From Algeria to Zimbabwe and the countries in between, a weekly round-up of key news and analysis from Africa. Delivered Wednesday.
June 9, 2021, 1:00 a.m.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
This week’s highlights: Nigeria’s President issues a Twitter ban After the company removed his tweet, the acquitted former president Laurent Gbagbo plans to return to the country Ivory Coast, and the death of a so-called prophet shows the power of Africa’s Protestant Churches.
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Nigeria’s Twitter ban cuts 40 million users off
Last week, Twitter found itself on the wrong side of the Nigerian government when it removed a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari highlighting the country’s security tensions.
“Many of those who misbehave today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of life during the Biafra War. Those of us who have been in the fields for 30 months and been through the war will treat them in the language we understand, ”wrote Buhari in the now-deleted tweet.
During the war between the federal government and the secessionist state of Biafra (1967-1970), a government blockade led to mass starvation. Buhari’s veiled threat to today’s separatists in the south violated Twitter’s rules on abusive behavior.
In response to Twitter’s action, the Buhari government banned the platform indefinitely and banned an estimated 40 million Nigerian users. Ironically, the Department of Information and Culture announced the decision on a Twitter thread. It also states that all other social media operations and services such as streaming and chat must be licensed from the National Broadcasting Commission. Anyone who breaks the Twitter ban can be prosecuted.
Twitter has long angered Buhari and his government, even though the president has an active account with 4.1 million followers. Last year #EndSARS activists used Twitter to organize mass protests and raise awareness of their cause. After Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted in support of the movement, Buhari called for stricter regulation of the company.
The focus on Twitter also provides a convenient distraction from the tightening security situation in Nigeria. The number of kidnappings in schools has increased and bandits are rushing onto the grounds of jihadist groups to collect ransom. Pastoral violence continues in the north, as does violence over resources in the south.
Trip to the past. Nigerians are already using VPNs to circumvent the ban and bypass compliant telecommunications networks. For some citizens, crackdown on freedom of expression is reminiscent of Buhari’s tenure as a military dictator in the mid-1980s, when his regime attacked the press and arrested critics. His comments on the Biafra War, which killed up to 2 million people, but need not be fully taken into account in today’s Nigeria.
Digital authoritarianism. Nigeria’s sweeping ban serves as a lesson for social media companies around the world. Although Twitter cited freedom of expression as the reason for choosing Accra, Ghana over Lagos for its headquarters in Africa, its proximity to Nigeria – the most populous country in Africa – was intentional.
As Torinmo Salau wrote in Foreign Policy last week, most of Twitter’s jobs in Accra were focused on building business in Nigeria. (On June 5, Twitter expressed concern about the ban and promised to work “on restoring access” to Nigerian users.)
And as Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún wrote in Foreign Policy this week, the Twitter ban suggests the future hardships under Buhari. The President could use the move to further undermine the rule of law and civil rights, especially for youth. Twitter is in talks with the federal government to restore service and raises questions about whether the company will relax its strict policies on Buhari violations.
The decision then rests with Twitter: will it maintain its stance against policy violations – including by the president – or subject it to the anachronistic tactics of an increasingly repressive government?
June 9th: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds Ambassador nominations for Algeria, Cameroon, Lesotho, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia and the Republic of the Congo.
June 12: Algeria holds Parliamentary elections.
15th June: The United Nations Security Council meets to discuss Mali, Somalia and Sudan.
Gbagbo returns to Ivory Coast. Former President Laurent Gbagbo, who ruled from 2000 to the 2010 Civil War, plans to return to Ivory Coast next week after his acquittal for crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court. Gbagbo’s scheduled arrival on June 17 was announced to the crowds in the capital, Abidjan, on the occasion of his 76th birthday last week.
In 2011, Gbagbo became the first former head of state to be tried in The Hague for his alleged role in inciting post-election violence. Despite his decades of absence from his trial and subsequent appeal, Gbagbo remains a popular figure in Ivory Coast.
Incumbent President Alassane Ouattara, a formal rival of Gbagbo, said he was free to return, but it is unclear whether he will face prison sentence for embezzlement of funds following his absentee conviction in 2019.
Mali’s coup plotters sworn in. Despite regional sanctions and international condemnation, the colonel, who launched a coup in Mali last month, was sworn in as interim president on Monday. Colonel Assimi Goita took office on Monday and promised to lead the government to new elections. On May 24, the military arrested the president and prime minister of the previous transitional government in order to bring Mali back to democracy after a coup last year.
Last week the African Union and the West African bloc Ecowas suspended Mali because of the recent coup. France also stopped military cooperation with Mali, which is part of the G-5 regional Sahel terrorist group, while the World Bank paused $ 1.5 billion in funding for Mali from the International Development Association.
Kagame critic arrested in Mozambique. The Rwandan journalist Cassien Ntamuhanga was arrested on May 23 in Mozambique, where he had been in exile since 2017. Ntamuhanga was reportedly abducted by eight people who said they were police officers. Last week, authorities confirmed that Ntamuhanga had been handed over to the Rwandan embassy in Maputo, Mozambique.
The journalist was arrested after Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi visited Kigali, Rwanda, to speak about the growing insecurity in northern Mozambique. Ntamuhanga, a well-known critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, was the director of a fundamentalist Christian broadcaster. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2015 for conspiracy against the state, terrorism and murder before escaping to Mozambique, which does not have an extradition agreement with Rwanda.
Angolan generals canceled. To rid Angola of corruption, President João Lourenço dismissed the country’s security chief on May 31. General Pedro Sebastião was the President’s State Security and Intelligence Minister during a financial scandal that rocked Lourenço’s office last month when authorities reportedly seized millions of dollars, euros and Angolan kwanzas from military officials accused of embezzlement.
Lourenço also fired General Apolinário José Pereira, head of military intelligence; João Pereira Massano, head of the veterans department; and Lieutenant General António Mateus Júnior de Carvalho, Secretary of Defense and Armed Forces. The announcement of the layoffs did not directly address the allegations.
South Africa’s unemployment rate reached a staggering 32.6 percent in the first quarter of 2021. Among the under 35-year-olds, 46.3 percent were unemployed; among the graduates, the rate was almost 75 percent. South Africa’s expanded definition of unemployment includes those who are no longer looking for work. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the already high unemployment and economic decline.
Death of a prophet. One of Africa’s most prolific television evangelists, the self-proclaimed prophet TB Joshua, died suddenly on June 5th, shaking his thousands of followers. The Nigerian preacher was the founder and leader of the Evangelical Synagogue Church of All Nations, with headquarters in Lagos and branches in Ghana, South Africa and elsewhere. Joshua’s brand of prosperity gospel drew a huge following that included politicians and celebrities. It also helped launch his successful television station Emmanuel TV.
While Joshua’s followers mourn for his charity, he will also be remembered for his prophecies. He is said to have predicted economic problems in Nigeria in 2016, shortly before the devaluation of the local currency and the death of Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika in 2016. Joshua also had some failures, including mispredicting Hillary Clinton’s victory in the US in 2016. Presidential election. Earlier this year, YouTube banned its channel for claims it could cure homosexuality.
Even so, Joshua’s church continued to grow across the continent, helping him amass an estimated fortune of up to $ 15 million – and exemplifying the growing power of evangelical churches in Africa.
The problem and the solution. Nigeria’s military plays a paramount role in the country, assuming responsibility that should fall to the country’s police force – a legacy left over from years of military rule. In Foreign Policy, Nigerian historian and author Max Siollun argues that Nigeria’s military elite are also in a unique position to change this pattern.
“Why say no?” Renowned Cameroonian post-colonial scholar Achille Mbembe called for criticism when he agreed to help French President Emmanuel Macron set up the France-Africa summit later this year. Mbembe told Agence France-Presse that the summit would have a new structure that would better address Africans’ concerns and defended its decision as a risk of changing Franco-African relations.