Africa Media Review for December 4, 2020

Thousands Killed in Ethiopia’s Conflict, Tigray Side Asserts
Several thousand combatants have been killed in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region, an official with the fugitive regional government is asserting, although claims remain difficult to verify a month after the fighting erupted between Ethiopian and regional forces. Getachew Reda, a senior adviser to the Tigray leader, in an interview with Tigray TV aired Thursday urged young people and others in the region to “rise and deploy to battle in tens of thousands” days after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed over the weekend declared victory. With the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front on the run in rugged territory, fears of a drawn-out conflict continue. But with communications and transport links still largely severed to the region of 6 million people, it’s difficult to know the situation on the ground, including the extent of popular support for the TPLF and the number of people killed. AP

From Shelled Ethiopian City, Doctors Tally Deaths and Plead for Help
After Ethiopian military forces captured the capital of the rebellious Tigray region last weekend, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed boasted that his forces had scored the victory without killing a single civilian. But doctors at the city’s main hospital reached on Thursday painted a very different picture — indiscriminate artillery barrages on civilian areas, looting by armed men and the deaths of at least 27 civilians and injuries to more than 100. Their testimony offered a rare glimpse of the increasingly dire conditions in a city that has been largely cut off from the outside world since Mr. Abiy launched a military operation against Tigray on Nov. 4. … Tigrayan forces said they had retreated from Mekelle to avoid destroying the city and would continue to fight from the surrounding rural areas — a first step of what could eventually become a drawn-out guerrilla campaign. The New York Times

UK Starts Deployment of 300 Troops to Mali as Part of UN Mission
Britain has begun a three-year deployment of 300 troops to the west African country of Mali as part of a UN peacekeeping mission, entering a region beset by an increasingly dangerous violent Islamist insurgency. The UK forces are deploying to Gao, in the east of the country, where militants have repeatedly attacked French, European and local armed forces, including in a 2017 suicide attack on a military base that killed more than 50 Malians. Maj Gen Nick Borton, the chief of staff for operations, said “a combination of violent conflict and unprecedented migration” had led the UK to send ground troops more than 2,500 miles into the country. … This time British forces will form part of Minusma, a UN peacekeeping operation with 14,000 troops from 56 countries. Soldiers will engage in reconnaissance operations ranging tens of miles around Gao. The Guardian

G5 Sahel Chief Cautions Against Early French Troop Cut
The head of a five-nation force in the Sahel has warned against any early move by France to scale back its anti-jihadist mission in the troubled region. General Oumarou Namata Gazama, a Nigerien who commands the so-called G5 Sahel force, said the recent arrival of European special forces troops was not yet enough to compensate for a reduction in France’s Barkhane mission. “At the moment, the contribution of Takuba (the special forces unit) is certainly positive, but Barkhane is a close partner of the joint force — Barkhane helps us to offset the gaps in our national forces,” he said in an interview broadcast Thursday by Radio France Internationale. “For us, as a joint force, it would be premature to consider (a reduction in Barkhane) and risky for the G5 Sahel.” The G5 Sahel force pools soldiers from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, with the objective of rolling back an eight-year-old jihadist insurgency in the region. The Defense Post

Central African Republic Court Rejects Ex-President Bozizé’s Election Candidacy
The top court in Central African Republic (CAR) rejected on Thursday the candidacy of former President François Bozizé in a December 27 election being held despite security concerns because of fighting between rival militias. Bozizé planned to run against President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. But the court said Bozizé, 74, did not satisfy the “good morality” requirement for candidates because of an international warrant and UN sanctions against him for alleged assassinations, torture and other crimes. The court validated the candidacies of Touadéra and 16 others, according to the order read by the court’s president. Bozizé, a former general who seized power in a 2003 coup and was overthrown in a 2013 rebellion, has denied the accusations against him. His lawyer said the opposition coalition led by Bozizé would now meet to consider its options. … France24 with Reuters

South Africa Tightens COVID-19 Rules in Eastern Cape, Ramaphosa Says ‘in the Fight of Our Lives’
South Africa on Thursday tightened COVID-19 rules in the Eastern Cape province where infections are rising the most, curbing movement and gatherings, but decided against reinstating a nationwide lockdown. President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a televised address that the curfew in the eastern Nelson Mandela Bay area would now run from 2000 GMT to 0200 GMT, while indoor gatherings would be limited to 100 people and alcohol consumption in public was prohibited. South Africa has recorded the highest number of coronavirus infections on the African continent, with more than 760,000 confirmed cases and more than 20,000 deaths. New cases nationally rose to an average of 2,900 cases a day in the last week of November from 1,500 new daily cases in the first week of that month. Reuters

Libya Political Dialogue Hangs in the Balance
On the surface, Libya’s ceasefire is holding and rival parties are at the negotiating table. But success still hangs in the balance because of deep divisions over a transitional executive. “Time is not on your side,” interim United Nations representative Stephanie Williams told a virtual meeting of a political dialogue on Wednesday. The forum is part of a push to end almost a decade of violence in the North African country. The 75 participants have agreed to hold elections on December 24, 2021, but not on who will lead the political transition towards the polls. The situation is “very difficult now because of the divisions in the institutions, and because of the epidemic of corruption and this kleptocratic class that is determined to remain in power,” the envoy said. AFP

Egypt Frees Three Rights Workers after Outcry over Crackdown
Three Egyptian human rights workers who were arrested and charged with terrorism-related offences last month have been freed after an outcry over the government’s crackdown on one of the last rights groups still operating in the country. The arrests and moves against the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, or EIPR, had underlined the extent to which President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s government has gone in silencing dissent and independent organisation during years of arrests and other forms of intimidation. The three, including the EIPR’s director, Gasser Abdel-Razek, were arrested in November after the group hosted foreign diplomats to discuss the human rights situation in Egypt. They were charged with belonging to a terrorist group and spreading false information. … Prosecutors often free activists on bail but keep charges hanging over their heads. The crackdown on the group continues on another front as well, with prosecutors seeking to freeze the EIPR’s assets. AP

Sudan Generals Summoned over Deadly 2019 Crackdown
Top Sudanese generals have been summoned by an investigative panel on a bloody crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators last year, state media reported. Shortly before dawn on June 3, 2019, gunmen in military fatigues raided a weeks-long sit-in outside army headquarters in the capital Khartoum, shooting and beating protesters. The Sudan Human Rights Commission, citing police records, said 85 people died in the crackdown, while medics linked to the protesters said over 100 were killed. “All the members of what was the Transitional Military Council, now dissolved, must present themselves in front of this independent investigative commission,” the media adviser to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said Wednesday, quoted by the SUNA state news agency. AFP

US to Help Mozambique Tackle Terrorism in Gas-Rich Region
The United States on Thursday vowed to help Mozambique tackle the insurgency being waged by an Islamist group in the gas-rich northern Cabo Delgado province following a visit by its top anti-terrorism official. The State Department counterterrorism coordinator Nathan Sales, made the pledge after talks with President Filipe Nyusi in Maputo. “The United States is keenly interested in partnering with Mozambique,” and in “deepening our friendship while we jointly confront the challenge of terrorism,” he said in a statement. Sales who is also US Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, stressed the need for international cooperation to curb the three-year conflict that has claimed more than 2,000 lives and displaced half-a-million people. AFP

Displaced Nearing 400,000 in Mozambique’s Islamist Insurgency
The United Nations World Food Program’s representative in Cabo Delgado, Cristina Graziani, said they are working to assist those in need. “The latest, official count is a bit above 366,000 people displaced in Cabo Delgado, in the province,” she said. “And that has obviously been an increase in the past six months. So, WFP has adjusted its program to try to cater [for] the needs, the emergency food needs, of these people. … Our monthly food ration covers 80% of the basic food needs of a family of five.” As the insurgency and the number of its victims expand, concerns about the displaced are growing. Borges Nhamire of Mozambique’s Center for Public Integrity — which promotes democracy and human rights — said the government needs to do more for displaced civilians in Cabo Delgado. People are fleeing using their own means and the government does not have any logistics in place to evacuate people from conflict zones to safer areas like Pemba, he said. VOA

In Southern Madagascar, ‘Nothing to Feed Our Children’
“It’s the hunger that killed him,” the grieving mother said. In this village in Madagascar’s extreme south, the 31-year-old Lasinatry lost her 3-year-old boy in June as hunger swept the region, more severe than in recent years. “We, the parents, have nothing to feed our children aside from tamarind and the cactus that we find around us,” she said. On a visit this week, The Associated Press spoke with suffering families who are among the 1.5 million people in need of emergency food assistance, according to the U.N. World Food Program. It’s a consequence of three straight years of drought, along with historic neglect by the government of the remote region as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. … Southern Madagascar is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster, the U.N. agency said, and three out of four children in the Amboasary district at the epicenter of the crisis have left school to help their parents find food. Farmers said they can no longer cultivate because of lack of rain, and they have given up cattle farming because of theft. AP

Decades Later, Liberian Warlord Faces War Crimes Trial in Switzerland
More than a quarter-century after the end of Liberia’s bloody civil wars, the notorious rebel commander Alieu Kosiah appeared in a Swiss criminal court on Thursday to face charges ranging from committing murder to eating the heart of a victim. The hearing, in the tranquil Alpine town of Bellinzona, marks the first time any Liberian has been brought to trial specifically for atrocities in the first of the country’s back-to-back civil wars, from 1989 to 1997. Conflict erupted again from 1999 to 2003 and overall, the wars are believed to have caused a quarter-million deaths. Liberian perpetrators have never been tried in their own country, even though a truth and reconciliation commission recommended more than a decade ago that a war-crimes court be set up. The New York Times

New Africa Alliance Aims to Tackle Deadly COVID ‘Infodemic’
The Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA), brings together 13 international and regional organizations, together with fact-checking groups which have expertise in data and behavioural science, epidemiology, research, digital health and communications. Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said the Alliance has the unique reach, knowledge and skills to help halt the impact of dangerous misinformation. “In health emergencies, misinformation can kill and ensure diseases continue to spread. People need proven, science-based facts to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing, and a glut of information – an infodemic – with misinformation in the mix makes it hard to know what is right and real,” she said. AIRA is the first initiative of its kind, working to detect, disrupt and counter damaging misinformation on public health issues in Africa. UN News