The Independent (Kampala)

4 February 2013

Africa: News Round Up

We start off this week's news round up in Mali, the number-three leader of the armed group that controlled Timbuktu in northern Mali until last week, Mohamed Moussa Ag Mouhamed, has been arrested near the Algerian border, Aljazeera reports.

"The number three leader of Ansar Dine, the one who sowed terror, who ordered people's hands cut off, who supported the strict application of sharia, was arrested by an armed group," a Malian security source told the AFP news agency.

Mohamed Moussa, as he was known in Timbuktu, is being taken to the northeastern city of Kidal, the last bastion of rebels who controlled northern Mali for 10 months before being ousted in a French-led military operation launched on January 11, the source said.

The information was confirmed by a Kidal regional official, Abdoulaye Toure, though the two sources gave conflicting accounts on which of the area's rival groups had arrested him.

The arrest was believed to have been carried out either by the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), a Tuareg separatist movement, or an Ansar Dine splinter group, the Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA).

Azawad is the Tuareg name for northern Mali.

"He was the ideologue of Ansar Dine in Timbuktu," Toure said. "He was called Ansar Dine's number three, but in reality he was the brain of the organisation, the doctrine in Timbuktu. He was arrested in Hallil near the Algerian border by a [formerly] allied armed group."

Toure also said a man accused of taking part in the kidnapping of a French hostage in November had been arrested in the same area.French officials say seven French hostages are believed to be held in the area, which is near where 30 French warplanes carried out major air strikes on Sunday.

Elsewhere in Mali, French warplanes have carried out air strikes in Mali's far north as they try to secure the final rebel stronghold of Kidal after a three-week offensive, the BBC reports.

Thirty jets targeted Islamist militants' training and communication centres around Tessalit - a mountainous area near the Algerian border.

French President Francois Hollande has pledged to help rebuild Mali after the rebels who seized its north are beaten.

But there are fears the fighters could re-group in the mountains near Kidal.

Although French troops captured Kidal's airport on Wednesday, rebels from a Tuareg group who want their own homeland in northern Mali - the MNLA - still have control of the town itself.

Malian Interim President Dioncounda Traore has offered to hold talks with the MNLA in order to help secure Kidal.

At the same time, French-led forces will begin chasing down Islamist militants who have retreated to desert or to mountainous hide-outs.

Speaking in Bamako on Saturday, Mr Hollande pledged more French aid to its former colony and vowed to restore cultural sites damaged by the rebels.

Mr Hollande received a warm welcome on Saturday as he visited the northern desert city of Timbuktu, which was recaptured by French and Malian troops a week ago.

A total of 3,500 French troops are currently in Mali.

Nearly 2,000 army personnel from Chad and Niger are already helping consolidate the recent gains. A further 6,000 troops will be deployed as part of the UN-backed African-led International Support Mission to Mali (Afisma).

In Kenya, the electoral commission faces a shortfall of Sh6 billion to fund a presidential run-off if there is no outright winner in the first round, Daily Nation reports.

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chief executive James Oswago confirmed on Sunday that the polls agency would require the extra amount to fund the run-off if none of the eight presidential candidates failed to garner the required 50 plus one per cent of the total votes cast in addition to 25 per cent of the votes cast in at least 24 counties on March 4.

"We have all the funds required for the main election and we are ready. The only shortfall we have is about Sh6 billion to fund a presidential run-off if it comes to that," said Mr Oswago.

He, however, allayed fears that the shortfall could jeopardise the polls, saying the government would draw the funds from the Consolidated Fund.

"Sh6 billion is money the government will easily obtain from the Consolidated Fund so there should be no fears whatsoever that the elections may stall," he stated.

Mr Oswago spoke in the wake of fears that the country is inching closer to a financial crunch as it seeks funds to finance next month's elections, with revelations the UN is holding back Sh18 billion ($209.3 million) in reimbursements following the Somalia incursion, money Nairobi had budgeted for the polls.

Initially, IEBC had a budget of Sh17 billion ($197.6 million) for the General Election. However, since Parliament approved IEBC's budget in June, its budget has had to be enhanced to cater for acquisition of biometric voter registration machines through a Sh6.6 billion ($76.7 million) loan. Clearly, the arithmetic is not adding up for Kenya.

Kenya is the only country in East Africa with a modestly developed domestic credit market to borrow from.

But local borrowing is not much of an option now because the government has almost surpassed its borrowing target for this financial year.

The Kenya Revenue Authority said mid-January it had collected Sh380 billion in taxes in the first half of the current fiscal year which ends in June -- a figure which is Sh34 billion short for the period's target and less than half of Sh881.2 billion KRA aims to collect by June.

The shortfall was a result of a decline in revenues in all the major tax divisions, including value added tax, domestic excise duty, trade taxes and petroleum taxes.

The increased pressure to meet tax collection targets has pushed KRA to adopt such innovative strategies as setting up new units to catch tax evaders and slapping businesses with new taxes.

The Treasury insiders warned that were Finance Minister Njeru Githae to bow to the new pressures by security agencies for more money, the government would go into the elections with a fiscal gap whose negative consequences will start showing in the macro-economy almost immediately.

In Egypt, the Guardian reports, graphic footage of a naked Egyptian man being dragged across a street and beaten by at least eight riot policemen during a protest in Cairo on Friday night has intensifed popular fury at President Mohamed Morsiand sparked calls from Egypt's opposition for "an end to this regime of tyranny".

The video shows Hamada Saber, reportedly a 50-year-old unemployed labourer, lying on the ground outside the presidential palace in north-east Cairo, with his trousers around his ankles, being beaten with batons and fists before being dragged into a police van.

The scene is reminiscent of the "woman in the blue bra" - a protester stripped and beaten by soldiers during protests against military rule in December 2011, whose plight became a lightning rod for opposition dissent.

"I don't know how to describe this. It's appalling," said Khaled Dawoud, a spokesman for the National Salvation Front, a disparate coalition of liberal, secular and leftist opposition groups. "The name of the president has changed but his policies haven't," Dawoud added, calling for "an end to this regime of tyranny" but stopping short of calling for Morsi's resignation.

After a week of civil unrest across the country, in which nearly 60 people died, protesters had gathered outside the presidential palace in Cairo to intensify calls for Morsi's downfall, sparking clashes during which petrol bombs were thrown over the palace walls.

Amid the fighting, private television footage, corroborated by witness accounts, clearly shows Saber being beaten by police. The interior minister has since apologised for the attack and offered to resign.

Yet in a bizarre twist, Saber later claimed in an interview from a police hospital that the police had in fact saved him from thieving protesters. Saber's account sparked fears that he had either been threatened into silence, or paid off.

"Everything points to him having been coerced into not pressing charges at the ministry and being co-operative," wrote commentator Issandr el-Amrani. "What kind of regime would both beat this man and then force him to stand up on TV and say these things?" said Dawoud.

Saber's words were also contradicted by some members of his own family. His daughter Randa - who says she was present at the scene of the attack - called a television chatshow to dispute Saber's version of events, saying he was "afraid to talk".

For the opposition, the video is a clear sign that police reform - a key demand of the 2011 revolution - remains a low priority for the Morsi government, which some believe has become as authoritarian as Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship.

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