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Algeria protests keep up pressure on post-Bouteflika regime2 minutes read

Students and magistrates have called for renewed rallies and marches in the capital and other cities across the country

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Algerian security forces use a water canon to disperse students taking part in an anti-government demonstration in the capital Algiers on April 9, 2019. Lawmakers named the speaker of the upper house as Algeria's first new president in two decades today, after the resignation of Abdelaziz Bouteflika following mass protests. STRINGER / AFP

Algerian protesters gathered for the first Friday protests since the announcement of presidential elections to succeed ousted leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika fearing a ploy by the ruling system to stay in power.

Social media, the source of mass protests which led to the end of Bouteflika’s two-decade rule, have echoed with calls for an eighth week of demonstrations, this time under the slogan of “They will all leave.”

“On Friday, we’ll show them what it means when we cry out, ‘Go away!'”

said Walid, 22, near the principal protest site outside the landmark main post office in central Algiers.

Presidential elections are to be held on July 4, interim leader Abdelkader Bensalah’s office announced on Wednesday, just hours after he pledged “transparent” polls.

The new date was set a day after Bensalah assumed office for a 90-day period, as stipulated by the constitution but much to the ire of demonstrators.

The appointment of upper house speaker Bensalah as Algeria’s first new president in 20 years has failed to meet the demands of demonstrators.

Although 77-year-old Bensalah is barred under the constitution from running in the upcoming election, protesters have nonetheless pushed for the close Bouteflika ally to step down.

Students and magistrates have called for renewed rallies and marches in the capital and other cities across the country.

“I’m not going to vote. What for?” asked Walid.

– They don’t know what’s coming –

For the first time since the anti-Bouteflika protest movement was launched in mid-February, police vehicles and forces have blocked off access to the post office.

But young protesters were undeterred.

“We will be out in large numbers, very large. They don’t know what’s coming. They won’t be able to do anything against us,” said Yassine, 23.

For Mahrez Bouich, a philosophy professor at the University of Bejaia, east of Algiers, “the July 4 election has already been rejected by the people, which also refuses Bensalah’s nomination”.

The demonstrators argue that elections cannot be free and fair if they are held under the same judicial framework and institutions as that of the Bouteflika regime.

Bensalah has received the implicit support of the army whose chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah withdrew his backing for Bouteflika, prompting his resignation on April 2.

But the general has stood up for the defence of Algeria’s institutions and warned against the “unrealistic slogans” of protesters aiming to sweep away the whole ruling system.

All eyes are now focused on the turnout on the streets on Friday, the traditional day of protests in Algeria, and whether the authorities will adopt a tougher line and step up security measures.

For the first time in the wave of demonstrations which have swept Algiers, police fired tear gas and water cannons on Tuesday to try to disperse a protest by students.

But Mohamed Hennad, a political sciences professor at the University of Algiers, said “the balance of forces will favour the street if it’s a large mobilisation on Friday” as in past weeks.

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East Africa News

One US citizen, four Africans arrested by Kenyan Police for spying for Al-Shabaab

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Three men and two women have been arrested by Kenyan security forces for preparing a terror attack in Nairobi, a police report seen by AFP on Sunday showed.

The report stated that the group comprising three men — a US citizen, a Somali and their Kenyan driver — and two Somali women were believed to be on a reconnaissance mission for an attack in the north of the capital, the report dated Saturday said.

Police received information on Friday saying that “suspected terrorists” were carrying out a surveillance operation at a pub on Kiambu Road, a spot popular for its many bars and nightclubs.

Kenyan security forces have been on high alert since the Somali Al-Shabaab group, close to Al-Qaeda, stepped up attacks in the east of the country this month, threatening to target more Kenyan and US interests.

On January 5, the Somali Al-Shabaab group attacked Camp Simba, killing three Americans and destroying several aircraft and warning Kenya to withdraw its forces from Somalia while they still “have the chance”.

Kenya sent troops into Somalia in 2011 as part of an African Union peacekeeping mission fighting against Al-Shabaab, and has seen several brutal retaliation attacks both on its troops in Somalia and civilians in Kenya.

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North Africa

UN envoy warns ‘foreign interference’ is destroying Libya

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Ghassan Salame, UN Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya./UN

Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Ghassan Salame on Saturday warned international players to stop meddling in the Libyan conflict as ‘foreign interference’ was destroying the North African country.

Salame spoke with AFP on the eve of a summit of world powers scheduled for Sunday in Germany to try to bring peace to Libya and its people.

“All foreign interference can provide some aspirin effect in the short term, but Libya needs all foreign interference to stop. That’s one of the objectives of this conference,” Ghassan Salame said in an interview ahead of the Berlin summit.

Leaders of Russia, Turkey and France are due to join talks in Berlin on Sunday held under the auspices of the United Nations, which wants to extract a pledge from foreign powers wielding influence in the region to stop meddling in the conflict — be it by supplying weapons, troops or financing.

Both leaders of the warring factions — strongman Khalifa Haftar and the head of Tripoli’s UN-recognised government Fayez al-Sarraj — are also expected at the first gathering of such scale on the conflict since 2018.

Libya has been torn by fighting between rival armed factions since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi and toppled his regime.

More recently, Sarraj’s troops in Tripoli have been under attack since April from Haftar’s forces, with clashes killing more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displacing tens of thousands.

– ‘Vicious cycle’ -Although Sarraj’s government is recognised by the UN, some powerful players have broken away to stand behind Haftar — turning a domestic conflict into what is essentially a proxy war with international powers jostling to secure their own interests from global influence to oil and migration.

Alarm grew internationally when Ankara ordered in troops early January to help shore up Sarraj, while Moscow is suspected of providing weapons, financing and mercenaries to Haftar — something Russia has denied.

“We must end this vicious cycle of Libyans calling for the help of foreign powers. Their intervention deepens the divisions among the Libyans,” said Salame, noting that the place of international players should be to “help Libyans develop themselves”. 

The UN envoy said Sunday’s meeting will also seek to “consolidate” a shaky ceasefire.

“Today we only have a truce. We want to transform it into a real ceasefire with monitoring, separation (of rival camps), repositioning of heavy weapons” outside urban zones, he said.

The UN had sought on multiple attempts to bid for peace, but talks have repeatedly collapsed.

– Erdogan issues warning -On the eve of the Berlin talks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Europe to stand united behind Sarraj’s government, as Tripoli’s fall could leave “fertile ground” for jihadist groups like IS or Al-Qaeda “to get back on their feet”.

Erdogan also played up Europe’s fears of a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis in his commentary for Politico news website, that further unrest could prompt a new wave of migrants to head for the continent.

Accusing France in particular of siding with Haftar, Erdogan said leaving Libya to the general would be a “mistake of historic proportions”. 

France has denied it was backing Haftar. But a diplomatic source noted that the fact that the general already controls 80 percent of Libya needed to be taken into account.

The European Union is watching with growing alarm at the escalating strife on its doorstep as it counts on Libya as a gatekeeper deterring migrants from crossing the Mediterranean.

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Politics

Nigeria’s dark secret haunts new generation, 50years after Biafra war

Biafran flags, an iconic red, black and green with a rising golden sun, still make appearances on the front of buildings in Enugu state as hardline separatists continue to demand independence.

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A young Biafran soldier during the civil war that lasted between 1967 - 1970./Tumblr

It’s fifty years since Nigeria ended its civil war that left about two million people dead after the old eastern region or Biafra tried to secede from the rest of the West African country.

Diekoye Oyeyinka, 33, has been billed as one of the most promising Nigerian writers of his generation. 

He went to some of the finest schools in his West African homeland but says that like the majority of his classmates he “didn’t know about Biafra until I was 14”.

When he did begin to find out about the brutal civil war that nearly tore Nigeria apart, it was not in the classroom.

Instead it was a schoolmate in his dormitory who showed him a separatist leaflet demanding Nigeria’s southeast break away from the rest of the country.

Before then Oyeyinka had known nothing about how leaders from the Igbo ethnic group declared the independent state of Biafra in 1967.

He knew nothing of the conflict that resulted and the 30 months of fighting and famine estimated to have cost over a million lives before the secessionists surrendered 50 years ago in January 1970.

“We’ve had a very brutal history, the older generation went through a lot of trauma,” Oyeyinka told AFP.

“We just sweep it under the carpet, pretending nothing happened. But without knowing our history we will repeat the same mistakes. Our history is a succession of deja-vu.”

It was to try to break this cycle of ignorance that Oyeyinka wrote the novel Stillborn – a historic epic about Nigeria from the days of British colonial rule in 1950 to 2010.

In it the civil war is the pivotal event.

– ‘Our history, our conflict’ -Unlike other famed Nigerian writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, with her novel Half Of A Yellow Sun, or Chinua Achebe’s memoir There Was A Country, Oyeyinka is one of the few non-Igbo writers to have dwelt on the conflict.

“An Igbo friend got angry at me and said ‘You can’t write about us, it’s our conflict’,” he recounted. 

But Oyeyinka insists that all Nigerians need to be made aware of what happened.

“We need to address these traumas ourselves, as a country, otherwise we are a tinder box ready to explode.”

While in the rest of Africa’s most populous nation many know little about the history of Biafra, in the former capital of the self-proclaimed state at Enugu the memory of those years lives on. 

Biafran flags — an iconic red, black and green with a rising golden sun — make appearances on the front of buildings and hardline separatists still demand independence. 

The security forces — deployed heavily in the region — are quick to stamp out any clamour for a new Biafra.

At the end of the war in 1970, Nigeria’s war leader Yukubu Gowon famously declared there would be “no victor, no vanquished” as he sought to reunite his shattered country. 

The  leader of the breakaway Republic of Biafra, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, went into exile for 13 years before being pardoned. He returned to Nigerian politics but was detained for 10 months in prison.

Leading Nigerian intellectual Pat Utomi says that many Igbos — the country’s third biggest ethnic group after the Hausa and the Yoruba — still feel marginalised.

One key event was when current President Muhammadu Buhari — then a military chief — seized power in 1983, and stopped the only Igbo aspirant to get close to leading Nigeria since the war from becoming head of state.  

“In the early 1980’s, people had forgotten about the war, but this succession of poor leadership brought bitterness among the new generations,” Utomi said.



– ‘More divided’ -Nowadays any incident — from the closure of the only airport in the southeast last year to the sacking of Igbo shops by customs officials in economic hub Lagos — can cause grievances to flare. 

“It’s important to deal with history, to write it down. In Nigeria, we try to cover it up,” Utomi said. 

“We are more divided today than we’ve ever been before the civil war. We learnt nothing from it.”

In order to try to heal the rifts Utomi helped organise a “Never Again” conference aiming to bring together key cultural and political figures to discuss the lessons of the Biafra war half a century after it ended.  

He is also a patron of the “Centre for Memories” in Enugu, a combination of a museum and library where visitors can come and “dig into history”. 

– ‘History is essential’ -History itself has been absent from Nigerian schools.

The current government reintroduced it only from last term as an obligatory subject for pupils aged 10 to 13, after more than a decade off the curriculum. 

“Teaching history is essential to build our identity as a country, and defend our patriotic values,” said Sonny Echono, permanent secretary at the education ministry. 

But schools still remain woefully short of qualified history teachers and there is no unified narrative about the civil war which does not figure in the lessons. 

“We need to teach the war in our schools,” said Egodi Uchendu, a history professor at University of Nsukka, in the former Biafra territory. 

“Eastern Nigeria is completely different from how it was experienced in other parts of the country. We need to bring in the different angles to it.” 

Chika Oduah, a Nigerian-American journalist, has crossed the country to collect hundreds of testimonies of the victims and combatants of the Biafra conflict which she publishes on her website Biafran War Memories.

She says that for many of those she interviewed it was the first time they had retold the horrors of the period. 

“A 70-something former soldier… broke down crying, when he told me how he lost his brother during the war,” she said. 

She herself only learnt at the age of 17 that her mother as a child spent two years in a camp for displaced people. 

“Our parents wanted to move on, not look at the past,” Oduah insisted. 

“But we need to talk about it, otherwise we won’t heal”.


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