Africa Media Review for August 30, 2021

President Hakainde Hichilema Sacks Zambia’s Military, Police Chiefs

Zambia’s newly-elected President Hakainde Hichilema on Sunday appointed new military chiefs and replaced all police commissioners after promising to end the previous regime’s heavy-handedness. Right groups accused Hichilema’s predecessor Edgar Lungu of leading a “brutal crackdown” on dissent, with police violence claiming at least five lives since he was officially elected in 2016. Hichilema, who took office last week, has been arrested over a dozen times during his political career and made restoring freedoms a linchpin of his electoral promises. In a televised address to the nation, Hichilema on Sunday announced the appointment of new army and airforce chiefs, as well as a new head of the southern African country’s defence wing. “I am relieving all commissioners of police with immediate effect,” he added, without providing reasons for the replacements. He also urged police to conduct thorough checks before detaining suspects, stressing that “no one should be arrested before investigations are concluded.” President Hichilema beat his long-term rival Lungu in 12 August polls by a landslide of almost one million votes — a victory hailed as a democratic milestone for opposition movements in Africa. AFP

Internet Disrupted, Streets Quiet in South Sudan After Call for Protests

Internet services in South Sudan were disrupted on Monday and security forces were deployed on the streets, which were quieter than usual as residents sheltered inside after activists had called for protests against President Salva Kiir’s government. With Kiir scheduled to address lawmakers at parliament’s opening session on Monday morning, a coalition of activist groups reiterated their call on Sunday for public rallies demanding he resign. However, there was no sign early on Monday of major street gatherings in the capital Juba. Some activists told Reuters they were in hiding for security reasons. Police said the activists had not sought permission to protest, and therefore any large demonstration would be illegal. … Residents in Juba told Reuters that as of Sunday evening mobile data was unavailable on the network of South African mobile operator MTN Group , and by Monday morning it was also halted on the network of Kuwait-based operator Zain Group. Alp Toker, director of NetBlocks, a London-based group that monitors internet disruptions, said it detected “significant disruption to internet service in South Sudan beginning Sunday evening, including to leading cellular networks.” Reuters

WHO: COVID-19 Vaccination Triples in Africa but Still Low

COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa tripled over the past week, though protecting even 10% of the continent by the end of September remains “a very daunting task,” the Africa director of the World Health Organization said Thursday. Meanwhile, the continent saw 248,000 new confirmed cases over the past week, with at least 24 countries seeing a surge in infections driven by the delta variant. “This is a preventable tragedy if African countries can get fair access to the vaccines,” Matshidiso Moeti told reporters. The WHO Africa director said 13 million doses were administered in the past week, three times more than the number of shots given in the previous week as donations of doses increased from developed countries. But that remains a drop in an ocean on the continent home to 1.3 billion people, where the Africa CDC says only 2.4% are currently vaccinated. Africa’s brutal resurgence driven by the delta variant is further stretching already strained health systems across the continent. … “I think it is very difficult for us to talk about booster doses in Africa,” Moeti said Thursday. “We have not covered even 5% of the population yet with the initial vaccinations that are needed to slow down the spread of the virus and most importantly, stop what we think might be a fourth wave which is coming.” AP

COVID: South Africa’s Potential New Variant

New research published this week suggests that South Africa, where more than 13% of adults are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, may be facing a new variant of the virus. The Department of Health has alerted the World Health Organization, which is monitoring the situation. The variant, identified by researchers from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases and the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform, is being referred to as the “C.1.2 lineage”. The majority of C.1.2 lineage sequences from around the world so far are from South Africa. C.1.2 was first detected in Mpumalanga and Gauteng in May, near the beginning of the country’s third wave of infections. A month later, it had shown up in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo, as well as in England and China. By 13 August, C.1.2 had also been detected in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Northern Cape – meaning it was circulating in seven of South Africa’s nine provinces – along with Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mauritius, New Zealand, Portugal and Switzerland. The deputy director general of the Department of Health, Anban Pillay, said the prevalence of the new variant in the samples that have been tested “is very low at this stage”. Nevertheless, the number of C.1.2 genomes being sequenced in South Africa have seen monthly increases similar to those observed in the early days of the Beta and Delta variants. New Frame

Madagascar on the Brink of the World’s First ‘Climate Change Famine,” UN Warns

Even before ‘lean season’ hits, tens of thousands of people in southern Madagascar are on the brink of catastrophic levels of hunger in the world’s first “climate change famine,” according to the United Nations. The country is in the midst of the worst drought since 1981 after four years of insufficient rainfall and sandstorms, leaving isolated farming communities in southern Madagascar – known as Grand Sud – struggling to find enough food to survive. According to the World Food Programme, roughly 28,000 people are currently experiencing extreme hunger, while at least 1.14 million people in the Grand Sud are suffering from acute food security in total. Already, people are scavenging for wild leaves, cactus fruits and insects such as locusts in order to survive – aid workers told the Telegraph in May that the drought had pushed “entire villages to the brink of death”. But according to Médecins Sans Frontières, the “exceptionally severe” situation looks set to get worse, with the number of people facing starvation likely to hit 1.31 million by December. Telegraph

France’s Drawdown in West Africa Fuels Local Extremists’ Hope for a Taliban-Style Victory

As Afghanistan fell to the Taliban this month, one of the most notorious extremists in West Africa praised his “brothers” and what he cast as their successful strategy. “Two decades of patience,” said Iyad Ag Ghaly, head of an al-Qaeda affiliate that aims to conquer Mali. The rare public statement illustrated how Afghanistan’s collapse has lifted morale and offered fresh motivation to militant groups driving rapidly growing insurgencies across West Africa. Fighters across the continent — many of whom have professed loyalty to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State — have publicly celebrated the Taliban’s takeover as the result of perseverance against the United States and other Western armed forces. Now that France has announced plans to start slashing its military presence in West Africa by about half over the next year, some who have endured nearly a decade of extremist violence see a chilling parallel. … The Taliban’s lightning-fast takeover after the U.S. departure from Afghanistan has cranked up pressure on France, which has about 5,100 troops in West Africa, the most of any overseas partner. French President Emmanuel Macron said in July that his country’s military drawdown was set to begin “in the coming weeks.” Three military bases are slated to close in Mali’s north, the heart of the crisis. The Washington Post

Mali Releases Ex-Interim President and PM from House Arrest

Former Malian interim President Bah Ndaw and his prime minister, Moctar Ouane, have been freed from house arrest by the authorities who deposed them in May, a committee monitoring the post-coup transition has said. Their detention by military officers in May marked Mali’s second coup since the overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita the previous August. The political upheaval alarmed regional powers and allies such as France, which feared it could delay a promised return to civilian rule via democratic elections scheduled for February 2022. In a statement on Friday, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said it “welcomes” the move by Mali to lift “all restrictive measures” on the former leaders. A representative of the Malian authorities did not reply to a request for comment. Both men were appointed as interim civilian leaders after a military coup in August 2020, charged with steering Mali back towards the civilian rule. But after a sensitive government reshuffle in May, Mali’s strongman Colonel Assimi Goita deposed Ndaw and Ouane in a second coup. Goita was later declared interim president. Aides to Ndaw and Ouane had indicated that the two leaders had been kept under house arrest after their removal. Al Jazeera

No Strings Attached? How Europe’s Military Support for Mali Closes Its Eyes to Abuses

More than 10,000 people have been killed in the violence in Mali since the conflict began in 2012, according to ACLED, with over 350,000 people currently displaced. Last year, the Malian armed forces (Forces Armées Maliennes, or FAMa) killed more civilians than the jihadists, according to ACLED data. Earlier this month, the UN’s expert on human rights in Mali condemned FAMa’s violence and urged the authorities to “give top priority to addressing the troubling issue of impunity.” … No mechanisms appear to be in place to prevent EU-funded training and equipment from contributing to rights abuses, a nine-month investigation by The New Humanitarian has found – based on interviews with Malian and EU officials, military personnel, and human rights advocates; as well as a review of documents and the tracking of military units on social media. Soldiers on training courses appear not to be vetted for any previous involvement in civilian abuses; there’s no systematic tracking of whether trainees and their units go on to commit atrocities after graduation or if the military equipment supplied by European governments is used to violate international law. The net result, analysts argue, is that Mali has an army – trained and financed by the EU and France – whose extrajudicial killings and human rights violations are driving the same radicalisation and extremism it is supposed to be combatting. … A resolution by the EU parliament last year called for all European military training missions to be “redefined.” The New Humanitarian

German Military Orders $24.7m Surveillance Balloon to Protect Niger Base

The German military has ordered a €21 million ($24.7 million) Rheinmetall-made tethered balloon-based area reconnaissance system. The system, also called an aerostat, will help protect a forward operating base in Niger, the Düsseldorf-based defense manufacturer revealed. The aerostat provides round-the-clock surveillance for extended periods of time. According to Rheinmetall, the system’s “highly sensitive sensors” are capable of spotting adversaries from “great distances.” Rheinmetall Canada will integrate the balloon’s sensors with the military’s C4I architecture for the current acquisition. German armed forces are familiar with the system by their use in Afghanistan, according to Behoerden Spiegel. Other militaries, such as the US and Israel, have also used the system to protect their forward operating bases. The Defense Post

Tigray Forces in Ethiopia Support ‘Negotiated End’ to War

The leader of Tigray forces in Ethiopia has expressed the commitment to a “negotiated end” to the nine-month war that has killed thousands and left nearly half a million people facing famine, while the United Nations secretary-general on Thursday warned “there is no military solution.” In a letter to U.N. chief Antonio Guterres, seen by The Associated Press ahead of Thursday’s U.N. Security Council meeting on the crisis, Debretsion Gebremichael said the Tigray side requires an impartial mediator, among other conditions. But he warned that the African Union, whose headquarters are in Ethiopia, “cannot provide any solution to the war” that the continental body “endorsed” early in the fighting. That complicates the AU initiative announced Thursday to appoint former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo as its special representative to the Horn of Africa. The prospect for talks between Ethiopia’s government and the Tigray leadership, who dominated the national government for 27 years before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office, remains deeply challenging. Ethiopia’s government earlier this year declared the Tigray People’s Liberation Front a terrorist group, and the United States told Thursday’s meeting that the government has “not responded positively” to calls for talks. AP

Libya’s Dbeibah Hits Back at Parliament over No-Confidence Threat

Libya’s interim prime minister has pushed back against parliament’s threats to withdraw confidence from his unity government, as a burgeoning rift raises fears over the continuing peace process to end years of war. Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who took office in March, said the eastern-based parliament’s reasons for not approving his repeated budget proposals were “unrealistic and flimsy” and blamed the body for hindering planned December elections. The budget dispute has emerged as a core element in the growing friction between rival political factions that has undermined a United Nations-backed process, which had been seen as the best chance at peace in years. Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh last week demanded that Dbeibeh appear before the chamber, elected in 2014, to be questioned about the performance of his government or face a no-confidence vote. Amid the worsening political gridlock, many Libyans fear a process that succeeded in creating a unified government for the first time in years is slipping backwards. A failure to hold the election or a disputed outcome could end political reconciliation and restart a conflict that has smashed swaths of Libya’s cities, drawn in major outside powers and left foreign mercenaries entrenched along the front lines. Al Jazeera

War-Weary Libyans Yearn for End to Daily Blackouts

Walk down any commercial street in the Libyan capital of Tripoli and the pavements will be lined with generators ready to spring into action whenever the mains electricity supply cuts out. In the decade since the NATO-backed overthrow of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, repeated outbreaks of fighting have caused heavy damage to the power distribution network, while there has been virtually no new investment in generating capacity. On most days, Tripoli residents can expect multiple outages, totaling as much as 12 hours a day. The hum of generators and the acrid fumes and smoke of diesel fuel have become one of the most hated aspects of daily life in the once-affluent city. … A GECOL official told AFP the problem was the infrastructure, which has been “decaying for 10 years and requires extensive maintenance.” During the abortive 2019-20 assault on Tripoli, hundreds of high-tension lines serving the capital and its suburbs were destroyed. … Two new power stations are under construction by a German-Turkish consortium in Tripoli and in Libya’s third city Misrata. They are expected to add 1,300 MW of capacity to the grid in the first quarter of next year. A third new power station, in Tobruk in the far east of Libya, is scheduled to follow. AFP

Security Agony for Dar, Nairobi as Terror Suspects Sneak Back Home

The rout of Islamist insurgents in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique, by Rwandan forces has set off alarm bells in Kenya and Tanzania, where some of the fighters originate, with intelligence agencies on high alert after reported re-entry of some of the fleeing suspects. Just this week, Kenya and Tanzania experienced terrorism-linked incidents, which security experts say point to a spillover from Cabo Delgado, a new headache for the region’s security agencies. On Wednesday, a lone gunman, 29-year-old Hamza Hassan Mohamed, killed four people in Tanzania, including three police officers, before police officers shot him dead. Six other people were injured in the incident. This happened just two days after Kenyan security personnel in Mombasa arrested two suspected terrorists, one of whom is Tanzanian, and found two AK-47 rifles and explosive-making materials in their car. Police said they were suspected of planning to blow up several installations on the anniversary of the death of radical Muslim cleric Sheikh Aboud Rogo, who was shot dead on August 27, 2012 in Mombasa. … Police in Mombasa told The EastAfrican that accomplices of the two suspects arrested at the Likoni channel crossing, who were still at large at press time, had recently been to Mozambique and the DRC. The EastAfrican

What Recent Surrender of Boko Haram Members Means for Nigeria’s Fight against Insurgency

Since Abubakar Shekau, the longtime leader of Boko Haram, died three months ago, hundreds of members of the sect have been reported to have left the group. The Nigerian military said over 1,000 fighters of the group and their family members have surrendered and renounced the group’s jihadism in recent weeks. Separately, the authorities in neighbouring Cameroon also said more than 260 of the group’s members turned themselves in at a deradicalisation centre in the north of the country. Those who surrendered in Nigeria are mostly women and children, with a few commanders of the fighters such as the group’s top bomb expert and his deputy, Nigerian Army spokesperson Onyema Nwachukwu said in a statement. On Sunday, the Borno State Government said about 3,000 repentant terrorists were set to be welcomed into communities in the state. Premium Times reported how at a meeting of community leaders organised by the state government, the leaders expressed their willingness to welcome the repentant terrorists. … This is not the first time members of the terrorist group would surrender in droves since the beginning of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2009. And the reasons they gave have differed over the years. Premium Times

South Africa Must Guard Whistleblowers Says Security Expert

The killing of a South African health official providing evidence about an allegedly corrupt contract to purchase COVID-19 personal protective equipment has sparked calls for better protection of whistleblowers in the country. Babita Deokaran, 53, the Department of Health’s chief director of financial accounting, was shot and killed outside her home in Johannesburg this week. She was a key witness in investigations into suspect contracts worth millions of rands (dollars). Deokaran was shot multiple times after dropping her child off at school in an apparent hit. Police announced Friday that seven people have been arrested for Deokoran’s killing and will appear in court on murder charges. Although South Africa has is legislation to protect whistleblowers, more that needs to be done, Richard Chelin, a senior researcher at the Institute of Security Studies, said. “The moment that somebody starts becoming important in a corruption investigation, there is always a threat to their lives,” said Chelin. “In this case, the Special Investigations Unit said the health official did not feel that her life was in danger, but the question is whether or not you still provide protection in that case,” said Chelin. He said killings like that of Deokaran are used to send a message to other potential whistleblowers to warn them against cooperating with police investigations. AP

Suspected Militants Kill 19 in Eastern Congo Village

Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 19 people in a raid on a village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, local authorities said. The attackers looted houses and started fires in Kasanzi-Kithovo near Virunga National Park in North Kivu province overnight between Friday and Saturday, they said. “I don’t know where to go with my two children,” villager Kahindo Lembula, who lost four of her relatives in the attack, told Reuters by phone. “Only God will help us.” The head of Buliki district, Kalunga Meso, and local rights group CEPADHO blamed the assault on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) — an Islamist militant group accused of killing thousands of people in recent years, mostly in remote areas. There was no immediate claim of responsibility and the ADF could not be reached. The government declared martial law in North Kivu and neighboring Ituri province at the beginning of May, in an attempt to quell a surge in violence that the military largely attributes to the ADF. But the number of civilians killed in such attacks has only increased since then, according to the Kivu Security Tracker, which maps unrest in eastern Congo. Reuters

Congo Reviews $6b Mining Deal with Chinese Investors: Minister

Democratic Republic of Congo’s government is reviewing its $6 billion “infrastructure-for-minerals” deal with Chinese investors as part of a broader examination of mining contracts, Finance Minister Nicolas Kazadi told Reuters. President Felix Tshisekedi said in May that some mining contracts could be reviewed because of concerns they are not sufficiently benefiting Congo, which is the world’s largest producer of cobalt and Africa’s leading miner of copper. His government announced this month it had formed a commission to reassess the reserves and resources at China Molybdenum’s massive Tenke Fungurume copper and cobalt mine in order to “fairly lay claim to (its) rights.” Kazadi said in an interview that the 2007 deal agreed with Chinese state-owned firms Sinohydro Corp and China Railway Group Limited was also being reviewed to ensure it is “fair” and “effective.” … Under the deal struck with the government of Tshisekedi’s predecessor, Joseph Kabila, Sinohydro and China Railway agreed to build roads and hospitals in exchange for a 68 percent stake in the Sicomines venture. The deal formed a key part of Kabila’s development plan for the country, but critics say few of the promised infrastructure projects have been fully realised and have complained about a lack of transparency. Reuters

‘Everything Is Changing’: The Struggle for Food as Malawi’s Lake Chilwa Shrinks

There was a time when the vast Lake Chilwa almost disappeared. In 2012 it had been extremely hot in southern Malawi, with little rain to fill the rivers that ran into the lake. “Many fishermen were forced to scramble for land near the lake banks, while others had to migrate to the city,” says Alfred Samuel. “We could barely feed our children because the lake could not provide enough fish, or water for rice growing.” The 52-year-old from Zomba district has fished the lake since the 1980s and is used to fluctuating water levels. But the weather has become increasingly unpredictable, threatening the livelihoods of more than 1.5 million people across the three districts that depend on Malawi’s second-biggest lake. … In 2018 the lake shrank by about 60%, forcing most of those fishing on it to relocate to Lake Malawi to sustain themselves. There are fears that the trend could be repeated this year as the Lake Chilwa basin received less than 1,000mm of rain this season. The lake requires more than a metre of rain across the basin every year to sustain water levels. The unreliable rainfall patterns are, according to experts, the result of human activity, especially deforestation, which plays such a critical role in environmental degradation and the climate crisis. The Guardian

Africa COVID Chief: Vaccination Rollout ‘Extremely Disappointing’

[Video] Dr John Nkengasong discusses global vaccine inequality and Africa’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Al Jazeera