African news round-up: September 2021

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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.

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