Africa Media Review for March 18, 2021

John Magufuli, Tanzania Leader Who Played Down COVID, Dies at 61
President John Magufuli of Tanzania, a populist leader who played down the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and steered his country away from democratic ideals, died on Wednesday in the port city of Dar es Salaam. He was 61. Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan said in a brief televised address that Mr. Magufuli had died of heart complications while being treated at Mzena Hospital. The announcement followed more than a week of intense speculation that Mr. Magufuli was critically ill with Covid-19 — reports that senior government officials had repeatedly denied. Ms. Hassan did not specify Mr. Magufuli’s underlying illness but said that he had suffered from chronic atrial fibrillation for more than a decade. … [Mr. Magufuli] was first elected in October 2015 on an anticorruption platform. … [But the leader] was soon accused of muzzling dissent, rolling back freedom of expression and association, and pushing through laws that shored up his Party of the Revolution’s grip on power. That marked a sharp departure from policies of his two immediate predecessors, who had promoted their East African nation as a peaceful, business-friendly democracy. The New York Times

Jihadists on Motorbikes Ambush Mali’s Military, 33 Killed
About 100 suspected Islamic extremists on motorcycles ambushed the Malian military convoy in the country’s volatile north, killing at least 33 people in the deadliest attack of its kind since the president was overthrown in a coup last year, officials said Wednesday. More than a dozen others were wounded in Tuesday’s attack near Tassit, located about 60 kilometers (37 miles) southeast of Ansongo in the Gao region, according to a statement issued by the military. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the ambush, though Islamic extremists with links to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group are active in the area. The military earlier said that the U.N. peacekeeping mission known as MINUSMA helped evacuate the wounded soldiers. Helicopters from the French mission in Mali known as Operation Barkhane also helped the Malian military secure the area in the aftermath, a statement said. AP

UN Rights Chief Agrees to Ethiopia Request for Joint Tigray Inquiry
United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has agreed to an Ethiopian request for a joint investigation in the country’s northern Tigray region, where Bachelet says possible war crimes may have been committed. Fighting between government troops and the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes in the mountainous region of about 5 million. The United Nations has raised concerns about atrocities being committed in Tigray, while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described acts carried out in the region as ethnic cleansing. … Bachelet “responded positively” to a request from the state-run Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for joint investigations in Tigray, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesman Jonathan Fowler said on Wednesday. Reuters

EU to Extend Libya Arms Embargo Mission to 2023
The European Union will extend for two years its military mission in the Mediterranean policing the UN arms embargo on conflict-wracked Libya, senior EU officials said Wednesday. The bloc’s member states are set to “adopt a decision next week extending its mandate for two extra years until end of March 2023,” a senior EU official said. The decision to prolong the mission comes as United Nations experts warned that the embargo imposed on Libya in 2011 was “totally ineffective” as it was being blatantly violated by numerous international actors. The EU launched its Irini operation — which has four ships, and six aircraft — last March to carry out inspections of vessels at sea in a bid to curb the flow of weaponry to Libya. AFP

Nairobi Pulls Out of Oral Hearings in Kenya-Somalia Maritime Case
Somalia will be allowed to conclude its final submissions to the International Court of Justice after Kenya reiterated pulling out of oral hearings. On Wednesday, Kenya’s Attorney General Kihara Kariuki wrote to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), confirming Nairobi’s earlier decision not to take part in oral submissions, protesting the scheduling. Somalia sued Kenya at the ICJ based at The Hague, seeking to redraw their maritime boundary in the Indian ocean from the current easterly parallel line of latitude to a diagonal border based on the line of equidistance. … The case which Somalia filed in August 2014 affects a sea area of about 100,000km2 thought to have lucrative fishing grounds and oil. Previously, Kenya has accused Somalia of auctioning blocks in the disputed area. Mogadishu too claims Kenya had given contracts for exploration to foreign firms. Judges will start writing their judgments after today’s session. They do not usually have deadlines under which the judgments are delivered. Usually, each of the judges will write their independent verdicts which are then polled for majority or unanimous decision. The EastAfrican

Kenyan Court Says Police to Blame for Death of Girl after 2017 Elections
The death of Stephanie Moraa, and that of a six-month-old baby killed in post-election violence in western Kenya, became a flashpoint for public anger over police brutality. It also put a spotlight on what critics say are inadequate government efforts to prosecute officers who commit crimes. Kenyan police frequently face accusations of brutality and extrajudicial killings from civilians and rights groups, but officers are rarely charged and almost never convicted. Chief magistrate Francis Andayi of the Magistrates Court at Nairobi Milimani Law Courts wrote in his report that the girl’s death was caused by a “deliberate shooting by a police officer whose identity has been frustrated by police officers covering for one another under the blue code of silence.” He forwarded his report, seen by Reuters on Wednesday, to the director of public prosecution for further action. Reuters

Civilian Firms of Sudanese Army to Be under Government Control: Hamdok
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok announced that military companies operating in the civilian sector will be placed under the supervision of the civilian government. On Wednesday, Hamdok visited the Military Industry Corporation (MIC) Wednesday accompanied by several ministers and the director-general of the corporation and inspected the Yarmouk Industrial Complex factories. In a statement issued after the visit, the Minister of Information and Government Official Spokesperson Hamza Baloul said that the Prime Minister said that all armies in the world have military industries and stressed that their civilian production companies will be transformed into public joint-stock companies. The Sudanese army has many companies operating in several fields including car assembling factories, electrical appliances, export of meat and agricultural crops, wheat mills, cargo transportation and road construction. Sudan Tribune

Ousmane Sonko’s Support Highlights Waning Separatist Sentiment in Casamance
Instead of preparing for another Monday as a school administrator, 36-year-old Hatousouaré Bodian began her week at the front of a crowd of hundreds of people, drumming on a calabash, facing off with armed soldiers. In the distance, black smoke billowed through the tall palms that frame the governor’s office in Ziguinchor, the capital of the Casamance region of southern Senegal. Bodian, along with a group of women, led the crowd in a call-and-response chant: “Rise up Casamance, rise up for Sonko!” The recent protests in Senegal, and the government’s response, have shaken the image of the country – which is already dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated economic impact – as a beacon of democracy and human rights in the region. However, in the Casamance, which has long had a complicated relationship with the government in Dakar, the protests show the abandonment of the separatist struggle and the degree to which the region has integrated into the rest of the Country. Mail & Guardian

‘I Woke up, He Was Gone’: Senegal Suffers as Young Men Risk All to Reach Europe
In the old Senegalese port city of Saint Louis, 12 women step off the sun-baked street and through a doorway draped with pink silk into a dim room beyond. After greetings are over, one by one they recount their stories. Recent memories of husbands, sons and brothers they have lost at sea, revealing precious pictures on smartphones of moments when they last cradled children or kissed their families. “During my life he was helping me every day, caring for me,” 51-year-old Sina Ndiaye says of Omar, her 19-year-old son. In October last year, a boat carrying 200 migrants exploded off the coast of Senegal, killing him and 139 others. “Now he is gone, I have no hope left.” Their anguish has a common thread – their families were lost on one of the most dangerous sea routes in the world, which has over the past two years seen a sharp rise in travellers, as migrants and refugees from across west Africa try to reach Spanish territory in the Canary Islands from Senegal, some 1,500km (1,000 miles) south. … According to Ndiaye, young men like Omar depart after exhausting the options available to them. The Guardian

African Union Says Benefits Outweigh Risks of Astrazeneca COVID Shot
The African Union said on Thursday that it considers that the benefits of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine outweigh the risks and recommended that vaccinations continue across the continent. The announcement came a day after the World Health Organization backed the vaccine and as more than a dozen European countries have suspended the use of it amid concerns over the risk of blood clots. John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a news conference that the “benefits still outweigh the risks” and that countries should “move forward” with the vaccination. AstraZeneca said on Sunday a review of safety data of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the United Kingdom and European Union with its vaccine had shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots. The head of the continent’s disease control body said that adverse reactions would be monitored and reported for future assessments on the vaccine. Reuters

‘We Clap If None Die’: COVID Forces Hard Choices in Sierra Leone
With medical resources diverted to the pandemic, years of progress in children’s healthcare are under threat… Nurse Magdalene Fornah was on duty at Freetown’s Connaught hospital when she heard that Sierra Leone had its first confirmed coronavirus case. It was five years after Ebola had killed about 4,000 people in the small country, ravaging the fragile health system. Soon after that initial case was announced last March, the UN estimated that 3.3 million people across Africa could die of Covid-19. Like the rest of her medical colleagues, Fornah had no idea this nightmare scenario would not come to pass. “When I saw the first patients, I was scared,” she says. … Fornah is a small woman of great courage. She worked on the frontline at Connaught’s Ebola outpatient post and contracted the disease herself. But PPE is scarce in a country that ranks among the 10 poorest in the world. The Guardian

Uganda Launches COVID-19 Rapid Test Kit, Eyes Africa Market
Uganda on Wednesday launched a rapid COVID-19 antibody test partly funded by France that developers hope to market in sub-Saharan Africa, where the laboratory infrastructure needed for extensive novel coronavirus testing is thin. The test, which requires a finger prick to draw blood, was developed by a team at Makerere, Uganda’s oldest public university, with partial funding from the French embassy. The east African country has long experience of infectious diseases like HIV and Ebola which it has drawn on to develop diagnostics expertise. “This is a point-of-care test that can be used within equatorial Africa village settings, remote areas where there’s no laboratory, there’s no electricity, there’s no expert,” said Misaki Wayengera, a researcher at Makerere’s Department of Pathology. Reuters



Photo: Adam Jones