Africa Media Review for February 5, 2021

Africa’s 2nd Pandemic Wave Sees Higher Death Rates, Vaccine Delays

As African nations wait for hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses to arrive, health officials are concerned about a general rise in coronavirus cases and deaths, especially in Southern Africa. The stories, reported in local media and highlighted by aid groups, are chilling. In the tiny kingdom of eSwatini, medical aid group Doctors Without Borders says health facilities are seeing 200 new cases per day and a death rate four times higher than they saw in the first wave. In the coastal nation of Mozambique, case numbers are nearly seven times higher than they were at the peak of the first wave in 2020. And in the landlocked nation of Malawi, the poorest country in Southern Africa, new cases are doubling every four to five days, and the nation’s main COVID-19 facility is nearly full. Dr. John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tried to break down the continent’s trajectory as many nations enter a second wave without enough vaccine supplies. He said one indicator worth noting is that for about a third of the continent’s countries, the death rate has risen above the global average. VOA

Sixteen African Nations Show Interest in AU COVID Vaccine Plan

Sixteen African countries have shown interest in securing COVID-19 vaccines under an African Union (AU) plan, and allocations could be announced in the next three weeks, the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said. The AU has so far secured around 670 million doses for its member states. Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong said the 16 countries had asked for a total of 114 million doses under the AU’s Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), which began work in mid-January. “Our hope is that in the next two to three weeks, they should be having their vaccines,” he told a virtual news conference on Thursday. Africa is also due to receive about 600 million vaccine doses this year via the COVAX facility, co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO). At a later briefing, WHO Africa director Matshidiso Moeti said nearly 90 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine could start arriving on the continent later this month. Al Jazeera

AU Chair Admits Failures in First Term as He Seeks Second Chance

African Union Commission boss Moussa Faki Mahamat says the continental body failed to attain some of its goals, including ending violence as a result of “emerging threats,” which overwhelmed member states. In a speech to African Union’s group of Foreign Ministers on Wednesday, Mr Mahamat said Africa will have to address old and new problems at the same time, if at all the continent can end continual violence. Ahead of the virtual Assembly of Heads of State on February 6, Mr Faki listed the continental free trade area agreement (AfCTA) launched last month, launch of protocol on free movement and the Single African Air Transport Markey (SAATM), concerted efforts to fight disease outbreaks as well as counter-terrorism measures among his successes. When he took power of the continental body in April 2017, the African Union intended to end conflicts by 2020, through a programme known as “Silencing the Guns”. The Programme itself is part of a 50-year Vision called Agenda 2063, passed in 2013 to help the continent sustain peace, develop infrastructure, grow internal trade, integrate more and prosper. The EastAfrican

Uganda’s Bobi Wine Urges ‘Strong Action’ over Disputed Polls

Ugandan opposition figure Bobi Wine is urging the international community to back up concerns over the country’s disputed elections with “strong actions” against President Yoweri Museveni’s government. Wine, who is disputing his loss to the long-time leader in last month’s presidential elections, told reporters that he hopes “the world will stand with the people of Uganda.” … He spoke via video link from his house on the outskirts of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, where, he said, he effectively remains under house arrest. … Wine’s U.S.-based attorney, Bruce Afran, said on Thursday that he had compiled a report with evidence of the widespread irregularities that Wine has alleged were perpetrated in favor of Museveni. The report has been shared with members of the international community, he said. One piece of the evidence of alleged electoral fraud, he said, is Museveni’s 100% victories at multiple polling stations in his strongholds. AP

Somalia Presidential Vote Likely to Be Delayed Amid Political Wrangling

Somalia is unlikely to hold its indirect election for a new president on Monday as planned, provincial officials say, despite last-minute talks between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and his opponents to arrange the vote. The country, which has had only limited central government since 1991, is trying to reconstruct itself with the help of the United Nations. It had initially intended to hold its first direct election in more than three decades this year and score a rare victory against chronic instability. Delays in preparations, and the government’s inability to rein in daily attacks by al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgents, meant Somalia settled instead for plans for an indirect vote, with elders picking lawmakers who would choose a president. But now, with just days left to arrange the vote, even that plan appears likely to be postponed, although the government has yet to make an official announcement. Reuters

UN Agency: Libyan Navy Intercepts over 800 EU-Bound Migrants

Hundreds of Europe-bound migrants were intercepted in the Mediterranean sea off Libya’s coasts and taken into detention over the last 24 hours, the U.N. migration agency said Friday. The International Organization for Migration tweeted that more than 1,000 migrants have recently departed from Libya’s shores, escaping “dire humanitarian conditions.” Over 800 of them were stopped by the Libyan coast guard and sent to the North African country’s notorious detention centers, the IOM said. In the years since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, war-torn Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. Smugglers often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder along the perilous Central Mediterranean route. … “While IOM teams continue to provide assistance at disembarkation points, we maintain that Libya is not a safe port,” tweeted the IOM. AP

The Conflict in Libya Is Getting Even Messier

A new United Nations report alleges that the United Arab Emirates has established direct contact with armed Sudanese groups fighting in Libya’s proxy conflict on the side of Khalifa Haftar. The report by the Panel of Experts on the Sudan, released in January, says that for around a year the UAE has had “direct relations” with armed groups from Sudan’s Darfur region fighting in Libya on the side of Haftar’s Libyan National Army. Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that the UAE had, in violation of a U.N. arms embargo, increased its deliveries of weapons to Haftar, who ended his unsuccessful 14-month assault on the capital, Tripoli, last June. The UAE’s contact with the Sudanese armed groups in Libya, bypassing Haftar’s forces, is seen by some experts as a sign of the country’s appetite for a more hands-on role in the conflict and of growing mistrust of the renegade general. … According to the U.N. report, leading Darfuri commanders had regular meetings with Emirati officers in Benghazi, Libya, to discuss how the UAE could support the logistical and financial needs of the groups. FP

UN: Situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray Now ‘Extremely Alarming’

Life for civilians in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region has become “extremely alarming” as hunger grows and fighting remains an obstacle to reaching millions of people with aid, the United Nations says in a new report. … One challenge is that Ethiopia may no longer control up to 40% of the Tigray region, the U.N. Security Council was told in a closed-door session this week. Ethiopia and allied fighters have been pursuing the now-fugitive Tigray regional government that once dominated Ethiopia’s government for nearly three decades. Now soldiers from Eritrea are deeply involved on the side of Ethiopia, even as Addis Ababa denies their presence. On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was the latest to pressure Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed directly, urging the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner in a phone call to allow “immediate, full and unhindered” aid access to Tigray before more people die. AP

Refugee Camps in Ethiopia Appear to Have Been Systematically Destroyed

Two refugee camps in Ethiopia’s Tigray region were deliberately razed to the ground in attacks carried out between November and January, according to researchers who have been analyzing satellite images that highlight extensive destruction caused by the breakout of civil war in Ethiopia last year. Previous reports of satellite images obtained by the DX Open Network, a UK-based research and analysis organization, appeared to depict scorched earth attacks at the Hitsats and Shimelba refugee camps, which hosted over 25,000 refugees from neighboring Eritrea prior to the war. But recent analysis of the images indicates that the destruction was systemic, and residential areas, clinics, and schools were targeted in what appears to have been an attempt at preventing future use of the facilities. Further, a significant number of military vehicles and soldiers are visible in and around the camps soon after the time of the destruction, which appears to point to their complicity in the razing. VICE

Egypt Frees Jazeera Journalist after 4 Years Jail: Security

Egypt has released Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein after more than four years in detention on accusations of publishing false news, a security source said Friday. Hussein, an Egyptian national held under preventive detention since December 2016, was released from jail Thursday night, the source said, without giving further details. Al Jazeera — which has run a daily campaign for his liberation — did not immediately confirm his release but had repeatedly said he was being held without formal charges, a trial or conviction. Gamal Eid, head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, confirmed to AFP that a decision was taken by authorities to release Hussein, adding however “he has still not returned home.” The Egyptian Observatory for Journalism and Media, a non-governmental organisation, said on its Facebook page that a Cairo criminal court had decided on Monday to free Hussein. There had been repeated calls for his release, including from human rights watchdog Amnesty International, after a Cairo prosecutor in May 2019 ordered he be freed from jail. AFP

Watchdog: South Sudan Government Spying on Journalists, Rights Defenders

The report, titled, “These Walls Have Ears,” accuses South Sudan’s government of using electronic surveillance to monitor the conversations of journalists and human rights activists. It is the first report on digital surveillance conducted in the East Africa region. Sarah Jackson, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for East Africa, says the results of their investigation were revealing. “We find that the government of South Sudan through the National Security Service, known as the NSS, has been responsible for abusive surveillance in the country; that’s surveillance without appropriate legal safeguards. And this has had a chilling effect on human rights defenders, on journalists — many of whom courageously continue their work despite these risks but have to be very careful about how they speak, to whom they speak and in what way, so we see a climate of fear, chilling effect, and of self-censorship,” Jackson said at a news conference Thursday. VOA

Nigeria’s #EndSARS Protestors Still Face Frozen Bank Accounts and Jail Time

… Adene is not the only demonstrator still bearing the brunt of a harsh government crackdown. Over the last few months, many young Nigerians have experienced and continue to suffer from the harsh retaliation carried out by individuals and institutions associated in one way or another to the Nigerian government. On November 6, 2020 the police arrested six Nigerians, including Oluwatosin Adeniji, a citizen journalist who had been covering the protests. All six were accused of criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly, public nuisance, and inciting public disturbance. Although they were eventually released days later, critics say it was only due to the clamor for their release by Nigerians on social media and the efforts of volunteer lawyers who continue to represent arrested protesters. Cases like this continue to resurface, with some garnering public support but most flying under the radar. Since the #EndSARS protests started, the legal arm of the movement, known as the EndSARS Legal AID, has recorded 352 reported arrests. With over 800 lawyers volunteering across the country, the unit has been able to secure the release of 337 people. VICE

Nigerian Separatist Nnamdi Kanu’s Facebook Account Removed for Hate Speech

Facebook says it removed the page of Nigerian separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu for violating its rules on harm and hate speech. Mr Kanu’s page was removed for repeated violation of its community rules, the social networking site told the BBC. He had posted a video of a militia group attacking and killing cattle in a herders’ settlement. He also used the live broadcast to accuse herders of destroying farmlands in eastern Nigeria. The conflict between herders and other groups is currently one of Nigeria’s hottest political issues. Mr Kanu leads the Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob), which campaigns for independence for Nigeria’s south-eastern region, where the ethnic Igbo people form the majority. BBC

Mozambican President Announces Night Curfews, First since 1992 Civil War

first curfew in Mozambique since the civil war ended in 1992. Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi announced Thursday the southern African nation will go under a curfew from Friday following coronavirus breakout. The curfew will run from 5th February until 7th March. The curfew will begin at 9 pm till 4 am in the Great Maputo area which includes cities of Maputo, Matola, Marracuene and Boane. Mozambique has registered 42, 488 positive cases nationwide, about half of which were recorded in January. More than half of the 427 deaths were also recorded in January. Public hospitals have reached 100 percent in-patient capacity, while the private hospitals report more than 80 percent in-patient capacity, the president said. Africanews with AFP

‘I Make $2.50 on a Very Good Day’: The Zimbabweans Grafting through Lockdown

Pammula Chiunya, 68, is sitting under an open-sided shed outside a makeshift beer hall in Hopley settlement, six miles (10km) west of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. She is not happy. Chiunya serves roasted chicken heads in a twist of old newspaper to a visibly drunk man, then settles to wait for someone else to emerge from the shebeen, which is crammed with animated revellers dancing to loud music. Customers are elusive, even with her prices: four heads for a dollar. … The beer hall is a difficult enough spot, but officers policing lockdown often raid her little stall and demand bribes, making it even more difficult to earn anything from her day’s work. “The police are constantly raiding us and we pay bribes to continue working. I am left with nothing most of the times which means I must start over again. We do not dispute that Covid-19 is real but our livelihoods have been destroyed and we cannot recover. They should at least allow us to work because staying at home is not an option,” Chiunya says. The Guardian

South Africa Seizes Rhino Horns to Be Smuggled to Malaysia

South African customs officials have seized more than $3.5 million worth of rhino horns at the O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on Thursday. A shipment of the 18 pieces of horns weighing 63 kilograms (139 pounds) destined for Malaysia was discovered at the airport’s courier facilities. The package was labeled “HP cartridges” but an x-ray scan revealed images resembling horns so the customs officials inspected it to discover the contraband, the South African Revenue Services said in a statement. This is the fourth rhino horn bust at the airport by customs officials since July last year, with a total of 277 kilograms (611 pounds) of rhino horn worth more than $15 million confiscated, said the statement. … A total of 394 rhinoceroses were poached for their horns in 2020 down from 594 killed in 2019, according to the environment ministry. It was the sixth consecutive annual decline in the number of illegally killed rhinos as officials wage an intensified fight against poachers. AP

Plans Underway for African Lion, Africa’s Biggest Military Exercise

Militaries from the United States and Morocco met between 20 and 28 January to layout plans for the 17th episode of African Lion, scheduled for June. Military planners surveyed training areas and converged training and readiness goals, while ensuring safeguards against COVID-19, Africa Command said. “COVID-19 presents new challenges for us as exercise planners, but we are committed to ensuring we have the best fighting force, best partners, and everything we need for strategic access and readiness,” said Colonel Robert Perry, director of training and exercises, US Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-Africa). Perry led the US planning team on the ground, while hundreds of other military experts participated virtually. Established in 2002 between US Marines and the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces, African Lion has a long history of bringing together US, Moroccan and other partners and allies to build interoperability, strengthen relationships and increase readiness, Africom said. defenceWeb



Photo: Adam Jones