Africa Media Review for February 18, 2021

Africa COVID-19 Deaths near 100,000 after Second Wave

Africa’s total reported death toll from COVID-19 was approaching 100,000 on Thursday, a fraction of those reported on other continents but rising fast as a second wave of infections overwhelms hospitals. The continent’s reported deaths, at 99,800, compare favourably with North America, which has registered more than half a million, and Europe, which is approaching 900,000, a Reuters tally shows. But deaths are rising sharply across Africa, driven by its southern region, especially economic powerhouse South Africa, which accounts for nearly half. South Africa was ravaged by a second wave caused by a more contagious variant that has jammed up casualty wards. “The increased number (of infections) has led to many severe cases and some of the countries really found it quite difficult to cope,” Richard Mihigo, coordinator of the immunisation programme at the World Health Organization’s Africa office, told Reuters. “We have seen some countries getting to their limit in terms of oxygen supply, which has got a really negative impact in terms of case management for severe cases.” Reuters

South Africa Starts Vaccinating with Leader

Cracking a joke about his fear of needles, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday became one of the first people to receive a COVID-19 vaccination in the country that has by far the highest confirmed virus caseload in Africa. “Can I close my eyes?” Ramaphosa bantered as a health worker injected him with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in a live broadcast on South African television. Staff at the district hospital in Khayelitsha, a poor township near Cape Town, applauded. Minutes later, Ramaphosa urged South Africa’s 60 million people to have confidence in the vaccines despite a bumpy start to the inoculation campaign marked by a last-minute switch of vaccines. … “I must say that at first I was a bit terrified of this long needle that was going to be embedded in my arm, but it happened so quickly and so easily,” Ramaphosa said. “This day marks a milestone for South Africa. Finally, the vaccines are here, and they are being administered. “I’d like to invite South Africans to take this up so that we can all be safe and we can all be healthy.” AP

Tanzania’s Leader Says His Country Is ‘COVID-Free.’ The Facts Are Proving Him Wrong.

Tanzania’s president recently rejected any need for coronavirus vaccines, instead promoting herbal cures. He claims the nation of 60 million has been “covid-free” since he presided over three days of national prayer in June. Mark Mwandosya, a former minister in the president’s ruling party, knows that is not true. Over the past month, Mwandosya has turned his social media feeds into a stream of mini-obituaries. Fifteen of his family members and close friends have died. … “It’s the same in each,” he said in an interview. “Challenges associated with breathing, losing strength and then dropping down dead.” … He is one of the few willing to speak on the record against increasingly authoritarian President John Magufuli’s official narrative. A dozen others, from doctors to students to taxi drivers, would only speak on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, but all said they knew of people who had died with covid-19-like symptoms in recent weeks. … The U.S. Embassy in Tanzania says the country has seen a significant increase in cases over the past month. The Washington Post

UN, US Condemn Attack on Ugandan Journalists outside UN Office in Kampala

The United Nations is condemning military and police officers who attacked journalists covering opposition figure Bobi Wine’s delivery of a petition to the U.N. rights office in Uganda on Wednesday, according to a press release. At least 20 journalists were wounded and at least four suffered severe head injuries, Stephen Bwire of the Uganda Journalists Union told Reuters. “The journalists were doing their duty and they were clearly identifiable as journalists; they were not hostile, they were politely covering the events,” Bwire said. Bobi Wine rejected his loss in last month’s presidential elections, claiming the elections were rigged in favor of the president, Yoweri Museveni. Wine, accompanied by five party officials, was filing a complaint about Ugandan human rights abuses at a U.N. office in Kampala when “[security officers] descended on everyone they could land on and beat them without mercy,” he tweeted, describing the action as “contemptuous.” VOA

‘Horrible’: Witnesses Recall Massacre in Ethiopian Holy City

Bodies with gunshot wounds lay in the streets for days in Ethiopia’s holiest city. At night, residents listened in horror as hyenas fed on the corpses of people they knew. But they were forbidden from burying their dead by the invading Eritrean soldiers. Those memories haunt a deacon at the country’s most sacred Ethiopian Orthodox church in Axum, where local faithful believe the ancient Ark of the Covenant is housed. As Ethiopia’s Tigray region slowly resumes telephone service after three months of conflict, the deacon and other witnesses gave The Associated Press a detailed account of what might be its deadliest massacre. For weeks, rumors circulated that something ghastly had occurred at the Church of St. Mary of Zion in late November, with estimates of several hundred people killed. But with Tigray cut off from the world and journalists blocked from entering, little could be verified as Ethiopian and allied fighters pursued the Tigray region’s fugitive leaders. AP

‘No Way They’ll Back Out’: Tensions Rise Amid Ethiopia Opposition Hunger Strike

For two hours the doctors had waited outside the gates of Kaliti prison in Addis Ababa. Bekele Gerba, a leading Ethiopian opposition figure from the Oromo ethnic group, was very ill and due to be taken to hospital for treatment. The 60-year-old is one of 20 senior political detainees, including the most prominent, Jawar Mohammed, who have been on hunger strike for the past three weeks. … Bekele and Jawar, of the popular nationalist party, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), are among the high profile figures facing serious charges, including terrorism, over the violent unrest that followed the murder of a popular Oromo musician last June. … Abiy’s Prosperity party accuses the detainees of playing a role in inciting violence which led to more than 100 deaths in June and July – many, according to the state-appointed human rights commission, killed by rioting mobs. The ruling party strongly denies that any of the detainees are political prisoners. … Detainees say the arrests were politically motivated with an eye on national elections scheduled for June. The Guardian

Sudan Summons Ambassador to Ethiopia for Consultations—Spokesman

Sudan has summoned its ambassador to Ethiopia for consultations over the latest developments in the ties between both countries, a spokesman for the Sudanese foreign ministry told Reuters on Wednesday. Sudan’s foreign ministry had said on Sunday that Ethiopian forces crossed into Sudanese territory in an act of “aggression,” but the spokesman did not specify if consultations would be about that particular incident. Ethiopian foreign ministry official spokesman Dina Mufti and state minister of foreign affairs Redwan Hussein could not immediately be reached for comment on Sunday following the incident and did not return messages. Clashes erupted late last year between Sudanese and Ethiopian forces over Al-Fashqa, an area of fertile land settled by Ethiopian farmers that Sudan says lies on the Sudanese side of a border demarcated at the start of the 20th century. Reuters

Heavy Agenda on the Table for EAC Heads of State

Covid-19 challenges, Somalia’s application to the join the East African Community, ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement and consultations towards attaining a Political Federation will be top on the agenda at the Heads of State Summit scheduled for February 27. “We are planning to have a Council meeting just before the Summit. There are issues like the challenges posed by Covid-19 in the EAC, the working of the institutions and others, though it is too early to come up with all the issues,” said Prof Manasseh Nshuti, Rwanda’s Minister of State in charge of the EAC and also the chairperson of the Council of Ministers. The pandemic made it difficult for the EAC Summit to meet last year, delaying discussions on Somali’s admission to the Community. Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are seeking to join EAC and the former put its application to the Secretariat in 2013. “We have the applications of both Somali and DR Congo. The summit shall give direction,” said Prof Nshuti. The Community currently consists of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda Burundi, and South Sudan. The EastAfrican

Gunmen in Nigeria Attack School, Abducting Dozens and Killing a Student

Dozens of Nigerian school children were kidnapped by gunmen early on Wednesday morning, becoming the latest victims of the West African country’s slide into insecurity. Armed men wearing military uniforms abducted at least 40 people, most of them students, from a boarding school in the town of Kagara, in Niger state in the country’s northwest. They shot one student dead. … Wednesday’s kidnapping took place in the country’s northwest, and is the latest in a series of attacks there carried out by criminal gangs known locally as bandits. In December, more than 300 boys were taken from a school in the president’s home state, Katsina, then released. Then, two days later, more than 80 Islamic school students were kidnapped in the same state and almost immediately rescued. With the police overstretched, and the army deployed to nearly every Nigerian state to fight the country’s many crises, security agencies are spread thin. Armed criminal gangs operate in much of the country, and the government is frequently criticized for its inability to keep its citizens safe. In the past few years, the number of victims abducted in each attack has increased. The New York Times

Nigeria: How We’ll Improve Nation’s Security – Service Chiefs

The newly-nominated service chiefs of the Nigerian Armed Forces on Wednesday in Abuja promised to improve the security architecture of the country. Speaking separately at their screening by the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on Defence, they promised to bring their wealth of experience in war theatres in the past to bear on their new assignments. The nominees are Leo Irabor, a major general and Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and Ibrahim Attahiru, a major general and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS). Others are Awwal Gambo, a rear admiral and the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) and Isiaka Amao, an air vice-marshal and Chief of Air Staff (CAS). In a speech at the screening, the CDS said he attended extensive courses in the course of his military career within and outside the country and assured that he would use the experience to tackle insurgency. He said as a former Commander of ‘Operation Lafiya Dole’, a special military task force in the Northeast region, he would use that experience to also handle insecurity. NAN

Cameroon Critics Ask for DDR Improvements Amid Ex-Fighter Protests

Critics of Cameroon’s rehabilitation centers for former rebels are calling for a restructuring after some former rebels complained about the centers’ poor conditions. The former Anglophone rebels say the centers for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) offer them little support and are failing to reach the goal of social integration. More than 150 ex-fighters are in a dispute over the DDR center in Bamenda, capital of Cameroon’s English-speaking northwest region. … Within the past 10 days, English-speaking former rebels at the DDR centers in Bamenda and the English-speaking southwestern town of Buea have been protesting. They say their living conditions are appalling. The former fighters say the government has failed in its promise to socially reintegrate them. The ex-fighters marched through the streets of Bamenda on Monday. They also went to the office of Deben Tchoffo, governor of the northwest region that includes Bamenda, to denounce what the former fighters say are poor living conditions at the DDR center. VOA

Chad: At Least 35 Killed in Herder-Farmer Clashes

Thirty-five people have been killed in fighting between semi-nomadic herders and farmers in southeastern Chad in recent days, according to a senior official. The deaths occurred in Salamat province where farmers were attacked when they encountered a roadblock, provincial secretary-general Mara Maad told AFP news agency on Wednesday. The farmer blamed local cattle herders and launched an attack on them on Monday, prompting authorities to send in troops who restored order the same day, Maad added. The “inter-community clashes have caused 35 deaths, including a soldier,” Maad said. Herders and sedentary farmers have a long and troubled history in southern Chad, where weapons exist in large numbers and violence often flares after cattle destroy crops. In November last year, 22 people were killed in herder-farmer clashes in Kabbia, which is also in the south, while nearly 50 were killed in ethnic conflicts across Chad in the following two months. AFP

‘Triple Threat’ Adds to Long-Standing Crises Menacing Food Security in Somalia – FAO

Poor rainfall, flooding and desert locusts are contributing to extreme food insecurity in Somalia, threating 2.6 million people, the UN agriculture agency said in a new analysis released on Wednesday. In a joint report, the UN The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that in the absence of large-scale and sustained humanitarian assistance “the situation could worsen through mid-2021.” “Somalia’s long-standing crises are compounded now by the ‘triple threat’ of the COVID-19 pandemic, desert locust infestations and climatic shocks,” said UN Deputy Special Representative Adam Abdelmoula, who also serves as the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the country. … And FAO underscored that humanitarian assistance must be sustained through mid-2021 to prevent Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes for nearly 2.7 million people. UN News

The ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero Is on Trial. Here’s What We Know.

He was lauded as a hero during the grim days of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, credited with saving the lives of more than 1,200 people he sheltered at his hotel. But when he mysteriously reappeared back in his home country late last year, he was in handcuffs. Now Paul Rusesabagina, who angered the Rwandan government with his pointed criticism from exile in the years after the blood bath, has gone on trial in a prosecution that has drawn broad international condemnation. … The trial began on Wednesday morning at the Supreme Court in Kigali. Mr. Rusesabagina — masked, dressed in pink prison uniform and carrying a blue notebook — arrived in court with 20 co-defendants. As the trial gets underway, his family, his lawyers and critics of the government all say he has no chance at a fair trial. Here is the story so far… The New York Times

Pillagers of Tropical Forests Can’t Hide behind Clouds Anymore

The world continues to lose millions of acres of its most valuable tropical forests each year. But defenders of those forests have just deployed a new tool in their struggle to stop it — or at least alert the world when it’s happening. It’s an upgrade of a system called Global Forest Watch, created by the World Resources Institute. The website makes it possible to monitor what’s happening to distant tropical forests almost in real time through satellite imagery. Mikaela Weisse, who helps run this site, demonstrates how it works. She zooms in on one small area of the Central African Republic. It looks a bit like Google Maps, except that this map is updated constantly. Behind the scenes, computers sift through a flood of images collected from satellites, day by day, using techniques devised by researchers at the University of Maryland and Wageningen University in the Netherlands. When the software detects a change – when trees have disappeared from a particular spot since the satellite last looked at it — it issues an alert, and a color-coded spot shows up on the map where trees appear to have vanished. NPR