Africa Media Review for December 21, 2020

Islamic State in the Greater Sahara Expanding Its Threat and Reach in the Sahel

2020 has been the deadliest year of militant Islamist violence in the Sahel, with an estimated 4,250 fatalities, an increase of 60 percent from 2019. The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) is linked to more than half of these deaths. Established in 2015 as an offshoot of other militant Islamist groups in the region, ISGS’s violent activity has surged across the borderlands of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, an area known locally as Liptako-Gourma. ISGS targets civilians in 45 percent of its attacks, using violence to extort these communities. ISGS is particularly focused on controlling revenue-generation activities in Liptako-Gourma. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

African Migration Trends to Watch in 2021

COVID-related border closures across Africa have disrupted the normal flow of regional migration, putting migrants in greater danger. These closures have trapped many migrants in unsafe situations and forced others to take migration routes that are more dangerous. Moreover, detentions and forced deportations from Algeria, East Africa, and the Middle East have left many migrants stranded in foreign countries. Experts believe pandemic-related mobility restrictions have created an increased risk of trafficking for migrants once the pandemic is over. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Suicide Bomber in Somalia Hits Prime Minister’s Rally

Three senior Somali military officers, including a commander with an elite American-backed commando force, and several other people died in a suicide attack on Friday that was aimed at the country’s prime minister, the Somali police said. The Islamist extremist group Al Shabab claimed responsibility for the blast, which happened in Galkayo, in central Somalia, where Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble was scheduled to attend a political rally at a football stadium. Mr. Roble, who only came to office a few months ago, was on his way to the stadium when a suicide bomber exploded his vest before a line of waiting dignitaries, killing at least 10 people, including the military officers and several local leaders, said Ismael Mukhtaar Omar, a Somali government spokesman. The New York Times

UN Peacekeepers Say C. Africa Rebel Push ‘under Control’

Rebel forces advancing on the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui have been pushed back and the situation is “under control,” a spokesman for UN peacekeeping forces said Sunday, as tensions mount a week before key elections. The government had alleged an attempted coup when three of the powerful armed groups that control most of the country’s territory began advancing towards the capital along critical main roads, ahead of presidential and legislative elections scheduled for December 27. Earlier Sunday, the Coalition of the Democratic Opposition (COD-2020) called for the votes to be postponed “until the re-establishment of peace and security.” Uniting the main parties and movements opposed to President Faustin-Archange Touadera, COD-2020 was until recently led by former president Francois Bozize, who the government said Saturday was at the head of rebel fighters massing not far from the capital. AFP

Security Forces Rescue Dozens of Schoolchildren after New Abduction in Nigeria

Gunmen in Nigeria abducted more than 80 Islamic school students in northwestern Katsina state Saturday night, but the pupils were quickly rescued by security forces after a fierce gun battle, police announced Sunday. The foiled abduction comes less than two days after the release of 344 schoolboys who were kidnapped in the same area on Dec. 11. The incidents have highlighted the insecurity in northern Nigeria. Saturday night’s attempted kidnapping took place in Dandume, about 64 kilometers (40 miles) from Kankara, the town where the earlier kidnapping of schoolboys occurred. The bandits had already abducted four people and stolen a dozen cows when they ran into the schoolchildren who were on their way home from a celebration, Katsina state police spokesman, Gambo Isa, said early Sunday morning. Police and a local community self-defense group rescued the children from the bandits after a gunfight, he said. AP

Nigeria Jihadists Kill Five Soldiers, Kidnap Dozens of Civilians

Five Nigerian soldiers were killed by Islamic State-aligned jihadists and dozens of civilians were kidnapped in a separate attack, military sources said Sunday, in the latest violence to grip the north of the country. A military convoy was hit in northeast Borno state on Saturday, and militants also attacked a transport convoy in the same region a day before, abducting 35 people and killing one woman. … Deadly attacks and kidnappings by jihadists in the northeast and criminal gangs in the northwest have intensified in recent weeks. Saturday’s attack on the military convoy took place outside of Mafa, 44 kilometres (27 miles) north of the regional capital Maiduguri. “The terrorists fired an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) on the convoy which hit one of the vehicles with five soldiers in it,” one security source said. … Dozens were kidnapped late Friday by ISWAP militants at a fake checkpoint in Garin Kuturu village outside Jakana, 25 kilometres from Maiduguri. AFP

Kidnappings in North Nigeria Highlight Deepening Insecurity

Joyous, tearful Nigerian parents tightly hugged their sons, upon being reunited with them following their week-long abduction in the country’s northwestern area. The boys, however, appeared traumatized and exhausted. After their days of captivity, including forced marches and hiding from gunfights, they were then paraded barefoot in front of officials and the press. … Boko Haram, Nigeria’s jihadist rebels, claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, but the government later said the abduction was carried out by bandit groups rampant in the northwest. … While President Muhammadu Buhari’s government is credited with quick action that succeeded in getting the boys released, many in Nigeria are criticizing the government’s ineffective response to the deepening insecurity in the northwest and failure to protect civilians from the insurgency as well as criminal violence. AP

UN Security Council Extends DR Congo Peacekeeping Mission for One Year

The UN Security Council on Friday extended its peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo by one year, while initiating a plan for a gradual withdrawal from the country. A French resolution concerning the mission, known as MONUSCO, was adopted by 14 out of 15 members of the Security Council, with Russia abstaining. It will “extend until 20 December 2021 the mandate of MONUSCO in the DRC,” providing for a maximum deployment of 16,300 soldiers and police. The text asked the UN secretariat “to consider further reduction of MONUSCO’s level of military deployment and area of operations based on the positive evolution of the situation on the ground, in particular in the regions where the threat posed by armed groups is no longer significant.” The Security Council also endorsed a joint UN-DRC plan presented in October on a “Progressive and Phased Drawdown of MONUSCO” aimed at handing responsibilities over to Congolese forces. AFP

New Strain of COVID-19 Is Driving South Africa’s Resurgence

South Africa has announced that a new variant of the COVID-19 virus is driving the country’s current resurgence of the disease, which is seeing higher numbers of confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The new variant, known as 501.V2, is dominant among new confirmed infections in South Africa, according to health officials and scientists leading the country’s virus strategy. … South Africa currently has more than 8,500 people hospitalized with COVID-19, surpassing the previous high of 8,300 recorded in August. “We are seeing a much earlier and much sharper rise in the second wave or resurgence than we anticipated,” Prof. Ian Sanne, a member of the advisory committee, told South Africa’s News24. The new strain, different from the one in Britain, appears to be more infectious than the original virus. South African scientists are studying if the vaccines against COVID-19 will also offer protection against the new strain. AP

Kenya: Doctors on Strike against Inadequate Benefits, PPE

Kenyan doctors working in government hospitals have launched a nationwide strike over inadequate insurance benefits and lack of protective equipment (PPE) while treating COVID-19 patients. The strike began on Monday after the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union said on Twitter that there had been no resolution of grievances raised over the last eight months. “The Kenya government has neglected the Welfare, Safety & Health of health care workers,” the union said on Sunday. “No provision of medical insurance, Workman injury benefits & Compensation & lack of adequate quality PPEs. This greatly hampers the fight against #COVID19 in a country with an acute shortage of doctors.” At least 14 doctors have died of the coronavirus in Kenya since the first case was confirmed in March, according to the doctors union. Al Jazeera

Police Killed at Least 20 Kenyans While Enforcing Coronavirus Rules. Hopes for Justice Are Fading.

Since the inception of Kenya’s police oversight body in 2011, only eight officers have been convicted of crimes, less than 1 percent of the cases it has pursued. According to Amnesty International, more than 740 Kenyans have been killed by police since 2007, including at least 130 already this year. A national survey in 2018 found that most Kenyans believed the biggest risk to their lives was violence by police. Most of the pandemic-related killings occurred between late March and May. Only one case has been brought to trial: the killing of Yassin Moyo, a 13-year-old boy who was shot while sitting on his balcony with his mother, allegedly by officer Duncan Ndiema, who was enforcing curfew two days after Onyango died. Moyo’s age and obvious innocence propelled public outrage, and numerous human rights groups, as well as the government’s police oversight body, took up the case. But even with support, the trial has barely moved forward. The Washington Post

Thousands Protest in Sudan in Call for Faster Reform

Thousands of Sudanese protesters took to the streets of the capital Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman on Saturday, demanding an acceleration of reforms on the second anniversary of the start of an uprising that ousted Omar al-Bashir. The veteran leader was deposed by the military in April 2019 after months of mass protests against poor economic conditions and Bashir’s autocratic, three-decade rule. Many Sudanese are unhappy with what they see as the slow or even negligible pace of change under the transitional government that has struggled to fix an economy in crisis. The government was formed under a three-year power sharing agreement between the military and civilian groups, which is meant to lead to fair presidential and parliamentary elections. … At the top of the protesters’ demands is the formation of a long-awaited transitional parliament, part of the power sharing deal, to pass the necessary legislation for building a democratic state. Reuters

Sudan, Ethiopia to Hold Border Demarcation Talks Week after Clash

Sudan and Ethiopia will hold negotiations next week to delineate their shared border, a statement from Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s office said on Sunday. The talks will be held on Tuesday, a week after Ethiopian forces reportedly ambushed and killed Sudanese troops along the border. The two leaders met on the margins of a summit under way on Sunday in Djibouti of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African regional bloc comprising eight countries. Hamdok is the current head of the IGAD. A cross-border attack by Ethiopian forces and rebels last Tuesday killed at least four Sudanese troops and wounded a dozen others in the Abu Tyour area in eastern Sudan’s Gadarif province. Sudan’s state-run news agency SUNA on Saturday said its military had deployed “large reinforcements” into the province to reclaim territories controlled by Ethiopian farmers and rebels in Sudan’s al-Fashqa border area. Al Jazeera

IGAD Lifts Travel Restrictions against Riek Machar

Regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), has formally lifted travel sanctions imposed on South Sudan’s First Vice President Riek Machar during the war. The decision, which follows several verbal confirmations by Igad envoys, means that Dr Machar is free to travel to any of the members of the regional bloc and that his house arrest was no longer valid. “[The Assembly Heads of State and Government] underscored that currently there are no travel restrictions of any kind imposed by Igad on the First Vice President of the Republic of South Sudan, Dr Riek Machar Teny,” Igad said after the 38th Extraordinary Summit of heads of state and government in Djibouti on Sunday. The meeting had been called to discuss regional security as well as the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which had, by Sunday, infected more than 290,000 people and killed 5,400 others in the Igad region. The EastAfrican

South Sudan Faces ‘Catastrophic’ Famine Unless Conflict Ended

Parts of South Sudan are facing a “catastrophic” conflict-fuelled famine, humanitarian groups warned on Friday. Three UN agencies have called for a halt to violence to allow urgent access to parts of Jonglei state, where they said people have already run out of food because of insecurity, flooding and the coronavirus pandemic. “We call on all parties to stop the violence and to ensure safe humanitarian access in order to prevent an already dire situation from turning into a full-blown catastrophe,” said Meshack Malo, representative in South Sudan for the Food and Agriculture Organization. Mohamed Ayoya, representative in South Sudan for the UN children’s agency, Unicef, added: “We are extremely concerned about the increased numbers of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. These children need urgent treatment to prevent them from dying.” The Guardian

‘I Miss Home’: In Tigray Conflict, Displaced Children Suffer

Of the thousands of refugees who have fled the conflict in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray, nearly a third are children. Hundreds of them walked unaccompanied to Sudan. The Um Rakuba refugee camp is filling again, stifling in the afternoon sun in eastern Sudan, and there are children everywhere. Two boys peeped from behind a white tent marked with the blue insignia of the United Nations refugee agency. A girl wailed for her mother’s attention, a young teenager hawked plastic-wrapped cakes, while a group of boys and girls chased one another after leaving a makeshift classroom. “Living here is the best because in our small village, there’s war,” Ashenafi Mulugeta, 8, said through an interpreter on a recent afternoon. “I am happy to be here.” More than 51,000 Ethiopians have fled their country because of the military’s offensive in the restive region of Tigray, and more than 19,000 of them are here at Um Rakuba. This month, I went to the camp to hear their accounts of the war. The New York Times

WFP: Unrest in Northern Mozambique Creating Acute Food Shortages

The World Food Program is warning that hundreds of thousands of people in conflict-ridden northern Mozambique are facing life-threatening shortages of food. Escalating violence and increased insecurity in Mozambique’s three northernmost provinces, Cabo Delgado, Niassa and Nampula, are disrupting agricultural activities and causing food prices to skyrocket. The World Food Program says this is spurring dangerous levels of hunger and malnutrition. The WFP says over 900,000 people in the region are reaching emergency levels of food insecurity. WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri says a recent mission to these areas found malnourished children on the brink of starvation. “Cabo Delgado, it has to be noted, it has the highest rates of chronic malnutrition in Mozambique — with more than half the children malnourished,” she said. “Without urgent and sustained access and assistance, the situation may turn into another major humanitarian disaster.” VOA

Gabon’s Virus Hunters: In Search of the ‘Next COVID-19’

Dressed in biohazard suits despite the sweltering heat, a group of researchers trek through the dense Gabonese jungle on a hunt for wild animals. Their goal is to collect samples and identify pathogens that could pose a future risk to humans and potentially stop a future pandemic. The researchers are part of a team from Gabon’s International Medical Research Centre of Franceville (CIRMF). Their destination is the Zadié cave, home to swarms of bats. These small mammals are suspected of being at the origin of many of the major viruses to have jumped to humans in recent years, including SARS, MERS, Ebola and the coronavirus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic. France24