Africa Media Review for December 9, 2020

The Battle for the Soul of Uganda

Uganda’s 2021 election season started off in November with the arrest of a leading opposition candidate after he came under a volley of bullets, the advancing of the election date by two months to January 14, and the shooting by Ugandan police of opposition supporters who had gathered for a rally, many of them as they swam through a Kampala swamp to avoid the carnage. Over 50 people were killed. This is not the campaign President Yoweri Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) anticipated. In power since 1986 and seeking his 6th term after sidestepping constitutional term and age limits, the 76-year-old Museveni was seeking an uneventful continuation of his rule. Instead, he has encountered a highly energized youth movement that is calling for change, including the transition to a genuine democracy. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Ethiopia Rejects Independent Probes into Tigray Conflict

Ethiopia’s government is rejecting calls for independent investigations into the deadly conflict in its Tigray region… The declaration comes amid international calls for more transparency into the month-long fighting between Ethiopian forces and those of the fugitive Tigray regional government that is thought to have killed thousands, including civilians. At least one large-scale massacre has been documented by human rights groups, and others are feared. … Frustration is growing as the northern Tigray region remains largely cut off from the outside world, with food and medicines desperately needed by the population of 6 million — some 1 million of them now thought to be displaced. The lack of transparency, as most communications and transport links remain severed, has complicated efforts to verify the warring side’s claims. AP

Ethiopian Forces Fire at UN Team as Aid Groups Seek Tigray Access

Ethiopia’s government has admitted federal troops fired at and detained United Nations workers in the conflict-hit Tigray region, blaming the team for trying to reach areas where “they were not supposed to go.” The comments by Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the Ethiopian government’s task force for Tigray, came as humanitarian agencies on Tuesday reiterated urgent calls for immediate access to the northern region, warning of an “increasingly critical” situation more than a week after the UN announced a deal with the government to allow in desperately needed food and other aid. … On Tuesday, Reuters news agency cited a United States government source and five regional diplomats as saying that Washington believed that Eritrean soldiers had crossed into Ethiopia and joined the war. Two diplomatic sources told Reuters the UN team that was shot at encountered uniformed Eritrean troops. Separately on Tuesday, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, said his organisation is “deeply concerned to find that humanitarian access to the region is still significantly constrained.” Al Jazeera

DRC MPs Brawl Again as President Nears Power Struggle Win

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) parliament has voted to authorise a motion to remove the House speaker, a move that, if successful, would hand President Felix Tshisekedi a major victory in his power struggle with his predecessor, Joseph Kabila. More than half of the body’s 500 representatives on Tuesday authorised a vote on the motion for Thursday, which would force out Jeannine Mabunda, an ally of Kabila, as speaker and pave the way for the formation of a pro-Tshisekedi majority. That would mark a monumental shift in power towards Tshisekedi, who took office in January 2019 but has been handicapped by a coalition government with Kabila’s allies, who won parliamentary majorities in the same election. By controlling a majority in Parliament, Tshisekedi would be able to nominate a cabinet of his choosing after two years in which Kabila’s allies have dominated the major ministries, frustrating the president’s ability to push through his agenda. Al Jazeera

Sudan at Critical Juncture in Path Towards Democratic Transition, Security Council Hears

International support for Sudan is critical as the country continues on the path to democratic transition, amid challenges that include political disagreements, economic decline, and the COVID-19 pandemic, UN political affairs chief, Rosemary DiCarlo told a virtual meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday. Ambassadors were updated on developments since the signing in October of a milestone peace agreement between the authorities and two armed movements from Darfur, and on the potential drawdown of the UN-African Union force in the province, known as UNAMID. “Sudan is at a critical juncture. It can move forward decisively in its transition, but that progress can still be derailed by the many challenges it faces. It is incumbent on all of us to support Sudan in its efforts to achieve democratic governance, economic prosperity and an inclusive society for all Sudanese,” said Ms. DiCarlo. This month will mark two years since the Sudanese Revolution, which led to the overthrow of longstanding leader, Omar Al-Bashir, in April 2019. UN News

Burhan Reverses His Decision on Mandate of Sudan’s Transition Partners Body

The head of the Sovereign Council has reversed his position to form a partnership council with large powers, putting an end to the disagreement with the Prime Minister and the pro-democracy coalition of political forces. The leader of the military component of the transitional authority on the first of December signed a decree establishing the agreed Council of Partners of the Transitional Period with a large mandate allowing the new coordination body oversight of the government action and limiting the field of the legislative council. The decision raised suspicions about attempts by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his military faction to circumvent the civilian government and its divided coalition with the support of some former rebels who returned to Khartoum recently. However, sources close to the file told the Sudan Tribune, Tuesday, that “Al-Burhan has finally backpedalled on his disputed decision of the partnership body.” Sudan Tribune

Russia to Establish Navy Base in Sudan for at Least 25 Years

Russia has signed an agreement with Sudan to establish a navy base in the African nation for at least a quarter century, part of Moscow’s efforts to expand its global reach. The deal published Tuesday on the official portal of government documents allows Russia to simultaneously keep up to four navy ships, including nuclear-powered ones, in Port Sudan on the Red Sea. The agreement lasts for 25 years and could be automatically extended for 10-year periods if none of the parties objects to it. The document states that the Russian navy base should “help strengthen peace and stability in the region” and isn’t directed against any third parties. In exchange for Sudan’s permission to set up the base, Russia will provide Sudan with weapons and military equipment. AP

10,000 Nigerians Died in Military Custody, Alleges Amnesty

At least 10,000 civilians have died in Nigerian military custody since 2011 after being detained in connection with the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria, Amnesty International charged Tuesday. Many of the victims died at the “infamous Giwa Barracks,” in Maiduguri, said Amnesty in a report, adding that “in April 2017 alone, 166 corpses were transferred from Giwa to the mortuary.” “Severe overcrowding, scarce food and water, extreme heat, infestation by parasites and insects, and lack of access to adequate sanitation and health care are among the litany of violations at Giwa,” said Amnesty. Older people are not spared “the military’s widespread unlawful detention” of those fleeing Boko Haram areas — even without any evidence that the person was linked to the armed group, much less involved in violence, said the report. AP

Ex-Boko Haram Fighters Deradicalized, but Still Unreconciled

When Ibrahim Dubji began the journey home to Gwoza in 2017, he was bubbling over with conflicting emotions. There was the joy that his daughter was getting married – and the dread of seeing neighbors who had lost loved ones to Boko Haram. Mr. Dubji had fought for the terror sect for years after being conscripted, he says. But in the past few months, he had completed a state-sponsored deradicalization course. He was returning a new man. The people of Gwoza thought otherwise. At the entrance of the fragile town, devastated from years of raids and brutal attacks, soldiers positioned at the gates arrested and questioned him: Why had he come back? Was he still a fighter? After a night in detention, Mr. Dubji was thrown out of Gwoza, away from his daughter’s wedding, the house he built, and his family. The Christian Science Monitor

What Next for Tanzania’s Opposition after Election Wipeout?

Both main opposition parties, Chadema and the Alliance for Change and Transparency-Wazalendo (ACT-Wazalendo), have alleged irregularities and rejected the [election] results, but with few obvious options available, some party members have turned to litigation to try and make their grievances heard. ACT- Wazalendo chairman Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad is leading a group of applicants in a case at the Arusha-based African Court on Human and People’s Rights that accuses the government of electoral misconduct. Meanwhile, a loose alliance of activists and opposition figures is working to collect and verify evidence of election violence in both Zanzibar and on mainland Tanzania in order to file cases in the domestic courts and seek justice for the alleged victims of abuse. Al Jazeera

Zimbabwe Police Warn of Crackdown on ‘Cyberbullying’ of Officials

Rights campaigners in Zimbabwe have decried a police statement warning social media users against engaging in what it described as “cyberbullying” of government officials, calling it an attempt to muzzle freedom of expression in the country. In its statement on Monday, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) said arrests were “imminent” for unnamed “suspects” who have been “issuing threats and harassing government officials” on social media. … Political analyst and commentator Rejoice Ngwenya criticised the statement by the police, saying the move trampled fundamental rights such as freedom of expression. “This is part of the extension of the paranoia of this government. The plan to arrest what they are calling cyberbullying must be resisted. It’s totally illegal,” Ngwenya told Al Jazeera. “We are a constitutional democracy.” Al Jazeera

South Africa Exits Recession but Faces Long Road to Full Recovery

South Africa’s economy may only get back to pre-Covid 19 levels by 2025 and remains vulnerable to a local resurgence of the pandemic, even after exiting its longest recession in 28 years. Gross domestic product expanded an annualized 66.1% in the three months through September from the previous quarter following a 51.7% decline in the second quarter, Statistics South Africa said Tuesday in the capital, Pretoria. That was more than projected and the first positive number after four periods of contraction. However, compared with the same period last year, GDP shrank by 6%, the second straight quarter of decline. On a non-annualized basis, the economy expanded 13.5% from the previous quarter. The rebound in the quarterly figure was expected as output resumed in Africa’s most-industrialized economy after most activity was shuttered because to a strict nationwide lockdown. The recovery remains at risk, with power shortages and slow structural reforms likely to weigh on sentiment. Bloomberg

Morocco to Use Chinese Vaccine to Kick off Mass Vaccinations

Morocco is gearing up for an ambitious COVID-19 vaccination program, aiming to vaccinate 80% of its adults in an operation starting this month that’s relying initially on a Chinese vaccine that has not yet completed advanced trials to prove it is safe and effective. On Tuesday, King Mohammed VI instructed the government to make the vaccine free, according to a Royal Palace statement. The first injections could come within days, a Health Ministry official told The Associated Press. Facing a public skeptical about the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness, medical experts and health officials have appeared on television in recent weeks to promote the COVID-19 vaccines and encourage Moroccans to get immunized. … Morocco is battling a resurgence in virus infections, with the number of recorded deaths from the virus surpassing 6,000. AP

In Central Africa, Villages Join an Experiment to Save the World’s Second-Largest Rainforest

Amid a dawn chorus of crickets, mosquitoes and the “jee-ow!” of the great blue turaco, the forest canopy began to shake as a screech rang out. Peering up through his binoculars, Nioka Monsiu spotted a pair of young bonobos tumbling in the treetops under the eye of their mother. “Before, these species were menaced and hunted to near extinction,” he said. “But we protect them here in our forest.” That protection is part of an experiment unfolding here in the Congo Basin: giving power to the people in an attempt to preserve the world’s second-largest rainforest. Deforestation rates have accelerated over the last decade, raising fears that the Congo Basin could one day suffer the fate of the Amazon rainforest, which has been devastated by logging and slash-and-burn agriculture. The research initiative Global Forest Watch found that since 2010, nearly 11 million acres of primary forest — the oldest, densest and most ecologically significant kind — have been lost in the Congo Basin to logging, agriculture, mining and oil drilling. That’s roughly triple what was lost in the previous decade. LA Times

How to Pretend You’re in Dakar Today

Dakar has an aura that seeps into your soul. The sensations — the smell of grilled fish and spiced coffee, the feeling of an impending downpour, the bone-rattling vibrations from a dozen drums — stay with you long after you leave. When I visited this West African city, as part of my journey around the world as the 52 Places Traveler, I often caught myself thinking of my future. As I walked through markets that seemingly went on forever or sat on the deck of a ferry as it floated away from the mainland to one of the outlying islands, I thought, “I could live here.” And while it is impossible to fully experience without making the trip, there are ways to capture at least a sliver of the magic. In between the rumble of traffic and the shouts of street vendors, there is always music in Dakar. The New York Times



Photo: Adam Jones