Africa Media Review for July 15, 2021

South Africa Expands Its Military Deployment to Fight a Domestic Crisis Years in the Making

It will be the biggest military deployment in South Africa since the end of apartheid: About 25,000 soldiers are being mobilized in a last-ditch bid to quell some of the worst looting and destruction in the country in decades. Less than two days after authorizing 2,500 troops to tackle the violent unrest, the South African government realized this was not enough. It swiftly doubled the number to 5,000 soldiers on Wednesday and then announced a new plan for a tenfold increase, a move that will require an extraordinary call-up of military reserves. While the official death toll stood at 72, there were reports that hundreds may have died in stampedes and shootings as many thousands of people attacked shopping malls and set factories ablaze. The mobilization of soldiers to combat a domestic crisis is a tacit admission of the grim realities that South Africa has long endured: persistent crime and corruption, years of economic stagnation and rising unemployment, the crumbling of the state in key sectors such as electricity and transport, a growing lawlessness in many regions, and an unofficial policy of impunity for violent street mobs as police routinely tolerate attacks on shops and businesses. The Globe and Mail

Pandemic Disruptions Push Millions of Nigerians into Hunger

Shehu Ismaila Gbadebo has worked as a barber for two decades. The money he made at his rented stall in a bustling suburb of Nigeria’s megacity, Lagos, used to be plenty for him to pay bills and set aside some savings. Now, he relies on donated food and sometimes skips meals to feed his family. Since COVID-19 hit Africa’s most populous nation and biggest economy, prices for some staples such as eggs, onions and palm oil, have risen by 30% or more. Fewer people can afford a haircut, and those who can are demanding discounts off Gbadebo’s 500 naira ($1.22) rate. “The money I have is not enough for what we need,” Gbadebo, 38, told Reuters after tending a customer. Millions of Nigerians like Gbadebo, who were once on solid financial footing, can no longer reliably feed themselves or their families. Roughly 18% of households in Nigeria have at least one adult who does not eat for an entire day at a time, compared with 6% before the pandemic, according to the World Bank. Inflation is near an all-time high, and food prices account for almost 70% of the rise. Reuters

Norway Joins Anti-Jihadist Taskforce in Mali

Oslo will contribute soldiers to the Takuba taskforce in Mali, a special European unit designed to help the country’s army battle jihadists, the Norwegian government has announced. “Norway will for the first time provide soldiers to Takuba in Mali,” the defence ministry said in a statement late Tuesday. “In the following months, a small number of soldiers will be sent as part of the Swedish detachment.” A member of NATO but not the EU, Norway will become the ninth country to take part in Takuba, an operation that aims to play a central role in the fight against jihadists in the Sahel region after the French military scales down its presence. France, Belgium, Estonia, Italy, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Portugal and Sweden have all provided soldiers to the taskforce. Denmark has pledged to do so in 2022. AFP

COVID-19: Kigali under Total Lockdown as Rwanda Battles Third Wave

Rwanda has put its capital Kigali back under total lockdown for 10 days effective July 17 as the country battles a severe third wave that has seen fatalities increase over the last two weeks. As of Wednesday, Rwanda had 14,553 active coronavirus cases with a positivity rate of 17.5 percent, the highest since the beginning of the pandemic. Some 607 have succumbed to the virus while 74 people are in critical condition. A cabinet meeting chaired by President Paul Kagame on Wednesday announced the measures, banning non-essential movements in the capital and the districts of Gicumbi, Burera, Musanze, Kamonyi, Nyagatare, Rwamagana, Rubavu and Rutsiro. The current surge in infections has mainly affected Kigali which represents over half of reported cases, according to Rwanda Biomedical Center’s statistics. A communique issued on Wednesday evening stated that non-essential businesses, churches, schools and universities shall all close. Employees will work from home, public transport shall not operate, and movements are prohibited except for essential reasons. The EastAfrican

Tunisia Struggles to Cope with Surge in COVID-19 Cases

In Charles Nicolle Hospital in the Tunisian capital, the emergency department is filled with patients who are sharing oxygen in rooms and even hallways. After successfully containing the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Tunisia is struggling to cope with a resurgence of the virus, with intensive care wards full and doctors overburdened by a rapid rise in cases and deaths. “Doctors are exhausted, as the number of patients exceeded the capacity of the hospital,” Ahmed Ghoul, a nurse at Charles Nicolle, told Reuters. “Even the mortuary was full and we could no longer find a place for them.” Tunisia recorded 157 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, the highest daily death toll since the start of the pandemic. In all, it has reported around 17,000 deaths and 500,000 coronavirus infections. “We are suffering, we urgently need oxygen, it (demand) has exceeded the stocks that we have,” said Dr Rym Hamed, head of the emergency department at Charles Nicolle. Official fears that the already weak healthcare system would collapse under the strain prompted President Kais Saied to appeal for help from the international community. Reuters

Ethiopia Conflict Heats up as Amhara Region Vows to Attack Tigray Forces

Ethiopia’s war in the northern region of Tigray looked set to intensify on Wednesday as the prime minister signalled the end of a government ceasefire and the neighbouring Amhara region said it would go on the offensive against Tigrayan forces. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has recaptured most of its home region in the past three weeks after an abrupt reversal in an eight-month war, has vowed to retake western Tigray, an expanse of fertile territory controlled by Amhara forces who seized it during the conflict. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed abruptly pulled central government troops out of most of Tigray last month, citing a unilateral ceasefire that the TPLF mocked as “a joke” designed to justify his forces’ retreat. Wednesday’s statement marked a shift in rhetoric, as Abiy said the ceasefire had failed to deliver. A spokesman for the Amhara regional government also said the authorities there were rallying their own forces for a counter-attack against Tigrayan forces. … Western Tigray has long been home to large populations of both Tigrayans and Amhara, and renewed fighting between two of Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic groups over the territory could drive another wave of refugees from a conflict that has already forced 2 million from their homes. Reuters

Vigilante Groups Form in South Africa amid Looting and Violence

Senior officials in South Africa have appealed to ordinary citizens not to take the law into their own hands as vigilante groups form following days of unchecked looting and violent protests across a swath of the country. Thousands of soldiers have been deployed to help police on the streets, but law enforcement agencies still appear unable to stem ongoing attacks by crowds on warehouses, supermarkets, shopping malls, clinics and factories. … In many parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, the two provinces hit by the violence, vigilante groups and armed community patrols have formed as anxious residents seek to protect their homes and businesses. … The crisis was sparked last week when the former president Jacob Zuma was taken to prison to begin a 15-month sentence for contempt of court, after refusing to appear before a judicial inquiry investigating corruption under his nine-year rule, which ended in 2018. Zuma’s decision to hand himself in was seen as a victory for the rule of law but protests organised by his supporters quickly evolved into widespread violence and looting, with crowds breaking into shopping malls before turning on warehouses, service stations and distribution centres. The Guardian

Mswati Tests His Popularity After Deadly eSwatini Protests

Embattled Eswatini King Mswati faces a test of his popularity after calling his people to a meeting at the palace on Friday to address the lethal and destructive protests which have just rocked the country. Opposition forces are calling for a boycott of this so-called “Sibaya” with the king and are planning protests against it at the same time. Some have also raised concerns about the king calling such a large gathering when the country is supposed to be in the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. To further complicate the day, a delegation of regional ministers will be in Eswatini at the same time, to consult with various forces about the protests earlier this month. However, it is not yet clear if the ministers, representing the security organ troika of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), will meet the political opposition and civil society. Foreign ministers Naledi Pandor of South Africa, Lemogang Kwape of Botswana and Frederick Shava of Zimbabwe visited Eswatini for one day on 4 July and met only a government delegation. When the government’s opponents remonstrated with the ministers about this, they agreed to return to Eswatini to meet them. Daily Maverick

New Terrorism Laws in Senegal Could Mean Life in Prison for Sharing ‘Criminal’ Posts

Long celebrated as a beacon of democracy in West Africa, Senegal has passed new laws with sweeping definitions of terrorism, which opposition politicians and activists say could be exploited. The Senegalese parliament passed the two laws without proper debate on 25 June, opposition parties said. The opposition reportedly learnt about the laws as it was being passed and tried to stop it, coming to blows in Parliament and calling for protest. Now, opposition politicians are trying to dismantle the law. They have approached Senegal’s Constitutional Council to have the laws repealed. Opposition politicians fear the bill will be used to suppress protest as President Macky Sall prepares for a possible third term. Senegal’s Constitution only allows two presidential terms, but the opposition fears Sall will use a loophole to run again in 2024. Sall, however, has rubbished allegations that he plans to run again, arguing that the new laws are aimed at tackling a security threat in an increasingly restive region. The region has seen jihadist insurgent groups battling across the Sahel, creating cross-border instability. The new laws aim to update Senegal’s definitions of terrorism, maritime piracy and transnational organised crime. News24

Ex-DRC PM Matata Placed under House Arrest for Embezzlement

Former Prime Minister of Democratic Republic of Congo Augustin Matata Ponyo has been placed under house arrest by the country’s Constitutional Court pending an investigation into embezzlement charges, according to judicial sources and Matata’s lawyer. In May, prosecutors asked Parliament to lift the immunity granted to Matata in his new role as a senator so that he could face a probe for alleged corruption. At the time, the Senate voted against lifting immunity, saying that the Constitutional Court which made the request was not empowered to try a parliamentarian. For criminal proceedings in Democratic Republic of Congo, senators come under the jurisdiction of the Court of Cassation. But on July 5, six members of the Senate office agreed to a demand by the prosecutor of the Constitutional Court to remove Matata’s parliamentary immunity. … Matata was minister of finance and then prime minister in the government of ex-President Joseph Kabila from 2010 until 2016. In November, the IGF state spending watchdog reported that the equivalent of $205m had been plundered out of $285m disbursed for a pilot agro-industrial scheme in Bukangalonzo, 250km (155 miles) southeast of the capital. Al Jazeera

U.K. Fraud Unit Finds Bribe Network Behind World’s Cobalt Hub

U.K. prosecutors have told Swiss authorities they have proof of an alleged money-laundering ring spanning from Africa to Europe that paid almost $380 million in cash bribes to authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Companies repeatedly bribed officials to further their business interests in the mineral-rich nation, according to the Swiss court judgment that cited information from U.K. prosecutors. Congo is Africa’s biggest producer of copper and supplies about 70% of the world’s cobalt, a critical input for the batteries that power electric vehicles. The $379 million that was allegedly siphoned off in bribes over a five-year period is more than Congo’s total spending on health care last year. According to the World Bank, about one of every six people living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa is in Congo, a country the size of Western Europe with a population of more than 90 million. The evidence of alleged bribery was presented when an unidentified company tried to block the transfer of its banking records, which were requested in a U.K. investigation into allegedly corrupt mining deals in Congo and a related money-laundering network. The ruling on March 30 by Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court has since been posted on its website, with coded initials to shield the identities of individuals and entities mentioned. Bloomberg

Migrant Deaths Rise on Both Africa/Europe Routes

Migrant deaths on dangerous sea routes to Europe, in particular across the Mediterranean, soared in the first six months of the year. At least 1 146 people died attempting to reach Europe by boat from January to June according to the UN migration agency IOM (International Organisation for Migration). That is more than double the deaths recorded over the same period last year and highlights how perilous maritime migration routes between Africa and Europe are. In an appeal to countries to respect international human rights laws and obligations, IOM director general Antonio Vitorino called for “urgent and proactive steps” to reduce the loss of life. “Increasing search and rescue efforts, establishing predictable disembarkation mechanisms and access to safe and legal migration are key steps to achieving this,” he said. New data from the IOM Missing Migrants Project (MMP) highlighted the spike in deaths was coupled with insufficient search and rescue operations – in the Mediterranean as well as the Atlantic Route to the Canary Islands. defenceWeb

Under Investigation (South Africa): Twelve Masterminds Planned and Executed Insurrection on Social Media, Then Lost Control After Looting Spree

The first arson “protests” at the weekend, in which 35 trucks were torched on the N3, which links Gauteng to KwaZulu-Natal and is South Africa’s food and fuel route, started the darkest week of anarchy in the country’s recent history. Information has now emerged that this was planned by intelligence operatives and other cadres loyal to Jacob Zuma. The former president is jailed at the Estcourt Correctional Centre for contempt of court and his loyalists want him out.  “These are people with experience of running operations,” said Deputy State Security Minister Zizi Kodwa at a briefing on Wednesday. News24 reported that Zuma’s leading spymaster and the former ambassador to Japan, Thulani Dlomo, is one of 12 ringleaders being investigated by the police’s Crime Intelligence and by state intelligence as being the architects of a political campaign of which they have lost control. … The insurrection was organised on social media once the 12 masterminds had crafted the strategy of chaos, according to senior ANC and intelligence sources who were interviewed by Daily Maverick on condition of anonymity. … The common theory now is that the truck burnings were relatively easy to organise because of the long tail of renegade MK groups (organised in new movements) active in the sector. They have been campaigning against foreign truck drivers and are regarded as being behind arson attacks on truckers for at least the past three years. Daily Maverick



Photo: Adam Jones