Africa Media Review for May 30, 2019

The Testing of Benin’s Democracy
Long hailed as a “beacon of democracy,” Benin’s recent legislative elections—considered a sham by independent observers—have shaken the country’s hard-earned image. On April 28, Benin elected a new National Assembly. However, thanks to a series of eleventh-hour hurdles raised by President Talon’s government, only loyalist parties were permitted to field candidates, resulting in the election of an ostensibly rubber stamp legislature. The opposition boycotted the polls, leading to a meager 27 percent turnout. In response to mass protests, the military fired upon unarmed protesters, ending in at least four civilians’ deaths. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

South Africa’s President Unveils Leaner Government
Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a slimmed-down South African government, with women filling exactly half his cabinet positions. The recently re-elected president’s selection of ministers will be closely scrutinised as a sign of his willingness to take on factions within his ruling African National Congress party that fiercely oppose his leadership. Richard Calland, a political analyst and law professor, said the new cabinet showed an “incremental” approach that would disappoint those hoping for swift and dramatic action to launch South Africa on a new trajectory. “It’s evolution, not revolution, and very typical of Ramaphosa as a political manager. A statement of reformist intent, if not necessarily reformist action,” Calland said.  The Guardian

Horse-Trading and Compromises: Ramaphosa’s Realpolitik Cabinet
With a strong nod to financial discipline and continuity, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday night named Tito Mboweni Finance Minister, while Pravin Gordhan retained Public Enterprises. Much was made of the trimming of ministries to 28 from 36, in ‘a capable, efficient and ethical government’, but the slim-down wasn’t that significant given the 34 deputy ministers who remained. The new executive is a curious mix, revealed after days’ of unprecedented delay — and the outcome of behind-the-scenes haggling. That Tito Mboweni has returned as Minister of Finance will reassure markets, not only in South Africa, but internationally. The rand liked it, after losses posted during the wait for the Cabinet announcement since President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Saturday inauguration.  Daily Maverick

Voter Apathy in Nigeria Clouds President Buhari’s New Tenure
As Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari began his second term on Wednesday, he did so with the blessing of just 8% of the nation’s 201 million people.While Buhari won 56% of the ballots cast on Feb. 23, only 15.2 million of the 29 million registered voters backed him. The 35% turnout, down from 44% in the last elections four years ago and a peak of 69% in 2003, is the latest indicator of mounting voter apathy in Africa’s biggest democracy. The likely cause is a growing sentiment among Nigerians that their votes count for little in a political environment where power vests in those with the biggest campaign budgets or state backing, and that elections deliver few tangible benefits. Nigeria now has 87 million extremely poor people, more than any other nation, according to the Washington-based Brookings Institution.  Bloomberg

Ethnic Clashes in Nigeria Send 20,000 Fleeing into Niger
The U.N. refugee agency says an upsurge in violence in northwest Nigeria since April has driven an estimated 20,000 people to seek safety in neighboring Niger. U.N. refugee spokesman Babar Baloch says the jump in violence is not linked to the Boko Haram insurgency, which has displaced 2.4 million people in the Lake Chad Basin since 2009. “People are fleeing due to multiple reasons, as far as we understand, including clashes between farmers and herders of different ethnic groups, vigilantism, as well as kidnappings for ransom in Nigeria’s Sokoto and Zamfara states,” he said.  VOA

Nigerian Troops Repel Boko Haram Attack on Key Town
Nigerian soldiers on Wednesday repelled an attack by Boko Haram jihadists on the northeast city of Maiduguri, security sources and residents told AFP. The attack, the latest in a wave of assaults by Islamist gunmen, was repulsed hours before President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn into office for a second term in power. Soldiers intercepted a “huge number” of fighters from Boko Haram on the outskirts of Maiduguri on Tuesday night, beginning a night-long battle that continued until close to dawn on Wednesday. “Our troops did an impressive job, and fought off the terrorists,” said a military source, who asked to be named. AFP

What Happened after the BBC Exposed Cameroon Killings? (Video)
In July 2018, BBC Africa Eye investigated a viral video showing a group of women and children being blindfolded and shot in an unknown location. It was initially dismissed by the Cameroonian government as fake news, but the BBC team was able to find out where it happened and who was responsible. But what happened after the story was published?  BBC

‘Most Wanted Jihadist’ Returned to Egypt
One of Egypt’s most wanted jihadists has arrived back in the country after being handed over by the Libyan military strongman, Khalifa Haftar. Hisham al-Ashmawy, a former Egyptian special forces officer, was detained in Libya late last year. He is wanted in connection with several attacks. These include a deadly ambush of police in Egypt’s Western desert two years ago and a raid on guards along the border with Libya in 2014. Egyptian courts had sentenced him, in his absence, to death. Hisham al-Ashmawy was transferred following a visit by Egypt’s intelligence chief to Gen Haftar.  BBC

Libya’s Intensifying Conflict Could Trigger the Next Major Oil ‘Supply Shock,’ Analysts Warn
Energy market investors are “clearly” underestimating the potential impact of sustained fighting in Libya, analysts told CNBC on Wednesday. It comes as the country’s intensifying conflict threatens to almost completely wipe-out the OPEC producer’s oil supply. Libya has been gripped by a sustained resurgence of fighting since early April, when rebel forces loyal to renegade General Khalifa Haftar — who effectively controls the country’s breakaway east — launched a surprise offensive against the home of Libya’s UN-recognized government. The fighting has killed at least 460 people, with more than 2,400 injured and 75,000 others forced out of their homes. Haftar reportedly ruled out a ceasefire on Sunday, with his Libyan National Army (LNA) locked in battle to take Tripoli from fighters loyal to Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA). CNBC

Mozambique Islamists Step up Attacks after Cyclone
Islamist insurgents have resumed attacks in northern Mozambique after a cyclone last month, killing nearly two dozen villagers and torching homes in a mounting political threat in the run-up to a general election. A shadowy jihadist group that has targeted Cabo Delgado province since October 2017 briefly halted attacks after Cyclone Kenneth made landfall on April 25, leaving 45 dead and 250,000 affected. Relief teams and UN agencies were still searching for survivors and distributing aid when the islamists returned to action. In less than a month, the insurgents have killed at least 22 people, wounded dozens more and burned hundreds of homes, according to a record kept by AFP.  AFP

Sudan Rebel Leader Returns Home Despite Death Sentence
A Sudanese rebel leader has returned home despite a 2014 death sentence given in abstentia, saying he will stay even though Sudan’s military junta has asked him to leave. Yasir Arman told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus that he is in Sudan to help resolve the ongoing standoff over who should lead Sudan’s transitional government for the next three years. Arman, deputy chairman of a faction of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), flew into Khartoum on Saturday after more than 20 years of living in Kenya or in Sudan’s restive Blue Nile state and Nuba Mountains area, on the border with South Sudan.  VOA

Madagascar Leader Sees Parliament Win amid Fraud Complaints
Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina said on Wednesday that he believed his party and allies were on course for a majority in the country’s new parliament, but the opposition alleged that “anomalies” had been detected in the vote. The election commission is counting votes from the election, which took place on Monday, with provisional results expected on June 15. “Today, according to the trends at the independent election commission, our group of parties are ahead and on track for a majority, even if it isn’t official,” Rajoelina told reporters to Paris. “We will wait for the final results of course,” he added after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron.  AFP

Madagascar, France, in Talks Over Disputed Islands
France and Madagascar will resume discussions over the Scattered Islands, administered by the former colonial master but claimed by the poor Indian Ocean country since 1973. The two countries’ presidents Andry Rajoelina and Emmanuel Macron have said they will not resort to a legal process or international mediation but instead set up a joint commission to resolve the dispute by June 2020. That date corresponds with the 60th anniversary of Madagascar’s independence from France, the French president’s office noted in remarks to AFP. “I solemnly and officially request (that Macron) find a solution for the management or restitution of the Scattered Islands to Madagascar,” Rajoelina told a joint news conference with his French counterpart in Paris. “For the Madagascan people the ownership of the Scattered Islands is a matter of national identity,” he said.  AFP

Liberian President Seeks to Clean up Central Bank after Scandals
Liberian President George Weah announced an overhaul of the central banks leadership to restore confidence in a institution that has been beset by scandals and is hampering efforts to deal with an economic crisis.Executive Governor Nathaniel Patray will retire within the next three months and his deputy for economic policy, Mounir Siaplay, tendered his resignation with immediate effect, Weah said Wednesday in a speech on state broadcaster Liberia Broadcasting System. Patray was appointed in July 2018. The government will open nominations for a vetting committee to appoint the banks new leadership, said Weah.  In July 2018, Weah ordered a $25-million injection into the economy to mop-up excess Liberian dollars. An investigation by the state auditor found that only $17 million was used for this purpose. Bloomberg

More than Half of DR Congo Cabinet Seats Reserved for Kabila Bloc – UN Radio
Parties allied to DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi and his predecessor Joseph Kabila have finalised agreement on the composition of a new cabinet, UN radio OKAPI reports. Kabila’s party, the Common Front for the Congo (FCC) will have 60 per cent of the positions while Tshisekedi’s CACH coalition will take 20 per cent. The deal was agreed in secret discussions in Kisantu, a town 100 km southwest of the capital Kinshasa. The cabinet will be composed of 39 full ministers and about 12 assistant ministers, OKAPI reported citing sources from both sides. Mr Kabila will name 5 candidates directly to the cabinet, the same number as President Tshisekedi.  The East African

S. Sudan Urges UN Council to Remove It from Sanctions List
The South Sudan government has urged the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to remove the sanctions against it. The world’s security body placed South Sudan in the sanctions list in 2015 following reports of gross human rights violations in the conflict that ravaged the country. The sanctions ranged from an arms embargo against Juba, and others that targeted individuals believed to be obstructing the peace process in South Sudan. Several senior government officials, including military commanders from both President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar factions, were among those sanctioned. South Sudan Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Deng Dau Deng, on Wednesday said it was time for the security council to withdraw the punitive measures as the nation was transitioning and becoming stable. The East African

South Sudan Struggles to Increase Oil Production after War
Oil-rich South Sudan is struggling to increase production of crude several months after the end of its civil war, and the political upheaval in neighboring Sudan is in part to blame. The signing of a peace deal in September helped open the way to resuming drilling in South Sudan’s key region of Unity state, but output has been more sluggish than expected in the country with Africa’s third-largest oil reserves . “We had wanted to be farther along but it’s not an easy task,” the oil ministry’s director-general, Awow Daniel Chuang, told The Associated Press. That has hurt recovery from a five-year conflict that killed nearly 400,000 people. Billions of dollars in oil revenue were lost during the war as many oil rigs were shut down or destroyed.  AP

Congo Ebola Response Must Be Elevated to Maximum Level, UN Told
The UN has been urged by charities to ramp up Ebola prevention work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the highest level of emergency response. Only three crises – Yemen, Syria and Mozambique – are treated as the equivalent of a level-three response, activated when agencies are unable to meet needs on the ground. Charities including Mercy Corps and Oxfam said the same declaration should also be made in DRC, following a recent acceleration in the spread of Ebola. Almost 2,000 cases of Ebola have been recorded since the outbreak began in August. As of Monday, 1,287 people have died from the disease. The Guardian

Germany Follows UK in Suspending Refugee Aid to Uganda
Germany has followed the UK and Japan in suspending some aid meant for refugees in Uganda, in reaction to what they say is a lack of justice and accountability after last year’s corruption scandal in the African country’s refugee programme. “What we are particularly disturbed by is that those who seem to be at the centre of this machination have not faced justice,” said German ambassador to Uganda, Albrecht Conze. He told The Irish Times that €8.1 million of a total commitment of €91.5 million had been withheld. “Maybe it is necessary for the Ugandan government to realise if it’s our money it can’t be swept under the carpet.” Major allegations of corruption in Uganda’s refugee programme first emerged in February 2018, leading to the discovery there were 300,000 fewer refugees in the country than previously thought.  The Irish Times

African Union Launches Powerful New Single Trading Market
Africa is taking a giant step towards harnessing its economic might now that 52 of the continent’s 55 countries have signed a free trade agreement that forms the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). “Africa has an opportunity to show real leadership on the world stage through strength in unity, as the rest of the world today is retreating from multilateralism and increases protectionism,” Landry Signe, the David M. Rubenstein Fellow in global economy and development with the Brookings Institution, told Al Jazeera. The new continental trade agreement creates a single market for goods and services by removing existing trade barriers across Africa. This multinational market has a combined gross domestic product of $2m and a population of more than one billion people.  Al Jazeera