Africa Media Review for March 5, 2020

14 Killed in Jihadist Attack on Nigeria Military Base
Jihadists killed 14 security personnel and civilians in an attack on a military base in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state on Wednesday, security sources told AFP. Suspected Boko Haram fighters in trucks fitted with machine guns launched a dawn raid on the army base in the town of Damboa, sparking intense fighting. Sources said six soldiers, four police officers and two members of a government-backed militia were killed along with two civilians. “We lost six soldiers in the attack while six others were injured,” a military officer told AFP on condition of anonymity. The officer claimed 13 insurgents were killed by a fighter jet as they fled the area. The leader of an anti-jihadist militia said the civilians who died were among more than 50 local residents hit by shrapnel after rocket-propelled grenades fired by the jihadists hit nearby homes. … The United Nations has complained of a surge in violence in the conflict zone in recent weeks. Anger has been growing among local residents about the army’s failure to stem the attacks despite repeated claims from officials that the insurgency has been defeated. AFP

Africa Looks to Ebola Lessons in Fight against Coronavirus
In 2014, an Ebola outbreak stormed West Africa, leaving more than 11 000 dead mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and also reaching Nigeria and Mali. Then, the World Health Organisation was criticised for what some saw as a delayed response to what became the worst Ebola epidemic ever recorded. Now the WHO is holding two simultaneous regional meetings on the coronavirus in Dakar and Nairobi with the United Nations and international partners, said a source familiar with the meetings. The objective: “share information,” “support countries,” “pool resources.” … So far, Covid-19 cases have risen to more than 90 900 worldwide, including over 3,100 deaths, across 76 countries and territories, according to a report gathered by AFP from official sources. “The Ebola epidemics have enabled (African) countries to have a base on which we can rely in preparation for Covid-19,” said WHO’s Michel Yao. Yao, the agency’s Africa director of emergency programmes, said countries would benefit from their experience in border detection systems for suspected cases and isolation and treatment structures at airports. AFP

Deadlock Broken, South Sudan on Road to ‘Sustainable Peace,’ but International Support Still Key
Positive developments in South Sudan have “moved the country further along the road to sustainable peace,” the top UN official there told Security Council members on Wednesday. … In 2018 President Kiir and his former Vice-President and long-time political rival, Mr. Machar, signed a peace accord with the hopes that it would end the crisis and improve the lives and safety of millions of South Sudanese. Last month, Mr. Machar was sworn in as first Vice-President, sealing the peace deal at the State House in the capital of Juba. … As relief swept the country and ministerial discussions began, the UN envoy said that groups who did not sign on to the 2018 Peace Agreement will return to Rome next week for negotiations. Citing an International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimate that some 800,000 people had returned since the Peace Agreement was signed, Mr. Shearer assured the Council that “the new government can prompt positive change.” … Nevertheless, a daunting array of challenges will test the new government’s unity. “Most urgent is the need to move on the transitional security arrangements,” the UNMISS chief said, pointing out that pre-transitional structures have become redundant and “implementation is dangerously lagging.” UN News

South Sudan: SPLM-IO to Control Defense Ministry
South Sudan’s parties have agreed the opposition SPLM-IO will control the crucial defense ministry under the power-sharing deal, a senior opposition official said on Thursday. Manawa Peter Gatkuoth, deputy spokesman of the opposition SPLM-IO, told Radio Tamazuj that they had resolved the dispute over cabinet posts. The parties had been stalled over allocation of powerful ministries such as defense, finance, petroleum and interior. Under the 2018 peace deal, the coalition government will have 35 ministries split up between the group of Salva Kiir, the SPLM-IO of Riek Machar, the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), the SPLM-FDs, and other political parties. Kiir’s side will retain 20 ministries, while Machar’s group will have nine ministries. The SSOA will take three ministries, the SPLM-FDs will be given two ministries and other political parties will get one ministry. “The Ministry of Defense has been settled in favour of the SPLM-IO. Also, the SPLM-IO will nominate ministers for the ministries of petroleum, mining, water and irrigation, energy and dams, gender, federal affairs, peace building, and health,” he explained. Radio Tamazuj

Why South Sudanese Refugees Won’t Return Home Yet
To South Sudanese refugees living in Uganda, last month’s peace deal between Dr Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir was the beginning of an end of an emotional roller coaster. To many of them as well as the internally displaced persons, the long awaited peace means hope of returning to their homeland. As the two principals took turns to speak in Juba about a new dawn of peace that they were ushering in, 20-year-old Ann Awate, together with a group of fellow refugees, crowded over a small radio at the Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement in northwestern Uganda, silently following the proceedings. The camp is home to more than 130,000 refugees-adults and children. This is the moment they had been waiting for: A guarantee that they can return home. … The general mood about a potential return to peace in the camps is both excitement and skepticism. Since a full-scale civil war broke out in South Sudan in 2013 after President Kiir fired his then deputy Dr Machar, there have been unsuccessful attempts at making peace with several ceasefire agreements violated. The most recent one was in 2016 when Dr Machar fled the country. Jonathan Matata, the Rhino Camp commandant in the office of the Prime Minister said that many refugees are yet to buy into the peace proceedings. The East African

Kenya Accuses Somalia of Violating Its Territory in Escalating Regional Feud
Kenya has accused Somalia of violating its territorial integrity and demanded it cease such breaches in an escalating feud that Washington says is undermining the fight against Islamist militant group al Shabaab. The alleged incursion took place on Monday, when clashes broke out in southern Somalia between the Somali army and fighters loyal to Ahmed Madobe, leader of Jubbaland, which is one of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous states and sited on the border. The Nairobi government, in a statement on Wednesday, said Somali army troops had destroyed the properties of Kenyans in the town of Mandera, which lies along the shared border. The Somali information minister in Mogadishu did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The fighting has regional dimensions in East Africa. Madobe is an ally of Kenya, which helped build his forces, but is detested by neighbouring Ethiopia, which has backed Somalia’s central government. Both Kenya and Ethiopia have troops in Somalia as part of an African Union-led peacekeeping force which, along with the Somali federal government and local states, are supposed to be fighting al Shabaab’s insurgency. Reuters

Guinea-Bissau: Coup or Legitimate Change of Power?
The swearing-in of Guinea-Bissau’s new president Umaro Sissoco Embalo on February 27 went against the will of the majority in parliament and triggered a constitutional crisis. The 48-year-old former army general won the elections under the Movement of Democratic Change, a party that in 2015 split off from the former liberation movement PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde). Embalo won in a run-off vote on 29 December 2019 against the PAIGC candidate, Domingos Simoes Pereira, with around 54 percent, according to the National Election Commission. All election observers described the elections as “transparent and free.” But Pereira’s PAIGC did not acknowledge the result, stating that the counting of the ballot papers was incorrect and incomplete. The West Africa regional body ECOWAS urged restraint and proposed verification of the partial election results. The conflict dragged on for long agonizing weeks – until the election commission confirmed the results last week. But PAIGC protested again stating that “the Supreme Court, which is also responsible for elections, should deal with the election.” DW

Morocco to Hold Second Hearing in Trial of Journalist Omar Radi
A Moroccan writer and activist is due to appear at a court in Casablanca for a second hearing in a trial that rights groups said was emblematic of what they called a broad crackdown on freedom of speech in the North African country. A lawyer for Omar Radi said the 33-year-old writer faces up to two years in prison if convicted of charges of insulting a judge. Radi was arrested in Casablanca on December 26 over a tweet he had posted in April last year in which he criticised a judge who had imposed maximum sentences on protesters from the poverty-stricken Rif region. Radi had called the judge a “henchman” who “carried out orders” from higher up. His arrest prompted protests in Rabat, Morocco’s capital, with hundreds chanting “Free Omar” outside the country’s parliament. The writer was granted conditional release on December 31. “The Radi case indicates that the Moroccan government is becoming less tolerant of any form of peaceful dissent. This is deterring people from speaking their minds,” said Ahmed Benchemski, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. Al Jazeera

Justice for Sale in Nigeria: Inside Lagos Police’s Fraudulent Detention Centre
A young man leapt out of the Anti-Cultism Unit of the Nigeria Police Force in Gbagada, Lagos, as his mother hurtled towards him. Emaciated, and having his face twisted by glaring discomfort, he had just broken loose from what he said was the worst experience of his life, having spent the previous weeks locked up in torrid conditions by the Gbagada police unit. Few steps to the infamous blue gate of the detention centre, he stopped, took a handful of red sand in the premises and swerved it over his head three times. Then, just as he finally stepped outside, he released the sand into the air, letting it go back into the compound. He then dusted his hands clean. It was a symbolic gesture: “Never again!” His experience offers a window into the encounters of several Nigerians, old and young, with the police institution that brazenly violates the country’s law through arbitrary arrests, illegal detention, torture, and commoditising justice and bail. A year-long investigation, including weeks of undercover reporting, revealed one of the police establishments notorious for human rights violations. Premium Times

Military Restrictions Hampering Northeast Nigeria Aid: HRW
Tighter restrictions imposed by the authorities on aid groups operating in northeast Nigeria’s conflict zone are “stifling” efforts to tackle the humanitarian crisis, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday. Military and civilian authorities last year stiffened official controls over organisations operating in the region, in a clampdown the rights group said made transporting staff and aid more difficult. “Undue restrictions are intensifying the suffering of vulnerable people in dire need of life-saving assistance,” Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. The measures come as humanitarian organisations face growing dangers from Islamist groups in northeast Nigeria, with 12 aid workers killed in 2019. The United Nations has said there are an estimated 1.2 million people in the region “who cannot be reached by the humanitarian community,” a 30% increase on 2018. … “Aid workers said that the amount of control the Nigerian military now has over their activities prevents them from reaching millions of people and causes safety concerns as other parties to the conflict may view aid groups as taking the government’s side,” the rights groups said. Nigeria’s military has long viewed aid organisations operating in the northeast with suspicion. AFP

Nigeria’s Closed Border Boosts Smuggling to Cameroon
Cameroonian authorities say smuggling from Nigeria is increasing, five months after Abuja banned land border trade to crack down on the illegal business. At the Limbe market in southwestern Cameroon, both local and Nigerian traders say their businesses are suffering with Abuja’s ban. Traders say they regularly run short of supplies from both countries, leading to price increases of up to 15 percent. Nigerian Miracle Ademola, 35, sells dresses to Cameroon and buys rice to sell back home. But she said she can’t afford to pay the high shipping costs to take the goods back and forth by boat. “It has drastically affected the economy of Nigeria and the economy of Cameroon,” she said. “Smuggling things as it is now is actually not beneficial and we find it risky. We just look forward and hope for the borders to be opened any moment from now so businesses can go on as they used to.” Cameroon depends on goods from Nigeria for 70 percent of its basic commodities. … Cameroonian police and customs in the southwestern town of Buea burned a huge pile of smuggled medicines from Nigeria on Sunday. Police seized the unregulated pills and tonics, which included anti-malarial and anti-inflammatories, as they were being delivered to pharmacies. VOA

Ethiopia Is Adding Four More Official Languages to Amharic as Political Instability Mounts
Ethiopia has approved a policy to introduce four additional working languages alongside Amharic, which has been the working language of the nation. Going forward, Afan Oromo, the most widely spoken language in Ethiopia, Afar, Somali, and Tigrigna will all be adopted as official languages of government. The new policy is among a series of reforms being introduced by Ethiopia’s reformist prime minister Abiy Ahmed, who received the Nobel Peace Prize last year. It also comes just a month ahead of a national legislative election. Oromo-born Abiy, 43, who founded the Prosperity Party, is seeing his political honeymoon winding down, including in parts of Oromia and in the Tigray regions. “Introducing additional working languages is a commendable action. In fact, it is long overdue,” says former political prisoner Befeqadu Z. Hailu, who now heads the Centre for Advancement of Rights and Democracy in Ethiopia. According to the latest census, Afan Oromo speakers account for 34.4% of the population, while Somali and Tigre speakers account for 6%. The share of Afar people is just 1.7%, and the Sidama and Wolayita each have twice as many people. Quartz Africa

China to Approve Developing Guinea’s Giant Simandou Iron Ore Mine
China is close to giving the go-ahead for some of its biggest state-owned companies to develop the giant Simandou iron ore mine in Guinea, potentially paving the way for the project to be built after years of legal wrangling. China’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, which oversees the biggest government-owned enterprises, is actively pushing forward with the project, the world’s biggest untapped iron ore deposit, according to people familiar with the plans who asked not to be identified as the talks are private. For years, it seemed the super-rich ore under a jungle-covered mountain range might never be dug up. Simandou was practically forgotten by the wider mining industry as owners including Rio Tinto Group, Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz and authorities in the West African nation fought over rights to develop it. That all changed in 2019 after Steinmetz ended a seven-year dispute with Guinea’s government that saw him relinquish claims on half of the mine. It’s now in the hands of a Guinean-led and Chinese-backed consortium that wants production to start within five years. Bloomberg

Scientists Turn to Tech to Prevent Second Wave of Locusts in East Africa
Scientists monitoring the movements of the worst locust outbreak in Kenya in 70 years are hopeful that a new tracking programme they will be able to prevent a second surge of the crop-ravaging insects. The UN has described the locust outbreak in the Horn of Africa, and the widespread breeding of the insects in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia that has followed, as “extremely alarming.” The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that an imminent second hatch of the insects could threaten the food security of 25 million people across the region as it enters the cropping season. Kenneth Mwangi, a satellite information scientist, based at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development climate prediction and applications centre, based in Nairobi, said researchers were running a supercomputer model to predict breeding areas that may have been missed by ground monitoring. These areas could become sources of new swarms if not sprayed. The Guardian

Uganda Finalizes Research on Injectible HIV Drug
The Uganda Aids Commission is finalizing clinical trials on a new injectable treatment for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the Director General of Uganda Aids Commission, Dr Nelson Musoba, announced this week. The government is planning to unveil the treatment 2021. Musoba told people gathered in Kampala to commemorate Zero Discrimination Day that the treatment will reduce discrimination in Uganda. Up to 21% of men and 20% of women there don’t take their HIV medication due to a fear that their status will become known and they will face discrimination, according to the 2019 Stigma Index for people living with HIV (PLHIV). Uganda wants to end the prevalence of HIV as a major public health threat by 2030. “Research is in advanced stages on the injectable treatment for HIV that patients will take one dose after every eight weeks. This new treatment comes with a lot of relief and convenience,” Musoba said. The injectable treatment is designed to reduce the burden of taking tablets on a daily basis. DW

South Africa’s Tshwane Municipality Placed under Administration
South Africa’s Tshwane municipality, which houses the capital Pretoria, was on Thursday placed under administration by the provincial government, citing mismanagement and irregular expenditure. The municipality has in recent months been plagued by service delivery protests and political fights as the African National Congress (ANC) party and the ultra left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) look to stop the main opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA) from leading the municipality. A DA-led coalition won the mayoral seat in highly contested 2016 local government elections that saw the ANC lose control of the municipality. Two mayors have resigned since the DA-led coalition took charge, with the latest resignation happening last week. Gauteng Premier David Makhura, speaking after the parties failed to agree a new mayor and how to best manage the municipality, said that its council had been dissolved and fresh elections would be held in 90 days. Makhura said the local government’s decision also follows unauthorized, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure flagged by the auditor general, and flagrant disregard of the procurement process, “which has eroded good governance in the city.” Reuters

South Africa: Moving towards Undoing Joburg’s Spatial Apartheid
On February 28, 2020, Joburg’s city government woke to the promise of a new and powerful policy. The Nodal Review, which passed a council vote on February 27 and aims to deliver on the city’s spatial planning masterplan – the Spatial Development Framework – is arguably South Africa’s most transformative land-use tool. The policy aims to bring people closer to jobs by opening up Joburg’s well-located areas to high density development, which will make more efficient use of the city’s infrastructure while curbing its environmentally disastrous sprawl. Peripheral housing for a black majority alongside exclusive, economically viable suburban enclaves for a white minority is as much a legacy of apartheid as it is a barrier to Joburg’s efficiency today. Researchers have established, for instance, that spatial apartheid contributes directly to Joburg’s chronic unemployment. The further people live from jobs, the more likely they are to be without one. The Spatial Development Framework has outlined a more inclusive future for Joburg for some time, encouraging high-density, mixed-use developments in the city’s well-located neighbourhoods while putting a dampener on peripheral developments. It is a vision in which Joburgers will live where they work and go to school. Mail & Guardian



Photo: Adam Jones