Media Review for March 1, 2016

Like Zuma’s Plane, Burundi’s Peace Process is Struggling to Take off
[…] Like Zuma’s plane, Burundi’s peace process has struggled to take off. Nkurunziza has been notably unwilling to engage directly with the main opposition groups, which have been hampered by a lack of co-ordination. It hasn’t helped that the mediator appointed to lead the process, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, has been distracted by domestic politics: his controversial re-election campaign concluded earlier this month (to no one’s surprise, he was re-elected). Meanwhile, the situation in Burundi continues to deteriorate. Refugees continue to pour across the country’s borders (260,000 people and counting), while even more have been internally displaced. There are frequent incidents of violence in the capital, including mysterious disappearances and summary executions, and the situation in the more rural areas is likely to be even worse. The reason we don’t really know what’s going on outside the capital is because of the government’s near-complete elimination of independent media and civil society organisations. We do know, however, that rebel militias are gaining strength in border regions, with alleged support from Rwandan security forces, in preparation for an all-out conflict. Daily Maverick

African Union Diplomacy Fails to Take off in Burundi. Literally and Metaphorically
South African President Jacob Zuma and four other heads of state from Ethiopia, Senegal, Gabon and Mauritania joined together in a high-level African Union delegation and spent February 25th and 26th in Burundi pressuring the current President, Pierre Nkurunziza, to lift the country out of its tailspin. Alas, this latest diplomatic intervention did not exactly go as planned. The African Union delegation landed with a central objective: “to consult with all the important players [in] Burundi regarding the political situation.” Yet it was the delegation’s take off, rather than its landing, that stole the spotlight, as Jacob Zuma’s presidential jet was stranded on the tarmac for several hours due to mechanical failure. As one observer quipped in a Tweet, “Zuma’s plane breaking down in Bujumbura might be the best metaphor for the African Union delegation to [Burundi].”  UN Dispatch

Burundi Shows First Mass Grave to the Public
The authorities exhumed three bodies from the site in the predominantly anti-government neighborhood of Mutakura, after inviting members of the press to cover the event on Monday. According to Bujumbura mayor Freddy Mbonimpa, one of the alleged killers “told us that there were about 30 bodies in the grave,” after surrendering to the security forces. The victims presumably perished somewhere between April or May 2015, immediately after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his plan to seek a third term in office. His announcement set off months of deadly political unrest, with government critics deeming the move to be unconstitutional. “The murderer said they buried people there who had been killed for supporting a third term,” Mbonimpa told the press. Nkurunziza won an election boycotted by the opposition in July. Deutsche Welle

UN Team to Probe Burundi
The team was expected in Burundi today, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said. The three experts – from Algeria, Colombia and South Africa – are members of the UN’s Independent Investigation on Burundi office, set up in December and tasked with “an investigation into violations and abuses of human rights with a view to preventing further deterioration of the human rights situation”. “Our aim is to help the state fulfil its human rights obligations, and ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses, including by identifying perpetrators,” said Christof Heyns, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, who is one of the investigators. “We have a clear mandate from the Human Rights Council to help prevent Burundi from falling into the abyss,” said Maya Sahli-Fadel, the Algerian team member. The team is expected to present its preliminary findings later this month. AFP on Times Live

Can Goodwill Gestures Help End Burundi’s Political Crisis?
Amid ongoing political instability, Burundi’s government suddenly announced several goodwill gestures last week. President Nkurunziza took a controversial third term in mid-2015, leading to protests, repression, insurgencies, and many fleeing as refugees or exiles. Independent radios were shut down, forcing them to take their broadcasts online, and many journalists fled. The government has strongly resisted international pressure thus far, but these gestures appeared to be good news, taken ahead of United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to the country on 22-23 February, a subsequent visit by a high-level African Union delegation on 25-26 February, and an upcoming East African Community summit. Global Voices

Besigye, Mbabazi Polls Petition Deadline Today
By close of business yesterday, neither Mr Amama Mbabazi nor Dr Kizza Besigye had confirmed if they will petition the Supreme Court to challenge the outcome of the February 18 presidential elections whose outcome the duo continue to dispute. Today is the 10th day since the elections results were announced and the last day of the window, which the law provides for any candidate to dispute election results in court. Instead, the two sides were engaged in meetings to try and reach a final conclusion but no positive signs had emerged by press time. “I have no answer for you yet on that matter,” said Mr Severino Twinobusingye, one of Mr Mbabazi’s lawyers. “I cannot authoritatively comment on whether we are going to court or not for now.” The Electoral Commission chairman, Mr Badru Kiggundu, on February 20 announced that Mr Museveni had won the 2016 elections with 60.7 per cent, an outcome that was rejected by the Forum for Democratic Change, the party that sponsored Dr Besigye, the runner-up, according to the EC. Daily Monitor

Museveni vs the People: Elections in a Time of Social Media
In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni has just been re-elected president, marking 30 years in power. In an election marred by disturbances including the repeated arrest of main opposition leader Kizza Besigye, something that drew attention on polling day was the shutdown of all social media and mobile money sites. This highlighted the lengths to which President Museveni was prepared to go to silence dissent, but also how powerful social media is in modern political life. Daily Maverick

Besigye Arrested Again, Police Vow to Keep Siege
Dr Kizza Besigye was yesterday arrested again as police insisted on keeping the siege on his Kasangati home despite the Opposition leader insisting that there is a court order against him being detained at home. He was trying to leave his home to an unspecified place. Speaking to Daily Monitor before his arrest yesterday, Dr Besigye claimed the order issued by the Kasangati Magistrates Court in 2011 against him being held at home is still valid, but that the police were acting with “impunity” by continuing to detain him there. “This can only be stopped if there is a court order against the police [continuing to restrict Dr Besigye],” police spokesman Fred Enanga told police at the police headquarters in Naguru yesterday. Mr Ernest Kalibbala, one of Dr Besigye’s lawyers, told Daily Monitor on Sunday that they had filed another application for an order to bar the police from besieging Dr Besigye’s home. In the 2011 order, then Grade One Magistrate Jessica Chemeri of Kasangati ruled: “His detention was unlawful as he was not kept in a lawful detention centre and this was beyond the constitutional 48 hours.”  Daily Monitor

Suspected Ugandan Rebels Kill 13 in DRC
Suspected Ugandan rebels killed 13 civilians in an overnight raid on a village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the army said on Monday. “We’ve just discovered a total of 13 bodies, cut to death, including four women,” said Lieutenant Mak Hazukay, army spokesperson in the region of Beni, in the north of the North Kivu province. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) “carried out their dirty work in three small isolated villages,” he told AFP, reached by phone from Goma, the capital of the troubled province. Earlier the spokesperson had said “terrorists” killed six people with machetes and three others were missing, while a local official had spoken of two people decapitated in the village of Ntombi, where the local health centre “was completely looted.” News 24

‘Secret Memo’ Reveals al-Shabaab Jihadists Planning to Blow up Planes as They Land at International Airports in Africa
Suicide bombers from al-Shabaab are planning several suicide attacks against Kenyan airports, leaked intelligence reports suggest. Security has been increased at major airports following a memo from the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) warning of attacks by the al-Qaeda affiliated group. The leaked KAA internal memo, sent to all airport managers across the country, suggests suicide bombers intend to pose as passengers and blow themselves up during landing. According to the memo, a team of 11 suicide bombers have undergone training within Somalia to carry out airborne suicide missions in March. The memo says: “Five operatives will target Jomo Kenyatta International Airport or Wilson Airport while the rest will focus on airports at the Coast region, among them Moi International Airport (MIA) in Mombasa.”  The Independent

Death Toll in Mogadishu Blasts Up to 25
Authorities in Somalia say the death toll from two explosions near a Mogadishu hotel late Friday has risen to 25 people. Duniya Ali Mohamed of Media Hospital told VOA that eight of 34 people admitted to the hospital died of serious wounds sustained in the blasts. Three more bodies were pulled out from houses damaged by the massive car bombs near the SYL hotel. Nearly 60 others were wounded in the attack, in which gunmen also forced their way onto the hotel grounds and traded fire with security guards. The hotel is located across the street from Somalia’s presidential palace, Villa Somalia, and is frequented by government officials. VOA

Somalia Attacks Signal Escalation of al-Shabaab Offensive
Combined car bomb and suicide attacks in the Somali city of Baidoa that killed at least 30 people at the weekend appear to be part of an accelerating offensive by al-Shabaab. The group aims to disrupt national elections planned for this year, undermine public confidence in international peacekeepers and bring down Somalia’s weak western-backed federal government. The Baidoa attacks targeted a busy restaurant where patrons were watching the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Arsenal on Sunday. The bombings, claimed by the al-Qaida-affiliate, followed a lethal attack in the capital, Mogadishu, on Friday. An al-Shabaab spokesman said government officials had been targeted, but most of the dead in both incidents were civilians. Somalia has suffered two decades of lawlessness, insurrection and invasion since the collapse of the Siad Barre dictatorship in 1991, earning it the label of “failed state”. Instability has spread to neighbouring Kenya, home to large numbers of Somali refugees, following Nairobi’s decision in 2011 to intervene militarily. The Guardian

‘Somalia Needs Substantial Funding to Strengthen Security’
At least 30 people were killed in a twin-bomb attack at a busy restaurant in the Somali town of Baidoa. The Islamsist militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack. Baidoa lies 220 kilometers west of the capital Mogadishu. A suicide bomber blew himself up at the popular restaurant Beder, while another one detonated a car bomb remotely in front of Reedo restaurant, police said earlier. An independent analyst in Nairobi has told DW that international forces in Somalia are not doing enough to support the government in strengthening its security forces. DW: What does it tell us about the state of affairs in Somalia, considering that the attacks are happening one after the other? Emmanuel Kisiangani: It demonstrates the challenges of dealing with an insurgency that uses this asymmetric warfare. The problem is that we have AMISOM forces which cannot protect every individual in Somalia.  Deutsche Welle

Riek Machar and Troops to Arrive in S Sudan Capital
Logistical and political obstacles threaten to delay the planned return of opposition fighters to the South Sudanese capital, Juba, on March 1, sources close to the process told Al Jazeera. After more than two years of civil war, the return to Juba of troops from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army In Opposition (SPLM-IO) is a key step in the implementation of the August 2015 agreement on the formation of a government of national unity. The government and SPLM-IO reached an agreement that the armed opposition would send 1,370 personnel to Juba in preparation for the return to Juba of SPLM-IO leader Riek Machar. But on the eve of the March 1 deadline it seems unlikely to happen to schedule. Al Jazeera

Rwanda’s President Kagame Defends Measure Extending His Term in Office
Rwandan President Paul Kagame defended on Friday a December referendum that could allow him to extend his time in office through 2034, a move that has been criticized by the United States and other Western powers. Kagame, who has been effectively in control of the central African country since he marched a rebel army into its capital Kigali in 1996, ending a genocide that saw 800,000 massacred, contended he was following the will of his people. “Rwandans, most of whom are under 30 are more concerned with reaching our potential than sliding back into the dark past,” Kagame said in a speech at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. “There is a new democratic fundamentalism that values form over substance,” Kagame added. “If it is inherently undemocratic to amend constitutions, why do they contain provisions for doing so everywhere?”  Reuters on The Standard

US Considers Advisory Assistance in Fight Against Boko Haram
The U.S. Africa Command has asked Washington to send a small group of military advisers to Nigeria to assist its military’s fight against the Islamic insurgency Boko Haram, it said in a statement Friday. At the request of the Nigerian government, the U.S. Africa Command’s Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc sent staff in recent months to conduct a preliminary assessment to determine what is needed and what could be recommended in assisting select Nigerian units, the command said. “The types of mission sets envisioned under these proposals would likely involve a platoon-sized element operating in a strictly advise-and-assist capacity, much like the previous operations suspended in Nigeria in 2014,” said a statement from Africa Command. “U.S. military forces are not currently, and are not planning to operate in an offensive capacity in the Lake Chad Basin region. Our mission is always to enable African partner nations to lead the fight against violent extremist organizations via cooperative, regional approach.” AP on The Washington Post

US Led Flintlock Counter-terrorism Exercises End in Senegal
“Fire in the hole, fire in the hole,” an American soldier shouted as a suicide car bomb blasted off. It’s a controlled explosion but law enforcement personnel had to mine the scene after to pick out any relevant information. The United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) led the operations. Billy Alfano, one of the lead FBI trainers said the focus of Flintlock 2016 is on “counter terrorism investigations, post blast investigations, and how you exploit a crime scene to gather intelligence and leads.” “The information provides those officers in the field to actually assist in countering the threat,” Alfano added. Amid rising collaborations between Islamist militant groups across North Africa and in the Sahel, many hope this US led counter-terrorism trainings will help boost preparedness on the African continent. Deutsche Welle

Gabon’s President Ali Bongo to Seek Second Term in Office
Gabon President Ali Bongo said on Monday he would run for a second term in elections later this year, seeking to extend his party’s near 50-year rule over the oil-producing central African state. Bongo won a disputed election in 2009 after the death of his father Omar Bongo and is now nearing the end of his first seven-year mandate. There are no presidential term limits in Gabon. “Bongo Fils”, or Bongo’s son as he known locally, has sought to reform and diversify the former French colony’s oil-reliant economy and increase public investment, although some of his ambitious programmes have been hit by falling commodity prices.  France 24

In Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s Birthday is Rife With Political Jockeying
The lavish annual birthday parties for President Robert G. Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who has been in power since the country gained independence in 1980, have been a stage from which he has swatted away challengers and secured his larger-than-life hold on his nation. “Mugabe’s birthday,” a state-run newspaper proclaimed in February, “is like that of Jesus Christ.” But when Mr. Mugabe — the world’s oldest head of state — celebrated his 92nd birthday here over the weekend, his advancing age and visible frailty focused attention on the increasingly fierce struggle within his party to succeed him. The jockeying for power, always a subterranean theme at the annual bashes, was too much for Mr. Mugabe to ignore. Blaming “senior party members” motivated by “their own evil interests” — as well as the British and the Americans for sowing divisions within his party — Mr. Mugabe said: “Factionalism, factionalism and, I repeat, factionalism has no space. It has no place at all in our party.”  The New York Times

Gambia Strongman Jammeh Eyes Fifth Term in Office: TV
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who has been in power for 21 years, will run for a fifth term in office when the country holds presidential elections in December, public television said. Jammeh, a 50-year-old military officer, has ruled this tiny west African country with an iron fist since seizing power in a coup in 1994. His candidacy was approved at a meeting of his Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction party on Friday, public television reported late on Saturday. The presidential election will take place on December 1 and will be followed by general elections on April 6, 2017. Jammeh lashed out at suggestions his term in office should be limited, and pledged to continue serving the people of Gambia. The smallest country in mainland Africa, and flanked on both sides by Senegal, the Gambia is frequently criticised for human rights abuses and has a chequered recent diplomatic record. AFP on Yahoo News

South Africa’s Zuma Denies `War’ With Finance Minister
South African President Jacob Zuma denied he’s “at war” with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan over the leadership of the nation’s tax agency and said the minister’s position isn’t in jeopardy. “The President wishes to emphasize that minister Gordhan remains the Minister of Finance and any positing that the position of the minister is under any threat is dismissed,” his spokesman Bongani Majola said in an e-mailed statement on Monday. Reports that Zuma and Gordhan are in conflict are “a total fabrication and mischievous sensationalism,” he said. Gordhan said on Friday that Tom Moyane, the South African Revenue Service commissioner Zuma appointed in 2014, showed “totally unacceptable” behavior by defying orders to halt a management and systems overhaul. He threatened to resign after Zuma told him that Moyane should keep his post, Johannesburg’s Business Day newspaper reported, citing unidentified government sources. Bloomberg

Bid to Charge Zuma with Corruption
A court in South Africa is to hear a case brought by the opposition to reinstate 738 corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma. His office said he would oppose the bid, as prosecutors acted “rationally” when dropping the charges in 2009. The opposition believes the decision was political, and opened the way for Mr Zuma to become president. He was accused of taking bribes over a multi-billion dollar arms deal, but strongly denied the allegation. At the time, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said phone-tap evidence, dubbed in the local media as “spy tapes”, suggested political interference in the investigation, and it was “unconscionable” to press ahead with the case. The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party is challenging the decision in the High Court after a nearly six-year legal battle. BBC

Burkina Faso Migrants Flee Violence-racked Libya
Hundreds of Burkinabé migrants who have been living in Libya for decades are returning home, fleeing the desperate humanitarian situation that has been exacerbated by the conflict. Last Thursday the International Office of Migration (IOM) evacuated 117 people. Since December over 500 migrants have gone back to Burkina Faso. RFI

Egypt Migrant Departures Stir New Concern in Europe
The European Union fears Mediterranean migrant smuggling gangs are reviving a route from Egypt, officials told Reuters, putting thousands of people to sea in recent months as they face problems in Libya and Turkey. “It’s an increasing issue,” an EU official said of increased activity after a quiet year among smugglers around Alexandria that has raised particular concerns in Europe about Islamist militants from Sinai using the route to reach Greece or Italy. Departures from Egypt were a tiny part of the million people who arrived in Europe by sea last year; more than 80 percent came from Turkey to Greece and most others from Libya to Italy. Detailed figures on Egypt are not available. But as security in anarchic Libya has worsened, EU officials say, more smugglers are choosing to bring African and Middle East refugees and migrants to the Egyptian coast. Voyages from Egypt are long, but smugglers mainly count on people being rescued once in international shipping lanes. Reuters

A Simple Way to Prevent African Water Wars
The first stage of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance dam project is fast approaching its end. At 70 metres high, the dam is just 25 metres shy of the target for this stage of the project. Come June, it will be able to store the 14 billion cubic metres (BCM) of river water needed to kick the first turbines into action. [1] With two out of the 16 planned turbines up and running, the dam will generate 700 megawatts of electricity per year. And by late 2017, all turbines will produce 6,000 megawatts of power, drawing on a reservoir of up to 74.5 billion cubic metres. The dam will be 145 metres tall — one and a half times the height of Victoria Falls on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border. For the people of Egypt who live downstream, there is an overwhelming sense of anxiety about the heavy price they will pay for the dam in years to come — and the price they are paying even now. SciDev



Photo: Adam Jones