Burkina Faso Army Announces Overthrow of Military Government

Burkina Faso’s army captain, Ibrahim Traore, announced Friday evening that the army had seized power and ousted military leader Paul Henri Damiba, who himself had taken power in a coup only eight months ago.

Traore said in a statement that a group of officers who helped Damiba seize power in January had decided that the leader was no longer able to secure the country, which has been battling a mounting Islamic insurgency.

The statement signed by Traore was read on state television late Friday by another military officer.

“Faced with the deteriorating situation, we tried several times to get Damiba to refocus the transition on the security question,” Traore’s statement said.

When Damiba came to power in January, after ousting President Roch Kabore, he had promised to make the country more secure. However, violence in the country has continued, and political tensions have grown in recent months.

Damiba had just returned from addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

The country’s new military leaders said they were dissolving the national assembly. They also announced that Burkina Faso’s borders had been closed and that a curfew would be in effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Before Friday evening’s announcement, troops in Burkina Faso had blocked streets in the capital, Ouagadougou, and state TV had stopped broadcasting.

At around 4:30 a.m. Friday, gunfire and a loud explosion were reported in Ouagadougou, in the vicinity of Camp Baba Sy, where Damiba is based. Witnesses said gunfire could also be heard coming from Kosyam, where the presidential palace is located.

A reporter for VOA who went to the capital’s city center Friday found a military blockade on Boulevard Charles de Gaulle. Many military members were wearing face masks and were reluctant to talk, while local police said they had no idea what was happening.

Just after 12 p.m. local time, the president’s office released a statement on Facebook, part of which said, “In view of the confused situation created as a result of a movement of mood by some elements of the national armed forces this Friday … negotiations are underway to bring back calm and serenity.”  

   

The U.S. Embassy warned Americans to limit their movements and stay informed of local media reports.

The events Friday came after rising frustration with the government’s inability to deal with insecurity caused by militant groups linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State.

On Monday, a convoy carrying food and basic supplies to the northern town of Djibo, which has been under siege by militants for years, was ambushed. Eleven soldiers were killed, and more than 50 civilians were said to be missing.

The incident raised serious concerns about the government, with many citizens expressing their fears and doubts on social media.

Paul Melly, an analyst for Chatham House, a London-based think tank, said, “Burkinabe feel afraid about the continuing spread of jihadist violence.”

Henry Wilkins in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, contributed to this report, which also includes information from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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Mogadishu Police Chief Killed in Blast

A top Somali police official and several of his guards were killed Friday in a roadside bomb blast near the southern town of Balad, according to Somali authorities.

The attack involved a landmine that targeted Mogadishu Police Commissioner Farhan Mohamoud Adan, better known as “Qarole,” near the Balad district, 35 kilometers north of Mogadishu.

“The police commissioner stepped out of his bulletproof vehicle as he was visiting a government military post and then a landmine apparently planted there went off, killing the commissioner and an unidentified number of police officers accompanying him,” a government official who requested anonymity told VOA Somali. “It’s part of the ongoing efforts to eradicate al-Shabab. They will be remembered for their role in Somalia’s anti-al-Shabab operations.”

Somali police Major Sadiq Aden Ali-Doodishe, who spoke to VOA after the blast, confirmed the incident, but he could not provide further details about the nature of the blast or the number of casualties.

Ali-Doodishe said the attack occurred during security operations targeting the Basra village area on the border of the Middle and Lower Shabelle regions.

“The commissioner was in the middle of a successful operation that flushed out terrorists from these areas when he was targeted by a blast,” the police major said. “We ask God to have mercy on the martyrs who died, and may God bless those who were injured.”

Ali-Doodishe added that such attacks would never deter Somali soldiers in their fight against terrorism. “Terrorism is a threat to life. We will never be diverted from our goal of ensuring the security of the country and the elimination of terrorism,” he said.

Authorities blamed the al-Qaida-linked Islamist group al-Shabab for the attack, though no one had yet claimed responsibility.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud condemned the attack in a statement. “Commissioner Aden and [the] other valiant soldiers who have died in the blast dedicated their life for Somalia’s peace,” he said.

Speaking at a government-sponsored youth conference Friday in Mogadishu, Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre called on Somali youth to unite in the fight against what he called “a ruthless enemy.” He was referring to al-Shabab, which has been waging a bloody insurgency in the impoverished Horn of Africa nation for more than 15 years.

“Somali religious scholars have made their positions [clear] on our fight against al-Shabab. Al-Shabab does not represent Islam nor Muslims. Therefore, there is a responsibility for Somali youth to participate [in] the efforts to eradicate al-Shabab so that the innocent Somalis suffering under al-Shabab’s enmity and ruthlessness will be freed,” Barre said.

Ethiopia coordination

Analysts say government counterterrorism operations were stepped up after the group’s brazen cross-border attack into eastern Ethiopia in late July.

On Friday, in Addis Ababa, Mohamud concluded his state visit to Ethiopia, where he held talks with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

It was Mohamud’s first visit to neighboring Ethiopia since he was elected in May. The top priority of his agenda was regional support in the fight against al-Shabab in Somalia.

In a joint communique, Mohamud and Ahmed agreed to strengthen ties, reiterating their intention to fight against a common enemy. They also applauded the Somali National Army’s gains in anti-al-Shabab operations, and they called on the U.N. Security Council to consider Somalia’s request to lift the arms embargo.

Middle, Lower Shabelle

The killing of Mogadishu’s police chief followed a government operation Friday that removed militants from multiple villages along the border between the Middle and Lower Shabelle regions.

Somalia Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur told the Somali National News Agency that troops also had razed several al-Shabab barracks in nine villages.

“These gains are achieved following well-coordinated operations in the early hours of this Friday,” Nur said.

In the Hiran region of central Somalia, a counterterrorism military campaign backing a pro-government local clan militia has been making significant gains, Somali National Army officials said Thursday. They said they had secured control of at least 50 villages and al-Shabab strongholds.

The anti-al-Shabab campaign follows the Somali president’s call for all Somalis to fight against al-Shabab.

Falastin Iman contributed to this report from Mogadishu.

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UN Report Targets Racism Against People of African Descent

A report by the U.N. human rights office finds systemic racism against people of African descent is deep-rooted and says urgent measures are needed to dismantle discriminatory systems.

It took the death of a Black man, George Floyd, 46, at the hands of a police officer in the United States in May 2020 to draw global attention to the problem of systemic racism. There was a groundswell of global support in the immediate aftermath of the event, which has since largely fizzled out. 

 

The United Nations reports some countries have taken steps to address racism. But those, for the most part, have been piecemeal. They fall short of what is needed to dismantle the entrenched, societal racism that has existed for centuries. 

 

U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani says people of African descent in many countries have less access to health, food and education, and they often are victims of enforced disappearance and violence. 

 

She says the U.N. report finds African migrants and migrants of African descent are victims of excessive use of force and killings by law enforcement officials. She says they are subject to punitive drug policies and arrests and are overly represented in prisons.

“Where available, the data continues to point to disproportionately high rates of death of people of African descent by law enforcement in different countries,” Shamdasani said. “And families of African descent continue to report the immense challenges, barriers and protracted processes that they face in their pursuit of truth and justice for the deaths of their relatives.”

The report focuses in detail on seven cases of police-related fatalities of people of African descent. They include the cases of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, an African American medical worker shot and killed by police in March 2020. 

 

Shamdasani said their families are still seeking justice, as are the families of five other people of African descent killed by police agents in France, Brazil, the United Kingdom and Colombia. 

 

“A year later, the report states that while there has been some progress toward accountability in some of these emblematic cases, unfortunately, not a single case has yet been brought to a full conclusion,” she said.

Shamdasani said the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been mandated by the U.N. Human Rights Council to follow the issue. She said the office would be producing annual reports on progress and on new violations that come to light.

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Kenyan Health Officials Investigate Suspected Ebola Case

Kenyan health officials are investigating a suspected case of Ebola in the country’s west near Uganda, where an outbreak of the deadly virus has been blamed for at least 35 cases and seven deaths.

Kenya is on high alert after one patient suspected to have Ebola is being treated at St. Mary’s Hospital in western Kenya.

St. Mary’s Hospital administrator Hildah Apwao told reporters the man recently traveled to Uganda and visited a health facility there for treatment of a cut. The man is now in an isolation unit at St. Mary’s hospital located in Mumias, Kakamega County awaiting laboratory results.

Kenya’s neighbor, Uganda, has recorded 35 Ebola cases and seven deaths since the first case was confirmed last week.

The current outbreak of Ebola is attributed to the Ebola Sudan strain and is believed to have started in the Mubende district in central Uganda.

Last week, Kenya issued health guidelines — like screening travelers from Uganda — following the outbreak. East African health experts advised against closing the border to deal with the virus.

Health officials in Kenya called for more awareness about the disease and better follow-up if symptoms are witnessed. Ebola is a disease spread through contact with an infected person’s body fluids. Symptoms include body aches, vomiting and internal bleeding.

Uganda recorded the presence of a different strain of the virus in 2019 and the Sudan strain was found in 2012.

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After Anti-China Campaign, Kenya’s Ruto Does About-Face

Kenya’s newly elected President William Ruto, who talked tough on China while campaigning, has reversed his stance on Beijing since taking office.

“We cherish the robust friendship that Kenya enjoys with China. We will step up and expand these relations, on infrastructure, agriculture, education, among other broad array of issues for the mutual benefit of our countries,” Ruto said when he met with Liu Yuxi, China’s special representative on African affairs, shortly after taking office.

During his campaign, Ruto ran on an anti-China platform, vowing to deport Chinese nationals doing jobs he said should be reserved for Kenyans, promising to make opaque government contracts with Beijing public and pledging to cut borrowing.

Only a few months ago, at a June economic forum, Ruto was reported as saying, “Chinese nationals are roasting maize and selling mobile phones. We will deport all of them.”

The language of his new administration, however, contrasts sharply with the strident tones he used on the campaign trail.

Last week, National Assembly speaker Moses Wetangula met with Beijing’s ambassador to Kenya, Zhou Pingjian, and he assured him of Kenya’s continued cooperation.

“China is one of the most important national development partners for Kenya and has in the last decade extended considerable support to our infrastructure development,” he said in a statement. Wetangula also “assured him that the new administration of President William Ruto has no plans whatsoever to scale down” Kenya’s collaboration with Beijing.

“[I am] delighted that China is also seeking to further enhance our strategic economic partnership, and people-people relations,” he added.

China is Kenya’s biggest bilateral lender and has been responsible for major infrastructure projects, including the recently opened Nairobi Expressway and the controversial and expensive Chinese-built Standard Gauge Railway, which links the capital with the key port city of Mombasa.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta had signed deals with Beijing on infrastructure projects to develop Kenya, resulting in Kenyan debt to China in the billions of dollars. Ruto was Kenyatta’s deputy. The two men had a falling out, and during the campaign Ruto made a point of trying to distance himself from his boss and alleged corruption.

‘More pragmatic’ situation

The about-face in the new administration’s position on China since taking office is a typical case of the reality of politics winning the day, according to analysts.

“It was entirely predicted and predictable that President Ruto would resile and soft-pedal on his initial Chinese comments,” Aly-Khan Satchu, a political economist in Nairobi, told VOA. “I think we’ve just returned to a more pragmatic policymaking situation. You can’t upset one of your biggest creditors.”

Adhere Cavince, an independent Kenyan analyst and China specialist, echoed this view, saying: “Whatever happened in the campaign doesn’t seem to hold a lot of water, especially now that he has won the seat and he has the responsibility to govern the country. Campaigning is quite different from governing and sometimes the dynamic drastically changes.

“It is clear that William Ruto does not intend to reduce or scale down cooperation between Kenya and China,” he added.

Cavince said a number of factors could account for the change of heart, including the fact there are 400 Chinese companies operating in the country employing tens of thousands of Kenyans, and China is the East African country’s biggest trading partner.

While a large trade imbalance exists between the two, China has made efforts recently to offset them, allowing more exports from Kenya, including of the country’s avocados.

There are also growing cultural ties between the two, with more and more young Kenyans going to China to study, Cavince said.

And he noted it’s not only about Kenya needing China.

“Kenya presents a very formidable gateway into the east and central Africa regions, the markets. … There’s an incentive for China to court Kenya, so it is not a one-way street,” he said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent Ruto a message of congratulations shortly after he won the election in August.

“I attach great importance to the development of China-Kenya relations and stand ready to work with President Ruto to advance the development of the China-Kenya comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership to the benefit of the two countries and two peoples,” said China’s leader.

One policy reversal

There’s one election promise Ruto was swift to keep and put into motion, though, despite the fact it could prove unpopular with Beijing. He reversed one of his predecessor’s most controversial policies.

During his presidency, Kenyatta had transferred cargo-clearing operations to the Nairobi and Naivasha inland container depots from the coastal city of Mombasa.

Traders had to use the Chinese-built Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) to ferry goods to Nairobi and Naivasha, with the government saying it was a faster way of transporting goods and would decongest the port of Mombasa.

Some say Kenyatta’s move was motivated by the need to boost traffic on the railway and drive revenue for debt repayment to China. His decision cost thousands of jobs in Mombasa, but with Ruto’s reversal of the policy, critics worry the debt repayment burden for the $3.6 billion SRG will now fall on the Kenyan taxpayer.

“Now importers and their customers are being given the liberty to choose the mode of transport they prefer … that means the SGR has to become more efficient and competitive rather than getting favors from government,” said Cliff Mboya, a Kenyan researcher at the China Global South Project think tank.

“That means that [Ruto] is willing to do the right thing, whether it works for China or not, and that is telling,” he added.

But in terms of one of Ruto’s other major campaign promises – to publish private contracts with China – Mboya said he doubted the president would be able to make it happen.

“Even if he wants to do it, it won’t be easy. It would be a serious diplomatic crisis,” said Mboya. “I know that senior Chinese government officials have already intimated that publishing these contracts goes against the contractual agreements.”

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Report: Million Livelihoods in DRC Threatened by Planned Oil and Gas Exploration

The environmental group Greenpeace Africa has released a report saying planned oil and gas exploration in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo could expose more than 1 million people to pollution and disease.

The planned selling of 30 eastern land blocks that extend into a famous gorilla reserve would also threaten wildlife and food security, while fueling conflict, poverty and corruption, according to the report. 

Residents in the area accuse the government of keeping them in the dark and expressed fear of losing their livelihoods when companies start drilling for fossil fuels.  

Representatives for Greenpeace Africa and partner organizations visited about 30 villages in July to gauge the community’s awareness of the planned exploration and how they intend to protect their land and livelihoods. 

Mbong Akiy Fokwa Tsafack, head of communication at Greenpeace Africa, said many communities are not aware of the government’s plan to auction their land.  

“The thought of the government thinking of auctioning their lands for oil was really a shock for them. They were unaware, so they didn’t know this was underway, which is quite shocking given how much the government has said it plans to really put people ahead of everything else,” Tsafack said.

No one asked residents what they thought of the oil and gas drilling project, said Bantu Lukambo, who works with Innovation for the Development and Protection of the Environment, an NGO monitoring the welfare of communities around Virunga National Park.  

The government is supposed to have public input before undertaking such exploration, he said, but failed to do so. Even parliament members were not included in the decision-making process, he added. 

DRC President Felix Tshisekedi defended his government’s plan while speaking at the United Nations General Assembly last week, saying oil discovery would bring economic development to his people.  

Hydrocarbons Minister Didier Budimbu Ntubuanga, speaking at the Africa Oil Week conference in Senegal early this month, said the DRC has received two offers for the oil blocks and said any exploration will follow environmental guidelines. 

Lukambo is doubtful that will be the case. 

He fears all the fish will die if the exploration begins, and fishermen and their families will be in trouble. In addition, he added, 14 of the oil blocks are in Virunga National Park, and the others are in farming areas. If exploration starts on the land, he said, farmers won’t farm their land. 

The oil exploration blocks overlap parts of Congo’s most pristine ecosystems and Virunga Park, which is home to over 1,000 species of animals and birds.  

Tsafack said Congo’s leaders need to reconsider their decision to allow oil exploration in the park and nearby areas.  

“This is a moment when we need to see leadership coming through, in terms of the zeal to uproot corruption, to strengthen good governance and to put the people of the DRC at [the] heart of any kind of development agenda,” Tsafack said. “And putting the people of DRC at the heart of any development agenda means really looking into the communities and finding out what it is that will uplift their lives.” 

The 20-page report from Greenpeace urges the government to halt the projects and encourage alternative investments in renewable energy sources.  

 

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