Africa Media Review for March 21, 2024

Senegal Votes Sunday in a Presidential Election That Has Fired Up Political Tensions
Senegal votes Sunday in a tightly contested presidential election that has fired up political tensions and tested one of West Africa’s most stable democracies. The election will take place after much uncertainty following President Macky Sall’s unsuccessful effort to delay the vote until the end of the year, sparking violent protests…Sunday’s election is set to be Senegal’s fourth democratic transfer of power since it gained independence from France in 1960. The country is viewed as a pillar of stability in a region that has seen dozens of coups and attempted coups in recent years. Alioune Tine, founder of Afrikajom, a Senegalese think tank, told the Associated Press that Sunday’s election had set a grim record in the country’s democratic history, with rights groups accusing Sall’s government of repressing the media, civil society and the opposition. “It was the longest and most violent presidential election process, with the most deaths, injuries and political detainees,” said Tine. AP

Senegal President Macky Sall Rejects Blame for Election Chaos
Senegal’s president has told the BBC he does not regret delaying this year’s elections, a move that sparked deadly protests. Macky Sall said he did not make the decision alone – he was responding to concerns raised by parliamentarians. After a violent backlash, many feared the relatively stable nation was slipping into political crisis. But the attempt to push the election back by 10 months was blocked by Senegal’s top court. The vote will now take place on Sunday – a month after it was initially due…”I have no apology to make, I have done nothing wrong,” President Sall told the BBC…Critics accused Mr Sall of trying to stay on beyond his term of office…President Sall has served two terms in office – the maximum allowed by Senegal’s constitution. In his interview with the BBC, he repeated his pledge not to overstay. “If the next president is not elected on the 24th [March], I’m leaving on 2 April regardless. That is the deadline, and I don’t intend to stay on another day,” he said. BBC

Cameroon’s Opposition Says It Won’t Stop Efforts to Oust Biya Despite Threats
The Cameroon government has threatened to arrest members of two opposition parties, accusing them of seeking to create coalitions and alliances for a transitional government to oust 90-year-old President Paul Biya, who has been in power for more than four decades. Territorial Administration Minister Paul Atanga Nji last week ordered an end to activities of the Political Alliance for Change and the Alliance for Political Transition in Cameroon. Nji said that only legally recognized political parties have the right to exercise political activities in Cameroon and that people who join the two illegal alliances would be arrested. Cameroon opposition and civil society groups say the recent ban on activities of the two alliances is another indication that Cameroon disrespects democracy and fundamental rights to freedoms. VOA

African Democracy a ‘Ship in Troubled Waters’, Says AU Commission
With the second elections of the year in Africa, due in Senegal on Sunday, already troubled – after a disputed one in the Comoros in January – democracy on the continent is like “a ship in troubled waters”, according to the AU. The second African Union (AU) Reflection Forum on Unconstitutional Change of Government in Accra, Ghana, just wrapped up with that stark assessment. Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission vice president Damtien Tchintchibidja said her region, despite being the first to usher in democracy in Africa, had become known for coups and unconstitutional changes of governments. She said this was because the social contract had been torn apart. “The recent coups d’état in some of our member states are a clear indication that we must renew our social contract, strengthen our democratic institutions, and re-focus on delivery-oriented governance,” she said…Speaking on behalf of AU Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Bankole Adeoye said Africa had reached a tipping point. He added that Africa should “return to being an axis of progressive democracy, a continuum of peace, stability and sustainable development”, this is done through enforcing the continent’s zero tolerance to unconstitutional changes in governance. News24

As Army Operations Ramp Up in Mali, Rebel Groups Impose ‘Suffocating’ Blockades
Armed groups in Mali are increasingly deploying siege tactics as a tool of war, targeting ever larger towns and regions, disrupting local economies, and creating major access problems for humanitarian groups that are already facing constraints due to the conflict. Both jihadist and non-jihadist groups have enforced recent blockades on major northern towns and supply roads leading to neighbouring countries, while smaller-scale sieges – which can drag on for months if not years – are continuing in parts of central Mali…The increase in blockades – which follows the closure of a UN peacekeeping mission that the junta asked to leave last year – is worsening an already fragile humanitarian situation…Most blockades in recent years have been carried out by jihadists and have targeted villages in central parts of Mali…More recent blockades have targeted towns and roads in the north – where the army has expanded its footprint – and the tactic has been adopted by a coalition of non-jihadist armed groups whose peace deal with the government collapsed last year. The New Humanitarian

Taps Have Run Dry across South Africa’s Largest City in an Unprecedented Water Crisis
Residents rich and poor have never seen a shortage of this severity. While hot weather has shrunk reservoirs, crumbling infrastructure after decades of neglect is also largely to blame. The public’s frustration is a danger sign for the ruling African National Congress, whose comfortable hold on power since the end of apartheid in the 1990s faces its most serious challenge in an election this year. A country already famous for its hourslong electricity shortages is now adopting a term called “watershedding” — the practice of going without water, from the term loadshedding, or the practice of going without power…Residents of Johannesburg and surrounding areas are long used to seeing water shortages — just not across the whole region at once…Outraged activists and residents call this a crisis years in the making. They blame officials’ poor management and the failure to maintain aging water infrastructure. AP

South Africa: Court Freezes Zuma’s Accounts in Pool Saga
A South African bank on Wednesday announced a partial freeze on accounts of ex-president Jacob Zuma, two months ahead of a general election in which he is hoping to relaunch his political career. The First National Bank (FNB) said a court ordered the measure over a dispute related to money spent by the 81-year-old to renovate his home and install a swimming pool when he was president…The partial account freeze is likely to further taint the reputation of graft-accused Zuma, who has joined an opposition group seeking to cut into the vote share of his old home, the African National Congress (ANC). Zuma’s new party, uMkhonto We Sizwe (MK) or Spear of the Nation, reacted angrily, saying the measure was politically motivated…FNB said the court order, issued at the end of February, was the result of legal action taken by the liquidators of another bank, which is owed money by Zuma. AFP

Conflict Driving Hunger Crisis in Sudan, UN Officials Tell Security Council
Eleven months of brutal fighting is driving a hunger crisis in Sudan, with some areas likely to experience catastrophic levels of food insecurity by the lean season in May, the UN Security Council heard on Wednesday…The meeting was convened following [UN humanitarian affairs office] OCHA’s submission of a white paper on food insecurity in Sudan last Friday. This was done in line with a 2018 Council resolution that requests the UN Secretary-General to promptly report when the risk of conflict-induced famine and widespread food insecurity occurs…Fighting has restricted agricultural production, damaged major infrastructure, caused prices to spiral and disrupted trade flows, among other devastating impacts. UN News

Sudan Women’s Groups Demand UN Probe into Rape in Conflict Zones
Women’s groups have called upon the UN mechanism responsible for investigating human rights violations in Sudan to promptly conduct an urgent investigation into reports of rape crimes targeting women and girls in conflict zones…On March 19, 68 women groups, including the West Darfur Sexual Equality Network and the Sudanese Women Media Network, submitted a critical memorandum seen by Sudan Tribune. The document highlights the worsening human rights situation in Al-Jazirah State since its takeover in December 2023…The women’s advocacy groups expressed hope that the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission would investigate these crimes. They emphasized the importance of impartial investigations into all reported violations. Sudan Tribune

Ethiopia’s Pharmacies Are Running Short of Drugs Due to Its Forex Crisis
Ethiopia, like many African countries, has a high dependence on imports to maintain its medical supply chain. It is currently grappling with a chronic foreign currency deficit which has made it hard to secure the dollars needed to import goods. There is a real fear that the situation could get worse. Earlier this year it was reported that the National Bank had less than $1 billion in its reserves to facilitate imports — enough for just under a month of imports — prolonging the shortage of forex to pharmaceutical imports…The situation has forced many importers to rely on contraband medicines. The prices are exorbitant since they are based on the black market currency exchange rate that is trading double the official rate. The market is also awash with counterfeit products that are of substandard quality. Semafor

Kenyan Doctors Stop Providing Emergency Services at Public Hospitals as Strike Enters Second Week
Kenyan doctors stopped providing emergency services at public hospitals on Thursday, as they escalated a national strike that entered its second week. Thousands of doctors have stayed away from hospitals since last Thursday over poor pay and working conditions, despite a court order calling for talks between the doctors and the Health Ministry. Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union Secretary-General Dr. Davji Bhimji said the doctors escalated the strike and stopped providing bare minimum services because the government had shown no efforts to resolve the labor dispute…An Associated Press journalist confirmed on Thursday morning that emergency services at the Kenyatta national referral hospital in the capital, Nairobi, had resumed…The striking doctors accuse the government of failing to implement a raft of promises, including a collective bargaining agreement signed in 2017 after a 100-day strike that saw people die from lack of care. A meeting between the union, ministry officials and State House officials is also due to be held on Thursday aimed at resolving the stand-off, which has left thousands of Kenyans without much-needed public health services. AP

Nigeria: Security Operatives Rescue 20 Victims
A joint team of security operatives on Wednesday rescued 20 victims of kidnapping in Akoko-Edo Local Government Area of Edo State, South-south Nigeria. The team, comprising the police, military, and a vigilante group, rescued the victims from the kidnappers’ den in a bush along Lakpese Road in Akoko-Edo. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) gathered that 41 passengers plying the road were on Monday abducted by some gunmen suspected to be kidnappers. A source told NAN that the gunmen emerged from the bush to accost the vehicles, and led the passengers into the bush…When contacted, the police spokesperson in Edo, Chidi Nwabuzor, confirmed the rescue of the 20 victims. News Agency of Nigeria

Somali Pirates’ Return Adds to Crisis for Global Shipping Companies
More than 20 attempted hijackings since November have driven up prices for armed security guards and insurance coverage and raised the spectre of possible ransom payments, according to five industry representatives. Two Somali gang members told Reuters they were taking advantage of the distraction provided by Houthi strikes several hundred nautical miles to the north to get back into piracy after lying dormant for nearly a decade…The waterways off Somalia include some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes…[The pirates’] raids have extended the area in which insurers impose additional war risk premiums on ships. Those premiums are getting more expensive for voyages through the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to the price tag for a typical seven-day voyage, insurance industry officials said. Growing demand for private armed guards is also driving up prices. Reuters