Africa Media Review for March 12, 2021

UN Appeals for $5.5 Billion to Avert Famine for 34 Million
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made an urgent appeal Thursday for $5.5 billion to prevent a “catastrophe” for 34 million people in over three dozen countries who are just one step away from famine driven by conflict — and the World Food Program chief warned that 270 million people are facing “a hunger crisis” this year. Guterres told a high-level U.N. Security Council meeting organized by the U.S. that more than 88 million people were suffering from “acute hunger” at the end of 2020 due to conflict and instability … Both Guterres and Beasley stressed that the hunger crisis and looming famines are primarily driven by conflict and are entirely preventable. “Climate shocks and the COVID-19 pandemic are adding fuel to the flames,” the U.N. secretary-general said. He warned that “without immediate action, millions of people will reach the brink of extreme hunger and death,” pointing to projections showing that hunger crises are “escalating and spreading across the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, and accelerating in South Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan.” AP

Mauritanian Ex-President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz Charged with Corruption
A judge in Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott on Thursday charged ex-president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and about ten other figures with corruption, following an investigation into his decade-long rule. The move marks the latest step in the downfall of Aziz, a former general who seized power in the Saharan state in 2008, which began when investigators started probing his financial affairs last year. Following a state prosecutor’s request, the judge also placed Aziz, one of his sons-in-law, two former prime ministers, five former government ministers and four businessmen under judicial supervision, according to a source close to the case. Mohameden Ould Icheddou, one of Aziz’s lawyers, confirmed the information to AFP. He added that his client refused to answer questions from the judge, claiming constitutional immunity. Aziz, 64, launched a military coup in 2008 and served two terms as president before being succeeded in August 2019 by Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, his former right-hand man and ex-defence minister. … Last year, Mauritania’s parliament established a commission to investigate suspected embezzlement under Aziz. AFP

Burkina Faso’s Secret Peace Talks and Fragile Jihadist Ceasefire
In early October, Abu Sharawi got a call from his commander to lay down his gun. He had been fighting for more than three years with a jihadist group in Burkina Faso’s northern Sahel region but was told an agreement had been reached with the government to stop the attacks, which have killed thousands of people and driven more than one million from their homes. “[They said] ‘We decided to stop fighting. It’s time to sit and discuss. Many people have died, and animals and resources were lost. Using guns will not solve the problems’,” recalled 28-year-old Sharawi. … The government of Burkina Faso is publicly opposed to negotiating with “terrorists,” yet a months-long investigation by TNH reveals a series of secret meetings between a handful of high-level officials and jihadists, beginning before November’s presidential elections. That has resulted in a makeshift ceasefire in parts of the conflict-hit West African nation with some of the extremist groups under the JNIM umbrella, according to diplomats, analysts, jihadists, and aid workers familiar with the discussions. The New Humanitarian

Dozens of Students Abducted from Forestry College in Northwest Nigeria
Gunmen in northwest Nigeria kidnapped around 30 students overnight from a forestry college near a military academy, three students said on Friday, in the fourth mass school abduction since December. The Federal College of Forestry Mechanization sits on the outskirts of Kaduna city, capital of Kaduna state, in a region roamed by armed gangs, who often travel on motorcycles. Kaduna state’s security commissioner, Samuel Aruwan, confirmed the attack but did not say how many students had been taken. Sani Danjuma, a student at the college, said those abducted were all female students, but authorities were unable to confirm this. Other students said some of the young women had managed to escape during the attack. … The trend of abduction from boarding schools was started by the jihadist group Boko Haram, which seized 270 schoolgirls from a school at Chibok in the northeast in 2014, around 100 of whom have never been found. It has since been taken up by armed criminal gangs seeking ransom. Reuters

Gangs Kill 31 in Nigeria Attacks: Local Sources
Criminal gangs have killed a total of 31 people in three separate attacks in northwest and central Nigeria, local residents said Thursday, in the latest violence in the volatile regions. On Wednesday, motorcycle-riding bandits stormed Damaga village in northwestern Zamfara state, killing residents and stealing livestock as villagers fled the shooting spree. … Central and northwest Nigeria are increasingly becoming hubs of criminal gangs of cattle thieves and kidnappers who raid villages, killing and abducting residents after looting and burning homes … Increasingly criticized for failing to deal with the violence in Nigeria’s northwest, President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday said that “security chiefs have received marching orders to go harder on criminals.” The Defense Post with AFP

Abductions: US Ready to Support Nigeria, Says Official
The Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, Michael Gonzales, has said that Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province were not involved in the spate of abductions going on in Niger, Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna States, and in other parts of the North-West. Although Boko Haram has opportunistically claimed credit for several of these kidnappings in the past, Gonzales said there was no indication that the terrorists were involved in these. The official … said the US was ready to provide appropriate support to the Federal Government, if requested to do so, stating that the criminal activity was being carried out by bandits who were motivated by money and other economic considerations. … The senior official noted that America could help in developing the capabilities of the security forces to better respond to internal security threats. He added, “Longer term, we seek to help develop the capabilities of the Nigerian security services in order for them to adequately respond to the internal threats that the country faces. Again, I think the challenges are many in Nigeria.” Punch

Crew Kidnapped in Chemical Tanker Hijacking off Nigeria
On 11 March, about 220 nautical miles south-southwest of Lagos, the Malta-flagged chemical tanker Davide B was boarded by nine armed men and 15 crew were kidnapped. According to Praesidium International, the Davide B was sailing towards Delta State, Nigeria, coming from Riga, Latvia, when her automatic identification system (AIS) stopped transmitting around 17:30 (South African Standard Time). 15 crew out of 21 were said to be kidnapped. The vessel was attended to some nine hours later by the Nigerian-flagged patrol vessel Qua Iboe River, which confirmed the six remaining crew are safe and unhurt. Praesidium International say the area has seen an increased number of incidents involving Pirate Action Groups (PAGs) between the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. PAGs have shown an increased interest in targeting areas frequently used as lineup/breakup points for security escorts sailing through the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) or calling Nigerian ports. defenceWeb

South Sudan Faces Conflict, a Humanitarian Crisis and Famine
The director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that South Sudan is “a forgotten conflict” facing a “humanitarian crisis” made worse by the pandemic, while the U.N. chief cautioned that 60% of people in the world’s newest nation are “increasingly hungry.” South Sudan has been struggling to recover from five years of war that at least one study says killed almost 400,000 people. A coalition government formed last year between President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar is implementing a peace deal behind schedule, while deadly violence continues in parts of the country. The ICRC’s Robert Mardini, who visited South Sudan last week, called it “one of the most complex humanitarian crises anywhere.” And he said “now alarmingly we see severe food shortages and a largely unquantifiable prevalence of COVID-19 which are making an already catastrophic situation even worse.” AP

Sudanese Militia Leader Musa Hilal Freed after Pardon
A Sudanese militia leader accused by rights groups of atrocities in Darfur was released from a Khartoum prison on Wednesday following a pardon by Sudan’s ruling council, the movement he heads said in a statement. Human rights groups accused Musa Hilal of coordinating Arab militias blamed for atrocities during a conflict in Darfur that left an estimated 300,000 dead and 2.5 million displaced. Hilal has previously denied responsibility for atrocities, saying he mobilised his tribesmen to defend their lands after a government call to popular defence against non-Arab rebels. Darfur’s conflict escalated in 2003 as the rebels rose up against Khartoum, and then-President Omar al-Bashir relied on militias loyal to Hilal to help suppress the revolt. … Despite Hilal’s detention, many of the Arab militias still active in Darfur remain loyal to him, and he remains leader of the Sudanese Revolutionary Awakening Council movement. A U.N. report issued in January said Hilal’s supporters had become increasingly disgruntled over the detention of their leader and some had turned to military action in Darfur’s Jebel Marra area and in Libya. Reuters

Mass Demolitions Drive Poor from Valuable Land in Lagos
Comfort Obinna sat in the shade of a mango tree she planted 25 years ago, above a sea of broken blocks of concrete. The rubble covers the compound that used to be her modest home on Tarkwa Bay Beach in Lagos. Now nearly everything the 73-year-old owned, including the space where she farmed her chickens and pigs, has been lost. … Since December 2019, Nigerian authorities have destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses in waves of violent mass evictions on the lagoons and islands that dot the waterways of the country’s largest city, leaving thousands of mostly poor people homeless. Many, like Obinna, continue to live in the rubble of their demolished compounds, with nowhere else to go. The port authority and the navy units that carry out the evictions accuse residents of either stealing oil from the pipelines that run beneath the waterways or turning a blind eye to the theft, thereby depriving the city’s coffers of revenues. But residents say the accusations are a smokescreen, and that the real reason for the evictions is to clear valuable seafront expanses for luxury commercial developments and beachfront getaways for the middle class… The Guardian

South Africa’s Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini Dies, Aged 72
King Goodwill Zwelithini, the traditional leader of South Africa’s Zulu nation, has died aged 72 after being hospitalized for more than a month, his family announced Friday. Zwelithini had health problems related to diabetes, according to local news reports. Zwelithini, the eighth Zulu king, reigned for more than 50 years, making him the longest-serving Zulu monarch. As the traditional leader of the Zulu nation, Zwelithini did not hold political office but had considerable influence over the country’s estimated 12 million Zulus, the largest ethnic group of South Africa’s 60 million people. King Zwelithini was an outspoken critic of the government’s planned land redistribution policy, which could affect large tracts of land belonging to the Zulu nation. … President Cyril Ramaphosa praised Zwelithini for his contribution to the province’s economic and cultural development. AP

How Netflix’s Ambitions Could Change the Continent’s Cinema
The streaming giant has come knocking, but a lack of infrastructure and government support continues to hinder the continent telling its own stories… It was the sight of donkeys carrying camera equipment that reminded Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese he was shooting in Lesotho. The director was filming This Is Not a Burial, It Is a Resurrection in a remote part of his tiny home nation, which has no cinemas and – unsurprisingly – zero film infrastructure. … In truth, Mosese’s donkey experience is an outlier in the sub-Saharan African cinema world. Most films are made in hubs in Nigeria and South Africa, which have strong domestic scenes. The film industry in Nigeria is worth $600m (£430m) annually and is the continent’s market leader, while South Africa’s brings in about $35m and has a local scene led by directors such as Neill Blomkamp and Oliver Hermanus, the director of the critically acclaimed Moffie. But it is largely known for “facilitation” or hosting international film-makers who want to shoot in the country. The Guardian

Africa Seeks ‘Continental Capacity’ to Produce Vaccines
As Africa lags in its efforts to vaccinate 60% of its 1.3 billion people as quickly as possible, the continent must develop the capacity to produce its own COVID-19 vaccines, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. With deliveries of vaccine doses, several African countries have begun giving jabs to launch mass inoculation campaigns. Malawi’s president got a shot Thursday and South Africa is vaccinating its front-line health care workers. … At least five African countries appear to have the capacity to produce vaccines, Africa CDC director, Dr. John Nkengasong, said in a press briefing, citing South Africa, Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt. A meeting is planned for April 12 between the African Union and outside partners to create a “roadmap” for boosting African capacity to eventually produce COVID-19 vaccines, Nkengasong said. “It’s so important for us to have that,” he said, referring to vaccine security. AP