Africa Media Review for July 23, 2020

Islamic Extremists Kill 5 Aid Workers in Northeast Nigeria
Islamic extremists released a video showing the slayings of five aid workers who were abducted last month in northeastern Nigeria. Their abductions came around the same time that a Boko Haram splinter group said it would begin targeting Nigerians who work for international aid groups as well as those who help the military. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari issued a statement identifying the victims as staff members of the country’s State Emergency Management Agency and the international charities Action Against Hunger, Rich International and International Rescue Committee. … The United Nations said the aid workers had been traveling by a main road between Monguno and the state capital of Maiduguri when they were kidnapped. “They were committed humanitarians who devoted their lives to helping vulnerable people and communities in an area heavily affected by violence,” said Edward Kallon, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria. AP

Zimbabwe Sharpens Crackdown Ahead of Anti-Corruption Protest
At a chaotic roadblock on the edge of Harare, the police tossed back the essential-worker permit that Mateline Zilawe tried to show them. “Go back home and stay indoors,” they ordered her. Cars and buses were backed up in a kilometre-long traffic snarl at the roadblock as police clamped down on commuters to stop them entering the downtown core of the Zimbabwean capital on Wednesday – the first day of new lockdown rules. Officially, the new restrictions stem from the COVID-19 pandemic. But with a major anti-corruption protest scheduled for next week, many Zimbabweans are convinced that the crackdown is aimed at crushing the opposition. Key supporters of the July 31 protest have already been arrested as the government tightens its grip on the country, and a dusk-to-dawn curfew has been imposed countrywide. With the Zimbabwean economy sharply deteriorating this year, food prices soaring, the local currency weakening and strikes erupting among nurses and doctors, the government has been determined to quell the discontent and block the planned protest. The Globe and Mail

Five African Leaders in Mali to Resolve Political Crisis Amid Ongoing Protests
Five African leaders are set to make a fresh bid to end Mali’s political crisis on Thursday, following weeks of sometimes deadly protests demanding the embattled president’s resignation. In a rare joint visit, the presidents of Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Niger will meet Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and members of the opposition June 5 Movement in the capital Bamako, according to an official programme. … The African presidents on Thursday follow on the heels of an earlier five-day mediation mission from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which ended on Sunday without reconciling the two sides. … The group of presidents is expected to weigh in on – and potentially sign off on – solutions to the impasse floated in behind-the-scenes talks between the president and opposition figures this week. AFP

Malawi’s New President Vows to ‘Clear the Rubble of Corruption’
Promising to “clear the rubble” of corruption within the government, Malawi’s new president is beginning his term by raising the country’s minimum wage in an attempt to win over both doubters and international donors. In an interview with the Guardian, Lazarus Chakwera, who won a historic victory over Peter Mutharika in June, urged Malawians to trust that he will deliver on his promises. “We’ve just hit the ground running. We are really looking at setting up systems and making sure they are functional. Like I say in my inaugural address, part of what we have to do is to clear the rubble,” he said. Since taking office, Chakwera, 65, has launched investigations into some of the deals agreed by the previous government, suspending contracts. … Meanwhile, a number of police officers and former government officials have been arrested over allegations of violent conduct. The Guardian

Uganda’ Bobi Wine, Urging Unity, Launches Presidential Bid
Ugandan activist Bobi Wine has launched a new political party ahead of a presidential election in which he hopes to be the face of a united opposition against the country’s long-time leader. The popular singer and lawmaker, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, has led a political pressure group known as People Power, which has captured the imagination of many Ugandans with its calls for President Yoweri Museveni’s retirement. … Wine has been arrested or detained many times, including over a treason charge that he denies. With political rallies now banned, presidential aspirants play cat-and-mouse with security forces seeking to break up anti-government gatherings. … “We have consistently said that we are a non-violent movement and we have no plans of establishing a military wing,” Wine said in a statement. “What we are doing today is to launch a political wing of our movement so as to ensure that our mission to use the election as a strategy within the liberation struggle succeeds.” AP

Uganda – Where Security Forces May Be More Deadly Than Coronavirus
In Uganda, at least 12 people have allegedly been killed by security officers enforcing measures to restrict the spread of coronavirus, while no-one has been confirmed as dying from the virus itself. … Joyce Namugalu Mutasiga speaks to me as she fries small pancakes, known as kabalagala, over a woodfire, her words coming out in short, crisp sentences punctuated with long silences. “Somebody is moving away from you and then you shoot him?” … The killings are believed to have been at the hands of policemen, soldiers and members of an armed civilian force called the Local Defence Unit (LDU). Since March, they have been jointly manning roadblocks to ensure that people stick to the control measures, including a ban on motorcycle taxis (known locally as boda bodas) and a dusk-to-dawn curfew. … The LDU earned notoriety in the early 2000s when it was first created. Its personnel were accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings or of turning into gunmen for hire. In the end it was demobilised. Ugandans were therefore apprehensive when it was revived in 2018. BBC

‘We Were Beaten’: 20 LGBTQ+ Ugandans File Lawsuit over Alleged Torture
Twenty LGBTQ+ men and women have filed lawsuits against the Ugandan authorities over alleged torture after they were arrested and imprisoned on charges related to the coronavirus lockdown. The group were held on remand for more than 50 days and according to a statement from the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), the legal organisation defending them, endured “taunting, flogging, scalding … as well as denial of access to food, sanitary facilities and medication.” … Uganda has ratified the UN convention against torture , HRAPF says, “but there is a still a huge gap in terms of enforcement of the law.” Charges against the group over breaking the ban on public gatherings during lockdown were dropped in May. The Guardian

Rights Experts Call on Tanzania to End ‘Crackdown’ on Civic Space
Tanzania should allow peaceful gatherings to take place ahead of elections in October and step back from “draconian” laws, UN-appointed independent rights experts said on Wednesday. In their written appeal, the three Special Rapporteurs also maintained that the Government was not meeting its commitments on information sharing and transparency, after it stopped releasing statistics on COVID-19 cases at the end of April. Urging the authorities to drop measures “that further curb civic space,” they cited in particular the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act, which “will ultimately prevent organisations from filing cases on behalf of victims” of rights abuses. In a statement, the Special Rapporteurs warned that the amendments had been “fast-tracked through Parliament without meaningful consultations.” UN News

Ivory Coast: Former Foreign Minister to Run for President
Marcel Amon-Tanoh, a longtime ally of President Alassane Ouattara and until recently his foreign minister, declared on Wednesday he would run in Ivory Coast’s presidential election in October, breaking with the governing party. The campaign was thrown into uncertainty earlier this month when Ouattara’s choice to succeed him after a decade in power, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, died suddenly, leaving the ruling RHDP party scrambling to choose a replacement candidate. … “We have built bridges, but we have forgotten to construct bridges between men,” he said in a speech announcing his candidacy, an implicit rebuke to Ouattara’s record on reconciling Ivorians after the civil war. Sources close to Amon-Tanoh said he would create his own political party in the coming days. It was not clear how much support he would be able to mobilise independent of Ouattara, to whom he has been a close ally for decades and previously served as presidential chief of staff. Reuters

South Sudan: Army Chief Urges Forces to Maintain Professionalism
South Sudan’s army chief of general staff, Gen. Johnson Juma Okot has urged the unified forces to be more disciplined and professional in protecting the country’s citizens. General Okot made the remarks during a visit to Maridi training camps for the unified forces in Western Equatoria State on Saturday. “You are the foundation of South Sudan’s army. Since the rebellion up to date, we have not had time to reform our army. This is now the bases and foundation of our new army,” said Okot. He added, “Everyone is now for peace since we don’t have any external threats. It is one of your duties to fight and bring peace.” The army chief urged the non-signatories to the peace agreement to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement, adding that the army would ensure South Sudanese enjoy peace. Thousands of registered government and opposition troops have been undergoing training in a number of military camps in the country. Radio Tamazuj

Civilian Governors Appointed for Sudan’s 18 States
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok announced the names of the new civilian state governors. Two of them are women. In a televised press conference at the Council of Ministers in Khartoum on Wednesday evening, Hamdok described the appointment of the new governors as “the real start of change in the states.” … Following the formation of the Council of Ministers in early September, the Sudanese people expected the acting military governors appointed by the regime of ousted President Al Bashir to be replaced by civilian state managers. Yet, in the peace negotiations between the government and the rebel movements that started the same month, it was agreed that new, civilian governors would only be appointed after the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement. In April this year, the rebel groups in principle agreed on the appointment of civilian state rulers. … The last outstanding issue to be discussed before reaching a final peace agreement concerns the security arrangements. Radio Dabanga

Ethiopia’s Leader Hails 1st Filling of Massive, Disputed Dam
Ethiopia’s prime minister on Wednesday hailed the first filling of a massive dam that has led to tensions with Egypt, saying two turbines will begin generating power next year. Abiy Ahmed’s statement, read out on state media outlets, came a day after he and the leaders of Egypt and Sudan reported progress on an elusive agreement on the operation of the $4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the largest in Africa. The first filling of the dam’s reservoir, which Ethiopia’s government attributes to heavy rains, “has shown to the rest of the world that our country could stand firm with its two legs from now onwards,” Abiy’s statement said. … Meanwhile, new satellite images showed the water level in the reservoir at its highest in at least four years, adding fresh urgency to the talks. Ethiopia has said it would begin filling the reservoir this month even without a deal as the rainy season floods the Blue Nile. But the Tuesday statement said leaders agreed to pursue “further technical discussions on the filling … and proceed to a comprehensive agreement.” AP

US Says Airstrike Killed Seven Jihadists in Somalia
A US airstrike targeting the Islamic State group in Somalia killed seven jihadists, the American military said Wednesday. The strike came after IS gunmen attacked US-allied troops in a remote area southeast of the port city of Bosaso in the semi-autonomous Puntland region. A statement from the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) said US forces were in the area at the time of the bombardment to “advise and assist” Somali troops. The AFRICOM statement also said, “we assess no civilians were injured or killed.” IS has a relatively small footprint in Somalia, where Al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab jihadists regularly carry out attacks against government and international targets. The Defense Post

Turkey, Russia Say They Seek Lasting Cease-Fire in Libya
Turkish and Russian delegations met Wednesday in Turkey’s capital to discuss the war in Libya and agreed to press ahead with efforts for a lasting cease-fire in the North African country, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said. A joint statement released after the meeting said the sides – who back rival parties in the conflict – had agreed to work together and encourage Libya’s opposing factions to create “conditions for a lasting and sustainable ceasefire.” They also agreed to joint efforts to advance a political dialogue. Turkish-backed forces allied with the U.N.-supported government in Tripoli, the capital, are mobilizing on the edges Sirte and have vowed to retake the Mediterranean city, along with the inland Jufra airbase, from rival forces commanded by Khalifa Hifter. Hifter’s forces are based in the east. AP

Russia’s Shadowy Mercenaries Offer Humanitarian Aid to Clean Image
The so-called Wagner Group, a quasi-private Russian military security contractor, has long been deft at finding opportunity amid chaos. Since the group first appeared on the battlefields of eastern Ukraine in 2014, it has become the Swiss Army knife of Russia’s overseas interference efforts and has been linked to activities including election meddling, gold mining, and front-line combat. Now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, Wagner affiliates have found a new way to burnish their tarnished reputations: delivering coronavirus-related aid. Much as other violent groups have done before them, including Hezbollah, providing humanitarian aid to fragile states offers the opportunity for a quick publicity stunt in a bid to normalize their presence. Foreign Policy

Coronavirus Is Crushing Tourism – and Cutting off a Lifeline for Wildlife
The world’s most famous savanna boasts two epic migrations. One has traversed it for millennia: Millions of wildebeest, zebras and gazelles follow billowing rain clouds in search of new grazing grounds. The other horde descends upon the first in open-air safari jeeps, zoom-lens cameras at the ready, coolers tucked between the seats filled with snacks and prosecco. Coronavirus travel restrictions mean the humans have suddenly vanished, and along with them a billion-dollar tourism industry that employs millions and underpins a symbiotic human-wildlife ecosystem – the private conservancy – that is essential to wildlife conservation in many African countries. The Washington Post

Learning from the Kariba Dam
The Kariba Dam is failing. Since the late 1950s, it has sat on the Zambezi River, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, in one of the zigzagging gorges that ripple the land there. It provides 1,830 megawatts of hydroelectric power to both countries and holds back the world’s largest reservoir. For the last decade, scientists and reporters have issued warnings about the dam’s potential to cause ecological disasters – of opposite kinds. On one hand, low rainfall has yielded water levels that barely reach the minimum necessary to generate electricity. On the other hand, heavy rainfall has threatened to flood the surrounding areas. When the floodgates were opened in 2010, 6,000 people had to be evacuated. Climate change catastrophizes the weather – and when it comes to such extremes, dams are, well, inflexible. The New York Times Magazine



Photo: Adam Jones