Media Review for December 31, 2015

Central African Republic Elections, Long Delayed, are Peaceful
In a referendum on Dec. 13 and 14, which had also been delayed, voters overwhelmingly approved a new Constitution, clearing the way for the elections and raising hopes for lasting peace. Last month, Pope Francis visited the capital, Bangui, expressing hope that the elections would “enable the country to embark serenely on a new chapter of its history.” He shocked residents by touring PK5, a volatile, largely Muslim neighborhood that is normally surrounded by armed Christian militias. In recent days, the archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonné Nzapalainga, and a Muslim leader, Omar Kobine Layama, have also appealed for peaceful elections. The voting on Wednesday seemed largely free of violence, though logistical problems persisted. In the courtyard of a school in PK5, voters shouted angrily because bureaucratic delays had blocked the arrival of some election materials. Illiteracy is rampant in the country, and many of those overseeing the election received only a day or two of training. Voter registration cards were issued by the election authority, but many contained inaccurate information, according to several people.  The New York Times

Voters Cast Their Ballots in Critical CAR Elections
Voters in the Central African Republic (CAR) on Wednesday cast their ballots in much-delayed elections aimed at restoring democratic rule in a country gripped by sectarian violence that has claimed thousands of lives. After three years of deadly political turmoil and months of concerted efforts by the international community to hold elections, polling finally got under way in the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections.  France 24

Nkurunziza Threatens to Fight African Peacekeepers
Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza threatened on Wednesday to fight any African Union peacekeepers imposed on his country, in his most confrontational comments yet on a mounting political crisis. The African Union said this month it was ready to send 5,000 peacekeepers to protect civilians caught up in months of violence, invoking for the first time powers to intervene in a member state against its will. “Everyone has to respect Burundi borders,” Nkurunziza said in comments broadcast on state radio. “In case they violate those principles, they will have attacked the country and every Burundian will stand up and fight against them … The country will have been attacked and it will respond,” he said, in his first public response to the AU plan. Other government officials have already said any peacekeepers arriving without Burundi’s permission would violate its sovereignty. The East African

Burundi Army Defections Show Dangerous Ethnic Divisions
As conflict in Burundi escalates along the same ethnic lines that fueled genocide in neighboring Rwanda, Burundi’s president on Wednesday warned the world to stay out, threatening to attack any peacekeepers dispatched by regional countries. In a public address, President Pierre Nkurunziza said a proposed African Union peacekeeping force would violate Burundi’s Constitution, which forbids such an intervention if there is a functioning government and no fighting between “two parties.” “Burundi will consider it an invasion” if any foreign troops come and will fight them, the president said. Nkurunziza, who is from the Hutu ethnic group, appears to be sidelining military officers from the Tutsi minority whose loyalty is questioned. Some Tutsis are also starting to defect from the army and one, a colonel, announced the creation of a new rebel group last week.  AP on Stars and Stripes

In Burundi’s Countdown to 2016, Holiday Cheer Laced with Apprehension
As international mediators gathered in Uganda this week to address the ongoing crisis in Burundi between government and opposition leaders, Catherine Boss watched closely from the capital Bujumbura, wondering if enough will be done for her husband to return from exile. His work as a journalist forced him to flee several months ago after President Pierre Nkurunziza secured a controversial third term in office in July which inaugurated a deadly campaign against so-called enemies of the state. As her husband moves between the capitals of neighboring countries, Ms. Boss, whose name has been changed for security reasons, is left to answer her three children’s constant questions about their father’s whereabouts. CS Monitor

African Union Threatens Burundi Sanctions
The African Union on Wednesday threatened to sanction Burundi’s rival factions if they failed to attend peace talks next month, as it pushes the government to accept a peacekeeping force. Burundi’s government and opposition, who met in Uganda on Monday, are due to meet again in January in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha for talks aimed at ending months of violence. The unrest has raised fear of a return to all-out war in the tiny central African nation, nine years after the end of a civil war. Ugandan officials said talks would resume on January 6 but the Burundi government delegation said “no consensus” had been reached on the date. News 24

Nigeria Ready to Negotiate with Boko Haram for Chibok Girls’ Release, Says President
“We are prepared to negotiate without conditions with credible Boko Haram leadership,” Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari told reporters in a media chat broadcast on Wednesday. In April 2014, 276 girls were kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok, sparking headlines across the globe. While a handful of the girls were able to escape captivity shortly after being kidnapped, some 200 of them have not been seen since a video of them was released in May 2014. Buhari noted that negotiations could not begin until Nigerian authorities could confirm the girls are alive. “We are looking for a credible Boko Haram leadership that will confirm that the girls are alive,” the president said. Deutsche Welle

Nigeria: U.S. Enraged By Boko Haram Terror Attacks
The United States has denounced the terror attacks Boko Haram has recently perpetrated in Nigeria and neighbouring countries. The latest condemnation comes after deadly attacks were carried out in Maiduguri and Madagali, the terror prone cities of the Borno State. “The United States condemns the terrible attacks carried out by Boko Haramin Nigeria, December 25-28, as well as other recent attacks in Cameroon,Chad, and Niger,” said Mark Toner, the Deputy Department of State Spokesperson, said. Speaking from Washington, he noted Boko Haram had killed dozens of innocent people who were targeted as they went about their daily lives In Maiduguri and Madagali, these were attending service at a mosque and shopping in a neighborhood market respectively. “We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims and we stand with the people of Nigeria and the region in the fight against Boko Haram,” said Toner. on allAfrica

Morocco plays key role in Europe’s security, but has jitters
Moroccan intelligence services are playing a central role in Europe’s effort to uncover extremist threats — and doubling down with their own security ahead of New Year’s festivities. Increasingly, armed security patrols can be seen pacing around major sites, from churches to museums in the capital city of Rabat and elsewhere. Popular nightlife spots have boosted security, with systematic bag checks to enter. At the Es Saadi Gardens & Resort in Marrakech, a magnet for Western tourists, there are three security checks, including for cars. “Everywhere in Marrakech, you’ll find some sort of security at the entrance,” said a hotel employee, who asked not to be named out of fear of losing his job. Marrakech was the site of a bomb attack in 2011 that killed 17 people, mainly vacationing Westerners. AP

Controversy Surrounds new ‘Libyan-Libyan’ Unity Plan
Lingering opposition to a UN-backed unity agreement in Libya was exposed on Wednesday when a new rival process was proposed by a member of the Tripoli-based parliament, only to be rejected as unrepresentative of the house. The proposal released on Tuesday called for a “Libyan-Libyan” alternative to the UN-brokered deal, suggesting a new temporary legislative body composed of members of Tripoli’s General National Congress, and 100 tribal leaders from the eastern region to oversee the drafting of a new constitution and elections. The plan, announced by Abdel Qader Huweili of the self-titled GNC “Political Committee”, was rejected within hours by others within the GNC. Senior parliament member Mahmoud Aziz told the Middle East Eye it was “an individual initiative that does not represent the GNC” and lacked support.  Middle East Eye

Malawi: Why Won’t Joyce Banda Come Home?
As we approach the start of 2016, Malawians are still wondering if, and when, they will see their former president Joyce Banda back on home soil. Banda, who was president from 2012 to 2014, left the country in September 2014 after coming third in elections a few months earlier, and she has given a myriad of reasons as to why she has not returned ever since. To begin with, Banda travelled extensively, delivering speeches and working on her charity, the Joyce Banda Foundation. In April, she said she would return to Malawi as soon as she finished her remaining speaking engagements in May. In September, a spokesperson for the still absent former president then said she would be back at the end October or early November Again, this homecoming never came. And more recently, Banda has changed her tune entirely.  African Arguments

Oil Proceeds Went into Personal Accounts, Nigerian President Says
Nigerian authorities have seen documents suggesting the proceeds from past crude oil sales were diverted to personal accounts rather than reaching government coffers, President Muhammadu Buhari said in a wide-ranging interview on Wednesday. Africa’s biggest economy faces its worst economic crisis in years, since it relies on oil exports for about 58 percent of government revenue. The sharp fall in oil prices over the past year has hit those revenues hard. This problem has been exacerbated by the long-standing mismanagement of oil revenue. Buhari has previously said treasury coffers were virtually empty when he took office in May and that “mind-boggling” sums of money had been stolen. The 73-year-old former military ruler, who won April elections after campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket, outlined progress made by his government in a two-hour “media chat” with three journalists broadcast live on state television. Reuters

Egypt Shuts Down Facebook’s Free Basics Ahead of Uprising Anniversary
Egyptian authorities on Wednesday shut down a free basic Internet service offered by Facebook, the social media platform said in a statement. The service, aimed at bolstering Internet connectivity in developing countries, reportedly served more than three million Egyptians. “We’re disappointed that Free Basics will no longer be available in Egypt,” the company said in a statement to AP news agency. “More than 1 million people who were previously unconnected had been using the Internet because of these efforts,” the company added. The telecommunications ministry said the grounds for shutting down the service were not related to security.  Deutsche Welle

South Sudan Rebel Defectors Deny Signing Peace Deal with Government
The political leader of South Sudan’s rebel defectors from the armed opposition faction led by Riek Machar, has denied his group signed a peace deal with the government without the knowledge of their supporters and sympathisers . Gabriel Changson Chan, in a statement issued on 28 December, clarified that only a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) expressing commitment to engage in the peace process to end the conflict in the nation was reached with government last week. The MoU, which the statement claimed does not in any way imply the signing of the peace deal, has created serious concerns among the rebel defectors and supporters.  Sudan Tribune

US Wants Journalists Detained in Ethiopia Set Free
The United States has urged Ethiopia to free all journalists detained by the state and stop using its controversial anti-terror law to silence dissent. National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said Wednesday the U.S. is “deeply concerned by the recent arrests of other journalists in Ethiopia.” He urged “the Ethiopian government to release journalists and all others imprisoned for exercising their right to free expression.” In October, Washington welcomed the release of a group of dissident bloggers and journalists, but on Wednesday the White House warned Ethiopia against new arrests. Price said Washington “has consistently applauded Ethiopia for being a model and a voice for development in Africa.” But he cautioned Addis Ababa that “such gains must rest on a foundation of democratic governance and respect for human rights if they are to be sustainable.”  VOA

Guinea Opposition Leader Signals Cooperation With Conde Government
A Guinean opposition leader is promising to cooperate with President Alpha Conde to improve the country’s economy. Former Prime Minister Sydia Toure of the Union of Republican Forces party has been a critic of Conde’s government. He described the economy during the president’s first term as marred by recession and unemployment. Toure said his decision to collaborate with the government followed a meeting he had with Conde about working together following the president’s election to a second term. “I had a meeting with President Conde on the 5th of December and we discussed the possibility to have a new agreement between our two parties to see during the five years coming if we can help our country to have more growth and more possibilities for the population because the last five years were wasted,” he said. VOA

2015 a Slippery Slope for Zim and its Leader
Harare – Forget Cecil the Lion: for Zimbabweans, 2015 was mostly about President Robert Mugabe, lack of money, and how long both would last. While Cecil and his death at the hands of an American dentist may have turned the world’s spotlight back onto this southern African country in the middle of the year, the tragic episode paled in comparison to massive job cuts, a worsening cash crunch and the unmistakeable glee that greeted the #MugabeFalls debacle. Here are some of the biggest news stories from Zimbabwe in the last 12 months: #MugabeFalls (not from power, silly): That red carpet tumble at Harare International Airport in early February prompted a slew of hilarious internet memes of the 91-year-old. Officials insisted it wasn’t a full-blown fall and even if it was, he “broke” it. The fall, not the internet. He stumbled again, in October, at a summit in India.  News 24

Burkina Faso Soldiers Arrested over Coup
A Burkina Faso military official says about 20 soldiers have been arrested since last week for planning to break the leader of a short-lived coup out of prison. Military spokesperson Guy Herve Ye said more than 10 soldiers were arrested on December 23 while in a meeting in the military barracks. He said they were discussing a plan to attack before Christmas. He said the rest of the soldiers have been arrested throughout the week and more were on the run. Ye said investigations would continue into the planned attack and who was responsible. Gen. Gilbert Diendere took power in Burkina Faso for a week in September after the presidential guard staged a coup. The country’s new president Roch Marc Christian Kabore was sworn in on Tuesday.  News 24

Central African Republic, What Must Come Next
Regardless of what the international actors say in Bangui, the elections will not be the end of the political transition in the Central African Republic. Initially planned for December 27, the legislative and presidential elections are taking place on December 30 with a second round planned for January 31, 2016. Delayed five times in 2015, these elections will end the legal transition that started in 2013. But can they bring change in the CAR? The constitutional referendum that was held on December 13 was a test for the electoral commission. This test sheds light on several problems that may also affect the coming elections.  Al Jazeera

South Africa: Arms Deal Commission Hands Final Report to Zuma
President Jacob Zuma said he had received the final report from the commission of inquiry into the arms deal on Wednesday afternoon. In a statement, the Presidency said Zuma received the report in Durban from members of the commission, Judge Willie Seriti and Judge Thekiso Musi. “The commission completed its public hearings and other processes in June 2015 and commenced with the report writing phase which was completed in December 2015 as per the terms of reference of the commission, thus submitting the report to the President a day before the deadline. “President Zuma expressed his gratitude to Judge Seriti and all members of the commission for the work done that ensured the successful conclusion of the work of the commission,” the statement read. Zuma also thanked all witnesses who participated in the commission.  News 24 on allAfrica

Why Counterterrorism Could Be the Death of Tunisian Democracy
[…] Tunisia’s 2011 revolution was a rejection of President Ben Ali’s police state, which had legitimized its rule by claiming to provide security and stability. This was a familiar tactic practiced by autocrats across the Middle East: exaggerate the scope of extremists to present the public with a stark choice between accepting the authoritarian regime and falling prey to violent Islamists. But Tunisia’s authoritarian system had become particularly totalitarian in its twilight years. With no entrepreneurial private sector, working for the state was the only way to make a decent living, making Tunisians’ livelihoods dependent on the regime. And any independent civil society organizations, trade associations, and professional unions were gradually infiltrated by Ben Ali’s agents. As a result, ordinary citizens’ professional, educational, and political lives were largely dependent on the state or coopted by it. The Interior Ministry — responsible for the state’s security apparatus — played the central role in perpetuating this authoritarian government. The ministry was in charge of the police, which violently silenced dissent, but it also controlled the political police, which carefully gathered information about Tunisians it suspected of being dissenters. More than that, it appointed governors and — in the name of security — interceded in decisions related to hiring, grants, and other bureaucratic processes in the country’s bloated public sector. The ministry was everywhere.  Foreign Policy

In Tanzania, a Horrific Fishing Tactic Destroys All Sea Life
Strewn in the shallows of the Indian Ocean off Tanzania lie shards of dead coral reefs. Why? Because poor Tanzanian fishermen are using explosives, illegally, to kill hundreds of fish in seconds. Blast fishing, as it’s called, not only destroys large numbers of fish directly—but indirectly as well by killing coral and the rich array of marine animals that depend on it. Experts believe that in Tanzania, blast fishing is occurring at unprecedented rates, in part because a boom in mining and construction has made it easier for people to get their hands on dynamite. Bottle bombs made with kerosene and fertilizer are also used. “It’s pretty obvious it’s on the rise again,” says Tim Davenport, country director of the Washington, D.C.-based Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Tanzania program. Blast fishing in Tanzania dates back to the 1960s and was outlawed in 1970. Cheaper and vastly more productive than traditional methods, such as basket traps and hook and line, it’s also dangerous: Errant blasts can shatter limbs, even kill people. National Geographic