Africa Media Review for April 30, 2020

Ivory Coast Withdraws from African Human Rights and Peoples Court
Ivory Coast withdrew from the African Human Rights and Peoples Court, a week after the tribunal ordered the West African nation to suspend an arrest warrant against presidential hopeful Guillaume Soro, who on Tuesday was sentenced to 20 years in jail. The decision to pull out was taken at a weekly cabinet meeting, government spokesman Sidi Toure told reporters on Wednesday in the commercial capital, Abidjan. … Soro, a former speaker of parliament and rebel leader, was sentenced in absentia by an Abidjan court after a one-day trial. He was convicted on charges of money laundering and embezzlement, ruling him out of presidential elections scheduled to take place in October. In concrete terms, this “withdrawal” means that it will no longer be possible for NGOs and private individuals to refer directly to the Court in cases involving the government. … Last year, the African Court also asked Côte d’Ivoire to reform its Electoral Commission, which had been referred to it by the opposition. … [Alice Banens, AI’s Africa Legal Adviser] recalled that this decision “comes in a pre-electoral context where the Ivorian government has multiplied its attacks on political opponents and dissident voices.” AFP

COVID-19 Is Making the Media in Africa’s Great Lakes Region Sick
Journalists in Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda are facing an increasing number of challenges covering the coronavirus, with rights groups warning the pandemic could kill the truth ahead of World Press Freedom Day on Sunday. An image of a man lying dead on the streets of Tanzania’s capital Dar es Salam went viral this week. The victim’s body, face up on the pavement, was left outside for 24 hours before eventually being collected. There was no word from the government about how he had died. The chilling image, released from an anonymous Twitter account, captured a new reality of the coronavirus outbreak: a creeping media blackout. “The government just doesn’t answer us,” says media communication specialist Maria Sarungi Tsehai. “When journalists brought up the video of the dead man on the streets circulating on social media, parliament didn’t say it was true or not true. They didn’t say anything,” she told RFI. Whether the death was coronavirus-related or not remains a mystery. As does the country’s official tally of cases. Tanzania recorded 84 new Covid-19 cases on 20 April, bringing its tally to 254. But since then, the flow of official information has slowed to a trickle. RFI

Fighting Raises Tension between Government, Rebel Force in South Sudan
New fighting in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria state this week is putting a strain on the country’s fragile peace agreements. A spokesman for the rebel National Salvation Front (NAS) said a joint force composed of soldiers from the army and the former rebel SPLM-IO attacked NAS positions in Central Equatoria state beginning on Sunday. “They went and attacked our bases in Senema, that is around Ombaci, and also in Mediba around Morobo, and in Kajo-Keji Kala 2. They also attacked our forces, and we responded,” NAS spokesman Samuel Suba told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus. Two NAS soldiers were killed and three others wounded during the fighting, according to Suba. The casualty figure could not be verified by other sources. SPLM-IO deputy military spokesman Col. Lam Paul Gabriel, who is also the press secretary for South Sudan’s defense minister, said the NAS forces were the aggressors who killed one government soldier and injured three others. VOA

Libyan Strongman Haftar Agrees to Ceasefire after Claiming ‘Popular Mandate’ to Rule
Libya strongman Khalifa Haftar said Wednesday his forces would cease hostilities for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan following international calls for a truce in the war-torn country. “The commander general announces the halting of military operations from his side,” a spokesman for Haftar, who controls swathes of eastern and southern Libya, said from the eastern city of Benghazi. Haftar’s rival, the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) had yet to respond, and an AFP correspondent reported hearing explosions in the centre of the capital Tripoli after the announcement. The call for a truce during Ramadan, which began in Libya on April 24, came in response to “appeals from friendly nations,” the Haftar spokesman said. Last week, the UN, EU and several countries called for both sides to lay down their arms during the holy month. The announcement comes after pro-Haftar forces suffered a series of setbacks in recent weeks, with GNA forces ousting them from two key coastal cities west of Tripoli. Backed by Turkey, GNA troops are now encircling Haftar’s main rear base at Tarhunah, 60 kilometres (39 miles) southeast of the capital. AFP

Guinea-Bissau PM, 3 Others Test Positive for COVID-19
The Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau, Nuno Gomes Nabiam, announced on Wednesday that he had been contaminated by the new coronavirus, and, according to the Minister of Health, three other members of the government are also infected. “I have tested positive for the new coronavirus, I am at home and I feel good,” Mr. Nabiam said on his Facebook page. Nabiam. The virus “exists and spreads easily. Stay at home and take all measures to save your life and that of your family,” he implored. A “good part” of the members of the inter-ministerial commission to combat the coronavirus “have been contaminated,” Mr Nabiam continued, stressing that this was one of the risks involved in being “at the forefront” of the fight against the disease. Health Minister Antonio Deuna told AFP that other members of the government also declared positive are Interior Minister Botche Candé, Secretary of State for Public Order Mario Fambe, and Secretary of State for Regional Integration Monica Boiro. AFP

Malawi President Announces New Measures against Coronavirus
Malawi’s president has proposed new safety measures against the coronavirus, which has infected 36 people in Malawi and caused three deaths.  The president is offering cash payments to the poor to help them survive a proposed lockdown, and to persuade vendors to close shops.  But vendors, who protested plans for the lockdown two weeks ago, say the payments would be too small. In a televised national address, President Peter Mutharika said the government will make cash payments to support Malawians who normally depend on the markets for their livelihood. He said the government will target a minimum of 172,000 households, representing an estimated 35 percent of the urban population. “Each identified household will be paid electronically through mobile payments, K35, 000 per month and the amount is based on the prevailing government minimum wage rate,” said Mutharika. The payments are equivalent to about $50 per month, and would last for six months. VOA

UN Prepares for Potentially Devastating COVID-19 Outbreak in Conflict-Ravaged Northeast Nigeria
In northeast Nigeria, where armed conflict has forced millions from their homes, the UN’s migration agency, IOM, is supporting the construction of quarantine shelters, as the region braces for an outbreak of COVID-19 which, it warns, would have ‘devastating consequences’ for those who have been displaced. Displaced people there already face outbreaks of several deadly diseases, including cholera, malaria and measles, and fighting has severely weakened the health system: more than a third of facilities have been destroyed in attacks, and there is limited access to drinking water and sanitation infrastructure. IOM fears an outbreak of COVID-19 would exacerbate the current situation, placing further stress on disrupted health systems, and potentially overwhelm the response capacity of international humanitarian agencies. A rise in cases is also likely to increase current projections of people in need. UN News

African Union to Support Sudan’s Request for Political Mission without Military Personnel
The African Union Representative in Sudan Mohamed Belisha Wednesday said the regional body would support Sudan’s request for a special political mission without any military component. Belisha met on Wednesday with Kabbashi Shams al-Din, a member of the Sovereign Council and Omer Gamar Eldin State Minister for Foreign Affairs to discuss Sudan’s position on the upcoming UN political mission which will be set up on the basis of Chapter VI of the UN Charter. Speaking to the media after the meeting Gamar Eldin stated that the African Union official asked about Sudan’s position on the upcoming mission which will replace the UNAMID. “Lieutenant-General Kabbashi replied that the second letter sent by the Prime Minister was an explanatory letter to Sudan’s request to get a United Nations mission set up on the basis of Chapter VI of the UN Charter,” he said. Recently, it was purported that the military component at the Sovereign Council had shown reservations over the new mission fearing it would prolongate the presence of UN troops in Sudan. Sudan Tribune

Deployment of 1,165 [South African] SANDF Personnel in the DRC Extended
President Cyril Ramaphosa has informed parliament that the 1 165 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will be deployed for another year as part of the UN Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). This was in a letter sent on 22 March and discussed by the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) last week. Ramaphosa’s letter said South Africa will keep 1 165 SANDF personnel in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1 April this year through to 31 March 2021. They will form part of the multi-country peacekeeping mission MONUSCO and its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). The FIB is staffed by three Southern African countries – Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania – and is currently the only UN peacekeeping component with an offensive mandate in executing its civilian protection tasking. DefenceWeb

South Africa’s Zuma Abandons Attempt to Halt Corruption Trial
Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s former president, has abandoned a legal bid to halt a corruption trial on charges related to a 1990s arms deal, according to his office. A statement released by his foundation on Wednesday said the Constitutional Court had accepted the previous day “his withdrawal of the application for leave to appeal” against prosecution. “This indeed paves the way for him to prepare for the trial and demonstrate that he has never benefited from any arms deal corruption or tried to evade the trial,” it said. “He hopes that his innocence will indeed be demonstrated for all to see.” Zuma is alleged to have taken bribes of four million rand ($220,000) related to a 1999 $3.4bn arms deal with French aerospace and defence giant Thales when he was deputy president. … Zuma is scheduled to appear in court to answer the corruption charges on May 6. But it is unclear if the hearing will proceed as the country is under a lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Al Jazeera

UN: New Polio Outbreak in Niger after Vaccination Suspended
The World Health Organization says Niger has been struck by a new outbreak of polio, following the suspension of immunization activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.N. health agency reported that two children were infected by the highly infectious, water-borne disease and that one was paralyzed. The outbreak was sparked by a mutated virus that originated in the vaccine and was not connected to a previous polio epidemic Niger stopped last year, WHO said, in a statement last week. “The poliovirus will inevitably continue to circulate and may paralyze more children as no high-quality immunization campaigns can be conducted in a timely manner,” said Pascal Mkanda, WHO’s coordinator of polio eradication in Africa. … Earlier this month, WHO and partners announced they were forced to halt all polio vaccination activities until at least June 1, acknowledging the decision would inevitably result in more children being paralyzed. AP

African Economies Are Spending Up to Five Times Their Health Budgets on Debt Repayments
Rather than ask to completely replay the 1990s when some of the world’s low- and low-middle income countries negotiated debt forgiveness from the Paris Club coalition of some of the world’s wealthy countries, this time the discussions have been about pausing repayments on debt that has been been accumulated over the last decade of relatively cheap credit. The idea is if these countries can pause debt repayments for two years they’ll be able to focus on their much more challenging immediate problems of coping with a health crisis which has the potential to be easily exacerbated by the weak health infrastructure such as a lack of hospitals to medical personnel in many Sub-Saharan Africa countries. “Because Sub-Saharan Africa governments do not have the resources for significant fiscal stimulus programs, we think suspending governments’ interest payments is critical,” says Yvonne Mhango, an analyst at Renaissance Capital. “Ghana spends five times as much on interest payments as it does on healthcare. Freeing up these funds would help alleviate the impact of the crisis.” Quartz Africa

Jumia: The E-Commerce Start-Up That Fell from Grace
A year after its much heralded debut on the New York Stock Exchange, e-commerce start-up Jumia has shut down in three African states, struggled to turn a profit and got dumped by its original owners, writes former BBC Africa Business editor Larry Madowo. The two CEOs of Jumia announced earlier this month that they were taking a 25% pay cut to support the online retailer manage costs during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019, the duo and the company’s chief financial officer collectively earned $5.3m (£4.27m) in base salaries and one-time bonuses. But Jumia’s losses rose 34% to $246m, the eighth straight year without profits. A silver lining arrived with lockdowns that shut down much economic activity but led to a surge in online shopping. Before the rush, the African online retailer had ended last year with 6.1 million active consumers on its websites, up from 4 million previously. As the virus spread, Jumia expanded grocery and sanitary offerings, introduced contactless delivery options and promoted cashless payments. BBC

In Pictures: Untold Stories of Cameroon’s War Victims
Armed groups are fighting for a separate state in English-speaking parts of Cameroon and government forces are hitting back with brute force. Caught in the crossfire, civilians are trying to stay alive in a deadly conflict the world knows little about. In 2016, as lawyers, students and teachers in the English-speaking parts of Cameroon began protesting what they saw as their cultural marginalisation and under-representation in the central government, security forces hit back. Several armed separatist groups emerged and self-declared their independence from Cameroon on October 1, 2017, calling their new country “Ambazonia.” Members of armed groups are known to locals as “the boys.” Since then, atrocities have been committed by both sides and the escalating conflict has forced more than 730,000 people to flee. Many have been killed, tortured, raped, assaulted and kidnapped. Those who manage to survive watched helplessly as their villages burned to the ground and their children were left with no access to school. Al Jazeera



Photo: Adam Jones