Africa Media Review for March 24, 2021

Africa Check: Sorting Facts from Fakes
The rise in disinformation in Africa poses a threat to security, public health, and democracy. Combatting this requires building the capacity of Africa’s fact-checking community and improving media literacy. African media consumers are exposed to “fake news” on a regular basis, with almost half saying they encounter completely fabricated stories daily. More than a third of users surveyed from Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa said they also periodically shared false stories. … For perspective on what African fact-checkers are doing to come to grips with the growing problem of disinformation, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies spoke to Lee Mwiti, the Chief Editor of Africa Check, the continent’s oldest fact-checking organization, which was created to promote accuracy in public debates and the media. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Ethiopia’s Leader Says Atrocities Reported in Tigray War
Ethiopia’s leader on Tuesday said atrocities have been reported in Tigray, his first public acknowledgment of possible war crimes in the country’s northern region where fighting persists as government troops hunt down its fugitive leaders. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also admitted, after repeated denials by authorities, that troops from neighboring Eritrea have gone into Tigray, where their presence has inflicted “damages” on the region’s residents. “Reports indicate that atrocities have been committed in Tigray region,” Abiy said in an address before lawmakers in the capital, Addis Ababa. War is “a nasty thing,” he said, speaking the local Amharic language. “We know the destruction this war has caused.” He said soldiers who raped women or committed other crimes will be held responsible, even though he cited “propaganda of exaggeration” by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the once-dominant party whose leaders challenged Abiy’s legitimacy after the postponement of elections last year. AP

Libya’s Eastern Administration Hands Power to Interim Government
Libya’s eastern administration has officially handed over power to a new executive that is meant to unify the war-torn country and steer it towards elections late this year. The Government of National Unity (GNU), selected through a UN-supported process, is the latest internationally-backed attempt to end a decade of chaos in the North African nation and unite rival administrations. Led by interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, the GNU replaces both the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and the parallel eastern cabinet headquartered in the Cyrenaica region and not recognised by the international community. Tuesday’s handover of power took place in Libya’s second city of Benghazi, the seat of the eastern administration. … The move is seen as an important step to bring peace to the country. The lack of a proper handover among legislators in 2014 was a main factor in the split of Libya’s institutions. Al Jazeera

France to Reopen Libyan Embassy, Support Interim Government
France will reopen its embassy in Libya’s capital Tripoli next week in a gesture of support to the conflict-ravaged country’s interim government, President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday. Macron said that France owes “a debt to Libya and the Libyans, which is a decade of disorder.” Libya was plunged into chaos when an uprising in 2011 — with support from a NATO military operation initially led by France — toppled longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. Macron spoke after a meeting in Paris with Mohammad Younes Menfi and Musa al-Koni, president and vice-president of Libya’s Presidential Council. The transitional government took power last week. “There will be no peace” in the broader region “if we can’t get peace and stability in Libya, if we do not succeed in eradicating the terrorist groups and all kinds of smugglers,” Macron said. He added that priority should be given to maintaining the ceasefire, leading the country towards elections scheduled in December, and unifying Libyan armed forces in order to support the transition. AP

Suez Canal Blocked After Container Ship Gets Stuck
An enormous container ship became stuck while traversing the Suez Canal late Tuesday, blocking traffic through one of the world’s most important shipping arteries and threatening to add one more burden to a global shipping industry already battered by the coronavirus pandemic. The ship, which was heading from China to the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, ran aground amid poor visibility and high winds from a sandstorm that struck much of northern Egypt this week, according to George Safwat, a spokesman for the authority that oversees the canal. The storm caused an “inability to direct the ship,” he said in a statement. By Wednesday morning, more than 100 ships were stuck at each end of the canal, which connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and carries roughly 10 percent of worldwide shipping traffic. … Lt. General Osama Rabie, the head of the canal authority, said that the authority was reopening an older section of the canal to allow ships to move through the waterway. The New York Times

Congo Republic’s Denis Sassou Nguesso Re-Elected
The 77-year-old has been in power for an accumulated 36 years, first taking the helm in 1979 and then again in 1997 after losing the country’s first multiparty elections in 1992. His victory, announced on Tuesday by the interior minister citing figures from the electoral commission, was widely expected after a March 20 ballot boycotted by the main opposition. The Pan-African Union for Social Democracy (UPADS) said in January it would not field a candidate in Sunday’s vote, arguing the conditions were not conducive for holding elections and that it would only lead to more divisions in the country. “Rights activists say there’s no freedom of speech and there was no chance of having any democratic process in the first place,” said Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from the capital, Brazzaville. The election was also overshadowed by the death – reportedly from COVID-19 – of Nguesso’s only main rival, Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas… In 2015, [Nguesso] pushed through constitutional reforms that removed the 70-year age limit that would have barred him from contesting polls the following year. The referendum also removed the two seven-year term limit and introduced three five-year terms. Al Jazeera

Somali Elections Still Delayed after Failure of President-Hosted Talks
Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as “Farmaajo,” is under increasing pressure to make a deal on holding delayed elections. A two-day conference this week failed to end the political standoff. The U.S. government has called on the leaders of Somalia’s federal government and regional administrations to work towards holding delayed elections in the East African country. The presidential and parliamentary elections which were supposed to take place in February but were postponed due to disagreements on the electoral process by Somali political stakeholders. Minister for Information Osman Dubbe said the government is ready for the polls once concerned stakeholders can resolve their differences. He was speaking after a two-day election summit concluded without progress because leaders from the regional states of Puntland and Jubbaland did not attend. VOA

33 Killed in DR Congo Crackdown on Rebels
Twenty-seven rebels, five civilians and a soldier have died in a two-day military operation against a notorious armed group in eastern DR Congo, the army said on Tuesday. The 27 slain members of the CODECO militia include “one of its major commanders, Malo-Maki,” Lieutenant Jules Ngongo, the army’s spokesman for the Ituri region, said. “Among the civilian population, five people were killed and decapitated” by CODECO, while one soldier died in the fighting and a second was wounded, he said. CODECO — the Cooperation for the Development of Congo — is an armed political-religious sect that has been linked to more than 1,000 deaths since December 2017. Experts say it comprises various militia groups claiming to defend ethnic Lendus in Ituri, a gold-rich province bordering Uganda and South Sudan. The Lendu have been in historic conflict with the Hema community — tens of thousands of people on both sides died in a savage war between 1999 and 2003. AFP

Niger Observes Three Days of National Mourning after Carnage
Niger has declared three days of national mourning in memory of the 137 people who were killed in a series of coordinated attacks on villages in the southwest, the bloodiest carnage the country has witnessed in years. Flags flew at half-staff on Tuesday, while state media were filled with the reading of religious verses to commemorate the victims of Sunday’s raids in Intazayene, Bakorat and Wistane, near the country’s border with Mali. … Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commission, expressed outrage on Tuesday at the recurrence of assaults on civilians in the country and reiterated the “urgent need to strengthen the fight against terrorism in the Sahel to preserve human lives.” There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s attacks but the killings underscore the greatest challenge facing newly elected President Mohamed Bazoum… Bazoum has pledged to fight insecurity and ordered army reinforcements to the southwestern region, while the government announced an investigation into the attacks. Al Jazeera

Nigeria’s Booming Kidnap-for-Ransom Enterprise Threatens Security
Since December 2020, gangs of bandits seeking lucrative ransom have kidnapped a total of 769 students from their boarding schools and other educational facilities across northern Nigeria in at least five separate incidents. The region has long been afflicted by violence fuelled by disputes over access to land and resources, among other factors. Criminal gangs have taken advantage of the lack of effective policing to launch attacks, pillaging villages, stealing cattle and spreading fear. But with climate change affecting livestock in the arid north and herdsmen migrating down south in search of pasture and water, these groups – believed to largely be comprised of Fulani pastoralists who collaborate with other nomadic tribes – have recently turned to mass abductions for financial gains. In the Kagara case, authorities did not disclose if a ransom was paid for the abductees’ release. However, experts agree that the growing instances of mass abductions of boys and girls in the region are an offshoot of a booming kidnapping-for-ransom criminal enterprise that has become one of Nigeria’s main security challenges. Al Jazeera

Sudan’s Cabinet Backs UAE Mediation in Disputes with Ethiopia
Sudan’s transitional cabinet has backed an initiative by the United Arab Emirates to mediate in a border dispute with Ethiopia, as well as over a controversial large dam built by Addis Ababa on the Blue Nile River. Tensions surrounding the control of farmland in the al-Fashaqa region, on the border, have escalated in recent months, while talks over the operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which will affect water volume downstream on the Nile in Sudan and Egypt, are deadlocked. Sudan’s Information Minister Hamza Baloul said on Tuesday the cabinet had supported the proposal for Emirati mediation after it had been studied at the ministry level. It came as Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed insisted on Tuesday his country does not want war with Sudan, calling for tensions over al-Fashaqa to be resolved peacefully. Al Jazeera

U.S. Army Plans to Support Building Civilian-Led Military in Sudan
A U.S. diplomat said on Tuesday that he discussed with Sudanese officials ways to develop a partnership to build a more capable, transparent, and accountable civilian-led military in Sudan. On 26 January, Ambassador Andrew Young accompanied by U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Heidi Berg, U.S. Africa Command director of intelligence met in Khartoum with the head of Sovereign Council Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok and Sudanese army commanders. “Among the key tools we discussed for possibly developing a future military partnership with the United States is the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program,” Young wrote in an article published by the State Department about their visit to Sudan. IMET is funded by the State Department and implemented by the Defense Department; it aims to train future military leaders in allied foreign countries. “Someday soon, IMET may fund Sudanese military personnel to study in the United States on issues such as military justice, civilian control of the military, and defence resource management,” he added. Sudan Tribune

Over 30 Million People ‘One Step Away from Starvation,’ UN Warns
Acute hunger is likely to soar in more than 20 countries in the next few months, the UN has warned. Families in pockets of Yemen and South Sudan are already in the grip of starvation, according to a report on hunger hotspots published by the agency’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP). An estimated 34 million people are struggling with emergency levels of acute hunger known as IPC (Integrated food security Phase Classification) 4, meaning they are ‘one step away from starvation.’ Acute hunger is being driven by conflict, climate shocks and the Covid pandemic, and, in some places, compounded by storms of desert locusts. “The magnitude of suffering is alarming,” said FAO director-general Qu Dongyu. “It is incumbent upon all of us to act now and to act fast to save lives, safeguard livelihoods and prevent the worst situation.” Northern Nigeria, Yemen and South Sudan top the list of places facing “catastrophic” levels of acute hunger, the agencies said. The Guardian

When a Migrant Drowns, a Whole Community Feels the Loss
On an unknown day in 2015, a shipwreck off the coast of Libya in the Mediterranean Sea took the life of Binta Balde’s second son. It was days before the news travelled the more than 3,400 kilometres back to the village of Anambe Counda in the remote south of Senegal where Binta lives and where her son, Demba, had been born. … On that afternoon, grief-stricken cries pierced the normal, low din of neighbours chatting and children playing games. Binta froze. The shrieks came from the mud hut compound next to her own. Something terrible had happened. Binta rushed out to see if she could offer help, but before she reached anyone else, Mamadou, her eldest son, blocked her path. “There has been an accident,” he said. The neighbours’ son had drowned at sea while trying to reach Italy. But Mamadou hadn’t finished. “Demba was with him,” he said. “They were in the same boat. He died too.” Binta dropped to the ground as if she had been shot. … Behind every person who dies while trying to reach the EU are a family and friends – an entire community left to grapple with the impact of the loss. IOM refers to these people as the invisible victims of the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. The New Humanitarian