Africa Digest - May 2019

Sudan Cracks Down on Protestors

The Sudanese military regime cracked down on pro-democracy protestors on June 3, ending civilian protests against the regime that began in December last year. Over 115 people were killed when soldiers attacked a protest site and rampaged through Khartoum. The Central Committee of Sudan Doctors said 40 bodies were pulled out of the Nile, while a large number of women protestors were raped. The government admitted 61 deaths.  

The protests had led the regime to push out long-reigning dictator Omar al-Bashir. When the demonstrators had pushed for full civilian rule, the military had played for time and then launched the present crack down. 

A number of reports said that the military regime had become emboldened after it won the support Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates for the crackdown. UAE military vehicles were seen on the streets of Khartoum. The army commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, known as “Hemeti,” who led the assault on the demonstrators had reportedly flown to the Persian Gulf emirates beforehand. The UAE and Saudi Arabia immediately pledged $ 3 billion in assistance in Sudan. 

The UAE and Saudi Arabia, both monarchies, have positioned themselves as the primary opponents to popular protests in the Arab world, fuelled by their memories of the earlier Arab Spring. Sudanese troops are also fighting in Yemen to support the Sunni Arab states proxy war against Iranian-backed Shia groups. Initially the three Arab governments pretended to support the demonstrations, while quietly providing support and advice to the Sudanese military as to how to regain control. Despite some critical tweets by US National Security Advisor John Bolton, Washington has remained largely quiet about the crackdown, a sign of the Trump administration’s general passivity to large-scale human rights violations. The African Union suspended Sudan’s membership, demanding a return to civilian rule.

Sudan Protesters, Devastated but Defiant, Regroup Underground After Crackdown

African bloc suspends Sudan, demanding end to military rule

Ramaphosa Wins in South Africa

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress successfully cruised to another national electoral victory in early May, confirming Cyril Ramaphosa as the country’s president. Ramaphosa had come to power after corruption scandals had triggered an intra-party revolt against his predecessor, Jacob Zuma. 

Ramaphosa faced dissent from Zuma’s supporters within his party, and electoral opposition from the white-dominated Democratic Alliance and a radical leftwing party, the Economic Freedom Fighters. In the end, the ANC secured 58 per cent of the vote, five percentage points less than it had last time. 

The new South African president faces a number of challenges, most notably a stagnant economy and 40 percent unemployment among South African blacks. The EFF, campaigning on a platform of land seizure and redistribution, doubled its vote percentage to 10 largely at the expense of the ANC. While hardly representing a threat to the ANC’s political hegemony, the EFF’s presence is a reminder of the economic disenchantment of many of the majority black population. 

Ramaphosa is expected to begin to carry out major, and painful, reforms to the South African economy, especially in terms of making Africa’s most advanced country more hospitable to business. He will face an additional problem: Zuma supporters dominate the bureaucracy and party leadership and have already shown a willingness to undermine the new president’s authority. 

The corruption trial of Zuma, meanwhile, entered a critical week with the ex-South African leader waiting for the court to decide on his plea that all the charges against him be dismissed. 

In another political development in Africa, the results of Malawi’s tightly contested presidential elections were delayed through a court ruling after the opposition alleged voter irregularities. The incumbent President Peter Mutharika was expected to be reelected if only because two other candidates, and a host of smaller ones, were expected to split the opposition vote between them.

What’s behind the shifts in South Africa’s latest election?

Six things to know as Jacob Zuma’s corruption case returns to court on Monday

What the ANC’s Election Win Means for South Africa

Malawi election results delayed after injunction over alleged irregularities

Facebook Takes Down Fake Accounts

Hundreds of fake Facebook and Instagram accounts were removed by Facebook after they were found to be vehicles for social media attacks in election campaigns in Africa and elsewhere. Facebook said the accounts were operated by an Israeli marketing firm, Archimedes Group, and had been used to influence elections in Nigeria, Senegal, Togo and Algeria as well as nine other countries outside Africa. 

Facebook said the accounts has been used to disseminate false information during the campaigns, including defamatory material against candidates. The accounts had also posed as fact checkers and local news organisations. The accounts had a combined following of three million people. Archimedes is believed to have spent $ 800,000 on the campaigns. 

Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab, which had been informed by Facebook beforehand, had determined that the main opposition candidate in the recent Nigerian elections, Atiku Abubakar, had been one of the targets. 

Little is known about Archimedes other than the fact it is linked to a controversial Israeli marketing agency, Grey Content. The group has now been banned from these and other social media platforms. How much damage was inflicted may never be known as the firm seems to have been working since 2012 but used servers in many different countries for its operations.

Meanwhile, Somalia announced a nationwide ban on social media in mid-May in an attempt to stop cheating during its national exams. The Somali government had discovered that copies of the exam papers were being shared and distributed online. Other African governments, such as Ethiopia, have carried out similar bans during examinations. 

As a reminder of the difficulties Africa will continue to have when it comes to digital rights, Ranking Digital Rights 2019 report criticized South African telecom giant MTN on its lack of transparency regarding what it does with its customers’ personal data. The report noted that MTN “divulges very little on how it handles personal data and lacks strong governance mechanisms over human rights issues.”

Removing Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior From Israel

Inauthentic Israeli Facebook Assets Target the World

Facebook Busts Israeli Campaign to Disrupt Elections in African, Asian and Latin American Nations

Insiders Insight: Facebook busts Israeli fake news firm targeting Africa

Somalia will turn off social media access to stop high school exam cheating

Africa’s biggest mobile operator is struggling to protect its users’ digital rights

Africa Leads War on Plastic

Africa is the world leader in banning single-use plastic bags with, at last count, 34 countries on the continent having put a ban on this latest environmental villain.
Tanzania, for example, is now forcing tourists to leave bags at the airport when they arrive. Some African countries insist foreign visitors must leave with any Ziploc bags that they bring to their country. Kenya is rated to have the world’s strictest laws on the use of plastic with violators facing fines of $ 38,000 or four years in prison. Rwanda is aiming to be the world’s first plastic-free nation and its policies are one reason Kigali was designated Africa’s cleanest city by the United Nations. 

A UN environmental study concluded that plastic bag bags were having a positive impact, notably in reducing toxin pollution caused by burning plastic waste, and that such bans were proving especially effective in Africa. 

Africa is leading the world in plastic bag bans

Plastic bag bans can help reduce toxic fumes

Belt, Road and Science

One of the less known aspects of the Chinese-led Belt Road Initiative is its plans for joint scientific centres between China and various African countries. The Joint Sino-African Research Centre between the Chinese Academy of Science and Jomo Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya, is the first of a number of envisaged centres. The Kenya centre is expected to serve as the headquarters for several other such centres ranging from Guinea to Madagascar. Most of these centres will focus on biological and agricultural research. 

As part of the programme, China is hosting thousands of African college and postgraduate students. In 2016, 62,000 African students were in China. Only France has a larger number of African students. 

Microsoft, in a private initiative, confirmed its plans to spend $ 100 million to set up software development centres in Africa. Its first centres will open up in Lagos, Nigeria, and Nairobi, Kenya, later this year and will initially employ 100 full-time developers. The centres will work on artificial intelligence, machine learning and mixed reality innovation. The US technology giant launched two data centres in South Africa this year with Amazon Web Services planning to open up a centre in Africa next year. Huawei, the controversial Chinese telecom hardware giant, announced plans to set up two such centres in Africa. 

Chinese investments fuel growth in African science

Microsoft is making a $100 million bet on African developers

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About the Author

Pramit Pal Chaudhury

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Foreign Editor, Hindustan Times, and Distinguished Fellow & Head, Strategic Affairs, Ananta Aspen Centre

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri writes on political, security, and economic issues. He previously wrote for the Statesman and the Telegraph in Calcutta. He served on the National Security Advisory Board of the Indian government from 2011-2015. Among other affiliations, he is a member of the Asia Society Global Council, the Aspen Institute Italia, the International Institute of Strategic Studies, and the Mont Pelerin Society. Pramit is also a senior associate of Rhodium Group, New York City, advisor to the Bower Group Asia in India, a member of the Council on Emerging Markets, Washington, DC, and a delegate for the Confederation of Indian Industry-Aspen Strategy Group Indo-U.S. Strategic Dialogue and the Ananta Aspen Strategic Dialogues with Japan, China and Israel. Born in 1964, he has visited over fifty countries on five continents. Mr. Pal Chaudhuri is a history graduate from Cornell University.