Africa Media Review for October 13, 2020

A Light in Libya’s Fog of Disinformation

Nested within Libya’s ongoing civil war are a fog of falsehoods, distortions, and polarizing narratives that have engulfed Libyan social media networks and online news outlets. Content created and fueled by foreign actors adds to the confusion. Difficulty in identifying the truth has fueled demoralization and distrust among many Libyans. … For destabilizing actors like warlord Khalifa Haftar (supported by Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates), overrunning digital spaces with disinformation has been seen as a means to achieve conquests on the ground. … The foreign-backed efforts to undermine the formation of an informed and democratically-engaged public in Libya’s digital spaces are likely to persist beyond any ceasefires negotiated on the battlefield. The Africa Center spoke with Khadeja Ramali, a leading expert on Libyan social media and the founder of a digital community for Libyan women, about this challenging environment and the strategies that Libyans are developing to counter disinformation online. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Nigerians Demand End to Police Squad Known for Brutalizing the Young

With protests breaking out across Nigeria and in expatriate Nigerian communities around the world, the country’s president vowed to a skeptical public on Monday that he would crack down on rogue police officers accused of brutalizing citizens. President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise came a day after his government announced that it would dismantle a widely feared police unit known as SARS, for Special Anti-Robbery Squad. “The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms,” Mr. Buhari said in a televised statement, speaking out for the first time since protests started last week. “We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct are brought to justice.” To many, Mr. Buhari’s response was too little, too late, and they predicted it would do little to placate the angry young Nigerians who have been blocking major routes in cities across the country to protest the police unit. The New York Times

UN Urges Libyans to Prioritise National Interest in November Talks

The UN’s Libya envoy on Monday urged rival parties to place the national interest before political ambitions when they meet for talks next month aimed at ending a decade of bloodshed. The North African country is dominated by armed groups, driven by local conflicts and divided between two bitterly opposed adminstrations: a United Nations-recognised unity government based in Tripoli and its eastern-based rival backed by strongman Khalifa Haftar. Neighbouring Tunisia is set to host talks in early November including representatives of civil society, tribesmen, political leaders, and members of bodies representing both administrations. … Tunisia’s Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi called for “a dialogue between Libyans that could lead to a political solution to the crisis.” AFP

Freed Malian Politician Details Months as Al-Qaida Hostage

Malian politician Soumaila Cisse’s captors kept him constantly on the move in the inhospitable desert, he told French television, describing his six months with al-Qaida-linked militants as “near permanent physical and moral isolation.” His interview with TV5 Monde came as Swiss authorities confirmed that another hostage held by the same group was dead. The militants freed Cisse in the past week along with French hostage Sophie Petronin and Italians Nicola Chiacchio and the Rev. Pierluigi Maccalli days after Mali’s government released nearly 200 jailed jihadists in an apparent exchange. … Cisse, 70, who was abducted while campaigning in northern Mali for re-election as a parliament member, told TV5 Monde that his captors moved them by motorcycle, boat, even camel. … Cisse said he was able to listen to the radio and was angered by news of the Aug. 18 military coup that overthrew Mali’s democratically elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. AP

Victims or Villains? the Volunteer Fighters on Burkina Faso’s Front Line

Hundreds of civilians in towns and villages across extremist-hit parts of Burkina Faso have signed up to protect their communities and combat jihadist groups since a new law – known as the Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland Act – passed through parliament in January. The government, which wouldn’t provide a precise number of volunteers enrolled, had hoped the flagship initiative would bolster its demoralised army following waves of jihadist and inter-communal violence that have uprooted more than one million people – most since the beginning of last year. But nine months into the programme, volunteers who were supposed to receive weapons and two weeks of training from the government told The New Humanitarian they were ill-equipped and often too afraid to fight the better-armed and battle-hardened militants. The New Humanitarian

WFP Chief: Nobel Prize Message to World Not to Forget Sahel

The head of the World Food Program said winning the Nobel Peace Prize while he was visiting the impoverished and war-weakened Sahel was a message to the world that it should not forget the region. WFP Executive Director David Beasley spoke to reporters during a brief stop in Burkina Faso Friday, shortly after the agency won the Peace Prize for fighting hunger at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has driven millions more people to the brink of starvation. “The fact that I was in the Sahel when we received the announcement is really a message from above that, hey world with all the things going on around the world today please don’t forget about the people in the Sahel!” said Beasley, who was in neighbouring Niger when he heard the news. … Beasley said he was particularly concerned about Burkina Faso, which has faced a violent Islamic insurgency that’s cut off swaths of land and pushed millions of people to hunger. AP

Thousands Rally in Ivory Coast to Protest President Ouattara’s Bid for Third Term

Thousands of opposition supporters rallied in the Ivory Coast’s commercial capital on Saturday to protest against President Alassane Ouattara’s plan to seek a third term in the Oct. 31 presidential election. By early afternoon around 20,000 people had packed a 35,000 capacity stadium in Abidjan, chanting and dancing. Some held banners saying “The people say no to an illegal third term.” Ouattara announced in August that he will seek another term following the sudden death of his handpicked successor. The constitutional council has cleared him and three other candidates to run, but the opposition says Ouattara is violating the constitution by seeking another term and has called for a civil disobedience campaign. … “My advice to President Ouattara is that Ivorians should sit down to discuss. We want peace. We don’t want war,” Eve Botti, a supporter of the FPI opposition party, told Reuters at the rally. Reuters

Tanzania Intensifies Repression Ahead of Polls, Says Report

Tanzanian authorities have intensified repression to muzzle the opposition, civil society and the news media ahead of elections on October 28, where the incumbent President John Magufuli is seeking a second term, an international human rights group said Monday. In recent months the media has been the hardest hit with the government indefinitely banning the Tanzania Daima newspaper, the country’s second-largest newspaper, Amnesty International said in its report. The government’s June 23 banning order accused the newspaper, which is owned by opposition leader Freeman Mbowe, of breaching the law and professional ethics without citing specific laws or stories that were allegedly illegal or objectionable. In July, the Tanzanian Communications Regulatory Authority banned Kwanza TV for 11 months for airing a health alert on COVID-19 that was issued by the U.S. embassy, said Amnesty. AP

More African Governments Are Quietly Tightening Rules and Laws on Social Media

Lesotho has become the latest African country to issue regulations on how ordinary citizens use social media. It is seeking to force local social media users with more than 100 followers to register with the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) as “internet broadcasters.” … Internet freedom and access to information rights campaigners are worried that this will result in self-censorship or worse still, persecution of users as seen in some other African countries and elsewhere. … Such fears are not without precedence though. In Zimbabwe, president Emerson Mnangagwa’s administration has been arresting critics for social media posts mainly on Twitter and WhatsApp. Zimbabwe is also pressing ahead with a Cyber Crimes bill that legal experts say may result in even more detentions of social media users. Tendai Biti, a legal expert in Zimbabwe believes this is not necessary as “there is already a civil mechanism” to deal with offensive social media posts as the platforms allow users to block followers that violate their rights. Quartz Africa

Online Disinformation Campaigns Undermine African Elections

In Guinea, a West African nation of 13 million that was under authoritarian rule until democratic elections in 2010, social media platforms are a powerful tool for the government—not some foreign entity—to dominate the narrative around the campaign. The internet has become a welcome space for Africans to gain access to information and join political debates. A recent survey across 14 African countries found that 54% of young people read news on social media, and a third spend more than four hours a day online, mainly on their smartphones, according to the South Africa-based Ichikowitz Family Foundation, which commissioned the study. But there’s growing unease about the darker side of social media in electioneering on the continent. Critics such as Stanford University’s Internet Observatory and Cyber Policy Center worry that online platforms have become yet another instrument for governments to tighten their grip… Bloomberg

Feared Shabab Exploit Somali Banking and Invest in Real Estate, U.N. Says

The Shabab, the Somalia-based militant group that is Al Qaeda’s most powerful ally in Africa, is not only collecting millions of dollars in tariffs and payoffs but moving the money through local banks and even investing it in real estate and businesses, according to a new United Nations Security Council report. The report describes how the Shabab, known for suicide attacks and a severe interpretation of Islam that bans music and other pleasures, have diversified their funding streams. Although financial dealings with the Shabab are prohibited under Security Council sanctions, the report said the group had found ways to expand from strictly cash transactions into utilizing bank accounts and electronic mobile services to save, transfer and invest money. The New York Times

Justice in the Dock at Arusha-Based EA Court as Bench Empties

The wheels of justice at the East African Court of Justice in Arusha, Tanzania, could grind to a halt on November 30 when the terms of its two top judges end with no replacements in sight. The EAC heads of state summit, which appoints the judges, has not met in two years during which time seven of the 11 judges at the appellate court have retired without being replaced. Without judges, justice cannot be served. Among the cases at risk of not being heard include one against the lifting of presidential age limits in Uganda. It was filed in May but is yet to be heard less than six months before President Yoweri Museveni runs again in the country’s general elections in February. The Court’s 11 judges, whose number can be increased to a maximum of 15, serve a seven-year non-renewable term subject to retirement at the age of 70. … Unless new judges are appointed, court sessions at EACJ will cease from December 1, the registrar has warned. The EastAfrican

South Sudan Gov’t, Opposition Alliance Talks End in Stalemate

Peace negotiations between South Sudan government and South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOMA) ended in Rome, Italy on Monday without signing of any agreement. The talks, mediated by the Sant’Egidio community resumed in Rome on Friday last week, amid divisions in the opposition ranks and the regional bloc’s (IGAD) refusal to open the revitalized peace pact. The meeting took place after recent frictions within SSOMA. South Sudan United Front (SSUF) led by Gen. Paul Malong was suspended and the Real SPLM headed by Pagan Amum refused to sign the charter of opposition movement alliance in solidarity with Malong. In a statement issued extended to Sudan Tribune on Monday, the SSOMA delegation spokesperson, Deng Vanang said South Sudan government and SSOMA only agreed on and initialed the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) during the meeting held in Rome. Sudan Tribune

South Sudan: Conflict until the Cows Come Home

In South Sudan — where an estimated 80% of the population rely on cattle to some degree, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation —  [disputes between crop farmers and pastoralists have] been exacerbated in recent years by civil war, which has displaced nearly two million people, and climate change, which has dried out or flooded areas that were previously fertile grazing lands. Villages such as Agoro Payam find themselves on the front line. Okwera does not know what to do. He has tried approaching the herders directly, but this can be dangerous. He has also tried approaching local authorities, but they are equally powerless. Joseph Oryem is the administrator of Agoro Payam. This makes him the most senior government official in the village. He has attempted to raise the issues of the crop farmers with the cattle herders. But when he does so, he encounters an even more powerful force: South Sudan’s military. Mail & Guardian

South Africa: Bentleys, Ferraris and High Political Stakes in ANC Corruption Battle

An investigation into corruption in a province run by Ace Magashule, the secretary-general of the ruling African National Congress, appears to be coming to the boil with a string of arrests, including that of the owner of the luxury cars. Although not senior figures, the suspects have close ties to the ANC and have been charged with corruption and other crimes. Mr Magashule, one of the country’s most powerful politicians, has not been arrested but the drama underlines the stakes for South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, as prosecutors catch up with a decade of corruption under Jacob Zuma, his predecessor, that hollowed out institutions including law enforcement agencies. For many, Mr Magashule embodies the Zuma era and the arrests illustrate how Mr Ramaphosa’s battle to root out corruption in Africa’s most industrialised economy has become a fight for control of the ruling party, the dominant political force in South Africa. FT

Mozambique Outlines Fund Plan for $96 Billion Gas Windfall

Mozambique published its proposed model for a sovereign wealth fund as it prepares to reap as much as $96 billion — more than six times the size of its current gross domestic product — from liquefied natural gas projects that companies including Total SE are building. The developments, which are the biggest private investments yet in Africa, could make Mozambique the continent’s second-biggest producer of the fuel. The central bank laid out plans for how the fund may function and which institutions it will report to. The proposal anticipates that the $96 billion will accumulate over the lifetime of the projects. … The government will need to deal with escalating violence in the northern Cabo Delgado province where the projects are located before it enjoys the full benefits. Bloomberg

Zambia Resists Chinese Pressure on Arrears

Zambia has said it will resist pressure from Chinese creditors to make paying arrears a condition of pursuing debt relief talks, as the southern African nation battles to restructure $11bn of external debts. Africa’s second-biggest copper producer has become a test case for the ability of poor and indebted nations to find debt relief as they grapple with the health and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Its negotiations illustrate the limitations of a G20 agreement to halt payments this year by these countries to official bilateral creditors. Zambia has obtained relief from some of its bilateral creditors under the G20 debt service suspension initiative (DSSI), which includes up to four years to repay and the deferral of arrears. But it is struggling to strike a deal with Chinese creditors that together own around a third of its debt, potentially imperilling talks with other lenders who want equal treatment for all creditors. FT

Hundreds Mobilise in Tanzania to Contain Mount Kilimanjaro Fire

Hundreds of volunteers including students and residents have mobilised in Tanzania to help firefighters in their efforts to contain a blaze on Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. Strong winds on Sunday helped fan the fire, but the winds have since died down. So far, no injuries or deaths have been reported and no property has been damaged. Pascal Shelutete, an official with Tanzania’s National Parks service (TANAPA) said on Monday the fire was still burning. “Firefighters from TANAPA, other government institutions and locals are continuing with the efforts to contain it,” he added. … “The fire is big and they are continuing to fight it,” Alex Kisingo, deputy head at the College of African Wildlife Management located near the mountain in northeastern Tanzania, told Reuters News Agency. Al Jazeera

How a Youth-Led Digital Movement Is Driving Nigeria’s Largest Protests in a Decade

One of the core components of the ongoing protests has been the seamless transition between online and offline campaigns. Mainly using Twitter and WhatsApp, young people have rallied and mobilized waves of protests to locations across the country with pretty simple formulas. For instance, when dozens of people converge on a location to host their own protests, they share their location on Twitter asking for “reinforcements”—a move that has seen crowds go from a few dozens to hundreds within hours in some places. … The protests have spread to other states across the country in similar fashion with social media also deployed as a key tool for organizing. And there has been little reason to offer extra motivation to galvanize young people to show up for these protests: the notoriety of SARS is such that millions of young Nigerians have either had gory personal experiences or know someone who has. Quartz Africa



Photo: Adam Jones