Africa Media Review for February 24, 2021

Former Foreign Minister Declared Preliminary Winner in Niger
Niger’s electoral commission said Tuesday that former foreign affairs minister Mohamed Bazoum has been elected president of the West African nation, according to preliminary results from the second round of voting Sunday. The commission said Bazoum received more than 55.7% of the vote, while challenger and opposition candidate Mahamane Ousmane received 44.25%. The results were announced at the Palais de Congres in the capital, Niamey, during a ceremony attended by ambassadors and national and international election observers. … The results must now be approved by the Constitutional Court. If approved, Bazoum 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

Nigeria: 10 Killed, 60 Injured in Boko Haram Attack on Maiduguri
Nine of the dead were young boys hit by a bomb while playing football at Gwange ward. At least 10 persons have now been confirmed killed and about 60 injured when Boko Haram insurgents attacked Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, Tuesday evening. The governor of the state, Babagana Zulum, confirmed the attack. The military had, in a shared text message, claimed to have repelled the attack, while announcing five deaths. Premium Times had earlier quoted an undisclosed military source as saying the insurgents launched bombs which landed in crowded residential areas of Maiduguri. Premium Times

First Vaccine Doses Distributed by Covax Land in West African Nation of Ghana
Ghana became the first country to receive a delivery of coronavirus doses from the global effort to boost vaccine access after a plane landed Wednesday with 600,000 AstraZeneca shots. … The West African country of 31 million was selected as the first recipient after sending a rollout plan to Covax proving its health-care teams and cold chain equipment were ready to support a quick distribution. Others in the region are expected to soon receive similar Covax shipments. The doses touching down in the capital, Accra, come from the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. Boxes of vaccines left Mumbai on Tuesday for Dubai, where a logistics crew picked up hundreds of thousands of syringes, before hurtling toward Africa’s west coast. “In the days ahead, front line workers will begin to receive vaccines, and the next phase in the fight against this disease can begin — the ramping up of the largest immunization campaign in history,” Henrietta Fore, the executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund, said in a statement. The Washington Post

Somalia Bans Street Protests to Curb COVID-19
Somalia on Tuesday banned street protests citing Covid-19, in what could raise another possibility of confrontations with opposition groups. The announcement by Somalia’s Ministry of Security indicated the rising number of infections had forced authorities to shut the door on any street marches. But it came a day after opposition presidential contenders announced they will hold protests in Mogadishu on Friday to criticise President Mohamed Farmaajo for delaying elections. Somalia, facing an electoral impasse, has also seen cases of Covid-19 rise significantly this month, forcing the Ministry of Health to order wearing of masks in public as well as ban public gatherings. The country had reported 6,246 cases by Monday with 208 deaths and 3,778 recoveries. A statement issued by the Security Ministry said “appropriate measures” will be taken against those who defy the ban, including arrests. … Politically, the protest ban is seen as targeting a group of opposition presidential contenders known as the Council of Presidential Candidates. Last week, their protest was disrupted after security forces shot at protesters. The EastAfrican

How Did One of North Africa’s Biggest Human Traffickers Escape Prison?
One afternoon in February 2020, 24-year-old Fuad Bedru spotted someone he knew in Ethiopia’s capital. Outside of an electronics shop, in Bedru’s own neighborhood in Addis Ababa, Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam, one of the most notorious human smugglers operating in Libya over the past decade, stood tall. Habtemariam, a sturdy, bald Eritrean man, is accused of extreme violence towards thousands of African refugees and migrants he kept locked up for months or years in warehouses in Libya, after his associates convinced them to try and reach Europe. Those who ended up under his control were convinced by false promises of a fast journey to a continent where human rights were respected, and they could easily get jobs, find stability, and live a happy life. Instead, they were tortured and blackmailed. Bedru, who spent three months held captive by Habtemariam in 2018, couldn’t believe his luck. He ran to a nearby policeman and asked him to arrest Habtemariam immediately. … But now, Bedru’s attempt to get justice for himself and thousands of other victims is in peril; after just a year in prison, Habtemariam escaped last week. VICE

Anger, Fear Run Deep after Months of Ethnic Violence in Western Ethiopia
A series of government-sponsored community reconciliation efforts in Ethiopia’s western Benishangul-Gumuz region has failed to curb months of ethnic conflict that has claimed hundreds of lives and left more than 100,000 people displaced. Benishangul-Gumuz is home to several different ethnicities … as well as a variety of settler groups, known locally as “outsiders.” … Since September, there have been fresh waves of violence against “outsider” communities by heavily armed men, suspected to be Gumuz militia. In a particularly devastating attack in December, more than 200 people … were killed in the village of Bekoji. … Amhara political parties repeatedly claim that ethnic cleansing is behind the violence in Benishangul-Gumuz, and that accusation is rebroadcast on social media – echo chambers of hate speech and over-simplification – fuelling calls for Amhara military intervention. In December, Amhara’s security forces – who have supported the federal government’s military action in the northern province of Tigray – said they would seek permission from Addis Ababa to cross into Benishangul-Gumuz if the killings did not stop. The New Humanitarian

UN: Thousands Flee Ethiopia Violence, Seek Asylum in Sudan
At least 7,000 people who fled escalating ethnic violence in western Ethiopia have sought asylum in neighboring Sudan, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday, amid heightened tensions between the two Eastern African nations. Violence in the Metekel Zone of the Benishangul-Gumuz region is separate from the deadly conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. That’s where Ethiopian and allied regional forces began fighting Tigray regional forces in early November. The Tigray war sent more than 61,000 Ethiopians into Sudan’s provinces of al-Qadarif and Kassala. The UNHCR said most of the 7,000 asylum seekers who fled Metekel have been living among Sudanese host communities. It said it was working with local authorities in the Blue Nile province to respond to the humanitarian needs of the newly arrived, many of whom have arrived in hard-to-reach places along the border. Tensions escalated in the past three months in Metekel Zone, prompting Ethiopia’s government to declare a state of emergency in the area on Jan. 21, the U.N. agency said. AP

Sudan PM Hamdok: Cooperation of Civilians and Security Forces Crucial in Darfur
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok says adequate cooperation between civilians and security forces will help plug the gap left by departing UNAMID troops. Khartoum was given the responsibility of taking over security control of the once restive south-western region of Darfur following the end of mandate of the special UN-African Union hybrid mission last December. But the Sudanese Premier said on Monday that the gap will only be filled if civilians and security forces work on the same side. Hamdok was speaking to police chiefs on Monday generally on Sudan’s rehabilitation programme for Darfur and other parts of the country ravaged by conflict, which, according to him, will be split into five priorities including reviving the economy, addressing humanitarian distress as well as addressing security challenges. He urged the police to help control markets and said that the second priority of his government will be to bring lasting peace. … Hamdok suggested that he is building better cooperation with neighbouring Chad to ensure any new rebel eruptions do not benefit from hiding across the border. The EastAfrican

Church Leaders Call for Peace and Stability in South Sudan
The South Sudan Council of Churches and other civil society groups have called on the government to take steps to promote peace, security and national cohesion as the country celebrates the first anniversary of the creation of its Transitional Government of National Unity. The appeal is contained a joint statement issued by the South Sudan Council of Churches, Civil Society Forum and South Sudan Women’s Coalition. … Noted the statement, “This is not the first time we have called on the same leaders to fulfil their responsibility to their country and the citizens of the nation.” … Acknowledging the reduction of military confrontations among parties to the peace agreement, including positive steps to hold armed forces accountable for crimes against civilians and the reconstitution of the executive of the unity government, the joint statement signatories said they are “deeply disturbed that the overall situation has not convincingly improved.” Sudan Tribune

Congo, Italy, UN Probe Ambassador’s Killing Amid Questions
Italian Carabinieri experts were joining U.N. and Congolese authorities in investigating the killings of the Italian ambassador, his bodyguard and their driver in eastern Congo amid questions about the dynamics of the attack and security precautions taken for the convoy. … Congo’s government has blamed the killings on the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the Rwandan Hutu rebel group known as FDLR. The rebel group, however, on Tuesday, denied responsibility for the attack. … The rebel group noted the attack took place in the “three antennas” area near Goma and the border of Rwanda and close to Congolese and Rwandan military positions. It blamed the killings on those forces. More than 120 armed groups are active in eastern Congo which has not been secure for more than 25 years, according to Kivu Security Tracker, a joint project between Human Rights Watch and the Congo Research Institute to monitor armed violence in Eastern Congo. AP

Arms Deal Corruption Trial against South African Ex-President Zuma to Start in May
A corruption case against former South African President Jacob Zuma and French company Thales related to a $2 billion arms deal will begin on 17 May, a court said on Tuesday. Zuma stands accused of rampant corruption during his tenure as deputy president from 1999 and later as president from 2009 to 2018, although he denies any wrongdoing. The arms deal allegations relate to his time as deputy president and he is being tried on 16 charges of racketeering, fraud, corruption and money laundering in connection with French defence firm Thales. Zuma is accused of accepting 500 000 rand ($34 000) annually from Thales from 1999 as a bribe, in exchange for protecting the company from an investigation into a deal to supply military hardware to South Africa. … In another case, a South African inquiry into corruption during Zuma’s time as president is seeking his imprisonment for two years, after he defied an order from the country’s top court to appear and give evidence. Reuters

Cape Town Is Testing a COVID-19 Vaccine Designed to Protect against New Variants
Researchers in Cape Town are starting local clinical trials of a Covid-19 vaccine designed to protect people from infection caused by variants of the coronavirus, now and in the future. The vaccine was developed by California-based biotechnology companies ImmunityBio and NantKwest. It targets both a protein known as a nucleocapsid, which coronaviruses use to infect their host, and the so-called spike protein zeroed in on by vaccines authorized for use already. … “The nucleocapsid protein appears to be much more stable and therefore has a lower risk of developing mutations that could risk vaccine failure,” said Graeme Meintjes, a professor of medicine at the University of Cape Town and co-investigator of the ImmunityBio trial, which in its first phase aims to assess whether the vaccine elicits an immune response as well as safety and dosage. The trial, which began in the US in October, is the first in South Africa of a Covid-19 vaccine engineered to attack both proteins. It comes as makers of Covid-19 vaccines such as Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna say they plan to update their shots to boost protection against variants that have emerged thus far. Quartz

Nigeria Needs Urgent Action on Food as Population Surges — Osinbajo
Nigeria has to act fast to develop a sustainable food system as it faces a population growth that is “handsomely” ahead of its economic growth figures, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said Tuesday. Mr Osinbajo said the need to create a food system that works “has never been more urgent and more existential” as the country’s poverty levels has worsened particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. The vice president made these remarks during the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), organised by the Nigerian government in collaboration with the United Nations, which was held virtually with over 700 participants in attendance. The dialogue was organised with the hope of identifying food systems challenges from multiple perspectives, thereby highlighting priority actions for Nigeria’s food systems and providing pathways towards ensuring resilient and sustainable food systems in Nigeria by 2030. Premium Times

China Focuses on Africa Energy as Belt and Road Lending Dries up
Chinese overseas energy finance collapsed to its lowest level since 2008 last year, with its struggling Belt and Road ambitions in the sector relying more heavily on projects in African countries. More than half of China’s $4.6bn in overseas energy lending went to projects in Africa in 2020, data from Boston University’s Global Energy Finance database show. China’s policy banks funded a gas pipeline in Nigeria, which drove most of the more than $3bn of financing, and smaller projects in Lesotho, Rwanda and the Ivory Coast. … The wider drop in activity, anticipated in part because of the impact of coronavirus, coincided with mounting challenges to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, which has since 2013 sought to build infrastructure across dozens of countries. Lending from China’s policy banks, which are distinct from its state-backed commercial lenders and play a big role in financing official projects both within and outside of China, fell sharply last year. … Last year Zambia became the first African country to default on its debts during the pandemic. It has borrowed heavily from Chinese lenders and reached a deal in October to defer repayments to China Development Bank. FT

‘I Wish to Play for Lakers’: Despite War, Cameroonian Dreams of Playing in NBA
When conflict broke out in Cameroon’s northwest region, many things ground to a halt but not Kennedy Nkwain’s dream of playing in the NBA. Without proper facilities, the 20 year-old trains using makesift equipment, and techniques he’s taught himself from watching video clips of professional players doing their drills. Sometimes Nkwain has to abandon training altogether and run to safety as government forces and rebels exchange gunfire. On this day, he squeezes his muscular body in between car tires he uses as training props, flinching as explosions ring from the jungle not far from a dusty basketball court in Bamenda, capital of Cameroon’s northwest region. AfricaNews

Hundreds Turn Out for South Sudan’s First Women’s Football League Matches
Residents of Juba showed up in droves last weekend to watch the first matches of South Sudan’s newly-formed Women’s National Football League. Hundreds of men, women, and children watched as the Aweil Women and the Juba Super Stars squared off in the first match of the league Saturday at Juba’s Buluk playground. Francis Amin, president of the South Sudan Football Association, called Saturday a historic day. … South Sudan’s culture, youth and sports minister Dr. Albino Bol, said the women’s league is important because it encourages South Sudanese from different communities to interact with each other and find common ground. “Peace cannot be achieved if we are not socializing among ourselves. Socialization among our tribes through peaceful coexistence is what will bring peace and sport is one of the social activities that can bring peace to the nation in a very simple way, so I want to thank FIFA, CAF and the football association of South Sudan under the leadership of Francis Amin for coming up with this great event,” he said. VOA



Photo: Adam Jones