Africa Media Review for January 13, 2021

Taking Stock of Africa’s 2021 Elections
Africa is slated to hold 13 national elections in 2021. Roughly half of these are in the Horn and the central Sahel. Reflective of the democratic backsliding observed on the continent in recent years, more than a third of these polls are little more than political theater – aimed at garnering a fig leaf of legitimacy for leaders who arguably lack a popular mandate. Leaders attempting to circumvent term limits are a prominent feature in this year’s line-up, shaping nearly half of the elections, and showcasing some of Africa’s longest standing heads of state. A small but growing number of incumbents are likewise banning opposition parties, or criminalizing critical media reporting, to clear the electoral playing field. … Will the same level of legitimacy be conferred on leaders who stay in office via these stage-managed processes? Until these leaders bear a reputational cost for lowering the bar of electoral integrity, this trend can be expected to continue. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Rebels Launch Attacks on Central African Republic’s Capital
Rebel forces in the Central African Republic on Wednesday launched two attacks on the outskirts of the capital Bangui that were pushed back, officials said. A witness in Bangui heard explosions and later saw helicopters circling over the city, Reuters news agency reported. The situation appeared calm in north Bangui as of 0800 GMT, the witness said. “The attackers who came in large numbers to take Bangui have been vigorously pushed back,” Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada said in a post on Facebook, urging citizens to remain calm. The simultaneous dawn assaults on army units were the first close to the capital since President Faustin Archange Touadera was re-elected in a December ballot. … The assault represents a marked escalation in fighting with rebel groups that erupted around a disputed December 27 election. The groups attacked towns close to Bangui last month but did not reach the capital as intended. … The attacks were the latest since the alliance of CAR’s six most powerful rebel groups who control two-thirds of the country launched an offensive to prevent Touadera’s re-election. Al Jazeera

Uganda Prepares to Vote in General Election Marred by ‘Repression’
Uganda will vote on Thursday in presidential and parliamentary elections marred by political repression as singer-turned-politician Bobi Wine challenges President Yoweri Museveni’s 34-year rule. The most prominent of the 10 opposition candidates is the National Unity Platform’s Bobi Wine – a 38-year-old ragga star who has used his popularity with Uganda’s youthful population to defy the 76-year-old president and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. On December 26, the government banned campaign rallies in the capital Kampala and 15 other counties, citing the risk of spreading Covid-19. … The government has cracked down on the media and civil society as well as opposition candidates and their supporters. “You are insisting you must go where there is danger,” the head of the Ugandan police Martin Okoth Ochola told journalists at a press conference on January 8. “We shall beat you for your own sake to help you understand that you do not go there.” … Museveni’s government has also cracked down on Ugandan civil society. Armed police arrested and blindfolded prominent human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo and his dining companions – three other lawyers and a Wine staff member – at a restaurant on December 22. “Any group that questions the authorities is being brutalised,” he told FRANCE 24’s Leela Jacinto in November. “I don’t feel safe, but this is my home and I’m not going anywhere.” France24

Uganda’s Bobi Wine Reports Police Raid on Home Two Days Before Presidential Election
Ugandan opposition leader Bobi Wine said the military raided his home Tuesday and beat one of his guards, two days before the presidential election. Reports said Uganda also ordered all social media blocked ahead of the election. Singer-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi, better known as Bobi Wine, has not campaigned for the last five days. With authorities restricting his movements, Wine has spent most of his time at his house on the outskirts of Kampala. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, he accused police of invading his home. “This morning, my house was raided, two of my gardeners were taken away.” Kyagulanyi said. “And my security guard was beaten very badly. Even the polling agents that we sent out there, even the coordinators that have been identifying and recruiting polling agents are being rounded up and arrested and being charged with recruiting rebels.” Wine is campaigning for president as candidate of the National Unity Platform party, which has become the main opposition group in Uganda. VOA

Uganda Elections 2021: Social Media Blocked Ahead of Poll
Uganda has blocked access to social media and messaging apps ahead of Thursday’s hotly contested election. A letter, seen by AFP and Reuters, was sent to all telecoms firms by the communications regulator ordering the immediate shutdown. It comes a day after Facebook closed “fake” accounts it said were linked to the government, saying they were being used to boost the popularity of posts. The run-up to the election has been marred by tension and violence. … The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has not responded to media requests to confirm the shutdown order, but internet monitoring group NetBlocks says it has noted restrictions on all major internet providers in the East African nation. Our correspondent confirms widespread reports of disruption on platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat, when using the country’s data servers. The AFP and Reuters news agencies quote industry sources as saying that telecoms executives were told the ban was in retaliation for Facebook blocking pro-government accounts.… One insider told AFP that internet service providers were also given a list by the UCC of 100 virtual private networks (VPNs) to block. BBC

Ethiopia Warns Sudan over Military Build-up Amid Border Tensions
Ethiopia has accused Sudanese forces of pushing further into a contested border region that has been the site of deadly clashes in recent weeks, warning that its “peaceful” approach to the dispute “has its limit”. Sharing a 1,600km (994mile) frontier, the two neighbouring countries have long feuded over the al-Fashqa region, where Ethiopian farmers cultivate fertile land claimed by Sudan. The border tensions come at a time when Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt are also trying to resolve a three-way dispute over the controversial dam Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile, known as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). … In early December, Sudan accused Ethiopian “forces and militias” of ambushing Sudanese troops along the border, leaving four dead and more than 20 wounded. Ethiopia, for its part, said last week that Sudan’s military had “organised attacks by using heavy machine guns” and that “many civilians have been murdered and wounded”. Al Jazeera

Starvation Looms in Southern Madagascar, WFP Warns
The U.N. World Food Program warns five years of recurrent drought and the COVID-19 pandemic have brought southern Madagascar to its knees, with hundreds of thousands of its inhabitants struggling to find enough food to eat. Lack of rain and poor harvests have left more than one-third of southern Madagascar’s population short of food, not knowing from where their next meal will come. The World Food Program says 1.3 million people are going hungry, nearly double what it was in the same period last year. Lola Castro is WFP regional director for southern Africa and Indian Ocean states. Speaking on a video link from Johannesburg, she says the drought and lockdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic have caused seasonal employment to dry up. VOA

COVID-19 Kills Two Malawian Cabinet Members; President Declares State of National Disaster
Two ministers in the cabinet of Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera died Tuesday from COVID-19. The southern African country is dealing with a steep rise in cases, and in a televised address the president urged Malawians to take protective measures. Speaking on state media from his residence in the capital, Lilongwe, Chakwera ordered that national flags fly at half-staff, and called for three days of national mourning. Lingison Belekanyama was minister of local government and Muhammad Sidik Mia was minister of transport. Their deaths come as Malawi deals with an unprecedented rise in cases and deaths from COVID-19. Chakwera said he was saddened that out of 235 COVID-19 deaths registered since the “second wave” began in November, 50 of them have come since January 1. The rise in cases, he said, has compelled him to issue a number of directives. … Local media reports said nearly half of Chakwera’s 32-member cabinet is infected with COVID-19. Government officials dispute this. VOA

You Will Need Digital Health Pass to Leave, Enter Kenya
All inbound and outbound travellers to Kenya are now required to present digitally verified proof of a negative Covid-19 test, the Health ministry has announced. In line with the Africa CDC Trusted Traveller (TT) initiative, an online system designed to authenticate and verify travellers’ Covid-19 certificates, no Kenyan laboratory will issue Covid-19 certificates without Trusted Travel codes. In a statement by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, the digital verification codes will ensure integrity of presented certificates, which until Monday were presented on printed paper and were susceptible to forgery. This means that if you intend to depart the country, you must first visit an authorised laboratory, obtain a PCR Covid-19 test with a negative result, and be issued a TT code that can be verified by airlines and immigration authorities. According to the government, all PCR Covid-19 testing laboratories are now part of the TT system. Daily Nation

Mauritius Kick Started Covid-19 Vaccination Training for Health Workers
Mauritius, despite being COVID-safe, kick started its COVID-19 vaccination training for health workers as part of its national COVID-19 response. A five half-day training programme was launched by the Dr Hon Kailesh Kumar Singh Jagutpal, Minister of Health and Wellness on 11 January 2021 at the Ministry’s Health Club room, Port Louis, in the presence of high level officials of the Ministry, including Health Directors, Regional Public Health Superintendents and Dr Laurent Musango, WHO Representative in Mauritius. The COVID-19 vaccination training programme aims at providing adequate knowledge and skills to 300 health workers, who will be involved in the implementation of the national COVID-19 vaccination campaign, to ensure safe and efficient COVID-19 vaccine administration. WHO

UN Agencies and Partners Establish Global Ebola Vaccine Stockpile
In a major milestone in the fight against deadly diseases, United Nations agencies and humanitarian partners announced on Tuesday, the establishment of a global Ebola vaccine stockpile, to help control future epidemics by ensuring timely access to vaccines for populations at risk, during outbreaks. Ebola virus disease is a severe and often fatal illness, with fatality rates varying from 25 per cent to 90 per cent. Thousands of people have lost their lives to the disease, since the virus was first discovered in 1976. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), underscored the importance of the vaccines to save lives from deadly viruses. “Ebola vaccines have made one of the most feared diseases on earth preventable. This new stockpile is an excellent example of solidarity, science and cooperation between international organizations and the private sector to save lives.” UNNews

Niger Museum is Eclectic National ‘Mirror’
There can be few museums in the world to rival the National Museum of Niger. It has displays covering art, history, dinosaurs, nuclear energy, craftwork and music as well as live animals, for it is also a zoo. Its clientele is similarly diverse, encompassing visitors who have trekked to the capital Niamey from across the country, school groups, well-heeled foreign tourists and street urchins. The cultural gem of the world’s poorest country, the 24-hectare (59-acre) museum survives on a budget that for rich counterparts is the equivalent to money found down the back of the sofa. Yet it charges a rock-bottom entrance fee — around 10 US cents — so that even the most impoverished can walk in and have access to exceptional things… including wild animals. “Fauna and culture,” as the museum says. The state provides the museum with an annual subsidy of 327 million CFA francs ($610 000) and income from the meagre entrance fee of 50 CFA francs covers just about a third of costs. Mail & Guardian



Photo: Adam Jones