African news round-up: March 2022

By Adam Edwards March 25, 2022

Two-minute read: Your round-up of the latest news from Africa, including Nigeria's on-going drug ring trial and the jihadist violence in the Sahel.

NIGERIA

A senior police officer accused of working with a drug cartel pleaded not guilty in his first appearance at the Federal High Court in Abuja.

Suspended Deputy Commissioner of Police Abba Kyari appeared in court on March 7 along with six other suspects, four of them senior police officers.

Kyari is accused of attempting to bribe officers of Nigeria’s anti-drug agency in order to prevent the testing of cocaine seized at a local airport.

Two of the suspects, not police officers, pleaded guilty to charges of possessing and importing 21kg (three stone) of cocaine into Nigeria.

The case was adjourned to March 23.

Nigerian authorities allege that Kyari was helping a cartel that operates between Nigeria, Ethiopia and Brazil.

The suspended deputy commissioner had been praised in Nigeria over recent years for his team's high-profile successes against gangs involved in kidnappings and fraud.

However, he has since been the subject of media intrigue. In addition to the drugs case, Kyari is also wanted in the US in connection to an international fraud case.

Kyari denies those allegations as well.

KENYA

President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered a crackdown on motorcycle taxis after a group of riders attacked a female motorist, sparking national protests.

The young woman was assaulted by the taxi riders -- known locally as boda-boda riders-- following a traffic accident in Nairobi on March 4.

A viral video of the incident showed the men grabbing at the woman's clothing and groping her in broad daylight as she screamed for help from inside her car.

‘I have instructed the law enforcement officers to use the instruments within the law to punish these perpetrators,’ President Kenyatta said at an event to mark International Women's Day on March 8.

‘There should never be a repeat of what we saw for this is a blight on the entire Kenyan society.’

He ordered that all boda-boda riders must re-register with the transport authorities or face punishment.

Demonstrators staged a protest in Nairobi on Tuesday over the vicious assault.

The protesters, who numbered around 150, according to KBC, marched to police headquarters waving placards and calling for a halt to gender-based violence.

Police said they had arrested 16 riders in connection with Friday's incident, which occurred on a road named after Kenyan Nobel peace laureate Wangari Maathai.

Boda-boda riders are notorious in Kenya for breaching the highway code and assaulting drivers after collisions.

In 2020, a group of riders tried to lynch a former armed forces chief after one of them rear-ended his vehicle, while one of Kenya’s deputy governors saw his car torched after a similar incident.

Kenya’s million-plus boda-boda riders were classified as a ‘threat to national security’ by an Interior Ministry research unit in 2019.

A crackdown in the capital on March 8 saw more than 200 riders arrested for alleged violations of transport rules, according to Kenyan police.

 

NIGER

Five soldiers were killed by a mine in Niger’s southwestern Torodi region on March 4, according to an announcement by the defence ministry.

Three soldiers were also wounded when the army patrol vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device (IED) believed to have been laid by Islamist insurgents.

The troops were part of the 2,160-strong anti-jihadist unit set up in February near the border with Burkina Faso.

Western Niger has been regularly targeted by Islamist groups since 2017, despite the deployment of thousands of troops and the imposition of a state of emergency in the region.

Attacks using IEDs have become widespread in Torodi and neighbouring Gotheye.

Both are located in the flashpoint zone between Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, where jihadist groups including the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara operate.

Security sources believe the Islamists have recruited many young Nigeriens, particularly from along the border with Burkina Faso, where they have 'set up several logistics bases', according to African Insider.

The world’s poorest country according to the UN’s Human Development Index, Niger is also battling a second jihadist insurgency on its southeastern border with Nigeria, where both Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province are active.

Niger's president, Mohamed Bazoum, has revealed that 12,000 soldiers are engaged in anti-jihadist operations in his country.

 

LIBYA

The United Nations’ (UN) top official in Libya has offered to mediate between feuding politicians, after lawmakers announced a rival government on March 3.

Stephanie Williams made the call on March 4, the day after the country’s eastern-based parliament swore in their own prime minister in a direct challenge to the UN-appointed interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.

Williams said 'the solution to Libya’s crisis does not lie in forming rival administrations and perennial transitions'.

According to Al-Jazeera, Williams instead asked the eastern-based House of Representatives and the Tripoli-based upper chamber, the High Council of State (HCS), to nominate six delegates each to form a 'joint committee dedicated to developing a consensual constitutional basis'. This committee would in turn, decide the terms for a national election.

HCS chief Khalid al-Mishri welcomed her offer, adding: 'Yes to elections, no to extensions.'

The eastern-based parliament did not issue an immediate public response.

Williams’ proposal comes after UN-brokered presidential and parliamentary elections, set for December 24, 2021, were abandoned.

The elections were hoped to end more than a decade of conflict in the North African state.

  

SOUTH SUDAN

A clergyman and a university professor arrested last year for criticising the government could face the death penalty, according to a statement released by a human rights' organisation on March 1.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for the charges against the two men, accused of sabotage and undermining South Sudan’s constitution, to be dropped.

They face the death penalty or life imprisonment if convicted.

One of the men, Abraham Chol Akech, was arrested at his home by the police in July 2021.

The 69-year-old cleric is alleged to have told his congregation that both President Salva Kiir and his deputy, Rick Machar, would be unseated from office on the country's independence anniversary.

The other man, Kuel Aguer Kuel, a professor of economics at Stratford International University in South Sudan and a former governor of North Bahr el-Ghazal State, was picked up by the secret service, after calling for government reforms in a memo published online.

A member of the ruling Sudan’s People Liberation Movement, Kuel, 66, had also called on the government to replace some ministers who have been in power since before the country’s independence in 2011.

South Sudan researcher at HRW Nyagoah Tut Por said: 'The government needs to cease these abuses and foster an environment for open dialogue on matters of public interest and governance.'

Kiir and his deputy have been in power since 2005, when the region was still a semi-autonomous region of Sudan. Two years after full independence, friction between the two men erupted into a war that killed thousands and displaced millions from their homes.

 

SOMALIA

The United Nations (UN) is warning that it needs more than $1 billion to tackle a devastating drought that has affected 4.5 million people in Somalia.

Just three per cent of the nearly $1.5bn needed to deal with the drought has so far been received, according to the agency.

The Horn of Africa region has been hit by three successive seasons of poor rains.

Crop yields and grazing in Somalia, Ethiopia and parts of Kenya were also negatively affected by two well-publicised locust invasions in 2019 and 2021 respectively.