This Week In Africa 62323: Postponement of Mali’s constitutional referendum results; Zambia’s breakthrough in debt restructuring efforts; 50 Chinese were apprehended in Libya for an illicit cryptocurrency; ISIS Militants deadly attack in western Uganda; 11 candidates were approved to run in the upcoming Zimbabwe presidential elections; France is interested in attending the BRICS August summit in South Africa
Due to rising tensions, the release of Mali’s constitutional referendum results was postponed on Thursday. According to Mali’s Independent Election Management Authority (AIGE), the electoral law mandates that the results be made public by June 23. The Election Observation Mission in Mali (MODELE Mali) reported irregularities and incidents of violence during the vote, including the burning of election materials, closed polling places for safety reasons, and a terrorist attack in Bodio municipality. The referendum took place after Mali’s military junta expelled the leader of the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in February. Mali’s Foreign Minister accused MINUSMA of fueling inter-community tensions and requested their departure. The Malian government expressed dissatisfaction with MINUSMA’s actions, while Russia emphasised the importance of considering the host country’s opinion. MINUSMA’s mandate, established by the UN Security Council in 2013, will expire unless renewed by June 30.
On Monday, France announced its pledge to offer Tunisia 25.8 million euros to combat migrant boat crossings, supplementing the EU’s 105 million euro aid package. The funds will be used for equipment and training. Risky sea journeys have led to drownings and an influx of migrants to Italy, causing political tensions in Europe. Tunisia’s President emphasised not wanting to be Europe’s border guard but cracked down on sub-Saharan African migrants earlier, potentially increasing departures. France aims to minimise departures and has provided Tunisia with a list of people to repatriate. Tunisia’s struggling economy and fiscal crisis contribute to the rising number of migrants. The EU also offered Tunisia 1 billion euros if it agreed to IMF programme conditions.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Zambia reached a significant breakthrough in its debt restructuring efforts. The country struck a deal to restructure $6.3 billion of debt owed to foreign governments, including China. The agreement reached at a summit in Paris allows Zambia’s debt to be rescheduled over more than 20 years with a three-year grace period for interest payments only. The debt restructuring includes $1.3 billion in arrears, and private sector creditors are expected to follow suit with the $6.8 billion owed to them. During the pandemic, Zambia’s debt default in 2020 made it the first African country to default on its sovereign debt. The successful agreement with official creditors allows Zambia to receive a $188 million tranche from the International Monetary Fund, aiding the country’s economic recovery and poverty reduction efforts. The deal is a test case for a debt restructuring framework supported by the G20 nations.
In another development, on Friday, around 50 Chinese nationals were apprehended by Libyan authorities after a crackdown on an illicit cryptocurrency operation. Disturbing images released by the Tripoli prosecutor reveal cramped rooms filled with hardware and computers in Zliten. Additionally, 10 Chinese individuals were recently detained in the port city of Misrata for engaging in crypto-mining. Libya prohibited the production of virtual currencies in 2021. The country’s most appealing factor for miners is believed to be its low energy expenses.
In a horrific incident, militants affiliated with Islamic State carried out a deadly attack on a school in western Uganda near the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Sunday. According to the military, the assailants killed 37 people and abducted six others. Military personnel who arrived at the school discovered the victims’ bodies. The attackers, belonging to the rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), fled towards Virunga National Park in Congo. The exact number of schoolchildren among the casualties remains unclear. The ADF, which initiated its insurgency against President Yoweri Museveni in the 1990s, was primarily defeated by the Ugandan military. However, it has continued its activities in the eastern Congo, carrying out attacks in both the Congo and Uganda. This recent attack follows a similar incident in April, when the ADF attacked a village in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, resulting in the deaths of at least 20 people.
In another development, on Tuesday, Nigeria’s President, Bola Tinubu, made significant changes to the country’s defence forces, resulting in the removal of security chiefs and the head of police. The president immediately appointed new commanders for the defence, army, navy, and air forces. The decision was made to enhance security in the country, with Tinubu prioritising reforms and improvements to the sector. The move is common for new Nigerian presidents, who often reshuffle security leadership upon assuming office. Nigeria faces multiple security challenges, including fighting rebel groups, combating banditry, and addressing kidnappings for ransom. Tinubu aims to strengthen the military by increasing the recruitment of soldiers and police officers while improving their training, equipment, pay, and overall capabilities. Additionally, the president dissolved the governing boards of all government agencies, with new boards expected to be formed and approved by the legislature shortly.
In a tragic discovery on Friday, the South African government announced that around thirty suspected illegal miners were found dead in a disused mine in Welkom, South Africa. The victims, known as “zama zamas,” were illegal miners who entered abandoned mines to extract precious metals and stones. The incident likely occurred a month prior, and the exact cause of their deaths is still under investigation. Recovering the remaining bodies is challenging due to the high levels of methane gas, which pose risks to rescuers. Illegal mining is prevalent in South Africa’s former gold mining areas, often resulting in fatal incidents. Survivors are often reluctant to report such incidents due to fear of arrest by authorities. In a similar incident in November, the bodies of 21 illegal miners were discovered in another disused mine, indicating the movement of bodies between mines by illegal miners to ensure discovery.
In a historic move, Kenya announced it is launching Africa’s largest school meals programme to combat child malnutrition and address the “shame of hunger.” According to Save The Children, 26% of Kenyan children suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition. Starting August 28th, the programme will provide 400,000 daily lunches to children in 225 primary schools and Early Childhood Development centres in Nairobi. The initiative, a collaboration between Nairobi County and Food4Education, aims to feed children, create employment opportunities for 3,500 people, and support local farmers. The government has allocated $36 million to expand the national feeding programme, with plans to increase coverage to 4 million children. The programme recognises the link between nutrition and learning, as child hunger hampers education and impacts school enrollment and attendance.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission approved 11 candidates to run in the upcoming presidential elections in August. The decision came after widespread criticism of the exorbitant application fees imposed by the electoral body. Registration costs were raised to $20,000 for presidential candidates and $1,000 for parliamentary positions, which many opposition parties argued hindered democracy in a country where most people earn less than $300 a month. The approved candidates include incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa, his main rival Nelson Chamisa, and an exiled former government minister running independently. Due to the high registration fee, the number of candidates is half what it was in the previous elections. Notably, no female candidates were cleared to contest, and 10 hopefuls were rejected. The candidates have a four-day window to appeal the decision.
In another development, France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna announced on Monday that Paris had expressed its interest in attending the BRICS summit scheduled to take place in South Africa in August. Colonna mentioned that they are considering continuing the dialogue at the BRICS summit or through another format, emphasising that the decision ultimately rests with the concerned countries. BRICS, consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, is viewed by some as an alternative to the G7 group of developed nations, known for their criticism of China and Russia. South Africa currently holds the BRICS presidency.