Africa Media Review for June 16, 2021

Chinese Security Firms Spread along the African Belt and Road
The deployment of Chinese security firms in Africa is expanding without a strong regulatory framework. This poses heightened risks to African citizens and raises fundamental questions over responsibility for security in Africa. Since 2012, over 200,000 Chinese workers relocated to Africa to work on China’s One Belt One Road, commonly known as the Belt and Road Initiative, bringing the number of Chinese immigrants on the continent to 1 million. There are over 10,000 Chinese companies in Africa, including at least 2,000 state-owned enterprises. … The Chinese government is increasingly relying on Chinese security firms as part of its security mix. There are 5,000 security firms registered in China, employing 4.3 million ex-PLA and People’s Armed Police. Twenty of these are licensed to operate overseas and report that they employ 3,200 individual contractors, more than the size of PLA peacekeeping deployments, which number around 2,500 troops. The actual number of Chinese contractors in Africa is doubtlessly significantly higher. … The proliferation of foreign security firms has important policy implications for Africa as it undermines the government’s role as the primary security provider within a country and heightens the risk of human rights violations. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

UN: Deaths from Starvation Reported in Ethiopia’s Tigray
The United Nations humanitarian chief warned Tuesday that the 1984 famine that killed more than 1 million Ethiopians could occur again if aid access to that country’s northern Tigray region is not quickly improved, scaled up and properly funded.  “There is now famine in Tigray,” aid chief Mark Lowcock told a private, informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, according to a copy of his written remarks seen by VOA. He said the Tigray administration has reported deaths from starvation. … Last week, urgent calls went out from the U.N. and partner aid agencies for a humanitarian cease-fire. It came on the heels of a report warning that 350,000 people were already in famine conditions in Tigray and that 2 million more were just a step away. … “It’s not a drought or locusts that are causing this hunger, but the decisions of those in power,” British Ambassador Barbara Woodward said. “That means those in power could also end the suffering.” She added that Eritrean forces need to leave Ethiopia.  “We were told in March that Eritrean forces would be withdrawing. It’s now June. There can be no further delay,” she told reporters. The Ethiopian envoy said the delay was due to “sorting some technical and procedural issues.”  “Our expectation is that they will definitely leave soon,” he said. U.S. envoy Jeffrey DeLaurentis told council members that “we have to act now” to prevent a famine, according to a diplomat familiar with the council’s discussion. VOA

Arab Foreign Ministers Meet in Qatar to Discuss Nile Dam Conflict
Arab League foreign ministers met Tuesday in Qatar, focusing on efforts to resolve the Nile River dam conflict between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Egypt’s Foreign Minister said Cairo is seeking a diplomatic, not a military, solution to its dispute with Ethiopia over the filling of the dam, set to begin next month. Arab League head Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdel Rahman bin Jassem al Thani talked to journalists Tuesday after Arab League foreign ministers met in Doha. They said the group is calling on the U.N. Security Council to take up the water dispute between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. The league is trying to prevent a conflict when Ethiopia begins to fill the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam again next month despite the absence of a water-use agreement with Egypt and Sudan. Mediation efforts by the African Union have not made any tangible progress and both Egypt and Sudan have expressed concern that their national security will be adversely affected if Ethiopia proceeds with filling the dam. … Paul Sullivan, a professor at the U.S. National Defense University in Washington, told VOA, “This is a very delicate and treacherous moment for negotiations,” and the situation could become “inflamed” if Ethiopia tries to fill the dam too quickly, causing water shortages in Egypt and Sudan. “The situation is coming to a head, and what happens in the next few weeks could determine a lot,” he added. VOA

Russian Mercenaries Implicated in the Torture and Killing of Civilians in Central African Republic
Fatouma was at home with her children in the town of Bambari when the firing began, on the afternoon of February 15. Terrified, she gathered them up and fled to the nearby mosque, thinking it would be a safe refuge in the Central African Republic (CAR) market town. But instead of finding sanctuary within its walls, she and dozens of others — men, women and children — became targets. Both her children were shot but survived. At least a dozen people didn’t. “It was the Russians and the FACA [the CAR army],” Fatouma said. Russian mercenaries, supported by at least one combat helicopter, attacked the neighborhood as they hunted for rebels known as the Seleka. But according to multiple witnesses, they opened fire indiscriminately against civilians, many of them hiding at the al Taqwa mosque. “There was not a single Seleka element found in the mosque,” Fatouma said. “It was just the civilian population that they killed. We didn’t even see a dead Seleka body on the ground, it was our children they killed.” The incident in Bambari is one of dozens investigated by CNN and The Sentry that show a wide range of human rights abuses by Russian mercenaries deployed to CAR. CNN

Fighting COVID-19 Surge, South Africa Increases Restrictions
Confronted with a rapid surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, South Africa has returned to tighter restrictions on public gatherings and liquor sales, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced Tuesday night. The new infections threaten the health systems in several parts of the country, said Ramaphosa in a nationally televised address. Hospital admissions due to COVID-19 have increased by 59% over the past two weeks, according to Ramaphosa. South Africa’s 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has nearly doubled over the past two weeks from 6.69 new cases per 100,000 people on May 31 to 12.71 new cases per 100,000 people on June 14, according to Johns Hopkins University. “Our priority now is to make sure there are enough hospital beds, enough health workers, enough ventilators, and enough oxygen to give the best possible care to every person who needs it,” said Ramaphosa. South Africa has been the country hardest hit by the pandemic in the entire continent, with a cumulative total of more than 1.7 million infections, including 57,000 deaths, accounting for nearly 40% of Africa’s total confirmed cases. AP

Infamous Human Smuggler Sentenced to 18 Years in Ethiopian Prison
An Eritrean human smuggler, accused of extorting thousands of refugees and migrants in Libya, has been sentenced to 18 years in prison in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Tewelde Goitom, known as Welid, was also ordered to pay a fine of 200,000 birrs ($4,608) – the maximum allowed, according to Ethiopian legislation – during the hearing that took place on Monday, six weeks after he was found guilty of five charges of trafficking individuals. … From roughly 2014 till 2018, Goitom operated warehouses including in the Libyan town of Bani Walid, where he and armed guards he had hired held Eritrean, Ethiopian, Somalis and Sudanese people who were promised to be taken to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. More than a dozen victims, who have spoken to Al Jazeera, described an organised scheme where they initially agreed to pay lower fees in return for a quick journey – but the amount of money demanded vastly increased once they reached Libya. … Goitom was arrested in Addis Ababa in March 2020, one month after another infamous human smuggler, Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam, was caught when an Ethiopian victim recognised him in the street. Habtemariam controlled warehouses in the same Bani Walid compound as Goitom, and was known for extorting and torturing victims. In February this year, Habtemariam escaped from police custody during a court visit before a hearing in his case. Al Jazeera

COVID, Conflict, and Debt Hinder Ethiopia’s Economic Reforms
Shortly after taking office, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promised a spectacular overhaul of the tightly-controlled economy: reforms to spur growth, unshackle the country’s potential, and lift millions out of poverty. But three years on, with elections on June 21, Abiy’s agenda remains largely unrealised, and the country burdened with debt, the economic pain of the coronavirus, and a costly war in Tigray. … But paying back its external debt — some $30 billion (25 billion euros), mostly to China — has proven difficult. This year alone, Ethiopia owes about $2 billion to its creditors and has sought unsuccessfully to defer payment. “We are not now in a position to pay,” said Alemayehu Geda, a professor of economics at Addis Ababa University. Ratings agency Moody’s in May downgraded Ethiopia’s credit score, following a similar cut by Fitch Ratings in February. AFP

Nigerian Growth Lags Africa, Poverty Rising, Says World Bank
Nigerian economic growth has resumed after the COVID shock but is lagging the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, with food inflation, heightened insecurity and stalled reforms slowing growth and increasing poverty, the World Bank said on Tuesday. Presenting its six-monthly update on development in Africa’s most populous country, the organisation gave a GDP growth forecast for Nigeria of 1.9% in 2021 and 2.1% in 2022, compared with 3.4% this year and 4.0% next year for sub-Saharan Africa. Lead economist for Nigeria Marco Hernandez said inflation, especially in food prices, was exacerbating poverty and food insecurity. Food accounted for almost 70% of Nigeria’s total increase in inflation over the past year. He said the COVID-induced crisis was expected to push over 11 million Nigerians into poverty by 2022, taking the total number of people classified as poor in the country to over 100 million. The total population is estimated at 200 million. … Hernandez said increased insecurity across the nation — ranging from mass abductions at schools, kidnappings for ransom, armed conflict between herdsmen and farmers, armed robberies and various insurgencies — was a drag on growth and job creation. Reuters

Young, Qualified and Barely Scraping by – Inside Nigeria’s Economic Crisis
Nigeria’s vast, rapidly growing population of 200 million people has a median age of just 18. Many of its young people have seen their prospects quickly diminish in recent years. Since 2015, Nigeria has endured one of its worst economic slumps in a generation. Two recessions since 2016 – driven by a combination of the government’s economic policies, a collapse in oil prices, and the Covid-19 pandemic – have inflicted prolonged misery. The economic challenges are stark and affect people across the age spectrum, but the rise of youth unemployment has been among the most troubling factors. The unemployment rate has quadrupled since 2015 to become one of the worst globally. At the end of last year, 23 million people – or 33% of working age people looking for work – were recorded as unemployed, according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), and younger people were worst affected. Almost half of working-age Nigerians under 35 are either unemployed or underemployed – working part-time when they would like to be full time – the NBS said in March. A shadow has been cast over the young, reinforcing the sense that greener pastures lie elsewhere. The Guardian

No Final Agreement as Sudan Govt – SPLM-N Juba Talks Adjourned
The South Sudanese mediation decided to adjourn the direct negotiation sessions between the Sudanese transitional government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) indefinitely yesterday, to hold further consultations on the remaining contentious issues between the two parties, who have failed to reach a final agreement on a number of issues that were discussed in the draft framework. South Sudanese Presidential Advisor Tut Gatluak, the head of the mediation team, said in a press statement, countersigned by the negotiating parties, that the mediation would conduct contacts between the delegations of the Sudanese transitional government and SPLM-N to bring their views closer together in order to create conducive conditions for the next round of negotiations. He added that the two delegations reached great understandings on the contentious issues, indicating that only four of the nineteen points were left for negotiation, explaining that they are simple and can be resolved. Gatluak voiced hope that the next round of negotiations would witness the signing of comprehensive peace agreement, which would meet the aspirations of the people of Sudan. Radio Dabanga

Oldest Party Wins Most Seats in Voting for ‘New Algeria’
Algeria’s oldest party, previously thought to be on the wane, won the largest number of seats in weekend legislative elections, the country’s electoral authority announced Tuesday. The National Liberation Front, or FLN, secured 105 of 407 parliamentary seats, according to the provisional results. Independent candidates, including young people new to politics and many others who broke away from the FLN, placed second, winning a total 78 seats. The voting Saturday was meant to open the way to a “new Algeria” heralded by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to end an era of corruption and give the North African nation a new, younger face after a two-decade reign of Abdelaziz Bouteflika as chief of state. Bouteflika was forced to resign in 2019 under pressure from the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement. However, turnout was dismal with Hirak protesters boycotting the elections, as did traditional opposition parties. The electoral chief, Mohamed Charfi, did not provide a turnout figure in his Tuesday rundown of results, but media outlets calculating the number of voters among the 24 million eligible put the figure at 23% — a historic low. AP

Large Methane Leak Detected over South Africa Coal Mining Region
A cloud of methane was detected by satellite near coal mines in South Africa, drawing attention to a lesser-known environmental risk that comes from using the dirtiest fossil fuel. The potent greenhouse gas — methane traps roughly 84 times more heat than carbon dioxide in its first two decades in the atmosphere — was emitted at an estimated rate of 65 metric tons an hour on May 10, according to Kayrros SAS. The Paris-based analytics company found the leak by parsing European Space Agency satellite observations. It was the worst plume of methane Kayrros detected in the data over Africa this year. … While coal is falling out of favor as an energy source because of the large amount of CO₂ generated as it’s burned, mining the fossil fuel also causes methane emissions because companies sometimes release the gas trapped underground to lower the risk of explosions. Methane can continue leaking after mines have been closed or abandoned. The industry is expected to generate about 10% of methane emissions caused by humans by the end of the decade, according to the Global Methane Initiative.  The problem can be mitigated if miners capture the gas and use it for power generation, coal drying or as supplemental fuel for the boilers, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Bloomberg



Photo: Adam Jones