Africa This Week (27/04/2024)

On Sunday, Egypt welcomed back a significant artefact, a 3,400-year-old statue portraying the head of King Ramses II, after it was stolen and smuggled out of the country over three decades ago. The statue, originally from the Ramses II temple in Abydos, Southern Egypt, was identified when it was put up for sale in London in 2013 and subsequently traced through several countries before reaching Switzerland. Egyptian authorities, collaborating with Swiss counterparts, established ownership rights, leading to the statue’s return to the Egyptian embassy in Bern last year. The artifact will undergo restoration before being displayed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. King Ramses II, also known as Ramses the Great, is revered as one of ancient Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs, ruling from 1279 to 1213 B.C.

The United Nations on Friday expressed concern over a potential imminent attack on al-Fashir in Sudan’s North Darfur region, amidst escalating tensions between the Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Al-Fashir stands as the last major city in Darfur not under RSF control, with reports indicating encirclement by RSF, hinting at a coordinated assault. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urges all parties to refrain from violence, with envoy Ramtane Lamamra working to de-escalate. The fight for al-Fashir could exacerbate ethnic tensions and extend beyond Sudan’s borders, with the U.S. urging an immediate halt to attacks.

Also on Friday, the World Bank announced a $57.6 million grant to Malawi to address a food crisis exacerbated by El Niño conditions in southern Africa. Intense disasters in recent years have hindered recovery efforts, leading to a significant deterioration in national food security.

The United States said it is set to temporarily withdraw some of its troops from Chad, following a directive to halt activities at an air base near the capital. This move comes shortly after a similar decision to remove troops from neighbouring Niger. Pentagon spokesperson Major General Patrick Ryder stated on Thursday that the withdrawal is part of a security cooperation review with Chad, with plans to resume after the country’s upcoming presidential election on May 6. The withdrawal involves a few dozen special forces troops relocating to Germany for the time being. Chad’s interim president, Mahamat Idriss Deby, is a candidate in the election, raising concerns about its credibility among opposition groups.

Benin, Liberia, and Sierra Leone launched large-scale malaria vaccine programs on Thursday as part of an Africa-focused initiative to save tens of thousands of children’s lives annually across the continent. This initiative follows successful rollouts of routine malaria immunization in other African countries. The World Health Organization-approved vaccine is intended to complement existing tools like bed nets in the fight against malaria, which claims the lives of nearly half a million African children under five each year. GAVI, the global vaccine alliance, provided details on vaccine distribution, with Benin, Sierra Leone, and Liberia receiving doses. At the official launch in Benin, 25 children received the vaccine, with parents expressing the importance of malaria prevention. The African region, home to 11 countries bearing 70% of the global malaria burden, stands to benefit significantly from this initiative.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) on Friday reported that in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, over 4.1 million children are unable to attend school due to armed conflict, drought, and related issues, accounting for over 35% of registered students. The report also highlights the urgent need for school feeding services and scholastic materials for more than 1.5 million children. Additionally, over 56,000 teachers require psycho-social support. Elsewhere, clashes between Afar and Somali-Issa communities have caused casualties and displacement, exacerbating challenges in already affected areas. Peace talks are underway, but seasonal floods, drought, and a cholera outbreak hinder progress. In other regions, like Oromia, IDPs face dire conditions, including limited access to education and health services. Despite pledges totaling USD 600 million for humanitarian aid, the escalating crisis requires further international support to address the urgent needs of millions affected in Ethiopia.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Thursday that Burkina Faso’s military summarily executed approximately 223 villagers, including 56 children, in February, alleging collaboration with jihadist militants. The executions occurred in attacks on three villages in the northern Yatenga province. Although a regional prosecutor acknowledged the killings, the Burkina Faso government and Ministry of Defence did not comment on HRW’s report. The attacks were attributed to unidentified assailants, and no official findings have been released. This incident adds to previous accusations of the military targeting civilians suspected of collaboration with militants. HRW’s report, based on interviews and verified footage, details soldiers’ door-to-door killings and the compilation of victim lists by survivors. HRW calls for an independent investigation with support from the African Union and United Nations. Burkina Faso, like other Sahel nations, faces Islamist insurgencies, leading to significant civilian casualties and displacement.

Britain’s King Charles this week granted royal assent to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, a pivotal component of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s initiative to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda. This finalizes the legislative process following parliament’s approval earlier in the week, concluding a contentious debate between the government and opponents of the plan. The announcement of royal assent occurred in the House of Lords on Thursday, officially enacting the bill into law. With parliamentary approval secured in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Sunak anticipates the commencement of asylum seeker flights to Rwanda within 10 to 12 weeks.

The World Bank has halted new disbursements from a $150 million fund to expand a national park in southern Tanzania following allegations of misconduct by park rangers. Accusations include extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, evictions, torture, and cattle seizures against local villagers. These claims prompted the World Bank on Wednesday to immediately suspend further funding. While the Tanzanian government denies the allegations, it has initiated an investigation. The suspended final tranche of the loan amounts to $25 million. Criticism of government-led tourism initiatives in Tanzania, particularly regarding human rights violations such as forced evictions, has been ongoing. Reports have surfaced accusing park rangers of sexual violence, suggesting local communities bear the costs of generating tourism revenues. The government defends tourism expansion as vital for economic growth and claims to have compensated those affected by evictions fairly. The World Bank project, approved in 2017, is slated to conclude in February 2025.

Kenya’s government on Thursday urged caution regarding a complete ban on TikTok, despite concerns over the platform’s content. Instead, authorities are proposing stricter oversight through regulatory measures. A parliamentary panel has been considering a petition to ban the Chinese-owned app due to allegations of propaganda, fraud, and explicit material dissemination. Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communication suggests implementing a co-regulation framework, requiring TikTok to screen content for compliance with Kenyan laws and submit quarterly reports on removed material. ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, has not yet responded to these proposals. However, it has previously defended its stance on user privacy amid global criticisms. TikTok has faced regulatory scrutiny in several countries, including Italy, where fines were imposed for inadequate content checks. In the United States, the Senate passed legislation aiming to ban TikTok if ByteDance does not divest within nine to twelve months.

Writer and researcher at Alafarika for Studies and Consultancy.

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