Africa Media Review for December 22, 2020

Joint UN-Interpol Operation Disrupts Firearms Supply to Terrorist Networks in West Africa and Sahel
An international operation coordinated jointly by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the international police organization INTERPOL has disrupted trafficking networks that supply terrorist groups across West Africa and the Sahel, the UN agency reported on Monday. Operation KAFO II targeted smuggling hotspots in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Niger over a seven-day period, resulting in the arrest of a number of suspected terrorists and the seizure of illicit firearms, ammunition and explosives. “The fight against illicit firearms trafficking requires strong international and inter-agency cooperation, to identify the source of these arms and bring perpetrators to justice,” said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly. … More than 260 officers from police, customs and other national services in the four countries, participated in the operation, which was conducted from 30 November to 6 December and focused on airports, seaports and land borders. UN News

‘Russia, Rwanda Sent Troops’ to Central African Republic
The Central African Republic says Russia and Rwanda sent hundreds of troops into the country after an alleged coup bid that took place ahead of the presidential and parliamentary polls scheduled for next week. On Saturday, the government of the CAR accused former president Francois Bozizé of an attempted coup after three powerful rebel groups merged and started to advance on the capital Bangui. “Russia has sent several hundred soldiers and heavy weapons” in the framework of a bilateral cooperation agreement, government spokesman Ange Maxime Kazagui said on Monday. “The Rwandans have also sent several hundred men who are on the ground and have started fighting.” Rwanda confirmed the deployment, saying the move was in response to the targeting of its troops in the UN peacekeeping force by rebels supported by Bozizé, who ruled the CAR from 2003 to 2013. Al Jazeera

France Opens Door to Talks with Some African Jihadists
France could back talks with some jihadist elements in Africa’s restive Sahel region, a source in President Emmanuel Macron‘s office said on Monday. A dialogue with some elements of the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) would be “possible,” the source said, because their agenda was more local and opportunistic than other groups. France has more than 5,000 troops fighting jihadists in the region, which runs the width of Africa to the south of the Sahara. Overlapping insurgencies severely affect Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Macron ruled out negotiating with jihadist groups in the Sahel last month, telling Jeune Afrique magazine: “We don’t talk with terrorists. We fight.” The source told AFP on Monday there could be no negotiation with the leadership of Al-Qaeda, and any talks with the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) were also “neither possible nor requested by anybody in the region.” The Defense Post with AFP

Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado: Militants Advance as Aid Access Shrinks
As Mozambique’s army – and its South African mercenary allies – try to hold back the insurgency, local communities in parts of the province are forming self-defence militias composed of veterans who fought here during the country’s war of independence in the 1960s and 1970s. But these groups are reportedly committing their own abuses against civilians, and the insurgents – known as Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jammah (ASWJ), and aligned with the so-called Islamic State – are launching ever more brutal attacks, particularly in areas where militia members are active. Mário Canhão Pedro, an 81-year-old man, told The New Humanitarian he fled his village of Muatide in late October during attacks that reportedly saw dozens of local residents decapitated on a football pitch – some of the worst violence in the province to date. The New Humanitarian

Tunisia: IS-Affiliated Group Accused of Beheading Farmer
Tunisian authorities say a group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group was behind the weekend beheading of a sheep farmer that has raised national concern. The farmer, Okba Dhehibi, was found dead Sunday in a mountainous area near the town of Mont Salloum. The military sent reinforcements to search for the attackers, and the prime minister pledged heightened government efforts against terrorism. Dhehibi and two friends were taking his sheep to graze when multiple assailants attacked them, according to official Tunisian news agency TAP. Regional court spokesman Riadh Nouioui said Monday that the Jound Al Khilafa brigade was behind the attack. Tunisian authorities say the group has pledged allegiance to IS and has fighters hiding out in the Mount Salloum region, near the Algerian border. The brigade was accused of killing two other young shepherds in the area in recent years. AP

Sudanese Army Expels Ethiopia Forces from Another Border Area
The Sudanese army on Monday expelled Ethiopian troops and militiamen from Salam Br area on the Sudanese side of the international border between the two countries. The border area on Monday witnessed fierce clashes between the Sudanese army and the Ethiopian forces which led to the death of a soldier and several other wounded. “The Sudanese army has continued its military operations to regain control of the agricultural areas, as it penetrated to Greater Fashaga after recapturing Abu Teyyour area,” military sources told the Sudan Tribune correspondent. “An army force took the control of two camps for Ethiopian troops and militias in the Salam Br area,” the sources further said. The Ethiopian forces built two large camps for several years ago in Salam Br, 15 km inside the Sudanese border. … A joint committee from Sudan and Ethiopia will meet to discuss the border issue on Tuesday. Sudan Tribune

Rights Groups Sound Alarm over Safety of Eritrean Refugees in Ethiopia
Humanitarian organizations are sounding the alarm on the safety of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia’s Tigray region as reports of attacks and forced deportations emerge. Approximately 96,000 Eritrean refugees lived in four camps in Tigray prior to the conflict which erupted in November. Many fled the violence to Sudan or to other parts of the country including the capital Addis Ababa. According to Refugees International, an independent advocacy group, Eritreans are being rounded up and returned to war-torn Tigray or are being deported to their homeland. “There’s a lot of concern that Eritreans are being forced back to places where they would be in danger,” said Sarah Miller, a senior fellow with Refugees International. “Whether that’s inside Ethiopia, including an active conflict zone in Tigray, or even back into Eritrea where they’ve fled, and that would be a huge violation of international law.” Miller told VOA the reports are coming in from refugees, family members and NGOs that are active in Ethiopia. VOA

Malian Refugees Return to Burkina Faso Camp Nine Months after Violent Attacks
UNHCR helped 3,000 refugees to move back to the Goudoubo camp this month after national authorities reinforced security in and around the site, with more personnel and increased patrols. “The Malian refugees returning to Goudoubo had been asking us to move them back to the camp where most had lived since 2012. We thank the authorities for making their return to Goudoubo possible by adding security measures and their commitment to keep the camp safe,” said Ioli Kimyaci, UNHCR Representative in Burkina Faso. … Some 9,000 Malian refugees were living at Goudoubo until March when armed extremists launched a series of violent attacks against the camp and issued ultimatums, causing residents to flee. … Overall, Burkina Faso is hosting around 20,000 Malian refugees. A further 2,100 are expected to move back to Goudoubo this month from Mentao camp, which had been cut off for more than a year following deadly attacks that affected aid and food distribution, and forced UNHCR to cease working there. Burkina Faso is at the “epicentre” of what the agency said is one of the fastest-growing displacement and protection crises in the world. UN News

Standing up to the Bandits: A Nigerian Community Looks to Forge Its Own Peace
Solomon Magaji can still see what’s left of his home from the opposite bank of the Kaduna River, but he can also see the men who torched it grazing their cattle untroubled on the abandoned fields around his village in northwestern Nigeria. Magaji, a quietly spoken single father, lost everything in the attack one night in May – so sudden all he had time to do was grab his eight-year-old son and run. … No help has come for the roughly 1,500 people scattered by the attack. Instead, survivors are being looked after by friends, relatives, and private charities. They have zero plans to return home: That would require the help of the police to guarantee their safety. Overstretched, the police justify their inaction by blaming the remoteness of the village, Unguwar Haraha Gofe, and the difficulty of the terrain. … What happened in Unguwar Haraha Gofe has been replicated in scores of villages in Southern Kaduna in recent years. The New Humanitarian

Nigeria Advises Regions to Limit Public Gatherings Amid COVID-19 Spike
Nigeria is advising its sub-regions to limit public gatherings, close bars and night clubs over the next five weeks amid a spike in new COVID-19 cases, a government coronavirus task force said on Monday. Africa’s most populous nation could be on the verge of a second wave of the novel coronavirus with the number of confirmed cases rising within communities over the last few weeks. Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, Abuja and northern state of Kaduna have emerged as new epicenters with over 70% of confirmed cases, said Boss Mustapha, chairman of the presidential task force for COVID-19, who is the country’s most senior civil servant. The proportion of positive tests for the virus has increased since the second week of December, linking the spread to large gatherings and poor compliance with face mask, he added. Reuters

South Africa Facing Isolation Amid Fears over New COVID Strain
South Africa is facing increasing isolation as more countries ban travel over the discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus. Israel, Turkey, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Switzerland are among countries that have halted air travel to and from South Africa following the announcement that a new variant of the COVID-19 virus is driving South Africa’s resurgence of the disease, with higher numbers of confirmed cases, hospitalisations and deaths. According to health officials and scientists leading the country’s virus strategy, the new variant, known as 501.V2, is dominant among recent confirmed infections in South Africa’s current wave. The new strain, different from the one in the United Kingdom, 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. Al Jazeera

Virus Surge Puts South African Hospitals under Severe Strain
South African private hospital operators have warned that they are facing severe capacity constraints due to a resurgence in coronavirus cases. The Covid-19 pandemic first peaked in Africa’s most industrialized economy in late July before infections tailed off. The country is in the midst of a second wave of the disease that began shortly before the festive season — which sees millions of people traverse the country to holiday destinations and home towns and villages. Netcare Ltd., Life Healthcare Group Holdings Ltd. and Mediclinic International Plc, the country’s three biggest private hospital groups, which had spare capacity in most areas during the initial surge, all said they were confronting bed shortages. In four of South Africa’s most populous provinces, “we have noted a substantial resurgence in Covid-19 patients and the health-care system is under significant pressure,” said Charl van Loggerenberg, Life Healthcare’s general manager of emergency medicine. Bloomberg

On Congo’s Muddy Trails, Lessons for a Global COVID Vaccine Rollout
When Ebola hit the city of Mbandaka in northwest Congo in 2018, health officials had to act fast – the city was connected via regular boat service to the sprawling capital Kinshasa, where the deadly virus could spread out of control. Unlike in previous outbreaks, they had a new weapon – an experimental vaccine that could revolutionise the fight against Ebola – if they could keep the vials between minus 60-80 degrees Celsius in tropical humidity and across rough terrain. As the world embarks on an unprecedented campaign to bring ultra-cold COVID-19 vaccines to billions in remote areas, Democratic Republic of Congo’s experience holds vital lessons in distributing the vaccine and gaining the trust of those receiving it. Congo itself will aim to use the technology and local expertise to get its people vaccinated against COVID-19. The country has recorded over 15,000 cases and 369 deaths from the virus, and faces a second wave of infections. Reuters

Somali Hotel Rises Again after Al Shabaab Bombing
A former minister in Somalia whose hotel was damaged in a bomb attack by the Islamist group al Shabaab says he is rebuilding and expanding, in an unusual show of business confidence in a country where violence is a daily challenge. The car bomb in August blew out the windows of the beachfront Elite Hotel in Mogadishu and partially destroyed its perimeter wall. Attackers then stormed the building, setting off grenades and shooting their way through rooms and staircases. “I have to invest in reconstruction. To stop reconstruction for fear of what may happen in future means to give up business,” hotel owner and former finance minister Mohamed Abdullahi Nur, 38, told Reuters. … Nur told Reuters he had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on reconstructing and repairing the hotel that cost him $2 million to build. Just a month after the attack, well-heeled customers were back in the five-story hotel, enjoying seafood and cappuccino, and taking in views of the ocean while beachgoers swam and speedboats cruised by. Reuters

Largest Confiscation of Smuggled Monkeys Sheds Light on African Trafficking Network
During a routine border check in early September, Zimbabwean officials confiscated 25 juvenile monkeys found in cages in the back of a truck entering the country from Zambia and bound for South Africa. The officials, with the Chirundu Anti-Poaching Project, a joint operation between Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) and Hemmersbach Rhino Force, immediately knew something was wrong because the animals weren’t native to their country. They arrested the four men in the truck. “They were smuggling the monkeys,” says ZimParks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo. “They tried to bribe some of the officers at the border.” To date, this is one of the largest known confiscations of illegally traded primates in Africa, according to the U.S.-based Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), a coalition of 23 wildlife centers and sanctuaries across the continent. … The 25 monkeys were most likely on their way to zoos in China, says Gregg Tully, PASA’s executive director. National Geographic