Africa Media Review for December 30, 2021

Sudan Forces Seal Khartoum Ahead of New Anti-Coup Rally
Sudanese security forces deployed on Khartoum’s streets Thursday, sealing the capital off from its suburbs and cutting phone lines and mobile internet as opponents of the military government prepared to hold fresh protests. Pro-democracy activists have kept up a campaign of street demonstrations against the army’s October 25 coup, despite a crackdown that has seen at least 48 people die in protest-related violence, according to the independent Doctors’ Committee. Army, police and paramilitary patrols crisscrossed Khartoum’s streets, while shipping containers blocked the Nile bridges that connect the capital with its northern suburbs and its twin city Omdurman. The bridges were blocked off for the last protests on December 26, when tens of thousands took to the streets. But for Thursday’s planned protests, new surveillance cameras had been installed on the major thoroughfares along which demonstrators were due to march. For the first time, authorities also cut all phone lines, both international and domestic. Web monitoring group NetBlocks reported mobile internet services were cut from mid-morning Thursday. Activists use the internet for organising demonstrations and broadcasting live footage of the rallies. … “The US embassy reiterates its support for peaceful expression of democratic aspiration, and the need to respect and protect individuals exercising free speech,” a statement said. AFP

Ethiopia: She Was in Abiy Ahmed’s Cabinet as War Broke Out. Now She Wants to Set the Record Straight.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took a sizable risk when he chose her as the youngest minister in his cabinet: Filsan Abdi was an outspoken activist from the country’s marginalized Somali community with no government experience. She was just 28. Like so many, she was drawn by Abiy’s pledges to build a new Ethiopia, free of the bloody ethnic rifts of the past — overtures that built Abiy’s global reputation as an honest broker and helped win him a Nobel Peace Prize. Then the opposite happened. Less than a year into her tenure, Ethiopia was spiraling into an ethnically tinged civil war that would engulf the northern part of the country — Africa’s second most populous — and as the head of the ministry overseeing women’s and children’s issues, Filsan found herself tasked with documenting some of the war’s most horrific aspects: mass rapes by uniformed men and the recruitment of child soldiers. In September, she became the only cabinet minister to resign over Abiy’s handling of the war. … “The war has polarized the country so deeply that I know many people will label me as a liar simply because I say the government has also done painful, horrible things,” Filsan said. “I am not saying it was only them. But I was there. I was in cabinet meetings, and I went and met victims. Who can tell me what I did and did not see?” The Washington Post

In Ethiopia War, New Abuse Charges Turn Spotlight on Tigrayan Former Rulers
Ethiopian troops and their allies have driven back Tigrayan forces that had advanced on the capital. Reuters visited areas formerly held by the rebels and documented accounts of rapes and killings. … In August, civil war reached the thin air of this town in the Amhara region, 3,000 metres up in a mountainous landscape once home to Ethiopia’s ancient rulers. Forces from neighbouring Tigray province had arrived. The delicate-framed Betsiha, 28, said he and many others hid in the forest, but his friend and fellow deacon, Mulat Aynekulu Mekonnen, turned back to collect a book. The Tigrayan fighters “started to shoot at us, so we had to run away en masse,” Betsiha said. Mulat went back. “He said he would not leave without his psalm book.” When Betsiha returned to his church three days later, he found 35-year-old Mulat’s body, he said. He’d been shot. The head of the mayor’s office, Belete Asrate, said Tigrayan fighters killed 27 civilian men in the town. He, Betsiha and two others said the victims were unarmed. Another person said some of the victims were carrying weapons. None of these people witnessed the killings. Townspeople said more than 70 women were raped by Tigrayan fighters. Reuters met three of the women and spoke to health workers, local officials and federal prosecutors. The Tigrayan perpetrators were young, said Agere Yaynalem, a 37-year-old woman, who said she was raped multiple times and left unconscious. … To understand the current war, Aregawi [a former TPLF rebel] said, you need to understand the nature of the TPLF – and longtime leaders who remain potent in the movement. Reuters

WHO Warns of COVID ‘Tsunami’ as Omicron Fuels Record Surges
A Covid “tsunami” threatens to overwhelm healthcare systems, the WHO said Wednesday, as record surges fuelled by the Omicron variant dampened New Year celebrations around the world once again. Governments are walking a tightrope between anti-virus restrictions and the need to keep societies and economies open, as the highly transmissible variant drove cases to levels never seen before in the United States, Britain, France and Denmark. The blistering surge was illustrated by AFP’s tally of 6.55 million new infections reported globally in the week ending Tuesday, the highest the figure has been since the World Health Organization declared a Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. “I am highly concerned that Omicron, being more transmissible, circulating at the same time as Delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “This is and will continue to put immense pressure on exhausted health workers, and health systems on the brink of collapse.” AFP

J&J’s Booster Shot Provides Strong Protection against Severe Disease from Omicron, a Study Says.
A Johnson & Johnson booster shot provided strong protection against the Omicron variant, greatly reducing the risk of hospitalization, according to a clinical trial in South Africa. The study, which compared more than 69,000 boosted health care workers with a corresponding group of unvaccinated South Africans, found that two shots of the vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization from Omicron by about 85 percent. In comparison, another study in South Africa found that two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization by about 70 percent. … the authors of the new study, which was published on a preprint server and has not yet been peer-reviewed, said that the results were important for vaccination efforts in Africa, where the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a mainstay of Covid public health efforts. As the continent braces for a wave of Omicron cases, a second dose of the vaccine could prevent a surge of hospitalizations. The New York Times

Libya Future at Stake after Failing to Hold Vote
Libya failed to hold its first presidential election as planned this month, a major blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in the oil-rich Mediterranean country. The postponement of the Dec. 24 vote has opened up uncertainty over what comes next in the tenuous peace process, raising worries Libya could slide into a new round of violence after more than a year of relative calm. The planned vote was the lynchpin of international peace efforts, and major regional and international powers had for months pushed for it to take place as scheduled. But many inside and outside Libya doubted the election would proceed as planned. … It was also never clear what would happen after the elections. All sides agree the constitution needs to be rewritten, but there has been no agreement on who will do so or when. With so much at stake and so much still unresolved, militias showed their discontent. Militias demanding a postponement blocked roads in parts of Tripoli, raising warnings from the U.N. mission in Libya that the tensions could explode into violence. And each side in the country’s main east-west split remains ready for a fight, bolstered by mercenaries provided by their foreign backers who have not withdrawn. The current number of mercenaries is not known, but according to the U.N., they have numbered as high as 20,000, including Syrians, Russians, and Sudanese in the country. AP

Somalia’s Al Shabaab Fighters Attack Town near Capital, Kill 7 – Police, Residents
Somalia’s al Shabaab fighters attacked a town north of the capital Mogadishu on Thursday, killing at least seven people as they fought government security forces, a police officer and residents said. Police and residents in Balad, 30 kilometres north of Mogadishu, said the al Qaeda-linked group’s fighters attacked and overran government forces guarding a bridge at the town’s entrance early in the morning. “We were in a mosque praying when a heavy exchange of gunfire took place at the bridge. Al Shabaab thus captured the town, overrunning the soldiers at the bridge,” Hassan Nur, a shopkeeper in Balad, an agricultural town that links Somalia’s Middle Shabelle region to Lower Shabelle, told Reuters by phone. “There were few police forces in the town. (The police) were missing. When the firing started people ran into their houses. I counted five dead soldiers and two civilian women,” he said. Reuters

Russian Mercenaries Kill Central African Republic Army Officer
A lieutenant of the Central African Republic national army, FACA, Amady Jeremy, has been allegedly killed by Russian mercenaries in the country. Lt. Jeremy was killed on Wednesday, Dec. 29, by Russian mercenaries in Bouka, a locality situated about 285 kilometres to the north of Bangui the capital. … “The lieutenant had left Bangui Dec. 28 afternoon to go and collect the corpse of a FACA soldier who died from an illness, but on his arrival about a kilometre to the entrance to the town at about 10 p.m., he was killed by Russian mercenaries who opened fire on his vehicle.” The army had insisted that the lieutenant was driving at night with only one light on, which caused the Russian mercenaries to mistake the vehicle for a motorcycle. “That is how Russian mercenaries kill innocent citizens. If you are seen alone on a motorcycle, there is always the strong probability that they will kill you to take your bike, search your dead body and take your money,” said a local who declined to be named in the media. “Unfortunately, it is always these brave soldiers and our civilian compatriots who pay the high price of this criminality organised with impunity by these Russian mercenaries.” HumAngle

Suspected Militants Kill Four Soldiers in Northern Mali, Army Says
Four soldiers were killed and a dozen more seriously injured when their patrol was ambushed by suspected militants in western Mali, the army said in a statement on Thursday. The attack occurred late in the afternoon on Wednesday near the town of Nara, around 30 km (19 miles) south of border with Mauritania. “A unit in the Nara area was the target of a complex attack combining IEDs and heavy weapons,” the statement said, adding that the death toll was provisional. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the ambush. Reuters

Sudanese Gunmen Loot UN Food Aid Warehouse in Darfur
Sudanese gunmen have looted a World Food Programme (WFP) warehouse containing some 1,900 tonnes of food aid in Darfur amid a surge of violence in the troubled western region, officials said Wednesday. Residents of El-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state, reported heavy shooting near the warehouse late Tuesday. “We heard intense gunfire,” Mohamed Salem told AFP. A WFP official said they were “conducting an audit into what was stolen from the warehouse, which contains some 1,900 tonnes of food products.” Darfur has seen a spike in conflict since October triggered by disputes over land, livestock and access to water and grazing, with some 250 people reported killed in fighting between herders and farmers in recent months. Tens of thousands have been forced to flee their homes, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). … While the main conflict in Darfur has subsided, with a peace deal struck with key rebel groups last year, the arid region has remained awash with weapons and violence often erupts. A joint UN and African Union mission, UNAMID, ended 13 years of peacekeeping operations last December. AFP

Namibia: The African Nation Aiming to Be a Hydrogen Superpower
“So now finally, we’re on the map,” says Philip Balhoa about Lüderitz, a town in southern Namibia, where harsh desert meets pale ocean. The port town has previously benefited from diamonds and fishing booms, but now struggles with high rates of unemployment and aging infrastructure. A proposed green hydrogen project is set to be “the third revolution of Lüderitz,” says Mr Balhoa, a member of the town council. He hopes that the project will train and employ local people, or “Buchters” as they affectionately call themselves – bringing down the town’s 55% unemployment rate. “For a town that’s really been struggling economically over the past 10 or 15, maybe longer, years, this is something that people are really very excited about,” he says. The project will be based near the town in the Tsau/Khaeb National Park, and ultimately produce around 300,000 tonnes of green hydrogen per year. In simple terms, the renewable energy from the sun and wind will be used to separate hydrogen molecules from desalinated water. Those hydrogen molecules in their pure form or in derivative green ammonia can make up a variety of products, including sustainable fuels. … “The idea is to turn Namibia into not just a green hydrogen hub, but into a synthetic fuels industry powerhouse,” he says. BBC

Top African Songs of 2021 – Part 2
East Africa had a steady stream of pop hits and international collaborations from both emerging and established acts. Tanzania’s Diamond Platnumz ruled the region with impressive releases that amassed millions of YouTube views. In Kenya, popular band Sauti Sol had a successful year and appeared on a massive Times Square billboard in New York, while East African female powerhouses Zuchu (Tanzanina), Femi One (Kenya), Nandy (Tanzania) and Nadia Mukami (Kenya)) employed indigenous sounds to create memorable signature hits. … The Central African region was dominated by artists hailing from the DRC such as Fally Ipupa, Koffi Olomidé and Innos’B. To complete the playlist in the region, additional hits came from Cameroon, Chad and Gabon, with artists such as Shan’L (Gabon), Charlotte Dipanda (Cameroon) and Salatiel (Cameroon) releasing outstanding songs featuring incredible collaborators from across Africa and beyond. Music in Africa