Africa Media Review for March 26, 2021

Ethiopia Says Eritrea Agrees to Withdraw Troops from Tigray
Ethiopia’s prime minister said Friday that Eritrea has agreed to withdraw its forces from the Tigray region, where witnesses have described them looting, killing and raping civilians. The statement by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office comes after intense pressure from the United States and others to address the deadly crisis in Tigray. Abiy’s statement after a visit to Eritrea said that Ethiopian forces will take over guarding the border areas “effective immediately.” Abiy only in the past week has acknowledged the presence of soldiers from Eritrea, long an enemy of the Tigray leaders who once dominated Ethiopia’s government. The new statement doesn’t say how many Eritrean soldiers have been in Ethiopia, though witnesses have estimated well in the thousands. There was no immediate comment from Eritrea, one of the world’s most secretive countries. AP

UN, Ethiopia Rights Agency to Conduct Joint Tigray Probe
The United Nations and an Ethiopian rights agency have said they agreed to carry out a joint investigation into abuses in the embattled region of Tigray, where fighting persists as government troops hunt down the region’s fugitive leaders. A probe of all parties to the conflict is “part of the much-needed accountability process” for victims, the government-established Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement on Thursday. “With multiple actors involved in the conflict and the gravity of the reported violations, an objective, independent investigation is urgently required,” the statement said, adding deployment of investigators will start as soon as possible for an initial period of three months. The announcement came a day after the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) reported its staff on Tuesday saw Ethiopian government troops kill at least four civilians in Tigray. Al Jazeera

Congo-Brazzaville Opposition Vows to Appeal ‘Rigged’ Nguesso Re-Election
Supporters of two candidates in Republic of Congo’s presidential election say that last Sunday’s poll, which handed victory to incumbent Denis Sassou Nguesso, was marred by vote-rigging and that the courts should annul the result. … The party of candidate Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas, who died hours after the polls closed, is alleging fraud based on vote tally sheets showing more votes for the president than voters at three polling stations, and 100 percent of votes at another. At a news conference, Dzon [who came third with 1.9 percent of the vote] described the election as “a disastrous vote, rigged and marred by countless irregularities.” … Human rights campaigner Joe Washington Ebina remained deeply skeptical. “There are so many social problems in Congo-Brazzaville that it’s impossible for the president to be elected with 88 percent of the vote,” he told RFI. “The figures don’t correspond to what Congolese people are living through, it’s unreal. But we are not fooled.” Civil society groups along with Congo’s influential Catholic Church have also expressed “serious reservations” about the transparency of the polls given the internet was shut down on election day. RFI

Will Tanzania’s New President Break with Magufuli’s Leadership?
Critics of the late Tanzanian president John Magufuli are hoping his crackdowns on press freedom and opposition and his coronavirus denial have gone with him to the grave. A week after his death, it’s not yet clear if his successor, President Samia Suluhu Hassan, will carry on his authoritarian-leaning style of leadership. Tanzania has undergone a smooth transition process following the death of president John Magufuli early in his second term. … Opposition politicians, such as James Mbatia, the chairperson of the National Convention for Construction and Reform, say that if the new president cooperates with the opposition, there will be no tension between them and the ruling party. “Last year’s general election left big scars in the history of the multiparty system in Tanzania,” Mbatia said. “The election hurt people, people died, and others were denied their rights. People started to preach opposition is enemy while we had already moved from there.” … During Magufuli’s time in office, human rights activists criticized him for suppressing dissent and freedom of expression. Rights activists, like Kumbusho Kagine, say the new administration must allow a reopening of debate and public space. VOA

Somali Capital Hit by Deadly Mortar Attack
At least three civilians have been killed and five wounded after a barrage of mortars targeted the headquarters of the UN and African Union peacekeeping mission forces (AMISOM) located in the Somali capital Mogadishu, a police official said. Abdi Yusuf, a police officer in Mogadishu’s Dharkinley neighbourhood, told Anadolu news agency on Thursday that several mortar shells landed in a residential area near Adan Adde International Airport in the capital. Local media reported that a father and an infant were among the victims of the attack, claimed by al-Qaeda-linked armed group al-Shabab. The attack targeted the UN compound, known as Camp Halane, which houses several Western diplomatic missions including those of the UK and the US. Sources in the compound who spoke to Anadolu on condition of anonymity confirmed that several mortar shells also landed in and around the airport, where the UN compound is located. Somali leaders are currently meeting in the same compound to end a months-long political and election deadlock. Anadolu/Al Jazeera

Fighting in Town near Mozambique Gas Hub Rages for Second Day
Helicopter gunships exchanged fire with suspected Islamist insurgents as fighting raged for a second day around a gas hub town in northern Mozambique, a security source and a diplomat said. The government said security forces were working to restore order in Palma, which is adjacent to gas projects worth $60 billion led by companies including Total, after it came under a three-pronged attack on Wednesday. The attack, in a province that has since 2017 been targeted by Islamist insurgents with links to Islamic State, began hours after the French oil major said it would resume work on the project after halting it for security reasons. Bodies were visible in the streets, some of them beheaded, the security source told Reuters on Thursday. Reuters could not independently confirm that detail. The assault was the first significant one on Palma, which hosts several international companies looking to cash in on one of the biggest gas finds in a decade. Reuters

Special Report: How Vincent Bolloré Won Control of Ghana’s Biggest Port
The French ports-to-media conglomerate, Bolloré Africa Logistics, partnered by the Danish shipping giant Maersk’s ports arm, APM Terminals, opened a hugely profitable, state-of-the-art container terminal at Ghana’s Tema port in July 2019. It’s the latest link in a chain of 18 West African container terminals run by the French billionaire and his partners. Africa Confidential has uncovered how they won the right to build and run the new container port of Tema, a lifeline not only for Ghana but for landlocked Burkina Faso and Mali, through their 70% owned joint venture with the Ghana government, Meridian Port Services (MPS). … The terms of the agreements between MPS and the state are so tilted against Ghana’s interests, concluded the report, delivered to ministers in February 2018, they should be renegotiated immediately. Yet the much-criticised contracts are still unchanged. The concessions Bolloré won from Ghana are similar to those which he obtained for his operations at the port of Lomé, Togo, in return for financing a top political consultancy to help the country’s president, Faure Gnassingbé, win re-election in 2010. … Brushes with the law almost seem a ‘cost of doing business’ to Bolloré. French prosecutor Serge Tournaire charged him in April 2018 with funding the election campaign of Guinea’s President Alpha Condé in 2010, the same year that Gnassingbé earned his largesse. Africa Confidential

Muddy the Waters: Egyptian Authorities Struggle with Suez Canal Blockage
As a massive container ship ran aground and got stuck in one of the world’s most vital routes, Egypt’s initial response was characteristic silence, even as reports of the problem began to emerge publicly over 12 hours later. For Egypt, the Suez canal is more than a trade route, it is a source of national pride and a vital source of foreign currency. But the fervour that surrounds the waterway combined with iron-fisted information control means that few observers expect transparency about the circumstances of the grounding or the timetable for the ship’s rescue from the Egyptian authorities, which some estimate could take days or even weeks. “The Suez canal definitely has a special place in Egypt’s national history, it’s a strategic waterway that has historically elevated Egypt’s importance,” said Timothy E Kaldas of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. … Kaldas said that transparency would help soothe tensions around the incident, for Egypt and its international partners. “It’s essential that the Egyptian government be transparent going forward over this crisis to retain its credibility,” he said. “This current communication strategy is not serving the Egyptian government’s interests.” The Guardian

The Smell of Money: How Fish Meal Production Is Destroying Gambia’s Waters
Gunjur, a town of some fifteen thousand people, sits on the Atlantic coastline of southern Gambia, the smallest country on the African continent. … A marvel of biodiversity, the [town’s wildlife] reserve has been integral to the region’s ecological health—and, with hundreds of birders and other tourists visiting each year, to its economic health, too. … But on the morning of May 22, 2017, the Gunjur community discovered that the Bolong Fenyo lagoon had turned a cloudy crimson overnight, dotted with floating dead fish. … The water contained double the amount of arsenic and forty times the amount of phosphates and nitrates deemed safe. … Pollution at these levels, Manjang concluded, could only have one source: illegally dumped waste from a Chinese fish-processing plant called Golden Lead, which operates on the edge of the reserve. … Golden Lead is one outpost of an ambitious Chinese economic and geopolitical agenda known as the Belt and Road Initiative, which the Chinese government has said is meant to build goodwill abroad, boost economic cooperation, and provide otherwise inaccessible development opportunities to poorer nations. Nation

DRC: They Exposed an Alleged Money Laundering Network. Then They Were Sentenced to Death.
Gradi Koko Lobanga and Navy Malela found out about their death sentences on social media. The two former bank auditors had just waived their anonymity to disclose that they were the sources behind a report that revealed evidence of an alleged sophisticated international money laundering network within the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). But within days it was announced that the whistleblowers, currently living in exile in Europe, had been sentenced to death for “criminal conspiracy” by the High Court in Kinshasa, despite neither they nor their lawyers ever stepping foot in a courtroom before the verdict was delivered. … Malela and Koko were key sources in a report published by the Platform for the Protection of Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) and Global Witness. The report exposed what appeared to be a network allegedly formed by Israeli billionaire and mining magnate Dan Gertler, used to conceal the movement of millions of dollars and help circumvent US sanctions and acquire new mining assets in DRC. VICE

Cote D’Ivoire: Trial over Duékoué Post-Election Massacre Underway
On 29 March 2011, a militia supporting the newly-elected Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara is alleged to have murdered more than 800 civilians in the western city of Duékoué, known to have been a stronghold of defeated president Laurent Gbagbo. The suspected mastermind of this attack is now on trial in Abidjan. His name is Amadé Ouéréni, and he’s described as a former bandit and smuggler. He is accused before the Abidjan Criminal Tribunal of having played an active role in planning the 2011 militia attack which cost the lives of 817 people, according to the International Red Cross. Ouéréni faces twenty charges, including genocide, war crimes, rape, murder and extortion. He was arrested in 2013. The accused denies any part in the organisation of the massacre, saying he was following the orders of a superior officer, a lieutenant Coulibaly. … Ten witnesses have made the trip from Duékoué to Abidjan to give evidence. RFI

Nigerian Insecurity: North-West Governors Seek EU Support
Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State on Thursday led his counterparts from Sokoto and Zamfara States to the office of the European Union in Abuja to seek the support of the union for tackling the escalating insecurity in the North-west region of Nigeria. The spokesperson for the Katsina governor, Abdulhadi Bawa, said in a statement that the governors held a closed door meeting with officials of the Mission in Nigeria led by Ketil Karlsen, an ambassador. According to Mr Bawa, the meeting discussed the various challenges in the North-west region, most importantly, that of security. … Also commenting, Sokoto State Governor Tambuwal said the meeting provided the Mission first hand information from the governors on the security of the entire region. The information, the governors said, will enable the EU and the other parties to evaluate and select the areas in which they can offer their support and intervention. Earlier, the head of the EU Mission in Nigeria, Mr Karlsen, told journalists that the EU and other international communities are eager to assist the North-West zone in creating the enabling environment and support to bring about the desired development, the statement said. Premium Times

Nigeria’s Crackdown on Bitcoin Echoes Global Crypto Conundrum
The backlash against a Nigerian central bank directive on cryptocurrencies echoes a dilemma facing governments around the world: how to regulate Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies without stifling innovation. … When the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) issued a circular in early February warning banks and financial institutions that “facilitating payments for cryptocurrency exchanges is prohibited” and that they needed to identify and close accounts associated with them, it set the country’s crypto community alight. … This week, a representative for Nigeria’s central bank chief Godwin Emefiele reportedly sought to clarify the February 5 directive, telling reporters that it was not aimed at discouraging people from trading in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, but served to enforce orders in place since 2017 banning crypto transactions in the country’s banking sector. But the 2017 directive did not prohibit crypto exchanges from using banking and payment channels. It simply required banks and financial institutions to ensure that their crypto-exchange customers have effective anti-money laundering and “anti-terrorism” financing controls in place. Al Jazeera

World Bank Strengthens Its ‘Marshal Plan’ for the Poor in Sudan
Sudan’s poor families are due to benefit from a $390 million funding from the World Bank in a programme meant to provide cash transfers crucial for the survival of many during the Covid-19 crisis. This week, the global lender signed a deal with Khartoum to provide funding for the second phase of an emergency poverty alleviation programme known as Thamarat. The deal announced on Tuesday means the World Bank would have funded the programme to a total tune of $820 million for both phases. The project targeting the poor in the villages is being funded through the World Bank affiliate, the International Development Association, as a pre-settlement grant for Sudan’s debt arrears, in addition to support through the Sudan Transition and Recovery Trust Fund, which includes 13 other donors. … As of March 3, about 80,000 Sudanese families (nearly 400,000 beneficiaries) received first month payments through cash cards. … “The launch of this programme will restore confidence between the state and the citizens by developing effective policies and institutions for social protection that meet the demands and aspirations of the Sudanese people for a decent life,” Hamdok said last month. The EastAfrican

First COVID-19 Vaccines Arrive in Juba, South Sudan
The first batch of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in South Sudan’s Juba International Airport on Thursday. The 132,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be offered first to health care workers, including doctors and nurses, along with other vulnerable groups. South Sudan Health Minister Elizabeth Achuil said 732,000 additional doses are scheduled to arrive over the next few months through the support of the COVAX facility, a global partnership made up of a coalition that includes the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF and the World Health Organization. COVAX was established to ensure that all countries can equitably access COVID-19 vaccines. Achuil said the AstraZeneca shipment is a milestone for South Sudan. “The COVID-19 vaccine will help us to protect our population against the COVID infections and prepare for a return to a normal life. We are grateful to all partners for their support in facilitating the arrival of the vaccines in our country,” she told reporters at Juba International Airport. VOA

Some Elephants in Africa Are Just a Step from Extinction
While some African elephants parade across the savanna and thrill tourists on safari, others are more discreet. They stay hidden in the forests, eating fruit. “You feel pretty lucky when you catch sight of them,” said Kathleen Gobush, a Seattle-based conservation biologist and member of the African Elephant Specialist Group within the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or I.U.C.N. The threat of extinction has diminished the odds of spotting one of these wood-dwelling elephants in recent decades, according to a new I.U.C.N. Red List assessment of African elephants released Thursday. The Red List categorizes species by their risk of forever vanishing from the world. The new assessment is the first in which the conservation union treats Africa’s forest and savanna elephants as two species instead of one. Both are in bad shape. The last time the group assessed African elephants, in 2008, it listed them as vulnerable. Now it says savanna elephants are endangered, one category worse. The shy forest elephants have lost nearly nine-tenths of their number in a generation and are now critically endangered — just one step from extinction in the wild. The New York Times