Africa Media Review for January 6, 2021

Analyzing Africa’s Second Wave of COVID-19

2020 saw COVID-19 infect over 2.7 million Africans and kill over 65,000. A surge of cases in the last quarter of the year, combined with the emergence of more contagious mutations, pose new challenges for Africa in 2021. An average of 28 of the continent’s 54 countries have reported a higher number of new COVID-19 cases each week compared to the previous week since the beginning of October. This trend has resulted in an average of 22,000 reported new cases per day in December, eclipsing the peak rate of 18,000 during the first wave in July. Nearly half of the total cases recorded on the continent have been reported since October. Record levels of reported cases are observable continent-wide. Mutations in the COVID-19 virus detected in South Africa and the United Kingdom (and potentially Nigeria) in December that make it significantly more transmissible raise prospects that the second wave could become even more dispersed. In South Africa, the mutated strain of the virus is dominant and driving the second wave. [Infographic] Africa Center for Strategic Studies

‘It Is Extreme’: Uganda Tightens Screws as Vote Looms

Tear gas, midnight arrests, threats and intimidation — the tactics employed every election cycle in Uganda are familiar to all who dare challenge President Yoweri Museveni’s 35-year grip on power. But even those accustomed to such heavy-handedness say the crackdown ahead of elections on January 14 is extreme, even in a country consistently ranked “not free” by democracy watchdogs. Journalists have been attacked, lawyers jailed, election monitors prosecuted and opposition leaders violently muzzled using coronavirus laws. The brazenness has startled Uganda’s allies, with the United States warning last month of “consequences for those who undermine democracy.” “Across the board — not just for people who work on human rights issues — repression has intensified,” said Oryem Nyeko, a researcher with Human Rights Watch in Uganda. AFP

At Least 22 Civilians Killed in Rebel Attack in Eastern DRC

At least 22 civilians have been killed in a rebel attack on a village in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to local officials. The violence in Mwenda village of the Beni territory was perpetrated by the Ugandan rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), Donat Kibwana, the administrator of the Beni territory, told Anadolu news agency. “ADF rebels attacked the village of Mwenda on Monday about 19:00 GMT, killing 22 civilians with machetes,” Kibwana said, adding the death toll is provisional. Local leaders Ruwenzori Bozy Sindiwako and Iteni Muvunga Kimwele told the dpa news agency by telephone on Tuesday the rebels used machetes and bladed weapons to carry out the massacre and systematically loot the settlement. Fulbert Kasairo, a local official, said a dozen other villagers were also kidnapped by the attackers in order to transport stolen goods to other localities. “Our region is a powder keg, a cemetery. We live in a dying house while the authorities are disinterested,” Kasairo said. Al Jazeera

Central African Republic: Respect Final Results of the Election, UN and Partners Urge

Senior officials from the United Nations and regional organizations have called on all political actors in the Central African Republic (CAR) to respect the final results of the recent presidential elections, and to settle any disputes peacefully and in accordance with the country’s laws. “It will be up to the Constitutional Court of the Central African Republic to proclaim the final results and to all political actors to respect the decisions of the Court”, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations; Smaїl Chergui, African Union (AU) Commissioner for Peace and Security; Gilberto Da Piedade Veríssimo, President of the Commission of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS); and Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs, said in a joint statement on Monday. They called on the Government of the Central African Republic and all political actors to favour “an inclusive, open, constructive and credible political dialogue to promote national stability.”  UN News

Sudanese Professionals Demand Dissolution of Rapid Support Forces

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) has launched the campaign Know Your Right, to protest the violence of paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) against “ordinary citizens.” The association further demands the dissolution of the militia. The SPA, the driving force behind the 2018 December Revolution that led to the ousting of Omar Al Bashir in April the following year, has given the authorities a week to close the RSF detention centres in the country. The campaign was triggered by the killing of young activist Bahaeldin Nouri who was tortured to death in an RSF detention centre in Omdurman on December 21. The reason for Nouri’s abduction and detention has not been made known. On Sunday, the SPA submitted a memorandum to the justice minister and the attorney general, demanding that they inform Sudanese about their right to a secure life. They should also take urgent steps “to criminalise the abduction and detention of citizens by these forces,” and “to clearly restrict the right to arrest people to the police,” the memo reads. Radio Dabanga

Ethiopians Continue Streaming into Sudan, Fleeing Tigray Region Violence

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) reports some 800 Ethiopians have arrived in eastern Sudan since the start of the new year. This brings the total number of refugees who have fled Ethiopia’s conflict-ridden Tigray region to more than 56,000 since early November. The number of daily arrivals is lower than at the start of the crisis when fighting in Tigray was particularly intense and thousands were fleeing every day. Nevertheless, the UNHCR sees no let up to the violence, abuse and dangers confronting area civilians. UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic says hundreds of Ethiopians continue to flee for their lives. He says refugees are arriving in eastern Sudan fatigued and weak after days of travel, with little more than the clothes on their backs. “Latest arrivals tell of being caught in the conflict and being victims of various armed groups, facing perilous situations including looting of their houses, forced recruitment of men and boys, sexual violence against women and girls,” he said. … He said two reception centers located near the border with Ethiopia are overcrowded and pose a security risk to the refugees. VOA

Reuters Says Ethiopia Releases Its Journalist without Charge

he Reuters news agency says Ethiopia released one of its video journalists without charge on Tuesday, nearly two weeks after his detention led to criticism of the erosion of press freedoms in the country. Kumerra Gemechu was arrested on Dec. 24 at his home in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, amid pressure by authorities on journalists covering the deadly conflict in the country’s northern Tigray region. For weeks the region was cut off from the world and many communications remain tenuous. … Kumerra’s arrest followed the beating of Reuters photographer Tiksa Negari by two Ethiopian federal police officers on Dec. 16, Reuters has said. With his arrest, eight journalists were jailed in Ethiopia in 2020 alone, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which has said it has documented a “worrying pattern of holding journalists for weeks without formal charges in Ethiopia.” Watchdog group Reporters Without Borders in a statement said it was relieved to see Kumerra released, “but let’s not forget that many journalists have been subjected to arbitrary arrests these past few weeks. Three of them are still detained in very secretive conditions.” AP

Kiir Directs Security Apparatus to End Armed Conflicts, Road Ambushes

South Sudan’s National Security Committee held a meeting in Juba yesterday, Tuesday, and discussed the rampant road ambushes, attacks, and inter-communal fighting in different parts of the country. Speaking to the press after the meeting, the presidential adviser for national security affairs, Tut Gatluak Manime, said the security sector has been directed by the president to immediately put a halt to road ambushes, cattle raids, and intercommunal clashes in the country. “We met with the minister of interior and directed the security organs to carry out inspection visits to the areas where there are conflicts and move cattle away from in and around Juba city. Also, they have been directed to make sure that our roads are secure by deploying troops along the roads to ensure full protection of all people,” Gatluak said. … While political violence has largely subsided in South Sudan since the signing of a peace agreement in September 2018, conflicts among communities in the country, often fought over cattle, continue to result in the killing and injuring of civilians. Radio Tamazuj

At Least 6 Killed in Northern Burkina Faso Attack

At least six people including two militiamen who back up anti-jihadist security forces in Burkina Faso were killed in an attack in the north of the country, a local elected official said Tuesday. Requesting anonymity, the official told AFP that late Monday around 100 gunmen attacked the village of Loumbila, some 35 kilometers (20 miles) from Ouahigouya, the capital of the Nord region bordering Mali. He said six people had been killed “including two volunteers” and three were wounded, including one seriously. The assailants attacked a health center and the local market and torched several sites, he said, adding that they made off with goods including food and motorbikes. A security source, offering a “provisional toll” of six dead, said reinforcements had been sent to the region after reports of “violent fighting.” The Defense Post with AFP

Witnesses Say 20 Are Killed in an Airstrike in Central Mali

At least 20 people have been killed in an airstrike on a village in central Mali where Islamic extremists had confronted a wedding party, witnesses said Tuesday. The French military said “several dozens” of extremists were killed in a Sunday afternoon airstrike led by French fighter jets close to the village of Bounti. There was no immediate comment from the Malian government. A French military spokesman, Col. Frederic Barbry, denied a connection between the strike and a wedding party, saying such a link “does not correspond to information collected prior to the airstrike.” Barbry told the Associated Press the operation followed an intelligence mission of several days that showed a “suspicious gathering of people.” The French military was able to conclude it was a “terrorist armed group” based on individuals’ attitudes, their equipment and other intelligence information, he said. The airstrike was part of a larger operation by French troops aiming at fighting Islamist extremists in Africa’s Sahel region. AP

UN Chief Recommends Libya Cease-Fire Monitors Based in Sirte

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is recommending that international monitors be deployed to Libya under a U.N. umbrella to observe the October cease-fire agreement from a base in the strategic city of Sirte, the gateway to the country’s major oil fields and export terminals. The U.N. chief said in an interim report to the Security Council on proposed cease-fire monitoring arrangements circulated Monday that an advance team should be sent to Libya’s capital Tripoli as a first step to “provide the foundations for a scalable United Nations cease-fire monitoring mechanism based in Sirte.” … The October cease-fire agreement called for the withdrawal of all armed forces from conflict lines and the departure of all mercenaries and foreign fighters within three months. Guterres gave few details of the monitoring mechanism but said the Joint Military Commission, with five representatives from each of the rival sides, “has requested unarmed, non-uniformed individual international monitors to be deployed under the auspices of the United Nations.” AP

Nigeria Aims to Get 42 Million COVID-19 Vaccines through COVAX Scheme

Nigeria hopes to get 42 million COVID-19 vaccines to cover one-fifth of its population through the global COVAX scheme, said Faisal Shuaib, head of the country’s primary healthcare agency, on Tuesday. Shuaib said the batch of vaccines would come as part of Nigeria’s plan to inoculate 40% of the population this year, with another 30% in 2022. By the end of January, 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are expected to arrive, he said. The COVAX scheme was set up to provide vaccines to poorer countries such as Nigeria, whose 200 million people and poor infrastructure pose a daunting challenge to medical officials rolling out the vaccinations as the West African country battles a second, larger spike in coronavirus cases. Nigeria, where officials recorded low coronavirus numbers through much of 2020, had 1,204 new cases on Monday, its highest ever, as total confirmed cases edged closer to 100,000. Reuters

Did Oxygen Outage Kill Covid Patients in Egypt? Government Says No

Hoping to quell growing outrage over a video from inside an Egyptian hospital purportedly showing a number of Covid-19 patients dying after an interruption in oxygen supply, the country’s authorities insisted that neither shortages nor negligence caused the deaths. … Medical experts and analysts say there is no way to know exactly what happened because people are too scared to risk criticizing the government. In the early months of the crisis, doctors who complained about overstretched hospitals were thrown in jail. “The government perceives the idea of saying there’s a shortage of anything like oxygen or PPE or breathing machines as sensitive information and a matter of national security,” said Ayman Sabae, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a human rights group. “Maybe there is no oxygen shortage, but then again the body that has been conducting the investigation is the ministry, which is also managing the hospitals, which is a reason for skepticism. There is a problem of credibility.” The New York Times

East Africa Braces for a Return of the Locusts

East Africa has not just suffered from the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, but also the worst locust plague in decades. Now, the swarms are returning, and experts are concerned about food security in the region. … According to Daniel Lesego from Kenya’s National Disaster Management Unit, the locust invasions come with multiple risks apart from food insecurity. “If there will be competition over pasture, space, and water, then it is likely to trigger conflict, resource-based conflict, and that is something that we do not want to see in Kenya,” he told DW. “For us, this is a national call. It is a national duty that we are responding to and are committed to ensuring that locusts in Kenya are eradicated to make sure that locusts do not cross to our neighbors.” DW

World Bank Sees More Countries in ‘Deep Debt Distress’ This Year

Chad and several other countries are already in deep debt distress and more will join their ranks this year, given the severity of the global recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, World Bank Group President David Malpass said. The African oil producer Chad may need a deep reduction in the net present value of its debt, and creditors would need to work with the country to find a viable solution to its debt overhang, Malpass told reporters on Tuesday. “For some countries, it’s a red alert,” he said during a teleconference. “We need to find ways to adjust the debt burden, so that the burden of debt on people in poorer countries can be reduced dramatically.” He said Zambia had already defaulted on some of its debts and restructurings were under way in Angola and Ecuador but declined to name other countries facing acute problems. He said the Bank and the International Monetary Fund were currently assessing the debt sustainability of countries facing problems. Reuters

Letters from Africa: The Promises and Pitfalls of 2021

Analyst and lawyer Abdul Tejan-Cole, who used to head Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission, feels we have entered 2021 with some worrying signs. He points to bruised human rights records in some countries, including the suppression of the freedoms of speech and association as well as fighting in different corners of the continent. “The continued conflicts in Ethiopia, Mali, Central African Republic and the regression in democratic standards will pose a real challenge to the continent in 2021 and the years ahead,” he says. Mr Tejan-Cole argues that weakened sub-regional organisations, such as Ecowas in West Africa, that used to play a vital role in maintaining law and order there, is also a key concern. “The answer is not further backsliding into dictatorship and one-partyism. We have forgotten too soon the damage caused by one-party states in the 1970s and 1980s.” … “True democracy entails building and earning the trust of the people and building their capacity so that they could make informed choices.” BBC