Top stories of the week (18 – 22 June)

Fighting in the Kivus divides the UN Security Council (Congo Siasa)

Rwandan involvement in the recent fighting, which is still confined to a tiny patch of land of about twenty square kilometers, has fueled much debate in recent weeks. Most foreign diplomats in Kinshasa – as well as some in Kigali I have spoken with – privately agree with the conclusions of Human Rights Watch, that Rwanda is helping M23 recruit soldiers, and is possibly also supplying the rebels with food, weapons and free passage through their territory.

Kigali, however, has vehemently denied the allegations, and aside from expressions of concerns by diplomats – including a letter from Washington a few weeks ago – there have been few concrete demarches by capitals. Meanwhile, after a week of calm, the fighting saw a brief peak again on Thursday, when M23 was almost able to take a large military camp at Rumangabo and cut off the Bunagana road.

Now the diplomatic focus is shifting to New York, where, in response to the allegations of Rwandan involvement, the UN Security Council called yesterday for a «full investigation of credible reports of outside support to the armed groups.»

This statement was more than puzzling. At the same time at the Chinese president of the council signed the statement, the UN Group of Experts was in the process of submitting its interim report, which reportedly includes investigations into these very allegations. According to diplomats working for Security Council members, one of their colleagues is threatening to obstruct the publication of the report in the coming week. The justification given for this would be that the submission of the report flouted procedural rules, but the diplomats I spoke to pointed to larger, political disagreements linked to the allegations of Rwandan involvement in the eastern Congo.

Meanwhile, Congolese diplomats have upped their campaign against Rwanda, with their foreign minister traveling to Dar es Salaam and Bujumbura, while security officials visited Kampala during this past week. Ambassador Ileka Atoki, who is currently posted to Paris but used to be the Congo’s permanent representative to the United Nations, is headed to New York this week to make the case to the Security Council, and specifically asking for the UN report to be made public.


US military expands covert intelligence operations in Africa (Washington Post / The Guardian)

The US military is expanding its secret intelligence operations across Africa, establishing a network of small air bases to spy on terrorist hideouts from the fringes of the Sahara to jungle terrain along the equator, according to documents and people involved in the project.

At the heart of the surveillance operations are small, unarmed turboprop aircraft disguised as private planes. Equipped with hidden sensors that can record full-motion video, track infrared heat patterns, and vacuum up radio and cellphone signals, the planes refuel on isolated airstrips favoured by African bush pilots, extending their flight range by thousands of kilometres.

About a dozen air bases have been established in Africa since 2007, according to a former senior US commander involved in setting up the network. Most are small operations run out of secluded hangars at African military bases or civilian airports.

The extent of the missions have not been previously reported but are partially documented in public US defence department contracts. The operations have intensified in recent months, part of a growing shadow war against al-Qaida affiliates and other militant groups. The surveillance is overseen by US Special Operations forces but relies heavily on private military contractors and support from African troops.


Police, protesters clash again in Sudanese capital (Reuters)

Sudanese riot police armed with batons and tear gas fought with student protesters in Khartoum on Wednesday, said witnesses, in a fourth day of anti-government demonstrations.

Student groups, who have led the Khartoum rallies against planned government spending cuts, have sought to leverage anger over rising prices into a wider protest movement, but previous demonstrations have failed to gain broader momentum.

The Arab-African nation has faced soaring food prices and a weakening currency since South Sudan seceded a year ago, taking with it about three quarters of the country’s economically-vital oil output.

On Wednesday, riot police carrying batons blocked off a major road and chased scores of students in the streets around the University of Khartoum, activists and two witnesses said.


Waking up to the maths of malaria (Reuters)

The number of malaria deaths has fallen dramatically in the last decade due to increased aid spending on basic items such as insecticide-treated bed nets and drugs, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

More excitingly, the holy grail of a vaccine against a notoriously adaptable parasite no longer appears unobtainable after an experimental vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline was shown last year to halve the risk of African children getting the disease.

Even before the prospect of a vaccine, companies across Africa were waking up to the commercial sense of investing in a malaria-free workforce – and the results are encouraging governments to get in on the act.

Faced with endemic malaria in the 240,000 population town around its Obuasi gold mine in Ghana, AngloGold Ashanti, the world’s third largest bullion producer, launched a multi-pronged campaign of bed-nets, indoor insecticide spraying and drugs that cut infections from 79,237 in 2005 to fewer than 16,000 in 2008.

The programme cost the Johannesburg-based firm $1.3 million a year, but over that time the malaria drug bill at the mine’s hospital dropped from $55,000 to $9,800 a month, while work days lost each month fell from 6,983 to just 282.

«It really made economic sense because of the absenteeism and the cost of medication,» said Steve Knowles, the head of AngloGold’s anti-malaria operations.

The Ghana model is now being extended to commmunities around its mines in Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Mali and


90 days of disaster
(Bridges from Bamako)

It’s been exactly three months since the coup d’état that ousted President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT), Mali’s democratically elected president, just a few weeks from the end of his second and final term of office. Now seems like an appropriate time to take stock of the coup’s impact on Mali.

Looking back, it’s hard to see how the situation in Mali could possibly have gotten any worse than it is now if the coup had never taken place. An ATT-led government, left to its own devices, might eventually have lost the north; elections might never have happened; the economic hardships might have come about anyway. But all these things definitely did happen since Captain Sanogo and his colleagues came to power. Not to mention the added insult of the attack on Dioncounda Traoré, the country’s transitional president, who a month later is still recuperating in Paris, and undoubtedly afraid for his security should he return to Mali.

Yes, Mali was badly governed before the current crisis. Yes, its leaders were corrupt. Yes, there was a lack of political will to confront the problem in the north. As I said, maybe Captain Sanogo had a point about all these grievances. Yet the last 90 days suggest that whatever problems Mali was facing on March 21, a putsch was not the answer to them. “Sanogo’s only merit is getting two-thirds of his country occupied,” Niger’s foreign minister recently told VOA.

Picture of the week

Ugandan police leave after raiding a gay rights workshop organised by the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project outside Kampala on Monday. Photograph: Michele Sibiloni/AFP/Getty Images

This was followed by the news of a ban on 38 non-governmental organisations accussed by Simon Lokodo, ethics and integrity minister, of undermining the national culture by promoting homosexuality (The Guardian)

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