Africa Media Review for July 23, 2021

Fighting in Ethiopia’s Afar Forces 54,000 People to Flee, Official Says
Attacks by Tigrayan fighters in Ethiopia’s Afar region have forced over 54,000 people from their homes, an official said on Thursday, and refugees in a camp in southern Tigray described heavy clashes nearby. Tens of thousands of people, meanwhile, rallied in the capital to support Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has faced criticism for his handling of a conflict that threatens to undermine stability in Africa’s second most populous nation. Tigrayan fighters, who want the Ethiopian government to accept their terms before talks on a ceasefire can begin, have taken control of three districts in Afar this week, according to Afar regional spokesperson Ahmed Koloyta. The region is of strategic importance because the main road and railway linking Addis Ababa, landlocked Ethiopia’s capital, with the sea port of Djibouti run through it. … The Ethiopian Refugee Agency, ARRA, said in a statement that six refugees had been killed in fighting and two more had died from lack of medical attention. ARRA also said, “In violation of the international humanitarian law, the rebels deployed heavy artilleries in the refugee camps, and there appears (to be) continuous militant activity and sporadic shootings.” Reuters

WHO Urges African Nations to Speed up COVID-19 Vaccinations
WHO regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti says Africa’s third wave is not over. She notes 21 countries, three more than last week, are experiencing a resurgence. She says the highly contagious delta variant has now been detected in 26 countries and 13 of them need more oxygen due to a surge in cases. She says Africa continues to lag in COVID-19 vaccines, with just 20 million Africans or 1.5 percent of the continent’s population fully vaccinated. … She says the first delivery of doses donated by the United States through the COVAX Facility is arriving in Africa this week and altogether nearly 60 million doses from other sources are expected in the coming weeks. “African countries must go all out and speed up their vaccine rollouts by five to six times if they are to get all these doses into arms and fully vaccinate the most vulnerable 10 percent of their people by the end of September,” Moeti said. “Around 3.5 to four million doses are administered each week on the continent, but this needs to rise to 21 million doses each week at the very least to meet this goal.” … “We need to address the issue of vaccine hesitancy,” Moeti said. “So, this communication—targeting people, targeting the messages that we are tracking and the misinformation or the fears and misconceptions is absolutely vital now because the time to mobilize people to be ready to be vaccinated is not when the vaccines are landing. …” VOA

Africa Demands Local Production of COVID Vaccines
lobal pharmaceutical firms should license production of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa rather than just do piecemeal contract deals, an African Union special envoy said on Thursday. AU coronavirus envoy Strive Masiyiwa was speaking a day after Pfizer and BioNTech announced a “fill and finish” deal with South Africa’s Biovac Institute under which it will carry out the final stages of vaccine manufacturing where the product is processed and put into vials. Pfizer and BioNTech will handle drug substance production at their facilities in Europe. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has called the arrangement “restrictive” and said much more is needed to support vaccine independence in Africa. “We want to make clear to all suppliers … if you want a long-term future with us now, you produce from Africa,” Masiyiwa said. … Matshidiso Moeti, the head of the World Health Organization in Africa, called for local production of vaccines so Africa can tackle future outbreaks. Reuters

Bishops Plea for Peace, Fair Elections Ahead of Zambia’s August Vote
With violence rising and a government crackdown against dissidents continuing, Zambia’s Catholic bishops have called for peaceful and fair elections as voters prepare to go to the polls Aug. 12. … “These acts of violence are intended to intimidate the citizenry to belong to a party or to choose leaders out of fear,” said a July 16 statement signed by 11 bishops, including Archbishop Ignatius Chama of Kasama, conference president. “On the contrary, people should be free to belong to a party of their choice and to choose a candidate or candidates of their preference to represent them or lead them without undue influence,” the statement said. … Amnesty International, in a report released June 28, detailed how rights such as freedom of expression and peaceful assembly have come under increasing attack since 2016. At least five people have been killed by police in the last five years while the government has jailed opposition leaders and activists, and shut down media outlets speaking against government corruption and abuse. Catholic News Service

Tanzanian Opposition Leader to Face ‘Terrorism’ Charges: Party
Tanzania’s main opposition party has said that its leader and other members will be charged with “terrorism” after being arrested in a sweeping midnight raid that has drawn international concern. Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe and 15 other members were rounded up during the night on Wednesday in a crackdown denounced as a throwback to the oppressive rule of the country’s late leader. … Mbowe and the other Chadema officials were arrested in the Lake Victoria port city of Mwanza ahead of a planned public forum to demand constitutional reform. … The United States said Wednesday it was confirming details of Mbowe’s arrest but that it would be “very concerning.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken had encouraged Hassan in a July 6 telephone call to protect civil liberties and stressed “the importance of ensuring a democratic, peaceful, free and prosperous future for all Tanzanians”, State Department spokesman Ned Price said. At least 150 opposition leaders, according to the United Nations, were arrested after denouncing what they said was huge fraud in an October 2020 election that returned Magufuli and Hassan to power for a second term. The deeply COVID-sceptic Magufuli died in March of what the authorities said was a heart condition but his political opponents insisted he had contracted the disease. AFP

Constitutional Question Brings out Magufuli in President Samia Suluhu
Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu is facing accusations of overseeing a renewed crackdown on opposition groups, just months after she took over power and began reversing her predecessor’s ‘bulldozing’ style. The latest incidents involved vibrant politician Freeman Mbowe, who chairs the opposition Chadema Party, and his colleagues. Mr Mbowe was arrested in Mwanza on Tuesday night and ferried in the dark to Dar es Salaam, said a statement from his party on Wednesday. Mr Mbowe, a former MP for Hai in the Kilimanjaro region, has been vocal about a constitutional review. He and other activists had gathered in Mwanza for an indoor conference. The meeting was scuttled, brutally. … The police boss revealed the whereabouts of Mr Mbowe only after protests from his supporters, who argued he had been “kidnapped” by armed police. … The arrest, which senior government officials haven’t commented on, came as President Suluhu fights fires related to demands for a constitutional review. Officially, the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi has said the supreme law need not be changed, even though President Suluhu herself had been relaxing some of the restrictive policies her predecessor John Pombe Magufuli had imposed on the country. The EastAfrican

‘Nothing Left’: A Catastrophe in Madagascar’s Famine-Hit South
Rahovatae and her family are among more than one million people in Madagascar in need of food in a vast area spread over 110,000 sq km (42,000 square miles). Years with little rain have made farming impossible, while sandstorms have turned huge stretches of arable land barren – effects the United Nations has linked to climate change. “We planted but there was no rain. Everything that’s planted dies. We don’t have anything left. Some of what we owned we sold, the rest was stolen by bandits,” says Sinazy, a mother of eight in Mahaly. Her 17-year-old son Havanay is breaking wild nuts inside their little earth-and-straw hut. “We eat the insides, this white kernel,” he says. “I break these from morning until dusk. But the fat can make you ill. I shake after I’ve eaten it,” Havanay says. World Food Programme (WFP) chief David Beasley has compared the plight of the starving in Madagascar to a “horror film,” saying it was “enough to bring even the most hardened humanitarian to tears.”  Some 14,000 people have already reached a stage the WFP defines as level five, a “catastrophe when people have absolutely nothing left to eat,” says the organisation’s Madagascar representative Moumini Ouedraogo. AFP

French Person among 6 Held over Plot to Kill Madagascar President
A French citizen is among six suspects arrested over a failed plot to murder Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina and other top political figures in the Indian Ocean island nation, according to officials. “One of the arrested people is French, two of them are bi-national: Malagasy and French. The three others are Malagasy,” Rodellys Fanomezantsoa Randrianarison, the public security minister, said late on Thursday. … The announcements came a day after authorities said several foreign and Malagasy suspects had been arrested on Tuesday as part of an investigation “into an attack on state security.” Attorney General Berthine Razafiarivony said the foiled plot included the “killing and neutralisation” of senior political figures, other than the president, giving no further details about the alleged plan. Randrianarison previously said police had relevant information “for months.” They swooped to make simultaneous arrests in different locations and seized money and weapons, he added. Al Jazeera

Cyber Attack Disrupts Major South African Port Operations
A cyber attack has disrupted container operations at the South African port of Cape Town, an email seen by Reuters on Thursday said. Durban, the busiest shipping terminal in sub-Saharan Africa, was also affected, three sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. Cape Town Harbour Carriers Association said in an email to members, seen by Reuters: “Please note that the port operating systems have been cyber-attacked and there will be no movement of cargo until the system is restored.” Transnet’s official website was down on Thursday showing an error message. Transnet, which operates major South African ports, including Durban and Cape Town, and a huge railway network that transports minerals and other commodities for export, confirmed its IT applications were experiencing disruptions and it was identifying the cause. … Most of the copper and cobalt mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, where miners such as Glencore (GLEN.L) and Barrick Gold (ABX.TO) operate, use Durban to ship cargo out of Africa. Reuters

South Africa’s Ramaphosa Listed as Rwanda Spyware Target
The Pegasus Project, an investigation by a consortium of international media and NGOs, has revealed how the Pegasus spyware of Israeli company NSO Group was abused by government clients to spy on journalists, activists and politicians. The targets also include current and former presidents and prime ministers. … The leak showed that least seven African countries were among these clients, including Togo, Morocco and Rwanda. Of these, Rwanda has reportedly been one of the more enthusiastic users of the Pegasus spyware, which can record phone calls and read texts and emails, access photographs and passwords, and secretly activate microphones and cameras to make audio and video recordings. The government of President Paul Kagama had apparently put more than 3,500 phone numbers on the list since 2016, according to the leak. … The Guardian newspaper, a partner in Pegasus Project investigation, reported that Ramaphosa’s personal mobile phone seemed to have been selected by Rwanda in 2019. Relations between South Africa and Rwanda had been strained for years before that. The diplomatic spat between the two countries was triggered when Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s former spy boss and a critic of President Paul Kagame, was found strangled in Johannesburg hotel room in 2014. The Guardian

Aid Neutrality under Fire in Ethiopia’s Widening Conflict
Ethiopian government accusations that aid agencies are supporting rebel forces in Tigray have left international relief organisations concerned for the security of frontline staff, even as conflict escalates and hundreds of thousands of people face famine. In a statement last week, Ethiopian foreign affairs official Redwan Hussein accused aid organisations of delivering weapons and equipment to rebel groups, and said unnamed UN agencies were “fabricating facts and figures” in a campaign aimed at “disrespecting and defaming Ethiopia.” He also threatened to expel staff members of the agencies. … Observers say the government claims – alongside rumours, online misinformation, and critical local media coverage – heighten risks for relief operations. “Once you associate the NGOs with the enemy, it removes any moral obstacle to attacking them,” said Abby Stoddard, of the consultancy group Humanitarian Outcomes, which provides research and policy advice for aid agencies. Nearly a month ago, three Tigray-based humanitarian workers from Médecins Sans Frontières were murdered – among 12 aid workers killed since the conflict began in November 2020. … The New Humanitarian has collected dozens of examples of social media accounts calling for NGOs to be expelled from the country, and making unfounded allegations that the UN and foreign NGOs are helping the TPLF. The New Humanitarian

Eritrean Refugees under Attack in Ethiopia’s Tigray War
Thousands of Eritrean refugees are increasingly caught in the middle of the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where witnesses and U.N. officials say forces have attacked their camps, abducted or killed some of the residents, and stolen their food and possessions. The refugees are among the most vulnerable groups in the Tigray conflict, which broke out in November between the region’s forces and Ethiopian federal troops. It has left thousands of people dead. The refugees say they have been targeted by both sides. Troops from their native Eritrea, which sent forces over the border to support Ethiopian soldiers, have been accused of destroying a refugee camp and abductions. And the refugees say they have also come under attack as scapegoats from Tigrayans, who allege widespread abuses by Eritrean soldiers. … Last week, Tigray forces captured the remaining two camps, Mai Aini and Adi Harush, after launching an offensive against forces from the neighboring Amhara region as they sought to take back more territory following the retreat of Eritrean and Ethiopian federal forces from the region last month. Residents of Adi Harush camp told The Associated Press that Tigray forces have since abducted more than a dozen refugees and raided dozens of homes, stealing mobile phones, food and other supplies. AP

Sixteen Civilians Killed in Eastern DRC Ambush
Attackers in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have killed at least 16 civilians as they were returning from a weekly market, according to a report citing medical and local sources. The ambush on Thursday evening occurred on a highway between the towns of Maimoya and Chani-chani, some 40km (25 miles) from the city of Beni in North Kivu province. Jerome Munyambethe, head of the hospital in the town of Oicha, told the AFP news agency that six women and a child – all of whom were shot – were among the victims. “We have 16 bodies in the hospital morgue,” said Nicolas Kikuku, town mayor, adding that nine others who were wounded had been taken to the hospital for treatment. Fighters belonging to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) – the deadliest of an estimated 122 armed groups in the mineral-rich eastern DRC, many of them a legacy of two regional wars from 1996 to 2003 – carry out frequent attacks in the Oicha region. “The ambush is the work of ADF roaming the area. They also fired a rocket,” said Lewis Saliboko, a representative of grassroots groups in Oicha. Al Jazeera

At Least a Dozen Civilians Killed in Central African Republic Attack, UN Says
Thirteen civilians were killed in clashes north of Bangui, the capital of the perennially restive Central African Republic, the UN mission in the country said Thursday. Peacekeepers found “13 dead bodies in Bongboto,” about 300 kilometres (190 miles) north of Bangui, on Wednesday, MINUSCA spokesman lieutenant-colonel Abdoulaziz Fall told AFP. CAR is the second least-developed country in the world according to the UN and suffers from the aftermath of a brutal civil conflict that erupted in 2013. MINUSCA said it would do everything “to shed light on this sad incident” and bring the attackers to justice. The government has blamed the Coalition of Patriots for Change, created in December 2020 to try and topple President Faustin Archange Touadera, of being behind the attack. AFP

UK Sanctions Equatorial Guinea Leader’s Son over “Lavish Lifestyle” Spending
Britain on Thursday sanctioned the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president for misappropriating millions of dollars which London said was spent on luxury mansions, private jets and a $275,000 glove worn by Michael Jackson. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Teodoro Obiang Mangue, who is also vice president of Equatorial Guinea, had participated in “corrupt contracting arrangements and soliciting bribes, to fund a lavish lifestyle inconsistent with his official salary as a government minister.” … His father President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has ruled Equatorial Guinea since taking power in a coup in 1979, eleven years after independence from Spain. The country grew rich in the past few decades due to the exploitation of its oil reserves, but more than 76% of the population live in poverty, according to the World Bank. Reuters

Cameroon Police Intercept Pangolin Scales Trafficked from 3 Central African States
Cameroonian police say they have for the first time during the pandemic seized parts of an estimated 2,000 pangolins poached in Cameroon and neighboring Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Police say travel restrictions had slowed trafficking of the endangered anteater to Asia, where its meat is considered a delicacy and the scales are used in traditional medicine. At least 12 bags of Pangolin scales and leopard skin are in a police warehouse at Nlonkak, a neighborhood in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde. Claude Mboutou Abessolo, the ranking officer at the police station says the Pangolin scales and leopard skin were seized from traffickers in Yaounde this week. Abessolo says the traffickers were arrested while preparing to transfer the scales and animal skin to Cameroon’s neighbor, Nigeria. He says the police in Cameroon, Nigeria and Benin are collaborating to track other members of a group of Pangolin traffickers operating in the three countries. He says it will not take long for the traffickers to be caught in the police dragnet. He says some of the traffickers have been arrested in Cameroon. VOA

Israel Returns to African Union Fold
Israel is returning to the African Union (AU) in what officials in Jerusalem say is to correct an anomaly regarding the Middle Eastern country with the continent. The decision to return to the continental bloc as an observer state has come 19 years after Israel lost the status following a tiff with then Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, soon after the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) became the AU. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced on Thursday that the country had submitted its credentials to be an observer state, allowing it to take part in the bloc’s general meetings even though it will not have a vote. … The move also came after Mousa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the AU Commission, on Thursday received credentials from Aleli Admasu, the Israeli Ambassador to Ethiopia, Burundi and Chad who will now also be accredited to the African Union. … In the past decade, Israel has increased its representation in Africa, establishing relations with 46 of 55 members of the AU. … Israel indicated on Thursday that it was resuming ties with the AU to cooperate more on security threats as well as mitigate the spread of Covid-19. The EastAfrican

The Countries of the Middle East and North Africa Are Parched
In the neighbourhood of Algiers where the presidential palace and foreign embassies are located, some think the water pressure has increased of late. But don’t tell those living in the suburbs of Algeria’s capital, where the taps have been dry for days, as temperatures and tempers rise. Protesters have blocked main roads and railways. “If the water stops flowing, so will everything else,” says a local journalist, conveying the protesters’ mindset. Algeria is not alone. In the past few months protests over water shortages have erupted in Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Yemen. Two protesters were shot dead in Iran on July 16th. And a lack of water is contributing to unrest elsewhere in the Middle East and north Africa. Drought has been a feature of the region since biblical times. But now climate change is causing longer dry seasons, as well as hotter heatwaves and record-setting temperature spikes. Rainfall is expected to decline, precipitously in some places, leaving farmers to dig more wells, draining aquifers and causing potentially irreversible environmental damage. For most of the region the trend is towards a drier, hotter, more miserable future. The Economist