Africa Media Review for June 7, 2022

‘From Russia with Love’: A Putin Ally Mines Gold and Plays Favorites in Sudan
In a scorched, gold-rich area 200 miles north of the Sudanese capital, where fortunes spring from desert-hewn rock, a mysterious foreign operator dominates the business. Locals call it “The Russian Company” — a tightly guarded plant with shining towers, deep in the desert, that processes mounds of dusty ore into bars of semirefined gold. “The Russians pay the best,” said Ammar al-Amir, a miner and community leader in al-Ibediyya, a hardscrabble mining town 10 miles from the plant. “Otherwise, we don’t know much about them.” In fact, Sudanese company and government records show, the gold mine is one outpost of the Wagner Group, an opaque network of Russian mercenaries, mining companies and political influence operations — controlled by a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — that is expanding aggressively across a swath of Africa. Best known as a supplier of hired guns, Wagner has in recent years evolved into a far broader and more sophisticated tool of Kremlin power, according to experts and Western officials tracking its expansion. Rather than a single entity, Wagner has come to describe interlinked war-fighting, moneymaking and influence-peddling operations, low-cost and deniable, that serve Mr. Putin’s ambitions on a continent where support for Russia is relatively high. New York Times

Russia Seeks Buyers for Plundered Ukraine Grain, U.S. Warns
Russia has bombed, blockaded and plundered the grain production capacity of Ukraine, which accounts for one-tenth of global wheat exports, resulting in dire forecasts of increased hunger and of spiking food prices around the world. Now, the United States has warned that the Kremlin is trying to profit from that plunder by selling stolen wheat to drought-stricken countries in Africa, some facing possible famine. In mid-May, the United States sent an alert to 14 countries, mostly in Africa, that Russian cargo vessels were leaving ports near Ukraine laden with what a State Department cable described as “stolen Ukrainian grain.” The cable identified by name three Russian cargo vessels it said were suspected of transporting it. The American alert about the grain has only sharpened the dilemma for African countries, many already feeling trapped between East and West, as they potentially face a hard choice between, on one hand, benefiting from possible war crimes and displeasing a powerful Western ally, and on the other, refusing cheap food at a time when wheat prices are soaring and hundreds of thousands of people are starving…On Friday, the head of the African Union, President Macky Sall of Senegal, met in Russia with President Vladimir V. Putin, in an effort to secure grain supplies from the country. Critics said the trip, during which Mr. Sall referred to his “dear friend Vladimir,” played straight into Mr. Putin’s hands by offering him yet another tool to leverage divisions in the international response to his brutal assault on Ukraine. But many African nations are already ambivalent about the punishing Western campaign of sanctions against Russia for reasons that include their dependence on Russian arms sales, lingering Cold War-era sympathies and perceptions of Western double standards. On top of that, the continent is suffering badly. New York Times

Church Attack Rattles Area of Nigeria Where Religious Violence Is Rare
The first shots rang out as Mass was drawing to a close at the small church in the Nigerian town of Owo. “The bomb exploded, and we were surrounded everywhere — they surrounded the church,” said 50-year-old Shalom, who was among the worshipers at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church on Sunday when it was stormed by gunmen who opened fire on the panicked crowd and detonated explosives. She declined to give her last name for fear of reprisals. “I managed to escape, and I didn’t see their faces. It was horrible,” she added, saying she lost count of the dead as she rushed to safety. Dozens were feared killed and scores injured in the attack in the southwestern state of Ondo, where religious violence is rare. Graphic videos from the scene show bloodied bodies on the floor, including women and children. Local media put the death toll as high as 50, but police have yet to confirm the figure or release full details of the attack. No group has asserted responsibility. Most violence in Nigeria has taken place in the northeast, where Boko Haram has waged an Islamist insurgency for more than a decade, regularly attacking churches and kidnapping schoolchildren. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the region and millions displaced. Violence in the southwest, by contrast, has mainly been marked by kidnappings for ransom and conflict between farmers and herders from the Yoruba ethnic group. Washington Post

Tunisia’s Powerful Labor Union Is Thwarting President Saied’s Ambitions
Last July, Tunisian President Kais Saied embarked on a dramatic mission to rewrite Tunisia’s politics and set the country on what he sees as a dynamic and uncharted course. But today, few can even agree where Tunisia currently is in its political evolution. For supporters of the country’s political parties, Tunisia stands prisoner to an emerging and illegitimate autocracy. For supporters of the president, the country is embarking on a bold constitutional project. However, for the large swaths of the Tunisian public who are broadly supportive of the president but unclear as to his means or aims, the future is hard to discern. From the onset, ignoring the withering economy, the ingrained unemployment, and the widespread perception of political corruption that first propelled him to power, Saied’s singular focus has been on redrawing Tunisia’s 2014 constitution to reflect a “bottom up” model of democracy. Though this may not be what Tunisia ends up getting, the model as envisioned vests sovereignty in a series of local councils, elected on the personal qualities of their members rather than party affiliation, who would then appoint regional and national bodies to advise the president. Now, after dismissing parliament and purging the judiciary, Saied appears tantalizingly close to achieving that goal. Only one political force stands in his way: the Tunisian General Labor Union (known by its French acronym, UGTT)—the one body with enough power to derail Saied’s plans to overhaul the constitution and his ability to negotiate a new deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Foreign Policy

Tunisia Judges Go on Strike over Saied ‘Interference’ After 57 Colleagues Sacked
Tunisian judges launched a week-long strike Monday in protest at President Kais Saied’s “interference” in the judiciary, days after he sacked 57 of their colleagues. Saied—who suspended parliament in a power grab last July—issued a new decree last week extending his control over the judiciary, his latest move against the only democratic system to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings. On Saturday, four judges’ unions announced a nationwide court strike, strongly condemning the president’s “continued interference in the judiciary.” They accused Saied of laying off judges “without the slightest recourse to disciplinary procedures” in an affront to the constitution. The president had at an earlier cabinet meeting accused unnamed judges of corruption, stalling “terrorism” cases, sexual harassment, collusion with political parties and obstruction of justice. Mourad Massoudi, head of the Young Judges’ Union, told AFP on Monday that “the strike started today at all courts across the country, and appears to have been widely observed.” Courts will stay open for terrorism cases. France 24

Mali Junta Announces Two-Year Delay Until Democratic Rule
Mali’s military rulers announced on Monday they would delay until March 2024 a return to civilian rule following double coups that have been denounced by countries in the region and foreign powers. Junta leader Colonel Assimi Goita signed a decree read out on state television saying that “the duration of the transition is fixed at 24 months (from) March 26, 2022.” Mali has undergone two military coups since August 2020, when the army ousted elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.  Its military rulers had pledged to return power to civilians by February 2022 but subsequently extended the timetable, incurring regional sanctions. Mali is struggling under those sanctions imposed by other countries in West Africa for its perceived foot-dragging over restoring civilian rule. Anger at the mounting toll in the country’s battle against jihadists unleashed protests against Keita, paving the way for the coup by disgruntled army officers in August 2020. A second de-facto coup occurred in May 2021, when strongman Goita pushed out an interim civilian government and took over the presidency. The violence gripping Mali since 2012 has involved attacks by jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State group, but also an assortment of self-declared militias and bandits. France 24

Chad Opposition Leaders Get One-Year Suspended Terms
Six opposition leaders arrested after violent anti-French protests in N’Djamena were on Monday handed one-year suspended sentences for disturbing public order, Chad’s public prosecutor told AFP. They were also fined 10 million CFA francs, or about 15,000 euros, said prosecutor Moussa Wade Djibrine, who had sought two-year prison terms. The swift trial opened Monday morning at a court at Moussoro, around 300 kilometers (180 miles) from the capital, with defense lawyers boycotting the hearing amid a heavy police presence. The case comes against a backdrop of political tension with a military junta in power following the death of the country’s veteran leader more than a year ago. An authorized march in the capital on May 14 against France’s military presence in Chad turned violent. Seven petrol stations belonging to the French oil major Total were attacked and 12 police officers injured, according to a police toll. In the aftermath, the authorities carried out a string of arrests among the march organizers, who denied any responsibility for the violence. Voice of America

DRC, Rwanda Must Address Historical Differences, Opposition Leader Says
To address the long-standing tensions between neighbours Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) leaders should correct historical differences first, says a former DRC presidential candidate. In an interview with News24, the leader of the Engagement for Citizenship and Development party, Martin Madidi Fayulu who controversially lost the presidential poll in 2018, said the root origins of rebel groups should be understood and what they stood for today. “First, those in power should understand what M23 rebels, as well as their rivals, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), seek to achieve today and in the past. They also have to concretely establish their direct financiers instead of counter-accusations,” he added. In 2013, regional leaders came up with the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and region. News 24

South Africa’s President Faces Probe over Unreported Theft
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is facing a criminal investigation after a revelation that he failed to report the theft of about $4 million in cash from his farm in northern Limpopo province. An account of the theft is contained in an affidavit by the country’s former head of intelligence Arthur Fraser, who has opened a case against Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa has not denied the theft but claims that he reported it to the head of his VIP Protection unit, who did not report it to the police. In South Africa it is illegal not to report a crime and according to Fraser’s affidavit, Ramaphosa tried to conceal the theft, which happened in February 2020 when he was attending an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Several opposition parties have called for a full investigation into the theft, including whether the amount of foreign currency allegedly stolen had been declared to the South African Revenue Service. The Democratic Alliance, the country’s biggest opposition party, said Ramaphosa should come clean about the circumstances surrounding the theft and why it was not reported to the police. “The president is facing a crisis of credibility and cannot hide behind procedural smokescreens to avoid presenting South Africans with the full truth around the money that was stolen from his farm, and the subsequent cover-up,” the opposition party’s leader John Steenhuisen said in a statement. AP

Nigeria’s Buhari Has No Preferred Successor, Spokesman Says
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has no preferred candidate from the ruling All Progressives Party (APC) to succeed him, his spokesman said on Monday, a day before a convention to pick the party’s flag bearer for elections early next year. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Bola Tinubu, a powerful former Lagos state governor, are seen as frontrunners to represent the APC during the presidential vote next February. Buhari, who is constitutionally barred from contesting, will step down next year after eight years in office, leading to intense speculation on whom Buhari will back as his preferred successor. But the president’s spokesman Garba Shehu said Buhari told APC governors from northern Nigeria during a meeting on Monday that he has “no preferred candidate,” and has “anointed no one.” The governors separately told reporters that they were pushing for a presidential candidate from the mostly Christian south to succeed Buhari, a Muslim from northern Nigeria. Reuters