Polisario separatists have dismissed as "window dressing" Morocco's announcement of a pullback from a zone of the contested Western Sahara that has raised tensions with their Algiers-backed movement.
The Foreign ministry in Rabat said Sunday that Morocco will "proceed from today with a unilateral withdrawal from the (Guerguerat) zone," in what it said was a decision taken by King Mohamed VI at the request of UN chief Antonio Guterres.
It gave no details on the pullback.
"The Moroccan decision to withdraw its troops near Guerguerat by a few hundred metres is window dressing," the Polisario Front said in a statement later Sunday.
"It barely disguises Rabat's disdain for international legitimacy, its obstinacy and refusal for almost three decades to allow for the implementation" of UN resolutions on the Western Sahara, it said.
The Polisario said it supported the UN Secretary-General's call "to respect the spirit and the letter of the ceasefire in force since 1991", reiterating its demands for a referendum on self-determination for the Sahrawi people.
It accused Morocco of "blocking a settlement, rejecting negotiations" and UN mediation efforts.
New military post
Tensions flared in 2016 after the Polisario set up a new military post in Guerguerat near the Mauritanian border, a stone's throw from Moroccan soldiers.
The move came after Morocco last August started building a tarmac road in the area south of the buffer zone separating the two sides.
Morocco and the Polisario fought for control of the Western Sahara from 1974 to 1991, with Rabat taking over the desert territory before a UN-brokered ceasefire in the former Spanish colony.
Rabat considers the Western Sahara an integral part of Morocco and proposes autonomy for the resource-rich territory under its sovereignty.
Spain and France, who shared colonial power in pre-independence Morocco, and the United States have welcomed Rabat's announcement of a Guerguerat pullback.
Madrid and Paris called on the Polisario to follow suit.
The President of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Judge Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi, Monday began her visit to victims of the Lord's Resistance Army rebels benefiting from Trust Fund's assistance projects in northern Uganda.
Judge Fernandez arrived in the country on February 23 at the invitation of the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV), an independent body associated with the ICC.
She is accompanied by the board members and the Director of the TFV.
The TFV provides assistance to victims and their families in ICC situation countries, through programmes of psychological and physical rehabilitation and material support.
Ms Fernandez first visited Awach Sub-county headquarters in Gulu District Monday morning where she interacted with over 100 war victims from the districts of Omoro, Amuru and Nwoya.
In the four districts, ICC funded Gulu Women's Economic Development and Globolisation [GWED-G], an NGO supporting a total of 1,427 LRA war victims.
Judge Fernandez was also scheduled to visit Lukodi Village in Bungatira Sub-county where 54 residents were massacred allegedly on the orders of former LRA rebel commander Dominic Ong'wen in May 2004.
Mr Ong'wen is currently at ICC Detention centre in The Netherlands, facing 70 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity he allegedly committed in northern Uganda.
An estimated 44,368 (26,264 Females and 18,104 males) have benefited under TFV. Some 35,460 victims were in the DRC and 8,908 in Uganda.
Burundi will have to wait longer to join the Southern African Development Community (SADC) after a ministerial meeting ruled against immediate admission of the country to the 15-member regional bloc.
Tanzania’s Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation Minister Augustine Mahiga said Burundi’s application was assessed by the Inter-State Politics and Diplomacy Committee of SADC’s Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, which convened in Dar es Salaam on February 24, 2017.
Mr Mahiga said Burundi, currently locked in a political turmoil, had been directed to put its house in order first before its request could be considered.
However, President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government last week once again refused to attend peace talks to negotiate with the main umbrella opposition movement, the National Council for the Restoration of Arusha Agreement and Rule of Law (CNARED) — which is exiled in Brussels. The talks are mediated by former Tanzania President Benjamin Mkapa.
Should Burundi join Tanzania as a member of the SADC, the move could complicate the direction the East Africa Community takes for the remaining phases of integration.
Nigeria have lined up international friendlies against Senegal and Burkina Faso in London in March.
The Super Eagles will face the Teranga Lions on March 23 and the Stallions four days later as part of their build-up for the 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifier against South Africa in June.
Nigeria have won eight, drawn five and lost three times in 16 previous matches against Senegal.
They have never lost to Burkina Faso in 13 previous games.
Failed to qualify
Both friendlies will take place at the Hive Stadium in Canons Park - home of English fourth-tier side Barnet FC.
Three-time African champions Nigeria have failed to qualify for the last two editions of the Africa Cup of Nations.
But under new manager Gernot Rohr, who took charge in August, the Super Eagles got off to a flying start in their 2018 World Cup qualifiers, recording a 2-1 win in Zambia and a 3-1 victory at home against Algeria.
The other games
"We are not thinking too far ahead of the World Cup games against Cameroon later in the year," Rohr told BBC Sport.
"These two friendly matches in England will help us prepare for South Africa in June.
"We have to take it one step at a time, first we focus on South Africa then we start to look at Cameroon."
Nigeria's six points, coupled with some surprising results in the other games, leaves them with an early four-point lead in their 2018 World Cup qualifying group ahead of Cameroon and Zambia. (BBC Sport)
Xenophobic violence is, once again, rearing its ugly head in South Africa's Gauteng Province.
Gauteng, which means "place of gold", is the smallest of South Africa's nine provinces but it is highly urbanised and home to the country's largest city, Johannesburg and the administrative capital, Pretoria.
In the last three weeks, there have been numerous indications that foreign nationals were under threat in South Africa.
There was a flare-up of attacks on foreign-owned residences and businesses in Rosettenville, Johannesburg and Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria.
The registration of an explicitly xenophobic political party, South African First, was also another signal.
Last Friday, a group that calls itself “Concerned Mamelodi residents” staged an anti-foreigners march in Pretoria.
The organisers had spent the past three weeks mobilising people, distributing blue flyers in Pretoria.
The flyer reads: “Why is the government giving asylum-seeker status to Nigerians, Zimbabweans, Pakistanis? Is there war in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Pakistan etc? Unemployment is at 34% in South Africa but they give people asylum-seeker status; when there is no work in South Africa, what do you expect them to do? They will commit crimes. Go to Spar, Cash Crusaders, Nandos, restaurants and other companies etc. It is only Zimbabweans and other foreign nationals working there. Where must South Africans work?”
The flyer concludes: “Nigerians, Pakistanis, Zimbabweans etc bring nothing but destruction; hijack our buildings, sell drugs; inject young South African ladies with drugs and sell them as prostitutes. How is that helping us? They have destroyed our beloved Johannesburg, now they are destroying Pretoria.”
The march sparked violent clashes with the security agencies and heightened fear among foreign nationals.
Ms Rudo Gwaze of Capital Park in Pretoria West said they were now living in fear.
“We're scared because the last two times the attacks happened, it started off with signs like these. I may have to go away from this place until I’m sure there is calm,” Ms Gwaze said.
The last two bouts of attacks took place in 2008 and in 2015. Several people were killed while others were left injured during the nationwide attacks.
The Africa Diaspora Forum (ADM) chairperson, Mr Marc Gbaffou, said they had been receiving calls from foreign nationals who said “they do not know where to go”.
He described the flyer’s rhetoric as consisting “slanderous and defamatory attacks on the migrant communities mentioned” and urged authorities not to allow the march to take place.
One of the organisers, Mr Makgoka Lekganyane, said their march was legal and they would not be discouraged from telling the truth. The march had been met with stern opposition from civil and religious organisations.
“Unemployment is high but they give people asylum-seeker status. It must be stopped. The little jobs that are created, go to foreigners. Our borders need to be secured. These people need to be taken back to their countries,” Mr Lekganyane said.
Mr Gbaffou said calls by Nigeria for the African Union (AU) to step in needed to be taken seriously.
Nigeria's senior presidential aide on foreign affairs, Mr Abike Dabiri-Erewa, claimed that 116 Nigerians had been killed in South Africa in the last two years.
“This is unacceptable to the people and government of Nigeria,” said Mrs Dabiri-Erewa in an emailed statement.
Mr Gbaffou said: “We are waiting to see the response from the South African government. We hope they will not come out in denial that there is no xenophobia like they did in the past.”
ADM organised a prayer session on Thursday against the Friday march.
The chairperson of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) Justice and Peace Commission, Bishop Abel Gabuza, called for calm and restraint.
“We cannot stress it enough that, even in cases of extreme dissatisfaction with law enforcement and alleged criminal activities perpetrated by some foreign nationals, community members should not take the law into their own hands. No grievance justifies violence against foreign nationals,” said Bishop Gabuza.
The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) also called on authorities to remain vigilant and to prevent a repeat of xenophobic violence.
“Government should take the necessary steps to protect foreign nationals and also initiate interventionist measures aimed at fostering understanding of the conditions that often lead foreign nationals to seek refuge in South Africa, in the same way that South African exiles sought refuge across the continent in the brutal days of apartheid,” the IJR said in a statement.
And while all this was playing out in full public view, the South African government dismissed it.
Drugs and prostitution
The Department of International Relations and Corporation (DIRCO) spokesperson Clayson Monyela on Tuesday said the attacks on foreign-owned residences and businesses were “sporadic criminal incidents”.
“It was just sporadic criminal incidents, the residents were clear that they were unhappy about drugs and prostitution. You can deduce from that there is no nationalities targeted. South Africans are not xenophobic,” Mr Monyela said.
The department of Home Affairs' spokesperson, Mr Mayihlome Tshwete, confirmed they had met the organisers of Friday's march.
“They have a right to march peacefully, we spoke to them and we said as long as the march doesn't add to the current environment it is okay,” Mr Tshwete said.
In 2015, government set up an ad hoc Joint Committee on Probing Violence Against Foreign Nationals. The Committee, whose members included Cabinet ministers, came up with 12 recommendations, including that the department of Small Business social Social cohesion
Development could assist South Africans, both in financial and non-financial needs, social cohesion was to be promoted through the use of inter-cultural sport.
The Premier of Gauteng was also to ensure that mechanisms were put in place to better ensure the implementation of government policy of 30 per cent procurement from Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises and 70 per cent local procurement.
However, Mr Gbaffou believes the recommendations have not been implemented.
“We don't think they were implemented...after the attacks we didn’t hear anything. We know they will never implement the recommendations, they don't want to address the issues,” he said.
He believes Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba was to blame for precipitating the rising hostility against foreign nationals. Mr Mashaba railed against criminal foreigners in December.
“We believe that Mayor Mashaba made these pronouncements with the intention of making foreign nationals a scapegoat for the present and future failures of his administration in solving the numerous problems besetting the city,” Mr Gbaffou recorded in his letter to President Jacob Zuma.
“His utterances will have the effect of inciting xenophobic violence and mayhem against the migrant community. Already since he made his speech, migrants are reporting that they are facing increased harassment from South African citizens,” it further read.
Mr Mametlwe Sebei from the Lawyers for Human Rights ( LHR) also blamed Mr Mashaba for inciting the vigilante attacks.
“We believe the idea that some people like Mashaba can make this kind of hate speech in inciting violence against innocent people, such as it happened before with King Zwelithini. There should be impunity to accountability, we are saying enough is enough,” he said.
Nevertheless, Mayoral spokesperson Tony Taverna-Turisan questioned the motive of linking the mayor’s insistence on the rule of law being respected and the current xenophobic attacks taking place.
“It is not only ignorant but very dangerous. Mayor Mashaba has on numerous occasions condemned xenophobia and any form of violence linked to xenophobia,” Mr Taverna-Turisan said.
In Pretoria, Mr Mashaba's counterpart, Mr Solly Msimanga, sternly said there was no place in society for prejudice and violence.
“We encourage all people of Tshwane to not engage in this violent conduct and report any illegal, illicit and xenophobic conduct to local law enforcement so that we may deal with is swiftly,” the Tshwane Mayor said in a statement.
Ever since President Pierre Nkurunziza pushed through his third term in office, Burundi has appeared reluctant on EAC matters, boycotting East African Legislative Assembly meetings over its differences with Rwanda and sitting out of the EAC-led Intra-Burundi Dialogue over the involvement of political rivals.
Burundi could join Tanzania as a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a move that complicates the direction the East Africa Community takes for the remaining phases of integration.
Burundi has applied alongside the Union of Comoros for membership in the 15-country regional grouping headquartered in Gaborone, Botswana.
The applications were assessed first by the Inter-State Politics and Diplomacy Committee of SADC’s Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation which convened in Dar es Salaam on February 24.
“This meeting has been tasked to assess the eligibility of both states to join SADC before advising our heads of state accordingly,” said Tanzania’s Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation Minister Augustine Mahiga.
He added that the two countries’ applications would be decided by the organisation’s heads of states at a later date.
Bujumbura and Dar are also opposed to an economic partnership agreement between the EAC and the EU that Kenya and Rwanda have signed as Uganda tries to reconcile the positions.
Mr Mahiga said the expulsion by Mozambique of 200 Tanzanians and other foreigners was also to feature during the meeting.
“We have been informed some of those expelled were involved in criminal activities such as the drugs trade,” said Mr Mahiga.
He dismissed claims that the Tanzanians were targeted in the crackdown but added that Tanzania will continue to investigate how its nationals were treated before being deported, amid claims that some of them were beaten up.
The Kenya government has banned advertising of its services, including tenders and job applications, in commercial media.
Accounting officers have been warned, in an official memo from the Head of Public Service, that if they place their ads in the media, they would be forced to pay the cost from their pockets.
All ministries, departments and agencies have been instructed to advertise through a government newspaper, My.Gov, which the government is circulating by inserting in the Star and People Daily.
The People Daily is published by Mediamax Limited, a company associated with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
In a memo stamped ‘secret’ to all ministries, departments and agencies, President Kenyatta’s Chief of Staff and Head of Civil Service Joseph Kinyua argued that the government was trying to save money.
The memo is dated February 8, 2017, apparently the same day as a special Cabinet meeting that ordered the establishment of a government paper to “articulate” its agenda to the public.
“In line with the government’s desire to cut cost in the provision of services to the public and consequent to the Cabinet decision, there will be no need for MDA’s (ministries, departments and agencies) to use resources allocated to them to advertise their services and convey requests for services from the market,” he said in the memo that was copied to Attorney-General Githu Muigai.
The amount spent
“In this regard, each accounting officer shall ensure that any request for services by them shall be done through ‘MY.GOV’ publication. Any officer found violating this requirement will be liable to surcharge of the amount spent, besides other disciplinary action,” he warned.
The Cabinet, according to the memo, was not satisfied with the role being played by commercial newspapers and TV stations.
“During the special Cabinet meeting held on February 8, 2017, the Cabinet discussed and approved establishment of a wide circulation newspaper to be known as MY.GOV that will articulate the government agenda in a deeper and more accurate way for a better appreciation of government’s effort to improve the livelihood of the citizens,” the memo said.
Mr Kinyua said that the new free circulating newspaper will, in addition to championing the government agenda and adverts, carry articles of government programmes and opportunities for the youth and vulnerable groups, which is allegedly not carried by commercial media.
Previously thriving media sector in Kenya is shrinking, severely hit, partly by technological changes and a government advertising embargo.
Government advertising is tightly controlled by the Government Advertising Agency and is generally determined by how government officials judge coverage.
About 30 per cent of media advertising revenue comes from the government.
Tension in Puntland
Tension in Puntland, an arid autonomous region of north-east Somalia, after dozens of soldiers seized the parliament compound in the administrative capital Garowe and blocked nearby streets.
Bouteflika health update
Algerian ruling party says President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is doing well despite a health scare last week which forced him to postpone a meeting with the German Chancellor.
Kenya bans adverts
The Kenya government bans advertising of its services in commercial media.
Burkina film festival
Africa's top film festival, FESPACO, continues, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, culminating in an awards ceremony March 4.
Khartoum authorities have pardoned a Czech Christian filmmaker jailed for espionage in Sudan.
Petr Jasek had been in prison in Khartoum since December 2015 after he was arrested while documenting the violations against Christians.
He was sentenced to 25 years in jail for espionage, among other charges.
The filmmaker was pardoned after mediation between Sudanese authorities and the Czech government.
Addressing a press conference in Khartoum, Czech Foreign minister Lubomír Zaorálek, expressed his appreciation to the Sudanese authorities for the release of the filmmaker.
“I’m very glad that we are able today to conclude this unhappy case of Mr Jasek,’’ he said.
His Sudanese counterpart Ibrahim Ghandour said President Omar al-Bashir had pardoned the filmmaker.
"His excellency President Omarr al-Bashir has pardoned the Czech citizen Jasek and ordered his immediate release,’’ said the Sudanese minister.
Jasek was accused of other offences including conspiring against the state, entering and photographing military areas and works and calling on the opposition to overthrow the government.
The Kenya government has doubled relief food rations to feed 3 million people, up from an initial 1.3 million under the feeding programme, State House Spokesperson Manoah Esipisu has said.
Mr Esipisu said the government had also enhanced water trucking, especially in the 23 arid and semi arid counties that have adversely been affected by drought.
“We are tackling the drought situation with all efforts available to us, especially under the authority of the National Disaster Response that the President has committed to in terms of how we address the situation,” Mr Esipisu said.
Mr Esipisu made the remarks Sunday at Kakamega State Lodge in western Kenya, where he held his weekly press briefing.
He disclosed that the livestock off take had also been enhanced in all 23 arid and semi arid counties.
“We are buying the cattle as well as procuring goats and sheep. Since body conditions of most of them is not good, the government is slaughtering and giving locals for consumption, and for them to store in traditional ways as dried up meat. We are also supplying this meat to schools in those areas,” he said.
The State House Spokesperson also assured that development partners such as the Red Cross and UN agencies have continued to support the government in targeting specific vulnerable groups, like the elderly, women and children under the age of 5.
“These are being provided with fortified foods. Lactating mothers are also getting fortified foods, including vitamins and energy complements,” the State House Spokesperson said.
The government on February 10 declared the current drought a national disaster.
President Uhuru Kenyatta called on all stakeholders to support the government by upscaling drought mitigation programmes.