90 seconds news round-up

By Adam Edwards February 03, 2021
Photo credit: Markus Wink, Splash. Photo credit: Markus Wink, Splash.

The latest Africa news, including Mauritius's feud with the UK, Guinea's election fallout and the Hague trial of an ex-CAR rebel leader.

Mauritius

Britain was dealt another defeat in its ongoing dispute with Mauritius over the Chagos Islands last month, after a UN court ruled that it has no sovereignty over the archipelago.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLS) criticised the UK’s failure to hand the isolated territory to Mauritius, following an earlier ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and a vote in the UN General Assembly that called on the UK to ‘decolonise’ the island chain by December 2019.

Officially referred to as the British Indian Ocean Territory, the archipelago was governed by Britain as part of Mauritius until Mauritian independence in 1968.

Speaking after the ruling, a spokesperson for the British Foreign Office said: ‘The UK has no doubt as to our sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), which has been under continuous British sovereignty since 1814. Mauritius has never held sovereignty over the BIOT and the UK does not recognise its claim.’

However, the Prime Minister of Mauritius, Pravind Jugnauth, said the judgement was ‘clear and unequivocal’, in an interview with the BBC, adding: ‘Mauritius is sovereign over the Chagos Archipelago.’

Though Britain refutes its former colony and Commonwealth ally’s claims over the Chagos Islands, it has repeatedly offered to cede the chain to Mauritius once it is no longer needed by the US military, which leases an air force base from Britain on the main atoll, Diego Garcia.

The strategically important base, used in air strikes against Afghanistan, was built by the US following a secret pact with the UK in the 1960s. As part of the agreement, Britain forcibly removed the small population living on Diego Garcia – dubbed ‘migrants’ despite having lived in the Chagos for generations – and resettled them in Mauritius.

Elderly Chagossians have campaigned for decades to return to Diego Garcia, but have been repeatedly refused permission, despite several court rulings to the contrary.

Though Mauritius is supportive of the islanders’ return to Diego Garcia, it is keen to placate Washington’s fears over the dispute. Prime Minister Jugnauth told the BBC: ‘The end of UK administration has no implications for the US military base at Diego Garcia, which Mauritius is committed to maintaining.’

 

Guinea

The fallout from Guinea’s bloody presidential elections is continuing, after opposition politician Oumar Sylla was sentenced to 11 months in prison late last month.

Convicted for ‘disturbing public order’, the outspoken critic of President Alpha Conde pledged to continue his fight against the disputed October 2020 ballot as he was led away from court.

Sylla was arrested in September 2020 during presidential campaigning. He claimed to have been knocked off a motorcycle and kidnapped by a group wearing civilian clothes, as well as one in uniform.

His conviction follows those earlier in the month of two other opposition figures, Souleymane Conde and Youssouf Dioubate, who were each sentenced to a year in prison for inciting an insurrection. They were also fined almost $2,000 each.

Hundreds of President Conde’s opponents have been arrested since the polls and are still in jail awaiting trial. Four opposition members have died while in detention, including Roger Bamba.

The government said the opposition spokesman died after an illness, but his family insisted he had been poisoned.

President Conde, who is 82 years old, won a third term in office after a change to Guinea’s constitution allowed him to side-step a two-term limit on power.

 

South Africa

The country’s highest court has ordered Jacob Zuma to appear before a corruption tribunal after the former South African president walked out of proceedings in November.

The anti-graft commission is investigating allegations of corruption and fraud between Zuma and several public and private companies.

South Africa’s Constitutional Court said in a judgement posted on Twitter that the commission has the power to compel witnesses to appear before it, and failure to obey would be a breach of law.

It added that the former president did not have a right to remain silent when called to give testimony.

The former African National Party (ANC) leader was ousted as president in a party coup in 2018, a year before his second term was due to end.

The inquiry was set up in the same year to investigate the corruption claims that overshadowed Zuma’s presidency.

 

Democratic Republic of Congo

The government has been plunged into turmoil after parliament passed a vote of no-confidence in the prime minister.

MPs in in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) voted to remove Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba in January, following a months-long power struggle between President Felix Tshisekedi and allies of his predecessor Joseph Kabila. Tshisekedi and his predecessor have headed a fragile coalition government since January 2019.

The departure of Ilunkamba – a key ally of the Kabila – provides President Tshisekedi with a chance to appoint loyalists to key ministries. The vote was boycotted by Kabila’s allies, who claimed the interim speaker of parliament did not have the authority to oversee a motion of no confidence under the constitution.

Joseph Kabila ruled the DRC for 18 years before being forced to cede both the presidency and a handful of senior government positions to the opposition in January 2019.

The son of former president Laurent-Desire Kabila, who was assassinated by a bodyguard in 2001, Kabila lost the December 2018 presidential vote to Tshisekedi, who had campaigned on a pledge to fight corruption, reduce inequalities and improve government.

Despite running the country together for two years, Tshisekedi has made it clear he thinks the agreement isn’t working, and blamed Kabila’s allies, who make up two-thirds of the 65-member coalition government, for thwarting reforms.

In response, the president is said to be in the process of launching a new political alliance, known as the Sacred Union, which will consist of up to 20 parties.

 

Nigeria

A Nigerian teenager jailed for insulting the Prophet Mohammed has had his conviction squashed.

The boy, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison last August for sending a ‘blasphemous’ WhatsApp group message, had his case overturned on January 21 by the appellate division of the Kano State High Court.

Judges threw out the conviction after it emerged the youngster, who claims to be 13, had not been given legal representation at his first trial.

A Sharia court had convicted Omar Farouq, whom it claimed was 17 years old, after the youngster allegedly used foul language that broke the state’s strict blasphemy regulations during an argument with a friend.

Blasphemy carries the death sentence under Kano State’s Sharia Penal Code.

In a separate judgment, the Kano court also overturned the death penalty handed out to music studio assistant Yahaya Sharif-Aminu for insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

The recording by the 22-year-old was widely shared on social media, causing outrage in the highly conservative, Muslim-majority state.

Sharif-Aminu’s case has been returned to the Sharia court for a retrial due to procedural irregularities. His lawyer Kola Alapinni said he would appeal the decision.

‘Both cases have similar facts and the same judge. Why is one defendant free and not the other?’ he told CNN.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International’s country director Osai Ojigho welcomed Farouq’s release, adding: ‘He should not have been convicted in the first [place].’

Like Alapinni, she rallied behind Sharif-Aminu, saying: ‘We reiterate our stance that Aminu Yahaya Shariff should be given a fair hearing.’

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has called on the Nigerian government to stop the retrial.

Worryingly for Sharif-Aminu, though, Kano’s State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, is reported to have told clerics in August that he would sign the singer’s death warrant as soon as he had exhausted the appeals process.

 

Central African Republic

A former rebel leader is due to stand trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. Mahamat Said Abdel Kani was arrested in the Bria region of the Central African Republic in January and flown to the Netherlands, where he is due to be tried for crimes against humanity.

Said, 50, was a commander of the Séléka militia group that overthrew President François Bozizé in 2013. His forces are accused of killing civilians during the assault on the capital, Bangui.

The Central African Republic has been consumed by violence since a coalition of mostly northern Muslim rebels, known as Séléka, toppled Bozizé in March 2013.

The brutal coup gave rise to several anti-Séléka Christian militias in the south of the country, some of whose leaders also face ICC charges.

Violence between rival Muslim and Christian militias has left thousands dead in the CAR and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Speaking before Said’s transfer to the Netherlands, the ICC’s Gambia-born prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said: ‘I welcome today’s transfer of the suspect, Mr Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, to face justice for his alleged crimes as charged before the ICC. My office will relentlessly pursue justice for the victims of atrocities in the Central African Republic, irrespective of which side of the conflict they may be on.’

Only a limited number of people will be allowed into the Dutch courtroom, due to on-going Covid-19 health measures in the country.

However, Said’s trial is expected to be broadcast live on the ICC website in French, English and Sango.

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