Africa Media Review for September 19, 2023

Africa’s Crisis of Coups
Africa’s spate of military coups is a direct challenge to civilian led democratic governance. Building on long legacies of military government, the coups reflect African militaries’ attempt to reassert their perceived entitlement to rule. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Niger: The Coveted Oil Windfall and its Starring Role in the Coup
Right before a military junta upset the course of history by overthrowing Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum, a special Council of Ministers was to have been held on July 27 in the capital city of Niamey. Coincidence or not, on that day, the government of this country located in Africa’s Sahel region was set to pass a strategic decree authorizing the creation of PetroNiger. The new company’s main objective was to be management of the country’s oil resources. Did this play a part in precipitating the government’s downfall? Had it been seen by the putschists as a surefire way of securing control of a lucrative sector that could have done damage to them or their backers? Among those close to Bazoum, at any rate, there is little doubt about this scenario. “Oil was not the only motive for the putsch, but it was one of the key triggers,” said a close adviser to the president, clearly pointing the finger at the camp of former president Mahamadou Issoufou (2011-2021). Although he has denied it, Issoufou is now suspected of having played a role in General Abdourahamane Tiani’s power grab. … During his two terms leading Niger, Issoufou maintained a stranglehold on Sonidep, the state-owned Nigerien oil company. “It’s an open secret that Sonidep has always been a slush fund for all political parties, not just the PNDS [Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism, founded in 1990 by Issoufou],” said a representative from a civil society organization that has investigated these cases. This has been borne out by massive fraud and embezzlement, which has been repeatedly denounced by the High Authority for Combating Corruption. The company’s debt now stands at over $200 million. Le Monde

Libya Floods: Warlord Haftar Using Disaster Response to Exert Control, Say Observers
As search and rescue teams continue to hunt for bodies trapped underneath the mud and rubble of their homes in the Libyan coastal city of Derna, observers say the warlord Khalifa Haftar and his sons are using the disaster response as a way to exert control rather than ensure vital humanitarian relief reaches civilians. … Desperate rescue efforts continued in an attempt to find any remaining survivors as bodies continued to wash up on the shoreline. First responders on the ground often worked while surrounded by militants from the Libyan National Army, a sprawling military coalition loyal to Haftar, amid what observers described as efforts to keep an iron grip over vital assistance arriving in the crisis-stricken city. … Jalel Harchaoui, a specialist on Libya and associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, pointed to Saddam Haftar’s efforts to demonstrate control over international aid teams arriving in Derna and how this has slowed vital disaster response in a time of crisis: “Everything is concentrated in the hands of the Haftar family.” … Harchaoui said the Haftar clan’s control over response efforts, particularly the prominent role of Saddam Haftar, provided little hope that any domestic or international investigation into the loss of life in Derna could fully scrutinise their roles as the officials in charge, as well as any others responsible. The Guardian

Dire Warnings about Libya Dams Went Unheeded
It had been clear for years that the dams protecting Derna, on Libya’s Mediterranean coast, were in danger of giving way. … The residents of Derna are “extremely vulnerable to flood risk,” wrote Abdelwanees Ashoor, a hydraulic engineer at Omar Al-Mukhtar University in Libya, in a paper he published in 2022. The kind of storms that had hit the area in recent decades—he cited a damaging flood in 1959—could bring down the dams and inundate Derna, he warned, calling the situation “dangerous.” … Derna was a key battleground during the country’s civil war, which saw the city fall under the control of Islamist militias. After a protracted siege, forces loyal to [Russian-backed warlord Khalifa] Hafter declared victory in 2018, although skirmishes continued for several months. All the while, the neglect of the dams continued. According to a 2021 report by Libyan state auditors in the west of the country, more than $2.3 million allocated for maintaining the two dams was simply never used. They called it a case of … negligence. NY Times

Libyans Protest against Authorities in Flood-hit Derna
Hundreds of protesters rallied in Libya’s disaster-hit Derna on Monday, accusing the authorities of neglect after a huge flash flood devastated the coastal city and swept thousands to their deaths. Demonstrators gathered outside the city’s grand mosque and chanted slogans against [Khalifa Haftar’s would-be] parliament in east Libya and its leader Aguilah Saleh. … A statement read on behalf of the protesters urged “a speedy investigation and legal action against those responsible for the disaster”. They also demanded a United Nations office in Derna and the start of “the city’s reconstruction, plus compensation for affected residents” and a probe into the current city council and previous budgets. … Libya has been split between a UN-backed administration in the capital Tripoli and [Haftar’s forces] in the disaster-hit east since the NATO-backed uprising 12 years ago. AfricaNews

Crimes against Humanity Continue in Ethiopia despite Truce, Say UN Experts
War crimes and crimes against humanity are still being committed in Ethiopia nearly a year after government and regional forces from Tigray agreed to end fighting, United Nations experts have said in a report published on Monday. Thousands died in the two-year conflict, which formally came to an end in November last year. Both sides accused each other of atrocities, including massacres, rape and arbitrary detentions, but each denied responsibility for systemic abuses. “While the signing of the agreement may have mostly silenced the guns, it has not resolved the conflict in the north of the country, in particular in Tigray, nor has it brought about any comprehensive peace,” Mohamed Chande Othman, chair of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, said in a statement accompanying the report. In its report, the commission said human rights violations in Tigray were “grave and ongoing”, and there had been attacks by the Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF) against civilians. Al Jazeera

First Clashes Reported in Port Sudan since War Began
Fighting between the two rival factions of the Sudanese military has spread to the Red Sea city of Port Sudan for the first time in five months of conflict. Sudanese soldiers exchanged fire with members of a tribal militia group which calls itself the Forces of the Eastern Sudan Parties and Movements Alliance. The troops tried to remove checkpoints set up by the group on Monday in the centre of the city. Port Sudan hosts the country’s only functioning airport. The city is also where some government officials and UN agencies have relocated amid the fighting in the capital, Khartoum, and elsewhere in the country. Clashes between the Sudanese army and rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces have left thousands of people dead since violence broke out in the capital, Khartoum, in April. BBC

Dengue Infection Cases Rise in Sudan
El Gedaref in eastern Sudan is witnessing an increase in dengue fever infections, with 70 confirmed cases and two deaths reported last week alone. The El Gedaref state government announced the start of a house-to-house campaign to combat the spread of the infection. Health sources told Radio Dabanga that dengue fever* cases are spreading in nearly all homes in El Gedaref city, in addition to the displaced people in shelter centres. Infections are typically accompanied by widespread cases of malaria and diarrhoea. Adam Hasan, staff member of the El Gedaref Teaching Hospital, told Radio Dabanga that the number of displaced people exceeds 9,000, distributed among 48 shelter centres. The spread of dengue fever and the lack of food is gradually worsening the dire humanitarian and health crises faced by displaced people. Dabanga

Zimbabwe: For Once Be Professional, Police Told amid Clampdown on Opposition
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum Acting Executive Director Wilbert Mandinde has called on the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to be professional in its conduct, amid a flurry of arrests in the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) camp. The police, widely believed to be operating at the whim of ruling Zanu PF, stands accused of wantonly dragging CCC leaders into cells, abduction attempts and torture for unknown reasons. … Speaking to Mandinde said the ZRP should, for at least one time, show that it is not partisan. He highlighted how reports by opposition players were being ignored while CCC supporters and leaders were filling up cells. “We call on our police for once to be professional. We remain concerned about the seemingly partisan approach taken by the police in arresting members of the opposition while rarely ever arresting those from the Zanu PF party,” said Mandinde. “Opposition supporters have been reporting Zanu PF supporters to the police with nothing being done. “We are concerned with the arrest of opposition MPs, we are worried about these arrests which are coming just after elections.” The police has been accused of folding hands whenever a Zanu PF supporter perpetrates crime. New Zimbabwe

Into the Abyss of Deaths, Burials, and Missing People in Nigeria’s War on Terror
Some 25,000 are missing, many believed to be victims of extrajudicial killings and clandestine mass burials by the army. … Since the Boko Haram insurgency erupted in the country’s northeast in the early 2010s, thousands of people have gone missing in the affected region — over 25,000, according to a 2022 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, more than a third of all missing persons cases documented on the African continent. A monthslong HumAngle/New Lines investigation has revealed that the Nigerian state — and in particular the military — has helped to drive this crisis, through a campaign of arbitrary arrests, prolonged detention, extrajudicial killings, mass burials and deliberate attempts to obscure their actions. Through interviews with eyewitnesses, satellite data, documents and site visits, we have also uncovered new information regarding the murder and burial of terrorism suspects, indicating that Nigerian state officials violated various international humanitarian laws in their prosecution of the war against insurgents. HumAngle

Gunmen Kidnap Catholic Priest, Six Others
Gunmen have abducted a Catholic priest in Enugu State, South-east Nigeria. The victim, Marcellinus Okide, was kidnapped alongside six other persons at about 5 p.m. on Sunday along Eke-Egede-Affa-AKpakwume Nze Road in Udi Local Government Area of the state. Mr Okide, the parish priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Amofia-Agu Affa, was said to be on his way to the parish when he was abducted by the hoodlums. The kidnappers had contacted families of the abducted victims demanding N100 million ransom to release the cleric and the six others. … Several people, including university students and government officials, have been kidnapped lately in the state. Earlier this month, a police officer was killed when suspected kidnappers attempted to abduct some travellers in Ogbeke-Nike, along Ugwogo/Opi/Nsukka Road in Enugu East Local Government Area of the state. Premium Times

In Wagner’s Largest African Outpost, Russia Looks to Tighten its Grip
[A]fter the death of Wagner boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin last month in a suspicious plane crash, officials in the Central African Republic say the Russian government is moving to take direct control over the more than 1,000 mercenaries here. The Central African Republic has historically represented Wagner’s largest outpost on the continent, though the group has been active in at least four African countries and set its sights on multiple others, provoking growing concern in Western capitals. … The group has “reached its tentacles” into CAR’s government and the most profitable parts of its economy, said a Western diplomat in Bangui. Wagner operates its own section of the airport and a mine that contains gold valued at more than $1 billion, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, which this summer sanctioned four Wagner-linked groups operating in CAR’s gold industry. The investigative group “All Eyes on Wagner,” meantime, found that a company connected to the group won government concessions to log more than 700 square miles of timber in CAR’s vast forests. Wagner has also established a powerful propaganda machine, which includes a radio station that churns out pro-Russian content in the local language, Sango. And the group has placed advisers in some of the most influential parts of the government, including as the president’s longtime national security adviser. … Danièle Darlan, a former chief judge of CAR’s constitutional court … recounted how a Russian Embassy official had asked her to help keep Touadéra in power after his term expired. She demurred. Seven months later, she was ousted from her position by presidential decree, and the court allowed a referendum to abolish term limits. Now, Darlan said, she worries that as other countries in the region engage with Moscow on security, they, too, are opening the door to Russian interference. “They made the Central African Republic a laboratory,” she said. Washington Post

Can Civil Society and Private Organizations Combat Russian Propaganda in Africa?
As Russia makes significant gains in its disinformation campaigns in Africa, experts say civil society groups and private organizations may hold the key to counter such propaganda. Since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago, analysts say the Kremlin has been using disinformation spread through social media to court other nations as it faces global isolation. Dan Whitman, a foreign policy analyst and fellow at Philadelphia-based think tank Foreign Policy Research Institute, told VOA that Moscow has recently made “tremendous successes” in its disinformation campaigns on the continent, exploiting political instability in regions like the Sahel and Central Africa, and in nations like Mozambique. … Neil Melvin, director of International Security Studies at the London-based Royal United Security Institute, or RUSI … said disinformation is not solely a Russian effort, as China and Iran also engage in state-backed disinformation campaigns, which many countries struggle to effectively counter. “Civil society becomes almost a security asset because they challenge the disinformation that sometimes is coming down mainstream channels,” he told VOA’s English to Africa Service. “Maybe this is the moment for the African Union or some of the regional organizations to try and set up their own independent media monitoring organizations to make sure that the population can push back on Russian disinformation.” According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, an academic and research program focused on security, in 2022, 60% of Africa’s more than 50 documented disinformation campaigns were externally coordinated. VOA

Migrants in Tunisia: ‘It Looks Like They’re Pushing Them to Leave’ for the Italian Coast
At a time when migrant boat arrivals from Tunisia on the island of Lampedusa are increasing, Tunis is stepping up its operations against sub-Saharan nationals still present in Sfax, the country’s second-largest city. Supported by photos, the Ministry of the Interior announced on Sunday, September 17, that it had evacuated the city’s historic center, where hundreds of migrants had taken refuge after being evicted from their homes in early July. With the support of the police, they had been the object of a manhunt. … Earlier in the week, the ministry had already warned the organizations helping the migrants and, according to a volunteer present on site who requested anonymity, prevented the volunteers from assisting them. Transported on Saturday and Sunday in buses belonging to the Sfax regional transport company, hundreds of people were moved to rural areas a few dozen kilometers away, particularly in the localities of Jebiniana and El Amra. “There was no resistance because they were led to believe that they would be taken care of in camps, whereas in fact they were dumped in the middle of olive groves,” explained Romdhane Ben Amor, spokesperson for the Forum Tunisien des Droits Economiques et Sociaux (FTDES), a local NGO. Videos shared on social media show local residents protesting the arrival of buses, escorted by National Guard vehicles, transporting migrants dislodged from the center of Sfax and dropping them in the road in the middle of the countryside. “The Tunisian authorities’ response is purely security-oriented and similar to European policy. We’re repeating the same mistakes,” said Ben Amor. Le Monde

EU Temporarily Holds Back Food Aid in Somalia after UN Finds Widespread Theft
The European Union executive has temporarily suspended funding for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Somalia, two senior EU officials told Reuters on Monday, after a U.N. investigation found widespread theft and misuse of aid meant to avert famine. The European Commission gave more than $7 million in aid to the WFP’s operations in Somalia last year, a fraction of the donations of more than $1 billion it received, U.N. data shows. EU member states gave much more money on a bilateral basis. It was not immediately clear whether any would also suspend aid. … One senior EU official said the decision was taken after the U.N. investigation concluded that landowners, local authorities, members of the security forces and humanitarian workers were all involved in stealing aid intended for vulnerable people. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the aid would be restored after the WFP met additional conditions, such as vetting of partners on the ground in Somalia. The second senior EU official confirmed that. Reuters

Eight Dead as Kenyan Military Helicopter Crashes near Somalia Border
A military helicopter crash in Kenya near the border with Somalia has killed at least eight people, officials said Tuesday. It was not immediately clear what caused the crash in the county of Lamu in coastal Kenya. Kenyan defense forces operate in the area to help deter the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab group, based across the border in Somalia. The Department of Defense (DoD) said the Air Force helicopter crashed while on night patrol. “A Board of Inquiry has been constituted and dispatched to the scene to establish the cause of the crash,” the statement added. Security agents speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to reporters told The Associated Press that all military personnel and crew on board the helicopter died. Al Jazeera

African Union Transition Mission Begins Gradual Withdrawal from Somalia
[Video] The African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia has begun gradually withdrawing from the country in anticipation of Somali forces taking over security duties by the end of 2024. AU forces have been deployed since 2007 to help the Somali government fight the al-Shabab militant group, but the fight is far from over, as Mohamed Sheikh Nor reports from Mogadishu. VOA

More Zimbabwean Elephants are Migrating to Botswana Earlier, as Water Grows More Scarce
Large numbers of elephants from Zimbabwe’s biggest national park are moving to neighbouring Botswana in a search for water, a spokesman said Monday. “Many animals have and are moving from Hwange National Park into Botswana” Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesman Tinashe Farawo told AFP. Hwange National Park covers an area of more than 14 600 square kilometres and is home to about 50 000 elephants. “Water bodies have dried up and the animals are in search for water and food,” the spokesman said, adding that buffaloes and “all types of animals present in the park” were also migrating in scores. … The authority said wildlife migration between Hwange National Park to Botswana is not uncommon, however this year it had come “too early”, citing climate change. The mass movement of wild animals could lead to an increase in conflict between humans and wildlife as they pass through populated areas in Zimbabwe. “It means more animals are going to invade communities, people competing for water with animals,” Farawo warned. … Elephants killed at least 60 people last year, according to government figures. Zimbabwe has around 100 000 elephants, the second largest population in the world and almost double the capacity of its parks, conservationists say. Botswana is home to around 130 000, the world’s largest elephant population. News24/AFP