Africa Media Review for June 1, 2021

Lessons for Africa from India’s Deadly COVID Surge
The surge in COVID-19 cases in India, spurred by a more transmissible variant and complacency, provides a stark warning to African populations to remain vigilant to contain the pandemic. India has been grappling with a deadly COVID-19 surge that hit the country like a cyclone in early April. Within a month, new daily cases peaked at over 400,000. On May 19, India set a global record of 4,529 COVID-19 deaths in 24 hours. Over 500 Indian physicians have perished from COVID since March. The actual figures on these counts are likely to be much higher due to testing limitations. Conservative estimates indicate India has experienced over 400 million cases and 600,000 deaths overall. India’s COVID-19 surge is a warning for Africa. Like India, Africa mostly avoided the worst of the pandemic last year. … So, what has been driving India’s COVID-19 surge and what lessons might this hold for Africa? Africa Center for Strategic Studies

West Africa Leaders Suspend Mali from Region Bloc over Coup
West African leaders suspended Mali from their regional bloc Sunday over what they said amounted to a coup last week, Ghana’s foreign minister said after an emergency meeting to address the political crisis in Mali. The bloc, the Economic Community of West African States, “is worried about the security implications for West Africa because of the continued insecurity brought about by the political upheavals in that country,” Foreign Minister Shirley Attorkor Botchwey said. At the end of their summit, the heads of state of the ECOWAS member nations demanded that Malian authorities immediately release former transitional President Bah N’Daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, who are being kept under house arrest. In their statement, the leaders condemned the arrests by Mali’s military, which they said violated mediation steps agreed to last September, a month after a coup d’etat led by the same man who has now again taken power in Mali, Col. Assimi Goita. ECOWAS also called for a new civilian prime minister to be nominated immediately, a new inclusive government to be formed and the 18-month transition of power leading to February 2022 elections to be carried out, saying a monitoring mechanism will be put in place to assure this. AP

Macron Suggests France May Pull Out Troops from Mali
French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday suggested France will pull troops from Mali if the country’s institutional instability persists and inhibits the fight against Islamic extremists. Macron told a news conference that “our priority in Mali is the fight against terrorism and the presence of our forces on the ground is not enough in this fight. It also requires the strengthening of stable and legitimate institutions.” France has more than 5,000 troops in Africa’s Sahel region. Macron’s comments come a day after West African leaders suspended Mali from their regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, over what they said amounted to a coup last week. AP

At Least 55 Killed in Eastern Congo Massacres, U.N. Says
At least 55 people were killed overnight in two attacks on villages in eastern Congo, the United Nations said on Monday, in potentially the worst night of violence the area has seen in at least four years. The army and a local civil rights group blamed the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist armed group, for raiding the village of Tchabi and a camp for displaced people near Boga, another village. Both are close to the border of Uganda. Houses were burned and civilians abducted, the U.N. office for humanitarian affairs said in a statement. … The Kivu Security Tracker (KST), which has mapped unrest in restive eastern Congo since June 2017, said on Twitter the wife of a local chief was among the dead. It did not attribute blame for the killings. “It’s the deadliest day ever recorded by the KST,” said Pierre Boisselet, the research group’s coordinator. The ADF is believed to have killed more than 850 people in 2020, according to the United Nations, in a spate of reprisal attacks on civilians after the army began operations against it the year before. Reuters

South Africa Returns to Stricter Lockdown, Virus ‘Surging’
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced Sunday that his country will return to stricter lockdown measures in the face of a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases that indicate the virus is “surging again” in Africa’s worst-affected nation. Positive cases in South Africa in the past seven days were 31% higher than the week before, and 66% higher than the week before that, Ramaphosa said in a live TV address. He said some parts of the country, including the commercial hub Johannesburg and the capital city Pretoria, were now in “a third wave.” “We do not yet know how severe this wave will be or for how long it will last,” Ramaphosa said. … South Africa’s decision to go back to a stricter lockdown reinforces — as the crisis in India has already done so starkly — how the global pandemic is far from over. “We have seen in other countries the tragic consequences of leaving the virus to spread unchecked,” Ramaphosa said. “We cannot let our guard down.” AP

Egypt, Sudan Conclude War Games Amid Ethiopia’s Dam Dispute
Egypt and Sudan on Monday concluded joint war games that involved ground, air and naval units. The six-day drill meant to showcase deepening security ties between the two neighboring countries and present a show of force amid mounting tensions with Ethiopia. The dispute stems from Ethiopia’s controversial, unfinished dam on the Nile River’s main tributary. Monday’s part of the drill, at a military base near Khartoum, was attended by the two countries’ chiefs of staff, Sudan’s Mohammed Othman al-Hussein, and his Egyptian counterpart, Lt. Gen. Mohammed Farid. The exercises aimed at “strengthening bilateral relations and unifying methods on dealing with threats that both countries are expected to face,” said a statement from Khartoum. Sudan and Egypt have deepened ties since the ouster of former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 amid a public uprising against his nearly three-decade of rule. … Talks over the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam stalled in April. The two countries want an international agreement to govern how much water Ethiopia releases downstream, especially in a multi-year drought, fearing their critical water shares might be affected. AP

The Libyan War’s Lethal Legacy: Booby-Trapped Teddy Bears, Toilets and Soda Cans
As Russian mercenaries fled the Libyan capital last summer, they left behind booby-trapped houses and yards. They attached explosives to toilet seats, doors and teddy bears, designed to detonate upon touch, Libyan deminers say. Most devious, perhaps, were the empty soda cans. Many young Libyans like to playfully crush them, and so the Russians designed the cans to explode upon pressure. “They studied us, even how our kids played,” said Rabie Aljawashi, the head of the Free Fields Foundation, a Libyan demining agency. “They know how we think.” Now, Libya demining teams are scouring the war-scarred landscape to rid it of this lethal legacy, and they’re finding troves of unexploded munitions left behind — both intentionally and unintentionally — not just by the Russian mercenaries, who had backed renegade Libyan commander Khalifa Hifter, but by earlier waves of conflict. … But the deadliest finds are ­Russian-made mines, according to the deminers. They say they had never seen anything like them before Hifter’s failed campaign in 2019 to seize the capital. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of families are still unable to return to their homes because of mines and other explosives. Reports of casualties emerge on social media nearly every week. The Washington Post

Russian Mercenaries Get the Big-Screen Treatment. The Reality behind the Film Is as Murky as the Plot
It had all the hallmarks of a Hollywood premiere: Excited crowds, a giant screen, even a red carpet. But the high-octane, big budget film making its debut at the Barthélemy Boganda stadium in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), recently wasn’t the latest episode in a star-studded action movie franchise. Instead, the more than 10,000 people packing the stadium’s concrete seats had come to see a lavish piece of Russian propaganda: “Tourist,” a movie glorifying the mission of so-called “military instructors” in CAR, dubbed into Songo, a local language. Yet there is much more to this movie than loud explosions, big guns, and beautiful shots of the African jungle. It neatly encapsulates how the various strands of Russian influence across the African continent have — somewhat bizarrely — come together. As extensively reported by CNN, these Russian “military instructors” are actually part of the Wagner group of mercenaries, a secretive military contractor thought to be connected to — and financed by — Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch so close to the Kremlin that he is known as President Vladimir Putin’s “chef.” CNN

Turkey Claims to Have ‘Captured’ Cleric’s Relative in Kenya
Turkey’s intelligence service claims it has “captured” a Turkish citizen related to a cleric they say orchestrated a failed coup, and taken him from his home in Kenya to Turkey, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported Monday. The man, Selahaddin Gulen, is reported to be the nephew of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher based in the United States who is accused of organizing a coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016. Mr. Erdogan faced down the coup attempt and cracked down hard in the aftermath, imposing a state of emergency for two years, detaining 100,000 people and purging 150,000 public employees from their jobs. More than 8,000 military personnel were prosecuted for their part in the insurrection. Abroad, the crackdown has involved the forced renditions of 80 or more Gulen supporters and the closing of dozens of schools run by his movement. … Turkish officials pressured countries including Kenya to close Gulen-backed private schools, which are in major cities including Nairobi and Mombasa. While the Kenyan government didn’t do so, the pressure was indicative of Mr. Erdogan’s influence and how far he would go to break up the Gulen movement. The New York Times

Gunmen in Nigeria Abduct about 150 Students from Islamic School
An armed gang has abducted students from an Islamic school in the north-central Nigerian state of Niger. The school’s owner, Abubakar Tegina, told Reuters he witnessed the attack and estimated about 150 students had been taken. “I personally saw between 20 and 25 motorcycles with heavily armed people. They entered the school and went away with about 150 or more of the students,” said Tegina, who lives around 150 metres from the school. “We can’t be exact because most of them have not reported to the school as at that time.” … Armed groups carrying out kidnapping for ransom are being blamed for a series of raids on schools and universities in northern Nigeria in recent months, abducting more than 700 students for ransom since December. Sunday’s attack in Niger took place the day after the release of the remaining 14 students of a group abducted last month from a university in neighbouring Kaduna state. The Guardian

Attacks on Election Offices in Nigeria Raise Concerns
Nigerian political observers are expressing concern over the many attacks on the facilities of Nigeria’s electoral body – the Independent National Electoral Commission, or INEC. INEC officials say the commission has recorded at least 42 attacks on its facilities since the last polls in 2019. Nine attacks occurred in 2019 and 21 others took place last year. But in the last four weeks, 12 more offices of the commission have either been set ablaze or vandalized. The latest incident occurred Sunday in southeastern Imo state. Ballot boxes, voting cubicles, power generators and utility vehicles were destroyed. Election officials are evaluating the extent of the damage but say an initial assessment shows it could significantly affect their ability to conduct credible elections in the affected places. … Officials blame unidentified armed groups and the separatist group Indigenous People of Biafra, or IPOB, for the latest attacks. … At a meeting Thursday, Nigerian security units pledged to support the commission by beefing up security around election offices. VOA

Boko Haram Militants Kill Eight in Southeastern Niger, Says Defence Ministry
Insurgents from the Islamist group Boko Haram killed four soldiers and four civilians in an attack on Niger’s southeastern desert town of Diffa, the defence ministry said. At least six militants were killed in the raid on Friday, the ministry said in a statement on Saturday. The insurgents attacked Diffa in the late afternoon, riding in about 15 vehicles. After intense fighting, they were pushed back by security forces, The Boko Haram insurgency broke out in northeastern Nigeria in 2000, but violence frequently spills over into neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon. In December, an attack blamed on Boko Haram killed 28 people and burned 800 homes in Diffa region. Reuters

Gbagbo Plans to Return to Ivory Coast on June 17 after ICC Acquittal
Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo plans to return home on June 17 following his acquittal on charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, his party said on Monday. Gbagbo’s return could be complicated by an outstanding 20-year sentence given to him in absentia in November 2019 by an Ivorian court for misappropriating funds from the regional central bank. In April President Alassane Ouattara said Gbango was free to return from the Hague but did not say whether Gbagbo had been pardoned. Assoa Adou, the leader of a pro-Gbagbo party, announced the date of the former President’s home-coming in front of a crowd that had come to celebrate Gbagbo’s birthday in Abidjan. Gbagbo, who turned 76 on Monday, served as president from 2000 until his arrest in 2011, after his refusal to concede electoral defeat to Ouattara. Post-election violence spiralled into a civil war that claimed the lives of 3,000 people. Reuters

Chad Accuses Central African Republic Troops of War Crime
Chad’s defence ministry on Sunday said troops of neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) had attacked a Chadian military post, killed one soldier, and kidnapped and executed five others – actions it said amounted to a war crime. The allegation puts further pressure on relations between the two countries, which share a porous 1,000-km (620 mile) border across which tens of thousands of refugees have fled waves of rebel-fuelled violence in CAR since 2013. The ministry said heavily armed assailants struck in the early hours of Sunday, attacking a post manned by 12 Chadian soldiers near Chad’s 1,000-km the frontier with CAR. Chad’s embassy in the CAR capital of Bangui was told by the head of CAR’s military police to collect the bodies of the five soldiers executed by CAR forces, it said in a statement. … On Monday, CAR’s communications minister Ange Kazagui said a firefight had broken out by mistake when CAR troops pursued a rebel group near the Chadian border, resulting in the deaths of troops on both sides. Reuters

Cameroon Investigates Missing $335 Million in COVID Funds
Cameroon rights groups, opposition parties and local media are asking the government to publish its findings after most of a $335 million loan from the IMF could not be accounted for. At least 15 officials have appeared before commissions of investigation. … In June 2020, SDF [opposition Social Democratic Front Party] lawmakers complained that the awarding of COVID-19 contracts did not respect procurement procedures and gave room for massive corruption. Local media like Equinox Radio and TV, Roya FM reported gross cases of embezzlement. In one case, the Ministry of Scientific Research received $9 million to produce the drug chloroquine. The ministry instead bought chloroquine amounting to 30 percent of the funds from China. Other cases involve overbilling and failure to render services or provide supplies after payment. VOA

Angolan President Sacks Minister, Head of Security Service
Angolan President João Lourenço Monday sacked the security minister and head of security and intelligence service over a financial scandal. “General Pedro Sebastião is sacked from the position of Minister of State and Head of the Security House of the President of the Republic to which he had been appointed on September 28, 2017. “Under the terms of the Constitution of the Republic of Angola, the President appoints General Francisco Pereira Furtado to the post of Minister of State and Head of the Security House of the President of the Republic. … Last week, the country announced the seizure of several millions of dollars, euros and kwanzas following an investigation into army officers accused of embezzlement, currency retention and being associated with other crimes. An officer of the army serving the Presidency, Major Pedro Lussaty, was caught leaving the country with $10 million and €4 million in cash. Mr Lussaty, who was arrested last week at the 4 de Fevereiro International Airport in Luanda, was the head of Finance of the music group of the Presidency. … Following the scandal, President Lourenço fired other army officers of the Presidency. The EastAfrican

Somaliland: Breakaway Somali Region Votes in Parliamentary Polls
Voters in Somaliland are casting their ballot in parliamentary and local elections on Monday, highlighting progress in the semi-autonomous region of Somalia that over the years has avoided the destructive violence plaguing other parts of the Horn of Africa country. More than one million of Somaliland’s four million people are registered to vote in the elections that have been delayed, with the parliamentary elections being held more than a decade late while the municipal elections are four years late. The region has invited international observers for the elections, including political figures from elsewhere in Africa. Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 but no country has recognised the region. Despite lacking international recognition, Somaliland has maintained its own independent government, currency and security system. John Githongo, an anti-corruption campaigner from Kenya who is in the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa, as an observer, in a Twitter post described the region as “the one Somalia with a bottom-up democracy that seems to organically work.” Al Jazeera

Tanzania’s Opposition Finds Voice after 5 Years in Oblivion
Opposition political parties in Tanzania are beginning to find their voice again after being almost totally silenced over the last five years. A few months after he was sworn in for his first term in office in 2015, former President John Pombe Magufuli, who died on March 17, 2021, banned opposition parties from conducting political activities until the next elections, which were held in October 2020. The order, which was zealously enforced by the police force and regional and district administrators, effectively paralysed Tanzania’s opposition parties which normally depend on public meetings to rally grassroots support. A number of party officials were arrested after they were accused of defying the order. However, with the demise of Dr Magufuli in March, the opposition has started to enjoy the kind of freedom they last tasted in the run-up to the 2015 elections. Dr Magufuli’s successor, President Samia Suluhu, reached out to opposition parties in April when she promised to meet with them and discuss how best they can conduct political activities for the benefit of the country. The Citizen

Congo Volcano Risk Remains as Evacuees Return
Trickles of displaced people are heading back to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern city of Goma, just days after officials ordered residents to evacuate following a volcanic eruption on 22 May that left at least 32 people dead and 20,000 homeless. Hundreds of thousands of evacuees remain scattered and families are still separated across the region amid warnings of further eruptions in the city centre and its adjacent lake, which contains vast amounts of trapped carbon dioxide that could suffocate residents if released. Congolese photojournalist Ley Uwera has been following the situation over the past week, photographing residents as they fled to neighbouring Rwanda – which has also been affected – and to the town of Saké, 25 kilometres northwest of Goma. The New Humanitarian



Photo: Adam Jones