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Imam Mahmoud Dicko, one of the most influential personalities in Malian political landscape, addresses the crowd the Independence square in Bamako on June 5, 2020 after he've called for a political march to be held after the Friday prayer, against Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and his politics. Tens of thousands of people rallied in Mali's capital Bamako on Friday demanding the departure of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, in a show of force from his recently energised opponents.  MICHELE CATTANI / AFP
Imam Mahmoud Dicko addresses protesters at Independence Square in Bamako on June 5, 2020. (Michele Cattani/AFP)

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.

 

Vital Kamerhe
Vital Kamerhe, photographed at a press conference in Geneva on November 11, 2018. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

The High Court in Gombe, Kinshasa, has found Vital Kamerhe, former chief of staff to President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, guilty of embezzlement and sentenced him to twenty years in prison. His co-accused, Lebanese real estate developer Jammal Samih, got the same sentence. They were accused of diverting money meant for President Tshisekedi’s 100 Days Program to fake companies, including about US$50 million earmarked for public housing.

Kamerhe had been in charge of overseeing 100 Days Program, an ambitious infrastructure project with an allocated budget of just under US$500 million.

The proceedings have been the subject of much political debate in the DRC, as Kamerhe is also the leader of the opposition Union for the Congolese Nation political party, a member of Tshisekedi’s Cap pour le Changement (CACH) coalition. Kamerhe may have taken the fall for the botched rollout of the 100 Days Program, but in truth this case was also about Tshisekedi and his desire to set himself apart from his predecessor, former president Joseph Kabila. Many accuse Kabila of striking a deal with Tshisekedi ahead of the 2018 presidential election in order to remain an influential force in the next government.

 

There was justifiable concern over the awarding of contracts to cronies

 

Acknowledging the Congolese people’s desire for recognizable and immediate change from past governance, Tshisekedi launched the 100 Days Program on March 2, 2019, even though the DRC did not have an elected parliament yet. The legality and legitimacy of the project were suspect from the outset, which may have passed unremarked had it proven successful. Justifiable concern over the awarding of contracts to cronies and poor judgment in the allocation of funds continued to hamper the initiative.

Officially, “l’affaire Kamerhe” may be over, but as a political omen it is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

 

President XI
Chinese president Xi Jinping speaks at a joint press conference during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on September 4, 2018. (Lintao Zhang/AFP)

President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China delivered a keynote speech during a virtual China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against COVID-19. The Chinese president began by emphasizing China’s role in providing medical equipment and teams to help Africa combat the pandemic, including the construction of China-Africa hospitals and the bold promise to guarantee that Africans will be some of the first to receive a potential COVID-19 vaccine developed in Chinese labs.

 

This marks the first time the Chinese government has formally addressed the issue of African debt

 

He went on to emphasize the need for greater investment and cooperation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as well as pledges to help alleviate African debt through zero-interest loans that will mature by the end of 2020. This marks the first time the Chinese government has formally addressed the issue of African debt, which has become a major sticking point as COVID-19 continues to strangle African economies, many of whom are saddled with billions of dollars’ worth of debt from Chinese infrastructure projects linked to the BRI.

Soon after the outbreak reached most of Africa, Western news outlets began to openly ponder whether China would be willing to embrace the growing calls for debt relief emanating from numerous African heads of state, the European Union, and financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

President Xi’s call for “taking China-African friendship forward” prepares the continent for a geopolitical shift toward China. This is, perhaps, how US secretary of state Mike Pompeo saw it when he said “no country will rival what the US is doing” when it comes to assisting African countries with the fight against COVID-19.

 

GE-Kerry
John Kerry (second from right), then US secretary of state, gestures on a tour of the General Electric Sonils compound at the Port of Luanda in Angola on May 4, 2014, alongside Jay Ireland (second from left), president and CEO of General Electric Africa. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Angolan President João Lourenço’s lofty goal to clean up deep-rooted corruption faces a major hurdle, as the country has become embroiled in a dispute between General Electric and the Angolan-registered power producer Aenergy, owned by Portuguese businessman Ricardo Leitão Machado. Potential sanctions of up to $550 million are at play, the remainder of a US$1.1 billion credit line General Electric established with Lourenço’s predecessor, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, to boost Angola’s electricity production via twelve turbines spread over thirteen separate contracts.

Aenergy was to act as the local contractor responsible for constructing the turbines and furnishing material from General Electric. However, a dispute regarding the payment of four of the turbines, valued at about US$120 million, resulted in a delay of the project’s implementation and a falling-out between Aenergy and the Angolan government.

When Lourenço assumed office, he began revisiting contracts granted by his predecessor, leading him to eventually cancel via presidential decree all thirteen contracts after negotiations for the four turbines fell through.

 

General Electric is seeking to recuperate its investments

 

Aenergy is accusing the Angolan government of engaging in fraudulent behavior, and General Electric is seeking to recuperate its investments, placing the company in the position of a tendentious ally with Angola during the ongoing civil liability proceedings.

 

Soumaila Cisse
Malian opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé has been missing since March 26, 2020, when he was abducted while campaigning in the Timbuktu region. (AFP)

It has been more than two-and-a-half months since Malian opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé, head of the Union for the Republic and Democracy party, was kidnapped while campaigning in his home district only a few days before parliamentary elections. No group officially took credit for the abduction, but given years of conflict between state security forces and jihadist groups in the region it is suspected that one of the terrorist organizations was behind it.

On Tuesday, June 16, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta gave a public address insisting that his administration had concrete proof that Cissé was still alive and knew the identity of his captors, but did not disclose this information and urged patience. Some outlets claim Cissé is being held by Katiba Macina, a jihadist group predominantly made up of Fulani herdsmen and aligned with the al-Qaida-affiliated Group to Support Islam and Muslims (known by it transliterated Arabic acronym JNIM). If this were true, it raises significant concerns over the handling of Cissé’s kidnapping, as JNIM is led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, a Tuareg militant who helped instigate the 2012 rebellion that kicked the Malian military out of the northern territory of Azawad.

 

It would do even further damage to his credibility

 

President Keïta confirmed in February that his government was reaching out to Ag Ghaly and other jihadist leaders to conduct formal negotiations and help bring an end to the perennial conflict. Should Cissé’s release become integrally woven into conflict negotiations, it would do even further damage to his credibility, which has already been rocked by thousands-strong demonstrations that began on June 5. All of the opposition parties are represented among the protesters, who have been calling for Keïta’s resignation for failing to effectively manage the worsening security situation, the economic contraction, and the crisis of political legitimacy.

 

Cameroonian Youth
Cameroonians show their support for President Paul Biya in front of the French embassy in Yaoundé on February 24, 2020, in reaction to remarks French president Emmanuel Macron had made two days earlier. Macron had said intolerable human rights violations were taking place in Cameroon, after an attack on a village by armed insurgents that left twenty-two people dead. (AFP)

During a state visit by Cameroonian president Paul Biya to Switzerland in June 2019, Cameroonian exiles protested outside the InterContinental Hotel in Geneva where he and his wife were staying, venting their anger at the eighty-six-year-old’s management of the Anglophone Crisis, among other grievances. Biya’s presidency began in 1982 and will continue at least until 2025 following his 2018 re-election, making him one of the longest serving presidents still alive on the African continent.

These protesters had been mobilized from across Europe through the use of social media, which compelled the Biya administration to form a social media “cyber brigade” in August 2019 to combat anti-Biya sentiments online and in the streets.

 

Members disseminate pro-Biya messages and challenge anti-Biya commenters

 

Using a network of false accounts, members of this officially unacknowledged group disseminate pro-Biya messages and challenge anti-Biya commenters. In itself, this demonstrates a worrying manipulation of social media services by state actors, jeopardizing Cameroon’s already precarious internet freedoms. Targeted internet blackouts occurred in 2017 and 2018 in the English-speaking regions of the country to silence dissent and calls for secession. Tit-for-tat accusations have broken out between pro- and anti-Biya internet posters over the use of ethnically charged rhetoric to sow division.

The existence of this group alone demonstrates a disappointing prioritization of government resources. Instead of addressing the root causes of dissatisfaction in Biya’s presidency and the ongoing tensions between Anglophone and Francophone regions of Cameroon, the government has instead chosen to allocate funds to suppress and shape online discourse as a distraction.

 

CAmeroon
Cameroonian troops deployed in response to the Anglophone uprising, with a billboard featuring President Paul Biya in the background. (AFP)

Reports started to circulate on June 3 that Cameroonian television presenter Samuel Ajiekah Abuwe, better known by his screen name Samuel Wazizi, had died while in military detention. Lawyer Christopher Ndong said he had died in a military hospital in Yaoundé of wounds inflicted during brutal torture, but no one knew when this had happened, and there was no immediate comment from the authorities.

It had been ten months since police took Wazizi in for questioning and handed him to the military a few days later. He worked for Chillen Muzic Television (CMTV) as a presenter of a popular pidgin English news program Halla Ya Matta (Shout Out Your Problem) in Buea, the capital of the Southwest Region.

Both the Southwest and Northwest English-speaking regions have been in the grip of violence since the Anglophone separatist revolt began in October 2017. Reporters Without Borders said Wazizi was accused of criticizing the authorities’ handling of the conflict on air and for allegedly supporting the separatists. Since then, his family and lawyers had had no news of him. Journalists who tried to see him in late September were told he had been transferred to Kondengui Prison in Yaoundé.

The first official acknowledgement of Wazizi’s death came on June 5, when the defense ministry issued a statement saying he had died of “severe sepsis” shortly after his arrest in August 2019, but denying he had been tortured.

 

“We need those who were responsible for his death to be held accountable”

 

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement in response. “The Cameroonian government’s cruel treatment of journalist Samuel Wazizi is truly shocking,” said Angela Quintal, Africa program coordinator for the CPJ. “It is unbelievable that authorities covered up his death in custody for ten months despite repeated inquiries from press freedom advocates and his family, colleagues, friends, and lawyers. An independent autopsy should be conducted immediately, and Cameroon must also launch an independent commission of inquiry so that those responsible for Wazizi’s death are held accountable.”

“We need those who were responsible for his death to be held accountable,” Quintal told New Africa Daily. “We cannot have another case of impunity in the death of a journalist in Cameroon, as we saw with Bibi Ngota’s death in Kondengui Prison over ten years ago.”

Indeed, Wazizi’s death marks the second death of a Cameroonian journalist in detention since the CPJ began keeping records in 1992. Ngota had been investigating corruption involving a politician when he was detained.

“We repeat our call for the remaining seven journalists in jail to be released,” Quintal says. “Several have been in pre-trial detention for lengthy periods—Wawa Jackson Nfor for more than two years and Paul Chouta for more than a year.”

 

Buea
Samuel Wazizi was the presenter of a radio program broadcast from Buea, the capital of Cameroon’s Southwest Region. (AFP)

 

The Anglophone Crisis

Wazizi’s death has attracted international attention to a conflict that has raged largely in the shadows. Known as the Anglophone Crisis, it is rooted in the perception that the English-speaking minority—about 20 percent of the population—are marginalized by the Francophone-dominated government in the political, cultural and economic spheres.

On October 1, 2017, separatists in the anglophone Southwest and Northwest regions declared the independence of Ambazonia. The government of President Paul Biya responded to initial peaceful protests with excessive force, arbitrary arrests, and torture, sparking radicalization. Rather than an organized front, the struggle is being waged largely by semi-independent guerrilla groups that the government likens to bandits. About 3,000 people have been killed in the fighting and more than half a million have been displaced.

 

The imprisonment of journalists is a potential death sentence

 

Journalists have suffered abuse at the hands of not only government forces but also rebels, who have kidnapped and tortured people accused of insufficiently supporting the separatist cause. In the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Cameroon 134th out of 180 countries.

Quintal says in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the imprisonment of journalists is a potential death sentence. Crowded detention centers are at particular risk of outbreaks, now that the official tally of cases has reached 8,000. In April, Biya announced steps to release thousands of prisoners, but those would not include separatists, political opponents, and journalists critical of his rule.

One separatist group has heeded the appeal to declare a ceasefire to prevent the spread of the pandemic, but none of the other groups—estimated to number fifteen—have done so, nor has the government.

 

Samuel Ofosu-Ampofo
Samuel Ofosu-Ampofo (via Facebook)

Samuel Ofosu-Ampofo, chairman of Ghana’s opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), has launched a salvo against the country’s electoral commission and the upcoming elections in early December. Speaking at a celebration of the NDC’s twenty-eighth anniversary, Ampofo encouraged NDC supporters to boycott a new voter registration scheme set to begin on June 30.

Other opposition parties have also taken to inciting their supporters against the electoral commission, partially in response to the Ghanaian parliament narrowly passing Constitutional Instrument 126. This legislation authorizes new methods for the electoral commission to create a voters’ register: Ghanaians can produce a passport or a National Identification Authority card, or have two already registered voters vouch for them. The opposition claims CI 126 is too cumbersome for millions of voters, risking disenfranchisement. This, combined with the electoral commission’s decision to void previous voter identification cards, prompted the NDC and other opposition groups to challenge its mandate to compile a new voter’s register in the supreme court.

 

It is now focusing on having the validity of the old voting cards reinstated

 

The NDC dropped one part of its lawsuit challenging whether the commission had the constitutional authority to compile a new register, and is now focusing on having the validity of the old voting cards reinstated. Judgment is set for June 23.

The general and presidential elections may be several months away, but such a court challenge and public dissatisfaction with the commission risk delegitimizing the electoral process.

 

A Mozambican woman walks in Palma, on February 16, 2017. The small, palm-fringed fishing town of Palma was meant to become a symbol of Mozambique's glittering future, transformed by one of the world's largest liquefied natural gas projects, but it is now under threat from construction delays, fallen gas prices and a huge government debt scandal. JOHN WESSELS / AFP
The small, palm-fringed fishing town of Palma was meant to become a symbol of Mozambique’s glittering future, transformed by one of the world’s largest liquefied natural gas projects, but it is now under threat from construction delays, fallen gas prices and a huge government debt scandal. (John Wessels/AFP)

The most recent report from Mozambique’s National Statistics Institute (INE) reveals the nation’s economy has flipped from a consistent inflationary trend toward a 0.6 percent deflationary one. Drawing on data from consumer price fluctuations in Mozambique’s three largest cities—Maputo, Nampula, and Beira—the INE’s research suggests this recent bout of deflation stems from the sudden drop in prices for private education, a first in the country’s history. Due to the government-mandated closure of all schools to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, private education facilities either lowered their fees or were unable to collect tuition from parents.

 

The informal economy has come to a near complete standstill

 

The Center for Democracy and Development (CDD), a civil society organization, warned that the INE’s deflation numbers are “misleading.” Typically, deflation arises when demand for goods is at a lower rate than its supply, forcing vendors to lower prices in an effort to raise demand. In a Facebook post, the CDD argues “that this deflation is not the result of an excess supply of products on the market, but from the shortage of demand as a result of the deterioration of the purchasing power of families, especially those of low income.” The Center urges the Mozambican government to prioritize support for low-income families who are most at risk of economic ruin from the pandemic.

All border posts are closed save for one shared with South Africa, which is open for cargo purposes only, and the informal economy has come to a near complete standstill. Whatever little benefit consumers would normally have gained during a deflationary period is cancelled out by the broader economic precarity of the country and its most vulnerable communities.

 

Abiy Planting a tree
Ehiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed plants a tree on June 5, 2020, World Environment Day. (Michael Tewelde/AFP)

Members of Ethiopia’s House of Federation, the upper chamber of the country’s parliament, voted on Wednesday, June 10, in favor of retaining Abiy Ahmed’s position as prime minister after his mandate expires in October. The vote was held owing to a delay of elections originally scheduled for August due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This development has inflamed ongoing tensions between Abiy’s ruling Prosperity Party and various opposition parties, many of whom represent specific ethnic groups who have chafed at the prime minister’s attempts at political reform.

 

Abiy rejected a proposal to form a transitional government

 

This decision by the House of Federation comes just two days after Abiy rejected a proposal to form a transitional government brought forward by members of the opposition, who claim the prime minister is using the pandemic to extend his stay in power. Dawud Ibsa Ayana, head of the Oromo Liberation Front, decried the vote extending Abiy’s mandate as having “no constitutional basis”, and is expected to release a formal statement against the vote in the coming days.

 

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