Africa Media Review for May 10, 2021

India’s Disaster Hangs over Countries Facing COVID-19 Surges
Countries worldwide wrestling with new coronavirus surges are trying to ensure they aren’t hit by an India-style disaster. They face many of the same risks, including large populations that have shirked restrictions and fragile health systems shaken under the strain. In a province along the Nile in southern Egypt, hospitals have been flooded with COVID-19 patients, a main hot spot in a third spike swelling across the country. Doctors in Sohag province warn the health system there could collapse, even as the government rushes in new supplies. “My estimate is that there is no family in Sohag that does not have a corona case,” said Dr. Mahmoud Fahmy Mansour, head of the province’s doctors’ union. “We lost five physicians in one week.” He said a scenario like India was a possibility, but “God willing, it is a very far possibility.” Long reluctant to impose new lockdowns, Egypt’s government announced its strictest restrictions in months on Wednesday. It ordered cafés, restaurants, stores and malls to close at 9 p.m. and banned large gatherings for two weeks, as well as shutting down beaches and parks during the upcoming Eid el-Fitr holiday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. … In South Africa, with by far the largest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Africa, officials warn of a new surge as the Southern Hemisphere’s winter approaches. AP

Tunisia Begins Week of Strict COVID Lockdown
Tunisia on Sunday started a week of coronavirus restrictions covering the Eid holiday, as hospitals battle to stay afloat amid soaring COVID-19 cases. Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi said on Friday that Tunisia was going through “the worst health crisis in its history” and that health facilities were at risk of collapse. Until next Sunday, mosques, markets and non-essential shops must close, gatherings and family or cultural celebrations are banned, and people are forbidden from travelling between regions. … Tunisia, a country of almost 12 million, has officially recorded more than 319,000 coronavirus cases and 11,350 deaths. More than 500 people are currently in intensive care, a level previously unseen in the North African country. The country has set up field hospitals to deal with the influx of patients. It is also struggling to meet its oxygen needs, and has appealed for assistance from European countries and even neighbouring Algeria, struggling with its own health crisis. A vaccination campaign launched in mid-March, a month later than planned, is moving slower than anticipated. AFP

Chad Police Fire Tear Gas to Disperse Anti-Junta Gathering in N’Djamena
Chadian police on Saturday shot a protester and arrested about 20 others defying a ban to demonstrate against the junta that took power after veteran ruler Idriss Deby Itno died fighting rebels. Only a few dozens of people took to the streets in sporadic groups after military authorities late Friday banned the protest called by the Wakit Tama grouping of opposition political parties and civil society bodies. … Police used tear gas to break up a gathering in a southern district of the capital N’Djamena, an AFP reporter said, adding that security forces had deployed in numbers across the city. A small group of people burnt a French flag in a northern area. France, Chad’s former colonial ruler, was a traditional backer of Deby and is seen by some as supporting the junta that seized power after Deby’s death. Wakit Tama coordinator Max Loalngar said a dozen people had been hurt, three seriously, and about 15 arrested. … Chad claims that the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), a large armed group with a rear base in Libya which mounted an offensive on April 11, is retreating after a government offensive. AFP

Algeria to Ban Unauthorised Protests in Move Seen as Targeting Popular Hirak Movement
Algeria will bar any protests that do not have prior approval, it said on Sunday, a move apparently aimed at the weekly mass demonstrations that ousted a veteran president in 2019 but have continued to demand a more thorough purge of the ruling elite. The Interior Ministry said all protests would need a permit that specified the names of organisers and a start and finishing time for the demonstrations. “Failure to comply with these procedures will result in violating the law and the constitution, which denies the legitimacy of the march, and it will be necessary to deal with it on this basis,” the ministry said. Such restrictions, even if permits were given, would mean naming specific individuals as formally responsible for a hitherto leaderless protest movement. The measures are in line with a clause in a new constitution approved by Algerian voters in November last year, in a referendum that drew only 25% participation, that requires organisers to give advance information before demonstrations. … The restrictions come ahead of early legislative elections on June 12 that President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, elected in December 2019 in a vote boycotted by the protest movement, vowed would be fair and transparent. Reuters

South Sudan President Dissolves Parliament as Part of Peace Deal
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has dissolved parliament, opening the way for lawmakers from opposing sides of the country’s civil war to be appointed under a 2018 peace accord. Kiir’s decision was announced on public television on Saturday evening but no date was given as to when the new parliament will begin working. The setting up of a new legislative body was part of an accord signed in September 2018 between Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, for years on opposing sides during the five-year civil war that led to 380,000 people’s death and displaced four million. Activists and civil society groups welcomed the dissolution of parliament, saying it was long overdue but also expressing distrust. “It is a welcome development and we hope that the dissolution [will] also open the way to a lengthy process towards reconstituting the parliament,” said Jame David Kolok, chairman of the South Sudan Civil Society Forum. “The civil society is getting frustrated and no longer believes that even if the parliament is reconstituted it will be a very viable parliament.” Al Jazeera

Ethiopia under Pressure of Election Deadline, Mulls Postponement
Ethiopia is struggling to conclude preparations for a national election scheduled for June 5, and may delay the vote for a second time in less than a year due to difficulties in registering voters. About 31.7 million voters in Africa’s second-most populous nation of some 110 million people have so far been registered, according to Birtukan Mideksa, head of the National Election Board of Ethiopia. “We’ll try to squeeze in the remaining work between the tight dates. If that doesn’t go as planned, there’s a possibility of postponement,” Birtukan told reporters in the capital Addis Ababa on Saturday. Ethiopians were initially scheduled to vote in August 2020 but delayed the vote because of the coronavirus pandemic. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration is battling multiple security challenges across the country, including a civil war in the northern Tigray region. Authorities already announced that voting wouldn’t take place in Tigray in any June 5 vote. The Oromo Federalist Congress, one of the nation’s biggest opposition parties, ruled out participating with its leaders still in jail over allegations of terrorism and treason. Bloomberg

Libyan Militias Briefly Take over Tripoli Gov’t Headquarters
In a show of force, armed militiamen briefly took over a hotel in the Libyan capital of Tripoli that serves as headquarters for the interim government, officials said Saturday. Friday’s development came after the three-member presidential council earlier this week appointed a new chief of the intelligence agency, Libya’s version of the CIA. The militias, which control Tripoli, were apparently unhappy with the choice of Hussein Khalifa as the new spy chief. Presidential council spokeswoman Najwa Wheba said no one was hurt in the takeover of Hotel Corinthia, in the heart of Tripoli. The hotel was mostly empty on Friday, the Muslim weekend. After a while, the militias left the hotel, according to an official at the Interior Ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity under regulations. Khalifa and the militia leaders were not immediately available for comment on Saturday. The takeover underscored the tough road ahead for the interim government, which has been tasked with steering Libya through general elections due at the end of the year. The government has struggled to unite the conflict-stricken nation ahead of the vote. AP

With an Eye on India, Africa Ramps Up Monitoring of Coronavirus Variants
With Africa accounting for only around 2 percent of global coronavirus vaccinations, health officials on the continent are looking warily at waves of infections sweeping India and elsewhere that have stoked fears of a long tail end of the pandemic. Current timelines for mass vaccination campaigns in most African countries run well into next year — if not further. Confirmed cases have been rising steadily in many African countries, though quick but economically destructive restrictions on movement have clamped down surges before they’ve gotten out of control in most places. The slow rollout has made Africa’s hunt for new variants, which tend to emerge where spread goes unchecked, more urgent. The continent’s top health official as well as leaders at its main virus genome sequencing laboratories in Nigeria and South Africa said they were trying to avoid a crisis like the one in India. … “Our goal is to make sure we generate 50,000 sequences by the end of the year so we can have a better picture of what’s going on in the continent,” said John Nkengasong, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the continent’s main health body. “I’m hoping we can expand the capacity to more countries to do it locally.” The Washington Post

DRC President Felix Tshisekedi Begins Nile Dam Mediation
DR Congo President Félix Tshisekedi, who is the current president of the African Union, has started an “African tour” around the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) over which there is still a stalemate. Ethiopia intends to finalise the project and begin operations while Egypt and Sudan are still in opposition, arguing their countries could be deprived of water for consumption and irrigation. President Tshisekedi landed in Sudan late on Saturday. The one-day visit came as Sudan and Egypt pushed Ethiopia for a binding deal over the filling and operation of the dam. Ethiopia says the electricity the structure will generate is important to its development, but downstream Egypt and Sudan fear for their own dams and vital water supplies. … Also on Saturday, US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman held talks with top Sudanese officials over the GERD as well as Sudan-Ethiopia border tensions. Feltman underscored “the importance of leading the negotiations under the umbrella of the African Union with the involvement of the international community,” Sudan’s foreign ministry said in a statement. Nation and AFP

AU Appoints Ghana Ex-President John Mahama as Envoy to Somalia
The appointment comes just days after a special envoy from the office of the Qatar Foreign minister, Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani, was sent to Somalia to engage with the country’s political rivals. The African Union (AU) has appointed former Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama as its high representative to Somalia, to help mediate between stakeholders who have failed to agree on an electoral calendar and on who should manage the polls. AU Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat made the announcement in a statement on Saturday, saying Mahama will work with Somali stakeholders to reach a mutually acceptable compromise towards an all-encompassing resolution to the elections stalemate in the shortest possible time. “In fulfilling his mandate, Mahama will be supported by the peacekeepers serving under the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) to ensure mediation efforts and the peace support operation work together seamlessly,” he said. The AU hopes the appointment will ensure democracy in Somalia and help curb the threat to the stability of the country and the region as a whole. Nation

No Let-Up in Uganda, Rwanda Diplomatic Standoff
Rwanda and Uganda remain at loggerheads after almost three years of strained relations despite diplomatic efforts to resolve the outstanding issues. Addressing the ruling party’s Extended National Executive Committee meeting on May 1, President Paul Kagame described relations with Tanzania and DR Congo as cordial while relations with Burundi are on the mend. … President Kagame, however, expressed frustration at the state of impasse in the relations with Uganda, despite multiple diplomatic efforts. … Both countries have traded accusations, with Kigali accusing Kampala of supporting armed groups against it, harbouring hostile groups, kidnapping as well as torturing Rwandans in Uganda. It resulted in the closure of the border. Uganda too has accused Rwanda of trying to impose a trade embargo and espionage. … “My call is that stalled talks between Rwanda and Uganda resume as soon as possible both on bilateral and multilateral levels and the media stop meddling. Uganda is a country of interest because most of us were born or grew up there,” said Frank Habineza, a Rwandan member of parliament and Green Party president. The EastAfrican

Gunmen Kill Nigerian Police Officers in Southern Oil Hub: Police
Gunmen have killed at least seven Nigerian police officers in a night of attacks in the southern oil hub of Rivers State, police said on Saturday. The attackers opened fire on a checkpoint on Friday evening, then drove on to hit two police stations, the statement said. Officers fired back, killing two of the raiders and injuring some of the others who escaped in a stolen car, police added. The killings came amid deteriorating security in Rivers State – whose capital, Port Harcourt, is the gateway to the oil-rich Niger Delta region – and other parts of Africa’s largest crude exporter. Last month, Rivers State banned people from crossing its borders at night in a bid to stop killings of police, customs officers, civil defence officers and soldiers. On Friday, the armed men drove up in two Toyota Hilux vans at 19:30 GMT and killed two officers at a checkpoint at Choba Bridge, police spokesman Nnamdi Omoni said in a statement. … Nigeria’s parliament last week called on the presidency, armed forces and police to address mounting insecurity, with the lower house urging President Muhammadu Buhari to declare a state of emergency. Reuters

South Africa’s Royal Scandal: New Zulu King’s Claim Disputed
A new Zulu king was named in South Africa amid scenes of chaos after members of the royal family questioned Prince Misuzulu Zulu’s claim to the title following his father’s death, and bodyguards suddenly whisked him away from the public announcement at a palace. The controversy over the next king, a largely ceremonial role but one with great significance for South Africa and its 12 million Zulu people, has arisen after the death in March of King Goodwill Zwelithini, who had reigned since 1968. Zwelithini apparently named one of his six wives, Queen Mantfombi Shiyiwe Dlamini Zulu, as the “regent of the Zulu kingdom” in his will, but she died after holding the title for only a month, throwing the royal succession into turmoil. … Significant to the dispute is the fate of the king’s assets and the vast amounts of land traditionally owned by the Zulu people and now held in a trust. Estimates say the trust controls nearly 30% of the land in KwaZulu-Natal province, or around 28,000 square kilometers (10,810 square miles). The king is the sole trustee. … Forbes put King Zwelithini’s net worth at nearly $20 million, while the Zulu royal household is given an annual budget of around $5 million by the South African government. King Zwelithini, who had diabetes, reportedly died from a COVID-19-related illness at the age of 72. AP

At Least 1m People Facing Starvation as Madagascar’s Drought Worsens
Madagascar’s worst drought in 40 years has left more than a million people facing a year of desperate food shortages. The south of the island will produce less than half its usual harvest in the coming months because of low rains, prolonging a hunger crisis already affecting half the Grand Sud area’s population, the UN estimates. The south saw 50% of its usual rains during the October planting season, in a fourth year of drought. Julie Reversé, emergency coordinator in Madagascar for Médecins Sans Frontières, said: “Without rain, they will not be able to return to the fields and feed their families. And some do not hesitate to say that it is death that awaits them if the situation does not change, and the rain does not fall.” … Reversé said violent sandstorms (known as tiomena) in December made the situation worse by covering farming land and food such as the cactus fruit, which is often relied on during the “lean” season. … “Over the five last years, tiomenas have become more and more frequent. They have been affecting a wide range of territory. There were no rains over the three last years. Because of the persistent drought, violent winds have swept away the good soil for cultivation. They have killed the cactus plants, which are vital for us in the time of famine. They have also destroyed crops and killed animals such as zebus [cattle], sheep and goats.” The Guardian

Erased from a Davos Photo, a Ugandan Climate Activist Is Back in the Picture
When Vanessa Nakate, 24, was cropped out of a wire photo featuring her and four white activists, it drew attention that she now uses to expand her work in Uganda and beyond. … The climate crisis “has a racial issue,” said Ms. Nakate, who appears soft-spoken by nature but is not one to shy away from debate. “You cannot have climate justice without racial justice. It isn’t justice if it doesn’t include everyone.” Even though Africa produces a relatively low level of greenhouse gas emissions, the continent’s people remain particularly vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis. Changes in climatic patterns have brought desert locusts endangering food security in East Africa, cyclones devastating lives in southern Africa and threats to the Nile’s critical water supply. In Uganda, a verdant and landlocked East African nation, communities have in recent years suffered the consequences of adverse weather patterns. That has led to protracted dry spells and devastating floods and landslides, with a loss of homes, crops and businesses. “People have waged war against nature, and a war against nature means a war against people themselves,” Ms. Nakate told students at an international school on the outskirts of Kampala on a recent morning. “Sadly those who are least responsible face the biggest challenges of this crisis.” The New York Times

Burkina Faso’s Army Chaplains Tested by Extremist Conflict
In the more than 15 years Salomon Tibiri has been offering spiritual succor as a military pastor in Burkina Faso, he’s never fielded so many calls from anxious soldiers and their relatives as in recent years, when the army found itself under attack by Islamic extremist fighters. “Before the crisis there was more stability,” Tibiri said, seated in a military camp church in the city of Kaya, in the hard-hit Center-North region. “Now (the soldiers) are busier, and when you approach them you feel their stress — much more stress.” Once considered a beacon of peace and religious coexistence in the region, the West African nation has been embroiled in unprecedented violence linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State since 2016, throwing an ill-equipped and undertrained army into disarray — and overwhelming the chaplains tasked with supporting them. In interviews in the Center-North and in Ouagadougou, the capital, military chaplains told The Associated Press that they are stretched thin by the unprecedented conflict and what assistance they are able to provide through phone calls and prayer services is insufficient. Just seven chaplains, hailing from Protestant, Catholic and Muslim faiths, are charged with spiritually advising some 11,000 soldiers and helping maintain their morale. AP



Photo: Adam Jones