Media Review for January 29, 2016

Stopping the Spiral in Burundi
[…] Threats by the Nkurunziza government have raised questions over the deployment of the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU). While all scenarios should be taken into account, the likelihood and effectiveness of such retaliation remains open to question. First, it is unlikely that members of the Burundian army, degraded as it is, would risk jeopardizing their continued participation in AU missions. Second, while regime-aligned militias such as the Imbonerakure (the government-supported youth militia), hold the balance of strength over unarmed civilians, it is unlikely they would be able to stand up to organized forces. Third, the strategic controversy that would be created by an AU member state firing on African forces is one that cannot be ignored. It should also be recalled that the decision to deploy MAPROBU was not solely based on the realities within Burundi but for the benefit of the entire Great Lakes region. If Burundi continues on its path of escalating conflict this will have destabilizing effects on all of its neighbors. The need for preventative deployments to avoid mass atrocities and extended conflicts, moreover, has been a compelling driver behind the creation of the AU’s African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). Should Burundi descend into another full-scale civil war absent the deployment MAPROBU, the credibility and indeed rationale for the entire APSA project will be thrown into question. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Satellite Images Indicate Mass Graves in Burundi, Amnesty Says
A wave of violence in Burundi last December resulted in the deaths of scores of people. Now Amnesty International says satellite images and video footage indicate that dozens of people killed by police were buried in mass graves. “These images suggest a deliberate effort by the authorities to cover up the extent of the killings by their security forces,” Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said, according to an an Amnesty statement. The satellite images (which you can view on an interactive map) show mass graves in Buringa, on the outskirts of Bujumbura, where residents say at least 21 people were killed on December 11. The human rights group says they also have credible reports of mass graves in Mpanda with at least 25 bodies, and Kanyosha with 28 bodies, killed on the same day. “It is not known how many bodies might be found at other sites,” the group says. NPR

Foreign Journalists Among 17 Arrested in Burundi Swoop
At least 17 people, including two foreign journalists, have been arrested in a late night police raid in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura, a presidential spokesman said. Willy Nyamitwe said in a series of tweets late on Thursday that officers arrested 17 people in the Jabe and Nyakabiga neighbourhoods, and that they recovered a cache of weapons. French journalist Jean Philippe Remy, the Africa bureau chief for Le Monde newspaper, and Phil Moore, a British freelance journalist and regular contributor to Al Jazeera English, were among those held. In a statement released on Friday, La Monde said both journalists were legally in the country and “were merely exercising their profession by meeting all parties concerned by the current tensions in Burundi.” In Nairobi, the Foreign Correspondents Association of East Africa (FCAEA) said they were “extremely concerned about the arrests” of their colleagues. “We know them to be consummate professionals and are disturbed by news of their detention while they were doing their jobs in Bujumbura,” the FCAEA said.  Al Jazeera

Burundi Crisis Tests African Leaders’ Will to Send Peacekeepers
African Union leaders meet in Ethiopia this weekend as debate deepens over how to end Burundi’s nine-month political crisis in which more than 440 people have been killed. The organization’s 15-nation security panel last month said it wanted to send 5,000 peacekeepers to the tiny East African country, where President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term, allegedly breaching the constitution, sparked protests, a failed coup and violence. Yet heads of state may be divided over the plan that hasn’t been backed by the United Nations Security Council and would be the first time the African Union sends peacekeepers to a member state without its approval. Presidents, especially in nearby nations such as Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, “would not want to set the precedent that the AU can walk into your country and establish a military presence there without your consent,” Stephanie Wolters, head of conflict prevention and risk analysis at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said in an interview in Addis Ababa, where the summit begins Saturday. Ethiopian Communications Minister Getachew Reda said the proposal probably won’t be adopted.  Bloomberg

African Union Hopeful of Burundi Force Approval
The African Union said on Thursday it was determined to end the crisis in Burundi as it readies for a key summit where leaders face an unprecedented vote on deploying a 5 000-strong peacekeeping force. Burundi vehemently opposes any outside military force, but Aisha Abdullahi, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, said she was “optimistic” it would be pushed through. “The peacekeeping mission that we intend to deploy to Burundi is a protection force, it is there to insure that violations are not committed – by anybody,” Aisha Abdullahi, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, told AFP. News 24

How Ethiopia Exploits AU Role to Suppress International Criticism
Media and civil society at the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa face a stark choice: avoid criticising Ethiopia, or risk being denied access to the continental body. Simon Allison eports on how the Ethiopian government uses its role as gatekeeper to the AU to keep journalists, researchers and activists in check. […] In order to open an AU liaison office in Addis, foreign NGOs must first be registered by the Ethiopian government. This registration can be withdrawn at any time, and with it, access to the AU. Several senior staff at international NGOs and civil society organisations told the Daily Maverick that this arrangement is premised on a tacit understanding: as long as you don’t criticise Ethiopia, your registration remains intact, and you are free to interact with the AU. On occasion, this includes hiring a local employee with known links to national intelligence. Daily Maverick

Laurent Gbagbo Trial: Ivory Coast’s Ex-President ‘Used Rape and Murder’ Against Rivals, ICC Told
The former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo unleashed a wave of murderous violence against supporters of his political opponents in a desperate bid to remain in power after defeat in the 2010 election, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been told. The court heard that murder, rape and widespread persecution by Ivorian security forces and supporters loyal to Mr Gbagbo followed in five months of bloody clashes between him and those for President Alassane Ouattara, which left as many as 3,000 dead and thousands more wounded. “Nothing would be allowed to defeat Mr Gbagbo. If politics failed, violence was seen as politics by other means,” prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the three ICC judges sitting in The Hague in the Netherlands.  The Independent

Central African Republic Children ‘Abused by EU Troops’ – UN
The UN says it has new allegations of child sex abuse by European troops in the Central African Republic (CAR). A number of girls aged between 14 and 16 have alleged they were raped by Georgian members of the EU’s operation Eufor, the UN says. Meanwhile a seven-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy said they were abused by French troops. The troops were sent to stem violence between Christian militias and largely Muslim rebels. The rebels seized power in March 2013 – in response, the militias took up arms against them. The abuse is alleged to have taken place near a camp for displaced people near Bangui Airport in 2014 but only came to light in recent weeks during interviews with a UN team. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein said he was “extremely alarmed” at the continuing allegations against peacekeeping troops. Last December an independent panel criticised the UN’s handling of abuse allegations in the CAR, calling it “seriously flawed” and a “gross institutional failure”. BBC

Italy Says West Prepared to Take on Islamic State in Libya
Western powers are prepared to fight Islamic State in Libya even if the North African country fails to agree on a unified government soon, Italy’s defense minister said on Thursday. Libya’s internationally recognized parliament rejected the United Nations proposal for a unified government earlier this week. Meanwhile, the militant group IS is stepping up attacks throughout the country. “We cannot imagine the situation in Libya remaining in a stall as spring comes and goes,” Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said in an interview with the newspaper Corriere della Sera. Her spokesman confirmed the comments. Since 2014, Libya has had two competing parliaments and governments, one set based in Tripoli and a second, internationally recognized one in the east. Both are backed by loose alliances of armed groups and former rebels who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Reuters

Libya, Extremism and the Consequences of Collapse
When former Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was dragged from a drainage pipe in his hometown of Sirte and summarily executed by rebel forces in October 2011, much of the world looked at the event optimistically as the end of a 42-year dictatorship and a chance for the country to move forward. In reality, however, the power vacuum left by the fall of Gaddafi’s regime, along with vast stockpiles of unguarded weapons free for the taking, created a security nightmare that not only continues to threaten the region to this day, but also has broader implications for the long-term global struggle against violent extremism. Life in Libya under Gaddafi was bad; life in Libya today may arguably be worse. Al Jazeera

What does Jammeh Have to Gain by Making The Gambia an Islamic Republic?
[…] The motivation behind Jammeh’s declaration is uncertain, but there are a number of possible reasons beyond the official version. One possibility is that the president is attempting to divert attention away from the fact that the country’s economy is faltering, with high unemployment contributing to scores of young Gambians risking their lives to embark on the treacherous journey of migration to Europe. In October, Jammeh called for an investigation into the “frequent and mysterious sinking, capsizing etc. of boats carrying mostly Black African migrants looking for greener pastures in the West only to end up in body bags on European shores”. As important as this may be to highlight, Jammeh could look closer to home where human rights abuses and poverty are widespread to understand why so many are leaving The Gambia in the first place. African Arguments

Tunisia: Screw-Filled Pressure Cookers Found en Route to U.S. Embassy
FedEx workers in France discovered eight pressure cookers packed with screws in a shipment bound for U.S. Embassy in Tunisia, their union said Thursday – amid reports the items were intended for use in a security training exercise. The devices were found at the company’s warehouse near Charles de Gaulle airport. However, managers told workers that there was no danger from the shipment, without explaining further, CGT Union spokesman Frederic Petit told NBC News. French news site France 24 reported that the devices were intended for use as decoys in a training exercise, citing a security source.  Time

Soldiers Killed in Attack, Explosion in Northern Mali
“A Malian soldier was shot dead in an ambush Thursday morning on the outskirts of Timbuktu,” a military officer told journalists in the northwestern desert city on Thursday. The soldier was driving a military vehicle when he was attacked. “The shooter is on the run, he added. Elsewhere, at least three other soldiers died when their vehicle hit a landmine near the city of Gao, army spokesman Souleymane Maiga said. “The [vehicle at the] head of our convoy hit a mine 37 kilometers (23 miles) southwest of Gao, near Douetntza. We deplore the death of three of our own,” he added. Two other soldiers were reported to be in “critical condition.” No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks. Northern Mali has been under the control of Tuareg rebels and al-Qaeda-linked groups since 2012. The Islamists were largely wiped out by a French military operation in the area and a peace deal signed between the government and the rebels in June 2015. However, vast areas still experience conflict. Deutsche Welle

Congolese Refugees Flee New South Sudan Fighting
Congolese refugee Pierre fled violence several years ago, and hoped that he had found a place of safety in this border town in South Sudan – then security deteriorated rapidly and without warning. Clashes erupted between the so-called Arrow Boys and South Sudanese government soldiers late last year. The school and hospital were looted and homes burnt to the ground. Now, Pierre* and thousands of other refugees have to move again. “I thought it was the end of the world,” said Pierre, recalling the day violence caught up with him. “I was in my fields when the fighting began. I dropped everything and rushed home to get my wife and children, but on the way I was taken by armed youth.” He was held hostage and forced to carry the militia’s supplies, all the while unaware of the fate of his wife or their two-month-old daughter and four-year-old son. He was finally released unharmed after several days. “I immediately headed back home to look for my family, fearing the worst,” he continued. “When I reached Ezo, I found my hut completely ransacked and my boy inside alone in tears but my wife and younger daughter were gone.”  UNHCR

S. Sudan Praises China and Russia over Rejection of UN Sanctions
South Sudanese government has commended China and Russia for rejecting a proposed imposition of sanctions on key leaders, including President Salva Kiir and armed opposition leader, Riek Machar, asserting that such a move would derail implementation of peace deal signed in August 2015 by the warring parties in the young country. “The government of the republic of South Sudan welcomes the relentless efforts of the government and people of the people’s republic of China and the government of federal republic of Russia,” South Sudanese foreign affairs and international cooperation minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said Thursday. Sudan Tribune

Former UN Official Slams Failure to Protect Darfur’s Refugees
The UN urged Sudan on Wednesday to allow more aid into Western Darfur. Dr. Mukesh Kapila, who formerly worked as the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Sudan, said that this wasn’t enough. He didn’t mince his words. “Something clearly needs to be done in terms of providing assistance, but civilians need protection,” he said. “We have UN and African Union peacekeepers who have been there for years now. Their mission costs more than a billion dollars a year. And I can’t figure out what on earth they are doing.” Kapila has a history of speaking out against the UN and about the joint UN and African Union mission in Sudan, UNAMID. When he condemned the international organisation’s failure to prevent genocide in Darfur, his whistleblowing cost his job. Yet he hasn’t stopped.  RFI

Somali Leaders Agree on Framework for Elections
Political leaders in Somalia have agreed on a framework for holding elections this year, a move the international community hopes will stabilize the long-troubled country. The framework, announced Thursday after two days of heated talks in Mogadishu, calls for creation of an upper house of parliament, with 54 seats allocated among Somalia’s states. The 275 seats in the existing lower house of parliament will be divvied up using the 4.5 formula, a power-sharing system among the country’s four major clans and their smaller counterparts. Thirty percent of all seats will be reserved for women. Lower house members will be elected by clan elders, while upper house representatives will be chosen by “caucuses of the regional assemblies” in the states. VOA

Former Nigeria Airforce Chief Arrested
Nigeria’s former highest-ranking airforce officer is being questioned as part of an investigation into the alleged diversion of funds intended to fight Boko Haram, a source close to the probe said on Thursday. “Former chief of air staff Air Marshal Adesola Amosun has been with us since yesterday [Wednesday],” the official at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission told AFP on condition of anonymity. “He is being interrogated in connection with the arms deal scandal.” A statement from President Muhammadu Buhari’s office on January 15 said the EFCC probe into alleged weapons procurement fraud had been widened to include 17 former or serving high-ranking officers. News 24

U.S. Reiterates Criticism of Kagame Bid to Extend Presidency
The U.S. reiterated its criticism of Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s plan to extend his 15-year rule in elections next year, while saying it will continue to deepen commercial ties with the East African nation. “We believe that respecting established term limits can strengthen democratic institutions and help build a vibrant and free society,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said in a statement issued during a visit to Rwanda Wednesday. Pritzker met Kagame to discuss opportunities presented by the integration of the five-nation East African Community. “One lesson I have learned during 27 years in the private sector is that senior executives need to foster an environment that encourages ideas and creativity, as well as to plan for leadership transitions that ensure that success is not based on a single leader,” she said.  Bloomberg

US Moves to Strengthen Economic Ties with Rwanda Despite Third Term Row
The United States is pressing on with its economic interests in Rwanda, even as it continues to express disappointment at the recent changes to the country’s constitution which allow President Paul Kagame to run for a third term. The US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker arrived in the country on Wednesday for a two-day visit that is mainly focussed on strengthening economic ties between the two countries. While diplomat is accompanied by senior executives who comprise the President’s Council on Doing Business in Africa which advises the Obama administration on commercial engagements between the United States and countries across Africa, including how to build lasting partnerships between the US and African private sectors. “They chose Rwanda as one of two destinations because over the past 20 years, the country has been a remarkable success story. Much of this positive progress is the result of a concerted and focused approach to economic and commercial policymaking. The Council members wanted to develop a deeper understanding of what Rwanda has done that has worked, and how Rwanda’s progress can serve as an example for other countries in the region and across the continent. The East African

Contrary to Popular Opinion, Egypt’s Transition Wasn’t Always Doomed to Fail
The fifth anniversary of the 2011 Egyptian uprising has produced an oddly structuralist set of reflections in which the failure of its democratic transition has taken on an almost foreordained quality. Influential political science interpretations of the Egyptian uprising’s failure have focused analytical attention on structural factors, such as the role of a politicized and overreaching military, the uneven balance of power between the Muslim Brotherhood and its non-Islamist competitors, the former regime’s political structure and the weakness of transitional institutions. Structure matters, of course. But so does agency. Overly structural interpretations miss the decisive impact of highly contingent events, deflects responsibility from the political actors whose choices drove the transition off course and can lead to unwarranted skepticism about the possibility of meaningful political change. The Washington Post

US Senators: Stop aid to Ghana if Gitmo 2 Escape
Four Senators from the United States of America (USA) have petitioned the Senate Appropriations Committee to cut off foreign aid to Ghana should the small West African country fail to keep the two ex-detainees from Guantanamo Bay from escaping to “re-engage in terrorism against the United States”. Senators James Lankford of Oklahoma, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Steve Daines of Montana penned down the request and also pleaded with State and Foreign Operations and Related Programmes Chairman Lindsay Graham to carry out its implementation. GhanaWeb

South African Racial Tensions Thwart Opposition Challenge to ANC
A racist Facebook post by a member of South Africa’s main opposition party has caused a national furore and left it scrambling to shake off its image of an organisation that chiefly serves the interests of the minority white community. The episode highlighted how racial tensions simmer in the country more than two decades after Nelson Mandela become its first black president, with wealth and income gaps that are still clearly visible along race lines fuelling perceptions of white privilege. It could set back the Democratic Alliance’s efforts to attract black votes and present an effective opposition to the African National Congress (ANC), whose hold on power has been virtually untested since the end of apartheid despite rising discontent over an ailing economy and job losses. The furore erupted this month after estate agent Penny Sparrow, a Democratic Alliance (DA) member, referred to black people as “monkeys” in a New Year’s Day rant on Facebook against littering at a public beach. Reuters

Opposition to Boycott Zanzibar Election Rerun
Zanzibar’s main opposition party said on Thursday it would not take part in a planned rerun of last year’s elections in Tanzania’s semi-autonomous islands which were scrapped after alleged irregularities. Calling the fresh elections due on March 20 unconstitutional and reiterating its claim of victory in the October poll, the Civic United Front (CUF) said it would boycott the vote. “We are not going to take part in the elections… and we kindly ask other Zanzibaris, particularly those who respect rule of law and democracy, also to boycott the fresh elections,” the CUF said in a statement. “Elections are over, held in 2015, we want our victory back,” the party said after a two-day meeting.  News 24

Huge Gas Reserves Found Off Senegal
Senegal on Thursday hailed the discovery of offshore gas reserves estimated at 450 billion cubic metres as a game changer for the west African nation. US firm Kosmos said its Guembeul-1 exploration well, located in the northern part of the Saint Louis Offshore Profond licence area in Senegal, had made a “significant gas discovery.” The company said it was a “world class gas resource that extends into both Senegal and Mauritania.” “This is the best news possible for our country,” said Energy Minister Thierno Alas sane Sall on state television. He said this would allow Senegal “to be self-sufficient in energy and also export gas to the rest of the world.” News 24

USTR Launches Africa trade Policy Review
[…] “The question now is not whether AGOA is an important tool — it has been, and for many countries, will continue to be vital for the near future,” Froman will say at the hearing, according to an advance text. “The question is whether we also need to develop new policies for the new Africa.” The Obama administration begins the process with an open mind, but new African trade agreements and a move by the European Union and Canada away from unilateral preferences programs for all but the poorest countries underscore the importance of looking for new options, Froman will say. With commodity demand from China falling, “Africa’s next decade of sustainable growth will require new sources of demand — in agricultural and manufacturing trade, internal integration, and in capitalizing on the continent’s boom in Internet access and mobile use, rather than the resource boom of the last 10 years,” the testimony says. “America needs Africa. And Africa needs America. But how do we go forward from here?” Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) also will testify. Politico

Mali’s Desert Elephants Face Extinction Within Three Years
Mali’s elephants, one of just two remaining desert herds in the world, will be gone in three years unless the government does more to protect them, a conservation group has warned. Poachers have taken advantage of the chaos from a growing Islamist insurgency and other unrest in the lawless north to step up ivory trafficking – a trade that the United Nations says funds militants. Sixteen elephants have been killed so far this month, adding to more than 80 slaughtered in 2015, said Susan Canney, director of Mali Elephant Project for the WILD Foundation. “We have 50 rangers waiting to be deployed but they are held up waiting for official approval and firearms from the government,” she told Reuters.  The Guardian



Photo: Adam Jones