Africa Media Review for December 23, 2020

UN Retakes Rebel-Held Town in Run-up to Election in Central African Republic
The Central African Republic’s fourth-largest town, which was seized by rebels on Tuesday ahead of elections this weekend, is in the hands of United Nations peacekeepers and national security forces, the UN said. “The situation in Bambari is under control,” Abdoulaziz Fall, spokesman for the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSCA, told a press conference in the CAR capital Bangui on Wednesday. “The civilians are starting to return. The armed groups have been pushed back into the bush.” The attacks followed government accusations at the weekend that ex-president Francois Bozize was plotting a coup with armed groups ahead of presidential and legislative elections next Sunday. At the CAR’s request, Russia and Rwanda have sent “hundreds” of military personnel to support the troubled country, the government says, an account confirmed by those countries. Bambari is located 380 kilometres (240 miles) northeast of Bangui. AFP

Violence a Threat Ahead of Central African Republic’s Vote
Violence threatens Central African Republic’s presidential and legislative elections on Sunday, and some opposition candidates have pulled out of the race amid growing insecurity. President Faustin Archange Touadera and his party say the vote will go ahead after government forces clashed with rebels in recent days as the United Nations’ peacekeeping force tried to prevent a blockade of Bangui, the capital. Rwanda, which sent in soldiers after its peacekeepers came under threat, and Central African Republic have blamed the confrontation on former President Francois Bozize, alleging an attempted power grab ahead of a vote from which he is barred from participating. Russian forces also have arrived to help with security. Parties in the Democratic Opposition Coalition known as COD-2020 this week said seven of its candidates will pull out of the election, citing the violence. … “A contested outcome may lead to a post-electoral crisis that armed groups could use to further weaken the state,” the International Crisis Group noted. AP

UN Probe in Mali Sees War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity: Report
United Nations investigators into violence in Mali have told the Security Council of evidence that security forces committed war crimes, and fighters and other armed groups perpetrated crimes against humanity. The allegations were made in a 338-page report by the International Commission of Inquiry for Mali, a three-member panel which investigated violence that unfolded over six years from 2012-2018. The probe, whose conclusions have been sent to the Security Council but have not yet been made public, recommends setting up a court that specialises in prosecuting international crimes. “The Commission has reasonable grounds to believe that the Malian defence and security forces committed war crimes, including violence to the life and person of civilians and persons hors de combat suspected of being affiliated or cooperating with extremist armed groups,” says the report, acquired by the AFP news agency on Tuesday. AFP

UN Aims to Send Team to Ethiopia’s Tigray to Probe War Crimes
The United Nations is striving to get a team on the ground to investigate alleged human rights violations, including a mass killing in Ethiopia’s Tigray, described by the UN rights chief as one of many “appalling” human rights abuses that could amount to war crimes. Ethiopia’s army has been fighting rebellious forces in the northern Tigray region for more than six weeks in a conflict that has displaced close to 950,000 people. Access for humanitarian workers has until recent days been impossible and rights workers are now seeking access on the ground to verify reports. “If civilians were deliberately killed by a party or parties to the conflict, these killings would amount to war crimes and there needs to be, as I have stressed previously, independent, impartial, thorough and transparent investigations to establish accountability and ensure justice,” UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday, describing incidents there as “heartbreaking” and “appalling.” Reuters

Sudan, Ethiopia Hold Border Talks; Area near Tigray Contested
Sudan and Ethiopia have started their talks in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to demarcate their border, as Addis Ababa said incidents in a disputed area jeopardised otherwise friendly ties between the neighbours. Recent violence “did not resemble the cordial relation that exists between our two countries,” Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Demeke Mekonnen, said on Tuesday. “It is endangering the agreements we have reached to maintain the status quo,” he said, according to the opening remarks distributed by Ethiopia’s embassy in Khartoum. The two-day talks in the capital came a week after Ethiopian forces reportedly ambushed Sudanese troops along the border, leaving four dead and more than 20 wounded. Sudan has since deployed troops to the al-Fashaqa border region, the site of sporadic clashes. AFP

UN to Halt Joint UN-AU Peacekeeping in Darfur by Year’s End
U.N. Security Council members decided to end the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan’s western Darfur region when the mission’s mandate runs out on Dec. 31, after pressure from the country’s transitional government, Russia and African nations. The council voted unanimously late Tuesday not to extend the mandate of the joint mission, known as UNAMID. In June, the Security Council unanimously approved replacing it with a much smaller and solely political mission, which will be known as United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, or UNITAMS. … The Sudanese government has been pressing for UNAMID to expire at year’s end, a request that obtained the backing of Russia, Niger, South African, Tunisia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in a council meeting earlier this month. Several Western nations have urged more time before UNAMID’s exit, with Germany’s ambassador to the U.N., Christoph Heusgen, warning that Sudan is at “a critical juncture” and “the transition process could still derail.” AP

Start of Investigations on Sudan’s June 3 Massacre
Yesterday, an independent national commission started its in-person investigation on the violent dispersal by government forces of the protesters at the sit-in in front of the Sudanese army’s General Command in Khartoum on June 3, 2019, causing the death of at least 127 demonstrators. The commission began by questioning members of the military component of the Sovereign Council. The commission, headed by the human rights lawyer Nabil Adib, questioned Lt Gen Yasir El Atta, member of the Sovereign Council, for two hours in the presence of leading members of the commission. The commission is expected to investigate the remaining members of the military component in due course. Sudan’s Chief Justice and veteran Sudanese Supreme Court Judge Nemat Abdallah confirmed that the cases of three killed protestors, Ahmed El Khair, Hanafi Abdelshakour, and Ashraf El Tayeb, had been brought to the courts. Radio Dabanga

IGAD Calls on Sudanese Government to Establish Legislative Council
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) called on all Sudanese parties to fully implement the Juba Peace Agreement and form the long-awaited Legislative Council in their final statement at the IGAD’s thirty-eighth summit this Sunday in Djibouti. The different heads of state of the IGAD countries, a grouping of seven East African countries, met in Djibouti for the summit on Sunday, which was chaired by Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok. The summit stressed the importance of prioritising stability and unity in Ethiopia and welcomed Ethiopia’s permission for humanitarian aid organisations to reach the Tigray region. The summit also sought to reduce diplomatic tension between Somalia and Kenya. The IGAD leaders also discussed the slow implementation of the Sudan peace agreement. Recently, the announcement of the formation of the Transitional Partners Council (TPC) and the postponement of the formation of the Legislative Council have caused widespread criticism within Sudan. Radio Dabanga

Somalia Fails in Attempt to Have Kenya Reprimanded at IGAD
Somalia’s attempts to have Kenya reprimanded at the regional bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), fell through after leaders at the Summit largely disagreed with severance of diplomatic ties. Instead, the heads of state and government gathered in Djibouti City on Sunday asked Somalia to focus on the electoral calendar as well as reconciliation and security programmes in the country. Somalia had demanded that an independent team from Igad be sent on the common border of the two countries, where Somalia has alleged Kenya is aiding Somali militia, a charge Nairobi denies. The 38th Extraordinary Summit of Igad was meant to discuss regional security challenges, humanitarian situation in Tigray as well as the rising Covid-19 infections in the region, which had so far reached 290,000 with more than 5,300 deaths. But the meeting was preceded by a series of protests from Somalia, including cutting ties with Kenya, accusing Nairobi of interference in Mogadishu affairs. The EastAfrican

US Navy Ships Arrive in Somalia for Withdrawal
The United States military has deployed a group of navy ships off the coast of Somalia to support the withdrawal of some 700 personnel from the country, the Pentagon said on Tuesday. … The naval group is to help relocate the US military and civilian personnel from Somalia “to other East Africa operating locations while maintaining pressure on violent extremists and supporting partner forces,” the US Africa Command said in a statement. Major General Dagvin Anderson, commander of the removal operation dubbed Joint Task Force-Quartz, said the arrival of the group “demonstrates our resolve to support our partners and protect our forces through this transition.” Africom Commander General Stephen Townsend underscored Saturday that the US was not pulling out of the region. “To be clear, the US is not withdrawing or disengaging from East Africa. We remain committed to helping our African partners build a more secure future. We also remain capable of striking al-Shabab at the time and place of our choosing – they should not test us,” he said. AFP

Police Detain Ugandan Human Rights Lawyer Ahead of Vote
Police said they had detained a prominent Ugandan human rights lawyer and government critic over money laundering allegations, in what his organisation said was part of a crackdown on dissent ahead of elections next month. Nicholas Opiyo heads Chapter Four Uganda, a civil liberties watchdog that has often helped defend leaders and supporters of opposition parties detained on politically related charges. … Chapter Four Uganda condemned what it called the “abduction and incommunicado detention” of its leader and said it was concerned about his safety and well-being. It was not immediately possible to contact Opiyo or any lawyer representing him. Opiyo’s arrest on Tuesday by security officials “sends a chilling message about their disregard for basic rights,” Otsieno Namwaya, the senior researcher for Africa at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said. Reuters

Nigeria: Police Took Their Son Away. Then the Merchants of Hope Showed Up.
In the small family portrait gallery hanging above the television in the cozy home of the Iloanya family, only two framed photographs remain that include the youngest son, Chijioke. He disappeared eight years ago. His parents, Hope and Emmanuel, last saw him in handcuffs in a police station run by the feared unit known as SARS — the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. They have been searching for him ever since, along the way encountering an industry of merchants peddling hope: lawyers, human rights groups and the churches and pastors who asked for the photographs of Chijioke, promising to pray over them and help bring him back. … The Iloanyas are just one of many families in Nigeria whose children have disappeared in police custody. … In the Iloanyas’ home state of Anambra, in Nigeria’s southeast, so many have disappeared that some have smelled a business opportunity, wringing money from desperate families who often have already paid large bribes to the police. The New York Times

1,000 Lost on One Boat – This Woman Hopes to Name Them
On 18 April 2015 more than 1,000 refugees and migrants left Libya in an overloaded fishing boat bound for Europe. On a moonless night in the Mediterranean the vessel sank. But those who drowned are not forgotten – for the last five years a team led by an Italian forensic pathologist has been on a mission to name them. “There’s a body that needs to be identified, you identify it – this is the first commandment of forensic medicine,” says Dr Cristina Cattaneo, professor of forensic pathology and anthropology at the University of Milan. Cattaneo’s obsession is naming the dead. That is normal if a plane crashes in Europe, she says. Why should it be different for migrant travellers? “There are so many tombstones in European cemeteries with ‘unknown’ written in Italian in place of a name, and the date of death. And that’s it. I think this is tragic. It’s the ultimate insult that someone can receive.” BBC

Hunting for ‘Disease X’: In the Congo Rainforest, the Doctor Who Discovered Ebola Warns of Deadly Viruses Yet to Come
Humanity faces an unknown number of new and potentially fatal viruses emerging from Africa’s tropical rainforests, according to Professor Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfum, who helped discover the Ebola virus in 1976 and has been on the frontline of the hunt for new pathogens ever since. “We are now in a world where new pathogens will come out,” he told CNN. “And that’s what constitutes a threat for humanity.” As a young researcher, Muyembe took the first blood samples from the victims of a mysterious disease that caused hemorrhages and killed about 88% of patients and 80% of the staff who were working at the Yambuku Mission Hospital when the disease was first discovered. … Speaking exclusively to CNN in the DRC’s capital, Kinshasa, Muyembe warned of many more zoonotic diseases — those that jump from animals to humans — to come. Yellow fever, various forms of influenza, rabies, brucellosis and Lyme disease are among those that pass from animals to humans, often via a vector such as a rodent or an insect. They’ve caused epidemics and pandemics before. CNN