Africa Media Review for February 22, 2021

Violent Attack as Niger’s Voters Select a New President
Deadly violence struck Niger’s presidential elections Sunday when seven members of the National Electoral Commission were killed when their car hit an explosive device, the government announced. Three others were severely injured in the explosion which occurred in Gotheye village in the Tillaberi region in the country’s west, Addine Agalass, an advisor to Tillaberi’s governor told The Associated Press by phone. The attack happened while Nigeriens were nearly finished voting in the second round of the country’s presidential elections. It’s unclear if it was intended to target the electoral commission officials or if it was related to the election, said Agalass. … The winner of Sunday’s vote will succeed President Mahamadou Issoufou who is stepping down after serving two terms, in accordance with Niger’s constitution. Issoufou’s decision to respect the constitution has been widely hailed and paves the way for Niger’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since its independence from France in 1960. The West African nation has seen four coups. AP

Gunfire at Mogadishu Protest Intensifies Somali Election Impasse
Opposition protests in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, were interrupted by gunfire on Friday, heightening a political standoff caused by the government’s refusal to hold elections that were scheduled for two weeks ago. Videos posted on social media and shared by local news outlets showed opposition leaders marching through the streets of the city before ducking and running for cover as gunfire is heard. The unfolding chaos in the capital is a flash point in a deteriorating political situation in Somalia, and risks exacerbating clan-based grievances, emboldening the extremist group al-Shabab and undermining progress the country has made in recent years. The current political crisis was set off when Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, delayed elections and then refused to leave office after his four-year term formally ended on Feb. 8. The government put the country under a lockdown before the demonstrations on Friday, suspending all public gatherings. While it said it imposed the restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic, opposition critics attributed the move to an effort to tamp down protests. The New York Times

Italian Ambassador to DR Congo Dies in Attack on UN Convoy
Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo and two other people have been killed in an attack on a United Nations convoy in eastern DRC. The convoy was attacked at about 10.15am (0815 GMT) during an attempted kidnap by assailants near the town of Kanyamahoro, a few miles north of the regional capital Goma, the Virunga national park said. The Italian ambassador, Luca Attanasio, and a military policeman travelling with him were killed, the Italian foreign ministry said in a statement. … It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. “It is with deep sorrow that the foreign ministry confirms the death today in Goma of the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Luca Attanasio, and of a policemen from the Carabinieri,” the foreign ministry statement said. Reuters

Libyan Interior Minister Survives Attack on Motorcade
The interior minister of Libya’s U.N.-backed government survived an ambush by gunmen on his motorcade on Sunday, a brazen attack highlighting the towering challenges that remain for the newly appointed government that is trying to unite the country before elections late this year. Armed men opened fire at Fathi Bashagha’s motorcade on a highway in Tripoli, wounding at least one of his guards, said Amin al-Hashmi, a spokesman for the Tripoli-based Health Ministry. He said the minister survived the attack and his guards chased the assailants, killing one and detaining two others. The Interior Ministry said in a statement that Bashagha was was returning to his residence in the Janzour neighborhood when armed men in an armored vehicle opened fire on his convoy. … The U.S. Ambassador in Libya Richard Norland also condemned the attack and called for an investigation to hold those responsible accountable. “Minister Bashaga’s focus on ending the influence of rogue militias has our full support,” Norland said. AP

Pandemic Used as ‘Pretext’ to Crush Dissent —UN Chief
UN chief Antonio Guterres on Monday criticised countries that are using the pandemic to justify cracking down on dissent, reining in the media and suppressing criticism. Speaking at the opening of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s main annual session, Antonio Guterres charged that authorities in a number of nations were using restrictions meant to halt the spread of Covid-19 to weaken their political opposition. “Using the pandemic as a pretext, authorities in some countries have deployed heavy-handed security responses and emergency measures to crush dissent, criminalise basic freedoms, silence independent reporting and curtail the activities of non-governmental organisations,” he said, without naming the countries. “Human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, political activists, and even medical professionals are being detained, prosecuted and subjected to intimidation and surveillance for criticising government pandemic responses — or the lack thereof,” he added. In some countries, he warned, “pandemic-related restrictions are being used to subvert electoral processes, weaken opposition voices and suppress criticism.” APF

UK Urges UN Resolution for Pause in Conflicts for Virus Jabs
Britain circulated a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council on Friday demanding that all warring parties immediately institute a “sustained humanitarian pause” to enable people in conflict areas to be vaccinated for COVID-19. The proposed resolution reiterates the council’s demand last July 1 for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities” in major conflicts from Syria and Yemen to Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan and Somalia. The appeal was first made by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 23, 2020, to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. The draft “emphasizes the need for solidarity, equity, and efficacy and invites donation of vaccine doses from developed economies to low- and middle-income countries and other countries in need, including through the COVAX Facility,” an ambitious World Health Organization project to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people. AP

UN Says Malnutrition ‘Very Critical’ in Ethiopia’s Tigray
The United Nations says Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region faces a “very critical malnutrition situation” as vast rural areas where many people fled during three months of fighting remain out of reach of aid. The U.N. humanitarian agency also said in a new report that Ethiopian defense forces continue to occupy a hospital in the town of Abi Adi, “preventing up to 500,000 people from accessing health services” in a region where the health system has largely collapsed under looting and artillery fire. Alarm is growing over the fate of the Tigray region’s some 6 million people as fighting is reportedly as fierce as ever between Ethiopian and allied forces and those supporting the now-fugitive Tigray leaders who once dominated Ethiopia’s government. “The needs are tremendous, but we cannot pretend that we do not see or hear what is unfolding,” Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde said in a statement on Friday after visiting the Tigray capital, Mekele. … Ethiopia on Friday said humanitarian aid has reached 2.7 million people in Tigray. But the U.N. report calls the current response “drastically inadequate,” even as some progress is made. AP

Ethiopia, S. Sudan Sign Military Cooperation Agreement
Ethiopia and South Sudan on Saturday signed a military cooperation agreement between the two countries. The agreement was signed by the Ethiopian army chiefs of staff, Gen. Berhanu Jula and his South Sudan counterpart, Gen. Johnson Juma Okot. The signing ceremony, according to the National Defense Force website, was held at the conclusion of the 11th joint chiefs of staff meeting of the two countries held in Addis Ababa. The agreement includes exchange of information on military security, curbing illicit arms and human trafficking at border areas, enhancing military diplomacy and cooperation in areas of education and training, among others. The South Sudanese delegation led by the country’s army chief of staff arrived in the Ethiopian capital to discuss the bilateral military affairs on Friday. The signing of the deal comes amid tense relations between Ethiopia and Sudan. Sudan Tribune

Sudan Announces Managed Currency Float to Revive Economy
Sudan announced a managed flotation of its currency on Sunday, in an unprecedented but expected step to meet a major demand by international financial institutions to help transitional authorities overhaul the battered economy. The move is the boldest economic measure taken by the joint military-civilian government that has ruled the African country after a popular uprising. The revolt led to the military’s overthrow of autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. The country has since been on a fragile path to democracy with daunting economic challenges representing a major threat to that transition. The sharp devaluation could provoke a popular backlash as the price of goods and services rise in response to the fall of the pound’s value and possible hike in the price of fuel and other essential goods. There were already sporadic protests over dire living conditions in the past couple of weeks in the capital, Khartoum and other parts of the country. AP

Tanzania’s President Admits Country Has COVID-19 Problem
Tanzania’s president is finally acknowledging that his country has a coronavirus problem after claiming for months that the disease had been defeated by prayer. Populist President John Magufuli on Sunday urged citizens of the East African country to take precautions and even wear face masks — but only locally made ones. Over the course of the pandemic he has expressed wariness about foreign-made goods, including COVID-19 vaccines. The president’s comments came days after the country of some 60 million people mourned the death of one of its highest-profile politicians, the vice president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, whose political party had earlier said he had COVID-19. The president’s chief secretary also died in recent days, though the cause was not revealed. … [WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus] in a statement on Saturday called Tanzania’s situation “very concerning” and urged Magufuli’s government to take “robust action.” Others recently expressing concern include the United States and the local Catholic church. AP

Uganda’s Wine Withdraws Court Challenge to Election Results
Ugandan opposition figure Bobi Wine says he will withdraw a legal petition that sought to overturn the victory of President Yoweri Museveni in last month’s presidential election. Wine said Monday that he has instructed his attorneys to start the process of withdrawing the petition even though the country’s top court is set to begin hearing evidence after receiving affidavits in the case. “We have decided to move the case from (the Supreme) court and bring it back to the court of the people,” he said, speaking in the local Luganda language. Wine, a singer and lawmaker whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, charged that Uganda’s courts are filled with “yes-men” appointed by Museveni and that he did not expect a fair decision from the panel of nine judges. He said he will soon inform his supporters what his next steps are. Wine last week demanded that at least three judges recuse themselves from hearing the case, saying they were compromised by ties to Museveni. AP

Gabon: Two Killed During Protests against COVID Restrictions
Two men have been shot dead in Libreville during curfew violations and protests against coronavirus restrictions, police in Gabon said on Friday. The two were shot late on Thursday as the country was hit by violent demonstrations in poor neighbourhoods against a stepped-up curfew and a ban on leaving or entering the capital. For three days, urban dwellers across the country banged on pots and gas cans. On Thursday, clashes broke out with police. National police chief Serge Herve Ngoma said in a filmed statement that protesters had put up barricades and fought police with Molotov cocktails, rocks and iron bars. “In circumstances that have not yet been established, two curfew violators in Libreville were hit by gunfire and died from their wounds,” he said, adding that an investigation was launched. … Gabon has moved up a curfew and blocked movement in and out of Libreville to curb a surge in coronavirus cases. Bars and clubs have been closed for the past year, and large parts of an informal economy that many depend on have suffered from anti-COVID measures. AFP

Algerian Police Out in Force on Protests Anniversary
Algerian police were deployed in force Monday on the streets of the capital Algiers, following calls for demonstrations to mark the second anniversary of the country’s antigovernment “Hirak” protest movement. Helicopters hovered overhead as police checkpoints created traffic jams across the city. … From February 22, 2019, regular massive protests were staged across Algeria. … On the eve of the anniversary, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced a limited government reshuffle, in the latest step aimed at heading off renewed protests. The reshuffle saw few major changes. Among those retained are Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad and Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati, seen as a symbol of Algeria’s judicial crackdown on protesters and opposition activists. Tebboune, who succeeded Bouteflika, also signed a decree dissolving parliament, clearing the way for early polls. AFP

Nigeria: Kidnappers Free 53 People Seized on Bus
A gang last week seized 53 people, including 20 women and nine children, who were travelling on a state-owned bus in Kundu village in Niger State. Kidnappers released 53 people, including women and children, seized on a bus in Nigeria while dozens of others taken from a school in a separate attack are still missing. Criminal gangs in northwestern and central Nigeria have scaled up attacks in recent years, kidnapping, raping and pillaging.Gunmen last week killed 10 people and abducted at least 23 others in two separate attacks in the state. … “We are witnessing these attacks now, almost, on daily basis and it is worrisome,” [the governor’s spokeswoman Mary] Noel-Berje said at the time. The attackers are known to hide in camps in the Rugu forest, which straddles Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger states. Despite the deployment of troops, deadly attacks persist. The gangs are largely driven by financial motives and have no known ideological leanings. Al Jazeera

7 Killed as Nigerian Military Aircraft Crashes near Abuja Airport
A Nigerian military aircraft has crashed near Abuja airport, killing all seven people on board, according to officials. “First responders are at the scene. Sadly, all 7 personnel on board died in the crash,” Ibikunle Daramole, air force spokesman, said in a statement on Sunday. The Beechcraft KingAir B350i aircraft crashed while returning to the Abuja airport after reporting engine failure en route to Minna, he said. Minna is a city about 110km (69 miles) northwest of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. … The air force said an investigation into the crash was under way. “We should remain calm & wait for the outcome of investigation by the military,” Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika said in a Twitter post. Al Jazeera

Smuggled Diary Tells How Abducted Women Survived Boko Haram Camp
The story of the extraordinary courage of the women held for up to three years by the Islamist extremists in north-eastern Nigeria has never been told, despite the massive global attention focused on their abduction in April 2014. “We wanted to tell the story of how these women survived, but also the story of why it took so long to free them in spite of, or perhaps because of, the social media campaign,” said Joe Parkinson, a co-author of Bring Back Our Girls, which is based on hundreds of interviews with the students, family members, former militants, officials, spies and others involved in their ordeal. Among the students was Naomi Adamu. Her defiance began when the extremists told the students to swap their school uniforms for a black, flowing, all-covering garment. The 24-year-old kept her chequered blue dress, and then, risking a beating or worse, she began a diary. The Guardian

Mali Creates Group to Open Dialogue with Islamist Insurgents
Mali’s interim Prime Minister Moctar Ouane has created a platform in order to open talks with the Islamist militants who have wreaked havoc in the north of the country. “Dialogue is not an exclusive solution, but rather an additional means of bringing back into the bosom of the Republic those who left it, often for existential reasons far removed from any fanaticism,” said Ouane on Friday. He did not give any details as to who would be included in the negotiating group. France, Mali’s former colonial power, has 5,000 troops in Mali in order to combat the ongoing insurgency. It has said in the past that it did not agree with Mali opening negotiations with insurgents who did not sign the 2015 peace deal. One year ago then-president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said the Mali government was willing to negotiate with the Islamists. Keita was overthrown in August 2020, but national talks after the coup d’etat still continued to endorse that policy. RFI

South Africa: Commander-in-Chief Ramaphosa Lauds Soldiers for COVID-19 “Confrontation”
President Cyril Ramaphosa used a downscaled Armed Forces Day parade at the Castle of Good Hope on 21 February to stress the important contribution of South Africa’s men and women in uniform in “confronting” the COVID-19 pandemic. He told the parade at South Africa’s oldest building on Sunday SA National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel “can be relied on in good times and in bad; in times of peace and times of war; in times of stability and prosperity, and in times of crisis. It was our soldiers who helped to maintain law and order in the early days of the lockdown,” Ramaphosa, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the SANDF, said. “What perhaps touched us as a nation most was the sight of SANDF members helping the elderly carry their groceries, walking alongside young people making their way home and many other instances that showed our armed forces at their best. We know the SANDF to be a disciplined force. We know the national defence force will not accept any actions by its members that violate the laws of our country or the rights of our people. As the men and women of our armed forces, you continue your work to build our country.“ defenceWeb