Africa Media Review for December 15, 2021

Criminal Gangs Destabilizing Nigeria’s North West
Known in the national media as “bandits,” small gangs of criminals have been increasingly menacing the North West region of Nigeria, scoring cattle, plunder, and ransoms from rural farms and villages. These gangs do not hesitate to use violence, including murder, to intimidate villagers into submission. … Emboldened and increasingly organized as sophisticated criminal enterprises, these gangs have made global headlines with a series of mass kidnapping raids on boarding schools in Kaduna, Katsina, Niger, and Zamfara States. Victims are typically then held for hefty ransoms, often bankrupting the affected family. Increasingly vulnerable to these raids, hundreds of schools have closed and over one million children in the region are not attending classes. These incidents and other attacks have spurred Nigerian authorities to impose a blackout of mobile telecommunications in the region and restrict movement and large gatherings. … The Africa Center for Strategic Studies spoke to two Nigerian experts about the deteriorating security conditions in the North West. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

COVID Cases Surging in Africa at Fastest Rate This Year, but Deaths Remain Low
Updated forecasts warn that Africa may not reach 70 per cent vaccine coverage until August 2024, WHO’s new pandemic assessment found. With the total number of recorded cases during the pandemic standing at 8.9 million, Africa recorded more than 196,000 new cases last week, up from around 107,000 in the previous week. WHO has said that the number of new cases is currently doubling every five days, the fastest rate this year. Although “the speed of the spread is fast, deaths remain low and even dropped by 19 per cent last week compared with the previous week,” the UN health agency reported. Currently in its fourth wave, Africa counted a little over 3,000 deaths reported during the first three weeks. … Hospitalizations have increased by 67 per cent in the past week, but the bed occupancy rate for intensive care units remains low at 7.5 per cent. Though deaths also remain low, this data should be interpreted with caution as the pattern may change in the coming weeks, WHO alerted. … “We are cautiously optimistic that deaths and severe illness will remain low in the current wave, but slow vaccine rollout in Africa means both will be much higher than they should be,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. Speaking during a virtual press conference, Dr. Moeti added that knowing that new variants could regularly emerge to spark new outbreaks globally, “vaccine-deprived regions like Africa would be especially vulnerable.” UN News

Leaders from Nigeria, Others Join Civil Societies in Push for Open Government Reforms
Days after the White House Summit for Democracy, thousands in the open government community will gather for the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Global Summit in Seoul, Republic of Korea from today till December 17. The participants, including a dozen Heads of State and hundreds of civil society leaders, will focus on how reformers in and out of government can work together to advance democratic reforms and fight growing authoritarianism. … “Across our partnership, and throughout Africa, courageous reformers are advancing ambitious reforms to renew democracy and tackle unprecedented global crises—from a devastating pandemic to economies in turmoil. Our platform also seeks to ensure that commitments made at high-level events such as last week’s White House Summit for Democracy and COP26 are turned into concrete actions,” said Sanjay Pradhan, Chief Executive Officer of OGP. “The OGP remains a veritable tool for engaging citizens and harnessing their input into implementing reforms,” said President Muhammadu Buhari. He continued: “As world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is pertinent for governments to collaborate even more with civil society to ensure resources are expended judiciously and transparently.” The Guardian

Guardians of the Revolution: The Street Activists Defying Sudan’s Coup
Mass demonstrations are expected in Sudan this weekend, on the third anniversary of the country’s revolution, in a new test of strength between pro-democracy activists and the military, whose coup in October toppled the country’s fragile transitional government. Neighbourhood-based resistance committees are, once again, playing a key role in mobilising opposition – organising marches, building street barricades, and debating a political strategy for the way forward. The 19 December protests will underline popular opposition to the new military-controlled administration fronted by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok – released from house arrest after agreeing a deal last month with coup leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Since the 25 October putsch, there have been rolling pro-democracy protests across the country under the banner “No negotiations, no compromise, no power-sharing” with the military. At least 44 people have been shot dead by the security forces. … The central demand of the democracy movement now is for the military to get out of politics and return to the barracks. The New Humanitarian

Sudan’s Military Used Heavy Weapons against Anti-Coup Protesters
The deaths of at least 41 unarmed protesters in Sudan have caught the attention and condemnation of international observers. Despite the internet outage ordered by General Abdel-Fattah Burhan following the military coup on October 25, activists were able to document the use of anti-aircraft weapons and armor-piercing bullets. The footage shows clearly that the Sudanese Security Forces and militias such as the Rapid Support Forces confronted the demonstrators with weapons that are prohibited from being used against civilians and in cities. Non-government organizations and rights groups have condemned the use of heavy arms against civilians as being in breach of humanitarian agreements that call for protecting civilians. DW

Concerns Mount after Tunisia’s Leader Suspends Parliament until 2022
Opponents of Tunisian President Kais Saied on Tuesday slammed his decision to extend a months-long suspension of parliament, accusing him of dealing another blow to democratic process. Saied has announced a consultation on constitutional reforms and fresh elections for next December. In July, President Saied suspended parliament and froze the legislature in a move described by the opposition as coup and a violation of the constitution. Saied, who came to power in 2019, had in October moved to rule by decree, escalating fears for the only democracy to have emerged from the 2011 Arab uprisings. … Some politicians, lawyers, journalists and MPs critical of the president have since been arrested and jailed. On Monday evening, Saied announced an 11-week “popular consultation” to produce “draft constitutional and other reforms” ahead of a referendum on 25 July next year. He said Monday that parliament would remain suspended until new elections on 17 December next year, the anniversary of the start of the revolution that chased dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power. RFI

Armed With Drones, Turkey Explores African Arms Sales
Armed with battle-tested drones, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been deepening defense ties with African countries ahead of a major gathering of the continent’s leaders in Istanbul. The two-day Turkey-Africa partnership summit starting Friday comes fast on the heels of a top-level business forum in October that focused on investment and trade. The next phase of this fast-blossoming relationship is security, experts say, with a host of African leaders looking to buy up military hardware at cheaper prices and with fewer strings attached. Leaders and top ministers from 39 countries — including 13 presidents — have confirmed attendance, with Erdogan set to make a speech on Saturday. Ankara already has a military base in Somalia, and Morocco and Tunisia reportedly took their first delivery of Turkish combat drones in September. Angola became the latest to express an interest in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) during Erdogan’s first visit to the southern African country in October. Turkey in August also signed a military cooperation pledge with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has been embroiled in a war with Tigrayan rebels for the past year. The Defense Post with AFP

French Military Leaves Timbuktu, Mali, After Nearly 9 Years
French forces left the city of Timbuktu late Tuesday, the latest sign that the former colonial power is drawing down its presence in northern Mali nearly nine years after driving Islamic extremists from power there in a military intervention. The symbolic move comes amid fears about whether the Malian military can now step in and fend off the extremists, who have regrouped and expanded their reach even further southward since the 2013 offensive. In a communique, the French military emphasized late Tuesday that the Malian military maintains “a strong garrison in Timbuktu,” in addition to nearly 2,200 U.N. peacekeepers who are permanently deployed there. Residents told The Associated Press late Tuesday that the Malian military has occupied the former French military base. The French military already has shut down its bases further north in Kidal and Tessalit but is maintaining its presence in Gao near a volatile border region where operations have been concentrated in recent years. France announced earlier this year that it would be withdrawing more than 2,000 troops from the Sahel by early 2022, refocusing its military efforts on neutralizing extremist operations, and strengthening and training local armies. AP

Nigeria to Reject Vaccine Donations with Short Shelf Lives
Nigeria will no longer accept COVID-19 vaccines with short shelf lives after 1 million doses have expired in Africa’s most population nation before the shots could be used, a government official said. While some of the doses given to Nigeria were within a few months of expiring, authorities have said that other donated vaccines had just weeks left to be given to people before becoming unusable. … Nigeria has only been able to fully vaccinate 1.9% of its 206 million people. While at least 30 million doses are currently available, authorities say the rush to distribute almost-expired ones has created an additional burden. … Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa, said Tuesday that the problem of expiring vaccines is a global one. The number of doses that have gone unused in Africa has represented less than a quarter of 1%. “It is necessary to dispel the impression that even as we are expressing concern about access to vaccine supplies, there are millions of doses being wasted, expiring in Africa,” she said. “That is not the case.” AP

Cameroonian Refugees Cross River to Chad as Carnage Displaces Thousands
Cameroonian farmer Saleh Abderamane was bleeding from a machete wound to his head when his relatives ferried him across the river border to Chad among thousands of refugees fleeing violence between farmers and herders. The 34-year-old was attacked during a spate of fighting fuelled by water disputes in the Far North region that has driven 48,000 people to seek refuge in Chad so far this month, according to Chadian authorities. … Refugees, mostly women and children, are still trying to reach Chad, crossing the rivers Chari and Logone on rickety boats. Exhausted new arrivals to one of the camps were greeted with tears and wails of recognition from friends and relatives. The number of such refugees has risen 60% in the past week, putting substantial pressure on local communities which were already facing food shortages, said Chad’s Minister of Territorial Administration Mahamat Bechir Chérif. The refugees are staying in informal camps along the river bank outside the capital. Lacking proper shelter, they sleep in the open air. Teary-eyed children line up in the midday sun for meals from the local Red Cross. Chad is already home to close to 1 million refugees and internally displaced people and its resources to respond to their needs are critically low, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said. Reuters

Watchdog Says UN Monitors Needed in Violence-Hit Darfur
A human rights watchdog urged the United Nations on Wednesday to deploy monitors to Sudan’s western region of Darfur, where a surge in tribal clashes has killed more than 180 people since October. Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the monitors should include experts on gender-based crimes, a year after the U.N. Security Council ended the mandate of a peacekeeping mission known as UNAMID in Darfur. The violence between Arabs and non-Arabs in the war-wrecked region came as Sudan plunged into upheaval after an October military coup that removed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s government. Though Hamdok was reinstated last month in a deal with the military, Sudan’s pro-democracy movement has rejected the settlement and insists on a transition led by a purely civilian government. Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising forced the removal of autocratic President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. Mohamed Osman, HRW’s Sudan researcher, said tribal clashes over the past year in Darfur have left “a trail of devastation” in the region. At least 183 people were killed, and dozens wounded since October, with thousands displaced and some crossing into neighboring Chad. AP

South Africa’s High Court Orders Former President Zuma to Go Back to Jail
South Africa’s High Court ordered former President Jacob Zuma to return to jail after setting aside the decision to release him on medical parole, a court judgement showed on Wednesday. The 79-year old began medical parole in September, and is serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court, after he ignored instructions to participate in a corruption inquiry. In the same month, South Africa’s top court dismissed a bid by him to overturn the sentence. The legal processes against Zuma for alleged corruption during his nine-year reign are widely viewed as test of post-apartheid South Africa’s ability to enforce rule of law, particularly against powerful, well connected people. Zuma handed himself in on July 7 to begin his prison sentence, triggering the worst violence South Africa had seen in years, as angry Zuma supporters took to the streets. The protests widened into looting and an outpouring of general anger over the hardship and inequality that persist 27 years after the end of apartheid. More than 300 people were killed and thousands of businesses pillaged and razed. Reuters

UN Official Says Drought in Somalia Worsening
Ian Ridley, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Somalia, says the recent rains are not enough, and the drought situation is deteriorating in the country. “There is not nearly enough rain, so we are calling it very low rainfall for the season,” Ridley told VOA Somali in an interview that aired Tuesday. “Importantly, this comes on top of failed or low rains in the last two rainy seasons,” he said. “We are now in the third rainy season where the amount of rainfall is below average, and that is why the drought situation is worsening through the country.” Ridley has been visiting some of the worst affected areas in the country in recent weeks. Speaking from Mogadishu, he said shallow wells are starting to dry up, increasing demand on deep wells. … He said people are being displaced, with some traveling 30 or 40 kilometers from rural areas in search of water in urban centers. He said another impact of the drought is outbreaks of certain diseases. The incidence of acute water diarrhea and cholera is increasing; the incidence of measles is increasing as people come together in IDP [Internally Displaced Persons] camps, he said. VOA

Rumba Shimmies onto UNESCO Cultural Heritage List
Congolese rumba is among at least nine new entries on UNESCO’s “representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity.” UNESCO is making its 2021 designations this week, recognizing cultural heritage ranging from Arabic calligraphy to falconry to Nordic clinker boat traditions. Congolese rumba was named to the list Tuesday. The Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo jointly bid for UNESCO to recognize the music and dance, which helped energize people in those countries to shake off colonial rule by Belgium and France, respectively, in Congo, in 1960. UNESCO’s director general, Audrey Azoulay, summarized rumba’s significance. “In the 20th century, the Congolese rumba was a symbol for the fight for emancipation, dignity and political independence on the African continent,” she said in a statement shared with VOA. “Therefore, the inscription of this music is not just the recognition of a cultural practice but a historic decision. It underlines the political nature of this music, which inspires so many artists all around the world today.” VOA



Photo: Adam Jones