Africa Media Review for February 26, 2020

Lesotho Murder Case: Prime Minister Thabane Enters Uncertain Territory
The prime minister’s office in the Kingdom of Lesotho is a chic, modern building. It’s a gift from China, just like the parliament building and the congress center. Friends and supporters of First Lady Maesaiah Thabane gathered there on Tuesday were in an exuberant mood – despite the fact that she was returning from court, where she faces murder charges. The murder trial gripping the tiny African nation all began on June 14, 2017, when Lipolelo Thabane, the estranged wife of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, was shot dead in her car on her way home. … The prime minister skipped his first court appearance, but on Monday, he and his wife made an appearance at the magistrates’ court in Maseru, which had been expected to formally read out charges against Thabane for allegedly acting in “common purpose” in the killing of 58-year old Lipolelo Thabane. The matter was deferred to the High Court, which will now have to decide if Thabane can claim immunity. The trial is likely to drag on for months and threaten the stability of the country. “People no longer trust the government,” said Mathibeli Mokhothu, the opposition’s parliamentary leader. DW

Cameroon Court Orders Partial Election Rerun in Troubled English-Speaking Regions
Cameroon’s constitutional council has ordered a rerun of the February 9 national assembly election in a majority of the crisis prone English-speaking regions due to allegations of widespread irregularities and fraud by President Paul Biya’s ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement party, which was declared the winner. The opposition Social Democratic Front that filed the complaint says it is ready for the rerun as the constitutional council’s verdict cannot be appealed. … The Social Democratic Front was one of more than 40 political parties that filed petitions with the constitutional council stating that the national assembly elections were marred by violence and massive fraud committed by the ruling party. Opposition leaders accused the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement of ballot stuffing. The opposition also accused the military, sent by the government to protect voters from insurgents seeking to disrupt the polling, of casting multiple votes for the ruling party. The constitutional council determined there was massive fraud by the ruling party, assisted by the government. It found that the elections management body ELECAM created new polling centers on the eve of the polling and informed only the ruling party of where the centers were created. VOA

Former Ruler Hosni Mubarak’s Death Elicits Mixed Emotions in Egypt
In his heart, Zeyad Salim remains convinced that Hosni Mubarak’s ignominious ouster in 2011 was richly deserved. Still, the street vendor also wishes that the longtime autocrat had never been removed. Like many Egyptians on Tuesday, Salim had mixed emotions about Mubarak’s passing. “I know that people revolted against him for all the right reasons,” the 24-year-old said. “But after living under our current conditions, I think people have more appreciation for him.” “If Mubarak was a thief, then what do you call the ones who came after him?” … [President] Sissi, a former military general himself, announced three days of mourning for Mubarak. Even as the military planned a glorious send-off, state-run and pro-Sissi media noted that Mubarak’s regime was marked by corruption, wasteful spending and failed infrastructure projects, and that he manipulated the constitution and elections in his favor. Timothy Kaldas, a nonresident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington, said such coverage is an attempt by the Sissi government to undermine any fond remembrances of Mubarak. But Sissi, Kaldas noted, also has been accused of the same misspending and much worse repression. The Washington Post

U.N. Warns of ‘Major Hunger Threat’ as Locusts Reach DR Congo
The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Agency on Tuesday warned of a “major hunger threat” in East Africa, as a small group of desert locusts entered the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the first time the voracious insects have been seen in the Central African country since 1944. Kenya, Somalia and Uganda have been battling the swarms in the worst locust outbreak that parts of East Africa have seen in 70 years. The U.N. said swarms have also been sighted in Djibouti, Eritrea and Tanzania and recently reached South Sudan, a country where roughly half the population already faces hunger after years of civil war. A joint statement Tuesday from FAO director-general Qu Dongyu, U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, and World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley called the swarms of locusts “a scourge of biblical proportions” and “a graphic and shocking reminder of this region’s vulnerability.” … The U.N. recently raised its aid appeal from $76 million to $138 million, saying the need for more help is urgent. AP

Ethiopia to Free Political Prisoners ‘For the National Good’
Ethiopia on Tuesday said it would release dozens of high-profile prisoners from jail, including opposition activists held over an alleged coup and other high-ranking government critics. A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said investigations had been dropped against 63 individuals and they would be released from custody later this week “for the national good.” “The Ethiopian government hopes to widen the political and democratic space in the country with the freeing” of these individuals, said the spokesman, Zinabu Tunu. Among those to be released are cadres of the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA), an ethno-nationalist opposition group blamed for attacks last year that the government described as a regional coup attempt. Hundreds were arrested in the aftermath of the June violence in Ethiopia’s north that left five high-ranking officials dead and heaped pressure on a government struggling to cope with ethnic tensions. Ethiopia is scheduled to hold elections in August and Abiy hopes to secure a mandate to pursue an ambitious agenda of political and economic reform. AFP

Ethiopia: Abiy’s Citizen-Focused Govt Bringing More Refugees Home
The change of government in Ethiopia, with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed at the helm, is encouraging refugees living all over the region to return home. In the past week, 76 Ethiopian refugees in Kenya and 128 in Tanzania returned home in response to what Ethiopia calls a citizen-focused diplomacy programme. The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Nebiat Getachew said more than 120,000 Ethiopians had been brought home from more than 10 countries including Kenya and Tanzania over the past year under a new initiative by Dr Ahmed’s government. There are about 28,560 Ethiopian refugees in Kenya while 1,500 others are languishing in Tanzanian prisons – most of them part of a human trafficking network that operates routes to South Africa. Eujin Byun, communications officer at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kenya, told The EastAfrican that the refugees and host countries agree the situation in Ethiopia is good enough for them to return. The UNHCR is supporting returnees with a reintegration package in the form of cash assistance, which also includes transportation allowances to ensure they can travel to their places of origin. The East African

Sudan Lifts Restrictions on NGOs
All obstacles, complications, and procedures, which the ousted Al Bashir regime put in place to obstruct the work of humanitarian organisations and United Nations agencies in Sudan, have been removed. This was announced by El Hadi Dawelbeit, member of the Joint Committee on Opening Humanitarian Tracks, that was set up by the Sudanese government and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebel alliance. Humanitarian organisations and UN agencies no longer have to apply for authorisation of the General Intelligence Service (GIS) and the Military Intelligence via the Sudanese Humanitarian Aid Commission. Notifying the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) is sufficient. There will no longer be inspections of operations of humanitarian organisations and UN agencies. Dawelbeit told Radio Dabanga that the mission of the Joint Committee is to open humanitarian tracks, deliver aid to those affected, provide guarantees, protection, security, and safety to humanitarian organisations and UN agencies, and coordinate between state governments and these humanitarian organisations. Radio Dabanga

U.S. Air Strike in Somalia Killed Militant behind January Attack on Base in Kenya -AFRICOM
A U.S. air strike over the weekend in Somalia killed an Islamist militant who helped plan last month’s attack on a military base in Kenya in which three Americans died, the U.S. military said on Tuesday. The military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) said in a statement the strike carried out on Saturday killed a senior member of the Somalia-based militant group al Shabaab “who was in charge of planning and directing terrorist operations on the Kenya border region, including the recent attack on Manda Bay” and his wife. In the Jan. 5 attack, three Americans – one U.S. military service member and two contractors – were killed during an attack by al Shabaab on the Manda Baby military base in Kenya used by both U.S. and Kenyan forces. Reuters

Three Irish Soldiers Injured in IED Blast East of Gao in Mali
Three Irish soldiers received minor injuries when an improvised explosive device exploded near their convoy in eastern Mali on Tuesday, February 25, the Irish Defence Forces said. “While conducting a Patrol east of their base in Gao, three of our soldiers sustained minor injuries when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploded close to their convoy,” the release said, adding that the three Irish soldiers “received medical treatment and are safe and well.” “The Defence Forces conducts intensive pre-deployment mission training in order to prepare our personnel for such an incident,” it said. … The Irish soldiers are part of a contingent of troops from the elite Army Ranger Wing special operations forces deployed to the roughly 13,000-strong United Nations MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali in sub-Saharan Africa’s vast Sahel region. Ireland’s parliament last June approved a government request to send the ARW, and the Irish Times has reported that a team of 14 personnel will rotate every four months for two years. The troops arrived in Mali in early September, and are based at the large Camp Castor in Gao in eastern Mali. The Defense Post

DRC Graft Probe Nabs Lebanese Construction Boss
A Lebanese construction company boss has been detained as part of a vast embezzlement investigation launched by President Felix Tshisekedi, a judicial source said on Tuesday. Jamal Sammih, head of the Somibo construction group, is the second foreigner targeted in the probe after US citizen David Blattner, who was detained on Friday. “As part of the president’s emergency works programme, he (Sammih) won a contract to build 4,500 homes across the country, or 300 homes per province. Since receiving $17 million from the public treasury, only 17 homes have been built,” the judicial source told AFP. Each home was estimated to cost $19,000, the source added. Representatives from Sammih’s defence team were not immediately available for comment. … One of the new president’s promises was that the judicial system would be administered “by honest people with irreproachable ethical values, prepared to fight corruption” in sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country. Blattner’s company is suspected of “breach of trust” because the bridges were not built within the three months stipulated in the contract, a judicial source told AFP on Saturday. Justice Minister Celestin Tunda Ya Kasende said Thursday that the probe marked the “start of the renewal” of the DR Congo’s justice system. AFP

Kenya Bans Commercial Slaughter of Donkeys
Abattoirs in Kenya will be banned from slaughtering donkeys from next month, the agriculture minister has said. The East African nation legalised trade in donkey meat and hide in 2012 to meet growing demand in China. Minister Peter Munya said the decision had been a mistake as it had caused the donkey population to fall. Many people in rural areas use donkeys to fetch water and firewood, raising fears that their dwindling numbers will increase the workload of women. Kenya has about 600,000 donkeys compared with 1.8 million a decade ago, according to government data published last year. Women and men from farming communities protested outside Mr Munya’s offices in the capital, Nairobi, on Monday to demand action to protect the donkey population.”When donkeys are stolen or killed, women are turned into donkeys,” read a placard held by the protesters. … There is huge demand for donkey skin in China. When skins are boiled, they produce a brown gelatine, which is the essential ingredient in Chinese “ejiao” products – popular health foods and traditional medicines. BBC

In a crowded prison courtyard in Suleja, Nigeria, a judge flipped through a battered folder detailing the case against a young woman who stood quietly before him in a faded pink dress. She was charged with “issuing a dud cheque,” a crime that carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison. But she’d already spent three years in prison awaiting the outcome of her trial. The judge, Justice Ishaq Usman Bello, sat at a long table surrounded by fellow judges and prison officials. From an awning hung a framed poster of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and a broken clock. Inmates crowded in the cellblocks either side of the courtyard to watch the proceedings, their arms hanging through the bars. After several minutes of hushed discussion at the high table, Justice Bello leaned toward the microphone and spoke. “In light of the duration of detention exceeding the maximum penalty for the alleged crime, I hereby discharge you from this prison. You are free to go.” The Guardian

Nigeria’s Long Road to Repealing Colonial-Era Lunacy Law Regulating Mental Health
The Nigerian Senate on Wednesday held a public hearing on a new bill to protect persons with mental health and substance abuse problems. For more than a decade, the lawmakers have tried but failed to put a mental health law in place. One in four Nigerians – about 50 million people – are suffering from mental illness, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Yet, there is no mental health law in place in Nigeria other than the Regional Lunacy Law of 1958. The law in content and context violates the fundamental human rights of persons with mental health and psychosocial disabilities, Ibrahim Oloriegbe, a senator and sponsor of the new bill said. Medical experts have long described the old law enacted during the British colonial times as outdated and inconsistent with current realities, prompting an age-long movement for its repeal. They said the over half a century-old law looks at mental health challenges from a wrong perspective. Premium Times

Algeria: Another African Country Confirms Case of Coronavirus
Algeria has confirmed a case of Covid-19 (coronavirus), thus, making it the second African country to report this. The disease, which originated from China in December, has spread to about 30 countries across the world. The WHO in a statement released on Tuesday said the Covid-19 was detected in an adult Italian who arrived in the country February 17. WHO said that the case was reported by the ministry of health, population and hospital reform of Algeria. The health authorities report that “tests indicate that an Italian adult who arrived in the country on February 17 has tested positive for coronavirus disease.” This is the first Covid-19 case reported in the country, and the second on the continent. WHO is already preparing to deploy a team of experts to Algeria to support health authorities. … Africa in the past 14 weeks of the outbreak has been spared, “but the window seems to be closing,” officials said. The first case was reported earlier this month in Egypt. Under the WHO zoning, Egypt belongs to the WHO Eastern Mediterranean region. The Algeria case is the first in the WHO African region. Algeria is one of the 54 countries on the African continent. The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said “the window of opportunity the continent has had to prepare for coronavirus disease is closing and countries must ramp up their preparedness activities.” Premium Times