Africa Media Review for July 12, 2021

Devastating Human Toll as the Delta COVID Variant Takes Hold in Africa
The surge in the Delta coronavirus variant in Africa is set to cause hundreds of thousands of deaths in the coming months absent a dramatic scaling up of preventative measures and COVID vaccine access. While parts of the world have seemingly begun to turn the page on the pandemic, COVID’s third wave is the headline story across Africa. There has been a near tripling in the number of COVID cases and 30,000 fatalities on the continent since the end of April when the Delta variant emerged in Uganda. Panic and fear are taking hold in many communities as the number of people losing family and friends rises exponentially. 26 African countries have seen their confirmed COVID-19 case numbers jump by approximately 50 percent or more in June compared to May. [Infographic] Africa Center for Strategic Studies

France to Pull More than 2,000 Troops from Africa’s Sahel
France will withdraw more than 2,000 troops from an anti-extremism force in Africa’s Sahel region by early next year and pivot its military presence to specialized regional forces instead, President Emmanuel Macron said Friday. Macron announced last month a future reduction of France’s military presence, arguing that it’s no longer adapted to the needs in the area. The French Barkhane force, operating in Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, also had met opposition from some Africans. … The French leader insisted that his country was not abandoning African partners and would keep helping them fight groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. … The French military will shut down Barkhane bases in Timbuktu, Tessalit and Kidal in northern Mali over the next six months, and start to reconfigure its presence in the coming weeks to focus particularly on the restive border area where Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger meet. … France’s military presence in the future will focus on neutralizing extremist operations and strengthening and training local armies, Macron said. … This new structure “seems to us to respond better to the evolution of the threat,” he said. Once the reorganization is complete, he said, “the Barkhane operation will close down.” AP

Assailants on Motorcycles Attack Village in Niger, Killing Dozens
Five civilians, four soldiers and 40 armed attackers were killed Sunday in a clash in Niger’s restive southwest region near the border with Mali, the government said. Around 100 heavily armed “terrorists” riding motorcycles attacked the Tchoma Bangou village, striking around 3 pm Sunday, Niger’s Ministry of Defence said in a statement read on public television that did not identify who it suspected was behind the latest deadly incident. The “prompt and vigorous reaction” by the Defense and Security Forces (FDS), “made it possible to repel the attack and inflict heavy losses on the enemy,” the ministry said, adding that its soldiers had seized motorcycles and a cache of weapons, including AK47s and machine guns, from the assailants. Tchoma Bangou is located in the Tillaberi region, bordering Mali and Burkina Faso, an area known as “the three borders” that has been regularly targeted by jihadist groups. Tillaberi has been under a state of emergency since 2017. The authorities have banned motorbike traffic night and day for a year and ordered the closure of certain markets suspected of supplying “terrorists.” AFP

How Local Guerrilla Fighters Routed Ethiopia’s Powerful Army
… The war erupted in November, when a simmering feud between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigrayan leaders, members of a small ethnic minority who had dominated Ethiopia for much of the three previous decades, exploded into violence. Since then, the fighting has been largely hidden from view, obscured by communications blackouts and overshadowed by international outrage over an escalating humanitarian crisis. But during a pivotal week, I went behind the front lines with a photographer, Finbarr O’Reilly, and witnessed a cascade of Tigrayan victories that culminated in their retaking the region’s capital, and altered the course of the war. We saw how a scrappy Tigrayan force overcame one of the largest armies in Africa through force of arms, but also by exploiting a wave of popular rage. Going into the war, Tigrayans were themselves divided, with many distrustful of a governing Tigrayan party seen as tired, authoritarian and corrupt. But the catalog of horrors that has defined the war — massacres, ethnic cleansing and extensive sexual violence — united Tigrayans against Mr. Abiy’s government, drawing highly motivated young recruits to a cause that now enjoys widespread support. The New York Times

Abiy’s Party Wins Majority in Ethiopian Parliament
Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister, has tightened his hold on power with a landslide victory in parliamentary elections marred by insecurity, opposition boycotts and a looming famine in Tigray. In his first electoral test since being selected as prime minister in 2018 by the then ruling coalition, Abiy’s new Prosperity party won 410 out of 436 contested seats in the 547-seat parliament, according to the electoral board. The victory in the June vote secures Abiy a five-year term and the ability to change the 1995 federal constitution that he blames for destabilising the country. Abiy favours a more unitary constitution that would potentially curb the automatic right of secession granted to any of the country’s 80 ethnic groups. Talk of secession is growing in the Tigray region after Abiy’s federal troops invaded in November to quell a rebellion. … People in more than 100 constituencies in Tigray and other pockets of the country racked by ethnic violence did not vote in the parliamentary polls. A second round of voting will be held in September, though no polls will take place in Tigray where forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front recently recaptured the regional capital Mekelle. The main opposition party in Oromia, where about a third of the country’s 117m people live, did not participate in the election after its leader Jawar Mohammed was jailed on charges of alleged terrorism. FT

EU Agrees to Send Military Training Mission to Mozambique
The European Union will set up a military training mission in Mozambique to help the government tackle a growing Islamist insurgency and to protect civilians, the bloc said on Monday. Mozambique, which has called on the EU for help, has been grappling with a rebellion in its northernmost province of Cabo Delgado since 2017. Violence has grown significantly in the past year. EU foreign ministers took the formal decision at a meeting in Brussels on Monday although it was not immediately clear which countries will provide the necessary troops. “The mandate of the mission will initially last two years,” the European Council, representing EU members states, said in a statement. Portugal already sent 60 soldiers to its former colony in May to run a four-month programme training troops to counter the insurgency, share intelligence and use drones to track militants’ movements. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said that 200-300 personnel could be deployed to Mozambique by the end of the year. Reuters

Rwanda’s Deployment of Forces into Mozambique Irks SADC
A standby force from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is meant to start deploying in Mozambique’s violent Cabo Delgado province this Thursday, July 15. But as of Friday, 9 July Mozambique had still not given official clearance for the deployment. While Mozambique stalled in signing the necessary “Status of Forces” agreement with SADC, a contingent of 1,000 Rwandan soldiers and police officers began deploying into Cabo Delgado on Friday. SADC’s deployment also seems to have been complicated by a dispute within SADC about which country should lead the SADC standby force. It was originally supposed to be South Africa, but this now seems to be in doubt. Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told the SABC on Saturday that it was “unfortunate” that Rwanda had deployed its troops into Mozambique before SADC because it was expected that Rwanda would have gone in under a SADC mandate. She added that SADC did not have any control over the timing of the Rwandan deployment as this had been agreed between Rwanda and Mozambique. Daily Maverick

For Democracy, It’s a Time of Swimming against the Tide
In the last few months, the growing ranks of dictators have flexed their muscles, and freedom has been in retreat. … “It takes a lot to make democracy work,” said Berman. “Getting rid of the dictators is not the end. It’s the beginning.” As a result, many scholars aren’t too surprised when countries like Nicaragua or Myanmar stumble into authoritarianism. Both are very poor, with little history of democracy. Hard times and turmoil are mother’s milk for authoritarians. … The pandemic has sped up a democratic decline in Africa, scholars say, with elections postponed or opposition figures silenced from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe. But in a world where democracy is often swimming against the political tide, scholars also see some good news. It just requires a longer view of history. Eighty years ago, there were perhaps 12 fully functioning democracies. Today, the Democracy Index put out by the Economist Intelligence Unit says there are 23 full democracies, and nearly half the planet lives in some form of democracy. Then there are the protesters, perhaps the most visible sign of a thirst for democratic rule. … In Sudan, 2019 mass protests against the autocratic president, Omar al-Bashir, led to his ouster by the military. The country is now on a fragile path to democracy, ruled by a transitional government. AP

South Sudan’s Liberation Struggle Supplanted by Autocracy
Ten years after gaining independence, some South Sudanese say their struggle for liberation has been supplanted by an autocratic system of government led by the nation’s ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). Many of them complain about a lack of freedom to exercise their rights. They accuse the SPLM and President Salva Kiir of doing very little to protect open political space. They and some analysts also blame the SPLM party for a power struggle that turned into a five-and-a-half year civil war. … South Sudanese youth rights activist Wani Stephen Elias also wants people to be able to safely express their opinions. “Much space should be given for citizens,” he said, “to express their interest in terms of the governance, how they want corruption to be tackled, how education should be, how the health system is they want it to be, then how road infrastructure, leadership and transparency in terms of decision-making process.” South Sudanese singer Okuta Ciza Malish, 34, popularly known by his stage name Silva X, said that as his country marks a decade of freedom, it is time for its leaders and their government to renew their commitment to the values that drove their struggle for freedom. VOA

The World’s Youngest Country Wants to Build a New Capital in a Former Rhino Sanctuary
After [South Sudan’s] draining war in which warlords have exploited ethnic differences for personal gain, bitter distrust reigns. … The capital city, Juba, sits firmly in the centre of Equatoria. Koang Pal Chang, director of news at Eye Radio, which broadcasts out of Juba, actually agrees with the government that the current location of the capital is not conducive for national unity. “What is happening now in Juba, if you are from Greater Upper Nile or Greater Bahr al Ghazal, if you want to rent a house from an Equatorian, you can’t do it,” says Chang. “There is no trust between the people. The capital being there means conflict.” … The site picked out for the new capital sits in this central location, at the crossroads of South Sudan’s three provinces. It has been provisionally named Ramciel… Dr Luka Kuol is a Professor of Security Studies in Washington DC, who has made a detailed study of the country’s fortunes since independence. He believes that, beyond the bloodshed, there is hope for the world’s newest country to make the most of its hard-won independence. “Some scholars have said that South Sudan was a failed state before its birth, and therefore doomed to collapse,” says Kuol. “Others have attributed the failures to the tragedy of ethnic rivalry between the Dinka and Nuer [the major ethnic groups]. Yet, analysis shows that ethnic diversity need not be polarising. Instead, much depends on how this is managed.” VICE

Sudan’s PM Hamdok: ‘Cultural Diversity Is a Blessing’
Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok has launched a project of Sudan cultural policies which was developed over the past year by a preparatory secretariat at the Ministry of Culture and Information. The PM lauded cultural diversity as a blessing, and part of the spirit of the December revolution. Discussions on peace building and peaceful coexistence were the main subject of a meeting of the Social and Cultural Development Sector of the Council of Ministers in Khartoum on Saturday, headed by the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Intisar Segheroun. PM Hamdok called for dealing with the cultural diversity as a blessing, affirming his support to the management of the diversity as part of the process of complying with the spirit of the December revolution toward achieving national harmony and cohesion, and spreading the spirit of tolerance and acceptance of ‘the other.’ In his address, Hamdok stressed that “cultural work is not a routine task, but a task that stems from the spirit of creativity, launched by innovators to create a new reality.” Hamdok underlined that “the management of diversity and acceptance of ‘the other’ is required to be imposed through all state institutions and the issuance of accompanying decisions that consolidate its role.” Radio Dabanga

Burial Homes Under Strain as Deaths Surge in South African Hub
South Africa’s commercial hub of Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, risks running out of coffins as Covid-19-related deaths surge. While a third wave of coronavirus cases in South Africa’s worst-affected province may have peaked, fatalities have risen 57% in the past week, data from National Institute of Communicable Diseases show. Funeral parlors are starting to buckle under the strain, according to Nkosi Nare, chairman of the Inner-City Funeral Directors Association – South Africa, which represents 19 funeral parlors in Gauteng. There’s a risk the province will run out of coffins, and that funeral parlors may have to try and speed up the burial processes to create space for incoming bodies, he said. Excess deaths, seen as a more precise way of measuring total fatalities from the coronavirus, rose 44% to 3,224 in the week through July 3 in Gauteng. The number is higher than the peaks recorded in the province in the first and second waves, according to data from the South African Medical Research Council. Bloomberg

Arson and Looting Continue for Fourth Day After Jailing of Zuma
Buildings have been set on fire and properties looted in South Africa as unrest sparked by the jailing of the former president Jacob Zuma last week continued for a fourth day. The country’s highest court, which ordered Zuma to be jailed for refusing to appear before a corruption probe, is holding a review of its decision with a ruling expected later on Monday on whether the sentence will be upheld. … In Eshowe, a town near Zuma’s Nkandla home, police opened fire to disperse crowds after a supermarket was ransacked early on Monday. Police said some sections of a major road in Johannesburg had been closed because of the protests. Dozens of cars were torched over the weekend in Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal, where protests erupted a day after Zuma was imprisoned on Thursday. A government intelligence body said six people had been killed in the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces since last week, and 219 arrests had been made. Although some of the protests appear to have been triggered by Zuma’s 15-month detention for contempt of court, they are tied in with economic hardship and tightened restrictions brought on by a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. President Cyril Ramaphosa urged “peaceful protest” during a speech on Sunday. The Guardian

Nigeria’s Lagos State Faces ‘Potential Third Wave’ of COVID-19
Nigeria’s Lagos state faces a “potential third wave” of coronovirus infections, its governor said in a statement. He warned of fines or even imprisonment for those who break rules to contain the virus and said Lagos state would step up its vaccination campaign, following the detection of the highly infectious Delta variant in an incoming traveller. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, has not been as hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic as other parts of the continent, with just over 168,000 cases and 2,124 deaths confirmed since the outbreak began. But Nation Centre for Disease Control officials last week confirmed that they had detected the Delta variant, putting officials nationwide on alert. The NCDC did not say when the infected traveller had arrived. “From the beginning of July, we started to experience a steep increase in the number of daily confirmed cases, with the test positivity rate going from 1.1% at the end of June 2021 to its current rate of 6.6% as at 8th of July 2021,” Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said in a statement. “The rapid increase within a week gives great cause for concern.” Reuters

Extremist Attack in Somalia’s Capital Kills at Least 9
A large explosion in Somalia’s capital killed at least nine people and injured eight others, a health official said Saturday. Dr. Mohamed Nur at the Medina Hospital told reporters that the toll reflected only the dead and wounded who were taken to the facility in Mogadishu where he works. “I am sure the number is bigger as some of the victims were rushed to other hospitals, such as the privately owned ones,” he said. The al-Shabab extremist group claimed responsibility. A Somali police spokesman said Mogadishu’s police commissioner, Col. Farhan Mohamud Qaroleh, was the target of the attack but he was safe. “A suicide car bomber with heavy explosives plotted by the terrorist group al-Shabab has targeted the Mogadishu police commissioner,” police spokesman Sadiq Adam Ali said. “They hit the vehicle of the Mogadishu police commissioner.” It was the second such large explosion in the city this month. A blast targeting a teashop killed at least 10 people last week. AP

Violence and Abuse Wreak Havoc in Central African Republic
A human rights lawyer appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council reported to the body Friday that the war-torn Central African Republic’s civilian population is being battered by both armed groups and security forces meant to protect them. The Central African Republic has been in turmoil since rebels overthrew the government in 2013, displacing 1.2 million people. Togolese human rights lawyer Yao Agbetse was appointed by the U.N. council in 2019 to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the C.A.R. He says the Coalition of Patriots for Change, a collection of major rebel groups, has intensified its attacks against the civilian population since March. He accuses the CPC of recruiting child soldiers, committing sexual violence and murders, illegal taxation, destruction and looting of property, and occupation of schools. He says action is being taken to hold them to account. … “Most of the leaders and members of the CPC are on the list of sanctions from the Security Council concerning the CAR,” Agbetse said. VOA

Kidnapped Nigerian Students Freed After Ransom Paid – School, Parent
Six students and two officials who were kidnapped last month from a school in Nigeria’s Kaduna state were released after relatives paid ransom money, a school official and parent said on Friday. Kidnappings by armed men, commonly referred to in Nigeria as “bandits,” have become endemic in northern Nigeria, disrupting the education of hundreds of thousands of children. Gunmen attacked the main campus of the Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic in Kaduna on June 10 and took students and staff members, in the process killing one student. The college’s spokesman Abdullahi Shehu, said the students and officials were released late on Thursday at an undisclosed location. … At least 10 institutions have been hit by kidnappers and around 1,000 students and staff abducted since December. Reuters

Nigerian Woman, Who Escaped Boko Haram Captivity, Graduates, Discloses Future Plans
One of the 475 students who graduated from the American University of Nigeria (AUN) on Saturday is Mary Katambi. Ms Katambi bagged a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting seven years after she narrowly escaped from … Boko Haram terrorists who stormed her school dormitory in Chibok in 2014 and trucked away 276 girls. She said she escaped by sneaking out of the camp of the terrorists and trudging through the forest back to her village. A few months later, Ms Katambi and 24 other colleagues, who either escaped from the terrorists or were released, arrived at AUN and were admitted for a foundational programme specially created for them by the university. In 2016, after passing her school certificate and the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), she was admitted for a degree in accounting, with a full scholarship provided by AUN. On Saturday, Ms Katambi, dressed in a red academic gown and a red cap, beamed with smiles and those familiar with her strides said there were new steps in her steps as she marched to the podium to receive her certificate from AUN President, Margee Ensign. Premium Times