifth presidential election since the end of a brutal 11-year civil war — more than two decades ago — which left tens of thousands dead and destroyed the country’s economy. Sierra Leone had witnessed two peaceful transfers of power since, from the ruling party to the opposition party. … Nearly 60% of Sierra Leone’s population of more than seven million are facing poverty, with youth unemployment being one of the highest in West Africa. Multiple deadly anti-government protests rocked the country, with calls for Bio to step down. Fueled by a rise in cost of living, the latest one in August, left dozens dead, including security forces. … Rights groups warn that economic troubles are compounding distrust in a population already skeptical of government institutions… Independent

France Targets Russian and Wagner Disinformation in Africa
Operating from the ornate 19th century halls of the foreign ministry in the Quai D’Orsay in Paris, a team of 20 diplomats, ex-journalists, data analysts and media watchers typed away at their computers with televisions in the background when Reuters visited the unit in April. In coordination with the French state’s service for Vigilance and Protection against Foreign Digital Interference (Viginum), the unit has mapped about 100 Russian- or Wagner-linked accounts putting out anti-French content… Russia and Wagner have a track record of media manipulation and disinformation, which Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has admitted to. The European Union sanctioned Wagner in February for alleged rights abuses and spreading disinformation, including in Africa. … The new media monitoring unit differs from a previous French effort, revealed by Facebook-owner Meta in 2020, that fought back online against Wagner-linked networks with fake accounts of its own. … The media monitoring unit emerged last July, the same month that France withdrew thousands of troops from Mali, a former colony in West Africa. A similar pull-out followed in neighbouring Burkina Faso at the start of this year – steps prompted in part by military coups and the presence of Wagner mercenaries in the region. … The new team shares its information with embassies, other French ministries, intelligence agencies and France’s media regulator. … “If people don’t agree they must be able to express themselves,” said a French official involved in the Africa strategy. “You have to distinguish what is in the public debate and what is manipulation.” Reuters

Counter-Terrorism Experts Say Africa Is the World’s Terrorism Hot Spot with Half of 2022′s Victims
Counter-terrorism experts said Tuesday that Africa is now the world’s terrorism hot spot, with half of the victims killed last year in sub-Saharan Africa… The experts see other trends: Deteriorating global security is making the terrorism threat “more complex and decentralized.” Extremists are increasingly using sophisticated technology, and drones and artificial intelligence have opened new ways to plan and carry out attacks. The United Nations this week is hosting its third high-level conference of heads of counter-terrorism agencies. Tuesday’s panel on assessing current and emerging terrorist trends and threats brought together experts from the U.N., Interpol, Russia, the United States and Qatar, and Google’s senior manager for strategic intelligence. … The overall theme for the week is addressing terrorism through reinvigorated international cooperation. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said during Monday’s opening session the key is to unite not only in foiling attacks but also critically to focus on preventing terrorism by tackling poverty, discrimination, poor infrastructure, gross human rights violations and other underlying drivers. AP

Concern over Mali’s Move to Kick Out UN Peacekeepers
Mali’s decision to kick out the UN peacekeeping mission is eliciting concerns from regional and international powers over its implication on the security of the region. … Mali has had two coups in the past three years and its ties to Russia have also complicated the relationship with the West. The US and France have accused Russia of fermenting insecurity in the region through the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group, a private army that reportedly entered Mali last year. … The UN described the conflict in Mali as the deadliest, after more than 300 of its 15, 000 troops have been killed there. … Mali’s intention to cut ties with the UN mission has simmered since July last year, when the junta-led administration suspended troop rotations of the mission. That followed the detention of 49 troops from neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire, who were said to be linked to the UN mission. … In August that same year, the junta expelled Minusma spokesman Olivier Salgado. And this year in February, it declared a senior official of the mission persona non grata. … The announcement by the Malians comes about a week after reports that Junta leader Col Goitta spoke with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on phone. EastAfrican

Mali Authorities Say They Will Prosecute Those behind UN Report That Accused Military of Abuses
Malian authorities will launch an espionage prosecution against the people behind a U.N. report that accused the country’s military of committing human rights violations alongside Russian mercenaries, Mali’s public prosecutor said. The announcement comes amid growing uncertainty about the future of the U.N.’s peacekeeping mission in Mali after Foreign Affairs Minister Abdoulaye Diop recently made a formal request for all peacekeepers to depart immediately. The May report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights accused the Malian army and Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group of killing at least 500 civilians … in Moura, located in central Mali. Through interviews with witnesses, alongside analysis of forensic and satellite data, the U.N. report found “strong indications” of summary executions, torture, and rape by Malian and foreign forces in the March 2022 raid. AP

Rwanda Criticised for Backing Rebels in DRC Accused of Atrocities
The US and EU are urging Rwanda to stop support for rebels committing atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo after a UN report cited “evidence of direct interventions” by Kigali’s armed forces in its mineral-rich neighbour. The report, submitted to the UN Security Council, further raises pressure on Paul Kagame, the Rwandan president, a longstanding western ally whose government last year struck a controversial deal to accept asylum seekers who arrive in Britain illegally. At issue is Rwanda’s alleged support for M23, a group that resurfaced in 2021 to wage an offensive in the conflict-ridden eastern DRC. The M23, which the US, EU and DRC say is backed by Kigali, has been accused of mass killings and the rape of civilians. Almost 1mn people have been displaced by violence since the M23’s resurgence, the International Organization for Migration said in April. The report by a UN group of experts found evidence of “direct interventions” by the Rwandan military on DRC territory, either to reinforce M23 combatants or to conduct military operations against opposing armed Hutu groups, such as the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda. FT

Dozens Killed in Somalia’s Puntland after Parliament Debate
More than two dozen people were killed during heavy fighting in Somalia’s semi-autonomous state of Puntland. Clashes broke out on Tuesday in the state capital Garowe as the local parliament debated changes to the voting system. At least 26 people died, 16 of them soldiers, while 30 others were wounded, said Dr Abdirsak Ahmed who works at Garowe Public Hospital where some of the bodies were taken. Three other witnesses described heavy fighting that erupted after opposition groups accused Puntland’s leader, Said Abdullahi Deni, of seeking constitutional changes that would extend his term in office beyond January next year, or help tip the ballot in his favour. … Somalia’s Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre issued an urgent appeal for the rivals to reconcile their differences through dialogue “rather than the barrel of a gun.” “Puntland was the home of peace and after 20 years of having a government, it is unacceptable to have a war breaking out in its capital,” he said. Al Jazeera

Somalia Replaces Army Chief amid Al Shabaab Resurgence
Somalia has fired its army chief, Maj-Gen Odowa Yusuf Rage, as the country faced a resurgence of Al Shabaab attacks, months after it had raised its tempo against the militants. Rage, 44, who had trained in Uganda and Turkey, had been the youngest army chief named in modern Somalia, having been appointed by former President Mohamed Farmaajo in 2019. He will now be replaced by Brig-Gen Ibrahim Sheikh Muhydin as chief of the defence force Somalia National Army (SNA). A dispatch issued after the Council of Ministers meeting that was chaired by Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre said it had accepted a proposal by the Ministry of Defence, which nominated Muhydin as the new SNA commander. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud endorsed the nomination by signing a decree, officially appointing Brig-Gen Mohydin to the post. The change comes at a time President Mohamud is pushing for what he termed as ‘the second phase’ to push Al Shabaab extremists out of the territories under its control. EastAfrican

Sudanese Civilians Killed and Shot at as They Flee Darfur City by Foot
An increasing number of Sudanese civilians fleeing El Geneina, a city in Darfur hit by repeated militia attacks, have been killed or shot at as they tried to escape by foot to Chad since last week, witnesses said. The violence in El Geneina over the past two months has been driven by militias from Arab nomadic tribes along with members of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a military faction engaged in a power struggle with Sudan’s army in the capital, Khartoum, witnesses and activists said. … Reuters spoke to three witnesses who sustained gunshot wounds as they tried to flee El Geneina and to more than a dozen witnesses who said they had seen violence on the route from the city. It was not clear how many people had been killed in recent days. Medical charity MSF said on Monday that some 15,000 people had fled West Darfur over the previous four days, and it said many arrivals reported seeing people shot and killed as they tried to escape El Geneina. MSF also reported rapes. Reuters

Sudan Conflict Shows How Peace Could Unravel in South Sudan If World Doesn’t Watch, UN Envoy Says
The U.N. envoy for South Sudan warned the Security Council Tuesday not to take its eyes off the world’s newest nation, saying the conflict in neighboring Sudan shows “how quickly hard-won peace gains can unravel.” Nicholas Haysom said the impact of the conflict is “unfurling along multiple fronts,” with over 117,000 women, children and men fleeing into South Sudan, where violent clashes also persist, and the government is struggling to implement the most challenging provisions of a fragile 2018 power-sharing agreement and move toward the country’s first elections as an independent nation. He said the capacity of the government and humanitarian organizations to absorb the newcomers – 93% of them South Sudanese returning to the country – “is under strain,” with limited local resources and bottlenecks in border towns, especially Renk. The conflict, which broke out in mid-April capping months of increasing tensions between the leaders of Sudan’s military and powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces, has also had an economic impact in already fragile South Sudan, Haysom said. AP

US Sanctions South Sudan Officials over Conflict-Related Rape
The United States on Tuesday sanctioned two South Sudanese officials in relation to “conflict-related sexual violence”, alongside two leaders of the Islamic State (IS) group. The Treasury Department said that the moves were the first results of a dedicated US government focus on conflict-related sexual violence, following a memorandum on the issue signed by President Joe Biden last November. “In the case of South Sudan, the two individuals designated were found to have abused their positions of political and military authority to carry out acts of sexual violence against citizens,” the Treasury Department said. These included cases of abduction and rape that happened under the individuals’ watch, or in which they participated. The two South Sudanese officials were named as James Nando, a major general in the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, and Alfred Futuyo, governor of Western Equatoria. AFP

‘The Youth Will Fight’: Why Children Have Joined Senegal Protests
… The widespread demonstrations were the latest in a cycle of unrest in the west African country stretching back two years. They were notable on two counts: the level of violence inflicted and the involvement of young people, including children who appeared to be well under 10 years old. “We, the youth, will fight until order has been restored,” Youssouf said. In a region plagued by a growing jihadist insurgency and frequent military coups, Senegal has been praised for its stability and adherence to democratic norms. But frustrations have grown in recent years over factors including high youth unemployment and accusations of systemic corruption. Most of the anger has been directed towards the Senegalese president, Macky Sall, who, since taking office in 2012, has cracked down on press freedom, jailed journalists and political opponents, and altered the constitution to increase term limits. Many fear he will exploit the amendment to justify a third run for the presidency – a move he has not ruled out. Guardian

Victims of Uganda School Attack Buried as Army Frees Some Captives from Rebels
Families across western Uganda’s Kasese district early this week held funerals for students among the 42 people killed in an apparent attack by militants on the Lhubiriha Secondary School late Friday. Funerals began Sunday as bodies were released into the custody of family members. By Monday, officials at Bwera General, the district’s main hospital, had conducted 25 post-mortems, Uganda Police Force through its spokesperson Fred Enanga said in a statement. Some families whose children were burned beyond recognition are waiting for DNA results to identify their remains. Masereka Loti, 50, lives less than a mile from the school and heard the raid in progress. “We knew the enemy had attacked, so in the morning, we went straight to the mortuary,” he said. … Loti said his brother “had dreams of educating his children,” and was working his job as a security guard to put them through school. Zephanius and Elton were buried side by side on Sunday at their family home. … The raid was the deadliest attack in Uganda since the July twin bombings in 2010 that killed 76 people in Kampala, the capital. In that attack, al-Shabab insurgents targeted an outdoor World Cup screening. Washington Post

South Africa, Netherlands, Denmark Launch Green Fund
South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa and the governments of the Netherlands and Denmark launched a $1 billion green hydrogen fund to help kick-start an industry in the fight against climate change. South Africa’s energy transition plan to set up an export hub for green hydrogen aims to use renewable energy without producing greenhouse gas emissions. During a business forum held at the Capital hotel in Pretoria, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said South Africa has what it take to lead the fight against climate change. “With its enormous renewable resources, South Africa is uniquely positioned to become a key player in the global hydrogen market, and the Netherlands is equally well-positioned to become a strategic partner. First as a partner for local development in the fields of renewable energy, hydrogen and infrastructure, and also as a hub for hydrogen imports,” he said. Africanews with AFP