Press Review CW 23/2023: Turbulent times
Press Review 2 June 2023 to 9 June 2023

Unrest in Senegal

In Senegal, the riots and protests that broke out last Thursday in the capital Dakar continue. This was triggered by the conviction of the opposition leader Ousmane Sonko of the Pastef Patriots, who is particularly popular among the young population, and who was sentenced to two years in prison for immoral behaviour towards a person under the age of 21; the court acquitted him of the charges of rape. Sonko is considered a presidential candidate for next year’s elections – if the conviction is upheld, it would mean his disqualification from the race. According to official figures, at least 16 people were killed in the unrest, which was one of the worst in decades, and at least 23 people, according to Amnesty International; more than 400 people were injured and more than 500 people were arrested. In addition to the security forces, who used tear gas against the demonstrators, soldiers were also deployed in the capital. There was also considerable damage to property, cars and shops were set on fire and the university building and a journalism school in Dakar were also badly damaged. In the wake of the protests, the government restricted access to mobile phone networks and social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. While the Interior Ministry justified the measure on Sunday by saying it wanted to prevent the spread of hateful and subversive messages, civil society organisations criticised the restriction as a violation of press freedom and called for full restoration of access. Attacks on consulates abroad also occurred in the wake of political tensions at home, prompting Senegal’s foreign ministry to announce on Tuesday the temporary closure of several consulates, including in Paris, Bordeaux, Milan and New York. On Wednesday, the government also announced an investigation into the unrest. While the government and the opposition blame each other for the political unrest that has rocked the country again and again since Sonko’s indictment in March 2021 (press review CW 11/2023), the population fears long-term economic consequences in the wake of the riots, especially for tourism and trade – Senegal was considered an anchor of stability in West Africa for decades – but also for the informal sector. This concern is shared by the government, as the damage caused by months of rioting has already cost the country several million US dollars. Moreover, the inhabitants of Dakar fear a new wave of violence if the arrest warrant against Sonko is executed. Sonko is currently staying at his residence in Dakar, where he has been detained by security forces since the weekend. The international community is also observing the events in Senegal with increasing concern. UN Secretary General António Guterres, the President of the African Union, Moussa Faki Mahamat, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), among others, had condemned the violence during the protests and called for calm. The European Union and France also expressed concern about the violence in Senegal. Meanwhile, in neighbouring Gambia, civil society is calling on the Gambian government to mediate in the conflict, similar to what the Senegalese government did in 2016 during the political crisis in the Gambia.

Bill to amend the ICPC in Nigeria 

It was announced at the weekend that the Senate in Nigeria passed a bill to amend the law establishing the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). Critics, including the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), warn of significant restrictions on the powers of the commission’s chairperson and the functioning of the agency. For example, according to the draft bill, the powers and responsibilities exercised by the commission chairperson in the day-to-day running of the authority would be transferred to the board, which meets regularly. This could lead to a bureaucratic bottleneck in the functioning of the ICPC and thus severely impair its work, as a review of the proposed law has revealed. Furthermore, in future, meetings of the ICPC should be able to be duly convened with or without a chairperson and seeks to substitute the word “chairperson” for the word “commission”. This would allow far-reaching decisions to be taken by the Commission with little or no involvement of the Chairperson. Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) Chair Olanrewaju Suraj criticises that these changes would expose the ICPC to outside political influence. Other critical voices see the amendment to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission Act (2000) as a serious threat to the fight against corruption, which could have serious consequences for the ICPC. The in camera hearing of the bill in the Senate further weakens the current law. Still pending, however, is the approval of the House of Representatives, which postponed the originally scheduled reading of the bill during last Thursday’s session. In the meantime, a more in-depth examination of the proposal is to be made possible. Members of the ICPC, including Chairperson Prof Bolaji Owasanoye had also called on the House of Representatives to suspend the reading to raise concerns about the proposed amendment. However, there are also supporters of the bill. The Network of Social Workers Against Corruption (N-SWAC), for example, sees the amendment as strengthening the ICPC and making it more effective in the fight against corruption. The draft law is one of a series of legislative proposals and innovations under the government of President Bola Tinubu, who was inaugurated only last week on 29 May and won the presidential elections in February with 36.61% of the vote. Immediately after taking office, he declared that the fuel subsidies introduced and maintained by the previous government would be phased out at the end of June, leading to a huge increase in the price of petrol and public transport. Meanwhile, the country’s largest trade union, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NCL), has already announced widespread protests if the subsidies are not maintained. Tinubu’s abolition of the subsidies is a reaction to the enormous imbalance in the national budget, which is due to falling oil prices, rising inflation and billions of dollars in fuel subsidies to cushion the enormous costs of oil imports. This is because although Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil and gas producer, the West African nation relies almost entirely on expensive imports to meet its petrol needs. During the Corona pandemic, Nigeria was only able to maintain its solvency thanks to an emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). On Tuesday, the Senate already approved Tinubu’s request to appoint 20 special advisers. The latter had asked the Senate for approval in a letter two days earlier, without mentioning names or concrete responsibilities

In other news

The South African start-up Lelapa, based in Johannesburg, is working on artificial intelligence (AI) tailored to Africa’s needs to reduce racial discrimination. Conventional AI systems are mainly geared towards the Western world, criticises the company’s co-founder Pelonomi Moiloa. For example, facial recognition software would not always recognise black skin colour or certain facial features. Moreover, African raw materials are often exploited in the production of devices and African knowledge is often plundered in the development of software. A concrete example of this is the development of translation programmes for African languages, according to Moiloa, where native speakers are not given participation rights or adequate compensation. Lelapa, whose name means “community” in the Bantu language Sesotho, now wants to counteract this. The first product of the young company, which was only founded at the end of 2022, is Vulavula (eng. “speaking”). The programmers here developed so-called chatbots – AI-based question-answer programmes – in the national languages of South Africa. The contributors not only receive a fee, but also a share in the product to create ownership. African perspectives and knowledge are thus to be appropriately appreciated, remunerated and made usable.

Special news

Algeria and Sierra Leone elected as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council

On Tuesday, the UN General Assembly elected Algeria and Sierra Leone as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council. The two African states thus replace Gabon and Ghana and, joining Kenya, whose seat was not up for renewal, form the representation of the African continent in the UN body. Sierra Leone was already a non-permanent member from 1970 to 1971 and chairs the so-called Committee of Ten (C-10) of the African Union, which negotiates the continent’s position on the reform of the UN Security Council. Algeria and Kenya, among others, are also members of the Committee. The African states are demanding two permanent seats on the UN Security Council as well as two additional non-permanent seats (see Ezulwini Consensus and Sirte Declaration). Germany supports these demands.

Sudan declares German UN Special Envoy persona non grata

Sudan’s military government declared German UN Special Representative Volker Perthes a persona non grata on Thursday. Only two weeks ago, military chief and de facto ruler Abdel Fattah al-Burhan had accused Perthes of further fuelling the conflict between the military government and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and demanded his removal. Perthes was in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa at the time of the announcement, where he attended a series of diplomatic meetings. Background information on the conflict in Sudan can be found in our press reviews CW 16/2023 and CW 15/2023.

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