News Briefs 7 February 2020

Western Sahara

Despite Israeli Requests, US Won’t Recognize Moroccan Claim to Western Sahara

The Trump Administration has reportedly turned down repeated overtures by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara in exchange for Rabat forging official diplomatic relations with Israel. According to Israeli media reports, Netanyahu broached the subject on multiple occasions but was met with heavy opposition, primarily from then-national security adviser John Bolton.

 The Israeli leader reportedly raised the subject again following Bolton’s resignation, but to no avail. After Madrid relinquished administrative control of the Western Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975, a war broke out between the two African nations and the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi nationalist movement.

 Mauritania withdrew its claims to the territory four years later, but the Algeria-backed Polisario Front continues to wage a campaign for independence. Morocco has long maintained informal ties with Israel, whose relations with various Arab states – particularly Sunni Gulf countries that oppose Shi’ite Iran – have improved significantly over the past decade. Nevertheless, the Israeli reports claim that Rabat is growing frustrated with Netanyahu due to the trilateral initiative’s lack of progress.

The Media Line

Morocco slowly tightens its grip on Western Sahara

The essentials: Morocco’s parliament has passed two laws that formalise the annexation of Western Saharan territorial waters. While this does not present a fundamental change of the status quo, the move underscores the intractability of the conflict and the risks Morocco is willing to take to secure its economic interests. It comes shortly after a potential deal in which Israel and Morocco would normalise relations – in return for the US recognising of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara – became public.

The background: On 22 January, Morocco’s lower chamber of parliament voted unanimously to amend legislation defining the country’s maritime borders to include the territorial waters of Western Sahara. A second measure that creates an exclusive economic zone within 200 nautical miles off the coast of the territory was also accepted.

Western Sahara was formerly colonised by Spain and is currently occupied by Morocco. There were signs of Moroccan presence in the region before Spanish colonisation, but a 1975 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice stated that these ties were not deep enough to justify Moroccan sovereignty. It advised that the issue be decided by the Sahrawis themselves in a referendum.

African Arguments


Zimbabwe Refugees Lose Fight to Remain in Botswana

About 60 Zimbabwean refugees have lost their battle to remain in neighboring Botswana. The host government rejected their appeal against repatriation.  The refugees are reluctant to return to Zimbabwe, citing political persecution.

Most of the refugees fled to Botswana following the often-violent 2008 presidential election in Zimbabwe.

Some opposition supporters were killed during that campaign, while others were beaten and left homeless.

Botswana granted asylum to the fleeing opposition supporters a decade ago.  However, in 2017, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), in collaboration with the two governments, deemed the situation in Zimbabwe safe for the refugees’ return.

Voice of America

Zimbabwe MP goes on trial for trying to overthrow govt

A leading Zimbabwean opposition lawmaker pleaded not guilty to charges that he planned to overthrow President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a lawyers’ group said on Monday, the latest in a series of cases to target government critics.

Job Sikhala, vice chairman of the main opposition the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, was arrested in July, after he criticised the government at a rally in the southern Masvingo province.

The 47-year-old was subsequently released on bail.

At the opening of the trial on Monday Prosecutor Tawanda Zvekare told the court in Masvingo city that Sikhala was planning to subvert the government “through unconstitutional means” at the MDC event.



China turns the screws on Eswatini

China is threatening to “cripple” Eswatini business and economic development should it not switch allegiance from Taiwan to China immediately. In a strongly worded and threatening seven-page statement, China’s ambassador to Pretoria, Lin Songtian, said “no diplomatic relations, no more business benefits”.

He also implied that other African countries could be pressured to shun Eswatini at the African Union – set to have its heads of state summit next weekend in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. South Africa will be chairing the AU this year. The absolute monarchy is the only country on the continent that maintains official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which means it has no relations with China.

Lin said in his statement that, since 10 January, Eswatini citizens have been forced to apply for visas to the People’s Republic of China at the embassy in Pretoria. They could no longer use any other embassies, consulates or outsourced visa services, which meant that would-be visitors were not only inconvenienced, but the embassy could also keep a tight watch on those planning to travel.

Daily Maverick

Swaziland Police Chief Threatens Social Media Users with Wrath of the Law If They Criticise King

Police in the absolute monarchy of Swaziland (eSwatini) are to hunt down and arrest people who criticise King Mswati on socail media.

The National Commissioner of Police William Dlamini said the law would deal with them harshly.

He made the announcement in a written statement published in media across Swaziland on Friday (31 January 2020).

The eSwatini Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported, ‘He stated that the police service was hot on their trail and they will see to it that the perpetrators of the cybercrime ultimately face the wrath and might of the law.’


Democratic Republic of Congo

DR Congo to support cobalt prices by buying ‘artisanal’ supply

The Democratic Republic of Congo will create a state-owned company to buy all the cobalt mined by hand in the country, in an effort to support the price of the key battery material used in electric cars.

The government said it wants to “control the entire value chain” of the informal mining sector in order to boost state revenues, according to a decree signed by the prime minister and posted online on Thursday.

The move is a sign of an effort to clean up a supply chain that is dominated by Chinese traders, who buy from thousands of individual miners, including children, who dig for cobalt by hand without any safety protection and earn between $1 and $3 a day.

Financial Times

Seven killed in new DR Congo raid: NGO

Seven people died in a fresh attack by the Mai-Mai militia on three police posts in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s troubled east, where more than 60 people have been killed in violence this week.

Seven bodies were found and seven others were injured in the raids late Friday in Mamove in the volatile Beni region, The Centre for Studies to promote Peace, Democracy and Human Rights (CEPADHO) said Saturday.

It was not clear if the dead were civilians or policemen.

In the neighbouring Ituri province, militiamen attacked a hospital at Biakato, which was serving as an Ebola treatment centre.

Dispatch Live

Central Africa Republic

One year after peace deal, a ‘long, steep’ road ahead to ensure child rights protections

With more than 500 grave child rights violations reported between January and December 2019, Christine Muhigana, UNICEF’s Representative in CAR, said that these are only the verified instances and true numbers are almost certainly far higher. 

“Whilst it is incredibly difficult to estimate how many children remain associated with armed groups, these children are among the most vulnerable in the country and their fate remains unclear,” she stressed. 

With the aim of ending a conflict that has killed thousands and left two out of three civilians dependent on humanitarian aid since December 2012, peace talks got under way in January 2019 in Khartoum, Sudan, led by the African Union with UN support. The deal was agreed in Khartoum but formally signed on 6 February 2019 in CAR’s capital, Bangui.

UN News

UN Slightly Eases Arms Embargo on Central African Republic

The U.N. Security Council voted Friday to slightly ease the arms embargo against the Central African Republic, with Russia and China abstaining because they wanted a greater easing of the weapons ban to help the government’s forces combat armed groups and protect the population.

The vote on the French-drafted resolution — 13-0 with the two abstentions — followed contentious negotiations in the 15-member council over the extent the arms embargo should be eased. At one-point Russia presented a rival draft resolution, diplomats said.

Acting U.S. Deputy Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet expressed deep concern after the vote that Russia’s ambassador to Central African Republic had publicly stated that council members that disagreed with Moscow’s position opposed peace in the country and were against the interests of its people.

The New York Times


Somalia reforms win two key funding deals with IMF

Somalia is committed to policy and reform implementation bringing it closer to debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, and receive funding from bilateral and multilateral partners.

The country reached two critical agreements with the International Monetary Fund mission team at a meeting led by Allison Holland, and agreed on the Staff-Monitored Programme (SMP) and Reaches Staff-Level Agreement on a new three-year macroeconomic reform programme that could be supported by the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) and Extended Fund Facility (EFF).

The meeting was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January.

Somalia was represented by Finance Minister Abdirahman Dualeh Beileh, Minister of Planning Gamal Hassan, and Central Bank Governor Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi.

The East African

Al Shabab’s strength and wealth pose threat beyond Somalia’s borders

Kenya started the year with deadly terrorist attacks — again. Al-Shabab, the Islamist insurgent group based in Somalia, successfully attacked Kenya’s Manda Bay military base in early January. The attack killed three American military personnel who were based there. It was less than a year after al-Shabab’s attack on the DusitD2 Hotel complex in Nairobi, which killed 21 people.

Al-Shabab’s hostility toward its neighbour stems from Kenya’s contribution of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a peacekeeping mission created in 2007 to protect Somalia’s transitional government and stabilise the country. Today, AMISOM’s 20,000 troops are also mandated to combat al-Shabab. AMISOM plays a key role in preventing al-Shabab from taking control of the capital Mogadishu and achieving its mission to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state.

For its part, the United States has been executing regular drone strikes in Somalia for nearly a decade. The strikes have increased in frequency under the Trump administration, and 2019 was a record-breaking year. Following the administration’s 2017 decision to loosen the rules of engagement, giving commanders more leeway to carry out airstrikes, drone attacks rose from 35 that year to 47 in 2018 and over 50 in 2019.

The Article


Sudanese Prime Minister Rattled by Leader’s Meeting With Netanyahu

Sudan’s prime minister appeared rattled Wednesday by the meeting this week between the head of his country’s transitional council, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, insisting that all decisions related to Sudan’s foreign affairs “should be made” exclusively by his Cabinet.

Prime Minister Abddalla Hamdok’s remarks were latest in a flurry of comments from government officials, Sudanese political parties and public figures who were stunned by the meeting, which was kept secret until Netanyahu announced during the visit to Uganda.

However, the Sudanese military backed Burhan’s visit to Uganda, saying in a statement Wednesday that it endorsed the visit’s “conclusions” and the Sudanese leader’s efforts to “achieve the supreme interest of the national security and Sudan.” The statement made no mention of Netanyahu.


Sudan dissolves central bank board, governor remains

A Sudanese legal committee dissolved the boards of the country’s central bank and 11 other state-owned banks under a law that aims to dismantle the regime of the toppled president Omar al-Bashir, the committee said on Thursday.

The Empowerment Removal Committee also fired the managers of eight of the banks, it said.

Badr Eldin Abdelrahim, the central bank governor, remains in his post and new boards will replace the dissolved ones soon, a committee member told Reuters.

Sudan in November passed a law to dismantle the system built by Bashir, who was ousted in April after nearly three decades in power.

The East African

South Sudan

South Sudan mediator to embark on arbitration to solve states dispute

South African deputy president David Mabuza said he plans to consult with the African Union (AU) and regional countries to resolve the contentious issue of the number of states that has derailed formation of an all-inclusive government.

Mabuza, who has been mediating between the government and the main opposition group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) over the unresolved number of states issue, said he will engage the AU and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to find amicable ways to tackle political and boundary disputes that have undermined peace in South Sudan.

“We put arbitration on the table, they say that arbitration must happen before the unity government is formed. Our feeling is that the time is too short if we want to do a thorough job. Probably we need to consult IGAD and AU,” Mabuza told journalists on Wednesday evening in Juba.


South Sudan Opposition Official Says ‘Unified Force Not Ready’

A top South Sudanese opposition official says a unified military force will not be in place by February 22, the deadline for the country’s rival parties to form a transitional unity government.

Angelina Teny, who chairs the South Sudan Strategic Defense and Security Review Board, says the parties need six more weeks for a unified force.  

Uniting the government and opposition forces into one army is a key provision of the peace agreement that President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed in Addis Ababa in 2018.  Failure to merge the sides has been a stumbling block in efforts to create the unity government called for in the deal.

Teny says while some security arrangements of the revitalized peace agreement have been implemented, much more needs to be done.

Voice of America