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Behind the News

Behind the News: All the backstories to our major news this week

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Over the past week, there were lots of important stories from around the African continent, and we served you some of the most topical ones.

Here is a rundown of the backstories to some of the biggest news stories in Africa that we covered during the week:

Egypt and Turkey intensify efforts to close diplomatic gap

Beyond unpleasant news of the devastating effects of an earthquake in Morocco, and a flood accident in Libya which has killed and displaced thousands, there was something to cheer about from the Arab League this week as “sworn enemies,” Turkey and Morocco gave hope for reconciliation.

Turkey’s President, Tayyip Erdogan discussed bilateral ties and energy cooperation with Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in the Indian capital of New Delhi on Sunday.

After 10 years of animosity, the meeting was the most recent diplomatic effort to repair relations between Egypt and Turkey. The first step in recent times to strengthen their diplomatic ties was the assignment of ambassadors to each other’s capitals in July.

The conflict between Erdogan and Sisi began when the latter took office following the Egyptian army’s removal of Muslim Brotherhood President, Mohamed Morsi in 2013 in the wake of significant public protests. Erdogan, who has links with the Brotherhood, while reacting to Sisi’s emergence, referred to him as an illegitimate tyrant in a television interview, and refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the regime.

Turkey later officially requested that Sisi be subjected to sanctions as a “war criminal” by the UN Security Council. Cairo’s response was to put pressure on Ankara to withdraw its application for a Security Council seat. In the end, Egypt recalled its own envoy from Ankara and expelled the Turkish ambassador from Cairo.

The dispute between the two presidents has evolved over time from an ideological disagreement to a contest over opposing visions for the region.

They have guided their countries with divergent stands in matters like the Syrian crisis, the war in Libya, and the definition of maritime borders in the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, diplomatic normalcy between them is capable of influencing significant changes in the Arab League.

However, trade between the two countries has been maintained despite the long-standing hostilities. With a $4 billion purchase, Turkey was the biggest consumer of Egyptian goods in 2022.

Controversy around Nigeria/UAE visa ban saga

The Nigerian government was caught in a web of diplomatic controversy during the week following a back-and-forth situation with the United Arab Emirates. On Monday evening, the Nigerian government had in a statement by Presidential spokesperson, Ajuri Ngelale claimed that the United Arab Emirates had reached an agreement leading to the immediate reversal of the visa ban placed on Nigerian travellers to the kingdom.

The news was well received at home. Diplomatic tension between Nigeria and the UAE went sour in 2021 after the authorities in the Middle Eastern country reportedly ‘barred’ other airlines from bringing Nigerian passengers.

By October 2022, the UAE announced the addition of 20 other African countries to the “blacklist.” The countries listed for the visa ban at the time included Uganda, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Cameroon, Nigeria, Liberia, Burundi, Republic of Guinea, Gambia, Togo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Benin, Ivory Coast, Congo, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Comoros, and the Dominican Republic.

But the “good news” didn’t last too long as media queries on the terms of the revoked visa ban forced clarifications from Mr Ngelale, and eventual denial of the development, particularly as the UAE was silent on the development in their media readout of the communication between the two leaders.

An official of the Gulf state later contradicted the Nigerian government’s position on lifting the visa ban, saying there were no changes on the travel status yet.

“There are no changes on the Nigeria/UAE travel status so far,” the official said in an interview with CNN.

Thus, while the discussions between the leaders may have produced investment agreements, the visa ban remains, at least in the interim. But the two countries remain strong partners. The UAE is one of Nigeria’s largest trade partners. Since the visa ban, capital importation from UAE to Nigeria totalled $225.1m.

Zambia embraces China as debt restructuring talk continues 

Southern African country, Zambia made a significant move in its quest for debt restructuring as President Hakainde Hichilema on Friday arrived in Beijing, China which is Zambia’s largest foreign creditor for discussions. Hichilema met Chinese President, Xi Jinping in an outing which has been reported to have witnessed the two nations upgrading their relations to a “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership.”

Zambia’s main creditor is China, and the Export-Import Bank of China is the owner of almost two-thirds of the $6.3 billion debt that Zambia is currently renegotiating with its official creditors.

Zambia, the first nation in Africa to experience sovereign debt default in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating economic impact, has now reached a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) regarding a protracted debt restructuring plan that will save the nation $7.65 billion by 2026.

The nation also aims to come to an agreement with private creditors over the restructuring of further debt by the end of the IMF’s second review later this year.

Five African nations have so far formally defaulted on their national debt in 2020: Zambia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Chad, and Mali. Zambia has made the most of the debt restructuring plan under the G20 framework.

In 2021, six other African countries — Chad, Eritrea, Mozambique, the Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Zimbabwe— were seen as debt-distressed as African governments issued a record $7.5 billion in sovereign bonds, 10 times more than in 2016.

Beyond Zambia’s debt situation, experts have commended Zambia’s recent macroeconomic gains. Its open economic disposition to the Chinese model continues to be in the spotlight. Hichilema said at the meeting with Xi, that “Zambia abides by the one-China principle, highly appreciates the guiding concepts and principles of Chinese-style modernisation, and hopes to learn from China’s development experience.”

Tunisia reopens its largest museum after 2-year shutdown

Tunisia’s Ministry of Culture on Thursday announced the reopening of the country’s largest museum, the Bardo National Museum, which was shut two years ago. The museum was shut down in 2021 when President Kais Saied shuttered the parliament, which occupies the same building as the museum. This decision was roundly criticised and dubbed a coup.

The Bardo is housed in a historic palace and features one of the world’s most exceptional collections of ancient Roman mosaics.

With the 2011 Revolution, the 2015 Terrorist Attacks which killed more than 20 people at the Bardo Museum and its surroundings, and the Recent Coronavirus, the nation’s tourism sector has been negatively impacted over the past ten years.

Tunisia is among the most travelled-to nations in Africa. Every year, millions of tourists flock to this region for its scenery, beaches, Sahara Desert, and historic Roman and Phoenician ruin sites.

Tunisia hopes that the reopening of the museum will provide some economic relief to the country’s struggling economy. This has been the point of concern both at home and abroad. Being a major border African state to Europe, the North African country can explore further tourism opportunities with its “European neighbours”

Behind the News

Behind the News: All the backstories to our major news this week

Published

on

Over the past week, there were lots of important stories from around the African continent, and we served you some of the most topical ones.

Here is a rundown of the backstories to some of the biggest news in Africa that we covered during the week:

1. Audacity of pride as APC boasts Nigerians will still re-elect Tinubu despite hunger, hardship

Despite the hues and cries of ordinary Nigerians over the unbearable hardship, hunger, insecurity, and pervasive poverty as a result of the now infamous “bold reforms” and unfavourable economic policies of President Bola Tinubu since coming into office over a year ago, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), has boasted that Nigerians will still re-elect him as president come 2027.

The Deputy National Organising Secretary of the party, Nze Chidi Duru, who made the boast in an interaction with journalists in Lagos, said he was convinced beyond doubt that come 2027, Tinubu would be re-elected despite the economic hardship and planned alliance between mega opposition parties.

Duru, who was reacting to insinuations that the current hardship and economic woes arising from Tinubu’s policies could lead to Nigerians voting against him, said the ruling party was not losing sleep because he was sure Nigerians would still vote for the president.

“Our party has always recognised the fact that the current challenging economic environment has not in any way got better.

“When Mr President took over, he asked Nigerians not to pity him. It is an office that he craved and worked hard for before offering himself to provide leadership to Nigeria.

“What gives confidence is that Mr President is very much aware of the expectations of the person on the street.

“Concerning whether we will be re-elected, as a democrat and my personal view, we have always canvassed that unless His Excellency President Bola Tinubu will not contest, the APC government is bound to be represented by our candidate in 2027 to fly the flag for the simple reason that I want to bring up. And, of course, there is the incumbency factor,” Duru boasted.

Beyond the cockiness and confidence of the APC spokesman, who is invariably speaking the minds of the ruling class, what this means is that no matter how they have emasculated Nigerians and throw them under the bus, they will still be re-elected come the next election cycle in 2027.

They have the power of incumbency, the chairman of the Electoral Commission is appointed by the ruling party, they have the machinery and the funds to buy voters and in the case of an election dispute going to court, they have their appointed judges to give verdicts in their favour.

Little wonder Duru, like others before him, has the effrontery to boast that Nigerians will still re-elect Tinubu despite what they are being made to go through.

And he is not far from the truth because most of the suffering Nigerians will still sell their consciences for pittance in future elections.

2. ‘You are killing Zambian democracy,’ Lungu attacks Hichilema again

The war of words and verbal attacks between former Zambian President Edgar Lungu and incumbent President Hakainde Hichilema has continued unabated following a new allegation from the Lungu camp that Hichilema is attacking the country’s democratic norms by using the parliament to strangle the opposition.

Lungu made the allegations after nine members of his party, the Patriotic Front (PF), were sacked from the parliament.

In a press conference in Lusaka, Lungu said his party would vigorously contest the expulsions of the MPs through legal and political means.

He also accused the current government of misusing the Speaker’s office to target perceived opponents of the ruling party, calling it an abuse of power.

“During my tenure, we never interfered with the workings of the National Assembly. My government respected national principles and the separation of powers,” Lungu said.

He also warned that if Zambia fails to oppose the unconstitutional expulsion of lawmakers, it would signal a dangerous attack on democracy, adding that the Hichilema administration is displaying dictatorial powers, contrast with his administration’s practices since 2015 when he took office.

“Sadly, the respect for power and democratic principles that we upheld has been undermined under the current government. Since Mr. Hakainde Hichilema assumed power, we have witnessed a decline in governance integrity,” Lungu lamented.

The political fight between Lungu and Hichilema is not new especially in Africa where politicians see themselves as sworn enemies.

Those who are not in office see all the mistakes made by those in power while those on the inside will do everything possible to stop their opponents from upsetting them in future elections.

Since Hichilema took over from Lungu, the former president has been on the warpath, picking on him and attacking the President at every point, oblivious of the fact that he was duly voted out by the citizens who felt he had not performed to their expectations.

But then, this is the way of a typical African politician and the roulette dance of shame goes on!

3. End of an era as US completes troops withdrawal from Niger’s Air Base

After several years of having its troops stationed in Niger Republic and other West African countries, the United States announced that it would finally withdraw its troops from the Nigerien Air Base on Sunday.

The Nigerien military junta had given the United States until September 15th to withdraw its forces.

In a statement on Friday, US officials said the military will finish removing its soldiers from Niger’s Air Base 101 in the capital on Sunday and will next concentrate on leaving a significant drone base in the upcoming weeks.

The withdrawal of the US troops also comes with a withdrawal from a $100 million drone base close to Agadez in central Niger, which had supplied vital intelligence regarding organizations associated with the Islamic State and al Qaeda.

US Air Force Major General Kenneth Ekman, who was in Niger to oversee the withdrawal, had announced that a ceremony will take place on Sunday night to officially close Air Base 101 for the United States.

“We will do a joint ceremony on that occasion that marks the departure of the last U.S. C-17 (aircraft). The government of Niger will assume control of former U.S. areas and facilities,” Ekman said.

The idea behind the withdrawal of the US troops from the West African country came following a spate of coups that rocked the region in the past five years, the latest being that of Niger last year which saw the junta leaders ordering the United States to remove its almost 1,000 soldiers from the country in April.

The order and the subsequent protest by citizens caused the US serious embarrassment leading to the decision to withdraw its troops.

The withdrawal of US troops is also coming on the heels of similar withdrawals by Russia troops from Mali and Burkina Faso following military coups in the countries.

4. 82 million Nigerians face bleak times as food crisis escalates

An estimated 82 million Nigerians, about 64% of the nation’s population, face a bleak future and may go hungry by the year 2030 as a result of acute food crisis which is likely to hit the country in the next few years.

This damning prediction was given by the United Nations which also urged the Nigerian government to immediately address climate change, pest infestations, and other risks to agricultural productivity.

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s resident humanitarian coordinator, Taofiq Braimoh, a UN representative, who made the prediction at the CropWatch Abuja launch during the week had stated:

“The government of Nigeria, in collaboration with others, conducts an annual food security survey.

“The results this year are concerning: over 80–82 million Nigerians are at risk of severe food crisis by 2030, and about 22 million may experience food insecurity in 2023.

“Nigeria, like many countries, grapples with food insecurity, climate change, unreliable water patterns, pest infestations, and other threats to agricultural productivity.”

Realities on ground shows that this bleak forecast by the UN is as a result of sustained increase in the nation’s food costs where the cost of living has gone beyond the reach of ordinary Nigerians.

Food inflation rate surpassed the 40.53% mark, an increasing from the previous month to a new high of 40.66% in May 2024, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

This is the highest of such inflation rate witnessed in over 20 years, with increasing insecurity where farmers have not been able to produce foods, and with the unfavourable economic policies of the present administration, the UN prediction may well come to reality if the ugly trend is not reversed on time.

5. New UK PM delights African migrants as he declares Rwanda migration deal ‘dead and buried’

The newly elected British Prime Minister, Keir Starmer, has got into the good books of African migrants quite early after he declared that the plans to repatriate asylum seekers from Britain to Rwanda is “dead and buried.”

In what turned out to be Starmer’s first significant foreign policy statement,
Starmer said he would abandon the audacious plan to transport thousands of illegal to the East African country by the previous administration of Rishi Sunak.

The new PM stated categorically that the Rwanda policy would be abandoned since it would not have served as a deterrence and that just 1% of asylum applicants would have been expelled.

“The Rwanda scheme was dead and buried before it started. It’s never been a deterrent,” Starmer said in the speech.

In the agreement which was estimated at around £120 million ($148 million), the British government, had disclosed last year that it intended to send thousands of migrants to the nation in East Africa to discourage asylum seekers from using tiny boats to cross the English Channel from France.

The plan was to return undocumented migrants to the Rwanda and was first announced by the Conservative government in 2022, with the stated goal of ending the influx of asylum seekers in small boats.

The deal had suffered significant setbacks with some members of parliament kicking against it and court cases delaying its smooth take off but Sunak had insisted on going through with it.

With the stance of the most powerful man in the UK, endangered African migrants who seek asylum in the country can be rest assured of some level of protection.

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Behind the News

Behind the News: All the backstories to our major news this week

Published

on

Over the past week, there were many important stories from around the African continent, and we have served you some of the most topical ones.

Here is a rundown of the backstories to some of the biggest news stories in Africa that we covered during the week:

Sierra Leone’s bold move against child marriage

West African country, Sierra Leone has taken bold steps towards child rights as the Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill 2024 was officially approved by the parliament of Sierra Leone during the week. The new law includes measures to protect victims’ rights, penalize criminals, and provide young girls who are impacted by child marriage access to support services and education. Until now, the Customary Marriage and Divorce Act of 2009, which permits minor children to be married off with parental agreement and does not set a minimum age of marriage, contradicts the previous Child Rights Act of 2007 which set the minimum legal age of marriage at eighteen. Local reports show that 30% of girls in Sierra Leone get married before turning eighteen, and nine per cent get married before turning fifteen.

In Sierra Leone, many girls drop out of school frequently as a result of poverty. In an attempt to better their financial circumstances or pay off debt, their family then marry them off. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill 2024, which ensures that 18 is the minimum legal age of marriage, reflects a harmonization of these laws. The new bill includes measures to ensure that young girls impacted by early child marriage have access to education and social services, safeguard the rights of victims, and penalize offenders.

It is against the law to marry a girl who is younger than eighteen. Additionally, it stipulates that criminals may serve up to 15 years in jail. 800,000 child brides reside in the nation; according to the UN agency, 400,000 of them were married before turning 15.

About 10.5% of young women in Sub-Saharan Africa were married before turning 15 as of 2020. Generally, in the continent, child marriage was a frequent custom. Before turning fifteen, one in four adolescent women in the Central African Republic were married or in a partnership. Chad’s percentage of 24% was comparable. Conversely, at less than one per cent, South Africa and Lesotho had the lowest rates of female marriages before the age of fifteen.

While some African nations have witnessed significant reductions in child marriage, others have experienced stasis. More women and girls are at risk of child marriage as a result of conflict, climate change, and COVID-19, which have all disrupted schooling and caused economic shocks. Some parents have turned to child marriage as a way to deal with the aftermath of crises. Another angle to the matter is the production of a child army, susceptible to extremist indoctrination since an increase in out-of-school has been established to be linked to growth in child marriage, thereby granting easy recruitment for terrorism within the continent.

Like Sierra Leone, the rest of Africa must face the cultural and religious sentiments that excuse child marriage and outlaw the practice, beyond the ordinary declaration of marriageable age but with precise consequences for defaulters, including but not limited to the parent, the supposed groom, and all other accomplices.

Kenyan Tax Law: Ruto stoops to conquer?

Kenyans continued to resist President William Ruto’s plan to increase the country’s budget by Ksh3.9 trillion ($31 billion), and protests against the recently highlighted Finance Bill have spread throughout the country, from Nairobi, the country’s capital, to other regions. To strengthen public finances and obtain more money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), President William Ruto proposed higher taxes on bread, sugar, vegetable oil, mobile money transfers, and some imports.

Armed police continued to use tear gas to disperse protestors during street demonstrations in Nairobi and other major cities. Running fights broke out between the demonstrators, most of whom were young, and the officers as they attempted to enter the Parliament Buildings. However, in reaction to strong opposition, the controversial financial bill 2024 removed the proposed tax increases on Wednesday.

Kenya’s plan with the proposed new tax regime was believed to generate additional revenue of 346 billion Kenyan shillings ($2.68 billion) or 3% of GDP. Its withdrawal “will likely result in Kenya missing the 4.7% fiscal deficit target this year and 3.5% target next year as per the IMF programme which is now been threatened. In May 2023, Kenya committed to further funding to support climate change activities, raising its total loan availability from the IMF to $3.6 billion. In 2021, Kenya has already committed to a four-year loan from the IMF. The IMF requires frequent evaluations of changes, in Kenya’s case every six months, before releasing finance tranches.

Conceding to the Protesters mostly youths in a televised address, President Ruto said, “Listening keenly to the people of Kenya who have said loudly that they want nothing to do with this finance bill 2024, I concede, and therefore I will not sign this Finance Bill, 2024. and it shall subsequently be withdrawn, I run a government but I also lead people. And the people have spoken.”

But the lenses are out on the Kenyan economy following the suspension of the tax law given the current public finance state and debt of the East African country and what seems like the beginning of a legitimacy battle for the “increasingly unpopular Ruto” as protests have continued in some parts of the country as on Sunday- three days after the revocation of the law. The Kenyan situation also brings the searchlight on the influence of multilateral bodies and the African economy with the IMF considered a villain in the discourse, while other pro-IMF observers hold that the multilateral bodies are only rescue instruments to mop up the fiscal recklessness and dying states of African economies.

Nigeria’s long road towards local oil refining

Nigeria’s oil refining problems might not end soon despite the recent progress of privately run Dangote Refinery. During the week, Throughout the week, International Oil Companies in Nigeria were allegedly plotting to undermine the viability of the recently established Dangote Oil Refinery and Petrochemicals, according to Vice President of Oil and Gas at Dangote Industries Limited, Devakumar Edwin.

Edwin said the IOCs were “deliberately and willfully frustrating” the refinery’s efforts to buy local crude by hiking the cost above the market price, thereby forcing the refinery to import crude from countries as far as the United States, with its attendant high costs.

Nigeria increased its output by 60,000 barrels per day to produce 1.49 million barrels of oil per day in a month, the greatest in over two years. Through a joint venture, the West African nation has developed a new grade of petroleum known as Nembe as it boosts its oil output.

With four state-operated refineries with a total capacity of 445,000 barrels per day, Nigeria imports more than 80% of its refined petroleum products. The state-owned refineries have not operated at full capacity for many years, despite numerous attempts to bring them back online. The high level of national anticipation surrounding the Dangote refinery is partly attributed to the failures of both the previous and present governments.

These circumstances stand in sharp contrast to those of other comparable oil-producing nations in Africa, like Algeria, which has the second-highest refining capacity in Africa after Egypt, and Libya, which can cover 60% of its domestic refining needs.

More than 135,000 permanent employees and 12,000 megawatts of electricity are anticipated to be produced by the Dangote refinery. Additionally, Nigeria would save $25–30 billion in foreign exchange yearly. It is anticipated to bring $10 billion annually into the economy but the politics and modalities for full-capacity operation remain a hurdle.

Mauritania: What next as Ghazouani coasting home to victory?

With more than 90% of the ballots counted, the incumbent president of Mauritius, Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, is leading the preliminary results in the nation’s Saturday presidential election.

After tallying over 90% of the votes, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) on Sunday revealed that El Ghazouani was dominating the contest with 55.82% of the total.

Following Mauritania’s 1960 independence from France, retired General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani became the country’s eleventh president when he took office in August 2019 as the nation’s first peaceful transfer of power since independence. For ten years, the African desert nation was ruled by his predecessor, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. Aziz created the Union for the Republic (UPR), the ruling party, in 2009; in 2022, the party changed its name to Equity Party.

Although Mauritania is a presidential democracy, since gaining its independence in November 1960, there have been numerous military takeovers. Moktar Ould Daddah ruled Mauritania as a one-party state for eighteen years following independence. Decades of military control followed. Following a military coup in 2005, Mauritania underwent its first completely democratic presidential election on March 11, 2007, signalling the country’s transition from military to civilian government.

The country has not had it all smooth under Ghazouani. the COVID-19 outbreak and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have highlighted Mauritania’s fragility on the fronts of development and the economy. The nation’s primary exports, which include gold, iron ore, and fisheries goods, are dependent on extremely unpredictable international pricing. In addition, around 80% of Mauritania’s national food consumption is derived from imports of cereal. It is yet to be seen if its latest election will usher improved reign.

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