Your quick news round-up from across Africa, including the latest kidnap-ransoms in Nigeria, Burundi's thawing relations with the EU and the discovery of dead miners in South Africa.

African news in brief

December 11, 2020

A round-up of the latest news from the African continent, including Mozambique's war on terror, the Israel-Sudan peace deal, and Uganda's troubled elections.

 

Uganda

At least 45 people have been killed following widespread protests over the detention of Uganda’s opposition leader.

Robert Kyagulanyi, known across the East African state as ‘Bobi Wine’, had been held in the capital, Kampala, for allegedly breaching Covid-19 legislation while campaigning in the eastern district of Luuka.

The presidential candidate is hoping to oust the country’s long-serving president Yoweri Museveni, 76, in January’s polls.

The arrest, which sparked widespread protests across Uganda, was denounced by five of the country’s other presidential candidates, who issued a joint statement in support of Bobi Wine, and accused the Electoral Commission of been ‘overrun by security agencies’.

It added: ‘We’ve agreed to design a common response to the arrests, brutalisations and harassment of candidates aimed at denying them access to the electorate.’

Police arrested Bobi Wine for allegedly breaching Electoral Commission guidelines that only 200 people should attend rallies.

The seizure of Bobi Wine was followed a day later with the arrest of Patrick Oboi Amuriat from the rival Forum for Democratic Change opposition group. 

News of the two detentions sparked protests across Uganda, which were put down with tear gas and live bullets by the country’s notoriously brutal security forces.

The arrests and subsequent state violence were met with condemnation from Western governments.

The chairman of the US House of Representatives’ House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Eliot Engel, called for the unconditional release of the two presidential candidates and denounced President Museveni.

‘For almost two decades, President Museveni has shown he is incapable of conducting an election without jailing his opponents and brutalising Ugandan citizens,’ read the US lawmaker’s statement

‘This type of conduct on the part of Mr Museveni and state security forces is completely incompatible with holding a free, fair and credible election, which is scheduled for January 2021.’

 

Democratic Republic of the Congo

A former warlord has been sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity, including mass rape.

Ntabo Ntaberi, who headed the militia group Nduma Defense of Congo (NDC), was convicted of murder, rape, sexual slavery and enlisting child soldiers by the military court in the eastern city of Goma.

The ruling followed a two-year trial that saw 178 victims testify against the Congolese insurgent, whose NDC group waged war of terror against civilians in the eastern province of North Kivu.

‘This verdict is a source of immense hope for the many victims of the conflicts in the DRC,’ said the head of the UN's peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Leila Zerrougui.

‘Their suffering has been heard and recognised.’

The east of the DRC has been wracked by conflict since the mid-90s, with the UN still struggling to maintain order.

Congolese authorities first issued an arrest warrant for Ntaberi in January 2011, accusing him of orchestrating raids on villages that killed an estimated 300 people and led to 400 people being raped.

Ntaberi evaded peacekeepers for six years, but eventually surrendered to UN forces in the Congo in July 2017.

He was prosecuted along with three others, including a commander from another militia group, who was also sentence to life in prison.

A spokesman for the victims described the verdict as ‘a strong signal to other warlords’

While Thomas Fessy, a researcher on the Congo conflict for Human Rights Watch, said the convictions were ‘an important step in the fight against impunity’.

 

Sudan

Israel has sent a delegation to Sudan for the first time since the countries agreed to a historic peace deal brokered by President Donald Trump.

Israel’s Intelligence Minister, Eli Cohen, said the initial delegation would be small and talks would focus on security matters.

He added that a larger delegation would follow at a later date in order to discuss possible economic co-operation between the two one-time foes.

The North African nation, which until last year was ruled by the Islamist Omar al-Bashir and famously welcomed Osama Bin Laden to set up bases in the country, followed in the footsteps of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which normalised relations with the Jewish state in August.

The deal between Sudan and Israel was announced in October by the White House.

Sudan is just the fifth Arab nation to officially recognise Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met his Sudanese counterpart General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Uganda earlier this year, described the US-backed peace agreement as a ‘tremendous turnaround’.

He said in a statement: ‘Khartoum says yes to peace with Israel, yes to the recognition of Israel and normalisation with Israel.’

 

Ethiopia

A number of Ethiopia’s main tourist towns have come under attack by rebels fighting for an independent homeland in the north of the country.

Forces from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which took up arms against the government in Addis Ababa in November, have attacked the tourist cities of Bahir Dar and Axum, and seized the Tigrayan capital of Mekelle, another popular tourist destination before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The rebels, who are fighting for an independent Tigray homeland near the border with Eritrea, fired rockets on densely populated city of Bahir Dar and destroyed the airport at Axum, the ancient Ethiopian capital rumoured to house the Ark of the Covenant.

The attack on Axum came shortly after Ethiopia's prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, gave rebels 72 hours to lay down their arms or federal troops would attack Mekelle.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, are believed to have been killed in fighting and air strikes since the conflict began on November 4.

An estimated 40,000 refugees have fled Tigray for neighbouring Sudan, while rebels have also fired rockets into neighbouring Eritrea, sparking fears of a wider regional conflict.

The United Nations has called for mediation, but to little avail.

The Ethiopian government has repeatedly said it is only targeting rebel leaders and facilities.

It denies hitting civilians.

Its taskforce for the Tigray conflict said in a statement: ‘Our women and men in uniform have shown great care to protect civilians from harm during the law enforcement operation they have carried out in Tigray so far.’

The Tigray leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, has accused the federal government of inflicting ‘merciless’ damage on the five-million strong region.

He told Reuters: ‘We are people of principle and are ready to die in defence of our right to administer our region.’

 

Liberia

A candidate in Liberia’s senate elections has promised to free former Liberian president Charles Taylor from prison if he is elected in this month’s poll.

Menikpakei Dumoe is standing for election in the central Bong County, where the former war lord lived when he was a rebel leader in the 1990s.

Taylor, who ruled Liberia from 1997 to 2003, was convicted of war crimes by a UN-backed court convicted over his role in the atrocities during the Sierra Leone civil war. He is serving a 50-year prison sentence in a British prison.

Speaking to the BBC, Dumoe said: ‘We want Taylor released because our people want him back. We see him as a true nationalist leader who stood up for all of the people.

‘Other West African countries participated in our crisis, but their leaders have not been imprisoned.’

Dumoe put up campaign posters featuring images of himself and the former dictator in Gbarnga town, which used to be the headquarters of Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia movement.

 

Mozambique

The war against Islamic insurgents in Mozambique has been given a boost, after Tanzania agreed to help its southern neighbour.

The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in late-November to combat the ISIS-linked fighters in the Cabo Delgado province, which borders Tanzania.

The pact will see the extradition of 516 fighters from Tanzania to Mozambique, according the latter’s state-owned newspaper Noticias.

Violence has flared in the gas-rich province since October 2017 when members of an armed group attacked police stations in the key port town of Mocimboa da Praia.

More than 2,200 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced during the three-year insurgency.

The Mozambican army has struggled to contain the Islamic State-backed group, and has suffered a number of humiliated defeats and territory losses, despite air support and help from private security firms.

Emboldened by their successes in Mozambique, the Islamists have recently began striking north into Tanzania, carrying out raids on villages in the country’s Mtwara region.

Many of the group’s fighters are also thought to come from Tanzania, which arrested an unspecified number of people in November for allegedly attempting to join the terrorist group.

Thousands have fled Cabo Delgado in recent months, with over 33,000 displaced people moving out of the area in one week in November alone.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed shock at ‘the reports of massacres’ in the region in November, including the reported ‘beheading and kidnapping of women and children’.

Witnesses describe how the insurgency has taken a markedly gruesome turn in recent months.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said there had been a four-fold increase of displaced people in Cabo Delgado this year, from around 88,000 to more than 355,000 in November.

Amnesty International has estimated that more than 712,000 need humanitarian assistance as a result of the conflict.

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