America's top diplomat on Wednesday asserted that South Africa's plan to permit expropriation of private property without compensation would be "disastrous" for the country's economy and its people.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the comments in an address in Ethiopia on the final day of an Africa visit largely aimed at countering China's influence on the continent of more than 1.2 billion people.
"Be wary of authoritarian regimes and their empty promises," he said, without naming names. "They breed corruption, dependency and instability."
Land is a sensitive issue in South Africa, which is one of the world's most unequal countries in part because of the legacy of the former racist system of apartheid that ended in 1994.
Some members of the ruling African National Congress and the populist opposition Economic Freedom Fighters have pressed for redistribution of land, arguing that it will help right past wrongs in which many black people were forced off their property.
Critics have warned against what happened in neighboring Zimbabwe, where sometimes violent land seizures from white farmers scared away some investors and deepened that once-prosperous country's economic collapse.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa last week in his state of the nation address said the government plans to accelerate land redistribution this year. The government also plans to table an expropriation bill "that outlines the circumstances under which expropriation of land without compensation would be permissible," he said.
Ramaphosa has called land redistribution necessary to "redress a grave historical injustice." South Africa's government calls the dispossession of land by the 1913 Natives Land Act "apartheid's original sin," and one which continues to shape land ownership today.
The president also has attempted to soothe investors by saying there will be no chaotic or illegal land grabs, mindful of the need to not scare away business in a country with unemployment at a decade high of 29%.
This is not the first time the Trump administration has spoken out on South Africa's moves to redistribute land.
In 2018, President Donald Trump claimed that South Africa was seizing farms and that many farmers were being killed. In fact, farmers have been killed for more than 20 years in what is widely seen as part of the country's high crime rate, and experts say white farmers have not been the target.
The secretary of state is the first Cabinet official to visit Africa in 18 months. He also stopped in Senegal and Angola on a trip that seeks to reassert U.S. interests on a continent that many have accused the Trump administration of largely neglecting.
China, Africa's top trading partner for a decade now, is a major U.S. concern. Numerous other global powers have turned their focus to the continent of more than 1.2 billion people, many of them young.
Analysts have said a key task for Pompeo is countering the recent messaging out of Washington. New visa restrictions target Nigerians, Sudanese, Tanzanians and Eritreans, and the Pentagon is considering cutting the U.S. military presence on the continent even as Islamic extremism spikes in West Africa's Sahel region.
"Peace in Africa will be won by Africans," Pompeo told reporters Tuesday.
Authorities in Burundi say they have opened six mass graves containing more than 6,000 bodies from unrest that occurred decades ago, the largest such discovery in years of work.
The East African nation has been unearthing such graves from a past that includes massacres along ethnic lines. Some have warned that the work can be sensitive ahead of the presidential election in May.
The country's truth and reconciliation commission said the latest mass graves to be explored are in central Karusi province. There appear to be at least 18 such graves.
The province was plunged into crisis after the assassination in 1993 of Melchior Ndadaye, Burundi's first ethnic Hutu and democratically elected president. Some Burundians say ethnic Tutsi families were massacred after his death.
But the commission's president, Pierre Claver Ndayicariye, said the bodies were from 1972, when many ethnic Hutus were killed following a failed coup against leader Micombero Michel.
The people buried in the graves had been imprisoned and then taken in military trucks to the execution grounds, Ndayicariye said.
Some in Burundi have been critical of the commission's work and its choice of mass graves it chooses to investigate. Its mandate covers crimes committed between German colonization in 1885 to 2008 when the final rebel group signed a cease-fire agreement.
Emmanuel Nkurunziza, secretary of one Tutsi organization, called it "a shame to say thousands of thousands of dead bodies in Karusi are Hutus killed in 1972 while it is known that in 1993 Tutsis were exterminated in Karusi."
He added that "you cannot take Tutsis' bodies and call them Hutus."
In a statement on Monday, a coalition of political parties in exile said the commission should halt its work because it doesn't inspire confidence in all Burundians. The statement alleged that the commission was put in place to serve the interests of the ruling party.
Gunmen killed 24 men, including a church pastor, and kidnapped three others on Sunday in Burkina Faso, an official said. It was the latest attack against a religious leader in the increasingly unstable West African nation.
The mayor of Boundore commune, Sihanri Osangola Brigadie, said the attack occurred in the town of Pansy in Yagha province. The roughly 20 attackers separated men from women close to a Protestant church. At least 10 other people were injured.
"It hurt me when I saw the people," Brigadie said after visiting some of the victims in the hospital in Dori town, 180 kilometers (110 miles) from the attack. The gunmen looted oil and rice from shops and forced the three youth they kidnapped to help transport it on their motorbikes, he said.
Both Christians and Muslims were killed before the church was set on fire, said a government security official in Dori who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to the media.
Attacks have targeted religious leaders in the area in the past. Last week, also in Yagha province, a retired pastor was killed and another pastor was abducted by gunmen, according to an internal security report for aid workers seen by The Associated Press.
Extremist violence has dramatically escalated in once-peaceful Burkina Faso. Analysts are concerned that attacks against civilians, including against Christians, are increasing "at an alarming rate," said Corinne Dufka, West Africa director for Human Rights Watch. "Perpetrators use victims' links to government or their faith to justify the killings, while others appear to be reprisal killings for killings by the government security forces," she said.
More than 1,300 civilians were killed in targeted attacks last year in Burkina Faso, more than seven times the previous year, according to Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which collects and analyzes conflict information.
The insecurity has created a humanitarian crisis. More than 760,000 people are internally displaced, according to the government.
The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) announced on Friday it has fixed Aug. 29 for key national elections to elect parliamentary and regional assemblies' representatives.
NEBE had previously tentatively proposed the voting day to be Aug.10.
The announcement was made by Birukan Midkesa, Chairperson of NEBE during a discussion with various political parties, and civil society organizations.
Mideksa said the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia will work with the Ethiopia National Metrology Agency to mitigate the effects of the rainy season on the logistics holding the vote.
Ethiopia experiences annual rainy season from early June up to early September.
The last parliamentary and regional assemblies' elections were held in May 2015.
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir on Friday rejected any possible reduction in the current number of 32 states after consulting with local leaders in Juba.
Kiir said that his government is sticking to its earlier position of maintaining the 32 states or more states after failing to recently agree with Riek Machar, leader of the main-opposition group the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) over the contentious issue in Ethiopia.
"What brought us here today is the issue of states, I brought this to you so that you decide, my brother Riek Machar and other non-South Sudanese who are living with the blood of South Sudanese people have different suggestions on the table, the government is saying 32 states plus Abyei," Kiir told local leaders during consultation meeting in Juba.
The SPLM-IO favors reverting to between ten states and 23 states.
"IGAD(Intergovernmental Authority on Development) and the international community said they need a lean government. We have reached a deadlock, that's why we came back for consultation. We were given six days until tomorrow (Saturday) we will take back what you will decide," said Kiir.
He also criticized foreign influence in the ongoing stalemate over the unresolved number of states issue with the opposition, adding some of these foreign players have shown bias during the talks.
"I have fought the so-called special envoys. They will tell us here something and go there to their heads of states with different information. There are people who stay with us and who have made South Sudan their own project for food, one day if we reach an agreement they will be jobless and this is what they don't want," said Kiir.
Deng Macham, head of South Sudan's council of traditional chiefs, said that South Sudanese people are comfortable with 32 states plus Abyei administrative area or even more.
He added that any decision to change the current status quo would unravel nascent peace gains by throwing the country back to conflict.
"We as traditional chiefs want to meet with the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and Riek Machar to ask him why he wants to reduce the number of states, and where he is going to take the rest. We even need 37 states to leave alone those 32 people are talking about," said Macham.
Kiir on Wednesday said that he had made tactical withdrawal after the failed talks with Machar in Addis Ababa in order to consult with citizens.
The former warring parties are expected to return to the negotiating table in Addis Ababa on Feb.15.
Meanwhile, Machar has welcomed the East Africa bloc council of ministers recommendations of 10 or 23 states and not 32 as maintained by Kiir.
"We welcomed the recommendations of the Independent Boundaries Commission (IBC) of 10 states, the recommendations of the IGAD council of ministers of 10 or 23 plus one state (Abyei) and the outcome of the tripartite summit of the three heads of state and government of 10 states," Machar said in a statement issued in Juba.
The IGAD heads of states during the regional body's 34th Extra-ordinary summit last week, accepted Juba's request to undertake further consultation on the number of states.
The issue remains the main contentious issue alongside security arrangements, which are delaying the formation of the much-awaited transitional unity government (TGoNU) slated for Saturday.
IGAD in its official communique released after the meeting said it recognized that the issue of the number of states and their boundaries is an internal South Sudanese matter and hence, solution should come from the South Sudanese people.
South Sudan descended into conflict in December 2013, after President Salva Kiir sacked his deputy Riek Machar leading to fighting between soldiers loyal to the respective leader.
The two leaders are currently implementing the 2018 revitalized peace agreement but have twice failed to form the unity government due to disagreement on the outstanding issues.