The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group has accepted a pledge of allegiance to the group made by Nigerian armed group Boko Haram, according to an audiotape purportedly from its spokesman.
"We announce to you to the good news of the expansion of the caliphate to West Africa because the caliph... has accepted the allegiance of our brothers of the Sunni group for preaching and the jihad," ISIL spokesman Mohammed al-Adnani said in the message, using the name in Arabic of the Nigerian group.
Al Jazeera cannot authenticate the audio recording, which was posted on ISIL-affiliated websites on Thursday, but it is similar to previous messages from Adnani.
Boko Haram's pledge to ISIL, attributed to leader Abubakar Shekau, was made in an audio recording posted on the group's Twitter page on Saturday, but it could not be immediately verified.
The video script identified the caliph as Ibrahim ibn Awad ibn Ibrahim al-Awad al-Qurashi, who is better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL, which controls large swathes of territories in Iraq and Syria.
Boko Haram has been fighting a nearly six-year insurgency against the Nigerian government, with the aim to establish an Islamic state in the predominantly Muslim north.
A recent announcement by Uganda's Oil Ministry that a Russian company - RT Global Resources - won the bid to build a $3bn oil refinery highlights the Kremlin's attempts to return as a major player in Africa.
RT Global Resources is a subsidiary of Russia's largest state-backed corporation Rostec whose CEO, Sergey Chemezov, is on US and EU sanctions lists after Russia's moves in Ukraine.
Chemezov, nicknamed "Putin's arms dealer" and a longtime friend of the president, is leading the company in moves designed to ease Russia's access to strategic minerals, build much-needed trade, and bolster employment in Russia, analysts say.
Moscow's interest in Africa is also about "soft power", said Keir Giles, director of the UK's Conflict Studies Research Centre.
"They are alert to ways of gathering influence through third-party nations in order to increase their relative weight in international bodies like the United Nations," Giles told Al Jazeera.
China's many interests in Africa have received strong attention, but the return of Russia to its former Cold War theatre of operations has been mostly ignored, except by a few regional specialists.
Last year Russia launched a satellite system in partnership with South Africa, known as Project Condor, providing surveillance of the entire African continent, according to spy cables leaked to Al Jazeera.
The cables identify South African and Russian military intelligence (GRU) as being the "key role players" in the project.
In Soviet times
Relations between the former Soviet Union and Africa took hold when Nikita Khrushchev came to power following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953.
At the same time Africa was kicking off the reins of colonialism and a wave of independence movements came to the forefront of African politics. Russia and the US then became locked in a geopolitical tussle that saw them backing constantly shifting rebellions by funding and arming opposing sides.
Within two years the Soviet Union made its first major arms transfer to Africa in a deal with Egypt.
But attempts to promote socialist revolutions among countries the Kremlin supported backfired with a series of military coups in Algeria, Ghana, and Mali.
Several African leaders were educated in Moscow and the USSR invested huge amounts of money and manpower in the form of military advisers, equipment and support from the KGB - the Soviet security service.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, more than 50,000 Africans had studied in Soviet universities and military institutes, and at least another 200,000 Africans had received Soviet training in Africa.
Then Russia lost interest in Africa - until recently.
Giles said what's interesting is when Russia tried to resuscitate these Cold War links with Africa, "how much of a role was played by those who were active in Africa during those days - the military, the KGB always seems to be the first line into actually getting something done".
Uganda's developing story
For Uganda, the refinery is an opportunity to develop its newly found oil on the western borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo. The oil offers the nation a chance to transform itself into an important economic power in the region.
The project involves building a refinery with a capacity of 60,000 barrels per day, storage facilities on site, as well as a 205km pipeline to a terminal near the capital city, Kampala.
Foreign oil companies that have contracts to exploit the Ugandan oil blocs, including Tullow Oil and Total, wanted to build a pipeline to the coast in Kenya. Uganda's oil is "waxy" so the pipe would have to be heated for the oil to flow.
Ugandan journalist Angelo Izama said a pipeline to the Indian Ocean coast would mean that Uganda would lose economic independence and the benefits of an internal market, thus a homegrown refinery would prevent the type of commodity export economy that went bust in the 1960s.
"Despite talk of industrialisation, countries like Uganda never recovered from the process of trying to build indigenous industries," Izama said.
George Boden, from the activist group Global Witness, told Al Jazeera: "A good deal could potentially generate more wealth, it could generate more jobs and development. But a bad deal could leave Uganda subsidising an inefficient refinery - particularly with people counting the social and environmental costs."
Some analysts fear the new-found oil wealth may cause Uganda to suffer from a "resource curse", in which corrupt governments collude with oil companies to siphon off funds leading to a failure in public trust and an increase in political tension.
Izama said transparency in oil deals is vital. "It is a prophylactic against the kinds of excess we see in other countries - public access allows countries to build consensus around decisions it makes, therefore lessening the possibility for conflict," he said.
Rostec, through its subsidiary Rosoboronexport, is the Russian state's major defence company.
"There will be questions as to whether the oil refinery is the only part of the deal, or is it part of a broader package," Boden said.
Rosoboronexport supplied six Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jets to Uganda in a 2011 deal that was said to be worth at least $744m. It was mired in controversy when it emerged the money was obtained from the Bank of Uganda, without parliamentary approval.
Uganda is a highly militarised nation with military officers holding 10 parliamentary seats, including General Aronda Nyakairima in the cabinet as the internal affairs minister.
By positioning itself as a key ally in the "war on terror" and sending troops to Iraq and Somalia, Uganda has developed strong relations with the United States.
Uganda is also giving military support to Salva Kiir in neighbouring South Sudan.
Officials close to the negotiations for the refinery contract - who spoke anonymously because they weren't authorised to talk to the press - said initially Russia didn't seem interested. Rostec appeared to be favoured only after President Yoweri Museveni dispatched the permanent secretary of the energy ministry to Moscow and "backchannels" were opened.
Giles explained this is the Russian way of doing business.
"You have a closed network of people who, despite the Russian system, have learned to trust each other because they go a long way back to military or KGB service," he said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a security source told Al Jazeera the refinery deal is a problem.
"The Ugandan military, which has a good relationship with the Russian government, is at the centre of it. Seen from their perspective, it does make sense because they can provide concessionary terms for weapons."
Within days of the refinery deal announcement, Uganda media claimed the army was requesting $168m to buy military equipment and the Ministry of Defence had already negotiated a procurement loan of $170m from a bank in Russia with help from Rosoboronexport.
When asked if the story was true and whether the refinery contract was linked to a weapons deal with Russia, Ugandan military spokesman, Lt Colonel Paddy Ankunda, told Al Jazeera: "That is classified information and I can't discuss that."
He insisted the refinery contract was not linked to a weapons deal.
Professor Andrey Makarychev of Tartu University told Al Jazeera that Russia's economic woes could weigh heavy on the deal with Kampala.
"The Uganda project looks problematic against the backdrop of growing financial problems inside Russia where funds are in deficit, the rouble is unstable, as is the banking system. Russia's credit rating is at junk level."
"Huge investments abroad in a situation of austerity measures at home might only exacerbate Russia's troubles," Makarychev said.
The post Russia returns to Africa amid increasing isolation appeared first on African Media Agency.
Troops from Chad and Niger have retaken two northeastern Nigerian towns and left some 200 Boko Haram fighters dead, a Chadian security source has said.
Boko Haram had held the towns of Malam Fatouri and Damasak near the Niger border since November. Ten Chadian soldiers were killed in the offensive that began on Sunday, the source told AFP news agency on Monday.
About 30 Nigerien and Chadian soldiers were wounded in the clashes, a day after thousands of troops crossed the border to retake areas held by the armed group, whose insurgency has forced Nigeria to delay an election and neighbours to mobilise their armies.
A medical source in Diffa, the capital of the Niger region which borders Boko Haram's heartland in Nigeria's northeast, said 30 wounded soldiers had been admitted to the town's hospital.
"We have kicked the enemy out of these areas and they are now under our control," one of the Niger military sources told Reuters news agency.
Damasak, the town furthest into Nigeria, is 10km south of the Niger border, where Niger and Chadian troops have been massing in recent weeks ahead of the offensive.
The offensive marks Niger's first major push into Nigerian territory to combat the armed group, which in recent months has engaged in cross-border attacks. Niger had until now only defended itself against incursions in border areas.
Chad, backed by its air force, has already sent troops many kilometres inside northeastern Nigeria winning back areas from the group near the Cameroon border.
The fresh offensive comes after the African Union on Friday endorsed the creation of a regional force of up to 10,000 men to join the fight against the group which on Saturday pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Expand its area
Boko Haram has been fighting a nearly six-year insurgency against the Nigerian government, with the aim to establish an Islamic state in the predominently Muslim north.
"For Chad, Niger and Cameroon, defeating Boko Haram is crucial. Five years of violence has cut of much of trade between them and Africa's biggest economy, Nigeria," Al Jazeera's Ahmed Idris, reporting from Abuja, said.
"There is also the fear that the group, if left unchecked, will expand its area of control and become a bigger threat for the entire region."
The latest regional intervention comes amid spike in attacks by the group that has left hundreds of civilians dead in the past several weeks.
On Saturday, at least 51 people were killed and more than 100 injured in three bombings at markets and a bus station in the northeastern Nigerian town of Maiduguri.
The group has also carried out mass kidnappings, including of schoolgirls.
The post Chad and Niger armies take two towns from Boko Haram appeared first on African Media Agency.
The leader of the Nigeria-based group Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant(ISIL).
Boko Haram, which wants to establish an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, is believed to have control over about 20,000 square kilometres in the country's northeast.
The armed group has focused its violence mainly inside Nigeria but has recently launched attacks in neighbouring Cameroon and Chad.
So, what does the allegiance to ISIL mean for Nigeria?
Presenter: Dareen Abughaida
Martin Reardon - senior vice-president of the Soufan Group and specialist on armed groups.
Adesoji Adeniyi - specialist on peace and security issues in Nigeria at the Ramphal Institute.
Ryan Cummings - chief analyst for Africa in the Crisis Management Group, Red24.
The post What are implications of Boko Haram’s pledge to ISIL? appeared first on African Media Agency.
Zambia's President Edgar Lungu collapsed on the podium while presiding over a Women's Day celebration in Lusaka - less than two months after taking over from a leader who died in office.
Lungu was rushed to a military hospital on Sunday, but the president's office later issued a statement saying he had been treated for malaria and there was no need for concern.
"I am feeling much better and have been told I have high levels of fatigue and should take some rest," Lungu said in the statement.
"There is nothing to worry about."
Lungu came to power in January after the death in office of President Michael Sata in October.
Rumours that Sata was ill had circulated widely before his death, but were always denied by the government.
Sata was Zambia's second leader to die in office in six years, sparking calls for presidential aspirants to undergo medical checks to guarantee they are fit.
Lungu, who fell after standing for some 20 minutes during the ceremony, is rumoured to have diabetes, the AFP news agency reported.
Presidential spokesman Amos Chanda said doctors at the military hospital had conducted comprehensive medical checks and said Lungu's results were good.
The post Zambian president rushed to hospital after collapse appeared first on African Media Agency.
The South African economy only grew 1.5 percent last year - its slowest pace since 2009. One factor was the labour strikes in the mining sector, which is very important to the economy, but more recently power cuts have become a big problem.
So how will this impact South Africa's National Development Plan, which is looking to spend $72bn over the next three years on infrastructure?
Ben Kruger, the co-chief executive of Standard Bank, joins Counting the Cost from Johannesburg to talk about the state of the South African economy.
Maiduguri, Nigeria - For four months and 10 days, Falmata Gana never left her home. She kept her face devoid of makeup and stopped bathing with scented soaps. Her perfumed oils were tucked away, and she did not buy any new clothes.
Her traditional Islamic mourning period of takaba - as it is known in the Hausa language predominantly spoken in northern Nigeria - ended years ago, but Gana is still suffering the loss of her husband.
In 2012, Boko Haram fighters ambushed and shot him dead as he drove home from work one evening. He was a civil servant.
"I did not see him die," Gana says in a graven voice. She pulls a dark blue hijab forward, covering more of her face. "I heard the story from eyewitnesses."
A polygamous home, her husband's first wife left the house a day after his death. She never returned. Gana was left with the first wife's children - and also her own.
Three years later, the 35-year-old is struggling to pay the $7 monthly rent and school fees for 11 children.
As the world mark's International Women's Day on Sunday, the plight of widows in northeast Nigeria underscores the struggle many face.
In Maiduguri - the birthplace of Boko Haram and the epicentre of its six-year insurgency - streets teem with widows such as Gana.
Some shuffle along the thoroughfares selling fried bean cakes. Others meander between cars in traffic performing a beggar's plea to drivers. Except for the occasional motorist who lets down their window and hands over some cash, these widows are largely ignored.
A conservative, predominately Islamic society in northern Nigeria, the importance of a woman is largely attached to her marital status, meaning widows are often left in a precarious socioeconomic position.
"In our culture, people value married women far better than a single woman, or even a widow. So widows are usually left to fend for themselves," says Rabi Ismail, vice president of the National Council of Women Societies in Maiduguri.
"We have seen so many women roaming the streets with their children, and when you ask them, they say, 'No husband.'"
Gana tries to sell food from her home - bags of wheat, packaged noodles, and seasonings. To supplement her monthly income, she sews dresses for $3 each.
A taciturn woman with little formal education, Gana winces in discomfort when asked to talk about her life. Her words turn into sighs, her gaze on the floor, her voice just a whisper.
One by one, the 11 children return from school. They pull back the door - slab of corrugated tin - and enter to see their mother searching for food. She lifts a lid from a pot; it's empty.
But it won't be for long.
In a few days, Gana will go to a food distribution centre to collect items provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross. As a newly registered member of the Muslim Widows Association, Gana is entitled to receive a monthly supply of staple foods from the ICRC that includes 12kg of rice, 12kg of millet, 12kg of maize, and 5kg of beans.
"Life has improved since I've joined," Gana says with a shy smile.
The local chapter of the Muslim Widows Association began collaborating with the ICRC in January 2014 to assist widows who have nowhere else to turn for financial support. The women may qualify to receive start up cash to buy materials for a business.
Gana says she hopes to use the money to buy more food to sell.
Wasaram Muhammed says she wants to use the capital to purchase a sewing machine.
The $2.50 she makes daily selling plates of talia - a type of noodle dish - goes towards paying her eight children's fees at a nearby Islamic school.
Her husband was killed a few years ago.
"Nigerian soldiers entered a mosque and grabbed many men, including my husband," Muhammed says. "They suspected them of being Boko Haram members. They rounded them up and threw them in Giwa barracks. My husband died in the barracks three days later."
Giwa barracks is the infamous site of a notorious March 2014 raid by Boko Haram fighters who brazenly barraged through the military facility, allowing many detainees to escape. Soldiers and civilian militiamen eventually killed many of the escapees. Witnesses say bloody bodies littered the streets.
Today, Boko Haram continues to wreak havoc across northeastern Nigeria, and into the neighbouring countries of the Lake Chad River Basin: Chad, Niger and Cameroon. A mounting humanitarian crisis has seen more than one million displaced in the violent crusade to establish an Islamic caliphate.
Incidents of suspected Boko Haram-linked suicide bombings in the past few weeks have flooded the headlines in Nigerian media.
The government says a recently launched military offensive aims to wipe out all Boko Haram encampments before the presidential election, which is rescheduled for March 28. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, facing a tight contest against former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari for re-election, recently admitted to an influential Nigerian newspaper that he underestimated Boko Haram's capacity.
Heavy on the campaign trail in January, Jonathan made a surprise visit to Maiduguri, offering reassuring words to displaced people. The condolences came too late for many who have lost just about everything. The fighters have razed entire communities. A few days ago, Boko Haram members ignited the village of Njaba. Dozens were selectively slaughtered before much of the community went up in flames.
"If these widows eventually go back to their villages once Boko Haram is forced out by the military, they will go back to their land and see nothing at all; no house, destroyed farms, nothing on ground. Where will their children sleep?" Ismail asks.
More than 5,000 widows are now registered with the National Council of Women Societies in Maiduguri.
The husbands of the 5,418 registered widows were killed after Boko Haram launched its war against the government in 2009. They perished at the hands of Boko Haram fighters, Nigerian security forces, or civilian militiamen.
The number of widows could be higher. The council has yet to reach some internally displaced people camps where many have flocked from across the state and beyond.
Bintu Tijjani fled to Maiduguri last year when Boko Haram militants seized the town of Bama. According to Nigerian defense officials, Bama is now the site of increased air strikes.
Tijjani lives at the WTC camp with her six children. A few months ago, Boko Haram fighters entered her home. Tijjani fled into the bush with her husband, a fisherman, and their children. A few hours later, her husband went back to the house, assuming the assailants had left. That assumption cost him his life.
Tijjani is still engaged in the takaba, the traditional mourning period.
Many of the estimated 6,000 IDPs at the WTC Camp in Maiduguri are widows from Bama. Most, including Tijjani, are housewives. She does not speak English and barely speaks Hausa. She is among the nearly 80 percent of widows that Ismail meets whom are illiterate and unable to economically sustain themselves.
The Muslim Widows Association is connecting nearly 4,000 widows with donor agencies, and the Christian Widows Association has up to 2,000 on its list.
A native of Chibok, in southern Borno state, where almost 300 schoolgirls were abducted last April, Esther Abbashuwa, vice president of the Christian Widows Association, says she encourages widows who are still young to remarry.
Ismail shares the sentiment but says most men would be reluctant to take on the responsibility of providing for a woman with children.
"Honestly, these women do not have a future," Ismail says. "I know many of them who are just waiting to die. The government may offer to take care of some, but how many can they help? Many will suffer."
The BRIC nations, Brazil, India, China and Russia, once aimed to distance themselves from the economic woes of the West.
A few years ago, BRIC became BRICS with the addition of South Africa. But Africa's second largest economy is not in good shape: the South African economy only grew 1.5 percent in 2014, its slowest pace since 2009. One factor was the labour strikes in the mining sector, but more recently, power cuts have become a serious issue.
In fact, things looked so bad for the country's largest power generator Eskom, the South African government had to provide a $2bn bailout.
The financial services group Efficient believes the economy has lost $25bn since 2008 because of electricity shortages, or, put another way, one million jobs which are desperately needed in a country where unemployment is at 25 percent.
There are concerns on how all this will impact South Africa's National Development Plan, which is looking to spend $72bn over the next three years on infrastructure.
And on top of all that, South Africa's debt status could be cut to junk by the ratings agencies and the finance minister needs to slash the country's public-sector wage bill.
So, what will it take to switch South Africa's lights back on? Is South Africa at the brink of a serious crisis? And what can be done do to stop the downward slide?
Al Jazeera's Erica Wood reports from Johannesburg; and Ben Kruger, the co-chief executive of Standard Bank, talks to Counting the Cost about the state of the South African economy.
Baku 2015: The European Games
The European Games, a new event on the international sporting calendar this year, will have its inaugural outing in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, in June: 50 countries, 20 sports, and 6000-plus athletes.
But Azerbaijan, like so many nations dependent on commodities, has got some problems right now. Oil makes up 95 percent of Azerbaijan's exports and 75 percent of its revenue. So with the price of oil as low as it is, that spells trouble.
The currency has been devalued by one-third, budgets are tight - all at a time when Azerbaijan wants to show off its capital city to the world.
Simon Clegg, the chief operating officer of Baku 2015, spoke to our sport presenter Joanna Gasiorowska about the importance of these games to Azerbaijan.
It has been well-documented how so many of our smartphones and other gadgets are manufactured in China these days.
But Vietnam is emerging as an alternative to China, with its tax incentives, and cheaper workforce.
Al Jazeera's Scott Heidler reports from Hanoi.
While carmakers are showing their newest models at the Geneva Motor Show, tech giants Apple, Google and Uber are developing their own autonomous vehicles.
Can they challenge the big players in the car business and how will it impact the traditional car industry? Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of Renault Nissan, talks to Counting the Cost about the future of the car industry.