Former child soldiers who were embroiled in the Central African Republic’s civil war have now become frontline aid workers in the country’s fight against COVID-19. As part of UNICEF’s WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) relief program, which began in 2015, the former soldiers are hired to provide safe drinking water by manually drilling wells and laying pipes. So far, they have installed wells for about 25,000 people, a critical service, especially during the pandemic.
The program offers a path to rehabilitation
Years of civil war devastated the Central African Republic’s already fragile healthcare system and left about half of the population dependent on humanitarian aid. For the child soldiers, the WASH program offers a path to rehabilitation; it has given them the opportunity to learn valuable skills and to earn a living. It helps to minimize the chances of them relapsing into fighting by joining one of about a dozen armed groups operating in the country.
It also encourages communities to accept these former child soldiers back into their communities. Rejection is another motivating factor for recidivism, even though the country’s militias agreed in 2015 to free all child soldiers and end child recruitment.
The anti-corruption division of the public prosecutor’s office in West Nouakchott says about US$1 million was embezzled from the Central Bank of Mauritania. The police arrested five suspects after the bank filed a complaint against the treasurer in charge of foreign exchange operation and others on July 3. The authorities have not revealed any more information about the suspects or their investigation.
“The credibility of our monetary system is at risk”
Boydiel Ould Houmeid—former vice-president of the National Assembly, a former presidential candidate, and leader of the opposition party El Wiam—described the revelation as a “scandal” that will negatively impact Mauritania’s reputation and its monetary relations with other countries. Houmeid also demanded the creation of a parliamentary inquiry into the matter, warning that “the credibility of our monetary system is at risk.”
Houmeid’s El Wiam party was heavily involved in mass protests in 2011 against former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, so he may also be using this scandal to push for greater legislative oversight of the Mauritanian executive.
Amadou Gon Coulibaly, prime minister of Côte d’Ivoire, passed away suddenly on Wednesday, July 8, in Abidjan, six days after returning to the country following a two-month stay in France. He was taken to hospital after he started to feel ill during a cabinet meeting. He had been battling chronic heart problems for years and had had a heart transplant in 2012, and after his latest check-up in Paris he underwent a procedure to have a stent inserted in a blocked coronary artery.
Coulibaly was a close political ally of incumbent president Alassane Ouattara for thirty years. Before he was appointed prime minister in 2017, he served as secretary-general of the presidency under Ouattara from 2011 to 2017, and before that as agriculture minister from 2002 to 2010.
Patrick Achi, secretary-general of the presidency, issued a statement of condolences on behalf of President Alassane Ouattara, saying, “Côte d’Ivoire is in mourning… I salute my young brother, my son, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who had been my closest ally for thirty years.”
Former president Henri Konan Bédié issued his own statement on behalf of himself and his party, the PDCI-RDA, saying, “His unexpected death today deeply saddens us. A great servant of the state, he remains an example of loyalty and fidelity with respect to his political convictions.”
Côte d’Ivoire is set to hold a presidential election on October 31.
Ouattara had made it clear in the past that he would run for another term should Bédié and Laurent Gbagbo—president during the country’s civil war (2002–2011) and recently acquitted of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court—participate in the October election.
Following months of speculation and fears that Ouattara would seek a third term, he announced in March that he would not run. The governing Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix (RHDP) alliance then designated Coulibaly as its candidate. His death is likely to increase tensions in the country and set off a jockeying for the candidacy within the RHDP alliance.
Bédié, who is eighty-six years old, has stated his intention to run for president. So did former prime minister Guillaume Soro, but in April this year he was convicted in absentia on embezzlement charges and sentenced to twenty years in prison. His lawyers have claimed this was a ruse to prevent him from contesting the election.
Formal campaigning was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and during an April 8 cabinet meeting held via video link President Ouattara hinted at a possible postponement of the election. Coulibaly’s death throws the political situation into more disarray.
In the Republic of the Congo, concerns persist over the health of Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, a former military chief and opposition politician who has been in prison since 2016, when he was arrested with others after refusing to accept the re-election of Denis Sassou Nguesso as president. In 2018, he was sentenced to twenty years in prison for undermining state security.
His health has suddenly deteriorated. He tested negative for COVID-19, and according to the latest press release he has acute malaria, aggravated by hypertension. Several NGOs and Congolese civil society organizations have called for Mokoko to be placed under house arrest so he could be treated by his family doctor. The authorities have not yet responded to these repeated calls, despite condemnation from other African heads of state and the United Nations.
A video resurfaced showing him purportedly discussing a coup
Prior to his imprisonment, Mokoko served as adviser for peace and security to President Denis Sassou Nguesso, before quitting his position in February 2016 to run against Nguesso in the March presidential election. A few days after Mokoko had announced his candidacy, a 2007 video resurfaced showing him purportedly discussing a coup to overthrow Nguesso with a French intelligence agent.
The polemic around Mokoko’s imprisonment reflect a broader discussion occurring across Africa as the continent grapples with the dangers involved in keeping prisoners behind bars, where cramped and often unsanitary conditions increase the risk of contracting COVID-19.
An adverse opinion in an audit report of the Namibian defense ministry has created a major political rift between the country’s auditor general, Junias Kandjeke, and defense minister Peter Hafeni Vilho. The latter accuses Kandjeke and other auditors of engaging in “daylight espionage” after demanding access to military bases to assess the fighting capability of certain military equipment.
He said publishing such information posed a threat to national security
Vilho made the serious allegation at last week’s gathering of the National Assembly, saying that publishing such information for anyone to see posed a threat to national security. He said of the US$34 million being probed, US$26.8 million worth of invoices had been made available to the auditors. To him, the adverse opinion implies the ministry had wasted millions and had refused to cooperate in the audit process.
In defense of his office, Kandjeke has denied any such allegations. He maintains the constitution gives him the authority to audit all state institutions.
His position is backed by Mike Kavekotora, the leader of the opposition Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) party, who refuted the accusations that the auditor general’s report violated national security or that espionage was involved. Kavekotora said the defense ministry was using these charges to conceal the misappropriation of state funds and maladministration.
Kavekotora ran in the 2019 presidential election and obtained 0.4 percent of the votes.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has initiated a program to convince highly educated expatriates to return and put their skills to use in service of the country. This charm offensive aimed at the diaspora makes sense as an effort to bring in not only immediate financial gain but also knowledge and expertise as the country finds itself in a precarious economic situation.
The energy industry is the backbone of the Algerian economy. As a result of falling oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on petroleum and gas exports, the country’ foreign exchange reserves have plummeted to record lows. The president’s charm offensive toward the diaspora makes sense as an effort to bring in not only immediate financial gain but also knowledge and expertise.
To facilitate this program, Tebboune has been pushing hard for constitutional reform. Among several other changes, it would eliminate a provision that in order to hold public office or another high functionary position, a candidate must hold exclusive Algerian citizenship. Given that most Algerians living abroad have dual citizenship, this provision denies expatriates a chance of entering into civic life.
A Major Hurdle for the President’s Plan
The Hirak movement in Algeria poses a challenge to Tebboune’s diaspora outreach. The popular movement has been mobilizing Algerians against the regime since February 2019, holding peaceful mass protests across the country every Friday—save for a brief suspension due to COVID-19—to demand, among others, the dissolution of both chambers of parliament and a fundamentally new constitution.
A coalition of trade unions gathered in the Burkinabe capital, Ouagadougou, on July 4 to restate demands to the government and motivate its members to take part in a mass general strike on July 8 and 9. The coalition’s demands have largely been focused on charges of corruption and poor economic management on the part of the ruling MPP party and President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré.
The fact that the coalition successfully convened the general meeting is a strong sign that it will deliver on the threat of a strike, given that its spokesperson, Bassolma Bazié, had announced the group’s intention to hold such a meeting and a general strike on these dates about two weeks earlier.
Compounding a Crisis
The threat of a mass strike places further pressure on the Kaboré administration, which has been trying to get a handle on the spread of COVID-19 in the country while contending with a dire humanitarian crisis. More than 800,000 people have been internally displaced due to an escalating jihadist insurgency and food insecurity.
The pandemic has further put a grinding halt to most mining exploration in the country, which forms the backbone of the country’s exports, 75 percent of which is gold.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta of Mali met with Imam Mahmoud Dicko, one of the main leaders of the mass protest movement against his administration, on Saturday, July 4. The meeting comes after weeks of demonstrations involving tens of thousands of Malians in the capital Bamako and other large cities such as Sikasso and Mopti.
These demonstrations quickly crystalized into the Mouvement du 5 Juin – Rassemblement des Forces Patriotiques (M5–RFP). Named after the date of the first protest action, it has come to include virtually all of Mali’s political opposition.
The meeting with Imam Dicko comes shortly after M5–RFP said it would no longer insist on Keïta’s resignation on condition he acceded to a set of new demands, including the dissolution of parliament, the formation of a transitional government, and the appointment of a new prime minister.
After the meeting between Keïta and Dicko on Saturday, M5–RFP published a statement saying Keïta had refused to accede to the latest demands, so it was reaffirming its intention to get him to resign.
Who Is Imam Dicko?
Mahmoud Dicko, who is the head of High Islamic Council in Mali, has been a prominent force in Malian politics since democratization began in 1991. He has conservative views, but is opposed to violent jihad.
He is said to have played a key role in President Keïta’s decision to engage in dialogue with jihadists active in the country’s north, whose attacks have been responsible for killing hundreds of Malian soldiers and civilians despite the presence of French troops under Operation Barkhane and a UN peacekeeping force under MINUSMA.
Angolan billionaire Isabel dos Santos is going down swinging, and even the late Bruce Lee has been drawn into the saga. The eldest daughter of former president José Eduardo dos Santos claims a copy of a fake passport bearing the replicated signature of the martial artist and movie star was used as evidence to justify the freezing of her Angolan assets.
In a statement released on June 29 after she lost an appeal against the freezing of her assets, she claimed she had been denied justice. “This denial of justice comes from the Angolan courts, which have rejected my appeal on the grounds that it was not filed on time,” she said. “It is disappointing not to be allowed a day in court to prove my innocence and establish the truth.”
It Runs in the Family
José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola for thirty-eight years, during which time his family amassed a fortune estimated at billions of dollars.
In 2016, he appointed Isabel, his eldest daughter, as chairperson of the state oil company Sonangol. By that time, her half-brother José Filomeno dos Santos, also known as Zenu, was already the chairperson of the state’s sovereign wealth fund.
Some of their lesser-known siblings and the first lady also had numerous business ventures that benefited from contracts with the state.
Isabel became a significant investor in banking and telecommunications assets in Portugal, and the international press lauded her as a self-made billionaire. She was ostensibly the eighth-richest woman in the world, who had achieved this status through shrewd business instincts, hard work, and tenacity. She and her husband, Congolese businessman Sindika Dokolo, were often photographed with celebrities at glitzy events.
A New Order
João Lourenço took over as president in September 2017. He had barely been sworn in before he took drastic steps to crack down on corruption, including firing both Isabel and Zenu from their posts.
On December 23, 2019, the Angolan high court froze the domestic assets of Isabel, Dokolo, and Mário Leite da Silva, the chairman of Banco de Fomento Angola, while investigations were ongoing into claims she and her businesses owed Angola more than US$1 billion. (That figure has since ballooned to US$5 billion.)
The Angolan authorities requested that Portugal freeze their bank accounts, and in February the public prosecutor’s office in Lisbon confirmed that dozens of their personal and corporate accounts had been seized.
Zenu is currently on trial in Angola, accused of transferring US$500 million to a foreign bank account using fake documents.
The Luanda Leaks
In January 2020, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published a report of its investigation after it had obtained a trove of documents that came to be known as the Luanda Leaks. The investigation drew on 715,000 confidential financial and business documents and hundreds of interviews to trace Isabel dos Santos’s wealth, the result of two decades’ worth of nepotism, shell companies, and insider deals that robbed the Angolan people of the wealth stemming from the country’s rich oil and diamond deposits.
It presented a stark illustration of how dictators and their families move their ill-gotten gains to offshore secrecy jurisdictions with the aid of prominent Western banking and credit firms.
The results of such corruption have been devastating for Angola: the country is ranked as one of the most corrupt in the world, and has an average life expectancy at birth of just sixty and an infant mortality rate among the highest in the world.
The ICIJ, in conjunction with thirty-six media partners, found that Isabel dos Santos, Sindika Dokolo, and several intermediaries built a fraudulent international business empire with more than 400 companies and subsidiaries in 41 countries. At least 94 of these companies were in secrecy jurisdictions like Malta, Hong Kong, and Mauritius. Secrecy jurisdictions are places where businesses or individuals can escape financial rules, regulations, and laws of other jurisdictions through the use of shadow accounts and other secretive measures. These companies extracted billions of dollars’ worth of consulting jobs, loans, and public contracts from the Angolan government.
Western consulting firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers and Boston Consulting played a crucial role in aiding and abetting the dos Santos kleptocratic empire. Large companies and state enterprises from China and the Netherlands maintained partnerships with the dos Santos family even after other international banking firms like Barclays and Citigroup Global Markets Ltd. pulled out of deals due to heightened scrutiny and concerns over the close connections between Isabel and her husband’s business accounts with the Angolan state.
Denial and Counterattack
Isabel and her husband, who currently live in the UK, have not been formally indicted, but civil and criminal proceedings have been opened against them, according to Angola’s public prosecutor’s office.
They have maintained their innocence, claiming the accusations against them are politically motivated, and have enlisted the services of lawyers and reputation managers.
In interviews with the media, Isabel has even suggested she might run for president of Angola in 2022.
Burundi’s swearing-in ceremony on June 30 for new ministers of the National Assembly was accompanied by a statement from newly elected President Évariste Ndayishimiye pledging renewed efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the small East African nation. Among the new policies is a 50 percent reduction in the price of soap and reduced rates for drinking water in Burundi’s urban areas.
This is a marked change from his predecessor, Pierre Nkurunziza, who was much more blasé about the threat of the virus to Burundi. Whereas other African countries were in some form of lockdown, Burundi kept restaurants, bars, and sports events open to the public, and top officials defended Nkurunziza’s lax attitude as a sign of his evangelical faith and belief in God’s protection.
They suspect the former president succumbed to COVID-19
Officially, Burundi has 170 confirmed cases, 115 recoveries, and one death, but they are likely undercounted. Nkurunziza’s death at the beginning of July was declared to be the result of cardiac arrest, but opposition leaders and foreign observers suspect the former president succumbed to COVID-19. There is concern that several members of Burundi’s political leadership may have been exposed to and are currently infected with the virus.