Africa Media Review for August 5, 2020

Tanzania’s President Says Country Is Virus Free. Others Warn of Disaster
More than 88 days have passed since Tanzania reported even a single new coronavirus case – far longer than any other African country. Tanzania’s president has declared the scourge “absolutely finished” and encouraged tourists to come back. The problem is that, outside of Tanzania, people are skeptical. And inside Tanzania, few dare stand up to the president, John Magufuli, who has become increasingly autocratic since he was elected five years ago. Mr. Magufuli has said that the power of prayer helped purge the virus from the country, even as the African continent is expected this week to cross the threshold of one million reported cases. … John Nkengasong, the director of the Africa C.D.C., said he was “very worried” Tanzania had not disclosed any information for months, hindering the agency’s ability to help coordinate and guide the continent’s response in the pandemic. “The best way to deal with this is good information, good data and good science,” Dr. Nkengasong said, adding that governments like Tanzania’s should be cognizant “that any infection anywhere will be infections everywhere in Africa.” The New York Times

Russian Mercenaries in Libya Leave Mines as Deadly Calling Cards, Observers Say
International observers are sounding the alarm about an alliance between Russian mercenaries and a Libyan militia, which they say imperils civilians and risks intensifying Libya’s civil war. In recent weeks, forces loyal to Libyan General Khalifa Haftar have retreated from neighborhoods surrounding Tripoli. In their wake, human rights groups and the U.S. military say they left behind Russian-made landmines – many of them planted in residential neighborhoods. The U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM, and independent analysts accuse mercenaries with the Wagner Group, a private Russian company, of being behind the mines. “They’ve been involved in kind of booby trapping civilian neighborhoods, setting up defense systems in the middle of oil fields and oil terminals and really kind of preparing for an enlarged conflict, and they are being supported militarily by Russia,” said Tarek Megerisi, a policy fellow with North Africa and the Middle East program at the European Council on Foreign Relations. VOA

Germany Deploys 250 Soldiers for Libyan Arms Embargo Mission
A German frigate carrying 250 soldiers has departed at the start of a five-month mission as part of the European Union efforts to enforce a United Nations embargo on the flow of weapons into war-torn Libya. The Hamburg frigate set sail for the Mediterranean from the port city of Wilhelmshaven on Tuesday. The EU’s Irini mission, launched in May, is tasked with preventing the flow of weapons into Libya as well as gathering information on illegal oil exports from the country and disrupting people smuggling in the region. Satellites and planes are also being used to monitor the arms embargo. … Countries accused of violating the embargo include Turkey, Russia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). … International attempts of mediation have so far proved unsuccessful, including the latest Libya summit held in Berlin in January. Recently, Germany, France and Italy for the first time threatened sanctions to enforce the UN arms embargo, which has been in place for nine years with repeated violations. Al Jazeera

Africa’s COVID-19 Chaos Opens Door for Opportunistic Extremists
As a pandemic rages and weakens fragile societies, terrorists lie in wait to pounce on vulnerable people, especially on the African continent, says a top U.S. military commander.  U.S. military officials say their work on the continent has continued unabated, but that extremists are actively seeking every opportunity to gain a foothold, from Senegal to Somalia. Violent extremist organizations, or VEOs, are seizing on Africa’s coronavirus chaos to advance their goals in vulnerable societies, from Nigeria to Mozambique, says the head of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson. … And, he said, some of these groups count on foreign assistance from mercenary groups with murky affiliations. The shadowy Wagner Group is thought to be active in as many as 20 African countries, including Mozambique, Libya, Sudan, the Ivory Coast and the Central African Republic. … “Russia is directly engaged with them. I see them as being very corrosive. I see them as being detrimental to what should be a common international threat.” VOA

Zimbabwe President Vows to ‘Flush Out’ Critics in Clampdown
Zimbabwe’s president, calling the main opposition party “terrorist,” vowed to flush out opponents in an ongoing clampdown in which scores of opposition members and government critics have been arrested and rights groups allege security forces have carried out illegal abductions and torture. … The arrests started last week when the military and police thwarted an anti-government protest and Mnangagwa indicated that they will continue. … The hashtag #Zimbabweanlivesmatter has been used in social media to draw attention to the wave of arrests. … “Clearly we must do something about what is happening. … It is time that we take care of Zimbabwean lives that matter … We must be serious about the situation,” said Chamisa, leader of the MDC Alliance, after visiting Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume, an official of the opposition party who had helped to organize the foiled protests, who is also jailed. AP

Egypt Calls for Suspension of Nile Dam Talks
Egypt on Tuesday called for a suspension of meetings with Ethiopia on Addis Ababa’s massive dam construction project on the Nile. Sudan threatened to withdraw from the talks saying Ethiopia insisted on linking them to renegotiating a deal on sharing the waters of the Blue Nile. Sudan’s water and irrigation minister, Yasser Abbas, said he received a letter from his Ethiopian counterpart who proposed “the deal under discussion be limited to filling up the dam and any deal concerning its management be linked to the question of sharing Blue Nile waters.” … “This is a significant development and a change in the Ethiopian position,” the Sudanese minister said. … “Egypt and Sudan demanded meetings be suspended for internal consultations on the Ethiopian proposal, which contravenes what was agreed upon during the African Union summit,” [the Egyptian water ministry] said. Leaders from the three countries agreed at the July 21 summit to press ahead with negotiations. AFP

South Africa Sees Dip in New Virus Cases but Warns of Return
South Africa’s health minister on Wednesday reported decreasing rates of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 but warned that vigilance must continue “to prevent a renewed surge.” South Africa has 521,318 confirmed coronavirus cases, the fifth highest in the world and more than half of all reported cases in Africa, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far South Africa has recorded 8,884 COVID-19 deaths, although studies of excess mortality rates indicate the actual toll could be higher. The rapid spread of infections in poor, overcrowded urban centers in Cape Town, Johannesburg and other cities threatened to overwhelm public hospitals, but Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize told reporters that so far the health system has been able to cope. … Overall South Africa reported an average of more than 10,000 new cases per day at the end of July, and now new confirmed cases have dropped to below 5,000 per day, Mkhize said. AP

South African Anti-Corruption Watchdog Probes COVID-19 Tenders
South Africa’s anti-corruption watchdog said on Monday it was investigating irregularities in government tenders during the coronavirus crisis. The inquiries by the Public Protector come after the Special Investigating Unit launched a separate probe into tenders for personal protective equipment (PPE) in the province of Gauteng, the country’s economic heartland. … In recent weeks, local media have brimmed with allegations that politically connected individuals have benefited from government contracts for goods and services mobilised to contain the spread of COVID-19. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman and a top Gauteng health official had taken leaves of absence after being caught up in the scandals. Reuters

Nigeria: What to Know about China Loans and Their Implications for Nigeria
The Nigerian press has been awash with concern about the terms of some loans contracted with or about to be contracted with China. Data obtained from the Debt Management Office (DMO) showed that between 2010 and March 31, 2020, 11 loan facilities have been obtained from the China Exim Bank. The loans all have a seven-year grace period, 20 years tenor and were obtained at 2.5 per cent interest rate. They, however, have differing varying maturity dates. … Rather than offering grants or concessionary loans, China provides huge project-related loans at market-based rates, without transparency, much less environmental- or social impact assessments. … Unlike loans by multilaterals like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and regional development banks whose agreements are publicly available, no China-related loan agreements have ever been publicly shared by successive governments in Nigeria (or China) since the Jonathan administration, and the current one under controversy got into public space by chance. Premium Times

Nigeria Moves to Capture Illegal Gold Sales to Increase Reserves
Nigeria plans to stem illegal gold exports worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year to boost the country’s foreign reserves. The program will regulate production by informal miners that currently provides no income to the state, said Fatima Shinkafi, executive secretary of the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative. As much as 18 tons of gold leaves Nigeria illegally every year and is shipped to Dubai, Shinkafi said in an interview. PAGMI’s plan is to shift most of that production, which is extracted by so-called artisanal miners and sold to middlemen, into a supervised supply chain that ends with bullion in a central-bank vault. Regulating artisanal gold will help diversify Nigeria’s economy at a time when lower crude prices are adding pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to reduce Nigeria’s dependence on oil. Bloomberg

UN Censures ‘Heinous Attacks’ in Lake Chad Basin
The Secretary-General strongly condemned “heinous attacks” against civilians in the Lake Chad Basin, a UN spokesperson said on Monday. “The attacks led to the killing and abduction of many civilians, including women, children and displaced people who had fled violence”, Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said in a statement, referring to assaults in the Lac Province of Chad and the Far North Region of Cameroon on 31 July and 2 August, respectively. … This attack follows a significant rise in violent incidents in Cameroon’s Far-North Region in July, including looting and kidnapping by Boko Haram and other armed groups active in the region. The Far North region, tucked between Nigeria’s Borno and Adamawa states and Lake Chad, currently hosts 321,886 IDPs and 115,000 Nigerian refugees. The UNHCR spokesperson called this incident “a sad reminder of the intensity and brutality of the violence in the wider the Lake Chad Basin region that has forced more than three million people to flee.” UN News

Chad Slows down Internet to Curb ‘Hate Speech’ on Social Media
The African nation of Chad says it has cut back the speed of the internet to check the spread of messages “inciting hate” on social media. Government spokesman Mahamat Zene Cherif said late on Monday a “temporary measure” to slow the internet was introduced on July 22 because of “the dissemination of messages inciting hate and division.” … But telecoms officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the restrictions had been triggered by a video showing a Chadian military officer in a dispute with two young mechanics. The images, which are dated July 14, show him opening fire on one of them at point-blank range, before being attacked with a knife. A statement by the public prosecutor said one of the mechanics “died of his wounds” while the officer was hospitalised and “will be prosecuted after he has recovered.” … A consumers’ association on Monday called on telecommunications operators to restore access to social networks, saying the restriction was a violation of freedom of expression. AFP

Somalia Sets up Disaster Warning Centre to Battle Floods and Locusts
At a government building in a former United Nations compound in Mogadishu, Khadar Sheikh Mohamed stares at a bank of giant screens displaying weather conditions across the country. Mohamed is the director of the new national disaster early warning centre designed to help Somalia predict disasters. This year it has already suffered from flooding and a locust invasion. “Finding the accurate data which may save lives is … important for us,” he told Reuters at the centre. The centre opened in June, and is funded by Saudi Arabia through the United Nations’ World Food Programme. It was conceived after cycles of floods and drought caused widespread food shortages, including a famine in 2011 that killed more than a quarter of a million people. Out of Somalia’s 15 million people, 5.2 million currently need aid, the United Nations says, and more than 2.6 million are displaced due to fighting and natural disasters. Reuters

UN Pledges to Help Mali Rebuild Heritage Sites Damaged in Conflict
The UN’s cultural organisation, Unesco, is backing a $1m (£767,000) plan to help restore the heritage of central Mali damaged by recent armed conflict. The Cliff of Bandiagara is famous for its homes carved into the rock as well as the traditional way of life. Unesco says inter-communal fighting has destroyed a number of villages in the area – also known as the Land of the Dogon – as well as artefacts. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1989. Unesco has teamed up with the Switzerland-based International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas, which is providing the money. … The $1m will be spent over the next three years on restoring the damaged architectural heritage “notably housing, granaries and sites dedicated to traditional culture, as well as to restore the production of cultural objects, and safeguard ceremonial objects in a memorial collection,” Unesco says. BBC

Uganda Reports 2 New Gorilla Babies in Bwindi National Park
Two new baby gorillas have been discovered in a Ugandan national park where a beloved primate named Rafiki was killed in June, a wildlife official announced Tuesday, saying the infants are part of a baby boom in the protected forest popular with tourists. “For us it’s a sign of relief. We lost one. We got two. But, of course, losing one is bad enough,” said Bashir Hangi, a spokesman for Uganda Wildlife Authority, talking about the loss of Rafiki. The babies are believed to have been born in the same week last month to two separate groups of habituated gorillas – primates that seem comfortable in the presence of humans – in the remote Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, according to wildlife authorities. AP



Photo: Adam Jones