Africa Media Review for February 4, 2021

U.N. Warns Tigray Conflict Could Spark Broader Destablization in Ethiopia

A conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region could trigger broader destablization in the country, U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council on Wednesday as he warned that a dire humanitarian situation in the north was set to worsen. Hundreds of thousands of people in Tigray have not received help and the United Nations has been unable to completely assess the situation because it does not have full and unimpeded access, according to Lowcock’s notes for the closed virtual briefing of the 15-member Security Council. He said there were reports of increasing insecurity elsewhere, which could be due to a vacuum created by the redeployment of Ethiopian troops to Tigray, and that the United Nations was concerned about the potential for broader national and regional destablization. … Lowcock said Abiy’s government controls between 60% and 80% of the territory in Tigray, but does not have full command of the ethnic Amhara and Eritrean forces also operating in the region. Reuters

Ugandan Opposition Say 3,000 of Their Supporters Seized since November

Ugandan opposition leader Bobi Wine and his party said on Tuesday that around 3 000 of his supporters had been detained or abducted by state agents since November, when protests flared over his arrest during a presidential election campaign. … Officials in Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP) told a news conference that squads of state security personnel had appeared around Uganda in unmarked minivans and taken supporters to unknown locations. After the news conference, NUP Secretary General David Lewis Rubongoya told Reuters that people had begun to disappear on 18 November, the start of two days of protests. “The state started conducting operations across the country, picking people and taking them away,” he said. … Rubongoya said the NUP’s estimate was based on reports from relatives or friends of people who had gone missing since 18 November. Most of the disappearances were in central Uganda, where Wine has strong support, but people also vanished in the east and north, he said. Reuters

Uganda’s President Orders Suspension of European-Backed Fund

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has ordered the suspension of a multimillion-dollar fund backed by European nations that supports the work of local groups focusing on democracy and good governance. … The Democratic Governance Facility, or DGF, was launched in 2011 by Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Austria, Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the European Union as a five-year program to support government and non-governmental groups working to promote human rights, deepen democracy and improve accountability. Renewed in 2018 and domiciled within the Danish embassy, the fund says it wants to see a country “where citizens are empowered to engage in democratic governance and the state upholds citizens’ rights.” The fund, which has operated in Uganda with the full knowledge of relevant authorities, has supported groups ranging from rights watchdogs to anti-corruption agencies, and even journalists doing investigative work have received funding. Ugandan Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda has praised work accomplished through the fund. AP

Former Uganda Militia Commander Is Convicted of War Crimes

A former Ugandan rebel who was abducted as a child by the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army and later rose to be a commander of the militia was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity on Thursday at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The defendant, Dominic Ongwen, was a 9-year-old on the way to his village school in the summer of 1988 when armed L.R.A. fighters grabbed him and spirited him off to their camp, where he was beaten, threatened and trained as a child soldier. Now in his 40s, he faces life in prison for charges including rape, forced marriages, torture, enslavement and multiple murders. His case has stirred debate among lawyers and international law experts, because the young Mr. Ongwen was a victim of some of the same crimes he was accused of. His is the first trial of a top commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a group that waged a violent campaign across Uganda and several neighboring countries from the mid-1980s until just a few years ago. The case brought to light a wealth of details about how the fighters brutalized and mutilated their perceived enemies. More than 4,000 victims were recognized as “participants” in the case. The New York Times

C. Africa Govt Forces Retake Key Town from Rebels

Forces loyal to the Central African Republic government have retaken a key town from rebels, the country’s prime minister said Wednesday, as the UN said peacekeepers would maintain a “robust” posture. Bossembele, around 150 kilometres (95 miles) northwest of the capital Bangui on a vital road artery, had been retaken Tuesday by “elements of our armed forces and the allies,” Firmin Ngrebada wrote on Twitter. By “allies”, the CAR government usually refers to Rwandan troops and Russian paramilitaries. Bossembele was one of the jumping-off points for armed rebel groups in an offensive launched against the capital in December, as they banded together under the name Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) to try to prevent the re-election of President Faustin Archange Touadera. … UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres later on Wednesday called on Central African authorities to initiate a “meaningful and inclusive political dialogue” with opposition and armed groups that have renounced violence. AFP

Senegal Rebels Accuse Army of ‘Re-Starting’ Old War

A dormant conflict in southern Senegal has flared up after a years-long lull with rebels on Wednesday accusing the army of being the aggressors in the isolated region. The conflict in Casamance, which is separated from the rest of Senegal by The Gambia, has claimed thousands of lives since it first broke out in 1982. The army says it launched its operation on January 26 to “secure” the region. Witnesses have reported gunfire around the main city, Ziguinchor, near the border with Guinea-Bissau, according to the Senegalese press. Villagers in Guinea-Bissau, contacted by AFP, said Wednesday they had heard loud explosions across the border. In late January, a top military official told AFP on condition of anonymity that an operation was under way “against armed groups” based in the Bilass forest. AFP

Ethiopia Arrests 15 over UAE Embassy Attack Plot: Reports

Ethiopia’s state-run media have said authorities arrested 15 people over a plot to attack the United Arab Emirates’ embassy in the capital, Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian Press Agency (EPA) on Wednesday cited a statement from the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) as saying that the suspects were working on foreigners’ direction. An unspecified amount of arms, explosives and documents were seized during the operation, according to the statement, which was also cited in a report by the state-affiliated FANA news outlet. “The group took the mission from a foreign terrorist group and was preparing to inflict significant damage on properties and human lives,” EPA said. There was no immediate comment by the UAE’s foreign ministry or its embassy in Addis Ababa. A second group of suspects was planning to attack the UAE’s diplomatic mission in neighbouring Sudan, the EPA said. Al Jazeera

Sahel Jihadists Eye Expansion into Cote D’Ivoire and Benin Says French Spy Boss

France’s top spy chief warned this week that militant jihadist groups in the Sahel are pursuing expansion into the Gulf of Guinea, with a focus on Cote d’Ivoire and Benin. In a rare public appearance, Bernard Emié, head of the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) revealed intelligence purportedly showing a meeting between top al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb commanders. “The agenda of this meeting was the preparation of a series of large scale attacks against military bases,” said Emié during a speech on Monday alongside Defence Minister Florence Parly at the d’Orléans-Bricy airbase. “This is where leaders of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) devised their expansion plans for the countries of the Gulf of Guinea,” he added. Cote d’Ivoire suffered an attack in 2016 when three gunmen opened fire at a beach resort in Grand-Bassam killing 19 people. Benin was the scene of an attack against a police station in February 2020, and the kidnapping of two French tourists and a local guide from Pendjari National Park in May 2019. RFI

Several Malian Troops Killed in Suspected Jihadist Attack in Central Mopti Region

Ten troops were killed in Mali’s troubled central region early on Wednesday when their camp came under attack from jihadists, security sources said. Their position at Boni, located between Douentza and Hombori in the Mopti region, was attacked by “heavily armed individuals in armoured vehicles,” one source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Several soldiers were injured, the source said, an account confirmed by another security official and a local government official. The 10 bodies had been brought back to the airport in Sevare, near the town of Mopti, by a helicopter from the UN’s MINUSMA peacekeeping force, while the injured were taken to hospital, local officials said. The security source said the camp had been seriously damaged and the assailants had made off with lots of equipment. … French army spokesman Frederic Barbry said a drone, Mirage 2000 jets and two Tiger helicopters had attacked ground targets while Malian troops “made a tactical withdrawal and regrouped outside the camp,” where they called for reinforcements. He added that “around 20” jihadists had been killed and the armoured vehicle destroyed, along with 16 motorbikes. AFP

Tunisian Soldiers Killed by Explosive Device in Mountains Close to Algerian Border

An improvised explosive device killed four Tunisian soldiers patrolling in a mountain region near the Algerian border, Defence Ministry spokesman Mohammed Zekri said on Wednesday. The mountainous Moghila area, near the impoverished city of Kasserine, is home to an Islamist militant group that the Tunisian army has been fighting for years. Tunisia faces a small but persistent militant threat, foreign diplomats focused on security say. As well as jihadist cells holed up in remote mountain regions, who have not made successful forays beyond their strongholds in recent years, there is also a threat from militants radicalised online. Last year militants tried to attack the U.S. embassy in Tunis, killing a policeman at a security point with a suicide vest, and months later stabbed two security officers in a knife attack in the city of Sousse. France24

Target in Mogadishu Attack Was Retired Army General, Says Al-Shabaab

Somalia militant group Al-Shabaab says it laid a siege on a Mogadishu hotel because it was hosting a former military general they were targeting. The group said on Tuesday that the primary motive of attacking Afrik Hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Sunday was to kill Maj-Gen (rtd) Mohamed Nur Galaal, a veteran of the Somali army during Siad Barre’s days. “The prime target of our assault mission on Afrik Hotel was to eliminate General Mohamed Nur Galaal,” the group said in a statement. Around 5pm on Sunday, a huge explosion was heard across the city, followed by exchange of gunfire between three attackers and the hotel’s security personnel. About 2am in the morning of Monday, the Spokesman of Somalia Police Force Sadik Adan Ali told the media that the operation to stop the attack and siege on the hotel was concluded. He said nine people died. Nation

South Africa’s Former President Is Warned to Appear in Court

A legal showdown is looming in South Africa where former president Jacob Zuma is refusing to obey court orders to testify at a judicial inquiry into corruption charges against him. Zuma has been warned that he is not above the law after he publicly stated that he intends to defy a court order to appear at the inquiry. It is a test of whether President Cyril Ramaphosa will be able to follow up on his promises to take decisive action against pervasive corruption. Deep divisions in the ruling party, the African National Congress, have been exposed as the party’s secretary-general Ace Magashule has voiced his support of Zuma. … Zuma already faces a criminal charge for failing to testify at a commission hearing last month and further action will be taken against Zuma if he fails to honor a scheduled appearance this month, according to Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who chairs the commission. AP

COVID Crisis and Conflict Expected to Dominate African Union Summit

African leaders will focus on the continent’s Covid-19 response at their virtual summit, hosted from Addis Ababa, this weekend. They will also examine security crises that have been overlooked during the pandemic. The two-day African Union summit takes place one year after Egypt recorded the first case of Covid-19 in Africa, prompting widespread fears that member states’ health systems would quickly be overwhelmed. … the continent has so far been hit less hard than other regions, recording 3.5 percent of global virus cases and 4 percent of global deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Many African countries are currently battling damaging second waves while straining to procure sufficient vaccine supplies. … Member states will vote this weekend to choose those to lead a restructured AU executive body. The results are expected to shape how the multi-national alliance responds to the pandemic and a host of economic and security challenges. Security crises, meanwhile, include a three-month-old conflict in the AU’s host country Ethiopia, and longer-running problems in the Sahel and elsewhere. RFI with AFP

COVID-19 Fueling Rise in Human Trafficking, UN Warns

A new report by the UN drug and crimes agency warns that the Covid-19 pandemic could also be contributing to a rise in trafficking of persons. The Trafficking in Persons Report released on Tuesday says poverty arising from lost jobs or other economic opportunities has, over the last one year, increased the pool of people most vulnerable to being trafficked. … The warnings came even as the same document suggests countries, especially in the Sub-Saharan Africa region, had their agencies working hard, detecting trafficking incidents mostly before the victims crossed borders. According to an analysis in the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), an assessment of sub-Saharan African countries including Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia showed that there had been fewer incidents of domestic trafficking. But 75 per cent of incidents detected involved victims destined to neighbouring countries, even though the police, immigration and other security agencies often foiled them on home soil. Children, trafficked for sexual exploitation, forced labour and begging, constituted 30 per cent of all incidents observed in sub-Saharan Africa. The EastAfrican

UN Report: Violations against South Sudan Children Decline but Still Occur

A U.N. report says the number of grave violations committed against children in South Sudan has significantly decreased since the 2018 peace deal was signed, but violations continue. The report says the U.N. verified “grave violations” affecting 618 children across the country from July 2018 to June 2020, with Central Equatoria state seeing the greatest number of victims. By contrast, from October 2014 to June 2018, the U.N. verified grave violations against more than 9,200 children in South Sudan. Violations included recruitment into armed groups, killing and maiming, sexual violence including rape, abductions, attacks on schools and hospitals, and denial of humanitarian access. … The report also notes that more than 2,000 children were released from the ranks of armed forces — both from the South Sudan army and the rebel SPLA-IO — in 2018 and 2019. VOA

South Sudan Imposes Stringent COVID-19 Measures

The South Sudan National Taskforce on Covid-19 has on Wednesday evening announced the imposition of strict Covid-19 preventive measures in the wake of a recent surge of cases reported across the country. According to the national ministry of health updates released today, 37 new cases have been confirmed in the last 24 hours, bringing the cumulative number of cases to 4,267 since the pandemic started. There were no new deaths today but 66 people have so far died of the pandemic. In a statement read on state-run television SSBC this evening, the taskforce’s chairman Vice President Hussein Abdelbagi Akol banned all sporting, religious and political events including, Sunday services, Friday prayers for Moslems, funerals, and wedding ceremonies. Abdelbagi also ordered the closure of all pre-schools, schools, universities, and all other institutions of learning except for candidate classes with strict adherence to wearing of facemasks at all times, maintaining social distancing, and frequently cleaning of hands and/or sanitizing. Radio Tamazuj

Nigeria’s Kaduna Pairs with Zipline for Drone-Delivered COVID Vaccines

Nigeria’s Kaduna state has signed a deal with medical delivery firm Zipline that will allow drone shipment of COVID-19 vaccines without significant state investment in cold-chain storage, the company said on Wednesday. Kaduna’s partnership with Zipline, which delivered more than 1 million doses of other vaccines in Africa over the past year, will also enable on-demand delivery of blood products, medications and other vaccines. “It will help ensure that millions of people in Kaduna State will always get the care they need,” Kaduna Governor Nasir El-Rufai said. Zipline said its end-to-end cold chain distribution capability, which can safely deliver even the Pfizer vaccine, would allow Kaduna health facilities to bypass purchases of ultra-low freezers and enable on-demand deliveries of precise amounts of COVID-19 vaccines. … El-Rufai said Kaduna had also upgraded 255 primary health centres, installed a pharmagrade warehouse and is recruiting and training 3,000 officers to manage the facilities. Reuters

#Demlootchallenge: Zimbabwean Activists Sing to Protest Corruption

Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono has taken his fight against corruption to the ears of thousands around the world via reggae with a new song entitled “Dem Loot.” The reporter, who has been arrested three times in six months for his work challenging the current government, released a short video on Twitter singing against what he says is an endemic rot in Zimbabwe – and it has sparked a flurry of follow up versions under the hashtag #demlootchallenge. Zimbabweans on social media have joined his “challenge” to denounce corruption in their government, which is blamed for, among other things, the collapse of the country’s health system. Dem Loot (they steal) – an adaptation of Jamaican musician Shabba Ranks’s 90s release “Dem Bow” – garnered 120,000 views in 24 hours on Twitter. Chin’ono’s version laments the lack of prescription drugs in the country’s hospitals and high rates of unemployment and poverty. … According to Transparency International, Zimbabwe loses $2bn (£1.5bn) to corruption annually. The Guardian



Photo: Adam Jones