South Africa Erupts in Another Bout of Xenophobic Riots

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Editor’s Note: Every Friday, Andrew Green curates the top news and analysis from and about the African continent.

A week of riots in South Africa targeting foreign-owned businesses has left at least 10 people dead and dozens of shops destroyed across Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria. The attacks shut down entire neighborhoods, as South Africans, enraged by the perception that foreigners are taking their jobs, looted shops and set them ablaze. This latest eruption of xenophobia comes amid deepening inequality in Africa’s second-largest economy, where more than a quarter of people are unemployed.

South Africa has wrestled with xenophobia since the end of the apartheid era, as South Africa-based migration expert Loren B. Landau explained in a May interview with WPR. Xenophobic rhetoric has begun creeping into political speech. “What used to be the language of the street has become the language of mainstream politics,” Landau said.

President Cyril Rampahosa, who hedged on the issue of immigration during his presidential campaign earlier this year, released a video statement Tuesday saying, “We do not allow and cannot tolerate attacks on people from other African countries.” But that has not quelled a wave of retaliation outside of South Africa targeting South African embassies and companies across the continent. The South African telecom giant MTN and grocery chain Shoprite both temporarily shuttered stores in Nigeria amid protests.

Even as calm began to return to Johannesburg and Pretoria amid a security clampdown, another bout of demonstrations began in Cape Town, where protesters gathered outside a meeting of the World Economic Forum on Wednesday to demand a heightened government response to the recent spate of murders of young South African women. Security forces used water cannons and stun grenades to disperse the protesters. According to Africa Check, a non-profit fact-checking organization based in Johannesburg, a woman is murdered every three hours in South Africa.

Keep up to date on Africa news with our daily curated Africa news wire.

Here’s a rundown of news from elsewhere on the continent:

West Africa

Nigeria: The convergence of multiple security crises in Nigeria risks further destabilizing Africa’s most populous country, with unrest spilling over into neighboring states, a senior United Nations official warned. Agnes Callamard, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, called for an overhaul of Nigeria’s security forces. Their abuses have perpetuated the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria, clashes between nomadic herders and farmers in the center of the country, and the emerging Islamic Movement in Nigeria, which Alex Thurston wrote about for WPR in July. While Callamard cited a lack of accountability for all perpetrators of violence, Callamard primarily faulted the “generalized system of impunity” for police and military officials who have used excessive force in responding to these crises.

Burkina Faso: A military court in Burkina Faso issued lengthy prison sentences to two generals found guilty of masterminding a coup attempt in 2015 that sought to take down a transitional government in the wake of the ouster of long-time leader Blaise Compaore. Gen. Gilbert Diendere, a Compaore loyalist, briefly took power after his troops staged the coup, only to step down days later under international pressure. He received a 20-year sentence, although additional charges are still pending and he could ultimately face life in prison. His ally, Gen. Djibril Bassole, was found guilty of treason and given a 10-year sentence. Though Diendere is in jail, there are lingering allegations that elements of the powerful Presidential Security Regiment that he led are lending support to extremist groups in a bid to undermine the current democratically elected government, as Alex Thurston documented in a May briefing for WPR.

Central Africa

Gabon: Questions about the health of President Ali Bongo are resurfacing following reports that he was forced to seek medical treatment while on a trip to London this week. Bongo suffered a stroke when he was in Saudi Arabia last year and has made few public appearances since, raising questions about his fitness to continue to govern Gabon. His office refuted the reporting, saying Bongo was in good health and “remains in charge of the country and would return home soon.”

North Africa

Algeria: In pushing for elections before the end of the year, Algeria’s powerful army chief may be setting up a clash with civilian protesters. Since forcing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power in April, demonstrators have demanded the removal of the country’s entire entrenched political elite before elections are held. Abdelkader Bensalah, the speaker of the upper house of parliament, was installed as an interim leader after Bouteflika’s ouster, but his term technically expired in July. Lt. Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, a Bouteflika ally who has emerged as the new face of the regime, is now insisting an election date be set by the middle of September. Algeria’s regime has appeared paralyzed by the ongoing demonstrations, as Francisco Serrano reported in an in-depth article for WPR last month, but Gaid Salah has made it increasingly clear that he will not accede to all of the protester’s demands. “There won’t be a total and deep overhaul… as demanded by some,” he said on Monday, according to Al Jazeera.

Lt. Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah presides over a military parade near Algiers,
July 1, 2018 (AP photo by Anis Belghoul).

East Africa

Kenya: A prominent land rights activist was tortured and murdered last week outside Kenya’s capital. Esther Mwikali was found dead in Muranga County, northeast of Nairobi, where she had been leading efforts on behalf of a community of squatters to prevent wealthy landowners from seizing the plots where they live. Mwikali’s family, who were also squatting on the land, had received regular threats to leave, and Mwikali’s husband had already fled in response to the ongoing intimidation. Mwikali was reported missing last week after she failed to show up for a community meeting she had organized.

South Sudan: Three factions that were not part of last year’s peace deal announced last week that they have formed an alliance to work toward “a common unified position to address the conflict in South Sudan.” The highest profile member of the alliance is President Salva Kiir’s former chief of staff, Paul Malong, who allegedly masterminded some of the worst atrocities in the early days of South Sudan’s civil war in 2013 before ultimately declaring his own rebel movement in 2018. Analysts doubt that there will be immediate ramifications on the ground because none of the factions of the new alliance command significant forces. But it could make negotiations to end the persistent hostilities more difficult, given the varying demands of the three groups. It could also further undermine an already faltering peace deal that has helped reduce violence, but delivered little else, as Julian Hattem wrote in a briefing for WPR last week.

Southern Africa

Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe, the freedom fighter who helped secure Zimbabwe’s independence only to lead a brutal dictatorship that lasted nearly three decades, died Friday at the age of 95. Mugabe was a founding member of the Zimbabwe African National Union, or ZANU, and, after serving a decade in prison for criticizing the white minority government, led a guerilla war against it from Mozambique. After a coalition of fighters secured Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, ZANU scored an overwhelming electoral victory and Mugabe was named prime minister. He became president after a constitutional revision in 1987. He remained president until he was forced from office in 2017. His decades in power were defined by a crackdown on internal dissidents, in which tens of thousands of Zimbabweans were killed; the controversial seizure of white-owned farms; and the deterioration of the country’s economy.

Botswana: A date is set for Botswana’s presidential election: Oct. 23. The vote, which includes parliamentary and local elections, promises to be contentious. President Mokgweetsi Masisi is attempting to cling to power despite relentless criticism from his predecessor, Ian Khama. Despite handpicking Masisi as his successor and turning power over to him a year ahead of elections, Khama has since become disillusioned with his protégé, who he has accused of acting like an autocrat. In May, Khama quit the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, which has held power since Botswana’s independence. But the party’s grip has been slipping, and Masisi now faces challenges from both an opposition coalition, the Umbrella for Democratic Change, and Khama’s Botswana Patriotic Front.

Zambia: A senior opposition figure was arrested last week for allegedly implying that President Edgar Lungu was a dog in an online video. In the clip, which was shared widely over social media, National Democratic Congress leader Chishimba Kambwili said, “Some dogs from Chawama do not get tired of traveling.” Chawama is a suburb of the capital, Lusaka, where Lungu previously lived and served as a member of parliament. Kambwili is currently out on bail while he awaits trial later this month on charges of defaming the president, which he has denied. Once an ally of Lungu, Kambwili helped lead last year’s impeachment efforts against the president, as Robbie Corey-Boulet wrote about in a WPR briefing at the time. His recent arrest is the latest evidence of Lungu’s efforts to sideline his political rivals.

Top Reads From Around the Web

Year of Return: A Look at Ghana’s Fervent Invitation: Ghana has dubbed 2019 the “year of return” and called on members of its diaspora across Africa to return to the country, which played a key role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The publication Circumspecte looks at the opportunities presented by the anticipated influx of visitors, including a much-needed overhaul of Ghana’s tourism sector, but also an opportunity to jumpstart conversations on the legacy of the slave trade, both in Ghana and among the diaspora.

The National Health Insurance: Can Zweli Mkhize Pull This Off?: For Bhekisisa, Mia Malan examines the track record of new Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and asks whether he is positioned to execute a massive overhaul of South Africa’s health care system. In response to massive inequality, South Africa is attempting to reorganize its national health insurance program to make basic, affordable care available to everyone. The question is whether Mkhize has the political clout to pull it off without allowing the new system to be overtaken by corruption.

Andrew Green is a freelance journalist based in Berlin. He writes regularly about health and human rights issues. You can view more of his work at www.theandrewgreen.com.

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