Posts filed under ‘Africa’
Obama African Visit No. 4.
President Barack Obama heads to East Africa this week for his fourth visit to the continent where his father was born.
Travel to Kenya, his father’s homeland, is on the president’s schedule. He will be attending the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Kenya. It marks the first time the gathering of entrepreneurs and leaders from business, international organizations and governments will take place in sub-Saharan Africa.
In addition to co-hosting the GES along with Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, the two will hold bilateral meetings. Relations between the two countries have been strained due to International . Criminal Court charges against Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, for their alleged roles in orchestrating the violence that followed the 2007 election, the Voice of America website reported. Charges against Kenyatta have been dropped, while Ruto and another defendant continue to face trial.
Obama is expected to attend the summit during the weekend and to deliver a public address before traveling to Ethiopia. The Ethiopian visit to the headquarters of the African Union, has drawn criticism from human rights groups because the authoritarian regime in Addis Ababa has cracked down on political dissent, the Washington Post reports.
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Westgate Mall Reopens.
Security will be high on the agenda of Obama-Kenyatta talks, according to the BBC.. The East African nation is one of the top recipients of U.S. military aid and in the region and recent years have seen a spate of attacks from Somalia’s al-Shabab extremists.
One of the deadliest of those attacks took place two years ago in Nairobi when gunmen terrorized the upscale Westgate Shopping Mall — killing 67 and injuring scores more.
The mall reopened Saturday, for the first time since the attack. The mall has installed x-ray machines, explosive detectors and bullet-proof guard towers, Al Jazeera reported.
Gunmen from the Somalia-based armed group al-Shabab stormed the popular mall on September 21, 2013, in a brazen attack that the group said was in retaliation for Kenya’s military operations in Somalia. The siege lasted three days before Kenyan authorities retook the shopping center.
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Polls have closed in Burundi’s presidential election, and votes are being counter.
But incumbent Pierre Nkurunziza is certain to win after running unopposed, the VoA reported. Voter turnout was low in neighborhoods rocked by weeks of violent protests. Many in the tiny Central African nation said Burundi’s constitution bars Nkurunziza from seeking a third term.
At least 70 people have been killed in protests since he announced in April that he was running for re-election, the BBC reported. About 1,000 people are fleeing into Tanzania each day to escape the violence, according to medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
The U.S. State Department has joined critics saying the disputed presidential election lacks credibility and will discredit the government. But the Nkurunziza government accuses the opposition of provoking violent protests.
The African Union (AU) did not send observers – the first time it has taken such a stance against a member state, BBC reported. The AU said the security climate did not allow for free and fair elections. The European Union took a similar view, and has cut some aid to Burundi to show its displeasure with Nkurunziza.
Suspected Boko Haram Attack.
More than 100 people are reported to have been killed this week by suspected Boko Haram Islamist extremists in northeastern Nigeria, according to area residents.
Dozens of militants stormed three remote villages in Borno state “slaughtering residents and setting houses ablaze in the bloodiest day of attacks by the extremist group since President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in May,” AFP, the French news agency reported. The terrorists attacked worshipers just after prayers at several local mosques. Buhari, a Muslim and former army commander, has vowed to crush Boko Haram, which launched a terrorist campaign to establish a strict Islamic state in 2009.
Gunmen killed at least 97 people in the village of Kukawa on Wednesday (July 1). In two other villages about 50 kilometers (31 miles) away near Monguno, gunmen killed 48 people and injured 11 others, AFP reported. All three communities are located near Lake Chad (see map), close to where Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon intersect, and has been a focal point of the unrest. Boko Haram has stepped up its campaign of violence, since Buhari was elected, killing some 400 people.
According to Amnesty International, at least 17,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since 2009, BBC reported. Boko Haram has affiliated itself with the self-styled Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL) which has spread a reign of terror over parts of Syria and Iraq.
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U.N. Peacekeepers Killed.
Six United Nations peacekeepers were killed and five were wounded when their convoy was attacked in northern Mali Thursday (July 2), according to the Voice of America website.
A statement from the U.N. peackeeping force in Mali — MINUSMA — said the convoy was attacked about 45 kilometers (27 miles) southwest of the city of Timbuktu. The U.N. said all of the killed and wounded were from Burkina Faso. The statement also said the latest attack brings to 42 the number of peacekeepers killed and 166 wounded in hostile action in Mali since 2013. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Violence has continued in northern Mali despite a French-led military campaign in January 2013 to drive al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels that seized control of nearly half the sprawling North Africa country after a Tuareg uprising led to a military coup that plunged the country into chaos.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports, officials in neighboring Mali are reinforcing security along its northern border after recent attacks just across the border in Mali that are being blamed on Islamic insurgents.
Armed men attacked and briefly took control of Fakola, a town in Mali’s southern region of Sikasso, close to the border with Ivory Coast, on Sunday (June 28). The raid followed a similar attack weeks earlier during which dozens of suspected Islamist militants hit a police station in the nearby town of Misseni, Reuters said.
Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa grower and French-speaking West Africa’s largest economy, is emerging from a decade-long political crisis and now is in the midst of an economic revival.
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Tunisia Beach Attack.
Eight suspects, including a woman, are being held in custody on suspicion of being directly linked to the June 26 deadly attack on vacationers in the Tunisian resort of Sousse, the BBC reports.
Thirty -eight people were killed when a gunman opened fire on tourists staying in the popular resort of Port El Kantaoui, just north of Sousse. The self-described Islamic State, a violent extremist organization that has captured parts of Syria and Iraq, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Thirty of the victims were British and were staying at the Hotel Rui Imperial Marhaba and neighboring Hotel Rui Bellevue Park. Dozens more are still being treated in hospitals. The other victims were from Belgium, Germany, Russia, Ireland and Portugal, according to CNN.
Tunisian authorities have identified 28-year-old student Seifeddine Rezgui as the gunman. In March, two gunmen killed 22 people in an attack at the famous Bardo museum in Tunisia’s capital, Tunis. Islamic State has built a significant presence in Libya, Tunisia’s neighbor, and it thought to control the major towns of Derna and Sirte, the BBC said.
27 Dead in Chad Suicide Bombings.
Suicide bombers killed more than 20 people in the capital city of Chad, N’Djamena, on Monday (June 15) and authorities say it appeared to be retaliation for Chad’s leading role in the campaign against the violent extremist Islamic group Boko Haram, Reuters reports.
At least 100 people were injured in two simultaneous attacks on a police headquarters and a police cadet training school. The government, which said that four Boko Haram fighters were among the 27 dead, announced a number of measures to tighten security in the capital which serves as the headquarters for a 3,000-strong French military mission fighting militant extremists in he region.
Among the security measures being imposed: a ban from wearing a full-face veil, the BBC reported Wednesday (June 17). Chad’s prime minister said the veil was used as “camouflage” by militants, adding that security forces will burn all full-face veils (that cover everything but the eyes) sold in markets.
Boko Haram has not commented on the attack but has previously threatened to attack Chad, after its forces started to help Nigeria. N’Djamena is headquarters for a regional taskforce tofight Boko Haram with troops from Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Benin.
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Boko Haram Explosion.
At least 23 people were killed in the north-eastern Nigerian town of Monguno after a Boko Haram bomb confiscated by vigilantes exploded, the BBC reports.
The vigilantes were celebrating a successful operation with the military against the Islamist militants when the improvised explosive device (IED) went off killing and injuring people gathered around the celebrations.
The BBC reports the blast was believed to be an accidental explosion. But Al Jazeera reports that the Nigerian military believe it was some sort of booby trap set by Boko Haram before they were killed or fled.
Nigerian fighters routinely use improvised explosive devices in their attacks. Despite losing territory this year, Boko Haram still controls a few areas.
Bombings and hit-and-run attacks continue. Suspected Boko Haram gunmen last week killed 37 people in raids on five villages around Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, a military source and a local village defense group told Al Jazeera.
The one-eyed Islamist militant who ordered a deadly attack on an Algerian gas plant two years ago has been killed in a U.S. air strike, Libyan officials say, the BBC and other news outlets are reporting,
Mokhtar Belmokhtar and other fighters were killed in the operation in the eastern city of Ajdabiya, according to a statement from Libya’s government Sunday (June 14).
The BBC cautioned that there have been incorrect reports of his death in the past. If confirmed, however, Belmokhtar’s death “would be a major counterterrorism victory for the United States against one of the world’s most wanted militants,” according to the New York Times.
Army Purge Planned.
Nigeria’s army, long criticized for being ineffectual against the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, while killing far too many civilians, is set to scrutinize itself and purge ineffectual or cowardly soldiers, several new organizations report.
The army intends to purge soldiers it determines to be unfit to carry out their constitutional mandate, a spokesman told Voice of America. Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman said the army will enforce discipline and professionalism among its ranks as the fight against Boko Haram continues. “Most of them were charged with offenses that border on cowardice, aiding the enemy, as well as desertion in the face of the enemy,” said Usman.
He said the process is detailed and unbiased — not an ethnic nor religious purge — and it will ensure soldiers uphold the agreement they signed before joining the army.
At least 200 soldiers have been dismissed for cowardice and failure to fight against Boko Haram militants, the BBC reported. Several soldiers told the British network that up to 4,500 other rank and file soldiers could be dismissed.
Usman, the army spokesman, told VoA there are three layers of the investigation: a board of inquiry, followed by a military police investigation. Then the directorate of army legal services reviews all the cases and advises what action to take, said Usman — including summary trial.
About 1.5 million people have been displaced and hundreds more abducted since Boko Haram launched its violent uprising in 2009, according to the BBC. More than 15,500 people have been killed in the fighting. Boko Haram is still holding many women, girls and children captives including more than 200 school girls kidnapped from a school in Chibok a year ago.
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Boko Haram Roundup.
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports that Boko Haram fighters killed at least 37 people and destroyed more than 400 buildings in an assault on the town of Gubio in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno state.
The latest attack — which a military source said involved about 50 Boko Haram members storming Gubio — lasted for around five hours on Saturday afternoon (May 23). Reuters news agency reported via Al Jazeera. Details of such attacks often take a number of days to make their way from affected areas due to poor telecommunications in the remote northeastern region of Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy and most populous nation.
The buildings burned by the fighters included eight mosques, four schools and a local government building.
Boko Haram, which captured large swathes of Northeast Nigeria in the past two years, has been driven out of nearly all the territory it captured by a series of offensives waged by Nigeria’s armed forces backed by troops from the neighboring states of Chad, Niger and Cameroon in the past few months.
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In Niger, authorities have detained and charged 643 people since February for their links to Boko Haram, according to Niger Security Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou.
Niger has deployed 3,000 soldiers to a joint regional force formed with Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria to quash the Boko Haram insurgency, Al Jazeera reports.
Several Boko Haram networks and sleeper cells have been dismantled in Niger’s southern Diffa region, which is on the border with Nigeria, since a state of emergency was declared there in February and troops deployed, Massaoudou told Niger’s parliament. “If this measure [detaining suspects] had not been taken, we could have had an uprising in the very interior of Diffa,” the minister told parliament Tuesday (May 26).
Those arrested and detained have been charged with acts of terrorism and criminal conspiracy, he said. Diffa came under heavy attack in February when Boko Haram, which wants to establish an emirate in northern Nigeria, carried out attacks in neighboring countries.
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The United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict has condemned Boko Haram for “waging war on women” by repeatedly raping their female captives and treating them as vessels for producing children for fighters.
“In this context, sexual violence is not merely incidental, but integral, to their strategy of domination and self-perpetuation,” Zainab Hawa Bangura said in a statement issued Wednesday (May 27).
“In the stories of those recently released from Boko Haram captivity, I hear poignant echoes of the words of the women and girls I met last month in the Middle East, who had been freed from sexual slavery by ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant),” she said. “In both cases, they describe being treated as chattels to be ‘owned’ and traded, and as vessels for producing children for fighters.”
Her statement was issued a little over a year after the extremist group Boko Haram abducted 276 teenage girls in Chibok, Borno State, in Nigeria. Many of them remain in captivity, along with hundreds of others who have been abducted both before and since.
Earlier this month, United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-moon condemned what he called Boko Haram’s “continuing indiscriminate and horrific attacks” against the civilian populations of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, according to the United Nations.
In a statement released May 22, a UN spokesperson said Ban Ki-Moon is appalled by the continued abductions and use of children as so-called “human bombs,” as well as by testimony that many of the girls and women held by Boko Haram are repeatedly raped while in captivity and compelled to marry their captors as part of the group’s ongoing campaign of forced imprisonment and sexual violence.
“The perpetrators of these despicable acts must be brought to justice,” the Secretary-General declared.
Preparing for New Challenges.
TAMPA, Florida — Battling pirates off the Horn of Africa, violent extremist groups across Africa and the Middle East, transnational crime organizations in Latin America and rogue states in Europe and Asia doesn’t begin to address all the threats facing America in the 21st century, says the head of U.S. Special Operations Command — known as SOCOM.
“SOCOM is looking beyond our current conflicts, in order to gain an understanding of the evolving strategic environment,” says Army General Joseph Votel, SOCOM’s commander. SOCOM’s success in that dynamic environment “hangs on this priority,” Votel stressed.
To that end, Votel told the National Defense Industry Association’s 2015 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) in Tampa on Tuesday (May 19) that SOCOM analysts were keeping tabs on worldwide technical progress, demographic changes and economic trends to avoid strategic surprise.
Votel, himself an Army Ranger, oversees training and equipping policies for U.S. commando units in all of the armed services: Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
Considering the many threat issues and the effect of the congressional budget- trimming strategy, known as sequestration, Votel said SOCOM needs to invest in equipment interoperability and integrate with “our international partners,” of which there are nearly 60.
Even if SOCOM continues to avoid the budget ax, cuts to the conventional forces could hurt the command’s abilities to perform its missions because SOCOM relies heavily on the services to supply transportation and logistical support among other things.
The Coup That Wasn’t.
In Bujumbura, Burundi today (May 14) the presidential office said President Pierre Nkurunziza is back in the Central African country — rocked this week by an attempted coup.
Nkurunziza’s office said the president salutes the army, police and Burundian people. Security forces are looking for the coup leaders so they can be brought to justice, the presidential office said. But the Voice of America website said it is not yet possible to verify if the president has returned to Burundi.
The coup broke out after weeks of protests in tiny Burundi following Nkurunziza’s announcement he would seek a third term if office, which critics said is barred by the country’s constitution. A senior advisor to Nkurunziza said the election is a constitutional mandate and Burundi must be careful not to create an institutional vacuum, VoA reported.
Meanwhile, one of the renegade generals who tried to seize power in Burundi says he recognizes that their attempt to overthrow the president has failed, the BBC reports, quoting an AFP story. General Cyrille Ndayirukiye told the AFP news agency that most in the military wanted to keep the current government in power.
Throughout the day, there were fatal clashes in the Bujumbura, leaving at least five soldiers dead. The whereabouts of the man who launched the coup, Major General Godefroid Niyombare, are unknown.
Before announcing his return, loyalists of the president said they were in control of the major strategic assets, such as the airport and presidential offices. They also said they still controlled the state broadcaster despite the heavy fighting, according to Al Jazeera.
Nkurunziza, the president, was in Tanzania at a summit of African leaders when General Niyombare — was fired as intelligence chief in February — declared he was dismissing the president and his government. A day later, Army Chief of Staff General Prime Niyongabo said the coup had failed, Al Jazeera reported. “Loyal forces are still controlling all strategic points,” the chief of staff said in a state radio broadcast.