Africa Media Review for November 19, 2019

Mali Says 24 Soldiers Killed in Latest Extremist Attack

Mali’s military says 24 soldiers have died in the latest extremist attack as alarm grows about the vast Sahel region being used as a haven for fighters linked to the Islamic State group and al-Qaida. Monday’s attack occurred amid a surge in assaults that have killed over 100 Malian troops in recent weeks and led to public outrage, political pressure on President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and a decline in military morale. In a statement overnight, Mali’s army said 29 soldiers were wounded and 17 extremists killed at Tabankort in the northeastern Gao region. The attack occurred while soldiers from Mali and Niger were carrying out a joint operation along their border to track extremists. Nigerien troops detained about 100 suspects, the statement said. It did not say which extremist group was to blame. The State Department’s annual report on extremism, released this month, said the arid Sahel region stretching across Africa south of the Sahara Desert is of growing concern with thousands of IS-linked fighters carrying out deadly attacks in Mali, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and other countries. AP

Mali Peacekeeping Mandate Must Be Strengthened, Says Senegal’s Sall

Senegal’s President Macky Sall opened the International Forum on Peace and Security in Dakar on Monday calling for the UN Security Council to agree to a stronger mandate for MINUSMA, the UN peacekeeping force in Mali. “Fighting terrorism in the Sahel is both a duty of solidarity and an imperative for collective security,” said Sall, adding, “in Africa and outside the continent we are all threatened, we all have an interest in peacekeeping.” These sentiments were backed by his Mauritanian counterpart Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani. “The UN must reform…in its peacekeeping policy, which is not in line with the issues” [on] security in the Sahel, he said. French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe spoke to the Forum, calling for more cohesion in fighting terrorists in the Sahel. “One thing is certain: the jihadist groups will benefit, as soon as they can, from our weaknesses, from our lack of coordination or our insufficiencies in terms of means, commitments or training,” said Philippe. RFI

A leading opposition figure in Niger who returned from self-imposed exile last week was jailed on Monday to serve out the rest of his time for a conviction of baby smuggling, his family told AFP. Hama Amadou, 69, who had flown home last Thursday after his mother died, “was incarcerated early today in Filingue,” 180km north of the capital Niamey, a relative said. “He went to court voluntarily and was taken to prison.” A former premier and parliamentary speaker, Amadou has been nicknamed “the Phoenix” for his political comebacks. … Analysts said that Amadou’s political future remained unclear. An expert on constitutional law, Amadou Boubacar, said that even if he served the entirety of his sentence before the December 2020 election, he would still be legally ineligible for a tilt at the presidency. … In that context, Amadou’s future could largely depend on a “political dialogue” promised last month by Prime Minister Brigi Rafini, Boubacar said. AFP

Mine Workers Demanded More Protection before Deadly Burkina Faso Attack

Five months before an ambush killed 39 colleagues, local workers at a Canadian-owned gold mine in Burkina Faso pleaded with managers to fly them to the site rather than go by a road that was prone to attacks, two people present at the meeting said. The employees wanted the same protections as expatriate staff who had been flying to the mine in helicopters since three workers were killed in two earlier attacks in August 2018. Shortly after those deaths, the mine’s owner, Quebec-based Semafo Inc., said it had added a military escort to bus convoys taken by Burkinabe workers to the site each week. But local employees of Semafo and its Accra-based contractor African Mining Services (AMS) did not think it was enough in an area notorious for bandits and jihadists. On Nov. 6, attackers blew up an armoured vehicle escorting the workers’ convoy and opened fire on their buses, killing 39 people and wounding 60 others. It was the worst attack the West African country has seen in years. Reuters

Air Strike Hits Biscuit Factory in Libyan Capital, Killing 10

At least ten workers were killed and 35 wounded in an air strike that hit a biscuit factory in Libya on Monday in what a senior U.N official said was a possible war crime. The majority of those killed in the strike in Wadi Rabea, 21 km (13 miles) from the centre of Tripoli, were apparently migrants, while two were Libyans, U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame told the Security Council. Pictures posted by authorities showed several wounded people in bloodstained civilian clothes lying on beds in ambulances or medical facilities. Tripoli has been under attack since April from forces loyal to east Libya-based commander Khalifa Haftar. The offensive by his Libyan National Army (LNA) quickly stalled, and both sides have used drones and fighter jets to carry out air strikes amid sporadic fighting. … Last week the United States called on the LNA to halt its offensive on Tripoli, warning against Russian interference. Salame said Germany’s attempts to hold a conference to bring an end to the conflict in Libya were continuing with another preparatory meeting planned for Wednesday. He did not give a date for the main event. Reuters

U.S. Drone Strikes Stymie ISIS in Southern Libya

A recent flurry of American airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in southern Libya has seriously disrupted the terrorist group’s efforts to reorganize and carry out attacks in one of its most important hubs outside the Middle East, military and counterterrorism officials say. Over 10 days in late September, four strikes killed 43 militants – or about one-third of the group’s estimated 150 fighters in Libya – including some important commanders and recruiters, according to officials at the headquarters of the Pentagon’s Africa Command. The strikes, which other officials said were carried out by Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drones based in neighboring Niger, came as the Islamic State had increased recruiting and attacks in recent months in the largely ungoverned spaces of southwest Libya. Several new camps of fighters had emerged in that area, prompting the first American strikes against ISIS in Libya this year. “The most critical, enduring weakness for both ISIS Libya and A.Q.I.M. is recruitment,” Rear Adm. Heidi Berg, the command’s director of intelligence, said in an interview, referring to the Islamic State and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which is active in Libya. The New York Times

Tunisia’s PM-Designate Promises to Revive Hope for Frustrated Youth, Reform State Firms

Tunisia’s next government should focus on reforming the faltering economy and restoring hope among frustrated youth, the prime minister designate said on Sunday. Habib Jemli faces the challenge of creating a ruling coalition in economically troubled Tunisia after the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which took most seats in last month’s election, tapped him as prime minister on Friday. … Priorities will be to combat price inflation and to improve Tunisians’ living conditions and public services. Unemployment stands at about 15% due to weak growth, low investment, and high inflation of nearly 7 pct. Impatience is rising among lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund that have helped keep Tunisia afloat and are pressing for economic reforms. … Any new government will need the support of at least two other parties to command even the minimum parliamentary majority of 109 seats needed to pass legislation. If Jemli cannot form a government within two months, the president can ask another to try. If that fails and the deadlock persists, there will be another election. Reuters

El Burhan: Sudanese Women Should Lead Peace Process

On Saturday, the roundtable on peace organised by the Political and Civilian Women Organisation (PWCO) in cooperation with the UN in Khartoum, called for more participation of women in peace-making. The chairman of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, Abdelfattah El Burhan, attended the roundtable. Addressing the participants, Sawsan Hasan, Head of PWCO Coordination Affairs, said the roundtable aims to actively strengthen the role of women in peace-making processes and support women’s equal participation in the peace talks as stipulated in the Constitutional Document. “More efforts should be made to achieve a real peace. The roots of the problems should be addressed with a focus on the social dimensions and the unjust differences between the different regions in the country,” she said. “Therefore, we must work on nation-wide justice.” The chairman of the Sovereign Council, Abdelfattah El Burhan, stressed the need for women to participate in peace-making processes at all stages. Radio Dabanga

Candidates Gear Up for Guinea Bissau Presidential Elections

Elections are less than a week away in Guinea Bissau, where residents are hoping to emerge from years of political stagnation. On November 24, voters will choose the next president. President Jose Mario Vaz is the first democratically-elected president in Guinea-Bissau’s history to finish his term. He is up for re-election, but is facing stiff competition from several opponents, including former prime ministers Carlos Gomes, Jr. and Domignos Simoes Pereira. … The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) stepped in to mediate the crisis and pushed for sticking to the election date. Vincent Foucher, a researcher for the French National Center for Scientific Research, said ECOWAS was integral for keeping the elections on track. “Clearly, the international community has been very important in Guinea Bissau in bringing this election about, and bringing also the legislative elections,” Foucher said. “What is quite significant is that there is a very strong leadership by ECOWAS, which these last few years has basically been enjoying the support of most of their international partners…there’s a sense that, OK, ECOWAS owns this.” VOA

Nigeria’s Ruling Party Wins Election in Key Oil State

Nigeria’s ruling party on Monday won the key oil-rich state of Bayelsa, the electoral body said, a sign of President Muhammadu Buhari’s growing influence in opposition strongholds. Forty-five candidates had taken part in the gubernatorial election on Saturday, which was marred by sporadic violence, including killings, abduction, vote-buying, snatching of voting materials and voter intimidation. Bayelsa has been ruled by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999. It is a key political battleground because of the lucrative oil and gas sector that is largely based in the southern delta region. … Bayelsa and central Kogi are among seven states where gubernatorial elections are being held at different times from the general election due to court rulings. The results of the Kogi election on Saturday were still awaited. Regional elections are fiercely contested in Nigeria, where governors are powerful figures, controlling state finances and responsible for key areas from education to health. AFP

Food Prices Push Nigeria Inflation to 17-Month High after Border Closures

Higher food prices pushed up annual inflation in Nigeria last month after borders with neighbouring countries were closed in a crackdown on smuggling. Nigeria closed parts of its borders in August to fight smuggling of rice and other goods. The head of customs confirmed last month that all trade in goods via land borders had been halted indefinitely. Annual inflation was 11.61% in October, up from 11.24% in September, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Monday – the highest rate since May 2018. Consumer inflation had dropped to its lowest in almost four years in August. A separate food price index showed inflation at 14.09% in October, compared with 13.51% a month earlier. … Last week the West African country, along with neighbouring Benin and Niger, agreed to set up a joint border patrol force to tackle smuggling between the nations after a meeting between their foreign ministers. Reuters

After a Massacre, Ethiopia’s Leader Faces Anger, and a Challenger

Not long after security forces tried to arrest him in the middle of the night, Jawar Mohammed, a media baron and one of Ethiopia’s most prominent political activists, found himself face to face with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the man whose government ordered his arrest. Sitting at a table in a state conference room in the capital, Addis Ababa, the two men met on Nov. 3 to talk about preventing more of the ethnic violence that erupted in October after Mr. Jawar’s supporters began protesting his botched arrest. Eighty-six people died in two days. Since the bloody protests, the two men have agreed to tone down the violence, and Mr. Jawar has announced plans to take his case to the ballot box. He intends to run in next year’s elections to unseat Mr. Abiy, his one-time ally. … Mr. Jawar said he would run for a parliamentary seat in Oromia, a sprawling region of about 30 million mostly rural dwellers, consisting of dozens of different ethnic groups. His aim is to create a political party there with the goal of winning enough seats to name him prime minister. The New York Times

Reform of West Africa CFA: Analysts Speak on Risks and Benefits

Call to overhaul the West African CFA franc, a currency tied to the euro and historically rooted in French colonial rule, raise a host of thorny problems, analysts say. Eight countries use the euro-pegged West African CFA franc, which enjoys unlimited convertibility with the euro. This is brought about by the countries depositing 50 per cent of their reserves with the Bank of France, which guarantees payments into euros even if a CFA member state cannot cover import payments. The link to France and the euro provides an important measure of financial stability – but is politically sensitive in countries that have been independent from France for nearly six decades. Earlier this year the 15 member states of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) agreed to adopt a single currency, the “eco”, as early as next year. As Ecowas includes the eight members of the West African Monetary Union (Wamu), the eco would supplant the CFA franc for those countries. But prospects of earlier changes to the region’s currency dramatically surfaced this month when Benin leader Patrice Talon said the Wamu states planned to pull their reserves from the Bank of France. AFP

UN, African Union Make Significant Joint Commitment to Global Health

In the drive towards universal health coverage, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the African Union (AU) Commission cemented their mutual commitment to global health by signing on Monday an historic agreement. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and AU Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at WHO Headquarters to expand their relationship and cooperation in this arena. “The Memorandum of Understanding we have signed today is an important step towards formalizing the cooperation between WHO and the African Union and to implementing the Addis Ababa Call to Action,” said the WHO chief. “The Addis Ababa Call to Action is a powerful commitment from African Union leaders to increase domestic financing for health, and to hold themselves accountable for that commitment,” he added. UN News

Wiping Out the Daughters: Burkina Faso’s Controversial Mosquito Experiment

Each year around 400,000 people worldwide die from malaria, half of them in seven countries in Africa, including Burkina Faso. Despite progress in reducing deaths since 2000, cases have been gradually increasing. “We’re having more and more problems with resistance – from the parasite, which knows how to counteract the medicines, and from the mosquitoes, which are getting less sensitive to the insect poisons applied to the mosquito nets,” says Palm. “On top of this, there are many remote areas we can’t reach.”A radical trial using “gene drive” technology is currently taking place in Burkina Faso, that will see the release of genetically modified mosquitoes in an attempt to wipe out the carriers of the disease. “We’re developing mosquitoes here that can only have sons. Those sons will also only be able to produce sons, causing the population of females, the only gender that bites, to dwindle until the mosquito is extinct,” says Moussa Namountougou, head of the insect farm of the Institut de Recherche et Sciences de la Santé (IRSS), just a few kilometres from the hospital. … Genetic modification is controversial, and gene drive technology takes it a step further. Introducing “ordinary” GM produce to agriculture has led to widespread resistance. Several countries have also outlawed the technology. The Guardian

Ivorian Photographer Becomes First African to Win Prix Pictet

Ivorian photographer Joana Choumali has won the prestigious Prix Pictet photography prize, making her the first African to win the award. She received a cash prize of 100,000 Swiss francs ($112,000; £87,000) for her pictures in which she embroidered ornate patterns on to photographs. The pictures are a response to attacks on a sleepy beach resort in southern Ivory Coast in 2016. Militants killed 18 people in a gun attack in Grand Bassam. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) said it launched the attack. She said she processed the pain through embroidery. “Each stitch was a way to recover, to lay down the emotions, the loneliness, and mixed feelings I felt,” she said. The jury deemed her work a “brilliantly original meditation on the ability of the human spirit to wrest hope and resilience from even the most traumatic events”, said chairman of the jury Sir David King. BBC

New Emoji Set Aims to Shatter Image of Africa as Zone of Famine and War

In January 2018, O’Plérou Grebet set himself a challenge. For every day of the year, the graphic design student, then aged 20, decided to design an emoji that reflected the culture of his home country, Ivory Coast, and the wider region of West Africa. “I wanted to create a project to promote African cultures to change the image the Western media have of Africa: hunger, poverty and wars,” he said. “I wanted to show a different and positive side.” Adopting a different theme each week, he shared his daily designs on Instagram. He started with food and drink – a topic that everyone identifies with. “People love to eat,” he said. He began sharing designs of foutou, (a bowl of mashed plantain and cassava) and gbofloto (fried dough balls) online. One of his favourite images, showing a plastic bag bursting with purple liquid, represents bissap (dried hibiscus flower juice). … An advertising agency sent Grebet an Apple Mac so that he could create designs for iOS as well as Android phones. This year he launched a compilation of the images, which have since been downloaded more than 100,000 times. The Guardian



Photo: Adam Jones