Africa Media Review for February 26, 2021

Nigeria Faces Third Mass Kidnapping of Schoolchildren in 3 Months
Gunmen raided a boarding school in northwest Nigeria early Friday and kidnapped dozens of girls, marking the third mass abduction of children since December in Africa’s most populous nation. The assailants struck the Government Girls Secondary School in Zamfara state in a predawn ambush, residents said, waking up neighbors as shots rang out. By daylight Friday, community members were still working together to tally the missing — it remained unclear how many girls were forced into the nearby woods — while police officers scoured the area, which has been plagued by kidnappings in recent months. No one has asserted responsibility for the attack, but criminal gangs known as “bandits” are known to capture groups for ransom — a scourge that has prompted some Nigerians to call for a national state of emergency. The Washington Post

Somalia’s Politicians Strike a Last-Minute Deal, but Fears of Conflict Remain High
In a late-night meeting on Thursday, Somalia’s prime minister persuaded opposition leaders to postpone their plan for mass anti-government protests and apologized for violence last Friday that targeted candidates running in an election that was meant to take place this month but is now delayed indefinitely. Somalia is now in a protracted constitutional crisis, with opposition leaders claiming that President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed — commonly known by his nickname “Farmajo” — has overstayed his mandate. Tensions spiked last Friday, leading to exchanges of gunfire on the streets of the capital, Mogadishu, and heightening fears that the election dispute could spiral into civil conflict. Thursday’s meeting did not yield a new date for the election, and Farmajo, who has become an increasingly controversial figure, was not directly involved in the agreement. … The political crisis would only distract the country’s security apparatus from its efforts against al-Shabab, analysts said, potentially creating an environment where the group could operate more freely and regain territory it lost to the government over the past decade. The Washington Post

Amnesty Report Describes Axum Massacre in Ethiopia’s Tigray
Soldiers from Eritrea systematically killed “many hundreds” of people, the large majority men, in a massacre in late November in the Ethiopian city of Axum, Amnesty International says in a new report, echoing the findings of an Associated Press story last week and citing more than 40 witnesses. Crucially, the head of the government-established Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Daniel Bekele says the Amnesty findings “should be taken very seriously.” The commission’s own preliminary findings “indicate the killing of an as yet unknown number of civilians by Eritrean soldiers” in Axum, its statement said. … Ethiopia’s federal government has denied the presence of soldiers from neighboring Eritrea, long an enemy of the Tigray region’s now-fugitive leaders, and Eritrea’s government dismissed the AP story on the Axum massacre as “outrageous lies.” But even senior members of the Ethiopia-appointed interim government in Tigray have acknowledged the Eritrean soldiers’ presence and allegations of widespread looting and killing. AP

Hundreds of Buildings Burned around Tigray Town, Research Group Says
Fires that appear to have been deliberately set destroyed more than 500 structures this week in and around Ethiopia’s Gijet town, an analysis of satellite imagery shared with Reuters has found, adding credence to reports of continued conflict in parts of the northern region of Tigray. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory over a rebellious regional force, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), at the end of November after its fighters withdrew from the region’s main cities and towns. But sporadic fighting continues in some parts of Tigray, according to residents and United Nations assessments. The government has acknowledged isolated incidents of shooting but has said that most fighting has stopped in Tigray. Mulu Nega, head of Tigray’s government-appointed interim administration, told Reuters he had sent a team to the Gijet area to investigate. Reuters

Nine Gendarmes Killed in Central Mali Attack
Nine gendarmes were killed in an attack near the central Malian town of Bandiagara, in an area where jihadist groups are rampant, a military official said on Friday. Military and local officials had earlier spoken of a death toll of eight, in the attack on a gendarmerie post which took place on Thursday night. Nine Malian gendarmes were also wounded, five of them seriously, according to a military official who declined to be named. The gendarmerie is a police unit that is under the command of the military. Adama Dionko, a spokesman for a group of associations in the area, said that there had been a long exchange of fire with a large number of jihadists. The Defense Post with AFP

Libya’s New PM to Unveil Team in First Hurdle of Transition
Libya’s prime minister-designate Abdul Hamid Dbeibah is set to name a transitional government Thursday tasked with unifying the war-torn nation and leading it to elections in December. Dbeibah, himself selected earlier this month in a UN-sponsored process, will deliver his line-up to Libya’s presidential council, before it is submitted to parliament for approval at a venue and date that have yet to be agreed, a member of his office said late Wednesday. Libya is commemorating 10 years since the start of the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, plunging the country into a decade of violence and political turmoil. Libyans processed through the capital Tripoli waving the national flag on Thursday as part of celebrations marking the anniversary. … An interim three-member presidency council — selected alongside Dbeibah — is to head the unity administration. The premier has until March 19 to win approval for his cabinet, before tackling the giant task of unifying Libya’s fractured institutions and leading the transition up to December 24 polls. AFP

As Somalia’s COVID-19 Cases Surge, a Variant Is Suspected
A resurgence of COVID-19 cases is hitting Somalia hard, straining one of the world’s most fragile health systems, while officials await test results to show whether a more infectious variant of the coronavirus is spreading. In the lone COVID-19 isolation center in the capital, Mogadishu, 50 people have died in the past two and a half weeks, Martini hospital deputy director Sadaq Adan Hussein told The Associated Press during a visit. Sixty other patients admitted during the period have recovered. “We believe this second wave is the new variant of the virus,” he said. “Earlier, when 100 suspected patients were brought to quarantine, not more than 30 of them would be positive, but now almost all of them are infected.” Somalia’s virus infections have jumped from 4,784 to 6,549 this month alone, according to official data. Test results for the presence of one of the new variants are expected next month, Sadaq said. Somalia, like most African countries, has yet to see a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, though they also are expected to start arriving next month. AP

‘Doctors Are Paying for Supplies’: Inside a Stretched Burkina Faso COVID Ward
When stocks of medical equipment in the general ward of Tengandogo University hospital in Ouagadougou ran low as resources flowed to the coronavirus unit, medical staff bought the essentials themselves. Blood pressure monitors, glucose monitors and oximeters were needed. Even the ink in the printers had to be replaced. The hospital closed to non-Covid patients during Burkina Faso’s first wave in March but reopened in July to treat the numerous other illnesses that affect the population of approximately 20 million people. Without any emergency budget for resources, doctors faced a challenge. … Before the pandemic this landlocked country had a shortage of specialist staff, especially in rural areas where the quality of care is considerably lower. Poor salaries coupled with growing insecurity in the north and east due to militant violence have led many young professionals to leave, and deterred others from coming. In Tengandogo, the staff are overworked, and when some have had to self-isolate, it has been a struggle. The Guardian

COVID-19 Is Making Human Trafficking Much, Much Worse
The COVID pandemic has caused an “alarming” uptick in child marriages across Kenya. Although illegal, more and more families are resorting to marrying off their girls for a dowry payment that will help keep them afloat. Experts fear this worrying trend will not only reverse efforts made to eradicate child marriage, but act as a silent precursor to trafficking as criminals have a bigger playground to “hunt” and “trap” already-vulnerable young girls under the guise of cultural traditions. Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) has reported rescuing over 150 children from trafficking syndicates since 2017. Rebekah Lisgarten, Director of Operations at Stop The Traffik Global — a UK-based anti-trafficking organisation — tells VICE World News that pandemic-induced financial distress is making individuals and families increasingly vulnerable to being exploited by criminals. … According to the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report, she was one of the 853 victims of human trafficking from Kenya in 2019. VICE

Boko Haram Claims Deadly Rocket Attack on Nigerian City
The Boko Haram jihadist group on Thursday claimed responsibility for a rocket attack earlier in the week on Nigeria’s northeastern city of Maiduguri that left 16 dead and dozens injured. In a six-minute propaganda video released on Thursday, a voice claiming to be the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau spoke over footage of militants firing rockets outside the city. … Officials said previously that 10 people were killed and 47 were injured when insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades on the densely-populated capital of Borno state on Tuesday. Two self-defence militia leaders told AFP on Wednesday that the death toll had risen to 16, including nine boys who were playing football in a field. Eyewitnesses said the jihadists crossed the ditch fortification around Maiduguri, accessing the city’s outskirts from where they fired rockets into busy neighbourhoods. AFP

Cameroon Troops Raped 20 Women, Killed Man: Human Rights Watch
Cameroonian soldiers raped at least 20 women, including four with disabilities, and killed a man in a raid last year in an English-speaking secessionist region, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Friday. The organisation said the attack against the village of Ebam, in the country’s southwest, was one of the worst the army has committed in its four-year battle with armed separatists. A number of soldiers rounded up men, while others raped at least 20 women, including four with disabilities, the activist group said in a statement after speaking by phone to survivors and witnesses between August 2020 and January 2021. It added that a 34-year-old man was killed by soldiers in a forest surrounding the village. Witnesses were quoted as saying that more than 50 soldiers entered Ebam by foot before dawn on March 1 last year, in retaliation against civilians suspected of cooperating with separatist fighters, including offering them shelter. AFP

Ivory Coast Gendarmes Seize Record Haul of Cocaine
Ivory Coast security forces have seized just over 1 tonne of cocaine in a night operation in a northern district of the commercial capital Abidjan, the West African nation’s gendarmerie said on Thursday. Major drug hauls in Ivory Coast are rare and the latest find is more than double the size of the previous record seizure, when 411 kilograms of cocaine were retrieved from a boat in Ivorian waters last year. The gendarmerie did not give further details about Wednesday’s bust, but a police source said the cocaine originated in Paraguay and was worth 25 billion CFA francs ($46.7 million). The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the illegal narcotics trade but drug kingpins have responded by packing larger loads of cocaine into the fewer container ships and commercial airplanes in circulation, officials say. In the last few years several large cocaine seizures have been made along the West African Atlantic Coast, a frequent stopping point for South American cocaine heading to Europe. Reuters

Exposing a Congolese Bank’s Dirty Secrets
There was nothing particularly exceptional about the day that Gradi Koko’s life changed forever. It was early 2018, and he was at his office. He was working in the Kinshasa branch of Afriland First Bank, in the upmarket Gombe district, near government buildings and embassies. Returning to his desk, he passed someone on their way to the restroom. It was a man who looked vaguely familiar, flanked by a security guard, coming from the office of the bank’s director-general. When he sat down, his colleague Navy Malela called him over. “Did you see that person?” said Malela. “That’s Dan Gertler. We are going to have problems.” … Just a few days later, he fled to Europe, together with his wife and children. He took a trove of bank documents with him. These later formed the basis of several hard-hitting reports, including by Global Witness and Bloomberg, that accused Gertler of using Afriland to transfer tens of millions of dollars internationally, circumventing the sanctions regime. … “I don’t have any regrets,” said Koko. “I did it for my country. Yes, my life in Kinshasa was better. But this is not about me. It’s about my profession. I needed to respect the role of banker.” Mail & Guardian

S. Sudan among Countries Most Struck by Extreme Weather
South Sudan was among countries most impacted by extreme weather events in recent years according to the global Climate Risk Index 2021. The index ranks countries according to their vulnerability both in terms of fatalities and economic loss. South Sudan, which ranks eighth among the most affected countries, suffered abnormally severe flooding following heavy rainfalls from June 2019 until the end of the year. The country required $61.5 million to respond to immediate flood-induced damage that affected over 900, 000 people; 620, 000 of whom required immediate humanitarian assistance. The floods damaged 74,000 hectares of cultivated land amounting to a loss of over 70,000 tonnes of cereal. Then, bush fires fanned by gusty winds intensified in May that year gutting four villages and killing dozens, and injuring hundreds more in the Western Bahr el Ghazal region. … Cumulatively, between 2000 and 2019 — the years covered in the report — most African countries were badly hit with Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Sudan and Niger being most affected by the impacts of extreme weather events on the continent. The EastAfrican

AFRICOM Commander Visit to Ghana Highlights U.S. Support for Joint Security Cooperation
U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command, conducted a two-day visit to Ghana, Feb. 23-24. This was Townsend’s first visit to the country, where he met with Ghanaian leaders and U.S. Embassy personnel in Accra. “Ghana is an African security leader and a key partner of U.S. Africa Command. Ghana’s peacekeeping contributions, protection of vital sea lanes in the Gulf of Guinea, and leadership help prevent the advancement of violent extremism. I look forward to exploring ways we can continue to deepen our partnership.” … Topics of discussion included the shared commitment to degrade the influence of regional violent extremist organizations. Ghana contributes to efforts to counter violent extremism through its leadership within the Accra Initiative, which supports regional information sharing and cross-border security operations between the littoral West African states and the Sahel. “West African security requires collaboration and partnership. The challenges faced cannot be faced by one nation alone,” said Townsend. Modern Ghana