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Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari
Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari (Photo by Kola Sulaimon/via AFP)

In Lagos, twenty-five anti-government protesters arrested on Wednesday were released after appearing in court, where they were cautioned against unruly and unlawful behavior. They were arrested during peaceful demonstrations—organized under the aegis of the #RevolutionNow movement and tagged “national day of action”—across major cities. The protestors are demanding better governance from the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Wednesday was the one-year anniversary of a failed protest called by the journalist and activist Omoyele Sowore, who was arrested as a result and charged with treason, money laundering, and cyberstalking. He was freed in December, but he still faces trial.

The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), an alliance formed in 2018 by Nigeria’s main opposition People’s Democratic Party and dozens of other parties, has condemned the crackdown on #RevolutionNow activists during Wednesday’s demonstrations.

 

Government Priorities

The arrest of the twenty-five protesters in the Ikeja suburb for unlawful protest and disregarding COVID-19 social distancing measures elicited stronger reactions than usual, as it occurred around the same time as a deadly attack on a community in Kaduna State, allegedly by a Fulani militia group. The authorities appeared to be more preoccupied with clamping down on protestors violating interim measures than acting against violent bandits, which has prompted rising anti-government sentiment.

 

Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara
Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara (Photo by Sia Kambou/via AFP)

After weeks of speculation, President Alassane Ouattara has confirmed that he will stand as the candidate for Côte d'Ivoire’s ruling RHDP party, taking the place of his chosen successor Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who passed away suddenly last month. Opposition parties claim Ouattara’s announcement is a violation of the Ivorian constitution, which limits a president to two consecutive terms. But the RHDP argues the constitution adopted in 2016 effectively reset Ouattara’s term limits, so his first term didn’t count.

Though this decision is seemingly an about-face from prior statements made by the incumbent, Ouattara had warned that should Laurent Gbagbo and Henri Konan Bédié run as candidates he would consider seeking a third term.

Former Ivorian president Henri Konan Bédie
Former Ivorian president Henri Konan Bédie (Photo by Issouf Sanogo/via AFP)

Bédié was president of Côte d’Ivoire from 1993 to 1999, and implemented changes to the country’s constitution that barred Ouattara from running for president in 1995 and 2000. The changes stipulated that both parents of a presidential candidate must be of Ivorian birth, which Ouattara and his supporters said was designed to specifically exclude him given that one of his parents was rumored to be from Burkina Faso. Another stipulation that barred him from running was the prohibition of ever having claimed citizenship of another country; Ouattara held Burkinabe citizenship for a while.

Ouattara was formally granted Ivorian citizenship in 2002, and in 2004 the National Assembly voted in favor of changing the constitution to specify that Ivorians with at least one parent who was Ivorian at birth would be allowed to contest presidential elections. The change was not immediately ratified, however, but was finally adopted in the 2016 constitution.

 

A Third Candidate

As for Gbagbo, his refusal to step down after the 2010 elections was one of the catalysts for the Ivorian Civil War, which claimed more than 3,000 lives. Gbagbo’s party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), declared former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan as its candidate. Both the FPI and Bédie’s party, the PDCI, declared they would run a joint ticket should the presidential election go to a second-round runoff.

The election is set to be held on October 31, 2020.

 

A worker at Thuru Lodge in the semi-arid Kalahari Desert inspects a carcass in January 2020. Even the desert-adapted endemic species are dying after several years of extreme drought in the region.
A worker at Thuru Lodge in the semi-arid Kalahari Desert inspects a carcass in January 2020. Even the desert-adapted endemic species are dying after several years of extreme drought in the region. (Photo by Guillem Sartorio/via AFP)

A study published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Climate Change found that global efforts to track and research heat waves have largely ignored sub-Saharan Africa, and that they’re biased in favor of developed countries. This scientific blind spot is all the more egregious considering that Africa is the hottest continent, with millions of people facing growing dangers from heat waves and rising temperatures.

Climate models project temperature increases higher than the global mean temperature increase for sub-Saharan Africa, as well as longer and more frequent heat waves.

 

The Need to Adapt

A 2014 report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledged that heat waves and heat-related health effects were only beginning to attract attention in Africa. One of the conclusions was that data and research gaps hamper decision making in processes to reduce vulnerability, build resilience, and plan and implement adaptation strategies.

Correcting this will require developing climate models specifically tailored to Africa, and compiling more historical climate data to observe trends and map heat spots more accurately.

Pilot programs are under way in The Gambia and Ghana, where hospitals, epidemiologists, and researchers are collaborating to study the direct effects of extreme heat on people’s health. This is a positive step, but the immediacy of the danger posed by escalating heat waves on African populations demands more urgent action.

 

A white-bellied pangolin, one of four African pangolin species
A white-bellied pangolin, one of four African pangolin species (Photo by Isaac Kasamani/via AFP)

In Gabon, the national parks’ wildlife capture unit recently succeeded in capturing a giant ground pangolin—the largest of Africa’s four pangolin species—in Lopé-Okanda National Park. A team of scientists, led by wildlife ecologist Dr. David Lehmann, are researching this elusive scaled mammal as part of the European Union’s Ecofac6 program, which supports the preservation of fragile ecosystems and biodiversity in Central Africa. They hope that studying the 38-kilogram captured pangolin will give them insight that could help in the fight against poaching.

In Africa, China, and Southeast Asia, pangolins are prized for their meat, blood, and scales for spiritual and medicinal purposes. Since the four Asian pangolin species have been hunted to the brink of extinction, smugglers are increasingly poaching African pangolins to meet the demands of the illicit trade. The African Wildlife Foundation estimates that 2.7 million pangolins are poached each year from African rainforests.

Professor Lee White, Gabon’s minister of forests, oceans, environment and climate change, says over the past three years the Gabonese authorities have caught ivory poachers operating near the Cameroonian border with sacks of pangolin scales, a sign that existing trafficking syndicates in the region have expanded their work to include pangolin poaching.

Dr. Lehmann and his team worry that should pangolin numbers continue to drop or, in the worst-case scenario, if the animal were to become extinct, it would have a cascading effect on rainforest biomes, since pangolins play a key role in managing insect populations. A single pangolin can consume up to 70 million ants and termites per year.

 

The COVID-19 Link

Some experts believe that the COVID-19 pandemic began when a virus jumped from a wild animal species to a human at a market in Wuhan, China. There has also been speculation that the pangolin could be an intermediate host of the novel coronavirus. This was probably why, in June, pangolin parts were left out of the Chinese Pharmacopoeia, the official compendium of traditional Chinese and Western medicines.

 

Chadian president Idriss Déby
Chadian president Idriss Déby (Photo by Georges Gobet/via AFP)

Late Monday, Chad’s communication minister Chérif Mahamat Zene said that a government measure to slow down internet speed in the country, introduced on July 22, was intended to halt “the dissemination of messages inciting hate and division.” He said the slowdown would be lifted soon, but did not specify a date.

Speaking anonymously, Chadian telecommunications officials allege this most recent blackout was in response to a video circulating on WhatsApp and social media showing a Chadian military officer in a dispute with two mechanics firing point-blank at one of them. The man died of his wounds. Some social media users have pointed out that the soldier was from the same community as President Idriss Déby.

 

The social media shutdown lasted sixteen months

 

This is not the first time Chad has limited Internet access. In March 2018, the government blocked access to social media platforms after protests had broken out over proposed constitutional amendments allowing Déby to remain in power until 2033. The shutdown lasted sixteen months. The official justification was a similar argument of protecting internal security, but civil society organizations claimed the real motive was to suppress public dissent against Déby, who has ruled Chad since he seized power in 1990.

Despite growing smartphone usage in Chad, Internet penetration is only 14 percent and data costs are high.

 

Nuclear power plant cooling towers
Cooling towers of a nuclear power plant in Europe

Kenya has set its sights on joining the club of commercial nuclear power users. The country’s Nuclear Power and Energy Agency has submitted an environmental and social assessment report for a proposed US$5 billion nuclear power plant, which it says is on track to be completed in about seven years. A preferred site has been chosen near the coast in Tana River County, halfway between Mombasa and the Somalian border.

The document is available for public comment before the National Environment Management Authority can issue a license for construction to start.

 

Long-Term Plans

Studies based on the Kenya Vision 2030 development blueprint, introduced in 2008, show that the country will have to generate about eight times as much electricity by 2031 as it currently does to meet the expected energy demand.

With this proposal, Kenya joins nine other sub-Saharan African countries—Ethiopia, Ghana, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia—that are considering or planning nuclear power programs.

 

Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed (Michael Tewelde/via AFP)
Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed (Michael Tewelde/via AFP)

Over the past decade, high unemployment has forced tens of thousands of Ethiopians to travel overseas to find work, many to the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East. It was illegal for Ethiopians to do so until, in 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed lifted the restrictions on overseas migration for work.

Migrant laborers, who are often subjected to poor working conditions, crowded housing, and little access to healthcare, are now also bearing the brunt of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

She had been kept in detention for forty day before she was deported

 

Since mid-March, according to the Ethiopian government, more than 30,000 workers have re-entered the country. Some have returned voluntarily, but others suffered mistreatment in detention centers before they were deported. The New York Times reported that Selam Bizuneh, a twenty-six-year-old who had lost her job as a domestic worker in Kuwait, had been kept in detention for forty days before she was deported. Shortly after arriving home, she tested positive for COVID-19.

Ethiopian officials say that nearly 1,000 migrant laborers were found to be infected with the virus on their return, but the real number is likely to be much higher. This is placing a strain on the country’s already overburdened health system, even though international funding has helped to strengthen its response to the pandemic.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Abiy launched a month-long national campaign—which includes testing 200,000 people for the virus within two weeks—to get an overview of the scale of the pandemic in order to control it better.

 

The traditional medium of terrestrial radio retains a wide reach in most African countries, reaching millions who have no access to the internet. It is a trusted, low-cost source of news and information, and platform for ordinary citizens to share their views. As UN secretary-general António Guterres has said, “Even in today’s world of digital communications, radio reaches more people than any other media platform.”

But radio has also evolved as digital technology has changed the media landscape. And talk radio has changed from being an analogue communication tool that relies on top-down information flow to a dynamic forum that relies on multiple feedback loops. Stanley Tsarwe, journalism lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, explored this trend in a paper titled “Mobile Phones and a Million Chatter: Performed Inclusivity and Silenced Voices in Zimbabwean Talk Radio.”

Tsarwe says he wanted to observe what was happening at the convergence of radio, smartphones, and mobile-based apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter. He found that these technologies had indeed grown public discourse, allowing more inclusive debate between radio presenters and audiences. The downside is that newsrooms often find it difficult to manage the high level of audience interaction, with the result that many voices are excluded.

Still, more voices than before are being heard in Zimbabwe, where the authorities have often resorted to restricting the right to freedom of expression, like instructing Internet service providers in January 2019 to shut down the Internet.

Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono
Hopewell Chin’ono

Clampdown on Freedom of Speech

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has recently started to emulate the heavy-handed tactics of former president Robert Mugabe against political opponents and critics of his government.

On July 20, the police arrested Hopewell Chin’ono, a prominent investigative journalist who had recently exposed alleged government corruption. He is being accused of incitement to overthrow the government through an uprising. He was denied bail and will appear in court again on August 7.

Amnesty International has criticized the Zimbabwean authorities for continuing their crackdown on dissent with the arrest of Chin’ono, saying they “must stop misusing the criminal justice system to persecute journalists and activists who are simply exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

 

President Emmerson Mnangagwa and a member of the Commercial Farmers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Photo via Twitter)
President Emmerson Mnangagwa and a member of the Commercial Farmers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Photo via Twitter)

President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe announced an agreement had been struck with the Commercial Farmers’ Union to compensate farmers whose land had been seized during former president Robert Mugabe’s agriculture reform efforts in the early 2000s. He said Zimbabwe would pay US$3.5 billion in compensation for infrastructure but not for the land itself. He did not give details about the amounts to be paid to individual farmers or their descendants, nor how the country will be able to afford this large sum of money considering its dire socio-economic situation.

The Mugabe regime evicted 4,500 white farmers and redistributed the farms to black families as part of a land reform program to redress colonial imbalances.

 

Authoritarian Rule

Two days after Mnangagwa’s announcement, his administration deployed security forces to close down the capital Harare and arrest several dozen activists in response to mass demonstrations on July 31. The protest action, organized by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, was planned to coincide with a general strike against the deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the country. Internationally acclaimed novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga was among the protesters who were arrested.

Resolving the land question was a precondition placed on Mnangagwa by Western powers in 2017 in order to lift crippling sanctions and reintegrate Zimbabwe into the global community. This could explain Mnangagwa prioritizing compensation for expropriated farms while maintaining the same hardline approach against dissent as his predecessor, who also used military force to quell civil disobedience.

 

US secretary of defense Mark Esper (Olivier Douliery/AFP)
US secretary of defense Mark Esper (Olivier Douliery/AFP)

The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has been told to start making plans to move its headquarters out of Stuttgart, Germany. In a media statement released on July 31, AFRICOM commander General Stephen J. Townsend said it would likely take months to consider potential locations and make a decision, but the process had started.

This news comes two days after US defense secretary Mark T. Esper announced that the US Department of Defense will withdraw 11,900 troops currently stationed in Germany, sending some home and moving the rest to other NATO countries. The headquarters of the United States European Command (EUCOM) will also move from Germany to Mons, Belgium.

 

Priority Shifts

This fits with the Pentagon’s troop reallocation plan as part of a broader initiative to shift American military policy away from counterterrorism and toward counteracting China and Russia’s expanding influence. But it also reflects the increasing estrangement between the US and Germany, a key European ally.

 

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