Africa Media Review for May 12, 2020

Four Burkina Soldiers Killed in Jihadist Attack
At least four Burkinabe soldiers were killed in a jihadist attack on Monday in the restive north of the country, security sources told AFP. Jihadists ambushed the troops a few kilometres from the Niger border in Yagha province, a security source told AFP, saying four were killed and four others were still missing. Another security source confirmed the attack, adding that authorities were now trying to find the missing soldiers and track down the attackers. “Armed groups are moving from one side of the border to the other, carrying out attacks in both countries,” the security source said. Both sources said the attack took place in a village called Kankanfogouol. AFP

Is Tanzania Covering Up the Real Number of Coronavirus Deaths?
Omari*, a motorcycle taxi driver, stopped outside a house in Arusha City, a tourist hub in northern Tanzania and pointed to a large, grey gate. “A person here died from COVID a few days ago,” he said…He slowed down at another house and loudly mumbled through his blue protective mask: “… He picked up COVID in Dar and he died about a week ago. “This is becoming very serious,” he added. “This disease is killing a lot of people.” … According to government records, 509 people in Tanzania have so far contracted the virus and 21 have died. But the official numbers, which are provided in increasingly rare updates, are being regarded with great suspicion. Several opposition leaders and activists in recent weeks have accused the government of failing to inform the public on the extent of the disease’s outbreak and covering up the true number of fatalities. The government has denied the allegations, but many Tanzanians also told Al Jazeera, in private and behind the safety of closed doors, that they did not trust the government’s data. Al Jazeera

Mystery Deaths in Nigeria Provoke Fear of Unrecorded Coronavirus Surge
Scores of mysterious deaths in northern Nigeria have sparked speculation that coronavirus may be moving untracked through Africa’s most populous nation, which has reported few confirmed cases but conducted fewer tests than other countries with smaller populations. Ten weeks after Nigeria reported sub-Saharan Africa’s first coronavirus cases, the country has recorded 4,400 infections out of a population of more than 200m. That is compared with about 4,300 cases in Ghana, where the population is only 30m, 10,000 cases in South Africa and 9,400 cases in Egypt. Nigerian officials concede that the low count is due in part to limited testing. Nigeria has tested just 27,000 samples, compared with about 356,000 tests in South Africa, which has a population less than a third of the size. The country’s response is led by a group of well-respected doctors, but has been hobbled by decades of under-investment in healthcare and a global supply chain for equipment, medicines and chemicals that appears to have largely shut out developing countries. FT

‘We Depend on God’: Gravediggers on Frontline of Kano’s COVID-19 Outbreak
Musa Abubakar used to dig two or three graves a day at the main cemetery in the northern Nigerian city of Kano. Then overnight it became 40. “I have never witnessed mass deaths like this,” the 75-year-old said, his white kaftan muddied from his work at the Abbatuwa cemetery, where he has dug graves for 60 years. “From the first day of Ramadan to date, over 300 people have been buried.” A jump in Kano’s death toll by 600 in one week in April sent alarm bells ringing across Nigeria’s second largest city and beyond. Local government officials denied that a coronavirus outbreak was the cause and claimed the death toll reports had been exaggerated. But in Abbatuwa, the gravediggers were running out of space. Abubakar’s colleagues began burying on top of graves to make more room. Four fellow diggers, all over 50, have died in the past three weeks. … After weeks of denials at the local level, last week a team of officials sent by Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, said their initial investigations had established that the excess deaths were linked to Covid-19. The Guardian

South Sudan: Kiir Sacks Army Chief Gabriel Jok
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit sacked his army chief on Monday without giving any reason. A presidential decree announced on national television said Chief of Defense Forces General Gabriel Jok Riak had been removed with immediate effect. It did not specify any particular reason for the dismissal. Jok, from Jonglei State in the Upper Nile region, was appointed as head of the army in May 2018, following the death of General James Ajongo after a short illness. In another decree, Kiir appointed General Johnson Juma Okot as the new army chief. Okot, from Eastern Equatoria State, was the assistant chief of defense forces for administration and finance. Army spokesman Lul Ruai Koang told Radio Tamazuj that it was a prerogative of the president to remove the military chief. Radio Tamazuj

Grenade Attack Kills Two in Burundi Bar Ahead of Polls
At least two people were killed in a grenade blast in Burundi’s economic capital Bujumbura, just days ahead of a general election, witnesses said on Monday. The attack was blamed on “unidentified criminals” who targeted a bar in a working-class district of the main city in the small Central African country on Sunday. Witnesses told AFP news agency the bar belongs to a member of the Imbonerakure youth wing of the governing party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), which grew powerful after Burundi plunged into civil war between 1993 and 2005. The United Nations has listed the Imbonerakure as a militia force. Local residents said the bar was a meeting place for members of the youth league from the neighbourhood. The CNDD-FDD is being challenged at the May 20 poll by former rebel leader Agathon Rwasa and his National Freedom Council (CNL), the main opposition party. AFP

Cameroon Separatists Kill Mayor in Restive Southwest Region
Separatists in the English-speaking southwest region of Cameroon have killed a local mayor in an ambush in which two soldiers were also wounded, the region’s governor has said. Ashu Priestley Ojong, mayor of Mamfe, approximately 500km (300 miles) from the capital Yaounde, was killed by the “terrorist secessionists” on Sunday morning, Bernard Okalia Bilai said in a statement on Monday. The attack on the mayor’s convoy happened as he was travelling from Mamfe to the nearby village of Eshobi, state broadcaster CRTV said. They went there after receiving a tip-off that some rebels would be laying down their arms, the report said. Ojong is among a few senior elected officials to be killed in the conflict between Cameroon’s army and the English-speaking militias. He was elected in February in legislative and municipal polls the separatist rebels wanted to be boycotted. Al Jazeera

Cameroon’s Deadly Mix of War and Coronavirus
Prominent Cameroonian human rights activist Beatrice Titanji leapt for joy when a major secessionist group declared a ceasefire on 29 March to protect people from the “fury” of coronavirus in the central African state’s English-speaking heartlands, but her hopes have since been dashed as fighting continues to rage. “It’s a scary situation. Thousands are trapped in the bushes,” Dr Titanji told the BBC. “How do we tell them about Covid-19?” she added. The Southern Cameroons Defence Forces (SCDF) unilaterally declared the ceasefire, following an appeal by UN chief António Guterres for conflict to end across the world. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said. “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives,” Mr Guterres added. However, none of Cameroon’s other secessionist groups, estimated to number at least 15, have heeded the appeal. BBC

Top DR Congo Presidential Aide Kamerhe Goes on Trial for Corruption
A powerful top aide to DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi went on trial for corruption on Monday in a case without precedent in the country. Tshisekedi’s chief of staff Vital Kamerhe, who has been at the very heart of political life in DR Congo for two decades, is accused of embezzling more than $50 million. A grey-bearded Kamerhe, 61, appeared in a prison jumpsuit before a court set up within Kinshasa’s central prison compound, where he has been in custody since April 8. Two other defendants in the case, a Lebanese businessman and another presidential official, also appeared during the first hearing which was broadcast by the state channel RTNC. … “Never in Congo’s political history over the past two decades has such an important player on the political scene been put behind bars,” New York University’s Congo Study Group (CSG) said in an analysis. AFP

Immunity from Prosecution for Lesotho PM Not Part of Exit Deal-Party
Immunity from prosecution for Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane in the murder of his ex-wife was not discussed in the deal to dissolve his government, a spokesman for a partner party in a proposed replacement coalition said on Monday. Thabane’s coalition fell apart in parliament on Monday, meaning he will have to leave office on May 22. He is a suspect in the murder of his former wife, but police have yet to formally charge him because he has argued for immunity in court. “The Prime Minister’s prosecution doesn’t fall off and is not part of this deal at all. We are not even thinking of considering it,” Democratic Congress party spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa told Reuters by telephone. Reuters

Tunisians Urged to Stay Cautious as Virus Cases Hit Zero
Tunisia on Monday urged continued vigilance against the novel coronavirus, a day after recording no new cases for the first time since March 2 as it eases strict lockdown measures. The country’s overall toll stood at 1 032 cases on Sunday, the same as the previous day, with 45 deaths – unchanged for several days – and 700 recoveries. But Health Minister Abdellatif Mekki urged caution despite the encouraging figure. “It’s true that it boosts morale, but there could be a return of cases tomorrow,” he told the health committee of the North African country’s parliament. He called on Tunisians to continue respecting hygiene and social distancing measures. AFP

Cape Town and Its Province Are South Africa’s Virus Hotspot
Cape Town and the surrounding Western Cape province have become South Africa’s coronavirus hotspot, accounting for more than half of the nation’s confirmed cases, which have gone above 10,600. The Western Cape province has 5,621 cases, according to figures released Monday, and of the country’s 206 deaths registered from COVID-19, 116 have occurred in the province. Cape Town, with its poor, densely populated townships, is the center of the cases in the province. South Africa has the continent’s highest number of confirmed cases and has eased its restrictions to allow an estimated 1.6 million people to return to work in selected mines, factories and businesses. However, the concentration of cases in Cape Town may see the city return to a stricter lockdown, according to Health Minister Zweli Mkizhe. AP

Senegal Eases COVID Restrictions Tuesday, a Day after Surge in Cases
Senegalese President Macky Sall says the West African country will begin reopening mosques and churches Tuesday and ease other restrictions imposed to contain the coronavirus. Sall announced the easing of the restrictions on Monday after Senegal registered a more than 30 percent jump in cases from the previous day, the largest one day increase in cases. President Sall said along with relaxing the state of emergency measures on Tuesday, curfew hours will be from 9pm to 5am, instead of 8pm to 6am. He said markets and other businesses previously restricted to opening on certain days will be now open six days and closed one day for cleaning. So far, Senegal has reported 1,886 coronavirus cases and 19 deaths. VOA

Ethiopia Steps Up Aerial Spraying to Stop New Desert Locust Invasion
Ethiopian officials have deployed helicopters to spray new swarms of desert locusts that are eating crops and threatening the country’s food security. The U.S. Agency for International Development said billions of the pests have descended on East Africa in recent weeks, targeting crops and pastures across a region already facing widespread hunger and humanitarian needs. In the latest development, huge swarms swept into Ethiopia’s southern Oromia region last week from Kenya and Somalia, displacing thousands of people, officials said. Ethiopia engaged the swarms by spraying pesticides from the air, using three helicopters leased from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said Zebdios Salato, the top advisor in the crop protection department at Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture. VOA

Nigeria’s Dollar Shortage Pushes Manufacturers to the Brink
Nigerian manufacturers are struggling to stay in business because a foreign-exchange shortage spawned by the collapse in oil prices means they can’t import raw materials. The industry’s difficulties are the latest signs of strain in Nigeria’s foreign-exchange regime. The central bank was forced to devalue the naira in March as income from crude sales that generate 90% of the West African nation’s export earnings dried up. Foreign investors looking to repatriate their funds have been asked to be patient. Members of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria have been unable to access hard currency for the past five weeks, the group said in a report at the weekend. Investment bank FBNQuest estimates there’s a $1 billion backlog of unmet dollar demand in Nigeria. Bloomberg

African Scientists Sense a Once-in-a-Life Opportunity to Push for Research Funding
Scientists in Africa, who have long complained of poor funding and weak policy support for their research see an opportunity to convince governments and the private sector of a need to prioritize their R&D in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The African Academy of Sciences (AAS) has already raised the first batch of funds and is currently working with the African Union (AU) to establish a template that will improve R&D funding across the continent. Back in 2006, African Union member countries committed to spend at least 1% of their GDP on R&D by 2010, but few countries have come close. South Africa, the continent’s most advanced economy, spent about 0.82% of GDP from 2015 to 2019. This compares with around 2.4% for OECD and 2.8% for the United States. Quartz Africa

Aids Deaths Could Double in Sub-Saharan Africa Due to COVID-19: UN
The number of deaths from Aids-related illnesses in sub-Saharan Africa could double if the provision of healthcare to HIV sufferers is disrupted during the coronavirus crisis, the United Nations said Monday. A six-month disruption of antiretroviral therapy due to the Covid-19 pandemic could lead to more than 500 000 extra deaths in the region in 2020-2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UNAIDS said in a joint statement. In 2018 – the latest figures given – an estimated 470 000 people died of Aids-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. The two UN bodies warned of the impact if HIV services are closed, supply chains interrupted, or healthcare services overwhelmed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. AFP

How a ‘Coronavirus Hairstyle’ Is Helping Raise Awareness in East Africa
The coronavirus has revived a hairstyle in east Africa, one with braided spikes that echo the virus’s distinctive shape. The style’s growing popularity is in part due to economic hardships linked to virus restrictions – it is cheap, parents say – and to the goal of spreading awareness about the coronavirus. The hairstyle had gone out of fashion in recent years as imported real and synthetic hair from India, China and Brazil began to flood the market and demand by local women increased. Pictures of the flowing or braided imported styles are tacked up in beauty salons across much of Africa. … “Some grownups don’t believe that the coronavirus is real, but most young children are keen to sanitize their hands and wear masks. Many adults do not do this, and that is why we came up with the corona hairstyle,” Refa says, her face mask tucked under her chin. The Guardian



Photo: Adam Jones