Africa Media Review for March 22, 2018

Most of Africa’s Leaders Sign On to Continent-Wide Free Trade Pact
More than 40 African countries signed a free trade pact on Wednesday that the nations hope will fulfill a long-held dream of greater economic integration on the continent. But among the holdouts are two of Africa’s biggest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, raising concerns about whether the agreement can make good on its promises. The African Continental Free Trade Area, which has been in the works for two years, aims to unite participating countries into a single trading market that would be one of the largest free trade zones in the world since the World Trade Organization was created in 1995. Of Africa’s 55 countries, 44 signed the pact. “Amongst African states in general, there has long been a hankering for a trade agreement that transcends national boundaries,” said John Campbell, a senior fellow and Africa expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “In Africa more than any other part of the world, national boundaries are seen as artificial, essentially as a colonial imposition.”  The New York Times

The Story behind Africa’s Free Trade Dream
The European Union and its free trade agreement took decades to establish. Africa is now hoping it can achieve the same in a fraction of the time. But with Nigeria pulling out, questions are being raised over just how achievable it really is. The vision is a free trade deal encompassing 1.2 billion people stretching from Cape Town to Cairo. Goods, services and perhaps labour, flowing freely in and out of more than 50 African countries. It could create tens of thousands of jobs and significantly reduce unemployment among the continent’s youthful population. BBC

US Sanctions South Sudan Oil Companies to Choke Off War Funds
The United States on Wednesday placed sanctions on 15 South Sudanese oil-linked operators it said were substantial sources of revenues for the government, aimed at increasing pressure on President Salva Kiir to end the country’s conflict. “By placing these entities on the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List, the United States will impose a license requirement on all exports, re-exports, and transfers of any US-origin items to those entities,” the State Department said in a statement. Those on the list include government, state-linked and private groups in South Sudan that “are involved in activities that are contrary to the foreign policy interests of the United States,” according to a related Department of Commerce document published on Wednesday. Reuters

Sierra Leone: Violence Fears as Tense Election Reaches Runoff
The results of the first round of elections in Sierra Leone have set off a spate of political violence amid accusations of tribalism made against both main parties. Police have sent an extra 4,000 officers on to the streets and diplomats have called for an end to “tribal rhetoric” after at least five violent incidents involving beatings, stone-throwing and arson, and after politicians had criticised voters for “regionalism” – seen as a euphemism for tribalism – in deciding how to vote. The main opposition, the Sierra Leone People’s party (SLPP), won slightly more votes than the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) in the first round of a historically peaceful election on 7 March and the two parties have been trying to win over voters ahead of the runoff next week, causing growing tension in the west African country. After the presidential spokesman Abdulai Baratay suggested on state radio last week that more SLPP supporters than APC ones had voted along tribal lines – language he later denied using – there was an increase in the number of violent incidents.  The Guardian

Sierra Leone Capital Freetown Elects Female Mayor, the First since 1980
Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, has a new mayor in the person of Yvonne Aki Sawyerr. She won the position in recently held March 7 general elections. The Chartered Accountant thus becomes the first female mayor since 1977 – 1980 when the position was held by one Dr June Holst-Roness. According to records from the National Electoral Commission (NEC) Sawyerr who run on the ticket of the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) beat five other competitors (all men) to the seat.  Africa News

Hunger Brings Death to Congo’s Kasai after Guns Fall Silent
The guns have fallen silent in the Congolese town of Mwene Ditu, but each day starving children arrive at the small hospital there battling for their lives. Justine Musau, pregnant with her second child, fled into the forest in the central Kasai region last year after militiamen arrived in her nearby village and started decapitating residents they accused of collaborating with government forces. “We didn’t know who had gone where,” she said, holding her four-year-old daughter close to her chest. Nourished only by the occasional serving of cassava, her two children had fallen ill from the lack of nutrients, she said. “We went to sleep famished for three or four days at a time. We didn’t have pots or pans to prepare (food) so we had practically nothing to eat.” Reuters

Egypt 2018 Presidential ‘Election’: The Economy at a Glance
As Egypt gears up for its third election since the Arab Spring, Al Jazeera takes an in-depth look at the country’s economy. The vulnerability of Egypt’s political system has greatly determined the day-to-day life for its citizens, directly affecting their disposable income. Widespread condemnation over the decline of the economy and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s internal policies led many to call for a boycott of this year’s election. But how will the economy shape the decision-making process of Egyptians, who are expected to vote starting on Monday? Over the last two decades, inflation in Egypt has seen some highs and lows. Since the military coup in 2013 and the election of President el-Sisi in 2014, inflation has increased from about 12 percent to its peak at around 33 percent in mid-2017. It is currently around 15 percent.  Al Jazeera

Gambia to Switch from Glass Marble Voting to Use of Ballot Papers
Gambian voters will go to the polls in April and May this year to elect local level officials. The Councilors and Mayoral vote will be held for two main municipalities, Kanifing and the capital Banjul It turns out that it will be the last time the West African country employs its unique voting method of using marbles. The Elections Commission chief, Alieu Momar Njai, said Gambia will switch to the use of ballot papers as per international standards, after the polls. He was quoted by a news website, The Fatu Network, as saying aside towing international practice, cost wise, the ballot papers were better than the marbles. This is the second time he has spoken about the move. Africa News

US Airstrike in Somalia Kills 2 Al-Shabab Extremists
The U.S. military says it has killed two extremists with an airstrike in Somalia. The U.S. Africa Command says the airstrike on Monday near Mubaarak in Lower Shabelle region killed two al-Shabab fighters, wounded three and destroyed one vehicle. Al-Shabab representatives were not immediately available for comment. The group, which has faced growing military pressure across the Horn of Africa nation, has stepped up attacks in recent months including a massive truck bombing in the capital, Mogadishu, in October that killed more than 500 people. The U.S. has carried out well over 30 drone strikes against al-Shabab since the Trump administration approved expanded military efforts against the group a year ago. AP

Burundi on Brink Again as President Wants to Rule until 2034
Declared this month by supporters as Burundi’s “eternal supreme guide,” President Pierre Nkurunziza now wants changes to the constitution that would let him rule until 2034. The referendum in May could spark further deadly violence in the African nation that the U.N. human rights chief has called one of “the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times.” Nkurunziza is just the latest African leader to seek the dismantling of term limits to stay in power. Critics call his latest move a bid to be president for life. In 2015 his decision to seek a disputed third term plunged the country into bloody protests that left an estimated 1,200 people dead, and International Criminal Court judges last year authorized an investigation into allegations of state-sponsored crimes including murder, rape and torture. More than 400,000 people have fled the country. AP

Sarkozy Charged over Suspected Gadaffi Campaign Financing
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was charged with corruption and illegal campaign financing on Wednesday (Mar 21) over allegations that the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gadaffi helped fund his 2007 election campaign, a judicial source told AFP. After four years of investigation and two days of questioning the right-winger in police custody, judges looking into France’s most explosive political scandal decided they had enough evidence to charge the 63-year-old. The combative one-term president, who served from 2007-2012, was charged with corruption, illegal campaign financing and concealment of Libyan public money, the source added. He returned home on Wednesday after being placed under court supervision. AFP

Human Rights Watch: Libya ‘Incapable’ of Holding Elections
Libya is not ready to hold free and fair elections, campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned. The country’s rival authorities are planning to hold parliamentary and presidential elections later this year, but no date has been set. The United Nations and the European Union support the upcoming vote. But HRW worries “voters, candidates, and political parties” are at risk of “coercion, discrimination, and intimidation” if the ballot goes ahead. The US-based rights group thinks the conditions needed for free and fair elections will be hard to meet in the North African state, which was thrown into chaos following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.  BBC

Freed Kidnapped Dapchi Girls Speak of Their Ordeal
Girls who were kidnapped by Islamist militants from Boko Haram from Dapchi have told RFI about their ordeal and the relief that most of them were safely released. One hundred and ten girls were taken on the night of 19 February from the government-run boarding school in the Yobe State town. “We left their hideout on Sunday,” Fatsuma Abdullahi told RFI Hausa correspondent Bilyaminu Yusuf. “We only arrived back in Dapchi on Wednesday. I have no idea where we were being held, we crossed so many rivers to get there.” Other witnesses told RFI that the militants entered the town unchallenged, much like the evening last month when they took the girls from the government-run boarding school. RFI

11 Soldiers Killed as Bandits Attack Nigerian Villages
At least 11 soldiers were reportedly killed and several civilians injured by bandits in northwestern Nigeria early Wednesday, according to security sources.  Samuel Aruwan, spokesman for Kaduna state’s governor, confirmed that security officials were killed in attacks on the villages of Doka and Maganda in Birnin Gwari, but gave no figures. “Governor Nasir El-Rufai received with sadness reports of bandit attacks in Doka and Maganda. He praised the communities for their vigilance and their cooperation with the military to thwart the attacks,” said the statement. Three senior security officials told Anadolu Agency that 11 soldiers died in the incident early Wednesday.  Anadolu Agency

The UN Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia Is Coming to a Successful End
By the end of this month the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia will no longer exist. The mission, known as UNMIL, is closing shop after nearly 15 years in operation.  This is a a major milestone and success story for both Liberia and the United Nations. In 2003, it was hard to imagine this day would ever come. Around 250,000 people had been killed in a singularly brutal civil war. The infrastructure that existed in the country was decimated. Most Liberians who had the opportunity to leave country had fled. Fifteen years later, thanks in large part to UNMIL, Liberia is a stable democracy with a rapidly developing economy. It was a hard slog, but Liberia has made incredible strides and is emerging as a beacon of political stability in a volatile region. UN Dispatch

Population Explosion: Ethiopia’s Plans to Bridge the Urban-Rural Divide
Ethiopia’s population has tripled over the past few decades. Millions of farmers are leaving the fields only to end up living in the slums of huge cities. City planners believe they have found a solution — in the remote countryside. […] Since the 1970s, Ethiopia’s population has more than tripled, going from 30 million to over 100 million. In the countryside, overpopulation is leading to the overuse and overgrazing of fields and deforestation. More and more people are moving to the big cities, which are growing faster than the rest of the country. The provincial capital of Bahir Dar had about 60,000 inhabitants 30 years ago, but today it has 350,000. “Apartment buildings, streets, the drinking-water supply and the entire infrastructure can’t keep up with this tempo,” says Ethiopian city planner and architect Zegeye Cherenet. Spiegle

Tanzania Police to ‘Cripple’ Anti-Magufuli Protesters
Tanzanian police said Wednesday they had arrested a driver and a farmer accused of urging fellow citizens to protest against the increasing authoritarianism of President John Magufuli on social media. A call for nationwide protests on April 26, first launched by an opposition activist, has spread across social media for several weeks, prompting a harsh response from government and even Magufuli himself. “These two people here were inciting others to protest on April 26, saying on social media that there is no freedom, that there is a dictatorship, which is totally false,” said police chief from the central Dodoma region Gilles Muroto, presenting the accused to the press. “We have already warned that will not accept people testing government. We have arrested these two, let it serve as a lesson to others.”  AFP