Africa News Week in Review

Africa News Week in Review

The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from the African continent during the past week.

United States Policy

  • Secretary of State John Kerry has nominated former Senator Russ Feingold to be the U.S. special envoy to Africa’s Great Lakes region. Feingold will oversee U.S. policy towards the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, replacing Ambassador R. Barrie Walkley. In remarks, Kerry called the region a “high-level priority” for the U.S. (NYTimes, June 18). A number of international advocacy groups called on Feingold to work for democracy and good governance in the DRC, claiming the current Kabila government in Kinshasa lacked the political will to do so (Reuters, June 19).
  • President Obama has faced criticism from Republicans for the high cost of his planned trip to the continent later this month. The President’s trip is estimated to cost between $60-100 million according to last week’s reports in the Washington Post, much of which is to provide for his security while on the ground (Fox News, June 18). Some are speculating that Obama’s trip will coincide with a high-profile announcement; polls have jobs and infrastructure as top concerns among Africans, which would seem to favor expansion of US investment on the continent, according to the Center for Global Development.
  • President Obama praised France for its “effective work” during the intervention in Mali by French troops and said Mali “is in a position to reaffirm democracy and legitimacy and an effective government”. The remarks came following a bilateral meeting with French President Francois Hollande at this week’s G8 summit in Northern Ireland. (State Dept., June 19)

Mali

  • The Malian government and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) rebel group have signed a ceasefire accord. The agreement will permit the Malian army to reoccupy the former rebel stronghold of Kidal under international supervision ahead of planned July 28 national elections; the army had previously threatened to seize the town by force. Questions remain, however, as to how the agreement will be received by the Malian public and whether Mali’s future government will respect the agreement. (Bridges from Bamako, June 18)
  • Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) confirmed the death of Abou Zeid, a high-level operative for the terrorist organization. French reports that Zeid was killed in the ongoing conflict in Mali surfaced in March following a French offensive, but AQIM had not confirmed Zeid’s death until this week. (al-Jazeera, June 17)

Chad

  • International human rights groups are calling for Chad’s exclusion from the UN peacekeeping force in Mali over its presence on a UN list of nations that use child soldiers. However, the Chadian ambassador to the UN attributed the country’s appearance on the list to “procedural reasons” that failed to verify the age of recruits. The UN is standing firm on its decision to include Chad and the mission will be reliant on Chadian forces’ knowledge of Mali’s rugged terrain. (Washington Post, June 19)

The Nile

  • Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr met with his Ethiopian counterpart Tedros Adhanom in Addis Ababa on Tuesday to determine a political solution to the two nations’ recent crisis over the waters of the Nile. The two officials claimed their nations would “swim together,” agreeing to further study the effects of Ethiopia’s under-construction Grand Renaissance Dam along with Sudan before making further moves (al-Jazeera, June 18). South Sudan then moved on Thursday to sign and ratify the Cooperative Framework Agreement of the Nile Basin countries, joining the other upstream Nile riparian countries; Ethiopia joined the agreement last week (al-Jazeera, June 20).

Kenya

  • The International Criminal Court (ICC) has postponed the trial of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta for war crimes until November 12 to allow defense lawyers to prepare. Kenyatta won election to the presidency earlier this year despite being indicted on charges of war crimes stemming from the violence that followed the 2007 presidential election, which Kenyatta lost (AP, June 20)

Somalia

  • Al-Shabaab attacked a major UN compound in Mogadishu on June 19, killing 22. The attack started with a car bomb exploding near the compound, followed by gunmen assaulting the base. Four local guards and four foreign UN security staff were reported dead, along with seven civilians. The attack was the first in the capital since AMISOM peacekeepers drove al-Shabaab from the city two years ago, and a serious blow to aid and stability efforts. (Reuters, June 19)

Nigeria

  • The Nigerian government’s crackdown on Boko Haram terrorists continues with the announcement that satellite phones have been banned in Borno state, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting. Cell phone service had already been cut to the area as part of the state of emergency declared a month ago, but government forces claim Boko Haram has been coordinating attacks via satellite (AP, June 19).
  • The ongoing violence in northeastern Nigeria has put American policymakers in a difficult position, according to former U.S. Ambassador John Campbell. The United States has supported the country’s military as it combats Boko Haram within its borders, but is increasingly alarmed by a high civilian death toll and reports of human rights abuses by security forces. Concurrently, the Council on Foreign Relations has documented a rise in communal violence in Nigeria’s central regions, long politically contested by both Muslims and Christians. (The Atlantic, June 18).
  • The conflict in the northeast of Nigeria is also taking on an increasingly transnational dimension. The UN High Council on Refugee (UNHCR) reports that several thousand Nigerians have fled to Cameroon. Most of the refugees, who began arriving a week ago, are women and children seeking refuge from fighting occurring near the Cameroonian border. (VOA, June 19)
  • Four Lebanese nationals are suing for their release after they were imprisoned in connection with a raid on what the Nigerian government described as a Hezbollah weapons cache in Kano. The men profess their innocence, and claim they are being unlawfully detained after a court dismissed the charges, claiming only federal courts could hear their case. The men remain in prison with no charges, although the prosecution may move to file charges in federal court. (VOA, June 19)

Democratic Republic of the Congo

  • The Congolese government has agreed to restart peace talks in Kampala with the M23 rebel movement it has been combatting in the eastern Kivu provinces for over a year. Both sides claim they prefer a political solution to the conflict and analysts agree that the talks must address the root causes of the region’s instability to create a sustainable peace. (IRIN, June 20)

Uganda

  • Kampala mayor Erias Lukwago, a critic of President Yoweri Museveni, claims to have been beaten and gassed by police. Video footage shows a tear gas canister being thrown into the President’s car; an opposition leader was also arrested for “holding an unsanctioned rally” in a separate incident. (BBC, June 20)

Piracy

  • A report by several maritime shipping groups has found that piracy on Africa’s Atlantic coast has surpassed that in the Indian Ocean for the first time. Attacks emanating from Somalia have dropped by 78%, but West Africa is becoming a more lucrative area for piracy. Oil tankers exporting Nigerian oil are the most frequent targets; thieves siphon off the fuel and sell it onshore to make quick profits. However, Somalian attacks have a higher success rate and often use “cruel and sadistic methods” to ransack cargo ships. (BBC, June 18)
  • The Djiboutian Navy has received a new maritime surveillance system that will enable monitoring of vessels in Djiboutian waters. The new system includes radar surveillance, security cameras, and communication and power infrastructure to detect and deter piracy in the Gulf of Aden. (Defence Web, June 13)
  • U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice praised the Seychelles for its lead role in combating piracy in the Indian Ocean. (Virtual Seychelles, June 18)

Madagascar

  • Madagascar’s political crisis continues as the country’s electoral commission decides the course for the country’s future. After President Andry Rajoelina’s cabinet decided to delay planned elections, Malagasy Constitutional Court ruled that the electoral commission held the authority to determine the date. It remains to be seen whether Rajoelina or ex-First Lady Lalao Ravalomanana will be permitted to run. Rajoelina had previously agreed not to run in an internationally brokered deal but later reneged, and Mrs. Ravalomanana may not meet a residency requirement. (The Economist, June 22)

Sudan/South Sudan

  • The Sudanese government announced that it has formally accepted proposals put forth by the African Union (AU) to resolve its crisis with South Sudan. The proposals center on the removal of troops from the demilitarized zone separating the two countries and work within existing agreements to end cross-border support for rebel groups on both sides. (Sudan Tribune, June 17)

Sudan

  • The International Crisis Group released a new report with policy recommendations for actors involved in the ongoing conflict in Sudan’s Blue Nile State. Overshadowed by the violence in Darfur and tensions with South Sudan, Blue Nile has been wracked with bloodshed as the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) battles government forces for greater autonomy (International Crisis Group, June 18).
  • U.S. officials have cancelled their invitation to National Congress Party (NCP) vice chairman Nafie Ali Nafie to visit Washington in response to Sudan’s suspension of its cooperation agreements with South Sudan. U.S. officials claim that that invitation was contingent on Sudan’s continued cooperation with South Sudan. The Obama administration had already come under fire for the visit from critics, as Sudan remains on the U.S. list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, making high-level visits very uncommon. (Sudan Tribune, June 20)

Guinea-Bissau

  • American officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration are stepping up counter-trafficking efforts aimed at West African countries, especially Guinea-Bissau. Two senior military officials have already been indicted after their capture on the high seas by American officials in April. (UPI, June 19)

Central African Republic

  • The upper echelons of the Seleka rebel movement that took power in a March coup is ordering its ranks to turn over their guns or be forcibly disarmed. The move comes in response to a deteriorating security situation in the capital, Bangui, where armed groups of Seleka rebels have reportedly pillaged, murdered and tortured civilians. A spokesman said the new government hopes to prove to the international community “our willingness to make changes.” (La Nouvelle Centrafrique, June 19)

Cameroon

  • Cameroon’s largest city, Douala, is becoming an increasingly important node in illicit drug trafficking routes. An undercover journalist reported that cocaine and heroin use is on the rise in Cameroon, with the increase in trafficking causing prices to fall. (France 24, June 14)

Liberia

  • Some Liberian commentators are chiding Secretary of State John Kerry for a perceived deterioration of relations with the U.S. following his appointment as Washington’s top diplomat. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had a close personal relationship with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. However, Kerry’s tenure has seen high-level contact drop off, ostensibly due to Sirleaf’s perceived failure to tamp down on corruption. The Sirleaf administration denies that relations with the U.S. have soured. (FrontPageAfrica, June 17)
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