Africa Media Review for March 29, 2017

Lessons from Gambia on Effective Regional Security Cooperation
On the evening of January 22, 2017, Yahya Jammeh boarded a plane and after 22 years in power, departed Banjul for the final time as Gambia’s leader. His departure was not voluntary, but rather the result of active diplomatic and ultimately military pressure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). In the process, a major political and humanitarian crisis for the region was averted. While the episode has been largely overshadowed by other exigencies on the continent, the ECOWAS handling of the Gambia crisis holds many valuable lessons for regional security cooperation in Africa. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Kasai Unrest: UN Experts Found Dead in DR Congo
Two UN experts who were missing in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been found dead, officials say. The bodies of US citizen Michael Sharp and Swedish national Zaida Catalan were discovered in the central Kasai region, a government spokesman said. They were abducted two weeks ago after going to Kasai to investigate reports of abuses after local rebels took up arms. Some 40 police officers were found beheaded in the region at the weekend. Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende confirmed reports of the discovery to the BBC. Mr Mende said that the bodies were found in a shallow grave, adding that “the woman was found beheaded, but the body of the man was intact”. BBC

US Concerned About Lack of DRC Political Agreement Progress
The United States says it is concerned at the inability of both the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and an opposition coalition to implement a political transition agreement they reached in December after months of unrest. The State Department faulted both sides for failing to make the necessary compromises to carry out the agreed-upon steps, which include the appointment of a prime minister. “Failure to move ahead with the accord clearly thwarts the will of the Congolese people and jeopardizes the progress achieved thus far,” acting spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement. President Joseph Kabila was due to leave office December 19 at the end of his second term, but elections to choose his successor were postponed and Kabila has remained in office. VOA

Ivory Coast’s Ex-First Lady Simone Gbagbo Acquitted of Crimes Against Humanity
An Ivory Coast jury on Tuesday acquitted former first lady Simone Gbagbo of crimes against humanity during the 2010-11 post-election crisis in a stunning verdict after the prosecution had sought to jail her for life. “A majority of the jury declared Simone Gbagbo not guilty of the crimes of which she has been accused, pronounced her acquittal and ordered that she be immediately freed if she is not being held for other reasons, ” said the head of the country’s top criminal court, judge Kouadjo Boiqui. Once dubbed Ivory Coast’s “Iron Lady,” Gbagbo, who was not in court Tuesday, is already serving a 20-year sentence for “endangering state security.” France 24

‘Social Discontent’ Grips Ivory Coast as Economic Gains Pass Many By
The stone-faced schoolboy peered into the camera and drew a deep breath. “Our leaders don’t respect us,” Adama Zanga Bamba shouted. “They should stop screwing our teachers!” A crowd of students behind him whooped in approval as Mr. Bamba, a high school student here in Ivory Coast, continued to tear into the government’s treatment of public-school teachers. “We want to go to class,” he said in the viral video, posted by the news site Politik Afrique. “We need our diplomas.” Ivory Coast has in recent weeks been shaken by a 180,000-strong civil servant strike that closed public schools and curtailed hospital services — a period of agitation in a West African country regarded as a success story in a region prone to instability. Hundreds of students like Mr. Bamba took to the streets in January, according to local news reports, to protest the halt in classes, angry over the possibility of putting off a diploma — and a ticket to earning a living. The New York Times

Nigerian Defense Minister Says Boko Haram Chief Alive
The leader of Boko Haram is “on the run”, Defense Minister Mansur Dan-Ali said Tuesday in a break with the government’s previous claims that he was dead. Dan-Ali said Abubakar Shekau could be in the Sambisa forest in Borno state, northeast Nigeria. “The spiritual headquarters has been ransacked and vandalised and Shekau is on the run,” he said at a briefing in capital Abuja. “He may be hiding in one of the enclaves of Sambisa forest which we are dominating. “I believe it’s just a matter of time. It took America about seven to 10 years to get Bin Laden, so we will get Shekau as soon as possible.” Anadolu Agency

Nigeria’s Army Ramps Up Military Presence in Sambisa Forest
Nigeria’s armed forces are boosting their presence in Borno state’s Sambisa Forest as they are holding a small arms championship in the former Boko Haram stronghold. The shooting competition is supposed to enable Nigerian troops to “continue to dominate the area” as well as hone soldiers’ skills, said Nigeria’s chief of army staff, Lieutenant-General Tukur Yusuf Buratai. Sambisa Forest used to be the stronghold of the Boko Haram faction led by Abubakar Shekau until the military managed to flush them out in December. Back then, President Muhammadu Buhari said the capture of the key camp in Nigeria’s northeast marked the “final crushing” of the terror group. But since then, the group has stepped up its attacks – there have been sporadic attacks in and around the Sambisa Forest and intensified raids on villages and towns in search of food. Deutsche Welle

Pace of Reform Slows as Nigeria’s Ailing Buhari Slims His Schedule
A lingering illness has led President Muhammadu Buhari to reduce his working day to a few hours since he returned from medical leave, slowing down the pace of economic reforms advanced in his absence, diplomats and government sources said. The Nigerian leader is spending between one and four hours a day in his office to conserve his energy levels, three diplomats and presidency sources said, deepening concerns he is too unwell to orchestrate reforms to the recession-hit OPEC economy. Buhari has long been criticised by households and investors for his slow response to low global oil prices, which sent the naira currency tumbling and the broader economy into a tailspin. Times Live

Cameroon and the Tumultuous Autumn of an African Patriarch
At 84 he is nine years younger than Robert Mugabe. And he has been in power for 35 years, two years short of the Zimbabwean leader’s extravagant haul. Paul Biya, the president of Cameroon, is however, as ruthless a despot, and his role in stifling the potential of one of Africa’s most promising economies, is as great. One difference between two of Africa’s most enduring anachronisms is that Mr Biya has aged more quietly. The catalogue of abuses committed by his regime have received less attention for it.  That may be about to change. Last week Mr Biya joked in Rome, after a visit to the Pope, that very few governments last beyond 30 years these days. He claimed his country was stable as a result of that longevity. It is not and the joke was in poor taste. Cameroon is in the early throes of an upheaval that mirrors one it experienced 25 years ago when a pro-democracy movement spearheaded by the disgruntled anglophone minority came close to unseating Mr Biya. He rode out that storm, dividing, or jailing, his opponents, and mastering the art of staging elections which rubber-stamped a perpetual grip on power. Financial Times

Mali’s Former Rebels Agree to Join Peace Conference
Former rebels in Mali on Tuesday reversed a decision to boycott a national reconciliation conference after receiving assurances from the government, a spokesperson said. The talks were agreed in a 2015 peace deal signed by Tuareg-led rebels, the government and pro-Bamako militias aimed at ending successive separatist uprisings in Mali’s north, most recently in 2012, and to isolate jihadist groups. On Monday, the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), the former rebel alliance, and Mali’s opposition groupings announced they would not attend, saying the planned 7-day meeting was not long enough and its aims were too limited. But CMA representatives were present at the summit on Tuesday, including a spokesman for the ex-rebels, Mohamed Elmaouloud Ramadane. News 24

Egypt’s Sisi to Visit Washington on April 3 – White House
U.S. President Donald Trump will host Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for talks in Washington on April 3, a White House official said on Sunday. The visit will be at Trump’s invitation, the official said. The two leaders, in a Jan. 23 phone call just days after Trump’s inauguration, discussed ways to boost the fight against terrorism, and Trump underscored his commitment to bilateral ties, the two governments said at the time. Sisi, who had strained relations with Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, was elected in 2014, a year after leading the military’s ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood’s president, Mohamed Mursi, after mass protests. Reuters

Libya’s Haftar Refuses Invite to Tunisia 
The head of the Libyan army, Khalifa Haftar, has reportedly refused an invitation to meet with Tunisia’s president accusing Tunis of aligning itself with Tripoli-based government and the Muslim Brotherhood. President Béji Caïd Essebsi initiated an invitation to the military strongman but received no reply. Hafter reportedly rejected the offer because he considered the Tunisian government hostile to the powers in Tobruk represented by the House of Representatives and the Libyan National Army, according to the Tunisian daily Alchourouk. Essebsi’s invite comes in an effort to involve Haftar in talks with all Libyan players mediated by Tunisia along with Algeria and Egypt in the last few weeks. There has been no formal response from Tunisia following Haftar’s refusal or an acknowledgment from Haftar’s representatives on a Tunisian invitation received. Middle East Monitor

Experts Concerned by Potential Cuts to Lifesaving USAID Programs
A U.S. congressional committee heard complaints Tuesday that USAID programs are at risk of getting “slashed” or “eliminated” under the proposed budget from the White House, during a time when the threat of famine in East Africa is the “highest it has been in decades.” At the hearing of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, panelists warned that U.S. budget cuts could undermine efforts to address the consequences of drought and a crisis-driven famine at a time when aid agencies are attempting to scale up efforts to prevent millions from dying. In prepared remarks submitted to the committee, panelist Faustine Wabwire, senior foreign assistance policy adviser for the Bread for the World Institute, said the proposed budget cuts risk “slashing or eliminating the very accounts that finance the U.S. government’s emergency response,” including Food for Peace, International Disaster Assistance (IDA), and the Migration and Refugee Assistance account. VOA

Sudan, Ethiopia Hold Military Talks on Border Security and Human Trafficking
Senior Sudanese and Ethiopian army officers Tuesday have met for the second day in Khartoum within the framework of the Sudanese-Ethiopian Strategic Forum. In a press release extended to Sudan Tribune Tuesday, the Sudanese army said: “the forum discussed a number of issues pertaining to border security, ways to prevent and combat human trafficking and migrant smuggling besides the local and regional security threats”. According to the press release, the two sides underscored the importance of the forum in promoting relations and joint work between the two countries, pointing to several recommendations and understandings on issues of security and sustainable development as well as strategic military cooperation and coordination. Sudan Tribune

Ethiopia Sends 16 to Prison for Trying to Create New State
An Ethiopian court has sentenced 16 people to prison after finding them guilty of trying to create a separate state in the tense Oromia region. All 16 are members of the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front. They received sentences of four to 13 years. The Ethiopian Federal High Court said in its ruling on Tuesday the members tried to carry out terrorist acts across the country and supported other group members in remote parts of Oromia. The region has been a hotspot for anti-government protests that began in November 2015. The protests later spread across the country and demanded wider political freedoms and the release of political prisoners. News 24

Zuma Gambles on His Political Fate as he Takes Aim at Gordhan
South African President Jacob Zuma is taking a gamble as he ups the ante in his battle with his Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan for control of the nation’s finances. If he fires Gordhan, as he told Communist Party officials that he planned to do according to three people with knowledge of the matter, he risks a market meltdown and a revolt by opponents in the ruling African National Congress. If he doesn’t, he’d appear weak as he seeks to secure his choice as successor as party leader in December. Zuma ordered Gordhan to cancel a roadshow and to return home from London on Monday. The turmoil has caused the rand to plummet. Bloomberg

Malawi’s Plans for Major Electoral Reform Are Long Overdue
Malawi is set for a major overhaul of its winner-takes-all electoral system with far-reaching implications for the country, if ongoing efforts to reform the system bear fruit. Any changes in the voting system will represent the biggest overhaul of the country’s electoral system since it became a multiparty state in the mid 1990s. This followed the end of one-party dictatorship under Kamuzu Banda, the country’s first post-colonial leader and “president for life”. A special Malawi Law Commission was given the task of reforming the country’s electoral laws. Following a year of investigation, it recently held a two-day multi-stakeholder conference to discuss the planned reforms. Its main proposal is that the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system of electing the president should be abolished. Mail and Guardian

Zambia to Consult Public over ICC Membership
Zambia opened public consultations this week on the government’s plan to leave the International Criminal Court, as several other African countries re-assess their membership. South Africa recently revoked its planned departure from the ICC, based in The Hague, and The Gambia’s new president, Adama Barrow, reversed his predecessor’s decision to withdraw. Zambian justice minister Given Lubinda announced the consultation, which will run until Friday, in a speech to parliament last week. “The consultative process will be conducted through public hearings in 30 districts where members of the public will be invited to make oral and written submissions,” Lubinda said. News 24

Sh40 Billion May Have Been Lost in Pipeline Tender
Taxpayers have likely lost Sh40 billion in a project to build a new 450-kilometre fuel pipeline between Mombasa and Nairobi, the Nation can reveal. In contracting riddled with ruthless, old-school corruption, Kenya Pipeline Corporation (KPC), has embarked on a project which renders useless equipment, some of it new, on which the public has already spent hundreds of millions of shillings. They are throwing away perfectly good infrastructure and buying capacity the country has no use for because procurement offers an opportunity to eat, according to whistle blowers. Daiy Nation

Good News for Africa’s Elephants: China is Losing Its Taste for Ivory  
China will close 67 ivory carving factories and retail shops on Friday, roughly one-third of the total, as it moves to implement a pledge to end all domestic ivory sales by the end of the year. The news will foster hopes that an end to the elephant poaching crisis in Africa might be in sight, and comes as a new study shows that prices of ivory in China are continuing to plummet. Reducing demand from China, the world’s biggest ivory market, is probably the single most important factor that could help bring an end to the widespread poaching of elephants in Africa. In a report issued Wednesday, Save The Elephants said the average wholesale price of tusks in China was $2,100 per kilogram in early 2014, but fell to $1,100 by late 2015, before reaching $730 in February 2017. The Washington Post



Photo: Adam Jones