Africa Media Review for July 20, 2020

Mali Opposition to Protest after Rejecting Mediators’ Plan
Mali’s political opposition has called for more protests in the streets after rejecting a plan put forth Sunday by regional mediators for the creation of a unity government that stopped short of demanding the president’s resignation. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who still has three years left in his final term, has faced demonstrations by tens of thousands seeking his resignation since early June in this volatile West African nation. His popularity has fallen amid allegations of corruption and as Mali’s Islamic extremist crisis has deepened under his leadership. Calls for his resignation intensified after recent protests met a violent response from security forces, leaving at least 12 people dead. Protests were put on hold during talks with mediators from the 15-nation regional bloc known as ECOWAS but the opposition alliance known as the June 5 Movement called for protests to resume Monday after it rejected the mediators’ proposals. AP

UN Urges Inquiry into Violence by Anti-Terrorism Force against Malian Protestors
The U.N. Human Rights Office is calling for an investigation into the excessive use of violence by an elite counter-terrorism force in Mali against anti-government protestors last weekend, causing many civilian casualties. MINUSMA, the U.N. Peacekeeping Mission in Mali, has confirmed at least 14 protestors were killed and another 154 injured during a violent clampdown by FORSAT, a special anti-terrorism unit operating in Mali. Rights monitors believe this elite special force may have violated its anti-terrorism mandate by suppressing civilians protesting endemic government corruption, alleged electoral fraud and other grievances.  Witnesses report the special forces fired lethal ammunition during clashes with demonstrators that erupted July 10. During the protests, at least 200 people were arrested. All have been released pending trial. VOA

‘Bandits’ Kill 23 Nigerian Soldiers in Northwest: Report
At least 23 Nigerian troops were killed when they were ambushed by a gang of so-called “bandits” in a remote village in the northwest of the country, security sources said on Sunday. The gang opened fire on the soldiers as they walked through a forested part of the Jibia district in Katsina State, the sources told AFP news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The bodies of 23 soldiers have been accounted for while some are still missing,” a military source said.  In the past, the armed gangs, known locally as “bandits,” have been involved in cattle rustling and kidnappings, but a number of experts have recently warned that they could be forging ties with hardline groups in the region. … Also on Saturday in the same area, five children were killed and six others injured when a bomb accidentally exploded, a spokesman for Katsina State police said. AFP

Fighting between Armed Groups in Eastern Congo Kills Dozens
Days of fighting between armed groups in villages in Congo’s South Kivu province killed at least 43 people, many of them women and children, residents said Saturday. At least 40 others disappeared after members of the armed group known as Ngumino attacked the village of Kipupu on Thursday while they were being pursued by the Mai Mai rebel group, according to the coordinator of South Kivu civil society groups, Andre Byadunia. “The clashes between these armed groups began since Thursday,” he said. Houses were set on fire in other villages along the way. A local army spokesman, Capt. Dieudonne Kasereka, confirmed attacks in several villages that began Thursday and continued into Friday. The army is taking all steps to protect civilians, he said. Many armed groups are present in Congo’s eastern provinces, fighting for power over the mineral-rich region. AP

Congo Replaces Sanctioned Army Chief with Deputy Also Sanctioned for Rights Abuses
Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi has appointed a new head of the army to replace General John Numbi, state television said on Friday. Both Numbi and his designated successor, General Gabriel Amisi Kumba, are under U.S. and European Union sanctions for repression and abuses directed against opposition figures and protesters under former president Joseph Kabila. Tshisekedi’s office did not give a reason for the reshuffle. The last month has seen rising tensions in the ruling coalition between supporters of Tshisekedi and those of Kabila, who maintains extensive power through his parliamentary majority, control of most cabinet ministries, and influence in the army. Until now, Kumba was Numbi’s number two and head of territorial operations of the Congolese Armed Forces. Both were promoted to their posts by Kabila in mid-2018. Reuters

Four Killed in Sierra Leone Protest after Police and Army Open Fire
At least four people including a teenager were killed and 10 wounded when police and soldiers opened fire on protesters in northern Sierra Leone, a health official and witnesses said on Sunday. Hundreds gathered on a rainy day in the city of Makeni on Saturday to try to block the movement of a power generator to another town, fearing it would jeopardise the area’s electricity supply, five witnesses said. When protesters began throwing rocks, the authorities opened fire, said Matthew Kanu, a department head at the University of Makeni. “They began by firing into the sky and people started running away … but after that, when people kept throwing stones, they started shooting into the people,” he said.  Reuters

Libya: GNA Fighters Head for Front as Battle for Sirte Looms
Libya’s internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) on Saturday moved fighters closer to Sirte, a gateway to Libya’s main oil terminals that the GNA says it plans to recapture from the eastern-based self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA). Witnesses and GNA military commanders said a column of about 200 vehicles moved eastwards from Misrata along the Mediterranean coast towards the town of Tawergha, about a third of the way to Sirte. The GNA recently recaptured most of the territory held by the LNA in northwest Libya, ending eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s 14-month campaign to take the capital, Tripoli, before the new front line solidified between Misrata and Sirte. … Meanwhile, leaders of France, Italy and Germany said in a joint statement on Saturday they were “ready to consider” sanctions on foreign powers violating an arms embargo in Libya. Al Jazeera

Pentagon Report: Turkey Sent up to 3,800 Fighters to Libya
Turkey sent between 3,500 and 3,800 paid Syrian fighters to Libya over the first three months of the year, the U.S. Defense Department’s inspector general concluded in a new report, its first to detail Turkish deployments that helped change the course of Libya’s war. The report comes as the conflict in oil-rich Libya has escalated into a regional proxy war fueled by foreign powers pouring weapons and mercenaries into the country. The U.S. military has grown increasingly concerned about Russia’s growing influence in Libya, where hundreds of Russian mercenaries backed a campaign to capture the capital, Tripoli, in the country’s west. The quarterly report on counterterrorism operations in Africa by the Pentagon’s internal watchdog, published Thursday, says Turkey paid and offered citizenship to thousands of mercenaries fighting alongside Tripoli-based militias against troops of east Libya-based commander Khalifa Hifter. AP

Tanzanian Opposition Leader Urges United Front Ahead of Vote
One opposition leader was shot 16 times and fled the country. Another had his leg broken by unknown assailants and his newspaper was shut down. A third, the country’s most prominent, has been banned for a year from making so-called “seditious statements,” or what others might call dissent. But he’s speaking out anyway. With Tanzania facing an October election that contentious President John Magufuli hopes to win, opposition leader Zitto Kabwe tells The Associated Press he’s trying to unite the opposition behind one candidate for the best shot at an upset. And his party just attracted a potential candidate, former foreign minister Bernard Membe, who left the ruling party that has been in power since independence. Magufuli’s administration, however, has set up one obstacle after another. … The president has refused to shut down the economy or bar any kind of gatherings – except the political ones. AP

Sudan’s Army Launches Legal Action against ‘Insulting’ Activists
Sudan’s army has started legal action against activists and journalists who have “insulted” the military, it said in a statement on Saturday. The army ruled Sudan for a few months after removing veteran leader Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, before signing a fragile three-year power-sharing deal with civilians under pressure from protesters.mIn a statement on Saturday, the army said that legal action would be taken against activists, journalists and others both inside and outside Sudan. No further information was given, but the army said it would release more details in due course. … Activists and rights groups accuse the army of blocking investigations into the killing of scores of protesters on June 3 last year when security forces broke up a sit-in outside the defence ministry. Witnesses say that a powerful paramilitary force played a leading role in the raid. Reuters

COVID-19: Experts Tackle the Mystery of Africa’s Low Death Rate
As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across South Africa at a frightening rate, authorities have been preparing an array of responses: field hospitals, oxygen supplies, triage centres and expanded morgues and cemeteries. But while many hospitals are crowded with patients, and while the country suffers the world’s fourth-highest number of new daily cases, the mortuaries and grave sites appear to be much slower to fill. It’s one of the enduring mysteries here: why do South Africa, and most other African countries, seem to have a relatively low death rate from the virus? And can this low rate be sustained? … [T]he African continent today has a case fatality rate of just 2.2 per cent – far less than the global rate of 4.4 per cent. … While the low fatality rate in Africa is impressive, scientists are cautioning that the rate might be undercounted – and could still increase significantly. This is partly because the pandemic was slow to arrive in Africa, but also because of the low levels of virus testing and death reporting in most African countries. The Globe and Mail

Mahmoud Dicko: The ‘People’s Imam’ Challenging Mali’s Keita
Last month, following disputed results in March’s legislative elections, opposition politicians and civil society formed the June 5 Movement, calling for anti-government protests and demanding [President Ibrahim Boubacar] Keita quit. Leading the calls is not a seasoned politician but an imam – Mahmoud Dicko. Dubbed “the people’s imam,” Dicko last year mobilised tens of thousands to force the departure of Mali’s prime minister. Now he is considered the de facto head of Mali’s opposition and has been sounded out by ECOWAS, the regional political and economic bloc of 15 West African states. … Dicko was born to a family of Muslim scholars in Timbuktu in 1954. He went on to study in Mauritania and then at the University of Medina in Saudi Arabia, an influential school for the global Salafi movement. Even so, Dicko’s brand of Islam defies easy categorisation. Al Jazeera

Nigerian State Offers Cows for Guns to Halt Attacks
Authorities in Nigeria’s northwestern Zamfara state have offered two cows for each gun surrendered to halt bloody attacks by criminal gangs, including cattle rustlers. Remote communities across the region have for years been hit hard by deadly raids from armed groups of motorcycle-riding cattle rustlers and kidnappers. Military operations have failed to end the killings and local officials have tried repeated negotiations to broker peace. Zamfara governor Bello Matawalle said on Thursday that under the new initiative “for every rifle submitted by a repentant bandit, there would be compensation of two cows.” Matawalle said the offer of livestock was meant to convince the gangs, known as “bandits,” to disarm without cash payments that could be used to buy more arms. AFP

Kamaru Usman: Never-Ending Nigerian Nightmare
In the early hours of Sunday, Kamaru Usman faced off against Jorge Masvidal in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The Nigerian-born American mixed martial artist was the reigning world champion – the first ever from Africa – and most viewers tuning in from different time zones expected him to retain the welterweight championship belt. These were unusual circumstances for a prize fight. Usman’s opponent was supposed to be the Brazilian Gilbert Burns, but he tested positive for Covid-19. With just six days to go before the fight, the American Masvidal was called up. Masvidal had to lose nine kilogrammes to make the weight, and Usman had to change his game plan at the 11th hour. Mail & Guardian

Virtual Tourism in Africa Takes off Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic
The sun rises slowly above the horizon of the African savanna. Against its glowing light can be seen the silhouettes of an elephant family rambling through the grassland on their quest for the nearest waterhole. Impalas and zebras make their way through the wilderness, the birds chirp and it can be sensed that the day is going to be a hot one. This scene in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in Mpumalanga, one of the best-known safari regions of South Africa, seems very real. But, in fact, the tourists who are enjoying it are not sitting in jeeps, but at home watching it on their smartphones and tablets. The safari itself is really taking place, however, and, as in real life, every trip is different, adding to the pleasure of such virtual experiences. Since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, the tourism industry has collapsed across all the countries in Africa. … But several African tourism associations have come up with the idea of supplying avid travelers with digital impressions of the continent during the pandemic. DW

Nelson Mandela Day: UN Chief Calls for Global ‘New Social Contract’
The U.N. secretary-general called Saturday for a new social contract and global deal to create equal opportunities for all in an address on the birthday of late anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela. “A new social contract within societies will enable young people to live in dignity, will ensure women have the same prospects and opportunities as men, and will protect the sick, the vulnerable and minorities of all kinds,” Antonio Guterres said in a keynote speech to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela Foundation on what would have been the late president’s 102nd birthday. … Mandela was South Africa’s first democratically elected president and its first Black head of state. Madiba, as he is affectionately known, was president from 1994-1999. He died in 2013 age 95. In December 2009, the U.N. General Assembly declared his birthday “Nelson Mandela International Day” to recognize his role in promoting democracy and peace. VOA