Africa Media Review for March 29, 2024

In Mali, Russian Wagner Mercenaries Are Helping the Army Kill Civilians, Rights Groups Say
The Russian mercenary group known as Wagner is helping government forces in central and northern Mali carry out raids and drone strikes that have killed scores of civilians, including many children, rights groups said in reports published this week that span the period from December to March. Mali, along with its neighbors Burkina Faso and Niger, has for over a decade battled an insurgency fought by jihadi groups, including some allied with al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. Following military coups in all three nations in recent years, the ruling juntas have expelled French forces and turned to Russia’s mercenary units for security assistance instead. Violence has escalated in Mali since Russian mercenaries arrived there following a coup in 2021. Its ruling junta has ramped up operations, carrying out deadly drone strikes that have hit gatherings of civilians, and raids accompanied by Russian mercenaries that have killed civilians. AP

Nigeria to Free 313 Suspected Boko Haram Insurgents for Lack of Evidence
Nigeria’s military will free more than 300 people suspected of being part of the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency after a court ruled there was no evidence they committed any crimes, a defence spokesperson said on Thursday. In 2009 jihadist group Boko Haram launched an insurgency seeking to overthrow the government and establish an Islamic state…The 313 people, who had been suspected of being members of Boko Haram, will be released after a ruling by a court in northeastern Borno state, the heartland of the insurgency, according to defence spokesperson Major General Edward Buba..The cases were prosecuted by the Department of Prosecution, part of the Federal Ministry of Justice, and the people will be handed over to the Borno State Government for further action, he added. Reuters

Nigeria to Grant Mining Licences Only to Companies That Process Locally
Nigeria will only grant new mining licences to companies that present a plan on how minerals would be processed locally, under new guidelines being developed, a government spokesperson confirmed on Thursday. This signals a shift from Nigeria’s decades-old policy of exporting raw materials as African governments take steps to extract more value from their solid mineral deposits. To spur investment, Nigeria will offer investors incentives including tax waivers for importing mining equipment, make it easier to secure electricity generation licences, allow full repatriation of profits and boost security, Segun Tomori, a spokesperson for Nigeria’s minister of solid minerals development said…[L]ast week the minister of solid minerals development, Dele Alake, said it was now government policy to make value addition a condition for obtaining licences so as to create jobs and help local communities. Reuters

Year-Long War Dims Sudan’s Ramadan Festivities
The feasts and festivities of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan have been muted in Sudan this year with millions of people displaced from their homes and struggling with hunger as a war between the army and paramilitaries nears the one-year mark…In the past, Ramadan in Sudan was marked by large communal night-time gatherings. Now [millions of people] rely on community kitchens from volunteers for a pared-down Iftar meal…The war in Sudan, which is approaching its first anniversary, broke out last Ramadan between the country’s army and the Rapid Support Forces, the result of long-simmering tensions during four years of power-sharing. Now more than 8.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting, according to the U.N., and about 18 million face worsening acute hunger. Reuters

Sudanese Military Strikes RSF Blocking Aid in North Darfur
Warplanes targeted a Rapid Support Forces (RSF) convoy near the city of Mellit in North Darfur on Wednesday, according to a commander in the joint force formed by signatories of the Juba Peace Agreement. The RSF allegedly attempted to block vehicles carrying humanitarian aid destined for El Fasher. This incident marks a significant escalation in tensions between the RSF and the joint force. Earlier, the RSF had refused to allow aid deliveries through the Al-Dabba crossing of Northern State, accusing the joint force of planning to transport weapons to the Sudanese army in El Fasher…Following the siding of some joint force factions with the Sudanese army last November, the RSF suspended cooperation with the force, accusing it of transporting weapons to Darfur. While limited to fiery pronouncements, this incident threatens to shatter the fragile truce. Despite the RSF actions, the joint force managed to secure the passage of seven vehicles carrying relief supplies to Mellit…Both parties continue to trade accusations of obstructing aid to the suffering population. Sudan Tribune

South Africa: Jacob Zuma Not Allowed to Stand for Election on May 29 – IEC
President Jacob Zuma will not be allowed to stand for election on May 29, the Independent Electoral Commission has decided. The IEC has sustained an objection to his candidature on the grounds that he has a criminal record with a sentence exceeding 15 months. Objections were lodged against eight candidates by different political parties; seven were refused, with the objection to Zuma the only one upheld, said the IEC chairperson Mosotho Moepya. Zuma can approach the Electoral Court to appeal this decision and the court must decide by April 9 so final lists can be published and then ballot papers printed for the May 29 election. Daily Maverick

Somali Government Says at Least 80 al-Shabab Militants Killed in Attacks
The Somali government said Thursday its soldiers — backed by international partners and local clan militias — killed about 80 al-Shabab militants and wounded dozens more in three operations in the country’s southern and central regions. A government official indicated the attacks stopped a terrorist operation. “The militants were planning spectacular attacks to coincide with an important date in the Ramadan calendar, the 17th day of the fast,” said the government’s deputy information minister, Abdirahman Yusuf Adala…The Ministry of Information said the Somali National Army carried out a coordinated series of operations across the regional states of Galmudug, Hirshabelle and Southwest. VOA

‘Staggering’ Rise in Women with Reproductive Health Issues Near DRC Cobalt Mines – Study
Women and girls living in cobalt-mining communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are reporting a “staggering” rise in serious reproductive health issues, including miscarriages and birth defects, according to a new report. An investigation published by the UK-based human rights group Rights & Accountability in Development (Raid) and the Kinshasa-based NGO Afrewatch said that women and girls living around cobalt mines reported experiencing irregular menstruations, urogenital infections, vaginal mycoses and warts. According to the report, “a paediatrician, who has been recording patients’ data since 2016, explained that the rates of genital infections and skin pathologies among female patients had exploded. She believed this was because these populations are the primary users of ‘unclean water’, making them particularly vulnerable to diseases”…Cobalt is used to make batteries for a number of household items, including electric vehicles. Transition to green energy has driven increased production in cobalt mines over the past decade. The Guardian

DRC: People and Animals Threatened by Fighting in Virunga Park
At the heart of the conflicts between armies and militias that have torn the Great Lakes region apart over the past 30 years, Virunga Park has not been spared the fighting between the M23 insurgents, backed by Rwanda, and the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) allied with pro-government groups. The fragile progress made in environmental protection in the 7,800 km2 park in recent years may well be jeopardized…South of the Rwindi plains, most of the territory covering the slopes of volcanoes and tropical forests “is also under M23 control,” said Corneille Semakuba, coordinator at the Center for Research on the Environment, Democracy and Human Rights (CREDDHO). The rebels also control the area where almost a third of the world’s population of mountain gorillas (Gorilla Beringei Beringei) lived before the start of the war. “No massacres have been reported recently but it’s difficult to say how many are still on the DRC side since it’s almost inaccessible,” said Jérôme Lombart, the park’s program director. These primates are found in the Virunga Mountains, between the DRC and Rwanda, and in the Bwindi forest in Uganda. According to the latest estimates, just over 1,000 remain on the planet. This endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has enjoyed unexpected population growth over the last decade. Le Monde

As Starvation Looms, Ethiopia’s Social Safety Net Programme Faces a Funding Gap
Ethiopia’s flagship social protection programme has cut food and cash transfers to the country’s poorest households, even as the threat of starvation looms in several parts of the country. The Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) provides assistance to around eight million vulnerable people, making it one of the largest welfare schemes in Africa. But rising prices and cutbacks from some international donors have caused a serious financing gap of about $195 million over the next two years, according to Sintayehu Demissie, the head of the food security coordination office in Ethiopia’s ministry of agriculture, which manages the programme. Most beneficiaries will receive assistance for only four months this year, instead of the usual six, effectively slashing transfers by a third. Support to the most vulnerable has been cut from 12 months to 10…The PSNP is one of the most ambitious social protection programmes in Africa, and it has had measurable successes…But the programme has long been stretched by the sheer scale of need. The New Humanitarian

Madagascar Cyclone Gamane Kills at Least 11, Displaces Thousands, Government Says
A tropical cyclone that swept across the island of Madagascar this week killed at least 11 people and displaced thousands more, according to the country’s disaster management office. Tropical cyclone Gamane, which crossed the northeast of Madagascar on Wednesday and Thursday, displaced more than 18,000 people with three others still missing, the National Bureau of Risk and Disaster Management (BNGRC) said in a report late on Thursday…Gamane is the first this year in Madagascar’s cyclone and storm season. Early last year, cyclone Freddy and tropical storm Cheneso killed at least 37 people and forced thousands from their homes. Reuters

Kenya and Uganda Resolve Oil Import Row, Uganda Says
Kenya will allow landlocked Uganda’s state oil firm to import petroleum products through its port of Mombasa, Uganda’s energy ministry confirmed on Thursday, to end a row between the two neighbours. Uganda has been seeking alternative ways of importing petroleum products, including through a Tanzanian port, after its oil retailers for decades received their cargo through affiliated firms in Kenya…Uganda imported $1.6 billion worth of petroleum products in 2022, mostly originating from the Gulf. Some 90% of the products are imported through Kenya. It announced in November that it planned to hand over exclusive rights to supply all petroleum products to a unit of the global energy trader Vitol, which would then supply UNOC. Using Kenyan firms to import oil had “exposed Uganda to occasional supply vulnerabilities” where Ugandan retail companies were considered secondary whenever there were supply disruptions affecting retail prices, the government said at the time. Kenyan President William Ruto and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni met in Uganda last month and agreed to resolve the feud, Kenyan media outlets reported. Reuters

Algeria’s Government Pushes Staples to Subsidized Markets to Stave Off Ramadan Shortages
Algeria’s government has flooded newly opened markets selling subsidized goods with pantry staples to stave off shortages during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, when demand typically increases in Muslim-majority countries and prices tend to rise. Authorities have moved to increase food and fuel imports and also limit exports, hoping to meet the demands of Algerians preparing nightly feasts as their families break the sunrise-to-sunset fasting during Ramadan. The policies mark a reversal of the government’s longstanding practice of limiting imports to buoy local producers in the oil-rich North African nation with a struggling economy. AP