Africa Media Review for March 18, 2024

Niger Junta Announces End to Military Relationship with United States
The military junta ruling Niger — which until last year was seen as a major ally of the United States in West Africa — announced Saturday on state television that it was ending its military relationship with the United States. The announcement by a spokesman for the junta government, which overthrew Niger’s democratically elected president last year, came directly on the heels of a visit to the capital, Niamey, by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee, the State Department’s top official for African affairs, and Gen. Michael E. Langley, who heads U.S. military operations in Africa. … Phee said in an interview with The Washington Post last month that she had emphasized the importance of a swift democratic transition to the Nigerien government, saying that U.S. assistance would remain suspended until Niger sets a timeline for restoring democracy. The Nigerien government has so far refused to set a date for presidential elections, and President Mohamed Bazoum, who had been democratically elected, remains held under house arrest. … Niger, along with neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso — which are also led by military juntas — has grown increasingly close with Russia, which has made concerted efforts in recent years to expand its influence in the region, especially via security partnerships. Washington Post

Burkina Faso: ‘Russia’s African Lab’
“Something has changed, and it is eye-catching. You can feel it immediately, walking the streets and the roundabouts,” said a resident who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions from the government, which has been controlled by the military since a coup in January 2022. In the aftermath of that coup, which overthrew the elected president, Roch Marc Christian Kabore, Russian flags began to appear during anti-French protests. … Organisations such as the African Initiative … and Russia’s cultural centre, The Russian House, are working to promote Russia’s image in the country. … These “influence initiatives” recall the ones in the Central African Republic (CAR), where Russia, through the Wagner mercenary group expanded its influence in the country in 2018 and, from there, onto other countries in the region, such as Mali. Observers refer to the CAR as a “laboratory” for expanding Russian influence in sub-Saharan Africa through Wagner. … “Burkina is becoming the laboratory of the post-Prigozhin Russian presence, where the dominant actor is the Russian state,” Maxime Audinet, a French researcher and expert in Russian information influence, said. Al Jazeera

Military Takeovers Won’t Be Tolerated – African Union
The African Union (AU) has issued a firm warning against military coups across the continent, emphasizing the need to uphold peace and democracy to foster development. Ahead of the 2nd AU Reflection Forum on Unconstitutional Changes of Government scheduled for March 18, 2024, Bankole Adeoye, the African Union’s Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace, and Security, underscored the need to maintain peace and democracy across the continent to propel the needed development. … “It is necessary to restate that democracy, with its shortcomings, remains the best form of governance and we have always asked why. It is inclusive and we all have a role to play in safeguarding democracy and all of us in Africa must rally for democracy.” Commissioner Adeoye made reference to the 2022 Accra Declaration, which was endorsed by African heads of state to help defend democracy and restore constitutional rule in countries led by military juntas and indicated military juntas will not be tolerated. Modern Ghana

Chad’s Opposition Fears France Will Maintain Status Quo after Elections
Mahamat Idriss Deby, who took power at the head of a military junta in April 2021 after the death of his father, long-time president Idriss Deby Itno, is running in the election scheduled for 6 May, with a second round on 22 June. Prime Minister Succes Masra is standing against him. A major issue for Chad is the presence of French troops in the country. Earlier this month France’s special envoy to Africa, Jean-Marie Bockel, met both candidates in the capital, Ndjamena, and said the roughly 1,000 troops stationed would stay. “We need to stay and, of course, we will stay,” he said. … Adoum fears that France and other Western partners will not push for a change in political rule in case it jeopardises their military presence in strategically-located Chad. “Bockel said that he is satisfied with the transition process. Does he know what has been going on during this transition?” Adoum questioned. “The conditions for free and fair elections are not there,” he said. RFI

Ruling Parties’ Tyranny Putting Down Opposition across Continent
Africa’s political parties may last long, but their members come and go, in search of power. But what happens when vibrant opposition movements crack under the weight of internal wrangles? Uganda, Burundi, Zimbabwe and most other countries in the region have seen opposition fights diluted by smart government operatives. This week, Burundi’s Agathon Rwasa, one of the biggest names in the country’s opposition politics, found himself in the cold after his party, CNL, anointed new leaders. But Rwasa read foul play from the ruling CNDD-FDD party. Burundian authorities rejected the allegations even though they deployed heavily at a function in Ngozi, north of Burundi, where the party’s controversial congress happened. Rwasa found solace in the Pan-African Opposition Leaders Network, a grouping of political parties in the opposition on the continent. EastAfrican

Top Senegal Opposition Leader Vows to Help Win March 24 Election, Speaking Out after Prison Release
Top opposition leader Ousmane Sonko vowed Friday to help his team win Senegal’s March 24 presidential election even though he is barred from the ballot, jumping into the campaign in his first public address since being freed from prison a day earlier. Ousmane Sonko’s release late Thursday after months behind bars triggered a mix of jubilation and political uncertainty on the streets of the capital, Dakar. Thousands took to the streets in celebration, reinvigorating enthusiasm for the election that will decide whether the West African country can remain a stable democracy in a region that has experienced a wave of coups and attempted coups. … His key ally, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, who was also freed from prison late Thursday, has been named the opposition’s presidential candidate. In his brief message, Sonko restated some of the key tenets of his campaign: the need to fight corruption in the government and to protect Senegal’s economy from the influence of foreign powers. AP

Tendai Biti Urges SA Voters to Stop Slide towards a Zimbabwe-Style Failed State
Former Zimbabwean finance minister Tendai Biti, has warned South Africans to use their votes on May 29 to prevent South Africa from going the same way as his country — and other regional countries ruled by liberation movements. Speaking at the Daily Maverick’s Gathering Twenty 2024 in Cape Town on Thursday, Biti, now the second vice president of the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change said all six former liberation movements of Southern Africa were gripped by the same liberation ethos which was a preoccupation with power rather than the development of their countries and their people. Unless the ANC transformed itself, it was in danger of dying the way the United National Independence Party (Unip), the independence movement of Zambia and Kanu, the independence movement of Kenya, had died, Biti said. … In South Africa, there was still hope “but the citizen must play his role”, he said. Daily Maverick

Al-Shabab Fighters Killed as Overnight Siege of Mogadishu Hotel Ends
The Reuters news agency reported that three soldiers were killed in clashes, with 27 people wounded. It was not immediately clear how many fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked group were killed. Fighters had stormed the SYL Hotel in a hail of bullets late on Thursday, and al-Shabab claimed responsibility in a brief statement. The attack on the hotel, popular with government officials, demonstrated the group’s continued ability to strike the capital despite a major military offensive by the internationally backed federal government and local clan militias, supported by an African Union (AU) mission and United States air strikes. Al Jazeera

Indian Navy Captures Ship from Somali Pirates, Rescuing 17 Crew Members
Indian naval forces including special commandos have seized a cargo vessel that had been hijacked by Somali pirates and rescued 17 crew members, a spokesperson for the navy said. In a post on the social media platform X on Saturday, the navy said that all 35 pirates on board the Maltese-flagged bulk cargo vessel MV Ruen had surrendered, and the ship had been checked for the presence of illegal arms, ammunition and contraband. … The vessel may have been used as the base for the takeover of a Bangladesh-flagged cargo ship off the coast of Somalia earlier this week, the European Union naval force said. The hijacking of the Ruen in December was the first successful takeover of a vessel involving Somali pirates since 2017 when a crackdown by international navies stopped a rash of seizures in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Al Jazeera

Mistrust Threatens Kenya-Led Peace Talks on South Sudan
Doubts among some hold-out armed groups in South Sudan is threatening the start of peace talks to be mediated by Kenya President William Ruto in Nairobi. A section of the hold-out groups, named so for refusing to sign the 2018 peace deal, is demanding the talks to be returned to Rome to first decide on whether all the parties can trust President. The Society of Sant Egidio in Rome had led the talks between the government and those armed groups until last year. Later, President Ruto accepted to mediate what could be an addendum to the 2018 peace deal between the ruling South Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) under President Salva Kiir and several armed groups. … In December 2023, President Kiir requested President Ruto to take over the mediation lead from the community of Sant Egidio in Rome complaining that the talks had taken long in Rome’s hands without resolution. EastAfrican

Nigeria Military Denies Reprisal Attack after 16 Troops Killed
Men in army uniform ransacked and burned homes in Nigeria’s oil-producing Delta state days after youths killed 16 soldiers sent there to resolve a land dispute, residents said, but the defence chief denied military involvement. Residents said soldiers attacked the riverside Okuoma community of a few hundred people on Sunday while looking for those responsible for Thursday’s killings. Tam Oburumu, who fled from his home, said uniformed men were going around looking for weapons and ransacked houses before torching them. … President Bola Tinubu said he had given the military full authority to hunt down those responsible for killing the soldiers, which he described as an “unconscionable crime against the Nigerian people.” Reuters

UN Troops Wounded as Fighting Flares in DRC
Clashes have broken out between government forces and M23 rebels leaving eight UN peacekeepers injured after a brief lull in fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the United Nations said. One of the peacekeepers was “gravely wounded” in the attack on Saturday at Sake, said UN mission head Bintou Keita. The strategic town lies 20km west of Goma, capital of North Kivu province, and fighting resumed in the area on Saturday, witnesses said, after several days of quiet. By midday Sunday, a precarious calm had settled over the region, the witnesses added. … The Tutsi-led M23 (March 23 Movement) launched a new offensive two weeks ago against several towns, 70km from Goma, extending its control northwards in the Rutshuru and Masisi territory. AFP

UN Warns of Catastrophic Hunger in Sudan in Coming Months
Nearly five million people in Sudan could suffer catastrophic hunger in parts of the war-torn country in the coming months, United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths warned the Security Council on Friday in a note seen by Reuters. Griffiths said acute levels of hunger were being driven by the severe impact of the conflict on agricultural production, damage to major infrastructure and livelihoods, disruptions to trade flows, severe price increases, impediments to humanitarian access and large-scale displacement. … He said it was likely that some people in West and Central Darfur would move into those famine conditions as security worsens and the lean season starts. Cross-border aid delivery from Chad to Darfur is a “critical lifeline,” Griffiths said. Reuters

EU Announces €7.4 Billion Aid Package for Egypt as Concerns Mount over Migration
The European Union on Sunday, March 17 announced a €7.4 billion aid package for cash-strapped Egypt as concerns mount that economic pressure and conflicts in neighboring countries could drive more migrants to European shores. The deal, which drew criticism from rights groups over Egypt’s human rights record, was signed Sunday afternoon in Cairo in a ceremony attended by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and leaders of Belgium, Italy, Austria, Cyprus and Greece. El-Sissi met separately with von der Leyen and other European leaders before the signing ceremony on Sunday afternoon. Le Monde with AFP

Egypt, Mired in Economic Crisis, Sells Off Its Land and Infrastructure to Gulf Countries
It’s a massive lifeline, laid at great expense, along a stretch of Egypt’s Mediterranean coastline. At a time when Egypt is facing a severe shortage of foreign currency, the United Arab Emirates is preparing to inject $35 billion (€32.1 billion) into the country over two months. The bulk of the funds is earmarked for the development of Ras El-Hikma, a 170-million-square-meter peninsula (the size of the Arcachon Basin), stretching over some 50 kilometers of white-sand beaches. Behind this acquisition is the Emirati sovereign wealth fund, Abu Dhabi Developmental Holding Company (ADQ), headed by Sheikh Tahnoun Ben Zayed, brother of the ruler of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed Ben Zayed Al Nahyane. ADQ, which will manage the project, aims to make Ras El-Hikma “one of the largest new cities developed by a private consortium” by transforming it into a luxury tourist destination coupled with a financial center and a free zone. Le Monde

The Malawi WhatsApp Group That Saved Women Trafficked to Oman
A 32-year-old woman breaks down in tears as she relives the abuse she experienced when, hoping for a better life, she found herself working as a maid in Oman. Georgina, who like all the trafficked women interviewed by the BBC opted to only use her first name, believed she had been recruited to work as a driver in Dubai. She had owned a small business in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital, and was managing when approached by an agent saying she could earn more money in the Middle East. It was not until the plane landed in Muscat, the capital of Oman, that she realised she had been deceived and subsequently trapped by a family who made her work gruelling hours, seven days a week. “I reached a point where I couldn’t take it,” she says, detailing how she got as little as two hours’ sleep. She had not been there long when her boss began forcing her to have sex with him, threatening to shoot her if she said anything. … After several weeks, Georgina became desperate and in a post on Facebook she begged for someone to help her. Thousands of miles away in the US state of New Hampshire, 38-year-old Malawian social media activist Pililani Mombe Nyoni saw her message and began to investigate. BBC

Gulf Countries Are Becoming Major Players in Africa
Mining indaba, Africa’s biggest mining conference, is a geological jamboree. But the latest bash, held in Cape Town in February, was also a geopolitical spectacle. For as well as the usual Chinese and Western firms there were arrivistes from the Gulf. Manara Minerals, a state-backed Saudi Arabian fund, has up to $15bn to spend on foreign mines. Also browsing is the International Holding Company, an Emirati conglomerate with a market capitalisation of $240bn, around that of Blackrock and bp combined; in November its minerals arm bought a 51% stake in a Zambian copper mine. Gulf interest in African mining is part of a broader trend. The United Arab Emirates (uae), Saudi Arabia and Qatar are increasingly influential in Africa. The continent is a destination for their capital, an arena for their rivalries and a test of their global ambitions. … The uae has used economic might and supplies of weaponry to stitch together a web of clients in north-east Africa. These include Khalifa Haftar, a Libyan strongman; Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo, a Sudanese warlord better known as Hemedti; and Chad’s president, Mahamat Déby. The uae’s support for Hemedti’s Rapid Support Forces in Sudan’s year-long civil war… Economist