Africa Media Review for February 5, 2020

What the Coronavirus Means for Africa
On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the outbreak of a novel coronavirus (designated as 2019-nCoV) constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and cold-like illnesses. This new virus first appeared in Wuhan in the Chinese province of Hubei. The WHO’s emergency declaration was significantly driven by fears of the virus spreading to countries with weak health systems, particularly in Africa, which has widespread ties to China. … The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stepped up partnerships with African health ministries, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committed $10 million to combat the outbreak-half to China and half to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), underscoring Africa’s importance for global containment. While vulnerable, Africa has abundant experience and expertise with epidemics. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Two Killed, 20 Homes Torched in Cameroon Boko Haram Attack
Suspected Boko Haram jihadists attacked a village in northern Cameroon early on Tuesday, torching homes and killing two civilians just days before legislative and municipal elections, security sources said. “Boko Haram made an incursion a little before 02:00 in Mozogo village,” in the Extreme-Nord province “killing two people,” a police officer told AFP. They torched about 20 homes and two motorbikes and stole another five motorcycles, the officer said. An army officer confirmed the incident. Security has been tightened in Cameroon ahead of Sunday’s elections. Anglophone separatists are fighting government troops in western Cameroon while the north of the country has come under attack from Boko Haram. Based in neighbouring Nigeria, Boko Haram has stepped up attacks from bases hidden in the vast Lake Chad area, where the borders of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria converge. AFP

Guinea’s President Going Ahead with Disputed Referendum
Guinea’s president announced late Tuesday that he would go ahead with a contested plan to revise the West African country’s constitution next month, a move that threatened to further inflame political tensions after a series of deadly demonstrations. “This is a constitutional coup. I call on all Guineans to stand up to block the way to this treachery,” said opposition spokesperson Faya Millimono. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets to protest President Alpha Conde’s proposal to amend the country’s constitution. The 81-year-old’s mandate ends in December, but the referendum if approved by voters would clear his path to seeking yet another term. The increasingly embattled president said late Tuesday that the referendum would be held simultaneously with legislative elections on March 1, which opposition parties already have said they will boycott. “There will be no election or referendum,” said opponent Sidya Touré, leader of the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea party. Presidential adviser Souleymane Keita has insisted that the vote will go ahead regardless of an opposition boycott. AP

Malawians Relieved after Court Voids Presidential Vote
Malawians have reacted with joy and optimism to the Constitutional Court’s annulment on Monday of the poll and ordered a fresh election. President Peter Mutharika, 79, was officially re-elected last May with 38.5% of the vote, however runner-up Lazarus Chakwera, who lost by just 159,000 votes, took the matter to court alongside fellow opposition candiate, former vice president Saulos Chilima, after alleging the electoral process was full of irregularities. … Judges have ordered new elections to be held within 150 days. … [Malawian academic and sociopolitical blogger, Jimmy Kainja,] also says the process has renewed the public’s trust in Malawi’s judiciary, particularly when it comes to people’s right to demonstrate. “What we can take away from those elections now is that the judiciary always defended and protected the law,” he said. “The court always defended the people’s right to demonstrate.” … Up until now, there has been no founded evidence of corruption against the ruling or opposition parties. The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has demanded the resignation of the electoral commission chairperson, Jane Ansah. Kainja says the main focus now, is how the electoral commission will need to change before fresh elections are held. DW

Namibia Court Upholds Results of Presidential Election
The Supreme Court in Namibia upheld the results of last year’s presidential election on Wednesday, saying the challengers failed to prove ruling party manipulation of electronic voting machines. The ruling means President Hage Geingob will continue in his second term. He won in November with 56% of the vote while Namibia’s first independent presidential candidate, Panduleni Itula, received 29% in the country’s tightest presidential race since independence in 1990. Itula and four opposition party leaders had urged the court to declare the election results invalid and order a fresh vote. They argued that the use of the machines without a paper trail effectively meant a key means of checks and balances was missing. Chief Justice Peter Shivute did rule that the use of electronic voting machines without a paper trail, as decided on before the 2014 election in the southern African nation, was invalid. Future elections must now include a verifiable paper trail. Namibia was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to use electronic voting machines. AP

Libya Rivals Agree to Turn Truce into Lasting Ceasefire: UN
Representatives of the warring parties in Libya meeting in Geneva have agreed on the principle of turning their shaky truce into a lasting ceasefire, the UN’s Libya envoy said on Tuesday. “The principle has been adopted from the first session. Now the question is what are the conditions,” Ghassan Salame told reporters in Geneva. Five senior officers appointed by the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and five appointed by the Libyan National Army (LNA) of strongman Khalifa Haftar are taking part in the talks. “We started yesterday to discuss with them… an attempt to transform the truce into a more solid one, less often violated by either side,” he said. The talks are being moderated by Salame, who last week lashed out at what he branded “unscrupulous” foreign players for meddling in the conflict in the North African country. … “There is a genuine will for both parties to sit together and start negotiating together,” he said. “So far we had separate sessions for both parties but I’m sure the time will come for the two sides to sit together,” he added. AFP

South Sudan: UN Official Welcomes Release of Women and Children Abducted by Armed Group
The expert leading UN efforts to stamp out sexual violence committed during wartime has welcomed the release of 78 women and 50 children by an armed group in South Sudan. They were among more than 500 women and children abducted between April and August 2018 by the pro-Riek Machar Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO RM) and subjected to repeated rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage. … Ms. Patten said the release of the abducted women and children followed months of negotiation between Mr. Machar and his local commanders and her Office, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and its Senior Women Protection Adviser. “When I met with Dr. Machar last year, I expressed my grave concern about the plight of these women and children, many of whom were reportedly subjected to systematic and brutal forms of conflict-related sexual violence,” she said. … The women and children who were freed had been held for many months in military bases in the Western Equatoria region of South Sudan. They are currently being supported by the UN and its civil society partners and have been referred for medical and psychosocial support. UN News

Cameroon Urges Women to Vote Next Week despite Threats
Representatives of NGOs and government ministries are joining political parties at rallies in Cameroon’s capital in what they call a special campaign for women to perform their civic duties next Sunday. … The elections were called by Cameroonian President Paul Biya last November. Before then, delegations of women led by the NGO More Women in Politics visited towns and villages encouraging females to run for political office. … Political parties agreed with the NGO and increased to 42 percent the number of female candidates in the race. But traditionally, many women do not vote because they are restricted by their husbands and communities, who believe they should carry out only domestic chores or go to the farms. Some women fail to participate due to illiteracy. This year, it is feared the number of female voters will further decrease because of the separatist conflict that has killed at least 3,000 people in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions. … Within the past three days, the SDF and CPDM political parties said the separatists attacked four campaign teams in the towns of Mengwi, Batibo and Bafut and abducted at least 20 people, including 13 women whose whereabouts are still unknown. VOA

Boko Haram: U.S. Announces Fresh $40 Million Aid to Nigeria
The United States has announced an additional $40 million (N14 billion) aid to Nigeria to address the humanitarian crisis arising from decades of the Boko Haram insurgency. The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who made the announcement in Washington DC on Tuesday, said this was in addition to nearly 350 million dollars (N122.5 billion) in assistance provided by the U.S. last year. Mr Pompeo spoke during a joint media briefing with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, after the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission (BNC) meeting hosted by the Department of State. … The BNC is a platform for the Nigerian and U.S. governments to expand cooperation and advance shared goals in the areas of trade and investment, development, good governance and security. Mr Pompeo said the two-day meeting also featured discussions on security cooperation between both countries, especially Nigeria’s “recent purchase” of 12 U.S.-made A-29 fighter planes worth $500 million. The sale of the aircraft, according to him, is in support of President Muhammadu Buhari’s vision of building “a security force with the best training and modern weaponry.” Premium Times

Uganda: Museveni Uses ‘Handshake’ Strategy to Win Over Bobi Wine’s Allies
On the eve of NRM’s national conference, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni delivered a deadly blow to rival Bobi Wine in northern Uganda. In a surprise move, Mr Museveni snatched People Power vocal coordinator and kingpin in Acholi sub-region, Lucky Bosmic Otim. Bosmic’s fans were shocked, with some saying his pictures with President Museveni, published on social media, were photoshopped. To them, Bosmic was an acerbic and incorruptible critic of President Museveni, his ministers and NRM party. Bosmic had not spared President Museveni for his overstay in power and similarly attacked his team of political praise singers, especially in Acholi. To most, Bosmic could not become disloyal, betray, and desert his People Power friends and political cause for which he was an unbowed co-ordinator. … However, Bosmic’s real reasons for exit seem rooted in risks to his security, fear of torture and pressing family needs. Bosmic says for nearly seven months, he has been a man on the run, with Bobi Wine helping to tip him off about impending arrests. Even then, Bosmic says he has been abducted twice by security operatives and forced to confess to rebel recruitment he knew nothing about. Daily Monitor

Lesotho’s First Lady Facing Charges of Murdering Prime Minister’s First Wife
After nearly a month on the run, Lesotho’s first lady was reportedly charged on Tuesday with the murder of her husband’s first wife. Maesaiah Thabane, 42, stands accused of killing Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s wife, Lipolelo, days before the his second inauguration ceremony in June 2017. Officials said Tuesday that the wanted woman had been hiding out in South Africa – which surrounds the small African nation of Lesotho – since she failed to appear for questioning on Jan. 10. She returned following negotiations between her lawyers and law enforcement, police officials told AFP. “She has been charged with murder alongside eight others who are in Lesotho and South Africa,” Deputy Police Commissioner Paseka Mokete told reporters. The murder of the former first lady, who had been estranged from the prime minister for years and was locked in a bitter divorce fight, shocked the nation. “One evening while returning home, she was ambushed, shot several times at close range and died on the side of a dirt road,” the BBC reported. Prime Minister Thabane and Maesaiah were married a few months later. NPR

Zambia: Lungowe v. Vedanta: How to Hold Multinationals Liable for Harmful Activities
Many will be watching closely as the landmark suit, Lungowe v. Vedanta, gets underway this month in the UK. The case involves 1,826 Zambian villagers who are suing global miner Vedanta Resources for environmental damage by its Zambian subsidiary, Konkola Copper Mines (KCM). The villagers won the right to sue Vedanta in England where the company is registered following a monumental UK Supreme Court decision, which caught many experts by surprise, last year. It ruled that the claimants could sue the Vedanta along with its subsidiary in England because they wouldn’t be able to get access to proper justice in Zambia. The Zambian legal system doesn’t allow “no win, no fee” claims, explains Oliver Holland of Leigh Day law firm. He is representing the Zambian villages on a no win, no fee basis, which allowed his clients to gain access to legal representation. That’s on what the UK Supreme Court in part based its decision to allow for the case to be tried in England. It also said that Zambia doesn’t have the legal experience (and law firms) that can handle a group action of this nature. DW

Burkina Faso: He Yearns to Escape War. His Best Shot: Dancing to Stardom.
When he moves to the drumbeat, he forgets the corpses. He forgets the darkest hours of a life spent running from terrorists who destroyed his childhood home and now threaten to seize his haven. When 18-year-old Amiri Ag Abdoulaye closes his eyes, he’s onstage in Paris or New York. “I forget where I am when I’m dancing,” said the refugee of eight years, whose passion is also his master plan. “It’s how I’m going to get out.” Fighters linked to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have forced his family and millions of other people from their rural homes, killing thousands in an increasingly bloody campaign to build a vast new stronghold in West ­Africa. Burkina Faso, a farming country of nearly 20 million, is falling to the extremists at an alarming pace, with violence erupting in new parts of the north and east seemingly every week, emptying village after village. In 2019 alone, the number of displaced Burkinabe shot up from 87,000 to 560,000, according to the U.N. refugee agency, with no slowdown in sight. The Washington Post



Photo: Adam Jones