14 January 2013

Africa: News Round Up

We start off this week's Africa news roundup in Mali where France's air force launched fresh strikes in northern Mali, targeting the city of Gao which had been controlled by the al-Qaeda offshoot MUJAO, destroying rebel bases and forcing the fighters to flee, Aljazeera reports.

The attack on Gao on Sunday, the largest city in the desert region controlled by fighters, marked a decisive drive northwards on the third day of French air strikes, moving deep into the vast territory seized by rebels in April.

"There were dozens of strikes in and around Gao. All Islamist bases have been destroyed," a resident told AFP by phone.

Speaking to French media, French Foreign Minister Mr Fabius rejected any parallel with the protracted Western mission in Afghanistan.

"Later on, we can come as back-up, but we have no intention of staying forever," he said.

Mr Fabius said that had France not intervened, there was a risk that the Islamists could have advanced as far as the capital, Bamako, with "appalling consequences".

Islamist groups and secular Tuareg reb els took advantage of chaos following a military coup to seize northern Mali in April 2012.

But the Islamists soon took control of the region's major towns, sidelining the Tuaregs.

One Islamist group, Ansar Dine, began pushing further south last week, seizing the strategically important town of Konna.

The town has since been recaptured by Malian troops with French aerial support.

In Kenya, the Tana Delta conflict has been linked to a scramble for fertile soils by multi-nationals besides animosity between local communities the Daily Nation reports.

Local leaders and residents now blame the sporadic violence on external forces out to drive the communities out of the area and take their land.

On Saturday, some leaders from Orma, Wardei and Pokomo communities alleged that the violence was not a fight between farmers and pastoralists.

In the past, concerns have been raised over plans by the government to lease 40,000 hectares to Qatar to grow fruits and vegetables so that the Gulf State funds the Lamu port project.

Four years ago, Mumias Sugar was granted a licence to turn a wetland in the area into sugarcane plantations for production of sugar and eco-friendly biofuels.

Tana River County Chairman Gure Golo claims the investors who have expressed interests in sugarcane farming and horticultural projects are major players in the bloody conflict.

The locals claim there is a perception among government officials that the fertile range land, wetland and flood plains are underutilised by the locals. "Because of this attitude, some forces within the government are now pushing for the investor's interest because they believe with proper investment, the wetlands can generate billions," said Mr Anwar Abae, a resident.

However, Tana Delta DC David Kiprop believes the investments plans by the government mean well to the locals. He says the allegations of under-hand dealings by the government to evict the Orma and Pokomo communities are mere speculations.

"We cannot push the locals. When investors come to put up investments, the government will engage the communities and stakeholders in dialogue," he says.

In Libya, Aljazeera reports that plans are under way to create a special force to protect diplomats, government sources said, after a gun attack on an Italian consul highlighted the precarious security situation in the country.

Unidentified gunmen in Benghazi opened fire on Guido De Sanctis's armoured car on Saturday. The diplomat was unhurt, but the attack was a reminder of the September 11 attack on the US mission there that killed the ambassador and three other Americans.

"We are discussing putting in place a force that would look after diplomats. There are also plans to protect foreigners working for foreign companies," a defence ministry source said, declining to be named as the proposal was still being discussed.

An Italian foreign ministry spokesman said security around officials in Benghazi was already high before Saturday's attack, which will strengthen views that the city is seen as too dangerous a place for foreign diplomats and workers. There was no immediate indication who might have been behind the attack.

More than a year after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, security in Libya remains in disarray.

To keep a degree of order, the government relies on numerous militias made up of thousands of Libyans who took up arms against Gaddafi. The groups provide what passes for official security but also what poses the main threat to it.

Confirming the government plan for a diplomatic security unit, a foreign ministry source said diplomats currently had to advise Libyan authorities if they planned to travel more than 80km from their base.

"Even when the force is established, diplomats need to take care of themselves. This is not Switzerland," the source said.

The eastern city of Benghazi was where the anti-Gaddafi uprising broke out nearly two years ago but it is now a hot spot for violence, riven with armed factions.

In Nigeria the military says it's questioning a leader of Boko Haram, the Islamic militant group blamed for the killings of hundreds of civilians, after capturing him in the country's northeast early Sunday, CNN reports.

Nigerian troops captured Mohammed Zangina shortly after midnight in the city of Maiduguri, said Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, a military spokesman. Zangina is a member of the Shura Committee, the movement's governing body, and has coordinated "most of the most of the suicide attacks and bombings" in several cities, including the capital Abuja, Musa said.

Nigeria launched a military crackdown on Boko Haram on New Year's Day. Human Rights Watch says the group -- whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" -- has killed more than 2,800 people in an escalating campaign to impose strict Islamic law on largely Muslim northern Nigeria.

In the past, the group attacked other Muslims it felt were on an immoral path. But it has increasingly targeted Christians with numerous attacks on churches, as well as striking police stations.

Boko Haram and other Muslim groups say the north has been starved of resources and marginalized by the Nigerian government. But the U.S. State Department has accused its leaders of having ties to the al Qaeda terrorist network and of hoping to drive a wedge between Nigeria's Christian and Muslim communities.

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