Africa Media Review for September 28, 2021

Who Blessed the Vlads Down in Africa?
Fighters from the Russian mercenary group Wagner may soon have another stamp in their passports, this time from the West African country of Mali, after already littering at least five fragile African states with human rights abuses, extrajudicial killings, and political interference. Last week, Reuters reported that Mali, currently ruled by a military junta after experiencing two coups in the last 13 months, is in talks with the mercenary group to hire at least 1,000 fighters to train the country’s military and provide security for senior officials. But experts and Western officials fear the group’s presence will leave the new leader beholden to Moscow and further fuel instability, which has already displaced millions of people from their homes. … “We have a very clear map of how this is going to go,” said Joseph Siegle, director of research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University. Siegle pointed to the Central African Republic, where more than 2,000 Wagner fighters have been dispatched to the country since 2017. Ostensibly, they are unarmed military trainers, which enabled their deployment to skirt a 2013 U.N. arms embargo on the country. But the Russians have quickly taken the high ground, serving as bodyguard to Central African President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, while Valery Zakharov, a former official from Russian military intelligence, serves as Touadéra’s national security advisor. “They’ve gained unprecedented influence in the [Central African Republic], and ultimately, Wagner has been implicated in human rights abuses, extrajudicial killings, rape, and torture,” Siegle said. FP

France Rejects Mali ‘Abandon’ Claim, Insists Election Timetable Be Respected
Both the French foreign ministry and armed forces have vigorously rejected accusations by Mali’s interim Prime Minister Choguel Maiga that France is abandoning Mali by drawing down troops from the war-torn region. “The transformation of our military dispositive in the Sahel is neither a departure from Mali, nor a unilateral decision,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre said on Monday. “And it is false to affirm the contrary,” she added. … Legendre said France’s re-deployment in Mali followed “consultations with the Sahel and Mali authorities.” … “It was planned with the heads of state of the G5 zone” – Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad – in Bamako and in Niamey,” Michon told reporters in Nouakchott on Monday. … France also told the United Nations General Assembly on Monday that it was “imperative” Mali stick to its timetable of holding elections on 27 February 2022. The reminder came after Maiga confirmed to RFI that the interim government could push back the scheduled vote by “two weeks, two months, a few months” to ensure they are credible. The elections, promised by interim president Colonel Assimi Goita, notably to the regional ECOWAS bloc, are aimed at restoring civilian rule following a coup in August last year against elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The prospect of modifying the election calendar is also a cause for concern in Mali itself. “It had been clear for a while that the government wanted this postponement,” Djiguiba Keita of the Party of National Renaissance (Parena) told RFI. “Prime Minister Choguel took power by the street, he wants to keep it through trickery.” RFI

Pentagon Chief Tells French Counterpart U.S. Supports Sahel Mission
France has Washington’s continued support for counterterrorism efforts in Africa’s Sahel region, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told his French counterpart in a phone call on Monday. France has about 5,000 troops in the Sahel region of West Africa to fight Islamist militants and receives logistical support from the United States. French President Emmanuel Macron announced in June that France was reducing its presence in the region. … Washington has committed to stepping up its support for counterterrorism operations conducted by European states in the Sahel, according to a joint statement following a fence-mending call last week between U.S. President Joe Biden and Macron. In his call with Parly, Austin also expressed his condolences for the death of French soldier Maxime Blasco, who was killed last week in a clash with militants in Mali. Reuters

As Tunisia’s President Cements One-Man Rule, Opposition Grows
For the past two months, President Kais Saied of Tunisia has ridden widespread popular support to ever-higher peaks of power, culminating in a recent announcement that he would essentially rule the country by decree. But he has now begun to face growing opposition, heightening uncertainty over Tunisia’s most serious political crisis in a decade as its economy careens toward ruin. The rebukes have come from staunch opponents and former allies alike, from political parties and from the media, and even from some of the same supporters who cheered in the streets when Mr. Saied froze Parliament, fired the prime minister and seized power on July 25. On Sunday, at least 2,000 protesters in the capital, Tunis, called for Mr. Saied to end what they called his “coup,” the first major demonstration against his actions in two months. A joint statement from four political parties, including one that was previously close to the president, said Mr. Saied was moving toward dictatorship and called on him to end his “exceptional measures,” which he had promised were temporary. “We consider the president has lost his legitimacy by violating the Constitution,” the country’s powerful general labor union, U.G.T.T., said in a statement on Friday, warning Mr. Saied against concentrating too much power in his hands without dialogue. The New York Times

Guinea Junta Bars Its Members from Running in Next Elections
Guinea’s junta said on Monday its members are barred from standing in the next national or local elections, and that it will agree on the length of transition to elections with an 81-member Transitional National Council (TNC). Earlier this month the leader of the Sept. 5 coup, Mamady Doumbouya, shrugged off asset freezes and travel bans imposed by the ECOWAS regional bloc aimed at pressuring a swift transition to constitutional rule. Over the past two weeks the junta has held consultations with public figures and business leaders to map out a framework for a transitional government. According to the charter of the transition, Doumbouya is to be president, with a government composed of a civilian prime minister and cabinet, none of whom may be candidates in the elections, a junta spokesperson said on the state broadcaster. Reuters

Scores Killed in Attacks on Village, Army Base in Northwestern Nigeria
Gunmen attacked a village in Nigeria’s northwestern state of Kaduna, killing 34 people and injuring seven others, local authorities said Monday. Criminal gangs known locally as bandits have terrorised northwest and central Nigeria for years, but they have become more brazen in recent months and the military has renewed operations in the region. “Unidentified gunmen attacked Madamai village in Kaura … 34 residents have been confirmed dead following the attack. Seven others sustained injuries,” state security commissioner Samuel Aruwan said in a communique, later adding that the attack took place late Sunday. Troops came under fire before forcing the assailants to withdraw after an intense exchange, he added. Aruwan said two suspects were being questioned in connection with the attack. … A member of the Sokoto State assembly told Reuters on Monday that bandits killed 22 Nigerian security personnel in an attack on a remote army base in that northwestern state. Aminu Gobir said 17 bodies were recovered on Sunday and an additional five were found on Monday. He said the dead were 14 soldiers, five police officers and three members of a civil defence force. Bandits who raid villages, steal cattle, kidnap for ransom and burn homes, have no known ideology. France24 with AFP, Reuters

Under Security Lockdown, Northern Nigeria’s Economy On Hold
Straddling a caravan route to the Sahara, the city of Sokoto has since ancient times been a major trading hub in Nigeria’s extreme northwest savannah. But a surge in attacks and mass school kidnappings by criminal gangs, known locally as bandits, has dealt the region a terrible blow, making farming and trading impossible for many. Seeking to stop the violence, authorities in the northwest including in Sokoto state have imposed restrictions on travel and commerce that residents say are adding to the economic hardship. Earlier this month, 13 districts across the state were put under a lockdown that included a ban on the transport of cattle and firewood, a suspension of some animal markets and caps on fuel sales. Phone lines were also shut down in those areas last week, further complicating commerce. … Sokoto’s security commissioner Garba Moyi told AFP that access to food was being restricted in parts of the state. “It’s just to make sure the bandits are starved,” the retired colonel said. He said civilians were allowed to purchase only enough food for their families. AFP

Nigeria Air Strike Kills 20 Fishermen: Sources
At least 20 fishermen were killed accidentally in a Nigerian military strike on a jihadist camp in northeast Nigeria, two security sources and locals told AFP on Monday. A Nigerian fighter jet early on Sunday bombarded Kwatar Daban Masara in Lake Chad, which straddles Nigeria and neighboring Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, the sources said. The area is a bastion for the IS-affiliated Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). The reports of casualties came less than two weeks after officials say another air strike on a village killed nine civilians in Nigeria’s northeast where the military is battling a 12-year Islamist insurgency. ISWAP recently lifted a ban on fishermen in its territory, allowing them to move in and fish in the freshwater lake for a fee. That led to an influx of fisherman who had abandoned the area. … On September 16 a Nigerian airstrike on a village in nearby Yobe state killed at least nine civilian residents, according to officials. The Nigerian air force said at the time its fighter jet was pursuing a group of jihadists in the area and it was investigating the incident. … In January 2017 at least 112 people were killed when a fighter jet struck a camp housing 40,000 people displaced by violence in Rann near the border with Cameroon. The Defense Post with AFP

Tensions between Military and Civilians in Sudan Govt Worsen as Security Is Removed
The crisis between the military and civilian components of the Sudanese transitional government worsened in an unprecedented manner on Sunday as security forces charged with the protection of recovered assets and the office building of the Empowerment Elimination Committee were instructed to abandon their posts, leaving the office and assets vulnerable. The Empowerment Elimination Committee explained in a press statement yesterday that the joint forces guarding the recovered real estate assets and other assets had apparently been instructed to withdraw from their posts immediately. … In response, hundreds of activists flocked to the committee’s office and declared their readiness to fill the security vacuum, while sources reported that police forces returned to guard the sites again late on Sunday evening. … Media sources reported that the military component of the Sovereignty Council suspended all meetings with the civilian component. A crisis committee was reportedly established at the Council of Ministers, which held continuous meetings chaired by PM Hamdok. The sources also reported that El Burhan held a meeting with army officers and observed the withdrawal of military guards from a number of civilian members of the Sovereignty Council, leaving them unprotected. Radio Dabanga

Ethiopia Minister Who Spoke Out about Rape in Tigray Resigns
Ethiopia’s women’s minister, the first federal official to acknowledge rape had taken place during the Tigray war, announced her resignation Monday, without specifying a reason. “Any situation that compromises my ethics is contrary to my convictions and values, and betraying those beliefs is a breach of trust to myself and our citizens,” Filsan Abdullahi Ahmed said in a statement posted on Twitter. “For reasons of a personal nature that weigh heavily on my conscience, I regretfully submit my letter of resignation effective immediately.” In February, Filsan said rape had “without a doubt” taken place during the now 10-month-old war in the northern region of Tigray between government forces and rebels, and set up a task force to investigate. Last month she said the task force’s report had been sent to the attorney general and that it was up to law enforcement officials to determine the scale of the crimes and who was responsible. She said she believed law enforcement officials were “doing their best” but that she hoped the work would move faster. “I can’t say to you, ‘No, it’s absolutely fine the time they took.’ For me, I would prefer them moving at a faster pace so I can say justice has been served, and I hope we will see justice has been served.” … Amnesty International said last month that Ethiopian troops and allied Eritrean forces had raped hundreds of women and girls in Tigray, subjecting some to sexual slavery and mutilation. AFP

Ethiopia to Close Embassies in Egypt, Ireland over Financial Strain
Ethiopia has decided to close its embassies in Egypt and Ireland due to financial constraints, which have been worsened by a long conflict in the Tigray region. Ethiopian Ambassador to Egypt, Markos Tekle, announced that the embassy in Cairo will be closed temporarily as of October. “The embassy will be closed for the next three to six months to reduce costs,” he said. The ambassador said the decision has nothing to do with the longstanding dispute Ethiopia has had with Egypt and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). In July, Ethiopia filled the controversial dam for the second time despite Egyptian and Sudan’s warnings against this before the three countries reached a final deal. The Horn of Africa nation is closing its embassy in Dublin, Ireland’s capital, for similar reasons, with its responsibilities transferring to the country’s mission in London. Relations between Ethiopia and Ireland have not been very friendly in recent months. The Irish government has been at the forefront in pushing the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Ethiopia with regard to the Tigray conflict. … Ethiopia recently announced that it would close over 30 of its embassies in many countries due to the economic crisis it is facing. Its resources continue to get stretched especially as the war in the northern region spreads. The EastAfrican

EU Set to Remove Seychelles from Tax Haven Blacklist – Documents
European Union finance ministers are set to remove the Seychelles, Dominica and Anguilla from the bloc’s blacklist of tax havens next week, documents seen by Reuters indicate, while Panama has failed in its request to be delisted. The list was established in 2017 to counter widespread tax evasion and tax avoidance, and has been updated periodically to remove or add jurisdictions depending on their tax reforms. EU tax experts have recommended the delisting of the Caribbean island of Dominica, the British Caribbean territory of Anguilla and the Seychelles, mostly because they have committed to undergo a supplementary review of their tax systems with the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes, the leading international body on tax evasion, the documents show. … The Seychelles has been widely described as a tax haven for its very favourable tax treatment of offshore companies. However, EU experts recommended its delisting “following the resolution of the issue concerning harmful preferential tax regimes,” the document says. … States that are blacklisted are subject to stricter controls on transactions with the EU. Reuters

Billions Needed to Save African Cities from Climate Disasters: Report
A report published Monday the Coalition for Urban Transitions, which advises governments on economic development and global warming, warned that Africa’s urban development was “likely to confront unprecedented biophysical risks.” With its urban population exploding 20-fold between 1950 and 2015, Africa is the fastest urbanising continent and also the hardest hit by climate change. A further 950 million people are expected to live in African cities by 2050, which experts say will make efficient urban planning hugely problematic. The report looks at how climate and urban challenges can be addressed so that African cities are put on a path of sustainable long-term development. It found South Africa would need $215 billion in investment in its cities, while Kenya would need $27 billion and Ethiopia $42 billion. “Three pillars will be crucial for low-carbon, climate-resilient urban development: compact urban growth, connected infrastructure, and clean technologies,” the report added. In recent years, unusually strong cyclones have struck Africa’s southeast coast, while droughts have parched southern Africa, and floods and landslides have hit the Horn of Africa. Cape Town, South Africa’s second-largest city, almost ran out of water in 2018. RFI



Photo: Adam Jones