Africa Media Review for June 23, 2021

COVID Surge in Africa Raises Fears of a Calamity like India’s
With medical supplies depleted, vaccines scarce, doctors lamenting physical and mental fatigue and hospitals turning away patients for lack of beds or oxygen, health officials say they fear a wave like the one that ripped through India in April and May could be looming over Kisumu[, Kenya]. “The India example is not lost to us,” Dr. Nyunya said. Though data on infections and deaths is spotty, more than 23 percent of the people tested for the virus in Kisumu last week were positive — more than double the national rate. Kenya’s overall positivity rate is similar to that of the United States when the pandemic peaked there in January. But the Delta variant was still rare then, the American health system is far more robust than Kenya’s and the U.S. government was ramping up vaccination on a grand scale. All of Africa is vulnerable, as the latest wave of the pandemic sweeps the continent, driven in part by more transmissible variants. … Covid-related deaths in Africa climbed by nearly 15 percent last week compared to the previous one, based on available data from almost 40 nations, the World Health Organization said. But experts say the true scale of the pandemic far exceeds reported figures in Africa, where testing and tracing remain a challenge for many countries, and many nations do not collect mortality data. The New York Times

Former Mauritanian President Aziz in Jail over Corruption Charges
Mauritania’s former president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, was on Tuesday jailed after a judge in charge of a corruption probe ordered his incarceration, his party and prosecutors said. A prosecutor speaking on condition of anonymity and the spokesman of the former president’s party Djibril Ould Bilal confirmed his detention without citing the reason. Aziz has twice gone before a magistrate investigating the case since the charges, including money laundering, were brought in March. The move comes days after the former leader refused to continue reporting to police after being put under house arrest. Aziz ruled the conservative West African state from 2008 to mid-2019, when he was succeeded by his former right-hand man and ex-defence minister, Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani. … The 64-year-old former general who came to power in a coup already had to report to police three times a week and to seek approval before leaving the capital. The charges followed a year-long probe initiated by parliament into the handling of oil revenue, the sale of state property, the winding up of a publicly owned food-supply company and the activities of a Chinese fishing firm. AFP

Germany Hosts Conference to Push for Progress in Libya
Germany and the United Nations are bringing together representatives of Libya with powers that have interests in the country at a conference Wednesday which aims for progress toward securing elections in the North African nation and the removal of foreign fighters. … Ahead of the conference, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that much has been achieved in the past two years. An October cease-fire agreement that included a demand that all foreign fighters and mercenaries leave Libya within 90 days led to a deal on elections, due to be held on Dec. 24, and a transitional government that took office in February. But “many challenges still lie ahead of us,” said Maas. “For the further stabilization of the country, it is crucial that elections take place as planned and that foreign fighters and mercenaries really do leave Libya.” … [U.S. Secretary of State Antony] Blinken said that “we share the goal of a sovereign, stable, unified, secure Libya free from foreign interference — it’s what the people of Libya deserve, it’s critical to regional security as well.” … The U.S. special envoy for Libya, Richard Norland, said it was important to start bringing all armed groups in the country under a joint military command. AP

Regional Leaders to Meet Again in Maputo on Wednesday to Decide on Military Force in Mozambique
Regional leaders will meet in a full summit in Maputo on Wednesday once again to try to decide if they should send a military force into Mozambique to tackle a growing Islamic State-linked insurgency there. It will be the third time in a matter of weeks that the 16-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) will attempt to reach this crucial decision. Agreement has so far eluded them, mainly, it seems, because the Mozambique government is reluctant to allow a proposed regional force on its soil. There is still no clarity on Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi’s thinking on a regional military intervention, though most commentators and analysts believe he remains reluctant. SADC and Mozambique have been batting the idea around for about a year. The issue came to a head after a major assault by the insurgents on the coastal town of Palma in Mozambique’s northernmost Cabo Delgado province at the end of March. That forced the French energy giant Total to suspend its vast liquid natural gas project at nearby Afungi. It also jolted SADC into action. In April, SADC military officials visited Cabo Delgado and wrote a confidential report, proposing that a regional force of about 3,000 troops intervene in Cabo Delgado to “combat and neutralise” the insurgency and drive it out of the territories it occupies, mainly the coastal town of Mocimboa da Praia and surrounding areas. Daily Maverick

Nigeria Announces Talks with Twitter after Ban, as ECOWAS Court Bars Government Crackdown on Users
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has assembled a reconciliation team to lead negotiations with Twitter, more than two weeks after the American social media company’s operation was indefinitely suspended in the West African nation. The move came about after Twitter wrote to the President “seeking to engage with the Federal Government over the suspension,” according to a statement on Tuesday. The team comprises of some of Buhari’s top ministers, including Minister of Information Lai Mohammed who accused Twitter of “double standards,” when he first announced the suspension. The announcement also coincided with a ruling by West African regional bloc ECOWAS barring the Nigerian government from arresting and prosecuting Nigerians and corporate bodies for circumventing the Twitter ban. Nigerian authorities had ordered federal prosecutors to commence legal action against violators of the ban after many Nigerians continued to send tweets using a virtual private network (VPN). CNN

Gunmen Kill 11 Police Officers in Burkina Faso; 4 Missing
Gunmen ambushed a group of police officers in Burkina Faso, killing at least 11 of them in the deadliest attack of its kind yet in this West African country where extremist violence is escalating. At least four other officers were missing after Monday’s attack near the town of Barsalogho in the volatile country’s center-north region, Burkina Faso’s security ministry confirmed in a press release Tuesday. “The violence is getting closer to Barsalogho. We are really concerned,” said Abdoulaye Pafadnam, the town’s mayor. Only seven police officers are known to have survived the ambush, authorities from the security ministry said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, though suspicion immediately fell on Islamic extremists who have unleashed unprecedented violence recently. Earlier this month, jihadists carried out the deadliest attack on civilians in Burkina Faso since the insurgency here began, killing at least 132 people in Solhan village in the country’s Sahel region. AP

Officials Count Ballots after Ethiopia’s Election, New Fighting Reported in Tigray
Officials in Ethiopia counted ballots on Tuesday after a parliamentary election billed as the first free vote in the country’s history but marred by an opposition boycott, war and reports of irregularities in some areas. … Authorities could not hold polls on Monday in four of Ethiopia’s 10 regions, according to the election board. … War has displaced 2 million people in the Tigray region, where Abiy sent troops last November to battle regional authorities that once had dominated the federal government in Addis Ababa. Residents said new fighting had flared in recent days north of regional capital Mekelle. … In a tweet on Tuesday, Abiy wrote: “All sections of society have gone out to cast their vote in our nation’s first free and fair election.” … The United Nations says a famine is looming after fighting between Ethiopia’s military and the region’s former governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). No date has been set for elections in Tigray. On Tuesday, an airstrike in the town of Togoga killed several people and injured 43, including a 2-year-old, about 25 km (16 miles) south of Mekelle, a doctor told Reuters. Reuters

U.N. Expert Says Eritrea Has ‘Effective Control’ in Parts of Tigray
Eritrea now has “effective control” of parts of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, a U.N. human rights expert said on Tuesday, calling for troops to withdraw and for a prompt investigation into abuses, including the abduction of refugees. Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea, was addressing the Human Rights Council a day after he presented a report that described violations by Eritrean troops in Tigray, including summary executions and the abduction and disappearance of Eritrean refugees there. … “According to information that I have, Eritrea has an effective control over the Tigray region…especially in the two camps: Hitsats and Shimelba,” Babiker said, referring to camps in Tigray that house refugees from Eritrea. “The whereabouts of refugees who remain missing is really a matter of great concern,” Babiker said, calling for a full investigation by an independent body into these allegations. Reuters

Sudan Asks U.N. Security Council to Meet over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile Dam
Sudan asked the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday to meet and discuss a dispute over a giant dam being built by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile, a government statement said. … Sudan’s Foreign Minister Mariam Sadiq al-Mahdi called on the Security Council to hold a session as soon as possible to discuss GERD and “its impact on the safety and security of millions of people,” the government statement said. In a letter to the council head, she called on him to urge Ethiopia to stop the “unilateral” filling of the dam “which exacerbates the dispute and poses a threat to regional and international peace and security,” the statement added. … Arab League envoy to the UN, Maged Abdel Fattah, said on Tuesday evening that Sudan and Egypt are working on a draft resolution to the Security Council on GERD if Ethiopia doesn’t reach a deal. Arab states will lobby for the draft resolution to be approved, he told the Egyptian private TV channel Sada Elbalad, adding that he doesn’t expect world powers to block it. Ethiopia previously rejected calls from Egypt and Sudan to involve mediators outside the African Union. Reuters

Sudan PM Warns of Fractures within Military
Sudan’s premier warned Tuesday of “deeply worrying” fractures within the country’s security forces and called for reconciliation between civilian and military political factions. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok made the comments as he announced an initiative to unify the factions guiding Sudan through a fragile transition following the April 2019 ouster of dictator Omar al-Bashir. Sudan has been led by a civilian-military ruling administration since the sides reached a power-sharing deal the following August. Nearly two years later, the transition continues to face pressing challenges including pressure from rebels and civilians to reform the military. “All the challenges we are facing, in my view, are a manifestation of a deeper crisis that is primarily a political one,” Hamdok told journalists. Hamdok said his initiative aimed to push for reforms to the military and ensure that armed groups, including the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), be integrated into the armed forces. … In recent days, Khartoum has seen a wave of violent crime and looting, as angry protesters blocked the streets with burning car tyres. Last week, Hamdok warned that the country might slip into chaos and further instability if the ruling political factions failed to work together. Africanews with AFP

IMF Announces Debt Relief Package for Sudan
The International Monetary Fund has announced a debt relief package for Sudan, a step in helping the country as it tries to rejoin the global economy after years of isolation. In a statement distributed late Tuesday, the fund’s managing director Kristalina Georgieva said that it had obtained enough pledges from more than 100 member countries to finance the debt relief package of some US$1.4 billion. This will help to erase debts Sudan owed to the IMF, but also other lending institutions. “Today’s financing milestone marks a historic opportunity for Sudan to move toward comprehensive debt relief,“ she said. “The Fund will continue to support Sudan in its recovery from a long period of instability and economic hardship.” Its new standing will make the country eligible for new IMF loans, but also developmental aid and assistance. It comes after France announced that it would forgive $5 billion of Sudan’s debt at a conference meant to drum up international financial support for the African country in May. AP

Algeria Revokes France 24 Accreditation as Pressure on Media Mounts
Algeria’s decision to revoke the accreditation of France 24 over its coverage of long-running pro-democracy protests signals the pressure that media in the North African country work under, analysts say. The move against the French state-owned news outlet earlier this month comes amid tensions between the government and press over coverage of the pro-democracy Hirak Movement. The announcement came the day after legislative elections in which 70% of the electorate did not vote, according to data from the Algerian electoral authority. … Media and human rights watchdogs say that journalists in Algeria frequently face harassment and arbitrary detention, and that access to several news websites has been blocked. Under a 2020 law, journalists risk up to five years in prison for undermining public order. A separate decree says news websites have to be based in the country and run by an Algerian national, Freedom House data shows. Overall, the country’s press freedom record since 2018 has declined 10 places — falling to 146 out of 180 — on Reporters Without Borders (RSF) annual index. VOA

Dozens of Congo’s Rebels Lay Down Weapons in the East
Dozens of militia fighters in the Democratic Republic of Congo have laid down their weapons and surrendered, the first to do so since President Felix Tshisekedi announced martial law to tackle worsening security in two eastern provinces. Around 140 men from various local armed groups sang and clapped as they handed themselves in to authorities during a ceremony in Congo’s North Kivu province on Monday. … Congo’s mineral-rich east has been convulsed with conflict since the official end to the country’s second civil war in 2003. More than 120 armed groups are now fighting for control of the region’s land and natural resources. … Tshisekedi declared a state of siege in early May in response to a two-year surge in violence across the region. But deadly attacks have increased since then, according to data collected by the Kivu Security Tracker, which maps unrest in the region. … Some conflict analysts say increasing the army’s power is unlikely to address the root causes of the bloodshed, pointing to a long history of problematic behaviour documented among troops. In a blistering report published last week, the United Nations said that sexual violence perpetrated by government troops in Congo’s east could amount to war crimes. Reuters

Congo Seizes Gold Worth $1.9 Million in Okapi Wildlife Reserve
Congolese authorities have seized 31 kg of gold, worth around $1.9 million, in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the country’s northeast, in a rare loss for smugglers who fraudulently bring tonnes of Congolese gold into the global market each year. Lieutenant Jean de Dieu Musongela, head of the military prosecutor’s office in Mambasa, said on Tuesday the gold came from Muchacha, which he described as a mine in the Okapi reserve. Mining in the reserve – a UNESCO World Heritage site, home to okapi, forest elephants, and other endangered species – is illegal, but the Congolese mining registry shows Okapi covering a smaller area than on UNESCO’s maps. Three Congolese men were arrested, Musongela said, but another two men, who were Chinese, fled. The three suspects were taken to the provincial capital Bunia for further questioning. “Not only are these people mining gold, they are also melting it,” said Musongela, adding the authorities did not know the extent of the operation. In a report last week, the United Nations Group of Experts on the Congo said Muchacha is on mining concession PE7657, owned by MCC Resources. The report said, citing photographic evidence, that members of the Congolese armed forces were on the Muchacha site, in contravention of Congolese law. Reuters

WFP: Catastrophic Hunger Descending on Southern Madagascar
The head of the World Food Program said Tuesday that more than a million people in southern Madagascar are “marching toward” starvation, and some 14,000 are already in famine-like conditions. “You really can’t imagine how bad it is,” David Beasley told a small group of reporters about the conditions he saw during his trip last week to the East African island nation. He said people are barely finding enough to eat, and many are dying. The WFP chief described people subsisting on mud and cactus flowers and hundreds of emaciated children with ripples of sagging skin on their limbs. “It’s something you see in a horror movie,” Beasley said. The country has suffered a series of successive droughts since 2014, leading to poor harvests. Last year, swarms of desert locusts swept through East Africa. Earlier this year two tropical storms appeared to bring some drought relief, but the rainfall, combined with warm temperatures, created ideal conditions for an infestation of fall armyworms, which destroy maize. VOA

‘Historic Moment’: Legal Experts Unveil New Definition of Ecocide
After six months of deliberation, a team of international lawyers has unveiled a new legal definition of “ecocide” that, if adopted, would put environmental destruction on a par with war crimes – paving the way for the prosecution of world leaders and corporate chiefs for the worst attacks on nature. The expert panel published the core text of the proposed law on Tuesday, outlining ecocide as “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.” Its authors want the members of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to endorse it and hold big polluters to account in a bid to halt the unbridled destruction of the world’s ecosystems. “It is a question of survival for our planet,” said Dior Fall Sow, a UN jurist and former prosecutor who co-chaired the panel. … Any of the ICC’s 123 member states can now propose it as an amendment to the court’s charter, known as the Rome Statute. Once that happens, the court’s annual assembly will hold a vote on whether the amendment can be considered for future enactment. Al Jazeera