Africa Media Review for August 21, 2020

West African Leaders Call on Mali Junta to Free President
West African leaders escalated pressure on Mali’s ruling junta late Thursday, calling on them to allow President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s return to power as the mutinous soldiers who overthrew him insisted his midnight resignation had been his own decision. The junta behind Tuesday’s military takeover said the 75-year-old Keita was only being held at army barracks for his own protection, and denied he had been ousted in the first place. … Heads of state from the regional bloc known as ECOWAS late Thursday called for the mobilizing of a standby regional military force, saying Keita must be allowed to serve out the three years left in his term after this week’s “coup attempt.” They warned that the junta was responsible for the safety of Keita and all other detained government officials. The United Nations and France also urged a return to constitutional order in Mali, amid fears that Islamic extremists could once again gain ground amid the political upheaval, derailing more than seven years of effort to stabilize the country. AP

Africa Beginning to ‘Bend the Curve’ of Coronavirus – Africa CDC
Africa is beginning to slowly “bend the curve” of COVID-19 infections as measures like mask-wearing and social distancing slow down the spread of the pandemic on the continent, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday. Although the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak was slow in Africa in the early stages of the pandemic, the rate of infection gradually accelerated especially in South Africa, which now accounts for more than half of its case load of more than 1.1 million. On average, there were signs of a decline in new infections across the continent over the last two weeks, said John Nkengasong, head of Africa CDC. “So I think that is really some sign of hope that we are beginning to bend the curve slowly. We take this news with cautious optimism,” he said. “It’s very, very early, we’re dealing with a very delicate virus that spreads very quickly but it’s important to recognise those slight tendencies that are positive.” Reuters

Protesters Shot, 9 Killed in Ethiopia Clashes, Say Doctors
At least nine people have died in clashes in the Oromia region between Ethiopian security forces and protesters demanding the release of an opposition politician and a media magnate, health officials said on Thursday. The unrest highlights growing divisions in Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Oromo power base as powerful ethnic activists, who were once allies, increasingly challenge his government. The protests started on Tuesday after a social media campaign for the release of prominent Oromo opposition leader Bekele Gerba and media mogul Jawar Mohammed, who were arrested days after the killing of an iconic Oromo singer, Haacaaluu Hundeessaa. … Deaths have also been reported in 13 different locations in the Oromia region, which surrounds the capital Addis Ababa, according to a statement from the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, a government body. Al Jazeera

COVID-19 Spreads inside Ethiopian Detention Centers
Ethiopia arrested thousands of protesters, opposition members and journalists during July’s sectarian unrest. Health workers and local officials say some of those detained have contracted COVID-19 and are concerned the virus is spreading in overcrowded prisons and makeshift detention centers. “In the three months since COVID-19 began, we only had two cases of coronavirus,” Dambal [Kassim, the head nurse at a coronavirus treatment center in the Ethiopian town of Ziway] said. “But in the last two weeks, we’ve recorded 23 cases. … In prisons, there are sometimes 150 people in one room following the unrest that resulted in many arrests. That is why people are being infected in jail.” Rights workers say Ethiopian authorities have detained scores of opposition members and journalists for prolonged periods without charges since Hachalu’s death on June 28. The result is overcrowded jails and makeshift detention centers located inside schools and warehouses. VOA

National Salvation Rebels Kill Six Presidential Bodyguards in South Sudan
The National Salvation Front (NAS) is claiming its forces killed six bodyguards assigned to South Sudan’s Vice President James Wani Igga during an attack at Lo’bonok village nearly 90 kilometers from the capital, Juba.Igga was not with his bodyguards at the time. NAS General Thomas Cirilo Swaka on Thursday told South Sudan in Focus that his forces were fighting in self-defense during the Wednesday engagement. He said the presidential bodyguards were spying on NAS forces. … Kalisto Ladu,press secretary in the office of South Sudan’s vice president, told VOA that eight bodyguards assigned to the vice president traveled Wednesday to Lo’bonok and were ambushed. VOA

Rebel Splinter Group Withdraws from Sudan Peace Process
A dissenting wing of an armed Sudanese rebel group dropped out of a peace process Thursday protesting the alleged human rights violations of the government’s chief negotiator. Sudan’s transitional government signed a provisional peace deal with one wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) on Monday foreseeing its fighters being integrated into the army by November 2023. But a rival faction led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu accused General Hamdan Dagalo, deputy chief of Sudan’s joint military-civilian sovereign council, of leading forces “committing heinous crimes against citizens,” in a statement on Thursday. … Tutkew Gatluak, the talks’ chief mediator and an adviser to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, said earlier this week a comprehensive agreement between the Khartoum government and a total of four rebel groups would be signed on August 28. The Defense Post with AFP

Somalia Leaders Strike Elections Deal
Somalia’s political leaders have finally agreed on a poll model that involves electoral caucuses. As part of the agreement, each Caucus of 301 delegates will elect an MP who will get a seat in parliament. Each federal state will have at least three caucuses which will elect MPs for the Lower House. These MPs will in turn elect a President. The delegates will be nominated jointly by national and federal state electoral bodies. The deal arose from nearly two months of uncertainty. It also means that Somalia will not have direct elections as earlier thought. The deal still has to be approved by the Lower House (House of the People) of Parliament. The EastAfrican

Somali Pirates Release Last 3 Hostages as Armed Men Attack Panama-Flagged Ship
Somali pirates have released three Iranian hostages held for five years, a maritime security official said on Thursday, as conflicting reports emerged whether another ship had been seized after a three-year hiatus in hijackings. The three Iranians are the last of the crew of the Iranian fishing vessel FV Siraj, which was captured by pirates on March 22, 2015. “This marks the end of an era of Somali piracy and the pain and suffering of Somalia’s forgotten hostages,” said John Steed, the coordinator of the Hostage Support Programme, a volunteer organisation based in Nairobi begun to help rescue crews abandoned by their employers. The release was meant to mark the end of an era for Somalia’s pirates, who held over 2,300 crew between 2010 and 2019. But instead, six armed men hijacked the Panama-flagged Aegean II late Wednesday after it had engine problems, a regional governor in Somalia told Reuters. Reuters

US Airstrike Takes Out Terrorist Bomb-Maker in Somalia
The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has taken out a high-value member of the Al Shabaab terror group in Somalia on Thursday. AFRICOM confirmed the successful airstrike in an emailed statement to American Military News. The Al Shabaab member, who was not named, had a history of making explosives and was reportedly working to place Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) on a public road at the time of the strike near the vicinity of Kurtun Warey, Somalia. Military News

On Libya’s Front Lines, Sirte Is Focus for Regional Rivalries
In Sirte’s municipal offices, walls are adorned with pictures of Khalifa Haftar, commander of the eastern-based Libyan National Army. Out in the desert, troops keep watch from behind sandbanks. Already scarred by Libya’s 2011 uprising and an Islamic State takeover, Sirte now finds itself not only at the centre of a civil war but also a focus of geopolitical enmities that span the region. Since Turkish intervention helped drive Haftar’s LNA back in early June from its 14-month offensive on the capital, Tripoli, the front lines have settled around Sirte, in the middle of Libya’s Mediterranean coast and close to major oil terminals. “The city has seen wars and crises that have made people afraid,” said Adel Mohamed, a 43-year-old resident shopping in a local supermarket in the city of 90,000. “There is always anxiety about what is to come.” … On a rare tour of LNA military positions, Reuters reporters saw troops stationed at positions southwest of Sirte, some sheltering under awnings or in tents, others manning watchpoints. Reuters

CNN Team Was Tracked by Russian Operatives in Central African Republic, Bellingcat Investigation Shows
A new investigation has found evidence that CNN journalists in the Central African Republic (CAR) last year were subject to constant surveillance by a team of Russian operatives. Bellingcat — an investigative website that researches illicit Russian activities abroad — has concluded that when a CNN team landed in the capital Bangui in May 2019 to investigate Kremlin-linked operations in the country, “plans had already been put in motion for their surveillance, intimidation, and ultimately attempted discrediting.” Those plans involved people associated with Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose military contractors were in the CAR training new elements of a national army, and whose companies had lucrative mining concessions there. CNN

Nigerian Army Says ‘in Full Control’ of Town Where Hostages Taken
The Nigerian army on Thursday said it was in “full control” of a northeastern town where sources say hundreds of people had been taken hostage by rebels. The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) fighters stormed the town Kukawa on Tuesday and seized hundreds of residents who had just returned after fleeing their homes about two years ago, according to local residents and militia sources. “The terrorists on 18 August 2020 attacked troops’ location in Kukawa town in Borno state where the attack was vehemently thwarted,” defence spokesman John Enenche said in a statement. “The situation in Kukawa is now calm with troops in full control,” he said. … Three soldiers lost their lives, two were wounded while eight rebels were killed during the gun battle with the attackers, he added. AFP

Ivory Coast Bars Public Protests until September
Ivory Coast has banned all outdoor protests until September 15, according to a statement issued on Thursday after deadly clashes ahead of presidential elections in October. The measure “draws the consequences of the impact, in human and property terms, from previous demonstrations and the risk that pockets of inter-community conflicts could open up”, the government said in a statement. On August 13, protests erupted in the economic hub Abidjan and demonstrations in the central town of Daoukro turned to bloody ethnic clashes after President Alassane Ouattara announced he would bid for a third term. … Three days of violence led to six deaths and about 100 injuries, according to an official toll published on Wednesday. Additionally, 1,500 people fled their homes, 69 people were arrested and “numerous acts of property damage” were recorded. AFP

A Look at How Mali’s Coup May Affect Neighboring Countries
African and Western leaders have condemned the junta that forced Mali’s president from power, warning the coup was a deep setback that could threaten the battle against Islamic extremism across the Sahel region, where thousands have been killed by jihadists. The West African economic bloc, known as ECOWAS, held a virtual extraordinary summit Thursday on the situation in Mali after military leaders pushed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita from office earlier this week. Coups were on the decline in West Africa, and some fear that the removal of Mali’s elected president three years before the end of his term could set a dangerous precedent. A number of elections are set to be held later this year involving incumbents, including in Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Niger. AP

Morocco’s King Warns of Potential New Lockdown as COVID-19 Cases Spike
Morocco could return to a complete coronavirus lockdown as cases continue to spike, Moroccan King Mohammed VI said on Thursday, warning of severe economic repercussions. The warning came as a jump in infections in the once bustling tourist hub of Marrakech strained health services and led to protests by medical staff in recent days. New cases nationally have surged to more than 1,000 a day since Morocco lifted a strict three-month long lockdown in late June and hit a record high of 1,766 on Aug. 15. “If figures continue to increase, the Covid-19 Scientific Committee may recommend another lockdown, perhaps with even tighter restrictions,” the King said in a speech. The deterioration of the health situation “does not leave much room for optimism,” he said. As of Thursday, Morocco had recorded a total 47,638 cases, including 775 deaths and 32,806 recoveries. Pictures posted on social media platforms showed Covid-19 patients in Marrakech lying on the floor of crowded hospitals. AFP

South Africa: Hydrogen Fuel Cell Systems Power COVID-19 Field Hospital
Government, in collaboration with the private sector, is putting plans in place to roll out hydrogen fuel cell technologies in various parts of South Africa. These will serve as alternative energy sources to the country’s electricity grid. Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) Director-General, Dr Phil Mjwara said that such partnerships will enable government to take alternative energy sources to rural areas while also contributing to the growth of the country’s green economy. Dr Mjwara was speaking at 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria on Wednesday, where government has set up a field hospital to prepare for the potential increase in COVID-19 patients. The department unveiled seven hydrogen fuel cell systems as the primary power source for the field hospital, which has facilities for testing and screening, as well as life-saving equipment such as ventilators in the intensive care unit. SA News

This 23-Year-Old Nigerian Is Creating a Digital Collection of African Stories for Children in Different Languages
When Dominic Onyekachi set out to read his 6-year-old niece a story, he did not anticipate that the simple task would lead him to create a digital collection of African stories. After going through her mini library, he found that many of her books were foreign and had very little African representation. Onyekachi told CNN that he wanted her to read books that reflect her culture, so he took it upon himself to write stories for her. “I wrote a few stories for her and I got my friend to illustrate. She liked it, her friends in school liked it too. And that’s when I really thought about writing more books and putting them in a place where many more children can access them,” he said. CNN