Africa Media Review for January 25, 2021

Power Shift in the DRC Creaks open a Door to Reform
A glimmer of hope emerged in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) barren political landscape in December 2020 when the National Assembly voted to remove its Speaker, a longtime ally to former president Joseph Kabila, Jeanine Mabunda. The move is significant since, despite being out of office since January 2019, Kabila has continued to wield the levers of influence in the DRC’s patronage-laden political system through his control of key government bodies. The unseating of the Speaker from the lower house of Parliament follows months of consultations among President Felix Tshisekedi’s alliance partners, fellow opposition deputies, and receptive lawmakers from Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC), suggesting that a path to reform is possible. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Six Malian Soldiers Killed in ‘Complex and Simultaneous’ Attacks
At least six Malian soldiers have been killed in two “complex and simultaneous” attacks in Mali’s conflict-wracked centre, according to the military. The coordinated assault took place at about 3am (03:00 GMT) on Sunday in the villages of Boulkessi and Mondoro in the Mopti region, near the country’s border with Burkina Faso. “The provisional toll is six dead and 18 wounded” among the soldiers, the army said in a statement, adding that the attacks prompted a military response which left “around 30 dead on the terrorist side.”  Some 40 motorcycles and a large amount of military gear were seized from the attackers, it added. … In September 2019, the same army positions struck on Sunday were targeted in one of the deadliest attacks to hit Mali since 2012, with some 50 soldiers killed. … On Thursday, three other Malian soldiers were killed in a bomb blast in the Mondoro area. Al Jazeera

Internal Displacement in the Sahel Tops 2 Million as Armed Conflict Intensifies
The U.N. Refugee Agency, or UNHCR, is warning that countries in the Sahel have reached a breaking point as unrelenting violence in the region has caused more than 2 million people to become displaced inside their own countries for the first time ever. Humanitarian needs in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger are surging as escalating violence sends an increasing number of people fleeing for their lives. The U.N. refugee agency reports internal displacement in the Sahel has quadrupled in just two years and is rising. Already this year, the agency reports violence in Niger and Burkina Faso has forced more than 21,000 people to flee their homes. The Sahel also is hosting more than 850,000 refugees, mainly from Mali. This creates an additional layer of insecurity and increases the burden of impoverished communities. UNHCR spokesman Boris Cheshirkov says the security situation in this volatile area is hampering efforts to reach many people in need of assistance. … It reports the dire conditions under which internally displaced people are forced to live have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. VOA

Heavy Fighting Erupts in Somali Town near Kenyan Border
Heavy fighting has broken out in a Somali town near the Kenyan border between Somali forces and those from the state of Jubbaland, as Somalia’s election troubles spill over into violence. Somalia’s information ministry in a statement early Monday accused Kenya-funded rebels of crossing into the town of Bulo Hawo and attacking Somali forces. But the Jubbaland vice president, Mohamud Sayid Adan, told reporters that Jubbaland forces stationed outside the town were attacked by what he called forces recently deployed to the region by the government in the capital, Mogadishu. Both sides have claimed victory but people in the town said fighting continued and some people have begun to flee. The information ministry asserted that Somali forces were in control of the town. There were no immediate details on casualties. Somalia’s accusation of Kenyan support to the Jubbaland leader comes after Somalia cut diplomatic ties with Kenya in December “to safeguard the unity, sovereignty, stability of the country.” Somalia’s president has been accused by critics of stirring up such issues to draw support as he seeks a second term. AP

Ugandan Airstrikes in Somalia Kill 189 Al-Shabab Fighters
Somali officials and the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) claimed killing 189 al-Shabab fighters late Friday and in the early hours of Saturday in an operation in southern Somalia. Talking to VOA Somali Service by phone, Lower Shabelle Governor Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur Siidi said Ugandan soldiers under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), using attack helicopter gunships, have killed nearly 200 al-Shabab militants. Earlier, the Ugandan army’s deputy spokesman, Lt. Col. Deo Akiki, said, “Their soldiers killed at least 189 al-Shabab fighters in the operation and destroyed two mounted weapons and motorbikes in separate fire strikes.” Siidi said the strikes, along with ground assaults by the joint troops, occurred Friday and early Saturday in a string of villages between the Qoryoley and Janaale districts in the southern Somali region of Lower Shabelle. VOA

Judge Orders Uganda’s Bobi Wine Freed from House Arrest
A judge ruled on Monday that Ugandan security forces cannot detain presidential challenger Bobi Wine inside his home, rebuking authorities for holding the candidate under house arrest following a disputed election. Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, has been unable to leave his home since Jan. 14, when Ugandans voted in an election in which the singer-turned-politician was the main challenger to President Yoweri Museveni. Ugandan authorities have said Wine can only leave his home on the outskirts of the capital, Kampala, under military escort because they fear his presence in public could incite rioting. But the judge said in his ruling that Wine’s home is not a proper detention facility and noted that authorities should criminally charge him if he threatens public order. Wine’s associates welcomed the courtroom victory, but it remains to be seen if authorities will respect the judge’s order in this East African country where similar orders have been ignored in many cases. AP

Witnesses: Eritrean Soldiers Loot, Kill in Ethiopia’s Tigray
Huge unknowns persist in the deadly conflict, but details of the involvement of neighboring Eritrea, one of the world’s most secretive countries, are emerging with witness accounts by survivors and others. Estimated in the thousands, the Eritrean soldiers have fought on the side of Ethiopian forces. They are accused of targeting thousands of vulnerable refugees from their own country, raping and intimidating locals — and now, some worry, refusing to go home. … Despite the denials, the Eritrean soldiers aren’t hiding. They have even attended meetings in which humanitarian workers negotiated access with Ethiopian authorities. Now millions of Tigray residents, still largely cut off from the world, live in fear of the soldiers, who inspire memories of the countries’ two-decade border war. The recent peace revived cultural and family ties with Tigray, but Eritrea soon closed border crossings. AP

Pirates Attack Turkish Ship off W. Africa; Kill 1, Kidnap 15
Armed pirates attacked a Turkish cargo ship off the West African coast, kidnapping 15 sailors and killing one of them, officials said Sunday as Turkey sought to recover the captured crew. The Liberian-flagged M/V Mozart was sailing from Lagos, Nigeria, to Cape Town in South Africa when it was attacked Saturday morning 100 nautical miles (185 kilometers) northwest of the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe. Turkey’s Maritime Directorate said the crew initially locked themselves in a safe area but the pirates forced entry after six hours. During the struggle, one crew member aboard died. It identified the victim as engineer Farman Ismayilov of Azerbaijan, the only non-Turkish crew member. … Maritime security consultancy Dryad Global described the attack as “an exceptional incident for both its severity and distance from shore.” Last year, boardings in the waters off West Africa rose to 18 from 13 in 2019, the London-based firm added. AP

Western Sahara Pro-Independence Group Bombards Guerguerat Border Zone
Western Sahara’s pro-independence Polisario Front bombarded the Guerguerat buffer zone under Moroccan control in the far south of the desert territory in an overnight attack Rabat described as part of a “propaganda war.” “The Saharawi army launched four rockets in the direction of… Guerguerat,” on the border between Morocco and Mauritania, the Saharawi press agency SPS said in a statement Sunday, citing a military leader of the separatist Saharawi forces. Morocco launched a military operation on November 13 in the buffer zone of Guerguerat, in the extreme south of the former Spanish colony, to drive out a group of Saharawi militants who were blocking a transit route to neighbouring Mauritania. The SPS statement also reported attacks along the security wall that separates Saharawi fighters from Moroccan forces in the vast desert expanse. AFP

Hundreds Protest Corruption and Police Brutality in Tunisia
Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Tunisian cities on Saturday to protest police repression, corruption and poverty, following several nights of unrest marked by clashes and arrests. Saturday’s protests come as the North African nation struggles to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled the economy and threatened to overwhelm hospitals. Over 6,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Tunisia, with a record 103 deaths reported on Thursday. The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14. But protesters took to the streets in several parts of the country, including the capital Tunis and the marginalised interior region of Gafsa, to demand the release of hundreds of young people detained during several nights of unrest since January 14. AFP

‘The Release of Six Decades of Fear’: Egypt’s Lost Revolution
A decade on, the launchpad of Egypt’s revolution [Tahrir Square] – a seminal part of the uprisings which became known as the Arab spring – is a very different place, as is the country. The strip of grass has been concreted over and on it stands a newly erected obelisk, pointing skywards in a trenchant reminder of times of staid certainty. Traffic moves sedately around a roundabout now free of protesters or attempts at defiance. Secret police are positioned, not so secretly, nearby. There is little talk of revolution, and attempts to stir the ghosts of Tahrir Square are met with the heavy hand of the invigorated military state that entrenched itself in the revolution’s wake. The Guardian

‘The Lockdown Was Political’: Chad under Strain Ahead of Election
For Abdulgadir Sanousi the decision to lock down the capital of Chad was “a nightmare.” His work driving from N’Djamena to Moundou in the south four times a week dried up overnight. This month any work has involved bribing police to let him through the checkpoints at N’Djamena’s four main entry points. “The situation is just a nightmare for us. We are faced with difficulties by the police. In order to deal with them you need to bribe them, if not they would confiscate your vehicle,” says 27-year-old Sanousi. President Idriss Déby locked down the city of around a million inhabitants on 1 January. … Opposition parties have accused the government of using lockdown to interfere with election campaigning ahead of the presidential vote scheduled for April. … “He did his rallies and locked the city down to prevent us from doing the same thing,” says Yacine Sakin, a member of the Reformist party, part of an opposition coalition that aims to put forward a candidate in the election. The Guardian

Sudan Police Fire Teargas at Protests over Worsening Economy
Sudanese police fired tear gas on Sunday to disperse angry protests in Khartoum over the country’s worsening economic crisis. Dozens of demonstrators had blocked 60th Street, a major artery in the east of the capital, setting up barricades and burning tyres to voice their anger at soaring inflation, food shortages and power cuts. “We can’t find a loaf of bread for breakfast at school,” said Hani Mohamed, a young protester in a high school uniform. Protesters in Khartoum’s sister city Omdurman also blocked a central street by erecting rudimentary barriers made of concrete blocks and used car parts. Sudan has been reeling from an economic crisis since the ouster of autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 following mass nationwide protests sparked months earlier by high bread prices. AFP

Mahamat Said Abdel Kani: CAR Hands War Crimes Suspect to ICC
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has taken into custody a former Central African Republic (CAR) militia commander suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In a statement on Sunday, the court said authorities in CAR handed over Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, a leader of the Seleka faction, on account of an ICC arrest warrant issued under seal on January 7, 2019. The warrant relates to alleged crimes committed in the country’s capital, Bangui, in 2013. Said’s arrest comes against the backdrop of a state of emergency in the CAR, with fighting between the country’s army, backed by UN, Russian and Rwandan troops and rebels seeking to overturn a December 27 vote in which President Faustin-Archange Touadera was declared the winner. Al Jazeera

Central African Republic Suffers Food Shortages as Rebels Cut off Capital
Central African Republic is facing serious food shortages as election violence has cut off the country and stranded hundreds of trucks carrying supplies outside its borders. Food prices have risen steeply since the landlocked country’s main supply route from Cameroon was cut off by armed groups trying to blockade the capital, Bangui, where the government declared a state of emergency on Thursday. The price of staple foods has risen by more than 50% in rural areas, according to the UN, which said an attack last Monday by rebels on a convoy carrying humanitarian supplies was “totally unacceptable.” Three drivers were injured in the attack. More than 1,600 trucks have been stuck at the border, a third of them carrying humanitarian aid, including food and medicine. … Hans De Marie Heungoup, senior central Africa analyst for Crisis Group, said the blockade of Bangui was “a deliberate tactic to strangle the capital economically, to force the government to the negotiating table.” The Guardian

Severe Winds Wreck Homes, Displace Thousands in Mozambique
Severe winds and heavy rains wrecked thousands of buildings, ruined crops and displaced almost 7,000 people in Mozambique over the weekend, officials said in their first detailed report on the disaster. Tropical cyclone Eloise hit Mozambique’s Sofala coastal province on Saturday morning before weakening and heading inland to dump rain on Zimbabwe, eSwatini – formerly known as Swaziland – and South Africa. Authorities initially said Eloise had only caused minor damage in Mozambique’s port city of Beira but that it was too early to gauge the full extent of the damage across the rest of the region. On Sunday, Mozambique’s National Institute for Disaster Risk Management and Reduction (INGD) said investigations had shown Eloise had injured 12 people and displaced 6,859. The region’s Buzi district had been particularly hard hit with wind speeds of up to 150 kph. Reuters

South Africa Mourns Anti-Apartheid Trombonist Jonas Gwangwa
Tributes are pouring in for South Africa’s Oscar-nominated anti-apartheid jazz trombonist and composer Jonas Gwangwa, who has died at the age of 83. With driving music that fired up Black South Africans’ resistance to repressive white minority rule, Gwangwa left the country rather than submit to apartheid censorship. Other prominent exiled South African musicians included Hugh Masekela, Abdullah Ibrahim and Miriam Makeba. “Jonas Gwangwa ascends to our great orchestra of musical ancestors whose creative genius and dedication to the freedom of all South Africans inspired millions in our country and mobilized the international community against the apartheid system,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a tribute. So potent was Gwangwa’s musical activism that his home was bombed by apartheid forces in 1985, but he survived, Ramaphosa said in his tribute. … He was nominated for an Oscar for music he composed for the 1987 movie “Cry Freedom,” which starred Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline. AP