Africa This Week: A military drone targeting insurgents in Nigeria’s Kaduna state killed and injured civilians; U.S. announced new visa restrictions for Ugandan and Zimbabwean officials accused of undermining democracy and repressing marginalized groups; Mauritania’s former president sentenced to five years in prison; Mali and Niger announced revocation of two tax treaties with France; Trial of experimental HIV vaccine in Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa stopped after preliminary data suggested it would not be effective, and others
This is another Alafarika’s weekly news brief, where we look at some of the top news stories making headlines across the African continent.
A military drone attack targeting insurgents and bandits in Nigeria’s northern Kaduna state on Sunday night killed and injured many civilians who were celebrating a Muslim festival, the state governor and witnesses said on Monday. The governor said the attack was a mistake, and the army said it was on a routine mission against terrorists. A religious leader said at least 50 people died, and two villagers said over 80 were buried. The Air Force denied involvement in the operation. Nigeria’s military has been fighting Islamist insurgents in the northeast and armed criminal gangs in other parts of the country.
The U.S. on Monday announced new visa restrictions for Ugandan and Zimbabwean officials who are accused of undermining democracy and repressing marginalized groups in their countries. The U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said the policy targets those involved in policies or actions against environmental activists, human rights defenders, journalists, LGBTQI+ persons, and civil society organizers. The U.S. had previously imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials after the passage of an anti-LGBTQ law that carries the death penalty and after the 2021 elections that were deemed flawed. The new policy also affects those who undermine the democratic process in Zimbabwe, including in the upcoming 2023 elections. Blinken did not name any specific officials in his statements.
Torrential rains triggered floods and landslides in northern Tanzania over the weekend, killing 63 people and injuring 116 others, the prime minister said on Monday. The disaster affected 1,150 households and destroyed 750 acres of farmland in Hanang district. The president cut short her trip to a climate summit in Dubai to oversee the response. The floods and landslides are part of a series of extreme weather events that have hit East Africa since October, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and killing at least 154 in neighboring Kenya. Climate change is blamed for causing more intense and frequent floods and droughts in the region.
Mauritania’s former president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, was sentenced to five years in prison on Tuesday for money laundering and “illicit enrichment.” He was found guilty of two of 10 charges after a corruption inquiry into his decade-long rule. He denied the allegations, and his lawyer said the verdict was political. Abdel Aziz came to power in a 2008 coup and was an ally of Western powers fighting Islamist militants in the Sahel region. He was succeeded in 2019 by a political ally, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, who remains president. Abdel Aziz can appeal his sentence to the Supreme Court.
Mali and Niger announced on Tuesday the revocation of two tax treaties with France that date back to 1972. The treaties were meant to avoid double taxation and provide reciprocal assistance in tax matters. The two West African countries, which are both run by military juntas, said the treaties were unbalanced and caused a considerable shortfall for them. They also accused France of having a persistently hostile attitude toward them. The move is seen as a sign of deteriorating relations between the former colonies and their former colonial ruler, which had been a close partner in security and other areas. France has not yet reacted to the decision.
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused members of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of committing war crimes in Sudan. He said he made the determination based on the State Department’s analysis of the law and facts. Sudan has been facing a surge of violence and displacement since April, when clashes between the army and the RSF broke out. Blinken said the U.S. would continue to support the Sudanese people and the civilian-led transitional government.
A West African court on Thursday dismissed a case by Niger’s military junta that sought to lift the sanctions imposed by the regional ECOWAS bloc after a coup in July. The court ruled that the junta was not a recognized government and could not represent Niger. The sanctions, which included border closures and power cuts, have caused hardships and reduced the budget of the country, one of the world’s poorest. The junta has also revoked security pacts with the EU and France and canceled two tax treaties with France. ECOWAS leaders are expected to review the situation in Niger at a summit on Sunday.
On Friday, Britain paid Rwanda an extra 100 million pounds ($126 million) in April to relocate asylum seekers to the East African country, bringing the total cost of the controversial scheme to 240 million pounds. The plan, which is part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s strategy to deter illegal migrants, has faced legal challenges and has not yet moved any asylum seekers to Rwanda. The policy has also sparked a political crisis for Sunak, who lost his immigration minister this week over the issue. The new minister for legal migration, Tom Pursglove, defended the payments to Rwanda, saying they would help its development and reduce the cost of housing asylum seekers in the UK. He also said the payments were not linked to a treaty the two countries signed on Tuesday to address human rights concerns raised by Britain’s Supreme Court. Sunak appealed to his party to unite behind his Rwanda plan and said he would introduce emergency legislation to get it up and running.
A trial of an experimental HIV vaccine in Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa was reportedly stopped this week after preliminary data suggested it would not be effective in preventing infection, according to the trial’s chief investigator. The trial, part of a wider initiative called PrEPVacc, began in December 2020 and enrolled 1,512 healthy adults at high risk of HIV. It was testing two different combinations of experimental HIV vaccines and a new form of oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a drug that reduces the risk of getting HIV. The PrEP part of the trial is ongoing. The trial’s failure is the latest setback to efforts to find an effective vaccine against a virus that has killed about 40 million people globally and infected another 39 million, mostly in Africa. Another HIV vaccine trial in South Africa was terminated in 2020 for the same reason. The trial’s chief investigator said the results showed how challenging it was to develop an HIV vaccine.