Africa Media Review for September 7, 2021

The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation at 21: Where to Next?
African countries can negotiate a more equitable role in FOCAC, but this requires a more strategically focused approach, better coordination, and greater accountability to their citizens. … The forthcoming Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit in Dakar, Senegal, confronts a relationship that is expanding but remains deeply asymmetrical. After 21 years of triennial summits, there is a widespread perception that China still benefits more from the relationship than its African partners. Africa maintains a structural annual trade deficit with China amounting to over $20 billion. With large-scale manufacturing largely absent, African countries continue importing expensive finished goods from China while exporting cheaper raw materials. … Another persistent problem is that too often African elites harness Chinese largesse to build patronage networks, strengthen their political positions, and maximize self-enrichment. The lack of transparency in these deals is often detrimental to African citizens’ interests. … At the same time, pushback by African civil society is increasing and putting the relationship under more scrutiny as shown by the growth in recent media reporting, litigation, and protests targeting Chinese projects. … FOCAC 2021 thus takes place in a context of growing questions over how Africa’s ruling elites manage their relationships with China. This is spurring growing calls to overhaul the partnership, including revisiting FOCAC’s institutional architecture. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Soldiers Detain Guinea’s President, Dissolve Government
Mutinous soldiers in the West African nation of Guinea detained President Alpha Conde on Sunday after hours of heavy gunfire rang out near the presidential palace in the capital, then announced on state television that the government had been dissolved in an apparent coup d’etat. The country’s borders were closed and its constitution was declared invalid in the announcement read aloud on state television by army Col. Mamadi Doumbouya…  It was not immediately known, though, how much support Doumbouya had within the military… The junta later announced plans to replace Guinea’s governors with regional commanders at an event Monday and warned: “Any refusal to appear will be considered rebellion” against the country’s new military leaders. The West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS quickly condemned the developments, threatening sanctions if Conde was not immediately released. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted that he strongly condemned “any takeover of the government by force of the gun.” … Conde, in power for more than a decade, had seen his popularity plummet since he sought a third term last year, saying that term limits did not apply to him. Sunday’s dramatic developments underscored how dissent had mounted within the military as well. … It was a dramatic setback for Guinea, where many had hoped the country had turned the page on military power grabs. AP

Guinea’s Would-Be ‘Mandela’ Was an Agent and Casualty of Democratic Backsliding
Both Alpha Condé’s constitutional maneuvers and the manner of his ousting have stoked concerns of a broader degradation of democratic values in a region roiled by political instability and Islamist militancy. Until recently, West Africa looked to have shed its “coup-belt” moniker, winning plaudits as a model of democratic progress on the continent. But a spate of attempted coups over the past year has fuelled fears that gains of the past decade are unravelling. Since August 2020, there have been two military takeovers in Mali and an attempted coup in Niger. That’s on top of the recent power grab in nearby Chad, where Mahamat Idriss Deby declared himself the head of a ruling military council in the wake of his father Idriss Deby’s death in combat in April 2021. “We thought the continent had turned the corner in terms of democratisation, but now we see that advances have been rolled back,” said [Doudou Sidibe, a professor of political science at Gustave Eiffel University], pointing the finger at a “problem of governance linked to the hyper-presidentialisation of political regimes.” Speaking to FRANCE 24 earlier this year, regional security expert Niagale Bagayoko said the proliferation of military takeovers and the lack of a decisive international response had emboldened would-be coup leaders. In particular, she said, “The international community’s passivity regarding the military takeover in Chad marks a major turning point,” undermining efforts to punish or sway coup leaders in other countries, such as Mali. France24

Opposition’s Carlos Vila Nova Becomes Sao Tome’s New President
Carlos Vila Nova was on Monday confirmed as Sao Tome and Principe’s new president after provisional results showed he won the second round of the presidential poll. According to the National Electoral Commission (CNE), Vila Nova, supported by the country’s’ largest opposition party (ADI), won the second round of Sunday’s presidential elections with 57.54 per cent of the votes. He beat Guilherme Posser da Costa from the ruling Sao Tome and Principe Liberation Movement (MLSTP/PSD) who came in second with 42.46 per cent of the vote. The 69-year-old, a former MP and engineer trained in Algeria, once served as minister of public works, infrastructure, natural resources and environment. “First of all, I would like to thank Sao Tome and Principe people for the civility and orderly way in which they participated in this election”, Vila Nova said in a press conference in Santarém Sunday. I would also like to thank the people of Sao Tome and Principe for the trust they placed in me.” … On July 18, the country held the seventh polls since independence from Portugal in 1975. The EastAfrican

At Least 30 Dead in Weekend DR Congo Attack
At least 30 people were killed in a weekend attack in the restive northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, local and UN sources said on Monday. The jihadists of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) are suspected to have carried out the attack in the Ituri area on Saturday, they said. Dieudonne Malangayi, acting chairman of the chiefdom of Walese Vonkutu, initially said 14 people died in the attack but told AFP on Monday that more bodies had since been discovered. “The civilians who went to look for the bodies of the victims found 16 others in the bush, which makes 30 civilians massacred,” said Malangayi. A UN source confirmed that at least 30 people had died in the attack. One civilian who helped look for bodies said the victims had mostly been attacked with machetes or shot. The ADF, which the United States has deemed a terrorist group, is considered the deadliest of scores of armed militias that roam the mineral-rich eastern DR Congo. The Defense Post with AFP

Sahel Jihadists: West Africa Faces Up to Policing Its Terror Triangle
With Chad’s withdrawal of troops and the imminent reduction in French troop strength from the vast Sahel region of West Africa – where jihadist groups continue to stage attack after attack, targeting civilians and soldiers without discrimination – new anti-terror tactics are afoot. Defence ministers from the G5 Sahel countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – are planning more joint military operations and greater “hearts and minds” engagement. This will target the farming and livestock herding communities of the “three-border region,” where Burkina, Niger and Mali converge and militant activity is at its most intense. In finalising the new approach at defence talks this week in the Nigérien capital Niamey, the G5 nations are taking the strategic lead. France is stepping back into a support role, after President Emmanuel Macron recently announced that its counter-terrorism Operation Barkhane was coming to an end with French troop numbers in the Sahel being cut from 5,100 to 2,500-3,000 over the next few months. BBC

Phone Blackout Imposed on Nigerian State amid Crackdown on Kidnappers
Mobile telephone networks were shut down in the northwestern Nigerian state of Zamfara, residents said on Monday, after authorities ordered a telecoms blackout to help armed forces tackle armed gangs of kidnappers terrorizing the area. Two residents of Zamfara, reached by phone after they traveled to neighboring Sokoto State, said their mobile networks had stopped functioning over the weekend. Calls to police and officials inside the state were not going through. The blackout was “to enable relevant security agencies [to] carry out required activities towards addressing the security challenge in the state,” according to a letter from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to network provider Globacom. Zamfara has been one of the worst-hit states in a wave of mass abductions of pupils from schools across northwestern Nigeria by armed gangs of ransom seekers operating from remote camps. A source at the Nigerian air force, asked to comment on media reports that military operations against the gangs were under way, said: “We are clearing these elements fiercely and decisively. It’s a total operation.” The NCC letter instructed Globacom to suspend phone and internet services to Zamfara from Sept. 3 for an initial two weeks. Reuters

Tanzania Main Opposition Party Says Several Members Arrested
Tanzanian police have arrested several members of the country’s main opposition Chadema party, the latest crackdown on a group pushing for constitutional reform in the country. It followed the detention of Chadema leader Freeman Mbowe on “terrorism” charges that his party have branded a bid by President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s government to muzzle the opposition. Police detained nine party members and raided its offices in the northern lakeside town of Musoma to block a planned symposium by the youth wing on constitutional change, Chadema said in a statement on Saturday. “We strongly condemn this blatant violation of the constitution and rule of law, sowing the seeds of hatred, discrimination and discord within communities,” it added, protesting against the “suppression of democratic rights” by police and other security forces. Mbowe has been behind bars since July 21 when he was arrested along with a number of other senior Chadema officials hours before they were to hold a similar forum on calls for a new constitution. The 59-year-old has been charged with terrorism financing and conspiracy in a case that the opposition says shows Hassan is continuing the oppressive rule of her late predecessor John Magufuli. Al Jazeera

Zambia’s Parliament Elects First Female Speaker amid Changes
Zambia’s parliament has elected its first female speaker, days after new President Hakainde Hichilema began shaking up the government by firing security commanders and promising economic reforms. In August the long-time opposition leader was elected after campaigning to break with the past. Since his inauguration on Aug. 24, Hichilema has tried to show a difference from former president Edgar Lungu’s regime by allowing media houses that had been closed to re-open, assuring people of their freedoms and promising to deal with the country’s debt crisis. On Friday, the parliament, where Hichilema’s United Party for National Development party now holds a majority, elected Nelly Mutti as the country’s first female speaker. Mutti, a human rights lawyer and a former chairwoman of the country’s anti-corruption commission, will have the job to preside over a parliament where the ruling party still needs the cooperation of opposition members of parliament to make constitutional changes. Hichilema, who has promised a “new dawn,” fired several military, police and prisons commanders just days into his rule. The opposition and civil society groups have long accused the former government of using security apparatus to perpetrate violence and arrest critics. AP

Dispute over Spy Chief Could Portend New Power Struggle in Somalia
A fresh political rift between Somalia’s president and prime minister appears to be opening a power struggle between the two top leaders of the country, which is struggling to hold elections and prevent frequent terrorist attacks. On Monday, Somalia Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble suspended Fahad Yasin, chief of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), over failing to provide reliable evidence of investigations into the alleged killing of 24-year-old Ikran Tahlil Farah, who worked in NISA’s cybersecurity department. NISA last week blamed the Islamist militant group al-Shabab for Ikran’s death, prompting angry and frustrated posts on social media from Ikran’s parents and opposition leaders, who say the agency itself had been involved. In a statement published Friday on pro-al-Shabab websites, a spokesman for the group said al-Shabab knows nothing about Ikran’s alleged killing. Roble’s move against the NISA chief has prompted a public rebuke from President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmajo, who in a counter move hours after the prime minister’s decision, issued a directive reinstating the intelligence chief. Both men were citing constitutional articles to support their cases. … Analysts say this latest rift is highlighting a growing division at the heart of the country’s political elite and threatens to put the country into a new political crisis. VOA

Kenya Appoints Head of Liaison Office to Somaliland
Kenya has appointed a head of its Liaison Office to the self-declared republic of Somaliland in a move that could raise another diplomatic tiff with Somalia. A Note Verbale communications from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dated September 2 says that Kenya has deployed four officers to Hargeisa, namely Head of the Liaison Office Benson Mwaliko, Second Counsellor Charles Wachira, and Administrative Attaches Grace Musau and Ronald Nyakweba. Kenya is one of the few countries in the region that has forged a strong link with Somaliland, which unilaterally declared independence in 1991 but has not been recognised by the international community. The latest move could spark a new diplomatic row between Kenya and Somalia because Mogadishu insists that Somaliland is part of its territory and no country is allowed to have bilateral relations with Hargeisa without Mogadishu’s permission. Somaliland has a Liaison Office in Kenya, which is one of the few countries that allowed the breakaway region to open an office. So far only Taiwan has recognised Somaliland. The African Union (AU) has always maintained that Somaliland recognition must first come through Somalia before other African countries can follow. The EastAfrican

Egypt Accused of Widespread State-Sanctioned Killings of Dissidents
Egyptian security forces engaged in an extended campaign of extrajudicial killings of detainees, routinely masked as shootouts with alleged terrorists, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch. The report details what it alleges are a pattern of extrajudicial assassinations between 2015 and last year, a period in which the Egyptian interior ministry said publicly that 755 people were killed in alleged exchanges of fire with security forces, while naming just 141. The ministry’s statements were sometimes accompanied by photos showing bodies in remote desert locations lying next to firearms that the Egyptian authorities claimed were used in the attack. However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that the government rarely provided substantive information about the alleged shootouts. For its new report, the rights organisation analysed nine of the incidents the Egyptian government claimed were shootouts, in which 75 alleged militants were killed. It interviewed relatives of 14 of the named individuals killed and conducted forensic analysis of pictures and video of the killings made available by the authorities. In all 14 cases, family members of the deceased claimed that their relative was in police custody before the alleged shootout took place. Most told HRW that they had witnessed the arrest, and said they had extreme difficulty obtaining information about the death or the body. The Guardian

Algeria Arrests Suspected Members of MAK Separatist Group After Attacks
Algeria has arrested 27 suspected members of a separatist group that the government has declared a terrorist organization, after an attack in two northern towns, police said Monday. They said the 27 were suspected of belonging to MAK, a group that seeks independence for the Berber-speaking Kabylie region. Morocco’s support for MAK was one of the reasons cited by Algeria in cutting diplomatic relations with the kingdom late last month. Police said the 27 were arrested “for their attempt to sow terror and strife among citizens by order of parties abroad,” police said in a statement. “They resorted to assault and robbery of citizens’ shops.” The statement said the attacks and the arrests took place in the northern towns of Kherrata and Beni Ourtilane in the past 48 hours but gave no further details. … The government has blamed MAK, which Algiers declared terrorist organization last year, for devastating wildfires that killed at least 65 people in the Kabylie region, east of Algiers, last month. MAK, whose leadership is based in France, has denied any involvement. Reuters

Fate of Ruling Islamist Party at Stake as Morocco Readies for Parliamentary Vote
Moroccans go to the polls Wednesday for parliamentary and local elections that will determine the fate of the Islamist party that has ruled since the Arab Spring uprisings. First elected in 2011, the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) hopes to win a third term this year, having clung on to power at the head of coalitions for the whole intervening decade. But there are few clear battle lines between the PJD’s coalition partners and the opposition, and big decisions on key policy areas like agriculture, energy and industry remain in the hands of King Mohammed VI. Opinion polls are banned in Morocco near election time, but a survey in February by the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis showed around 64 percent of people planned to abstain. Political science professor Ahmed Bouz highlighted “voters’ feeling that elected officials have little leeway to make decisions.” … Regardless of who holds elected office, major decisions come from the palace, including during the coronavirus crisis. The extent of the crown’s powers has led some local media to mock the PJD’s attempts to take credit for the successes of their latest term. Mohammed VI has already announced a plan for a “new model of development” with a “new generation of reforms and projects” in the coming years. All parties are expected to sign up, regardless of who wins the election. AFP

Arms Flown to Sudan from Ethiopia Were Legal, Says Ministry
Sudan’s interior ministry said on Monday that more than 70 boxes of weapons seized by authorities had turned out to be part of a legal cargo imported by a licensed arms trader. Sudanese authorities had confiscated the weapons after they arrived by air from neighboring Ethiopia on suspicion that were destined for use in “crimes against the state,” state news agency SUNA reported. The boxes included night-vision goggles and arrived on an Ethiopian Airlines commercial flight on Saturday night, SUNA reported. On Monday, Sudan’s interior ministry said the shipment, which included 290 rifles and belonged to a licensed trader, Wael Shams Eldin, had been checked and found to be legitimate. Ethiopian Airlines said the weapons were hunting guns that were part of a verified shipment. Tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia have been running high due to a spillover of the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region and Ethiopia’s construction of a giant hydropower dam on the Blue Nile. Reuters

Officials: Gadhafi Son Freed after 7-Plus Years in Detention
Libyan authorities on Sunday released one of Muammar Gadhafi’s sons after more than seven years of detention in the capital of Tripoli following his extradition from neighboring Niger, the country’s interim leader said. Prime Minister-designate Abdul Hamid Dbeibah said in a tweet early Monday that al-Saadi Gadhafi had been released in compliance with a previous court order. Mohamed Hamouda, a spokesman for the transitional government, said the son walked free from Tripoli’s al-Hadaba prison, where many Gadhafi regime officials are being held pending trial, mostly in connection to the crackdown on the 2011 uprising that toppled the longtime ruler and led to his killing. Hamouda did not elaborate on the circumstances of the son’s release. Local media reported al-Saadi Gadhafi was released after he was acquitted on charges dating back to the uprising against his father’s rule. Following his release, he traveled to Turkey, according to the al-Marsad news website. “We cannot move forward without achieving reconciliation,” Dbeibah said in the tweet announcing the release. His government has been given the task of leading the war-wrecked country to elections before the end of this year. At the time of the 2011 revolt, al-Saadi Gadhafi headed a special forces brigade that was involved in the crackdown on protesters and rebels. AP

South Africa’s Former President Zuma Released from Prison on Medical Parole
South Africa’s jailed former president Jacob Zuma has been placed on medical parole because of his ill health, the government’s correctional services department said on Sunday. Last month prison authorities said Zuma, serving a 15-month sentence in Estcourt prison for contempt of court, underwent unspecified surgery at an outside hospital where he had been sent for observation. He remained in hospital with more operations planned. The 79-year old’s eligibility for medical parole follows a medical report received by the Department of Correctional Services, it said in a statement. “Medical parole placement for Mr Zuma means that he will complete the remainder of the sentence in the system of community corrections, whereby he must comply with a specific set of conditions and will be subjected to supervision until his sentence expires,” the department added. … Zuma was jailed for defying a Constitutional Court order to give evidence at an inquiry investigating high-level corruption during his nine years in office until 2018. When Zuma handed himself in on July 7, protests by his supporters escalated into riots involving looting and arson that President Cyril Ramaphosa described as an “insurrection.” Reuters

What We Know about the New C.1.2 Coronavirus Variant
While much of the world’s focus has been on the Delta variant of coronavirus, a new variant has been identified in South Africa. Currently referred to as the C.1.2 variant, it is yet to be called a variant of interest or concern by the World Health Organization (WHO), but is drawing the attention of scientists due to the number and types of mutations it contains and the speed at which the mutations have occurred. C.1.2 is reported to be the variant carrying the most mutations since the original “wild” variant emerged in China. A pre-print study put out by South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said the C.1.2 variant was first identified in the Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces in May 2021; it has since been found in other South African provinces as well as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mauritius, New Zealand, Portugal and Switzerland. According to the preprint, there are several mutations carried on the C.1.2 variant – and some of these may make it more transmissible and even evade vaccine protection, though this is yet to be formally concluded. For a variant to be declared a “variant of concern” by the WHO it must be proven to show “increased transmissibility, virulence or change in clinical disease, and a decreased effectiveness of public health and social measures;” it is too early to say if this is true of C1.2. WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a United Nations briefing that they were monitoring the variant but it does not appear to be spreading. Al Jazeera



Photo: Adam Jones