Africa Media Review for February 12, 2021

Chad Reinforces Troops against Militants in Sahel as France Mulls Changes
Chad will deploy some 1,000 troops to the tri-border region of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali to reinforce national armies that, backed by French and European allies, are battling Islamist insurgents, according to French and Chadian sources. The deployment will be announced during a summit on Feb. 15-16 in the Chadian capital N’Djamena held to tackle the situation in the Sahel, a French presidency official and a senior Chadian security official said. It comes as France, which sent troops to the region in 2013 to help repel jihadists who had occupied northern Mali, considers adjusting its military presence. … Chadian troops were last year mostly engaged in fighting insurgents from Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa in the Lake Chad region. Chad’s armed forces are among the most respected and battle hardened in West Africa, a reputation forged during decades of regional wars and rebellions, and honed in the 2013 campaign in the deserts of northern Mali. Their deployment to the tri-border theatre would enable French and other forces to re-orient their military mission to central Mali and to target Islamist leaders linked to al Qaeda. Reuters

Refugees Flee Central African Republic, a Crisis the World Neglects
In the shadow of six surrounding neighbors burdened with their own problems sits the Central African Republic, a landlocked country that gets relatively little attention but that has been plagued by instability and conflict upending the lives of its citizens for many years. The Central African Republic is once again enduring an acute bout of instability from an on-again, off-again civil war that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Despite the intervention of United Nations peacekeepers, Russian military advisers and Rwandan troops, peace is still elusive. Almost one-third of all Central Africans have been displaced from their homes in recent years — including 200,000 who fled just since December, after a troubled election. The New York Times

Relief for Tigray Stalled as Ethiopian Government Curbs Access
Lack of humanitarian access is fast becoming a defining issue in Ethiopia’s three-month conflict in Tigray: The UN and aid agencies say they’re not allowed to move sufficient personnel and goods into and around the region, and are being denied visas to bring in new international staff. Aid workers, NGO managers, and others involved in the response told The New Humanitarian the rules on access keep changing, and agreements with the government have not delivered as hoped, leading to a state of paralysis in the relief effort.  In a statement today, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said: “Ending the suffering in Tigray and around the country is now my highest priority. This is why I am calling for the United Nations and international relief agencies to work with my government.” But even the Ethiopian Red Cross, which enjoys relatively good access, said this week that it could only reach 20 percent of the people in need in the Tigray region. The New Humanitarian

Rights Group Calls for Independent Investigation of Shelling in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region
A new Human Rights Watch report calls for an independent investigation into alleged shelling of civilian areas in the Tigray region by Ethiopia’s federal forces. “Artillery attacks at the start of the armed conflict struck homes, hospitals, schools, and markets in the city of Mekelle, and the towns of Humera and Shire, killing at least 83 civilians, including children, and wounding over 300,” said the report, released Thursday. HRW said it spoke to over 30 witnesses, examined satellite imagery, and reviewed photographs and videos of the attacks in Humera, Shire, and Mekelle. It said the shelling could be a violation of the laws of war. … Meanwhile, Ethiopia this week said it will officially close two of four refugee camps in the Tigray region — following reports that both camps have already been destroyed. The two camps, Hitsats and Shimelba, were home to approximately 25,000 refugees from Eritrea, according to the U.N. Satellite images analyzed by the U.K.-based DX Open Network, an open-source investigations group, show the camps were targeted for destruction. VOA

AU Conflict Warning System Needs Urgent Upgrade: Report
The Tigray conflict could have been prevented if the continent acted on early signs, according to a report by the African Union released to mark the end of the four-year term of commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat and his eight departmental commissioners. The report titled Taking Stock, Charting the Future is an accountability statement by the team elected into office in February 2017. The team said it helped reach peace deals in Sudan, South Sudan and supported rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which led to resumption of ties in 2019. But, the officials said the continental body urgently needs to upgrade its early warning system, which it argues will help stop the fighting before it begins. “The recent conflict in Ethiopia brings to the fore the need for member states and the AU to invest in early warning and early response systems as well as conflict prevention efforts to avert humanitarian disasters,” said the report launched ahead of the AU elections. … The report is a bold statement for the AU to suggest dialogue and mediation should have been used in Tigray, something the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed rejected, terming it instead as a law enforcement operation. The EastAfrican

Mali Peace Deal Signatories Meet in Former Rebel City
Signatories to a shaky peace deal deemed vital for ending the conflict in Mali met on Thursday in the northern city of Kidal, a former rebel bastion, an AFP journalist said. The city fell to Tuareg separatists in 2012, who captured much of the north of the Sahel state before jihadist groups commandeered their rebellion. Islamist fighters have since expanded the conflict into central Mali as well as neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, killing thousands. In a bid to curb the fighting, Mali in 2015 signed an accord in Algiers with several rebel groups — a deal viewed as one of the country’s few options for escaping the violence. The agreement, among other things, saw rebel militias start cooperating with the army, and provides for decentralizing governance in the vast nation of 19 million people. But implementing the deal has been painfully slow: Malian troops only returned to Kidal last year, for example. On Thursday, Algiers-accord signatories gathered in Kidal, in their first such meeting in the symbolic city. AfricaNews with AFP

Zimbabwe among African Countries Using COVID-19 to Crack down on Journalists, Report Finds
A new Human Rights Watch report chronicles how more than 20 African governments are using the COVID-19 pandemic to clamp down on freedom of the media. The report, “Covid-19 Triggers Wave of Free Speech Abuse,” finds that Zimbabwe’s government, long known for repressing dissent, is one of the worst offenders. The report released Thursday says officials in Zimbabwe are cracking down on journalists, political opponents, health workers and others who criticize the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. “In Zimbabwe, we have documented a number of incidences over the last year. And our report references three of those,” says Gerry Simpson, an associate director for crisis and conflict division at Human Rights Watch. “A journalist that was beaten at a checkpoint near a lockdown area. We documented how a journalist was detained for nine weeks for his COVID reporting between July and November at various stages last year, and finally we have noted how Zimbabwe introduced the Public Health Order Act in March which threatened up 20 years in prison for fake news on public health matters.” VOA

Digital Siege: Internet Cuts Become Favored Tool of Regimes
In Uganda, residents couldn’t use Facebook, Twitter and other social media for weeks after a recent election. And in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, the internet has been down for months amid a wider conflict. Around the world, shutting down the internet has become an increasingly popular tactic of repressive and authoritarian regimes and some illiberal democracies. Digital rights groups say governments use them to stifle dissent, silence opposition voices or cover up human rights abuses, raising concerns about restricting freedom of speech.  In Uganda, restrictions on social media sites including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube took effect ahead of a Jan. 14 presidential election, along with a total internet blackout on the eve of polling. … The social media curbs were lifted Wednesday, except for Facebook. Longtime leader Yoweri Museveni, who was facing his biggest challenge to power yet from popular singer-turned-lawmaker Bobi Wine, had been angered by the social network’s removal before the vote of what it said were fake accounts linked to his party. AP

Egypt Urged to Remove Activists from ‘Terrorist’ List
UN independent human rights experts appealed on Thursday for authorities in Egypt to remove two activists from a “terrorist” list and to stop systemic use of terrorism powers. Ramy Shaath and Zyad El-Elaimy were arrested in June 2019 and their names were added to the list last April. An appeal to remove them was heard on Wednesday and the decision is due on 10 March. … “We are deeply disturbed about counter-terrorism law, its definitions, misuse and the practice by the Egyptian authorities, and in particular the misuse of listing procedures at national level, to attack individuals engaged in human rights work,” they added. “The continued misuse of counter-terrorism powers is not consistent with the State’s international law obligations and undermines broader international efforts to prevent terrorism by misusing such powers domestically.” The experts urged the Egyptian Government to ensure measures to combat terrorism and protect national security comply with international law and do not hinder the work or safety of human rights defenders. UN News

UN Warns COVID Hardship Could Swell Ranks of Child Soldiers
More children could be pushed into joining armed groups in conflict zones as families face increasing poverty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a top United Nations official has warned. The exact number of child soldiers is unknown, but in 2019 alone about 7,740 children – some as young as six – were recruited and used as fighters or in other roles by mostly non-state armed groups, according to UN data. Speaking on International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers – or Red Hand Day – the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba said that number was likely to rise as a result of coronavirus-related hardship. … Girls and boys are still forced to join armed groups, as fighters or in roles such as cooks or for sexual exploitation, in at least 14 countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Somalia, the UN has said. Reuters

COVID-19 Crisis Grows in Tanzania as President Rejects Risks
Amid the unfolding health-care crisis, President John Magufuli has declared the East African nation free of Covid-19. He’s eschewed lockdowns, discouraged the use of face masks and banned the release of infection data since April, making Tanzania the only country in the world besides insular North Korea that doesn’t release the statistics. “The government should break the silence,” ruling party lawmaker Zacharia Issay said in parliament on Thursday. “I am tired of going to burials.” … Muhimbili Hospital, the Aga Khan Hospital, TMJ Hospital, Hindu Mandal Hospital, Regency Medical Center, Kairuki Hospital and Rabininsia Memorial Hospital in the commercial hub of Dar es Salaam all had to turn patients away over recent weeks because they’d been inundated, according to doctors and officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared state reprisals. Beds, oxygen and respirators were all in short supply, and intensive-care units were full, they said. Hospitalizations of patients suffering from respiratory problems, fatigue and other conditions typically associated with Covid-19 began rising in January after the year-end holidays, the doctors said. Bloomberg

Senior South Sudan Officials Test Positive for COVID-19
Four senior officials working in South Sudan’s Office of the President have tested positive for coronavirus. Speaking to The EastAfrican on Thursday, Presidential Press Secretary Ateny Wek Ateny said he and three other senior officials had tested positive. “We went with a number of staff from the Office of the President, as we made Covid-19 testing mandatory. After testing, I and the other three staff tested positively. Currently, I am under a 14-day quarantine as recommended by the World Health Organization. “I have been clear from day one that coronavirus is a real threat. And if you are positive and your immune system managed to beat it, then don’t mislead others that the virus isn’t there. I advise people to wear masks, adhere to social distance and other preventive measures,” said Ateny. … Last week, the South Sudan National Taskforce on Covid-19 reintroduced a partial lockdown amid a surge of cases across the country. On Wednesday alone, South Sudan recorded two new coronavirus deaths and 156 confirmed cases, the highest figures since the year started. The EastAfrican

Experts Worry about Pandemic’s Impact on Malaria Progress in Nigeria
A warning by the World Health Organization that the COVID-19 pandemic could harm efforts to eradicate malaria appears to be coming true in Nigeria. Nigerian officials say people are refusing to get treatment for fear of catching the virus at a clinic. Fatima Mohammed is in her home at a camp for displaced people in Abuja, tending to her two sons who are currently down with malaria. She says she’s can’t afford huge hospital bills and is afraid that taking them to the hospital could potentially expose them to COVID-19 or result in a misdiagnosis. “I don’t have money to take them to the hospital — and, again, at the hospital, they’ll easily call it coronavirus,” she said. “I don’t have money for that.” Malaria and COVID-19 present similar symptoms, but fear and stigma attached to the pandemic are reasons many like Fatima are seeking alternatives to hospital treatment. Health experts say in-hospital visits for malaria declined significantly in Nigeria since reporting the coronavirus in February 2020. VOA

Gulf Rivalries Are Spilling into Africa’s Horn
The narrow waters separating the Arabian peninsula from the Horn of Africa have never served as much of a moat. Goods and people routinely cross. Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in particular, are increasingly active in the Horn. Tensions between them rose after the UAE established diplomatic ties with Israel last year, a move that Iran furiously condemned. A string of recent arrests shows how the rivalry between the two is adding volatility to an already unstable region. In recent weeks Ethiopia arrested 15 people for allegedly plotting to attack the UAE’s embassies in Ethiopia and Sudan. The authorities said that those arrested were working for a “foreign terrorist group,” but did not say which. Around the same time Sweden said it was holding two men, a Swede and an Eritrean, on suspicion of planning a terrorist offence in an unnamed foreign country. Western intelligence sources say the arrests were linked and Iran was behind the planned attacks. The Economist