News in brief

By Oladipo Okubanjo March 25, 2021

NIGER

The West African nation looks set to see its first democratic transition of power next month, after a one-time Interior Minister, Mohamed Bazoum, won Niger’s second-round presidential vote.

Niger’s Electoral Commission announced that Bazoum, the ruling party candidate, had won 55.75 per cent of the total votes in the run-off on February 21, and would be sworn in as president of the coup-prone state next month.

The announcement was greeted by protest by Mahamane Ousmane, the opposition party candidate, who polled 44.25 per cent of the votes, according to the Electoral Commission.

Ousmane, a former president of Niger, claimed he won the contest with 50.3 per cent of the vote.

Allegations of fraud by his party sparked off violent demonstrations that claimed two lives and lead to more than 400 arrests.

Niger’s Interior Minister, Alkache Alhada, said that one of the deceased died as a result of an epileptic fit, while the other was gunned down.

He added that there was also destruction of publicly and privately owned property.

Bazoum has dismissed suggestions of a power-sharing arrangement with the opposition, accusing Ousmane’s party of luring children from rural areas to foment trouble in the wake of the presidential run-off.

The president-elect defended the integrity of elections in the Sahelian nation, telling Al Jazeera it was ‘impossible to cheat’ under Niger’s electoral system.

Speaking about the post-election violence, he told the news agency the unrest was caused by children, not protesters, adding: ‘They are thieves attacking Arabs and Tuaregs’ shops.’

A two-time Foreign Minister who was appointed Interior Minister in 2016, Bazoum is the first Arab to be elected president of Niger.

He said that Mahamadou Issofou, the country’s outgoing president, had persuaded him to enter the race.

‘He encouraged me to run for [the] presidency,’ Bazoum told Aljazeera.

‘I am proud because we succeeded twice to transfer a civilian governance to another civilian governance in a democratic system.

‘I am also very proud that people voted for a candidate from a small tribe and that means people in Niger are united and transcendent.

Some problems that face most of the African countries, such as tribalism, racism – thank God that we avoided those things.’

Bazoum told the news agency he plans to fight extremism in the West African country.

‘I have a programme to take soldiers from the local tribes in the region – from Gorane tribes, Arabs and the Kanuri – to train them and to hire them in the national army and the national guard.

‘When you have brave people from that region, they will become a force.’

 

ALGERIA

Two years after orchestrating the ousting of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria’s pro-democracy Hirak supporters have been protesting to remove his successor, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

Anti-government protesters defied Covid-19 protocols last month as they converged on several neighbourhoods in the capital Algiers, as well as other cities across the country, to demand far-reaching changes to the governance of the North African country.

The protests featured crowds displaying banners with inscriptions including

‘The people want the fall of the regime’, ‘Free and democratic Algeria’ and ‘Civil state, not military state’.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, beneficiary of the uprising that removed Bouteflika, had announced sweeping changes to his government prior to the protests.

He dissolved parliament, reshuffled his cabinet, called for early elections and announced pardons for detained pro-democracy activists.

 

RWANDA

The Rwandan businessman who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda, has been told he will stand trial for terrorism, following a court ruling on the matter last month.

Paul Rusesabagina’s lawyers had argued that the former hotelier, who saved thousands of Tutsis during the Rwandan Genocide, could not be tried in Rwanda because he was no longer a citizen of the country.

However, this was dismissed by the presiding judge.

Gatera Gashabana, attorney for Rusesabagana, has vowed to appeal the court decision.

‘We cannot go ahead with the hearing of the case without having our objection heard,’ he told Al Jazeera.

Rusesabagina, who holds Belgian citizenship, told the court that he left Rwanda in 1996 but was kidnapped and taken back to Rwanda, a statement the judged declared irrelevant.

He has been accused of supporting the armed wing of a political party that has claimed responsibility for attacks in Rwanda, and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

His family claims he has no chance of a fair trial, given his long-standing criticism of Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s long-time president, for alleged human rights’ abuses.

Rusesabagina is credited with saving more than 1,000 people after allowing desperate Tutsis to shelter at the Kigali hotel he managed.

More than 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus were killed in the 100-day-long genocide.

Rusesabagina’s role in saving Tutsi refugees has long been disputed by the Rwandan government.

 

MOZAMBIQUE

More than 27,000 people have been left stranded in Mozambique’s Boane district after heavy rains destroyed bridges, cut off roads and submerged hundreds of houses along the Umbeluzi River.

Jacinto Loureiro, a local councillor in Mozambique’s southern Boane district, said crops were also destroyed by the heavy rains.

Southern Mozambique is regularly battered by floods and hurricane-force winds between April and October.

However, this year’s deluge in Boana, 30km south of the capital Maputo, came early after the region was struck by two tropical storms in December and January.

Mozambique has suffered a number of deadly weather events in recent years.

Cyclones Idai and Kenneth killed more 1,000 people in 2019.

The deadly storms were said to be the worst natural disasters recorded in the country in the last two decades, with Cyclone Idai causing $2.2 billion worth of damage alone.

 

ERITREA

Amnesty International has accused troops from Eritrea of committing war crimes, following the killing of hundreds of people in the Ethiopian city of Axum in November 2020.

The ancient city and Unesco World Heritage Site is close to the war-torn Ethiopian region of Tigray, whose rebellious government has been engaged in armed conflict against both Eritrea and the federal government in Addis Ababa.

The Amnesty International report, released last month, stated that Eritrean troops had killed hundreds of civilians in a ‘coordinated and systematic’ manner in order ‘to terrorise the population into submission’.

Eritrean forces are alleged to have carried out extrajudicial executions and engaged in widespread looting, according to the 41 witnesses and survivors of the massacre, all ethnic Tigrayans, interviewed by Amnesty.

It added: ‘Eritrean and Ethiopian forces entered Axum, indiscriminately shelling the city and firing at those who tried to flee.

‘After the massacre, Eritrean forces detained hundreds of residents and threatened renewed killing if they encountered resistance.’

The governments in Ethiopia and Eritrea have denied any involvement by Eritrean forces in the conflict.

In January, the United States called for the immediate departure of soldiers from Eritrea from the restive Tigray region.

 

SENEGAL

The government has been accused of attempting to ‘liquidate’ a member of the opposition, after the MP was charged with rape.

Ousmane Sonko, who sits with the opposition in the Senegalese parliament, was stripped of his immunity by the legislature after he was accused of rape by a beautician.

Regarded as the most vocal opposition figure in Senegal, Sonko claimed there were irregularities in the process that led to the lifting of his immunity.

He denied the allegations and accused President Macky Sall of plotting against him.

The lawmaker confirmed visiting a salon for a massage to relieve his back pain, but said that the presence of two other people during the massage made rape impossible.

‘I explicitly accuse Macky Sall of fomenting this political plot against me,’ said Sonko. ‘If Macky Sall wants to get rid of me, he must, for once, agree to get his hands dirty.’

Sonko, aged 46, emerged as the second runner-up when President Sall won a second term in office in the 2019 elections in Senegal.

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