Africa Media Review for September 16, 2022

Biden Eager to Hear Ramaphosa’s Views on How to End Ukraine War, Says US Official
US President Joe Biden is eager to hear President Cyril Ramaphosa’s views on Russia’s war against Ukraine and how to end it, when they meet at the White House later on Friday. … “As the world faces growing divisions we believe it’s essential to engage with South Africa and have the benefit of the government’s perspective,” a senior US administration official, who requested anonymity, told journalists on Thursday. “We can’t make progress on our shared global priorities without South African leadership and contributions.” The official added that it was integral to the new US Strategy Towards Sub-Saharan Africa that the US should consult African leaders on global issues such as the Ukraine war. … [A] senior US administration official confirmed that trade, investment and infrastructure would be on the agenda on Friday, along with other shared priorities such as countering climate change, addressing South Africa’s energy problems, ending the Covid-19 pandemic, responding to global food insecurity, reversing the tide of democratic backsliding and shaping the rules of the world. Daily Maverick

US Pledges Support for Climate Change Mitigation in Africa
U.S. special envoy for climate John Kerry pledged support for Africa’s efforts to deal with the impact of climate change during a speech Thursday at a conference in Senegal. The African Ministerial Conference on the Environment brings together more than 50 ministers from across the continent to coordinate the fight against climate change. Throughout his roughly 20-minute speech Kerry reiterated the importance of partnerships in the battle against the climate crisis. He said the private sector, civil society organizations, governments and indigenous groups must come together. Kerry noted the devastating impacts of climate change in Africa, which is home to 17 of the world’s 20 most climate-vulnerable countries. … Kerry is on a two-nation tour of West Africa. He began his visit Monday in Nigeria, where he met with top government officials, including President Muhammadu Buhari, and pledged to support the country’s efforts to transition to green energy. … Kerry said the U.S. would announce further commitments at a climate conference in Egypt in November. VOA

UNITAMS Head to UNSC: ‘Sudan Humanitarian Crisis, Insecurity at Record Levels’
“Sudan has seen new political developments but also a continued deterioration of the socio-economic situation” Volker Perthes, UN Special Representative for Sudan, and head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) told the UN Security Council in New York on Tuesday. Perthes also shared his concerns over the growing “security incidents affecting civilians” across the country. “The overall situation will continue to worsen unless a political situation is found to restore a credible, fully functioning civilian-led government”, Perthes told the Security Council, cautioning that for the current impasse to be broken, it is reliant upon a government that can re-establish a path towards democratic transition in Sudan. The UN representative stated that over the past 10 months, the recurrent protests against the coup have seen “117 people killed, and thousands injured in the context of these protests”, Perthes said. Radio Dabanga

Mali Commander Urges People to Flee Jihadist-Hit Northern Area
A well-known Malian commander has urged civilians to flee part of a northern region recently attacked by Islamic State jihadists, in a rare admission of the security problems facing locals. “There are no armed forces or any entity to guarantee the security of the population in these areas,” General El Hadj Ag Gamou said in a message circulating on WhatsApp. Gamou is an ethnic Tuareg who has played a prominent role in the fight against the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) group in the Gao region. His undated audio message in the Tamashek language, authenticated to AFP on Wednesday, was a rare admission from such a senior source of the severity of the situation in the area. It referred specifically to the village of Djebock and neighboring localities between the towns of Gao and Talataye. “The enemy will surely take control of these areas because no security is there to stop them,” Gamou warned. He said he “strongly” urged locals to leave and “settle in large cities for their safety and that of their herds while waiting for stability to return.” The Defense Post with AFP

Ivory Coast Asks West African Bloc to Help Captive Soldiers in Mali
Ivory Coast called on West Africa’s political bloc to help release 46 soldiers detained by Mali’s military government, a government spokesperson said on Wednesday, after a Togolese-led mediation effort appeared to have stalled. … In a televised statement on Wednesday, government spokesperson Amadou Coulibaly called for an extraordinary meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to resolve the issue. “Our soldiers are not mercenaries but hostages,” said Coulibaly, demanding their immediate release. … Mali’s [military leader] Assimi Goita this month accused Ivory Coast of providing asylum to political figures wanted by his junta and called for a “mutually beneficial” solution to the row. Coulibaly on Wednesday called Goita’s comments on a solution “unacceptable blackmail.” Reuters

Al-Shabab Seeks to ‘Put Down Roots’ in Ethiopia
Fears have been running high since the Al-Qaeda affiliated Somali group – whose name means “the youth” – launched a major attack on July 20, in which 2,000 Islamist fighters stormed the long border between the two countries, sometimes advancing more than 150 kilometers deep into Ethiopian territory. Although the Ethiopian army reclaimed its territory after two weeks of intense fighting and air strikes, the situation is far from stable. Six weeks after the end of the operations, skirmishes continue to break out along the border. “The situation is still very fluid in the border areas,” declared an administrator of the Somali region, in eastern Ethiopia, who wishes to remain anonymous. … “They are trying to establish their presence in the long-term, create cells and recruit,” said Omar Mahmood, an expert on Somalia at the International Crisis Group think tank. This mountainous area is strategic because of the long-standing establishment of Salafist Islam in the zone, and the population’s land claims, which could facilitate the Islamist group’s recruitment efforts. Le Monde

In Somalia, Al-Shabab’s Courts Win More Converts
In late December 2021, Halima (her real name withheld on request) boarded a minibus from Zoobe bus station in the Somali capital of Mogadishu to Ugunji, a farming village just outside the city, controlled by al-Shabab. Her mission was to seek justice from the armed group after her plot of land was claimed by someone else who had reportedly forged documents to help his case. … After four days in court, the case was determined in her favour and the defendant fully accepted the verdict. It was a vindication for Halima who turned to the armed group after losing faith in the ability of the country’s judicial institutions due to “corruption and favouritism,” she said. Among Somalis, there is a widespread belief that federal and regional governments have failed in dispensing justice. The Banadir regional court in the capital, which has the jurisdiction to handle land disputes, is not an option for many, says Aweys Sheikh Abdullahi, one of its judges between 2016-2018. Al Jazeera

U.S. to Withhold $130 Million in Security Aid to Egypt Over Human Rights Concerns
The Biden administration will withhold $130 million in foreign security assistance to Egypt for a second time, symbolically penalizing Cairo for its human rights record while also aiming to maintain diplomatic ties with this Middle Eastern ally. … After temporarily freezing financial aid to Egypt last year for a review, Washington said in January it would “reprogram” $130 million in security assistance to Egypt-a fraction of an estimated $1.3 billion in aid the U.S. generally gives Egypt each year. The Biden administration has repeatedly called on Egypt to do more to protect the rights of political critics, members of civil society and journalists. … In 2021, Mr. Sisi announced a new strategy aimed at protecting human rights and subsequently began releasing some political prisoners. Activists and American officials said the efforts didn’t go far enough. The administration on Wednesday said the decision to again withhold $130 million comes as it looks to persuade Mr. Sisi’s regime to release additional political prisoners and continue working with the U.S. on issues of regional concern, such as ongoing Israeli-Palestinian tensions. WSJ

Algerian Press Protests Shock Imprisonment of Journalist
Algerian journalists raised concerns about press freedom in their country after the surprise incarceration on Thursday, September 8, of Belkacem Houam. Mr. Houam, from the Arabic-language daily Echorouk, was imprisoned following an article about the recall of “deglet nour” dates, particularly in France, due to the presence of a pesticide banned in the European Union. … The clarifications from the ministry of trade and, subsequently, the ministry of agriculture seemed sufficient to close the matter. But things unexpectedly got out of hand. While the newspaper Echorouk was stopped from printing at the state printing press on September 8, Mr. Houam was summoned to court and placed in pretrial detention in the El Harrach prison in Algiers. The news of his detention has generated widespread shock. “A journalist should never go to prison for this,” said the Twala news website. Le Monde

Tunisian President Trims Parties’ Powers Ahead of Elections
Tunisian President Kais Saied has made new changes to electoral law that diminish the role of political parties, three months ahead of legislative elections, in what opposition groups see as the latest step in a sweeping power grab. A new electoral law published overnight Friday reduces the number of members of the lower house of parliament from 217 to 161, and says candidates will now be elected directly instead of via party lists. Voters will elect a new legislature Dec. 17. … Several opposition parties, including the Islamist movement Ennahdha, have said they will boycott the December elections and say the new electoral law is aimed at muffling them. AP

Angola’s Lourenco Pledges More Economic Reforms at Swearing-In
Angolan President Joao Lourenco has promised to push ahead with economic reform and hailed voters’ “tolerance” as he was sworn in for a second five-year term after a disputed electoral win last month. Lourenco pledged to be “president for all Angolans” at a colourful ceremony held at the historic Praca da Republica square in the capital Luanda on Thursday amid tight security. … “We as a country have a clear option for democracy and a market economy.” Security forces set up a heavy cordon around the venue, a move that the main opposition party, UNITA, said aimed to stifle dissent. … Lourenco, 68, returned to power after the August 24 vote gave his People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) a thin majority, winning just 51.17 percent of the votes. … UNITA did particularly well in the capital, where it won a majority for the first time. The MPLA lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority, with its seats dropping to 124 from 150. … Foreign observers … raised concerns over press freedom and the accuracy of the electoral roll. AFP

Confusion over Kenya’s Ruto Comments on Sahrawi Independence Movement
There was confusion on Wednesday over whether Nairobi had cut ties with the contested Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in Western Sahara after Kenya’s new president announced the break but then deleted his tweet. Earlier in the day, William Ruto said on Twitter after meeting Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita that “Kenya rescinds its recognition of the SADR and initiates steps to wind down the entity’s presence in the country.” But he later removed the tweet without giving an explanation. The announcement had come barely a day after the leader of the Polisario independence movement, Brahim Ghali, attended the swearing-in ceremony of Ruto as president in Nairobi. The Algerian-backed Polisario Front wants an independent state in the Western Sahara, a vast stretch of mineral-rich desert which Morocco considers part of its own territory. AFP

Lenders Urged to Cancel Zambia Debt as Country Faces Economic Collapse
More than 100 economists and academics have urged international lenders to crisis-stricken Zambia to write off a significant slice of their loans during financial restructuring talks this month. Zambia is seeking up to $8.4bn (£7.3bn) in debt relief from major lenders, including private funds run by the world’s largest investment manager, BlackRock, to help put its public finances back in order. In the run-up to what are understood to be tense negotiations involving the Chinese, French and British governments, the anti-poverty charity Debt Justice said that only a major debt write-off could save the Zambian economy from complete collapse. Led by Columbia University economist, Jeffrey Sachs, and Jayati Ghosh, the chair of the Centre for Economic Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, the 100-plus global group of economists and experts said in a letter to the creditors’ negotiating committee that Zambia should be given a waiver from debt interest payments due until 2023. Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $1.3bn loan to the country, which defaulted on its $17.3bn of external debt after a collapse in its public finances during the pandemic. The Guardian

Nigeria Drops to Africa’s 4th Largest Oil Producer, OPEC Reports
Nigeria is facing a record reduction in oil production, oil cartel OPEC reports, dropping from the first largest producer in Africa to the fourth, behind Angola, Algeria and Libya. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries monthly oil market report for August showed that Nigeria’s production stood at 980,000 barrels a day, a decline of more than 100,000 barrels per day compared to July. The figure was about 50% of OPEC’s target for the west African nation in August. For decades, Nigeria has been Africa’s largest oil producer. But in recent years, theft and sabotage at production sites have hampered output. Petroleum authorities say more than 200,000 barrels are lost daily as a result, and that the trend is costing the country millions of dollars in revenue. Oil was once Nigeria’s biggest earner and contributor to national GDP, but the latest data shows information and communications technology and trade contributed more during the second quarter this year. VOA

Concerns Grow as Nigeria’s Inflation Surges to 17-Year High
Nigeria’s consumer inflation surged to a 17-year high in August 2022, its statistics agency said Thursday, signalling more hardship for citizens and businesses in Africa’s largest economy. The Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported in its latest consumer price index that inflation rose to 20.5% in August, up from 19.6% in July this year and 17% in August last year. It is the seventh consecutive monthly increase in Nigeria’s inflation this year and the highest since 2005. … Despite being Africa’s largest economy and one of the continent’s top oil producers, corruption, insecurity and lack of good governance have caused economic hardship to many in this West African country. … The security challenges which have led to the death of thousands in the last year in Nigeria’s north have also further pushed food inflation higher by limiting supplies from some of Nigeria’s biggest food-producing states, said analyst Osawmonyi. AP

Global Inflation Pushes Millions of Africans Back into Poverty
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has driven a surge in the price of essentials such as food, fuel and fertiliser across the globe, [and] the human cost has been especially high in more vulnerable African economies such as Malawi. “You really are talking about things [coming] to a head,” President Lazarus Chakwera told the Financial Times. The result, says the International Energy Agency, is that by the end of this year up to 30mn Africans may no longer be able to afford liquefied petroleum gas to cook the food they eat. Such a development would mark an economic regression that the World Bank has said may raise the total number of Africans living in extreme poverty from 424mn before the pandemic in 2019 to 463mn this year. … Many African economies have been hit particularly hard by the global rise in prices because food takes up a relatively larger share of national inflation baskets compared with developed economies, [Jacques Nel, head of Africa macro at Oxford Economics Africa] added. Food, for example, accounts for about half of Nigeria’s basket. FT