Africa Theater

Ethiopia: 'Zone 9' bloggers acquitted

Five Ethiopian bloggers on Oct. 16 were acquitted of terrorism charges relating to publications on their Zone9 website. The publications, critical of the government, landed nine bloggers in court, with one charged in absentia, in April 2014, for violation of Ethiopia's broad anti-terrorism law. In July five bloggers were unexpectedly released after being cleared by the court. In the new decision, the court announced that documents provided by prosecutors were insufficient to prove terrorism, leading to the release of four bloggers. Although cleared of terrorism charges, one blogger remains detained on charges of inciting violence. The releases come as a surprise for a nation ranked as one of the world's least free.

South Sudan: oil wealth as threat to peace plan

South Sudan's fragile peace deal is in jeopardy as opposition leader Lam Akol today joined with 18 political parties to bring a legal challenge against President Salva Kiir's order to expand the number of states in the country from 10 to 28. "That order actually violates the constitution and it also contravenes the peace agreement," he said, refering to the pact that Kiir and the head of the armed opposition, Riek Machar, signed in August. "Our people are yearning for peace, so nobody should tamper with this peace agreement." he said. The leadership of rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) also said the plan threatens to unravel the peace agreement. (Sudan Tribune, VOA, Oct. 15; Al Jazeera, Aug. 29) Not surprisingly, control of oil seems the critical issue here. A commentary for Kenya's The East African (online at AllAfrica) charges that Kiir "has basically deprived rebel leader Riek Machar of all the oil resources he was to preside over in the transitional government by unilaterally creating 18 new states. The increase of the states...through a presidential decree has placed areas with the highest concentration of oil resources in Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile in the hands of President Kiir's Dinka community. This has created tension between the Nuer, Shiluk and Dinka in Unity and Upper Nile States, with the first two communities accusing President Kiir of carving out the oil-rich areas for his community."

US troops mobilized to Cameroon

President Barack Obama formally notified Congress Oct. 14 that 90 US troops have been mobilized to Cameroon—the first contingent of a 300-strong force to assist in the struggle against Boko Haram. The force will conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, but will not participate in ground combat operations (except in self-defense). Unarmed surveillance drones will also be deployed. The Pentagon said the move came at the invitation of Cameroon's government, which has been headed by strongman Paul Biya since 1982. Cameroon is part in a joint regional task force to fight Boko Haram along with Chad, Niger and Benin. (Foreign Policy, VOA, BBC News, AP, Oct. 14)

South Africa to leave ICC: reports

A South African deputy minister said Oct. 10 that the nation will leave the International Criminal Court (ICC), opining that the court has "lost its direction." Following criticism for ignoring an ICC directive to arrest the president of Sudan, Obed Bapela of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) told reporters that South Africa will continue to uphold "the flag of human rights" independent of the ICC. Bapela indicated that powerful ICC member nations "trample" human rights and pursue "selfish interests," and some African leaders have questioned the ICC's indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir as being another in a long line of decisions biased against Africans.

Chad, Cameroon terror attacks target refugees

At least five suicide bombers on Oct. 10 targeted a village in Chad that is home to thousands of Nigerians who have fled Boko Haram violence, killing at least 36 people and wounding about 50 others in co-ordinated attacks. Authorities blamed Boko Haram for staging the attacks in the village of Baga Sola, near the Nigerian border. Nearly half of the dead resulted when two female suicide bombers hit the village market when it was at its busiest. The following day, two female suicide bombers carried out the attacks in the Cameroon village of Kangaleri, again targeting a market district and killing nine. Both western Chad and northern Cameroon hosts thousands of Nigerian refugees. Another 1.5 million are internally displaced within Nigeria. (AFP, CBC, Sahara ReportersAnadolu Agency)

Burkina Faso coup leader to face military justice

The interim government of Burkina Faso on Oct. 1 apprehended the leader of the week-long military coup in September, announcing that he will face military justice. Gilbert Diendere  was a general in the national army and the alleged leader of the the group known as the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP). Diendere is associated with another two other coups in the West-African nation, one in 1987 that retains significance for the ideology of the RSP. The 1987 coup marked the start of the 27-year rule of Blaise Compaore. Diendere was Compaore's former chief of staff. The first meeting of the reinstated interim government of Burkina Faso disbanded the RSP and dismissed the ex-minister of security. RSP forces are refusing to disarm. The RSP is incentivized by a recent modification to the electoral code that banned former members of the ruling party from running for political office. The interim government submitted a proposal before the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Nigeria 10 days ago. ECOWAS is working with the UN to stabilize the transition government  before elections on October 11.

Burkina Faso: counter-revolution collapses

Burkina Faso's interim President Michel Kafando was formally reinstated Sept. 23, a week after he was ousted in a coup led by the presidential guard. The ceremony took place in the capital, Ouagadougou, in the presence of several West African leaders who helped mediate an end to the crisis. Coup leader Gen Gilbert Diendere admitted to local media that it had been "the biggest mistake... We knew the people were not in favour of it. That is why we have given up." (BBC News, Sept. 23) Among those involved in brokering a return to civilian rule was the Mogho Naba, traditional monarch of the Mossi ethnic group, whose kingdom dates to the 12th century. Baongo II has been king since 1982. The Mossi continue to have limited autonomy, although the authority of the Mogho Naba was significantly curtailed during the presidency of anti-imperialist revolutionary Thomas Sankara prior to his death in October 1987. (BBC News, Sept. 23) The Mogho Naba (also rendered Moro Naaba) is signatory to a manifesto issued by civil groups after last year's popular uprising calling for widespread social reforms with an emphasis on women's rights and reproductive freedom—including access to birth control and an end to child marriage. (Amnesty International, Sept. 24)

Counter-revolution in Burkina Faso

Gen. Gilbert Diendere, a longtime right-hand man to ousted president Blaise Compaore and head of his presidential guard, seized power from Burkina Faso's transitional government on Sept. 17—sparking street protests in the capital Ouagadougou in which three were killed. The following day, the new junta—calling itself the National Council for Democracy—released interim president Michel Kafando, in a bid to quell protests. But prime minister Isaac Zida remains in custody. The US and France have condemned the coup, but both have critical security interests in the country, and have worked closely with Gen. Diendere for years. Burkina Faso serves as a rear base for regional counterterrorism operations and contributes troops to both the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali and the US-led Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. (CSM, BBC News, Sept. 18; Afrique Jet, Sept. 17)

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