Africa Media Review for August 7, 2020

Total Confirmed Coronavirus Cases in Africa Pass 1 Million

More than 1 million people in Africa have been infected by the Covid-19 virus, health authorities on the continent have announced. Confirmed Covid cases in African countries have risen fivefold in the the past two months and more than doubled in July. The landmark of 1 million cases will raise new concerns that frail healthcare systems will be overwhelmed as the infectious disease hits populations already weakened by poor diet or other illnesses. According to the African Union’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 700,000 have recovered from the disease so far, and 22,000 have died. There are widespread concerns that official figures represent only a fraction of the casualties of Covid-19 on the continent. … “The continent is at a pivotal point,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, last week. “The virus has spilled out of major cities and spread into distant hinterlands. Countries need to keep apace and urgently decentralise their key response services. We can still stop Covid-19 from reaching full momentum, but the time to act is now.” The Guardian

Niger Lost Tens of Millions to Arms Deals Malpractice, Leaked Report Alleges

More than $100m of public money in Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries and a key regional recipient of western aid, was wasted in a series of potentially corrupt international arms deals, a leaked official document alleges. A confidential government audit of defence spending found that at least $137m had been lost due to malpractice over an eight-year period ending in 2019. The report by the Inspection Générale des Armées, an independent body that audits Niger’s armed forces, said much of the equipment sourced from international firms in Russia, Ukraine, China and elsewhere was overpriced, had not been delivered or had been purchased without going through a genuine competitive bidding process. … Public prosecutors in Niger are investigating the findings, which have become part of a bitter political battle before presidential and legislative elections scheduled for later this year. The Guardian

Nearly 150 Extrajudicial Killings by Malian, Burkinabe Troops between April and June – UN

Almost 150 people were extrajudicially killed by Malian and Burkinabe security forces in Mali between April and June, the UN said on Thursday. … The Mali-based United Nations mission, MINUSMA, reported “an increase in serious human rights violations attributable to the Malian security forces”, which it held responsible for 94 such killings over the three-month period. The quarterly report also found 50 extrajudicial killings in late May by Burkina Faso troops in the village of Boulkessi, and settlements close to the nation’s Mali border. The UN report said the army targeted numerous terrorist elements in central Mali, as well as sometimes conducting “reprisal operations against civilian populations,” accused of supporting jihadists. AFP

The Challenge of Mediation in Mali

“We are protesting for Mali,” says Cheick Oumar Kanté on the streets of Bamako, the capital, “because Mali is on the road to extinction.” Since June 5th tens of thousands have taken part in demonstrations organised by a group of opposition leaders called the m5-rfp and bolstered by the moral authority of a charismatic imam, Mahmoud Dicko. The protesters have been complaining angrily about the growing jihadist insurgency, Mali’s dire economy and recent dodgy elections. “Nothing works in this country any more,” says Ousmane Dembele, a demonstrator. Their main demand is for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta to resign. The government’s response has lurched between concessions and violence. … After a truce for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, protests have been starting up again.” The Economist

Ivory Coast President Accepts Nomination for Controversial Third Term

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara has formally accepted the nomination of the ruling party to be its presidential candidate in October’s election. Opponents say a third term for Ouattara is against the constitution. Ouattara told supporters of the Rally of the Republican Party on Thursday that he is accepting the call to run in the interest of the nation and in order to continue putting his experience at the service of the country. Ouattara was asked to reconsider seeking another term after his preferred successor, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, died last month. Ouattara’s opponents say the two-term limit in the constitution bars him from running again, but Ouattara has said his first two mandates do not count under the new constitution adopted in 2016. Ouattara’s early rivals include former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan of the Ivorian Popular Front party, former president Henri Konan Bedie of the Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast, and former foreign minister Marcel Amon-Tanoh. VOA

Guinea’s Ruling Party Asks Alpha Condé to Run for Third Presidential Term

Under Guinea’s constitution, presidents may only serve two terms. Conde, 82, was elected president in 2010 and again in 2015. But this year he pushed through a revamped constitution that opponents say was crafted to reset the term counter, enabling him to run again. His Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) party announced that it wanted Conde to run again at a convention in the capital Conakry. Party members are issuing a “plea to President Alpha Conde to accept the will of the people to be the RPG’s sole candidate,” MP Diakagbe Kaba told delegates. … Guinea’s electoral commission has proposed the presidential election be held on October 18, but Conde has yet to sign off on a date. Thursday’s announcement is likely to incense Guinea’s embattled opposition, which has staged mass rallies since October against the possibility of Conde running for a third term. Security forces in the former French colony repeatedly cracked down on the protests, in which several dozen civilians were killed. AFP

Zimbabwe Again Denies Bail to Journalist in Protest Case; Government Denies Crisis

Zimbabwe’s High Court on Thursday denied bail to a journalist who was arrested last month for supporting anti-govermnent protests, in a case that has sparked an outcry over muzzling of the press. Hopewell Chin’ono, a freelance journalist and critic of the government, was charged with inciting violence last month, together with opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume. Security forces deployed last Friday to thwart protests against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government’s record on corruption and a worsening economic crisis. South Africa said it was concerned by reports of rights violations in Zimbabwe and its international relations minister had spoken to Zimbabwean foreign minister about the issue. Reuters

South Africa Raises Red Flag over Reports of Zimbabwe Abuses

South Africa’s government said it had noted with concern reports of human-rights violations in Zimbabwe, where an economic meltdown has triggered widespread discontent. Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s international relations minister, discussed the matter with Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Sibusiso Moyo by phone on Tuesday, Pandor’s department said on Twitter. Sydney Mufamadi, a former provincial and local government minister, and Baleka Mbete, a former head of the National Assembly, who were appointed by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa as special envoys to Zimbabwe, will engage in further talks. The envoys will depart as soon as arrangements can be made and will “identify possible ways in which South Africa can assist Zimbabwe,” Ramaphosa’s office said in a statement on Thursday. Bloomberg

Rappers and Actors Push Zimbabwe Hashtag Viral

Over the last few days, in response to a particularly brutal, public, widespread, and on-going clampdown by security forces, the hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter has gone viral, globally. Celebrities like rappers Ice Cube, AKA and Lecrae and actresses Thandie Newton and Pearl Thusi have expressed support for – or at least interest in – what appears to be an exploding grassroots campaign against the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the man who took over from former leader Robert Mugabe. … Much of the growing global social media focus has, it seems certain, been fuelled – as elsewhere – by the spread of mobile phone technology which has enabled activists and citizens to film and broadcast footage of assaults, injuries and other abuses almost in real time. “The ferocity and broad appeal of the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign has unnerved the regime,” said the prominent journalist Mduduzi Mathuthu, during a phone interview from his hiding place in Zimbabwe. “I’m in my bunker,” he commented dryly. BBC

Seven Killed in Ethnic Violence in Central DR Congo

Seven people were killed and 17 wounded in ethnic clashes over land rights in Kasai, a vast region in central Democratic Republic of Congo, local officials said on Thursday. The violence erupted on Wednesday in the village of Bakua Tamba, in a dispute between the Kuba and Luba communities over where they could cultivate land, Franck Pongo, chief administrator of Mweka territory, told AFP. “Seven people were killed, 17 were injured, and there has been major property damage, mainly the burning of eight villages,” he said. The toll was confirmed by his counterpart in neighboring Demba territory, Christophe Sakaji Matoni. The authorities in Kasai and Kasai Central – the provinces from the former Kasai region – have asked the army and police to step up security in the area, Kasai governor Dieudonne Pieme said. The Defense Post

Mauritania Names New PM after Previous Cabinet Resigns Amid Corruption Probe
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani on Thursday appointed veteran public administrator Mohamed Ould Bilal as prime minister, hours after the previous government resigned amid an investigation into alleged high-level corruption. Bilal’s appointment was announced in a statement from the presidency following the resignation of his predecessor Ismail Ould Cheikh Sidiya and his entire government. The political system in Mauritania has been rocked this year by a parliamentary investigation into alleged corruption in the government of former President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who stepped down last year after a decade in power. His close ally Ghazouani won the election to succeed him, but Abdel Aziz quickly found his government’s actions, including deals involving offshore oil projects, under scrutiny by parliament. The investigators on Wednesday gave a report documenting their findings to the public prosecutor. Reuters

Around 40 Migrants Drown in Shipwreck off Mauritanian Coast

A boat carrying around 40 migrants and refugees has sunk off the coast of Mauritania, leaving only one survivor, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Thursday. The perilous sea passage from West Africa to the Canary Islands was once a major route for migrants seeking jobs and a better life in Europe. Attempts became scarcer when Spain stepped up patrols in the mid-2000s, but the route is seeing a fresh surge. “New shipwreck off the coast of Nouadhibou #Mauritania of approximately 40 persons on board, there is one survivor (from Guinea),” tweeted UNHCR special envoy Vincent Cochetel. UNHCR “along with authorities & partners are trying to step up efforts to prevent such tragedies, but traffickers keep lying to their clients,” he said. Reuters

South Sudan Appeals for Help after Nile Bursts Banks

South Sudan is appealing for help to provide relief to more than 200,000 people displaced by flooding along the Nile River. A heavy downpour in most parts of the country, but majorly along the Nile, has seen thousands of families lose homes and livelihoods, adding to a situation that had been worsened by sporadic communal fighting. Peter Mayen, the Minister for Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management said families are in dire situation. “We are experiencing this horrible disaster. My current appeal is to all humanitarian agencies to immediately assist those affected through provision of food and medical assistance,” he told The EastAfrican. The local office of the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said it was teaming up with other UN agencies to assess the needs in Bor town, Jonglei State. The EastAfrican

Mauritius Facing Environmental Crisis as Shipwreck Leaks Oil

The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius is facing an environmental crisis after oil began leaking from a bulk carrier that ran aground in July and started to break up in rough seas. “We are in an environmental crisis situation,” said the environment minister, Kavy Ramano, while the fishing minister, Sudheer Maudhoo, said: “This is the first time that we are faced with a catastrophe of this kind and we are insufficiently equipped to handle this problem.” The ministers said all attempts to stabilise the ship had failed because of rough seas and efforts to pump out the oil had also failed. Ecologists fear the ship could break up, which would cause an even greater leak and inflict potentially catastrophic damage on the island’s coastline. AFP

Profiting from Madagascar’s Herbal ‘Cure’ for COVID: The Story behind Artemisia

In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina has emerged as one of biggest cheerleaders for a herbal tea called Covid-Organics, touted as an “African cure” for Covid-19. The race to cultivate the medicinal artemisia plant used in the tea has revealed a complex web of international commercial interests with much at stake. Covid-Organics herbal tea was based on work by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA) which developed this traditional remedy using the Artemisia annua plant and other undisclosed ingredients. This played to Madagascar’s burgeoning artemisia industry, which started in 2005 with a company called Bionexx set up by Frenchman Charles Giblain. RFI

Kenya: Banks Suffer in Silence as Cyber Gangs Strike at Will

The bank had closed for the weekend when the robbers struck. Apart from the security guards at the entrances and a handful of IT technicians, the rest of the employees of the bank’s headquarters in Upper Hill Nairobi had gone home. Then the complaints started streaming in. Clients started receiving messages about withdrawal of little amounts of money from their accounts on their mobile phones. The tech-savvy ones took to social media to complain about money disappearing from their accounts while the rest waited for Monday to lodge official complaints. By the time the bank realised what was happening, more than Sh400 million had walked away through a computer that had been connected to the bank’s network through its headquarters branch weeks earlier. The culprits? A cybercrime gang whose roots began in 2015 and which has never been arrested. … Kenya has never successfully prosecuted and jailed a single suspect of cyber fraud. The police have limited resources and expertise to investigate such crimes. Nation

A Kenyan COVID-19 Notebook: The ‘Mama Mbogas’ and the Path to Recovery

Saidi Mburi’s shop sales are a good barometer of the economic health of Kibera, Nairobi’s largest informal settlement, and they have been terrible. After months of COVID-19 curfews, transport restrictions, and social distancing measures, “people just don’t have money,” he told The New Humanitarian. His cramped one-man store has always offered credit to regular customers, but now “people can’t pay, and it’s affecting me as well.” There are gaps on the shelves because he’s stocking just the basics: bread, sugar, milk, and maize meal – anything else is a “luxury” people can no longer afford. More than 90 percent of Kenyans have seen their incomes fall as a result of COVID-19, and nearly three quarters of families have had to dip into savings – typically money set aside for school fees – according to Financial Sector Deepening Kenya (FSD Kenya), a trust that promotes financial inclusion. The New Humanitarian