Africa Media Review for October 24, 2019

Hundreds of supporters of prominent Ethiopian activist Jawar Mohammed set up camp around his house in Addis Ababa on Thursday one day after police fired gunshots and teargas to break up demonstrations against his treatment by the government. At least five people were killed in Wednesday’s clashes in the capital and other cities, officials and residents said. Jawar, a media entrepreneur, organised the protests that helped bring Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to power last year. Abiy has won international praise for his political reforms in a country that has suffered decades of repressive rule, and last week was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to resolve a long-running conflict with neighbouring Eritrea. But the greater freedoms have lifted the lid on long-repressed tensions between Ethiopia’s many ethnic groups and Abiy has accused unnamed media figures of promoting ethnic interests over national unity. Both he and Jawar are from the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest, as are most of the protesters. Reuters

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is establishing a high-level panel on internal displacement to focus on the millions of people who flee their homes to escape conflict and violence and remain in their own countries. He said the number of internally displaced people worldwide has continued to grow in recent years, “with more than 41 million uprooted by the end of 2018.” Guterres made the announcement Wednesday, the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa. It is the first and only continent-wide, legally binding treaty to protect and assist internally displaced persons. Guterres said the panel, whose members will be announced shortly, will work to increase global attention and support, and recommend “durable solutions” for the internally displaced. AP

Somalia has made “enormous strides on its path to peace and stability,” and Somali women’s participation in peace and security efforts has “helped advance society towards an inclusive and peaceful future,” UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said on Wednesday. Ms. Mohammed’s one-day visit was part of a joint UN-African Union trip to the Horn of Africa region, focusing on women, peace and security. In Somalia they emphasized the international commitment to the pursuit of peace, stability and credible elections in the country. She was joined by AU Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, Bineta Diop, and the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga. The importance of women’s meaningful participation in elections, efforts to counter extremism, and the economic development of Somalia, were underscored by the delegation, who met with Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre and cabinet ministers from the Federal Government of Somalia to hear about government policy in this area, as well as with female civil society leaders. UN News

A South Sudanese expert on Wednesday faulted Riek Machar, leader of the main opposition group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) for his recent threat to opt out of the transitional unity government. Luka Biong Deng, researcher at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) at U.S. National Defense University, said Machar’s intention not to join the unity government on time over unresolved issues with the government on security arrangements and the number of states including boundaries may bear consequences for his group. “His call for a three-month extension and the threat of a return to war may project him as anti-peace,” said Deng. … “Machar should have insisted on the formation of the government by Nov. 12 but with conditions such as resolution of the number of states, entrusting funding for training and amalgamating of forces to a third party while Regional Protection Force (RPF) and UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) fill security gaps,” said Deng. Xinhau

The spiralling unrest has displaced some 267,000 people since July alone – and half a million overall. All of Burkina Faso’s 13 regions are now hosting people who have fled the violence, which UN agencies said is “devastating” the country’s agriculture and rural economy, and leaving children with life-threatening malnutrition. The impact has been particularly severe on the already weak education system, with more than 2,000 schools forced to close by the end of the last academic year and 330,000 students out of class, according to UNICEF. Some schools have been set alight by jihadists, whose threats have forced teachers into hiding and convinced many parents that their children are better off staying at home. In communities hosting displaced children, some schools are now overflowing with pupils, aid workers said; others have turned into displacement sites for thousands of uprooted families, forcing them to temporarily close. The New Humanitarian

The head of an Algerian political party that was part of the ruling coalition under former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Wednesday became the first candidate to register for presidential polls. Azzedine Mihoubi, leader of the Democratic National Rally party (RND), submitted his candidacy for the December 12 vote to the National Independent Elections Authority, recently formed to oversee the vote. A minister of culture in three governments under Bouteflika from 2015 to 2019, Mihoubi assumed leadership of the RND in July after its former head was arrested in a corruption probe. The mass protest movement that forced Bouteflika’s resignation in April has rejected moves, backed by the army, to hold the poll in December. … The RND supported Bouteflika’s candidacy for a fifth term, despite him suffering a debilitating stroke in 2013, but his candidacy prompted massive protests that led to his departure. AFP

The head of South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), Mmusi Maimane, announced his resignation on Wednesday, in the latest in a string of blows to the party. “It is with great sadness that in order to continue this fight for the vision I strongly believe and the country I so dearly love, I will today step down as leader of the DA,” Maimane, the party’s first black leader, told journalists in Johannesburg. In 2015, Maimane, then aged just 35, became the first black leader of the DA, a party long viewed as the party for middle-class whites. Raised in Soweto – the heartland of the anti-apartheid struggle – Maimane had only joined the DA in 2009 and was fast-tracked through its ranks. His rapid promotion led to accusations that he was being used by the party’s senior white activists to cover up a lack of reform within the party. On Wednesday, he said his leadership had suffered several months of “coordinated attacks.” AFP

Military cooperation is set to dominate the first Russia-Africa summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, attended by leaders and top officials from all 54 African countries and scores of African businessmen eager to tap into Russia’s emerging market. While opening Wednesday’s summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin told leaders and representatives of Africa’s 54 countries that he would seek to double trade ties between the two partners over the next 5 years. … “A lot of emerging markets will be looking at a potential military cooperation deal with Côte d’Ivoire, which is keen to renew its military capabilities,” says Kobi Annan, a consultant with Songhai Advisory, an African investment and risk advisory think tank. According to Annan, whose company covers 19 sub-Saharan African markets, Ivoirian leader Alassane Ouattara has brought a massive 70-person delegation to Sochi, including businessmen in search of partnerships in digital transformation and sustainable development. RFI

Russia is showing off its next generation Kalashnikov assault rifles, helicopters and facial recognition systems as President Vladimir Putin hosts dozens of African leaders for a major summit in Sochi. The Wednesday and Thursday event at the Black Sea resort has brought together delegates to discuss everything from nuclear technology to mineral extraction-but on the sidelines, stands for arms companies dominate. Russia has been a major supplier of weapons and military equipment to African nations and the country’s arms exporter hopes the first Russia-Africa summit will help further boost business on the continent. “We would like to expand our presence there, of course,” Rosoboronexport director Alexander Mikheev told AFP. He said that African countries now accounted for 40 percent of the exporter’s current orders. … On the sidelines of the summit, Ethiopia agreed to buy a Pantsir missile system but Rosoboronexport said no major arms sales were expected to be announced at the end of the two-day gathering. AFP

China’s assertive, large-scale investments in Africa are starting to find pushback in Uganda, where some critics worry the East African nation is using oil it hasn’t even begun to produce to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure projects. Longtime President Yoweri Museveni recently caused an outcry by interfering in a bidding process for one major project and naming the Chinese firm he wanted, raising questions about Beijing’s growing influence. … Museveni last month interrupted the bidding process for a contact to resurface the highway linking Kampala to the trade gateway town of Jinja in the east. In a letter to the public works minister, the president said he had identified the appropriate investor, China Railway 17th Bureau Group Company. The intervention raised fresh concerns over accountability in a country plagued by corruption. AP

Hailed by an excited media as an “African Manhattan” or a new New York for the continent, the view from the top of the tallest Modderfontein towers would have passed over the densely packed Alexandra township to the very real steel and glass of Johannesburg’s existing financial centre in Sandton five miles to the west, where the latest skyscraper, the 234-metre Leonardo, has just taken the crown as Africa’s tallest building. Modderfontein was to be to Johannesburg what Eko Atlantic is to Lagos, Nigeria – a shiny new start on the periphery of an African city that promised to fix all its existing problems. Beyond a few connector roads and streetlights the Chinese developer’s dream never became reality. Refusal to agree to the Johannesburg authorities’ demand for affordable housing meant planning permission was never granted. The land ended up being quietly sold, and resold, and is now in the hands of a company that appears to be developing the site piecemeal into a series of gated communities. The Guardian

Regulatory reforms in Togo and Nigeria propelled the sub-Saharan African economies to among the most improved in the World Bank’s rankings for ease of doing business. Togo rocketed 40 places to 97, according to the report released Wednesday in Washington. That’s after introducing five reforms, which included lowering electricity costs and fees for construction permits, and streamlining business- and property-registration processes. The West African nation secured its first credit assessments this year — S&P Global Ratings assigned it B, five levels below investment grade. Moody’s Investors Service rated it one step lower. Nigeria, which vies with South Africa as continent’s biggest economy, rose to 131 from 146 after making improvements in six areas. These include cutting the time it takes to register a business, upgrading its electronic system for imports and exports, and enabling e-payments for trade fees. Bloomberg

Juliana Rotich became known in professional circles in 2007 as the co-founder of the open source platform Ushahidi (a Swahili word meaning “testimony”). It began in Kenya as an internet platform developed to map reports of post-election violence and went on to revolutionize the international flow of data and information. … Today Ushahidi is used in over 160 countries as a tool for crisis response and for independent election monitoring, for example in Nigeria and Afghanistan. It has also been used following natural disasters in Chile, Haiti and New Zealand. Juliana Rotich is regarded as one of the leading figures of the digital revolution in Africa and beyond. From Ushahidi she went on to found BRCK, an innovative technology company which is now the biggest Wi-Fi provider in sub-Saharan Africa. The central product is a battery-operated modem which can function for up to eight hours without electrical power. It is used in 150 countries. DW

Consumers in African countries are paying some of the highest rates in the world for internet access as a proportion of income, according to a new report released Tuesday. The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) assessed 136 low and middle-income countries for their annual Affordability Report. … The A4AI defines affordability as 1GB of mobile broadband data costing no more than 2% of average monthly income. But the average across the African continent is 7.12%, and in some cases 1GB costs more than a fifth of average earnings. Such prices are “too expensive for all but the wealthiest few,” the report states, citing cost as the primary reason why an estimated 49% of the global population remains offline. … Citizens of Chad, DR Congo, and the Central African Republic must all pay more than 20% of average earnings for 1GB of mobile broadband data. By contrast, the most affordable rates in the continent are in Egypt at 0.5% and Mauritius at 0.59%. … Thakur also acknowledges the problem of lobbying governments to improve access when in several cases, such as Cameroon and Egypt, governments have done the opposite by severely restricting citizens’ internet use. CNN



Photo: Adam Jones