Africa Media Review for December 16, 2021

US Warns Mali on Accepting Russia’s Wagner Mercenaries
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday warned Mali’s military rulers not to accept Russia’s Wagner mercenaries, saying a deal would divert needed funds and further destabilize the African country. Two days after the European Union joined the United States in imposing sanctions on the Wagner Group, Blinken voiced disappointment that Mali has rejected an offer of additional UN peacekeepers and is instead looking to the private paramilitary unit. “Wagner forces — which are known for their destabilizing activities and human rights abuses — will not bring peace to Mali, but rather will destabilize the country further,” Blinken said in a statement. “We urge the transitional government in Mali not to divert scarce budgetary resources away from the Malian Armed Forces’ fight against terrorism,” he said. “The wealth of the country — including mining concessions — should benefit the Malian people, and not be mortgaged to unaccountable foreign forces with a record of abusing local populations and undermining host nations’ control over their own territory.” His latest statement offered new details, including that the United States understands that the deal under discussion with the Wagner Group would cost $10 million a month to Mali. The Defense Post with AFP

South Sudan: ‘Headwinds’ Warning from UN Mission Chief over Peace Accord
The UN Special Representative in South Sudan, Nicholas Haysom, issued a warning to the Security Council on Wednesday that new “headwinds” could threaten the country’s fragile peace accord, following years of brutal civil conflict. … In 2018, President Salva Kiir and his former Vice-President and long-time political rival Riek Machar, signed the agreement hoping to end the crisis. … One of the challenges is the establishment of the Necessary Unified Forces, which the Representative called “an initial step in a complex but essential process of constructing a national army.” On 8 December, Mr. Haysom met with Salva Kiir, and raised his concerns. After the meeting, the Joint Defense Board announced some progress on the Implementation of the transitional security arrangements. The President has also announced elections to be held in 2023. For the Special Envoy, that will likely prove “a dramatic challenge” in the transition next year. The Envoy expects the “domestic political temperature to rise” as elections draw closer, and he is “deeply concerned” bt the restrictions on civic space. UN News

Reckya Madougou: Opposition Leader Jailing Damages Benin Democracy – Lawyer
The 20-year sentence handed to Beninese opposition leader Reckya Madougou is part of efforts to stifle democracy, her lawyer has told the BBC. Madougou was convicted of financing terrorism by a special court in the early hours of Saturday morning. She was the second opposition figure to be jailed within a week. Benin, once praised as a multi-party democracy, has taken a more autocratic turn under the presidency of Patrice Talon, rights groups say. … Madougou was arrested in the weeks leading up to April’s vote. The former justice minister was accused of trying to destabilise the country by providing funds for people plotting to assassinate leading politicians. Her supporters said the charges were a fabrication. She was found guilty in a trial that lasted less than a day in which no evidence was presented, according to her legal team. “It’s a dark day for democracy in the country,” Madougou’s lawyer Renaud Agbodjo told the BBC after Saturday’s verdict. “[Her] conviction symbolises the asphyxiation of democracy in Benin.” … Last Tuesday, the same court in the capital, Porto-Novo, sentenced another opposition figure, Joel Aivo, to 10 years for plotting against the state. Other political rivals have fled the country and even a judge, who had been part of the court that convicted Madougou, went into exile citing intolerable pressure from the government. BBC

South Africa Reports Daily Record of COVID Infections
South Africa on Wednesday reported its highest daily tally of new coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, just weeks after announcing the discovery of the Omicron strain. The tally of 26,976 Covid infections topped the previous record of 26,485 on July 3, at the height of the country’s third wave caused by the Delta variant. The highly mutated Omicron strain was first detected in South Africa last month and sparked global panic over fears that it is more contagious than other variants. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office announced Monday that he had tested positive, even though he is fully vaccinated. Despite cases of Omicron being found in countries worldwide, it has not yet become fully clear if it causes more severe illness or if, or to what extent, it can evade vaccines. … Last week, South Africa approved booster shots for all citizens over 18. So far, more than 17 million people have been vaccinated in South Africa, or around a third of the country’s population. AFP

Ghana Aims to Vaccinate Its Entire Adult Population by Year-End
Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo has called for the country’s citizens to take advantage of an inflow of Covid-19 vaccines and help avoid a new wave of infections. “Getting the jab is the best route out of the pandemic,” Akufo-Addo said in a video message posted on his Facebook page late Wednesday. “It is for this reason that we have committed ourselves to vaccinating 20 million Ghanaians — that is the entire adult population — by the end of the year.” Earlier inoculation drives faced supply disruptions after administering 6.4 million doses. The government now expects to secure a total of 26 million doses by the end of the year, 17.7 million of which have already been delivered to authorities, he said. Bloomberg

‘They Punished Me for Having Books’: Schools in Cameroon Terrorised by Armed Groups
Armed separatists in Cameroon’s anglophone regions have attacked, kidnapped and threatened hundreds of school pupils in nearly five years of violence that has forced more than 230,000 children to flee their homes, a report has found. In a detailed analysis of the conflict that has gripped the English-speaking regions since 2017, dozens of students and teachers speak of brutal attacks by armed groups who have made education a battleground in their fight to form their own state. Ilaria Allegrozzi, author of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, said it was essential that separatist leaders called off a school boycott, which was initially intended as a protest over injustices against English-speakers but which is now “destroying an entire generation of Cameroonians” by depriving them of an education. “But most importantly, they should also start reining in their fighters,” she said. “They should instruct their fighters to stop attacking schools. Schools are not places that can be battlegrounds.” The Guardian

New Burkinabe PM Seeks to Address Terrorism, High Cost of Living
The newly appointed Burkinabe Prime Minister Lassina Zerbo has outlined some of the issues he intends to solve in the country just after the selection of various ministerial dockets. Lassina said Burkina Faso now needs to face the reality by solving issues like terrorism that have been the main concern for the West African country. “It is not a question of presenting the problems but of providing solutions: what can be done to address this security issue? We will immediately discuss with the two ministers to see what concrete proposals are on the table to meet the needs of our military, gendarmerie, and paramilitary personnel who are on the ground,” said Lassina Zerbo, the Prime Minister of Burkina Faso. The new Prime Minister further reiterated the need to tackle and reduce the cost of living in a country where unemployment has been a major challenge for years. AfricaNews with AFP

Freelance Journalist Accredited to AP Detained in Ethiopia
A freelance video journalist accredited to The Associated Press in Ethiopia has been detained by police in the capital, Addis Ababa, the news organization said Wednesday. Amir Aman Kiyaro was detained under the country’s new war-related state of emergency powers on Nov. 28 after returning home from a reporting trip. He has not been charged. Officials with the Ethiopian Media Authority, the prime minister’s office, the foreign ministry and other government offices have not responded to repeated requests from the AP for information about him since his detention. State media on Wednesday reported his detention, citing federal police, and said he was accused of “serving the purposes” of a terrorist group by interviewing it. The report said local journalists Thomas Engida and Addisu Muluneh also were detained. Federal police inspector Tesfaye Olani told state media that the journalists violated the state of emergency law and Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law and the violations could lead to seven to 15 years behind bars. AP

Congo Declares End of Ebola Outbreak That Killed Six People
Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday declared the end of an Ebola outbreak that emerged in early October in North Kivu province and infected 11 people, killing six of them. Congo declared its 13th outbreak of the disease on Oct. 8 in Beni in the east of the country, prompting fears of a repeat of a 2018-2020 epidemic that killed nearly 2,300 people in the same region, the second-highest toll recorded in the disease’s history. “My warm congratulations to health workers in the health zone of Beni who have suspended their strike movement to cope with this epidemic,” Health Minister Jean-Jacques Mbungani told an online news briefing. … Health authorities vaccinated more than 1,800 people using Merck’s recently licensed ERVEBO vaccine, the World Health Organization said in a statement. “During this outbreak, the Democratic Republic of Congo was able to limit widespread infections and save lives. Crucial lessons are being learned and applied with every outbreak experience,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Africa director. “Stronger disease surveillance, community engagement, targeted vaccination and prompt response are making for more effective Ebola containment in the region,” Moeti said. Reuters