Africa Media Review for June 24, 2021

Dozens Killed in Market Airstrike in Ethiopia, Officials Say
Dozens of people were killed when a government airstrike slammed into a busy market in northern Ethiopia, medics and witnesses said, as fighting intensified in the restive Tigray region where federal forces are struggling to contain a broadening insurgency. The airstrike appeared to be one of the deadliest single incidents of the eight-month civil war that has sullied the international reputation of Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize winning leader, Abiy Ahmed. The attack was on Tuesday in Togoga, 15 miles west of the Tigrayan regional capital, Mekelle. A day later, on Wednesday, Tigrayan rebels struck back against the government when fighters shot down an Ethiopian Air Forces C-130 transport plane as it approached Mekelle, causing it to smash into a field about 15 miles south of the city, according to the rebels and witnesses. It pointed to an intensifying fight in Tigray, where fighters led by Ethiopia’s one-time ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, captured areas south of Mekelle that until recently were controlled by soldiers from Eritrea. The rebels say they have captured several thousand Ethiopian soldiers and were holding them as prisoners of war. The New York Times

Southern African Leaders Agree to Send Troops to Mozambique
A summit of southern African leaders has agreed to send a regional military force to Mozambique to help the country battle its growing crisis caused by a jihadi insurgency. Leaders of the 16-nation Southern African Development Community agreed Wednesday to deploy a military force to help the Mozambican government “combat terrorism and acts of violent extremism.” The Islamic extremists’ violent campaign in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado has caused a rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis. The jihadi violence is blamed for the deaths of more than 2,000 people and has caused more than 700,000 to flee their homes. The brief statement, issued after a summit in Mozambique’s capital of Maputo, did not give details on the size of the force or when troops would be sent. Earlier this year military experts from the group recommended that the regional body send in about 3,000 soldiers, with arms, helicopters, airplanes and naval capacity. The statement also urged that humanitarian assistance be given in northern Mozambique where nearly 1 million people need food aid, according to the U.N. World Food Program. Mozambique will establish a headquarters in the northern port city of Nacala for the regional force, said the statement. AP

Libya Talks Set December Date for National Elections
Foreign powers and Libya’s new interim government of national unity have called for nationwide elections on 24 December and the phased withdrawal of all foreign forces, starting with some mercenaries in a matter of days. There are thought to be as many as 20,000 foreign fighters in the country on both sides of its civil war, including Syrians under Turkish control, Turkish government forces, Russians in the Wagner Group and Sudanese forces. “Hopefully within coming days mercenaries on both sides will be withdrawing,” Libya’s foreign minister, Najla Mangoush, said after a conference in Berlin. “This is encouraging, it will build trust and other steps will follow.” The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said the withdrawal of foreign forces would be gradual. “There is an understanding between the Russian and Turkish side if they start the withdrawal it will be a step-by-step balanced process,” he said. … The US, which has engaged with Libya with renewed vigour, pressed hardest for a December deadline for elections as the best way to restore Libyan sovereignty and create legitimacy. … Russia also resisted support for accountability to the international criminal court in the declaration. Moscow has strongly supported Gen Khalifa Haftar, whose forces are widely accused of war crimes. The Guardian

West and Russia Clash over Russian Mercenaries in CAR
The United States, Britain and France accused Russian mercenaries on Wednesday of operating alongside Central African Republic forces and committing human rights violations against civilians and obstructing U.N. peacekeeping… U.S. deputy ambassador Richard Mills noted secretary-general Guterres’ report of a 28% increase in incidents of human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law over the past four months. … “Let us be clear: Central African armed groups are no longer the only threat to the Central African population,” [France’s U.N. Ambassador Nicolas] De Riviere said. … “Some will try to deny the presence of the Wagner company,” De Riviere said, calling on MINUSCA to provide details of who the men are fighting in CAR and who they are accountable to for their actions. The Wagner Group is a Kremlin-backed security company that was implicated in the conflict in Libya. Britain’s deputy ambassador James Roscoe said the armed groups are “fomenting instability, frankly, in order to line their own pockets.” “And now, a new factor of instability: Russian private military companies acting in concert with the national armed forces to obstruct MINUSCA and to violate the rights of the civilians and citizens of the Central African Republic,” he said. AP

Northeast Nigeria Insurgency Has Killed Almost 350,000 – UN
Northeast Nigeria’s conflict with Islamist insurgencies had killed nearly 350,000 people as of the end of 2020, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said on Thursday. The toll, given by the U.N. agency in a new study on the war and its impact on livelihoods, is 10 times higher than previous estimates of about 35,000 based only on those killed in fighting in Nigeria since the conflict’s start 12 years ago. “The full human cost of the war is much greater,” the UNDP said in a report, released with Nigeria’s Ministry of Finance. “Already, many more have died from the indirect effects of the conflict,” said the UNDP, citing damage to agriculture, water, trade, food and healthcare. A Nigerian presidential spokesman declined to comment on the death toll. Nigeria’s war with Islamist insurgencies Boko Haram and Islamic State’s West Africa Province has spawned one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with millions of people dependent on aid. The conflict shows little sign of ending. Children younger than five account for more than nine out of 10 of those killed, with 170 dying every day, the UNDP said. Reuters

Ivory Coast Court Sentences Former PM to Life in Prison
An Ivory Coast court has sentenced prominent opposition figure and former prime minister Guillaume Soro to life in prison for “undermining the security of the state.” The criminal court in the West African country’s largest city, Abidjan, also ordered the dissolution of Soro’s political movement, which was created after he resigned as speaker of the legislature in 2019. Soro, who lives in exile in France, was tried in absentia. An international arrest warrant has been issued against Soro and five others living outside the country. The former president of the National Assembly and 19 others were prosecuted for an “attempt to attack the authority of the state” as well as “dissemination of false information” that discredited the institution and its functions. … In 2020, the former rebel leader who went on to become the president of the National Assembly, was already sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted of embezzling public funds and money laundering. He denies the charges and his supporters say they are politically motivated. AP

Police: 17 Soldiers Dead When Helicopter Crashes in Kenya
A police official in Kenya says 17 soldiers have died when the helicopter they were travelling in for a training exercise crashed in the outskirts of the capital, Nairobi. Six people with severe injuries were rescued from the scene in Ole-Tepesi in Kajiado county, the officer said Thursday. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Kenya’s military confirmed the crash but did not give details. It does not like to make public reports of significant losses. The police official said there were 23 soldiers inside the helicopter when it crashed Thursday morning. AP

Tanzania, Kenya on the Radar as Major Drug Routes
A report released by the US department of State says Tanzania remains the region’s significant transit country for illicit drugs, enabling their movement to Kenya, Uganda and Europe. The report says Tanzania-based trafficking organisations and courier networks operate globally and play a prominent role in the Southwest Asian heroin trade, using Dar as the launchpad to control the trade in East Africa. The 2021 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report by the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs shows that the country’s location, porous borders, and persistent corruption present challenges to drug interception. “Traffickers transport heroin via small vessels to Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania and over Tanzania’s land borders with Kenya and Mozambique to destinations in Europe and North America,” the report said. Domestic drug use in the country is also increasing. In April 2020, Tanzania’s Drug Control and Enforcement Authority (DCEA) seized 300 kilogrammes of heroin in Dar es Salaam and arrested a Nigerian and two Tanzanian nationals. The seizure represents one of the largest in Tanzania’s history. The EastAfrican

Pandemic Accelerates Decline of Printed News, but Trust in Media Grows — Report
Print news has been declining for some time, but the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated its demise over the past year. This is according to the Reuters Digital News Report 2021, which has declared that because of restrictions on movement, as well as the hit to advertising revenue, publications have had to adapt and alter their business models to cater more to digital memberships and subscriptions. The result is that more quality journalism is ending up behind paywalls so publications can reduce their reliance on advertising revenue. … The report also highlights that most mainstream publications in South Africa have maintained more than 60% trust from the surveyed population. … The report notes that the use of social media for news remains strong, particularly among younger people and those with lower levels of education. Messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram have become especially popular in the Global South, creating the most concern when it comes to spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. Facebook and WhatsApp are two of the most-used apps in South Africa and there have been calls from politicians to talk to Facebook about ways to stop the spread of misinformation on its platforms. Facebook owns both WhatsApp and Instagram. Mail & Guardian

Ugandan Parliament Records 200 COVID Cases in 3 Weeks
More than 200 workers in the Ugandan parliament, who include MPs, have tested positive for Covid-19 in the last three weeks. The news come amid fears that their drivers and relatives could be carrying a contagious variant of the virus that has killed more than 700 people in the country. Sources told the Daily Monitor that the last three tests in parliament returned high prevalence rates and that “there are positive cases every other day.” State House and the Ministry of Health conducted the last three tests and communicated results to the authorities in Parliament. All the affected MPs and staff were also ordered to self-isolate and seek treatment as a matter of urgency. … To avert what sources called “a catastrophe in the House,” Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, who is currently “working from home,” instructed Ms Jane Kibirige, the parliamentary clerk, to shut down the House for two weeks. The deputy Clerk in-charge of Corporate Affairs, Mr Henry Wasswa Yoweri, wrote to MPs about the planned closure of parliament for two weeks effective June 28. Daily Monitor

South African Brothers Vanish, and So Does $3.6 Billion in Bitcoin
A pair of South African brothers have vanished, along with Bitcoin worth $3.6 billion from their cryptocurrency investment platform. A Cape Town law firm hired by investors says they can’t locate the brothers and has reported the matter to the Hawks, an elite unit of the national police force. It’s also told crypto exchanges across the globe should any attempt be made to convert the digital coins. Following a surge in Bitcoin’s value in the past year, the disappearance of about 69,000 coins — worth more than $4 billion at their April peak — would represent the biggest-ever dollar loss in a cryptocurrency scam. The incident could spur regulators’ efforts to impose order on the market amid rising cases of fraud. The first signs of trouble came in April, as Bitcoin was rocketing to a record. … The firm’s investigation found Africrypt’s pooled funds were transferred from its South African accounts and client wallets, and the coins went through tumblers and mixers — or to other large pools of bitcoin — to make them essentially untraceable. Bloomberg

The Inside Story of the Sideways Ship That Broke Global Trade
Captain Krishnan Kanthavel watched the sun rise over the Red Sea through a dusty haze. Winds of more than 40 mph, whipping off the Egyptian desert, had turned the sky an anemic yellow. From his viewpoint on the bridge, it was just possible to see the dark outlines of the 19 other vessels anchored in Suez Bay, waiting for their turn to enter the narrow channel snaking inland toward the Mediterranean. Kanthavel’s container vessel was scheduled to be the 13th ship traveling north through the Suez Canal on March 23, 2021. His was one of the largest in the queue. It was also one of the newest and most valuable, only a few years out of the shipyard. Ever Given, the name painted in block letters on its stern, stood out in crisp white against the forest-green hull. Soon after daybreak, a small craft approached, carrying the local pilots who’d guide the ship during its 12-hour journey between the seas. … The full recording of what transpired on the Ever Given’s bridge hasn’t been released by the Egyptian government, so it isn’t clear exactly what the pilots and crew said about the conditions. Bloomberg

She Owes Her Big Environmental Prize to Goats Eating Plastic Bags
For Gloria Majiga-Kamoto, her great awakening to plastic pollution started with goats. She was working for a local environmental nongovernmental organization in her native Malawi with a program that gave goats to rural farmers. The farmers would use the goats’ dung to produce low-cost, high-quality organic fertilizer. The problem? The thin plastic bags covering the Malawian countryside. “We have this very common street food. It’s called chiwaya, and it’s just really potato fried on the side of the road, and it’s served in these little blue plastics,” Majiga-Kamoto says. “So because it’s salty, once the goats get a taste of the salt, they just eat the plastic because they can’t really tell that it’s inedible. And they die because it blocks the ingestion system — there’s no way to survive.” The goats were supposed to reproduce for the program, with the goat kids going on to new farmers. But because of plastic deaths, the whole goat chain started falling apart. … For Majiga-Kamoto, her experience at the NGO with the plastic-eating goats was the moment it all changed. All of a sudden, she started noticing how plastics were everywhere in the Malawian environment and food system — affecting people’s livelihoods and health. NPR



Photo: Adam Jones