Africa Media Review for March 15, 2021

Igad Targets Grassroots Mediators in Fight against Emerging Conflicts
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) is enticing grassroots peace watchers with a fund meant to resolve emerging conflicts before they balloon into bigger threats. The Rapid Response Fund (RRF) launched this week targets groups such as barazas and other forums, which communities routinely use to tackle emerging threats such as ethnic clashes, disputes over grazing lands, border trespassing, political tiffs and rustling. The fund was first launched in 2009 but this is the first time Igad will target non-governmental peace promoters instead of strictly working through government structures. Mr Camlus Omogo, Igad’s director for the Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CWEWARN), the bloc’s monitoring platform for threats, said it has been inspired by the impact of Covid-19, which has increased threats in the region. … “Increasing poverty levels due to livelihood shocks, increased food insecurity and other protracted impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic are likely to cause instability. In addition, most, if not all, of the Igad member States are currently dealing with weighty national political and security crises,” Mr Omogo said. The EastAfrican

Central African Republic Votes Amid Tight Security after December Violence
Central African Republic voted at heavily guarded polling stations in a second round of parliamentary elections on Sunday after rebel violence marred December’s polls. Voting started smoothly with just slight delays across the capital Bangui, the electoral body said. Small lines of residents could be seen waiting to vote as large numbers of police and gendarmes stood by. “So far in Bangui it’s going well,” National Elections Authority spokesman Théophile Momokoama said by phone. Authorities are anxious to avoid a repeat of the turmoil surrounding December’s vote when President Faustin Archange Touadéra won re-election, but rebels, who the United Nations say are backed by former president François Bozizé, sought to take control amid allegations of voting irregularities. The insurgents laid siege to the capital Bangui in January, strangling food supplies, forcing more than 200,000 from their homes and raising concerns that the country was slipping back into the kind of sectarian conflict that has killed thousands over the past decade. Reuters

UN Urges Somalia to Organize Elections without Delay
The U.N. Security Council urged Somalia’s government on Friday to organize elections “without delay” in a resolution that stressed the pressing threat to the country’s security from al-Shabab and armed opposition groups. The resolution, which was adopted unanimously, authorized the African Union to maintain its nearly 20,000-strong force in Somalia until the end of the year with a mandate to reduce the threat from the extremist groups to enable “a stable, federal, sovereign and united Somalia.” The U.N.’s most powerful body said its objective is to transfer security to Somali authorities, with the aim of Somalia taking the lead in 2021, and achieving full responsibility by the end of 2023. It emphasizes the importance of building the capacity of Somali forces and institutions so they are able to manage current and future threats, and authorizes the AU force, known as AMISOM, to support the transfer of its security responsibilities to the government. The resolution’s adoption came amid growing pressure on Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed after scheduled elections on Feb. 8 failed to take place because of the lack of agreement on how the vote should be carried out. AP

Millions Face Acute Hunger in Somalia as Drought Widens
The U.N. office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs, OCHA, reports an estimated 2.7 million Somalis will face severe food shortages over the coming months as drought conditions affect more areas in the country. Somalia’s decade-long drought continues to chip away at people’s ability to cope with this seemingly never-ending disaster. The worst has not yet come to pass. The U.N. reports pre-drought conditions already can be seen in parts of Somaliland, Puntland, Hirshabelle, Galmudug and Jubaland states. OCHA spokesman, Jens Laerke, says people in these areas, who have barely recovered from last year’s poor seasonal rains, are facing a similarly grim situation this year. “Tens of thousands of people in Somalia have been forced to leave their homes since November because of extreme water shortages, and forecasts now indicate that the current rainy season, which runs from March to June, will only deliver below average rainfall,” said Laerke. Relief agencies report two consecutive seasons of scant rain results in crop failure, poor livestock production, and acute food insecurity. VOA

Kenya to Not Partake in Hearings on Border Dispute with Somalia at ICJ
Kenya will not take part in the hearings due to start on Monday at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on its border dispute with Somalia, the Kenyan government announced in a letter seen by AFP on Sunday. Somalia and Kenya have been at odds for several years over the delineation of their maritime border in the Indian Ocean, with a vast area of 100,000 km2 rich in fish and potential hydrocarbons at stake. In the letter, sent to the ICJ, the UN’s main judicial body, on Thursday, Kenya said it would inform the court “that it will not participate in the hearings” on the case, scheduled to start on 15 March. … In December, Somalia announced that it was breaking off diplomatic relations with Kenya. In February, Kenya recalled its ambassador to Mogadishu, accusing Somalia of auctioning off oil and gas fields in the disputed area – a charge it denies. In 2009, the two countries agreed to settle their dispute through bilateral negotiations. But these were not successful. As a result, Somalia referred the matter to the ICJ in 2014. Africa News with AFP

Islamist Attacks Kill about 30 Soldiers in Northeast Nigeria in Four Days
Islamist militants have killed about 30 government soldiers in a series of clashes in northeast Nigeria since Wednesday, military and civilian militia sources said on Sunday. Security across Nigeria has been deteriorating in recent months, including in the northeast. Four attacks claimed the lives of at least 27 soldiers and 10 members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), including a unit head, the sources told Reuters. … Two military sources and one CJTF fighter said the attack, which took place between Monguno and Kukawa, had killed between 11 and 15 soldiers, with several still missing. Four CJTF fighters were also killed. Soldiers also killed eight militants in fighting in Gamdu on Wednesday, the sources said. In Kaduna state in northwest Nigeria, armed men attempted to kidnap more students, a state government official said, as 39 others from an earlier attack remain missing. Four school kidnappings since December have provoked nationwide outrage. Reuters

Mozambique Looks to Private Sector in War against Islamists
In recent months, the long-festering conflict between insurgents — linked to Isis but fuelled by local grievances — and the government has intensified, rendering hundreds of thousands of people homeless and many more living under the threat of famine. Last week the US government officially designated the insurgents as a foreign terrorist group and emphasised their links to Isis. President Filipe Nyusi has turned to private contractors to help bolster a demoralised army and tighten security around gas-related projects that could transform the economy of one of the world’s poorest countries. The privatisation of the conflict “is a major problem,” said Adriano Nuvunga, director of Mozambique’s Centre for Democracy and Development, a nongovernment organisation, in the wake of the latest allegations. But Nyusi needed the private sector to overhaul government forces that were “in complete chaos and really demoralised” a year ago but were now showing better co-ordination, said Alex Vines, Africa programmes director at Chatham House. FT

UN Security Council Calls for Withdrawal of Foreign Troops, Mercenaries from Libya
The United Nations Security Council called on Friday for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya “without further delay” in a unanimously approved declaration. It also welcomed the Libyan parliament’s approval of a new unified government on Wednesday, which is set to lead the oil-rich country to December elections after a decade of conflict following the removal of dictator Moamer Kadhafi. “The Security Council calls on all parties to implement the ceasefire agreement in full and urges Member States to respect and support the full implementation of the agreement,” the statement approved by all 15 council members said. According to the global body, around 20,000 foreign troops and mercenaries remained in Libya at the end of 2020, and no withdrawals have been observed since. … The experts have previously denounced the presence in Libya of Russian mercenaries, Turkish troops and armed groups made up of Syrians, Chadians and Sudanese. AFP

UN Mandates South Sudan Force to Prevent Return to Civil War
The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Friday to extend the almost 20,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, with a mandate “to advance a three-year strategic vision to prevent a return to civil war” and build peace both nationally and locally. The resolution approved by the council also authorizes the mission, known as UNMISS, to “support inclusive and accountable governance and free, fair and peaceful elections.” It demands that all parties to the conflict and armed groups “immediately end the fighting throughout South Sudan.” The Security Council resolution recognized the reduction in violence between parties to the peace agreement, “and that the permanent cease-fire was upheld in most parts of the country.” But it also strongly condemned all fighting, including increased violence between armed groups in some parts of the country “which has killed and displaced thousands. And it condemned the mobilization of these armed groups by members of the government’s forces and by armed opposition groups. AP

South Sudan Rebel Groups Left Out of 2018 Deal Commit to Rejoin Govt
Several South Sudan rebel groups initially left out of the 2018 peace deal have signed a crucial agreement committing to a ceasefire and to rejoin the government. The deal was mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. The development happened on Thursday in Kenya’s Naivasha town and saw the two main rebel groups sign the Declaration of Principles, which will be the main guide for negotiations with the government of National Unity. Kenya, which is acting as a facilitator for the talks, said the document now clears many of the obstacles to lasting peace, including representatives to be involved in discussions as well as the commitments to address each of the security concerns for the groups. The Declaration of Principles “denotes [an] overarching anchoring framework, on whose basis the parties will discuss the substantive issues,” said a statement from Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. The EastAfrican

Tanzania Cops Arrest Man for Reporting That President Is Ill
Tanzanian police have arrested a man for circulating posts saying that President John Magufuli is in ill health. Magufuli has not been seen in public for two weeks, sparking unconfirmed reports from opposition leaders that he is unwell and incapacitated. At least one man was arrested for allegedly spreading false reports that Magufuli was seriously ill in the Kinondoni area of Dar es Salaam, Regional Police Commissioner for Kinondoni Ramadhani Kingai said at a press conference Saturday. … The constitutional affairs minister said Tanzanians who are posting on social media that the president is incapacitated are violating the country’s cybercrime law. Human rights groups say the cybercrime law is one of several that Magufuli’s government uses to suppress freedom of expression. … Magufuli is one of Africa’s most prominent COVID-19 skeptics. Last year he said the disease had been eradicated from Tanzania by three days of national prayer. He cast doubt on tests to determine COVID-19 discouraged Tanzanians from wearing masks, keeping a distance from others, and the use of vaccines to combat the disease. AP

EA Law Society Sues Uganda for Shutting down Internet during Polls
The East Africa Law Society (EALS) has filed a petition at the Arusha-based regional court challenging the shutdown of internet during Uganda’s General Election in January. Uganda held its election on January 14, 2021. The EALS accuses the Ugandan government of blocking access to social media networking platforms and more than 100 Virtual Private Networks (VPN) before imposing a total internet shutdown within the country on January 13, 2021. The regional law bar says restricting citizens and residents from accessing the internet is against the rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights, which the society has the mandate to promote across the region. “Such actions are part of a worrying and growing trend of mass censorship and intolerance to dissent within the member states of the East African Community (EAC),” Mr Bernard Oundo, the EALS president, says in a statement. Tanzania and Burundi were also reported for blocking access to major social media networks during their October and May 2020 general elections, respectively. The EastAfrican

Group Reports Health Facilities Looted in Ethiopia’s Tigray
Health facilities in Ethiopia’s embattled region of Tigray have been “looted, vandalized and destroyed in a deliberate and widespread attack on health care,” the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders said Monday. Nearly 70% of 106 health facilities surveyed from mid-December to early March had been looted and more than 30% had been damaged. Only 13% were functioning normally, the group said, citing destroyed equipment and smashed doors. “The attacks on Tigray’s health facilities are having a devastating impact on the population,” said Oliver Behn, Doctors Without Borders general director. “Health facilities and health staff need to be protected during a conflict, in accordance with international humanitarian law. This is clearly not happening in Tigray.” AP

Republic of the Congo: Ex-Rebel Chief Ntumi Calls for ‘Peaceful and “Transparent” Elections
The presidential election on Sunday 21 March in Congo-Brazzaville “must be held in peace, transparency and respect for the rules of the game,” said Saturday the former rebel leader Pastor Ntumi, who took up arms after the re-election of President Denis Sassou Nguesso in the previous election in 2016. The election “must not be an opportunity to reawaken the old demons of division,” added Frederic Bintsamou, alias Pastor Ntumi, as he received some 20 journalists in Mounkala, a town between Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, in the Pool region, which is considered the agricultural breadbasket of Congo-Brazzaville. Seven candidates are running on 21 March, including the incumbent president Sassou Nguesso, 77 years old and 36 in power. The former rebel leader’s party, the National Council of Republicans (CNR), “is not presenting any candidate and is not supporting any candidate,” he added. Africa News with AFP

Survivors of Equatorial Guinea Blasts Recall Trauma
Jesus Nguema Nguema spent 12 desperate hours waiting for news of his family after a series of explosions on March 7 in Equatorial Guinea’s city of Bata destroyed his neighbourhood while his children were at home. One week on from the blasts that killed at least 107 and wounded hundreds, the father-of-seven, who was not at his home at the time of the blasts, recalled his relief. “By some miracle, my children were able to get out of the furnace and save themselves,” he said, describing how the shockwave caused a fire that tore through the apartment building where he and his family lived. Now they are among the 900 people being housed in temporary shelter, including unaccompanied children that have lost their families, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said. Every district in the coastal city of around 250,000 people shows signs of damage from the explosions at an army barracks which destroyed hundreds of buildings, blew off roofs and toppled trees. Reuters

Can the World Learn from South Africa’s Vaccine Trials?
In a year that has seesawed between astonishing gains and brutal setbacks on Covid-19, few moments were as sobering as the revelation last month that a coronavirus variant in South Africa was dampening the effect of one of the world’s most potent vaccines. That finding — from a South African trial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot — exposed how quickly the virus had managed to dodge human antibodies, ending what some researchers have described as the world’s honeymoon period with Covid-19 vaccines and setting back hopes for containing the pandemic. As countries adjust to that jarring turn of fortune, the story of how scientists uncovered the dangers of the variant in South Africa has put a spotlight on the global vaccine trials that were indispensable in warning the world. … Once afterthoughts in the vaccine race, those global trials have saved the world from sleepwalking into year two of the coronavirus, oblivious to the way the pathogen could blunt the body’s immune response, scientists said. They also hold lessons about how vaccine makers can fight new variants this year and redress longstanding health inequities. The New York Times

Lions Roar When the Weather’s Right, New Study in Zimbabwe Shows
Lions roar more frequently when they are near to water, when it’s humid, and on calm windless nights, a new study of nearly 1,000 big cat roars in Zimbabwe has found. The data gained from custom-built collars is helping scientists better understand the animals’ habits, and the threats they face. The study using new technology developed by researchers from the University of Oxford was undertaken in the Bubye Valley Conservancy, a privately-owned wildlife sanctuary in the arid south-west of the country that is home to around 500 lions and other members of the Big Five. The researchers mapped the locations and climatic conditions behind 990 roars — and found water and lack of wind were among factors that played a big role. … Africa’s lion populations have declined dramatically over the last century mainly due to habitat loss, and from conflict with humans whose livestock they sometimes prey on. Keeping tabs on their numbers and their movements plays a key part in conserving these iconic animals. RFI

Grammys 2021: Burna Boy and Wizkid Win at Music Awards
Nigeria Afrobeats stars Burna Boy and Wizkid have both won awards at the 2021 Grammys. Burna Boy won the Best Global Music Album category while Wizkid won the Best Music Video for his song with Beyoncé, Brown Skin Girl, from Lion King: The Gift album. … The Grammys nomination described [Burna Boy’s album] Twice As Tall as “a masterclass in the vibe and hustle that have made Burna Boy an international musical force.” … Often compared to Nigerian superstar Fela Ransome-Kuti, whose songs Burna has sampled generously, he has become increasingly vocal about social causes in Africa. At the height of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa in 2019, he threatened to never set foot in the country again unless the government took action, although he has since performed in the country. He was also closely involved in the #EndSARS anti-police brutality protests in Nigeria last year, setting up a fund for victims and releasing a song in memory of those killed on 20 October 2020 at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. BBC

Women Peacekeepers a ‘Powerful Image for Girls in Remote Villages’
Deputy Inspector Martina de Maria Sandoval Linares, from El Salvador always wanted to help others. Now, working as a UN Police officer, she has found her vocation, far from home in South Sudan. Ms. Linares, whose eight-year-old daughter and family are back in El Salvador, told UN News why the job is so rewarding, despite the sacrifices she makes. “This is my first posting with the UN Police Force, known as UNPOL. I arrived in South Sudan in December 2019 to work in the UN peacekeeping mission, UNMISS. I am part of the assessment team office, collecting and analyzing information on any serious incidents that take place in the IDP (internally displaced persons) camp in Juba, the country’s capital. We are here to protect them and ensure that the security situation within the camp remains stable. … I think the greatest impact we have as women peacekeepers is that we inspire young women and girls to think about being like us. They see us leading a life of service, of commitment to a cause that is greater than the individual. UN News