Africa Media Review for December 23, 2016

We Finally Have an Effective Ebola Vaccine. The War on the Disease is About to Change.
It took a major Ebola epidemic that led to more than 11,000 deaths, but we now finally have a successful Ebola vaccine candidate in development. If approved, the vaccine would vastly reduce the likelihood of ever seeing another major Ebola outbreak. More than a year ago, researchers published striking preliminary results from a large trial on a vaccine called rVSV-ZEBOV in the Lancet. They showed that everyone who got the shot immediately after contact with an Ebola victim didn’t get the virus. Today, the same researchers — who hail from the World Health Organization, Guinea’s Ministry of Health, Public Health England, and other international partners — have unveiled their final results in the Lancet, and they’re just as remarkable. The vaccine was tested in a trial involving nearly 12,000 people in Guinea and Sierra Leone during 2015 and 2016. Among the 5,837 people who got the vaccine, no Ebola cases were recorded. By comparison, there were 23 Ebola cases in the control group that had not gotten the vaccine. Vox

Libya Plane Diverted to Malta in ‘Potential Hijack’ with 118 Aboard
An apparently hijacked Libyan passenger plane landed on the Mediterranean island of Malta on Friday, with local media reporting that 118 people were aboard. The Times of Malta and other outlets reported that two hijackers had threatened to blow up the Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320, which was on a domestic flight in Libya when it diverted to Malta. The Maltese prime minister, Joseph Muscat, tweeted: “Informed of potential hijack situation of a #Libya internal flight diverted to #Malta. Security and emergency operations standing by.” He later added that the flight had taken off from the Libyan city of Sabha, and was due to land in the capital, Tripoli. But the flight was “diverted” to Malta. He said that security services were “coordinating operations.”  AP on The Washington Post

AFRICOM Achieves ‘Core Objectives’ and Ends Libya Airstrike
U.S. Africa Command has ended its air campaign against the Islamic State group in Libya after carrying out nearly 500 airstrikes in support of local ground forces who pushed the militants from their coastal stronghold. During the four-month Operation Odyssey Lightning, U.S. warplanes pounded a range of targets on an almost daily basis, hitting everything from enemy fighting positions and roadside bombs devices to command and control centers and weapons caches. The mission centered on backing up forces aligned with Libya’s Government of National Accord, which led a ground assault on the Islamic State militants in the coastal city of Sirte. A year ago, several thousand Islamic State fighters were believed to be operating across the city. Those numbers dwindled to several hundred by late summer. “In partnership with the Libyan Government of National Accord, the operation succeeded in its core objective of enabling GNA-aligned forces to drive Daesh out of Sirte,” AFRICOM said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group. For now, no other strikes are planned, AFRICOM said. But that could change depending on conditions. Stars and Stripes

Libya’s Ganfouda May Be Another Aleppo
Much of the world’s anguish over Syria these days has to do with the world’s apparent unwillingness to rescue civilians from a violent crisis. But like Aleppo, there is another city that needs saving. Libya’s ongoing civil war has gone on for years, recently spilling into a residential area in the city of Benghazi called Ganfouda. Militias and foreign forces, such as the United Arab Emirates loyal to Gen. Khalifa Haftar, have laid siege to the neighbourhood for months, depriving families of food, water and medicine. The UN and Human Rights Watch have called the situation an emergency humanitarian crisis. Simply put: the world can’t afford to stand around and do nothing on this one. This disaster didn’t appear out of nowhere and, like Syria, it’s not without its own bad actors. Libya’s ongoing civil war has pit a legitimate, UN-recognized government based in the West side of the country against the Tobruk government in the East, which has allied with the brutal Khalifa Haftar, whose forces turned Ganfouda into a living hell and killed more than 60 civilians. Toronto Star

Congo Security Forces Killed at Least 34 in Anti-Kabila Protests -HRW
Security forces in Democratic Republic of Congo killed at least 34 people during protests this week against President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his mandate, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday. Congo’s capital Kinshasa and other cities were convulsed by violent demonstrations on Tuesday as Kabila, in power since 2001, reached the end of his second term in office without an election in place to choose his successor. HRW’s Central Africa director said on Twitter that the deaths, including 19 in the capital Kinshasa and five in the southeastern mining hub of Lubumbashi, happened at protests early on Tuesday and HRW was verifying reports of more deaths. Congo’s government says 22 people were killed in the clashes, including a police officer, most of them by stray bullets or while looting. Reuters

DRC Ruling Alliance, Opposition Resume Talks
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, members of the presidential alliance and the country’s main opposition coalition met again Thursday to try to hammer out a deal on delayed elections. Mediators from the Catholic Church say the two sides need to reach an agreement before Christmas, but so far neither side is showing signs of compromise. The Archbishop of Kisangani, Monseigneur Marcel Utembi, took a firm line as he reopened the talks in Kinshasa. Utembi said the church mediators are not inclined to look favorably on further undue postponements and delaying tactics. He expressed the church’s firm wish that a compromise be found before Christmas. Utembi is the president of CENCO, the organization that represents the Congolese Catholic Church, which is mediating the dispute over delayed elections. The talks were suspended Saturday while a delegation of Congolese archbishops visited the pope to seek guidance on the crisis. VOA

Mass Arrests in DR Congo’s Second City
Soldiers sealed part of Congo’s second city and carried out mass arrests of young men on Thursday, residents said, as talks to defuse the country’s explosive political crisis continued. Protests and deadly clashes have erupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo over President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his mandate on December 20. The army sealed off the Matshipisha-Gbadolite neighbourhood of Lubumbashi from 5am (0300 GMT), five residents of the city told AFP. The operation was concluded by early afternoon, said the police commander in Haut-Katanga province, Jean-Bosco Galenga. On Wednesday the region’s governor Jean-Claude Kazembe was forced to flee as stones were thrown at him when he tried to visit Matshipisha on a “peace march” aimed at demonstrating that the authorities were in control there following deadly violence on Tuesday. The East African

17 Dead as DR Congo Police Clash with Cult Members
Seventeen people have been killed in clashes between DR Congo police and members of a cult that believes the end of President Joseph Kabila’s mandate will usher in the apocalypse, a regional governor said Thursday. Bienvenu Esimba, governor of DR Congo’s northwestern Mongala province, said the clashes broke out Wednesday in the provincial capital Lisala when members of the sect burned dozens of houses and attacked a market before launching an assault on local electoral commission offices. “The toll from the clashes is 14 militiamen from the political-religious cult and three dead police officers,” Esimba told AFP by telephone, adding that cult leader Wami-Nene was among those killed. A local Catholic priest confirmed that cult members had launched the attack. DR Congo is mired in political crisis two days after Kabila’s second and final term in office had been due to end on December 20, with no indications that he is planning to step down. AFP on Times Live

‘Blood Diamonds’ Policy Obscures Rights Abuses in DRC
The failure of European jewellery firms to scrutinise their supply chains and a flawed diamond certification scheme are fuelling child labour and sexual abuse in artisanal mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a campaign group said on Thursday. Thousands of children work illegally in diamond mines in Congo’s diamond-rich Kasai region – mainly to pay for food and school fees – and girls who live around the mines are prey to rape, forced marriage and prostitution, according to Swedwatch. Yet few jewellery firms have policies to assess the risk of child labour and abuses in their diamond supply chains, and many do not provide public information about efforts to operate responsibly, Swedwatch said in a report. Swedwatch also said the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), an initiative seeking to end trade in “blood diamonds” used to finance conflict, was obscuring rights abuses. Mail and Guardian

Senegal Troops ‘Ready to Oust Jammeh’
Senegal’s troops are on alert to intervene in The Gambia if President Yahya Jammeh refuses to step down next month, the regional bloc Ecowas says. Mr Jammeh initially accepted defeat in the 1 December poll, but later said it was flawed. The Ecowas chairman said Senegal had been chosen to lead operations “to restore the people’s wishes” if needed. President Jammeh has already said he will not be intimidated, saying Ecowas had no authority to interfere. BBC

Nigeria in Talks to Secure Release of More Chibok Girls, Official Says
Nigerian authorities are involved in negotiations aimed at securing the release of some of the more than 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 in the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok, the president’s spokesman said on Thursday. His comments, posted on Twitter, came in response to reports in Nigeria’s media that some of the girls had been released by the Islamist militant group, which he said were untrue. “The negotiations are ongoing and the Department of State Service, DSS is full of optimism that they will be successful,” Garba Shehu, a spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari, said in a tweet. “To my friends spreading the news of a further release of Chibok Girls, we are not there yet,” he tweeted. Around 270 girls were taken in April 2014 from their school in Chibok, Borno state, where Boko Haram has waged a seven-year insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic state, killing more than 15,000 people and displacing over two million. Reuters on EuroNews

Sierra Leone’s Ex-military Chief Assassinated at Home
Former Chief of Defense Staff Samuel Omar Williams was shot dead inside his home in Devil Hole village near the capital Freetown early Thursday morning, police said. According to police Commander al-Sheik Kamara, unidentified gunmen had opened fire at Williams inside his own bedroom. He said a police probe was ongoing. Williams was among the first Sierra Leonean officers to benefit from an upgrade in the ranks in the armed forces when he was promoted from the rank of maj.-gen. to first lt.-gen. by President Ernest Koroma in July last year. He was said to be one of the few loyal militarymen that backed the former government of President Tejan Kabbah, which was repeatedly overthrown in the late 90s by other factions of the military and the Revolutionary United Front RUF rebels. Anadolu Agency

A Small African Nation Severs Ties with Taiwan, and Beijing Applauds
Before this week, few Chinese citizens had probably heard of São Tomé and Príncipe, an island nation off the west coast of Africa. But the country has risen into their good graces after deciding to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan, a self-governing island that China regards as a breakaway province. The decision, announced by Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday, reduces the number of countries that have formal relations with Taiwan to 21. It comes after Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, who took office in May, shattered diplomatic protocol in early December and startled Beijing by speaking with the American president-elect, Donald J. Trump. “China appreciates and welcomes São Tomé and Príncipe’s return to the right track of the one-China principle,” Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a news briefing on Wednesday. The New York Times

Kenyan Officials Seize Tonnes of Ivory
Kenyan officials have seized nearly two tonnes of smuggled Ivory after recalling a shipment en route to Cambodia following intelligence that it contained illegal cargo, a tax official said. The 1.97 tones of ivory, valued at 197 million shillings ($2 million), were hidden in hollow wooden planks and declared as ceramics, David Yego, Kenya Revenue Authority’s commissioner for investigations, said on Wednesday. Authorities in Singapore returned the shipment to Mombasa after Kenya raised the alarm. Yego expressed concerns that the smugglers had been able to bypass new security measures designed to stop narcotics and Ivory smuggling at the port. “The manner in which the tusks were concealed causes concern to us, as to the manner in which ivory traffickers are adapting new tactics to avoid detection at ports, but we are up to the task,” Yego told journalists in Mombasa. SABC

South Sudan Arms Embargo ‘Not Productive,’ Japan Envoy Says
A Japanese official says an arms embargo on South Sudan is “not productive,” even as the United States pushes Japan and other U.N Security Council members to impose one amid warnings of possible genocide. Okamura Yoshifumi, special adviser to Japan’s prime minister, spoke after visiting South Sudan, where Japan has 350 U.N. peacekeepers. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon this week said South Sudan will head toward genocide unless immediate action is taken on an arms embargo. U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power has said the council will vote on a sanctions resolution by the end of the year, but she has expressed frustration with Japan and other council members for their lack of support. The Washington Post

Is President Obama Going to Lift Sanctions on Sudan During His Final Month
The Obama administration has no intention to lift sanctions on Sudan despite the growing rumours about a possible decision on this respect, Sudan Tribune has learnt. During the year 2016, the U.S. Special Envoy for the two Sudans Donald Booth worked hard to support the efforts of the African Union mediation team to end the armed conflicts in Darfur and the Two Areas. Multiple sources say President Barak Obama intends to use the sanction to bring Khartoum to make the necessary concessions and to convince the armed opposition groups to sign a peace agreement leading to the removal of the 19-year trade and financial embargo. Sudan Tribune

Somalis Abroad Are Rebuilding Their War-torn Country Through Selfless Giving
At the end of every month, Ahmed Abubakar walks to a local money transfer agency in Memphis, Tennessee to send money to the Horn of Africa. Abubakar, 29, works as an accountant and the cash is wired to his mother and siblings who now reside 8,000 miles away in Nairobi. It also goes to friends, former teachers, and distant relatives in neighboring Somalia, some of whom Abubakar hasn’t seen in years—or in some cases, never met. Some of the recipients, like his former madrassa instructor, are getting married; a childhood friend just had his first baby; a distant cousin or an extended aunt wants money for the upcoming Eid holidays. Whatever it costs, Abubakar receives the calls, plans his finances, and one way or another sends whatever he can. Abubakar is not alone in this: every year, 2 million Somalis living in the diaspora send approximately $1.4 billion back home, according to the World Bank. The remittances contribute to 23% of Somalia’s gross domestic product and surpass any amount of aid given to the country. Somali-Americans, who number over 150,000, are the highest contributors; they send an average of $3,800 per person annually, according to a 2013 study published by Oxfam. Quartz

Ethnic Tensions in Gondar Reflect the Toxic Nature of Ethiopian Politics
In Gondar, a city in Ethiopia’s northern highlands, a lone tourist pauses to take a photo of a fortress built more than two centuries ago. Nearby, past a row of gift shops, lies the wreck of a coach torched during unrest in August. Gondar, known as “Africa’s Camelot”, was once the centre of the Ethiopian empire – at a time when that empire was defined mainly by Amhara traditions. Today, the city is facing new tensions that have a complex history. A territorial dispute between elites here in the Amhara region and those in neighbouring Tigray has been simmering for at least 25 years. Tigrayans have been accused by opponents of wielding undue influence over Ethiopia’s government and security agencies since 1991. In recent months, these and other grievances have led to protests, strikes, vandalism and killings in Gondar, causing a drastic reduction in foreign visitors to the tourism-dependent city and an exodus of fearful Tigrayans. The Guardian

Ivory Coast Moves Beyond War to Become a West African Powerhouse
This West African country in October became the continent’s fastest-growing economy, a sharp reversal from 2011, when a bloody civil conflict left 3,000 people dead. The International Monetary Fund said surging foreign investment, political stability and firm prices for its main crops helped the nation of 25 million people surpass Ethiopia. The World Bank expects growth here to hit 8.5% this year, the second-fastest in the world after Myanmar. Ivory Coast’s performance stands in contrast with that of economies like Nigeria and Angola, which fell into recession as the price of oil collapsed, and other African democracies have cited Ivory Coast’s economic success as a model. The Obama administration in September lifted sanctions in recognition of the country’s steps to strengthen democratic institutions. The Wall Street Journal

Here’s Why Mobile Money is Dramatically Reducing Poverty in Kenya
[…] For the past decade, Suri has been studying the development of mobile banking in Kenya and how it is rapidly altering the ways people save money and interact with each other in times of need. In a study published in the journal Science this month, she and her co-author have shown just the potential of the technology, lifting a staggering 194,000 Kenyan households — 2 percent of the country’s population — out of extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.25 a day. This is the first study detailing the decade-old technology’s impact on poverty — specifically how it encourages saving, reduces transaction costs and offers an option to find funds in the case of an emergency. But that doesn’t mean mobile money is the solution to extreme poverty. It’s important that we carefully examine exactly why Kenya’s experiment was so successful to determine how it can benefit other countries. The Washington Post



Photo: Adam Jones