What’s Going On: Military Coup in Guinea, worsening crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray & more

Notable headlines from the political landscape 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. 

Military arrests presidents and seizes power in Guinea

On Sunday evening, a group of Guinean soldiers appeared on the country’s national broadcast station to announce that they had successfully ousted president Alpha Conde and had assumed government duties in the West African nation. Earlier that day, there was sustained gunfire at the presidential palace in the capital city of Conakry, ostensibly a fight between the coup plotters and forces loyal to the former president. Countering the TV appearances of the mutineers, the national defence ministry put out a statement claiming that the coup attempt had been quelled, but subsequent development shows that the military junta has now seized power.

The United Nations, African Union, and several countries including Nigeria have condemned the coup, with ECOWAS even threatening to impose sanctions on the country if Conde’s presidency isn’t restored. These reactions are a stark opposite to the reported mood of Guinean citizens, who took to the streets in celebration of the successful coup which removed an increasingly unpopular leader. Last October, Conde won a third term in office after a controversial change to the constitution earlier in the year. In 2010, he entered office through the first democratic election in Guinea since its independence from France in 1958, however, he grew authoritarian in his decade as president.

Prior to Conde’s entry into office, Guinea endured four decades of political instability, marked by brutal military rule which greatly oppressed its citizens—as exemplified by the infamous massacre of September 2009. In his time in office, Conde made positive economic strides, bolstered by the country’s bauxite (used in manufacture of aluminium) and iron ore deposits, but it was negated by rampant accusations of human rights violations aimed at dissenters, as well as corruption and gross mismanagement of public funds that has left over half of its near 13 million citizens in poverty. His re-entry into office for the third term, under dubious means, sparked several violent protests last year and has seemingly culminated in the coup that has disgracefully ousted him.

“If the people are crushed by their elites, it is up to the army to give the people their freedom,” Lt. Col. Mamadi Doumbouya, special forces commander and former French Legionnaire, said in his Sunday night address. The junta announced that, in addition to taking over the presidency, it had taken over regional governments and dissolved the country’s constitution. It also announced its commitment to a new constitution that would be more inclusive, and a return to civilian leadership in the near future. Ministers were invited to a mandatory meeting on Monday morning, all of whom were stripped of their posts and told not to leave the country. The new military government has said that it wouldn’t persecute any former officer holders, stating that Conde was in a safe location and had access to his doctors, while claiming that its priority was setting Guinea on the right path.

So far, the Doumbouya-led regime has said all the right things to the people of Guinea, but juntas are infamously deceitful, many times providing false hopes and revealing a brutal face as things go on. Speaking to the BBC, Mamoudou Nagnalen Barry, a founding member of the opposition party, National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), expressed mixed emotions on the coup but mostly welcomed it. He hoped that the military would return power to Guinean civilians, citing Conde’s seeming thirst to remain in office forever as a catalyst for the coup.

UN predicts Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis to worsen

In the last ten months and counting, the Ethiopian government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy, has been persecuting people living in Tigray, the country’s northernmost region bordering Eritrea. The conflict is culmination of Abiy’s federal government and the former ruling (turned opposition) party, Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a political faceoff that has now devolved into a bloody affair.

After a few months of media blackout, gory and heart-breaking details began to filter through, revealing the extent of the situation. Reading through several reports points towards an ongoing genocide and ethnic cleansing, and it’s been pretty much confirmed by Abiy himself. “The situation in Tigray, Ethiopia, is, if I use one word, horrific. Very horrific,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said back in May. Today, it isn’t less horrific and there’s still uncertainty as to when it will end. Just last Thursday, the United Nations warned that the humanitarian crisis is set to “worsen dramatically,” a sinister prediction based on debilitating aid situation in the region.

“Stocks of relief aid, cash and fuel are running very low or are completely depleted. Food stocks already ran out on 20 August,” UN acting humanitarian coordinator for Ethiopia, Grant Leaity, said in a statement. His statement also alleges that Abiy’s government has consistently restricted the entrance of relief aid into Tigray, claiming that the access route via the Afar region has been blocked since August 22nd. Both Ethiopian troops and Tigrayan counter troops have also been accused of stealing aid items by the USAID mission in Addis Ababa, further reducing the already inadequate amount of relief material.

With thousands reportedly dead, gruesome sexual assault reports, displacements of Tigrayans from their homes, some seeking asylum and others living in concentration camps amidst the coronavirus pandemic, it appears the Abiy-led government is pulling out all the typical genocidal stops. Blocking the entrance of aid is common and appalling tactic used to induce starvation in order to ensure the opposition surrenders. All of this is made even more heart-wrenching and disgusting by the fact that Abiy won a Nobel Peace prize not too long ago, but here he is, leading the charge in a ghastly humanitarian crisis.

His administration has since refuted any claims that there’s been any blocking of aid, stating that the number of checkpoints have been reduced from seven to three. It’s difficult to believe, with all of the heinous crimes being committed, which, sadly but expectedly, involves the killing of aid workers—23 of those deaths have been recorded since the conflict began.

Nigerian government shuts down mobile network services in Zamfara state

Last Friday, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commision (NCC), Professor Umar Danbatta, signed a memo addressed to local telecom operators, directing them to shut down mobile network services across Zamfara state. Acting under instructions from the Federal Government, the NCC directive is apparently a combative measure against the incessant kidnapping and banditry that is increasingly plaguing the North-western state.

“The pervading security situation in Zamfara State has necessitated an immediate shut down of all telecom services in the state from today, September 3, 2021,” the memo partly reads. “This is to enable relevant security agencies to carry out required activities towards addressing the security challenges in the state. In line with this requirement, you are hereby directed to shut down all sites in Zamfara State and any site(s) in neighbouring states that could provide telecommunications service in Zamfara State. The site shutdown is for two weeks (September 03-17, 2021) in the first instance. Your urgent action in this regard is required.”

Local telecom operators have since adhered to the directive, shutting down operations across 248 base stations that give subscribers access to mobile network services. According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Zamfara state has well over 2.17 million active network users, with 1.59 million being internet users. The directive means that none of these lines have been cut off from any form of digital connections for the next two weeks at the very least. Six months after declaring the state as a no-fly zone, the Buhari-led FG has defended its latest move by alleging that mobile networks are being used to aid bandit-related activities, with claims that they are tools for consistently informing perpetrators of security measures and real time counter-attacks by security operatives.

It is expected that this directive will affect mobile network users in the neighbouring states of Kebbi, Sokoto, Kaduna, Niger and Katsina, in order to facilitate total blackout of all the cell towers in Zamfara state. Toting its ever trusty reason of national security, the FG has given a plausible cause, but in an advanced world where digital means are of great use to cracking down on crime, it’s not exactly the sort of move that inspires confidence from citizens hoping for an end to the consistently escalating insecurity issues across the countries.

In addition to restricting residents of Zamfara state from connecting with friends and family both within and beyond the state boundaries, the temporary shutdown will render emergency lines useless and make it difficult for media reporting on developments within this 2-week period. There are already sentiments that this directive plays into this administration’s seeming assault on connectivity and (social) media freedom, with some seeing it as a test-run that will fit into the obsession with regulating internet use, and might even serve as precedent for a nationwide digital blackout one day.

In immediate terms, though, what matters most is the FG putting a permanent stop to insecurity. Individuals and groups like the Northern Elders’ Forum have urged the government to go beyond bans to deal with these issues. Meanwhile, controversial Islamic cleric Sheikh Gumi has stated that armed bandits will remain until the Nigerian government provides them with blanket amnesty. So far, the statement has proven incensing, especially since there have been reports of bandits and former member of terrorist groups being “forgiven” without any prosecution—a recent investigative report by The New Humanitarian alleges that the FG is already taking care of Boko Haram defectors.

More of the same under Tanzania’s new president (?)

In late July, Tanzanian police arrested Freeman Mbowe, chairman of the opposition Chadema party, along with several other senior Chadema officials. The arrests were made during a night-time raid, hours before they were scheduled to hold a public forum in the port city of Mwanxa to demand constitutional reforms. Over a month later, Mbowe appeared at a high court in Dar-es-Salaam to face charges on terrorism financing and conspiracy. These charges have since been denounced by Chadema and Mbowe supporters as a politically-motivated move, mirroring the tactics employed by former president John Mafuguli who passed away earlier this year.

Samia Suluhu Hassan took over the remainder of Mafuguli’s second term 5-year tenure, making history as Tanzania’s first female president. It was hoped that her entrance in to office would usher in a change to Mafuguli’s bulldozer approach to opposition voices, and perhaps even bring in significant constitutional changes, but it appears to be more of the same under the new president. Mbowe’s arrest and charging to court is being criticised as a move that undermines the country’s democracy, and it doesn’t look like the Hassan-led administration is letting up any time soon.

Last week, Chadema stated that nine party members were arrested and its offices in northern lakeside town of Musoma were raided by the police, in order to block a planned symposium on constitutional reform by the party’s youth wing. Speaking to local media about the arrests, police chief in the region said the force could not allow such events to take place. “The president has instructed that the people should now focus on economic development… so such conferences will have to wait,” he said. Chadema has said this recent crackdown reflects a deepening slide into dictatorship, accusing the government of meddling in Mbowe’s case and asking the court to throw the case out.

From reports, Samia Hassan hasn’t done much to separate herself from her predecessor, and press freedom is even under threat during her leadership. Just last week, a second newspaper publication was suspended for the second month running, for “repeatedly publishing false information and deliberate incitement,” a blanket reason that hardens her administration’s stance on public dissent.

[Featured Image Credits: Web/BBC]

@dennisadepeter is a staff writer at the NATIVE.