Africa Media Review for March 4, 2021

Ethiopia Now Calls Axum Massacre Allegations ‘Credible’
Ethiopia on Wednesday said it is investigating “credible allegations of atrocities and human rights abuses” in its embattled Tigray region, including in the city of Axum, where The Associated Press and Amnesty International have separately documented a massacre of several hundred people. … A growing number of media reports are documenting massacres in other Tigray communities, citing witness accounts, as alarm grows over the fate of the region’s 6 million people. And international pressure is growing on Africa’s second most populous country to allow independent investigations into atrocities committed during the conflict that began in November between Ethiopian and allied forces and those of the now-fugitive Tigray leaders who dominated Ethiopia’s government before Abiy took office in 2018. … The United States has repeatedly called for Eritrean forces to leave Tigray immediately. In Washington’s strongest statement yet on Tigray, Secretary of State Antony Blinken over the weekend said the U.S. is “gravely concerned by reported atrocities and the overall deteriorating situation.” AP

Slow Unification of South Sudanese Armed Forces Increases Violence
The slow implementation of security arrangements and the armies’ unification process paved the way for the increase of violence in South Sudan, said David Shearer in his last briefing to the UN Security Council as the head of UNMISS on Wednesday. Shearer told the security council that the South Sudanese parties to the revitalized peace pact of 2018, until now did not achieve the unification of the armed forces despite multiple deadlines “Thousands of troops fester in cantonment sites without adequate shelter, health care and food,” he said. Therefore, this power vacuum has been used by spoilers and some national actors to fuel local tensions and encourage violence. “We saw the impact of that in Jonglei last year. Today, in Warrap, there is a worrying surge in violence between various heavily armed community militia that government forces are yet to contain,” he further said. … U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield to the United Nations stressed the need to accelerating peace implementation adding that stalling on the peace agreement risks the return of widespread political violence. Sudan Tribune

They Came in Plainclothes with Guns: ‘Abducted’ by Uganda’s Army
Uganda held presidential and parliamentary elections on January 14. In the months before, armed men in “drones” [what Ugandans call government vans] abducted people from markets, taxi stops, petrol stations, roadsides, and homes. Hundreds of disappearances have been reported in the press and on social media. … Most of those taken are young men with links to the National Unity Platform (NUP), the opposition party Bobi Wine leads. For this story, Al Jazeera spoke to the relatives of 17 people who have allegedly been abducted in central Uganda since November 2020, as well as witnesses, activists, local political leaders and lawyers. We also spoke to 10 more people who say they were taken by security forces and released, after periods of detention ranging from a few hours to two months. …  Although the details of individual accounts are difficult to independently verify, they are consistent with other testimonies collected by Ugandan media. These reports paint a chilling picture of extrajudicial detentions and enforced disappearances by state actors operating outside of Ugandan and international law. Al Jazeera

Nigeria: Inside Extra-Judicial Killings by Police Officers Enforcing COVID-19 Lockdown
By Thursday, April 9, 2020, ten days after Nigeria entered a partial lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigerian security officials had extra-judicially killed 13 people while enforcing the curfew – the virus had only claimed six lives by then. By May 4, when the government eased the lockdown, about 20 persons had been killed in similar circumstances. For three months, investigative journalist Kemi Busari followed the trails of these arbitrary killings which have left many families devastated, with no hope of justice. Premium Times

Nigeria’s School Abductions: Why Children Are Being Targeted
Since December, more than 600 students have been abducted from schools in north-west Nigeria, highlighting a worrying development in the country’s kidnap-for-ransom crisis. Friday’s kidnapping of nearly 300 students from the Government Girls Science Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara state, which ended with their release, was the second mass kidnap from schools in less than 10 days. Twenty-seven boys and their teachers who were taken from a school in Kagara, Niger state on 17 February were released on Saturday. … Many here believe that a weak security infrastructure and governors who have little control over security in their states … and have resorted to paying ransoms, have made mass abductions a lucrative source of income. … Kidnapping hundreds of students rather than road travellers, guarantees publicity and government involvement in negotiations, which could mean millions of dollars in ransom payments. Security expert Kemi Okenyodo believes that this has made the abductions lucrative for criminal gangs. “The decision on payment of ransom should be reviewed. What are the best steps to take in preventing the abductions so we avoid the payment of ransom?” she asked. BBC

Six Dead in Jihadist Attacks in Northeast Nigeria: Aid Groups
Aid groups in Nigeria said Wednesday six civilians died in an attack claimed by an Islamic State affiliate on a northeastern town that, according to the UN, “directly targeted” aid facilities. The attack launched late on Monday was claimed by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) group, which split from mainstream Boko Haram in 2016, saying it killed two soldiers, burnt down a military base and a UN building. “At least six civilians lost their lives in crossfire, several others were injured and are still missing,” said a statement by the Nigeria INGO Forum, gathering international charities such as the International Rescue Committee, the Norwegian Refugee Council and 52 others. According to the coalition of NGOs, there was a second attack on Tuesday. … Dikwa hosts one of the military’s large “super camps” as well as one of nine “humanitarian hubs” — where humanitarians live and work. AFP

Smugglers Throw Migrants Overboard; at Least 20 Are Feared Drowned
Smugglers threw 80 migrants into the sea between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula on Wednesday, and at least 20 of them are believed to have drowned, in the third incident of its kind in less than six months, United Nations migration officials said. The smugglers had packed about 200 migrants, including children, onto a boat in Djibouti that was bound for Yemen, crossing the narrow mouth of the Red Sea, according to Yvonne Ndege, regional spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration, a U.N. agency. About a half-hour after leaving shore, the smugglers began shouting that there were too many people on board, and threw dozens of them overboard, she said. At least five bodies had been pulled from the water by Wednesday night, she added, and survivors were being treated at an I.O.M. center in Djibouti. … “Prosecuting traffickers and smugglers who prey on the vulnerabilities of migrants must be a priority,” António Vitorino, director general of the I.O.M., wrote on Twitter Wednesday. The New York Times

Burkina Faso Road Bomb Kills Six in Ambulance
Six people, including a pregnant woman and a young girl, were killed in northern Burkina Faso when the ambulance they were traveling in struck a highway bomb, authorities said Wednesday. “An ambulance from the Djibo health district hit a mine on the road between Gaskinde and Namissiguia in the Sahel region,” government spokesman Ousseni Tamboura said in a statement after the Tuesday incident. … Almost 200 people have been killed in attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) since their use began increasing in 2018, according to an AFP tally. The bombs are often combined with ambushes. The Defense Post with AFP

Chinese and South African Police Seize Fake COVID Vaccines
Police in China and South Africa have seized thousands of doses of fake Covid-19 vaccines and made more than 80 arrests after uncovering a criminal network that was distributing counterfeit jabs, according to Interpol. The export scam was found out after police in eastern China identified a network selling counterfeit inoculations. Officers raided a manufacturing premises and found more than 3,000 fake vaccines. More than 80 people were arrested. Separately, South African police officers found 400 ampoules of fake vaccine, enough for about 2,400 doses, at a warehouse just outside Johannesburg. The officers also confiscated a large quantity of counterfeit masks and arrested three Chinese nationals and one Zambian. The joint investigation was co-ordinated by Interpol’s illicit goods and global health programme, which has been working to prevent criminals from exploiting the disruption caused by the pandemic. FT

Ivory Coast Gears for Crucial Parliamentary Elections
Elections in Ivory Coast are a chance for the opposition to regain power, with President Alassane Ouattara ruling with a majority. The outcome could decide the future of Ivorian parties, international observers say. … Ivory Coast is heading to another election, four months after the presidential elections — marred by violence —took place. On March 6, Ivorians are voting in parliamentary elections in which the opposition will take part after boycotting the presidential poll. Currently, the National Assembly is dominated by Houphouetist Rally for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), led by President Alassane Ouattara. For the first time in 10 years, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), headed by former President Laurent Gbagbo, is participating in the polls. FPI will contest as part of a coalition called Together for Democracy and Sovereignty (EDS). The coalition has allied with the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI). Henri Konan Bedie — another Ivory Coast ex-president — is the leader of PDCI. DW

Still Making the Case for Islam and Democracy in a Tunisia Battered by Crises
Rachid Ghannouchi, the head of Tunisia’s main Islamist party and speaker of parliament, wanted to make something clear — that a social democratic party based on Islam can still play ball in Tunisia and in the Arab world. Thousands of his partisans had flooded downtown Tunis on Saturday in what some observers called one of the largest demonstrations in the past decade. Men, women and children backing his party, Ennahda, had been bused in from throughout the country. Draped in Tunisian flags, they chanted “National unity!” and slogans in support of Ghannouchi. “We wanted to send a message that the revolution is still here and powerful and working, so that everyone knows their size,” Ghannouchi said in an interview a day later in his Tunis home. … In a region where authoritarian governments have crushed or co-opted Islamist movements, Ennahda has sought to fashion itself an example of compatibility between Islam and democracy. It has remained Tunisia’s most resilient and influential political force in the decade since the Arab Spring. But now, as political and economic crises batter the country and Ennahda slips in the polls, the party is fighting to assert its relevance. The Washington Post