Africa Media Review for January 14, 2021

Dozens Die in Ethnic Massacre in Troubled Ethiopian Region
At least 80 people were killed on Tuesday when unidentified gunmen stormed through a village in western Ethiopia, in the latest of a series of ethnically driven massacres in the area, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and witnesses said on Wednesday. The massacre in Benishangul-Gumuz region, along the border with Sudan, is the latest challenge to the regime of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 promising to unite Ethiopia but has struggled to contain a growing wave of ethnic violence. The attacks further threaten the stability of Africa’s second-most populous nation at a time when Mr. Abiy is already embroiled in an escalating conflict in the northern Tigray region, where he launched a major military operation on Nov. 4 that he said was intended to capture defiant local leaders. Analysts say the campaign in Tigray has hampered Mr. Abiy’s ability to stem clashes like the recent one in Benishangul-Gumuz, because it has forced him to divert soldiers from across Ethiopia to Tigray. As a result, ethnic clashes that had already been growing for months have only gotten worse. NY Times

Rebels Attack Central African Republic Capital Amid Election Dispute
Rebels attacked the Central African Republic capital of Bangui on Wednesday, in an escalation of violence following the presidential election last month. President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s army, with the aid of Russian and Rwandan troops alongside U.N. security forces, repelled the attacks, authorities said. The attack is the closest offensive to the capital since Touadera declared victory on December 27 in an election that rebels have called fraudulent. Until Wednesday, attacks carried out by rebels were sporadic and far from the capital. France has thrown its support behind Touadera, rejecting claims that the election was fraudulent. The United Nations confirmed that one Rwandan peacekeeper was killed in Wednesday’s attack. VOA

‘Not Worth My Life’: Ugandans Vote in Tense Election
Ugandans are voting Thursday in a presidential election tainted by widespread violence that some fear could escalate as security forces try to stop supporters of leading opposition challenger Bobi Wine from monitoring polling stations. Internet access has been cut off. The vote count will begin when polls close at 4 p.m. local time. More than 17 million Ugandans are registered voters in this East African country of 45 million people. A candidate must win more than 50% to avoid a runoff vote. Results are expected within 48 hours of polls closing. Longtime President Yoweri Museveni, an authoritarian who has wielded power since 1986, seeks a sixth term against a strong challenge from Wine, a popular young singer-turned-opposition lawmaker. Nine other challengers are trying to unseat Museveni, including two retired military generals. AP

Voting Delayed in Ugandan Opposition Stronghold
Voting in the opposition stronghold of Masaka, a city in the Uganda’s Buganda region, has been delayed this morning as the country goes to the polls. Despite delay in delivery of election material to polling stations, the Electoral Commission is yet to clarify if voting times will be extended. The delay comes at a time when the communications regulator ordered the suspension of all internet gateways from Wednesday. There are many of reports of failing biometric voter verification kits. The machines rely on the Internet, which is now blocked, and lines are growing longer at polling stations. Ugandans who managed to access the Internet reported on social media difficulties in accessing the Internet via mobile devices and wireless connections. Nation

Uganda Poll Officials Resort to Manual Register as Biometric System Fails
Voting in Uganda’s presidential and parliamentary elections on Thursday faced hitches as the biometric voter identification system failed, largely blamed on internet shutdown. Electoral Commission spokesperson Paul Bukenya said they have “had issues with the biometric machines”, as a result of network failure, and the electoral body has directed presiding officers to “put the machines aside.” Officials at various polling stations told The EastAfrican they resorted to the manual voter register, a process that is bound to slow voting. “At first the machine was slow but later it failed totally. So we have stopped using it,” said Medard Opita, the presiding officer at Jjuuko Kikko Ground in Kibuye 1 Parish, Makindye Division in Kampala City. The East African

Uganda Cuts Internet Hours Before Election
The Ugandan government, through its communications regulator, has ordered service providers to cut internet access just hours before voting starts. In a letter to telecoms, the head of Uganda Communications Commission Irene Ssewankambo ordered service providers to ‘implement a temporary suspension of the operation of all your internet gateways and associated access points’. She said the shutdown was to take effect at 7pm local time (16:00 GMT) Wednesday ‘and continue until otherwise directed’. The development effectively means that Ugandans will cast their ballots on Thursday amidst an internet blackout. … The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), the main opposition party in Uganda slammed the internet shutdown as an attempt to rig the elections. AFP

3 Peacekeepers Killed, 6 Wounded by Attack in Northern Mali
Three United Nations peacekeepers died and six more were wounded Wednesday in northern Mali hours before the U.N.’s top official in the country expressed cautious optimism that a new roadmap would lead the turbulent West African nation to elections in March 2022. The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali said the peacekeepers’ vehicle struck an improvised explosive device and the soldiers then came under attack by unidentified gunmen in the Timbuktu region. Ivory Coast’s army chief of staff, Gen. Lassina Doumbia, said the three dead peacekeepers were from that country and they were attacked by extremists. AP

Aid Groups Warn of COVID-19 Outbreak at Ethiopian Refugee Camp in Sudan
Aid workers this week confirmed several cases of COVID-19 in Sudan’s camps for refugees who fled the fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region. The United Nations refugee agency and aid group Mercy Corps say an urgent intervention is needed to avoid a humanitarian disaster. Aid organizations reported four confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Sudan’s Um Rakouba camp for Ethiopian refugees this week. The camp houses 25,000 people who have arrived since November, living in very basic, overcrowded conditions that present an opportunity for the coronavirus to easily spread. … Sudanese authorities received aid from UAE and other Arab countries to help the Ethiopian refugees in December. Health observers say more money is needed due to the increasing influx and the growing risk of COVID-19. Sudan has registered more than 23,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since late October, with more than 2,000 deaths. VOA

Researchers Detect Covid-19 Variant Unique to Kenya, Nation Says
Scientists have discovered a coronavirus variant in the East African nation that is yet to be detected elsewhere in the world, the Daily Nation newspaper reported, citing Charles Agoti, a researcher at the Kenya Medical Research Institute. The variant was picked up in the southern Taita Taveta county and is spreading around the nation. Researchers at the institute are still studying whether it’s more easily spread and if it causes more severe illness, according to the newspaper. Since the onset of the pandemic, scientists at the institute have sequenced about 500 genomes, most of them collected during the second wave, according to the Nation. Bloomberg

Africa Secures 270m Covid-19 Vaccine Doses
A provisional 270 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been secured by the African Union (AU) for distribution across the continent. All of the doses will be used this year, promises current AU head South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. This is on top of 600 million doses already promised but is still not enough to vaccinate the whole region. There are fears that poorer countries globally will wait far longer than richer nations to be inoculated. Although infection numbers and death rates are comparatively lower across most of Africa, cases are spiking again in some areas. A new variant of Covid-19 in South Africa is causing particular alarm and makes up most of the new cases. “As a result of our own efforts we have so far secured a commitment of a provisional amount of 270 million vaccines from three major suppliers: Pfizer, AstraZeneca (through Serum Institute of India) and Johnson & Johnson,” President Ramaphosa said on Wednesday. At least 50 million of the doses will be available “for the crucial period of April to June 2021,” he said. BBC

10,000 Nigerien Civilians Still Afraid to Return Home after Attack
Some ten thousand civilians remain displaced after fleeing an attack in Niger’s western Tillabéri region at the beginning of the year that killed at least 105 people and wounded many more, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees in Niamey. The villages of Tchoma Bangou and Zaroumadareye were attacked by jihadists on 2 January, in one of the worst incidents in the country since the jihadist insurgency began 12 years ago. The massacre took place after locals, tired of paying Zakat, a tax to the Islamists, killed the two men extorting them. The jihadists returned on motorbikes in the morning, killing as many as they could. … After the attack, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou announced that reinforcements would be immediately sent to the area. Villagers told the New York Times that, in such situations, soldiers only stay for a short period before departing, leaving the communities open to subsequent attacks. RFI

Rights Groups Doubt Cameroon Military’s Massacre Investigation
Rights groups in Cameroon doubt the military’s claim it will properly investigate the latest alleged massacre of civilians by its troops.  Activists and witnesses say the military killed 10 villagers Sunday, including women and children, while attempting to fight separatists.  Cameroon’s military denies it was responsible, a line that has been questioned in past cases. Thirty-seven-year-old teacher Jacob Mende says he fled Cameroon’s southwestern village of Mautu after witnessing the military on Sunday shooting civilians. “Cameroon military invaded the village of Mautu,” he said, speaking via a messaging application from the coastal town of Limbe. “They were shooting indiscriminately. United Nations, African Union, they are killing our people in cold blood. They invaded Mautu, they invaded our villages, killed our young guys. These are civilians. The world should see.” Activists and witnesses quoted in local media say troops killed 10 villagers, including women and children. VOA

Insecurity and Bureaucracy Hampering Aid to Ethiopia’s Tigray Region
Nearly three months after the start of conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, hundreds of thousands of people have yet to receive assistance, the United Nations reported on Wednesday, citing information from its humanitarian coordination agency, OCHA. “Humanitarian assistance continues to be constrained by the lack of full, and safe, unhindered access to Tigray, caused by both insecurity and bureaucratic delays”, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told journalists. “The UN and its humanitarian partners in Ethiopia urgently call on all parties to allow the immediate safe passage of humanitarian personnel and their supplies to the Tigray Region to be able to reach all people who desperately need assistance.” Mr. Dujarric said the UN continues to receive alarming reports of civilians being injured and killed in rural areas in Tigray, as well as of violations against civilians, though verification remains a challenge. “Aid workers have been able to deliver assistance in some areas, mainly in cities, where access has been granted by the authorities. However, the number of people reached is extremely low compared to the 2.3 million people we estimate are in need of life-saving assistance”, he said. UN News

Ethiopia Calls to Convene Special Committee to Settle Border Dispute with Sudan
The Ethiopian government on Tuesday called for a meeting of a joint special committee to discuss an amicable solution for the border dispute with Sudan under a bilateral agreement clinched in 1972. The call brushes aside the Sudanese position which calls to begin border demarcation between the two countries, pointing that all the political and technical issues have been definitely settled since 2011. Reports from the border area on Tuesday confirmed the troop build-up from the other side of the border, as Sudanese farmers confirmed to the Sudan Tribune that more Ethiopian troops are now massed along the border in several areas. Dina Mufti, the spokesperson of the Ethiopian foreign ministry on Tuesday told reporters that following the 1902 border agreement the area North of Mount Dagleish remained controversial and disputed because the Ethiopian side did not participate in the demarcation process of 1903. Sudan Tribune



Photo: Adam Jones