Africa Media Review for March 25, 2021

South Africa Court Set to Rule on Jacob Zuma, and an Era of Impunity

For nearly three years, South African investigators have been unearthing a web of corruption around the former president, Jacob Zuma, in a public inquiry that has captivated the country. There were bribes paid in top-shelf whiskey, luxury cars and a cash-stuffed Louis Vuitton bag. High-ranking officials distributed lucrative government contracts in exchange for monthly handouts. That era of graft drained tens of billions of dollars from state coffers and has become one of the most infamous chapters of South Africa’s post-apartheid history. Now, the country’s highest court will determine whether Mr. Zuma can be held accountable for contempt of court, and for an era of consequence-free corruption, in a hearing that represents one of the greatest tests for South Africa’s democratic institutions in recent years. “This is an absolutely critical moment: The principle that all people will be equal before the law is being challenged and the constitutional system itself is being challenged,” said William Gumede, chairman of the Democracy Works Foundation, a South African nonprofit group. The New York Times

Mozambique: Armed Group Attacks Town near Gas Project

An armed group attacked the northern Mozambique town closest to gas projects worth some $60bn on Wednesday, striking ever closer to developments that have already stalled over security problems. The attack on the town of Palma – less than 25km (15 miles) by road from a construction camp for the gas developments led by oil majors such as Total – happened the same day the French company announced it would gradually resume work at the site after suspending it because of nearby attacks. Mozambique’s northern-most province of Cabo Delgado has since 2017 been home to a festering armed uprising on the projects’ doorstep, which has escalated in the past year as fighters linked to ISIL (ISIS) began taking on the army to seize entire towns. Portuguese state news agency Lusa first reported the attack, which Reuters news agency said was confirmed by a security source and another person familiar with the matter. Several security sources, who requested anonymity, told the AFP news agency that Palma was under siege. Al Jazeera

Africa Experienced 30% Rise in COVID Cases during 2nd Wave: Study

Africa experienced a 30 percent rise in infections in its second wave of coronavirus last year but implemented fewer public health measures than in the first, research showed on Thursday. Writing in The Lancet medical journal, researchers said the loosening of public health measures such as distancing and intermittent lockdowns probably contributed to higher death tolls during the second wave. The study looked at COVID-19 case, death, recovery and test data carried out across all 55 African Union member states between February 14 and December 31, 2020. Using publicly available data, it also analysed health control measures such as school closures and travel restrictions. At the end of 2020, the continent had reported nearly 2.8 million COVID-19 cases – three percent of the global total – and just over 65,000 deaths. Daily new cases during the first wave numbered 18,273. During the second wave this figure stood at 27,790 – a 30-percent rise. … “These insights reveal a need to improve testing capacity and reinvigorate public health campaigns,” said John Nkengasong, a study author and virologist who is also director of Africa CDC. AFP

Libya Militia Leader Wanted by ICC Shot Dead: Officials

Libyan militia leader Mahmoud al-Werfalli was accused of carrying out and ordering several rounds of executions dating back to 2016. His killing highlights the fragility of the security situation in Libya. Libyan militia leader Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf al-Werfalli, wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, was shot dead by armed men in the eastern city of Benghazi on Wednesday, Libyan officials said. Werfalli was “shot dead along with his cousin, Ayman, when unidentified gunmen opened fire on his car in a busy street in Benghazi,” the unidentified officials were reported as saying. The two were seriously wounded in the attack. They were taken to the Benghazi Medical Centre where they were reported to have been pronounced dead on arrival. Werfalli, 43, served as a senior commander in the Al-Saiqa Brigade, an elite unit of soldiers that defected from the Libyan National Army during the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi. He was a member of forces loyal to eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar. DW with AFP, AP, and Reuters

UN Envoy Demands Foreign Fighters and Mercenaries Exit Libya

The new U.N. special envoy for Libya urged foreign forces and mercenaries Wednesday to leave the conflict-stricken country as demanded in last year’s cease-fire agreement. Jan Kubis, addressing the U.N. Security Council, warned against “pitfalls” that could obstruct or delay elections in December aimed at providing a unified government for the nation after years of division. Kubis said the October cease-fire agreement continues to hold but foreign forces and mercenaries haven’t left and “there are reports of ongoing fortifications and the setting up of defensive positions” along the key axis in central Libya from the strategic city of Sirte to the nearby Jufra area. “Their withdrawal from Libya will go a long way in reconstituting the unity and sovereignty of the country and healing the deep wounds caused by many years of internal strife, active conflict and foreign interference,” he said. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the top priority for the U.N. and Libya must be organizing free and fair elections on Dec. 23. “And that means all external actors involved in this conflict must cease their military intervention, respect the Libyan ceasefire agreement, and begin withdrawing from Libya immediately,” she stressed. AP

Eritrean Troops Killed More Than 100 Civilians in Tigray: Rights Group

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission says Eritrean soldiers killed more than 100 civilians in a November massacre in war-torn Tigray that may amount to crimes against humanity. The findings released on Wednesday by the government-affiliated but independent Ethiopian Human Rights Commission corroborate separate investigations by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch into the same killings in the historic town of Axum. … “As these grave human rights violations may amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes, it underscores the need for a comprehensive investigation into overall human rights situation in Tigray region,” [the commission said]. The latest report comes after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted for the first time that Eritrean troops had crossed the border into Tigray, and suggested they may have been involved in abuses against civilians. Al Jazeera

17 Dead in East DR Congo Attacks Blamed on ADF Militia

At least 17 people have been killed in separate attacks by the notorious ADF militia in the restive eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), local officials said on Wednesday. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) — the bloodiest of more than 120 armed groups that roam eastern DRC — on Tuesday attacked the villages of Samboko, Tchani-Tchani and Kapoka, said Donat Kibwana, the local territorial administrator. “Twelve people were knifed to death and others were forcibly abducted,” said Kibwana, in charge of Beni Territory in North Kivu province. Mathe Kwirathwiwe, a local civil representative in Samboko, gave a death toll of 15, including a soldier who was part of a counter-attack that led to the release of 10 hostages. The three villages are located in an enclave called Beni-Mbau, in the far north of North Kivu, on the border with Ituri province. The Defense Post with AFP

At Least 10 Killed in Southern Niger Attacks: Security Source

At least 10 people were killed on Wednesday in attacks on two villages in the Tillaberi region of southwest Niger, a senior security source said. Armed “bandits” burned a school and killed three people in the village of Zibane and seven in Gabado, the source said. Security forces are making checks at the scene and the death toll could rise, the source said. It is not clear who carried out the attack. Gunmen killed 137 people in coordinated raids on villages in the southwest on Sunday, one of the deadliest days in recent memory in a country ravaged by Islamist violence. Those attacks were a few hundred miles away from Wednesday’s incident. Reuters

Bus in Kenya’s Hostile North Hits Roadside Bomb, 4 Killed

A Kenyan official says four passengers were killed and dozens wounded when a bus hit an improvised bomb on a main road in the northern county of Mandera, near the border with Somalia. The bus was heading to Mandera town when it ran over an improvised explosive device, Mandera governor Ali Roba confirmed Wednesday. The force of the explosion ripped the roof off the bus, according to pictures taken at the scene posted on social media. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion has fallen on al-Shabab, Somalia’s jihadist rebels who are allied with al-Qaida and who carry out many such attacks in Kenya. AP

Kenya Orders Closure of Dadaab, Kakuma Refugee Camps

Kenya has ordered the closure of two sprawling camps that host hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighbouring Somalia and gave the UN refugee agency – UNHCR – two weeks to present a plan to do so. The Dadaab and the Kakuma refugee camps in northern Kenya host more than 410,000 people, a small proportion of whom are from South Sudan. … UNHCR urged Kenya to ensure that those who need protection continue to get it, and pledged to keep engaging in a dialogue. “The decision would have an impact on the protection of refugees in Kenya, including in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” the UNHCR said in a statement. … The Kenyan government’s attempt to close Dadaab in 2016 came on the back of intelligence reports showing two attacks on Kenyan targets in 2013 and 2015 took place with the involvement of elements in the camps. The plan was blocked by the high court, which called the move unconstitutional. … Kenya’s move comes as relations with Somalia worsen following Mogadishu cutting diplomatic ties with Nairobi last December, accusing it of interfering in its internal affairs. Al Jazeera

Rwanda: Paul Rusesabagina Quits Trial, Says Expects No Justice

Paul Rusesabagina, a Rwandan government critic who was hailed as a hero during a genocide in the country, has not showed up for his trial after informing prison authorities he was quitting the process as he did not expect justice. Rusesabagina, whose actions during the 1994 bloodbath inspired hit movie Hotel Rwanda, has been charged with nine offences, including “terrorism” for starting an armed group in recent years that is accused of staging deadly attacks within Rwanda. The 66-year-old had been living in exile abroad but was mysteriously taken back to Rwanda in late August when he was presented to the media at the headquarters of the Rwanda Investigations Bureau in Kigali. Rusesabagina has said he was kidnapped, after being tricked into getting onto a plane to Rwanda’s capital, when he thought he was going to neighbouring Burundi. Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye admitted in an interview with Al Jazeera last month that the government had paid for the flight. … During his last appearance on March 12, when the court ruled against Rusesabagina’s request to have six months to prepare his defence, he said he was quitting the trial as “my basic rights to defend myself and to have a fair trial were not respected.” Al Jazeera

Nigeria, Western Allies Stage Naval Drills in Piracy Hotspot

Nigeria and several Western allies have begun annual joint naval drills in the Gulf of Guinea to combat piracy and other criminal activities, officials said Wednesday. The area is a major maritime trade route stretching from Senegal to Angola, but a recent surge in piracy attacks has prompted shippers to call for a more robust foreign naval presence. Armed kidnappings of seafarers hit record levels in 2020, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), with the region accounting for 130 out of 135 attacks worldwide. Pirates kidnapped 15 crew members earlier this month from a Dutch-owned chemical tanker after boarding the vessel off the coast of Benin. Nigerian navy spokesman Suleman Dahun told AFP the annual multinational exercise code named “Obaganme Express” kicked off in Lagos on Saturday. The five-day exercise “is aimed at improving tactical interdiction expertise in the fight against piracy and other maritime illegalities within the Gulf of Guinea (GoG).” … US Consul General Claire Pierangelo said insecurity in the gulf was of common interest to all nations engaged in the region. The Defense Post with AFP

Electricity Restored in Nigerian City 2 Months after Jihadist Attack

Residents of the northeastern Nigerian city Maiduguri were elated Wednesday evening when electricity was restored nearly two months after jihadists blew up power supply lines. The Jan. 26 attack was the third time in a month that militants from the IS-linked Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) group had plunged the city into darkness. On a bustling street near Bakassi camp, which hosts more than 30,000 people displaced by the violent conflict in the region, residents were rejoicing. “Seriously, I appreciate it,” Sihiyina Chinde, 24, sitting on a wooden bench, preparing pan-fried rice cake and grounded beans in a pan she could finally see thanks to the streetlights. “I’m a maths and statistics student, and now I can read my books without using my torchlight.” … The power company has not yet released a statement but had said it was working on repairing the supply lines to the city of 3 million people. “Life has been hard,” says 48-year-old Goni, “especially at the moment, in the hot season, when cold water is really needed.” AFP

Suez Canal Choked for Third Day as Elite Team Tackles Stuck Ship

A huge backlog of ships was building up around the Suez Canal for a third day as an elite salvage team set about the monumental challenge of freeing the container vessel that’s blocking the crucial waterway. Work to re-float the Ever Given and free up oceangoing carriers hauling almost $10 billion of oil and consumer goods continued without success on Thursday in Egypt. Tugs and diggers have so far failed to budge the vessel, and some experts say the crisis could drag on for several days. The Suez Canal Authority has temporarily suspended traffic along the waterway. At about a quarter mile long (400 meters) and weighing in at 200,000 tons, the sheer size of the vessel is overwhelming efforts to dig it out. A huge yellow excavator, itself about twice as tall as its driver, looked like a child’s toy parked next to the ship’s hulking bow. … “Dislodging a grounded ultra-large container ship in the Suez Canal will be challenging due to the confined nature of the canal’s shipping channel,” said Rockford Weitz, director of the Fletcher Maritime Studies Program at Tufts University. “This presents additional complications in comparison to a grounding on a reef or shoal.” Bloomberg

How a Container Ship Blocked the Suez Canal – Visual Guide

A container ship nearly 100 metres longer than the height of London’s Shard ran aground on Tuesday morning in the Suez canal, blocking one of the most vital arteries of the global economy. … The main alternative route for ships travelling between Asia and Europe, around the African cape, takes a week longer to navigate. Some shipping is being diverted through “historical” sections of the channel, which has been widened and deepened in places over the decades to accommodate ever larger ships. Egyptian authorities have blamed the grounding on high winds and a sandstorm that hit the area on Tuesday that kicked up gusts of up to 31mph. The Guardian



Photo: Adam Jones