African news round-up

October 27, 2021

Burundi news

Burundi has accused opposition leader Alexis Sinduhije of terrorism and issued an international arrest warrant for the politician.

The announcement, made by the country’s attorney general Sylvestre Nyandwi last month, followed a string of recent attacks in the East African nation that left at least six people dead and more than 100 wounded.

The warrant, however, relates to earlier attacks, including grenade attacks and ambushes that have killed dozens and injured several since the start of 2020, the attorney general clarified.

‘The investigations already carried out have revealed that these acts are committed by a band of terrorists led by Alexis Sinduhije. Under national and international law, these acts constitute acts of terrorism, as well as crimes against humanity.’

Sinduhije, the president of the opposition Movement for Solidarity and Development (MSD) who lives in exile in Belgium, has long been suspected by the Burundian government of being at the helm of RED-Tabara, the most active rebel group in the country. Sinduhije has always denied this allegation.

The group emerged a decade ago and is accused of being behind many deadly attacks or ambushes in Burundi since 2015.

RED-Tabara has a base in the South Kivu province of neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Its membership is estimated to number up to 800.

In 2020, the group said it was behind a series of attacks that killed more than 40 people from the security forces and the youth league of the governing CNDD-FDD party.

It claimed responsibility for a series of mortar blasts targeting the airport in Burundi’s financial capital Bujumbura, on September 25. No damage or casualties occurred.

The attorney general said those blasts were ‘linked’ to the earlier attacks that Sinduhije is accused of carrying out. He did not provide further details.

The MSD rejected ‘the unfounded accusations of a government incapable of ensuring the safety of its citizens’.

‘Neither our leaders nor our members are oriented towards violence against our fellow citizens,’ it added.

Arrest warrants have also been issued against Francois Nyamoya, MSD’s secretary general, and Marguerite Brankitse, an award-winning humanitarian and founder of the Maison Shalom home for orphans.

‘The allegations seek to scare me and discourage my charitable activities, but I am not afraid. I am standing tall,’ Barankitse told the BBC.

Meanwhile, Burundi’s attorney general said: ‘We ask the countries where these criminals are based to offer us their collaboration so that they are arrested and do not continue to shed the blood of their fellow citizens.’

 

Guinea news
The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) has imposed sanctions on the leaders of a military junta that ousted former president Alpha Conde.

After an emergency summit of regional leaders last month, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, the president of the bloc’s commission, said they would freeze the financial assets and impose travel bans on Guinea’s junta members and their relatives.

Coup leader Mamady Doumbouya brushed off the move, telling high-level Ecowas envoys that ‘as soldiers, their [military leaders] work is in Guinea and there’s nothing to freeze in their accounts’.

Ecowas suspended Guinea’s membership of the bloc on September 8. Its subsequent decision to implement sanctions has been described by analysts as its toughest response yet to military takeovers.

Judd Devermont, the director of South Africa-based think-tank CSIS Africa, called it ‘a much more robust response compared to its reaction to Mali’s two coups’, which has stoked fears of further political instability in the region.

The bloc slapped sanctions on Mali last year when soldiers detained President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita after a mutiny that followed weeks of protests against his government.

Ecowas also demanded that Mali’s transitional government stick to an agreement to organise elections for February 2022, and present a roadmap for a vote by next month, or face the same fate as Guinea.

The decision to impose sanctions reflects Ecowas members’ desire to deter a further democratic backslide following four military coups in West and Central Africa since last year. The African Union (AU) has followed Ecowas in suspending Guinea.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told France24 that the coup was a ‘step backwards’ and said the leaders should face sanctions and ‘get out’.

The impact of the coup on Guinea’s economy remains uncertain.

Guinea’s economy had emerged virtually unscathed from the pandemic owing to resilient production of bauxite – a key source of aluminium – over the last year and a half.

In the aftermath of the military takeover, however, Guinea’s land and air borders were closed, raising fears of disruptions to the global supply of bauxite, of which Guinea accounts for 20 per cent.

 

Kenya news

Kenya has hailed efforts to crack down on poaching, following the publication of the country’s first-ever national wildlife census.

‘It is a good and bad story,’ said Patrick Omondi, the acting director for the newly formed Wildlife Research and Training Institute.

The report found that both elephant and rhino numbers are increasing in the country.

The number of elephants has increased to 36,280, a 12 per cent jump from the figures recorded in 2014, when poaching was at its peak.

Kenya’s black rhinos are also rebounding, with number increasing 3.5 per cent a year. The country’s black rhino now stands at 897, up from 400 in 1989.

According to the census report, the number of other grazers, such as buffaloes, wildebeests, common zebras and several antelope species, are also either stable or rising.

While these may be seen as success stories, higher numbers require more room for grazing, with related research showing an extensive or total loss of migratory corridors and dispersal areas.

Kenyan scientist Joseph Ogutu said the census will form the basis for safeguarding wildlife habitats that are competing with other development projects, such as roads and railways, as well as increasing human settlements.

‘The report will help us plan for the rising wildlife numbers. We will share the report with county governments for their spatial planning now that we have actionable data from the government. Those sharing their habitats with animals can now consider wildlife as a land-use option, a means of economic gain within the legal framework,’ he said.

Kenya, which relies on the tourism revenue brought by its wildlife, is trying to strike a balance between protecting animals and managing human-wildlife conflict.

President Uhuru Kenyatta applauded conservation agencies for successfully clamping down on poaching and urged them to find newer, inventive approaches to protect Kenya’s wildlife. ‘Wildlife is our heritage,’ he said.

‘The reduction in losses in terms of elephants, rhinos and other endangered species is because of the great work that KWS [Kenya Wildlife Service], its officers and men are doing.’

On the flipside, the report revealed a decline in some key species, such as the Roan and Sable antelopes, with only 15 and 51 of these animals left in the country, respectively.

With such low numbers, cases of inbreeding may become common, exposing the animals to diseases that could drive them to extinction.

Omondi said the census would now dictate the implementation of national recovery plans meant to shore up the numbers of dwindling species.

‘For the Roan antelope, we will start by creating a predator-free sanctuary in Ruma National Park, the only place where these antelopes inhabit. Then we intend to get some animals from neighbouring countries such as Uganda where the natural habitat mirrors that in Kenya. This will expand the gene pool and prevent the 15 animals currently in Kenya from inbreeding.’

 

Tunisia news
President Kais Saied has tightened his grip on power, announcing in September that he will rule by decree and ignore parts of the constitution as he prepares to change Tunisia’s political system.

Saied has held near-total power since July 25 when he fired the prime minister, suspended parliament and invoked emergency powers.

The new measures go far beyond the steps he took in July, and write into the official gazette rules that transform Tunisia’s political system to give the president almost unlimited power.

Rules published in the official gazette allow him to issue ‘legislative texts’ by decree, appoint the Cabinet and set its policy direction and basic decisions without interference.

The elected parliament, which he suspended in July, will not only remain frozen but its members will stop being paid their salaries.

Saied did not put any time limit on his seizure of power, but said he would appoint a committee to help draft amendments to the 2014 constitution and establish ‘a true democracy in which the people are truly sovereign’.

The leader of the moderate Islamist Ennahda opposition party immediately rejected Saied’s announcements.

Rached Ghannouchi, who had already declared Saied’s July intervention ‘a coup’, said the latest decrees effectively cancelled the constitution.

A senior official in Heart of Tunisia, the second-largest party in parliament, also accused Saied of conducting a ‘premeditated coup’.

‘We call for a national alignment against the coup,’ the official, Osama al-Khalifi, said on Twitter.

 

Nigeria news
At least one million Nigerian children could miss school this year amid a rise in school kidnappings and insecurity, UNICEF warned in September.

Schools have become frequent targets for mass abductions for ransom in northern Nigeria in recent years.

Such kidnappings were first carried out by the jihadist group Boko Haram and its offshoot Islamic State West Africa Province, but the tactic has since been adopted by criminal gangs.

So far, there has been 20 attacks on schools in Nigeria this year, with more than 1,400 children abducted and 16 killed, UNICEF said. More than 200 children are still missing.

‘Learners are being cut off from their education... as families and communities remain fearful of sending children back to their classrooms due to the spate of school attacks and student abductions in Nigeria,’ said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF’s representative in Nigeria.

More than 37 million Nigerian children are due to start the new school year this month, according to the UN organisation. An estimated eight million have had to wait for more than a year for in-person learning after schools were closed due to Covid-19 lockdowns.

Several northwestern states have tried to curb the abductions by banning the sale of fuel in jerry cans and the transportation of firewood in trucks to disrupt gangs who travel by motorbike and camp in remote places.

In Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, the start of the school term has been pushed back without explanation, after schools in nearby states were targeted by kidnappers seeking ransoms.

Elsewhere, mobile network providers in Zamfara state were directed to shut down communications for two weeks ‘to enable relevant security agencies to carry out required activities towards addressing the security challenge in the state,’ the Nigeria Communications Commission said in a letter.

The directive came after at least 73 students were abducted from a state-run high school in Zamfara’s Maradun district. All the students have since been freed.

Your quick news round-up from across Africa, including the latest kidnap-ransoms in Nigeria, Burundi's thawing relations with the EU and the discovery of dead miners in South Africa.

African news in brief

December 11, 2020

A round-up of the latest news from the African continent, including Mozambique's war on terror, the Israel-Sudan peace deal, and Uganda's troubled elections.

 

Uganda

At least 45 people have been killed following widespread protests over the detention of Uganda’s opposition leader.

Robert Kyagulanyi, known across the East African state as ‘Bobi Wine’, had been held in the capital, Kampala, for allegedly breaching Covid-19 legislation while campaigning in the eastern district of Luuka.

The presidential candidate is hoping to oust the country’s long-serving president Yoweri Museveni, 76, in January’s polls.

The arrest, which sparked widespread protests across Uganda, was denounced by five of the country’s other presidential candidates, who issued a joint statement in support of Bobi Wine, and accused the Electoral Commission of been ‘overrun by security agencies’.

It added: ‘We’ve agreed to design a common response to the arrests, brutalisations and harassment of candidates aimed at denying them access to the electorate.’

Police arrested Bobi Wine for allegedly breaching Electoral Commission guidelines that only 200 people should attend rallies.

The seizure of Bobi Wine was followed a day later with the arrest of Patrick Oboi Amuriat from the rival Forum for Democratic Change opposition group. 

News of the two detentions sparked protests across Uganda, which were put down with tear gas and live bullets by the country’s notoriously brutal security forces.

The arrests and subsequent state violence were met with condemnation from Western governments.

The chairman of the US House of Representatives’ House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Eliot Engel, called for the unconditional release of the two presidential candidates and denounced President Museveni.

‘For almost two decades, President Museveni has shown he is incapable of conducting an election without jailing his opponents and brutalising Ugandan citizens,’ read the US lawmaker’s statement

‘This type of conduct on the part of Mr Museveni and state security forces is completely incompatible with holding a free, fair and credible election, which is scheduled for January 2021.’

 

Democratic Republic of the Congo

A former warlord has been sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity, including mass rape.

Ntabo Ntaberi, who headed the militia group Nduma Defense of Congo (NDC), was convicted of murder, rape, sexual slavery and enlisting child soldiers by the military court in the eastern city of Goma.

The ruling followed a two-year trial that saw 178 victims testify against the Congolese insurgent, whose NDC group waged war of terror against civilians in the eastern province of North Kivu.

‘This verdict is a source of immense hope for the many victims of the conflicts in the DRC,’ said the head of the UN's peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Leila Zerrougui.

‘Their suffering has been heard and recognised.’

The east of the DRC has been wracked by conflict since the mid-90s, with the UN still struggling to maintain order.

Congolese authorities first issued an arrest warrant for Ntaberi in January 2011, accusing him of orchestrating raids on villages that killed an estimated 300 people and led to 400 people being raped.

Ntaberi evaded peacekeepers for six years, but eventually surrendered to UN forces in the Congo in July 2017.

He was prosecuted along with three others, including a commander from another militia group, who was also sentence to life in prison.

A spokesman for the victims described the verdict as ‘a strong signal to other warlords’

While Thomas Fessy, a researcher on the Congo conflict for Human Rights Watch, said the convictions were ‘an important step in the fight against impunity’.

 

Sudan

Israel has sent a delegation to Sudan for the first time since the countries agreed to a historic peace deal brokered by President Donald Trump.

Israel’s Intelligence Minister, Eli Cohen, said the initial delegation would be small and talks would focus on security matters.

He added that a larger delegation would follow at a later date in order to discuss possible economic co-operation between the two one-time foes.

The North African nation, which until last year was ruled by the Islamist Omar al-Bashir and famously welcomed Osama Bin Laden to set up bases in the country, followed in the footsteps of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which normalised relations with the Jewish state in August.

The deal between Sudan and Israel was announced in October by the White House.

Sudan is just the fifth Arab nation to officially recognise Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met his Sudanese counterpart General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Uganda earlier this year, described the US-backed peace agreement as a ‘tremendous turnaround’.

He said in a statement: ‘Khartoum says yes to peace with Israel, yes to the recognition of Israel and normalisation with Israel.’

 

Ethiopia

A number of Ethiopia’s main tourist towns have come under attack by rebels fighting for an independent homeland in the north of the country.

Forces from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which took up arms against the government in Addis Ababa in November, have attacked the tourist cities of Bahir Dar and Axum, and seized the Tigrayan capital of Mekelle, another popular tourist destination before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The rebels, who are fighting for an independent Tigray homeland near the border with Eritrea, fired rockets on densely populated city of Bahir Dar and destroyed the airport at Axum, the ancient Ethiopian capital rumoured to house the Ark of the Covenant.

The attack on Axum came shortly after Ethiopia's prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, gave rebels 72 hours to lay down their arms or federal troops would attack Mekelle.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, are believed to have been killed in fighting and air strikes since the conflict began on November 4.

An estimated 40,000 refugees have fled Tigray for neighbouring Sudan, while rebels have also fired rockets into neighbouring Eritrea, sparking fears of a wider regional conflict.

The United Nations has called for mediation, but to little avail.

The Ethiopian government has repeatedly said it is only targeting rebel leaders and facilities.

It denies hitting civilians.

Its taskforce for the Tigray conflict said in a statement: ‘Our women and men in uniform have shown great care to protect civilians from harm during the law enforcement operation they have carried out in Tigray so far.’

The Tigray leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, has accused the federal government of inflicting ‘merciless’ damage on the five-million strong region.

He told Reuters: ‘We are people of principle and are ready to die in defence of our right to administer our region.’

 

Liberia

A candidate in Liberia’s senate elections has promised to free former Liberian president Charles Taylor from prison if he is elected in this month’s poll.

Menikpakei Dumoe is standing for election in the central Bong County, where the former war lord lived when he was a rebel leader in the 1990s.

Taylor, who ruled Liberia from 1997 to 2003, was convicted of war crimes by a UN-backed court convicted over his role in the atrocities during the Sierra Leone civil war. He is serving a 50-year prison sentence in a British prison.

Speaking to the BBC, Dumoe said: ‘We want Taylor released because our people want him back. We see him as a true nationalist leader who stood up for all of the people.

‘Other West African countries participated in our crisis, but their leaders have not been imprisoned.’

Dumoe put up campaign posters featuring images of himself and the former dictator in Gbarnga town, which used to be the headquarters of Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia movement.

 

Mozambique

The war against Islamic insurgents in Mozambique has been given a boost, after Tanzania agreed to help its southern neighbour.

The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in late-November to combat the ISIS-linked fighters in the Cabo Delgado province, which borders Tanzania.

The pact will see the extradition of 516 fighters from Tanzania to Mozambique, according the latter’s state-owned newspaper Noticias.

Violence has flared in the gas-rich province since October 2017 when members of an armed group attacked police stations in the key port town of Mocimboa da Praia.

More than 2,200 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced during the three-year insurgency.

The Mozambican army has struggled to contain the Islamic State-backed group, and has suffered a number of humiliated defeats and territory losses, despite air support and help from private security firms.

Emboldened by their successes in Mozambique, the Islamists have recently began striking north into Tanzania, carrying out raids on villages in the country’s Mtwara region.

Many of the group’s fighters are also thought to come from Tanzania, which arrested an unspecified number of people in November for allegedly attempting to join the terrorist group.

Thousands have fled Cabo Delgado in recent months, with over 33,000 displaced people moving out of the area in one week in November alone.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed shock at ‘the reports of massacres’ in the region in November, including the reported ‘beheading and kidnapping of women and children’.

Witnesses describe how the insurgency has taken a markedly gruesome turn in recent months.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said there had been a four-fold increase of displaced people in Cabo Delgado this year, from around 88,000 to more than 355,000 in November.

Amnesty International has estimated that more than 712,000 need humanitarian assistance as a result of the conflict.

© 2021 TruPoint Media Limited