Africa Media Review for December 18, 2020

Hundreds of Freed Nigerian Schoolboys to Be Reunited with Families
More than 300 schoolboys kidnapped a week ago in north-west Nigeria are to be reunited with their families after they were brought to safety. The 344 boys, whose abduction was carried out by local bandit groups and claimed by the Islamist militants Boko Haram, were rescued on Thursday night from a forest enclave, according to the governor of Katsina state, Aminu Masari. The boys arrived in Katsina City on Friday morning, awaiting their parents. The Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, himself from the north-western state, was expected to meet the boys on Friday after they underwent medical checks. The boys were taken to a hall at the Katsina government premises where they were surrounded by dozens of reporters and photographers and the governor gave an address before the media. A few parents were there but most were on their way or still in Kankara. Questions remain, however, about the degree of involvement by Boko Haram in one of the largest recorded abductions in Nigeria, and whether all of the boys have been rescued. The Guardian

For African Migrants in Yemen, No Way Forward and No Way Back
The people smuggler spreads his arms wide over nine oblong piles of grey rocks, each representing one dead migrant. A tenth hole waits to be filled. “I buried them here myself,” Ahmed al-Awlaqi says proudly. The rock towers surround forlorn, makeshift graves, which are linked by strings of brightly patterned garbage. This is where al-Awlaqi says he buried 70 of the thousands of people he has brought to the southern Yemeni province of Shabwa. Al-Awlaqi insists those he buried here drowned on their way to Yemen. Others blame the deaths mostly on fighting, or on poor conditions in the buildings where smugglers like al-Awlaqi house them. Either way, the eerily silent desert valley 10 kilometres outside Ataq, Shabwa’s provincial capital, is not the final stop the graves’ occupants had hoped for. … The route to Ataq from Ethiopia – where 85 percent of Yemen’s migrants are from (the rest are mostly Somalis) – is long, hard, and often dangerous. The New Humanitarian

UN: At Least 120 Migrants Intercepted off Libya’s Coast
More than 120 Europe-bound migrants, including eight women and 28 children, were intercepted in the Mediterranean Sea by Libya’s coast guard, the U.N. migration agency said on Thursday. The International Organization for Migration tweeted that a vessel carrying the migrants was stopped late on Wednesday off the coast of the North African country and that the migrants were returned to Libya. “We reiterate that Libya is not a port of safety,” the IOM said. Safa Msehli, an IOM spokesperson in Libya, tweeted that 126 migrants from the vessel were taken to detention centers inside Libya. In the years since the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, war-torn Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants hoping to get to Europe from Africa and the Middle East. Smugglers often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder along the perilous Central Mediterranean route. At least 20,000 people have died in those waters since 2014, according to the IOM. AP

Second COVID-19 Wave Hits West & Central Africa as Weather Cools
A second wave of coronavirus infections is hitting West and Central Africa, and experts are warning it could be worse than the first as cooler weather descends on a region where most countries cannot afford a vaccine. Nigeria, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Togo and Democratic Republic of Congo are all at or near record levels of infection, data compiled by Reuters shows. Infections in Senegal are also rising fast. Compared to the United States and Europe, the region has so far been spared the worst of the pandemic. West and Central African countries are reporting between dozens and a few hundred new daily cases — still only a fraction of the more than 600,000 cases reported globally each day — although testing rates in Africa are among the lowest in the world. But as temperatures drop, and governments struggle to enforce months-long restrictions, some experts fear this surge will be worse than the first. Reuters

Burundi Ex-President Buyoya Dies from COVID-19
Burundi’s former president Pierre Buyoya has died in Paris of Covid-19 at the age of 71, relatives said Friday, just weeks after he resigned as the African Union’s special envoy to Mali and the Sahel. Buyoya, who was credited with helping push democracy in the small African country but was accused of involvement in his successor’s assassination, was hospitalised in Mali’s capital Bamako on Wednesday, a family member told AFP. “He was evacuated to Paris yesterday afternoon. His plane made a stopover and arrived in France in the evening,” the family member said, requesting anonymity. “He died as the ambulance took him to hospital in Paris for treatment” on Thursday night, the source added. Several other relatives confirmed the death of Buyoya, who served as the AU’s special envoy to Mali and the Sahel from 2012 until November this year. AFP

Drugmakers Should Cut COVID-19 Vaccine Prices for Africa – Africa CDC
Pharmaceutical companies should sell COVID-19 vaccines to African countries at discounted rates and allow them to be produced locally to potentially cut costs, the head of the continent’s disease control body said on Thursday. Africa is aiming to vaccinate up to 60% of its 1.3 billion people in the next two years, but may need several years of inoculations, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told reporters. How frequently people will need vaccinations against COVID-19 remains uncertain, he said. “Because of this, local manufacturing becomes imperative so that we can meet our goals,” he said. Many African states are relying on COVAX, a global COVID-19 vaccine allocation plan co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), which is working to lower prices for poor and middle income countries. But the Africa CDC expects to receive only 20% of its vaccine needs through COVAX, and also needs money to distribute the vaccine. Reuters

Funding Needed to Halt ‘Life Threatening Crisis’ Facing Refugees in Kenya
Amidst a “critical shortage” of resources, hundreds of thousands of refugees in Kenya will lack food unless new funds are swiftly received, the UN’s food relief agency warned on Thursday. The World Food Programme (WFP) needs $57 million to continue providing food and nutrition assistance to the country’s 435,000-strong refugee population between January and June of next year. “WFP is facing a critical shortage of funds to finance food assistance to refugees living in the Dadaab and Kakuma camps and in Kalobeyei settlement,” said WFP Kenya Country Director Lauren Landis, referring to the country’s three main refugee sites. UN News

Cameroonian Soldiers Accused of Killing Women, Children Appear in Court
A few civilians were at a military tribunal in Yaounde on Thursday to witness the trial of three soldiers accused in the February 14 Ngarr-buh massacre of women and children. Gabriel Foyong said he lost two family members and wanted to see justice served. “We are not asking for something much from the government of Cameroon,” he said. “What we require is just justice, that justice should take its rightful course so that such incidents may be avoided. Honestly, government needs to sit up, because most of the people dying are the innocent ones. Ngarr-buh is a very perfect example.” The defendants pleaded not guilty before the session was adjourned. The presiding judge, Yvonne Leopoldine Akoa, did not say when the proceedings would resume. Human Rights Watch described the Ngarr-buh killings as one of the worst incidents of abuse by security forces in the history of Cameroon’s separatist crisis. The rights group said 17 members of a vigilante group and a separatist fighter were also charged and remain at large. VOA

Algerian State Tightens Screws on Online Media
Algeria has announced tighter state controls over online media, sparking alarm in the North African country whose pro-democracy movement is under heightened pressure from the government. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s government, already accused of stifling free speech, this month published a new decree regulating electronic media in the online Official Gazette. Among other things, it will force web-based Algerian media outlets to be based within the country and demand that they inform authorities of any “illegal content.” … It amounts to “an absurd ban on an independent electronic press — this is another bad signal,” journalist Said Djaafer wrote in an editorial on the website 24HDZ. Hamdi Baala, a journalist at the Twala news site, said that online media has so far been “a free space that is technically and economically beyond the control of the authorities. “With this decree, they want to get control over it.” AFP

For Ethiopia’s Diaspora, Seeking News Amid Communication Blackout Is a Challenge
When violence erupted in Ethiopia’s Tigray region between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) last month, those living in the global diaspora scrambled for information. The Ethiopian army went into Tigray on Nov. 4, after the government accused local forces of attacking a military base there. TPLF leaders called the federal government’s response a war against the people of Tigray. The search for verified, accurate news on the conflict was hampered by authorities preventing many international media organizations from accessing the conflict zone and disruptions to phone and internet connections that resulted in an information blackout. And Ethiopians from the country’s roughly 3 million diaspora found themselves looking to other, often unreliable sources of information found on social media. For the country’s migrant population, the media void struck right at the moment they most wanted news of what was happening in their home country. VOA

Huawei Eyes Ethiopia Growth as Telecoms Industry Opens Up
Huawei Technologies Corp. is positioning itself to get more business in Ethiopia, as the East African economy opens up its telecommunications sector. “Ethiopia is rising and becoming much more important for the future,” Loise Tamalgo, Huawei’s head of public relations for 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, said in an interview in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital, Abidjan. The company is likely to move a regional office covering about five nations from the Democratic Republic Congo to Ethiopia, where it currently only has a country office, he said. “Our strategy is very simple,” Tamalgo said. The company plans to leverage its position as the main vendor of the state-owned monopoly Ethio Telecom to bid for opportunities in the country, he said. Bloomberg

Inside a Military Base in Ethiopia’s Tigray: Soldiers Decry Betrayal by Former Comrades
Rebellious soldiers used government tanks to attack their former comrades in a military base in the first chaotic days of Ethiopia’s month-long war in the region of Tigray, according to two soldiers caught in what they described as a 10-day siege. Forces still loyal to Tigray’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), surrounded the Sero base near the northern border with Eritrea on Nov. 4, according to the two men. Within days, food and water were running low, forcing those inside to ration supplies, they said. They said the siege reached a climax on day 10 when TPLF reinforcements arrived with tanks, anti-aircraft guns and mortars to try to seize the base. They described a six-hour barrage in which some soldiers tried to escape from the back of the compound but were captured. Reuters

Zimbabwe Is Hemorrhaging Gold. Can a Key Reform Curb Smuggling?
When Henrietta Rushwaya was arrested at Robert Mugabe International Airport in October for alleged gold smuggling, the news was shocking but not the purported crime. The 56-year-old head of the Zimbabwe Miners Federation and former president of the country’s football body was preparing to board a flight to Dubai when authorities found six gold bars worth an estimated $366,000 in her carry-on luggage. … It is a spectacular scandal – one involving a powerful figure that only served to reinforce the widespread belief that Zimbabwe’s ruling elite and politically connected help themselves to the nation’s natural resources – especially gold – with near impunity. Gold smuggling is a festering problem for Zimbabwe. The illicit trade is estimated to cost the state $100m each month in lost revenues, Zimbabwe’s home affairs minister, Kazembe Kazembe said recently. … Moreover, the explosive growth of informal operators combined with a run-up in gold prices has provided a fertile breeding ground for violence. Al Jazeera

Africa Steps up Fight against HIV with Trial of New Combination Vaccines
The first trial in Africa to test two new vaccines to protect against HIV got under way in Uganda this week, raising hopes of an end to the epidemic that affects millions of people across the continent. The African-led PrEPVacc study will test two experimental combination vaccines to see if they can provide any protection against HIV in people most at risk of infection. At the same time, a new form of daily oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) will be offered to participants, which scientists say will give the vaccines the best possible chance of working. The two vaccines have been tested for safety in previous clinical trials in Africa, Europe and the US. More than 1,600 people between the ages of 18 and 40 are expected to participate in clinical trials over the next three years in Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa. The Guardian

Local Tunisian Date Farm Grows Progress for Its Community
As revolution swept Tunisia 10 years ago, the people of Jemna saw their chance to settle a colonial-era score – seizing a 460-acre date plantation just outside the oasis town. “We had to get our land back, we should be the ones using it,” said Mohsen Ezzine who was among those who occupied the farm – claiming it as ancestral land – two days before then-President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali fled abroad in January 2011. A wave of land occupations took place during the revolt against Mr. Ben Ali’s authoritarian rule, but a decade later much of the reappropriated land is either back in state hands or caught up in legal disputes. Of about 247,000 acres of state-owned land that was appropriated, the government has since clawed back nearly 198,000 acres, according to the Land Ministry. And while Tunisia’s government has refused to negotiate on the question of ownership, Jemna is a rare case of local people managing to negotiate the collective management of state land. … More than 100 jobs have been created and profits have been reinvested in community health and education facilities. The Christian Science Monitor

Ivory from Shipwreck Reveals Elephant Slaughter during Spice Trade
In 2008, workers searching for diamonds off the coast of Namibia found a different kind of treasure: hundreds of gold coins mixed with timber and other debris. They had stumbled upon Bom Jesus, a Portuguese trading vessel lost during a voyage to India in 1533. Among the 40 tons of cargo recovered from the sunken ship were more than 100 elephant tusks. More than a decade after the ship’s discovery, a team of archaeologists, geneticists and ecologists have pieced together the mystery of where the tusks came from and how they fit into the overall picture of historical ivory trade. The researchers’ analysis also revealed that entire elephant lineages have likely been wiped out since the Bom Jesus set sail, shining a light on the extent to which humans have decimated a species once found in far greater numbers across large parts of the African continent. … “The power of doing historic archaeology is the ability to link those findings to modern conservation,” [said Ashley Coutu, an archaeologist at Oxford University, and co-author of the study]. The New York Times



Photo: Adam Jones