Africa Media Review for April 29, 2021

South Africa’s Ramaphosa Says Corruption Has Damaged Country
Rampant corruption has seriously damaged South Africa’s economy and people’s trust in the government, President Cyril Ramaphosa testified Wednesday at a judicial inquiry into graft in the county. Ramaphosa was speaking at the commission investigating “state capture,” the term for the corruption under former President Jacob Zuma’s tenure in which his associates in the Gupta family allegedly won control of the much of the state and its finances. “State capture and corruption have taken a great toll on our society and indeed on our economy as well,” Ramaphosa said. “They have eroded the values of our constitution and undermines the rule of law. If allowed to continue they would threaten the achievement of growth, development and transformation of our country.” Ramaphosa spoke at the commission to investigate corruption during Zuma’s time as president from 2009 until 2018, when he was forced out of office by widespread allegations of graft. … Zuma has refused to testify before the commission in defiance of court orders for him to do so. AP

South Africa’s Daunting COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout
In May, South Africa begins its mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign, aimed at reaching 40 million people – the minimum to reach herd immunity – by the beginning of next year. As even wealthy nations are struggling with their rollouts, the South African campaign will be keenly watched by other developing countries. Like much of the Global South, South Africa is dealing with issues around procuring enough vaccines; the logistical hurdles of delivering them; and the communication challenges in overcoming vaccine hesitancy. The campaign will be rolled out into one of the world’s most unequal societies. About one in five South Africans live in cramped informal settlements and there is a large number of undocumented migrants. Initially lauded internationally for its testing and tracing, corruption and confusion have since tarnished the reputation of the government response. South Africa and other sub-Saharan African countries are old hands in tackling pandemics – from HIV/AIDS to Ebola. But the difference this time is the scale of the rollout, which is stress-testing medical infrastructure in every nation. The New Humanitarian

At Least 7 Killed in Suicide Bombing in Somalia’s Capital
At least seven people were killed and more than 11 others wounded when a vehicle exploded outside a police headquarters in Somalia’s capital, police and health officials said Wednesday. The al-Shabab extremist group claimed responsibility. A police spokesman, Col. Abdiqani Mohamed Qalaf, said the suicide bomber tried to drive into the headquarters near the ex-control Afgoye road but was thwarted. “He could have killed more people if not stopped,” Qalaf said. He said two soldiers and three passers-by were among the dead. Dr. Hashim Suldan at Medina hospital told The Associated Press they had received 13 wounded people and two of them died on arrival. Others had serious wounds from shrapnel. Al-Shabab often targets high-profile areas of Mogadishu, and observers had warned that the al-Qaida-linked group might take advantage of Somalia’s current political tensions to strike again. The United Nations says tens of thousands of Mogadishu residents fled their homes this week after rival groups of soldiers clashed in the streets on Sunday amid a standoff over President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s extended stay in power. AP

Calm Returns to Chad Capital after Deadly Protests against Military Rule
The capital of Chad appeared calm on Wednesday morning, with security forces deployed in large numbers and burning tyres still smouldering in the streets, a day after at least five people were killed in clashes between protesters and the army. Civil society groups have called for more demonstrations against the military, which took power after long-serving president Idriss Deby was killed on April 19. The government said five people were killed in clashes on Tuesday. A Chadian civil society group put the death toll at nine, with dozens more injured. … “We want to give a bit of time for the families of our comrades to mourn their loved ones. The fight continues,” said Digri Parterre, one of the protest leaders, who said he had spent the morning visiting the wounded in hospitals. … French President Emmanuel Macron, who initially backed the military takeover, appeared to shift his position on Tuesday, calling for a civilian-led unity government until elections to be held within 18 months. Reuters

Ghana Sends in Army to Enforce Mining Ban near Rivers, Lakes
Ghana’s military has launched a nationwide operation to clear illegal miners out of its water bodies, the West African country’s lands minister said Wednesday. Two hundred soldiers were deployed on Wednesday morning to lakes, rivers and waterways in the country’s central and western regions to “remove all persons and logistics involved in mining,” a statement said. Pollution from mining has contaminated water sources across the country with mercury and heavy metals, raising the costs of water treatment and limiting access to drinking water, according to Ghana’s water utility agency. Ghana is one of Africa’s largest gold producers, with gold products accounting for just under half its export revenues. Several of the world’s top mining firms, including Newmont, Kinross, and Anglogold Ashanti, operate gold mines there. But more than 35% of the country’s gold is unearthed by small-scale and informal miners, the majority of whom operate illegally, according to the finance ministry. President Nana Akufo-Addo has made combating illegal mining one of his signature issues, repeatedly accusing miners of damaging the country’s water bodies and environment. Reuters

Sudan Suspends Red Sea Russian Naval Facility
Sudan has suspended an agreement with Russia providing to establish a military base on the Red Sea, until its approval by the Transitional Legislative Council. However, the Russian embassy in Khartoum said they “did not receive any notifications from the Sudanese side.” Press reports revealed that the Sudanese government instructed the commander of the Sudanese Red Sea Region to prevent Russian ships from entering the Flamingo military base of the Sudanese army. Several Russian military ships arrived during the past days to establish a naval supply station agreed with the former regime after a meeting between the ousted Omer al-Bashir and President Vladimir Putin in 2017. In November 2020, President Putin approved the agreement to establish a naval facility hosting 300 Russian troops and four ships. Earlier this month, it was reported that Russian military ships started to bring equipment and radars to build the agreed navy facility. Senior military sources in the Sovereign Council told the London based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that the commander of the Red Sea military region informed the Russian officials about the suspensions of the deal and ordered to stop the deployment. Sudan Tribune

Southern African Leaders Postpone Meeting on Mozambique Insurgency
A Southern African leaders meeting that was scheduled for Thursday to address the Islamic State-linked insurgency in Mozambique has been postponed, Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s office said on Wednesday. The meeting was to receive a report from a team sent to Mozambique to assess the security situation and identify ways to support the country after IS-linked insurgents attacked the coastal town of Palma, displacing tens of thousands of people and stalling a $60 billion natural gas project. The gas project by French oil major Total is meant to transform the economy of one of Africa’s poorest countries. Reuters

Algeria Detains Leading Opposition Figure Karim Tabbou
Opposition activist Karim Tabbou, a key figure in the vast protest movement that led to the resignation of longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was detained late on Wednesday, according to his lawyer. The 47-year-old was sentenced to a one-year suspended jail term last year. He will appear before a prosecutor on Thursday, lawyer Me Ali Fellah Benali said on social media. Tabbou was summoned to the police station on Wednesday to respond to a complaint filed against him by Bouzid Lazhari, the president of the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH), an official body. “Algeria’s youth is determined to fight for their right to a dignified life,” he told AFP ahead of his detention. Tabbou became one of the most recognisable leaders at mass demonstrations that broke out in February 2019 over Bouteflika’s plans to seek a fifth term in office. But his detention comes as activists warn of an increasing climate of repression, with political opponents and journalists targeted in the run-up to legislative elections in June. Earlier this month, security forces arrested eight people they said were linked to the Hirak movement over an allegedly foreign-financed criminal association. France24 avec AFP

Zimbabwe Court Quashes Charges against Journalist Hopewell Chin’Ono
Zimbabwe’s high court has quashed charges of communicating false information levelled against the journalist and government critic Hopewell Chin’ono, saying the law used by police to arrest him in January no longer exists. Chin’ono, 50, has been detained three times since he backed banned anti-government protests on social media in July, when he was first arrested and charged with inciting public violence. Two tweets landed him back in jail for allegedly obstructing justice in November and later publishing false information in January. The high court of Zimbabwe dismissed the latter charge on Wednesday, declaring it had no legal basis. Lawyers had argued that Chin’ono had been charged under a section of the criminal code that had been struck down by the supreme court in 2014. On Wednesday, the high court judge Jesta Charehwa ruled “the argument is upheld … Charges against the appellant [are] hereby quashed.” Chin’ono celebrated the ruling on his Twitter account. “Charged with a law that doesn’t exist,” he wrote. “That is persecution.” AFP

UN Condemns One Year Detention of Nigerian Humanist Mubarak Bala
The United Nations has condemned Nigerian authorities for failing to release a prominent humanist accused of blasphemy, who has been detained for a year without charge. Mubarak Bala, the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested at his home in Kaduna state on 28 April 2020 and taken to neighbouring Kano, where calls for action against him had been made by religious figures. … For months the 37-year-old was denied contact with his lawyer or family and his whereabouts unknown before he was granted access, and a high court order for his release on bail has been ignored by Nigerian authorities. His case has been seen as an example of a clampdown on voices judged to be critical of religious orthodoxy, in a deeply conservative region. … “Today marks one year since Mr Bala was arrested and detained in Kano state, without any formal charges, on allegations of blasphemy. His arbitrary detention has continued despite our appeals to the government in May and July last year,” they said, with the case causing “a chilling effect on the exercise of fundamental freedoms in Nigeria.” The Guardian

Crossing the Niger River, Inch by Painful Inch, Hour by Wasted Hour
…. Below us, the Niger, Africa’s third-longest river and what gave Nigeria its name, is invisible in hot clouds of exhaust lit by red taillights, its flowing waters inaudible over the noise of idling engines. … For all its 56 years, this 4,600-foot steel-truss bridge over the Niger has borne a heavy load, connecting the twin cities of Onitsha, a commercial hub, and calmer Asaba, where many commuters to Onitsha live despite the daily crossing ordeal.  … “It impacts the cost of doing business,” said Patrick Okigbo, a policy analyst who worked with Nigeria’s last government to develop a national infrastructure plan. “It impacts lives. If they can afford it, nobody travels by road anymore. If you can’t, then you go on a prayer.” A mile downstream from the crowded scene on the Niger Bridge, invisible in the viscous night air, may lie an answer: another bridge, half built. The Second Niger Bridge was originally proposed in 1978, and ever since has been used as a campaign promise by national politicians seeking the support of voters in the southeast. It took more than three decades for the work to begin, but finally the company building the six-lane bridge says it will be ready by 2022. The New York Times

FAO Warns Danger Posed by Desert Locust Swarms Is Far from over
The desert locust swarms are on the decline in the East African region largely due to large-scale control operations mounted by governments and supported by FAO over the past 14 months and poor rains. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said the control measures reduced the risk of desert locusts and averted a food crisis in the region. “The desert locust crisis is far from over. Now, countries have systems in place, teams in place, and are maintaining a state of full readiness,” said Cyril Ferrand, Manager of FAO’s Desert Locust response in East Africa. “But I would also point to what these operations have achieved in terms of preventing human suffering. Locust control operations prevented the loss of four million tonnes of cereal and 790 million litres of milk production, protecting the food security of 34.2 million people and avoiding $1.54 billion in cereal and milk losses.” The EastAfrican

Illicit Trade Thrives as South Africa Bans Alcohol and Tobacco Sales
South Africa has been unusual during the pandemic in that it placed bans on sales of not only alcohol but also tobacco, in order to prepare hospitals for surges in Covid cases. The latest alcohol ban, targeting sales for off-site consumption, came as recently as Easter. That has made South Africa a study in how illicit markets have responded to lockdowns. Legitimate drinks and tobacco players took an instant economic hit as their customers turned to illegal supplies. “We have had three bans totalling 19 weeks of lost trade days, with R36bn ($2.5bn) loss in sales revenue for the industry and R29bn loss in tax revenue for government since the start of the lockdown this time last year,” says Sibani Mngadi, chair of the South African Liquor Brand owners Association. But, based on survey data, the organisation estimates that 15 per cent of South Africa’s alcohol market is illicit or run by organised crime, amounting to an annual loss of R6.4bn for the state. FT

Tanzania: Inside the Country That Was Ruled by COVID-Deniers
“Where I was working we [had] a lot of patients showing up. We were trying, really, to save them but we couldn’t even talk openly about COVID because of Magufuli,” said Dr Juma, which is not his real name. Juma spoke with VICE World News on the condition of anonymity, fearful of retribution for speaking out. Because as he and fellow medical workers in Tanzania battled the raging spread of COVID throughout their country, they faced down another enemy: their own government. Former President John Magufuli, often called by his nickname “the Bulldozer,” cracked down on freedom of expression, the press, and targeted citizens who possessed dissenting opinions with harassment and jail time. When the pandemic struck, he turned his authoritarian ways to control the narrative around coronavirus, ardently denying its existence and dismissing so-called “Western” tactics of dealing with it, including testing, wearing masks, and vaccines. Then suddenly, in March, he died after a period out of the public eye. Officially the cause of death was heart disease, but opposition politicians suspect he had contracted COVID and died in hospital. While there are signs his successor as President is not an outright COVID denier, she still hasn’t rolled out any sort of vaccination programme, keeping Tanzania in a small club of African countries not participating in the COVAX vaccination programme. VICE



Photo: Adam Jones