Africa Media Review for May 20, 2020

Burundi Opens Crucial Presidential Election amid Pandemic
A crucial election has begun in the East African nation of Burundi, where President Pierre Nkurunziza is stepping aside after a divisive 15-year rule but will remain “paramount leader” in the country that continues to reject outside scrutiny. The vote is one of the most important transfers of power in Burundi since independence in 1962. Face masks and social distancing were observed as voting began after 6 a.m. but Burundi’s government has been criticized for not appearing to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously. Nkurunziza himself attended crowded political rallies. The country has 42 confirmed virus cases. Regional observers are not present after being told that arriving foreigners would face a 14-day quarantine, and on Wednesday morning citizens and journalists said access to social media was not possible without a virtual private network. “The government is cutting social media so that we don’t tell the world what is happening,” said one voter, Jean Pierre Bazikamwe. AP

UN Chief: Virus Could Push Millions of Africans into Poverty
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday that the coronavirus pandemic threatens Africa’s progress and could push millions into extreme poverty. The U.N. chief said in a video message launching a policy report on “The Impact of COVID-19 in Africa” that countries on the continent have responded swiftly to the crisis, and as of now reported cases are lower than feared with more than 2,500 deaths. The virus is present in all African countries with most recording fewer than 1,000 cases, the 28-page U.N. report said. The relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases confirmed thus far “have raised hopes that African countries may be spared the worst of the pandemic,” the report said. “Caution is warranted, however, as these are early days in the life cycle of a disease that is still not fully understood and where we have seen repeated patterns of first slow, then exponential growth in the number of cases.” … While dealing with the pandemic, the U.N. report said “maintaining peace and security in Africa remains paramount.” AP

Niger: 12 Soldiers Killed in Boko Haram Attack on Military Base
Twelve soldiers have been killed in a Boko Haram attack on a military outpost in Niger’s Diffa region, the scene of recent clashes with armed fighters. The attack by “Boko Haram terrorists” overnight on Monday on the Blabrine military base left another 10 soldiers wounded, Niger’s defence ministry said in a statement late on Tuesday. “Seven terrorists were neutralised” by Niger soldiers, the statement added. The Blabrine base is some 20km (12 miles) northeast of Diffa town in the remote southeastern region near Lake Chad, where the borders of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria converge. Diffa, a city of 200,000 near the Nigerian border, has been repeatedly attacked. The region of the poor Sahel country borders Nigeria, the birthplace of Boko Haram. It shelters some 300,000 refugees from Nigeria as well as internally displaced people, according to United Nations figures. Al Jazeera

Jihadists Kill 7 Soldiers in Nigeria Attacks
Jihadists killed seven soldiers in attacks in northeast Nigeria, including an assault on a town where schoolgirls were abducted en masse two years ago, military sources and residents said on Tuesday. The attacks on Monday came days before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when jihadists who have waged a 10-year insurgency usually ramp up their deadly assaults in the region. In one assault on the town of Dapchi fighters believed to be from an Islamic State group affiliate killed one soldier and wounded three while looting shops and torching the house of a local leader, sources told AFP. … In a second attack on Monday near the village of Maza, fighters killed six soldiers after opening fire on a military convoy that had been hit by a landmine, two security personnel said. … In another incident on Monday, two female suicide bombers suspected to have been sent by Shekau’s loyalists killed two people in the town of Konduga, security sources and residents said. AFP

Two Soldiers, Five Volunteers Killed in Burkina Attack
Two Burkina Faso soldiers and five civilian defence volunteers have been killed during an ambush on a military patrol in the restive north of the country, security sources said Tuesday. The attack occurred on Monday as soldiers from the military detachment in Banh in Loroum province were carrying out a patrol in the area, the sources said. “Two soldiers were killed along with five civilians,” a security source told AFP. Another security source said the civilian casualties were “defence volunteers who were with the military unit during the patrol,” adding two soldiers also died. … Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadist alliance GSIM claimed responsibility for the attack, claiming to have killed “nine soldiers” in an ambush and taken weapons and vehicles, in a text sent to AFP late Tuesday. AFP

More than 200 Killed in South Sudan Inter-Communal Violence
More than 200 people were killed and at least 300 others wounded in inter-communal clashes last weekend in South Sudan’s Jonglei state, according to local leaders. Local officials say armed youth suspected of being from the Greater Pibor Administrative Area carried out attacks in four villages on Saturday and Sunday. Young men reported to be wearing military uniforms raided several villages and burned two Uror County villages – Pieri and Pamai – to the ground, according to Pal Mai, former deputy secretary general of the now defunct Bieh state. “In these two locations, the Murle armed youth pillaged and burned villages in Uror, but the attackers were repulsed with serious loss inflicted on them in both locations,” Mai told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus. Mai said he traveled to Pieri from Uror town shortly after the attack occurred and saw the bodies. He called it one of deadliest attacks in recent years. VOA

South Sudanese Refugees Attacked in West Kordofan
A fact finding mission of the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, concludes that tribesmen riding on horses raided a South Sudanese refugee settlement in El Meiram in West Kordofan two weeks ago. The assaults started on May 5, when the attackers caused panic and destruction in the refugee settlement. 18 refugees were injured and over 200 of the nearly 280 houses were burned to the ground. The refugees had all their belongings destroyed or robbed, including important identity documents. The South Sudanese refugees shared their ordeal with the UNHCR fact finding mission that visited the region. “Everything I built and gathered in years was gone in a moment,” a former businessman and father of nine told the fact finding mission. “I am happy that nobody was killed.” The refugees fled to a military compound where they received protection, food and water. After two days some returned to the torched remains of their settlement, wary about any new violence. Radio Dabanga

Sudan Delivered Weapons to South Sudanese Security Service: UN Report
Sudan’s intelligence and security services, in violation of the arms embargo on South Sudan, delivered weapons and ammunition to the National Security Service during the year 2019, said a UN panel. UN Panel of Experts on South Sudan handed over its annual report to the Security Council on 28 April 2020. “The Panel found that, in the period from March to June 2019, the Director-General of the Internal Security Bureau, Lieutenant General Kuc, violated the embargo on arms by obtaining three deliveries of weapons, mostly AK-47s, and related ammunition from the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) of Sudan, now known as the General Intelligence Service (GIS),” reads the report seen by Sudan Tribune. The NISS was dissolved in August 2019 by the Transitional Military Council and was replaced by the GIS. The weapon’s shipments took place before the formation of the transitional government of Abdallah Hamdok. Sudan Tribune

‘Alarming’ Military Build-Up Underway in Libya, as COVID-19 Heightens Insecurity
The civil war in Libya is in danger of intensifying as foreign intervention grows and the spectre of the COVID-19 pandemic adds to a deepening sense of insecurity, the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) told the Security Council on Tuesday. At the same time, an “alarming” military build-up is underway as foreign backers send increasingly sophisticated and lethal weapons to the warring sides… The vast majority of the 58 civilians killed and 190 injured since 1 April are attributed to forces affiliated with General Haftar, she said, adding that those guilty of crimes under international law must be brought to justice. “From what we are witnessing in terms of the massive influx of weaponry, equipment and mercenaries to the two sides, the only conclusion that we can draw is that this war will intensify, broaden and deepen – with devastating consequences for the Libyan people,” she told the Council. “As the foreign intervention increases, the Libyans themselves are getting lost in the mix, their voices crowded out. We must not let Libya slip away. We must enable responsible Libyans to write their own future.” UN News

Western Team Went to Help Moscow’s Man in Libya, UN Finds
A team of Western mercenaries linked with two Dubai-based companies was briefly deployed to Libya to assist Russian-backed strongman Khalifa Haftar in his offensive to capture Tripoli, according to a confidential UN report, underscoring how the country’s proxy war has become a magnet for hired guns. The report said the mercenaries were affiliated with Lancaster 6 DMCC and Opus Capital Asset Limited FZE, both registered at free zones in the United Arab Emirates, and traveled to Libya in June 2019 for a “well funded private military company operation” to support Haftar, who is fighting to dislodge the United Nations-recognized government. Opus and Lancaster 6 financed and directed an operation to provide Haftar’s forces with helicopters, drones and cyber capabilities through a complex web of shell companies, according to two diplomats who briefed Bloomberg on the contents of the UN Panel of Experts report shared with the Security Council’s sanctions committee in February. Bloomberg

Moroccan Smugglers Embark on Long New Route to Ship Drugs to Europe
With the usual routes to Europe closed by the coronavirus pandemic, Moroccan drug traffickers are making a circuitous journey involving food trucks and fishing boats to smuggle locally grown cannabis to market, police say. Morocco has since March imposed an internal lockdown that has stopped most movement between cities and closed its air and sea borders in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. This has also blocked the normal drugs route. Smugglers previously took the cannabis grown in the northern Rif Mountains, trucked it the short distance to the Mediterranean coast and then whisked it across the sea by speed boat or concealed in the daily fleets of commercial shipping. DefenceWeb

DR Congo Police Crackdown on Sect Killed 55 in ‘Bloodbath’ -Human Rights Watch
Democratic Republic of Congo police killed at least 55 people in a crackdown on a separatist religious sect in April, more than double the toll reported by the interior ministry at the time, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday. New York-based HRW accused Congo authorities of using “excessive force” in dealing with the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) group, whose leader had urged followers to chase other ethnic groups out of their core area of support in the country’s west. “Congolese authorities had a responsibility to respond to the BDK movement’s messages that incite ethnic hatred,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at HRW. “However, the government response violated international standards on the use of force, causing a bloodbath,” he said in an HRW report on the incidents in April. “The government needs to get to the bottom of these violent raids and hold wrongdoers to account, whatever their rank.” Reuters

Southern Africa Bloc Backs Mozambique in Fight against Insurgents
Southern Africa’s regional bloc urged member states to support Mozambique in fighting militias with suspected links to Islamic State in the natural gas-rich north of the country. The Mozambican interior minister said on Friday security forces had killed around 50 insurgents in recent days in the northern Cabo Delgado region that has been plagued by violence for several years. President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe, who chaired a summit including the leaders of Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique, cited a growing risk of religious extremism and radicalization in southern Africa, threatening peace and security. The meeting, under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) defence and security organ, was assessing the security situation in Mozambique. Reuters

Coronavirus in Africa: Contained or Unrecorded?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that nearly a quarter of a billion Africans could contract coronavirus in the first year of the pandemic, with between 150,000 and 190,000 of them dying. Africa has had less than 100,000 cases so far, but WHO experts believe the continent will have a prolonged outbreak over a few years – and, aid workers say, the huge focus on containing the virus has led to other health issues being neglected. Here, five BBC reporters give a snapshot of what is happening in their countries… BBC

Virus Stigma Weighs Heavily in Sub-Saharan Africa
Landlords evict people from their homes, nurses are abandoned by their husbands and people are spurned just on suspicion of coming into contact with a COVID-19 patient. Across sub-Saharan Africa, the stigma attached to the coronavirus is so strong that some choose not to seek treatment to avoid facing unbearable hostility. People suspected of having contracted COVID-19 say they are treated like pariahs: singled out at work, in their neighbourhoods and even in their homes. Fatou, a Senegalese woman in her twenties who did not use her real name, described her bitter experience about a month ago after coming into contact with a sick person. She was immediately confined to her room and ostracised by people in her community. AFP

COVID-19 Restrictions Give Rise to Political Tensions in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone faces a delicate balancing act between maintaining peace and fighting the public health disaster-that is the coronavirus. The virus poses great danger to human lives for a nation with an already very fragile health system. To reduce risk of infections, the government has had to implement nationwide restrictions and has curtailed movements. But enforcement of these regulations leaves the country on a knife edge. With over half its population (57.9%) multidimensionally poor, there is a looming threat of conflict erupting amid Covid-19. Over the past few weeks, sporadic violent clashes have occurred in parts of the country, leaving over a dozen people dead, many hospitalised and property destroyed. Reasons for this unrest are unknown but have been widely attributed to coronavirus restrictions. Mail & Guardian

‘Tortured Zimbabwe Abductees’ May Face Prosecution
Zimbabwe’s justice minister has threatened to prosecute three female opposition members who allege they were arrested and then abducted from police custody and sexually assaulted. They say they were beaten and forced to drink each other’s urine. The three, including an MP, are being treated in hospital for their injuries. … Opposition activists allege that abduction and torture remains a tactic of the authorities even after the end the presidency of Robert Mugabe, who was overthrown in 2017. Cecilia Chimbiri, who is a youth campaigner with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, has given graphic testimony to the BBC of how she, MP Joana Mamombe and Netsai Marowa, were maltreated over 24 hours by alleged state agents. She said that they were stopped at a police checkpoint last Wednesday, as they were returning from a small protest march that they had organised in the capital, Harare, over the number of people going hungry during the coronavirus lockdown. BBC

‘We Can’t Turn Them Away’: The Family Kitchen Fighting Lockdown Hunger in Zimbabwe
It is 7am and hundreds of children have come out on this chilly morning to queue for a plate of porridge. With makeshift masks covering their faces, the children wait for Samantha Murozoki to start dishing up the warm food into whatever plastic tub, plate, tin cup – or even ripped-off corner of a cardboard box – is presented to her. The winding queue is a sign of the desperation that has gripped the populous township of Chitungwiza, on the outskirts of Harare, since Zimbabwe enforced national lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19, which has seen 46 cases and four deaths. … Zimbabwe experienced yet another poor harvest this year, leaving almost half the population in need of urgent food aid, with the most vulnerable people in rural areas already on the verge of starvation, according to humanitarian organisations. In urban areas, 2.2 million people are in urgent need of food aid as many struggle to put enough on the table. Government lockdown relief of US$4 per family is yet to be distributed at a time vulnerable families are failing to earn a living amid skyrocketing inflation. The Guardian

Poor Countries Borrowed Billions from China. They Can’t Pay It Back.
As the coronavirus spread around the globe, Pakistan’s foreign minister called his counterpart in Beijing last month with an urgent request: The country’s economy was nose-diving, and the government needed to restructure billions of dollars of Chinese loans. Similar requests have come flooding in to Beijing from Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka and a number of African nations, asking to restructure, delay repayments or forgive tens of billions of dollars of loans coming due this year. With each request, China’s drive to become the developing world’s biggest banker is backfiring. Over the last two decades it unleashed a global lending spree, showering countries with hundreds of billions of dollars, in an effort to expand its influence and become a political and economic superpower. Borrowers put up ports, mines and other crown jewels as collateral. … Officials familiar with the debt negotiations said many countries are demanding China provide debt relief or forgiveness, including a number of African countries. The New York Times

As Ghana Develops, Chiefs’ Powers Are Being Redefined
Before Africa was hit with the coronavirus, Ghana had one of the world’s fast growing economies. … But in a modernizing Ghana, traditional chiefs are still playing large role especially when it comes to land ownership and resolving disputes. “One way or the other, you will have to deal with the chiefs,” says Ato, a young surveyor from Takoradi in Ghana’s Western Region. … “Traditionally, land is owned by the dead, the living and the future generations. Chiefs are the guardian of it,” explains Daniel Inkoom, professor at the Department of Planning of Kwame Nkrumah University in Kumasi, Ghana’s second biggest city. But when it comes to large-scale projects crossing through the land of many communities, negotiating with chiefs can also be vexing. This is proving the case with one of Ghana’s most significant development projects – the repair and expansion of its railway network which requires the state to acquire large sections of land. DW

Senegal Pledges a Bed for Every Coronavirus Patient – and Their Contacts, Too
Every morning at a few minutes after 10 a.m. Dakar time, an official from Senegal’s Health Ministry walks calmly to a podium, usually with a face mask pulled across his or her face – so there’s no visual clue as to whether the days COVID-19 case count is good news or cause for worry. The official reaches the microphone and begins a routine that has become a daily staple in Senegal since the outbreak began here in early March. … In this country of 16 million known for its peaceful democracy and sense of community, Senegal’s response to the coronavirus is notable not only for its humanity but for its thoroughness. For example, each newly diagnosed individual – no matter how mild or severe the case – is provided a hospital or health center bed where he or she stays isolated and observed- a key element to Senegal’s strategy to contain the virus. NPR