Africa Media Review for November 20, 2019

Ethiopia Awaits 10th Regional State as Sidama Referendum Holds

Polls opened on Wednesday for Ethiopia’s Sidama people to vote on self-determination in a referendum closely watched by other ethnic groups also seeking more autonomy since reforms by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed shook up the national power balance. The special vote for the Sidama, mostly based in the south and comprising about 4% of Ethiopia’s 105 million people, comes ahead of a general election next year and has brought fears of renewed violence. At least 17 people died in clashes in July between security forces and Sidama activists after the government delayed the poll by five months. Voters lined up before dawn at a polling station in Hiteta, a neighbourhood in the city of Hawassa, women carrying babies, elders wrapped in white, handwoven blankets, the gabi, and young men with traditional Sidama scarfs tied around their heads. Many waived their voting cards in celebration as they waited to cast their ballots when polling stations opened at 6 a.m. (0300 GMT). … More than a dozen other ethnic groups are considering or already campaigning for region status. Reuters

UN Says 2.4m People Need Urgent Food Aid across Burkina, Mali and Niger

More than 2.4 million people need urgent food aid across the central Sahel region, encompassing Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, where rising jihadist violence has triggered a humanitarian crisis, the UN said on Tuesday. “If we do not act now to tackle hunger in the Sahel, a whole generation are at risk,” a spokesperson for the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), Herve Verhoosel, told reporters in Geneva. He said some 20 million people were living in conflict-affected areas across the region, hit by violent clashes involving a range of armed groups. More than 860 000 people across the region have become internally displaced, while the three countries are also hosting 270 000 refugees. Burkina Faso has been particularly hard-hit by the crisis due to a sharp increase in violence, Verhoosel said, pointing out that there were more attacks in the country during the first half of this year than during all of 2018. AFP

AU Fights to Justify Firing Envoy to Washington

The African Union now says it fired its envoy to the US for spending money on non-AU projects as well as appointing diplomats irregularly. But the claims of abuse of office came to the fore on Monday night as it emerged the bloc audited Dr Arikana Chihombori-Quao’s work weeks after she was shown the door on October 7. Ms Ebba Kalondo, Spokesperson of African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, says the audit team found a series of activities that indicated Dr Chihombori-Quao abused her powers by registering entities, raising funds and endorsing diplomatic status of officials not working for the AU. … Though the audit found the anomalies, Dr Quao had already been notified on October 7 that her contract would be terminated on November 1. At the time, Ms Kalondo said it had been the prerogative of the AU Commission chairperson to cut short or prolong the tenure of an appointed envoy. … Despite the AU fighting to justify the termination, her departure coincided with public lectures she gave weeks before she was fired, in which she called for African unity and criticised the West for crafting policies that ensure the continent remains poor. The AU denies ever reprimanding her for her public comments. The East African

Weather and War: How Climate Shocks Are Compounding Somalia’s Problems

It was one of the driest rainy seasons in decades, and the UN issued an urgent call in May for $710 million in aid to help prevent the country tipping into starvation. Now, it’s the reverse. Torrential rain pounded central Somalia last month, causing flash floods that have affected more than 547,000 people, forcing 370,000 from their homes. … “If we want to talk about the longer-term solutions that are going to help Somalia better adapt to climate volatility and climate change, that is going to take multi-year investments,” said Andrew Lanyon, resilience and social protection coordinator with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. … But that runs into a second major problem – the insecurity in the countryside as a result of al-Shabab, for whom rural development projects would be tempting targets. … “The problem is the level of unpredictability,” AMISOM spokesman Charles Imbiakha told TNH. “Today, you secure an area, but you’re not very sure that tomorrow it will be secure. And that’s why those periodic attacks are still happening in Somalia.” The New Humanitarian

US Military Drone Strike Kills Senior Al-Shabab Official

A Somali intelligence official says a U.S. drone strike has killed a senior officer with the al-Shabab extremist group. The official says the unidentified officer had maintained links with foreign extremist groups with the aim of coordinating future attacks. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. Residents said the officer’s vehicle was struck Tuesday outside the al-Shabab-held town of Kunya Barow in southern Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region. The U.S. military in a statement confirms the strike and says the al-Shabab member had direct ties to al-Qaida. The U.S. says the strike was carried out in coordination with Somalia’s government. A United Nations expert report released this month says al-Shabab remains a potent regional threat and now makes its own explosives. AP

Group: Egypt Targets Relatives of Dissidents Living Abroad

An international rights group says Egyptian authorities have arrested, raided houses and imposed travel bans against dozens of relatives of dissidents who live abroad, apparently in reprisal for their activism. Human Rights Watch says Tuesday it has since 2016 documented 28 cases which include Muslim Brotherhood leader Haytham Abu Khalil and Mohammed Ali, a self-exiled contractor who raised corruption claims against President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. The cases also include well-known activist Wael Ghonim whose brother, Hazem, was arrested in September after Wael posted videos on Facebook criticizing Egyptian security agencies. Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW, says Egyptian authorities have been “punishing families of opponents abroad” to stifle dissent. HRW says that in 13 cases, relatives were accused of joining “terrorist” groups and disseminating “false news.” AP

Gunmen Ambush Burundian Soldiers: Defence Ministry

Burundian soldiers were attacked in a night jungle ambush near the border with Rwanda, Burundi’s defence ministry said, with military sources on Tuesday reporting at least eight soldiers’ deaths. Dozens more soldiers were missing in the ambush on their base, one of largest and deadliest attacks for several years, senior army officers said on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity. “A group armed with rifles from Rwanda attacked a position of Burundian soldiers on Mount Twinyoni,” defence ministry spokesman Major Emmanuel Gahongano said on state television on Monday. “This armed group has withdrawn to Rwanda.” He did not give details of casualties or the identity of the attackers. Burundi has been in crisis since President Pierre Nkurunziza defied constitutional limits to seek a third term in office, winning re-election in 2015. Burundi has repeatedly accused neighbouring Rwanda of supporting rebel groups in its territory, a claim Kigali denies. The attack, some 100 kilometres north of the capital Bujumbura, in thick forests 10 kilometres from the Rwandan border, took place in the early hours of Sunday morning. AFP

Congo Court Hands Life Sentence to Warlord for Murder, Sexual Violence

A court in Democratic Republic of Congo handed down a life sentence on Tuesday to one of the country’s most notorious warlords for crimes against humanity including murder and sexual violence, lawyers in the case said. The court, in the eastern city of Bukavu, also found Congo’s government liable for failing to protect victims of the Raia Mutomboki militia and ordered it to pay compensation to more than 300 victims. Despite repeated initiatives by the government to address sexual violence in eastern Congo’s conflict zones, civil wars around the turn of the century resulted in millions of deaths. Experts say rape is still deployed by armed groups and army soldiers as a weapon of war. The judges convicted Raia Mutomboki chief Frédéric Masudi Alimasi, who goes by the name Kokodikoko, along with two allies for murder, torture, enforced disappearances, sexual violence and enslavement committed over several months last year. Reuters

Migrants from Libya Not Driven by Hope of Being Rescued at Sea – Study

No valid statistical link exists between the likelihood that migrants will be rescued at sea and the number of attempted Mediterranean crossings, a study has found. The findings challenge the widespread claim in Europe that NGO search and rescue activity has been a pull factor for migrants. Fear that the NGOs’ missions attract immigrants has been the basis for measures restricting humanitarian ships including requiring them to sign up to codes of conduct or simply blocking them from leaving port. It is the first detailed study of NGOs’ proactive search and rescue activity between 2014 and October 2019, but the findings focus most closely on the first nine months of this year, a period when Europe had withdrawn from all search and rescue activity leaving only NGOs or the Libyan guard. The research was undertaken by two Italian researchers, Eugenio Cusumano and Matteo Villa, from the European University Institute. The Guardian

South Africa: Monthlong UNHCR Sit-In Ends in Violent Eviction

Close to 200 people have been arrested after clashes between foreign nationals and security forces broke out at the offices of the United Nations’ agency for refugees (UNHCR) in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria. In a statement on Saturday, one day after the scuffles, police said 182 men and one woman had been taken into custody and were due to appear in court next week on charges of trespassing. A further 224 women, 169 children and seven men were temporarily detained at Lindela Repatriation Centre until the South African Department of Home Affairs can verify their immigration status and process them accordingly. There is no indication as to how long this process will take. The people held are part of a group of about 700 refugees and asylum seekers who had camped out on the pavement outside the UNHCR building since early October, requesting resettlement and protection in the face of xenophobic attacks that had rocked the country the previous month. South Africa has seen a series of attacks on foreign nationals since 2008, when similar violence resulted in more than 60 deaths. Al Jazeera

Zimbabwe Police Fire Tear Gas at Opposition Supporters

Zimbabwe police with riot gear fired tear gas and struck people who gathered on Wednesday to hear a speech by the country’s top opposition leader. Dozens of people ran and dodged baton blows in the capital, Harare. Officers cordoned off the Movement for Democratic Change party headquarters ahead of Nelson Chamisa’s speech and patrolled with water cannons. Public discontent has grown in Zimbabwe with President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has struggled to fulfil promises of economic prosperity and more political freedoms. The health system has largely collapsed amid the worst economic crisis in more than a decade. Chamisa continues to dispute his narrow loss to Mnangagwa in last year’s election. Only pro-government marches have been allowed in recent months, while similar moves by the opposition, labor and human rights groups have been met with strong police action. AP

China Accuses Zimbabwe of Understating Financial Support

China accused Zimbabwe on Tuesday of understating its financial help to the southern African nation, after budget figures released last week showed that major ally Beijing ranked poorly on the list of Harare’s foreign donors. Zimbabwe’s authorities have a history of quietly racking up foreign debt without the approval of parliament and the funding discrepancy has led to questions from the critics of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government as to whether it is hiding figures or it has just made an accounting error. Zimbabwe is in the throes of its worst economic crisis in a decade. Compounding the pain is a severe drought which has triggered food shortages and rolling power cuts. … Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said in a budget statement on Thursday that the country received $194m from bilateral donors between January and September, with the bulk of the money coming from Western countries. He said China provided $3.6m, a figure that was criticised as paltry by opponents of Mnangagwa’s government, which considers Beijing an “all-weather friend.” The Chinese embassy in Harare disputed the figure, saying in a statement: “This is very different from the situation on the ground.” Al Jazeera

South African Navy Commits Two Platforms for Joint Exercise with China and Russia

The SA Navy’s commitment to the first ever exercise in South African waters with Chinese and Russian maritime elements is a Valour Class frigate and the hydrographic survey vessel SAS Protea (A324). Exercise Mosi starts next Monday (25 November) and ends on Friday, 30 November under the theme “promotion of state navigation and maritime security,” SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Directorate: Corporate Communications (DCC) said in response to a defenceWeb enquiry. The maritime platforms with SAS Amatola (F145) in the vanguard and, in all probability, carrying a 22 Squadron Super Lynx maritime helicopter will “provide a demonstration of multinational willingness to ensure regional maritime peace and security.” … The five day exercise will also provide training for “a multinational task force to react to and counter security threats at sea.” defenceWeb

Russians Arrested as Spies in Libya Worked for Russian Firm Wagner, Official Says

Libya’s U.N.-backed government believes that two Russians arrested on spying allegations earlier this year were employed by the Wagner Group, suggesting the Kremlin-linked security firm has played a wider role in the country’s conflict than previously known. Fathi Bashagha, who serves as interior minister for the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), said the Russian nationals were arrested on suspicion of attempting to influence planned municipal elections and gather information on the GNA’s military operations against a rival force, which is based in eastern Libya and backed by Russia. Speaking in an interview during a visit to Washington, Bashagha said the men had provided “confessions” and remained in detention while the GNA attorney general investigates their activities. The alleged intelligence operation coincides with mounting concern about Russian involvement in a battle for control of Tripoli and the larger schism in the country that has impaired the oil industry and provided a foothold to Islamist militant groups. The Washington Post

In Push for Africa, Russia’s Wagner Mercenaries Are “Out of Their Depth” in Mozambique

Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian security affairs, says that Wagner’s unique blend of proximity to the Kremlin and low costs make it attractive. “They are cheap and come as part of a package of regime-support services, including political technologies.” Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi flew to Russia and met Putin at the end of August – two months before the country’s October presidential elections – where he signed a number of energy and security agreements. While there is no evidence to suggest Russia sent operatives to influence the Mozambican elections, companies linked to Prigozhin have been accused of propping up Nyusi and his party. In the run-up to the elections, a think tank called Afric conducted a poll that predicted victory for Nyusi. As the publication of election polls is illegal during the campaign period in Mozambique, its founder Jose Matemulane published it on the International Anticrisis Center website, a Russian NGO linked to Prigozhin. The poll ended up being widely shared across social media in Mozambique. … Wagner’s problems in Mozambique raise bigger questions about the company’s rapid growth, according to Galeotti. “They have clearly had to expand since their early Syrian days and also have to make a profit. This means being less picky with recruits. They are increasingly operating in theaters where they don’t have much expertise.” The Moscow Times

UN Chief Calls for ‘Green and Clean’ Development in Message for Africa Industrialization Day

As African countries gear up to implement an historic free trade agreement, the UN Secretary-General is urging leaders to pursue economic growth that benefits both people and the planet. António Guterres made the appeal in his message for Africa Industrialization Day, observed annually on 20 November. The UN chief said industrial development is “of critical importance” for sustained and inclusive economic growth in African countries. While manufacturing on the continent has been growing faster than the world average, he said it will need to speed up. Launched last year, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement is expected to usher in a market of least $3 trillion and a consumer base of more than one billion. At the same time, the manufacturing sector is projected to double by 2025, creating millions of jobs. … The Secretary-General underscored international commitment to Africa’s sustainable development, with the UN General Assembly proclaiming the period from 2016-2025 the Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa. As a result, the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) will scale up technical assistance to countries on the continent. UN News

Ghana’s Innovation and Startup Culture Thriving

Ghana is regarded as a West African hub of invention, with growing numbers of young people looking at local solutions to local problems. In December, Ghana is hosting two conferences on innovation and technology. Alhassan Baba Muniru, co-founder of the Recycle Up company, wants to clean up the natural environment in Ghana. But he also wants to educate, empower and support young people to pursue conservation – and to make money while doing it. At the December Innovation Africa summit in Accra, he plans to advocate for more support for young inventors, especially those looking to do green business. … Part of Recycle Up’s work includes collecting plastic from schools to sell to people like Nelson Boateng, whose company mixes it with sand to create bricks. Muniru and Boateng walk through the factory in the outskirts of Accra, where plastic from across the city is shredded, melted, mixed and then molded into bricks to be used for roads, pavements and buildings. VOA