Africa Media Review for March 22, 2024

Election Misinformation Is a Problem in Any Language. But Some Gets More Attention than Others
Tech companies have faced intense political pressure in countries like the U.S. and places like the European Union to show they’re serious about tackling the baseless claims, hate speech and authoritarian propaganda that pollutes their sites. But critics say they’ve been less responsive to similar concerns from smaller countries or from voters who speak other languages, reflecting a longtime bias toward English, the U.S. and other western democracies…These gaps have opened up opportunities for candidates, political parties or foreign adversaries looking to create electoral chaos by targeting non-English speakers…The laws governing social media platforms vary by nation, and critics of tech companies say they have been faster to address concerns about misinformation in the U.S. and the E.U., which has recently enacted new laws designed to address the problem. Other nations all-too often get a “cookie cutter” response from tech companies that falls short, according to an analysis published this month by the Mozilla Foundation…This lack of focus on other regions and languages will increase the risk that election misinformation could mislead voters and impact the results of elections…Disinformation about elections has surged in Africa ahead of recent elections, according to a study this month from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies which identified dozens of recent disinformation campaigns — a four-fold increase from 2022. The false claims included baseless allegations about candidates, false information about voting and narratives that seem designed to undermine support for the United States and United Nations. AP

Former PMS and a Lone Woman among Contenders in Senegal’s Crisis-Hit Vote
Following a hurried two weeks of campaigning, Senegal’s delayed presidential election is set for this Sunday – with more than 7 million people registered to vote for a record 20 then 17 candidates. Voters will head out to more than 16,000 polling stations across the West African country and its diaspora. Ballots will be counted after voting ends at 6pm. Vote tallies will be sent to the Constitutional Council, and then the National Election Commission will announce provisional results by the evening or early Monday morning. Election coverage has highlighted polarisation between two main camps – the first led by the former prime minister Amadou Ba…Named economy minister by President Macky Sall in 2013, the wealthy individual was prime minister until the campaign was launched earlier this month. The second dominant camp is a coalition brought together by Ousmane Sonko – former mayor of Ziguinchor in Casamance – and his official candidate, Bassirou Diomaye Faye. Seventeen other candidates have also been running, two leaving the race in recent weeks. Habib Sy and Cheikh Tidiane Dieye have been defending Bassirou’s programme, with the latter even abandoning the race on Wednesday to support Faye fully. Sy did the same on Thursday…Among these other candidates, more than three were previously in charge of a government, many close to the former prime minister. Only one candidate is a woman. Observers believe that Senegal is heading towards a second round, as it will be hard for any contenders to achieve 51 percent on 24 March. RFI

Senegal Opposition Leader Seeks to Reassure Investors Ahead of Sunday Vote
One of the most serious challengers to Senegalese President Macky Sall’s party in Sunday’s presidential election has sought to reassure investors about his plans for the West African nation set to begin producing oil and gas later this year. Bassirou Diomaye Faye, an anti-establishment candidate who analysts say stands a good chance of becoming the next president, told Reuters he would prioritise rebuilding the rule of law, restoring social cohesion and bringing stability to protest-hit Senegal. “This will allow investors to work with complete peace of mind and provide the country with the necessary calm for a proper economic take-off,” Faye, 43, said in his first interview with English-language media after being released from prison on Thursday…Faye was released from prison under a new amnesty law introduced to reduce tensions. He had been held since April on charges including defamation and contempt of court, which he denied…If elected, he has promised a raft of changes including plans to renegotiate Senegal’s oil and gas contracts and introduce a new currency. Some analysts say such moves could tarnish Senegal’s reputation as an investment destination. Senegal’s oil and gas projects, which are due to start production later this year, could boost GDP growth to double digits by 2025, according to the International Monetary Fund. Reuters

Burkina Faso’s Security Forces Are Killing More Civilians. Survivors Detailed 1 Village’s Massacre
[Dozens of people were killed on November 5 in an attack on Zaongo, a village in Central Burkina Faso.] [T]hree survivors told AP they’re certain the men were security forces, not jihadis. They describe them wearing military uniforms, one with a Burkina Faso flag fastened to him as he tried to warn a group of civilians that anyone found alive would be killed. [A] farmer saw a helicopter flying toward the village in the attack’s aftermath — those are used solely by the military, not insurgents…During the Nov. 5 attack, men in military uniforms speaking French and local language Moore called for all men to leave their houses, a 45-year-old mother told AP. Peering through the window of the home where she hid, she said, she saw relatives being killed…The men dressed, looked and sounded like the soldiers who regularly pass through the village inspecting people’s documents, she said. The third survivor who spoke to AP, a 55-year-old man from Zaongo, said villagers had been accused of working with the jihadis because they refused to join tens of thousands of volunteer fighters serving alongside Burkina Faso’s military. Recruiting is part of the junta’s strategy, but residents said this has only contributed to civilian killings as volunteers round up anyone they suspect of ties to the extremists. It also provokes jihadis to attack communities with volunteers, they said. AP

US Says It Has Not Received a Formal Request by Niger Junta to Leave Military Bases
Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told the House Armed Services Committee that so far Niger’s ruling military council, known as the CNSP, has not formally asked the U.S. military to leave. Wallander said the CNSP has said the status of forces agreement, which sets the terms of a U.S. military presence in a country, is now null and void. However, she said the junta has “assured us that American military forces are protected and they will take no action that will endanger them”…The quick turn of relations had some U.S. lawmakers questioning how Niger could go from a strategic ally to being run by a junta in such a short time. U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Michael Langley, the head of U.S. Africa Command, said that disinformation has played a huge role in Niger and in a number of governments that have fallen across the Sahel in recent years. There are more than 600 million people across the continent on social media now, compared to just a very small minority who had access just a decade ago, Langley said. Russia has actively and strategically saturated that audience with disinformation, Langley said. “What we teach, the law of armed conflict and civilian-led governance is failing because its being drowned out,” Langley said. Langley said he has asked the State Department for additional resources to counter Russia’s disinformation campaign. AP

Sudan: RSF Voices Rejection of New Humanitarian Aid Route to Darfur
The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) rejected a new route announced by Darfur Governor Minni Minawi to deliver humanitarian aid to the war-torn region. Minawi, in agreement with UN agencies, planned to use a route starting from Port Sudan and passing through Al-Dabba in northern Sudan, an area controlled by armed forces and allied groups. However, the RSF dismissed the proposal in a Thursday statement, arguing that Minawi lacked the authority to make such decisions. The RSF claims to have “liberated” Darfur from remnants of the former regime and considers the Juba Peace Agreement no longer valid…UN agencies called for urgent humanitarian assistance, saying many Sudanese will face catastrophic food insecurity in the coming months. They point out that 18 million Sudanese people are facing acute food insecurity. Sudan Tribune

Refugee Camps in Chad Are Overcrowded and Running Out of Aid, and Sudanese Refugees Keep Coming
More than a million people in Chad, including refugees, face losing access to lifesaving aid unless more funding is raised to help, the U.N. World Food Program said this month. The devastating conflict between feuding generals in Sudan has killed more than 5,000 people there and displaced over 5 million, the United Nations said. In Chad, refugee numbers are at a 20-year high. The U.N. has warned that the conflict is on course to become the world’s worst hunger crisis, with a third of Sudan’s 18 million people facing acute food insecurity already…Analysts also fear the humanitarian situation could cause Chad’s own political tensions to erupt. In February, opposition leader Yaya Dillo was killed in the capital. He was the president’s cousin and a strong contender in the presidential election scheduled for May. Finances and aid supplies at humanitarian operations are critically low. This will increase competition over resources between refugees and host communities in eastern Chad, further fueling local tensions and regional instability,” said Andrew Smith, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft. AP

Algeria Sets Election for September. The Military-Backed President Is Expected to Seek a 2nd Term
Algeria will hold its next election on Sept. 7, giving first-term President Abdelmajid Tebboune more than five months to campaign should he decide to seek a second term leading the oil-rich north African nation. Tebboune’s office announced the date in a statement Thursday after meeting with a group that included high-ranking members of Parliament and the constitutional court as well as its independent election authority. Only Zoubida Assoul of the Union for Change and Progress has come forward to challenge Tebboune, who has not officially announced plans to seek reelection as president of the country of 44 million people which is facing mounting political and economic challenges. The announcement took the nation by surprise as elections in Algeria had been expected to take place in December 2024, raising speculation among observers about the rationale for the change…The ballot in September will be the first since the 78-year-old military-backed leader ascended to power in 2019…[T]hroughout his nearly four-and-a-half-year tenure, Algeria has ramped up punishments both for activists and for members of its once-vibrant free press who criticize the government. AP

Uganda’s President Appoints Son as Top Commander of the Army, Raising Succession Concerns
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni on Thursday appointed his son as top commander of the military, a controversial move in a country where many have long believed Museveni is grooming his eldest child for the presidency. Museveni’s son, Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, has recently been holding rallies around the country, in violation of a law barring serving army officers from engaging in partisan politics. But Kainerugaba says his activities — including the recent launch of an activist group known as the Patriotic League of Uganda — are nonpartisan and aimed at encouraging patriotism among Ugandans. Kainerugaba was promoted to his new post late Thursday, according to a military statement. Two of his closest advisors have been given ministerial posts in a reshuffle of government ministers, also announced late Thursday, fueling speculation that Museveni supports Kainerugaba’s political activities. AP

South African Parliament Speaker Takes Special Leave over Corruption Inquiry
South Africa’s National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said on Thursday that she will take special leave as a result of an investigation into alleged corruption during her time as defence minister. Investigators raided Mapisa-Nqakula home on Tuesday as part of the corruption inquiry, but did not provide further details on the investigation or the corruption allegations. Mapisa-Nqakula, who was defence minister from 2012 to 2021, has denied wrongdoing…She said there has been no formal notification of an arrest warrant or communication regarding her imminent arrest, following local media reports that she was expected to hand herself over to police on Friday…South Africa’s state-owned broadcaster SABC reported that Mapisa-Nqakula is suspected of receiving millions of rand in cash as bribes from a former military contractor when she was defence minister. Reuters

Ghana Parliament Speaker Criticises President for Delaying Anti-LGBTQ Bill
Ghana’s speaker of parliament has said President Nana Akufo-Addo’s refusal to act on an anti-LGBTQ bill for the time being was unconstitutional and that parliament would stop approving new ministerial appointments. One of Africa’s harshest anti-LGBTQ laws, unanimously passed by Ghana’s parliament last month, has been on hold since the president’s office said it would wait for the outcome of two legal challenges before the law goes to Akufo-Addo for assent. The decision to wait came after a finance ministry warning that the bill could jeopardise $3.8 million in World Bank financing and derail a $3-billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan package. But it has sparked backlash from supporters of the bill, who have said Akufo-Addo has in the past signed into law bills with legal challenges against them. Parliament speaker Alban Bagbin told MPs on Wednesday the president office’s refusal to receive the bill was unconstitutional and caused an impasse between the executive and the legislature. He said parliament would in turn be “unable to consider the nominations” regarding a government reshuffle in February that another opposition lawmaker has taken to court, until there is a ruling on the matter. The move will halt approval procedures for about 21 nominees to ministerial and deputy ministerial posts, including two for the finance ministry. Reuters

Kenya Tells TikTok to Show It Is Complying with Privacy Laws
Kenya has demanded that TikTok show it is adhering to local privacy and user verification laws, the interior minister said on Thursday, saying the platform has been used to spread propaganda, carry out fraud and distribute sexual content. TikTok and other social media companies are under pressure from regulators around the world to shield users from harmful content and criminals who take advantage of the sites…[Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki] said the platform had been used by criminals “to spread malicious propaganda, steal popular accounts through identity theft and impersonation” and to “conduct fraud by duping Kenyans into fake forex trades and fake job recruitments”. “These risks have caused distress among users, exposed minors to inappropriate content and promoted discord among citizens,” he said. Odanga Madung, a researcher at the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation, said the problems described by Kindiki were widespread across social media platforms. Reuters

The Ghanaian Founder Challenging Google
Paul Azunre is the co-founder and director of research at GhanaNLP, a nonprofit that develops artificial intelligence software for African languages. Besides creating digital tools for local consumers and companies, the organization aims to provide opportunities for African AI researchers…Rest of World: What are the difficulties you’ve encountered when it comes to creating tools for “smaller” languages? Azure: The economics of smaller languages means they are deprioritized for investment and research. Potential investors often suggest they don’t care about those and would rather focus on bigger languages for “impact.” This makes it challenging, but not impossible. We view that as an opportunity. Rest of World: Since you founded GhanaNLP, Google Translate has added Twi and Ewe. Does that make it harder for you to attract funding, attention, or talent? Azunre: There definitely was a chilling effect. Some would-be customers who were testing our products wouldn’t sign on, citing that as the reason. Arguably our work stimulated some of these developments. Google, Facebook with NLLB [No Language Left Behind], and Cohere with Aya all cited our work and data. We remain the only local organization putting out these tools for Ghanaian languages, and I think it is important that local options are available. Rest of World