Africa Media Review for April 9, 2021

Southern African Leaders Concerned by Mozambique’s Rebels
Five southern African leaders expressed their concern at the extremist violence in northern Mozambique and said they will consider “a proportionate regional response” at another summit in three weeks. … The presidents of Botswana, Malawi, South Africa, and Zimbabwe met with President Filipe Nyusi, following the prolonged assault in recent weeks on Mozambique’s northern city of Palma. The leaders met as part of the 16-nation Southern African Development Community. known as SADC. A team of technical experts will be sent to northern Mozambique to assess the situation and recommend what action should be taken by the group. The regional bloc has been criticized for failing at previous summits to agree upon specific actions to combat Mozambique’s crisis, which threatens to spread instability in the region. More than 2,600 people have been killed and 670,000 displaced since the rebel insurgency started in 2017, creating a massive humanitarian crisis, according to U.N. agencies. AP

One Protester Killed in Benin Days before Polls: Health Official
One person has been killed and six others have been wounded by gunfire in central Benin, according to a local health official said, after troops cleared protesters days before presidential elections. Protests have erupted in opposition bastions in the lead-up to Sunday’s election, which critics say is skewed in favour of President Patrice Talon after the main opposition leaders were sidelined in a crackdown. A column of military vehicles arrived early on Thursday to disperse demonstrators in the central city of Save, a flashpoint town of protests two years ago, where makeshift barricades of trees and tyres blocked a major road. Troops initially fired tear gas before detonations were heard as a soldier fired in the air from an armoured vehicle, AFP news agency reported. It was not clear if they were live or anti-riot rounds. The director of a local dispensary in Save said he had taken in one dead and six wounded by gunshots. … Benin was once praised as a vibrant multi-party democracy, but critics say the country spiralled into authoritarianism after Talon was first elected in 2016.

Benin’s Democratic Beacon Dims
Benin, a country of 12m people, had been a democratic beacon in west Africa. In 1991 the Beninois voted out Mathieu Kérékou, the long-time president who had taken power in a coup. It was the first time an incumbent president was peacefully voted out in mainland sub-Saharan Africa. Many hoped Benin’s vigorous democracy could inspire greater freedom in the region’s authoritarian regimes, such as Chad, which is also holding elections on April 11th. Instead it is Benin that is becoming more like Chad. Mr Talon, a cotton magnate, came to power promising to consolidate Benin’s raucous and sometimes splintered democracy. Instead he has weakened it. Mr Talon is changing not just the rules but also the referee. In 2018 he created a new court, known as CRIET, which is nominally for economic crimes and terrorism but has a habit of targeting Mr Talon’s rivals. … A CRIET judge who recently fled Benin said to RFI, a French state broadcaster, that the court is not independent. In Ms Madougou’s case and many others, judges received “instructions” from political bigwigs, he says. The Economist

Djibouti to Vote as Veteran Ruler Guelleh, 73, Seeks Fifth Term
Djibouti goes to the polls Friday as Ismail Omar Guelleh seeks an all but assured fifth term as president of the small but strategically located nation he has ruled for 22 years. … Djibouti’s main opposition parties boycotted the vote, leaving Zakaria Ismail Farah, a 56-year-old political newcomer and importer of cleaning products, as Guelleh’s only challenger.Supporters in the packed stadium donned tee-shirts emblazoned with his popular initials IOG but few wore face masks, despite Djibouti experiencing a recent surge in Covid-19 cases. Under Guelleh, the country has exploited its geographical advantage, investing heavily in ports and logistics infrastructure. The country, seeking to become a trade and logistics hub, in 2018 launched the first phase of what will be Africa’s biggest free-trade zone, financed by China. … [T]he country has also seen an erosion of press freedom and a crackdown on dissent as it has courted foreign interest. Guelleh, and his extended family, have controlled Djibouti with an iron fist since he was handed power. A rare wave of opposition protests in 2020 were brutally suppressed. AFP

Gunmen Kill 11 Nigerian Troops in Central Benue State
Gunmen have killed 10 soldiers and an officer in the central Nigerian state of Benue. “Nigerian Army troops operating in Benue State came under attack while on routine operational task,” army spokesman Mohammed Yerima said in a statement on Friday, which gave no details of the time of the incident. The army said it was trying to track down the perpetrators. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack but Benue is part of Nigeria’s middle belt region, where gangs have taken up arms after years of communal clashes between herders and farmers. Last month, Benue state Governor Samuel Ortom said he had escaped an attack by armed herders while travelling in a convoy. … Nigeria’s security forces are battling on several fronts – a more than decade-long armed uprising in the northeast, criminal gangs in the northwest and a separatist militia in the southeast. AFP

DR Congo: Dozens Detained in Beni during Anti-UN Protests
Police in the eastern Congolese city of Beni have detained dozens of people and fired live rounds to disperse protesters demanding the departure of the United Nations peacekeeping mission for its failure to stop the bloodshed in the region, according to local authorities and witnesses. Hundreds of young people have been protesting for days in several cities in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), angry that the UN mission, known as MONUSCO, has not prevented a wave of civilian killings by armed groups. … Some 330 people have been killed so far this year in the violence, according to the Kivu Security Tracker, which maps unrest in the region. “Young people have barricaded almost all the roads to ask the UN mission to leave this region plagued by massacre,” Beni Mayor Modeste Buhindo Bakwanamaha told the Reuters news agency. … At least one protester was seriously wounded by gunshot, LUCHA said, adding that protests also took place in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, where Beni also belongs. Reuters

UN Burundi Office to Close May 31
Burundi will close on May 31, five months after the isolated regime requested it shuttered, the secretary-general announced Thursday. A highly political issue, the UN’s presence has been a source of tension for years between the organisation and Burundian authorities, which have contested the need for UN Security Council observation mission. The office was established after the central African nation was plunged into political crisis in 2015, when then-president Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a disputed third term, sparking violence that claimed at least 1,200 lives. General Evariste Ndayishimiye was elected in May 2020 to succeed Nkurunziza, who died in June. UN investigators said in September that rights abuses have continued under Ndayishimiye. Burundi notified the UN in November last year that its office would be closed by December 31, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday in his letter to the Security Council. But the two sides agreed that the UN needed more time and settled on May 31. AFP

Uganda, Egypt Ink Security Deal Amid Strain over Nile Dam
Uganda’s defence ministry said Thursday it had signed an intelligence-sharing agreement with its Egyptian counterparts, bolstering security ties amid regional tensions over a massive hydropower dam on the Nile. The deal will facilitate regular exchange of intelligence between security agencies on transnational threats such as terrorism, Uganda’s deputy defence ministry spokesman, Deo Akiiki, told AFP. He said the signing ceremony in Kampala late Wednesday followed a meeting between Ugandan and Egyptian intelligence officials in Cairo in December. A separate statement issued by the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) said the head of Egypt’s delegation, Major General Sameh Saber El-Degwi, had stressed the shared security interests between their nations in a speech at an official dinner. AFP

UN Chief: Sudan-South Sudan Dispute Will Keep UN in Abyei
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has informed the Security Council that he couldn’t provide options to reduce and terminate the nearly 3,700-strong peacekeeping force in the disputed Abyei region on the Sudan-South Sudan border because of differences between the two countries. The U.N. chief said in a letter obtained Thursday by The Associated Press that because of the different positions on the future of the force in Abyei, known as UNISFA, “no options that would be minimally acceptable to the parties could be formulated.” Both Sudan and South Sudan claim ownership of the oil-rich Abyei area. The 2005 peace deal that led to South Sudan’s independence from its northern neighbor in 2011 required both sides to work out the final status of region, but it is still unresolved. UNISFA has been in Abyei since 2011, and when the Security Council extended its mandate last November it asked the secretary-general to hold joint consultations with Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and other key parties to discuss an exit strategy and develop options for its reduction. AP

Commercial Trucks Refusing to Enter South Sudan Because of Insecurity
Hundreds of commercial trucks carrying goods bound for South Sudan have stopped at the borders this week, with drivers refusing to complete deliveries because of insecurity. A series of armed attacks on vehicles in South Sudan last month left at least 15 people dead. The truckers say they won’t leave Uganda and Kenya until their safety can be guaranteed. David Kirotho Mathinde, chairman of the Kenyan Drivers Association, said attacks on roads linking Juba to the towns of Nimule and Yei have claimed the lives of several foreign truckers in recent months. He said no truck will leave for South Sudan if the government does not provide security along the roads. … Colonel Santo Domic, deputy spokesperson for South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF), said the chief of staff has implemented plans to provide security on the major roads leading to Juba. Domic said that it was resolved in a SSPDF strategic security meeting that the forces along the road from Juba to Nimule and from Juba to Yei had to be reinforced. The security forces have been reinforcing since Friday, he said. VOA

Kenyan Court ‘Temporarily Blocks’ Closure of Refugee Camps
Kenya’s high court has temporarily blocked the closure of two refugee camps hosting more than 400,000 people, according to media reports and activists. On March 24, Kenyan Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i announced the government’s intention to shut the Dadaab and Kakuma camps, giving the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) two weeks to present a plan to do so. The ministry called this an “ultimatum” and said there was no room for further negotiations. On Thursday, the court stayed the closure for 30 days, according to a copy of the court seen by news organisations. It originated from a petition filed by a local politician challenging a move to shut down the camps. In March, the UNHCR urged the government to ensure that those who need protection continue to get it, and pledged to keep engaging in a dialogue. Al Jazeera

US Doubles Aid to Ethiopia’s Tigray Region Amid Famine Fears
The United States said Thursday it was providing another $152 million to prevent potential famine in Ethiopia’s conflict-hit Tigray region as it urged unhindered access. The US Agency for International Development said the funding brought the total US contribution for Tigray to $305 million and that the contributions, along with a US team on the ground, would support food, water, shelter and medical care to more than three million people. The agency urged other donors to step up contributions “immediately,” pointing to UN warnings that “there could be a risk of famine.” “The United States remains deeply concerned about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Tigray and the lack of sufficient humanitarian funding to address it,” it said in a statement. “Large-scale assistance is urgently needed to prevent conditions in Tigray from worsening.” State Department spokesman Ned Price called for “full and unhindered access” to Tigray. AFP

As Locusts Swarmed East Africa, This Tech Helped Squash Them
In 2020, billions of the insects descended on East African countries that had not seen locusts in decades, fueled by unusual weather connected to climate change. Kenya had last dealt with a plague of this scale more than 70 years ago; Ethiopia and Somalia, more than 30 years ago. Nineteen million farmers and herders across these three countries, which bore the brunt of the damage, saw their livelihoods severely affected. … But as bad as 2020’s swarms were, they and their offspring could have caused much worse damage. While the weather has helped slow the insects’ reproduction, the success, Mr. Cressman said, has primarily resulted from a technology-driven anti-locust operation that hastily formed in the chaotic months following the insects’ arrival to East Africa. This groundbreaking approach proved so effective at clamping down on the winged invaders in some places that some experts say it could transform management of other natural disasters around the world. The New York Times

Al-Shabaab Is Trying to Play Havoc with Somalia’s COVID Vaccine Rollout.
As Somalia begins vaccinating its population of 16 million against COVID-19, a new player has emerged on the frontline of the Horn of Africa nation’s coronavirus disinformation war: Al-Shabaab. Capitalising on recent announcements over the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, the Islamist insurgent group is calling on Sunni Muslims in Somalia, who make up 99 percent of the nation’s population, to “reject” the AstraZeneca vaccine. … Al-Shabaab has seized on such comments and public advisories in European nations to baselessly assert that the vaccine is “deadly” and “unsafe” for the Muslims of Somalia. Instead, the militant group prescribes “black seed and honey” to people suffering from COVID-19 in Somalia, as the nation battles a deadly second wave of coronavirus infections. … [E]xperts in the region fear that the militia’s strong anti-vaccine messaging, which is laced with religious undertones, could inflame anti-vaccine sentiments, threatening to reverse the government’s efforts to dispel misinformation and vaccine hesitancy. VICE

Africa CDC Says Vaccine Passports ‘Inappropriate’ for Now
The head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday described COVID-19 vaccine passports as “inappropriate” while poor countries lag behind others in acquiring the shots. “Our position is very simple. That any imposition of a vaccination passport will create huge inequities and will further exacerbate them,” Dr. John Nkengasong told a briefing. “We are already in a situation where we don’t have vaccines, and it will be extremely unfortunate that countries impose a travel requirement of immunization certificates whereas the rest of the world has not had the chance to have access to vaccines.” … Only 2% of all vaccine doses administered globally have been in Africa, according to the World Health Organization. The Africa CDC warned last week that the continent is unlikely to meet its vaccination targets amid supply delays from a key manufacturer. AP

Why Do a Bunch of Nigerian Twitter Influencers Want This Alleged Money Launderer to Go Free? They’re Being Paid.
As an alleged money launderer who worked with the Venezuelan government and is fighting an extradition order to the United States, Alex Saab has some unlikely allies. Since mid-January, #FreeAlexSaab has been a rallying cry among Nigerians on Twitter, thanks to a broad influence operation with connections to employees of a Nigerian PR firm and a UK-based nonprofit called Digital Good Governance for Africa. … In response to an investigation by BuzzFeed News and the Digital Africa Research Lab (DigiAfricaLab), Twitter suspended more than 1,500 accounts this week for manipulating the #FreeAlexSaab hashtag. That includes almost all 40 accounts that BuzzFeed News and DigiAfricaLab connected to the paid campaign, as well as that of a prominent Nigerian influencer with more than 1.5 million followers who offered to pay people who engaged with her tweets about Saab. … The findings expose how Twitter’s trending topics continue to be affected by global manipulation campaigns and illustrate how professional marketing firms are frequently implicated in social media influence operations. Buzzfeed

How Egyptian Entertainment Has Changed under Military Rule
Egypt’s tv and film industry was long the envy of the Arab world. During the 20th century, movies were among the country’s biggest exports. From Rabat to Baghdad, Arabs learned to mimic Egypt’s distinctive dialect by way of its wildly popular musicals and comedies. The trade gave Egypt cultural influence—and its rulers a propaganda tool. When cinemas took off in the 1930s, King Fuad played newsreels promoting himself before features. President Gamal Abdel Nasser, in turn, made sure films portrayed the monarchy, which he overthrew, as corrupt and wicked. But Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s obsession with controlling entertainment is extreme even by Egyptian standards. Two years after he and other military officers toppled the country’s first democratically elected president in 2013, Mr Sisi warned tv stars that they would be “held accountable” if their work did not reflect the state’s positive outlook. Mr Sisi, now president, nationalised the media in all but name and let his men control which shows are aired. In 2016 a company owned by state intelligence began buying Egypt’s biggest private tv channels. Since 2018 one of its subsidiaries, Synergy (maker of “The Choice”), has produced most of the big shows broadcast during Ramadan. “It’s a monopoly,” says one filmmaker. The Economist



Photo: Adam Jones