Africa This Week 51223: EU’s $10 million pledge to Liberia’s election; Zambia’s “economic diplomacy”; US-South Africa foreign policy crisis over Russia

This is another Alafarika’s weekly news brief, where we look at some of the top news stories making headlines across the African continent. There’s plenty to catch up on, from political developments, diplomatic crises, and security concerns to cultural events and economic updates.

This is another Alafarika’s weekly news brief, where we look at some of the top news stories making headlines across the African continent. There’s plenty to catch up on, from political developments, diplomatic crises, and security concerns to cultural events and economic updates.

Here are some key stories from this week’s news in Africa:

We begin with news from Liberia: the European Union (EU) pledged $10 million towards the 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections in the country on Thursday to strengthen the capacity of the National Elections Commission (NEC). The funding is expected to overcome hurdles in the pending elections and is channelled through the United Nations Development Programme and the Liberia Elections Support Project. The EU Head of Delegation to Liberia, Laurent Delahousse, expressed confidence in the NEC’s ability to conduct free, fair, credible, and transparent elections. Also, the EU support will cover observation missions to ensure the credibility of the elections.

In Kenya, the authorities confirmed on Thursday that several lives have been claimed by a mysterious disease outbreak in Marsabit County, northern Kenya, over the past two weeks. It was reported that nine people have died and over 80 others have fallen seriously ill due to a mysterious disease outbreak. The affected individuals have exhibited flu-like symptoms, including severe headaches, swollen spleens, and yellowing of the eyes. In other news, President William Ruto conducted a two-day official visit to Israel, where he signed a deal with the country on Friday. The deal is expected to allow Kenya to supply premium tea and coffee at the same price as second- or third-class tea to Israel starting June 5. The Israeli market is expected to double local farmers’ incomes from avocado and pineapple exports. The two countries also agreed to remove trade barriers, including reviewing the bilateral air services agreement.

In Zambia, President Hakainde Hichilema called for “economic diplomacy” during a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday. He cited the need for dramatic action in the meeting to lift Africa from underdevelopment. The restructuring of Zambia’s debt was among the top issues discussed, with Hichilema emphasising the importance of investment and trade opportunities. Zambia, a top producer of copper, is shifting towards value addition and processing materials in the country in joint ventures with others. Western countries have been courting Hichilema since his election, with France seeing Zambia as an important partner in the region. Hichilema hopes that Paris will help resolve the debt restructuring issue so that resources can be devoted to development.

In other news, the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tschiskédi, kicked off a state visit to Botswana on Tuesday, May 9. His visit is aimed at deepening bilateral cooperation and discussing continental integration. During the visit, he commented on the upcoming deployment of SADC troops to the DRC and criticised the actions of contingents belonging to the EAC force. The visit comes after a special summit of the SADC, which agreed to deploy forces to help quell violence in the eastern DRC. Tschiskédi confirmed that his country would work to organise the coming of SADC troops while criticising contingents already deployed in his country, specifically the East African Community forces.

On a different note, a Senegalese opposition figure, Ousmane Sonko, said he would refuse to cooperate with the judicial authorities if they could not guarantee his safety. He claims he is the victim of a plot to prevent him from running in the 2024 elections. The next day, Monday, May 8, Sonko received a six-month suspended sentence in an appeal of a defamation case that could harm his bid for the presidency in 2024. The sentence was increased from two months suspended in March. However, Sonko claimed that the charges were a plot by President Macky Sall to thwart his candidature in the 2024 election. However, on Tuesday, the Senegal opposition coalition said it would stage rallies over the threat to bar one of its sonko from presidential elections after he was convicted in a defamation case.

In Burundi, where the country’s former Prime Minister, Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni, appeared in court on Monday, he was accused of insulting the president and undermining national security. He has been in pre-trial detention since his arrest last month, with charges including illegal possession of weapons and personal enrichment. Bunyoni was regarded as the regime’s number two and the leader of the hardliners among the generals during the 2015 political crisis.

The Central Bank of Zimbabwe introduced a digital token backed by gold as legal tender this Monday. The apex bank claimed the move was to stabilise the Zimbabwean dollar and protect citizens from currency fluctuations. The gold-backed digital tokens will be electronic money backed by Zimbabwe’s gold reserves held by the Central Bank. The intention is to allow Zimbabwean dollar holders to exchange their currency for gold-backed tokens, offering protection against the volatility of the local currency. In other news, the southern African country discovered oil and gas deposits during exploration in the northern Cabora Bassa region on Tuesday, May 9. Mud gas samples collected from the Upper Angwa reservoir during the drilling of the Mukuyu-1 well showed “light oil” and “very rich gas,” according to Invictus Energy, an Australian firm. The sample also showed a consistent, high-quality natural gas composition containing low levels of carbon dioxide and helium. The discovery of oil and gas is vital for Zimbabwe, which has recently channelled resources into the mining sector to boost its economic growth.

It’s worth noting that on Monday, a Nigerian court commenced hearings for multiple lawsuits filed by the opposition challenging the ruling party’s triumph in the country’s February presidential election. The lawyers representing the opposition parties argued that the election was flawed. At the same time, some protesters outside the court displayed placards and alleged that the electoral process was marred with irregularities, demanding the halt of the inauguration of the winner. The two main opposition candidates rejected the result, questioning the qualifications of the winner, Bola Tinubu, and alleging that the results were tampered with. The court challenge is expected to last for months and may continue beyond the May 29 inauguration of Tinubu as president.

Turning to a different story. On Wednesday, an anti-government protest in Guinea was met with killings and also left about 32 wounded during demonstrations in Conakry and other cities. Police in riot gear clashed with demonstrators who threw rocks and burned tyres. Small-scale protests also took place in Nzerekore and Dabola. The military government seized power in 2021 and has faced several protests from civil society and concerned citizens. The government had earlier proposed a two-year transition to democracy in October, down from a three-year timeline earlier rejected by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

In a recent development in South Africa, the US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, accused the country of supplying weapons to Russia despite its neutrality claims in the war in Ukraine. Brigety claimed a Russian ship was loaded with ammunition and arms in Cape Town last December. The South African government announced an independent inquiry into the allegations, led by a retired judge. The US has previously raised concerns about South Africa’s continued relationship with Russia and its participation in military exercises with Russia and China. If the claims are true, they weaken South Africa’s claim of neutrality and raise questions about its international ties, particularly with the US.

Writer and researcher at Alafarika for Studies and Consultancy.

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