Africa Media Review for April 7, 2021

Ethiopia Vows to Continue Filling Disputed Dam After Talks Stall
Ethiopia plans to proceed with the second phase of filling a giant dam on the main tributary of the Nile River, as it dismissed calls to bring in more international mediators to resolve a dispute over the reservoir. “The second-year filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will be carried out as scheduled,” Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Twitter. “The positions contesting the filling of the dam ahead of the conclusion of an agreement has no basis in law and contravenes Ethiopia’s inherent right to utilize its natural resource.” Several days of talks hosted by the African Union ended on Tuesday with no progress on ending the impasse between Ethiopia and the downstream nations of Egypt and Sudan. … Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi last week warned that any attempt to take “a drop of Egypt’s water” would have a destabilizing effect on the whole region. It was one of his strongest statements yet in the years-long dispute over the GERD. … Sudan had proposed at the latest talks that the U.S. and European Union be added as mediators, a position that Ethiopia rejected. Bloomberg

Over 100 Killed in Clashes in Ethiopia’s Afar, Somali Regions
Border clashes between Ethiopia’s Afar and Somali regions have killed at least 100 people, a regional official said, in the latest outbreak of violence ahead of national elections in June. About 100 civilians, many of them herders, were killed since clashes broke out on Friday and continued through to Tuesday, Ahmed Humed, the deputy police commissioner for the Afar region, told the Reuters news agency by phone. … The bloodshed in territory claimed by the Somali and Afar regions highlights security woes facing Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that extend well beyond the ongoing conflict farther north in Tigray. Ali Bedel, a spokesman for the Somali region, said 25 people had been killed on Friday and an “unknown number of civilians” died in a subsequent attack by the same forces on Tuesday. … Meanwhile, Ahmed Kaloyte of the Afar region, told the AFP news agency that Somali special police and militias raided an area known as Haruka, “indiscriminately firing on locals and killing more than 30 Afar civilian pastoralists” and injuring at least 50 more. Reuters/AFP

Protests Spread in Benin as President Readies for Re-Election Bid
Opponents of Benin’s President Patrice Talon protested in several cities and towns on Monday night and Tuesday morning, denouncing his decision to stand for re-election next week. Talon, who came to power in 2016, is due to run against two challengers on Sunday, despite a promise he would serve only one term. Hundreds of people marched, burned tires and set up road blocks in the commercial capital, Cotonou, a Reuters witness said. Posts on social media showed demonstrations also taking place in the central city of Parakou and three other towns. “We want the president to leave. Five years means five years,” said Cotonou protester Rodrigue Amadou. … Benin’s image as a bastion of democracy and stability in West Africa was dented by the exclusion of opposition leaders from parliamentary elections in 2019, which sparked rare unrest. Under Talon, leading opposition figures have also faced targeted harassment from the authorities, including through the courts, according to U.S. democracy watchdog group Freedom House. Reuters

Top Benin Judge Says Flees Country Denouncing Pressure
A top Benin judge on Monday said he had quit and fled the West African country, condemning political pressure that he alleged included a demand to detain an opposition figure in the run-up to presidential elections. His denunciation comes as critics accuse President Patrice Talon of cracking down on opponents, including rivals who had sought to contest Sunday’s ballot. Essowe Batamoussi said he had stepped down as a justice with the Economic Crime and Terrorism Court (CRIET), which oversaw a probe into opposition candidate Reckya Madougou, who was arrested last month. “The judge that I am is not independent,” Batamoussi told France’s RFI radio early on Monday in an interview from an undisclosed location. “All the decisions that we have had to take have been under pressure, including the one which put Reckya Madougou in detention.” Madougou, whose candidacy for the election was rejected, was arrested last month and accused of plotting acts of terrorism to disrupt the elections. AFP

Djibouti President Guelleh Set to Run for Fifth Term
The long-time president of Djibouti, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, has launched his re-election campaign in the run-up to national elections on 9 April. With the exception of Zakaria Ismael Jafar, an “anti-system” independent candidate, Guelleh is set to run for his fifth term unopposed. His challengers in the 2016 election have all called for a boycott of the ballot. The fact that Guelleh is comfortably settling into his third decade in office hints at the state of affairs in this strategically important country. … Guelleh has proven particularly beholden to Beijing’s interests, banking on Chinese investments to such a degree that Djibouti is not only dependent on Beijing but highly indebted to it as well: in recent years, the country’s debt to China has reportedly ballooned to 70 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). Nation

US Says Mali’s Top Priority Must Be Holding Fair Elections
The top priority for Mali’s interim government must be holding free and fair elections by the end of the 18-month transition period following last August’s military coup that overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the U.S. ambassador at the United Nations said Tuesday. Linda Thomas-Greenfield strongly encouraged Malian authorities “to issue a finalized timeline confirming dates for the electoral process,” and said the voting must be administered “by competent and impartial election authorities using transparent processes.” She urged the authorities to use the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali’s “election support capacities.” Thomas-Greenfield told the U.N. Security Council that January’s dissolution of the military junta that carried out the coup was “an important step toward a peaceful and democratic transition.” AP

Liberia’s George Weah Fails to Win Extra Time in Referendum
Liberians rejected a referendum backed by President George Weah which opposition feared could have been used to reset the clock and allow the former soccer star to extend his stay in office. The Dec. 8 plebiscite, which sought to shorten presidential and senatorial term limits and allow dual citizenship, failed to achieve the two-thirds needed for the proposal to pass, National Elections Commission Chairwoman Davidetta Browne Lansanah said in a statement. “Based on the results of the 2020 referendum, none of the eight propositions met the constitutional threshold,” Browne said in a statement emailed from the capital, Monrovia, on Friday. The decision came as leaders in Ivory Coast and Guinea argued that constitutional changes reset the clock on terms already served in office, going on to secure third terms they would otherwise not have been eligible for. Weah, who will complete his first mandate in 2024, has denied that he is seeking to extend stay in office beyond the two-term limit. Bloomberg

Tanzania’s New President Changes Policy on COVID-19, Media
Tanzania’s new president appears to be taking a new, scientific approach to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. President Samia Suluhu Hassan said Tuesday she will form a technical committee to advise her about the scope of COVID-19 infections in the country and how to respond to the pandemic. COVID-19 is “not something we should be quiet about or refuse flatly or accept without doing a scientific examination,” Hassan said in Swahili. “We will do medical research which will tell us the scope of the problem and advise us about what the world is recommending as well as our own expertise,” she said. … In her address Tuesday to the country Hassan also ordered media houses that had been closed during her predecessor’s rule to be reopened. She also urged regional officials to encourage freedom of expression to allow members of the public to express their grievances without being intimidated. AP

Zimbabwe Court Jails Opposition Activist for Blowing Whistle during Protest
Zimbabwe’s main opposition party says the government is again cracking down on critics with a prison sentence given to 28-year-old Makomborero Haruzivishe. A court found him guilty of inciting violence, but rights groups say the real aim is to intimidate protesters demanding more financial support for the poor. That’s Makomborero Haruzivishe shouting at waiting reporters as he left for Chikurubi Maximum Prison — his new home for the next 14 months after he was sentenced to prison on Tuesday. … Tendai Biti, vice president of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, reacted to Haruzivishe’s conviction in an interview with VOA. “This is a sad for Zimbabwe. It reflects the selective application of the law in Zimbabwe. It confirms the complete emasculation of state institutions for Zimbabwe. The conviction and heavy sentence (are) meant to send out a chilling effect to the democratic movement in Zimbabwe,” Biti said. VOA

Police Station Attacked in Southeast Nigeria a Day after Jailbreak
Gunmen stormed a police station in southeast Nigeria and freed prisoners, a day after the restive region was hit by a prison breakout blamed on separatists, police and local media said Wednesday. The police station in the town of Ehime Mbano in Imo state was set ablaze on Tuesday after it was raided by gunmen, police spokesman Orlando Ikeokwu said. “I can confirm to you that another police facility was attacked by bandits,” Ikeokwu told AFP. He said three vehicles were burned but did not say if there were casualties. Local media said some detainees were freed by the gunmen. Southeast Nigeria has seen an upsurge in attacks targeting security forces in violence that officials blame on the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a separatist group seeking independence of the indigenous Igbo people. The attack came a day after a prison and the police headquarters in Imo’s state capital Owerri were attacked and 1,844 inmates freed. The Defense Post with AFP

UN to Reduce Peacekeepers in South Sudan
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said Tuesday it plans to reduce troop numbers by seven percent this year, due to a drop in violence in the conflict-torn country. UNMISS chief David Shearer said the drawdown is also a result of UN troops withdrawing from camps where civilians had sought protection during the country’s six-year civil war, handing control of the sites to Juba. “Over the coming year, there will be reduction of our military and police peacekeepers by around seven percent,” Shearer told journalists during his last press conference after four years in the job. He said the decision was also a result of a “reduction in violence” following the signing of a peace deal in 2018. UNMISS currently has 14,500 military and 2,000 police peacekeepers across the country. … Despite the reduction in the number of peacekeepers, Shearer cautioned “the peace process remains fragile and there is still much to be done.” Shearer said however that more troops could be brought in if violence rose again. AFP

Corruption Claims Spark New Concerns about Aid to South Sudan
When the pandemic struck, many feared South Sudan could be one of the hardest hit countries in Africa – years of conflict had hollowed out its healthcare system and the threat of famine was on the horizon. Heeding the warnings, the European Union, the United States, and the World Bank chipped in more than $100 million for the COVID-19 response, while the IMF has given some $200 million in loans. Worrying death toll projections have yet to materialise – fewer than 150 people have died of the virus in the past year despite a recent uptick in cases – but familiar patterns of alleged profiteering emerged after the first cases were reported. A black market appeared for COVID-19 tests that were supposed to be free. An inflated contract was awarded to a company to renovate a hospital that still sits empty. And the government authorised one small outfit to produce hand sanitiser – while banning imports of the product as people scrambled to find supplies. The New Humanitarian found these and other examples after interviewing nearly 30 government officials, business owners, and aid workers, as well as reviewing documents, emails, and text messages as part of an investigation with Al Jazeera. The New Humanitarian and Al Jazeera

UN Experts Alarmed by CAR Russian Trainers
A group of UN experts expressed alarm at increased recruitment and use of private military and foreign security contractors by the government of Central African Republic (CAR) and their close contact with UN peacekeepers. The Working Group on Mercenaries, appointed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, is “disturbed” by the inter-connected roles of Sewa Security Services, Russian-owned Lobaye Invest SARLU and a Russian-based organisation known as the Wagner Group. In particular, the group expressed concern about connections to a series of violent attacks since presidential elections on 27 December 2020. … “This blurring of lines between civil, military and peacekeeping operations during hostilities creates confusion about legitimate targets and increases the risk for widespread human rights and humanitarian law abuses,” the experts said. defenceWeb

Italy’s Draghi Urges Libya to Strictly Maintain Ceasefire
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Tuesday urged the Libyan government to ensure that the country’s ceasefire is maintained and strictly observed. In comments to the press alongside Libya’s interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh, Draghi said the two leaders had spoken about immigration and economic cooperation between the two countries with strong historic ties. For Libya “to be able to proceed with courage and decisiveness it is a prerequisite that the ceasefire must continue and be strictly observed,” Draghi said after his first foreign trip since he took office in February. Dbeibeh’s new U.N.-backed unity government took office last month with a mandate to improve services and prepare for a national election in December. Reuters

Conflict and COVID Driving Record Hunger in DR Congo, Warns UN
A record 27.3 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are facing acute hunger, one-third of the violence-wracked Central African country’s population, largely because of conflict and the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations has warned. The DRC is “home to the highest number of people in urgent need of food security assistance in the world,” the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization said on Tuesday in a joint statement, describing the scale of the crisis as “staggering.” Besides conflict and the coronavirus pandemic, the number also rose because the latest analysis covered more people than previous ones. “For the first time ever we were able to analyse the vast majority of the population, and this has helped us to come closer to the true picture of the staggering scale of food insecurity in the DRC,” Peter Musoko, WFP’s representative in the country, said. … The worst-hit areas were in the eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu and Tanganyika, as well as the central Kasai province, all of which have been affected by conflict. Al Jazeera

African Leaders Call for Climate Financing Acceleration
African leaders rallied Tuesday in a virtual summit calling for scaled-up actions and financing to combat the effects of climate change that are already being felt in the continent of 1.3 billion. The Leaders’ Dialogue on the Africa COVID-Climate Emergency saw representatives discussing the twin challenges of facing the pandemic alongside climate change. “Africa remains a continent with immense opportunities if we act now to contain the pandemic, deal with the serious debt burdens and work on plans and tools to tackle climate change,” said the newly appointed World Trade Organization chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Presidents from Congo, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Kenya and other countries talked about the need for support to accelerate the effort against climate change, which has affected food security, and health on the continent. AP