Africa Media Review for July 20, 2021

Hotel Rwanda Activist’s Daughter Placed under Pegasus Surveillance
The American daughter of Paul Rusesabagina, the imprisoned Rwandan activist who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda, has been the victim of a near-constant surveillance campaign, according to a forensic analysis of her mobile phone that found evidence of multiple attacks using NSO Group spyware. Carine Kanimba, a US-Belgian dual citizen, has been leading her family’s effort to free her father from prison following Rusesabagina’s abduction and forced return to Kigali last year by the government of the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame. Amnesty International’s forensic analysis found that Kanimba’s phone had been infiltrated since at least January this year. It strongly suggests that the Kagame government – which has long been suspected of being a client of the Israeli surveillance firm NSO – has been able to monitor the 28-year-old’s private calls and discussions with US, European and British government officials. … Rwanda has long been suspected of being an end user of NSO malware, with a history of targeting dissidents at home and abroad. In 2019, at least six dissidents connected to Rwanda were warned by WhatsApp that they had been targeted by spyware made by the NSO in an attack that affected hundreds of users around the world over a two-week period from April to May that year. The Guardian

Moroccan Journalist Convicted of Spying, Sex Assault
Radi, an investigative journalist jailed since his arrest in July 2020, has denied any wrongdoing. Rights groups say the charges against Radi were politically motivated, and his case has raised concerns about media freedoms in Morocco. Radi was the subject of an Amnesty International report in June 2020 that said Moroccan authorities had unlawfully spied on the journalist through his phone by using sophisticated surveillance software. The Moroccan government disputed the claim. Radi was among 189 journalists around the world identified as being on a list of allegedly targeted clients of Israeli-based NSO Group, a hacker-for-hire using military-grade malware for potential spying on journalists, human rights activists and political dissidents, a global media consortium reported this week. … U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said that media freedom “is foundational to prosperous and secure societies and governments must ensure that journalists can safely perform their essential roles without fear of unjust tension, violence or threats.” The case of Raissouni and others, including Radi, were being watched, Price said, and “we have raised these concerns with the Moroccan government and we will continue to do so.” AP

Outcry After Nigerian TV Stations Told to Curb Reporting of Security Issues
Nigeria’s broadcasting regulator has told TV stations to limit their reporting of rising insecurity in the country and withhold details of incidents and victims, in a move widely criticised by the country’s media and civil society groups. In a letter sent to the country’s broadcasters, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) said TV stations should refrain from “giving details of either the security issues or victims of these security challenges,” and they should “collaborate with the government in dealing with the security challenges” by toning down reporting and commentary. The letter, which was issued earlier this month but came to light in recent days, comes amid profound frustration around Nigeria at the scale of rising insecurity and fears that limited press freedoms are being eroded by the government. … Fisayo Soyombo, the editor of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism in Nigeria, said the letter showed the government’s “disdain for press freedom.” “It is not just undemocratic but utterly preposterous,” he said, with the government “unable to accommodate any criticism.” “A responsible government would be busy strategising against insurgents and bandits but ours wants the easy way out, which is to club the media into silence.” The Guardian

‘Bandits’ Shoot Down Nigeria Fighter Jet; Pilot Survives
Intense gunfire from bandits caused a Nigerian fighter jet to crash in northwestern Zamfara state, but the pilot survived by ejecting from the aircraft. Nigeria’s air force said on Monday the crash occurred on Sunday as the Alpha jet, a light attack aircraft, was returning to base from a mission on the Zamfara-Kaduna border. … A video from the armed group Boko Haram taking responsibility for the attack circulated online, but it turned out to be fake as it was recorded in April. Boko Haram and its breakaway faction, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), have been carrying out attacks in northwestern Nigeria for years. But there are also other criminal groups on the move in the area, described by the government as “bandits” who specialise in extorting ransom through the mass abduction of schoolchildren. … The government is increasingly turning to the air force to counter banditry. The air force said over the past two weeks, flights daily and nightly over Zamfara, Kaduna and Katsina states had “neutralised” hundreds of bandits. It is the first time that armed groups active in the region have shot down a military jet. Al Jazeera

Ugandan Activists Describe Months of Physical Abuse in Prison
Opposition activists who spent months behind bars in Uganda have described systematic physical abuse, denial of basic legal rights and appalling conditions as they waited for trial on charges they claim were fabricated. The experiences of the activists, revealed to the Guardian after their release last month, will increase pressure on Uganda, a key western ally in east Africa, over human rights failings that have grown significantly worse since the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, started to face a significant political challenge in recent years. Since campaigning opened last year for elections held in January, hundreds – possibly thousands – of supporters of the opposition politician, Robert Kyagulanyi, have been arrested and illegally detained for months in the worst wave of repression for decades. Others, snatched off the streets by security services in a series of abductions, have disappeared into secret jails. More than 50 people were killed during protests in November. Most were shot by security forces. … Though many were released or bailed, 49 detainees, including many of Kyagulanyi’s close aides, were subsequently diverted from civilian courts to a military barracks before being charged with the serious crime of possessing four rounds of live ammunition. The Guardian

Knife Attack against Mali Interim President Assimi Goita: Report
Mali’s interim President Assimi Goita has been attacked by two armed men, including one who wielded a knife, according to AFP news agency. The attack on Tuesday took place during prayers in the Great Mosque in the capital, Bamako, amid festivities for the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha. Goita has since been taken from the scene, according to an AFP journalist who witnessed the attack. It was not immediately clear whether he had been wounded. Religious Affairs Minister Mamadou Kone told AFP that a man had “tried to kill the president with a knife” but was apprehended. Latus Toure, the director of the Great Mosque, said an attacker had lunged for the president but wounded someone else. The president was sworn into office last month despite facing a diplomatic backlash over his second power grab in nine months. Al Jazeera

Sao Tome Presidential Race Narrows to Two
The Presidential race in Sao Tome and Principe will head into a run-off after the two main contenders failed to garner enough votes. Carlos Vila Nova and Guilherme Posser da Costa will contest in the Sao Tome and Principe run-off of the presidential polls in August 8, the country’s National Electoral Commission (CEN) announced Monday. Nova, who was supported by the main opposition party, ADI (Independent Democratic Action) and da Costa by the ruling MLSTP/ PSD (Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Príncipe – Social Democratic Party) were among the 19 candidates for the presidential polls Sunday. One of them will be the country’s fifth president. Incumbent Evaristo Carvalho,80, opted out running for the second term in office. … The Sunday elections were the seventh poll since the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975. According to CEN, 123, 302 voters were registered to cast their ballots in 262 polling stations across the Portuguese-speaking archipelago of 200,000 inhabitants. Nation

Rwanda Records over 4,000 COVID Cases in Two-Day Mass Testing
Rwanda rolled out a two-day mass testing for Covid-19 at the weekend that saw 124,488 people tested in the first two days of Kigali’s total lockdown. Following the two-day mass testing, some 4,764 people were found to have Covid-19 and were put on medication and under home care, according to the Ministry of Health. “Mass testing has been successful and the participation was high. We will use the results of this assessment to make decisions,” Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, Director General of Rwanda Biomedical Center, said on Sunday, the last day of mass testing. The mass testing has taken active cases from 14,716 to 16,632 in two days. It also reduced the positivity rate from 11 percent to 3.6 percent. The national toll rose to 57,332 cases as of Sunday, July 18, with 60 percent of the infections being identified as the Delta variant. Some 626 people have died from the virus since the pandemic hit in March last year. The EastAfrican

As COVID-19 Spreads, Zimbabweans Rush to Get a Jab
Simanga Musarurwa, a 57-year old mother of six, was reluctant about getting a COVID-19 vaccine. But then, tragedy struck nearby. “My neighbour and some people I know from my neighbourhood got infected and died of COVID-19,” said Musarurwa, sitting on a concrete slab outside Warren Park Polyclinic, a facility located west of Harare. She was among a crowd of some 40 people who had gathered at the facility’s gate waiting to be allowed in and receive a shot. “I want to protect myself from COVID-19,” says Chipo Chiwiza, 35, who was on her third visit to the clinic, one of the many vaccination centres around the Zimbabwean capital. Now, more and more Zimbabweans want to be vaccinated – but this was not always the case. … But accessibility and availability of vaccines would be deciding factors of the vaccination drive’s success going forward, health experts say. … Between May and June, Zimbabwe could not adequately supply vaccinations as demand surged alongside the emergence of a rapidly spreading third wave of infections driven by two highly contagious variants of the coronavirus: the Beta variant first detected in South Africa and the Delta variant first identified in India. Al Jazeera

Zimbabwe Goes After NGOs Ahead of the 2023 Elections
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is tightening the noose on non-governmental organisations it accuses of pursuing a regime change agenda ahead of crucial elections in 2023. … President Mnangagwa faces a tough re-election campaign after struggling to fulfil promises to engineer a swift economic revival after years of a downward spiral during Mugabe’s tenure. In a recent Afrobarometer survey, “almost three-quarters of 72 percent of Zimbabweans described the country’s economic condition as fairly bad or very bad.” “Two thirds, 67 percent, of Zimbabweans say the country is going in the wrong direction.” Political scientists say, President Mnangagwa, who enjoys strong backing from the military, will do everything possible to stay in power and this could include going after NGOs perceived to be critical of his administration. … Civil society organisations say government officials have been summoning them to their offices demanding information about their operations amid threats to deregister those accused of supporting the opposition. … Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC), a grouping of over 40 civil society organisations in the southern African country, said the threats by government officials were “part of a broader campaign by the state to close the civic and democratic space ahead of the 2023 elections.” The EastAfrican

How Cairo Cracked Down on One of Egypt’s Leading Businessmen: Inside the Government and Military’s Squeeze on Safwan Thabet
Safwan Thabet has long enjoyed a reputation as one of Egypt’s most successful businessmen, nurturing his small family company into the country’s pre-eminent dairy producer despite the Arab state being rocked by social and political unrest over the past decade. But now a huge cloud of uncertainty hangs over Juhayna Food Industries as the 75-year-old who founded and chaired the group languishes in Cairo’s notorious Tora prison after being arrested in December over accusations of financing and being a member of a terrorist organisation. … For analysts, the saga epitomises the unpredictability that the private sector faces in Egypt, where President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime has used the accusation of terrorism to target activists, academics, journalists and business people since ousting the Muslim Brotherhood in a 2013 coup. At the same time, Sisi, a former army chief, has expanded the military’s footprint across the economy, cowing the private sector as companies find themselves having to contend with the state’s most powerful institution. FT

Ethiopia’s Tigray Forces Enter Neighbouring Afar Region, Afar Says
Forces from Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region have mounted attacks in neighbouring Afar region, a spokesman for Afar said on Monday, marking an expansion of an eight-month-old conflict into a previously untouched area. Tigrayan fighters crossed into Afar on Saturday and Afar forces and allied militias were still fighting them on Monday, Afar spokesman Ahmed Koloyta said. “Now (Ethiopian military forces) are on their way and we will work with them to eliminate (the Tigrayan forces),” he said. Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigrayan forces, confirmed they had been fighting over the weekend in Afar. … Ethiopia has a federal system with 10 regions and in the past week the conflict in Tigray has drawn in regional forces around the country as they deploy to support the federal military. … Afar is strategically important because the road and railway linking the capital Addis Ababa to the sea port of Djibouti run through it. Djibouti is landlocked Ethiopia’s main access to the sea. … The United Nations’ World Food Programme on Monday said its convoy of nine trucks were attacked on Sunday morning while moving aid into Tigray. Reuters

Deadly Darfur Attacks Leave Eight Dead, 12 Injured
At least five people have died, 10 others injured, and a large number of civilians have fled their homes, after and artillery attack on Sortony camp in Kabkabiya locality in North Darfur on Saturday. Three people died and two others were wounded in two separate incidents in Gereida locality in South Darfur on Thursday and Friday. According to statements by the Coordination of Displaced Persons and Refugees in North Darfur, Sortony camp for the displaced was subjected to a sustained attack which was combined with artillery shelling on Saturday morning that lasted for several hours. The coordination told Radio Dabanga that many homes were burned in the bombing. She indicated that there was no telephone network in the camp to count the casualties and losses. For its part, announced that five people were killed, 10 others were injured, and a number of camp houses were burned as a result of the attack. The coordination demanded the judicial and humanitarian authorities to immediately investigate the attack. Regular and peace-signed forces during the era of the former regime were accused of perpetrating the attack. Radio Dabanga

CAR: Russian Mercenaries Assert Authority over Bria, Say UN Forces Not in Charge
The leader of the Russian mercenaries of the Wagner Security Group in Bria, Central African Republic, has warned the youths of the locality to take note that the Russians are in control of the area and not the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). The Wagner leader, known as Alex, in a declaration on Saturday, July 17, 2021 warned that any youth or anybody else who tries to go near the mining zones occupied by the Russians in Bria would be shot at point blank range. To prove their supremacy in the area, the Russian mercenaries on Saturday forced MINUSCA forces in the area to release a captain of the Central African Republic national army (FACA) who had taken refuge in the UN camp to the Russians. “We are the ones who can guarantee the security of the people here and not the UN Blue Helmets,” Alex declared during a hastily-arranged meeting with the youths of Bria, threatening that all hell would break loose if anybody dared to go near the Russian mining sites in the town. … In finally handing over the FACA captain whose name remains a secret, the MINUSCA officials warned the Russians that they would be closely following the fate of the captain and cautioned against any maltreatment of the Central African Republic military official. HumAngle

South African Court Postpones Zuma’s Corruption Trial to August
The long-running corruption trial of former South African President Jacob Zuma, who is currently serving a 15-month prison term related to a separate charge, has again been postponed. Judge Piet Koen said on Tuesday, a day after Zuma appeared virtually in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, that the trial would be adjourned until “10 or 13 August.” Zuma faces 16 charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering related to the 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military gear from five European arms firms when he was deputy president. He is accused of taking bribes from one of the firms, French defence giant Thales, which has been charged with corruption and money laundering. As the trial, which began in May, faced repeated delays, the former president was found guilty on June 29 for contempt of court for disobeying a Constitutional Court order to testify before a judicial panel conducting a separate probe of corruption during his presidency. His resulting imprisonment sparked days of protests, looting and arson, predominantly in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, as well as nearby Gauteng province. The unrest left at least 200 people dead. Al Jazeera

UNESCO Removes DR Congo Park from Endangered List
The Democratic Republic of Congo scored a key heritage victory on Monday as UNESCO removed one of its nature reserves from a list of threatened sites, the U.N. agency said. UNESCO praised the country’s conservation efforts and the government’s commitment to ban prospecting for oil in Salonga, the vast central African country’s largest public park. The World Heritage Committee cited “improvements towards its conservation state” in its decision, according to a statement Monday. “Regular monitoring of the wild fauna shows that the bonobo (ape) populations remain stable within the territory despite past pressure, and that the forest elephant population is starting to come back,” the statement said. The Congolese Environment Ministry welcomed the move. It would be “an opportunity to rethink the management of the peatland with a view to quantifying its capacity to absorb carbon” emissions, it told Agence France-Presse in a statement. Salonga is Africa’s largest protected rainforest and home to 40% of the Earth’s bonobo apes, along with several other endangered species. AFP

Pandemic Loss: Pioneering Ugandan Neurosurgeon Was A ‘Servant Of The People’
Uganda, a nation of 44 million, had only 13 fully-trained neurosurgeons in 2020. Now it has only 12. John Baptist Mukasa, age 54 and a pioneering neurosurgeon in his homeland, died of COVID-19 on June 29. Mukasa is part of a still unfolding global tragedy: 4 million lives lost to COVID-19 as of July 8. Estimates by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University have now already surpassed 4.04 million deaths, a number that data trackers believe to be an underestimate. Uganda, where Mukasa lived in Kampala with his wife and two sons, is currently in a second lockdown due to rising COVID-19 cases. It has over 87,000 cases with 2,129 deaths and counting. The story of one COVID decedent is a reminder of the incalculable losses from the pandemic. Interviewed by NPR, two of Mukasa’s colleagues remember him as not only an esteemed surgeon but a man who loved his family, students, surgical colleagues and his patients, for whom he did brain and spine surgeries. NPR



Photo: Adam Jones