Africa Media Review for February 16, 2021

Guinea Declares New Ebola Epidemic, Five Years after West Africa’s Deadliest Outbreak
Public health officials in Guinea declared a new epidemic of Ebola on Sunday after recording seven cases and three deaths — the first resurgence since the hemorrhagic fever devastated the West African nation and two neighbors from 2014 to 2016. More than 11,300 people died in the last outbreak, the deadliest on record, which started in a rural Guinea village before tearing through Liberia and Sierra Leone. Health investigators are rushing to trace and isolate suspected contacts, said Sakoba Keita, head of the National Health Security Agency. The country is building a new Ebola treatment center. But resources are thin in Guinea, one of the world’s poorest countries, which was already battling the coronavirus pandemic on top of yellow fever and measles outbreaks. “We are facing four epidemics at the same time,” Keita said. The nation of 13 million has recorded 14,895 coronavirus infections and 84 deaths. An Ebola vaccine rollout is expected to begin as early as this week in the southeast region of Nzerekore, Keita said, where the latest outbreak was detected. The Washington Post

In a Dangerous Game of Cat and Mouse, Iran Eyes New Targets in Africa
When Ethiopia’s intelligence agency recently uncovered a cell of 15 people it said were casing the embassy of the United Arab Emirates, along with a cache of weapons and explosives, it claimed to have foiled a major attack with the potential to sow havoc in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. But the Ethiopians omitted a key detail about the purported plot: who was behind it. The only clue was the arrest of a 16th person: Accused of being the ringleader, Ahmed Ismail had been picked up in Sweden with the cooperation of friendly “African, Asian and European intelligence services,” the Ethiopians said. Now American and Israeli officials say the operation was the work of Iran, whose intelligence service activated a sleeper cell in Addis Ababa last fall with orders to gather intelligence also on the embassies of the United States and Israel. Citing Western intelligence sources, Rear Adm. Heidi K. Berg, director of intelligence at the Pentagon’s Africa command, said that Iran was behind the 15 people arrested in Ethiopia and that the “mastermind of this foiled plot,” Mr. Ismail, had been arrested in Sweden. “Ethiopia and Sweden collaborated on the disruption to the plot,” Admiral Berg said in a statement. The New York Times

G5-Sahel Summit Looks at the Future of French-LED Operation Barkhane
Leaders of the so-called G5 Sahel – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – are attending the two-day summit in the Chadian capital N’Djamena, with French President Emmanuel Macron attending via videolink. … Last Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for a “diplomatic, political and development surge” to respond to the situation. … Last year, France increased its Barkhane mission in the Sahel from 4,500 troops to 5,100 – a move that precipitated a string of apparent military successes. French forces killed the leader of the notorious Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Abdelmalek Droukdel, as well as a military chief of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM). But the latest attacks have also brought the number of French combat deaths in Mali to 50, leading to soul-searching at home about Barkhane’s cost and usefulness. … Despite persistent rumours, France is not expected to announce any troop withdrawal at the summit in N’Djamena. Instead, to lighten the load, France is hoping for more military support from its European partners through the Takuba Task Force which assists Mali in its fight against jihadists. RFI

West African Governments Consider Talking to Regional Islamists
The region’s leaders will meet for a summit — which Macron will attend virtually because of Covid concerns — this week in Chad’s capital N’Djamena. … France, which leads the fight in the Sahel, has long publicly rejected the idea of talks with Isis- and al-Qaeda-linked groups and Le Drian reaffirmed Macron’s red line on negotiations: “We do not negotiate with terrorists, we fight them.” But the idea has become popular with regional governments tired of the insurgency and Macron has said France is now focusing on Isis as its enemy rather than “every group that is more or less jihadist.” This month Burkina Faso for the first time said it was open to talks with Islamists whose insurgency has rendered swaths of the once stable country ungovernable. “If we want to end the security crisis, we will need to find paths and ways to talk with those responsible for terrorist attacks so that we are in peace,” prime minister Christophe Dabiré said in parliament. Mali, where the violence consuming the Sahel began when jihadist groups captured the country’s north in 2012, has also voiced support. FT

Congo’s Tshisekedi Appoints New PM, Further Sidelining Kabila
Congo President Felix Tshisekedi appointed the head of the state mining company Sama Lukonde Kyenge as the new prime minister on Monday, capping a series of victories for Tshisekedi over his once-dominant predecessor Joseph Kabila. Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba, a close confidant of Kabila, resigned as prime minister on Jan. 28 after a vote of no confidence by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s parliament. The appointment of Lukonde, director general of Gecamines and an ally of the president, should help Tshisekedi install a more loyal cabinet to push through his agenda. In recent months, Tshisekedi has chipped away at the influence of Kabila, with whom he formed an awkward power-sharing deal following a disputed 2018 election. The alliance, which forced Tshisekedi to bargain with his predecessor over any policy shift, compounded the challenges facing his government, such as corruption, two Ebola epidemics and spiralling violence in the mineral-rich east. Following the announcement, Lukonde said his priority would be bringing peace to the east and southeast of the vast country. Reuters

Anxiety Rises over Somalia Delayed Polls
Somalia is under pressure to hold elections and put the country on track to economic recovery, a peaceful political transition and save it from uncertainties that would embolden al Shabaab. Mogadishu was a subject of emergency meetings both at the African Union Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council this past week, where it was agreed that leaders must find consensus and address crucial sticking points, with a warning against “parallel” processes that will not attract universal support. The country reached a crossroads last Monday (February 8) after President Mohamed Farmaajo completed his four-year term with no elections held to determine if he continues for a second term or gets replaced. And sources told The EastAfrican that there are worries that delayed elections could hurt budgetary stability, including financial support from donors. Mohamed Abdirazak, Somalia’s Foreign and International Minister told both the AU and the UN that Somalia’s transition clauses will help the country navigate the crisis. … But these assurances are not convincing, with the US and the EU, two of Somalia’s biggest state-rebuilding donors, warning that an impasse could slow down recovery. The EastAfrican

Doctors Report Sudden Coronavirus Spike in Somalia
Health authorities in Somalia say the country has been hit by a second wave of the coronavirus, blaming travels abroad and public gatherings ahead of elections for the increase in cases. Minister of Health and Social Care Dr. Fawziya Abikar said cases have increased 52% in February compared to January. She urged people to wear masks and avoid gatherings. Dr. Abdirizak Yusuf Ahmed, director of de Martini hospital, the main medical facility for coronavirus patients, told VOA Somali that hospitalizations, positive results, and fatalities have all increased within the last two weeks. About 120 people died in Somalia in all of 2020, and more than 30 have died in 2021, he said. “The trend that we are observing shows that most of the cases are imported and attributed to large-scale public gatherings, where essential public health measures are not enforced,” Dr. Mamunur Rahman Malik, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Somalia country representative, told VOA Somali. … Health authorities in Somalia sent samples to Nigeria to verify if new variants exist in the country, he added. VOA

South Africa Reopens Its Land Borders as Virus Cases Decline
South Africa has reopened its major land borders with neighboring countries after closing them last month to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. At least 20 border posts reopened Monday, with officials saying steps will be taken to avoid tightly-packed crowds of travelers gathering at the immigration posts which would spread the virus. Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who is to inspect the reopening of the Lebombo border post with Mozambique on Monday, said South Africa is working with neighboring countries to ensure simpler movements of people. Other border posts to be reopened include the Beitbridge border post with Zimbabwe and crossing points with Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia and Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland). … South Africa has seen a decline in new COVID-19 infections, leading the country to lift some of its stricter lockdown regulations like the closure of land borders. … The country is set to start vaccinating its front-line health workers with Johnson & Johnson vaccines later this week. AP

Zuma Risks Arrest after Defying South Africa Corruption Inquiry
Jacob Zuma, the former president of South Africa whose nearly decade-long tenure was tainted by breathtaking corruption scandals, refused to appear before an inquiry panel Monday, raising the possibility that he would be imprisoned for contempt. The panel’s leader, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, said he was seeking an order from the Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court, that would “impose a term of imprisonment on Mr. Zuma.” Justice Zondo’s move catapulted the simmering theme of corruption during Mr. Zuma’s term, which lasted from 2009 to 2018, into a tense showdown over the accountability of the former president. His successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, has promised to purge the governing African National Congress of endemic problems of bribery and graft that have severely damaged its credibility in South Africa, one of the continent’s most important economic powerhouses. The New York Times

Cameroon Detains Eight Soldiers after Torture Video Emerges
Cameroon has detained eight soldiers after a video emerged over the weekend showing them in uniform torturing a victim with a machete until he fell unconscious, the Central African nation’s defence ministry said on Monday. The incident, which occurred on Feb. 11 in the North West Region, one of the country’s English-speaking regions where separatist insurgents have been battling government forces since 2017, is the latest in a series of atrocities and suspected rights abuse in the drawn-out conflict. What began as peaceful protests over marginalisation in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions by the majority French-speaking government in 2016 has degenerated into a violent insurgency pitting separatist groups against Cameroon’s army. Reuters

‘Our Village Is Completely Destroyed’: Displaced Central Africans Recount Rapes and Disappearances
Central African Republic security forces and their allies claim to have pushed back a rebel offensive seeking to topple President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. But a humanitarian crisis is far from over in the country, with hundreds of thousands of people still displaced and many more in need of assistance. In the town of Liton, 22 kilometres from the centre of the capital, Bangui, around 2,500 people have been living in a makeshift displacement camp since clashes between the government and the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) rebel group erupted in their villages in mid-January. On a visit to the camp, set up in the grounds of a local school, The New Humanitarian spoke to one person who described a relative disappearing, women who said family members had been raped by armed men in recent weeks – some by multiple men at once – and many others who said their villages had been damaged and looted. The New Humanitarian

Alleged Central African Republic Rebels Plead Not Guilty
Two alleged leaders of a predominantly Christian rebel group in the Central African Republic pleaded not guilty Tuesday to multiple counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity as their trial opened at the International Criminal Court. Former soccer official Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona and Alfred Yekatom, a rebel leader known as Rambo, are accused of involvement in atrocities including murder, torture and attacking civilians. The charges stem from their roles as senior leaders in a predominantly Christian militia known as the anti-Balaka that engaged in bitter fighting with the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group in 2013 and 2014. Tuesday’s trial is the first at the global court that focuses on the violence that erupted after the Seleka seized power in the Central African Republic in 2013, forcing President Francois Bozize into exile. The process begins against a backdrop of ongoing violence in the African nation despite a two-year-old peace deal. AP

In Sudan Border Town, Desperate Ethiopians Find ‘Second Mother Country’
The refugees were hungry and exhausted, their shoes dusty and worn from trudging for four days through the bush and forest of northwestern Ethiopia, hiding from soldiers, as they escaped the conflict in the country’s Tigray region. Finally, they made it safely to the small Sudanese border town of Hamdayet. But they had nowhere to sleep and nothing to eat. So they sat in a sandy alley close to the center of town, asking passers-by for food and water. That’s where Mohamed Ali Ibrahim, who works in a local restaurant, found them. He led them to his family’s compound near the alley, and invited them to stay in an empty mud hut on the property. He told them they could stay for as long as they wanted. “They are like our brothers,” said Mr. Ibrahim, 64, of the group of four women and one man — members of two families who were neighbors in Ethiopia. “We have not given them a time limit and we cannot do that because these are people coming to us for refuge.” The New York Times

Sudan Declares States of Emergency after Protests over Soaring Food Prices
Seven regions of Sudan have declared states of emergency following violent protests against food price rises. Curfews have been imposed and schools have been forced to close in 10 cities across Darfur, North Kordofan, West Kordofan and Sennar. Buildings were looted and burned, and food was stolen from markets and shops. The regions are among the poorest in Sudan. … Millions of people in the country are struggling as the cost of living continues to rise amid economic difficulties. The Sudanese pound dropped against the dollar from 260 pounds (£3.40) in November to 315 pounds last month. The annual rate of inflation increased to 269% in December, up from 254% in November, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet) has said food insecurity could reach crisis levels in parts of Kordofan and Darfur in the coming months. The Guardian

‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero Faces Trial as Family Fears for His Life
As the terrorism trial for Paul Rusesabagina, whose story inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda,” is set to start on Wednesday, his family says the critic of longtime Rwandan President Paul Kagame has no chance at a fair trial and might die from poor health behind bars. Rusesabagina, praised for saving ethnic Tutsis during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, was arrested last year in Rwanda after mysteriously disappearing during a visit to Dubai. Rwanda accuses him of supporting the armed wing of his opposition political platform, which has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks. The circumstances around the 66-year-old Rusesabagina’s arrest, his limited access to an independent legal team and his reported worsening health have drawn international concern for the Belgian citizen and U.S. resident. … The European Parliament last week adopted a resolution calling for Rwanda to give Rusesabagina a fair trial and condemning what it called his enforced disappearance, illegal rendition to Rwanda and incommunicado detention. AP

Rwanda: The Dove’s Music United a Nation Torn by Genocide. Why Did He Die in a Cell?
Masses will be held across at least four continents this week to mark the anniversary of the death of Rwanda’s most famous gospel singer. But there will be a key difference in the ceremonies staged in Kizito Mihigo’s country of birth and those abroad. In Rwanda, no one will dare publicly to question how – or why – the baby-faced singer met his end. In the rest of the world, fans will be clamouring for justice. … Linking up via social media, youngsters in a diaspora scattered across Africa, Europe, North America and Australasia have already started marking the anniversary with 10 days of vigils and masses. His photograph graces the Twitter accounts of many of these supporters – some of whom are calling for his canonisation. His defiance is inspiring Rwandans to break their usual frightened silence, says Noel Twagiramungu of the Washington-based Africa Center for Strategic Progress. “Kizito has become an emblem, a reference point, a symbol.” The Guardian

‘I’m a Fighter’: First Female, African Head of WTO Ready for Battle
Even for an economist, there are lots of very large numbers in the life of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. As the chair of Gavi, the vaccine alliance, she has overseen the annual immunisation of millions of children. When managing director of the World Bank, she oversaw $81bn (£58bn) worth of operations. In her stints in charge of Nigeria’s finances, she tackled Africa’s most populous country’s $30bn debt. And she has 1.5 million followers on Twitter. … Then there are the multiple lists frequently featuring Okonjo-Iweala, 66: the world’s 100 most powerful women, 100 most influential people in the world, 10 most influential women in Africa, Top 100 or 150 women in the world, and many others. On Monday, Okonjo-Iweala was added to a new list: that of the director generals of the World Trade Organization (WTO), a position that has never before been occupied by an African person nor by a woman. She will take over the institution, with its budget of $220m and staff of 650, at a critical time. The Guardian