Media Review for February 18, 2016

Uganda Election: Apology over Voting Delays
Uganda’s electoral commission has apologised over delays in opening polling stations as people queue to vote in crucial presidential elections. Difficulties in transporting electoral materials caused the delays, it said. President Yoweri Museveni, 71, is seeking to extend his 30-year rule, in a race widely seen as the tightest in the East African state’s history. Seven opposition candidates are running against him. His main challenger is his former physician, Kizza Besigye. Mr Besigye has said he does not think the election will be free and fair. Former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi is also seen as a leading contender for the presidency. Almost five hours after the vote was meant to begin, the electoral commission issued a statement acknowledging that some polling stations had not yet opened. It added that despite the delays, voting will not be extended.  BBC

Uganda: Opposition Riled as Govt Deploys Troops Ahead of Elections Amid Mobile Phone Ban
A day after a directive banning mobile phones at polling centres, residents of Uganda’s capital, Kampala woke up to the sight of hundreds of soldiers deployed across the city ahead of elections in the East African nation, a development that has angered opposition parties, who fear this is a tactic to intimidate their supporters. Former prime minister and independent presidential candidate, John Patrick Amama Mbabazi criticised the deployment of the armed forces in urban areas, saying this was an unnecessary show of force intended to intimidate Ugandans ahead of the polls. Africa Report

Instead of Democracy, Uganda Moves Toward Dictatorship Light
For eight hours, under a beating sun, thousands of people stood in an open field, waiting patiently. Their flagging spirits were instantly revived when a column of huge, freshly washed Toyota Land Cruisers rolled up, the shiniest things for miles. Soldiers fanned out as Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 30 years, poked his head out of a sunroof wearing his signature planter hat and waved to those gathered for a campaign rally. The crowd cheered wildly. “Dictators love elections,” said Busingye Kabumba, a law lecturer at Makerere University in Kampala, the Ugandan capital. The days of overt one-party states in Africa are over, analysts say, but the earlier pressure for genuine multiparty democracy seems to be fading. Leaders across the continent who have been in office for many years feel the need to hold elections and even to go through the motions of campaigning, but the outcome is rarely in question. Many of Africa’s recent elections were actually less fair than the ones of just a few years ago.  The New York Times

How the LRA Still Haunts Northern Uganda
In 2006, northern Uganda was nearing the end of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency. Some 1.8 million people had been displaced and tens of thousands kidnapped, mutilated or killed. Ten years later, the region appears rejuvenated: a bustling trade and business centre with buildings shooting up and a renewed sense of optimism. However, scratch beneath the surface and you find an unequal recovery and plenty of hidden scars.  IRIN

Harrington Assigned to Head US Army Africa
A brigadier general on the staff of NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps is set to become U.S. Army Africa’s next commander, the Pentagon announced Thursday. Brig. Gen. Joseph P. Harrington, ARRC deputy chief of staff for operations, will succeed Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams in the USARAF post. Harrington, who the Pentagon said is eligible for promotion, was assigned to the British-led, Gloucestershire-based ARRC in September 2014. The land force headquarters is charged with being deployable worldwide within five to 30 days. To do that, “first and foremost you build teams, you build a common language and you build relationships,” Harrington told the Gloucestershire Echo in an interview last year. “You’re working to develop exercise and training plans in order to improve the compatibility and confidence of the headquarters.”  Stars and Stripes

The U.S. Government Thought it Had Killed this Legendary Militant. Now it’s Not so Sure.
Officials at Joint Special Operations Command had found the uncatchable man — they were sure of it. Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the legendary Algerian militant, had eluded capture across North Africa and the Sahel for a dozen years, defying reports of his death to continue his campaign of kidnappings and guerrilla attacks. The United States and its allies had missed him before. But in June of last year, JSOC, the secretive military outfit tasked with hunting al-Qaeda, believed they had Belmokhtar in its sights as he made his way to a dusty farm outside of Ajdabiya, in eastern Libya, where a group of militants assembled for a meeting. American officials had been on high alert for several days. Belmokhtar and his associates were famously disciplined in avoiding electronic communications and cloaking their movements, but someone had slipped up. When two American F-15 jets screamed across the sky and unleashed several 500-pound bombs, they demolished the farmhouse, killing at least five militants. But eight months later, U.S. military and intelligence agencies remain unsure whether Belmokhtar was indeed killed in the operation. The internal debate that followed the strike illustrates the challenges inherent to targeted attacks in places where the United States has little military presence, such as Libya, Syria, Yemen or Pakistan.  The Washington Post

Kenya ‘Kills’ al-Shabab Intelligence Chief in Somalia
A Kenyan air strike has killed the intelligence chief of Somalia’s militant Islamist group al-Shabab, an army statement has said. Mohammed Karatey and 10 other al-Shabab commanders were killed in the strike in southern Somalia on 8 February, it added. He played a key role in last month’s deadly attack on a Kenyan military base in neighbouring Somalia, the army said. Al-Shabab has dismissed the claim that Karatey has been killed. Kenya contributes more than 4,000 troops to the 22,000-strong AU force that is in Somalia helping the UN-backed government battle al-Shabab, which is part of al-Qaeda. Al-Shabab said it had killed about 100 troops in the attack on the Kenyan base in el-Ade town on 15 January. Kenya troops first entered Somalia in 2011 in an effort to stop the militants from carrying cross border attacks and kidnapping people.  BBC

Sudan Reiterates Rejection of U.S. Conditions for Sanctions Lift, Hits to Stop Anti Terror Cooperation
The foreign ministry Tuesday reiterated its rejection for American conditions to normalize bilateral relations, while the speaker of the Sudanese parliament hinted that his country may stop counter-terrorism cooperation with Washington. Speaking in a private event in Khartoum Monday, U.S. Chargé d’affaires to Sudan, Jerry Lanier, recalled that his country wouldn’t remove Sudan from the list of states sponsor of terrorism or left economic sanctions before the end of armed conflicts in Darfur region and Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.  Sudan Tribune

Central Africa Presidential Rivals Trade Accusations
Rivals in the Central African Republic’s hotly-contested presidential run-off, seen as crucial to usher in peace after decades of turmoil, on Wednesday traded accusations of fraud, influence peddling and intimidation. The two candidates are both former prime ministers who have campaigned on promises to restore security and boost the economy in the mineral-rich but dirt-poor and chronically unstable country. The first round on December 30 was won by Anicet Georges Dologuele, a 58-year-old former central banker known as “Mr Clean” for his attempts to bring transparency to murky public finances when in office. He took 23.78% of the vote. He faced off against Faustin Archange Touadera, also 58. The former maths professor, who is standing as an independent, surprised everyone by coming second in the first round with 19.4%. News 24

Ghana Bus Crash Kills at Least 53
A bus has crashed into a truck in northern Ghana, killing at least 53 people, police say. The Metro Mass Transit coach reportedly collided head-on with a cargo truck carrying tomatoes near the town of Kintampo on Wednesday evening. Regional police chief Maxwell Atingane told Reuters news agency that many passengers died at the scene. He said police were investigating the cause of the crash, believed to be one of the worst in many years. Joy News, a Ghanaian website, reported that a passenger told police that the bus had been experiencing brake problems. At least 23 people are being treated at a local hospital.  BBC

Troops Free 350 Boko Haram Captives
Nigerian troops freed around 350 people held captive by Boko Haram and killed two insurgents from the Islamist extremist group in north-eastern Nigeria, a military spokesman said a day after the incident on Wednesday. The captives were freed from Boko Haram camps around the fringes of Alagarno forest, south-west of the city of Maiduguri in Borno State, military spokesman Colonel Sani Usman said. “The troops killed 2 Boko Haram terrorists and captured 2 notorious terrorists … at Dole village and brought down all Boko Haram terrorist flags hoisted in the village and destroyed them,” the spokesman said in a statement. The military also responded to a “distress call” about the presence of Boko Haram in a village in the same region, Usman said. The insurgents set fire to the village, killing an elderly woman, before fleeing and regrouping.  IOL News

Boko Haram Bombs Cut 3 Million Nigerians from Outside World
A twin bombing that killed 58 people at a camp in a northeastern Nigerian town last week underlies the destructive capacity of Islamist militant group Boko Haram that’s left 3 million people cut off from access to aid. The camp at Dikwa stands in a town where shops and homes have been deserted by residents who fled Boko Haram’s onslaught, before it was liberated in July. About 53,000 displaced people live in tents pitched on an expanse of arid land guarded by soldiers in an area about 89 kilometers (55 miles) from the Borno state capital of Maiduguri. They’re among those who can’t be reached by aid organizations from United Nations to U.K-based Oxfam, who won’t venture there due to security concerns. President Muhammadu Buhari said in December that Nigerians displaced by the violence would be returned home this year and that Boko Haram had been “technically defeated”. Despite boosting defense spending last year, his administration hasn’t presented a clear plan to redevelop the northeast at a time when government finances are pressured by a 46 percent plunge in the price of Brent crude in the past year, with oil providing about two-thirds of revenue. Borno, the worst hit state, needs more than $1 billion to repair damage done by the insurgency.  Bloomberg

Nigeria’s ‘Baba Go Slow’ Needs a Shake Up
When Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari finally swore in his cabinet in November, nearly six months after taking office, he hoped to shake off his nickname “Baba Go Slow”. But troubling errors in the budget of Africa’s largest economy and the continuing free fall of the naira on the black market have both Nigerians and investors worried that Buhari still isn’t moving fast enough to address a deepening economic crisis. Since its peak in 2014, the global price of oil – which accounted for two-thirds of the Nigerian government’s revenue – has plunged by 70 percent, decimating economic growth and the naira. In response, Buhari announced a record 6 trillion-naira ($30-billion, 27 billion-euro) budget promising to triple investment to stimulate growth. Yet his budget proposal was pockmarked with mistakes, repetitions and, given the circumstances, extravagant demands. IOL News

Algeria Stiffens Control on Libyan Border to Ensure Security
Algeria has been reinforcing military presence on the borderline with violence-ridden Libya amid potential foreign military operation against IS-linked groups, local media reported Wednesday. Quoting a security source, Echorouk newspaper reported that army troops deployed on border with Libya have been put in alert and ordered to open fire on any armed individual attempting to enter the Algerian territory. The source added that Army Chief of Staff, Major General Gaid Salah ordered to stiffen security around oil and gas plants to thwart any potential terror attack, similar to that of 2011 in In-Amenas gas plant, near Libyan border, which left more than 30 foreign workers dead. Gaid Salah has also required to get constant reports on the situation on the border with Libya, in a bid to catch up with any security gap.  Xinhua

Egyptian Authorities Move to Shut Down Torture Watchdog
An Egyptian human rights organisation that documents complaints of torture in custody has said it is being shut down by the country’s authorities. Amnesty International said that moves to close down the Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence “appear to mark an expansion of the ongoing crackdown on human rights activists in Egypt”. The centre, headquartered in central Cairo, documents allegations of torture, death and medical negligence inside police stations and prisons. “Two policemen … turned up today at the centre with an administrative decision from the health ministry to close [it],” said Aida Seif el-Dawla, one of its founders. “The decision did not give any reasons,” she said. “We managed to persuade them to postpone the closure until we went to the health ministry on Monday to understand the reasons.”  The Guardian

Leading Egyptian Journalist Mohamed Heikal Dies Aged 92
One of the most famous and influential journalists in the Arab world, the Egyptian Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, has died in Cairo at the age of 92. His name is most closely associated with nationalist Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1960s. Mr Heikal was the editor of Egypt’s state-owned newspaper, Al-Ahram, during that time, articulating the Nasserist ideology of “Arab socialism”. He also served as information minister and briefly as foreign minister. Following Nasser’s death in 1970, Mr Heikal was sidelined by his successor Anwar al-Sadat. And in 1981 he was jailed along with hundreds of government critics. He was released by Hosni Mubarak after Sadat’s assassination by Islamist militants later that year, but was kept at arm’s length by the president throughout his 29 years in office.  BBC

Italian Tourist Bookings Down 90%, Regeni Death Casts Shadow: Official
Bookings by Italian tourists planning a trip to Egypt next summer are down 90 percent from the 2015 season, and the recent murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Cairo could be a factor, according to comments from an Egyptian tourism official published on the Amwal Alghad business news website. Mohamed Abdel Gabbar, head of international tourism at the Egyptian Tourism Promotion Authority, said that the decline comes despite Italy’s position among the top countries investing in the Egyptian tourism sector. Between January and November 2015, Italy ranked fifth in terms of Italian tourism-related investment, he said. Abdel Gabbar made the statements during a recent travel fair in Milano. “In 2004, Italy was the first country to achieve one million tourists to Egypt,” he said, noting that the rate of reservations for the next summer was “worrisome. Egypt Independent

UN Envoy to Libya Says Time Running out, IS Expanding
The U.N. envoy to Libya is urging its parliament to endorse a unity government that can help combat a mushrooming Islamic State affiliate, he told The Associated Press on Wednesday, the fifth anniversary of the uprising that toppled Moammar Gadhafi and plunged the country into chaos. “Every day lost in political dialogue is a day of gain of Daesh,” Martin Kobler said in the interview, referring to the extremist group by its Arabic acronym. “There is chaos. There is anarchy in which Daesh expands.” Libya’s internationally recognized government and parliament has convened in the far east since 2014, when Islamist-allied militias seized the capital, Tripoli, in support of rival authorities. The two competing parliaments are each backed by a loose array of militias and tribes. The divisions have allowed IS to expand across the northern coast of the oil-rich North African country, which is just across the Mediterranean from Italy and has also become a major conduit for African migrants heading to Europe. IS controls the central city of Sirte and a number of oil installations, and has carried out attacks across the country. AP on ABC News

Up to 73 000 Civilians Flee Fighting in Sudan’s Darfur: UN
As many as 73 000 civilians have fled the Marra mountains in the heart of Sudan’s Darfur region since the army launched an offensive against rebels on January 15, the United Nations said on Wednesday. The world body said the displacement was the largest in the district in a decade and marked a major flare-up in the conflict which has seen ethnic minority rebels fighting government troops and militia allies since 2003. “The number of civilians displaced as a result of the recent conflict in Darfur’s Jebel Marra area has increased from 38 000 to 73 000, according to the latest estimates,” the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement. The Marra mountains, which rise to more than 3 000m and are one of Darfur’s most fertile areas, are controlled by rebels of Abdulwahid Nur’s faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA-AW).  News 24

Burundi, DRC ask UN to Act Against Rwanda
Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo are urging the UN Security Council to take action against Rwanda, which they accuse of recruiting refugees to oust the Bujumbura government, according to letters released on Wednesday. Rwanda has repeatedly denied claims that it was arming Burundian refugees in a bid to overthrown President Pierre Nkurunziza, whose re-election has plunged his country in turmoil. Burundi’s UN Ambassador Albert Shingiro called for an urgent council meeting to “take appropriate action to ensure that the Rwandan government does not engage in any act designed to destabilize Burundi,” in a letter dated Friday. Kinshasa asked the 15-member council to “condemn without delay” Rwanda’s actions and press Kigali to immediately end recruitments and other operations, Ambassador Ignace Gata Mavita said in a letter dated last Thursday.  News 24

Burundi Crisis on the Back burner at Presidents’ Arusha Summit
Burundi crisis is not the top priority of East African presidents as they meet in Arusha with the main aim of reviewing the admission of South Sudan and Somalia to the East African Community (EAC) trading bloc. Burundi sank into a crisis last year after President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term of office, which he secured in a disputed vote. Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Tanzania’s John Magufuli, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame will instead focus on renewed efforts to admit South Sudan and Somalia, the region’s other troubled spots, into the EAC. “Top on the agenda is the consideration of reports…on the admission of South Sudan…and the verification exercise for the admission of Somalia,” the EAC secretariat said in a statement Tuesday. The protests that erupted in Burundi after President Nkurunziza announced his bid for third term in April later compounded to a political crisis after his re-lection in July. Rwanda and Tanzania host most of the Burundians refugees displaced since the chaos started. While the African Union and the United Nations have taken strong stand on the crisis, the East African leaders have chosen cautious steps.  The East African

Armed Groups Line Up to Kill Congo’s Elephants
In a remote part of Garamba, a vast national park in Democratic Republic of Congo, a team of rangers loads assault rifles and backpacks into a helicopter as they begin their hunt for elephant poachers. During their nine-day patrol to protect the park’s precious beasts the rangers risk coming into conflict with the heavily armed poachers that prey on them. Garamba National Park’s elephants were decimated last year, with 114 killed, still less than the 132 killed in 2014. Across Africa more than 30,000 elephants are poached every year to feed demand in Asia where a kilogramme (2.2 pounds) of raw ivory fetches around $1,100 (990 euros). Some of the tusks stored in a metal trunk inside a triple-padlocked strong room in Garamba weigh more than 30 kilogrammes each. “In 2015 the situation was really bad,” said Alhadji Somba Ghislain, Garamba’s 46-year old assistant park manager, who works for the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (known by its French acronym, ICCN). “We are fighting groups which are real threats, they are militaries. It is a real war,” he said.  AFP

South Africa Gears for Local Government Polls
South Africa has stepped up preparations for this year’s watershed local government elections where the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is expected to face its strongest challenge since the country’s first democratic polls in 1994. ANC would battle it out with the main opposition party – the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the militant Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)- for the control of major municipalities in about six months’ time. Africa Report

South Africa: Trial of Four White Farmers and a Policeman for the Murder of Two Black Men Highlights the Racial Divisions Still Haunting the Rainbow Nation
[…] Twenty-two years after apartheid, this country is in the midst of another racial reckoning, evident in the recent uproar over a white woman’s Facebook post that called black beachgoers “monkeys”. The ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), is trying to pass an “anti-racism” law that would jail anyone guilty of “racial bigotry”. An increasingly popular opposition group, the Economic Freedom Fighters, has called for a crusade against “white supremacy”. The small farming city 60 miles outside Johannesburg offers a glimpse into the tensions flaring again in South Africa. When the four accused farmers had a bail hearing in their murder trial last month, whites and blacks gathered at the courthouse, separated by barbed wire. “I could see the anger in their eyes,” said George de Beer, a white farmer. “They looked at us like we were nothing,” said Ruth Qokotha, Mr Tjexa’s mother. The whites sang the apartheid-era national anthem and held the flags of the 19th-century Boer Republics. The blacks shouted: “Kill the Boer! Kill the farmer!” – a reference to South African whites of Dutch descent. The Independent

El Niño is Causing Global Food Crisis, UN Warns
Severe droughts and floods triggered by one of the strongest El Niño weather events ever recorded have left nearly 100 million people in southern Africa, Asia and Latin America facing food and water shortages and vulnerable to diseases including Zika, UN bodies, international aid agencies and governments have said. New figures from the UN’s World Food Programme say 40 million people in rural areas and 9 million in urban centres who live in the drought-affected parts of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Malawi and Swaziland will need food assistance in the next year. In addition, 10 million people are said by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) to need food in Ethiopia (pdf), and 2.8 million need assistance in Guatemala and Honduras. […] “Almost 1 million children are in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition in eastern and southern Africa. Two years of erratic rain and drought have combined with one of the most powerful El Niño events in 50 years to wreak havoc on the lives of the most vulnerable children,” said Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala, southern Africa regional director of the UN children’s agency, Unicef.  The Guardian

North Korea’s Biggest Export? Giant Statues. To African Dictators.
[…] The export of this bold, direct, firmly authoritarian style began in the early 1980s as a diplomatic gift to socialist or non-aligned countries, from their North Korean brothers. More recently it’s become a valuable source of hard currency, with artists and craftsmen from MOP working in Angola, Benin, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia and Togo. Local media in Zimbabwe report there are two giant Robert Mugabes in storage waiting to commemorate his death. And most famously, in Senegal the giant African Renaissance Monument was cast on site by Mansudae craftsmen and dedicated in 2010. It’s estimated that the studio has earned tens of millions of dollars in this way. North Korean art seems to appeal to African leaders for two reasons. First, because the price is right. Senegal paid for its 161-foot statue by giving some land to North Korea — who immediately sold it for cash. The second reason is the style. “The Russians and Chinese don’t make that kind of stuff anymore,” says art critic William Feaver. “The appeal is in the statement of the obvious — and of course size is everything.” UPI