Africa Media Review for July 2, 2021

COVID Spreading in Africa at Record Pace, Says WHO

The Delta variant of coronavirus is driving the pandemic forward in Africa at record speeds, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Thursday. Infection numbers have increased in Africa for six weeks running, rising by a quarter week-on-week to almost 202,000 in the week that ended Sunday, it said. The continent’s weekly record currently stands at 224,000 new cases. Deaths rose by 15 percent across 38 African countries to nearly 3,000 in the same period. “The speed and scale of Africa’s third wave is like nothing we’ve seen before,” Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said in a statement. … The head of the DRC’s fight against Covid warned meanwhile of “catastrophe” if the Delta variant keeps rapidly spreading in the country. “Our hospitals are overwhelmed, the morgues are overflowing, many politicians and university professors have been infected with the virus, and many have died,” Jean-Jacques Muyembe, head of the National Institute of Biomedical Research (INRB), said at an online press conference hosted by the WHO. African countries are suffering from a crippling shortage of Covid vaccines. AFP

Facing the Delta Variant Wave with Few Vaccine Doses, African Countries Suffer — and Bristle with Anger

The variant-driven coronavirus outbreak that public health officials across Africa had warned about for months is underway — and it’s happening without the urgently needed ramping up of the continent’s access to vaccines. The delta coronavirus variant is driving a sharp increase in infections across each of Africa’s main regions, with only a trickle of vaccination donations coming in from wealthy countries. Major moves to quicken commercial vaccine rollout across the continent have come too late to prevent calamities, officials said. “Anyone who cares about this pandemic in the true sense should be frustrated,” John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview. “As of one week ago, we had vaccinated 1.1 percent of our population of Africa. If you square that with Africa’s population of 1.2 billion, you see we still have a very long way to go to get to 60 percent if vaccines continue this way.” … On Thursday, the Africa CDC announced the first shipments of single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines from a commercial deal will be delivered in August, and the first shipments of vaccines from U.S. donations through Covax to 51 countries in Africa will begin next week. The Washington Post

Ethiopia Denies It’s Trying to ‘Suffocate’ Tigray Region

Ethiopia’s government on Friday rejected accusations that it’s trying to “suffocate the Tigray people” by denying them urgently needed food and other aid, even though transport and communications links remained severed to the region that faces a famine crisis. Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen spoke to reporters a day after a bridge that’s crucial for accessing much of the region of 6 million people was destroyed and the United Nations indicated that special forces from the neighboring Amhara region were to blame. … The U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Tigray on Friday, France’s U.N. ambassador – the council’s current president – said Thursday. Ethiopia’s government faces growing international pressure as it continues to cut of the region from the rest of the world. … Up to 900,000 people in Tigray are facing famine conditions in the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade, the United States has said. A new U.N. humanitarian update issued late Thursday said “the blackout of electricity, telecommunications, and internet throughout Tigray region will only exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation.” … “A cease-fire doesn’t mean cutting a region off power or destroying critical infrastructure,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted on Friday. “A credible cease-fire means doing everything possible so that aid reaches the millions of children, women and men who urgently need it.” AP

U.N. Security Council Likely to Meet Next Week on Ethiopia Dam

The United Nations Security Council will likely meet next week to discuss a dispute between Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt over a giant dam built by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile, French U.N. Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere said on Thursday. Arab states last month called on the 15-member council to meet to discuss the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and Ethiopia’s plans fill the dam for a second time this summer without an agreement with Sudan and Egypt. Ethiopia is not keen on Security Council involvement and instead asked the body to defer the issue to the African Union. Ethiopia previously rejected calls from Egypt and Sudan to involve mediators outside the African Union. Reuters

Pretoria Urges eSwatini to Exercise Total Restraint to Protect Protesters during the King Mswati Uprising

The South African government called on the Eswatini security forces to “exercise total restraint and protect the lives and property of the people” as opposition politicians reported that scores of protesters had been shot dead in a growing uprising against King Mswati’s autocratic rule. About 40 demonstrators have been killed and about 150 injured by security force gunfire over the last few days, according to dissident MP Mduduzi Simelane and the Swazi Solidarity Network (SSN), a coalition of opposition organisations. An unknown number of protesters are missing.  Pretoria urged Swazis to engage in political dialogue to resolve the growing crisis. The ruling ANC issued a stronger statement than the government, calling on Eswatini’s government to desist from “autocracy, strong-handed crisis management and brutal repression of legitimate civilian concerns.” The ANC also urged the regional intergovernmental body, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to intervene in the Eswatini crisis “before it escalates beyond control.” Daily Maverick

Sierra Leone Reimposes Curfew amid COVID-19 Third Wave

Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio has reimposed a nationwide curfew as part of new measures aimed at curbing rising Covid-19 cases. President Bio, in a televised address on State broadcaster SLBC on Monday, said the month-long curfew would run from 11pm to 5am. … The country is grappling with a third wave, which the government says has seen both infections and fatalities rise exponentially. Data from the National Covid-19 Emergency Response Center (NaCOVERC) show that Sierra Leone has recorded its highest numbers in June. President Bio said the new anti-virus measures were based on experts’ advice, following careful data analysis. He also noted the existence of the deadlier ‘Delta’ variant of the coronavirus, which NaCOVERC says is fueling the third wave. … Two weeks ago, the World Health Organization ranked Sierra Leone, its neighbour Liberia and the southern African nation of Namibia as countries with some of the highest case numbers. Nation

COVID: Liberia’s Hospitals Brace for Surge in Admissions

In the capital Monrovia, Redemption hospital is on the frontline as a new rise in coronavirus cases threatens to overwhelm Liberia’s health system. Used to providing less complex care to residents of New Kru Town, the facility has found itself admitting Covi-19 patients in recent weeks. ” It was almost like I was giving up… my breath because it started from home. When it first started, I was alone. Like I was lying down, I wanted to blow my nose and it turned out to a different thing,” said a recovering patient who did not give her name. Liberia has posted 3,794 infections and 123 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began. Authorities have administered at least 82,212 doses of COVID vaccines so far. Redemption hospital’s director says the facility is adjusting to provide care, but it still lacks the capacity to test for the virus. AfricaNews

Burkina Faso’s President Sacks Defense Minister

Burkina Faso’s President Roch Kabore has dismissed the country’s defense minister in the wake of widespread protests Saturday against insecurity. Cherif Sy had been defense minister since the country’s conflict with domestic terror groups started in 2015. His replacement is the president himself, along with a minister delegate, Colonel Major Aimé Simpore, who has been appointed to assist. At the beginning of June, Burkina Faso saw its worst terrorist attack on civilians since the conflict with armed groups linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State started. At least 138 people were killed in the village of Solhan. The attack triggered a wave of protests against insecurity that swept the country last weekend. Sy’s departure was one of the protesters’ major demands. Sy was sacked Wednesday, as was Security Minister Ousséni Compaoré, who was replaced with Maxim Kone, a foreign affairs deputy. VOA

Court Jails 10 for Child Trafficking in Ivory Coast Cocoa Sector

A court in Ivory Coast on Wednesday sentenced 10 people found guilty of child trafficking to 10 years in jail, part of an effort to clamp down on organised networks that smuggle children to work in cocoa plantations. Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, and the companies that buy its cocoa are facing international pressure to tackle child labour and put measures in place to guarantee sustainable farming. The group of suspects, which included transporters and smugglers, all came from Ivory Coast’s northern neighbour Burkina Faso, prosecutors said during the trial in Bouna, a town near the two countries’ border. They all pleaded not guilty. They were arrested in April while transporting about 40 minors between the ages of 10 and 17-years old. The children were being ferried via two main routes to work in plantations in the central and southern parts of Ivory Coast’s cocoa belt. Reuters

UN Expert Calls on Morocco to Stop Targeting Activists over Western Sahara

Morocco must stop targeting activists and journalists who stand up for human rights in the disputed region of Western Sahara, a UN-appointed independent expert said Thursday, triggering a strong denial from Rabat’s ambassador. Morocco laid claim to the former Spanish colony with rich phosphate resources and offshore fisheries after Spain withdrew in 1975, but the separatist Polisario Front denies this claim. “I urge the government of Morocco to cease targeting human rights defenders and journalists for their work, and to create an environment in which they can carry out such work without fear of retaliation,” Mary Lawlor said in a statement. … Morocco controls 80 percent of Western Sahara, and the rest is run by the Polisario Front. It has offered the vast territory autonomy but maintains it is part of the Moroccan kingdom. After 16 years of war, Rabat and the Polisario signed a ceasefire in 1991, but a UN-backed referendum on self-determination has been constantly postponed. The UN calls Western Sahara a “non-self-governing territory” whose people “have not yet attained a full measure of self-government.”

Tanzanian Opposition, Activists Demands Constitutional Changes

Tanzanian opposition leaders and rights activists held a forum Thursday urging the government to revise the constitution to allow more political space. The forum, called “Katiba Day,” which means constitution day, comes after President Samia Hassan asked Tanzanians to give her time to first fix the economy. The movement was fueled by President Samia Hassan’s remarks Monday, when she held her first press conference. Hassan urged Tanzanians to give her more time before she can allow the banned political rallies to resume and revive the stalled process of drafting a new constitution. … The late President John Magufuli halted the process of drafting a new constitution soon after taking office in 2015 and banned political rallies the following year. Opposition politicians say there’s no reason to give President Hassan time, saying that democracy cannot limit economic growth. Benson Singo is the deputy secretary of the Party for Democracy and Progress, better known as Chadema. “The constitution needs to be written not for the president’s wishes but for the wishes of Tanzanians,” he says, adding that his party will not agree to give the president additional time, because even Magufuli requested more time to build the country. “When we gave it to him, he dropped the economy,” he said. VOA

Nigerian Lawmakers Pass Historic Oil Overhaul Bill

Both chambers of Nigeria’s parliament have passed a bill that overhauls nearly every aspect of the country’s oil and gas production, putting a project that has been in the works for two decades one step closer to presidential sign-off. Legislators have been hashing out details of the bill since President Muhammadu Buhari presented an initial version in September last year, but an overhaul has been in the works for some 20 years. The chambers had been expected to vote clause by clause on the more than 400-page long report, but instead quickly approved the full package. Each chamber made changes before approving the package, and the senate lowered the share of money for oil-producing communities. The chambers will need to meet again to work out the details, but members were optimistic that they would come to an agreement next week, after which it could go for presidential sign-off. Reuters

African Leaders Gather to Pay Respects to Kenneth Kaunda

African leaders have gathered with ordinary Zambians to attend a memorial service Friday for Kenneth Kaunda, the nation’s founding president and supporter of African nationalism. The presidents of South Africa and Zimbabwe flew into Lusaka, the capital, to honor Kaunda, who died last month at 97. Kaunda is remembered for leading Zambia to independence from British colonial rule in 1964 and backing nationalist movements that fought to bring majority rule to Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Zambian President Edgar Lungu arrived at the Lusaka stadium for the memorial service. Since Kaunda’s death on June 17, Zambia’s military has flown his body to the country’s 10 provinces so that people from all areas of the country could pay their respects. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday signed the official condolence book for Kaunda. AP