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

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Over the past week, there were many 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:

West Africa’s ‘Brexit’ moment as junta-led states withdraw from ECOWAS 

The week began with the news that three West African junta-led states—Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso—announcing their withdrawal from the regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), immediately.

The leaders of the three nations, Captain Ibrahim Traoré, Colonel Assimi Goïta, and Brigadier General Abdourahamane Tiani, issued a joint statement that was read aloud on Niger national television. They stated that they had decided to withdraw Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger from the Economic Community of West African States immediately, “in the face of history and responding to the expectations, concerns, and aspirations of their populations.”

The three have long explored the possibility of a political and economic alliance, ‘the Alliance of Sahel States (AES)’, following a series of sanctions from international and regional bodies. With the announced withdrawal, they are likely to become even more isolated. There have also been talks around the adoption of a single, unifying currency amongst them.

Five coups have occurred in the West African sub-region in the previous three years, and the World Bank has issued a warning that the most recent coup, which occurred in Niger, would exacerbate problems pertaining to the food markets of Nigeria and other West African countries.

The withdrawal is particularly of political and economic importance, particularly for Nigeria, the regional leader, as two of the country’s three borders are now “hostile territories,” leaving the regional giant almost geographically isolated and exposed.

Informal cross-border trading (ICBT) crossing customs borders is a booming economic factor in Africa, and West Africa in particular, thus making the withdrawal a likely clog in the wheels of the regional economy.

Senegal’s Macky Sall strikes another ‘coup’ in West Africa

West Africa witnessed another coup on Saturday, howbeit a constitutional one, as Senegal’s scheduled presidential election for February 25 has been postponed by President Macky Sall after revoking an appropriate electoral statute because of electoral disputes that he said may spark unrest.

“These troubled conditions could seriously undermine the credibility of the ballot by sowing the seeds of pre- and post-electoral disputes,” Sall said in his address.

With just over three weeks remaining before the election, Senegal is thrust into unknown constitutional territory by the unprecedented decision to postpone the vote to an undisclosed date, which some opposition and civil society organisations fear could cause instability.

After months of speculation and controversies alleging Sall’s plan to seek a third term reign, he in July announced otherwise: “My decision, carefully considered, is not to run as a candidate in the upcoming election on February 25, 2024, even though the constitution grants me the right.”

With five coups already recorded in the West African sub-region in the previous three years, the postponement of the election raises questions and likely tensions around political transitions. While Sall didn’t seize power through military force, his political disposition raises curiosity about the sit-tight syndrome on the continent, which has the ugly record of being home to most of the world’s longest-serving leaders, with 84-year-old Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo currently in his sixth 7-year term topping the chart.

More on Nigeria’s foreign exchange issues 

During the week, Nigeria made major monetary policy directives as it currently battles its worst currency freefall. On Wednesday, the Nigerian central bank said it had cleared the entire backlog of verified claims owed to foreign airlines whose payments had been blocked in the country, but the airline association, IATA, said another $700 million of owed money remained in Nigerian banks.

According to the International Air Transport Association, Nigeria has over 27 international airlines operating there, and its government has the largest amount of airline-trapped funds globally. According to information gleaned from IATA, by year’s end, the funds had increased to almost $792 million.

Following the Central Bank of Nigeria’s release of $265 million in outstanding ticket sales, some airlines, including Emirates, resumed operations after having earlier suspended flights in September 2022. The airline then abruptly stopped operating in the nation, citing fruitless discussions on money repatriation with Nigerian officials merely two months later. During the same time frame, Etihad Airways also stopped operating flights to Nigeria.

Even though the CBN has pledged to clear the backlog, investors are extremely concerned about Nigeria’s matured FX forwards, which are estimated to be worth $7 billion. This is because the shortage of foreign currency is causing the naira to drop more.

As part of the measures to address the FX challenge, the central bank has also directed that banks and financial technology businesses (fintechs) are no longer permitted to carry out foreign currency transfer services. It also updated guidelines for International Money Transfer Operations (IMTO) as it hopes to discourage abuse in the foreign exchange system.

Another Africa Summit sets in Rome 

Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, called for a fresh approach to Africa and unveiled a long-awaited proposal on Monday to improve economic ties, create an energy hub for Europe, and lower immigration.

At the one-day summit, which was attended by over two dozen African presidents and European Union leaders, Meloni delivered a speech and unveiled many ideas, including state guarantees and an initial investment of 5.5 billion euros ($5.95 billion).

Considering that Africa is home to the majority of the world’s natural resources, observers have highlighted that Italy, with its enormous debt, has little chance of competing with nations like China, Russia, and the Gulf states. Although the country has promised to make Africa a major focus of its presidency of the Group of Seven (G7) countries, which it will assume late this year.

Beyond commerce and the economy, Italy is also worried about the rise of undocumented African migrants crossing the Mediterranean, which is compelling it to look for mutual control measures with some African nations.

Recently, a growing number of European nations have enacted their own “Africa policies.” With sessional summits like Russia-Africa, US-Africa, China-Africa, France-Africa, Saudi-Africa, Turkey-Africa, and India-Africa, Africa has continued to be the toast of many international interests. How much African interest these summits and relations actually address remains to be seen.

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 served you some of the most topical ones. Here is a rundown of the backstories of some of the biggest news stories in Africa that we covered during the week:

Here comes Senegal’s govt of young people

Following months in the build-up of the Senegalese election which produced Bassirou Diomaye as President and the appointment of Ousmane Sonko as Prime Minister, an announcement of a new government was made on Saturday, the make-up suggests a groundbreaking political alliance in Senegal’s political space as Sonko stressed that the government was “ruptured.” It has 25 ministers and five secretaries of state, and almost half of them are from his political party, the African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics, and Fraternity (PASTEF).

“This is a government that embodies the project [of Bassirou Diomaye Faye], a systemic transformation the Senegalese people voted for on March 24, 2024, through a first-round election with 54.28% of the vote,” Sonko said of the president-elect.

Cheikh Diba was appointed as finance minister, which is a big deal as he used to be in charge of budget programming at the finance office. Abdourahmane Sarr was made minister of the economy. Birame Souleye Diop will be in charge of the oil and energy ministry for a country that will start producing oil and gas in 2024. Souleye Diop was vice president of Sonko and Faye’s Pastef party, which has since broken up. Two generals were chosen to be ministers of defence and interior. Ousmane Diagne is now the justice minister. He used to be a public lawyer at the Dakar Court of Appeal.

Sonko had hinted that the government is likely to embrace anti-France campaigns which have spread across former French colonies in the sub-region, as he hinted it would consider the implementation of the reform of the West Africa region’s CFA franc currency at a regional level first, and if that failed, would consider creating a national currency, if his preferred candidate, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, wins the next presidential election.

Beyond the political alliance that ushered in the new government and disposition in the international system, the jury is out on the likely performance of the government of “young people” which spreads an argument about age inclusiveness in political leadership across the continent with Faye being the youngest elected president in the continent.

For many years, economic reports have criticized African countries for having too many people. People often see this growth as putting a strain on all of their developing skills. More than 60% of people living in Africa today are younger than 25 years old. By 2030, 42% of the world’s young people are likely to be from Africa.

Nigeria in fresh living cost crisis as electricity cost blows up

The Nigerian government changed the price of natural gas for companies that make electricity to $2.42 per metric million British thermal units (MMBtu) on Monday, which was the first news of the week. The old rate was $2.18mmbtu, so this is more than that. The following day, on Wednesday, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission allowed a rise in the price of electricity for customers in Band A. Customers will pay N225 per hour for electricity instead of N66 now.

More than 70% of Nigeria’s electricity is produced by gas-fired thermal power facilities. As a result, when the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission conducts another tariff review, the increased cost of the item can increase the rate that power users must pay.

There has been a surge in the cost of living since May 29 when the subsidies on petroleum products were removed, and the price of diesel which is the common option for alternate energy hit a record high of 1N,900, the new tariff could further compound situation for Nigerians but strong points have been made against continued subsidy regime in the energy sector.

Since late 2023, the terrible state of the energy supply has gotten worse because gas suppliers to gas-fired thermal power plants have stopped sending gas to the plants because the plants owe $1.3 billion in debt. In Nigeria, the price of electricity for homes in September 2023 was about 23 naira per kilowatt hour, which is about 0.016 U.S. dollars. But the price of electricity for factories was about 36 NGN per kilowatt hour, which is about 0.026 United States dollars.

Nigeria, which has the biggest economy and people in Africa, has had problems with electricity outages for a long time. The country doesn’t have enough power plants, and some of the energy that is made is wasted because the grid is so badly broken. Electricity companies can’t charge rates that reflect their costs, and they have a hard time collecting money because their meters aren’t set up correctly, which discourages new investment.

Egypt’s al-Sisi begins third term

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was sworn in for a third term on Tuesday in the country’s new capital, which is being built outside of Cairo. After being in charge for more than ten years, Sisi “will take the oath of office on the constitution Tuesday in the new parliament premises in the administrative capital,” which is east of Cairo, according to Al-Ahram.

Sisi, who is 69 years old began the new term as expectations build for wide-ranging changes after a $50 billion international bailout warded off the country’s worst economic crisis in decades. more than three months after he won re-election with 89.6% of the vote over three mostly unknown candidates. After huge protests across the country, Sisi led the removal of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. He was previously in charge of the army and the Ministry of Defence.

The possibility of a government reshuffle as Cairo tries to deal with the effects of two years of terrible economic problems and a severe lack of foreign currency. Analysts say that at the start of 2024, the Arab world’s most populous country was heading straight for failure and economic collapse. Then, suddenly, it got more than $50 billion in loans and investments. Financial services companies have also raised Egypt’s credit ratings, as months-worth of blocked inventory began to be released into the import-dependent economy.

In just a few weeks, the United Arab Emirates revealed a $35-billion deal to develop land in Ras al-Hikma, Egypt. At the same time, the International Monetary Fund more than doubled a $3-billion loan, and the World Bank and the European Union signed new loans. Former deputy prime minister Ziad Bahaa-Eldin said that the huge bailout kept Egypt “from falling into the abyss.”

Egypt remains in the eye of the world, particularly the Israel and Hamas war as the boundary between Egypt and Israel stretches 206 kilometres (128 miles) along the eastern edge of the Sinai Peninsula from the de facto tripoint with Palestine (Gaza) to the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea makes Egypt a geopolitical interest for the Western powers.

Somaliland’s naval space conflict in new twist

Ethiopia’s proposal to construct a naval station in the breakaway territory of Somaliland, Somalia took a fresh dimension on Thursday as Somalia announced the recall of its ambassador to Addis Ababa, closing two Ethiopian consulates, and expelling Ethiopia’s ambassador. “This follows … the actions of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia which infringe upon Somalia’s sovereignty and internal affairs,” Somalia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Disagreement over a memorandum of understanding that landlocked Ethiopia signed on January 1st, agreeing to lease 20 km (12 miles) of coastline in Somaliland, a region of Somalia that has enjoyed effective autonomy since 1991 and asserts its independence. In exchange for Ethiopia’s recognition as an independent state, Somaliland, the breakaway territory of Somalia, can use a major port with access to the Red Sea thanks to a controversial pact.

The contentious deal allows Somaliland to grant Ethiopia the use of a major port with access to the Red Sea in exchange for recognition as an independent state. Somalia has described the pact as an act of “aggression” and a violation of its sovereignty. Somaliland is requesting a 50-year lease from Ethiopia to lease 20 kilometres (12 miles) of the coastline in exchange for Ethiopia’s access to a military installation and commercial marine services.

International law does not recognize Somaliland’s claim of independence from Somalia in 1991. Its most recent deal with the big country in the region, Ethiopia, has been strongly opposed by the central government in Mogadishu, which has promised to fight it in every way possible. The agreement has made things more tense in the Horn of Africa. The US, the EU, the African Union, and the Arab League have all called for calm and for Somalia’s rights to be respected with the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, declaring that his country would not tolerate any threat against Somalia, following Ethiopia’s announcement that it would take into consideration Somaliland’s claim to independence in exchange for access to a seaport.

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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 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. From prison to power: The inspiring story of Senegal’s youngest President, Bassirou Faye

Before he was announced the winner of Senegal’s presidential election on March 24, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, was another political prisoner who only released from prison a few days to the contentious poll that had to be held twice.

Despite the power of incumbency of sitting President Macky Sall and his efforts to buckle down on the opposition including one-time favourite, Ousmane Sonko who was accused of insurrection and disqualified from contesting in the election, the 44-year-old Faye dared all odds to secure 53.68% of the vote, while his close rival, Amadou Ba, the candidate for the ruling coalition, secured 36.2% of the vote to come a distant second.

Sonko’s disqualification had effectively paved the way for Faye with many Senegalese resolving to vote in new breed of politicians away from the usual recycled old heads that has come to be the bane of leadership in Africa.

Much of Faye’s success can also be attributed to the support of Sonko who enjoys high popularity, particularly among young people who promptly switched allegiance to Faye following Sonko’s disqualification.

So when the second round of elections took Center stage in the West African country, the electorates showed their discontent with the old order and decided to make Faye the youngest president in the country’s political history.

It was also a testament to the new reality of change and awareness that is gradually changing the face of politics in the continent with more younger people being voted into leadership positions.

The nationwide celebration that erupted in the country following the announcement of Faye’s victory by the Senegal Electoral Commission (SEC), also showed that a new dawn had come, not only for Senegal but for Africa in general.

The icing on the cake came following President Sall’s congratulatory message to Faye:

“I salute the smooth running of the presidential election of March 24, 2024, and congratulate the winner, Mr. Bassirou Diomaye Faye, who the trends show as the winner. It is the victory of Senegalese democracy,” the outgoing president had said.

2. ‘You can run, but you can’t hide,’ Tinubu tells killers of Nigerian soldiers

President Bola Tinubu was at his teether’s end on Wednesday, March 27 during the burial of the 17 military officers who were abducted and killed by gunmen while on a peace-keeping mission to the Okuama community in Delta State, and for the umpteenth time, vowed that the killers of the soldiers will be arrested and made to face the full weight of the law.

has once again reiterated that killers of 17 soldiers of the Nigerian Army in Delta State on March 14 will not go unpunished as he has mandated security agencies to go after them and make them pay for their crimes.

The visibly angry President Tinubu, while paying homage to the fallen soldiers during the burial at the National Cemetery in Abuja, assured their families, colleagues and Nigerians that those who perpetrated the dastardly attacks on the military personnel would be made to face the full weight of the law.

“They went as peacemakers and peacekeepers respectfully seeking to bring an end to the hostilities between the two communities,” President Tinubu said.

“They didn’t go with tanks, machine guns, or other weapons. They were on a mission of peace. They kept faith with their military calling until the end.

“The elders and chiefs of Okuoma also have a duty to help the military in fishing out the gunmen who committed the barbaric crime against our men.

“Those who committed this heinous crime will not go unpunished. We will find them, and our departed heroes will get justice,” Tinubu reiterated, not for the first time since the dastardly attacks on March 14.

But beyond the vows and zeal displayed by the Nigerian Army to fish out the killers of the gallant soldiers, many Nigerians are sceptical about the method being deployed.

There is a deja vu feeling of such encounters in the past where whole communities are brought down by soldiers out to avenge the killings of their colleagues by a few hot heads or militant groups.

It happened in Zangon Kataf in Kaduna State; the same scenario played out in Zaki Biam in Benue State; while the most devastating incident happened in Odi in Bayelsa State.

Will the Tinubu administration be able to curb the excesses of the Army with reports that they had already invaded the Okuama community in search of the killers who must have escaped into the creeks.

Nigerians are waiting with fingers crossed and bated breaths.

3. ‘Don’t rejoice too soon, you’d be disappointed,’ Zambian Alliance cautions citizens over debt restructuring deal

During the week in review, Zambian opposition coalition, the United Kwacha Alliance (UKA), threw spanners into the celebration of citizens who had welcomed a debt restructuring deal brokered by the President Hakainde Hichilema’s administration and the government claims that the country’s economy was picking up at the same time.

The Alliance, in a scathing statement on Thursday, said Zambians should not engage in premature celebrations because the Hichilema and the government was misleading the masses.

Before the attack on the deal, the government had announced that it had successfully brokered secured the debt restructuring deal with international bond holders and the Official Creditors Committee (OCC).

But the UKA, through its Media Chairperson, Saboi Imboela, urged the citizens not to jubilate just yet because, according to her, “the government was only exhibiting political desperation to show good results while hiding their bad governance.”

“President Hakainde Hichilema’s government’s debt restructuring celebrations are premature, a sign of political desperation meant to show intangible results while misleading the Zambian people,” she stated in the statement.

The UKA also challenged the government to acknowledge that the debt restructuring deal did not remove the burden of the Euro-bonds, except that they have been merely consolidated into two new ones – Bond A and Bond B in order to resume debt servicing.

“The Government is not fully disclosing its financial predicaments and weaker status for this process, as the terms of the Debt Restructuring Deal will negatively impact the Zambian economy and worsen the cost of living for the majority citizens,” Imboela said.

To the ordinary Zambian on the streets, the news that the government had secured such a debt restructuring deal would naturally be a thing of joy as it could trigger economic growth as well as curb the escalating inflation which has led to high cost of living.

But with the revelation by the UKA, now behoves on the government to employ it’s best public relations machinery to convince the people of its genuine intentions.

4. End of the road for Moroccan ‘Tinder Rapist’

The African adage which says that there are a hundred days for a thief but just one day of reckoning for the owner of the property, played out in grand style following the arrest of a Moroccan serial rapist who preyed on women on the online dating app, Tinder.

The accused, Salim Berrada, who is fondly called the “Tinder Rapist”, a 38-year-old Moroccan photographer, was arraigned at a French court on Friday on allegations of serial rape and sexual assault against 17 women spanning from 2014 to 2016 in France.

Prosecutors told the court that Berrada had, during the period, lured the women on the dating app to his photography studio where he would drug them and rape them thereafter.

They described a well-established pattern that began with contact through dating apps or social media, followed by a photoshoot in Berrada’s Paris studio, consumption of alcohol, suspicion of drugging, and non-consensual, often violent, sexual encounters.

According to French media, the “Tinder Rapist” case had drawn widespread attention because of its “chilling portrayal of alleged predation facilitated through the online dating platform.”

A French media outlet, BFMTV, in a report, said Berrada faces 20 years in prison if he is convicted of thirteen counts of rape and four counts of sexual assault.

“The trial has garnered significant attention, with the verdict expected on Friday. Berrada faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the charges against him,” BFMTV said.

In his defence, Berrada said:

“I have never drugged anyone. I have never had a modus operandi to rape anyone.

“There are people who slept with me to look good when they didn’t really want to. There are people who slept with me to get their photos and when they didn’t get the photos, they say they suffered abuse,” Berrada claimed.

Though he had denied all accusations levelled against him, it would be a big ask for Berrada to sweet talk his way out of the court.

5. Biafran dissident, Simon Ekpa dares Nigeria, declares President Tinubu, VP Shettima, govt officials wanted

In the same week under review, Finland-based Biafran dissident, Simon Ekpa, took his war against constituted authorities another notch when he declared Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, Vice President Kashim Shettima, and other top government and security officials wanted
over the insecurity situation in the South-East region of the country.

Ekpa who broke away from the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), led by Nnamdi Kanu to set up a rival group known as IPOB-Auto Pilot before transitioning to become the self-styled Prime Minister of the Biafra Republic Government in-Exile (BRGIE), made the pronouncement two days after the Nigerian government declared wanted on account of terrorism

In a list he released on his verified X account, also declared wanted the governors of Imo, Anambra and Enugu States, Hope Uzodinma, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo and Peter Mbah, respectively, as sponsors of terrorism in the region.

“The above sponsors of terrorism, ethnic cleansing, killing and wanton destruction of lives and properties of Biafrans must be arrested anywhere you see them within Biafra territory,” he said.

Also included in Ekpa’s list were “all South East Senators and House of representatives members, except Chief Chinyelugo Imo, all GOCs of Nigeria within Biafra territory, and all CPs within Biafra territory.”

In the post on X, Ekpa stated that Tinubu, Shettima and the others on his listed are behind the insecurity in the South-East region and as such, are persona non-grata in the zone and should be arrested anytime they step foot in the region.

As funny as the declaration of the Nigerian officials may seem and a joke taken too far, many Nigerians believe it is time the government takes him seriously and activate diplomatic channels with Ekpa’s adopted country and bring him to book.

The reasoning is that he has some very gullible followers who take his orders hook, line and sinker and are willing to give their up their lives to satisfy his whims and caprice.

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