Africa Media Review for May 11, 2021

Ethiopia Must Set Right Environment for Election, US Says

The United States said it “strongly supports democratization in Ethiopia” as it nears a national election June 5, while noting a “free, fair, and credible election” can happen only with a conducive electoral environment. The statement comes amid a humanitarian crisis and conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. … Ethiopia has struggled to prepare for the June 5 general elections because of difficulties in registering voters. The general elections have been delayed since August because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Administrative elections for the cities of Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa are scheduled for June 12. “If that (a conducive electoral environment) is to be achieved, the government of Ethiopia must respect the freedom of assembly, the freedom of speech, political participation, and access to internet and information,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price Monday during a briefing. “Political parties, we know, should discourage violence, and state security forces must demonstrate restraint in the use of force and partisan tactics.” … On Monday, a bipartisan U.S. congressional statement expressed deep concerns for the continued presence of Eritrean forces in Tigray. VOA

Portugal to Send Another 60 Troops to Mozambique on Training Mission

Portugal will send a further 60 troops to Mozambique as part of a new cooperation agreement aimed at helping the country tackle an Islamic State-linked insurgency in its north, Portugal’s defence minister Joao Cravinho said on Monday. Mozambique has been grappling with the insurgency in its northern-most province of Cabo Delgado since 2017. But militants have massively stepped up their violence in the past year, taking a hefty toll on civilians and bringing a $20 billion liquefied natural gas project run by oil giant Total to a grinding halt. The agreement, which runs until 2026, will see Portugal increase its number of troops in Mozambique to 80 to train Mozambican soldiers to tackle the insurgency, share intelligence and help the country use drones to track the militants’ movements. … The European Union could also send between 200 and 300 EU soldiers to Mozambique on a training mission, the bloc’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said in an interview with Portugal’s Radio Ranancenca published on Monday. Reuters

We Can’t Let Our Guard Down; A COVID-19 Surge in Africa ‘Would Be Catastrophic’

Africa has to prevent an Indian-scaled Covid-19 tsunami hitting its shores – because curing it after it arrives is not an option, Dr John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has warned. The first few infections of the deadly B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus have already been picked up in Africa, exacerbating fears of the spread of the Covid-19 strain that is devastating India. … Nkengasong noted that Covid-19 was still under control in Africa. Over the past week, the number of new infections recorded across the continent was about 65,000, a 10% drop on the week before. The number of deaths recorded during the week was 2,181, a 0.15% decrease from the week before. But the Africa CDC head noted that there was no room for complacency. India’s figures had also been relatively low, at about 3,000 new infections a day in March, before they rocketed to the present daily increases of more than 400,000. Nkengasong said that, on average, Africa’s health systems were too fragile to deal with such a wave of infections that had completely overwhelmed the Indian health system. … Nkengasong warmly welcomed the US government’s decision announced on Wednesday that it had rescinded its opposition to moves – led by South Africa and India – to secure a waiver on the patent rights of pharmaceutical companies so that Covid-19 vaccines could be produced by others more cheaply. Daily Maverick

Two Highly Contagious Coronavirus Variants Appear in South Africa

South African officials say two highly contagious variants of coronavirus are now present in the country, as Africa’s worst-hit nation prepares for a possible new onslaught of cases. Officials from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases announced late Sunday that they have detected the B.1.617.2 and B.1.1.7 variants among the South African population.  With just under 1.6 million confirmed cases, South Africa leads the continent in coronavirus infections. Of those, nearly 55,000 people have died.  “It is not surprising that new variants have been detected in South Africa,” said Adrian Puren, the institute’s acting director. “We would like to assure the public that the institute is focusing their resources and research efforts towards understanding the variants and what the potential implications are for South Africa.” … B.1.617.2 is among the variants currently circulating in India, where the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center says 22.6 million COVID-19 cases have been reported — though health experts have warned that they believe both cases and deaths are being underreported in India. … The second variant, B.1.1.7, has been detected in 11 cases, South African officials said. This highly transmissible variant was initially detected in the U.K. VOA

UN: Migrant Boat Capsized off Libya; 2 Dozen Presumed Dead

A boat carrying migrants capsized off Libya on Monday, leaving at least two dozen presumed dead, the U.N. refugee agency said. It was the latest disaster in the Mediterranean Sea involving migrants seeking a better life in Europe. Tarik Argaz, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency in the North African country, said the Libyan coast guard returned at least 42 survivors to the shore and the capital, Tripoli. Only one body was retrieved from the sea, and 23 others were feared drowned, he said. The UNHCR and the International Rescue Committee were treating survivors from burns, he added. … There has been a spike in crossings and attempted crossings from Libya in recent weeks, with smugglers taking advantage of the calm sea and warm weather. Federico Soda, head of IOM in Libya, said he was extremely concerned about the spike in migrant departure from Libya and the continuous loss of life. “The situation cannot be ignored, and states must live up to their responsibilities and redeploy search and rescue vessels,” he tweeted. AP

12 Dead in Roadside Ambush in Burundi: Official Sources

At least 12 people, including a senior army officer, were killed and several others wounded in a roadside ambush in central Burundi, administrative and medical sources said on Monday. Police said late Sunday that eight people were killed when bandits set upon four vehicles near Muramvya, a provincial capital about 50 kilometers (31 miles) northeast of the main city of Bujumbura. But residents and official government and hospital sources told AFP the real toll was higher, and that a child was among the dead. … A Burundian army officer, Colonel Onesphore Nizigiyimana, and one of his daughters were among the victims, according to the administrative source, and relatives of the victim. The colonel was returning from a family celebration with his wife and three daughters when a dozen heavily-armed men attacked their vehicle, setting it ablaze, the source said. “The colonel and one of his daughters were burned to death in their car.” The Defense Post with AFP

Islamist Militia Kills Malawian Peacekeeper in East Congo – U.N.

A female peacekeeper from Malawi was killed in an attack by an Islamist militia in eastern Congo’s North Kivu province on Monday morning, the U.N. and the Malawian government said. A local civil rights group said separately that fighters with the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist armed group with Ugandan origins, attacked the village of Kilia, around 18km southeast of Beni in the province, killing at least five people. It was not clear if that figure included the peacekeeper. “A peacekeeper was killed in an attack by alleged ADF in the Beni region,” said MONUSCO, the U.N. peacekeeping mission, which has deployed around 12,000 troops to contain violence by more than 120 armed groups in the east of the country. Chitenji Kamanga, 28, was killed when the U.N. base in the village of Kilia, was attacked at 13:30 local time, the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) said in a statement. “Malawi has lost a courageous, hardworking and disciplined female soldier,” the MDF said. Reuters

Suicide Bombing by Somalia’s Al Shabaab Group Kills Six

A suicide bomber killed six police officers in front of a district police station in the Somali capital Mogadishu late on Sunday, police said, in an attack claimed by the al Shabaab Islamist group.n“Six police officers including the commander of the Waberi (district) police were confirmed dead and six others were injured in the blast,” Somali police spokesman Major Sadiq Aden Ali Doodishe told a news conference.nAl Shabaab claimed responsibility for the assault but said they had killed five police personnel.n“Our target was to kill police commanders and we killed five police (personnel) including the commander of the Waberi police station,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military operations spokesman, told Reuters on Monday. Reuters

Kenya Suspends Somalia Flights for Three Months

Kenya on Monday suspended flights from Somalia in the latest show that relations between the two sides have not thawed as announced last week. A Notice to Airmen (Notam) on Monday indicated that flights departing for or arriving from Somalia will not be allowed for three months from May 11 to August 9 this year. Only humanitarian deliveries and medical evacuation flights will be allowed into the country, according to a notice by the aviation regulator, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA). The Authority did not elaborate on reasons but suggested there had been a security directive from the government to restrict air traffic between the two countries. The decision means all chartered and scheduled flights to Somalia will not be allowed. However, flights from Somalia passing through the Kenyan airspace to another destination will be exempted. The announcement was made just as Somalia’s President Mohamed Farmaajo was flying over Kenya to Uganda for the inauguration of President Yoweri Museveni for the fifth term. Also exempted are military flights which are not within the jurisdiction of the KCAA. The EastAfrican

Fresh Dispute Erupts Between Spain and Morocco Over Western Sahara Leader

A diplomatic dispute between Morocco and Spain over Madrid’s decision to host a leader of the Western Saharan independence movement has soured what had been improving relations across the Mediterranean Sea. Brahim Ghali, the leader of the Polisario Front, which wants for independence of the Sahrawi people in Western Sahara, is being treated at a hospital in Logroño in northern Spain, after he was infected with COVID-19. His presence in Spain has angered Morocco which has accused the leftist government in Madrid of endangering relations with Rabat. The Polisario Front fought a long war against Morocco to win the independence of the disputed Western Saharan territory. Despite a truce in 1991, both sides have been at loggerheads for years. … Spain has tried to appear neutral on the Western Sahara issue, but analysts suggest that Morocco will use the diplomatic dispute between Rabat and Madrid over the presence of Ghali in Spain to exert pressure on Spain to change its policy. VOA

Tea-Growing Areas to Be Badly Hit If Global Heating Intensifies

In Kenya, which produces close to half of all the tea consumed in the UK, the area of optimal tea-growing conditions will be reduced by more than a quarter by 2050, while about 39% of areas with medium-quality growing conditions are facing destruction, according to the report. Even before tea plantations are wiped out, however, tea drinkers may notice changes on their palate: the impacts of flooding and the increased rainfall forecast in many tea regions will be to change the subtle flavours of the tea leaf, and potentially reduce its health benefits. … Richard Koskei, 72, a tea farmer from Kericho in the western highlands of Kenya, told the researchers: “For generations we have carefully cultivated our tea farms, and we are proud that the tea we grow here is the best in the world. But climate change poses a real threat to us. We cannot predict seasons any more, temperatures are rising, rainfall is more erratic, more often accompanied by unusual hailstones and longer droughts, which was not the case in the past.” The Guardian

Hit by COVID, Senegal’s Women Find Renewed Hope in Fishing

Since her birth on Senegal’s coast, the ocean has always given Ndeye Yacine Dieng life. Her grandfather was a fisherman, and her grandmother and mother processed fish. Like generations of women, she now helps support her family in the small community of Bargny by drying, smoking, salting and fermenting the catch brought home by male villagers. They were baptized by fish, these women say. … Dieng is among more than a thousand women in Bargny, and many more in the other villages dotting Senegal’s sandy coast, who process fish — the crucial link in a chain that constitutes one of the country’s largest exports and employs hundreds of thousands of its residents. “[The pandemic] was catastrophic — all of our lives changed,” Dieng said. But, she noted, “Our community is a community of solidarity.” … But the challenges from the coronavirus — and so much more — remain. Rising seas and climate change threaten the livelihoods and homes of those along the coast, and many can’t afford to build new homes or move inland. A steel processing plant rising near Bargny’s beach raises fears about pollution and will join a cement factory that also is nearby, though advocates argue they are needed to replace resources depleted by overfishing. … In Senegal alone, fish accounts for more than half of protein eaten by its 16 million residents — key for food security in this West African country. AP

Welcome to Semuliki: On the Trail of the ADF’s Islamist Militants | Photo Essay

At the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, in a vast territory that ranges from the lofty Rwenzori mountains to the lush rainforest of the Semliki valley, one of the world’s most active militant groups is responsible for the massacre of hundreds of civilians. The ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) was originally an opposition rebel group from Uganda rooted in a radical agenda of religious militancy. Taking advantage of the regional power vacuum, the group fled to Beni territory in neighbouring DRC to find shelter from the Ugandan army. Founded in 1995 by radical preacher Jamil Mukulu, a Ugandan Christian who converted to Islam, the ADF has been able to survive repeated attempts to eradicate it by establishing cross-border networks. After fleeing to DRC, the militants regrouped and were able to survive multiple waves of attacks, though their founder was arrested in Tanzania in 2015 and prosecuted in Uganda for war crimes. Under the new leadership of Seka Musa Balaku, Beni and the surrounding jungle has become a secure haven for the ADF. The group is thought to be able to sustain itself by integrating into the local cross-border economy, exploiting local trade in gold, cocoa, coffee and timber. These natural resources are sold on to Burundi, Uganda or Tanzania. Porous paths across the borders and complicity of some officials mean little hindrance to illegal trade. The Guardian