Africa Media Review for July 2, 2020

Ethiopia Protests Spark Internet Shutdown and Fears of High Death Toll after Popular Singer Killed
A large death toll was feared as protests rocking Ethiopia’s largest ethnic region continued Wednesday following the slaying of a popular singer, but details were scarce because of an Internet shutdown that made communication difficult. A police chief from the Oromia region, where most of the unrest took place, told Agence France-Presse that 81 people were killed in the past two days, including protesters and security forces. In a speech, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said only that “several” died. Three explosions were also reported Tuesday in the capital, Addis Ababa, with unspecified injuries and deaths. … The demonstrations in Oromia as well as the capital were the latest indication of seething ethnic grievances that have repeatedly threatened to derail Ethiopia’s transition to multiparty democracy. The government shut down the country’s Internet on Tuesday – a common tactic during unrest – and has not yet restored the service. The Washington Post

Mali Opposition Seeks to Curb President’s Authority in Reform Plan
Opponents of Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Wednesday sought to end a political crisis by proposing reforms to neuter his authority and hand executive power to a prime minister, although they abandoned a demand for his resignation. Mali has been in political turmoil since a disputed legislative election in March. The lead-up to the poll was marred by allegations of vote buying and intimidation and the kidnapping of opposition leader Soumaila Cisse. Thousands of people took to the streets of the capital Bamako twice in June to demand the immediate resignation of Keita saying he had been unable to resolve Mali’s numerous crises, while corruption and economic hardship have flourished. Choguel Kokala Maiga, a leader of the M5-RFP opposition coalition, on Tuesday presented a nine-point proposal that included the appointment of a prime minister by the opposition. Reuters

Burkina Faso Probes Bullet-Ridden Bodies Discovered after Army Operation
Burkina Faso’s defence ministry said on Wednesday it has launched an investigation following the discovery of seven bullet-ridden corpses in the outskirts of a town in the east where the army had carried out an operation. Security forces in Burkina Faso and neighbouring Sahel nations are on the offensive against jihadi militants linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State, who have carried out attacks and stoked inter-communal conflicts. Rights groups have warned abuses are rampant in the region as national armies track suspected militants. “Following a military operation carried out on June 29 in the locality of Boumoana, near Tanwalbougou, seven bodies of individuals who were shot dead were reportedly discovered by the residents in the outskirts of the town,” the ministry said. It added that those responsible would be held accountable. Reuters

Malawi’s New Leader Targets Graft In State Bodies
Malawi’s newly elected President Lazarus Chakwera has dissolved the boards of most of the country’s 100 parastatals to tackle corruption. Acting just days after his election Sunday, he also suspended government contract awards to carry out an audit and verify the credibility of the process. Chakwera only took office in the southern African country after a re-run of last year’s contested presidential elections. He won with almost 59 percent of the vote, beating his predecessor Peter Mutharika. Malawi’s top court had annulled the results of the May 2019 election because of fraud claims and ordered fresh polls. During his first week in office, Chakwera dissolved the board of directors at 60 of the country’s 100 parastatals — state-run enterprises. The president said Tuesday he had received reports on the operations of state institutions that would “inform steps” to address the “anomalies and malpractices within them.” AFP

‘I Saw So Much Killing’: The Mental Health Crisis of South Sudan Refugees
As darkness fell, Rebecca closed the door to her makeshift home. The day was over. The 29-year-old, who had been uprooted from South Sudan to a north Ugandan refugee settlement, sat on the bed where her four children slept and, at around 10pm, tried to take her own life. “By then I didn’t care about anything – not myself, not even my kids. The pain was too extreme,” she says. Her children awoke and their cries brought help from neighbours. But her experiences fit into a wider trend of a mental health crisis across these vast displacement sites, where people from South Sudan who fled the trauma and violence of civil war now live in a drawn-out exile of frustration and diminishing support. The Guardian

Congo Vows Zero Tolerance over Child Soldiers after U.S. Anti-Trafficking Nod
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) must do more to end the use of child soldiers by the military and armed groups, its human rights minister said after the U.S. government commended the country’s progress on fighting human trafficking. The central African nation was upgraded last week in the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, moving from the lowest ranking – Tier 3 – to Tier 2 Watch List and avoiding the risk of sanctions from Washington. The report said Congo had increased trafficking probes and prosecutions, and undertaken measures to prevent the use of child soldiers – by removing them from armed groups and securing pledges from militia commanders to renounce child recruitment. Yet the United States said Congo should cease the unlawful use of children by its army and stop collaborating with militias that recruit and deploy child soldiers. Reuters

Sanctioned Billionaire Finds a Haven in Tiny Congolese Bank
In January 2018, a few weeks after the U.S. imposed sanctions on [Israeli mining magnate Dan] Gertler, a family friend named Shlomo Abihassira had walked into Afriland’s Kinshasa headquarters and opened an account for a newly registered company with the unpronounceable name RDHAGD Sarlu, bank documents show. … Whatever conclusions are ultimately drawn about Gertler’s relationship with Afriland, the tangle of undisclosed, informal linkages offers a view into what might be described as the last-mile problem for financial sanctions regimes. Regulators in Washington can impose weighty know-your-customer obligations on banks such as Citigroup. But on the fringes of banking, in corners of the world where corruption runs rampant, rules based on legal concepts like beneficial ownership or majority control can seem ineffectual in the face of personal loyalties, unwritten obligations and impenetrable corporate records. In the end, it’s a system that relies on whistle-blowers to expose the truth. Bloomberg

France Freezes Role in NATO Naval Force Amid Turkey Tensions
France announced Wednesday that it is suspending its involvement in a NATO naval operation in the Mediterranean Sea after a standoff with a Turkish warship, amid growing tensions within the military alliance over the conflict in Libya. France’s Defense Ministry said that the government sent a letter Tuesday to NATO saying it is halting its participation in Sea Guardian “temporarily.” It came after NATO investigators submitted their report into the June 10 incident. France has accused Turkey of repeated violations of the U.N. arms embargo on Libya and branded the Turkish government as an obstacle to securing a ceasefire in the North African nation, which Turkey firmly denies. France is also calling for a crisis mechanism to prevent a repeat of the incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean. AP

UNESCO Urges Caution over Fraudulent African Artefacts, Sold in Its Name
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is warning art lovers who may be approached to buy African cultural treasures, apparently endorsed by the agency, to exercise the “utmost vigilance” after receiving numerous reports of the trafficking ruse. The organization said that false documents claimed that UNESCO had authorized the transactions, and certified the monetary value of collections, which is not true. It said that most victims of the fraud live in France and many have links to French-speaking African countries. More than one million euros’ worth of goods have been pilfered to date, UNESCO said, while Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, described cultural theft as a “lucrative global scourge” that was “in most cases connected to other forms of organized crime, including terrorism.” UN News

Botswana: Hundreds of Elephants Dead in Mysterious Mass Die-Off
More than 350 elephants have died in northern Botswana in a mysterious mass die-off described by scientists as a “conservation disaster.” A cluster of elephant deaths was first reported in the Okavango Delta in early May, with 169 individuals dead by the end of the month. By mid June, the number had more than doubled, with 70% of the deaths clustered around waterholes, according to local sources who wish to remain anonymous. “This is a mass die-off on a level that hasn’t been seen in a very, very long time. Outside of drought, I don’t know of a die-off that has been this significant,” said Dr Niall McCann, the director of conservation at UK-based charity National Park Rescue. The Botswana government has not yet tested samples so there is no information on what is causing the deaths or whether they could pose a risk to human health. The two main possibilities are poisoning or an unknown pathogen. Anthrax – initially considered the most likely cause – has been ruled out. The Guardian

Sudan Begins Cash Transfers to Support Vulnerable Families
The Sudanese government announced on Wednesday the experimental launch of cash transfers programme to protect vulnerable families in the country ahead of economic reforms. In a joint statement, the ministry of finance, and the ministry of labour and social development said they transferred in the first payment (3000 Sudanese pounds) to support poor families in five suburbs, in Khartoum state. This pilot project is funded by the transitional government and international donors with technical support from the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Bank. Sudan Tribune

‘Don’t Leave Me’ Challenge Makes Nigerian Comedy Go Viral
Josh Alfred, a Nigerian comedian popularly known as Josh2funny, is on cloud nine. Videos answering his “don’t leave me” challenge, inspired by a breakthrough skit where he punned around with the word “leaf”, have electrified social media and gone viral around the world. “Comedy is my life, it’s what I love,” the 29-year-old said. “Seeing my videos be shared and people all over the world doing their versions, it’s incredible.” Alfred is one of a flourishing generation of comedians in Africa’s most populous country that have gained widespread popularity, largely through skits posted online. … Easily accessible online comedy is a precious reprieve for millions of people, particularly during a pandemic, Alfred said. “It is such a hard time around the world that I think comedy has benefited. People need to laugh and forget what is going on.” The Guardian