Africa Media Review for July 22, 2021

Delta Variant Deepens Crisis for Tunisia’s Fragile Democracy

A fast-deteriorating health situation has added to Tunisia’s political and economic woes as the aggressive Delta variant of coronavirus takes hold in a country with low vaccinations and the Arab world’s highest Covid-19 death rate. The World Health Organization said that after keeping infections under control last year, Tunisia was now facing an “extremely concerning” surge in cases. Only 7 per cent of the North African country’s population is fully vaccinated. With chaotic scenes in hospitals and vaccination centres across the country, the president late on Wednesday put the military in charge of the pandemic response. Intensive care units are almost full with some hospitals experiencing shortages of oxygen, which is crucial for Covid-19 patients suffering breathing difficulties. Last week, the daily death toll surpassed 200 — a record for the north African country of 12m people, where nearly 18,000 people in total have already died. While Tunisia is seen as the only democracy among Arab countries, which rose up against dictatorship in 2011, the deteriorating health situation is testing the limits of a political system riven by disputes between the president, prime minister and speaker of parliament. … The true figures are likely to be much higher than those reported, because of the pressure to save tests, said Fethi Balti, a doctor at a hospital in northern Tunisia. “We only test those who require medical attention or who have other symptoms,” he added. FT

India’s Pandemic Death Toll Estimated at about 4 Million: 10 Times the Official Count

How many people have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began? The official global total as of this week: 4.1 million. But everyone agrees the true toll is far greater. A study released on Tuesday looks at how much of a disparity there may be in India, one of the epicenters of the pandemic. The analysis, from the Center for Global Development, a think tank in Washington, D.C., looks at the number of “excess deaths” that occurred in India between January 2020 and June 2021 — in other words, how many more people died during that period than during a similar period of time in 2019 or other recent years. … The conclusion is that between 3.4 and 4.7 million more people died in that pandemic period than would have been predicted. That’s up to 10 times higher than the Indian government’s official death toll of 414,482. The researchers looked at India in particular because, says study co-author Justin Sandefur, the country has been hit so hard by COVID-19. “The second wave in particular led to heart-wrenching stories from friends and colleagues — and a sense that official numbers are not capturing the true scale of that toll.” NPR

South African Troops Arrive in Mozambique to Fight Insurgents

South African soldiers have begun arriving in Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado as part of a regional standby force being deployed to help Mozambique defeat violent Islamic State-affiliated extremists. Rwandan forces have already gone into battle with the insurgents, sources said. Officials from the South African government and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and local security analysts confirmed that leading elements of the SADC standby force – including its South African commander – were already in Mozambique. Military sources said small contingents of special forces from the standby force, including South Africans, had been flown into Pemba, the provincial capital of Cabo Delgado, on Monday. … This week the DA called on Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to delay the deployment of SANDF troops to Mozambique until there was “absolute certainty that internal security threats have been contained.” DA defence spokesperson Kobus Marais said on Saturday the deployment of 25,000 SANDF troops to KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng to ensure stability and security after last week’s looting and arson “will stretch our national defence capabilities to the limit.” Daily Maverick

South African Firm to Make Pfizer Vaccine, First in Africa

A South African firm will begin producing the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, the first time that the shot will be produced in Africa, Pfizer announced Wednesday. The Biovac Institute based in Cape Town will manufacture the vaccine for distribution across Africa, a move that should help address the continent’s desperate need for more vaccine doses amid a recent surge of cases. Biovac will receive large batch ingredients for the vaccine from Europe and will blend the components, put them in vials and package them for distribution. The production will begin in 2022 with a goal of reaching more than 100 million finished doses annually. Biovac’s production of doses will be distributed among the 54 countries of Africa. Lara Dovifat of the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières, called the agreement “a first step” but said it is “clearly not enough to achieve vaccine independence on the African continent.” … Vaccination levels are low across Africa, with less than 2% of the continent’s population of 1.3 billion having received at least one shot, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. AP

Death Toll in South Africa Unrest Rises to 276

The recent unrest in South Africa has claimed 276 lives, the government said on Wednesday, raising the death toll from 215 announced earlier his week. “Since the unrest, a total of 234 deaths as related to the unrest were reported in KwaZulu-Natal to date,” a minister in the president’s office, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, said in a statement, adding that another 42 deaths were recorded in Gauteng province which includes Johannesburg. Police are investigating 168 of the deaths for murder. Some of the people died in stampedes or were crushed by falling objects, while others died in burning buildings. The minister said “stability” had returned to the two provinces rocked by unprecedented violence in post-apartheid South Africa and that police were carrying out “mopping-up operations to ensure opportunistic and copycat activities do not find traction.” … The violence has abated, and six people, including a DJ, have so far been arrested on charges of incitement to commit public violence. Several thousand more are being held for looting. AFP

France to Investigate Alleged Spying Attempt by Morocco

France is investigating allegations that Morocco may have targeted mobile phones belonging to President Emmanuel Macron and 15 ministers using a spyware tool made by the Israeli company NSO Group. French media outlets Le Monde and France Info reported on Tuesday that a number that Macron has used since about 2017 was “on a list selected by the security services of Morocco, which was a customer of [NSO’s] Pegasus software, for potential pirating.” The revelations were part of an investigation conducted by journalism non-profit Forbidden Stories and 17 media partners that found spying worldwide using the spyware made by NSO had been far more extensive than previously thought. The investigation was based on a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers linked to people who had allegedly been selected for possible surveillance by NSO’s clients since 2016. Among the targets were activists, lawyers, and journalists in countries including India, Mexico and France. Laurent Richard, director of Forbidden Stories, said on the LCI news channel that their investigation could not determine whether Macron was actually spied on or if his phone was compromised by the software. But the fact that his number was discovered on the list meant that “Morocco had an interest in doing so.” FT

Rwanda Used Israeli Spy Tech to Tap Phones of Top Ugandan Officials: Report

Rwanda reportedly wiretapped conversations of top Ugandan officials, according to revelations in the global reporting investigations, the Pegasus Project, published by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). OCCRP, a global investigations non-profit organisation, reported on Monday that Rwanda targeted Uganda ex-Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa, both dropped last month, and director general of External Security Organisation (ESO) Joseph Ocwet. “The list of selected numbers [for tapping] also shows that [the Rwandan President Paul] Kagame government may have used the Pegasus to target high-ranking political and military figures in neighbouring countries,” OCCRP reported, citing Dr Rugunda and Burundian Prime Minister Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni. … Also targeted for hacking by Rwanda, according to the report, is Ugandan veteran journalist Andrew Mwenda, the founder and chief executive officer of the Independent Magazine, a friend to both President Museveni and his counterpart Paul Kagame. Daily Monitor

Madagascar Says Several People Arrested over Foiled Plot to Kill President

Prosecutors in Madagascar said Thursday they had foiled an attempt to assassinate President Andry Rajoelina and made several arrests. “Several foreign and Madagascar nationals were arrested on Tuesday, July 20, as part of an investigation into an attack on state security,” prosecutor Berthine Razafiarivony said in a statement released overnight. There was “a plan to eliminate and neutralise various Madagascan figures, including the head of state,” Razafiarivony said. “At this stage of the investigation, which is ongoing, the prosecutor-general’s office assures we will shed light in on this case,” she added. Two French nationals are among those who were arrested on Tuesday, diplomatic sources told AFP. The two suspects are reputedly retired military officers, according to the Taratra, a local news agency operation to the Communications ministry. During the country’s Independence Day celebrations on June 26, the gendarmerie announced that they had foiled an assassination attempt on their boss, General Richard Ravalomanana, who is also Rajoelina’s right-hand man. Rajoelina, 47, first seized power in March 2009 from Marc Ravalomanana with the backing of the military. He won the last vote in December 2018 beating his main rival and predecessor Ravalomanana in an election beset by allegations of fraud. AFP

Ouattara, Gbagbo Scheduled Talks Seen as First Sign of Reconciliation

Two of the biggest political leaders in Cote d’Ivoire are set to meet next week in what is seen as a crucial step to reconcile the country’s political past that nearly split it. Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara will host his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo on July 27, authorities announced on Wednesday. It will be the first meeting between the two since Gbagbo returned home in June, after his acquittal at the International Criminal Court. Ivorian Communication Minister and Government spokesperson, Amadou Coulibaly, told a press conference in Abidjan on Wednesday evening that the president had a telephone conversation with his predecessor at the beginning of the month to plan for the meeting. … Next Tuesday’s meeting will be the first between both men since the 2010 presidential poll that was followed by post-election violence over disputed results. Mr Gbagbo, president of the country since 2000, had refused to concede defeat and hand over power to Ouattara. He was later arrested in April 2011 after months of violence sparked by his refusal to recognise Ouattara as winner of the vote. At least 3,000 people died following the post-election violence in the country. Gbagbo was later sent to The Hague where he was tried at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. He was acquitted in June. The EastAfrican

Al-Shabab Threatens to Disrupt Upcoming Somali Elections

Somali terrorist group al-Shabab has threatened to attack electoral delegates who will be choosing lawmakers in parliamentary elections beginning next week. The Islamist militant group has threatened to disrupt the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in the Horn of Africa country. The leader of the group, Ahmed Abu Ubaidah, said Tuesday they are opposed to the poll process and threatened the electoral delegates. … Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for attacks that killed dozens of delegates during the last election process in 2017. The polls begin this Sunday with Somalia’s influential clans electing 54 members of the upper house of parliament. Abdisalam Gulaid, the former deputy director of Somali Intelligence Agency NISA, said this latest threat is aimed to create climate of fear among those involved in the polls. He said the new threats by the group towards upcoming historic elections in the country should not be taken lightly, stressing there is need for a coordinated response. … Somali security forces in cooperation with the African Union force in Somalia, AMISOM, are gearing up to ensure the safety and security of the polls. VOA

The Kenyans Robbed of Their Families by al-Shabab

It was an escalating number of kidnappings, targeting aid workers and tourists in Kenya’s north and coastal regions, that triggered Kenya’s decision in 2011 to join an African Union mission in Somalia to fight al-Shabab in the areas it controlled and create a buffer zone to secure its borders. A decade later, however, these cases still exist and al-Shabab maintains that they will continue causing havoc, including carrying out deadly attacks, until Kenya withdraws its troops from Somalia. One of the most high-profile kidnappings took place in early 2019, when two Cuban doctors deployed to work in Mandera were abducted by al-Shabab. The two medics were part of a team of 100 doctors sent from Cuba to work in Kenya after an agreement between the two countries. Tabitha Mwangi, a security consultant based in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, said kidnappings benefit al-Shabab in not only gaining media attention to increase prominence but also in acquiring trained professionals who provide essential services in poor communities. … Al-Shabab rarely demands ransom for the abducted Kenyans. Families like that of Amina’s have not received any demands from the group, making it impossible for them to know the fate of their loved ones. Al Jazeera

‘Unprecedented’ Drug Waves: How Algeria Became an Emerging Hub for Cocaine Coming to the UK

The discovery of almost half a tonne of cocaine floating in waters off the Algerian port city of Oran late last month has underscored the growing importance of north Africa as a vital transit point for drug smugglers seeking access to lucrative European and Middle Eastern markets. It was the second massive cocaine shipment discovered in Algeria. In May 2018, officials seized more than 700kg (1,540lb) of the drug on a cargo ship carrying frozen meat from Brazil, seeking to enter Oran after docking in Spain. That seizure led to a national scandal and mass arrests across Algeria. With the latest haul – 490kg (1,080lb) of cocaine – presumed to have been abandoned at sea by smugglers ahead of boarding, the response to its seizure has consisted of little but chest-beating from the north African country’s security services. The onset of the global pandemic has done little to dent the world’s appetite for cocaine. Studies of wastewater from a number of European cities during the pandemic showed that consumption of cocaine and MDMA (also called ecstasy) had returned to normal levels after an initial dip, as networks and supply routes recovered after early interruptions. The economic instability wrought by the pandemic is now fuelling corruption and has opened the door for “unprecedented” waves of cocaine to enter Europe, Europol has warned. Independent