Africa Media Review for March 29, 2021

Rebels Besiege Town in Northern Mozambique for Fifth Day
Rebels fought the Mozambican army Sunday for the fifth straight day for control of the strategic northern town of Palma, as reports came in that dozens of civilians have been killed and bodies were littering the streets. The fate of scores of foreign energy workers was also unknown. Some of the dead had been beheaded, according to Human Rights Watch. An attempt by expatriate workers to flee to safety came under heavy fire, causing many deaths, according to local reports. The battle for Palma highlights the military and humanitarian crisis in this Southern African nation on the Indian Ocean. The three-year insurgency of the rebels, who are primarily disaffected young Muslim men, in the northern Cabo Delgado province has taken more than 2,600 lives and displaced an estimated 670,000 people, according to the U.N. … The Mozambican army has been fighting the rebels in several locations to regain control of Palma, Col. Omar Saranga, a Ministry of Defense spokesman, said Sunday in the capital of Maputo. AP

As Militants Seize Mozambique Gas Hub, a Dash for Safety Turns Deadly
As gunshots rang out across a port town in northeastern Mozambique on Friday afternoon, nearly 200 people sheltering inside the Amarula Palma hotel confronted a devastating reality: The armed insurgents outside the hotel’s doors had all but taken control of the town and there was no one coming to save them any time soon. For two days, hundreds of insurgents in the gas-rich region had been laying siege to the coastal town of Palma, firing indiscriminately at civilians, hunting down government officials and setting buildings ablaze as security forces tried in vain to repel them. The violence sent thousands of people fleeing, with some rushing to the beach, where a ragtag fleet of cargo ships, tugboats and fishing vessels was ferrying people to safety. But at the hotel, with daylight hours dwindling, the local residents and foreign gas workers who remained faced an impossible choice: Either wait inside, defenseless, for a promised evacuation in the morning, or try to make it to the beach. In a desperate dash, dozens of people crammed into a 17-vehicle convoy and left the hotel for the oceanfront. Only seven vehicles completed the trip. The New York Times

Sudan Gov’t and SPLM-N Sign Agreement to Pave Way for Peace Talks
Sudan’s government and a major rebel group have struck an agreement paving the way for peace negotiations between the two sides after months of deadlock. Led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu, Sudan’s People Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) is one of two groups that has yet to sign a peace deal with the transitional authorities that have been in power in Sudan following the 2019 removal of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir. The “declaration of principles” signed on Sunday in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, outlines priorities including the unification of armed forces and the establishment of a democratic, secular state with freedom of religion. It also said “a military solution cannot lead to lasting peace and stability in the country” and that a “peaceful and just political solution must be a common goal.” Sudan’s transitional government has been engaging in peace talks with rebel groups for the past two years, looking to stabilise the country ahead of long-awaited elections scheduled to take place in late 2022. Al Jazeera

COVID Third Wave May Overrun Africa’s Healthcare, Warns WHO
Rising cases of coronavirus in Africa threaten to overrun fragile healthcare systems and test the continent’s much-touted resilience to the disease, according to the World Health Organization’s regional office for the continent. The global health body stated that infections were on the rise in at least 12 countries in Africa including Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya and Guinea. Across the continent, doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are stretched to the limit as the total cumulative number of infections this week rose above 4.1m, with more than 110,000 fatalities, a sharp rise on the 2.7m infections recorded at the end of December. …The WHO said only 7 million people had now been vaccinated in a continent of more than a billion people. The second wave of Covid-19, which began towards the end of 2020, hit African countries more aggressively, with a 30% rise in infections compared with the first wave. However, fewer public health measures were implemented than in the first wave, according to a study this week in the Lancet medical journal. The Guardian

Kenya Tightens Restrictions Amid a Spike of COVID-19 Deaths
With Kenya’s COVID-19 cases and deaths surging, President Uhuru Kenyatta has announced tightened restrictions in five of the most affected counties. The new restrictions have been imposed in the country’s capital Nairobi and the three urban counties surrounding it, plus Nakuru, a major transit city. “A third wave of COVID-19 is at hand in Kenya,” said Kenyatta in a nationally televised address. “The death rate is devastating by all measures, and the stress the pandemic is placing on our health system is unparalleled.” The country, with a population of 53 million people, has a cumulative total of 126,170 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including more than 2,000 deaths. “Between January and February three people died every day from COVID. In March 2021, the number has gone up to seven every day, the highest since this pandemic hit us,” said Kenyatta. Kenya’s 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has more than doubled over the past two weeks from 1.02 new cases per 100,000 people on March 11 to 2.29 new cases per 100,000 people on March 25, according to Johns Hopkins University. AP

Ship ‘Partially Refloated,’ but Still Stuck in Suez Canal
Engineers on Monday “partially refloated” the colossal container ship that continues to block traffic through the Suez Canal, authorities said, without providing further details about when the vessel would be set free. Satellite data from showed that the ship’s bulbous bow, once lodged deep in the canal’s eastern bank, had been partly wrested from the shore — although it remained stuck at the canal’s edge. The ship’s stern had swung around and was now in the middle of the waterway, tracking data showed. Although the development marked the vessel’s most significant movement since getting stuck last week, the salvage crew urged caution as obstacles loomed. …  Last Tuesday, the skyscraper-sized Ever Given got stuck sideways in the crucial waterway, creating a massive traffic jam. The obstruction has held up $9 billion each day in global trade and strained supply chains already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic. At least 367 vessels, carrying everything from crude oil to cattle, were still waiting to pass through the canal, while dozens were taking the alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip… AP

Al-Shabab Issues Threats Ahead of Elections in Djibouti
The leader of Somalia’s al-Shabab militant group is calling for lone wolf attacks against American and French interests in Djibouti ahead of key presidential elections in the Horn of Africa country. … The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), which has a base in Djibouti, responded to the new message from the al-Shabab leader. A spokesperson, Colonel Christopher Karns, told VOA Somali that the U.S. Africa Command is aware of the recent audio release from al-Shabab calling for attacks on U.S. and French interests in Djibouti. …  “Al-Shabab remains a persistent threat to U.S. interests in East Africa. This is why it remains important to apply continued pressure on the al-Shabab network and isolate the threat it presents to the region and beyond,” he added. … Al-Shabab previously attacked Djibouti on May 24, 2014 in a double suicide explosion at a restaurant frequented by Westerners, killing three people. Djibouti voters go to the polls on April 9 for presidential elections. Incumbent Ismail Omar Guelleh is seeking a fifth term in office. VOA

Ivory Coast’s Gbagbo Awaits ICC Ruling on His Acquittal
The International Criminal Court will rule on Wednesday whether to uphold the acquittal of Ivory Coast’s former president Laurent Gbagbo, the first head of state to stand trial at the tribunal. Gbagbo, 75, and his former youth leader Charles Ble Goude were cleared of crimes against humanity in 2019 over a wave of post-electoral violence in the West African nation more than a decade ago. The prosecution has appealed against the acquittal and wants a retrial over the bloodshed, when more than 3,000 people were killed after Gbagbo disputed the results of the 2010 vote. Gbagbo refused to hand over power to Alassane Ouattara, the current president, but French troops eventually intervened and Ouattara’s loyalists drove Gbagbo from his bunker. He was then sent in 2011 to the ICC in The Hague. … Gbagbo has been living in Brussels pending Wednesday’s decision but plans to go home if it goes his way, thanks to an olive branch offered by his erstwhile rival. AFP

Ivory Coast’s Ouattara Names Patrick Achi as Prime Minister
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara named a close confidant, Patrick Achi, as prime minister on Friday, following the death of the West African country’s second premier in less than eight months. Achi, Ouattara’s former chief of staff, has served as interim prime minister since Hamed Bakayoko, 56, was hospitalised this month with cancer. Bakayoko died on March 10. Achi’s nomination was announced in a brief statement by Ouattara’s current chief of staff, Fidel Sarassoro. Bakayoko’s death was another twist in a period of political turbulence for the Ivory Coast. He was appointed prime minister in July after his predecessor, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, died of a heart attack. Gon Coulibaly was slated to be the governing party’s candidate for the October 31, 2020, presidential election. However, his sudden death led incumbent President Alassane Ouattara to run and win a controversial third term, arguing a 2016 constitutional amendment reset the clock on the two-term limit. Al Jazeera

Somalia Parliament Session Called Off
Somalia’s parliamentary session was called off Saturday after pro-government and opposition members could not agree on the agenda. The House was expected to discuss COVID-19, but opposition members complained the agenda also included a proposed term extension for President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, popularly known as Farmajo. The parliament speaker, Mohamed Mursal Sheikh Abdurahman, called off the meeting after members of the opposition disrupted his attempt to chair the session. Opposition lawmakers claimed the speaker and pro-government members of parliament were planning to pass a term extension for the president’s administration, a claim denied by pro-government members, including Hani Mohamed Adan. She said some members of parliament tried to cause chaos in the parliament, which was against the standing orders. … International partners, including the United Nations, the United States and the European Union, are pressuring Somalia to hold an election, and they reiterated this week their opposition to parallel electoral processes or term extensions for the incumbent government. VOA

Suspects Arrested over Killing of Militia Leader in Eastern Libya
Libyan authorities have announced increased security measures in the second-largest city, Benghazi, and the arrest of two suspects in connection with the killing of a militia leader wanted by the International Criminal Court. Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a member of forces loyal to eastern renegade commander Khalifa Haftar, was shot dead on Wednesday along with his cousin in the city, cradle of the country’s 2011 revolution. Security is precarious in Benghazi, eastern Libya, with frequent tit-for-tat violence and executions. … The ICC issued a first warrant for al-Werfalli’s arrest in August 2017, accusing him of having ordered or personally carried out seven separate rounds of executions of 33 people in 2016 and 2017. In July 2018, the ICC issued a second arrest warrant for al-Werfalli for his “alleged responsibility for murder as a war crime.” Colonel Ali Madi, the head of Benghazi’s military prosecution linked to Haftar, identified the suspects in al-Werfalli’s killing as Mohamad Abdeljalil Saad and Hanine al-Abdaly. The latter is the daughter of lawyer and rights activist Hanan al-Barassi, who was gunned down in broad daylight last November in Benghazi. Al Jazeera

Stranding of Ever Given in Suez Canal Was Foreseen by Many
Authorities have blamed strong winds, possible technical faults or human error for the stranding of the Ever Given in the Suez canal. But the running aground of the “megaship” – which salvage teams continued to try to free on Sunday as preparations were made for the possible removal of some of its containers – and the disruption of more than 10% of global trade, has been in the making for years longer according to analysts, who say an accident of this magnitude was foreseeable and warnings were ignored. Over the past decade, out of the sight of most consumers, the world’s container ships have been quietly ballooning in size. A class of vessels that carried a maximum of about 5,000 shipping containers in 2000 has doubled in capacity every few years since, with dozens of megaships now traversing the ocean laden with upwards of 20,000 boxes. Container ships have become huge fast, especially over the past decade. The Guardian

Hunger Rises as Severe Drought Grips Angola
The World Food Program is warning of severe food shortages and rising hunger in Angola as the country is gripped by its worst drought in nearly four decades. Angola’s rainy season, which normally runs from November to April, is delivering a trickle of the rainfall needed to grow a good crop and raise healthy livestock. The abnormal dryness is adversely affecting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in the country’s southwestern provinces. … WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri said Angola’s water shortage was damaging crops, with losses of up to 40%. In addition, he said, lack of grazing land risks decimating people’s livestock. “WFP is extremely concerned, given the chronic food insecurity and malnutrition rates in the worst- affected areas,” Phiri said. “The situation is also reportedly giving rise to migratory movements, with families moving towards other provinces and across the border into Namibia.” VOA

Ex-Madagascar Leader Didier Ratsiraka Dies at 84
Madagascar’s longtime former leader Didier Ratsiraka, a naval officer and instigator of a socialist revolution on the Indian Ocean island, died Sunday morning aged 84, President Andry Rajoelina announced. … Didier Ratsiraka was in power from 1975 until 1991 and returned for another stint from 1997 to 2002. When he first came to power, he practised a form of Marxism and had close ties to North Korea’s Kim Il Sung, Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the Kremlin. In January 2002, Ratsiraka’s rival, Antananarivo mayor and entrepreneur Marc Ravalomanana, sent his supporters into the streets claiming victory in the first round of presidential elections held in December 2001. Ravalomanana refused to organise a second round of voting, while Ratsiraka declined to concede defeat, plunging the country into seven months of violence and chaos. The impasse split the nation in two — with two capitals, two governments, and a divided army — until Ravalomanana was officially proclaimed president in April 2002 and sworn in on May 6, with Ratsiraka still disputing the result. AFP

Janice Mclaughlin, Nun Who Exposed Abuse in Africa, Dies at 79
Sister Janice McLaughlin, an American nun who was imprisoned by the white minority government in war-torn Rhodesia for exposing atrocities against its Black citizens, then returned to help the new country of Zimbabwe establish an educational system, died on March 7 in the motherhouse of the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic, near Ossining, N.Y. She was 79. … Sister McLaughlin spent nearly 40 years ministering in Africa. She lived much of that time in Zimbabwe, starting in 1977, when the country was still known as Rhodesia. She arrived in the midst of a seven-year struggle by Black nationalists to overthrow the white minority apartheid-style regime headed by Prime Minister Ian Smith, a fierce opponent of Black majority rule. As the press secretary for the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, a group of laymen and clergy that opposed the government, Sister McLaughlin helped expose human rights abuses across the country. These included the systematic torture of Black people in rural areas and the shooting of innocent civilians, including clergy. The New York Times