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African press review 16 January 2015

The continuing storm over the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris last week are still grabbing attention in some parts of Africa.

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On Wednesday a cartoon on the satirical weekly's front page depicted the prophet Mohammed with a tear in his eye saying "All is forgiven". Very few African papers reproduced the picture. But those who did are in trouble.

The privately owned Kenyan daily the Star ran the image, small and on page 23 of the paper. Not what you'd call prominent. Still, it excited complaints from Kenyan Muslim readers. So many that the Star felt obliged to apologise, saying it "sincerely regrets any offence and pain caused by the picture".

Kenya's media regulator summoned the Star's owner after accusing it of breaching decency. The Media Council of Kenya said it was "incensed by the persistent publishing of inoffensive stories and pictures by the newspaper".

Click for RFI reports of the Charlie Hebdo killings

The editor's pick in the Star is an opinion piece headlined "Charlie: Why we don't say everything we can." It is an intelligent look at the pros and cons of freedom of speech without limits, fiercely defended in France and elsewhere in the wake of the killings in Paris.

"One thing we can all agree on is that it is not those who threaten and carry out violence who should be the ones to set limits on what can and cannot be said in polite company," is the nuanced conclusion.

Lest we forget, Kenya has suffered numerous deadly attacks from al-Shebab Islamists, who described the Charlie Hebdo attacks "heroic".

The Citizen in South Africa also reproduced the cartoon and also was obliged to apologise to all who were offended.

"We deplore those killings, as we do any attempt to enforce censorship through violence," the paper declared in an editorial.

In a related story, the paper tells us that the Frenchman who coined the "Je Suis Charlie" slogan, which was adopted globally in the wake of a jihadist attack on Charlie Hebdo journalists, is considering legal means to stop the commercialisation of the slogan.

Graphic designer Joachim Roncin will rely on his copyright to try and control the use of the slogan and keep the initial message intact, his lawyer said, adding that he does not seek any profit from the use of the phrase.

In Nigeria the Punch wonders if the anti-terrorism war in France has any lessons for the country. The paper notes that the news from France made headline news across the globe to such an extent that Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of the Catholic church wondered why Nigeria’s more protracted and far bloodier terror conflict has received far less attention.

One lesson, the Punch concludes, is the decisiveness with which the French government acted, deploying around 10,000 troops. The paper compares this with Nigerian government’s initial strategy of downplaying the Boko Haram insurgency and settling for the winning hearts and minds rather than crushing of the insurgents militarily. A mistake, says the Punch.

There is also what it calls "the rare and spectacular unity displayed by French leaders and people. By contrast, the divisiveness of the Nigerian political class, even in the face of existential challenges, has been much lamented."

Dossier: Sharia wars - Boko Haram v the military in northern Nigeria

Successive governments, it says, including the current one, have either underfunded the military or have not been too careful in taking a close look at the spending of defence budgets.

Staying in Nigeria, the Vanguard reports that the military authorities said yesterday that 78 Boko Haram insurgents were killed during the two-hour gunbattle with the Islamist fighters who tried to capture a military base in Biu, Borno State on Wednesday.

The paper reports the visit to the country's embattled north east by President Goodluck Jonathan under the headline "At last Jonathan visits Maiduguri." Jonathan first visited the state in June 2013 and had not been in the state since the abduction of 219 students of the Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok, on 14 April last year, Vanguard reminds readers. The text is a no-nonsense news report not an editorial. But, those two words "At last" tell their own story.

Happily, it's not all rows, doom and gloom in this morning's African papers.

In Uganda the New Vision has the delicious headline "Homeless cat saves abandoned baby boy."

A homeless cat in Russia has won praise for caring and keeping warm a baby boy abandoned in the chilly entrance to an apartment block. Temperatures were several degrees centigrade below zero when a local cat named Masha, who lived in a cardboard box in the hallway, "warmed the baby for several hours with her body". The baby, aged between two and three months, turned out to be perfectly healthy. Police have launched a search for the parents - of the baby boy, not the cat.

Last but not least, Modern Ghana reports the Oscar nomination for the Mauritanian film Timbuktu, about daily life in the Islamist-occupied city in Mali. The film's director, Abderrahmane Sissako, said it is a "great sign for Mauritania and for Africa".

The film made history by becoming the first Mauritanian film to be nominated in the best foreign film category. The only sub-Saharan African countries to win the award are Côte d'Ivoire in 1976 and South Africa a decade ago.

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