Africa Media Review for December 2, 2021

High Stakes in Gambia’s Polls as Six Candidates Vie for Presidency

The Gambia’s presidency is up for grabs, with the youth vote playing a pivotal role in the 4 December vote – where former dictator Yahya Jammeh still has support, despite living in exile in Equatorial Guinea, accused of rights abuses. President Adama Barrow is seeking re-election… The transitional president, who said he would step down after three years and not run again, made a surprise announcement when his new NPP party said he was joining forces with Jammeh’s APRC party. … “Of course they had an alliance,” says Gambian political analyst Sait Matty Jow. “But later Jammeh– known as the supreme leader of the APRC – came out and said he did not endorse the alliance.” … The constitution was key for many Gambians, to change from a dictatorial-style document to a working, current basis for The Gambia, including setting term limits and limits on presidential powers. The new draft constitution was voted down in September 2020. This failure during the Barrow administration set the tone for the rest of his administration, and even for the TRRC. “If you look at this country today, people have moved forward. But it seems that institutions are still stuck in the Jammeh days,” says Jow… “This is the most opening and challenging election we will have – it’s high stakes and I think it will be a very close call, even though UDP and NPP are being termed as the leading candidates,” says Jow. RFI

South Africa’s New COVID Cases Double in 1 Day amid Omicron

South Africa’s new cases of COVID-19 nearly doubled in a day, authorities reported Wednesday, signaling a dramatic surge in the country where scientists detected the omicron variant last week. New confirmed cases rose to 8,561 Wednesday from 4,373 a day earlier, according to official statistics. Scientists in South Africa said they are bracing for a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases following the discovery of the new omicron variant. “There is a possibility that really we’re going to be seeing a serious doubling or tripling of the cases as we move along or as the week unfolds,” Dr. Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, regional virologist for the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press. “There is a possibility that we are going to see a vast increase in the number of cases being identified in South Africa.” … South Africa’s previous surge, driven by the delta variant in June and July, saw daily new cases reach a peak of more than 20,000. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are rising in South Africa, but not at the dramatic rate of the new cases. AP

Sudan’s Hamdok Would Quit If Post-Coup Deal Not Implemented – Source

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok will quit if a political agreement he signed with the military last week is not implemented or fails to receive backing from political factions, a source close to him said on Wednesday. Hamdok was released from house arrest and restored to his job under the deal reached on Nov. 21, four weeks after he was removed in a military takeover. The takeover ended a 2019 power-sharing agreement between the military and political groups involved in toppling former leader Omar al-Bashir. Those groups have rejected the agreement, as have resistance committees that have organised a campaign of protests. The latest of those protests, on Tuesday, drew tens of thousands of people to central Khartoum under the slogan “No partnership, no negotiation, no compromise.” Further protests are planned for December on key anniversaries from the 2018 start of protests against Bashir. Opponents say the post-coup agreement favours the military by leaving the army chief in charge of a body, the Sovereign Council, that was meant to pass to civilian control. … Hamdok has said he signed the agreement to stop bloodshed and preserve much-needed international financial support. On Wednesday Hamdok issued a decree replacing most of a group of caretaker deputy ministers that had been installed by the military after the coup. The decree did not include the finance, federal rule, and information ministries. Reuters

Detained Journalist Released – Some Media Remains Gagged in Sudan

Sudanese authorities have released journalist and Sudan TV staff member Maher Abuljoukh after he spent 33 days in the security service detention centre near the Shendi parking lot in Khartoum North. Media continues to be silenced in Sudan and Hala 96 FM radio has been off air since the morning of the coup on November 25, 2021, by order of the military junta. Speaking to Radio Dabanga after his release Abuljoukh said that on November 25, he heard knocks on the door of his house in Doroshab, Khartoum North, at exactly 3:30. When he opened the door, he saw four soldiers, three of them armed with Kalashnikovs, the fourth was carrying a pistol. They told him to get into a four-wheel-drive vehicle, where they seized his mobile phone. He was taken to the detention centre of the Political Security near the Shendi parking lot in Khartoum North – which used to be part of the headquarters of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) during the regime of dictator Omar Al Bashir, and popularly called The Fridges, as it contained detention cells that were kept as cold as possible. Abuljoukh spent two weeks in solitary confinement. He only left his cell twice, the first time when he was taken to another cell, and the second time to have his head shaved. Radio Dabanga

Ethiopia Government Clamps Down on War Coverage

A state of emergency announced November 2 also allows authorities to “cancel licenses or suspend any media outlet or journalist providing moral support to terrorist groups, directly or indirectly,” Ethiopia’s attorney general, Gedion Timothewos, said at a press conference. … The warning is the latest example, observers say, of Ethiopian efforts to discredit, intimidate or block reporting on the conflict. The federal government has repeatedly accused foreign media of sympathizing with or supporting the TPLF in their coverage of the war. Over a dozen journalists have been arrested since fighting broke out in November 2020. At least one foreign journalist was expelled, and in July, the license of the news website Addis Standard was briefly revoked. … CPJ criticized the new state of emergency, saying that it could allow Ethiopia to silence the press and public debate over the war. “We are of course concerned about how this law will be implemented and whether it will be implemented to the detriment of free reporting,” [Muthoki Mumo, the sub-Saharan representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists] said. “A very valid fear, again considering the arrests and the violations that we’ve seen over the last one year, considering that the state has demonstrated itself as quite eager to control the narrative around this war and quite willing to take extreme steps to control that narrative.” VOA

UN Rights Chief: Burkina Faso Is Facing a Security Crisis

If insecurity in Burkina Faso keeps up, the West African nation could spiral into a humanitarian and human rights “catastrophe,” the U.N. human rights chief said Wednesday. Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, spoke to The Associated Press during her first visit to the war-weakened nation, which has seen an escalation in human rights abuses by its own security forces as it attempts to tackle a jihadi insurgency linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. During her four-day trip, Bachelet visited the hard-hit Sahel region and spoke to key players, including President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, religious leaders, civil society groups and victims of human rights abuses. “Burkina Faso is in the grip of not one but several major, intersecting crises,” she said. “I stressed with President Kabore, it is essential that all perpetrators of such human rights violations and abuses be brought to justice, regardless of their affiliation.” AP

West Africa: Burkinabé Government Says Dozens of Jihadists Killed in 4-Nation Military Operation

Burkina Faso’s government says it has killed dozens of “terrorists” and arrested hundreds of suspects in joint operations along its borders with neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo. From 21 to 27 November, a total of almost 6,000 soldiers from all four countries were deployed against jihadists in a mission dubbed “Goundalgou 4.” Speaking on Tuesday, Burkinabé security minister Maxime Kone said that following joint patrols, lockdowns and searches of specific areas, the troops “arrested 300 suspects, several of them wanted.” Firearms, large quantities of ammunition and almost 150 vehicles and motorbikes, as well as significant quantities of narcotics, were reportedly seized. In Burkina Faso itself, Kone said five “terrorist bases” were destroyed and “around 30 terrorists neutralised in clashes” near the border with Côte d’Ivoire. RFI

Two Top Lesotho Govt Officials Face Treason, Murder Charges over Failed 2014 Coup

In a first for Lesotho and the SADC region, a sitting Cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister will be charged with treason and murder on 6 December. Lesotho’s development planning minister, Selibe Mochoboroane, and former deputy prime minister, Mothetjoa Metsing, will join Lieutenant General Tlai Kamoli, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, and Lance Corporals Motloheloa Ntsane and Leutsoa Motsieloa to face charges relating to an attempted coup against the government of former prime minister Thomas Thabane on 30 August 2014. The murder charge emanates from the killing of police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko, which occurred during the night of the attempted coup when soldiers under the command of Kamoli raided police stations to disarm police officials who were loyal to Thabane. News24

President Ramaphosa Arrives in Cote d’Ivoire for State Visit

President Cyril Ramaphosa arrived in Abidjan, Côte d’ Ivoire, on Wednesday evening for a two-day state visit which will see the signing of bilateral agreements between the two countries. … The visit to Côte d’Ivoire follows a successful State Visit to the Federal Republic of Nigeria on 30 November 2021, which was marked by the 10th Session of the Bi-National Commission (BNC) between Nigeria and South Africa. “President Ramaphosa’s State Visit to Cote d’Ivoire is historic and significant in that it will be the first State Visit between the two countries since the establishment of diplomatic relations in the early 1990s,” the Presidency said in a statement. The visit comes at a time when the two countries are consolidating a list of strategic areas of cooperation across various economic and social sectors. Today, President Ramaphosa and President Ouattara are expected to preside over official talks before the signing of memoranda of understanding and agreement on political consultation, defence cooperation, agriculture, youth development, information and communication technologies, energy and mines, petroleum and energy and employment. defenceWeb

Congo State Cobalt Monopoly Aims to Start Buying in January

Democratic Republic of Congo’s state cobalt monopoly plans to start buying artisanal cobalt in January, its CEO Jean-Dominique Takis said in an interview at the Reuters Next conference, as the world’s biggest producer of the metal tries to ramp up revenue. Cobalt, which is trading at around $62,000 a tonne, is used in many of the batteries that power electric vehicles, sales of which are expected to soar as the world strives to cut carbon emissions. The Congo set up Entreprise Generale du Cobalt (EGC) to buy, process, and market all the artisanal cobalt produced in the country, which miners usually dig by hand and sell to unregulated middlemen who trade it. “We foresee to be on the market, buying, by late January,” Takis said. EGC aims to buy 10,000 tonnes of cobalt in hydroxide in 2022 – down from a previous target of 15,000. … The EGC still has to win over miners and middlemen though. “When a system is about to be replaced by another one, there is resistance,” he said. “Most of the resistance is due to the uncertainty for them on how things are going to play out.” Reuters

The Mystery of Where Omicron Came from — and Why It Matters

The discovery of omicron — the new variant of coronavirus with a high number of concerning mutations — has kicked off a frenzy of research. Scientists are racing to figure out how transmissible this variant is and how resistant to vaccines. They’re also grappling with a mystery: How did omicron get created? NPR spoke with two scientists in the thick of this research. Trevor Bedford is a computational virologist and professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Richard Lessells is an infectious disease specialist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, and part of the team that identified omicron in South Africa and alerted the world. … But Bedford says that when you look at the family tree for this omicron variant there’s something surprising: “With omicron, your closest sequences are back from mid-2020 — so over a year ago. That is very rare to see.” In other words, while scientists can tell that this variant evolved from a strain that was circulating in mid-2020, in the intervening months there’s been no trace of all the intermediate versions that scientists would have expected to find as it morphed into its current form. NPR