Africa Media Review for March 7, 2018

Sierra Leone Votes for New President
Voting is under way in Sierra Leone, where more than three million people are eligible to choose a new president, parliament and local councillors. In the capital, Freetown, long queues could be seen at polling stations even before dawn. President Ernest Bai Koroma is stepping down after serving two five-year terms. His chosen successor, Samura Kamara, is being challenged by 15 other candidates – many of them promising to tackle endemic corruption and poverty. Mr Kamara of the All Peoples Congress (APC) is one of three frontrunners – the others are Julius Maada Bio of the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and former UN diplomat Kandeh Yumkella of the newly-formed National Grand Coalition (NGC).  BBC

Sierra Leone Hopes Election Can Move Nation Past Its Misfortunes
A deadly mudslide. A horrible Ebola virus that killed thousands. And a nation still in recovery from a civil war that killed more than 50,000 people. As Sierra Leoneans go to the polls on Wednesday, they hope to elect a leader who can help them overcome these tragedies. More than a dozen candidates are vying for votes in Wednesday’s election in what officials hope will be a peaceful democratic transition more than five decades since Sierra Leone gained independence. Though recent elections have been peaceful, several episodes of violence have occurred at political rallies this time, at least one death has been reported and several people have been seriously wounded. The Economic Community of West African States, the African Union and the European Union have all issued statements calling for a peaceful election, as have many of the candidates. The New York Times

AMISOM Warns of Increased Al-Shabab Ambushes
Al-Shabab attacks against African Union peacekeepers and Somali government forces could worsen as troops try to reopen Somalia’s main supply roads, currently cut off by the militants, a spokesman for the peacekeepers warns. Lieutenant Colonel Wilson Rono said the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops and Somali National Army forces are trying to reopen the highway linking the capital, Mogadishu, to Baidoa, 240 kilometers (150 miles) to the west. It’s one of three main roads linking Mogadishu the south, southwest and central regions. Rono spoke to VOA’s Somali service this week after al-Shabab militants ambushed an AMISOM supply convoy about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Mogadishu on Friday, killing at least 10 soldiers and destroying most of the 20 trucks. It was the latest of many deadly attacks the militant group has waged against the AU forces. VOA

The UAE Still Supports Al-Shabaab through Somalia’s Illicit Charcoal Trade
Since the inauguration of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) in 2012, the United Arab Emirates has increasingly vied with other regional powers for influence in the country, investing in infrastructure, and bolstering the country’s military capabilities. The UAE opened a military training facility in Mogadishu in 2015 to train members of the Somali Armed Forces, and a Dubai-based firm has managed Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport beginning before the government transition. During the massive Mogadishu truck bombing in October 2017, it was widely reported that the UAE promised to treat 100 injured civilians. The country responded by sending a flying hospital, and provided additional support to orphaned children through the Emirates Red Crescent. Yet, the UAE’s continuing participation in an illicit Somali charcoal trade undermines these positive contributions.  Al Araby

Tillerson Offers $533 Million in Food Aid for African Famine
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced $533 million in new aid to fight famine in East Africa and the Lake Chad region, in a move aimed at underscoring the U.S. commitment as he embarks on a five-nation trip to the continent. The funds will provide emergency food and nutrition assistance to people in Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and countries around Lake Chad, Tillerson said Tuesday. Also included are medical supplies, better sanitation and emergency shelter, the State Department added in a statement. “The alarming levels of hunger in these areas are largely man-made, as conflicts erupt and people flee their homes,” Tillerson said in a speech at George Mason University outside of Washington hours before he departs for his first stop, Ethiopia. He’ll later travel to Djibouti, Kenya, Chad and Nigeria. Bloomberg

Rex Tillerson Slams China’s Relationship with Africa
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has criticised China’s economic engagement in Africa, ahead of his first official visit to the continent. He said China encouraged dependency, utilised corrupt deals and endangered its natural resources. […] Mr Tillerson gave his speech at George Mason University in Virginia, shortly before setting off on his weeklong visit to Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria. He outlined the themes of his trip: counterterrorism, democracy, governance, trade and investment. Then he launched into his criticism of China. He said its investment had the potential to improve Africa’s infrastructure, but added that its approach had led to mounting debt while creating few jobs. Over the past two decades trade between Africa and China has soared, driven by China’s demand for the continent’s minerals. BBC

Togo Opposition Announces Resumption of Protest Demos
Togo’s opposition coalition on Tuesday said it would resume its protests against President Faure Gnassingbe and his government, despite both sides having agreed to a suspension during talks. The grouping of 14 parties’ spokesperson, Eric Dupuy, told AFP: “We have decided to start our protests again for four days next week: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.” Dupuy said the decision was taken since the government had not honoured a commitment about preparations for parliamentary elections, which are due to be held at some point this year. Last week, the government made appointments to independent local electoral commissions across the small West African country. AFP

After 34 Years, Angola and DRC Resume Rail Links
Rail traffic between the Democratic Republic of Congo and its neighbour Angola has resumed after a 34-year break, providing a vital boost for DRC’s mining exports, officials said. “The first train left DRC on Monday hauling 50 containers and arrived at Luau station in Moxico province” in eastern Angola, the Congolese presidency said on Tuesday. The train, which left from the border town of Dilolo in southeastern DRC, is heading for the Angolan port of Lobito, on the Atlantic coast, it said. Ikos Rukal, spokesperson for the provincial government of Lualaba, where Dilolo is located, said the 1 300km Dilolo-Lobito route was “the most cost-effective form of transport” for exporting copper and cobalt from DRC’s southern mining belt. AFP

Kenya Rejects Ex-Envoys’ Calls for US Mediation in Political Dispute
The government has rejected calls to have the United States intervene in the current political standoff pitting it against the opposition. Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau said there was no need for negotiations since Kenya has successfully gone through its five-year electoral cycle and is now focused on serving her citizens. He was responding to an article published late last month by former US ambassadors to Kenya Johnnie Carson and Mark Bellamy in which they called for US intervention in Kenya. “Our response to the authors’ absurd demand for US intervention in Kenya is a loud no, thanks,” he said in a statement yesterday. “This is a clear demonstration of how preconceived notions and stereotypes about Africa by Western technocrats override any practical experience and knowledge they may have acquired on the continent. Their knack for getting it wrong on African and Kenyan issues is not only dumbfounding but also a demonstration of why desk research on Africa, with the only source of information being a biased Western media, should be treated with disdain,” he said. Daily Nation

Muslims Trapped in Central African Republic Church
There are hundreds of Muslims trapped inside a Catholic Church compound in Bangassou after the town was overrun by members of a Christian armed group last May. They took shelter in the church and risk being killed if they leave the protection of UN peacekeepers. Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi reports from Bangassou, Central African Republic. Al Jazeera

23 Migrants Likely Dead on Trip from Libya to Italy, IOM Says
Twenty-one migrants were missing and probably drowned after a rubber dinghy and a wooden boat set off from Libya for Italy and had to be rescued, the International Organization for Migration said on Tuesday. The 21 people missing were all among the 51 on the wooden boat, and two dead infants had reportedly been discovered on board, bringing the likely death toll to 23, IOM spokesman Joel Millman told a regular U.N. briefing in Geneva. All 132 people on the rubber dinghy were rescued, he said. Both incidents happened on Saturday, but survivors had only just reached the port of Pozzallo in Italy, Millman said. Other survivors were shipped back to Libya. The probable deaths marked the largest incident in over a month on the central Mediterranean migrant route between Libya and Italy, usually the most lethal route, with only one body washed ashore in Libya since Feb. 2. Reuters

Zimbabwe’s Ruling Party Ready to Scrap Mugabe Policies, Officials Say
Zimbabwe’s ruling party plans to bolster its campaign for this year’s general elections by jettisoning former President Robert Mugabe’s “look east” policy toward China and Russia and adopt some of the opposition’s key initiatives, according to three senior party officials. Since Emmerson Mnangagwa replaced Mugabe as president after a military intervention in November, the authorities in Harare, the capital, have shown a willingness to re-engage with western nations and institutions in an effort to kick-start an economy that has halved in size since 2000. It’s also prepared to reverse so-called indigenization laws — except in diamonds and platinum — that force companies to sell or transfer 51 percent stakes to black Zimbabweans, allow white farmers to resume production, though not on the land they were forced to quit, and make it easier for foreign companies to repatriate their profits, according to the officials, who asked not to be identified because the matter hasn’t been made public. Bloomberg

Botswana: Police Clampdown over Intelligence Report
A break-in at the INK Centre for investigative Journalism in Gaborone at the weekend has raised concerns among journalists that official intolerance towards the independent media is growing in Botswana. The break-in came two days after plain-clothes police officers instructed the centre’s managing partner, Joel Konopo, to report to the assistant police commissioner, Mokuedi Mpathi, next week in connection with an alleged leaked intelligence report. The Tholwana Borethe report, leaked to a wide range of news organisations in July last year, claimed that the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services is running an operation intended to disrupt the opposition ahead of the 2019 election. Konopo said during the break-in the intruders broke open a steel filing cabinet containing valuable items including laptops, but took none of them. Daily Maverick

British MPs Ask Egypt for Access to Jailed Ex-President over Health Concerns
A cross-party group of senior British MPs has petitioned the Egyptian government to allow access to the jailed former president Mohamed Morsi, amid reports that his health has seriously deteriorated. Morsi is being held in isolation in Tora prison and his family have been allowed to visit him only twice since he was imprisoned after a military coup in 2013. Morsi won the presidency in elections brought about by a popular uprising against the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak, and had been in office for only a year when he was arrested. He was convicted of a series of offences including endangering national security by leaking documents to Qatar and inciting violence by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Guardian

Indian Tax Officials Raid Properties Linked to Wealthy Gupta Family
Indian tax inspectors raided on Tuesday premises of the Gupta family at the centre of a corruption scandal involving South Africa’s former president, Jacob Zuma, on suspicion they were bringing money into their native country, an official said. South Africa’s anti-graft watchdog has accused the India-born Gupta brothers of using their friendship with Zuma to influence policy and amass wealth. Zuma and the Gupta brothers deny any wrongdoing. Amrendra Kumar, a senior income tax official in India’s Uttar Pradesh state, told Reuters that the Gupta brothers were suspected of finding ways to bring “illicit money” they had earned abroad into India. “We want to look into blocking that way,” Kumar said by telephone, adding that he was involved in ongoing raids. Reuters

The Story of How Nigeria’s Census Figures Became Weaponized
[…] The shenanigans around the census in Nigeria cuts through to the heart of much that continues to ail the country. What began in 1962 as jostling for advantage by politicians in a newly independent country became reinforced when resource rents upped the stakes. As with such things, even when it starts with falsifying census figures, it never ends there. Recently, the head of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) – the body tasked with deciding Nigeria’s revenue sharing formula—complained that states and local governments were concocting figures to boost their share of revenues. It is hard to tell what other data is being manipulated. Nigerians do not trust official figures and neither do officials trust their own figures. The agriculture ministry recently put out a tweet where it quoted a data aggregation website, Index Mundi, as proof rice production had gone up in Nigeria. The irony of the country’s agriculture ministry being unable to produce its own data on a supposed achievement and having to rely on data from a foreign website was not lost on many people. Each time there is a terror attack or kidnapping in Nigeria, one guaranteed outcome is that the figures for the number of casualties or victims will vary from newspaper to newspaper and official government sources. It helps to explain an ironic phenomenon—everyone in Nigeria—including the government, appeals to outside authority for authentic data about the country. Quartz

After a Promise to Return African Artifacts, France Moves toward a Plan
President Emmanuel Macron of France announced on Monday his appointment of two experts to make plans for the repatriation of African artifacts held in French museums, following his pledge in November that “African heritage cannot be a prisoner of European museums.” The Senegalese writer and economist Felwine Sarr and the French art historian Bénédicte Savoy will consult over the next few months and return their findings by November, Mr. Macron said. Mr. Macron announced the appointments in a joint appearance with the president of Benin, Patrice Talon. Benin has long pushed for the return of artifacts that came to France after its invasion in 1892 and subsequent colonial rule. In his speech on Nov. 28 at the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, Mr. Macron said, “African heritage must be highlighted in Paris, but also in Dakar, in Lagos, in Cotonou.” He added, “In the next five years, I want the conditions to be met for the temporary or permanent restitution of African heritage to Africa.”  The New York Times