Africa Media Review for May 17, 2023

Putin, Zelenskyy Agree to Meet with ‘African Leaders Peace Mission,’ Says South Africa President
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have agreed to separate meetings with a delegation of leaders from six African countries to discuss a possible plan to end the war in Ukraine, South Africa’s president said Tuesday. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said he spoke with Putin and Zelenskyy by phone over the weekend and they each agreed to host “an African leaders peace mission” in Moscow and Kyiv, respectively. … The leaders of Zambia, Senegal, Republic of Congo, Uganda and Egypt would make up the delegation along with Ramaphosa, he said in a statement. Putin and Zelenskyy gave him the go-ahead to “commence the preparations,” the South African leader said. … Zelenskyy’s 10-point peace plan also includes a tribunal to prosecute crimes of aggression, which would enable Russia to be held accountable for its invasion. Zelenskyy had private talks with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday, later saying he sought support for Ukraine’s peace plan from the pontiff. China has been the only other country so far offering to mediate possible peace talks, an offer clouded by its show of political support for Moscow. AP

Russia’s Threat to Exit Ukraine Grain Deal Adds Risk to Global Food Security
The United Nations is racing to extend a deal that has allowed shipments of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea to parts of the world struggling with hunger, helping ease a global food crisis exacerbated by the war Russia launched more than a year ago. … Russia set a Thursday deadline for its concerns to be ironed out or it’s bowing out. Such brinkmanship isn’t new: With a similar extension in the balance in March, Russia unilaterally decided to renew the deal for just 60 days instead of the 120 days outlined in the agreement. The last ship participating in the deal left Ukraine on Wednesday hauling corn to Turkey. No vessels have been cleared to enter the country’s three open ports since May 6. U.N. officials and analysts warn that a failure to extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative could hurt countries in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia that rely on Ukrainian wheat, barley, vegetable oil and other affordable food products, especially as drought takes a toll. … Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the grain deal “should be extended for a longer period of time and expanded” to “give predictability and confidence” to markets. Moscow opposes such an expansion. AP

Africa’s Sahel Needs International Support to Fight Militants, UN Says
Without greater international support and regional cooperation, the instability will increase towards West African coastal countries, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Africa Martha Pobee told a Security Council meeting on Tuesday. “Resolute advances in the fight against terrorism, violent extremism, and organised crime in the Sahel desperately need to be made,” said Pobee. “The devastating effects of the continuing destabilisation of the Sahel would be felt far beyond the region and the African continent.” A counterterrorism force – now comprised of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger – lost Mali a year ago when its ruling generals decided to pull out. Pobee said the force has not conducted any big military operations since January. She said the force is adjusting to new realities: France moving its counterterrorism force from Mali to Niger because of tensions with the military government, and Mali’s decision to allow Russian mercenaries from Wagner Group to deploy on its territory. An agreement between the UN, European Union, and the force under which the UN peacekeepers in Mali supplied fuel, rations, medical evacuation, and engineering support is expected to end in June, she said, expressing hope the Security Council will consider the issue of UN financing for African peace operations. Al Jazeera

Mysterious Killing of Chinese Gold Miners Puts New Pressure on Beijing
The Chinese embassy in the Central African Republic had a stark warning for its compatriots in the landlocked nation: Do not leave the capital city of Bangui. Kidnappings of foreigners were on the rise, and any Chinese person outside of Bangui was to leave those areas immediately. Less than a week later, on March 19, a group of gunmen stormed a remote gold mine far away from Bangui and killed nine Chinese workers. The Central African government has said that it investigated the massacre and concluded that a leading rebel group had orchestrated it. The rebels have denied the allegation and blamed a third party that operates in the country — Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, which has in turn accused the rebels. None of the sides has presented evidence for its claims. … The accusations around Wagner’s potential involvement are particularly sensitive for China, pointing to the complications Mr. Xi faces as he strengthens ties with Russia, even amid the war in Ukraine… “Wagner and China have the same exploitative interest in Africa, but Wagner thrives in chaos, while China needs stability,” [Alessandro Arduino, an expert on Chinese security at King’s College London] said. New York Times

Airstrikes Hit Khartoum as Fighting between Sudanese Factions Intensifies
Airstrikes and artillery fire shook much of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, and its neighbouring cities on Tuesday as fighting between the country’s warring factions intensified sharply. New battles between the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) flared from dawn in north and south Khartoum, as well as in the adjacent cities of Omdurman and Bahri, as the army sought to defend its bases from its paramilitary rival. The army has been trying to cut off RSF supply lines from outside the capital, as well as to secure strategic sites including the airport in central Khartoum and the al-Jaili oil refinery in Bahri, observers said. The RSF claimed to have captured 700 regular soldiers in an attack on an army base in the al-Jaili district, in addition to a large ammunition dump. The RSF’s chief media officer shared a clip on a journalists’ WhatsApp group showing hundreds of captive army soldiers walking in single file, some barefoot and none with weapons. … What remains of the government has retreated to Port Sudan, about 520 miles (840km) away, which has been the hub for recent mass evacuations of foreigners and many Sudanese citizens. The UN says almost 200,000 people have fled Sudan, and another 700,000 have been internally displaced by the conflict. The Guardian

Sudan: Fleeing Generals at War and Violent Militias, Many Say ‘We’re Not Coming Back’
Thousands of Sudanese refugees watched as the first emergency aid workers reached a village in Chad, days after escaping from their embattled country. Mothers tended to toddlers, while men listed their most urgent needs — water, vaccines, tarps for the looming rainy season. The fighting that erupted in Sudan’s capital last month has ricocheted far beyond the city’s borders, worsening instability in the restive western region of Darfur and sending tens of thousands of people fleeing to neighboring countries, including Chad in Central Africa. As villages in western Sudan empty, villages in eastern Chad are filling up: Camps have sprouted up, sometimes in days, with thousands of tents made of colorful sheets mounted on branches, forming a fragile patchwork of uncertainty. The surging conflict in Darfur is the latest ordeal for a region that has been traumatized by two decades of genocidal violence. It has also deepened a humanitarian crisis in Chad, where hundreds of thousands of people displaced from Darfur had already taken refuge. New York Times

Silencing Dissent: Journalists in Sudan Face Threats, Raids
When Mohi el-deen Jibril checked his phone on May 11, he saw his name on a list of people accused of betraying the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and supporting the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Instantly, he thought of leaving his war-torn country. “Seven journalists appeared on the list, but I was the only one still in Sudan,” Jibril, 48, told Al Jazeera. “I have since received threats from many people. Two [wrote to me on WhatsApp] and said that after the army kills the RSF, they will come for me next.” Since fighting erupted in Sudan between the army and the RSF last month, supporters from both sides have threatened journalists for criticising human rights violations by both sides, according to the Sudanese Journalists Syndicate. The number of journalists who have been targeted or intimidated remains unknown, but Al Jazeera identified six people who were told that they would be hurt or killed if they continued reporting abuses. Many others have appeared on lists circulating on social media, where those mentioned are accused of betraying Sudan in an apparent effort to incite violence against them. Al Jazeera

Tunisian Journalist Given Five-Year Prison Term in ‘Attack on Press Freedom’
A Tunisian appeals court has sentenced a radio journalist to five years in prison for disclosing information about the country’s security services. Khalifa Guesmi, of the Mosaique FM radio station, had appealed against a one-year term handed down in November before the sentence was increased under an anti-terrorism law. Amira Mohamed, vice-president of the Tunisian journalists’ SNJT union, said: “This is the heaviest sentence pronounced by the Tunisian courts against a journalist. It presents a dangerous authoritarian drift and is a flagrant attack on the freedom of the press.” Guesmi was found guilty of having taken part in intentionally disclosing “information relating to operations of interception, infiltration, audiovisual surveillance or data collection”, said his lawyer, Rahal Jallali. A police officer, who had been found guilty of providing the information to the journalist, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on appeal, up from an initial three-year term. … Several local and international rights groups and labour organisations – including the Tunisian League for Human Rights and I Watch – issued a joint statement on Tuesday, denouncing the sentence as a “masquerade verdict” and a “major setback for the judicial system.” The Guardian

Curfew in Lesotho to Tackle Gun Crime after Journalist Killed
Authorities in Lesotho have declared an indefinite curfew in the hope that curtailing the movement of people at night will help curb gun violence in the small southern African kingdom. The curfew, which came into force on Tuesday, comes just days after a prominent radio journalist was shot dead in a killing that shocked the nation. … Journalist Ralikonelo Joki, host of a current affairs show on a local private radio, was gunned down by unknown assailants as he was leaving his workplace in Maseru on Sunday night. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that Joki was shot once in the head and at least 13 times in the body by unknown assailants. “Joki, the host of the current affairs show ‘Hlokoana-La-Tsela’ (I Heard It Through the Grapevine), covered government, agriculture, and corruption, and was best known for breaking a 2021 story about five politicians who were illegally trading alcohol,” the CPJ said in a statement. “The journalist received at least three death threats from different Facebook accounts in March and April related to his work as a journalist,” the organisation added. Al Jazeera

Gunmen Attack US Convoy in Southeast Nigeria; 2 Policemen, 2 Consulate Staffers Killed
Gunmen on Tuesday targeted a convoy of U.S. Embassy staffers in southeast Nigeria, killing two of its local workers and two policemen, the police said. The assailants opened fire on the convoy along a major road in Ogbaru local government area in Anambra State, one of the epicenters of separatist violence in the region, according to the police. … The attack in Atani town, located 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the state capital, further raised concerns about the safety of residents and travelers amid the separatist violence that has become rampant in Nigeria’s southeastern region in recent years. Authorities have blamed the violence on a separatist group known as the Indigenous People of Biafra which is leading a campaign for the region to break away from the West African nation to form an independent country. The separatists have become more violent in the last few years as they continue to demand a referendum and since the trial of its leader Nnamdi Kanu on terrorism charges. AP

At Least 30 People Killed in Clashes in Central Nigeria
More than 30 people have been killed in clashes between herders and farmers in central Nigeria’s Plateau State, a local official said Tuesday. … The chairman of Mangu district has imposed a 24-hour curfew, he added, “to ensure that the crisis does not escalate to other areas.” In April, nearly 50 people were killed when gunmen attacked a village in neighboring Benue State, in violence local officials blamed on herdsmen. Benue has been among the hardest hit by intercommunal clashes between farmers and herders who are accused of destroying farmland with their cattle grazing. President-elect Bola Tinubu, who takes the helm of Africa’s most populous nation later this month, is facing multiple security challenges. … Violence has been on the rise in the last few weeks after a brief calm period during February and March elections for the presidency and governorships. Defense Post with AFP

Tinubu: I’ll Prioritise Assisting Poor Nigerians, Reform Institutions
President-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu said one of his immediate goals is to implement institutional reforms and development programmes that strengthen the nation’s democratic institutions and assist the poor and vulnerable Nigerians. Tinubu said this during a telephone conversation initiated by the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, a statement by the president-elect said. The former Lagos State governor pledged to work to ensure continued positive relations with the United States and promised to hit the ground running and unify the country upon his assumption of office on Monday, May 29. Tinubu said during the discussion with Blinken, he recalled how the US had granted him asylum after he was forced into exile by the military junta of the late General Sani Abacha because of his tenacious fight for democracy in Nigeria. … He also expressed his determination to strengthen Nigeria’s democracy and faithfully serve the people as their president noting that he would work to unite the country and ensure that Nigerians are happy and enjoy the benefits of democracy and progressive good governance. The President-elect added that without national unity, security, economic development, and good governance, Nigeria would not become a better place to live or play its proper role in the community of African nations. Guardian

Tanzania: Why Tanzania’s President Suluhu Hassan is Reviving Constitution-Writing Process
President Samia Suluhu Hassan took over as the country’s first-ever women president two years ago, changing the Tanzanian political space. Since Suluhu Hassan has made several reforms, including lifting the ban on newspapers and a ban on opposition rallies imposed by her predecessor, John Magufuli. However, a growing number of MPs and opposition members and activists want her to go beyond and change the constitution. Under the late Magufuli there was little civic space and lots of clamping on the opposition parties. Opposition parties have expressed dissatisfaction with the country’s current constitution, saying it is “full of patches, and only caters to the ruling party’s interests.” Following these calls, on 6 May, Suluhu Hassan finally gave the go-ahead for political parties meeting to get the constitution-writing process under way. The recommendations of a government-backed task force on democratic reforms will guide the process. This task team was appointed by the president in 2022 to review the political situation in the country, among other recommendations, the task team proposed the revival of the constitution-writing process. AllAfrica

Citizen Observers from Africa Strategise on Better Safeguarding Elections
Leaders from 24 citizen observer organizations from 20 countries from across Africa met in Accra, Ghana to strategize on how to better safeguard elections. The summit was the most comprehensive and diverse gathering of citizen observers from East, North, West and Southern Africa. Delivering the keynote address, Prof Attahiru Jega, former Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC) stated “Nobody now doubts the value of citizen engagements in the electoral process, especially the positive role that citizen observers play in ensuring the transparency of the electoral process and holding election management bodies (EMBs) accountable.” The “New Realities of Citizen Election Observation in Africa Summit” was held in response to the changing nature of elections in Africa and around the world. The event drew upon experiences from across the continent, including recent elections in Kenya and Nigeria as well as upcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Liberia, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe. … African Citizen observer organizations issued a Joint Communiqué on the Future of Citizen Observation in Africa (in English and French) that included more than 25 resolutions on how to be more effective at defending the rights of citizens to vote in light of the new realities of elections in Africa. The participants agreed that the summit should become an annual event. Africa Feeds

Several Dead in Senegal Clashes as Opposition Leader Sonko’s Rape Trial Adjourned
Three people died during clashes between Senegalese police and supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, the authorities said on Tuesday, amid flaring tensions triggered by a legal showdown. Two young people were found dead overnight in the capital Dakar and southern city of Ziguinchor, where a policeman died on Monday after being accidentally crushed by an armoured anti-riot vehicle, the interior ministry said. Crowds in Ziguinchor, where Sonko is mayor, on Monday hurled stones at police who responded with tear gas, according to an AFP correspondent there. In Dakar, around 20 vehicles at a depot belonging to the national bus company were torched, and the local press said two stores belonging to the French supermarket chain Auchan, which has been frequently targeted in disturbances, were also attacked. … Sonko’s trial opened meanwhile in Dakar, more than 400 kilometres (250 miles) to the north, and was immediately adjourned until May 23 after he failed to show. AFP

Oromo Rebels Accuse Ethiopian Forces of Attacks Following Peace Talks
Rebels from Ethiopia’s Oromiya region accused the government on Wednesday of launching a military offensive against them after a first round of peace talks ended earlier this month without a deal. The government and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) held negotiations for a week in Zanzibar in a bid to end a decades-long conflict that, in recent years, has left hundreds dead and displaced tens of thousands in Ethiopia’s most populous region. … Oromiya, which surrounds the capital Addis Ababa, is home to Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group and over a third of the country’s 110 million people. It has experienced unrest for decades, rooted in grievances about alleged marginalisation and neglect by the federal government. The violence there is a major security challenge for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose government signed a peace deal last November to end a two-year civil war in the northern Tigray region. The OLA is an outlawed splinter group of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a formerly banned opposition party that returned from exile after Abiy took office in 2018. Reuters

World Bank Suspends $1Bn Worth of Project Funding in DR Congo
The World Bank has suspended funding for humanitarian and development projects in Democratic Republic of Congo worth more than $1 billion after the government dissolved the project fund without warning, the lender said. The suspension will affect more than 600,000 beneficiaries, including victims of sexual violence, the World Bank told Congo’s finance minister last week in a letter seen by Reuters. A World Bank spokesperson confirmed its authenticity. The letter also said that the bank was still waiting for documentation on the status of $91 million which had already been advanced for the projects out of the total $1.04 billion. On May 4, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi dissolved the structure, the “Social Fund of the Democratic Republic of Congo”, by presidential order and created another public fund. … In the letter dated May 12, the World Bank’s director of operations for the country, Albert Zeufack, said the institution had found out about the decision in the press. … One of the fund’s beneficiaries was the Panzi Foundation led by Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynaecologist who won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with victims of sexual violence. “It’s a catastrophe for the victims,” Mukwege told Reuters. Reuters

Nigeria’s Digital Currency Can’t Compete with Crypto
In 2021, Nigeria became the first African country, and the second in the world, to introduce a government-backed digital currency: the eNaira. At the time of its launch, the governor of Nigeria’s central bank said the currency had drawn “overwhelming interest and encouraging response.” The government believed it would boost financial inclusion, improve the security of digital transactions, and enhance local and cross-border trade, among other benefits. Nearly 18 months on, however, eNaira has failed to achieve any of those goals. In fact, digital currency users in Nigeria are now questioning why it even exists. … For many Nigerians, cryptocurrencies are a way to hedge against rising inflation, a depreciating local currency, and restrictive regulations around foreign transactions. But Akanni questioned the eNaira’s relevance to the country’s youth. “To the young population, the typical crypto users who have access to the internet and to whom the eNaira is supposed to appeal, eNaira more or less does the same thing as their bank applications,” he said. “So why would they switch when there are no special incentives for them to do so?” Rest of World

Johannesburg, Where Mayors Last Just Months, or Even Only Weeks
This was once a city of dreamers, a gold town that seduced prospectors from all over hoping to strike it rich. Lately, though, Johannesburg has been something of a political punchline, a metropolis where many residents’ spirits are as dark as the streetlights. This month, after days of brinkmanship and arm twisting, the city inaugurated its sixth different mayor in 22 months: Kabelo Gwamanda, a first-term city councilor from a political party that got just 1 percent of the vote in the last municipal election. His ascent came after he won the majority of the votes of the city’s 270 elected council members. And it capped the latest chapter in a political soap opera where mayoral terms are measured in weeks and months, and where the inability of council members to stick with a leader has resulted in a municipal mess, with Johannesburg residents the biggest losers. While political leaders bicker over power and cliques, exasperated residents often struggle through days without electricity and water, dodge cratered roads and fret about dilapidated buildings. New York Times