Africa Media Review for August 24, 2021

In a Triumph for Democracy, Zambia’s Opposition Leader Takes Office
Zambia’s newly-elected leader Hakainde Hichilema takes office on Tuesday after a comprehensive election victory hailed as a rare triumph over authoritarianism and a milestone in African democracy. Hichilema, 59, will take the oath of office before a crowd that will notably include opposition politicians from regional countries as well as current and former African leaders. On his sixth bid for the presidency, Hichilema defeated the incumbent Edgar Lungu, 64, by almost one million votes — a landslide spurred by economic hardship and restricted freedoms under the previous regime. The victory is the 17th opposition win in sub-Saharan Africa since 2015. It occurred despite restricted campaigning and suspected rigging in favour of Lungu’s party. Voter turnout on August 12 was nearly 71 percent, and many Zambians queued late into the night to cast their ballots. … Authoritarian leaders “might learn a couple of lessons from this,” Zambian economist Grieve Chelwa said. But he warned that the Zambian scenario could also have the “perverse effect” of encouraging African “tyrants” to “rig harder.” AFP

Zambia: Hichilema Invites Regional Opposition Leaders to Inauguration
Zambia’s incoming president Hakainde Hichilema has broken with tradition by inviting prominent opposition leaders from the region for his inauguration on Tuesday. Mr Hichilema, who beat the incumbent President Edgar Lungu by a million votes in the August 12 presidential election, is hosting opposition leaders from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana and Tanzania, among other countries. His United Party for National Development (UPND) said the decision to invite both incumbent and opposition leaders demonstrates that the new administration in Zambia would be different. … Mr Hichilema was part of an alliance of opposition parties in southern Africa, led by South Africa’s Mmusi Maimane. The alliance’s objective is to transform the politics in the region and fight autocrats. In Zimbabwe, the new Zambian leader’s close ties with Mr Nelson Chamisa, a fierce rival of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, has become a source of discomfort for the ruling party. President Mnangagwa last week said “if anyone dreams of what happened in Zambia crossing over here, they must wake up and brew beer; ancestral spirits have deserted you.” … President Mnangagwa last week said that he persuaded President Lungu to concede defeat for the sake of peace in Zambia and the region. The EastAfrican

Tunisian President Saied Indefinitely Extends Suspension of Parliament
Tunisian President Kais Saied on Monday extended the suspension of parliament until further notice, the presidency said, after last month dismissing his prime minister and assuming executive authority in a move opponents branded a coup. Saied also extended the suspension of the immunity of members of parliament, the presidency said, adding Saied will give a speech to the nation in coming days, without giving more details. A month after Saied’s sudden intervention, he has not yet appointed a new prime minister or announced a roadmap demanded by Western allies and key players in Tunisia, including the powerful UGTT Union. Saied has said his intervention was needed to save the country from collapse. He appears to have widespread popular support in Tunisia, where years of misgovernance, corruption and political paralysis have been aggravated by a deadly surge in COVID-19 cases. But the president’s moves have raised concerns among some Tunisians about the future of the democratic system that the country adopted after its 2011 revolution that triggered the Arab Spring. Authorities have since placed several officials, including former ministers, under house arrest and prevented politicians and businessmen from traveling. Reuters

Somalia’s New Electoral Proposals Kick up Storm
Somalia’s opposition figures on Monday opposed a new framework for elections in which delegate lists would be determined by leaders of federal states. The Council of Presidential Candidates (CPC), a grouping of more than a dozen presidential aspirants, have rejected the framework on grounds that it was taking rights of locals away and giving them to federal state presidents who may manipulate the vote. The group, which includes former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, warned that such election criteria will likely cause civil strife as the public and international partners were likely to lose confidence in the new administration. … The new storm could likely create a new rift that could delay elections further. Initially scheduled for between December last year and February 2021, the poll date has dragged on as leaders haggle over the model of elections. They had agreed in September last year that an indirect election model was to be exercised rather that universal suffrage. However, squabbles over the electoral procedures have delayed the elections. So far, states have partially held Senate elections, but those seats for the Upper House too have raised complaints as federal state leaders handpick candidates to be voted by the local state legislative assemblies. As per the existing timeline, the election season is meant to end on October 10 when a joint session of the bicameral parliament (54 senators and 275 MPs) will vote for the post of President of the Federal Republic of Somalia. Nation

The Last Mile: Uganda’s COVID-19 Vaccine Struggle
Dr. Eva Kabwongera’s job is to make sure life-saving Covid-19 vaccines reach Uganda’s 45 million people. On a recent morning, that journey took her to a tiny island that is home to less than 2,000 people. The 40 doses Kabwongera brought with her to Namatale had traveled more than 3,000 miles via plane, truck, ferry and boat from Pune, India, to get to the outcrop in Africa’s vast Lake Victoria. [But] Uganda doesn’t have enough to vaccinate even a tiny portion of its population. With the severe international shortage, Uganda and countries like it look set to have to wait to inoculate even its front-line health workers and most vulnerable groups to help stop Covid-19 and prevent the development of dangerous vaccine-resistant variants. The result has been an extreme gap in vaccine distribution, with almost 1 in 4 people receiving a vaccine in high-income countries and a staggering 1 in more than 500 in low-income ones, according to the World Health Organization. Uganda, for example, has so far received only 864,000 vaccine doses — enough to fully vaccinate 400,000 people with two doses, or less than 1 percent of the country’s 45 million population. NBC

COVID-19 Positivity Rate Almost Doubles in Nigeria’s Epicenter
The number of people testing positive for coronavirus has risen sharply in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub which is also Africa’s biggest city. The test positivity rate has jumped to 12.1% as of Aug. 21 from 7% at the end of July, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governor of the state said in an emailed statement. The state has also recorded a total of 135 deaths since the third wave of infections started at the end of June when the test positivity rate was 1.1%, Sanwo-Olu said. “We are now clearly in the middle of third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and Lagos has remained the epicenter of the disease in Nigeria,” he said. A total of 4,387 persons are currently being treated for the illness in the state. The number of oxygen cylinders used has also shot up to 400 daily when compared to just 75 cylinders before the current wave. The state plans to start a new vaccination round from Aug. 25 with 300,000 doses of Moderna vaccines it received from the federal government. Bloomberg

Swazi Army Commander Resigns After Exposure of Plot to Kill Editor
eSwatini’s army commander, General Jeffrey Shabalala, abruptly resigned on Monday after a police sergeant friend of his released secret audio recordings of him allegedly plotting to kill a newspaper editor. In the recordings, Shabalala can also be heard revealing that King Mswati III had put pressure on security forces to arrest three dissident MPs — even as the Swazi government insists the legal system operates independently of the government executive. Shabalala was probably instructed to resign by Mswati to avoid further embarrassment to the king, Swazi observers said. What the married general did not know when he was revealing damaging state secrets to his friend in April and July this year was that the friend, Sergeant Cebile Shongwe, was an undercover agent for the Swaziland News, an online investigative newspaper. In the secret recordings she made of their conversations, Shabalala can be heard speaking to a woman in siSwati. The woman was Shongwe, Zweli Martin Dlamini, the editor of the Swaziland News, told Daily Maverick. Another journalist, who translated the audio for Daily Maverick, confirmed that at one point Shabalala tells Shongwe that the security forces are planning to assassinate Dlamini, who lives in exile in South Africa. Daily Maverick

Tanzania Opposition Leader Freeman Mbowe Says ‘Tortured’ in Custody
The leader of Tanzania’s main opposition party, who is on trial on terrorism charges, said in court Monday that he had been tortured in custody and forced by police to make a statement, his lawyer said. Freeman Mbowe has been in detention since July 21 when he was arrested along with other senior Chadema party officials just hours before they planned to hold a forum to demand constitutional reform. The 59-year-old has been charged with terrorism financing and conspiracy in a case that has triggered concern among rights groups and Western nations about the state of democracy under Tanzania’s new President Samia Suluhu Hassan. Mbowe’s lawyer Peter Kibatala said that when they appeared in court in Dar es Salaam on Monday, Mbowe and his three co-defendants accused prosecutors of reading trumped-up statements. “They told the court that they were tortured and humiliated and forced to record such statements,” Kibatala told journalists after the hearing. “These were not their voluntary statements.” Mbowe’s arrest came five months after Hassan took office following the sudden death of her predecessor John Magufuli in March. There had been hopes Hassan would bring about a new era of democracy after the increasingly autocratic rule of Magufuli, nicknamed the “Bulldozer” for his uncompromising style. But Chadema leaders say the arrests of Mbowe and his colleagues reflect a deepening slide into “dictatorship.” AFP

Mozambique’s ‘Hidden Debt’ Scandal Trial Begins
The trial of the “hidden debt,” one of the biggest corruption scandals in Mozambique, which has plunged the country into a serious financial crisis and is embarrassing even the top of the state, opened on Monday in a Maputo prison. Nineteen people accused of blackmail, forgery, embezzlement and money laundering, for amounts of several million euros, are to be heard in hearings scheduled over nearly two months. Among them is the son of former president Armando Guebuza, Ndambi Guebuza. … Between 2013 and 2014, three Mozambican state-owned companies – ProIndicus, Ematum and Mam – took out €1.76 billion in loans, including from Credit Suisse and the Russian bank VTB to finance maritime surveillance, fishing and shipyard projects. This operation is said to have covered up a vast enterprise of corruption for the benefit of people close to the government. Ndambi Guebuza is suspected of having acted as a “facilitator” for his father, the president. Also among the accused is the former head of the security services, Gregorio Leao. The affair broke in 2016, when the government revealed that it had taken out loans without informing parliament or its donors. After the scandal, the IMF and most of the donors of the country, one of the poorest in the world, suspended their aid. Maputo was forced to stop repaying its debt and its currency, the metical, collapsed, plunging the country into the worst financial crisis since its independence in 1975. AFP

Al Shabaab Attacks Somali Military Base, Captures Central Town
Al Shabaab fighters stormed a military base in the centre of Somalia on Tuesday and took over a nearby town, residents said. Residents of Amara in the Galmudug region said the attack started in the morning with al Shabaab fighters setting off a suicide bomb, targeting government special force units, known as Danab and Darawish. Amara is a strategic town which lies on the way to the coastal town of Harardheere, another al Shabaab stronghold. Harardheere was once a pirate base at the height of hijackings of merchant ships in 2011. … Al Shabaab’s Radio Andalus said in a broadcast the group was behind the attack and capture of the town, adding it had seized 14 cars and 10 gun-mounted pick up trucks. Reuters

New US Sanctions Target Eritrea over Ethiopia’s Tigray War
The United States on Monday imposed new sanctions over Ethiopia’s deadly Tigray conflict as hundreds of thousands of people face famine conditions under a government blockade the U.S. has called a “siege” and fighting spreads into other parts of the country. The Treasury Department in a statement said the chief of staff of the defense forces of neighboring Eritrea, Filipos Woldeyohannes, was sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act for leading an entity accused of “despicable acts” including massacres, widespread sexual assault and the executions of boys. The statement again calls on Eritrea to remove its soldiers from Ethiopia’s Tigray region permanently. … Scores of witnesses have described to The Associated Press abuses such as gang-rapes, the destruction of health centers, the burning of crops and forced expulsions. Eritreans were often accused of some of the worst abuses. Ethiopia’s government denied their presence in Tigray for months. “The (Eritrean Defense Forces) have purposely shot civilians in the street and carried out systematic house-to-house searches, executing men and boys, and have forcibly evicted Tigrayan families from their residences and taken over their houses and property,” the new U.S. statement said. AP

Ethiopia Acquires Iranian UAVs for Tigray War
In the latest effort to halt the advancing Tigray Defence Force (TDF) and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), it appears Ethiopia has purchased several Iranian-made Mohajer-6 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Plant SkySat satellite images analysed by Bellingcat.com identified two Mohajer-6 UAVs and a Ground Control Station (GCS) at Semara airport (now Ethiopian Air Force base) in north-eastern Ethiopia on 1 August. The GCS was then pictured when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited the air base days later. The Mohajer-6, yet to be proven in combat, is the latest design in the Mohajer-series. It was unveiled in 2017 and entered production a year later, serving with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. It has an operational range of 200 km and 40 kg payload of two to four Ghaem-1, 5 or 9 precision-guided munitions. It has a 12-hour endurance with a maximum flight altitude of 5 500 metres. The nose of the lightweight UAV is fitted with an EOAS-I-18A forward-looking infrared (FLIR) turret. Ethiopia’s unmanned aerial vehicle inventory previously consisted of Israeli systems (Aerostar UAS and WanderB mini-UAS) however their status is unclear and they cannot be armed. DefenceWeb

Ethiopia Starts Building Local Rival to Facebook
Ethiopia has begun developing its own social media platform to rival Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, though it does not plan to block the global services, the state communications security agency has said. For the past year Ethiopia has been engulfed in an armed conflict between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the Tigray region in the country’s north. Supporters of both sides have waged a parallel war of words on social media. The government wants its local platform to replace Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Zoom, Shumete Gizaw, the director general of the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), said. … International human rights groups have criticised the Ethiopian government for unexplained shutdowns of social media services including Facebook and WhatsApp in the past year. … In June, days before national elections, Facebook said it had removed a network of fake accounts in Ethiopia targeting domestic users that it linked to individuals associated with INSA, which is responsible for monitoring telecommunications and the internet. Reuters

UN Agrees to Withdraw Ethiopian Troops from Abyei
The United Nations will replace the Ethiopian force deployed in the Abyei Area with troops from other countries Contributing to UN peacekeeping operations, Sudan announced on Monday. Khartoum had asked the United Nations last April to withdraw the Ethiopian force from the border town on the grounds that Addis was no longer a neutral party. … On Monday, Sudanese Foreign Minister Maryam Al-Sadiq held a virtual meeting with the UN Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Parfait Onanga-Anyanga with the participation of U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix and the head of UN Department of Operational Support Atul Khare. In a statement released after the meeting, the foreign ministry announced that the meeting discussed the situation in the Abyei Area and the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). “It was agreed to withdraw the Ethiopian component from the UNISFA during the next three months at the request of Sudan,” added the statement. … Currently, there are over 3,500 Ethiopian troops deployed in the area. Sudan Tribune

Fighting, Flooding, and Donor Fatigue: Unpacking South Sudan’s Food Crisis
South Sudan is experiencing its worst food crisis since independence as seasonal flooding sets in amid an economic downturn and renewed conflict that has spiked despite a peace agreement and the formation of a unity government. Efforts to distribute food have been complicated by funding gaps in the humanitarian response, and by the repeated looting of food convoys and warehouses. Attacks against aid workers have also risen, and government officials have created new administrative hurdles for some agencies. “At a high level of government, the peace dividend is being enjoyed, but in the communities, people are more frustrated than ever,” said Abraham Kuol Nyoun, a political scientist at the University of Juba in South Sudan. “This peace, as it is, cannot put food on the table.” Some 7.2 million people are currently enduring severe hunger across South Sudan – the highest number since the country of roughly 12 million broke from Sudan in 2011. Of those, tens of thousands are thought to be in famine. The government has downplayed the crisis. … Nyoun of the University of Juba added: “The youth who were participating in the war are back in the communities, with no [peace] dividend. To survive, they are engaging in communal conflicts, looting, and plundering, because they have no other livelihood.” The New Humanitarian

South Sudan: Civil, Political Organizations Demand Resignation of President Kiir and VP Machar
Earlier this month, The People’s Coalition for Civil Action (PCCA) said plans were afoot for protests against the transitional government across South Sudan and the diaspora and launched a public campaign to demand political change after 10 turbulent and often bloody years of independence. The communiqué said that the entities were seriously concerned by the scale of political, security, humanitarian, and economic crises resulting from leadership failure and violent political competition in the country since independence and that they were convinced that the current political leadership in the country is unwilling and cannot manage these crises. … The consortium said they resolved to create a coordination unit to facilitate the activities of all the groups towards mobilizing the people of South Sudan for the National Awakening Day, 30 August 2021. … The civil and political organizations appealed to the armed forces of South Sudan to abide by their mandate of protecting the citizens during the peaceful demonstration and appreciated the international and regional community for their continued support to the people of South Sudan. … The organizations called on all citizens to avoid violence and vandalism during the demonstrations. Radio Tamazuj

Desperate Nigerians Sell Homes and Land to Free Kidnapped Children
After armed men snatched seven of Abubakar Adam’s 11 children in northwestern Nigeria, he sold his car and a parcel of land and cleaned out his savings to raise a ransom to free them. He sent his 3 million naira ($7,300) into the bush, together with payments from other families in his town of Tegina. The kidnappers took the money, seized one of the men delivering it and sent back a new demand for more cash and six motorbikes. “We are in agony,” the 40-year-old tyre repairman told Reuters, still waiting for any sign of what happened to his children three months after the mass abduction. “Honestly I don’t have anything left.” Kidnappers have taken more than 1,000 students since December amid a rash of abductions across the impoverished northwest. Around 300 of the children have still not been returned, according to a Reuters tally of reports. President Muhammadu Buhari has told states not to pay anything to kidnappers, saying it will only encourage more abductions. Security agencies say they are targeting the bandits with military action and other methods. Meanwhile, hundreds of parents are facing the same quandary: do everything they can to raise the ransoms themselves, or risk never seeing their children again. Reuters

Banditry in Katsina, Nigeria: Rural-Urban Migration Rises as Bandits Unleash Terror on Villages
The activities of bandits have forced hundreds of people to leave villages in search of safety in towns. As the attacks intensify in the villages, urban communities in Katsina are swelling with displaced people. The communities mostly affected are in the local government areas close to Rugu forest where bandits have built their fortresses. Many fled after bandits attacked their villages, burnt their houses and stole their livestock. But most of the villages were deserted because people got tired of living in fear of imminent attacks and decided to leave. For instance in February 2019, incessant attacks led to the displacement of about 2,000 people in Batsari Local Government Area alone. Sacked villages in the area include Garin Labo, Garin Yara, Kasai, Sabon Garin Dunburawa, Dantudun Garin Yara, Shingi and Garin Dodo. … Overall, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) put the number of people displaced in Katsina State at 80,115 as of October 2020. Premium Times

South Africa’s Unemployment Rate Climbs to New Record High above 34%
South Africa’s headline unemployment rate hit a record high of 34.4% in the second quarter from 32.6% in the first three months of the year as businesses shed staff due to the devastating economic impact of COVID-19. The rate was the highest since Statistics South Africa’s quarterly labour force survey began in 2008, with a total of 7.826 million people out of work in the three months to the end of June. According to an expanded definition of unemployment that includes those discouraged from seeking work, 44.4% of the labour force was without work in the second quarter, from 43.2% in the first quarter. That equates to 11.9 million unemployed by the expanded definition. Job losses in the second quarter were concentrated in finance, which shed 278,000 jobs, while community and social services lost 166,000 jobs and manufacturing lost 83,000 jobs. The South African economy has long suffered from high levels of joblessness, contributing to poverty and inequality that persist nearly three decades after the end of white minority rule and were partly to blame for civil unrest in some parts of the country in July. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated South Africa’s labour market woes. Reuters

Lawyer for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero Deported for Visa Violation
A Belgian lawyer for the man whose story inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda,” who is being tried on terrorism charges, has been deported for working without a permit, the head of Rwanda’s immigration service said on Monday. Paul Rusesabagina, the ex-hotelier portrayed as a hero in the 2004 film about Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, is accused of nine terrorism-related charges, including forming and funding an armed rebel group. Vincent Lurquin was deported on Saturday after appearing in court as one of Rusesabagina’s lawyers the previous day despite lacking legal permission to do so, officials said. … “Any claims that he illegally or clandestinely entered under a tourist visa are unequivocally false,” Rusesabagina’s legal team said in a statement. Lurquin had been representing Rusesabagina in a Belgium-based investigation and needed to speak to his client, according to the statement. … Prosecutors have requested a life sentence for Rusesabagina, whose family says he is in poor health and being mistreated in prison. The court is scheduled to issue its verdict on Sept. 20. Reuters



Photo: Adam Jones