Africa Media Review for December 17, 2021

Ethiopia Risks Descent into ‘Generalised Violence’: UN
Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council, deputy rights chief Nada Al-Nashif warned that the risk in Ethiopia “of increasing hatred, violence and discrimination is very high.” This, she said, could allow the already brutal conflict to “escalate into generalised violence, (with) major implications, not only for millions of people in Ethiopia but also across the region.” Her comments came at the start of an emergency council session to address the spiralling conflict which the UN says has left thousands dead, displaced more than two million people and pushed hundreds of thousands to the brink of famine. The session was requested by the European Union, with the support of more than 50 countries, urging the body to “stand up to its responsibilities.” … During Friday’s session, the EU will present a draft resolution calling on the council to create “an international commission of human rights experts on Ethiopia” to investigate a wide range of alleged violations and abuses by all sides in the conflict. AFP

Libyan Joint Military Committee Meets with UN Envoy Amid Tensions
A militia blockade of the interim government’s headquarters in Tripoli appears to have ended Thursday, amid strong tensions in the Libyan capital just over a week before scheduled presidential elections. U.N. envoy Stephanie Williams met with key military leaders to try to prevent any violence which might jeopardize the elections. U.N. special envoy to Libya Stephanie Williams met with rival political and military forces from eastern and western Libya in the port city of Sirte Thursday afternoon, hours after an Islamist militia group ended its siege of interim government headquarters in the capital Tripoli. Tensions reportedly remain high in Tripoli just over a week before scheduled presidential elections. Islamist militia commander Salah Badie issued a video statement late Wednesday threatening to scuttle the planned December 24 election and claiming that he will throw U.N. envoy Williams out of Libya. The head of Libya’s High National Election Commission, Emad al Sayah, told journalists several days ago that preparations for the election are continuing on schedule. He said that he affirms to the Libyan people and political leaders that his committee will not ignore its obligation to hold free and fair elections, respecting the rights of all parties involved. VOA

Women Head Sudan’s Protests Calling for Civilian Rule
Hundreds of people continue protests in the Sudanese capital Khartoum for a third week in a row against a recent political deal between the prime minister and the military. Demonstrators call for the handover of power to civilians, amid chants against Premier Abdalla Hamdok and the military. Sudanese women have been on the frontlines during the demonstrations since the outbreak of the protests on 19 December 2018. Their participation had the greatest role in motivating the demonstrators in neighbourhoods and cities until the army leadership dismissed the former president of the country, Omar Al-Bashir, on 11 April 2019. … Sudanese women’s demands are to achieve a complete and undiminished civil state, the military council to step down from power, and peace to prevail throughout the country. Student, Doha Abdullah, said the role of Sudanese women is very large in the demonstrations. “There is a belittling of the role of Sudanese women, but it has now been rebutted,” said Abdullah. She also said demonstrations usually start with the women’s voice (Zaghrouda), and Sudanese women will remain patient and steadfast in the streets until the fall of any dictatorial regime that does not comply with the people’s desires and ambitions. Memo

Europe Builds Up Mali Force as France Draws Down Troops
What was once a quaint army base in France’s Barkhane anti-jihadist operation is rapidly turning into a cornerstone of Takuba, the European force that is to pick up the slack from France’s partial disengagement. The footprint of the camp in northeast Mali has already grown to 30 hectares (75 acres) from the eight it had before, said Captain Josselin as he navigated his way through the busy construction vehicles. Takuba, made up of European special forces, is based on an initiative by France, eager to share the burden of looking after Mali’s security with its partners. Takuba’s 900 soldiers are to help Mali’s army acquire the combat skills necessary to become self-reliant, a daunting task given the volatile situation on the ground. … Takuba, which after Menaka and Gao may get more bases such as Gossi in the northeast, spearheads French efforts to commit its European partners to the anti-jihadist fight. The head of Takuba’s operations, a French lieutenant-colonel named Gregory, said it advises, assists and accompanies Malian forces who are hoping to win back areas over which the central government lost control. … Meanwhile, in a neighboring Malian army camp, a group of French special forces was training local soldiers how to carry out checks on a vehicle transporting potential hostiles. The Defense Post with AFP

Can Local Dialogues with Jihadists Stem Violence in Burkina Faso?
The two groups thrashed out their differences as Burkinabé often do – sitting under the shade of a tree, exchanging plates of goat meat, yoghurt, and traditional foamy tea. But this was no ordinary reconciliation meeting: One group was composed of some of the heavily armed al-Qaeda-linked fighters who are waging war across Burkina Faso; the other of unarmed local residents who count among the militants’ many victims. “We think that it is important to talk [to jihadists] in order to deal with [the crisis] at the local level, and to preserve human lives,” said a community leader from Nassoumbou, a commune in northern Burkina Faso that arranged the recent meeting. Thousands of people have died and more than 1.4 million have been displaced in recent years as militant groups have spread across the once-peaceful country – part of a wider push across West Africa’s semi-arid Sahel region. As violence intensifies and patience wanes with the government – which failed to sustain a ceasefire it negotiated with jihadists ahead of elections late last year – some community leaders have taken a radical step: talking to the militants themselves. … “It is not voluntary,” said Koudbi Kaboré, a historian and researcher at Joseph Ki-Zerbo University in the capital, Ouagadougou. “It is because the population doesn’t have a choice that they accept to sign these pacts.” The New Humanitarian

Russian Mercenaries Kill Cameroonian Bizman in Central African Republic
A Cameroonian businessman who was identified as Abdourahim has been reported killed by Russian mercenaries of the Wagner Security Group in Sagaini, a town situated not far away from Lamy-Pont town. The incident happened on Tuesday, Dec. 14, according to local sources. Sources in Sagaini told HumAngle that since the arrival of Russian mercenaries in the town, most business people have left because of the exactions visited on them by the Russians. “Abdourahim however decided to stay and continue with his business. Unfortunately for him, on Tuesday Dec. 14, while on his way to Douala in Cameroon to buy supplies, he came face-to-face with the Russian mercenaries a few kilometres to Nguia-Bouar, precisely on the crossroad leading to Yidere, Baboua and Nguia-Bouar,” a source said. “The Russian mercenaries took all his money and a quantity of gold he had on him. They eventually dragged him some metres into the forest and shot him to death. News of his assassination has sent shock waves throughout the town of Sagaini.” HumAngle

Benin Squeezes Dissent with Jailing of Opposition Leader over Terrorism
[Sentenced to 20 years in prison this week, Ms Reckya] Madougou is the leader of [Benin’s] biggest opposition party and she contested the April presidential election on the platform of the Democrats party. With this development, critics say the court, set up in 2016, has been used by President Patrice Talon’s government to crack down on the opposition and pushed Benin into authoritarianism. … the US Department of State said on December 14 that the “recent trial and sentencing of political opponents Reckya Madougou and Joel Aivo raise grave concerns about political interference in Benin’s criminal justice system.” “We are alarmed by the further erosion of space for dissent, overall increased restrictions on participatory self-governance and freedom of expression, and systematic targeting of political opposition figures,” the State Department said. “Demonstrating to Benin’s citizens and international partners that the judicial system will not be used for political purposes is essential to restoring Benin’s former reputation as a regional leader in democratic governance and rule of law.’’ … referring to recent events in some West African countries, Mathias Hounkpe of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa has noted that “democracy is declining everywhere but in West Africa the decline is deeper compared to other regions of the world.” The EastAfrican

IGAD Says Upcoming Polls in Kenya, Somalia A Litmus Test for Constitutionalism
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has urged Kenya and Somalia to ensure democratic and peaceful national elections describing impending polls as a litmus test to constitutionalism. While Kenya is set to hold General Elections on August 9, 2022, Somalia deferred its elections which were due on November 25. Speaking while delivering a state of the region address in Mombasa, IGAD Executive Secretary Dr Workneh Gebeyehu also emphasized on the need to resolve disputes arising from elections amicably through legal means. … “IGAD is optimistic that democratic principles will continue to be upheld and practice of peaceful resolution of disputes through legal channels will further be entrenched to all electoral process in the region. Let us remember that we are all stakeholders in peace building,” he said. IGAD membership comprises Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda. Capital News

‘All I Can Think about Is the Children’s Future’: Drought Devastates Kenya
North-east Kenya is well used to spells of drought, but it is experiencing the worst in living memory. As the region’s short rainy season, which starts in October, draws to an end, parts of Wajir have only seen small showers and other areas have had no rain at all for more than a year. In October, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional trade bloc, and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization warned that 26 million people were struggling for food after consecutive seasons of poor rainfall in the Horn of Africa. Wild animals are dying and herders are reporting losses of up to 70% of their livestock. With conflicts raging in Ethiopia and Somalia, aid agencies are struggling to assess the extent of the crisis. Now, as the next four-month-long dry season starts, there are mounting fears that large numbers of people will die. In a round hut of woven sticks in Dahabley, Hodhan Issack, 22, is increasingly concerned about the health of her seven children. “I overthink things, and honestly, I think I’m going mad sometimes,” she says. “All I can think about is the children’s future.” The Guardian

Hope for Justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo 2018 Yumbi Massacre Tribunal
Over 500 people were killed three years ago in a region considered peaceful in the conflict-ridden DR Congo. … His wife and four children, no one can bring back the lives of his loved ones, says Clovis Boyanga. As if he still has to protect himself today, the 31-year-old sits on a plastic chair in his backyard in the Limete district of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with his arms stiffly crossed and his head bowed. On December 16 and 17, 2018, armed men believed to be from the Batende ethnic group went house to house in his home village of Bongende with machetes, spears and rifles, killing anyone who identified as an ethnic Banunu. Boyanga survived the killings because he was not at home on the morning of the attack. But the rest of his family, including a nephew, were butchered by the attackers. Nothing could make up for that loss. Yet, he is filled with some hope that he might after all get justice. Just a few kilometers away, in Ndolo prison, the long-awaited trial of what is now dubbed the ‘Yumbi massacre’ began earlier this year. “I think the process will enable us to find answers to our questions,” says Boyanga. “Only the state and the judiciary can find out the political leaders behind this massacre.” DW

The Race to Defuse Congo’s Carbon Bomb
… The “it,” after all, was not just potopoto, but peat, a slurry of very slowly decomposing organic matter and one of the terrestrial world’s densest stores of carbon. When disturbed, peatlands can release their stores in a short amount of time in what some who study them call a carbon bomb. Lewis and his team were about to confirm a major scientific discovery: Ikenge sits in the midst of the largest swath of tropical peatland on the planet. … “It’s not something to dig up and sell, but explaining why can be a struggle,” said Lewis, a blond, bespectacled Briton affiliated with universities in Leeds and London who sees his work partly as pure science, and partly as activism on behalf of the environment and of the Congolese people. … At around 56,000 square miles (about the size of Iowa) and more than 30 feet deep in places, the peatland Congo shares with its neighbor, the Republic of Congo, holds at least as much carbon as the whole world currently emits in three years of burning fossil fuels. Some patches of the peatlands in Congo’s Central Basin have been accumulating and storing carbon since the late days of the Earth’s last major ice age, around 17,000 years ago. … If Congo were to drain its pristine peatlands, it is near certain that hundreds of millions or even billions of tons of carbon dioxide would be emitted into the atmosphere. The Washington Post

WTO Chief Says Vaccine Answer Close, but Facing Effort to Block It
The World Trade Organization is close to resolving a dispute over how to spread COVID-19 vaccines more widely and fairly, but facing an “orchestrated effort” to block a deal, the body’s chief said on Thursday. WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters she had held talks this month with trade ministers from India, South Africa, the European Union and the United States on how to break an impasse over the issue of intellectual property rights. Agreement is needed to allow some technology transfer to developing countries without manufacturers there at risk of being sued, she said. This could help redress the gap between the vaccination rate in Africa of only 8% and 67% in developed countries that she pointed to, as well as providing vaccines that were affordable and easy to distribute. … India and South Africa have proposed waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, but developed members such as the European Union, Britain and Switzerland argue it would be better to use existing WTO rules that allow countries to award licences to local producers. Discussions on the issue at the WTO, which takes decisions by consensus, have been deadlocked for more than a year. Okonjo-Iweala said she had brought the main actors together, with technical experts now trying to settle details. Reuters

Omicron: What Can We Learn from South Africa’s Experience So Far?
Data on hospital admissions for Covid in South Africa show them rising quite sharply in all provinces. … Discovery Health, a major health provider there, calculated adults infected early in the Omicron outbreak were roughly 30% less likely to be admitted to hospital than those infected in South Africa’s first wave. … Dr Vicky Baillie, a senior scientist at Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital in Johannesburg, said the lower rates of hospital treatment were probably because of people having greater immunity. “There’s no evidence it’s a less virulent mutation,” she said. The WHO warns that the data suggesting the variant could be milder could also be skewed by the fact that numbers in hospital are small, and most of those admitted are under the age of 40 – so at lower risk of falling seriously ill. They may be in hospital for other reasons – but South African hospitals test everyone who is admitted, so pick up a lot of mild cases. It could also be because over-60s in South Africa are much more likely than the average population there to be vaccinated, protecting them against severe disease. … Reports from hospitals in the hardest-hit areas of South Africa – including Gauteng province – show an increase in children admitted to hospital. … But it’s clear this variant is still spreading fast… Few vaccines can completely stop infections, but when it comes to preventing severe disease, the evidence suggests vaccination is still largely doing the job even after this significant mutation. BBC