Burkina Faso demands departure of French ambassador
Tensions between Burkina Faso and Western countries continue to grow. Contrary to expectations of improved relations through bilateral talks between the West African nation and France last year (see Press Review Week 48/2022), it became known on Tuesday that Burkina Faso had already requested the departure of Ambassador Luc Hallade by letter to the French Foreign Ministry at the end of December. The letter did not comply with standard procedures, according to the Foreign Ministry, which is why it remained unclear at first whether it was an official expulsion. According to diplomatic sources, Hallade was still at his post in Ouagadougou on Tuesday. There is no official information about the reasons for the Burkinabe military government’s demand, but one assumes that it is connected to the French ambassador’s request to his compatriots in mid-December to leave the city of Koudougou for security reasons. According to the Burkinabe Press Agency, it is explicitly not about the termination of diplomatic relations with France, but about a crisis of confidence in the person of the ambassador. The incident is part of the increasing deterioration of relations between the military government, which in its current form has been in power since September 2022, and Western countries. Most recently, the country was excluded by the USA from the African Growth and Oppurtunity Act (AGOA) trade agreement. At the same time, the military junta led by interim president Capt. Ibrahim Traoré is expanding its relations with Russia. Prime minister, Apollinaire Kyelem de Tembela, visited Moscow in mid-December. Shortly afterwards, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo stated that Burkina Faso, like Mali, had signed a contract with the Russian Wagner Group, whereupon the military government summoned the Ghanaian ambassador. The differences are said to have been resolved in the meantime. Burkina Faso has been fighting for years against Islamist groups such as Al-Qaida and the Islamic State, which are responsible for the deaths of countless people and are now said to have 40% of the territory under their control. The fragile security situation was the starting point for two military coups last year. According to an agreement with the West African Economic Community (ECOWAS), the military transitional government wants to hold democratic elections by July 2024.
Tanzanian president lifts six-year ban on opposition rallies
The President of Tanzania and leader of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, Samia Suluhu Hassan, lifted the ban on opposition rallies on Tuesday. At a meeting with political party leaders, the president urged the police and other security forces to ensure peaceful meetings and rallies for the parties. Six years earlier, her predecessor John Magufuli, who died unexpectedly in 2021, had imposed a decree that banned the opposition from organising rallies which led to the arrest of opposition members in case of violation. Opposition parties welcomed the lifting of the ban as an important step back towards guaranteeing constitutional rights. In addition, Hassan promised at the meeting to review the constitution, which opposition parties believe gives too much power to the office of the head of state. For the next elections in 2025, the opposition also demands that an independent electoral commission and independent courts will be guaranteed. The incumbent president has already announced her intention to run for a second term. Her record so far is mixed. On the one hand, Hassan is seen as a strong advocate of political reforms, especially with regard to reconciliation with the opposition parties. The lifting of the ban on rallies is seen as part of her so-called 4R strategy (Reconciliation, Resilience, Reforms and Rebuilding the nation). On the other hand, critics also accuse her of authoritarian tendencies that would not be much different from her notorious predecessor. In particular, the seven-month prison sentence for the leader of the largest opposition party Chadema, Freeman Mbowe, which was overturned by a court in March 2022, had damaged her image. Currently, various personnel decisions are causing speculation that she wants to strategically position herself for the defence of her 2025 term. For example, only on Tuesday she dismissed Tanzania’s UN envoy and concurrent ambassador to the US over an alleged corruption scandal and replaced him with one of her closest aides, Chief Secretary Hussein Katanga, which in turn led to various changes in the presidential office. In this context, local media also report the possibility of an imminent cabinet reshuffle to eliminate critics within the party.
In other news?
An ancient Egyptian sarcophagus was brought back to Egypt from the USA on Monday. In 2008, the 9.5 ft. long Green Coffin, worth over a million US dollars, was stolen from the Abu Sir necropolis in northern Egypt and smuggled to the US via Germany by an art trade network. There it was exhibited in a museum for a long time. After several years of investigation, the sarcophagus from the late period of Ancient Egypt was now returned at a festive ceremony in Cairo. Besides US diplomats and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Egyptian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Ahmed Issa was also present. According to Issa, the repatriation shows how hard Egypt has been working to recover smuggled artifacts. In the last ten years, Egypt has recovered some 29,000 antiquities that had been illegally taken abroad, the Green Coffin being among the most important.