Africa This Week 5623: Sudan’s conflict, the UN’s WFP food distribution in Tigray, and the German Chancellor’s trip to East Africa
Sudan’s conflict between the army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which is in its third week and has caused the deaths of about 550 people and wounded around 4,926, was agreed to be put on hold. The ceasefire was announced on Tuesday, May 3rd, by South Sudan’s foreign ministry, which initiated the one-week ceasefire and has also offered to help resolve the conflict that has seen about a hundred thousand people displaced. However, the credibility of the May 5–11 ceasefire deal was uncertain, given the previous ceasefire agreements that have been violated. The violations undermined previous agreements that ran from 24 to 72 hours. Both sides agreed not to fire unless they were fired at or unless there were military movements.
Despite the reported ceasefire, heavy fighting broke out in central Khartoum on Thursday as the army reportedly attempted to push back the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) from areas surrounding the presidential palace and army headquarters. Fierce battles were also reported in the adjoining cities of Omdurman and Bahri. Both sides seem to be fighting for control of territory in the capital ahead of possible negotiations, though the leaders of both factions have shown little willingness to hold talks after more than two weeks of fighting. The army said it killed RSF fighters and destroyed a number of vehicles belonging to the rebels in the Bahri military region. The RSF accused the army of breaching the ceasefire and attacking its forces.
Still on the conflict in Sudan, the UK completed its evacuation operation in Sudan on Thursday, rescuing over 2,300 people, including Britons, their dependents, Sudanese NHS staff, and other eligible nationalities. The last flight left Port Sudan on Wednesday, and the Foreign Office said no more would be running. In a similar development, Senegal also announced that it had evacuated around twenty of its nationals and Bissau-Guineans from Sudan. This number of evacuations continues to increase, as Nigeria also announced the evacuation of about 350 Nigerians stranded in Sudan.
In another development from East Africa, the UN World Food Programme reportedly halted food distribution in Ethiopia’s Tigray region after reports of significant amounts of aid being diverted. The US Agency for International Development had also reported discovering food intended for people in Tigray being diverted and sold. The WFP did not give details of the source of the reports, nor did it say who was responsible for the diversions or when they had taken place. The Tigray region has been affected by a two-year war between the federal government and forces led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which has killed tens of thousands of people and created famine-like conditions for hundreds of thousands.
In another development from Ethiopia, the first round of negotiations between the Ethiopian federal government and rebel group, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) which have been going on for nine days since Tuesday of last week in Tanzania’s semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar ended on Wednesday without any major breakthrough. The rebel groups have accused the government of marginalisation and neglect, leading to decades of conflict in which hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands displaced. However, the two sides expressed their commitment to continue engaging in dialogue to peacefully end the long-running conflict in the Oromia region.
On Wednesday, at least 130 people were reportedly killed in Rwanda’s northern and western provinces due to floods and landslides. The heavy rains, which hit at night, caused many houses to collapse and disrupted main roads in the area. Rwanda’s weather authority links the unusual rains seen in recent years to climate change. It is also reported that casualty numbers are expected to increase as floodwaters continue to rise and heavy rains are forecast to continue throughout May. Relief efforts, including evacuating residents from affected areas, have started, and Rwanda’s president has offered condolences to those affected. Deaths were also reported in neighbouring Uganda, where six people died due to landslides.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is expected to conduct a three-day trip to East Africa this week. During his visit, he is expected to discuss the conflict in Sudan, support for the peace process in Ethiopia, and cooperation on green hydrogen with Kenya. Scholz will also meet with Ethiopia’s prime minister and the interim leader of the Tigray region, as well as the African Union Commission Chairperson, to discuss global challenges such as climate change. He will also meet with the president of Kenya to discuss trade and other issues. Additionally, he will visit Africa’s biggest geothermal plant in Kenya, which is key to Kenya’s plans for producing green hydrogen.
In another development in West Africa, German troops have begun to withdraw from Mali as part of a plan to end their mission by May 2022. The German military has deployed about 1,000 troops in Mali, mainly near the town of Gao, to gather reconnaissance for the U.N. peacekeeping mission MINUSMA. Germany aims to withdraw some 1,300 container loads of equipment in the coming stages of the withdrawal while maintaining the troops’ means to fulfil their mission. The German government has also paved the way for a one-year extension of the mission until May 2024, subject to approval by parliament. This comes as the relationship between Mali and European countries, including Germany, has deteriorated due to disputes with the ruling military junta and the invitation of Russian-backed fighters.
In South Africa this week, there have been calls for Britain to return the world’s largest diamond, known as the Star of Africa, ahead of King Charles III’s coronation that is expected to be held on Saturday. The 530-carat diamond was discovered in South Africa in 1905 and presented to the British monarchy by the colonial government in the country, which was then under British rule. Some South Africans are calling for the diamond to be brought back, with an online petition gathering about 8,000 signatures.
On Wednesday, Morocco’s King Mohamed IV declared the Amazigh New Year as an official paid national holiday, following a long campaign by activists for the recognition of the calendar recognised by the Berber people. The approval shows the “king’s commitment to the Berber language, a fundamental part of Morocco’s authentic identity and a shared asset for all Moroccans,” the royal palace said. The Amazigh, who constitute around 40% of the country’s population of more than 34 million, celebrate the New Year, also known as Yennayer, based on seasons and agriculture, counting from when an Amazigh king defeated an Egyptian pharaoh 2972 years ago.