Africa Media Review for July 24, 2020

South Africa’s Excess Deaths Surge as Virus Spreads like ‘Wildfire’
Global hot spot South Africa is seeing a “huge discrepancy” between confirmed COVID-19 deaths and an unusually high number of excess deaths from natural causes, while Africa’s top health official said Thursday the coronavirus is spreading there “like wildfire.” A new report by the South African Medical Research Council, released late Wednesday, shows more than 17,000 excess deaths from May 6 to July 14 as compared to data from the past two years, while confirmed COVID-19 deaths have surpassed 6,000. … The council’s president, Glenda Gray, said the excess deaths could be attributed to COVID-19 as well as other widespread diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis while many health resources are redirected toward the pandemic. … And now other African countries are a growing problem, notably Kenya, where [the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John] Nkengasong said cases have “taken off very, very quickly.” East Africa’s commercial hub now has more than 15,000 confirmed cases. AP

With Shrinking Health Force, Africa Struggles Amid COVID Crisis
Thousands of health care workers across Africa have contracted coronavirus, a fact that worries international health officials who say the continent’s health infrastructure is strained enough without the added threat. In South Africa more than 3,500 health care workers have fallen ill, and at least 34 have died. Nearly 770,000 people have been known to have contracted COVID-19 in the African region. And, says Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa, buried in those numbers is a key group that is on the front lines of the battle. “In the African region, more than 10,000 health workers have been infected with COVID-19,” said Moeti. “One of the biggest challenges in protecting health workers has been the global shortage of personal protective equipment, which has severely affected countries on the continent.” VOA

UN Shelters 6,000 People Escaping New Violence in South Sudan
The United Nations has given refuge to about 6,000 people escaping violence in the eastern regions of South Sudan after a surge in attacks. Armed groups targeted a village outside Pibor, near the border with Ethiopia, on Wednesday and more people are expected to seek protection as tensions mount, according to the UN mission in the oil-rich country. “This conflict is not simply intercommunal between ethnic groups,” David Shearer, the head of the mission, said in an emailed statement. “Other political figures are at work. External actors need to stop deliberately stoking the conflict for the sake of local communities.” Fighting between groups erupted months ago, leaving hundreds of people dead and starving as harvests and livestocks are destroyed in the East African nation. It also threatens to unravel a long-negotiated peace agreement that helped bring to an end five years of civil war in a nation with sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil reserves. Bloomberg

South Sudan Activist Flees to US, Says Kiir Wanted Him Dead
A prominent South Sudanese activist has fled to the United States with the help of the U.S. government, which issued emergency visas to him and his family after he said South Sudan’s president ordered him abducted or killed. Peter Biar Ajak arrived in Washington late Thursday after weeks of hiding in Kenya and an anxious departure complicated by coronavirus restrictions. “The last few weeks have been a bit terrifying. Extremely terrifying,” the 36-year-old activist told The Associated Press shortly after landing. It was only when the plane was taxiing for takeoff that he could feel relief. Ajak, a Harvard graduate and economist who helped shape his young country’s national security system – one that imprisoned him years later – was tipped off by “very senior” officials back home, his lawyer Jared Genser said. … “In January 2017, two other dissidents were abducted from Nairobi and murdered, leading the U.S. to impose sanctions on five South Sudanese officials.” AP

Zimbabwe Politician Denied Bail in Anti-Government Protests Case
A Zimbabwean court has denied bail to an opposition politician who called for protests against government corruption and rolled over a similar case against a journalist to Friday. Jacob Ngarivhume, who called for the July 31 street demonstrations with support from the main opposition party, was arrested together with freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and charged with inciting the public to commit violence. … He will remain in prison detention until a routine court appearance next month. Another magistrate separately deferred the bail hearing for Chin’ono, a Harvard University Nieman Fellow, to Friday. His detention drew sharp criticism in Zimbabwe and abroad. … Critics say the duo is being persecuted for speaking out against corruption in government. Journalists, lawyers, doctors and nurses are among those who have been arrested in recent months in Zimbabwe for protesting, striking for better pay or, in some cases, simply doing their work amid rising tensions in the country. Al Jazeera

West African Leaders Plan Extraordinary Talks on Monday to End Mali Crisis
West African leaders will hold a virtual extraordinary summit on Monday to propose measures to end the deepening political crisis in Mali after five heads of state met with the government and the opposition in the country’s capital city Bamako on Thursday. The presidents from five West African countries held talks all day with various parties to try to end the political stalemate that has rocked the country and raised fears it could undermine a regional fight against Islamist militants. … The opposition, a group called M5-RFP whose figurehead is Saudi-trained Muslim cleric Mahmoud Dicko, has said it will not quit until President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita steps down, raising concerns in neighbouring countries of a protracted crisis. Dicko told journalists after a final meeting late on Thursday that there had been no progress, and nothing had been offered at the moment that was acceptable to them. Reuters

UN Peacekeeping Mission in C. Africa Kills 3 Rebel Fighters
Three militia fighters were killed in western Central African Republic last week in clashes with peacekeepers, the UN mission in the country has said. UN peacekeepers from Rwanda fought off an attack by the 3R armed group on Friday in Gedze, in the prefecture of Nana-Mambere, MINUSCA spokesman Charles Bambara said in a statement late Wednesday. The 3R militia said last month that it was suspending its participation in a peace agreement signed by the Central African government and rebel groups last year. MINUSCA has since launched a military operation to counter the expansion of the armed group. In mid-July, a Rwandan peacekeeper was killed in a 3R attack, the UN mission said. The Defense Post

Sudan Finds Mass Grave Believed to Have Bodies of Officers Executed by Bashir
Sudan has found a mass grave that most likely contains remains of 28 army officers executed in 1990 for plotting an attempted coup against the former President Omar al-Bashir, the public prosecutor office said late on Thursday. The officers were executed in mysterious circumstances after a quick military trial one year after Bashir himself took the power in a military coup in 1989. There burial site was not disclosed for decades. … A team of 23 experts reached this result after an effort that lasted for three weeks, and more forensic and investigative measures will be taken in the site, the statement added. The public prosecutor assured the families of the executed officers that “such crimes will not pass without a just trial.” Bashir appeared in court on Tuesday at the opening of his trial for leading the military coup that brought him to power in 1989. Reuters

Islamic State Group Says It Killed 5 Aid Workers in Nigeria
Militants from an Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility Thursday for killing five aid workers who were kidnapped last month in northeastern Nigeria. The Islamic State West Africa Province, which broke away from Boko Haram several years ago, warned in June that it would target Nigerians working for international aid agencies along with those who helped the military. Nigeria’s president already had blamed the extremists for the slayings. … The alarming development threatens to further complicate relief efforts in northeastern Nigeria, where nearly 2 million people have been displaced by the ongoing insurgency. The U.N. World Food Program says 3 million in the northeast are facing hunger, and now also threatened by COVID-19. AP

Nigeria’s Secret Police, SSS, Illegally Detains Lawyer for Two Months without Trial
Gabriel Ogbonna, a human rights lawyer based in Abia State, has been held in the custody of the State Security Service (SSS) for over two months, despite court judgments ordering his release, Premium Times reports. On March 24, over 20 police officers in company of Chief of Staff to the Abia governor, Tony Agbazuere, and former Commissioner of Police, Ene Okon, stormed Mr Ogbonna’s chambers to arrest him. Before his arrest, Mr Ogbonna had made critical comments about public officials and their policies via his Facebook page. Shortly after the arrest of March 24, he was arraigned alongside another person for cybercrime and publishing false and threatening messages through the internet against the governor, Okezie Ikpeazu. He was arraigned at a magistrate court in Umuahia. Premium Times

Tunisia Searches for New Prime Minister
Nine months after general elections, Tunisia again faces gridlock, with a fractured and bickering parliament and government in disarray, after last week’s resignation of Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh. … Now, President Kais Saied must name a successor to Fakhfakh, who remains in office until the power handover. If that candidate doesn’t pass muster in parliament, Tunisians may be heading back to the polls. “People are really afraid, not of COVID, but of a return to polarization,” said Michael Ayari, Tunis-based senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, adding, “There’s a sense of a complete blockage, that the system has arrived to its end.”  Meanwhile, COVID-19, the disease brought on by the coronavirus, has caused serious economic damage. While Tunisia has been lightly impacted, with fewer than 1,400 cases and just 50 deaths to date, a tough lockdown and closed borders have hit the Mediterranean nation hard. VOA

Kenya, Regional States Want AU to Mediate Nile Dam Row
Kenya and peers in the Nile Basin want the African Union to continue mediating in the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), fearing external influence may derail the search for a deal. This week, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt failed to reach a final agreement on how to utilise the dam without affecting the amount of water reaching the lower riparian states. But the three countries admitted they had reached “an understanding” on most issues. At a meeting of the African Union Bureau of Heads of States on Tuesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta said the three countries should continue working through the AU as each one’s interests will be assured. … The Bureau, which is chaired by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, also includes leaders from Kenya, Rwanda, Mali, Egypt, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The East African

Africa Starts to Have Second Thoughts about That Chinese Money
Chinese credit has grown to about a third of Zambia’s external debt, which has surged sevenfold over the past decade, forcing the government this year to ask creditors to reschedule loans. [Zambia’s former minister of commerce, Dipak] Patel, now a real estate investor, is challenging in court the legality of billions in foreign money Zambia has borrowed without what he says was required consent from Parliament. “Nobody other than the government knows the terms,” he says. The government says it didn’t need parliamentary approval. Patel is among a growing number of African activists and policymakers questioning the deluge of Chinese credit-some $150 billion in 2018, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University-that has fueled a debt crisis aggravated by the new coronavirus. Nigerian lawmakers are reviewing Chinese loans they say were unfavorable. Activists in Kenya are demanding the government disclose the terms of Chinese credit used to build a 470-kilometer (292-mile) railway. Bloomberg

Former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa Dies
Benjamin William Mkapa is no more. The former Tanzanian president has died aged 81. President John Magufuli made the announcement on Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) on July 24, saying Mkapa died at a Dar es Salaam Hospital where he was receiving treatment. … Mkapa was the third president since Independence and led Tanzania from 1995 to 2005 before handing over to Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete. … The former president is known for leading peace mediation efforts in the region, including taking part in Kenya’s post-election conciliation exercise in 2008. He was part of the Panel of Eminent African Personalities, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which ended the post-election violence after the highly disputed December 27, 2007 elections. The East African

Armed with Social Media, Zimbabwean Youth Fight Coronavirus ‘Infodemic’
Drinking alcohol will kill the coronavirus. It is OK to share face masks. Africans cannot get COVID-19. The pandemic is not even real. These are some of the coronavirus myths that a team of 20 Zimbabwean youth have been busting online since the country’s lockdown began in late March, using social media and radio shows to reach an estimated 100,000 people to date. “There is a common saying that ‘ignorance is bliss.’ Well, in this instance, ignorance is not bliss, if anything ignorance is death,” said Bridget Mutsinze, 25, a volunteer based in the capital, Harare. Although relatively low compared to the rest of the continent, Zimbabwe is experiencing an uptick in the number of coronavirus infections, with more than 1,800 cases and at least 26 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Reuters

Woman Artist Breaks Molds in Conservative Northern Nigeria
A visual artist in Nigeria’s conservative northern region is on a mission to challenge some stereotypes about women. These include the notion that certain trades are for men only and that women who venture into them are bound to fail. The 25-year-old artist, Maryam Umar Maigida, told VOA Hausa she also uses her paintings to demand justice for victims of sexual violence. VOA