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Africa This Week (1 March-7 March)

  NIAS Africa Team

News Brief: Humanitarian crisis in Sudan, insurgency in Burkina Faso and Nigeria and the FGM debate in the Gambia
1 March-7 March
Anu Maria Joseph, Narmatha S and Vetriselvi Baskaran

In Africa, the major development this week is the humanitarian crisis ravaging Sudan amidst the conflict. While the war has crossed ten months, the World Food Programme has warned of a hunger crisis, the largest ever Sudan has faced. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, has described the deliberate attempt to disrupt access to humanitarian agencies in the war-torn Sudan would imply a war crime. According to the UN, 25 million people need food and medical aid. The current conditions are- that aid supplies are being looted, humanitarian workers are attacked and humanitarian agencies complain about bureaucratic challenges to reach out to the conflict-hit regions. The humanitarian crisis is not only limited to Sudan but also to neighbouring countries of Chad and South Sudan where the conflict victims have fled. 

Meanwhile, the military government has demanded a revival of full membership to the AU before agreeing to any mediation under the AU. While the UN is pushing for a Ramadan ceasefire, empty responses from the warring parties say that the conflict would continue and the humanitarian crisis would likely worsen.

In Burkina Faso, the jihadist insurgency is escalating. This week witnessed a series of attacks that killed more than 170 people in the northern part of the country. The insurgent groups have been increasingly targeting religious buildings. Attack on a mosque in Natiaboani and a church in Essakane killed dozens. While the military governments in West Africa are trying to strengthen the Sahel Alliance and its fight against insurgency through a joint military force, it is uncertain how the developments will unfold. 

Elsewhere in West Africa, there is a new wave of kidnappings. Dozens of displaced people, the majority women and children, who went in search of firewood were abducted by armed men in the Borno state. Separately, armed men attacked a school in Kuriga town and are suspected to have abducted nearly 280 students. Recently, there has been a lull in ransom kidnappings in the country. However, the new developments increase the fear of its return. 

In the Gambia, there is a new rising debate on lifting the ban on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Islamic religious leaders across the country pushed lawmakers to introduce a bill, lifting the ban on FGM. The practice was banned in the country in 2015 under President Yahya Jammeh, who claimed that FGM is not a part of Islamic culture. The UN and the international community have demanded a withdrawal of the bill. Meanwhile, the anti-LGBTQ bill in Ghana has taken a new turn with President Nana Akufo Addo refusing to sign the bill until the Supreme Court verdict. Besides, the Ministry of Finance has asked the president not to sign the bill amidst a potential loss of World Bank funding.

Extends aid to Mozambique’s fight against Jihadists

On 4 March, in the light of Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi's four-day visit, the Algerian government vowed to extend its support to Mozambique’s fight against Jihadist insurgency in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. Nyusi stated that Algeria has "promised immediate support for the Local Force, the one that is fighting terrorism."

News Database

UN human rights chief warns of war crimes
On 1 March, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, stated that a deliberate attempt to disrupt access to humanitarian agencies in the war-torn Sudan would imply a war crime. He stated: “Sudan has become a living nightmare. Almost half of the population – 25 million people – are in urgent need of food and medical aid. Some 80 percent of hospitals have been put out of service.” The development came after aid supplies were looted, humanitarian workers were attacked and humanitarian agencies complained about bureaucratic challenges to reach out to the conflict-hit regions. According to the UN, the fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has killed at least 14,600 people and injured 26,000.

Demand to reinstate AU membership before mediation
On 4 March, Sudan’s military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan demanded reinstation of the country’s AU membership to consider the AU-led mediation to end the conflict. Al Burhan stated: “Sudan's confidence in the AU and the potential solutions it can provide to end the war, but only if the state regains its full membership and the organisation treats it as such.” Sudan was suspended from the AU following the military takeover on 25 October 2021. Later, in April 2023, the AU formed a special three-member panel to resolve the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Government agrees to aid via borders 
On 6 March, the military-led government in Sudan agreed to humanitarian aid via Chad and South Sudan. Previously, it banned the routes, claiming that the UAE had used the route to supply weapons to the Rapid Support Force (RSF). Clementine Nkweta-Salami, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Sudan, welcomed the decision stating that people in dire need will get assistance.

WFP warns on largest-ever hunger crisis
On 6 March, the World Food Program (WFP) warned that the conflict in Sudan would trigger the largest-ever hunger crisis in Sudan. The conflict between the rival forces has crossed ten months. It has killed more than 14,000 people and displaced over eight million. Head of the World Food Program (WFP) Cindy McCain, during her visit to a camp in South Sudan, stated: “The victims of the war had been forgotten.” 

Joins EAC as the eighth member

On 4 March, Somalia joined as a full-time member of the East African Community (EAC) after the successful completion of requirements. The EAC secretariat stated that Somalia gained membership in the bloc “after depositing her Instrument of Ratification with the Secretary General.” In November, Somalia requested to join the bloc to boost the country’s economic growth. However, other members were sceptical of granting the membership due to the flaring insurgency and poverty in the country. 

Signs a “reciprocal” deal with Haiti

On 1 March, Kenyan President William Ruto announced that Kenya and Haiti signed a “reciprocal” agreement to deploy a police force as part of a UN mission fighting gang violence in Haiti. Ruto stated that with Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry he discussed “the next steps to enable the fast-tracking of the deployment”, but it was not immediately clear whether the agreement would counter a court ruling in January that branded the deployment “unconstitutional.” Kenya had previously agreed to deploy 1,000 police force, however was halted by its constitutional court which alleged that the country cannot deploy its force outside.

70 children missing after jihadist attack

On 5 March, BBC reported that 70 children went missing after a jihadist attack in Mozambique's northern Cabo Delgado province. It is feared that the children were abducted by armed fighters linked to the Islamic State (IS). Chiùre, south of Cabo Delgado, was considered a safe haven for displaced people in the region. However, President Filipe Nyusi recently stated that the jihadists deliberately targeted Chiùre to abduct children. The regional military has been trying to tackle the jihadist insurgency that began in 2017.

Flash floods kill six

On 6 March, the BBC reported on the flash floods that hit Malawi the previous week. At least six people died and four others were injured in the flash floods that hit central Malawi. The Department of Disaster Management Affairs stated that over 14,000 people have been displaced. Humanitarian assistance is hampered due to extensive infrastructure damage.

US imposes sanctions over corruption

On 4 March, The US imposed sanctions on several Zimbabwe’s officials including President Emmerson Mnangagwa for allegedly drawing off money for personal purposes. The US Department of State stated: “With this action, the 2003 executive sanction order is repealed and 11 people and three businesses are added to the worldwide Magnitsky sanctions program's list.” 

US imposes sanctions on President Mnangagwa for corruption and human rights allegations
On 5 March, the US imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa under allegations of corruption and human rights abuses. The White House stated: "We continue to witness gross abuses of political, economic, and human rights. The targeting of civil society and severe restrictions on political activity have stifled fundamental freedoms, while key actors, including government leaders, have siphoned off public resources for personal gains.” First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga and Defence Minister Oppah Muchinguri are additionally placed under sanctions for similar allegations.

Condemns the US sanctions on officials
On 7 March, Zimbabwe condemned the recently imposed US sanctions on senior officials on the grounds of corruption and human rights abuses. The spokesperson for President Mnangagwa described the accusations as “defamatory.” The deputy chief secretary of the president, George Charamba, demanded the removal of “illegal coercive measures” immediately, and urged the UN, the AU, and SADC to back Zimbabwe.

Bill to scrap the ban on FGM

On 5 March, a bill was presented before the Gambia's parliament by an independent lawmaker to abolish the ban on Female genital mutilation (FGM) in the country. In 2015, the FGM was outlawed by former President Yahya Jammeh, who stated that FGM is not a part of Islam. Regardless, the Muslim clerics pushed to lift the ban on FGM stating: “Female circumcision is my religious belief, Gambia is not for sale.” According to the UN, a three-quarter of Gambian women, aged between 15- 45, undergo FGM.

UN demands to withdraw a bill repealing FGM 
On 6 March, the UN warned against the Gambian parliament's proposal to lift the ban on Female Genital and demanded to withdraw it. Muslim religious leaders pressed the state to repeal FGM, whereas the rights activists started contesting it. 

Taskforce to tackle corruption

On 6 March, President Joseph Boakai set up a new task force to address corruption. The task force is ordered to investigate corruption carried out by senior and past officials. Boakai, who was elected in January, vowed to address corruption during the election campaign. He stated that the assets, "wrongfully acquired at the expense of the government and people of Liberia," should be returned. 

Military leader to run for election

On 2 March, Chad’s military leader, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, announced that he would run for the presidential election which is scheduled for May. Deby stated: “I, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, am a candidate for the 2024 presidential election under the banner of the For a United Chad coalition.” The elections are expected to end three years of transition after Mahamat Deby took over the power post-death of his father Idriss Deby. 

Finance Ministry warns against anti-LGBTQ law 

On 4 March, Ghana’s Ministry of Finance cautioned the government against signing the new anti-LGBTQ bill that would cause a loss of USD 3.8 billion in World Bank funding over the next five years. The ministry suggested President Nana Akufo-Addo not sign the bill until the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding the constitutionality of the bill. The bill was approved by the Ghanaian parliament the previous week. It imposes a three-year sentence for those who identify as LGBTQ and a five-year sentence for supporting or funding LGBTQ groups.

President to wait for Supreme Court ruling before signing anti-LGBTQ bill
On 5 March, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said that he would not sign the anti-LGBTQ bill until the Supreme Court decides on its constitutionality. His decision came after the Ministry of Finance warned that the country would lose billions of dollars in Work Bank funding if it became a law. On 28 February, The Ghanaian parliament passed the bill with a majority. The bill imposes a three-year sentence for those who identify as LGBTQ and a five-year sentence for those who support and fund LGBTQ groups.

M23 rebels advanced in the town of Nyanzale

On 6 March, the BBC reported that the military lost the town of Nyanzale, which is 80 miles north of Goma, to the M23 rebels. Rebel spokesperson, Willy Ngoma, stated: "We are now in Nyanzale, the enemy has fled.” Army commander, Jerome Chico Tshitambwe, confirmed the capture. 

Dozens of displaced people abducted

On 6 March, BBC reported on the rising insecurity in Nigeria’s Borno state due to increased jihadist attacks. Dozens of displaced people who went in search of firewood in the forest were abducted. It is suspected that Boko Haram jihadists in north-east Nigeria carried out the abduction. According to the local media quoted by BBC, more than 300 people went missing, including women and children.

Attack and abduction in Kuriga town
On 7 March, Al Jazeera reported that armed men attacked a school in Kuriga town. According to the chairperson of the Chikun Local Government Area in Kaduna, more than 100 students were abducted. Attacks on schools and abduction of children are increasingly common in the central and northwest parts of Nigeria.

A series of attacks kill hundreds

On 3 March, Al Jazeera reported that at least 170 people were killed in a series of attacks in three villages in northern Burkina Faso. The attacks are separate from the attacks on a mosque in Natiaboani and a church in Essakane that killed dozens. Currently, nearly half of the country is under the control of several armed groups.

About the authors
Anu Maria Joseph is a Research Associate at NIAS. Narmatha S and Vetriselvi Baskaran are Postgraduate Scholars at the University of Madras.

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