Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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Dozens of people were killed this morning when two bomb blasts hit a busy bus station on the outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria. No-one has claimed immediate responsibility for the attack, but suspicion has fallen on the militant group Boko Haram. The Islamist insurgents were reportedly behind an assault last week in the north-eastern Borno state in which at least 60 people were killed, and are believed to have been responsible for the abduction of two Italian priests and a Canadian nun in Cameroon at the start of the month. If their involvement in the kidnapping is confirmed, it will have been the group's third abduction in Cameroon and could signal a shift in tactics.

Several sources within the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), an instrument set up by the African Union to encourage good governance, have alleged that the organisation is fraught with high-level corruption, mismanagement and political manipulation. In an in-depth investigation conducted by Think Africa Press, officials as well as a number of senior figures in the APRM claimed that there has been widespread fraud and misuse of funds, and that the mechanism's integrity and independence have been undermined. Some allege that the responsibility for APRM's state of affairs goes right to the top.

Momentum is continuing to build towards Egypt's 26 May elections, which are widely expected to see Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stroll into the presidential office. The rise of the field marshal to the presidency will see the military's grip tighten even further, but it is not just in the political arena that the army's power is likely to expand. Since the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the military appears to have increased its involvement in the economy. The army is already estimated to control up to 40% of Egypt's GDP, and in recent months it has signed a number of mega-infrastructure deals worth several billions of dollars.

North: Egypt's Military Economy: Money is Power, Power is Money

West: Nigeria: Federalism Works

Central: What Does the Tactic of Foreign Kidnappings in Cameroon Tell us about Boko Haram?

East: Rwanda's 20 Year Miracle: "We Had Nowhere To Go But Up"

South: S. Africa: Parliament Forms Committee to Probe Nkandla

Below are a few highlights from the past week:

All the best,

The Team at Think Africa Press


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A grenade attack killed eleven people in Bangui last week in one of the latest incidents of ongoing violence in the Central African Republic. In the year since President François Bozizé was overthrown by the Séléka rebel alliance, the country has experienced widespread violence in which thousands have been killed and one million of the country's 4.5 million population is estimated to have been displaced. Despite the presence of thousands of international peacekeepers, the violence − which has become largely polarised along religious lines − has continued. Many so-called anti-balaka forces specifically target Muslims in an attempt to 'cleanse' the region, while a Séléka-led group in the north-east recently declared the establishment of a new northern state.

The leader of a new Tuareg group in northern Mali warned last week that the country could face another uprising if stalled negotiations do not continue soon. Progress in talks with the government has been slow since early 2013, when French forces pushed out Islamist militants from the region. There have always been divisions within the Tuareg movement, but it is likely that the recent formation of the Coalition for the People of Azawad (CPA), a breakaway faction of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), points to differences over long-term strategy and over which third party country should mediate the discussions.

On 22 March, World Water Day highlighted the importance and shortfalls in the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene in Africa and across the world. In Africa, 327 million people lack access to safe drinking water while 565 million lack access to sanitation. It is estimated that at current rates it will take until at least 2030 for sub-Saharan Africa to meet the Millennium Development Goal on water and more than 150 years to reach the sanitation target. A range of experts told Think Africa Press what they believe needs to be done to accelerate progress.

North: Egypt: Presidential Elections to Start May 26

West: Dying for Jobs: Deadly Stampede Highlights Nigeria's Youth Unemployment Crisis

Central: Extraordinary Tales of Everyday Lives in the Congo

East: End of the Line? Allegations of Corruption Knock Kenya's Railway Project Off-Track

South: Bones of Contention: The Politics of Repatriating Namibia's Human Remains

Below are a few highlights from the past week:

All the best,

The Team at Think Africa Press


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The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) has called on its 340,000 members to join a strike this Wednesday demanding decent jobs and wages for the country's youth. The union, which decided to break with its historical support for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) last December, is highly critical of the government's Employment Tax Incentive Bill which it says is an attack against workers' hard-won gains and instead wants structural economic changes. Meanwhile, the bodies of several informal mineworkers are still believed to be trapped underground in mines in Gauteng province. The official rescue effort to help these illegal miners − many of them immigrants from neighbouring countries − gave up shortly after it began, claiming it was too dangerous and leaving relatives and friends of the trapped miners to retrieve the bodies themselves. 

The political situation in Burundi is getting ever tenser as the 2015 elections approach. In recent months, a number of opposition ministers in the government have been sacked, the president has provoked outcry by attempting to push through controversial constitutional reforms, and incidences of political violence have increased. Both the ruling party's youth wing and the police have been accused of violently breaking up opposition meetings, and the government recently suspended the opposition Movement for Solidarity and Development (MSD) and issued an arrest warrant for its leader.

Nigeria's National Dialogue Conference, a three-month forum at which 492 delegates from around the country will discuss the future of the nation, opens today. The conference has been welcomed by some but criticised by opposition figures who say it is a distraction from the challenges facing President Goodluck Jonathan. Deadly attacks by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, for example, have killed scores of Nigerians in recent days and weeks, and Jonathan's appointment of security veteran Aliyu Mohammed Gusau as his new minister of defence has generated controversy, particularly after reports emerged that he had resigned just days into the job.

North: "It's Not a Place you go to Die, but a Place you go to Suffer": Torture and Trafficking in Sinai

West: Nigeria Election Watch: PDP Tries to Wrest Back Momentum from the APC

Central: DRC Looks to Follow in Uganda's Footsteps with Anti-Gay Bill

East: Burundi on the Brink: Is Nkurunziza Tightening his Grip Ahead of 2015 Elections?

South: Holding Up Half the Sky: How Zambia's Women went from Housewives to Breadwinners

Below are a few highlights from the past week:

All the best,

The Team at Think Africa Press


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The Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram has engaged in a series of deadly attacks over the past few days, killing an estimated 150 people. On Saturday, 50 died in bombings in Maiduguri before fighters reportedly destroyed the entire village of Mainok, while on Sunday militants raided the town of Mafa killing at least 29 people. The Nigerian government's inability to protect its citizens and relative silence over recent attacks has done little to inspire confidence. And although youth vigilante groups − known as the Civilian Joint Taskforce − have had some success in defending their communities against Boko Haram in urban areas, it seems the Islamist militants have deliberately changed their tactics in response, moving their focus to civilians in rural locations.

The United Nations has proposed a nearly 12,000-strong peacekeeping force for the Central African Republic to protect civilians. Since December, at least 2,000 people have been killed and over 700,000 displaced in violence that has been coded largely in religious terms, though many other important regional, ethnic and political dynamics are at play. A peacekeeping force would also be necessary to maintain security as fears grow that regional militant groups, such as Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army, could exploit the instability in the CAR to set up camp. However, suggestions that Islamist groups such as Boko Haram or al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb could redeploy to the Central African bush are probably far-fetched for now.  The country is also facing alarming levels of malnutrition, which the Wood Food Programme has said it needs far more funds to address.

Since President Yoweri Museveni signed a new anti-homosexuality bill into law last week, a number of donors have suspended or diverted aid to Uganda, while others − such as the US, the country's biggest Western donor − have said they are reviewing ties. While donors are right to criticise the new bill, which has made sentences for homosexuality harsher and criminalised LGBT activism, their actions could backfire. Western politicians have had years to censure the president's regime for rights abuses and doing loudly on this issue − one of Museveni's choosing and one over which Western pressure could in fact boost his domestic image − could play right into his hands.

North: Egypt's Generals turn to an Old Rival in the Fight against Islamist Militancy in Sinai

West: Nigeria: Breaking Apart the Presidency’s Jamboree Budget

Central: From the Sahel to the Savannah: Could Islamist Militants Set Up Shop in the CAR?

East: Inconsistency Killed the Cause: The West's Outcry Over Uganda is Too Little Too Late

South: Mozambique: Will Guebuza get his way in Choosing Frelimo's Presidential Candidate?

Below are a few highlights from the past week:

All the best,

The Team at Think Africa Press


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Dear Reader,

President Goodluck Jonathan suspended Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi last week in a move that shocked both observers and the markets. The presidency accused the widely-celebrated bank governor of financial reckless though gave no details, and many believe the move was motivated by political reasons. Sanusi was an outspoken critic of institutionalised corruption whilst in office and had recently alleged that billions of dollars from oil sales are unaccounted for. Sanusi has said he will not re-take office, but vowed to challenge Jonathan's decision in the interests of the independence of the Central Bank.

President Robert Mugabe marked his 90th birthday on Friday and held huge celebrations in Zimbabwe this weekend. One early present he received from the European Union was the removal of sanctions against eight members of the country's political and military elite, though targeted measures against himself and his wife remain in place. Western sanctions against Zimbabwe have existed in one form or another since 2002, but have failed to effect the removal of Mugabe's regime or arguably promote human rights and democracy in the country.

Think Africa Press has been looking at issues around forced labour this week. In the Ivory Coast, Bram Posthumus challenges claims that hundreds of thousands of children are working as forced labourers on cocoa fields, arguing that while the Ivorian cocoa industry has many problems, child labour isn't one of them. Meanwhile, Neil Howard takes a look at the rising trend of governments passing on the responsibility of protecting workers' rights onto companies themselves, contending that while some measures may be useful they will never be enough.

North: Targeting Tourists: Militant Islamists in Egypt Shift Their Focus

West: "You Can't Suspend the Truth": Worries for Nigeria over Sanusi's Ouster

Central: Congo's Crisis In The Shadows: Katanga on a Knife Edge

East: CCM's Identity Crisis: Comebacks, Constitution and Corruption in Tanzania

South: The Zimbabwe Sanctions Never Worked

Below are a few highlights from the past week:

All the best,

The Team at Think Africa Press


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France's announcement last week that it will be sending an additional 400 troops to the Central Africa Republic provides yet another example of the country's increasing rather than decreasing involvement in its former African colonies. The soldiers will help to bolster France's 1,600-strong force already stationed in country, and the French government has defended its multiple military engagements on the continent in recent years by insisting that each case is unique and has international legitimacy. It claims that despite its military presence, France's role today is very different than under the years of so-called Françafrique. But while this may be true on some levels, France's protracted negotiations with Niger over uranium prices reveal how elements of its economic and political influence in Africa may not have changed all that much.

Kenya's Attorney General Githu Muigai appeared in The Hague last week to reject claims that Nairobi has failed to cooperate with the prosecution in the case against President Uhuru Kenyatta. Muigai insisted that Nairobi is fulfilling its legal obligations, but as the crimes against humanity case continues to falter, hope for justice appears to be fading

However, the International Criminal Court is perhaps not the biggest challenge facing Kenyatta and Kenya at the moment. Every year, billions of dollars worth of goods are smuggled into the country through false invoicing, leading the country to lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue each year. This smuggling is facilitated by the presence of tax havens, phantom firms and a lack of transparency, problems which have also allowed Angola to lose several billions of dollars in recent years. 

North: Tunisia's New Constitution: How Compromise Won Out Over Conflict

West: What to Watch as Nigeria's 2015 Showdown Brews

Central: Pentecostal Preachers Blamed for Polio Outbreak in Cameroon

East: The Gulf's New Disposable Workforce

South: Angola’s Biggest Threat Is Offshore − and It's Not Piracy

Below are a few highlights from the past week:

All the best,

The Team at Think Africa Press


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Dear Reader,

The ceasefire in South Sudan remains fragile with multiple reports that fighting is continuing in certain areas. Most recently, rebel forces loyal to former Vice-President Riek Machar claimed that government troops under President Salva Kiir had recaptured the town of Leer in Unity State and was receiving help from the Ugandan army and former members of the Congolese rebels M23. A second round of peace talks are due to start on 7 February where it will be essential that leaders commit to justice and to holding those responsible for the violence accountable. Impunity in the past arguably contributed to the current situation and South Sudan now has the opportunity to turn a new page in its history.

The proposed merger between South Africa's main opposition party and Mamphela Ramphele has fallen through just days after it was announced. Ramphele − a former anti-apartheid activist, medical doctor, businesswoman and academic − had been set to stand as the Democratic Alliance's (DA) presidential candidate in the upcoming April elections, but reneged on the deal. This fiasco is the latest in a series of political missteps by Ramphele since she entered politics last year; even if the merger had gone through, it would have done little to change South Africa's political landscape.

This week, Think Africa Press has been taking a look at narratives about Africa in two fun, but very different, ways. Firstly, Martha Tveit examined how Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina chose to come out, arguing that his choice of a six-part video, filmed and edited by him and his own crew, helped create a space for African discourse led by Africans. Secondly, William Clarke poked fun at the simplistic tropes often used by the international media when talking about Africa by taking them and instead using them to talk about the UK.

North: Review − Soutak, Aziza Brahim

West: Nurses not Curses: Witchcraft Beliefs and Mental Health in Sierra Leone

Central: Rebels Flee CAR Capital

East:  Justice Cannot Wait in South Sudan

South: South Africa: Will the ANC Lose Any Sleep over Ramphele's Merger with the DA?

Below are a few highlights from the past week:

All the best,

The Team at Think Africa Press


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Dear Reader,

Catherine Samba-Panza was sworn in as the new president of the Central African Republic last Thursday. She was elected by the country's transitional parliament and becomes the CAR's third president since January 2013. Samba-Panza, the CAR's first female head-of-state, is now tasked with bringing an end to the violence between the Séléka rebels and anti-balaka forces that has destabilised the country since the military coup in March 2013. However, her first task may be to ensure her government incorporates all the country's main political elements to avoid any excluded parties trying to undermine the new transition.

At least 49 people died in clashes on 25 January as Egypt marked the third anniversary of the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Both supporters and opponents of the government took to the streets, with police breaking up many anti-government demonstrations and conducting several arrests. Three years after the uprising, Egyptian society is deeply polarised, economic problems remain, and many see the new military-led government as simply a new version of the Mubarak regime.

Think Africa Press is proud to announce the launch of its first podcast. In this inaugural edition, a range of contributors discussed false or simplistic narratives of the conflicts in South Sudan and the CAR; Sam Piranty reported from Guangzhou on African migrants and their problems getting visas; and a panel of experts discussed the Nigerian Islamist militants Boko Haram. A longer and more in depth version of the Boko Haram discussion is also available.

North: Protests Predicted for Egypt's 25 January Revolution Day

West: Nigeria: What Do We Know About Ansaru?

Central: Chad: Déby's Misstep in the Central African Republic

East: South Sudan Ceasefire 'Very Shaky' - Mediator

South: Going Up in Smoke: The Environmental Costs of Zimbabwe's Tobacco Boom

Below are a few highlights from the past week:

All the best,

The Team at Think Africa Press


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Dear Reader,

The Central African Republic's transitional parliament has finalised a list of eight candidates vying to be the country's next interim president. The previous president, Michel Djotodia, stepped down along with Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye on 10 January amidst heavy pressure for his failure to contain a conflict which has displaced close to one million people and led to thousands of deaths. Since his resignation, however, sectarian violence has continued, and if the transition of power is not handled carefully and inclusively, there is a risk that the conflict could deepen even further.

President Goodluck Jonathan's close ally Bamanga Tukur has finally stepped down as chairman of Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party. Tukur's tenure had been highly divisive, and many in the party had long called for his resignation, accusing him of manipulating the party undemocratically in an attempt to shore up the president's position. His moves clearly backfired and his resignation leaves Jonathan in an even weaker position, which is arguably what prompted the president to sign a new anti-gay bill into law last week. The law has been received largely positively in Nigeria, and Jonathan could be hoping that any controversy it provokes will help him distract attention from his ongoing failures in office.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou this weekend in protest against potential changes to the constitution that could allow President Blaise Compaoré to run for another term in 2015. Compaoré has already been in office for 26 years and proven his ability to keep a grip on power, but there are growing signs that his reign may finally be coming to a end.

North: Egypt Votes On New Constitution

West: Nigeria: Tukur's Turbulent Tenure Finally Comes to a End

Central: Will the Post-Djotodia Era Usher in Peace or Increased Volatility in the CAR?

East: South Sudan 'Optimistic' About Peace Talks

South: Mozambique: Death Toll from Rebel Ambush Rises

Below are a few highlights from the past week:

All the best,

The Team at Think Africa Press


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Dear Reader,

Talks between representatives of President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar are still deadlocked as fighting continues in South Sudan. Government troops recently recaptured Bentiu, capital of Unity State, and are now reportedly advancing on the town of Bor, capital of Jonglei State, while negotiations in Addis Ababa remain stalled around the issue of political prisoners. International mediators are pushing both parties to agree to a ceasefire, but arguably donors' interest in South Sudan's political problems should have started a lot earlier, and the international community is not free from blame for the recent outbreak of violence.

Tunisia's new interim prime minister, Mehdi Jomaa, faced his first major challenge last week as demonstrators took to the streets in towns across the country in protest against new tax increases, which were subsequently suspended. In the national assembly meanwhile, legislators are discussing a new constitution which it is believed could be ratified in the coming days. While many still see Tunisia as the most promising post-Arab Spring nation, its shaky progress three years on from the revolution shows how it has shifted from being a romantic tale of revolution to a tricky testing ground for the contending forces of political Islam, the market economy and progressive politics.

After 33 years in power, 2014 could finally see President Robert Mugabe's successor emerge. The main contenders, who have long been locked in a struggle for supremacy, are Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mujuru recently fared much better than her counterpart in party elections, with officials supportive of her winning in nine of Zimbabwe's ten provinces, but Mnangagwa may be more likely to have the backing of powerful figures such as the military elite as well as Mugabe himself.

North: Regime Remnants, Women and the Clown: Tunisia's Revolution Three Years On

West: Nigeria: Is Jonathan Taking an Authoritarian Turn?

Central: Mukwege: "It is Our Women Who Carry Africa on their Shoulders"

East: Donor-Driven Technical Fixes Failed South Sudan: It’s Time to Get Political

South: Mujuru vs. Mnangagwa: The Battle to Succeed Mugabe Steps Up in Zimbabwe

Below are a few highlights from the past week:

All the best,

The Team at Think Africa Press


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