Africa Media Review for April 14, 2020

Extremists in Northern Mozambique Declare Goal of Caliphate
A shadowy Islamist group that has terrorised northern Mozambique for more than two years has suddenly become more brazen, unmasking its fighters and openly declaring its goal of turning the gas-rich region into a caliphate. In recent weeks, the jihadists have seized government buildings, robbed banks, blocked roads and hoisted their black-and-white flag over towns and villages across Cabo Delgado province. “We want everyone here to apply Islamic law,” a Kalashnikov-wielding group member told terrified residents in a video that appeared to have been shot in Mocimboa da Praia after a recent attack. Mocimboa da Praia is where the militants staged their first attack, back in October 2017. Until recently, the identity of the assailants had remained unclear and their declared intentions unknown. But the latest videos, the jihadists no longer bother covering their faces. … For more than two years the jihadists mainly targeted isolated villages, killing more than 700 people, according to the French aid group MSF, and displacing at least 200,000, according to a local Catholic archbishop, Dom Luiz Fernando. AFP

Nigeria Extends Coronavirus Lockdown in Key Cities for Two Weeks
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has announced a 14-day extension to a lockdown in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun states to combat the coronavirus pandemic. In a televised address on Monday, Buhari said “it has become necessary to extend the current restriction of movement” that was set to expire later in the day. Initial 14-day lockdowns in the three areas began on March 30. There are currently 323 confirmed cases of the virus in Nigeria, with 71 percent of them registered in Lagos and the capital territory of Abuja. Ten people have died so far. “It is a matter of life and death,” Buhari said of the nation’s response. “The repercussions of any premature end to the lockdown action are unimaginable.” … The extension of the lockdown is expected to add to the hardship of millions of Nigerians living hand-to-mouth, often on less than one dollar a day. Buhari said he was “fully aware of the great difficulties experienced especially by those who earn a daily wage.”  “But despite these realities, we must not change the restrictions,” he added. The government has pledged a series of support measures to ease the financial pain for the most vulnerable, but there have been widespread complaints that not enough is being done for those facing hunger. Al Jazeera

IMF to Provide Debt Relief to Help 25 Countries Deal with Pandemic
The International Monetary Fund said on Monday it would provide immediate debt relief to 25 member countries under its Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT) to allow them to focus more financial resources on fighting the coronavirus pandemic. IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said the fund’s executive board approved on Monday the first batch of countries to receive grants to cover their debt service obligations to the fund for an initial six months. … About $215 million of the total would be used for grants to the first 25 countries over the next six months, with extensions possible up to two years, an IMF spokeswoman said. “This provides grants to our poorest and most vulnerable members to cover their IMF debt obligations for an initial phase over the next six months and will help them channel more of their scarce financial resources towards vital emergency medical and other relief efforts,” Georgieva said in a statement. … Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA Network, a non-profit group, said the grants would help the IMF’s poorest members, including the Central African Republic, which has only three critical-care unit beds for a population of 5 million. Reuters

Africa and COVID-19: AU Looks for COVID-19 Aid While Namibians Help Less Fortunate
The African Union announced on Monday that it has appointed a number of special envoys, including former banking head Tidjane Thiam in an effort to solicit rapid and concrete international support in an effort to deal with the economic impact of Covid-19 on the African continent. “These institutions need to support African economies that are facing serious economic challenges with a comprehensive stimulus package for Africa, including deferred debt and interest payments,” said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, referring to the G20, the European Union and other financial institutions. … While the Covid-19 pandemic has attacked China, Iran, Europe and the United States with a brutal force, infecting more than 1.6 million globally, health experts warned that the African continent would soon follow with high numbers of infected. RFI

South Africa’s strict, five-week lockdown, credited with slowing the rate of coronavirus infections and reducing overall crime, has also been marked by some violence. The stay-at-home order for the country’s 57 million people does not allow going outside or dog-walking, except for visits to grocery stores, pharmacies and doctors. No sales of alcohol or cigarettes are permitted in the lockdown, which lasts until the end of April. South Africa’s has the continent’s highest number of infections with more than 2,100 confirmed cases and 25 deaths. Fifty-two of Africa’s 54 countries have reported the virus, with just over 14,500 cases and 788 deaths, according to figures released Monday by the Africa Center for Disease Control. South Africa’s restrictions have succeeded in reducing the country’s average daily increase of confirmed COVID-19 cases from 42% to about 4% since the lockdown began on March 27, said President Cyril Ramaphosa last week when extending the measures until the end of April. One of the world’s most unequal countries, South Africa has shut down most commercial activity, an action that has especially hurt the most vulnerable poor. AP

Libya’s War Escalates despite International Calls for ‘Humanitarian Pause’ amid Pandemic
One year after an offensive was launched against the Libyan capital Tripoli, Libya’s war is intensifying, and hundreds of thousands of civilians are besieged amid increased shelling and massive water and electricity cuts. Hospitals are being targeted just as the coronavirus is threatening an already shattered health system. Haytham Garabiya is among those trapped. The doctor’s field hospital was recently hit by armed drones and shelling, forcing his staff to move to a new location. “We have no water and no electricity,” Garabiya said in a telephone interview. “There are random missiles flying everywhere. Every civilian building is a target. And now we also have coronavirus. The war is more intense than last year.” … The increasing violence is raising alarms within the United Nations and humanitarian agencies. There are now 24 confirmed cases of the virus and one death. Authorities in both the east and the west of the country have stopped flights from entering or leaving and borders have been closed. The Washington Post

Libya: ‘Which Death Is Going to Be Worse?’ Coronavirus Invades a Conflict Zone
Libyans have been fleeing bombs and shells throughout the country’s six-year civil war. But with the arrival of the coronavirus, virtually nowhere is safe to hide. [Video] The New York Times

Kenya: Al-Shabaab Steps Up Kidnap of Experts to Aid Agenda
Somalia-based militant group Al-Shabaab has ramped up kidnappings as a way of beefing up its pool of professionals and gathering intelligence. As a result, professionals based in Mandera County are a worried lot. The most targeted include medics, teachers and security officers. At least 11 people have been abducted in Mandera by suspected Shabaab militants in the past one year, according to security records. “We have information that Al-Shabaab is interested in abducting medical officers and teachers to be used in areas under their control in Somalia,” a senior security officer in Mandera said anonymously since he is not allowed to speak for the police force. According to the officer, Shabaab targets mostly non-locals, who are believed to be cooperative once under its control. Mr Julius Mwania, a mechanic, is the latest victim of the kidnappings. He went missing a month ago. Daily Nation

Sudan PM Hamdok Issues First Emergency Order for 2020
Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok on Sunday issued Emergency Order No. 1 for the year 2020, after consultation with the Sovereign Council. The order follows Cabinet denouncement of the recent assaults on doctors and health personnel in the country as “disgraceful and shameful.” As reported by Radio Dabanga yesterday, the order criminalises attacks on health personnel, smuggling, and illegal hoarding of goods or medicines. PM Hamdok’s Emergency Order was issued pursuant to the Article 41 of the Constitutional Document for the Transitional Period of 2019, read with the decision of the Sovereign Council No. 225 due to the coronavirus pandemic, read with the provisions of Article 8 (1) of the Emergency Law and the Protection of Public Safety of the year 1997. Radio Dabanga

Notorious Sudanese Militia Poses as Savior in Coronavirus Fight
A Sudanese militia that once drew international condemnation for spearheading a bloody anti-insurgency campaign in the western region of Darfur has a new, unlikely message: Please wash your hands. As Sudan girds for another sort of battle, this time against the coronavirus pandemic, the Rapid Support Forces led by Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemedti’ is taking center stage. The paramilitary force is building on its rise to near the top of Sudan’s transitional government after backing last year’s overthrow of one-time sponsor, former President Omar al-Bashir. The militia that emerged from Darfur’s Janjaweed — the “devils on horseback” — and was accused of killing 100 protesters in June now runs a quarantine center, disinfects the streets and distributes equipment and medical advice, lavishly promoting it all on social media. One cartoon on Facebook shows its fighters squaring off against a monstrous fanged depiction of the virus clinging like King Kong to the egg-shaped Corinthia Hotel in Khartoum, the capital. Bloomberg

Red Flag Up on South Sudan Mining Sector
United States anti-corruption watchdog, The Sentry, is warning that the next source of conflict in South Sudan could emerge from the unregulated mining sector that has been captured by politically connected locals and foreigners. In its latest report, Untapped and Unprepared; Dirty Deals Threatens South Sudan’s Mining Sector, the watchdog says that while the mining industry could become an engine for major economic growth, it remains highly susceptible to the violent competition, corruption, and mismanagement. “These are the same factors that have marred South Sudan’s oil sector and rendered peace elusive. Illicit mining activities are inflaming tensions in Eastern Equatoria, the army holds interests in exploration licences, and opposition groups informally control artisanal mining sites,” says the report. These factors have fuelled violent competition over the country’s resource wealth. The East African

Ethiopian Workers Are Being Expelled from Saudi Arabia and UAE on Coronavirus Suspicions
Thousands of undocumented Ethiopian workers are being abruptly deported from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia back to Addis Ababa over the weekend in cargo planes. The governments of both Middle East countries claimed the Ethiopians were vulnerable to spreading the coronavirus and have deported some with symptoms and many without-but not testing. This week, Ethiopia’s health minister, Lia Tadesse confirmed the mass deportation, undermining the nation’s effort to reduce the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Ethiopia. There are now 74 positive cases of the virus and more than half of these are recent travelers to Dubai. “Ethiopian workers in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Djibouti are being forced to flee to their country, a situation that is becoming a challenge to contain the virus,” said Tadesse. More than 2,870 Ethiopian migrants were deported in the last month and Ethiopia expects to receive another 3,000 citizens in the next 15 days alone, according to the minister. Quartz Africa

Cameroon: Gov’t Makes Face Masks Compulsory
The compulsory wearing of face masks in public places as part of measures to curb spread of coronavirus begins Monday in Cameroon as cases of the virus in the country near a thousand. Mask wearing is one of seven supplementary preventive measures the Prime Minister, Dr Joseph Dion Ngute, announced last week as part of government response to Covid-19. Cameroon counted 848 confirmed cases on Sunday, including 98 recoveries and 14 deaths, according to a tally by The EastAfrican. The additional measures also include the local production of medicines, protective masks and hand sanitisers, the establishment of specialised treatment centres for Covid-19 patients in all regional capitals, intensification of screening and awareness-raising campaigns. The new measures add to an initial 13 which have been effective since March 18 including closure of borders, schools, prohibition of gathering of more than 50 people, systematic closing of bars, restaurants and leisure spots from 6pm, urban and inter-urban travel restrictions, the regulation of consumer flows in markets and shopping centres. Daily Nation

Government of Tiny eSwatini Refutes Reports of King’s Illness
The government of eSwatini is refuting media reports that the nation’s King Mswati III — the last absolute monarch in Africa – is “critically ill” with COVID-19. Reports began to circulate after the king did not appear for a Good Friday service.  “The King is not ill,” Foreign Minister Thuli Dladla told VOA via WhatsApp message when asked about the reports on Monday. “He is very much fine and directing Cabinet from the Palace. He meets the PM and Minister (of) Health now and again. We don’t want him to be exposed. He is very well.” She also called the media reports “a very sick joke and very defamatory.” The World Health Organization says the landlocked nation of 1.1 million people, formerly known as Swaziland, has reported 12 cases of the virus, and no deaths. VOA

Kenyan Weddings, Births and Deaths in the Age of COVID-19
Sheila Atieno is on standby to help a young woman who is 32 weeks pregnant deliver her baby. Dr Atieno has done this many times before. But this birth, when it happens, will be unusual. The expectant woman was brought into a special ward at a public hospital in the capital, Nairobi, after testing positive for coronavirus. Dr Atieno, a consultant obstetrician gynaecologist, is part of a small team of doctors who have been identified to attend to expectant women who display symptoms of the virus. Dr Atieno’s world has changed drastically. She is a mother of two children under the age of two years. “It’s been very difficult to cope with the fact that I will be specifically attending to expectant mothers who are infected with the virus,” she tells me. “I’m about to perform a caesarean section, which usually involves handling a lot of body fluids. Although I’ll carry out the operation while dressed in a protective suit, it makes you quite hot and uncomfortable. “And when I get home, the children will want to rush into my arms. But I can’t touch them until I have changed, showered and sanitised myself. “It’s tough mentally and emotionally. But I have no choice – it’s my job to usher in new life, with or without the pandemic,” Dr Atieno says. BBC

How Museums in West Africa Are Saving Cultural Treasures
Daouda Keita sits in his office in the administration building of the National Museum of Mali in Bamako. The museum is known for its large green gardens, but it also houses a notable archeological and ethnographic collection and regularly organizes temporary exhibitions. Keita, the director of the museum, has set out to support the establishment of more museums across the country. An archaeologist himself, he is committed to creating so-called culture banks, known as banques culturelles. The first one was founded back in 1997 in Fombori, a town in Doganland in eastern Mali. It was the brainchild of an American visitor who was in Mali with the Peace Corps. … Later on, others were also built in Mali’s south, in Dégnèkoro and Kola. But they didn’t last. The culture bank in Fombori is now shut off to the public because of the severe security crisis in northern and central Mali. The term ‘culture bank’ essentially describes a village or community museum. Members of the community are encouraged to bring old traditional masks, sculptures and other forms of art to be included in the exhibit. In exchange for the loan they receive a cash payment that they can use to invest in agriculture, for example. DW



Photo: Adam Jones