What’s Going On: Chad peace talks, Google celebrates cultural heritage in Mali & more

Notable stories from around the continent

“What’s Going On” Tallies Notable News Headlines From Across The Continent — The Good, The Bad, And The Horrible — As A Way Of Ensuring That We All Become A More Sagacious African Generation. With This Column, We’re Hoping To Disseminate The Latest Happenings In Our Socio-Political Climate From Across The Continent, Whilst Starting A Conversation About What’s Important For Us To All Discuss. From Political Affairs To Socio-Economic Issues, ‘What’s Going On’ Will Discuss Just That.

Zimbabwe Police block opposition party rally ahead of upcoming by-elections

In 2020, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) suspended the previously scheduled by-elections to fill seats in the country’s national assembly and local authority positions. The suspensions were effected by the government’s Covid-19 regulatory ban on public gatherings, in order to control the spread of the virus amidst the global pandemic. Two years later, president Emmerson Mnangagwa has approved March 26 as the date for the long-awaited by-elections, however, him and his ruling party Zanu PF have been consistently accused of stifling opposition parties ahead of the coming polls.

On Saturday, police in Zimbabwe prevented opposition party leader Nelson Chamisa from holding a scheduled rally in Marondera, a city located 70 kilometres away from capital city Harare. Despite a government-sanctioned ban on protests and large political gatherings, thousands of Zimbabweans supporting the Chamisa-led Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) took the streets, in defiance of an order that exemplifies the current administration’s attitude towards civil dissent. Thankfully, no violent acts took place, with Chamisa dismissing his supporters in order to avoid any fatal happenings.

The rally also signalled the deep dissatisfaction of the Zimbabwean populace with the Mnangagwa-led government, which they hoped would bring about a positive turn in economic and political fortunes following the ousting of former strongman president Robert Mugabe. In nearly four years, Mnangagwa’s leadership tenure has deepened the country’s economic woes, with inflation continuing to rise as well as the continuation of rampant corruption, while democratic ideals are being flouted in much the same way Mugabe did. It has worsened citizen’s distrust for government, and while thousands are impassioned against the current administration, political apathy is now rife amongst a significant portion of Zimbabweans who are solely focused on survival and don’t believe elections will solve the country’s myriad of systemic problems.

Ancient Timbuktu manuscripts digitised for public viewing

Last week, Google Arts and Culture launched a virtual gallery to showcase over 40,000 digitised pages of the Timbuktu manuscripts. These iconic manuscripts, some dating back to the 11th century, contain knowledge ranging from maths and geography to astrology and astronomy to music and biology. In 2012, Islamist militant groups took hold of the Northern Mali city, going after important artefacts like these manuscripts, which were, thankfully, smuggled to Bamako by several families who understood their cultural value.

For centuries, Timbuktu was a hub of knowledge, playing an integral role in the spread of Islam across the African continent and also furthering intellectual discuss on a range of subjects. The manuscripts are written on a range of materials, from Italian paper to goat, sheep and even fish skins. This process of digitising the manuscripts took about seven years, following an initial conversation between librarian (and manuscript smuggler) Dr. Abdel Kader Haidara and Google in 2014. The virtual gallery is part of a new Google Arts and Culture project titled Mali Magic, which also celebrates the West African country’s music, modern art and monuments.

The monuments section contains over 50 exhibits, including the first online, interactive tours of some of Mali’s most significant historic sites. The collection also contains videos and images dedicated to the country’s contemporary art scene, as well as profiles of some of the artists. For the music section, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawara wrote and recorded Maliba, a 7-track album dedicated to Mali’s cultural heritage and spirit. With its multi-pronged approach, Mali Magic captures and helps preserve the legacy of a country with a significant and rich culture, despite currently being riddled with insurgency and political uncertainty.

Chad military government starts peace talks with opposition groups

Last April, former long-term Chad president Idriss Deby Itno died after sustaining injuries while leading army troops against the Libya-based opposition rebel group, Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT). Immediately after, Deby’s four-star general son, Mahamat Idriss Deby immediately took over power in an unconstitutional manner, consolidating his father’s autocratic style of rule even though Deby consistently paraded himself as a democratic candidate at every election.

Instead of condemning the power grab, the African Union supported Mahamat Idriss Deby’s military government, seemingly satisfied by claims that it was transitional administration for towards eventual elections and a democratic administration. All of this political turmoil is happening during a fight against armed insurgent groups within the landlocked West African country. Ahead of a proposed national dialogue for a new constitution, scheduled for May, the military government has started peace talks with these rebel groups, as a first steps towards ending rebellion and holding peaceful elections.

Taking place in Doha, Qatar, the talks involves 44 armed rebel and opposition groups, with mediation between both parties by African Union Commission head Moussa Faki Mahamat and Qatar’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Sultan bin Saad Al-Muraikhi. As a condition, the rebels asked for general amnesty and release of prisoners, which the military government has granted to hundreds but so far excluded FACT. Currently, the talks are expected to last several days, especially as participants representing FACT walked out of Sunday morning’s meeting.

Gunmen massacre over 80 people in Nigeria’s Kebbi State

Due to the Nigerian government’s inability to decisively end fatal insecurity in the northwest region, primarily perpetrated by armed groups, many communities have had to form vigilante groups in a bid to defend their lives. In the Zuru Emirate of Kebbi State, the vigilante group is known as ‘Ya San Kai’ and, last week Sunday (March 7), it partnered with the military on a joint operation to repel armed bandits roaming the border between Kebbi and Niger states.

According to Daily Trust, the military realised that the bandits had the numerical, positional and arms advantage, and decided to opt for a tactical withdrawal. However, the Yan Sa Kai men refused, leading to the death of over at least 63 volunteer vigilantes. Speaking to Reuters, Usman Sani, head of Yan Sa Kai and a retired soldier, said that the group’s plan to attack the bandits in the Sakaba area of Kebbi state must have been leaked to the bandits. “They lay in ambush, hid their motorcycles in the shrubs, circled us and opened fire in different directions,” Sani said.

About 48-hours later, the entourage of the Kebbi state deputy governor, Sama’ila Yombe, was ambushed by bandits while visiting Kanya community of Danko Wasagu local government area. According to Dabai, who said he escaped narrowly, the gunmen had mixed in with members of the community and were equipped with “much heavier calibre weapons than AK-47. The ambush led to the death of at least 18 soldiers from the 223 battalion stationed in Zuru. Wives of the deceased soldiers have since protested the deaths of their husbands, with a viral video from the protests showing their heartbreak and bitterness.

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