Africa Media Review for December 15, 2020

The Spread of Surveillance Technology in Africa Stirs Security Concerns
The spread of surveillance technology in Africa without adequate checks and balances is reshaping the governance landscape while potentially enabling another tool of repression. In 2019, Kampala police procured $126 million worth of closed circuit television camera (CCTV) surveillance technology from Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei to help control the city’s growing crime problem. Opposition and civil society leaders contend that the surveillance cameras, which rely on facial recognition technology, will be used instead to track and target government critics. This concern appears justified as an independent investigation has found that Ugandan intelligence officials are using the technology to crack the encrypted communications of popular singer and opposition leader Bobi Wine. Similar concerns have emerged across the continent as over a dozen African countries have deployed surveillance devices in recent years. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Boko Haram Claims Kidnapping of Hundreds of Nigerian Students
The Boko Haram group has claimed responsibility for the abduction of hundreds of school students in northwest Nigeria, the AFP news agency reported. More than 300 students are missing after gunmen on motorcycles stormed the Government Science School in Kankara late on Friday and engaged security forces in a fierce gun battle, forcing hundreds of students to flee and hide in surrounding bushes and forest. “I am Abubakar Shekau and our brothers are behind the kidnapping in Katsina,” said the leader of the group behind the 2014 abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Chibok, in a voice message on Tuesday. A joint rescue operation was launched Saturday by Nigeria’s police, air force and army, according to the government. … The attack was initially blamed on armed groups locally known as “bandits,” who are active in the unstable region where kidnappings for ransom are common. The army said Monday it had located the hideout of the men, and that a military operation was under way. Al Jazeera

Boko Haram Claims Responsibility for Attack in Niger, Promises Further Attacks before Christmas
Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamist has claimed responsibility for the weekend attack on a village in neighbouring Niger that left 27 dead. More people were wounded and some reported missing in the assault on Saturday evening on Toumour in the Diffa region, said a senior local official. Witnesses and other officials confirmed the attack, which came hours before municipal and regional elections went ahead across Niger on Sunday. “We hereby inform the world that we are responsible for the attack in the town of Diffa in Niger Republic yesterday,” said a three-minute video sent to French news agency AFP The footage showed a jihadist fighter in military camouflage and his face swathed in a turban, speaking in Hausa, which is widely spoken in the region. … Between 800 and 1,000 houses, the central market and numerous vehicles were also destroyed in the fire set by the insurgents, they said. Dozens of attackers arrived at Toumour on foot in the evening, having swum across Lake Chad, said one official. The attack lasted three hours. RFI

Somalia Cuts Diplomatic Ties with Kenya Citing Interference
Somalia has severed diplomatic ties with Kenya, accusing it of violating Somali sovereignty and territorial integrity. Somali Information Minister Osman Dube, who announced the government’s decision in a televised speech late on Monday, said Somalia ordered all its diplomats in Kenya to return, while Kenyan diplomats in Somalia have been ordered to leave within seven days. “Kenya continues meddling in our internal political affairs and it has ignored our previous calls to stop violating our sovereignty,” Somalia’s Information Minister Osman Dubbe announced on state-run SNTV. … Kenya has denied the allegations. Monday’s announcement came after Somaliland President Musa Bihi Abdi visited Nairobi a day earlier, marking the first visit since 2006. … On November 30, Mogadishu expelled Kenya’s ambassador and recalled its own envoy from Nairobi accusing Kenya of interfering in the electoral process in Jubbaland, one of its five semi-autonomous states. Al Jazeera

Sudan’s PM Calls Military Involvement in Private Sector ‘Unacceptable’
The involvement of Sudan’s military in the private sector is “unacceptable,” and such enterprises should be turned into public companies, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said on Monday. “All the world’s armies are involved in investments … in military manufacturing,” he said. “But for the military to invest in the productive sector, and to displace the private sector, is unacceptable.” Sudan’s military, which rules with a civilian coalition over a transitional period following the ouster of Omar al-Bashir in 2019, controls numerous businesses in the agriculture, mining, and energy sectors. “You cannot manage resources belonging to the Sudanese people without transparency or accountability. There’s no wavering on this,” Hamdok added. … His comments came in response to a question about a law passed by the U.S. Congress requiring financial transparency and civilian control over Sudan’s state-owned enterprises as a condition for U.S. assistance to Sudan, which he said would “surely help the democratic transition.” Reuters

South Sudan’s Spy Agency Abuses Prisoners, Says Rights Group
Electric shocks, gang rapes, abductions and killings are also abuses carried out by the security agency charged Human Rights Watch in a study launched Monday. Established in 2011 — shortly after the country gained independence — South Sudan’s National Security Service has been operating beyond its constitutional mandate of collecting information, conducting analysis and advising relevant authorities, the report said. Within months of its establishment, the agency’s agents began imprisoning journalists and government critics and carrying out physical and telephonic surveillance, according to the report titled “‘What Crime Was I Paying For?’ Abuses by South Sudan’s National Security Service.” “Today, it has become one of the government’s most important tools of repression,” the report said. … The security agency operates without meaningful judicial or legislative oversight and its agents enjoy immunity from prosecution, said the report. AP

Southern Africa Leaders Mull Mozambique’s Extremist Threat
Southern Africa’s leaders are meeting in the Mozambican capital of Maputo Monday to discuss ways to help fight the Islamist extremist rebels who have killed thousands of people and displaced tens of thousands in Mozambique’s gas-rich north. … The summit is part of the efforts by the Southern African Development Community, the 16-nation regional body, to determine how to best respond to the extremist threat to Mozambique. The regional leaders also met in Botswana last month to discuss the same matter, and agreed to “direct the finalization of a comprehensive regional response.” Although he continues discussing the deadly conflict with the 16-member regional grouping, Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi has not officially asked for help, which is necessary for the group to intervene militarily. Mozambique has so far relied on its own troops and a private military contractor to combat the extremists. AP

Mekelle’s Plight: A Doctor’s Account of Ethiopia’s Tigray War
It has been more than two weeks since the Ethiopian military took control of Mekelle, the capital of the country’s northern Tigray region, from the now-overthrown regional government. The fighting that began early last month between government troops and forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is thought to have killed thousands of people and forced an estimated one million from their homes. Despite the seizure of Mekelle on November 28, clashes between the federal forces and the TPLF are believed to be continuing in some parts of rural Tigray. Swathes of the mountainous state of more than five million people remain inaccessible to news outlets and humanitarian groups, while an internet and telephone blackout has made it difficult to obtain and verify information about the conflict. But a testimony given to Al Jazeera by a doctor who worked at Mekelle’s main hospital until their return last week to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, has offered a rare, first-hand account of the mounting medical needs and the dismal living conditions in the city during the conflict. Al Jazeera

Ivory Coast President Ouattara Inaugurated for Third Term
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara was inaugurated Monday for a third term in office amid ongoing outcries from opposition parties. More than 300 people attended the swearing in ceremony at the Presidential Palace, including about 10 African heads of state, as the re-elected Ouattara called for national dialogue. … He condemned the violence that has marked the election. At least 85 people have died in election-related violence before, during and after the polls, according to government figures. Ouattara also vowed to create a ministry in charge of national reconciliation “in order to consolidate social cohesion.” Independent presidential candidate Kouadio Konan Bertin took part in the inauguration ceremony, however, the opposition, which is still contesting Ouattara’s re-election, did not take part. AP

Congo President Tshisekedi Says Most Lawmakers Back His Vision
Congo President Felix Tshisekedi said on Monday he believed he had the cross-party support needed to push through his plans for a new government, after ending an awkward coalition with his predecessor Joseph Kabila to seek a new majority in parliament. Lawmakers voted on Thursday to oust a Kabila-appointed speaker, signalling a potential realignment of support that may allow Tshisekedi to nominate a more loyal cabinet. … But it is unclear whether backing from his new political bloc, known as the Sacred Union, will translate into enough support in other crucial votes, such as the appointment of a new speaker and a motion of no confidence in the prime minister. … Kabila’s allies are slowly being marginalised, said Fred Bauma from the Congo Research Group at New York University. “One of the biggest concerns, however, is about the willingness and the capacity of Tshisekedi’s team to implement deep reforms that are needed,” Bauma said. Reuters

‘We Could Have Lost Her’: Zimbabwe’s Children Go Hungry as Crisis Deepens
Acute malnutrition cases are on the rise in Zimbabwe, as food shortages continue to take their toll. Statistics show that one in three children in Zimbabwe suffers from malnutrition. A Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment (ZimVac) report shows that the percentage of children receiving the minimum acceptable diet necessary for growth and development declined from 6.9% in 2019 to 2.1% in 2020. Matabeleland, in the south-west of the country, has the highest cases of global acute malnutrition, with an estimated 74,267 children under the age of five affected, including at least 38,425 with severe acute malnutrition. … UN agencies have in the past called upon the government to prioritise children in drought response programmes. … By the end of 2020, projections indicate that the number of hungry Zimbabweans will have risen by almost 50% to 8.6 million. The Guardian

Geeks Flock to Morocco’s ‘Paradise for Hackers’
With its rows of sleek computers and ultra-modern study methods, Morocco’s 1337 campus is a dream come true for budding geeks in a country where information technology (IT) skills are in high demand. Conceived as a paradise for coders, the centre offers project-based training on programming, innovation and building IT systems. Tuition is free and students largely create their own curricula. It all happens on a 24-hour campus reminiscent of Silicon Valley, complete with a canteen, graffiti art and games rooms. “It’s too beautiful to be true,” said Ismail el Mheki. On discovering the institute, which ran its first courses in 2018, he thought it was a trick, so his reaction was to hack the system. A self-declared “ethical hacker” (“white hat” in geek speak), Mheki taught himself with resources found in dark corners of the internet. He dropped out of school before his final exams, much to his parents’ dismay. … But after two years in Norway working for a cybersecurity firm, he took the entry test for 1337 and passed with flying colours. And before he had even finished his course, he was offered a job as part of the school’s IT security team. Mail & Guardian

Disney Announces ‘First-of-Its-Kind’ Collaboration with African Entertainment Company
Fed up with non-Africans telling African stories, three friends from Nigeria and Uganda created Kugali Media in 2017 to tell stories out of the continent. Through the entertainment company, the friends — Tolu Olowofoyeku, Hamid Ibrahim, and Fikayo Adeola — created a comic book collection called “Iwaju”, set in a futuristic Lagos, Nigeria’s capital city. Now, “Iwaju” — which roughly translates to “the future” in the Yoruba language spoken in West Africa — has been picked up as a new TV series by Walt Disney Animation Studios. Disney announced yesterday that the animated series will premiere on its Disney+ streaming platform in 2022, calling it a “first-of-its-kind collaboration.” While more specific details about the show are not yet available, Disney Animation Studios’ Chief Creative Officer, Jennifer Lee, said it will explore themes of “class, innocence and challenging the status quo.” CNN