Africa Media Review for March 9, 2020

ECOWAS Risks Its Hard-Won Reputation
Long a leader in advancing democratic norms in Africa, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) faces a growing challenge of democratic backsliding. In Togo’s 2020 presidential elections, President Faure Gnassingbé implausibly claimed a first round victory (and fourth term in office) despite widespread popular discontent that had seen massive protests over the previous 2 years. … In each of these cases, to varying degrees, ECOWAS has largely stood by as essential democratic processes were dismantled or disregarded. This passivity has transpired despite ECOWAS’s path-breaking 2001 Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance that enshrines democratic norms as the standard for the region and sets out collective responsibilities for regional members to uphold democracy processes when these come under attack. ECOWAS’s inaction, in turn, opens the door to other leaders who may be tempted to avert limits on executive power. This is ironic since in 2017, 14 of the 15 ECOWAS members were democratic-leaning. Given the greater propensity of authoritarian governments for political crisis, corruption, widening inequality, and conflict, ECOWAS’ passivity in the face of democratic backsliding can be expected to lead to greater instability in the region. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Sudan’s PM Survives Assassination Attempt in Capital
Sudan’s prime minister survived an assassination attempt Monday after an explosion went off near his convoy in the capital of Khartoum, Sudan’s state media said. Abdalla Hamdok’s office and his family confirmed he was safe following the explosion. Sudanese state TV said Hamdok, a longtime economist, was heading to the Cabinet’s offices when the attack took place, and that he was taken to a “safe place.” The attack highlighted the fragility of Sudan’s transition to civilian rule, almost a year after pro-democracy protesters forced the military to remove autocratic President Omar al-Bashir from power and replace him with a joint military-civilian government. … No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, and it was unclear what type of device caused the explosion. Footage posted online showed two white, Japanese-made SUVs vehicles used by Sudan’s top officials parked on a street, damaged with widows broken. Another vehicle was badly damaged in the blast. Several dozen people were seen in the site of the attack, chanting: “With our blood and soul, we redeem you, Hamdok.” The protest movement that led the uprising against al-Bashir called the blast a “terrorist attack.” AP

Several Killed in Attack in Cameroon
Armed separatists attacked a village in the African nation of Cameroon’s western French-speaking region on Sunday, killing at least seven people, according to a top offical and a resident. Gov. Awa Fonka Augustine of the West region said separatists from the country’s troubled English-speaking northwest region crossed over early Sunday and attacked a security post in the village of Galim, killing officers and civilians. The governor wouldn’t give a death toll but local media and residents said at least seven people were killed. “Our forces are in search of the attackers who from every indication were out to seize weapons and ammunition from the forces,” the governor said. “I saw the military transporting the corpses of four of their colleagues who were at the military checkpoint and we are about to bury 3 people who were killed in the attack,” said resident Jean Kamfuti. Cameroon’s Anglophone rebels have been fighting since 2017 to create an independent, English-speaking state in the majority French-speaking country’s western regions. The U.N. says the conflict has cost more than 3,000 lives and forced half a million to flee to French-speaking regions of Cameroon or into neighboring Nigeria. AP

Cameroon Refugees Struggle to Cope with Life of Need in Nigeria
Anna Nga longed to see her children return to the classroom again. A deadly conflict between Cameroonian government forces and separatist fighters seeking independence for the mainly English-speaking Southwest and Northwest regions has left many schools closed for more than three years. In late January, with the threat of further violence looming larger ahead of the February 9 parliamentary and municipal elections, Nga travelled across the border to Nigeria. “We had to move to save our heads,” said the 35-year-old. Nga now lives with her six children and four other minors related to her in the border village of Ajassor in southeast Nigeria’s Cross River state. Nga did not move alone. Nearly 8,000 new arrivals – some of whom struggled through dense forests and grasslands bleeding from gunshot wounds – crossed into Nigeria’s Cross River and Taraba states before the elections, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. … UNICEF, the UN’s children’s fund, estimates that more than 855,000 children remain out of school in the Anglophone regions where 80 percent of schools remain closed. Al Jazeera

Ethiopia’s First Shot at Real Democracy Could Be Derailed before Elections Are Held
Africa’s second-most populous country is heading into its first multiparty campaign season after Abiy lifted a ban on opposition parties, dissolved his own ruling party that controlled life here with an iron fist for nearly three decades and scheduled elections for this August. Abiy’s promise to transform Ethiopia into a full-fledged democracy has earned him widespread praise abroad – and is why some Ethiopians aren’t as worried as they once were that speaking critically of the government could lead to a knock on their door by the intelligence services. But the openness has also laid bare a deeply polarized country, riven by political and ethnic rivalries entrenched by Abiy’s predecessors. Rather than uniting the country, democratic politics could derail violently right at their outset in Ethiopia, especially if Abiy’s government denies the opposition space to campaign openly. … In an attempt to preempt such violence, officials say, the government has begun to dispatch security forces to clamp down on opposition gatherings and restrict Internet, phone access and physical movement across a vast opposition stronghold where people have been detained in droves and some killed in custody. The Washington Post

Ethiopia Rejects Arab League ‘Resolution’ Endorsing Egypt on Nile Waters
The Ethiopian government has rejected the decision by the Arab League to endorse Egypt’s position on the Nile waters, even though Addis Ababa commended Sudan for refusing to append its signature on the document. The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry on Friday said the statement by the Arab league on the Renaissance Dam “provides support to a member state without looking at the main facts that are taking place…” At the end of their regular session last week, Foreign Ministers from the Arab League said on Wednesday they support Cairo’s position in its negotiations with Addis Ababa on the Renaissance Dam and rejected any unilateral measures that Ethiopia might take in this regard. Egypt has demanded assurances from Ethiopia that the multibillion dollar dam on the Nile will not affect the amount of water reaching downstream will be maintained even as the dam is used for agriculture and electricity generation. Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Secretary-general of the bloc that brings together states mostly from the Gulf and North Africa, at the end of the 153rd session of the Arab League Council said the League rejects any unilateral decision by Ethiopia that would affect Egypt’s share of the water. The East African

Somali Leader Mohamed Farmaajo to Meet Uhuru in Nairobi
Somali President Mohamed Farmaajo last evening agreed to Kenya’s invitation to visit Nairobi, signalling the calming of tensions that rose last week on Monday. Mr Farmaajo, who received President Kenyatta’s special envoy and Interior CS Fred Matiang’i in Mogadishu indicated he would meet with the Kenyan leader although the actual date was not announced. It followed a meeting between President Farmaajo and Dr Matiang’i’s delegation where he presented an invitation from President Kenyatta. A statement issued by Villa Somalia, President of Somalia’s official residence, said the Somali leader had accepted Mr Kenyatta’s call for a meeting in Nairobi. Dr Matiang’i and his group of security chiefs had been sent to Mogadishu Sunday morning as a delegation meant to iron out the recent row in Mandera which saw Somali National Army troops battle Jubbaland forces on Kenyan soil. … Kenya has had rocky relations with Somalia since the maritime boundary case at the International Court of Justice became active under Farmaajo. Diplomats from the Foreign ministry and officials at the Attorney-General’s office have been the ones handling it. The East African

Top Al-Shabab Commander Believed Killed in Drone Strike
The U.S. military has confirmed to VOA that one of al-Shabab’s top leaders was likely killed in a drone strike last month. “It is believed that indeed Bashir Mohamed Mahamoud, aka Bashir Qoorgaab, was killed” in a U.S. air strike Feb. 22, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) spokesman Col. Chris Karns told VOA. The strike occurred in the town of Saakow in Middle Jubba region. Qoorgaab was one of the most battle-hardened al-Shabab commanders of the group’s Jabhat (military). Most recently he commanded three al-Shabab Jabhat units, two of which are operating in Kenya, including the notorious Jaysh Ayman unit in the area of Manda Bay. “This is progress,” Karns told VOA. “Removal of threats, like this terrorist, make Africans and Americans a bit safer and sends a strong message to a common enemy whose ambition is to export violence and do serious harm to African partners, Americans, and international partners.” … Qoorgaab had a $5 million bounty on his head, the second highest al-Shabab bounty behind current leader Ahmed Diriye Abu Ubaidah, who has $6 million on his head. VOA

U.S. Creates New Envoy Position to Counter Rising Terrorism in Sahel
The United States has created a special envoy for Africa’s Sahel region, a State Department spokesman said on Friday, to counter rising violence from groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State which are expanding their foothold. Envoy Peter Pham, started his new role earlier this week, the spokesman said. He has been serving as U.S. Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa since November 2018. “Sahel is one of the places where the situation is getting worse in the continent,” the spokesman said. Security has progressively worsened in the Sahel, an arid region of West Africa, just below the Sahara desert, with militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State strengthening their foothold across the region, making large swathes of territory ungovernable and stoking ethnic violence. Former colonial power France intervened in 2013 to drive back militants who had seized northern Mali the previous year. Fighters have since regrouped and spread. Over the past year, militants have stepped up attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Reuters

South Sudan Ethnic Clashes Flare Up Latest Threat to Peace Agreement
Even before the revitalised transitional government of national unity (R-TGoNU), which was formed out of a peace deal by President Salva Kiir, First Vice President Riek Machar and several other political groupings, settles down, the clashes could be the first challenge to deal with. Observers think it violates the cessation of hostilities deals meant to ensure peace, although the cause of the violence has been cited as traditional cattle rustling and friction over grazing lands. The clashes saw the European Union heads of missions in South Sudan jointly call on the R-TGoNU to urgently quell the violence that erupted in some areas of Greater Jonglei and Warrap. Last month, attacks suspected to have been carried out by the Lou Nuer armed youth in some areas of Greater Pibor are said to have left 20 people dead, over 30 injured and more than 5,000 displaced to the neighbouring towns and villages. According to David Ngiro, Secretary for Greater Pibor Administrative Area Youth Union in Juba, the fighting has been ongoing for the past two weeks. The East African

DR Congo: Agencies Appeal for Funding for Refugee Support and Ebola Response
Urgent resources are needed to support countries in southern Africa and the Great Lakes region which are hosting more than 900,000 refugees and asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and partners said in a $621 million appeal launched on Friday. They described the situation in the DRC as one of the most complex and long-standing humanitarian crises on the continent. Despite a peaceful transition of power following the December 2018 presidential election, ongoing conflict and inter-communal violence, particularly in the east, continue to uproot civilians both within and outside the country’s borders. Most refugees fled to neighbouring Uganda, which is sheltering nearly 400,000 people.  Others went to Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola and the Republic of Congo. Congolese refugees have found safety in locations where host communities are already under pressure with meagre resources. … Meanwhile, more than five million Congolese are internally displaced, some repeatedly. UN News

Congolese President Says Army Spy Chief Died by Hanging
Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi said the death of the country’s top army spy last month was apparently due to hanging, but he did not spell out whether the military intelligence chief had killed himself. General Delphin Kahimbi’s death on Feb. 28 followed media reports that he was being investigated for allegedly seeking to destabilise the country. At the time, his wife said he had suffered a heart attack. At a weekly cabinet meeting on Friday, Tshisekedi said the United Nations peacekeeping force had asked him to conduct an independent investigation into Kahimbi’s death. He told ministers the available evidence pointed to death by hanging, according to the minutes of the meeting. The general was appointed by former President Joseph Kabila, and his successor as head of state, Tshisekedi, had been under pressure from the United States to hold Kahimbi to account for alleged human rights abuses. Kahimbi was under European Union sanctions for alleged abuses committed when he commanded operations against rebels in east Democratic Republic of Congo in the 2000s and during his tenure as military intelligence chief. Reuters

Liberia Suspends All Petroleum Licenses in an Effort to Regulate the Industry
Liberia’s President George Weah has suspended all petroleum importers licenses pending a tougher revision process and as a way to eliminate previous unorthodox strategies, according to a statement from his office. The review process will be carried out individually, considering a performance-based review covering the period January 2017 to January 2020, according to a statement from the President’s office. “Re-activation of licenses will be done on a case-by-case basis, and those that do not meet performance and capacity requirements satisfactory to the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company will be subject to revocation,” said the statement. The decision followed the unprecedented shortage of petroleum products that resulted in long queues at petrol stations across the country recently and is also intended to prevent a recurrence of petroleum shortages in the market. RFI

Nigeria Senate Approves President’s $23 Billion Loan Request
Nigeria’s Senate approved President Muhammadu Buhari’s plan to borrow $22.7 billion from external creditors to finance infrastructure projects. Lawmakers gave their endorsement to the government during Thursday’s proceedings in the capital, Abuja, to seek the funding expected from the Islamic Development Bank, the African Development Bank, the World Bank and creditors in China, Japan and Germany. “The loans will have a positive influence on the GDP of this country,” Senate President Ahmed Lawan said. The government will use the money to expand the railways, build a new hydro power dam and fund special intervention projects across the West African nation, according to a letter sent to the parliament in November. While Nigeria’s outstanding loans amount to about about a quarter of its economic output, Africa’s largest oil producer spends more than half of its revenue servicing debts. The International Monetary Fund has warned that without major revenue reforms, the debts could rise to almost 36% of GDP by 2024, with interest payments taking as much as 75% of government revenue. Bloomberg

Carrying the Load: The Weight of Women’s Work in the DRC
With her arms raised above her head, she grips the rope and leans forward to keep the basket full of heavy stones tethered behind her back. Beside her, the other women do the same as they make their way from the bottom of the valley, up a steep and slippery pathway of mud and rocks, towards the top of the Kamituga mining site in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. I am exploring the narrow alleyways of the quarry, trying not to slip on the difficult terrain, when I spot them, a line of women emerging silently from an indistinct place down the hill – backs leaned forward to help them carry their load, feet mostly bare or shrouded by a simple pair of worn-down sandals. The Kamituga quarry is the largest artisanal gold mine in South Kivu province. These women are the maman kasomba – the transporteuses – responsible for carrying stones up the valley – a two-kilometre, hour-long journey they make several times a day. The stones will be crushed by other women (known as maman twangaises) into very fine quartz powder, in the hope of finding traces of gold, which are often contained within the stones like thin veins running inside them. For each run a woman makes, she will earn a little less than $2. Al Jazeera

Among them is female activist Emmanuella Mokake of the NGO Cameroon women for Participating in Development. Mokake says her NGO is working to change the perception that women should only bring up babies, carry out domestic chores and work in farms. “Women and their human rights and women gender equality has never been a war against men because it is normally very misconstrued. Women have realized that they are no more compelled to endure domestic violence because it hampers on their human rights,” she said. “Women are setting out now to say no, enough of this battery. If any man beats a woman, the law under assault and battery clearly handles that.” Mokake said they were asking Cameroon to ratify the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa’ which it signed in 2006 and respect the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, ratified the country in 2005. The tens of thousands of women gathered Sunday in Yaounde said they were unhappy that strong traditional practices still encourage female genital mutilation and early marriages. VOA

Togo Confirms First Case of Coronavirus
The West African country of Togo has registered its first case of coronavirus, its government said on Friday. The patient is a 42-year old female resident of the capital Lome who had visited Benin, Germany, France and Turkey in late February and early March. She is being treated in isolation and her condition is stable, the government said in a statement. Reuters