Africa Media Review for June 14, 2021

Turnout at Lowest in 20 Years in Divisive Algerian Parliamentary Elections
Algeria voted Saturday in a parliamentary election boycotted by the long-running Hirak protest movement and marked by a high abstention rate. Pro-government parties had urged a big turnout for the “crucial vote” hoping to restore stability after two years of turmoil since the ouster of veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika under pressure from the protests. The Hirak movement, which had held weekly demonstrations for reform until they were effectively banned last month, rejected the polls as a “sham.” Seven leading protest movement figures were arrested ahead of polling day while police deployed heavily in the capital Algiers to preempt any attempt to rally. Turnout was just 30.2 percent, the lowest in at least 20 years for legislative elections, electoral commission chief Mohamed Chorfi said after polls closed. … The protest movement has urged boycotts of all national polls since it mobilised hundreds of thousands of people in 2019 to force Bouteflika and his cronies from power, after the ailing president launched a bid for a fifth term. It returned to the streets in February after an almost-year-long break caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. But the government stepped up its crackdown last month, blocking protests and detaining hundreds of activists who have defied new restrictions on public gatherings. AFP

South Africa Enters Third COVID Wave
South Africa has officially entered its “third wave” of Covid-19 cases, putting further pressure on a healthcare system that is already dealing with the worst outbreak of the deadly virus in Africa. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases said that the national seven-day average had exceeded the new wave threshold which is defined as 30 per cent of the peak infections of the previous wave. Almost 10,000 new cases were reported on Thursday, with a 15.7 per cent positivity testing rate, bringing South Africa’s total number of cases to more than 1.7 million. The high number of cases is attributed to one of Africa’s best testing regimes and also the emergence of the more virulent South Africa variant. South Africa’s vaccine rollout has been mired in problems, with only around half a million people out of its population of 58 million fully vaccinated. The news comes as coronavirus cases across Africa have surged by 25 per cent over the last week, sparking fears that a third wave is well underway for the continent of 1.3 billion people. Telegraph

Congo President Says Kinshasa Hospitals ‘Overwhelmed’ by Coronavirus
Hospitals in Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital Kinshasa are “overwhelmed” by a rise in COVID-19 infections, President Felix Tshisekedi said on Saturday, as the country was hit by a third wave of the disease. Like many African countries, Congo has officially registered relatively few cases. But the virus has killed a number of prominent politicians, and low vaccination rates have left the country vulnerable to more contagious variants. Health officials recorded 254 confirmed COVID-19 cases on Friday, one of the highest daily totals since the pandemic began. In all, Congo has registered 35,000 cases and 830 deaths. “I am going to take drastic measures to deal with this upsurge of the disease. We’re talking about the Indian variant in particular,” Tshisekedi told reporters, referring to the Delta variant, which was first discovered in India and is highly infectious. … Experts say that in Congo, scarce testing means cases and deaths are likely to be heavily understated by official numbers. They also say hospitals are ill-equipped to deal with a fresh wave of the virus. Reuters

US Pushes UN Security Council to Publicly Address Ethiopia’s Tigray
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Thursday pushed for the UN Security Council to meet publicly on Ethiopia’s conflict-torn Tigray region, where hundreds of thousands of people are suffering from famine. “What are we afraid of? What are we trying to hide? The Security Council’s failure is unacceptable. We have addressed other emergent crises with public meetings. But not with this one,” Thomas-Greenfield told a US and European Union virtual event on Tigray. Western council members have been pitted against Russia and China, countries that diplomats say question whether the 15-member body, charged with maintaining international peace and security, should be involved in the crisis in Tigray. “I ask those who refuse to address this issue publicly: Do African lives not matter?” she said, repeating publicly a question she had asked her council colleagues privately in April. About 350 000 people in Tigray region are suffering “catastrophic” food shortages, according to an analysis by UN agencies and aid groups released on Thursday. UN aid chief Mark Lowcock said: “There is famine now in Tigray.” … The Security Council is expected to meet on Tuesday on Tigray, at the request of Ireland, but diplomats said it was likely to again be a closed meeting. Reuters

Mali Coup Chief Names New Cabinet with Army Officers in Key Posts
Weeks after leading Mali’s second coup in nine months, Colonel Assimi Goita has named a new cabinet in the country’s transitional government, with military officers receiving the strategic ministries of defence, security and national reconciliation. An announcement on national television on Friday said Colonel Sadio Camara, one of the leaders of the August 2020 coup that removed former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, had been restored as defence minister. Goita, who was vice president in the transitional administration that was eventually formed after Keita’s overthrew, orchestrated in late May another coup that removed interim President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane. The colonel accused the pair of failing to consult him about a cabinet reshuffle that would have replaced Camara from his post, as well as Modibo Kone, who had been in charge of security. … Last month’s coup sparked international uproar, with the African Union and the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc suspending Mali. France, which has thousands of troops stationed in the war-torn country, also suspended military cooperation. Al Jazeera

French Soldiers Kill Mali Jihadist Blamed for RFI Journalists’ Murder
French soldiers have killed a Malian jihadist suspected of being responsible for the kidnapping and death of two French journalists in 2013. Florence Parly, the defence minister in Paris, said French forces in the Sahel region killed “four terrorists” during an operation in northern Mali on 5 June, including Bayes Ag Bakabo, the prime suspect in the deaths of Radio France International (RFI) reporters Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon. “His neutralisation means the end of a long wait,” Parly said, adding that Bakabo had been in the village of Aguelhok preparing an attack against UN peacekeeping forces when he was killed. Dupont and Verlon, both in their 50s and veteran journalists, were seized in the flashpoint northern Malian town of Kidal in November 2013 after interviewing a separatist Tuareg leader. Their bullet-riddled bodies were found a few hours later, with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claiming the killings as revenge for France’s decision to intervene against jihadist groups in the country earlier that year. A French investigation concluded that Bakabo, also a known drug trafficker, drove the pickup truck used to kidnap the two journalists. AFP

Niger: Attack on Seini Oumarou’s Home Kills Guard
A machine-gun attack on the home of Seini Oumarou, president of Niger’s National Assembly, has killed one of his guards and seriously wounded a second, authorities said. The attack, which happened overnight Friday to Saturday, was carried out by two men on a motorbike, Osseini Salatou, an adviser to Oumarou, told journalists on Saturday. “They machine-gunned the guards (posted in front of his home), killing one of them” and seriously wounding the other, he added. Niger’s interior ministry confirmed the attack in a statement Saturday evening, adding that the two attackers had tried unsuccessfully to drive off a four-wheel-drive vehicle parked in front of the building before leaving the scene. Officials had opened an investigation into the attack, they added. Oumarou leads the National Movement for the Development of Society, which was in power between 1999 and 2010. Now 70, Oumarou placed third in the first round of the December 2020 presidential election, before throwing his support behind the eventual winner, Mohamed Bazoum. AFP

Ivory Coast Opens Counter-Terrorism Academy in Partnership with France
Ivory Coast and France inaugurated a new counter-terrorism academy in the West African country on Thursday, intended to boost regional capacity to combat a growing Islamist threat. The International Academy for the Fight Against Terrorism (AILCT), in the outskirts of Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Abidjan, will include a school for government officials, a training centre for special forces, and a research institute. It comes as Ivory Coast faces increasing attacks from jihadist groups based to the north in Mali and Burkina Faso, who are trying to expand their reach toward the Gulf of Guinea. One soldier was killed in an attack in northern Ivory Coast this week. “The questions before us are clear: how to fight effectively against terrorist groups that are more mobile than ever… how to prevent them from importing their strategy here,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the academy’s opening. “Regional states must step up their military cooperation, their security cooperation, and their judicial cooperation,” he said, adding that AILCT will help with this goal. Reuters

France Rallies Liberia ‘Neighbours’ to Curb Sahel Jihadists
France’s Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has called for a regional effort to combat jihadists in the Sahel on a two-day visit to Liberia. “We want to support you and your neighbours in facing the very serious threats imposed by the progression of Sahel terrorist groups towards the Gulf of Guinea,” Le Drian told Liberian President George Weah on Friday. “In the face of this scourge, regional action is needed,” he said at the inauguration of an Alliance Française branch in the capital. Le Drian’s visit is the first high profile French government official to visit Liberia in 30 years. His comments come just one day after President Emmanuel Macron announced an overhaul of France’s military operations in the Sahel, calling for a new international force in the region. Weah said France has been assisting the Liberian National Police in the form of equipment and training, and plays an important role in peace and security in the sub-region, especially in combating the rise of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. RFI

With Military Victory Elusive, W. African Nations Quietly Back Talks with Islamists
Two years after local emir Djibril Diallo fled his home in northern Burkina Faso following death threats from Islamist militants, he received an unexpected request: to return and take part in peace talks with the same people who wanted him dead. Adama Ouedraogo, deputy mayor of Diallo’s hometown of Thiou, called him in January to help negotiate an end to years of attacks by jihadists against local militias and civilians that forced thousands of people to flee the area. “I told them that if everyone was sincere, I could return,” said Diallo, a traditional chief to Fulani herders. For a decade, West African armies and their international allies have fought against militant groups active in the Sahel region, some linked to the al Qaeda and Islamic State networks. They have had limited success. Attacks on civilians still occur most weeks and large areas remain outside government control. Hundreds of soldiers have been killed since militants first seized control of swathes of Mali in 2012. Now, in the worst-hit parts of Burkina Faso and neighbouring Mali, local leaders are pursuing unofficial talks with militants. The governments do not publicly acknowledge the discussions, but five sources involved in them told Reuters the authorities have been quietly supportive. Reuters

Henri Marie Dondra Named Central African Republic Prime Minister
Henri Marie Dondra has been named prime minister of the Central African Republic (CAR), the country’s presidency said in a statement. The appointment of the former finance minister on Friday came a day after former Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada announced his resignation and that of his government following legislative elections. A former chief of staff to President Faustin-Archange Touadera, Ngrebada had been in post since early 2019 when he helped craft a February 2019 peace deal signed with rebel groups in Sudan that now appears on the verge of collapse. … The resignation of Ngrebada and subsequent appointment of Dondra came during a turbulent week after France announced it was suspending military operations with its former colony. Some 160 French soldiers who were providing operational support, while also training Central African forces, suspended their mission. Al Jazeera

Gunmen Kill Dozens of Villagers in Northern Nigeria
Armed cattle thieves have killed 53 people in northwest Nigeria’s Zamfara state, police and local residents said Saturday, the latest violence to hit the restive region. Scores of motorcycle-riding gunmen called bandits by locals on Thursday through Friday, invaded the villages of Kadawa, Kwata, Maduba, Ganda Samu, Saulawa and Askawa in the Zurmi district, shooting residents, they said. The gang attacked farmers in their fields and pursued others who fled to escape the assaults. Zamfara police spokesman Mohammed Shehu said 14 bodies had been taken to the state capital Gusau on Friday, and added that “policemen deployed in the area following the attacks.” … Villages in the Zurmi district have been repeatedly raided by bandits, and local residents blocked a major highway last week, calling on the authorities to end the attacks. Northwest and central Nigeria have in recent years fallen prey to gangs of cattle thieves and kidnappers who raid villages, killing and kidnapping residents in addition to stealing livestock after looting and burning homes. The criminals have begun to focus on raiding schools and kidnapping students for ransom. AFP

Nigerian Police Fire Teargas to Break up Protests over Rising Insecurity
Police fired teargas and detained several demonstrators in the Nigerian cities of Lagos and Abuja on Saturday during protests over the country’s worsening security situation. Anger over mass kidnappings-for-ransom, a decade-long Islamist insurgency and a crackdown on protesters in Lagos last October has fuelled demands for the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to do more to tackle violence and insecurity. There was a heavy police presence in the country’s two major cities as several hundred people gathered to protest on Democracy Day, which marks Nigeria’s move to civilian rule more than 20 years ago. Reuters witnesses in Lagos and the capital Abuja saw police shooting their guns into the air and firing teargas into the crowds to disperse the demonstrators, who held placards and chanted “Buhari must go.” … Officers were also seen smashing mobile phones confiscated from protesters, some of whom criticised the government’s decision to suspend access to Twitter after the social media platform removed a recent post by Buhari. Reuters

Tunisians Rally against Police Brutality in Working Class Areas
Clashes have erupted in the Tunisian capital as hundreds of young people came out to protest against police brutality in working-class neighbourhoods following the latest death of a man in police custody. Protesters were seen throwing sticks, chairs and water bottles at security forces who were firing tear gas and roughly detained several people in the Sidi Hassine area on the outskirts of Tunis. Saturday’s violence followed three consecutive nights of protests after a young man was killed “in suspicious circumstances” in the neighbourhood, according to the Tunisian League of Human Rights (LTDH). The man died on Tuesday after being arrested by police on suspicion of dealing drugs, according to local media. Earlier on Saturday, several dozen left-wing activists and residents of working-class districts demonstrated in front of the interior ministry in protest against the death for which the family blamed the police. … Tunisia’s independent High Human Rights Commission said on Thursday that incidents such as those in Sidi Hassine risked undermining “confidence in the state and its institutions.” Al Jazeera

UN: ‘Humanitarian Agencies Reach Communities in South Kordofan and Blue Nile for the First Time in 10 Years’
United Nations humanitarian agencies have been able to access conflict-affected communities in five areas controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) El Hilu in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states of Sudan, for the first time in a decade, according to a joint statement today by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). A series of humanitarian missions to the five isolated enclaves has concluded, just as renewed peace talks between the government of Sudan and SPLM-N are ongoing in Juba, South Sudan, the statement says. These five areas have largely been cut-off from support over the last decade and the missions’ findings indicate people are in dire need of improved food security, education, health, and water and sanitation services. … United Nations humanitarian agencies have not been able to reach or provide life-saving assistance to support people in the five locations since 2011, when conflict broke out between the Government of Sudan and the SPLM-N. Gaining humanitarian access to these communities provides a critical opportunity to improve lives and rebuild livelihoods. Radio Dabanga

Tanzania Yields to UN, Lenders Calls on COVID Data
Tanzania announced that it will start releasing Covid-19 data amid pressure from the UN and Bretton Woods institutions to do so as a precondition for lending. “Soon, the government will officially announce measures on how to address the Covid-19 pandemic in Tanzania,” government spokesman Gerson Msigwa told The EastAfrican. The assurance came after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on June 9 pushed Dodoma to start publicising Covid-19 infections and measures, with a threat to withhold a $571 million loan. … And on Thursday during the presentation of the 2021/22 budget, Finance Minister Mwigulu Nchemba announced that the government is in negotiations with the IMF to secure $571 million to mitigate the economic and social effects of the pandemic. “The government intends to direct the funds towards bolstering official foreign reserves, improve expenditure in health and water sectors as well as boost tourism services,” he said. … Dar stopped reporting cases of Covid-19 on April 29, 2020 when the country had 509 infections, 183 recoveries and 21 deaths. A few weeks later, President John Magufuli declared the country pandemic-free. Now, the Aboud committee’s report states that the country has been hit by two waves of the novel virus. The EastAfrican

Brazil, UAE, Albania, Ghana and Gabon Win UN Council Seats
The United Nations elected five countries to join the powerful U.N. Security Council on Friday with no suspense because all were unopposed — Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, Albania, Ghana and Gabon. Winning a seat on the 15-member Security Council is considered a pinnacle of achievement for many countries because it gives them a strong voice on issues of international peace and security ranging from conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Mali and Myanmar to the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and Iran, and attacks by extremist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida. … The five new council members will start their terms on Jan. 1, replacing five countries whose two-year terms end on Dec. 31 — Estonia, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia and Vietnam. They will join the five veto-wielding permanent members of the council — the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France — and the five countries elected last year: India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico and Norway. AP



Photo: Adam Jones