Africa Media Review for December 3, 2021

Gambians Set for High-Stakes Polls, First since End of Jammeh Era
Yahya Jammeh had once pledged he would govern The Gambia for “a billion years”, but his actual 22-year rule came to an end on the evening of January 21, 2017 when he and his close family members boarded a small, unmarked aircraft at the airport in the capital, Banjul. Jammeh had refused to step down after a December 1, 2016 vote in which opposition leader Adama Barrow was declared the winner, triggering weeks of tension as West African leaders threatened to use military force to remove him if he failed to step down. After days of negotiations with regional heads of state, Jammeh was forced into exile in Equatorial Guinea, ending a tenure marked by a litany of alleged abuses and financial plunder. Five years later, the Gambians are set to return to the polls on Saturday – and for the first time in 27 years, Jammeh, who took power in a 1994 coup, will not be on the ballot. Instead, Barrow, the incumbent president, and five other candidates are vying for the top post, in a closely watched vote that is seen as a test of the country’s democracy. … Since taking office, Barrow has stewarded the country, a multi-party democracy, implementing reforms such as repealing the death penalty and releasing political prisoners. … But the former property developer has also attracted criticism for what some perceive as manoeuvring to secure his political future. Al Jazeera

Africa CDC Calls for Calm Amid Surge in COVID Infections
Concerns about the omicron COVID-19 variant are growing in Africa but health experts say vaccination can help reduce infections in the population. This week has seen a surge in coronavirus cases in Africa due to the new omicron variant. The continent reported 52,000 cases for the week, and 31,000 were reported in South Africa. Speaking at a virtual press briefing Thursday, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called for African countries to work together to deal with the new variant and the pandemic. “What we need to do going forward is to have a coordinated approach for managing these variants because we know that there will be another variant and we know we will deal with this variant for sure,” said Nkengasong. “There is a lot we don’t know about the variant, no need to panic. We just need to be patient and understand this variant. I know we are not helpless today. We flooded many tools on the battlefield against the virus as a whole. It’s still the same COVID.” Moses Masika, a Nairobi-based virologist, says the continent will continue to suffer until most of the population is vaccinated. VOA

Restore Constitutional Order, Democracy in Sudan before Getting International Acceptance: UN
Before gaining international acceptance, the Sudanese authorities have to restore the constitutional order and democratic rule in the country, said Stéphane Dujjarric UN Secretary-General Spokesman on Thursday. During his daily press briefing on Thursday, Dujjarric read a statement in response to questions raised by the call of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to support a political agreement signed by Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdo and the coup leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on November 21, 2021. The official spokesman said the agreement was an “initial step” but more work needs to be done by the military rulers. “Urgent and serious steps by the authorities are needed to reaffirm the commitment of the Constitutional Declaration and pave the way towards free and fair elections leading to a civilian democratic order,” he stressed. … Gen al-Burhan formed a new Sovereign Council and appointed civilian members without consulting the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC). The latter also will not be consulted in the formation of a new cabinet of technocrats. … The FFC leaders rejected the deal and criticized Hamdok saying that the military coup aimed to avoid implementing democratic reforms—particularly the formation of one army, transfer of economic activities of the army to the government, and justice for Darfur and [for] civilians [killed] before and after the revolution. Sudan Tribune

Russia Blocks Brit from U.N. Libya Envoy Role
Russia has blocked the appointment of a veteran British United Nations troubleshooter, Nicholas Kay, as the U.N. special envoy to Libya, contributing to diplomatic turmoil ahead of the North African country’s upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, two diplomatic sources said. The move comes less than a week after the U.N.’s outgoing envoy, Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis, abruptly resigned from his job following a clash with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres over the U.N.’s handling of pre-election preparations. It also follows ongoing tensions between Britain and Russia, the latter of which previously blocked the renewal of appointments for several U.N. sanctions experts. … Guterres had hoped to move quickly to fill the top U.N. spot before Libya’s elections, proposing Kay, a former British diplomat who served as the U.N. special representative for Somalia. Diplomats said Guterres is mulling the prospect of appointing Stephanie Williams, a U.S. diplomat who served as the acting U.N. special representative for Libya and deputy head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, on an interim basis, thereby avoiding another contentious vote in the U.N. Security Council. FP

Libyan Court Says Gadhafi’s Son Can Run for President
A Libyan court ruled Thursday that a son of the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi can compete in upcoming presidential elections, overturning a decision by the country’s top electoral body to disqualify him. A court in the southern province of Sabha ruled in favor of Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, Libyan media outlets reported. For almost a week, the court had been unable to convene to hear the appeal after the building was surrounded by armed men who prevented judges from entering. Last week, Libya’s High National Elections Committee had disqualified him, citing past convictions linked to using violence against protesters. The candidate had appealed the ruling. The first round of voting is meant to start on Dec. 24, though a number of divisive issues need to be resolved before then. It remains unclear whether any further legal challenges could be made to Seif al-Islam’s candidacy. … The upcoming vote faces many challenges, including disputes over the laws governing the elections and occasional infighting among armed groups. Other obstacles include the deep rift that remains between the country’s east and west and the presence of thousands of foreign fighters and troops. AP

Two Soldiers Killed in Militant Attack in Benin, Army Says
Two soldiers were killed and several more were wounded when Islamist militants attacked a border security post in northern Benin on Wednesday night, the army said. The raid in Porga region was the second in Benin this week. Islamist militants attacked an army patrol in the department of Alibori on Tuesday morning, army chief Colonel Fructueux Gbaguidi said in an internal statement on Thursday seen by Reuters. The army killed one militant in Tuesday’s attack and another on Wednesday night, he said. An official statement by the army later confirmed the deaths and attributed the attacks to unidentified armed men. Militant attacks are rare in Benin, but groups linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State are active in its northern neighbors Burkina Faso and Niger and have made increasing incursions south. … Benin had not reported an Islamist attack since 2019, when two French tourists were kidnapped in a national park and later taken by the militants into Burkina Faso. They were rescued by the French military. Neighboring Togo said last month it had repelled an attack near its northern border, which was the first by suspected Islamists in the country. Reuters

‘Impossible’ to Rescue: How Three Foreigners Died in Burkina Faso
It has been months since Mohamed narrowly escaped an ambush in eastern Burkina Faso that killed three foreigners, yet the soldier cannot shake the guilt of being forced to leave them behind during a mission he says should never have gone ahead. “There was a terrorist base there,” Mohamed, whose real name we are not using to protect his safety, told Al Jazeera in October. He spoke from a restaurant in Fada N’Gourma in the east, one of the last towns Spanish journalists David Beriain and Roberto Fraile and Irish conservationist Rory Young spent time in before they were killed by armed men on April 26 while embedded in an anti-poaching unit in Arly National Park. … Since the attack, questions have swirled as to what went wrong and why a mission into one of the country’s most dangerous zones was allowed to proceed and with journalists embedded. … During a six-month investigation, Al Jazeera spoke to 12 people either directly involved in or with close knowledge of the mission, including military, diplomats, conservationists and aid workers, and reviewed internal security reports and text messages between soldiers. All of them detailed how a lack of chain of command, gaps in intelligence, missteps within the project and pressure for it to succeed, potentially contributed to what transpired. Al Jazeera

Violence in Cameroon, Impacting over 700,000 Children Shut Out of School
Two out of three schools are closed in the North-West and South-West regions of the country. On 24 November, four children and one teacher were killed in an attack in Ekondo Titi, in the South-West. A recent lockdown imposed by a non-State armed group, from 15 September to 2 October, limited access to basic services including health and education. During the period, OCHA reported a series of attacks in the North-West. Eight students were kidnapped, and a girl’s fingers were chopped off after she tried to attend school. Five public school principals were also kidnapped, including one who was then killed. All schools and community learning spaces were closed, except for some schools in a few urban areas which operated at less than 60 per cent capacity. The lockdown and insecurity also forced UN agencies and aid organisations to temporarily suspend the delivery of aid. During that time, about 200,000 people did not receive food. UN News

Uganda Sends More Troops into DR Congo in Anti-ADF Rebel Operation
Uganda sent more troops and equipment, including armoured vehicles, into eastern DR Congo on Thursday, witnesses at the border said, on the third day of an operation against the ADF rebel group. “At around 4pm, we saw another Ugandan army column cross,” freelance journalist Tony Kitambala said at the Nobili border post. “They’re in armour-plated vehicles, and there are also water tankers.” A video filmed by another resident showed two light infantry tanks in the convoy. Ugandan soldiers were first seen crossing there into North Kivu province on Tuesday, hours after their armed forces launched air and artillery strikes from Ugandan territory. The two countries’ militaries said that special forces from both armies were continuing to search the area that had been targeted in Tuesday’s air and artillery strikes. The target is the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) — a group blamed for massacres in eastern DRC and attacks in the Ugandan capital, and which the Islamic State group claims as an affiliate. … A Congolese military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said President Museveni’s son, General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, was leading the operation on the Ugandan side. … A spokesman for the UN force, Mathias Gillmann, on Wednesday stressed the need for strong coordination between all sides. AFP

Twitter Shuts 3,000 Propaganda Accounts in Uganda, Five Other Countries
Twitter on Thursday said it had shut down nearly 3,500 accounts that were posting pro-government propaganda in six countries, including Uganda, China and Russia. The vast majority of the accounts were part of a network that “amplified Chinese Communist Party narratives related to the treatment of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang,” Twitter said in a statement. China faces accusations of grave human rights violations against the ethnic minority in the northwestern province, where experts have estimated that more than one million people are incarcerated in camps. … The move came a day after Facebook’s parent company Meta said it had shut down more than 500 accounts that were part of a China-linked influence campaign relating to Covid-19. The accounts promoted claims from a fictitious Swiss biologist, Wilson Edwards, that the United States was interfering in efforts to identify the origins of the coronavirus. … In Africa, 268 accounts were shut down for targeting civil rights group FichuaTanzania, along with 418 that “engaged in coordinated inauthentic activity” in Uganda to promote President Museveni. AFP

Trapped by Rising Water: Record Floods Linked to Climate Change Have Left the People of South Sudan in Crisis
Every year, South Sudan has a rainy season. But the water levels since 2019 have set records. Flooding this year displaced more than 700,000 — about 1 in every 15 people in South Sudan. In some cases, mothers had so little to eat that they could not breastfeed. Cases of malaria and other waterborne illnesses surged. People spent days building mud dikes that served as their only protection from the waters. Among the most vulnerable each year are people living in villages in the Sudd — a vast wetland with grasses so thick that its name is derived from the Arabic word for “barrier.” Here, the White Nile and its tributaries swelled to levels people said they had never seen. The Washington Post

Data Centres Are Taking Root in Africa
Most of Africa’s data are currently stored elsewhere, zipping down undersea cables that often make landfall in the French city of Marseille. From the continent’s southern tip it can take 180 milliseconds for a message to reach Europe and back—long enough to frustrate people trying to trade shares or play games. But a flurry of investment in data centres is now bringing the internet closer to users, laying the ground for a digital revolution. An upheaval is overdue. Africa has more internet users than America, but only as much data-centre space as Switzerland. Demand is soaring as more people get online. Since 2016 capacity on the continent has doubled to around 250 megawatts (power usage is a common measure of capacity), according to Xalam Analytics, which tracks the industry. Such is the rate of growth that another 1,200 megawatts will be needed by 2030. The boom is partly driven by regulation. Two dozen African countries have passed data-protection laws, or are planning to do so. They often require certain data, such as personal information, to be kept in the country. Another boost comes from competition, says Jan Hnizdo of Teraco, a leading data centre in South Africa, where liberalisation of the telecoms industry created space for such firms to flourish. Capital is pouring in. The Economist

Gambians Keep Their Marbles as They Head to the Polls for Crucial Elections
When voters cast their ballots in The Gambia on Saturday, they’ll be using marbles, a technique put in place in 1947 that is used only in this West African country. However the tech-savvy Gambians will be also be following the vote count with a new smartphone app called, appropriately, Marble. The combination of state-of-the-art vote count, practically in real time, was developed by the NGO Gambia Decides to ensure voters had the proper information in terms of the vote count, but also how to vote and what to expect at the polls, says Marr Nyang, founder and executive director of the group. “We realised that access to information was a bottleneck – information was still accessible in the old way, where you have to see the candidate on tv from night until morning. We have a very erratic power supply, so when that goes out, you don’t get to know what are the numbers actually coming in,” Nyang tells RFI. Social media is another place voters can go, but he says it is hard to trust which sources are reliable. Marble is a non-partisan app, giving information on all candidates and vote counts throughout the country. RFI



Photo: Adam Jones