Africa Media Review for March 24, 2017

Al-Shabab Claims to Kill 17 Soldiers in Somalia Attack
An organization that monitors extremist groups says al-Shabab has claimed to kill 17 soldiers and wound 22 in an attack in southwestern Somalia. The SITE Intelligence Group says in a statement Thursday that the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab’s news agency posted a claim on Facebook about attacking the coastal city of Barawe. The extremist group also claimed that it shelled bases of the African Union mission in the city in the Wednesday night assault. Somalia’s government says extremists attacked army positions but adds that the assault was immediately repulsed. The government says just two people were killed. RFI

Kenya to Reopen Border With Somalia
The Kenyan government says it will open the border with Somalia to boost trade and allow the flow of people between the two countries. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta also pledged to help Somalia in the fight against al-Shabab militants and support and train government workers. His remarks followed a meeting he had in Nairobi with his Somali counterpart, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed. After a closed door meeting that lasted more than three hours, the two heads of state addressed the media in a display of friendship. President Kenyatta discussed the border issue. “We agreed to take the following actions within the shortest possible time, open two border posts, in Dobley-Liboi and Mandera-Bula Hawa, and to facilitate the movement of people, goods and services,” he said. VOA

20 Killed as Militias Clash in Central Africa
At least 20 people were killed this week as fighting erupted between armed militias in a uranium-rich region of the Central African Republic, a military source said on Thursday. Most of the victims were civilians caught up in battles between Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) militiamen and fighters from the mainly Muslim Seleka in and around the southeastern town of Bakouma, the source said. The final death toll from the violence, which erupted at the start of the week, could be even higher as clashes were continuing, the source told AFP on condition of anonymity. One of the world’s poorest nations, the Central African Republic has been struggling to recover from a three-year civil war between the Muslim and Christian militias that started in 2013. News 24

Uganda at ‘Breaking Point’ as South Sudan Refugees Pour In
Uganda is at a “breaking point” as almost 3,000 South Sudanese refugees pour into the country every day, the United Nations refugee chief and Uganda’s government said Thursday, calling for international help to support over 800,000 people now sheltering there. The U.N. has called it the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis. More than 570,000 refugees have arrived from South Sudan since July – and the number could pass one million by the middle of this year, the joint statement by U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi and Uganda’s government said. “We are at breaking point. Uganda cannot handle Africa’s largest refugee crisis alone,” Grandi said. “The lack of international attention to the suffering of the South Sudanese people is failing some of the most vulnerable people in the world when they most desperately need our help.” AP

U.N.’s Famine Appeal Is Billions Shy of Goal
A month ago, the secretary general of the United Nations, António Guterres, warned that 20 million people would fall into famine if his aid agencies could not corral $4.4 billion by the end of March. It is almost the end of March, and so far, the United Nations has received less than a tenth of the money — $423 million, according to its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The funding appeal, and the paltry response, comes as the Trump administration is poised to make sharp cuts to its foreign aid budget, including for the United Nations. Historically, the United States has been the agency’s largest single donor for humanitarian aid. For all four countries at risk — Nigeria,  Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen — the United States has so far this year kicked in $277 million, not all of it for famine relief. The New York Times

UN Chief Accuses South Sudan’s Government of Ignoring Famine
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres accused South Sudan’s government on Thursday of refusing to express “any meaningful concern” about the plight of 100,000 people suffering from famine, 7.5 million in need of humanitarian aid and thousands more fleeing fighting. The U.N. chief delivered a sharp rebuke to the country’s president, Salva Kiir, saying that most often the international community hears denials — “a refusal by the leadership to even acknowledge the crisis or to fulfil its responsibilities to end it.” Guterres told the Security Council that Kiir’s intention to hold a national dialogue “is not convincing” in the absence of consultation with opponents, the “systematic curtailment of basic political freedoms, and restrictions on humanitarian access.” South Sudan’s deputy ambassador Joseph Moum Malok said the government “takes issue with the accusation” that it is responsible for the famine in two counties and said other parts of the country are affected by drought. He said the government “will spare no efforts to help address the situation and calls upon the international community to help address this urgent matter.” AP

Japan to End Its Mission in South Sudan
Japan will end its only international peacekeeping mission in May amid charges that the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe covered up evidence of deteriorating security in areas where Japanese soldiers were stationed. The 350 Japanese soldiers are part of a peacekeeping mission to protect South Sudanese civilians from the results of a civil war between two contenders for the South Sudanese presidency. Abe’s government asserted that the troops were coming home because they had fulfilled their mission, and he mentioned the number of roads that the engineering troops had repaired and other similar projects. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga explained that the areas where the troops are stationed were stable and “relatively safe” from the effects of the civil war. Anadolu Agency

Ethiopia’s Stranded Jews Face Humanitarian Crisis as Israel Delays Their Arrival
Despite a government decision to speed up the repatriation of the remaining members of the Ethiopian Falashmura community, Israeli immigration authorities have taken little, if any, action to assure its implementation, according to members of a Knesset delegation who recently returned from a visit to East Africa. As a result of the ongoing delays, they warn, thousands of candidates for immigration stranded in transit centers in Gondar and Addis Ababa – the two main Jewish centers in Ethiopia – currently face a severe humanitarian crisis. “It was a very painful trip for me,” said MK Eli Alalouf, chairman of the Knesset Committee for Labor, Welfare and Health and a member of the delegation. Many of the Falashmura he had encountered on the trip, he said, were suffering from illnesses and malnutrition. “It is simply a situation of total neglect, and there is no reason for this whatsoever,” said Alalouf, a member of the center-right Kulanu party, which is part of the ruling coalition. “This is a Jewish community in every respect, but we in Israel don’t relate to them as Jews, I hate to say this, but it is because we are racist.” Haaretz

Homegrown Technology is Being Used to Help Millions at Risk from a Devastating Famine in Africa
[…] Beyond donating funds, the tech developers and social activists came together to discuss ideas to assist those in need of immediate relief. Eventually, they decided to use Ushahidi the Kenyan open source software to develop a platform that would allow responders to connect with drought victims. The result was Abaaraha (“drought” in Somali), a crowdsourcing platform that collects and verifies data through text, phone calls, email, and social media alerts. The web portal, which went live on Mar. 16, maps cases of malnutrition, disease outbreaks, and death. “There are no platforms that provide full information” with regards to the drought, says Omer. They’re “trying to fill that gap and to [help] coordinate the relief efforts that are taking place.” An unprecedented crisis is currently gripping Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen, threatening the lives of 20 million people, according to the United Nations (UN). More than 5 million people face acute food shortages in northeast Nigeria, and famine in parts of South Sudan threatens more than 7.5 million people. Quartz

More Than 200 Migrants Feared Drowned in Mediterranean
More than 200 migrants are feared dead in a boat sinking off the coast of Libya, a Spanish aid organisation says. Proactiva Open Arms said it had recovered five bodies floating near two capsized boats, which can each hold more than 100 people. The group’s Laura Lanuza said the five they pulled from the Mediterranean were young men who appeared to have drowned. A spokesman for Italy’s coast guard, which co-ordinates rescues, confirmed the five deaths. But he told the BBC that they could not confirm the estimates of deaths given by Proactiva, and said they had received no distress calls from any boats. BBC

Gambia to Set Up Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Gambia said on Thursday it would set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and offer reparations to victims of former President Yahya Jammeh’s government, which is accused of the torture and killing of perceived opponents. Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou said in a statement the government will also probe the finances of Jammeh, who fled into exile in January to Equatorial Guinea after a rule that began in 1994 when he seized power in a coup. Jammeh lost an election in December to the now-President Adama Barrow but refused to accept the result. He only stepped down after pressure from regional leaders who sent troops to Gambia to force him to leave. Since his departure, Barrow’s government has taken steps to restore the rule of law and strengthen the judiciary. VOA

Burundi Keeps Knocking at SADC’s Door
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) may not seem such an exclusive club to many of its own citizens. After all, a few of its members – Swaziland and Zimbabwe spring to mind – systematically violate the club’s ostensible rules, regarding respect for democracy, the rule of law and governance especially, without evident fear of expulsion. But the SADC club is nonetheless turning up its nose at two other countries that are trying to join. Burundi and Comoros have both been banging on the door of the club for many months. But SADC, at least for now, is not opening it. Last August, a SADC ministerial committee decided at a meeting in Maputo to send a SADC secretariat delegation to Burundi to assess its eligibility to join. The secretariat had already done a similar due diligence investigation of Comoros’s application. ISS

Trump Administration Eyes $1 Billion in Cuts to U.N. Peacekeeping
The White House is seeking to cut $1 billion in funding for U.N. peacekeeping operations and to eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars for other U.N. programs that care for needy children and seek to lift the world’s poorest out of a life of grinding poverty, according to two diplomatic sources briefed on the plan. The proposal is certain to face strong pushback from Democratic and Republican congressional leaders, who warned that President Donald Trump’s budget will never be passed. But it reflected the White House’s clear desire to jettison America’s traditional role as the champion of the downtrodden and embrace that of a military powerhouse to be feared. The White House budget office informed State Department officials this week that the administration plans to eliminate all U.S. funding to the $326 million International Organizations and Programs account, which provides more than $130 million to UNICEF; a sizable chunk of the more than $500 million the United States contributed to the U.N. agency in ; and around $70 million to the U.N. Development Programme. Foreign Policy

Amisom Programmes Stall Due to Lack of Funds
Ten years after its creation, the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) is still grappling with low troop levels and inadequate funding and equipment. Amisom entered Mogadishu in March 2007, with an initial 6,000 Ugandan troops. Today, it needs an additional 28,000 troops. At an extraordinary meeting in Nairobi last week to take stock of the peacekeepers’ achievements and challenges in the past decade, Amisom’s top leadership admitted that some of its programmes had stalled because of lack of funding. Although the militia group Al Shabaab has been driven out of major towns, Amisom is still struggling to maintain the liberated areas and secure the main supply routes. The peacekeepers have now devised a new approach termed “Doing Much With Less,” as donor fatigue becomes apparent. The East African

New Videos Appear to Show Congolese Soldiers Shooting Civilians
The emergence on Monday of several videos that appear to show uniformed soldiers shooting Congolese civilians has added urgency to calls for an international investigation of recently discovered mass graves in the Democratic Republic of Congo.Last week, the Congolese military’s auditor general announced that seven officers had been arrested and charged with war crimes after a video surfaced last month depicting soldiers shooting a group of civilians in Kasai-Central Province, a massacre that left at least 13 dead. Now at least five new videos that appear to show members of Congo’s military shooting civilians are circulating on social networking platforms. Amid mounting accusations of violence against civilians, and the discovery of 10 mass graves dug in January and February in Kasai-Central, the chief of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo urged the  United Nations Security Council this week to press the government to open an investigation into possible rights violations. The chief of the mission, Maman Sambo Sidikou, urged Congo’s government on Tuesday to investigate the recent reports “to ensure that the perpetrators of these acts are held fully accountable and that justice is done,” according to Charles Bambara, Mr. Sidikou’s spokesman. The New York Times

Mauritania Vows Referendum to Abolish Senate, Change Flag
A contentious amendment to Mauritania’s constitution, which would abolish the Senate and change the national flag, will be put to a referendum “as quickly as possible,” the president said Wednesday. The proposal to modify the constitution, which has been in force since 1991, was approved by lawmakers in the lower house of the west African Islamic republic but rejected by 33 out of 56 senators earlier this month. “Due to this rejection, we have arrived at an impasse. But there is one way out: we will hold a referendum,” said President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz at a press conference late Wednesday. The amendment, which would see the Senate replaced by regional councils, needed to be passed by both lower and upper houses to become law. News 24

Zimbabwe Opposition Demand UN-Conducted Vote, Police Out in Force
Zimbabwean opposition parties demanded on Wednesday that presidential elections next year be conducted by a committee set up by the United Nations and African Union because they had lost confidence in the neutrality of the local election agency. President Robert Mugabe, 94 and in power for 30 years, is due to run again. Leaders from several political parties, including Movement for Democratic Change’s Morgan Tsvangirai, told a few hundred supporters during a protest rally in the capital that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) had failed to be partial and should be disbanded. Police deployed water cannon and anti-riot officers on the streets of the capital throughout the day after confining the protesters to an open space on the edge of the city centre. The opposition parties, who were united under a National Election Reform Agenda (NERA), were protesting against changes to the voter registration process and said they would rally behind Tsvangirai to face Mugabe in the presidential vote. Reuters

Cameroon: Additional Suspects Added in Terrorism Case Against Anglophone Activists
The state prosecutor in Cameroon asked a military tribunal in Yaoundé on Thursday to add a number of extra people to a terrorism case involving three Anglophone activists, a lawyer has told RFI. Human rights lawyer Felix Agbor Balla, university lecturer Fontem Neba and radio host Mancho Bibixy have pleaded not guilty to terrorism. They were involved in organising protests in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions over perceived marginalisation by the Francophone government. The prosecutor requested that the court add “about 25 people” to the case against the three activists, according to lawyer Evaristus Morfaw. The so-called Joinder of Parties process involves adding extra defendants to a case after a complaint has been filed. RFI

French National Abducted in Chad
A French national has been abducted in the central African nation of Chad, the French defence ministry said Thursday. The ministry confirmed the kidnapping in a brief statement. The kidnapping took place near the eastern city of Abeche, according to an unnamed military source cited by AFP. The source added that “all means have been mobilised to secure the person’s liberation”. The hostage is a civilian. Several French nationals have been kidnapped by jihadist groups in west and central Africa in recent years. France has troops stationed in Chad — a former French colony — under Operation Barkhane, which was launched in 2014 to try to rout al Qaeda-linked extremists from the region. France 24

Leadership Void, Losses Plague South African State Companies
Key state companies and agencies that play a pivotal role in driving the South African economy and distributing essential services are in disarray, as a high turnover of senior management hobbles their ability to take decisions and massive losses threaten their financial viability. The “perilous financial state” of some of the companies may require government bailouts, BMI Research, a unit of Fitch Ratings Ltd., said in a report. We “continue to see the severely weakened financial condition of state-owned enterprises as a significant risk to the country’s fiscal health,” it said. Bloomberg

World Bank Says Days of Telling Africa What to Do Are Over
The days of debt crises and the World Bank telling African nations what to do are over, according to the lender’s president. “One of the things we will never go back to is the bad old days where countries were in debt crises,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said in an interview in Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, on Monday. “Another thing that we will never go back to is the bad old days when the World Bank and other organizations told countries what to do. We don’t do that anymore.” The Washington-based lender last week announced $57 billion in financing for sub-Saharan African countries over the next three years. A portion of $45 billion will come from the International Development Association, the World Bank Group’s fund for the poorest countries. The financing will include an estimated $8 billion in private-sector investments from the International Finance Corp., the lender’s private-sector arm. Bloomberg



Photo: Adam Jones