Africa Media Review for August 6, 2021

COVID-19: Third Wave ‘Raging at Full Force’ as Africa Reaches Record Peak in Deaths – WHO

The first week of August saw more than 6 400 deaths from Covid-19 recorded in Africa – a grim record for the continent. “It’s a sad day for Africa. Our hearts go out to everyone who has lost friends and loved ones,” said Dr Phionah Atuhebwe, the World Health Organisation’s new vaccines introduction officer for Africa. After a slight dip in cases last week, Covid-19 cases are surging again, rising by 19% to nearly 278 000 this last week. “The third wave of the pandemic in Africa is still raging at full force,” Atuhebwe said during a weekly press briefing. The peak shows no sign of decreasing just yet. The continent was still on the crest of a third wave and still recording more cases than in any earlier peak, she added. Thirty-two countries were in a third wave, with 25 of them in a “very severe” third wave, said Dr John Nkengasong, the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). Three countries – Algeria, Kenya, and Tunisia – are experiencing a fourth wave, Nkengasong said during a briefing also held on Thursday. The CDC recorded 273 00 new cases in the last week. … While the average case fatality is 2.4%, Egypt, Somalia and Sudan showed a higher than average fatality rate – at 5%. The surge is driven by variants of the coronavirus as millions of Africans continue to wait for vaccines. News24

Vaccine Shipments to Africa Picking Up Amid Upsurge of COVID-19

The World Health Organization says shipments of coronavirus vaccine to Africa are picking up while the continent continues to grapple with an upsurge in COVID-19 infections. After a slight dip in cases last week, the third wave of COVID-19 has come roaring back, with infections rising by nearly 19 percent to more than 278,000 new cases this week. Also, this week, the World Health Organization says COVID-19 deaths have reached a record peak of more than 6,400, bringing the total number of coronavirus fatalities on the continent to more than 172,000. Amid the bad news is the positive prospect of scaled-up vaccine shipments to Africa. Phionah Atuhebwe is New Vaccines Introduction Officer at the WHO Regional Office for Africa. She says there has been a 12-fold increase in vaccine deliveries in the last two weeks of July compared with the first half of the month, bringing the total number of doses shipped to Africa so far to 91 million. “We need to be clear though: In a continent of over 1.3 billion people, this is just a tiny drop in a very large ocean, and in the face of a surging third wave and more contagious variants, vaccine shortages leave Africa dangerously exposed,” said Atuhebwe. “We have a very long way to go. With less than two percent of Africans fully vaccinated, we cannot get vaccines fast enough into the arms of the people.” VOA

Africa Health Chief Says Jabs Helped Him Survive COVID-19

The head of the African Union’s health watchdog John Nkengasong revealed Thursday that he was battling Covid-19 but had survived the worst thanks to his jabs, as he urged the continent to fight vaccine hesitancy. Experts worry that reluctance to take the vaccine, stemming from public scepticism over foreign-procured jabs and fear of side effects, may prolong the pandemic in Africa, a continent of nearly 1.3 billion people. Nkengasong, the director of Africa Centres for Disease Control (CDC), said he had contracted the infection last week despite being fully vaccinated in April. “The severity of the attack is so unbearable. The headaches, fever… every part of your body is affected,” the Cameroonian virologist told an online press briefing, where he appeared tired. But vaccination spared him the worst, he said, adding that without the jabs, “I wouldn’t be here.” “Vaccines save lives and there is no doubt about that. Even if we have one or two reported side effects, it doesn’t negate the fact that the benefit largely outweighs any secondary effects,” he said. AFP

Jihadi Rebels Kill 30 in North Burkina Faso, Says Official

At least 30 people, including members of the military, were killed by jihadi rebels in northern Burkina Faso, the government said Thursday. Eleven civilians, 15 soldiers, and four volunteer defense fighters, were killed by “terrorists” in several villages outside the town of Markoye in Oudalan province near the border with Niger on Wednesday, Aime Barthelemy Simpore, assistant to the minister of defense, said in a statement. The civilians were killed at midday and the military and volunteers were ambushed four hours later after being detached to secure the area, the government said. At least 10 jihadi rebels were killed and the area has been secured by the army, with air and ground patrols conducting sweeps. The town of Gorom Gorom, approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Markoye, has been inundated with people fleeing the attack amid fear that the violence was going to spread, an aid worker in the area told The Associated Press. … This week’s violence comes on the heels of a deadly attack in neighboring Niger along the border with Burkina Faso less than a week ago, where jihadis killed at least 19 people, 18 of whom were members of the military. AP

Chad Army Says at Least 26 Soldiers Killed in Lake Chad Attack

At least 26 Chadian soldiers were killed in the early hours of Thursday by suspected Boko Haram assailants following an attack on their patrol around the Lake Chad area, army spokesman General Azem Bermandoa said. A further 14 soldiers were wounded in the encounter, which ended with the army repulsing the attackers, Bermandoa said. Chad is a key contributor to a multinational force in the Lake Chad basin fighting jihadist insurgency Boko Haram, which erupted in northeast Nigeria in 2009. It has since killed more than 30,000 people and forced about 2 million to flee their homes. Reuters

Zambia Heads towards a Pivotal Election

For Edgar Lungu, Zambia’s president, elections on August 12th would seem to come at an inauspicious time. Over the six years since he took office in 2015, the economy has on average grown at a slower rate than the population. Last year Africa’s second-largest copper producer had its first recession since 1998. Inflation is at its highest level in 19 years. … Yet it is uncertain whether time is up for Mr Lungu… [buying off and bullying] is what Mr Lungu’s party, the Patriotic Front (pf), seems to be doing, to the detriment of a country that was once a trailblazer for African democracy. … The police use covid-19 regulations as a pretext for limiting opposition candidates’ travel and rallies. The ostensibly independent electoral commission has repeatedly favoured the pf in its decisions. Last year the government ditched the electoral roll and gave voters just 38 days to sign up anew. Civil-society groups say this was far easier in pf strongholds. Ruling-party “cadres” terrorise its opponents, too. Last month Amnesty International published a report about the “fear and repression” of the pf regime, which the rights group says uses illegal and at times lethal force to break up protests. In June a convoy belonging to the main opposition candidate, Hakainde Hichilema, was shot at by police. On July 16th a group of Catholic bishops warned that “acts of violence are intended to intimidate the citizenry to belong to a party or to choose leaders out of fear.” In a worrying development, on August 1st Mr Lungu said he would mobilise the army ahead of the vote. The Economist

Tanzania Opposition Supporters Arrested as Leader’s Case Postponed 

Tanzania’s main opposition Chadema party held a street protest Thursday with its supporters calling for the government to release their leader, Freeman Mbowe. Police arrested Mbowe in July ahead of a meeting on constitutional reforms, and they are holding him on terrorism-related charges. Critics said the arrest and charges show that President Samia Suluhu Hassan is continuing the same strong-arm tactics as her predecessor. Dozens of supporters of the main opposition party for democracy and progress, Chadema, appeared outside a court in Dar es Salaam Thursday with placards, chanting, “Mbowe is not a terrorist” and “Free Freeman Mbowe.” An unspecified number of those protesters were arrested by a group of armed police who were deployed at the area to disperse the crowd. Freeman Mbowe, the leader of the Chadema party, was arrested last month in the port city of Mwanza before his planned address at a meeting to discuss constitutional reforms. Chadema General Secretary John Mnyika said none of the supporters arrested during the protests broke the law. … Mbowe didn’t appear in court Thursday. Instead, authorities attempted to hear the case using videoconferencing, but technical problems ensued and the proceedings were postponed until Friday. … The U.S. undersecretary for political affairs, Victoria Nuland, met Wednesday with Hassan and later with opposition leaders, and said the United States will stand up for fundamental rights and freedoms. VOA

Tunisian President Rejects Crisis Talks, Says There Is ‘No Turning Back’

Tunisia’s President Kais Saied said on Thursday there was “no turning back” from his decision to freeze parliament and assume executive power, moves his opponents have branded a coup. Speaking in a video published by his office, Saied also rejected calls for talks over the crisis, saying “there is no dialogue except with the honest” and that no dialogue was possible with “cancer cells.” The biggest party in parliament, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, which has been the most vocal opponent of Saied’s moves, had called for dialogue in a statement earlier on Thursday. Some 11 days after his intervention, Saied has not named a new prime minister, announced any steps to end the emergency or declared his longer-term intentions. The powerful labour union, as well as both the United States and France, have called on him to quickly appoint a new government. The union is preparing a roadmap to end the crisis that it says it will present to Saied. U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez and ranking member Jim Risch said on Thursday they were deeply concerned by the situation. “President Saied must recommit to the democratic principles that underpin U.S.-Tunisia relations, and the military must observe its role in a constitutional democracy,” they said in a joint statement. Reuters

Tigray Rebels Seize Unesco Site of Lalibela in Ethiopia’s Amhara Region

Rebels from Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray region on Thursday seized Lalibela, a Unesco World Heritage Site in the neighbouring Amhara region famed for its 12th-century rock-hewn churches, residents said. The development came as a senior Amhara official said the rebels, known as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), were pushing “deep” into Amhara territory and hinted at possible retaliation. … The TPLF’s weeks-long push beyond Tigray has drawn criticism from world leaders and, according to Ethiopian officials, displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians. … [T]he TPLF has pressed east into neighbouring Afar and south into neighbouring Amhara, where Lalibela is located. Soldiers and militia fighters have mobilised en masse in parts of Amhara to head off the rebels’ advance, but multiple residents of Lalibela told AFP Thursday that the town fell without a fight. “They came in the afternoon, and there was not any fighting. There were no security forces around. The TPLF forces are in the town now,” one resident said. AFP

Ethiopia Rejects Sudan’s Mediation Plan on Tigray Conflict

Ethiopia has rejected efforts by neighbouring Sudan to mediate between Tigrayan rebels and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government. Addis Ababa’s reaction comes after reports that Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok is preparing to launch a mediation plan between Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), with the support of the international community. “The relationship with Sudan at this point is a little bit tricky because level of trust with some leaders has already be eroded particularly with the Sudanese army incursion into Ethiopian territory,” Ethiopian PM’s spokesperson Billene Seyoum said. “Trust is the basis of any negotiation, any mediation as well, so that element needs to be thoroughly addressed before Sudan could be entertained as a credible party in terms of facilitating such kind of negotiations.” Billene added that Sudan must first withdraw its troops from Ethiopian territories before playing any negotiation role. Tensions at al-Fashaqa along the Sudan-Ethiopia border flared in December last year, one month after the outbreak of conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. The EastAfrican

Sudan Sentences Paramilitaries to Death for Killing Protesters

A Sudanese court on Thursday sentenced six members of a feared paramilitary force to death for killing six protesters during a 2019 demonstration over food and fuel shortages. The protesters, including four schoolchildren, were shot dead in July 2019 in the city of Al-Obeid in North Kordofan, sparking outrage across Sudan. Days later, nine members of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary unity were arrested. At their trial on Thursday, broadcast on Sudan TV, Judge Mohamed Rahma sentenced six of the defendants to death, acquitted two others, and referred one to a juvenile court, as he was under 18. … The RSF was formed in 2013 under now-ousted president Omar al-Bashir, who was toppled in April 2019 following mass protests against his rule. The paramilitary group grew out of Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, which were deployed by Bashir’s government to crush an ethnic minority rebellion in the western Darfur region in 2003. The RSF is led by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, known as Hemeti, who is now a senior member of Sudan’s ruling council. Sudan has been led by a civilian-military transition since August 2019, vowing to ensure justice to victims of violence. AFP

Kenya: One Killed in Protests over Brothers’ Deaths in Custody

One person died when police opened fire in central Kenya to disperse a protest held over the death of two brothers arrested for allegedly breaking a COVID curfew, police said. Violence broke out after the Kenyan police announced an investigation into the deaths in custody of 22-year-old Benson Njiru Ndwiga and 19-year-old Emmanuel Mutura Ndigwa. The brothers were last seen on Sunday evening when they were picked up by police for allegedly being outdoors beyond the 10pm curfew. Their bodies were discovered two days later by family members at the local morgue, according to rights groups. Their deaths sparked protests in Embu, where police used live rounds on Thursday to disperse crowds blocking roads for a second day. The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) said it had deployed investigators to Embu to fast-track an inquiry into the deaths. … Kenyan civil society groups recorded 166 police killings in 2020, the most since data collection began in 2007. IPOA was established by parliament in 2011 to provide civilian oversight of a powerful institution whose reputation also ranks among Kenya’s most corrupt. But of the roughly 6,300 cases of police misconduct IPOA has investigated from its inception to June 2020, just eight officers had been convicted, according to the authority’s latest data. Al Jazeera

Rwanda, CAR Seek to Strengthen Security and Economic Ties

Rwanda and the Central African Republic on Thursday signed a Memorandum of Understanding to reform CAR’s security and defence sectors. The signing took place in Kigali during a state visit by CAR’s President Faustin-Archange Touadéra and his delegation. Touadéra arrived in Rwanda Thursday for a four-day State visit. The parties also signed agreements on cooperation in economic planning and mining. Rwanda’s investment promotion agency—Rwanda Development Board—also hosted a session with members of the private sector from CAR. In his remarks to the press, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame said that the signing of the agreements will strengthen bilateral ties. … The agreements to cooperate on security and defense reform comes after Rwanda earlier this week deployed 700 troops to CAR at the request of the United Nations. Rwanda is the third largest peacekeeping contributor in CAR. More than 3,000 Rwandan troops are deployed in CAR serving under Minusca. Another 1,000 more Rwandan troops are deployed in Bangui under bilateral agreements between both countries and are not under the UN mandate. The EastAfrican

How ‘Blood Mineral’ Traders in Rwanda Are Helping Fund Congo Rebels – and Undermining Global Supply Chains

New evidence from a United Nations report and a high-profile investor arbitration case is casting a spotlight on Rwanda’s role in sophisticated smuggling networks that extract gold and coltan from Congolese conflict zones and funnel the strategically important minerals illicitly into the global supply chain for consumer products such as cellphones, computers and jewellery. The smuggling is also fuelling military and human-rights abuses in Central Africa, while damaging the region’s corporate-supported efforts to regulate the minerals trade, the evidence suggests. Experts have been aware of the smuggling for many years, but fresh details from UN researchers and filings in the case have revealed how these networks are flourishing in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), even as governments claim to be cleaning up the underground trade. The UN report uses photos, interviews with smugglers and other sources to document the trafficking of minerals across the border into Rwanda, where they are exported into the world’s supply chains. The arbitration case has included testimony from mining company executives who confirm the smuggling. … The Sentry, a U.S.-based research group, reported in February that Rwanda is a major smuggling hub for the DRC’s gold. “Gold is now one of Rwanda’s largest exports, despite the country’s low annual production capacity,” it said in the report. The Globe and Mail

Tanzanian Military Transport Spotted in Mozambique

The Tanzanian Air Force has been transporting troops and equipment to Mozambique, presumably as a contribution to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) intervention force. Photos from Sunday 1 August showed a Tanzania Air Force Command Shaanxi Y-8F turboprop transport unloading men and materiel at Pemba Airport. … It is not clear if Tanzania is sending its own troops and equipment to help fight the insurgency in Cabo Delgado province, or assisting other nations deployed there. On 2 and 3 August, Tanzanian president Samia Suluhu Hassan visited Rwanda and signed several cooperation agreements. Rwanda last month sent 1 000 soldiers to help Mozambique under a bilateral agreement. In April, after deadly attacks in Mozambique, an SADC technical team that included military and intelligence chiefs from South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe recommended the deployment of 3 000 troops to Mozambique. An SADC Mission in Mozambique was approved in June, with forces deployed from July. SADC members Botswana and South Africa have deployed troops and equipment to Mozambique and will be joined by a small contingent from Angola and several hundred trainers from Zimbabwe. defenceWeb

East Africa: Igad Issues Alert over Ageing Tanker Abandoned in the Red Sea

The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) has expressed concern over the potential environmental disaster posed to the Red Sea by the FSO Safer, an aging oil tanker moored off the western coast of Yemen. The oil vessel was abandoned off the Yemeni coast after the outbreak of Yemen’s civil war in early 2015 and has since been there without maintenance. According to international experts, the Red Sea ecosystem will severely be affected if the rusting oil tanker, loaded with over a million barrels of crude oil, breaks up or explodes and catches fire. A possible oil spill from the dilapidated tanker would occasion a massive environmental catastrophe in the Red Sea which more than 30 million livelihoods rely on. The Igad Executive Secretary, Dr Workneh Gebeyehu, said an oil slick would exacerbate existing economic and humanitarian crises in Yemen and the region, including Igad member states on the western shores of the Red Sea. Igad member states in the Horn of Africa, including Djibouti and Somalia, may be directly affected should the tanker burst into flames, for example. Dr Workneh called on the international community to “take urgent steps to stabilise the oil tanker, particularly through undertaking urgent repairs, and thereafter offload the oil it carries.” The EastAfrican

Nigeria Seizes Record $54 Million in Pangolin Parts and Elephant Tusks

Officials in Nigeria – a hub for illegal wildlife trafficking – have seized a record amount of pangolin scales and claws and elephant tusks as the government attempts to combat the trade, the head of customs said on Wednesday. The seizure, worth 22 billion naira ($54 million), included 17,137 kg of pangolin scales, 44 kg of elephant tusks and 60 kg in pangolin claws, Colonel Hameed Ibrahim Ali, comptroller-general of customs, said in a statement. Ali said authorities had arrested three foreign nationals and were pursuing a fourth, whom he described as the kingpin of the operation. “The suspects arrested will soon have their date in court as NCS will leave no stone unturned to bring them to justice,” Ali said. Nigeria has become a hub for gangs sending African pangolins to Asia, according to law enforcement officials and wildlife experts. They blame insecure borders, lax law enforcement, corruption and access to large ports. Ali said customs was working with British, U.S. and German officials as well as international organizations to step up counter-smuggling operations. That “extensive collaboration” led to the seizure from Lekki, near Nigeria’s main ports in Lagos. The pangolin, a shy, critically endangered animal, has become one of the most trafficked mammals on earth due to demand for its scales in traditional Chinese medicine. Reuters



Photo: Adam Jones