Africa Media Review for August 11, 2021

Elections to Test Zambia’s Standing as a Stable Democracy
Zambia’s standing as one of Africa’s most stable democracies is being tested this week in the vote in which President Edgar Lungu is seeking re-election. A tight race is expected and some analysts say the presidential poll may provoke a political crisis in the southern African country. Lungu’s detractors say he has systematically restricted democratic freedoms by closing some media outlets, detaining opposition politicians and targeting critics. His rule has taken Africa’s second-largest copper producer to “the brink of a human rights crisis,” Human Rights Watch alleged in June. Violence flared up in recent weeks, particularly between supporters of the two main parties, prompting Lungu to deploy the military. Lungu says the troops are to maintain order but the opposition argues that the soldiers are to intimidate voters. Lungu came to power in 2015 after winning a disputed snap election to finish the term of President Michael Sata who died in office. Lungu was then elected to a full five-year term in 2016, although his main rival again alleged fraud. … Zambia’s economy, which is in a tailspin, might “be the defining issue,” said Nic Cheeseman, a professor of politics at the University of Birmingham. … “It’s going to be a very contested election. It’s going to be highly controversial. Whichever candidate loses will reject the results. It means we will have a political crisis here after the polls,” he said. “It’s really a question of how big that crisis is and how credible the elections look.” AP

Ethiopia Calls “All Capable” Citizens to Fight in Tigray War
Ethiopia’s government on Tuesday summoned all capable citizens to war, urging them to join the country’s military to stop resurgent forces from the embattled Tigray region “once and for all.” The call to arms is an ominous sign that all of Ethiopia’s 110 million people are being drawn into a conflict that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, once declared would be over within weeks. The deadly fighting has now spread beyond Tigray into neighboring regions, and fracturing in Africa’s second most populous country could destabilize the entire Horn of Africa region. Tuesday’s announcement effectively ends the unilateral cease-fire the government declared in June as its military retreated from Tigray. It is also almost certain to magnify the toll of a nine-month war that has led to the massacre of thousands, widespread gang rapes and the displacement of entire communities, mostly Tigrayan. Hundreds of thousands of people in Tigray now face famine conditions in the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade. The prime minister’s summons chilled Tigrayans, even those outside Tigray, with the statement calling on all Ethiopians to be “the eyes and ears of the country in order to track down and expose spies and agents” of the Tigray forces. Witnesses and lawyers have said thousands of Tigrayans already have been detained during the conflict for their identity alone. AP

‘Like I Wasn’t a Person’: Ethiopian Forces Accused of Systematic Rape in Tigray
Ethiopian government forces have been systematically raping and abusing hundreds of women and girls in the current conflict in Tigray, according to a new report from Amnesty International. Adding to a growing body of evidence that rape is being used as a weapon of war in the northern region of Ethiopia, Amnesty’s research offers a snapshot of the extent of the crimes in an area where communications with the outside world have been deliberately restricted by federal authorities. … The report, based on the accounts of 63 Tigrayan women and medical professionals, details how women have been routinely subjected to mutilation, gang rape, sexual slavery and other forms of torture by members of Ethiopia’s army, the Ethiopian National Defence Force; the Eritrean Defence Forces, which are allied to Ahmed’s government; and Amharan militia fighters as the Tigray conflict continues, said Amnesty. The presence of Eritrean troops, and an Amharan militia group called Fano, fighting against the TPLF forces, has caused outrage and brought international sanctions. According to researchers at Belgium’s University of Ghent, there have been at least 10,000 reported deaths and 230 massacres. Thousands have suffered horrific abuses, according to the UN. The Guardian

The Lost Tablet and the Secret Documents: Clues Pointing to a Shadowy Russian Army
Wagner is a Russian mercenary group whose operations have spanned the globe, from front-line fighting in Syria to guarding diamond mines in the Central African Republic. But it is notoriously secretive and, as such, difficult to scrutinise. Now, the BBC has gained exclusive access to an electronic tablet left behind on a battlefield in Libya by a Wagner fighter, giving an unprecedented insight into how these operatives work. And another clue given to us in Tripoli – a “shopping list” for state-of-the-art military equipment – suggests Wagner has probably been supported at the highest level despite the Russian government’s consistent denials that the organisation has any links to the state. … [On the tablet] it was a maps app that stood out – layers of military maps of the front line, all marked in Russian. Most of the location dots were clustered in the suburb of Ain Zara in south Tripoli, where Wagner fighters had battled with the GNA between February and the end of May 2020. … BBC has since gained rare access to two former Wagner fighters – on condition of anonymity – who confirmed that many of those who started out in Ukraine went to oil-rich Libya. One told the BBC that there were as many as 1,000 fighters in Libya at any one time over the 12-14 months of active fighting in the country from September 2019 to July 2020. … The other former fighter told us the organisation does not issue any code of conduct for its operatives. … The BBC has also collected testimony of other civilian killings attributed to the Wagner group in Libya. BBC

Senegal’s Ambulance Teams Struggle amid a Wave of COVID-19
The paramedics get the urgent call at 10:30 p.m.: A 25-year-old woman, eight months pregnant and likely suffering from COVID-19, is now having serious trouble breathing. … Her situation is dire: Niane says Binta Ba needs to undergo a cesarean section right away if they are to save her and the baby. But first they must find a hospital that can take her. “All the hospitals in Dakar are full so to find a place for someone who is having trouble breathing is very difficult,” he says. It’s a scenario that has become all too common as Senegal confronts a rapid increase in confirmed coronavirus cases. Instead of motorcycle accidents and heart attacks, the vast majority of ambulance calls in the country’s capital are now COVID-19 cases. “We have had an influx of calls for respiratory distress,” said Dr. Abdallah Wade, head of the regulation department at SAMU, Senegal’s emergency medical service. “We had a few in the first wave, a few in the second wave, but since the beginning of the third wave, 90% of the calls are for respiratory distress.” … While the country of 16 million people received more 500,000 AstraZeneca vaccines through the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative, the demand has now outstripped the supply leaving many still waiting for their second doses. AP

Military Wins against Islamist Rebels in Mozambique Unlikely to Stem Ongoing Conflict in the Region
In the end, the Islamist insurgents gave up their prized Mozambican stronghold without a shot fired. They melted away into the countryside, avoiding a direct clash with hundreds of Rwandan soldiers and saving their bullets for future attacks. The capture of Mocimboa de Praia, a strategic port town that the Islamists had seized last year, is a key victory for a coalition of African forces in their newly launched counterinsurgency campaign in northern Mozambique. But it is far from the end of the guerrilla fighting or the humanitarian disaster that has engulfed the region. Mozambique’s military, bolstered by about 1,000 Rwandan troops, gained control of the town on Sunday after several days of skirmishes on its outskirts. … But security analysts warned that the capture of towns and territory is far from enough to end the insurgency. The Islamists operated for years without any urban areas under their control, and are likely to do so again. They have usually specialized in hit-and-run attacks, raiding and looting villages, burning houses and killing civilians. … Jasmine Opperman, a security analyst who specializes in Mozambique, said the insurgents are deliberately avoiding any direct clashes with heavily armed military forces. More complex issues, including the humanitarian crisis and the sense of economic marginalization in the region, will be equally important, she said. The Globe and Mail

Chad Invites Armed Groups to Participate in National Dialogue
Chad’s transitional president on Tuesday invited opposition armed groups to participate in a national dialogue to determine the future of the country, reversing previous statements that the government would not negotiate with rebels. Mahamat Idriss Deby, who leads the Transitional Military Council (CMT), seized power In April after his father, the former president, was killed while visiting troops fighting an insurgency in the north. Rebel groups were invited to take part in an “Inclusive National Dialogue,” before the holding of presidential and legislative elections, Deby said, without giving a timetable. … The junta has previously refused to negotiate with rebel groups, in particular the fighters from the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), which in April swept south from bases in Libya and reached within 300km of the capital N’Djamena. Reuters

UN Libya Mission ‘Deeply Concerned’ over Abduction of TOP Government Staffer
The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said on Tuesday that it is “deeply concerned” over the abduction of a senior Government staff member, who disappeared last week after being taken away by unidentified armed men. Rida Faraj Fraitis, is Chief of Staff for the First Deputy Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity (GNU), the UN-backed administration that since March, has been leading a new unified Libyan push towards ending years of civil conflict and division. Up until this year, the oil-rich nation was split between the former Government of National Accord based in Tripoli, and a rival administration based in the east. In recent weeks, progress towards new democratic elections in December has stalled, despite wide-ranging and on-going negotiations continuing. Mr. Fraitis was taken along with a colleague, on 2 August, following a visit to GNU premises in Tripoli: “The fate and whereabouts of both Mr. Fraitis and his colleague remain unknown and UNSMIL fears for their safety and security,” the mission said in a statement. … “Libya must end the entrenched culture of impunity in the country,” stressed Mr. Kubis [Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General and Head of UNSMIL]. UN News

SPLA-IO Conflict: Igad Ministers Call for Ceasefire
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) has called on South Sudan’s main opposition party to cease hostilities within its group. The call comes after Sudan People Liberation Army–In Opposition (SPLA-IO) forces loyal to Dr Riek Machar and his former army chief Lt. Gen Gatwech Dual clashed in Megnas village of Upper Nile over the weekend. According to the spokesman of First Vice President Riek Machar, at least twenty-seven soldiers from Gatwech’s faction were killed during the weekend military clashes. On Wednesday last week, a group of senior generals SPLM-IO announced they had dismissed Dr Machar as commander of the group, accusing him of reneging on the movement’s vision. The SPLM-IO generals ostensibly replaced Machar with his previous army chief Simon Gatwech Dual with immediate effect. Dr Machar’s political bureau condemned the move and described the generals behind the plan as peace spoilers. Ministers from the regional bloc held an extra-ordinary meeting on Monday to discuss the situation. Nation

Wildfires in Algeria Leave 42 Dead, Including 25 Soldiers
At least 25 soldiers died saving residents from wildfires ravaging mountain forests and villages east of Algeria’s capital, the president announced Tuesday night as the civilian toll rose to at least 17. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune tweeted that the soldiers were “martyrs” who saved 100 people from the fires in two areas of Kabyle, the region that is home to the North African nation’s Berber population. Eleven other soldiers were burned fighting the fires, four of them seriously, the Defense Ministry said. Prime Minister Aïmene Benabderrahmane later said on state TV that 17 civilians had lost their lives, raising the count of citizens from seven previously and bringing the total death toll to 42. He provided no details. The mountainous Kabyle region, 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Algeria’s capital of Algiers, is dotted with difficult-to-access villages and with temperatures rising has had limited water. Some villagers were fleeing, while others tried to hold back the flames themselves, using buckets, branches and rudimentary tools. The region has no water-dumping planes. … The prime minister told state television that initial reports from security services showed the fires in Kabyle were “highly synchronized,” adding that “leads one to believe these were criminal acts.” … There were no immediate details to explain the high death toll among the military. AP

More than 200 Children Remain Abducted in Nigeria amid ‘Kidnap Epidemic’
More than 200 schoolchildren remain abducted by armed “bandit” groups in northern Nigeria, among more than 1,000 students taken this year as schools in northern Nigeria have become prime targets. A startling absence of security and – according to many communities – a reluctance to meaningfully engage armed threats have rapidly turned much of northern Nigeria into a haven for kidnap gangs and a hell for thousands of families. … For many in Nigeria, dismayed at what some have described as a “kidnap epidemic,” the security crisis is borne of a litany of government failings. The crisis threatens to derail attendance in schools in a region where high child illiteracy rates and child marriage have been prominent concerns. … As bandit gangs have flourished, a mix of conflicting approaches and operations by local and federal governments have failed, according to Murtala Abdullahi, a security and climate expert in Nigeria. “The security intervention in the north-west is a reflection of the broader problematic way politicians respond to security issues in the country,” he said. “It’s reactionary and heavily dependent on military force. We have also seen mixed approaches, dialogue [with the armed groups] and non-dialogue, in the absence of a strategic framework or strategy.” The Guardian

Nigerian Army Says 335 Boko Haram Militants Have Surrendered
The Nigerian army says 335 Boko Haram extremists, including two top commanders, have laid down their arms and withdrawn from the sect in response to a military offensive in the northeast. Military spokesperson Onyema Nwachukwu released photos on Monday of the men holding placards asking for forgiveness, and said the group’s chief bomb expert and his deputy were among those who turned themselves in. Hundreds of women and children from the militants’ families also surrendered. There have been several reports of militants surrendering since the reported death of the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau earlier this year. It is, however, difficult to assess if the surrenders will be a major win for Nigerian forces fighting Boko Haram’s decade-long insurgency, according to Sadeeq Shehu, a retired senior officer of the Nigerian Air Force. Even before Shekau’s death, he and his allies had faced a mounting threat from a breakaway faction known as the Islamic State West Africa Province, or ISWAP, which has become more prominent in carrying out abductions and attacks over the past year. AP

Cameroon Says Hundreds of Boko Haram Militants from Nigeria and Chad Surrender
Cameroonian officials say at least 82 former Boko Haram fighters from Nigeria and Chad, along with their families, have surrendered to authorities in the past week. Authorities say they’re the latest among hundreds of the militant Islamists who have been defecting since May, when the group’s leader was killed. Cameroon plans to deport the former fighters as the influx has overwhelmed rehabilitation centers along the border. Cameroon’s government on August 10 said its National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration center in Meri, a northern town on the border with Nigeria, has 967 former jihadist militants. A week ago, there were about 700 former Boko Haram fighters and their families in the center. Among the over 260 who arrived within the past one week are 82 former Boko Haram male fighters. The others are women and children. Francis Fai Yengo is the director of DDR centers created by the government of Cameroon for former fighters. He says over 200 of ex-militants are Nigerians. He spoke on Monday after President Paul Biya sent him to meet the former militants and to evaluate their needs. VOA

Malawi’s Corruption Monitor Arrests Cabinet Minister, Two Other Officials over Fuel Deals
Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau has arrested the energy minister and two other officials for alleged corruption involving a state oil contract. Political analysts said the arrests show Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera’s anti-corruption drive is targeting more than just the former ruling party. Malawi Energy Minister Newton Kambala has been arrested along with presidential adviser Chris Chaima Banda, and Enock Chihana, a partner in the governing Tonse Alliance. Martha Chizuma is the director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, or ACB. She told a televised press conference the arrests Monday stem from investigations into complaints from the National Oil Company of Malawi, or NOCMA, about interference in awarding of contracts to fuel suppliers. “And there is a recommendation that there must be prosecution of those that were allegedly involved.” … However, Kaisi says the challenge now is delays in prosecutions. “We need to quickly point out that at the Anti-Corruption Bureau there are quite a lot of cases,” [Sheriff Kaisi, a lecturer of political science at Blantyre International University] said. “Some have taken 20 years and they have not yet concluded. So, we are asking the government through anti-Corruption Bureau that the president has started living by his words, what is remaining now is to move very fast so that due process of the law should go normally.” VOA

Climate Change, Rising Seas May Lead to Extinction of Small Island Nations
Island nations across the world are warning that they face catastrophic consequences of rising sea levels and possible extinction, after a landmark U.N. report warned of the effects of a warming world. An alliance of 39 coastal and low-lying nations said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was a “major alert for the world” and called on more powerful countries to do all they can to keep global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius to “save lives and livelihoods.” “We have to turn this around,” Diann Black-Layne, the lead negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, said in a statement Monday after the IPCC report was released. “The IPCC confirms the experience of small island states: that cyclones are getting more intense, and that sea levels are rising, but it also confirms we can still curb the worst of it.” Keeping temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) instead of 2 degrees Celsius, a target of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, would avoid a long-term rise of three meters (9.6 feet), she said. “That is our very future, right there,” she said. The IPCC report, released Monday, warned that while warming could be stopped by halting carbon emissions, sea levels would continue to rise even in a best-case scenario, putting coastal communities at risk of flooding and destruction. NBC



Photo: Adam Jones