Africa Media Review for August 4, 2021

‘We Haven’t Been Spared, We’re Just Not Counting’: Sudan’s Hidden COVID Death Toll
If Sudan’s official coronavirus statistics are to be believed, only 2,770 people have died since Covid-19 came knocking on the door. … Sudanese health care workers and researchers told the Telegraph that a hidden pandemic had probably killed thousands if not tens of thousands more. “From the outset, the pandemic has been a tale of two worlds,” says Dr Maysoon Dahab, co-director of the Sudan Covid-19 Research Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). … “It is a tale of nations that can afford to treat the sick and mourn the dead and ones that bury en masse largely in silence.” Sitting in his lurid green office, the gravesite manager Ahmed Zaidan opens a large ledger filled with neat Arabic writing. Leafing through it, he points out a few names whose cause of death is Covid-19. … “We only record Covid-19 deaths from isolation wards and specific hospitals. There are people who are dying undocumented all the time.” To demonstrate his point, Mr Zaidan starts leafing through the ledger again. This time he points out names that have been listed next to the words “died from lack of oxygen.” There are dozens and dozens like that, he says. … One study published in December by Sudanese and British researchers at Imperial College London and the LSHTM … found that an estimated 95 to 98 per cent of Covid-19 deaths in Khartoum had probably gone unrecorded between March and November 2020. Telegraph

Zambia: Rivals Close as Polling Day Nears
Against a backdrop of falling support for President Edgar Lungu and a sliding economy, the Patriotic Front (PF) government is showering farmers and civil servants with handouts and good news stories in the hope of retaining power in the general election on 12 August. Lungu is in a close fight for the presidency with United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema, who lost by 100,000 votes in the last election in 2016. … In the election campaign, which in reality has been running since the last one, the opposition’s big concern is the ruling party’s use of state power and funds to win votes. It also worries about the threat of electoral fraud and is investing strongly in a Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT). PVT exercises transmit results posted at polling stations to a central point before anyone can change the numbers to benefit their party. Local newspaper News Diggers claims that at least 20,000 voter cards had been issued to Malawians in border areas along with bribes to vote for the PF. PVT is taken seriously because it was key to the PF’s Michael Sata victory over incumbent President Rupiah Banda in 2011. When PVT results showing a clear PF win were widely publicised, Sata’s victory became established in the public mind; that persuaded Banda – who had toyed with disregarding the vote – to step down. Hichilema’s backers have spent about $5m to emulate the Sata PVT campaign. Election experts say only a landslide for the UPND could thwart a determined PF campaign to steal the vote. Africa Confidential

South Africa Quickens Vaccine Drive, Gets More Doses from US
Hitting its stride after a faltering start, South Africa’s mass vaccination drive gave jabs to 220,000 people a day last week and is accelerating toward the goal of 300,000 per day. With large deliveries of doses arriving and some vaccines being assembled here, South Africa appears on track to inoculate about 35 million of its 60 million people by the end of the year and 40 million by February. More than 7.7 million South Africans have received at least one dose, with more than 100,000 fully vaccinated, representing 1.6% of the population, according to official figures. Across Africa, less than 1.5% of the continent’s 1.3 billion people have been fully vaccinated, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. … South Africa now appears to have an adequate supply of doses. More than 5.7 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine have arrived this week from the U.S., part of President Joe Biden’s distribution of more than 110 million surplus doses to more than 60 countries. … Another encouraging factor is the enthusiasm for the vaccines. More than 70% of South Africans say they are eager to get vaccines while just 10% say they are opposed, according to surveys. … More than 72,000 South Africans have died of COVID-19 according to official records, but statistics indicate it’s likely that nearly three times that number have actually died. AP

As COVID-19 Surges in Tunisia, Oxygen Is in Short Supply
As Tunisia faces a surge of COVID-19 cases, demand for life-saving oxygen has grown higher than the supply, leaving patients desperate and family members angry at the government as they say they are forced to find oxygen on their own. As the misery grows, traders have seized on an opportunity for profit, buying supplies of oxygen and other treatments and then renting them or selling them at higher prices. The profitable enterprise that is growing online has prompted citizens to call on authorities for intervention. “I was subjected to various types of blackmailing. People were trading and brokering with everything. Believe me, with everything,” said Abdou Mzoughi, 43, whose nearly 80-year-old mother died June 26 from COVID-19 after he spent six days trying, but failing, to get the lifesaving oxygen treatment she needed. … Tunisia, with a population of 12 million, has reported more deaths per capita in the pandemic than any African country and has had among the highest daily death rates per capita in the world in recent weeks. … Tunisia consumed between 25,000 and 30,000 liters of oxygen daily before the pandemic. Now, the North African nation consumes 10 times the amount, between 230,000 to 240,000 liters of oxygen per day. AP

Tunisian Labour Union Urges New PM Appointment to Ease Crisis
Tunisia’s powerful labour union urged the president on Tuesday to rapidly announce a new government that should be small and led by an experienced premier, after he seized executive control in a move his opponents called a coup. President Kais Saied has defended his actions as constitutional and said he will govern alongside a new prime minister during an emergency period, but nine days after his intervention, he has yet to name one. “We can’t wait 30 days for the announcement of a government,” said Sami Tahri, a spokesman for the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces. UGTT chief Noureddine Taboubi said later on state television later on Tuesday that the cabinet should be small and headed by somebody with experience, sending a positive message to both Tunisians and international lenders. … On Tuesday Saied removed Tunisia’s ambassador to Washington, the latest in a string of dismissals of senior and mid-ranking officials over the past week including several ministers. He did not immediately name a replacement. He is also still to announce a roadmap to end an emergency period that he initially set at one month but later announced could be two months. Reuters

USAID Head Pushes for Humanitarian Aid Access in Tigray
U.S. Agency for International Development head Samantha Power is set to meet Wednesday with officials in Ethiopia as the United States urges the government to allow clear access for humanitarian aid to the Tigray region. Power on Tuesday met with refugees in Sudan who have fled Tigray, and she reiterated the position of the United States, the United Nations and others that ultimately what will help the people in the northernmost region of Ethiopia is an end to the war that has been ongoing for more than nine months. … She said specifically the United States is calling for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or the TPLF, to withdraw from the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions, for the Amhara regional government to pull its forces from western Tigray, and for neighboring Eritrea to immediately withdraw its forces from Ethiopia. … All warring parties have been trading blame on several issues including blockade of access to humanitarian aid. The Ethiopian government has blamed Tigrayan forces for aid blockades, while Tigrayan forces blame the government. The Associated Press reported last week a senior USAID official told the news agency that the government’s allegation is “100% not the case.” The official added that the “primary obstacle is the government.” Ethiopia suspended part or all of the operations Tuesday of Doctors Without Borders and the Norwegian Refugee Council. The aid groups said the government ordered them to halt their work in Tigray. AP

Claims of Bias against AID Workers in Tigray ‘Dangerous,’ Says UN
The United Nations’ new humanitarian chief has denounced “dangerous” accusations by Ethiopian government officials that aid workers were biased in favour of rebels in Tigray, where a brutal conflict between federal troops and forces loyal to the northern region’s rulers erupted nine months ago. Speaking to reporters at the end of a six-day visit to Ethiopia, Martin Griffiths also called for access to allow desperately needed aid into the mountainous region where the UN says hundreds of thousands of people are suffering from famine. “Blanket accusations of humanitarian aid workers need to stop,” he said. “They are unfair, they are unconstructive, they need to be backed up by evidence if there is any and, frankly, it’s dangerous.” At least a dozen aid workers have been killed since the government sent troops into Tigray in November to remove the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which for decades dominated national politics until Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018. They include three staff with Doctors Without Borders who were killed in June, prompting the international medical charity, known by its French acronym MSF, to suspend operations in parts of the region. … The UN says fighting in Tigray has pushed at least 400,000 people into conditions approximating famine. Al Jazeera

USAID Chief Calls for Unified Army in Sudan
USAID chief Samantha Power called Tuesday for Sudan’s army to unify with ex-rebels and paramilitary forces to bolster a rocky political transition and a critical peace deal. Power’s remarks came at the end of her four-day visit to Sudan, which has struggled with deep political splits and economic woes since the April 2019 ouster of strongman Omar al-Bashir. The integration of the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) into Sudan’s army has emerged as the latest challenge in the transition. … In addition, Sudan wants ex-rebel forces — including from Darfur, who once fought both the RSF and regular forces — to join the national army as part of a historic October 2020 peace deal. “The United States agrees that Sudan’s army should have a single and unified command,” Power said in a speech at the University of Khartoum. “We will actively support civilian-led security reform and the formal integration of the Rapid Support Forces and former opposition armed groups.” Power, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, arrived in Sudan on Saturday, meeting the country’s army chief, head of state Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and visiting Darfur. On Tuesday, the USAID head announced $56 million of “life-saving assistance” to Sudan, and another $4.3 million to support the country’s elections at the end of the transitional period in 2024. AFP

Sudan Takes First Step toward Joining International Court
Sudan on Tuesday approved a draft bill allowing the East African country to join the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court. The decision by the Cabinet to join the Rome Statute is a step forward in the long-waited trial of suspects wanted for war crimes and genocide in the Darfur conflict, including former President Omar al-Bashir. The bill, however, still needs to be ratified by a joint meeting of Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council and Cabinet. Together they serve as an interim parliament. The Cabinet did not offer a time frame for ratification. Sudan has been led by a joint military-civilian government since a popular uprising led to the military’s overthrow of al-Bashir in April 2019. That transitional government, which promised democratic reforms, has previously said that war crime suspects including al-Bashir would be tried before the ICC, but the trial venue is a matter for negotiations with The Hague-based court. … Tuesday’s decision came two months after a visit by the International Criminal Court’s then-prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to Khartoum and Darfur, during which she urged the country’s transitional authorities to hand over suspects wanted for war crimes and genocide in the Darfur conflict. AP

South Sudan: Group of Generals Announce Machar Ouster, VP’s Team Dismisses Move
Allies of South Sudan’s First Vice President Riek Machar have dismissed an announcement of his ouster as SPLM-IO leader. A group of senior generals in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) on Wednesday 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. “The military command leadership has assigned 1st Lt-Gen Simon Gatwech as the interim chairman and commander in chief of the movement -immediately he will be the First Vice President. “He [Dr Riek Machar] no longer represents the interest of the wider population in South Sudan – as he has become a part of the national government, compromising fundamental issues, hence his views are not helping the movement [SPLM/A-IO],” said the group spokesperson Brigadier General William Gatjiath Deng. The generals had held a three-day meeting at Meganis at the border with Sudan and also agreed for the dissolution of SPLM-IO Political Bureau and the National Liberation Council. … The SPLM-IO generals who announced Machar’s ouster Wednesday accused him of nepotism, dictatorship, loss of vision, and abandoning SPLA-IO soldiers at the cantonment sites and training centres. SPLA-IO is the military force of SPLM-IO. Nation

More than Dozen People Killed by Rebels in East DR Congo
At least 16 people were killed in an attack in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) conflict-plagued east, believed to be the work of rebels, military and local sources said. According to local civilian sources, the victims of Monday’s attack, including two women, had been taken hostage weeks earlier by members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). The hostages were knifed to death along a main highway near Idohu, in the restive Ituri province, local official Dieudonne Malangai said on Tuesday. Ituri’s military governor, Johnny Luboya Nkashama, speaking in Komanda, some 40km (25 miles) from the incident, condemned the killings. “We will reinforce our presence in the region,” he told the AFP news agency. The vast central African country’s government has placed Ituri and the neighbouring North Kivu province under a state of siege since May, stepping up the fight against armed groups. Al Jazeera

MSF Withdraws Humanitarian Activities in Cameroon After 8 Months of Suspension
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) an International NGO has withdrawn its teams from the North-West region of Cameroon after medical areas have been badly affected by armed violence between security forces and armed separatist groups and after nearly eight months of suspension by the Cameroonian authorities. “We cannot stay any longer in a region where we are not allowed to provide care to people, and we cannot keep our staff there any longer, so we have no choice but to withdraw our teams,” says Emmanuel Lampaert, MSF’s Operations Coordinator for Central Africa. He explained that despite the withdrawal, MSF would keep a small communication office in Bamenda, the regional capital, to continue dialogue with the authorities. … Despite months of allegations stating that the organisation supports armed groups, which MSF has rejected in meetings with Cameroon authorities, MSF was not granted access to resume medical activities. … Since 2018, MSF has been one of the few international NGOs offering free medical care to communities in the Northwest region and established the only 24/7 free ambulance service in the area. Tens of thousands of patients have benefited annually from this support especially in regions where access to care has been reduced by armed violence. HumAngle

Kidnappers in Nigeria Demand Ransom to Release 80 Schoolchildren
Kidnappers are demanding a ransom of one million naira each to release around 80 children snatched from a boarding school in northern Nigeria last month, according to a pastor involved in the negotiations for their release. The attack on the Bethel Baptist High School in the state of Kaduna was the 10th mass school kidnapping since December in northwest Nigeria, which authorities have attributed to criminal gangs seeking ransom payments. “(Bandits) are asking for one million naira on each of the 80 students remaining with them,” Reverend Ite Joseph Hayab told Reuters by telephone. Kidnappers released 28 children last month after a first batch of 28 was released two days after the raid. But another 81 remain in captivity. Hayab said three students escaped before the 28 were released last month but they were kidnapped again by an unidentified person in the forest who demanded a ransom and was paid over one million naira by parents. Nigerian authorities have attributed the kidnappings to what they call armed bandits seeking ransom payments. Reuters

Nigeria: SSS Releases Five ‘Buhari-Must-Go’ Protesters After Disobeying Court Order
The State Security Service (SSS) has finally released five ‘Buhari-Must-Go’ protesters, one of them a blind saxophonist, who were arrested by the agency about a month ago at the Dunamis International Gospel Centre in Abuja. Ben Manasseh, Anene Udoka, Henry Nwodo, Samuel Larry and Samuel Gabriel (the saxophonist), were arrested for wearing T-shirts with ‘Buhari-Must-Go’ inscription to the church on July 4. Their lawyer, Tope Temokun, confirmed in a statement on Wednesday that they were released in Abuja on Tuesday. This came after a week of the agency’s disobedience to a court order for the detainees’ release. Premium Times had reported how the Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the release of the five detainees on July 26. … Mr Temokun, bent on enforcing the order of court releasing his clients, commenced a contempt suit seeking to have the SSS director-general, Yusuf Bichi, warned for his disobedience to the court order. Premium Times reported on Monday that Mr Temokun filed a ‘Notice of Consequences of Order of Court, also known as Form 48, at the Federal High Court in Abuja on July 30, essentially warning Mr Bichi of a possibility of being jailed if he continued to disobey the court order. Confirming the release of the detainees in his Wednesday’s statement, Mr Temokun said the SSS “bowed to the fireworks from the people of Nigeria.” Premium Times

Lagos, Nigeria: Africa’s Most Populous City Is Battling Floods and Rising Seas. It May Soon Be Unlivable, Experts Warn
Cars and houses submerged in water, commuters wading through buses knee-high in floods, and homeowners counting the cost of destroyed properties. Welcome to Lagos during rainy season. Residents of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, are used to the yearly floods that engulf the coastal city during the months of March to November. In mid-July, however, the major business district of Lagos Island experienced one of its worst floods in recent years. “It was very bad, and unusual,” Eselebor Oseluonamhen, 32 told CNN. “I drove out of my house … I didn’t realize it had rained so much … There was heavy traffic on my route because of the flood. The more we went, the higher the water level. The water kept rising until it covered the bumper of my car … then there was water flowing inside my car,” Oseluonamhen, who runs a media firm on the Lagos mainland, recalled. … Home to more than 24 million people, Lagos, a low-lying city on Nigeria’s Atlantic coast, may become uninhabitable by the end of this century as sea levels rise due to climate change, scientific projections suggest. The problem is exacerbated by “inadequate and poorly maintained drainage systems and uncontrolled urban growth,” among others, according to a study led by the Institute of Development Studies. CNN

How Timbuktu’s Ancient Manuscripts Impact Africa’s Climate Map
On April 1 [2012], rebel Tuareg fighters under the multi-colored banners of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad surrounded and captured [Timbuktu]. Later, the jihadists of Ansar Dine followed, waving their black flag with the shahada—the Muslim declaration of faith—emblazoned in white. Soon, Sharia law was implemented across the city. Moussa Touré watched the events unfold from Mali’s capital of Bamako with horror, and a sense of relief. As director of the African country’s weather observations network, he was responsible for the meteorologists stationed across the country and, luckily, he’d managed to evacuate all the National Meteorological Agency’s employees from Northern Mali in time. That included the three people in charge of Station 61223, one of only three facilities in Mali that had collected weather data without interruption for more than 100 years. Their safety had come at a cost. “It was the only station in the region, the one that allowed us to understand extreme weather events in northern Mali,” Touré says, a shade of sadness in his voice. “We knew leaving our personnel there without any protection would mean putting them at risk.” … “Weather and climate have a huge variability, so you need observations over decades and even over centuries,” says Peer Hechler, a scientific officer at the World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations agency that oversees weather and climate issues. “If you have data-sparse areas, you have a problem understanding the weather and the climate globally.” Bloomberg



Photo: Adam Jones