Africa Media Review for March 6, 2020

Tunisia: Militant Blast outside U.S. Embassy in Tunis Injures Police-Local Radio
At least one militant on a motorbike blew himself up outside the U.S. embassy in Tunisia on Friday wounding five police, local media reported, in the country’s most serious apparent attack since the summer. Embassy officials confirmed the attack in a tweet on its official Twitter feed, and urged people to avoid the area. A Reuters reporter saw a scorched, damaged motorbike and a damaged police vehicle a few metres from the embassy’s main gate, as a helicopter whirled overhead and large numbers of police gathered. Radio Mosaique, a local radio station, reported that the attacker had injured five police officers when blowing himself up. The station also reported that there may have been a second perpetrator. Sirens could be heard on the major highway linking the Lac district, where the embassy is located, with Tunis and suburbs in the north. Last summer, Islamic State said it was behind three militant blasts in the capital, including one near the French embassy that killed a policeman and another that wounded five people during a security operation to detain a suspect. Reuters

Coronavirus Fears Rise in Senegal as Thousands Travel for Religious Festivals
Confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Senegal have jumped from zero to four in recent days, the most in a sub-Saharan African country, raising fears that upcoming religious festivals could fuel a wider outbreak. Hundreds of thousands of people plan to travel through Senegal this month on pilgrimages as global health officials urge against large gatherings. The risk of spread is “very, very high,” said Ousmane Faye, the chief virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, “because of all the traffic we have from Europe, from China, from all over.” The World Health Organization’s Africa arm advised keeping a “social distance” of at least three feet, warning that outbreaks could “overwhelm” dozens of nations continentwide. … In sub-Saharan Africa, as of Friday morning, Nigeria, South Africa and Cameroon had all reported one case. Anxiety that is roiling life abroad has erupted on the continent’s westernmost point. Hand sanitizer and bleach are vanishing from shelves, and hundreds of people have received orders to stay in self-imposed quarantine. The Washington Post

Kenya, Somalia Form Team to Ease Tensions
Kenya and Somalia have agreed to resolve tensions between the two countries by appointing respective teams to solve the issues. President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Somalia counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo agreed in a phone conversation to appoint committees to look into several matters including border security. Tensions between Nairobi and Mogadishu simmered Monday after heavy fighting broke out between Somalia’s forces and militia allied to a fugitive regional security minister near the Mandera border. On Wednesday, President Kenyatta accused Somalia of “flagrant breach” of Kenya’s territorial integrity. In the latest step in their strained relations, the President, who chaired a National Security Council meeting, said he had noted Somalia’s National Army soldiers had fought on Kenyan land, causing tension and harassing residents of Mandera. The President’s spokesperson, Kanze Dena-Moraro, stopped short of saying Kenya had been invaded by foreign soldiers, but accused Somalia of breaching international law on military battles. Daily Nation

Ivory Coast’s Ouattara Says He Won’t Run for Re-Election
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara said on Thursday he would not stand for re-election in October, ending speculation about his political future ahead of a highly-anticipated vote. Ouattara had previously said he would run if two of his longtime political rivals were candidates, defying opponents who say the constitution does not give him the right to seek a third term. But he declared in a speech before lawmakers that he would hand over power to a new generation after 10 years in office. “I have decided not to be candidate in the Oct. 31 presidential election and to transfer power to a new generation,” Ouattara said, prompting applause, cheers and gasps from audience members in the capital Yamoussoukro. Ouattara was first elected president of Ivory Coast, the world’s leading cocoa producer, in a 2010 election that sparked a brief civil war when his predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to concede defeat. Around 3,000 people died in the violence. Political tensions have been on the rise in recent months after the government issued an arrest warrant for Guillaume Soro, a presidential candidate and former rebel leader whose forces swept Ouattara to power in 2011. Reuters

Libya: Tripoli’s Civilian Airport Attacked amid Diplomatic Impasse
The only civilian airport in the Libyan capital of Tripoli came under direct attack by eastern-based opposition forces, authorities in the capital said Thursday, as diplomatic efforts to end the war continued to falter. Four missiles had hit Mitiga International Airport late Wednesday, said Amin al-Hashemi, spokesman for the health ministry in Tripoli. A Grad rocket also struck several homes nearby, sending shrapnel crashing into one family’s dining room. At least 20 more missiles struck the tarmac earlier in the week “causing structural damage,” including to a commercial airplane. Flights were diverted to the coastal city of Misrata. There were no reports of causalities. The eastern forces under the command of Khalifa Hifter accuse the Tripoli government of using the landing strip to receive foreign weapons and fighters. The renewed fighting around the capital comes days after the United Nation’s envoy for Libya abruptly quit his post, throwing new doubt on whether a diplomatic solution to the conflict was possible. AP

Algeria Seeks 4-Year Prison Term for Protest Leader
Algeria’s state prosecutor has requested four years in prison for Karim Tabbou, a key figure of anti-government protests, and the verdict has been set for March 11. Tabbou’s trial opened Wednesday in Algiers and continued until dawn as around 60 defence lawyers argued for his innocence, the prisoners’ support group CNLD said. The 46-year-old, who heads the small opposition party UDS, is accused of “inciting violence” and undermining “the morale” of the army, and has been detained since September. Around 180 lawyers offered to defend him while some 100 supporters rallied outside the court on Wednesday demanding his release. “Free Karim Tabbou and all the detainees,” they chanted, before police dispersed them at night, according to witnesses. Mass protests erupted in Algeria in February last year, in response to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announcing he intended to run for a fifth term after 20 years in power — despite being debilitated by a 2013 stroke. Less than six weeks later, he stepped down after losing the support of the then-army chief in the face of enormous weekly demonstrations. AFP

UN Food Aid Chief Fears for Africa, Mideast amid New Crises
The head of the U.N.’s food aid agency warned of “absolute devastation” in Africa and parts of the Middle East in coming months if wealthier nations grappling with an economic downturn linked to the new coronavirus don’t step up aid efforts in countries in need. David Beasley, head of the World Food Program, told The Associated Press that the convergence of several crises could further destabilize conflict-scarred regions. “If the corona virus continues to create panic around the world, and there is an economic downturn, I have been telling the European leaders, and leaders around the world, you don’t have enough money set aside to address the needs in Africa, East Africa, West Africa, in the Middle East right now,” Beasley said during an interview in Jordan late Wednesday, after a visit to Syria. AP

Jihadists Kill Five Police in Nigeria’s Restive North
Jihadists have killed five policemen in an attack on a northern Nigerian town where more than 100 schoolgirls were abducted two years ago, residents said on Thursday. Fighters aligned to Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in four trucks fitted with machine guns stormed Dapchi town in northeastern Yobe State late on Wednesday, sparking intense fighting with security forces, according to local residents. “This morning, we collected the bodies of five policemen killed in the fight with the insurgents,” a resident told AFP on condition of anonymity. “The attackers came around 17:00 and started shooting indiscriminately which made everyone to scamper indoors,” he said. Another resident said the policemen fought back, killing two of the fighters but were over-powered by the heavily armed jihadists, leaving five officers dead. … The attack came on the same day that 14 people, including six soldiers and four policemen, were killed when rival jihadist faction, Boko Haram attacked a military base in Damboa in neighbouring Borno state. AFP

Nigeria: Army Releases 223 Children from Maiduguri Prison
The Nigeria Army Administrative Custody has released 223 children, including 10 girls, from Maiduguri Maximum Correctional Centre having cleared them of suspected ties with armed groups. UNICEF Nigeria Representative, Peter Hawkins, said this in a statement yesterday. He said some of the children, who had been missing for up to four to five years with many presumed dead by their families, were released to the safe custody of the Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, the UNICEF and Borno State authorities in Maiduguri. “Since 2016, 3,559 people associated with armed groups have been released from administrative custody, including 1,743 children (1,125 boys, 618 girls). All have gone through the Bulumkutu Rehabilitation Centre in Maiduguri in Borno State and have since been reunited with their families or placed in the most appropriate alternative care, where they’re accessing rehabilitation services and reintegration support in their communities.” Daily Trust

4.6 Million People, One Psychologist: The Central African Republic’s Mental Health Crisis
There are 4.6-million people in the Central African Republic (CAR). Flora Pasquereau, the country’s only practising clinical psychologist, thinks that most of them have some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. “We cannot deny the facts. The reality in the CAR is not easy,” she says. This is an understatement. Since it began in late 2012, the civil war has reached every town and village. The violence has altered the fortunes of every family, from every socioeconomic strata, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and thousands dead. The country desperately needs counselling, and it is up to Pasquereau to provide it. But how does one psychologist treat 4.6-million people? “Breathing exercises,” she says. “And dancing.” Given the scale of mental health problems in the country, offering patients individual attention in hour-long sessions is impossible. Pasquereau has had to learn to spread her expertise as thinly as possible, and to adapt her practice to treat large groups. Mail & Guardian

Somali Therapist Sees Mental Health as Key to Rebuilding the Country
After nearly three decades of war, many Somalis carry invisible scars from exposure to violence. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 Somalis is affected by some sort of mental illness, a figure that is higher than other low income, war-affected countries. Despite the need, the country only has five mental health centers and a handful of trained psychiatrists practicing. One Somali mental health practitioner is trying to change this. Rowda Abdullahi Olad is a psychotherapist and founder of Maandeeq Mental Health Without Borders. After practicing in the United States, she returned to her home country with the intention of offering clinical services. She quickly realized the need was far greater. “So many have experienced decades of war, drought, displacement and now are still experiencing terror attacks daily,” she told VOA during an interview in Washington. “So how that affects people is not that we can address only with a clinical approach. So what I came up with when I went back to Somalia is that mental health should be an integral component of state-building and political stability.” VOA

The Man Making Rwanda into a Hub for Physics
Omololu Akin-Ojo was always reluctant to go to the United States. “I felt I could do a lot of things in Africa,” he told me in his office at the new East African Institute for Fundamental Research (EAIFR) in Kigali, Rwanda. “Unfortunately, I was wrong.” As a university student in his home country of Nigeria in the late 1990s, Akin-Ojo learned to write computer code by hand, without ever having the chance to put the code into a computer. Aware of these limitations, his father, a physicist, encouraged him to apply to doctoral programs abroad. While studying condensed matter physics at the University of Delaware, Akin-Ojo recognized the gulf in teaching and in research opportunities between Nigeria and the U.S. He realized then that he wanted to stem the brain drain of Africa’s brightest minds. Although he spent the next 14 years working in the U.S. and Europe, he said, “I always knew I was coming back to Africa.” He chose to specialize in theoretical physics, so that the lack of experimental equipment in Nigeria wouldn’t hinder his research when he returned. Quanta Magazine

Wangari Maathai: The Outspoken Conservationist
The decision to award a conservationist with the Nobel Peace Prize came as a surprise in 2004. Yet it underlined the role of Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement in building a peaceful and self-sustained society. Wangari Muta Maathai was born in 1940 in Tetu village in the central highlands of Kenya, about 160 kilometers (99 miles) from Kenya’s capital city Nairobi. She was among 800 young Africans in the 1960’s to study in the United States through the Kennedy Airlift scholarship program. She studied biological sciences in the USA, where she drew inspiration from the Civil Rights Movement. Further studies brought her back to Kenya and then to Germany. Maathai was the first woman from East and Central Africa to earn a doctoral degree; she went on to become the first woman associate professor in East and Central Africa. In 1976 Wangari Maathai became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy at the University of Nairobi, where she took her post as associate professor the following year. DW

Coronavirus: What Misinformation Has Spread in Africa?
As cases of the coronavirus increase around the world, there’s been a flurry of misleading or false news stories emerging, as well. There have been relatively few confirmed cases of the virus in Africa so far, but the authorities in some countries in the continent are still having to deal with misinformation. An old graphic created by the US health authorities about facial hair and respirators has been used incorrectly to suggest men should shave off their beards to avoid catching the coronavirus. The Nigerian Punch newspaper’s headline said: “To be safe from coronavirus, shave your beard, CDC warns.” … Similar headlines have appeared in other countries, generating thousands of shares. Australian news outlet 7News posted on Twitter: “How your beard may unknowingly increase your risk of coronavirus.” Current UK health advice is that while masks are useful for medical staff in hospitals, “there is very little evidence of widespread benefit for members of the public.” … In Kenya, the government has had to put out a statement denouncing “fake news” about the coronavirus, which includes an audio recording, circulated on WhatsApp, claiming to be an official press briefing on the virus. The recording states that there were 63 cases in the country, which is not true. There are currently no confirmed cases in Kenya. BBC