This Week In Africa 61823: Mali referendum on constitutional amendments; Sudan rejects Kenya’s chairmanship of crisis committee; ICC to investigate allegations of war crimes in eastern DR Congo; Sierra Leone’s 2023 presidential election; Nigeria’s central bank unifies exchange rates, and Eritrea rejoins IGAD after 16 years

As part of its democratic transition, Mali is preparing for a crucial referendum on Sunday to decide on proposed constitutional amendments that would grant more powers to the president. The amendments are part of a larger plan to transition the country from military rule to democracy. However, the referendum was initially postponed by three months due to logistical issues. Now, the vote will test the junta’s commitment and ability to conduct elections in a country grappling with militant groups in its northern and central regions. Widespread frustration over rising insecurity led to two military coups in 2020 and 2021. Despite this, the junta has struggled to address the insurgency or improve living conditions in Mali, which remains one of the world’s poorest nations. Therefore, with no clear consensus emerging, the outcome of Sunday’s vote remains uncertain. In other news, the interim military authorities have demanded the withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping force, MINUSMA, due to a “crisis of confidence” with Malian authorities. The Malian government accused MINUSMA of worsening inter-community tensions and called for its immediate departure.

In a diplomatic row, Sudan rejected Kenya’s chairmanship of the Sudan crisis committee within the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) due to concerns over Kenya’s neutrality. The Sudanese foreign ministry on Friday cited statements by senior Kenyan officials and the behaviour of the Kenyan government, suggesting that Kenya supports the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and provides them with assistance. On the contrary, Kenya claims it has not received any formal communication regarding the rejection. It defends President William Ruto’s appointment as head of the delegation, emphasising that it was a collective agreement. President Ruto has previously criticised the war in Sudan and engaged with representatives from the Sudanese army and RSF in Nairobi. Nevertheless, clashes between the two factions continue, and Sudan’s rejection poses a setback to the mediation process led by President Ruto and the IGAD delegation. The region awaits further developments and hopes for a resolution to the conflict.

In a move to seek justice, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced its intention to investigate allegations of war crimes committed by armed groups in the volatile eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The DRC government has made a second formal referral to the ICC, requesting an investigation into the latest reported crimes. ICC prosecutor Karim Khan stated that a preliminary examination would be conducted promptly to determine whether the situations referred to by the DRC government are sufficiently linked to constitute a single case. The DRC accuses the M23 rebel group of carrying out attacks in the North Kivu province, which is rich in minerals, and claims that Rwanda supports the Tutsi-led militia. Rwanda denies any involvement in the violence. In previous cases, the ICC has convicted three former militia leaders, including Bosco “Terminator” Ntaganda, for crimes committed in the DRC.

In other news, the opposition presidential candidate in Sierra Leone, Samura Kamara, has demanded the resignation of the electoral commission ahead of the June 24th presidential elections. President Julius Maada Bio of the ruling SLPP party is running for a second term. Kamara stated that the SLPP’s goal is not to conduct free and fair elections and demanded that an independent team replace the electoral commissioners. The country is voting in presidential, parliamentary, and local elections on June 24th. Kamara is currently on trial for corruption, and if convicted, he cannot stand for election or hold office in the state.

In a bid to end the conflict, on Friday, a delegation comprising African leaders and officials arrived in Kyiv, Ukraine, to facilitate dialogue between the conflicting parties and promote peace. The delegation, which includes the presidents of South Africa, Senegal, Zambia, and the Comoros Islands, first visited Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv that witnessed civilian casualties during the previous year’s conflict. South Africa’s neutrality in the conflict has attracted scrutiny, particularly regarding allegations of arms and ammunition shipments to Russia, which the government has denied. Additionally, the delegation also includes senior officials from Egypt and the Congo. Their agenda encompasses discussions on initiating a peace process, exploring trade opportunities, addressing humanitarian needs, and fostering regional stability. However, this visit coincides with Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian forces in occupied areas, while efforts to address the aftermath of recent flooding in the Kherson region are ongoing.

Meanwhile, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is set to visit eight African countries starting in August to strengthen political and economic ties with the continent. The planned visits to Angola, Mozambique, Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sao Tomé and Principe, and others are part of President Lula da Silva’s efforts to enhance Brazil’s cooperation with Africa as part of his South-South integration strategy. The first tour is expected to coincide with the BRICS Summit in South Africa, while the second trip may align with the African Union Summit in February 2024. Furthermore, Brazil also intends to reopen its embassy in Sierra Leone and establish diplomatic representation in Rwanda. The relationship between Africa and Brazil has faced challenges due to Brazil’s internal economic and political crisis since 2014, leading to a decline in trade between the two regions. President Lula da Silva aims to revitalise and expand economic cooperation during these upcoming visits.

In other news, John Fru Ndi, a prominent opposition figure and long-time opponent of Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, passed away at 81. Fru Ndi, the founder and president of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) party, died Monday evening in Yaoundé after a prolonged illness. He ran against President Biya in the 1992, 2004, and 2011 presidential elections. Fru Ndi hailed from the English-speaking region of Cameroon and was a significant voice for the opposition. Reports of his deteriorating health circulated in recent months, with rumours of him undergoing surgery in Switzerland before returning to Cameroon. During his absence, he entrusted his party’s presidency to his vice president, Joshua Osih.

In a controversial move, lawmakers in Zimbabwe upheld a decision on Wednesday to impose substantial fees for presidential and parliamentary candidates to appear on the ballot in the upcoming elections. Candidates for president will be charged $20,000, while those running for parliament will have to pay $1,000. The fees, denominated in U.S. dollars, mark a 20-fold increase from the previous elections. The ruling ZANU-PF party argued that the policy would ensure that only strong candidates participated. However, despite opposition from the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), which argued that the fees undermine the right to stand for office, the measure was approved by Parliament. Zimbabwe is set to hold its presidential and parliamentary elections on August 23 amidst an ongoing economic crisis. President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who came to power in 2018 following the removal of Robert Mugabe, will seek a second term, with lawyer and pastor Nelson Chamisa, who leads the CCC, as his main rival.

On Wednesday, the Central Bank of Nigeria took significant steps towards liberalising foreign exchange trading, which led to a devalued Naira rate. In a statement, the central bank announced that all foreign exchange trading would now occur at its Investors and Exporters (I&E) window, reintroducing the “willing buyer, willing seller” model. The operational rate for government-related FX transactions will be determined by the weighted average of the preceding day’s executed trades, while order-based, two-way quotes cleared by a central counterparty will be reintroduced. Following the announcement, Nigeria’s dollar-denominated sovereign bonds experienced significant gains, with one issuance maturing in 2033 and reaching its highest level in nearly five months. Market experts view these measures as positive for Nigerian assets, although there may be increased pressure on the currency going forward.

In another development, on Monday, Eritrea announced its re-entry into the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in Eastern Africa (IGAD), a regional East African bloc it left 16 years ago. The decision to rejoin IGAD was confirmed by Eritrea’s Information Minister, Yemane Meskel, who stated that Eritrea participated in the 14th Ordinary Summit in Djibouti. The exact reason behind the decision was not provided, but Eritrea expressed its intention to collaborate with other IGAD members in promoting peace and stability in the region. Under President Isaias Afwerki’s leadership, Eritrea has been involved in conflicts and faced sanctions for alleged human rights abuses. However, in recent years, Eritrea has taken steps to mend regional relationships, including signing a peace deal with Ethiopia, normalising relations with Djibouti and Somalia, and strengthening ties with Kenya.

Writer and researcher at Alafarika for Studies and Consultancy.

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