Africa Media Review for February 10, 2021

Somalia: Farmaajo Schedules Another Meeting over Poll Stalemate

Somalia’s President Mohamed Farmaajo has scheduled another meeting with federal state leaders in the latest attempt to resolve an impasse that saw the country miss key election deadlines. But his call to host a meeting in Garowe, the capital of the semi-autonomous Puntland state, was quickly met with accusations of ambush by the hosts, threatening to derail the actual meeting due on February 15. … The call for a meeting appeared to heed the counsel of the international community who had suggested that only dialogue between the stakeholders will resolve the stalemate that has seen the country unable to hold elections before Farmaajo’s presumptive term expired on Monday. The UN Security Council, gathering virtually for an emergency meeting on Tuesday night, said Somalia’s leaders should “work together in the interests of the people of Somalia to reach consensus on the arrangements for the conduct of inclusive elections, with a view of holding them as soon as possible.” A similar call had been made earlier by the African Union Peace and Security Council which said Somalia’s trajectory from years of war depends on an agreeable election timetable. The EastAfrican

With Astrazeneca Rollout Suspended, South Africa Scrambles for a Vaccine Plan — a ‘Preview’ of New Fight against Variants

When a plane loaded with 1 million doses of vaccine produced by AstraZeneca landed in South Africa on Feb. 1, a hopeful country watched with rapt attention. Exactly a week later came the blow: A study, however limited and not yet peer-reviewed, said the vaccine provided only “minimal protection” against contracting mild to moderate infections of a new coronavirus variant that is widespread in South Africa, where it was first detected. The variant has since been found in at least 30 countries. … For now, its government has suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine and is trying to expedite its procurement of Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines… In a much larger study than the AstraZeneca vaccine study, [Johnson & Johnson] was also found to be less effective against the variant but able to prevent severe cases and death almost totally. … “It’s a preview of what other places in the world will see. We are learning that vaccine rollouts will require continuous recalibration,” said Shabir Madhi, a professor of vaccinology at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand and chief investigator in the trial. “It can’t be a generic approach.” The Washington Post

Democracy Suffers as Africa’s Strongmen Learn to Fly without Perching

More African countries are holding elections but democracy and freedoms are in retreat as incumbents manipulate processes and control the institutions meant to check their power. … The plan was to shift power from strong men to strong institutions. Of 98 presidential-system constitutions in Africa between 1960 and 1990, only five – Liberia, Tunisia, Comoros, South Africa, Tanzania – limited presidential terms. Just over a decade later, the number was 30. One of those countries was Uganda, which in 1995 enacted a new constitution with a two-term limit, and a 75-year-age bar on the presidency. Yet last month, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the country’s ruler since 1986, was re-elected for a sixth term in office. … The list of reverse reformers is growing longer. According to the African Center for Strategic Studies, a US think-tank, at least 13 African countries have [since 2015 evaded or further] removed term limits, including Togo and Gabon, or adjusted them to allow incumbents to stay on, as in Rwanda. Nation

Zimbabwe: Explosive Cartel Report Uncovers the Anatomy of a Captured State

Maverick Citizen publishes an exclusive report which provides a post mortem of the cancer that killed the Zimbabwean dream of freedom and independence. It is being published in South Africa because, amid attacks on the media and civil society activists, it is not safe to do so in Zimbabwe. The 64-page report details the scale of the theft – among others, illicit cross-border financial transactions cost Zimbabwe up to a staggering US$3-billion a year and billions in gold and diamonds smuggled out of the country. It is estimated that Zimbabwe may lose up to half the value of its annual GDP of $21.4bn due to corrupt economic activity… The cartels it lists are unpacked and analysed in five case studies, looking at roads, fuel, agriculture, cigarettes and mining. … the cartels have left ordinary Zimbabweans among the poorest people in the world. The Zanu-PF government has responded to this deepening and largely self-made socio-economic crisis by entrenching rule by law rather than rule of law, and the rights in Zimbabwe’s progressive 2013 constitution seem to be observed more by omission. Daily Maverick

At Least 10 Dead in New Congo Attack

At least 10 people have died in an overnight attack on a village in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The attackers, who invaded a village near the border with Uganda, are believed to be part of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan Islamist group. Local authorities confirmed the army has been deployed to the region. Last week, the group committed a similar massacre that killed at least 12 people in the nearby village of Mabule. Active in the region since the 1990s, the ADF has increased its attacks against civilians since 2019, when the Congolese army began an operation against it. In 2020 alone, the group killed over 840 people, according to United Nations data. VOA

Twenty U.N. Peacekeepers Injured in Central Mali Attack

Twenty United Nations peacekeepers were injured, including several seriously, in central Mali on Wednesday when their base came under fire, a U.N. mission spokesman said. The base near the town of Douentza in was attacked around 0700 GMT, a spokesman for the MINUSMA mission, Olivier Salgado, told Reuters. He did not say who was responsible. Islamist militant groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic States regularly attack U.N. peacekeepers and Malian soldiers in the area. “The MINUSMA chief firmly condemns the attack and has ordered that all measures be taken to treat the wounded,” Salgado said. Deployed since 2013, the U.N. currently has over 14,000 peacekeepers in Mali. Reuters

Mozambique Sees Jihadist Violence Dwindle as Military Gains Steam

Islamist attacks in Mozambique’s remote north have become less frequent and violent in recent weeks, a trend that analysts attribute in part to scaled-up counter-insurgency tactics. Shadowy jihadists affiliated to the so-called Islamic State group have wreaked havoc in the gas-rich but impoverished Cabo Delgado province since 2017. Their attacks rocketed last year, triggering a humanitarian crisis akin to the end of Mozambique’s 1977-1992 civil war. More than half of the roughly 800 assaults documented by US conflict tracker ACLED since 2017 took place last year alone, defying government efforts to boost its military presence in the area. At least 2,500 people have been killed and more than half a million displaced in over three years, many of them impoverished villagers, according to ACLED and government figures. But recent figures tentatively suggest intensified ground and air strikes are starting to bear fruit. ACLED only registered around 10 militant strikes in January, down from about 30 in December. The Defense Post with AFP

Growing Desperation over Al Shabaab Threat in Kenya’s North

Schools are shut due to an exodus of teachers, travel has become risky because of armed attacks and roadside bombs, and cellphone towers are regularly destroyed. In the vast, arid northern corner of Kenya, bordering Somalia and Ethiopia, frustration is boiling over due to the growing strength of the Al-Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab jihadist group in the region. Some 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) and a world apart from the bustling capital Nairobi or Kenya’s famed beaches and wildlife parks, the county of Mandera is increasingly coming under the control of Al Shabaab, the area’s governor warned recently. … Situated on the Somali border, the often drought-stricken Mandera is a region where most of the population live off pastoralism, and is already one of the least developed counties in Kenya. … According to [International Crisis Group researcher for the Horn of Africa, Meron] Elias, the only place Al Shabaab holds territory in Kenya is the Boni Forest in Lamu further south — a border region also plagued by attacks. The Defense Post with AFP

Senegal Army Captures Rebel Bases with G. Bissau Support

Senegal’s army said Tuesday it has captured three rebel bases in the southern Casamance region with support from neighbouring Guinea-Bissau, after fighting flared up in a long-dormant independence conflict. The conflict in Casamance, which is separated from the rest of Senegal by The Gambia, is one of Africa’s oldest and has claimed thousands of lives since it first broke out in 1982. The region had returned to an uneasy calm in recent years until the army launched a major new offensive on January 26, the rebels accusing the government of “restarting the war.” Senegalese army officers told AFP that following years of “neither war nor peace”, the operation was launched to secure the region after “abuses” committed by the rebels against civilians. The soldiers took media members, including AFP journalists, for a rare visit in the area to two of the rebels bases, simple tin and wood shelters scattered under the huge trees of the Foret de Blaze. AFP

Ghana Parliament Shuts down over COVID Outbreak among MPs, Staff

Ghana’s Parliament has shut down for at least three weeks over a surge in coronavirus cases among lawmakers and staff. At least 17 members of parliament and 151 support staff have been infected with the coronavirus, which had already forced lawmakers to limit their assembly meetings. The speaker of the house, Alban Bagbin, announced on Tuesday that the legislature would be in recess until March 2 to make way for “disinfection and sanitisation of the premises.” “I have, in consultation with leadership, decided that sitting of the House be adjourned for three weeks,” said Bagbin, adding that Parliament’s appointments committee would continue to meet to consider the ministerial nominees of President Nana Akufo-Addo, who was re-elected in December. The West African country has reported 73,003 coronavirus cases, including 482 deaths, since the pandemic began. Al Jazeera

Fresh Calls for Protests Emerge in Nigeria’s Biggest City

Activists behind massive protests that swept across Nigeria in October have called for a new rally on Saturday in Lagos as an investigation stalls into a deadly shooting during last year’s demonstrations. Youth-led protests against police brutality and bad governance brought Africa’s largest city to a standstill last year, with the campaign drawing support from many high-profile celebrities. On social media, the hashtag “OccupyLekkiTollGate” was widely shared after a decision on Saturday by a judicial panel to authorise the reopening of the Lekki tollgate where security forces shot at peaceful protesters on October 20. After the shooting, the army said only blank rounds were fired to disperse the crowds who had defied a curfew but Amnesty International said soldiers killed at least 10 protesters. Demonstrations that had spread across the country came to a sudden halt after a wave of looting and civil unrest followed. Amnesty said at least 56 people had died in the October protests. AFP

Nigeria Justifies War on Cryptocurrencies, Takes Tougher Actions

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has ignored the uproar over a crackdown on cryptocurrencies, giving several reasons for the move, ordering investigations and blocking all the accounts of companies trading in them. The apex bank on February 5 joined countries that have outlawed cryptocurrencies, asking banks and financial institutions to close accounts. Two days later, it opened investigations into the bank accounts and blocked those suspected to be used for fraud. The bank on Sunday explained that many other countries, investors and economists have warned against cryptocurrencies because of the “significant risks” in transactions. The risks, it said, include loss of investments, money laundering, terrorism financing, illicit fund flows and criminal activities. The EastAfrican

South Sudan Issues New Banknotes Amid Rising Inflation

South Sudan’s Central Bank on Tuesday issued a 1,000 South Sudanese Pound banknote as it struggles with hyperinflation amid dwindling foreign reserves. Speaking to reporters in the capital, Juba, the Central Bank governor, Dier Tong Ngor said the bank will henceforth embark on a nationwide campaign to educate the public on the new notes. “It is in the view of the need to make our currency more convenient to use that we are today introducing the SSP 1000 banknote into circulation to complement the existing banknotes to ensure convenience, and bring about efficiency in the printing of currency to generate savings for the country,” he explained. Ngor said the world youngest nation has, in the past few years, grappled with how to address a situation characterized by high inflation, including perpetual depreciation of the currency which has eroded public confidence and monetary value of the banknotes. Sudan Tribune

Nourin Mohamed Siddig: The African Art of Reciting the Koran

When Nourin Mohamed Siddig recited the Koran, people around the world described his tone as sad, soulful and bluesy. His unique sound made him one of the Muslim world’s most popular reciters. As a consequence, his death at the age of 38 in a car accident in Sudan in November was mourned from Pakistan to the United States. … According to tradition, the Koran, Islam’s holy book, is typically recited in a singing manner, encouraged by the Prophet Muhammad, who said that people should “beautify the Koran with your voices.” It is especially appreciated when large numbers come together for religious occasions such as evening prayers in the month of Ramadan, taraweeh. There are even several international recitation competitions. … While sounds described as reflective of a seven-note heptatonic scale are popular in the Middle East, Siddig’s recitation mirrored the five-note or pentatonic scale that is common in Muslim-majority regions of the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. “This is the tone of the environment I grew up in, the desert; it sounds like [Sudanese folk-music genre] dobeit,” said Al-Zain Muhammad Ahmad, another popular Sudanese reciter. BBC



Photo: Adam Jones