Africa Media Review for February 17, 2021

Food Insecurity Crisis Mounting in Africa
Over 100 million Africans are facing crisis, emergency, or catastrophic levels food insecurity in 2020 (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification 3 and above)—an increase of more than 60 percent from the previous year. Levels of food insecurity are expected to worsen in 2021. Conflict continues to be the primary driver of acute food crises in Africa. South Sudan is currently experiencing famine (Phase 5) in parts of Jonglei State, affecting over 100,000 people. Areas of Soum and Oudalan Provinces in Burkina Faso are also in Phase 5. Parts of South Sudan and Ethiopia are likely facing famine level conditions, though access to the affected regions is restricted. Eight of the ten countries with the largest increases in food insecurity in 2020 are facing active conflict. … COVID-19 has had an aggravating effect on food insecurity across the continent. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

France, West Africa Step up Counterterrorism Efforts
Leaders from five West African nations and France agreed Tuesday to step up the fight against Islamic extremists in the Sahel region by deploying a new battalion from Chad, maintaining a strong French military presence and gradually building up a European task force. The leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania, in a final statement from their two-day summit in N’Djamena, Chad, hailed progress over the past year that they said had made the implementation of a clear military strategy possible. French President Emmanuel Macron, European officials and the heads of international organizations also attended the summit via videoconference. … The leaders who attended the summit also vowed to further strengthen a regional force known as the G5 Sahel force that was launched in 2017. It is made up of soldiers from Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania who operate in cooperation with French troops. African and European officials called for long-term international financing of G5 Sahel. AP

UN Chief: CAR Peacekeeping Force Needs 3,700 Reinforcements
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is recommending an increase of nearly 3,700 military and police to bolster the U.N. peacekeeping force in Central African Republic, saying the conflict-torn country is at “a critical juncture.” The U.N. chief said in a report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press that the 2,750 military reinforcements and 940 additional police are needed to help the peacekeeping mission known as MINUSCA prevent “further deterioration in the security situation while creating space for the political process to advance.” …  This month marks the second anniversary of a peace deal between the government and 14 rebel groups aimed at ending years of fighting. But the country faces growing violence that threatens to nullify the agreement. … In the report to the Security Council, he called on the government to work with the armed groups that signed the peace agreement to “re-energize” its full implementation “as the only viable path to addressing the crisis in the country.” AP

UN, African Union Urge Somali Leaders to Resume Talks to Overcome Election Impasse
The United Nations Secretary-General and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission called on Somali leaders, on Tuesday, to resume dialogue to resolve outstanding differences concerning elections in the country. In a joint statement, Secretary-General António Guterres and the Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat commended the people and leaders of Somalia for progress achieved in recent years towards the stabilization of the country. “The hard-won gains are a testimony to the firm determination of the people of Somalia towards lasting peace and prosperity, following decades of instability,” they said. The Secretary-General and the Chairpersonurged the Somali leaders to resume dialogue and work in a spirit of compromise “to overcome the last political hurdles to inclusive elections as soon as possible” and respecting the agreement they reached on 17 September 2020. They also reiterated their commitment to continue to support the government and people of Somalia on their path to peace and prosperity. UN News

US Navy Seizes Large Cache of Smuggled Weapons off Somalia
The U.S. Navy seized a large cache of weapons being smuggled by two small ships off the coast of Somalia, it announced Tuesday, amid the grinding war in nearby Yemen. Among the arms seized by guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill in the Indian Ocean last week were thousands of Kalashnikov-style rifles, light machine guns, heavy sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and crew-served weapons, the Navy said. In its statement, the Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet did not identify the source of the smuggled weapons or reveal their destination. But a U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity, as he wasn’t authorized to discuss details of the seizure, said there were “some indications” the arms were bound for war-torn Yemen just across the Gulf of Aden. Authorities were continuing to investigate, the official added. AP

West Africa Rallies Ebola Defenses as Guinea Cases Climb
Guinea’s neighbors are taking measures to prevent the Ebola hemorrhagic fever from entering their countries, as cases rise in the West Africa nation. Five people have died from the highly contagious disease, Guinea’s National Health Security Agency said in an emailed statement Tuesday. Three people tested positive and 10 other suspected cases are awaiting laboratory results, it said. Authorities are also monitoring 125 people who were in contact with the cases. Most of them are in the southeastern Nzerekore region, where an outbreak has been declared, and the remaining 10 are in the capital, Conakry, it said. No cases or contacts have been reported beyond Guinea so far, Georges Ki-Zerbo, who heads the World Health Organization’s country office, said by phone from Conakry. The WHO, which expects more cases to be confirmed locally in the coming days, warned neighboring states to “act immediately” to prevent the virus from spreading, Ki-Zerbo said. Bloomberg

Nigeria Dispatches Security Chiefs after Gunmen Kidnap Hundreds of Schoolboys
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has dispatched security chiefs to the state of Niger to coordinate a rescue mission for hundreds of students abducted by gunmen late Tuesday. “The President has directed the Armed Forces and Police, to ensure immediate and safe return of all the captives,” presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement. Gunmen believed to belong to a criminal gang have kidnapped hundreds of schoolboys from their hostels along with some teachers in central Nigeria, an official and a security source told AFP Wednesday. The attackers wearing military uniforms stormed the Government Science College in “huge numbers” in the town of Kagara in Niger state late on Tuesday, herding the students into a nearby forest, the sources said. One student was dead during the kidnapping, the official said. Northwest and central Nigeria have increasingly been targeted by criminal gangs known locally as “bandits” who kidnap for ransom, rape and pillage across the region. AFP

Nigeria: Seven Soldiers Killed as Boko Haram Sacks Military Base in Borno
At least seven Nigerian soldiers have been confirmed killed after a deadly ambush by Boko Haram terrorists in Borno State. The affected soldiers were attached to the 153 Task Force Battalion in Marte Local Government Council of the state, sources familiar with the matter told Premium Times. According to the sources, the troops were caught by surprise when the terrorists swooped on them at 10 a.m. on Monday. They, however, put up a strong fight to defend their base and ward off the insurgents. But despite their gallant efforts, the soldiers were overwhelmed “because they could not withstand the superior firepower of the terrorists,” our sources said. The unit, which was totally dislodged, has now been moved to Dikwa, another local government area, a development that has now opened up Marte to further attacks. … Monday’s attack on Marte Local Government by the extremist Boko Haram group makes it the third onslaught on the area in a month, military insiders said. Premium Times

At Least 10 Killed in Fresh DR Congo Attack, ADF Blamed
Suspected members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia killed at least 10 people in eastern DR Congo overnight, sources said Tuesday. A not-for-profit group called the Kivu Security Tracker said a massacre occurred on Monday night in Kalembo, in the Beni area of North Kivu province, resulting in “at least 10” civilian deaths. … The United Nations’ refugee agency, the UNHCR, said on Tuesday that more than 2,000 civilians were killed in North and South Kivu and Ituri province last year. The toll comprised 1,240 in Ituri, 590 in North Kivu, and 261 in South Kivu. “The killings and kidnappings have continued in North Kivu in 2021, where attacks have also been directed against displaced civilians,” it said. More than 88,000 displaced people reside in 22 UN-supported sites in the area, according to UN figures. The Defense Post with AFP

Libyans Mark 2011 Uprising with Eyes on Interim Gov’t
Libyans on Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of their 2011 uprising that led to the overthrow and eventual killing of longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi. The day comes as Libyans have their eyes on a recently appointed government tasked with leading the country through elections late this year. Celebrations began late Tuesday in the capital, Tripoli, where people gathered in the city’s main square amid tight security. … Months of U.N.-led talks resulted in a deal in October that ceased hospitalities and called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries in three months and adherence to a U.N. arms embargo, provisions which have not been met. … In separate phone calls Tuesday with Menfi and Dbeiba [members of the interim government], U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed the importance of holding elections and implementing the cease-fire deal, including the withdrawal of foreign forces from Libya. There are at least at least 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters currently in the country, according to the U.N. AP

Algeria: Thousands Rally on Protest Movement Anniversary
Thousands of people have rallied in the eastern Algerian city of Kherrata to commemorate the beginning of demonstrations against former longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika two years ago. Defying coronavirus restrictions, demonstrators in Kherrata, located some 300km (186 miles) east of the capital Algiers, shouted slogans on Tuesday against the country’s political class and powerful military. They chanted “a civilian state, not a military state” and “the gang must go” as they brandished Berber and Algerian flags. … “We came to revive the Hirak that was stopped for health reasons. They didn’t stop us. We stopped because we care for our people. Today coronavirus is over and we will get the Hirak back,” Nassima, a protester, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency. The rallies came to a halt in March last year as the coronavirus pandemic reached the North African country. … In recent days, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, elected in December 2019, has been in talks with heads of political parties, during which he discussed the possibility of dissolving the parliament and holding early elections, according to politicians. Al Jazeera

Vested Interests behind Tanzania Law Change Push
There are two groups behind the growing calls for constitutional change in Tanzania. One is campaigning for changes that will bring equity to the political scene while the other is seeking an extension of President John Magufuli’s tenure. The first group, made up of activists, is campaigning for constitutional reform that would enable the formation of an Independent Electoral Commission, the other group is made up of several ruling party legislators. Parliament recently resumed amid renewed calls for an extension of tenure for the president led by two MPs who argue that President Magufuli “is too good to go.” Last year, the Speaker of the National Assembly expressed similar sentiments, vowing “to force’’ President Magufuli to accept extension of tenure. The group seeking electoral reforms is led by clerics, politicians, members of the civil societies and elite citizens, who are now considering streets protests to push their agenda. … Prof Lipumba has been calling for the establishment of an independent national electoral commission to replace the current one, which is deemed biased. The EastAfrican

Zanzibar’s First Vice President Seif Hamad Dies Aged 77
Zanzibar’s First Vice President Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad died on Wednesday while undergoing treatment. “At around 5am this morning, Maalim Seif passed away. Maalim died while undergoing treatment at Muhimbili Hospital where he had been admitted since February 9,” said Zanzibar’s President Hussein Ali Mwinyi. Mr Hamad died at the age of 77. He was the chairman of the main opposition Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT-Wazalendo) in the Tanzanian archipelago, which joined the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) to form a government of national unity after the 2020 October elections. On February 1, he was admitted at Mnazi Mmoja Hospital and he confirmed he had tested positive for Covid-19. He became the first person in Tanzania to publicly reveal a Covid-19 status since April last year when President John Magufuli declared the country coronavirus-free. The EastAfrican

‘No Choice’: Hunger Forces Zimbabweans Break COVID Lockdown Rules
Even before the spread of COVID-19, millions of Zimbabweans were facing food shortages due to the combined effects of a devastating drought and a deepening economic crisis. Now, the situation is compounded by the coronavirus. “The COVID-19 pandemic is making it especially hard for poor families to afford a nutritious diet, with lack of incomes, remittances and stressed livelihoods having a ruinous effect on vulnerable communities,” said Claire Nevill, spokesperson for the World Food Programme. … On Monday, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa extended the national lockdown by an additional two weeks. A ban on travelling between provinces remained in place, while a curfew was shortened to nine hours from 12 hours. Meanwhile, staffing levels at government offices was increased to 25 percent capacity from 10 percent, while private companies were allowed to open under strict adherence to World Health Organization guidelines and after testing. In recent weeks, Zimbabwe has seen an exponential jump in confirmed COVID-19 infections. Al Jazeera

South Africa Offers Its AstraZeneca Jabs to African Union
South Africa said Tuesday it would offer its doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine to the African Union (AU) after scrapping their use due to efficacy concerns. The country suspended its vaccine rollout — meant to begin with the AstraZeneca shots earlier this month — after a study found the jab failed to prevent mild and moderate illness caused by a variant found in South Africa. “The doses we purchased have been offered to the African Union to distribute to those countries who have already expressed interest in acquiring the stock,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told parliament. “There will be no wasteful and fruitless expenditure.” … South Africa has now settled for the yet-to-be-approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, securing nine million doses, including 80,000 expected to be delivered this week. Vaccination will begin with healthcare workers as part of an implementation study, Mkhize said. AFP

Mozambique Expels British Journalist Covering Insurgency
Tom Bowker, the co-founder of the anglophone Mozambican news website Zitamar News, had his foreign correspondent card withdrawn on 29 January – a move he has said was politically motivated. At the time Mozambique’s government said Bowker, a former Bloomberg correspondent for the country, was unable to prove the “legal existence” of Zitamar News, which is run between London and Mozambique’s capital, Maputo. … Zitamar, founded after Bowker left Bloomberg in 2015, provided daily news as well as analysis on Mozambique, with a particular focus on extractive industries. Its network of journalists published several articles on an Islamist insurgency wreaking havoc in Mozambique’s remote northern Cabo Delgado province, where oil companies have invested billions of dollars in offshore gas exploration projects. Media access to the area has been limited. Several local journalists have been arrested in the province since the unrest started in 2017. The Guardian

Ethiopia’s Tigray Conflict and the Battle to Control Information
The government-imposed lockdown of the northern region and communications blackout affecting the internet, mobile phones and landlines has made access and assessment for aid agencies dealing with the unfolding humanitarian crisis extremely difficult. It has also made it next to impossible for media seeking entry to investigate artillery attacks on populated areas, deliberate targeting and massacres of civilians, extrajudicial killings, widespread looting and rape, including by suspected Eritrean soldiers. At the same time, journalists in the country have been detained, faced threats and harassment – and even attacks. “This is the worst period in my 10-plus years of journalism,” said one Addis Ababa-based Ethiopian freelance journalist, who, like every journalist contacted for this article, insisted on anonymity due to fear of reprisals, both professional and physical. The journalist noted that even before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the November 4 offensive to remove the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) after attacks of federal army bases, the government was already using new anti-hate speech and fake news legislation against critical journalists. Al Jazeera

Kenya’s Locust Hunters on Tireless Quest to Halt Ancient Pest
As dawn breaks in central Kenya, a helicopter lifts off in a race to find roosting locusts before the sun warms their bodies and sends them on a ravenous flight through farmland. Pilot Kieran Allen begins his painstaking survey from zebra-filled plains and lush maize farms, to dramatic forested valleys and the vast arid expanses further north, his eyes scouring the landscape for signs of the massed insects. The chopper suddenly swings around after a call comes in from the locust war room on the ground: a community in the foothills of Mount Kenya has reported a swarm. “I am seeing some pink in the trees,” his voice crackles over the headphones, pointing to a roughly 30-hectare (75-acre) swathe of desert locusts. … In Kenya, the FAO has teamed up with the company 51 Degrees, which specialises in managing protected areas. It has rejigged software developed for tracking poaching, injured wildlife and illegal logging and other conservation needs to instead trace and tackle locust swarms. A hotline takes calls from village chiefs or some of the 3,000 trained scouts, and aircraft are dispatched. Data on the size of the swarms and direction of travel are shared with the pilots as well as governments and organisations battling the invasion in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. AFP