Africa Media Review for August 20, 2020

Mali Coup Opens Power Vacuum as Islamist Insurgency Expands in West Africa

Tuesday’s stunning coup in Mali – in which mutinous soldiers stormed the capital and arrested the country’s president – has opened a power vacuum that West African leaders sought to avoid, injecting instability into the heart of the fight against the world’s fastest-growing Islamist insurgency. Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s sudden ouster this week thrust the nation into chaos as it struggles to repel fighters loyal to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The militants have expanded their territory in the countryside during the pandemic, analysts say, despite military intervention from France and the United States. The coup leaders revealed the first steps of their takeover on Wednesday on state television, pledging to build a civilian-led transition team, maintain ties with international partners and hold a new election. … The embattled leader’s removal followed weeks of protests in Bamako led by the influential imam Mahmoud Dicko, who said again on Wednesday that he would not be seeking office. The Washington Post

Global Leaders Condemn Mali Coup Amid Worry about Extremists

African and Western leaders condemned on Wednesday the junta that forced Mali’s president from power, warning the coup was a deep setback for the West African nation that could threaten the battle against Islamic extremism. Soldiers calling themselves the National Committee for the Salvation of the People promised that they would ultimately hand power to a transitional civilian government but gave no timeline. Junta members urged Malians to return to business as usual. … The African Union suspended Mali from the bloc, and the West African bloc ECOWAS said it would stop all economic, trade and financial flows and transactions between member-states and Mali. … Already Tuesday’s takeover has borne worrisome similarities to the 2012 coup – the junta even came from the same military barracks where the last one originated. Many now fear what could happen if those parallels continue. AP

Armed Fighters Take Hundreds Hostage in Nigeria’s Borno State

Armed fighters have taken hundreds of hostages in a northeast Nigerian town where residents had only just returned after fleeing their homes, residents and militia sources said on Wednesday. The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) group, a splinter group of Boko Haram, overran the town of Kukawa in Borno state late on Tuesday, the sources told the AFP news agency. They seized residents who had returned to the town in a government operation on August 2, after spending nearly two years in displacement camps, said Babakura Kolo, head of a local militia. “The terrorists attacked the town in 22 trucks around 4:00 pm (16:00 GMT) yesterday and engaged soldiers guarding the town in a fierce battle,” he said. Kukawa’s residents had returned to their homes just 16 days earlier under military escort, on the orders of the Borno state authorities. Al Jazeera

Children among 45 Dead in 2020’s Worst Mediterranean Boat Tragedy

At least 45 people including five children died earlier this week in the worst shipwreck reported so far this year off Libya’s coast, according to the United Nations. In a joint statement released on Wednesday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said 37 survivors from Monday’s shipwreck reported that at least 45 others had died when the engine of the vessel they were aboard exploded off the coast of Zwara. The two agencies said the survivors, mostly from Senegal, Mali, Chad and Ghana, were rescued by local fishermen and later detained upon disembarkation. Following the tragic incident in the Mediterranean, the UNHCR and the IOM urgently called for a review of countries’ approach in their rescue efforts. Al Jazeera

Cameroon Women Protest Insecurity, Gruesome Murder of Civilians

Dozens of women in Cameroon’s English-speaking southwest are protesting today against recent violence by suspected rebels.  Women in the town of Buea say they are increasingly victims of the region’s four-year separatist conflict. About 70 women all wearing dark dresses sing as they march through the streets of the southwestern town of Buea on Tuesday.   In the songs, they say they are tired of burying their children, husbands and recently, their sisters. The Cameroon Womens Peace Movement organized the peaceful protest. Its spokesperson Agbor Magdalene says they were outraged by the recent slaughter of a 32-year old woman in the southwestern town of Muyuka on August 11.  “The women of the southwest express unreserved indignation at this murder which is one too many in the long list of senseless killings perpetrated by suspected separatist fighters,” Magdalene said. VOA

Lack of Protection, Justice Blamed for Persistent Violence in Nigeria’s Kaduna State

It’s a roughly three-hour drive from the main city of Kaduna to Kurmin Masara village in southern Kaduna state, the latest hot spot for the sectarian violence that seems to plague northwestern Nigeria. Dozens of people were killed there during an overnight raid that lasted nearly six hours during the pre-dawn hours of August 6. Another survivor, Martina Andrew, barely escaped through the bushes to a nearby village in Nassarawa when gunmen raided her home in Kaduna.” They came that night chanting, ‘The land is ours, the governor is ours.’ They killed my children and said they’ll return and kill us all,” she said. Sectarian violence has plagued Kaduna state for decades, claiming thousands of lives and forcing thousands more from their homes. In late July, gunmen killed at least 43 people in the southern part of Kaduna, pushing the death toll to 178 from violence in the region this year. The fighting in southern Kaduna is mainly between nomadic settlers or herders and farmers. VOA

Conflict and Coronavirus Spark a Hunger Crisis in Burkina Faso

The number of people in need of emergency food aid in Burkina Faso has tripled to more than 3.2 million – some 11,000 of whom are suffering from “catastrophe” levels of hunger – as the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic hits a country already engulfed by violence. The latest data – which includes famine conditions in a part of the country for the first time in more than a decade – comes in a new food security report from the government and UN agencies. The report was sent to The New Humanitarian by the World Food Programme but is not yet available online. Emaciated children and malnourished mothers are streaming every day into poorly equipped local hospitals, where doctors and nurses who spoke to TNH on visits to northern, western, and southwestern parts of Burkina Faso said they are feeling overwhelmed and bracing for things to get worse. The New Humanitarian

South Africa Investigates COVID-Linked Corruption of $290 Mln

South African authorities are investigating government departments for graft over irregularities in coronavirus-related tenders worth 5 billion rand ($290 million), the head of its Special Investigating Unit (SIU) told lawmakers on Wednesday. The figure is likely to add to pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ruling African National Congress, who have struggled to deflect criticism from alliance partners and opposition parties as allegations of corruption implicated senior ANC politicians. Ramaphosa, who replaced his scandal-prone predecessor Jacob Zuma in 2017 with promises to eradicate corruption, has battled to root out criminality linked to the fight against COVID-19 in South Africa, which has the world’s fifth highest number of coronavirus infections at 592,144. In a presentation to a parliamentary committee, Andy Mothibi, head of the SIU, which investigates allegations against public sector figures or institutions, said it was working on 658 cases nationwide involving just over 5 billion rand – the first time a number has been put on the alleged graft. Reuters

South Africa: Khosa Death – Soldiers Acted Improperly and Irregularly

The four as yet unidentified soldiers who allegedly assaulted and killed an Alexandra resident while on national state of disaster duty acted improperly, irregularly and contravened the national defence force’s code of conduct, a Military Ombud investigation has found. Collins Khosa died following injuries sustained and apparently inflicted by soldiers searching his Alexandra, Johannesburg, house for alcohol on Good Friday (10 April), two weeks into national lockdown as a host of regulations either restricting or banning most normal activities came into force. Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was reported as telling Parliament on Wednesday the Ombud investigation into Khosa’s death found evidence of improper conduct, impropriety as well as ignorance of operational orders and Operation Notlela rules of engagement. DefenceWeb

Running on Empty: South Sudan Is Out of Foreign Exchange Reserves

South Sudan, battered by years of conflict and corruption, has run out of foreign exchange reserves and cannot stop the pound’s depreciation, a senior central bank official in the oil-producing nation said on Wednesday. South Sudan gets almost all of its revenue from crude oil, but current output, at about 180,000 barrels per day (bpd), has plummeted from a peak of 250,000 bpd before the outbreak of conflict in 2013, according to official figures. “It is difficult for us at the moment to stop this rapidly increasing exchange rate, because we do not have resources, we do not have reserves,” Daniel Kech Pouch, the bank’s second deputy governor, told a news conference. … In addition to lower oil production, corruption is also driving the crisis, said Brian Adeba, the deputy director of policy at United States-based watchdog The Sentry, which has released several reports documenting high-level corruption. Al Jazeera

Congo Bank May Be Breaking North Korea Sanctions, Group Says

The Democratic Republic of Congo unit of Cameroon’s Afriland First Bank Group may be violating sanctions by providing banking services to a North Korea-linked statue-building company, a U.S.-based anti-corruption group said. Congo Aconde Sarl, which holds accounts at Afriland, installed two statues in the Congolese city of Kamina in 2018, according to Washington, D.C.-based The Sentry. The installations may have violated United Nations sanctions against statue-building by North Korean companies, while Afriland may have breached U.S. sanctions by linking a company owned by North Korean individuals to the U.S. financial system by allowing it to trade in dollars, it said. North Korea has used statue-building companies as a way to curry favor with African nations, while also raising foreign exchange. … Afriland’s Congo unit has allowed other sanctioned individuals to use its banking services, including Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler, Bloomberg News reported last month. Bloomberg

Sudan Fires Foreign Ministry Spokesman Following Israel Remarks

Sudan has fired its foreign ministry spokesman following remarks he made concerning “contacts” between Khartoum and Israel, the state news agency SUNA reported on Wednesday. Spokesman Haydar Sadig made the comments to regional media and confirmed them to Reuters on Tuesday, describing the United Arab Emirates’ decision to normalise relations with Israel as “a brave and bold step.” Sudan’s foreign ministry said it was “astonished” by his remarks and stressed that the government had not discussed the possibility of diplomatic relations. Reuters

…Kenya, Ethiopia, and other countries across the region have followed Ramaphosa’s example, and Huawei hasn’t lost a single order in Africa, where the company has been operating for more than two decades and has become a central pillar of the continent’s growth ambitions. … As the 5G buildout begins, U.S. government officials warn that Huawei could use its growing share of the telecommunications equipment market to spy for China, though Huawei denies any spying or even talking with the Chinese government, let alone acting on its behalf. Executives insist it’s a private company, owned by employees, not the state. But in Africa, too, there have been allegations of improper behavior. In Uganda, government officials worked with Huawei technicians to infiltrate the WhatsApp messages of a political opponent, according to the Wall Street Journal, a report the country’s government and Huawei deny. Similar allegations of intelligence gathering have surfaced in Zambia and Algeria. Bloomberg

Somali Hotel Raid: ‘How I Survived My Fourth Siege’
Former BBC reporter Mohamed Moalimu survived Sunday’s siege on a beachfront hotel in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu – the fourth time he has been caught up in an attack by Islamist al-Shabab militants over the last seven years. Moalimu, who now heads the Federation of Somali Journalists, told the BBC’s Basillioh Mutahi about his ordeal and how his friend was among the 20 people to lose their lives at the Elite hotel during the raid: I was trembling. My heart was beating like a drum and my body was shaking. A huge cloud of dark smoke had gone up and it was even difficult to see the entire area. People were screaming. I could see the impact of the blast. Some people had been hit by the shattered glasses, and some were bleeding, others were shouting for help. BBC

Nigeria: In Lagos, a Homegrown Ballet Academy Leaps into the Spotlight

In June, a minute-long video featuring a young ballet student dancing in the rain began circulating on the internet. As the rain falls, forming puddles between the uneven slabs of concrete on which he dances, Anthony Mmesoma Madu, 11, turns pirouette after pirouette. Though the conditions for such dancing are all wrong – dangerous, even – he twirls on, flying barefoot into an arabesque and landing it. He indulges the camera with a smile, but only for a moment, before assuming a look of fierce determination, lifting his eyes toward the sky, his lithe arms and graceful fingers following closely along. The wide reach of the video – it has been seen more than more than 20 million times on social media platforms – has turned a spotlight on the unlikely story of a ballet school in a poor suburb of Lagos, Nigeria: the Leap of Dance Academy. The New York Times

Behind the Masks: Meet the People Who Keep Gauteng’s COVID-19 Field Hospital Going

Nurse Nosipho Khanyile removes a bulging plastic bag from her locker in the women’s changing room of the Nasrec Covid-19 field hospital in Johannesburg. The packet is full of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as aprons, gloves, a visor and masks. Each morning, Khanyile and her colleagues get two sets of PPE so that they can change into a new set after lunch.  Khanyile is getting ready to go into the “red zone,” where Covid-19-positive patients are cared for at the field hospital. Nasrec is split into three colour-coded zones: Red for people infected with Covid-19, yellow for people who might be at risk of being infected and green for those in the clear. In preparation for the peak – when the number of Covid-19 cases was expected to surge past the number of available beds – the facility was set up to take the pressure off Gauteng’s hospitals. Mail & Guardian



Photo: Adam Jones