Africa Media Review for August 5, 2021

World’s Coronavirus Infection Total Passes Staggering Figure: 200 Million
While always an imperfect measure of a virus that causes no symptoms in many of the people it infects, with many infections going unreported, case counts have provided a useful tool for much of the pandemic — like a flashing red light in the cockpit of a jetliner warning of imminent danger. A surge in case numbers has too often been followed by a crush of people crowding emergency rooms. And then, several weeks later, fatality counts have typically spiked. It took more than a year for the pandemic to reach its 100 millionth case, and little more than six months to double that, with the world surpassing the 200 million figure on Wednesday, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. As the coronavirus continues to find new hosts across the planet at a rapid rate, the emergence of the Delta variant — thought to be about twice as infectious as the original version first detected in Wuhan, China — is adding fuel to a fire that has never stopped raging. In one week alone, from July 19 to 25, nearly four million cases were recorded by the World Health Organization — a jump of 8 percent from the previous week. With many of the new infections occurring in countries lacking vaccines or among the unvaccinated, 69,000 Covid deaths were recorded that week. … For countries where vaccines are scarce, the math of the pandemic remains unchanged. Indonesian authorities reported nearly 57,000 new cases on one day in mid-July, seven times as many as a month earlier, the highest figure since the pandemic began. The New York Times

Tension in Zambia Ahead of Tightly-Fought Vote
Tension is rising in Zambia ahead of presidential elections next week, prompting an unprecedented deployment of the military to clamp down on violence. The August 12 ballot is essentially a two-horse race between longstanding adversaries — President Edgar Lungu, 64, and Hakainde Hichilema, 59, who is making his sixth bid for the top job. Rival supporters wielding axes and machetes have clashed sporadically since campaigning started in May, resulting in at least three deaths, according to police. … After [two ruling party supporters] were clubbed to death at the weekend, Lungu sent in the army to help the police maintain “law and order.” … But the move sparked concern of heavy-handedness. “It’s clearly an intimidation technique,” said Ringisai Chikohomero, a researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS) think tank, told AFP. “Lungu wants something that can tip the balance in his favour and a heavy military presence is likely to do that.” … Rights groups say Lungu’s government has grown increasingly intolerant of dissent, detaining opposition figures and cracking down on protests, and darkening the prospects for a credible vote. “This is the first time government is deploying soldiers to police the electoral process,” said University of Zambia fellow O’Brien Kaaba. “Should the election be disputed and should there be protests, the president may not hesitate to order the use of military force,” he warned. … “These state security forces do play into politics,” said Zaynab Mohamed of a consultancy firm, Oxford Economics. “They are highly politicised.” AFP

Senegal Cemeteries See Record Burials as Virus Cases Spike
With Senegal in the grip of a deadly third wave of Covid-19, cemeteries in the capital Dakar are contending with a surge in burials. In Yoff, the largest cemetery in Dakar is handling three times more burials than normal, while the Christian Saint-Lazare Cemetery is seeing as many burials in one day as it usually would in one week. “In a week, we would do six or seven funerals. But now, we can do six or seven in a single day. With the first (Covid-19) wave, we didn’t even feel it here. Out of all the funerals we’ve done here, those that were for covid, there weren’t even a dozen. The second wave, we had some but not that many, but as for this third wave, we are really going through it now,” said Habib Sagna, the manager of Sanit Lazare cemetery. Emergency room doctor Babacar Diop, 30, keeps getting interrupted by the ringing of his mobile phone. Relatives of patients in the saturated emergency ward in Fann hospital, in Senegal’s seaside capital Dakar, are calling to ask after their loved ones. “The situation is very catastrophic,” says Diop, who looks grim and fatigued at the beginning of a 12-hour night shift. Ambulances come and go bearing rasping and coughing patients – whom Diop more often than not has to turn away because of a lack of oxygen. … Senegal is in the grip of a third wave of Covid-19 infections, which is believed to be driven by the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus. AFP

Apprehension Grows in Tunisia as Political Impasse Drags On
Saied on July 25 dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, froze parliament and said he would govern alongside a new premier. The move prompted critics to accuse him of a coup and raising fears for the future of Tunisia’s democratic system. At stake are the rights and freedoms that Tunisians won during a 2011 revolution that ousted the previous autocracy, and its response to pressing economic problems that have soured many citizens on democratic politics. Though allies of Saied still expect him to announce a new premier soon, there is no sign of a roadmap to handle either the long term or the immediate emergency period, which he initially set at one month but has since said could be renewed. “The situation is delicate and there is a real fear there will be no participatory discussion in decisions,” said Sami Tahri, a senior official at the powerful UGTT labour union. Whether his sudden intervention will ultimately be seen as a coup – as the parliament speaker has called it – or as a moment of renewal for a democratic process that went awry, will depend on what he does next. Reuters

‘They Thought COVID Only Kills White People’: Myths and Fear Hinder Jabs in DRC
Dr Christian Mayala and Dr Rodin Nzembuni Nduku sit together on a bench outside the Covid ward at Kinshasa’s Mama Yemo hospital. They are discussing the health of their father, Noel Kalouda, who contracted coronavirus weeks before, and is now lying in a hospital bed, breathing through an oxygen mask. Despite the brothers’ medical knowledge, and vaccines being available to them in the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), all three men had chosen not to get vaccinated because of fears over potential side-effects of the only jab available, the AstraZeneca vaccine. … Just over 86,000 doses have been administered – enough to vaccinate under 0.1% of the country’s population of 90 million. Already facing shortages and huge logistical challenges in getting vaccines out to people in far-flung areas, experts worry that distrust of pharmaceutical products will further undermine the global fight against Covid. While anger grows over the failures of rich countries to supply enough vaccines to poorer ones, vaccine hesitancy of citizens has been overlooked, epidemiologists warn. … Willingness to have a Covid vaccine in the DRC was reported to be the lowest in 15 countries surveyed by the African Union between August and December last year, with 38% of people surveyed in the DRC unwilling to be vaccinated compared with just 4% in Ethiopia. The Guardian

South Africa: Long Arm of the Riots Still Affecting Health Sector
Healthcare services will continue to feel the effects of the riots, violence and looting in KwaZulu-Natal and some parts of Gauteng, even as efforts to rebuild get under way. “The vulnerable population, poor communities, refugees and other marginalised populations will bear the brunt of these violent protests,” says Brenda Kubheka, managing director and cofounder of Health IQ Consulting, which provides risk management and clinical ethics services to the health sector. “Accessing medical facilities will be more challenging and perhaps more expensive when people travel long distances to access care. Food supplies will impact how patients take medications, which may lead to disruption in compliance or taking medication in ways contrary to the advice given by medical professionals.” Kubheka, who is a member of the Gauteng Covid-19 bed management committee, among other things, suggests that the riots will hit the health sector hard. Tshowa Kabala, her research assistant, agrees. The two say, “These include the travel disruption for personnel, damage to infrastructure, disruption in the supply chain, and transportation impacting service delivery and access to care. Deliveries of medicines, personal protective equipment and other supplies affected health establishments, and some facilities were affected by staff shortages due to blocked roads and safety concerns.” Mail & Guardian/New Frame

South Africa: Zuma’s Corruption Case to Resume in Open Court
Former South African President Jacob Zuma will be allowed out of jail next week to attend a long-running corruption case in person rather than by video link. The hearing, scheduled to resume in the southeastern city of Pietermaritzburg on August 10, “shall proceed in an open court,” Judge Piet Koen said on Wednesday. … Zuma faces 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering related to the 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and equipment from five European arms firms when he was deputy president. He is accused of taking bribes from one of the firms – French defence giant Thales, which has been charged with corruption and money laundering. … Zuma was ordered to serve a 15-month term for refusing to testify to a commission probing state corruption under his presidency from 2009 to 2019. Protests initially broke out against Zuma’s imprisonment but soon descended into rioting and looting, with vigilante groups forming to protect property. Major highways and rail routes were shut down, while businesses were plundered and burned. The violence escalated into the worst unrest since the end of apartheid, prompting current South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa to label it an attempted “insurrection.” At least 337 people were reported killed during the unrest. Al Jazeera

Special Report: How a Little-Known G7 Task Force Unwittingly Helps Governments Target Critics
In late 2020, when Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni faced a fresh challenge to his 35-year rule, a new tool helped to silence his critics: anti-money laundering legislation promoted by the G7. … Last December, as Museveni prepared for a January election, authorities used the law to temporarily freeze the bank accounts of three rights groups and arrest a prominent lawyer, 40-year-old Nicholas Opiyo, on money laundering charges related to the funding of an NGO he founded. Opiyo, who was later released on bail, called the charges “spurious.” The government has denied using the law to target its critics. In January, amid accusations of voter fraud by Museveni’s main rival, the electoral commission declared Museveni had won re-election. Uganda isn’t unique. Reuters found that in at least four other countries – Serbia, India, Tanzania, and Nigeria – legislation passed to meet FATF standards was used by authorities to investigate journalists, NGO workers, and lawyers. Based on interviews with people targeted, government officials and financial crime experts, the reporting by Reuters provides the first account of the unintended consequences arising from the task force’s mandate. Reuters

US Warns Ethiopia of ‘Dehumanizing Rhetoric’ on Tigray
The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development expressed concern Wednesday about the “dehumanizing rhetoric” used by Ethiopia’s leaders amid the nine-month conflict in the Tigray region, whose forces last month were described as “weeds” and “cancer” by the country’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister, Abiy Ahmed. Samantha Power spoke to reporters after pressing Ethiopia’s government to ease a blockade of humanitarian aid to Tigray, where hundreds of thousands of people face famine in the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade. Just 10% of targeted aid has reached the region since mid-July, she said — 153 trucks as of two days ago, while the United Nations has said 1,500 trucks were needed during that time. Ethiopia’s government in recent weeks has accused aid groups of arming Tigray forces, without providing evidence, and suspended the work of two international aid groups while accusing Doctors Without Borders and the Norwegian Refugee Council of “disseminating misinformation.” … Power also noted the increasingly heated talk by both sides in the conflict and said the kind of “virulent” language used by the prime minister and other officials, also seen on social media in Ethiopia, “often accompanies ethnically motivated atrocities.” She called for an immediate cease-fire and dialogue. AP

South Sudan’s Machar Says ‘Peace Spoilers’ Backed His Removal as Party Leader
South Sudan’s first Vice President Riek Machar has accused rival military leaders who announced he had been deposed as party and armed forces leader of trying to block the country’s peace process. The military wing of his SPLM/A-IO movement said on Wednesday it had removed Machar, who helped push his partner, President Salva Kiir, to a peace deal in 2018 and the subsequent formation of a unity government, for undermining reforms. But in a rejoinder issued late on the same day, Machar said those who had issued the statement were no longer members of the movement’s military command council. “The declaration was engineered and facilitated by peace spoilers,” Machar said in a statement issued after a meeting of his party’s Political Bureau. The main aim of the move was to stop the forces from being integrated into the national command, one of the outstanding key objectives of the peace deal, he said. South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 but descended into fighting two years later when forces loyal to Kiir and Machar clashed in the capital. … With the army still divided and some militia groups refusing to sign the peace deal, the latest split in Machar’s movement could undermine stability, political analysts said. In the announcement deposing Machar, his opponents said the party’s chief of staff, First Lieutenant General Simon Gatwech Dual, was nominated to serve as interim party leader. Reuters

Rwanda Deploys 700 More Troops to CAR Ahead of Presidential Visit to Kigali
Rwanda on Tuesday sent 700 more soldiers to the Central African Republic (CAR) to secure the main supply route connecting the capital Bangui to the border with Cameroon. The troops were deployed following a request by the United Nations to reinforce its peacekeeping mission in the restive country, according to a statement issued by Rwanda’s Ministry of Defence. The latest deployment comes as Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is expected Thursday to host CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who was recently elected for his second five-year term. Rwanda had earlier sent 1,267 troops to CAR serving under the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Central African Republic (Minusca). UN peacekeeping operations are barred from using force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. Rwanda maintains two Infantry Battalions, a Mechanized Battle Group and a Level II Hospital in support of peacekeeping operations in CAR. Rwandan soldiers have since 2016 provided protection for President Faustin-Archange Touadéra and other top government officials in CAR. The East African

Nigeria Accused of ‘Ruthless’ Crackdown in Restive Southeast
Amnesty International has accused Nigerian security forces of using excessive force and killing at least 115 people during a “repressive campaign” earlier this year against separatist agitators in the country’s restive southeast. Violence has flared in the southeastern states this year, killing at least 127 police or members of the security services, according to the police. About 20 police stations and election commission offices have been attacked, local media have reported. The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), an outlawed movement seeking independence for ethnic Igbo of the region, and its armed wing Eastern Security Network (ESN) have been blamed for the violence, but IPOB has denied the charges. Amnesty said that in response, security forces, including the military, police and the Department of State Services (DSS) intelligence agency have killed dozens of gunmen, as well as civilians, where attacks have taken place. “The evidence gathered by Amnesty International paints a damning picture of ruthless excessive force by Nigerian security forces in Imo, Anambra and Abia states,” Osai Ojigho, the group’s Nigeria director, was quoted as saying by AFP news agency. “What is needed is an impartial and open inquiry to determine what happened and bring to justice all those suspected of criminal responsibility in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts and without recourse to death penalty,” Amnesty said. Al Jazeera

Ghana’s #Fixthecountry Protesters Take to Accra’s Streets
Several thousand protesters marched in Ghana’s capital Accra on Wednesday under the slogan “#FixTheCountry,” the latest rally against President Nana Akufo-Addo’s government. Dressed in red and black and chanting patriotic songs, protesters waved placards declaring “corruption breeds poverty” and “fix our education system now” as they marched in the city centre. Wednesday’s rally marks the most recent anti-government protest since March when a top court dismissed the main opposition party’s challenge to Akufo-Addo’s re-election late last year. Akufo-Addo won a second term with only a small majority in parliament. But the Ghanaian leader has since been under pressure as the West African country struggles with economic troubles worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. … Ghana is often applauded as one of the stable democracies in a region troubled by political strife and religious violence. But last year’s tightly contested vote heightened political tensions. With the economy hit hard by the pandemic, the government has introduced new taxes and high fuel prices have also hiked the cost of some basic goods and services. Lead by social media activists, the #FixTheCountry protest on Twitter has been highlighting economic problems and government management. … Some criticised Afuko-Addo’s project to build a new $200m (169 million euros) national cathedral, a pledge he says he made after his 2016 election victory. Ghanaians have been asked to make a voluntary $16 monthly donation to help finish it by 2024. Al Jazeera

‘It Has Our Energy, Our Story’: Asakaa, Ghana’s Vibrant Drill Rap Scene
Ahead of a music video shoot on a leafy street in Kumasi, Ghana’s second city, Yaw Tog and his friends lounge on a kerb. Passersby approach the teenage star for pictures. “Fame is crazy, it came almost overnight,” he says. “I’m proud because I had a vision of what I wanted to do and I did it. Now we’re here.” A year ago, the 18-year-old could move between classes relatively unnoticed around his high school campus, but his thin and unassuming figure is now impossible to hide. Yaw Tog, currently finishing his exams, is one of the most popular MCs emerging from the city’s booming asakaa scene – a Ghanaian take on the drill subgenre of rap that has earned the city’s young artists thousands of fans around the world. Drill, a style that pairs huge bass notes with nimble percussion, topped with combative flows, evolved from rap scenes in the US and from grime in London. It has exploded in Ghana over the past 18 months, an underground sound now installed alongside mainstream Afrobeats and pop in the country’s music charts, and attracting guest verses from UK stars including Stormzy. Hit songs cleave closely to the UK’s now-mainstream sound yet have the imprint of Chicago and New York drill, pulsing with dark, brooding tales of a bleak reality in Kumasi’s poorer communities. The Guardian

Abebech Gobena, the ‘Mother Teresa’ of Africa, Dies at 85
Abebech Gobena was returning from a pilgrimage to the holy site of Gishen Mariam, about 300 miles north of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, when she saw the woman and her baby. It was 1980, and Ms. Gobena was passing through an area recently stricken by drought and an accompanying famine. All along the road were bodies — many dead, some dying, some still able to sit up and ask for food. “There were so many of these hungry people sprawled all over, you could not even walk,” she said in a 2010 interview with CNN. She handed out what little she had — a loaf of bread, a few liters of water. … A man nearby was collecting bodies. He told her he was waiting for the child, a girl, to die. Without thinking further, Ms. Gobena picked up the baby, wrapped her in a cloth and took her home to Addis Ababa. She returned the next day with more food and water. … She took in more children, and after years of battling government bureaucracy in Ethiopia, in 1986 she managed to register her organization — Abebech Gobena Children’s Care and Development Association — as a nonprofit, enabling her to raise money and accept grants. … Today the organization, known by its acronym in Amharic, Agohelma, is one of the largest nonprofits in Ethiopia. Along with its orphanage, it provides free school for hundreds of children, HIV/AIDS prevention and maternal health care — according to its own estimate, some 1.5 million Ethiopians have benefited from its services since 1980. They and many others call her the “Mother Teresa of Africa.” In June Ms. Gobena contracted Covid-19. She entered the intensive care unit at St. Paul’s Hospital in Addis Ababa, where she died on July 4. She was 85. The New York Times



Photo: Adam Jones