Africa Theater

Rwanda votes to extend presidential term limits

Approximately six million Rwandans on Dec. 19 approved a referendum by a vote of 98% to amend Article 101 of the Rwanda constitution which states the president may only serve two seven-year terms. The referendum will allow President Paul Kagame (official profile) to serve another seven-year term beginning in 2017 and then two more five-year terms. Kagame has served as president since 2003. Last month, the Rwandan Senate unanimously approved the referendum following approval from Rwanda's lower house of parliament in October. Also in October, Rwanda's Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of the referendum, but this did not stop the vote from moving ahead.

Nigerian farmers can sue Shell in Netherlands

The Hague Court of Appeals ruled Dec. 18 that Royal Dutch Shell can be sued in a Dutch court for their involvement in oil spills in Nigeria. The ruling stems from a suit brought by four Nigerian farmers that claimed Shell and its Nigerian subsidiaries were responsible for oil leaks leading to their lands being damaged. In a statement explaining their reasoning for their decision, the Court of Appeals said, "It cannot be established in advance that the parent company is not liable for possible negligence of the Nigerian operating company."

Nigeria: army massacre of Shi'ites claimed in north

Human rights advocates are demanding an investigation following a Nigerian army raid on a Shi'ite sect in which hundreds of followers were reportedly killed in Zaria, a city in north-central Kaduna state. Details of the Dec. 12 raid are still sketchy, with the three attacked areas of the city still sealed off by security forces. A local journalist said he counted more than 800 bodies brought to the city morgue. A spokesman for the sect, Ibrahim Musa, said that as many as 1,000 of its members had been killed, and accused the army of covering up the death toll, saying that soldiers had been taking the bodies of the dead to an "unknown destination." The army has only confirmed it had arrested Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, and his wife. More have reportedly been killed as follwers of the sect have attempted to protest in defiance of the curfew since the massacre.

China gets naval base in Djibouti —and Namibia?

Last month, the New York Times reported that China is to establish its first overseas military base as part of "a sweeping plan to reorganize its military into a more agile force capable of projecting power abroad." The base, in the Horn of Africa mini-state of Djibouti, will be used for policing the Gulf of Aden against piracy. The US also has 4,000 troops stationed at Djibouti's Camp Lemonnier—from which it conducts drone operations in Somalia and Yemen. Former colonial master France as well as Japan and other nations also station forces in Djibouti. (The Hill, Dec. 10) Now reports are mounting that China is seeking a second base in Africa—this time in Nambia, which currently hosts no foreign military forces.

Mali: who is behind Bamako attack?

Armed assailants seized the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali, Nov. 20, taking some 170 hostages and sparking a confrontation with security troops and US and French special forces in which at least 27 people are dead. A group calling itself al-Mourabitoun claimed responsibility jointly with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Al-Mourabitoun is said to be the new outfit of Algerian Islamist leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar—who was twice reported killed, once in a Chadian military operation in Mali in 2013 and then earlir this year in a US air-strike in Libya. In a statement posted on Twitter on June 19, just after the Libyan air-strike, the group said he was "still alive and well and he wanders and roams in the land of Allah, supporting his allies and vexing his enemies." (SMHCNN, DNA)

Nigeria: anguish amid Boko Haram terror

At least 32 people were killed and dozens more wounded in a Nov. 17 blast at a crowded vegetable market in the northeastern Nigerian city of Yola, capital of war-torn Adamawa state. Yola was also the scene of an Oct. 24 mosque bombing that left 27 dead. These are but the latest in a relentless campaign of terror attacks by Boko Haram that has left over 1,600 dead in Nigeria and neighboring Chad and Cameroon over the past four months. (Al Jazeera, Nov. 17) The new attack comes just as a Nigerian online activist has won acclaim in his country for calling out Facebook's double standards on which terrorist attacks warrant attention. Activst Jafaar Jafaar in a popular post noted the prodigious attention Facebook is devoting the Paris terrorist attacks that have left 130 dead—with a "Safety Check" feature for residents of the city, and a campaign by users to superimpose the French tricolor over their profile pictures. Jafaar especially made note of the January attack at the town of Baga, in Nigeria's northeastern Borno state, in which an estimated 2,000 were killed—eliciting no such response from Facebook. (News24, Nigeria, Nov. 17)

Crimes against humanity charges in Burkina Faso

The leader of last month's attempted military coup in Burkina Faso, Gen. Gilbert Diendere, was charged Oct. 16 with crimes against humanity. Prosecutor Col. Sita Sangare, Burkina Faso's director of military justice, said that he has charged 23 people  so far with charges ranging from murder and concealing the bodies of the dead to threatening state security and fraud. The prosecutors are also looking to charge Diendere's wife for her part in the events. During the military coup attempt at least 11 people were killed and more than 250 injured. The coup started when Diendere took the president and his cabinet hostage right before elections last month. The election has been rescheduled for Nov. 29.

Ethiopia: 'Zone 9' bloggers acquitted

Five Ethiopian bloggers on Oct. 16 were acquitted of terrorism charges relating to publications on their Zone9 website. The publications, critical of the government, landed nine bloggers in court, with one charged in absentia, in April 2014, for violation of Ethiopia's broad anti-terrorism law. In July five bloggers were unexpectedly released after being cleared by the court. In the new decision, the court announced that documents provided by prosecutors were insufficient to prove terrorism, leading to the release of four bloggers. Although cleared of terrorism charges, one blogger remains detained on charges of inciting violence. The releases come as a surprise for a nation ranked as one of the world's least free.

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