Media Review for January 15, 2016

Al-Shabab Seizes African Union Base in Somalia
Al-Shabab militants have overrun an African Union military base outside the southern Somali town of el-Ade. The Islamist group says it has taken “complete control” of the AU camp and killed more than 60 Kenyan soldiers. Residents told the BBC that al-Shabab had raised its flag at a camp for Kenyan troops and said insurgents had paraded bodies through the town. But Kenya’s army spokesman said it was a nearby Somali base that was stormed and Kenyan troops counter-attacked. The number of casualties on both sides was not known, Kenyan military spokesman Col David Obonyo said in a statement. BBC

Witness Somalia’s Resilience After Decades of War
The sunbathed half-mile stretch of road that links the Aden Adde International Airport and the Peace Hotel in Mogadishu, once named by TIME the “best hotel in hell,” is interrupted by at least seven security checkpoints: four at the airport, sporting metal detectors and concrete barriers, and three at the hotel – such are the measures taken to prevent Al-Shabaab’s assaults threatening Mogadishu every day. War-torn Somalia is still a hostile place for reporters. Twenty five years of cruel civil war between military groups and terrorist organizations have torn apart this country located on the Horn of Africa between the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. Photographer Marco Gualazzini is very familiar with this territory and its past. He visited Africa for the first time in 2009, working in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia, returning over the years for more coverage in Somaliland – for the 20th anniversary of the self-declared state – and has toured Mali, Nigeria, and Sudan, to name a few. Still, for Gualazzini, Somalia remained an unexplored and fascinating territory, his interest with the Sub-Saharan region fueled by Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning movie Black Hawk Down as well as the work of one of his maestri and sources of inspiration, James Nachtwey. Time

Women Say They Are Being Raped as Part of the President of Burundi’s Fight to Keep Power
[…] Young men suspected of participating in the anti-third term protests have been the primary targets for systematic arrest, killings, and harassment by authorities in the capital. But in recent months, testimonies from local health workers, victims, and eyewitnesses point to a growing trend of rape and sexual assault of women in Bujumbura. Local health workers in Bujumbura believe there has been a surge in sexual assaults in November and December as the cadence of military and police operations in opposition neighborhoods has increased. And like Douce, victims and witnesses in Bujumbura told TIME the perpetrators were a combination of men in the uniforms of police, military, special police, or known members of the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure. In their recently released report, Refugees International recorded 651 reported incidents of sexual assault by Burundian refugees who had escaped to Tanzania. Of these, 48% were rape survivors requiring medical care. Time

Burundi: 900 Deaths Estimated as Nkurunziza Opposition Rages On
The death toll in Burundi may have been greatly underestimated, with latest numbers almost double that of the United Nation’s December estimates, a political analyst specialised in Burundian affairs has claimed. Burundi’s deadly violence erupted after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced a controversial decision to run for a third term, which he won in contested elections in July. The opposition said he was violating the constitution’s two-term limit as well as the Arusha agreement that ended Burundi’s 12-year civil war in 2005. On 17 December, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations (UN) high commissioner for human rights said that the country was on the verge of civil war because of a campaign of political repression and violent unrest that killed 400 people and perhaps considerably more. He added almost 3,500 had also been arrested in Burundi. International Business Times

E. African Legislative Group to Begin Burundi Crisis Hearing
Worries about the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Burundi have prompted a public hearing about the crisis by the Conflict Resolution Committee of the East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA). The hearing will be held in the Tanzanian city, Arusha, on Friday. Groups within the region, including the Pan African Lawyers Union, East African Civil Society Organization’s Forum and the East Africa Law Society, had jointly petitioned the speaker of EALA about their concerns. The crisis has left scores dead and has so far forced over 200,000 to flee their homes to neighboring countries. VOA

Congo Opposition to Run Against Sassou Nguesso in March Polls
Congo Republic’s opposition has conditionally agreed to run against President Denis Sassou Nguesso in an election in March, even though it is widely seen as unlikely to secure what would be the first change in leadership in nearly 20 years. Congo’s veteran leader has ruled the oil-rich former French colony for 31 of the past 36 years in two separate spells and is widely expected to run in March and win comfortably, whether or not the opposition participates. Opposition parties boycotted an October referendum on whether the president could legally seek a third consecutive term, a vote that Sassou Nguesso won by a landslide. Some observers expected them to also refuse to participate in the March vote. Reuters

Major Libyan Oil Pipeline Hit by Blast
An explosion hit a major oil pipeline south of the Libyan terminal of Ras Lanuf overnight between Wednesday and Thursday, a spokesman for the Libya’s National Oil Corp said. Mohamed al-Harari said it was not clear what had caused the explosion at the pipeline, which has been closed for more than two years. Last week Ras Lanuf and the nearby terminal of Es Sider came under attack from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants.  Reuters on Al Arabiya

As ISIS Expands in North Africa, Morocco Faces Rising Threat of Islamic State Group Terrorism
[…] With a Muslim majority population, high youth unemployment and its proximity to territory held by the Islamic State group in Libya, Morocco is facing a rising threat of Islamic radicalism and terrorism at home that could shatter its image as trouble-free. A growing number of Moroccans are joining ISIS on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, while several hundred others have traveled to Libya in recent months. Terrorism and political experts said these Moroccan fighters pose a threat to the greater Maghreb region as well as nearby southern Europe because they could mount attacks upon returning home. “Morocco is a natural candidate,” Max Abrahms, an expert on terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa and an assistant professor of political science at Northeastern University in Boston, said. “There are a lot of conditions there that favor growing terrorism problems.” Like many other countries in North Africa, Morocco is fertile ground for ISIS recruitment. Its population is almost entirely Muslim, accounting for more than 99 percent of the population, and the vast majority is Sunni. The terrorist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, follows an extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam. International Business News

Chibok Girls Kidnap: Nigerian President orders New Investigation
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has approved a new investigation into the kidnap of about 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok by the Islamist Boko Haram group in April 2014. Earlier on Thursday the parents of some of the girls had met Mr Buhari after marching through the capital Abuja. The military has freed hundreds of Boko Haram captives in recent months, but none of the Chibok girls. The government has faced criticism for the lack of progress in finding them. “I assure you that I go to bed and wake up every day with the Chibok girls on my mind,” Mr Buhari told the parents who visited him, according to a statement from his office. BBC

Nigeria: Buhari’s 2016 Budget Continues Use of Secretive ‘Security Votes’
Under President Muhammadu Buhari, the fight against corruption in Nigeria has unquestionably turned a corner. Shortly after taking office in May, he vowed to “plug revenue leakages”, made sweeping changes in the notoriously corrupt Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and took steps to tighten control over public spending. He gave the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission free rein to pursue former officials, several of whom have been arrested. However, despite these advances, Buhari’s 2016 budget raises awkward questions. According to official details just released by the Nigerian government’s Budget Office, the 2016 budget contains over 30 so-called “security votes”.  The African Arguments

Africa’s Richest Man Will Fix Nigeria’s Chronic Fuel Crisis
After waiting in line for more than four hours to buy gasoline in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, taxi driver Adebayo Olawole considered himself fortunate he got a half-filled tank. The day before, he got to the front of the line and was told there was none left. “I’ve not made any money in two days,” Olawole, 38, said outside a Total Nigeria Plc station in the Garki district. “Today is my lucky day.” Gasoline shortages are common in Africa’s largest oil producer, which imports the majority of its refined fuel, straining the nation’s finances and currency. Decades of poor maintenance, corruption and mismanagement have left Nigeria’s four state-owned refineries working at a fraction of their capacity. Bloomberg`

Egypt Extends Military Tasks in Gulf, Red Sea Regions for One Year
The Egyptian National Defense Council led by President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi agreed on Thursday to extend military operations in the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea regions for one more year for national security reasons, state-run MENA news agency reported. “The National Defense Council agreed to extend the participation of the required elements of the Egyptian armed forces in a fighting mission outside the borders to defend the Egyptian and Arab national security in the region of the Arabian Gulf, the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb Strait for an additional year,” the report said. The meeting was attended by the ministers of defense, interior and finance, military chief of staff, military and general intelligence chiefs, the newly-elected parliament speaker and other senior officials. Xinhua

What’s in Store for Egypt-Russia Relations in 2016?
A 10-day New Year holiday break has just come to an end in Russia as Egyptian Parliament starts work for the first time in three years. The two powerful strategic partners have been weakened by major internal problems. Some challenges are common such as corruption, sluggish political systems, and deep economic crisis. They are, however, caused mostly by different factors. Year 2015 appeared to be very different for their bilateral relations. They seemed to be on the rise following the visit of the Egyptian leader to Moscow, the third such visit in two years. Important agreements were signed such as the one related to construction of Egypt’s nuclear plant in the Dabaa province by Russia’s RosAtom. Russia also extended a $25 billion loan to Egypt for the construction of the nuclear plant, which the country vitally needs to meet its growing demand for electricity. Al Arabiya

Hollande: France to Withdraw Troops from Central Africa Quickly
French troops will be able to pull out of Central African Republic quickly once it elects a new president, President Francois Hollande said on Thursday. The troops “contributed to bringing stability and preventing massacres,” Hollande said in a New Year’s speech to the armed forces. “The elections are taking place and we will therefore be able to now disengage quickly.” France has some 900 soldiers in its former colony. The withdrawal of some of the troops has been put on hold, so they can support U.N. peacekeepers as the country votes. The presidential election now looks headed for a second round later this month, after a first round on December 30. Provisional results showed two ex-prime ministers — Anicet Georges Dologuele and Faustin Archange Touadera — in the lead but neither winning an outright majority. VOA

Thousands on Streets for Tunis Revolution Anniversary
Thousands gathered in the Tunisian capital on Thursday to mark the fifth anniversary of the overthrow of long serving dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the uprising that inspired the Arab Spring. Tunisians thronged Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the main thoroughfare in central Tunis and the epicentre of the country’s revolution five years ago. Some attended political rallies, chanting revolutionary slogans like “Work! Freedom! Dignity!”, while others listened to concerts or reminisced about the uprising. For many the anniversary raised mixed feelings, with fierce pride at the revolution tempered by concerns over continued economic problems and a rise in jihadist violence. News 24

Rift in Tunisian Government Party Widens
The various wings of Tunisia’s secular Nidaa Tounes party have been at odds for quite some time. Now, the party has actually broken apart, just a year after winning both parliamentary and presidential elections and right on time for the fifth anniversary of the revolution that saw the overthrow of Tunisian dictator Ben Ali on January 14, 2011. Nidaa Tounes (”Call for Tunisia”) was founded in 2012 by Beji Caid Essebsi, the country’s current president, as a counterweight to the Islamist Ennahda party that dominated the country back then. In the 2014 election campaign, Tunisia’s two major political parties started out openly hostile, only to enter into a strategic alliance, a four-party coalition. Nidaa Tounes lost its political opponent, along with the party’s most important election campaign issue.  Deutsche Welle

Over 700 Missing in Nigeria – Claim
A Nigerian Shi’ite Muslim group on Thursday said more than 700 of its members were unaccounted for, nearly a month after clashes with the army in the northern city of Zaria. “In our list there are about 730 people, men and women, who are still missing, since that fateful Saturday December 12, 2015,” spokesperson for the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), Ibrahim Musa, in an emailed statement. “These missing people were either killed by the army or are in detention” but their “whereabouts are still unknown and undisclosed”. Some 220 IMN members were in Kaduna city prison, while others were reportedly in military custody elsewhere in Kaduna state, the northeastern state of Bauchi and the capital, Abuja, he added. News 24

Tanzania President’s Reforms Raise Hopes of Better African Leaders
John Pombe Magufuli may have been a compromise candidate, but less than three months after taking over as Tanzania’s president, his radical reforms have the region in awe. Many east Africans are hoping for the “Magufulification” of their countries as they watch the 56-year-old cut perks to officials, channel funding to public services and tackle corruption. Some measures are less popular as he has expelled slum dwellers and cracked down on migrants who are in the country illegally. One of Magufuli’s first acts was to cancel the Independence Day celebrations on December 9, saying it was “shameful that we’re spending money on independence when our people are dying of cholera”. News 24

Tanzania in the Spotlight over ‘Bomb’ Chemical Seized in Pakistan
Authorities in Pakistan have reportedly seized a large quantity of a chemical used for making improvised explosive devices that allegedly originated from Tanzania. According to the Pakistani news website The International News, the amount is by far the biggest quantity of acetic anhydride seized anywhere in the world. The 21.7 metric tons of the chemical, worth an estimated 860 million Pakistani rupees ($8.2 million), were discovered in a 20-foot container last Saturday, several weeks after it had arrived at Port Qasim from Tanzania. Acetic anhydride is banned in many countries because it is used as the major precursor for the production of heroin and is also used in the manufacture of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). According to reports, the container was declared to contain “acetic acid glacial”, but port authorities, upon receiving “credible” information, profiled and searched it.  The East African

SPLM-IO Denies Renegotiation of Peace Agreement, Government Formation Delayed
The leadership of the armed opposition faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO), has dismissed as “untrue” government’s recent assertions that the parties to the August 2015 peace agreement have agreed to reopen up the peace deal for renegotiations in order to resolve a number of unimplemented outstanding issues. On Tuesday, minister of information and broadcasting, Michael Makuei Lueth, who is the official spokesman of President Salva Kiir’s government, announced in Juba that the parties to the agreement, including the main armed opposition faction, SPLM-IO, under the leadership of former vice-president, Riek Machar, have agreed to resolve about 10 remaining outstanding issues through new dialogue. Sudan Tribune

South Sudan: Oh No, Not Another GNU!
Yet another African transitional government of national unity is about to be launched, this time in South Sudan, on 22 January, to try to resolve yet another terrible conflict. Wars don’t come much uglier than this one, which devastated Africa’s newest country after a fallout between President Salva Kiir and his erstwhile deputy, Riek Machar, in December 2013 quickly descended into mutual slaughter between Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer people. Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo’s commission of inquiry for the African Union has documented some of the atrocities, including cannibalism, mass rape, torture and wide-scale murder.  ISS

Sudan Sanctions Deprive Whole Nation of Health Care
Last October, Salaheldin Abusin, president of the Kansas-based Sudanese American Medical Association, got a call from a surgeon in Khartoum who needed sutures to sew up nomads, herders, and subsistence farmers infected by a flesh-eating fungus that had to be carved out of their limbs. The patients could rarely afford the appointment, never mind the stitches. So Abusin reached out to Johnson &amp; Johnson’s multinational medical supply company, Ethicon, which agreed it was a worthy cause and directed him to MAP International, a U.S.-based Christian health organization that delivers Ethicon’s donated goods around the world. But a few weeks later, Abusin received an email from MAP: The charity would have to decline his request because of U.S. sanctions against Sudan.</p> <p>It was only the latest disappointment for Abusin, whose medical association has been exempted from the sanctions by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and should be allowed to send equipment like sutures to doctors in Sudan. But MAP demanded a second exemption from the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security. It’s not clear that the second exemption was necessary by law — lawyers say that would depend on how the transaction was structured, among other complicated variables — but therein lies a central problem with the sanctions regime: Uncertainty in interpretation poses a risk that many companies, skittish about costly accidental violations, prefer to avoid altogether. Foreign Policy

Are Liberian Police Ready for Security Handover?
The U.N. Mission in Liberia said everything is set to handover security matters to the Liberian government. The government will assume full responsibility of security by June 30, the deadline for the pullout of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, many challenges remain. For the first time since Liberia’s civil war ended in 2003, the country will be entirely in charge of its own security. The U.N. Peacekeeping Mission, known as UNMIL, said it is confident the Liberian government will be up to the task after the pullout, but some key issues need to be addressed within the next five months. UNMIL Chief of Public Information Russell Geekie said in order for the transition plan to succeed, the government must prioritize the security sector and enact several rule-of-law reforms before the handover deadline. VOA

New EU-Funded Project to Help Counter Transnational Organised Crime in Africa
Over the next three years, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and its partners will be working across Africa to better understand transnational organised crime, and how to deal with it. In November 2015, the European Union (EU) Commission awarded the ISS, UN Office on Drugs and Crime and INTERPOL a grant to enhance African capacity to respond more effectively to transnational organised crime. Using evidence-based analysis of its scale and impact on security, governance and development, the project will improve understanding of transnational organised crime in Africa. Its key contribution will be strengthening the ability of government and civil society to counter the problem and mitigate its effects. ISS

The Gambia Lifts Headscarves Directive after Resistance
The Gambia’s government has lifted a recent directive that required all female civil servants to cover their hair during office hours. The president, Yahya Jammeh, had personally issued the directive last month, urging female staff to use head ties and wrap their hair. The order sparked resistance from opposition leaders, activists and pro-democracy groups. In a statement to state radio on Wednesday, the presidency said the directive had been lifted. In early December Jammeh declared the west African country an Islamic republic. Islam is the religion of the majority of its citizens. The Guardian

Meet China’s Killer Drones
Iraqi officials revealed last weekend that one of their armed drones carried out an airstrike which mistakenly killed nine members of a Shiite militia near Tikrit in a friendly fire incident. The news came as a surprise, mostly because many people didn’t know Iraq had armed drones.Iraq, for the record, very much does. And so do a number of countries, especially in the Middle East, thanks to the rise of China as a prolific developer and no-questions-asked exporter of armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Chinese exports are now helping to loosen the door policy of the once-exclusive club of countries with drones capable of destroying targets on the ground. Unmanned Chinese aircraft like the armed Caihong, or Rainbow series of drones are fast becoming the Kalashnikovs of the drone world — entry-level alternatives for countries eager to achieve a basic unmanned strike capability quickly and cheaply. Turns out there are a lot of eager buyers. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt have bought armed Chinese drones, as have Pakistan, Nigeria, and Iraq. Actually using the robotic aircraft hasn’t always gone smoothly: Nigeria’s armed CH-3, short for Caihong-3, drones first became public when one of them surfaced in photos of a crash in the northeastern part of the country. Foreign Policy

Kenya’s ex-PM Accuses US Banks of Helping the Government Steal $1 Billion from the Country’s First Eurobond
When Kenya issued its first sovereign bond two years ago, raising $2.75 billion, it was the biggest debut of any African country on the international bond market and further proof that East Africa’s largest economy was on its way up. Now that Eurobond has become a symbol of what critics say is holding Kenya back: corruption and government mismanagement of public finances. Debate over how the money was spent has become a tit-for-tat battle between president Uhuru Kenyatta’s ruling party and its critics. Opposition leader and former prime minister Raila Odinga claims the government cannot account for almost half of the money made from the bond issue. In the latest round, Odinga held a series of press conferences in Nairobi on Jan. 14, lambasting the administration’s “elaborate scheme of deception.” Quartz

Shallow Groundwater Poses Pollution Problem for Africa
The groundwater in many of Africa’s most crowded regions lies close to the surface, making it vulnerable to pollution, a study shows. Regions along the Gulf of Guinea are at high risk of groundwater pollution on the continent, according to a map drawn by researchers at the Université Catholique de Louvain’s Earth and Life Institute in Belgium. Much of Central Africa and some coastal lands in northwest Africa are also vulnerable. The study, to be published in next month’s issue of the journal Science of the Total Environment, shows that the Sahara Desert, where water reserves are deep underground and human activities are low, is the region least vulnerable to groundwater pollution on the continent. The Guardian



Photo: Adam Jones