South African Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius was released on bail this morning following the shooting death of his girlfriend, and the cable news networks devoted the vast majority of their coverage to the hearing. CNN alone spent 192 minutes in total on the story between 5:00 AM to 10:00 AM, broadcasting for three hours without a single commercial break. The network maintained a constant box on the side of its screen alerting viewers to the imminent bail hearing.
And while the Pistorius case has scandalous appeal, there are other real important news stories in Africa that the networks routinely ignore. Here are just five things happening on the African continent that have nothing to do with the Olympian’s trial:
1. U.S. sending troops to Niger.
President Obama announced in a letter to Congress that he will be deploying 100 troops to Niger, to help aid in the ongoing operations against Islamists in Mali. According to the Associated Press report on the letter, the troops will be armed “for the purpose of providing their own force protection and security,” and focus on “intelligence sharing.” This is the second such deployment that Obama has made in recent years; 100 military advisers were sent to Uganda in 2011 to aid in the hunt for wanted war-criminal Joseph Kony.
Transference of military resources to the African continent has become a hallmark of Obama’s foreign and counter-terrorism policies, as groups like Boko Haram, the Lord’s Resistance Army, al-Shabaab, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have taken on more threatening postures towards U.S. interests. The United States and Niger recently signed an agreement that would allow for the opening of a base for unmanned aircraft — or drones — to be piloted for surveillance purposes.
2. There’s a war in Mali.
The fighting in Mali continues apace, despite French claims that they will begin withdrawing troops in the coming weeks. France intervened in the fight between the Malian government and several rebel groups in January, sending U.S. and European allies scrambling to provide support for the operations. While almost all towns in Mali’s north have been retaken by the government, low-levels of fighting flare up periodically.
Complicating matters are claims of atrocities — mostly in the form of “reprisal killings — committed by the Malian Army against minorities. The International Criminal Court in the Hague has already launched an investigation into potential war-crimes committed during the course of the last year’s fighting,
3. Sales of elephant ivory are fueling terrorism.
The poaching of elephants and rhinos for their ivory is a real security threat to the United States according to a State Department official. Robert Hormats — who serves as Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Enviroment — gave an interview with AllAfrica.com, in which he agreed that ivory counts as a ‘conflict resource.’ Organized groups, like al-Shabaab and the janjaweed militia in Sudan, kill large numbers of animals, sell off the ivory illegally, and use the purchases to buy more weapons for themselves.
The majority of that ivory is being sold to China, as much as 70 percent as reported by the New York Times.
4. Africa’s economic boom.
“Seven of the ten fastest growing countries are on the African continent,” Secretary of State John Kerry declared Wednesday, in his first major speech since taking on the role. Each of those seven countries — Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Zambia, and Nigeria — had projected growth rates of 8 percent or more in 2011 according to the International Monetary Fund. In comparison, last year the U.S. economy grew by around 2 percent. By 2030, the continent is set to boast a middle-class majority for the first time, as poverty drops. All of that growth may not correspond to happiness though — as The Economist points out, not many of the fastest growing economies currently rank among the best places to live.
5. Elections looming in Kenya.
2007’s Presidential elections in Kenya led to the death of thousands as neighbors clashed over the outcome of a disputed vote. Only the diplomatic intervention of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan helped stanch the flow of blood at the time, prompting serious concerns over the pending March 4 elections. This year’s coming elections — in which one of those running have been indicted by the ICC for helping promote violence in 2007 — have the potential to launch another violent struggle between ethnic groups in the East African country. President Obama has already issued a video statement to the people of Kenya ahead of the first round of voting, urging calm and faith in the democratic process. Meanwhile, the State Department’s Conflict and Stabilization Operations Bureau has been working for months with the local government to prevent another outpouring of violence.