Africa Media Review for May 20, 2021

COVID-19 Feeding Drivers of Conflict, Instability in Africa – UN
UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, says women and young people must be part of Africa’s plans to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, which is feeding factors driving conflict on the continent. Mr Guterres told the Security Council on Wednesday in a virtual meeting that many communities and countries were already facing a complex peace and security environment. According to him, ambassadors have met virtually to examine how to address root causes of conflict while promoting post-pandemic recovery in Africa. Mr Guterres said that challenges such as long-standing inequalities, poverty, food insecurity and climate disruption were raising risks of instability. “One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, as we face the possibility of an uneven recovery, it is clear that the crisis is feeding many of these drivers of conflict and instability,” he said. Since the pandemic began, the secretary-general had repeatedly warned of the risks it posed to people and societies across the world, especially in countries affected by conflict. NAN

Chadian Security Forces Clash with Protesters Denouncing Military Takeover
Chadian security forces used tear gas and batons to disperse protesters who took to the streets of the capital N’Djamena on Wednesday to denounce a military takeover following the battlefield death of President Idriss Deby. Small groups of protesters burned tyres and French flags, and some clashed violently with police, a Reuters reporter at the scene said. About 30 people were arrested, according to civil society coalition Wakit Tamma. … Deby’s death during fighting with northern rebels last month caused chaos in Chad, a key ally of Western powers in the fight against Islamists in Africa. His son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, dissolved parliament after his death and took control as head of a military council. He has promised to hold democratic elections within 18 months. Opposition politicians denounced the move as a coup. … France backed the military takeover before calling for a move to civilian government. A civilian prime minister has been appointed, though Mahamat Idriss Deby, an army general, remains president. Reuters

Nigeria’s Buhari Seeks France’s Help in Terror Fight
Worried about the recent escalation of terror incidents and general insecurity in the country, President Muhammadu Buhari has called on France to deepen its anti-terror cooperation with Nigeria in order to defeat terrorists in the Sahel region and beyond. President Buhari said jihadists had taken advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to unleash terror on innocent people and organisations across the Sahel, especially across Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger as well as around the Lake Chad Basin. According to him, the Lake Chad Basin is where Boko Haram’s terror has festered and spread back into Nigeria, as well as launching attacks in Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Nigeria and France, he said, should deepen anti-terror cooperation to overcome the scourge – particularly in the aftermath of the death of Chadian President Idriss Déby. … President Buhari noted that the Libyan crisis had flushed the whole region with weapons, making disputes far more deadly. Nation

Twin Attacks in Burkina Faso Kill 16
Attacks on a village and troops in the north and east of Burkina Faso left 15 civilians and one soldier dead, a regional governor and security sources said Wednesday. … An attack overnight Tuesday targeted a village near the town of Tin-Akoff in the north where people were celebrating a baptism, leaving 15 dead and one wounded, the governor of Burkina’s Sahel region Colonel Salfo Kabore said in a statement, adding that all the casualties were men. … A security source said an attack on Wednesday using an explosive device hit a military convoy in the east of the country, killing the soldier. Jihadists in the region frequently use roadside bombs against their targets. The Tin-Akoff area has already suffered two attacks since May 8, with three killed in each. … In the face of attacks that have forced more than 17,000 people from their homes, the army launched an operation in the north on May 5. The operation, named Houne — Dignity in the Fula, or Peul, language — is expected to last more than a month. The Defense Post with AFP

Russian Mercenaries Are Raping and Murdering Civilians They’ve Been Hired to Protect
The Russian soldiers in the CAR are military contractors, members of the shadowy, Kremlin-backed Wagner Group, deployed to train the Force armee centrafricaine (FACA), the national military. … Outside of the weapons sales, the details of the deal between Russia and the CAR are opaque and the active role of Wagner “trainers” on the frontlines has not been officially acknowledged by either government. A VICE World News team observed Russian so-called trainers manning mounted weapons throughout the capital and in the city of Bouar, and was told several times by Russian sources in-country that the troops were on the way to and returning from the frontline fight with the rebels. Beyond potential violations about the use of private military contractors in active conflict, VICE World News spoke to victims and rights activists in Bangui and uncovered a disturbing pattern of claims that Russian contractors are involved in torture, extrajudicial killings, rape and sexual abuse. VICE

Uncertainty Greets Weary Migrants in Spain’s African Enclave
Thousands of migrants who have become pawns in a diplomatic spat between Morocco and Spain awoke to an uncertain future on Wednesday, after sleeping where they could find shelter following their massive border breach to reach the European country’s north African enclave of Ceuta. Social services for the small city perched on an outcropping in the Mediterranean buckled under the strain after more than 8,000 people crossed into Spanish territory during the previous two days. Exhausted by either scaling a double-wide border fence or risking their lives by swimming around a breakwater to reach a beach on the European side, many migrants spent the night in overcrowded warehouses under the gaze of Spanish police. “We have never seen such an arrival of this magnitude,” Red Cross spokeswoman Isabel Brasero told the AP. “The city has the means to take care of all the people that arrive to its shores, but you never imagine that you will face this type of situation.” AP

UN Urges More Vaccines for Africa, with Only 2 Percent Now
The U.N. Security Council called for accelerated availability of coronavirus vaccines for Africa on Wednesday, expressing concern that the continent has received only about 2% of all doses administered globally. The call came in a presidential statement approved by all 15 members at a council meeting on promoting post-pandemic recovery in Africa and addressing the root causes of conflict on the continent. Moussa Faki Mahamat, chair of the African Union Commission, told the virtual meeting that “today the biggest challenge Africa is facing is the vaccine issue.” He said the trend continues to show a rising number of Africans infected with the coronavirus and an increase in fatalities from COVID-19, the disease that can be caused by the virus. … “In the name of fighting the crisis, some governments have restricted democratic processes and civic space,” Guterres said. “In several countries, the pandemic has gone hand in hand with divisive rhetoric, hate speech, incitements to violence and harmful misinformation, which has exacerbated divisions and further eroded trust.” AP

Malawi Burns Expired COVID-19 Vaccine Amid Concerns of Low Uptake
Malawi has burned nearly 20,000 doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine after slow uptake led to their expiration. Malawi authorities are struggling to administer more doses set to expire in June and are training heath workers to visit and inoculate people in villages. The public incineration of the vaccine Wednesday in the capital was held in front of officials from the Treasury, anti-corruption bureau, the auditor general’s office and health rights activists.  Speaking during the event at Kamuzu Central Hospital, Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo-Chiponda said the destruction was aimed to build public confidence in the safety of the vaccination program. “It has been very difficult to convince Malawians about the vaccine initially because of misinformation, disinformation and negative propaganda. So, we just wanted to assure Malawians that indeed what we had said that we are going to destroy them, it is happening now,” she said. VOA

Kenya’s President Names Country’s First Female Chief Justice
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has appointed Court of Appeal Judge Martha Koome as the East African country’s first woman chief justice and head of the judiciary. The announcement was made Wednesday in a special Gazette Notice — an official publication for notifying the actions and decisions of the government — hours after parliamentary approval. “In exercise powers conferred by … the constitution. I, Uhuru Kenyatta, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defense Forces appoint Martha Karambu Koome to be the chief justice of the republic of Kenya,” Kenyatta’s announcement said. She replaces David Maraga, who made history by leading the Supreme Court when it annulled Kenyatta’s 2017 re-election victory citing “illegalities and irregularities” and ordering a fresh election. Before that historic decision, it was unprecedented in Africa for an opposition party to succeed in getting a court decision to overturn a president’s election. … Koome won the chief justice position over nine other candidates, including some of the country’s most prominent lawyers and academics. The candidates were interviewed live on TV by the Judicial Service Commission in April. AP

Seven Kenyan Soldiers Killed in Jihadi Ambush in Lamu County
A Kenyan police official says that seven soldiers have been killed and one is missing in Lamu county after a bomb and ambush by Islamic extremist al-Shabab rebels from neighboring Somalia. The attack happened just days before President Uhuru Kenyatta is to launch a multi-million dollar port in Lamu county on Thursday. … The military had said that the soldiers were on routine duty in the Baure area of Lamu county were attacked Tuesday morning after their vehicle ran over an explosive device along the Bodhei-Kiunga road. No deaths were reported or details about the attack. … Earlier this month, at least two people were killed in Lamu county near Kenya’s eastern border with Somalia when their vehicle ran over an explosive device suspected to have been planted by al-Shabab. It was the second attack in two months targeting vehicles delivering supplies to a construction site where Kenya is building a fence and trenches along the Somali border to prevent extremists, bandits and illegal immigrants from entering the East African country. AP

Cameroon Regional Councils Starved of Resources to Solve Anglophone Separatist Crisis
Cameroon’s regional councils this week called on the central government to grant promised autonomy and funds that they say would help resolve the country’s separatist conflict. The regions have yet to receive a promised 20% of the state budget this year and the power to recruit state workers like hospital staff and teachers. Atem Ebako, vice president of the Southwest regional executive council, says he has nothing to present as an achievement since he officially took office on January 21. Ebako says the central government in Yaounde continues to strengthen its grip on power, contrary to Cameroon’s decentralization code. … Cameroon announced special status for its troubled Northwest and Southwest regions after a grand national dialogue called by President Paul Biya in 2019. The talks involved the government, youths, clergy, representatives of some separatist groups and others to find solutions to the crisis in the regions, where most people speak English. Participants decided that the two areas would have regional bodies responsible for economic, health, social, educational, sports and cultural development affairs. The government said it would give about 20% of its $9 billion state budget to the regions to manage. But so far, that hasn’t happened. VOA

Former Ivory Coast PM Soro Goes on Trial on Coup-Plotting Charges
Guillaume Soro, a former prime minister and rebel leader in Ivory Coast, went on trial in absentia on Wednesday on charges he plotted a coup against President Alassane Ouattara. The trial got off to a fiery start with Soro’s defence insisting on more time to examine alleged evidence against Soro and the 19 others accused in the case. As a result, the second day of the trial was postponed to May 26, said Diallo Souleymane, who is on his legal team. His lawyers have condemned the case as politically motivated and say there is no evidence Soro was guilty of conspiracy. … The case has raised tensions in a country recovering from two civil wars since the turn of the century. Soro, who is in exile in Europe, has already been convicted of embezzlement and was sentenced last year to 20 years in prison. He led the rebels that swept Ouattara to power during the civil war that followed his disputed election victory in 2010 and went on to serve as prime minister and speaker of parliament under Ouattara. Reuters

Ivory Coast Jails Child Traffickers after Cocoa Farm Raids
Twenty-two people accused of trafficking children to work on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast have received prison sentences of up to 20 years, prosecutors said on Wednesday. The case follows the rescue by police this month of 68 children working on cocoa farms, most of whom had been transported from neighbouring Burkina Faso, according to the Ivorian authorities. Ivory Coast is the world’s top cocoa producer and is under pressure, including from the European Union, to crack down on practices that have led to nearly 1 million children working in the sector. The police operation was the first since 2014 to target Soubre, at the heart of the cocoa belt. Work has been hampered by a lack of funds, according to police in charge of the special unit on child labour. Brahima Coulibaly, a member of the national monitoring committee on child labour, told Reuters that efforts to tackle the problem were bearing fruit. Of 600 prosecutions of child traffickers between 2012 and 2020, half took place in 2020, he said. Reuters

Thousands Displaced as Floods Hit Burundi
Thousands of residents in Bujumbura and Gatumba have fled their homes after their property and houses were flooded due to the rising water levels of Lake Tanganyika and the swelling rivers around the city. The water level of Lake Tanganyika increased since the beginning of the year, leading to almost 30,000 people displaced, as the government worked to provide land to relocate them. “I am really tired now of shifting every now and then because this is the second time I have witnessed these floods. The first one was last year,” said 56-year-old Bemera Rea. Ms Rea is among the 5,000 people the government said were affected by the rising water level of Rusizi river that cuts through Gatumba and flows to Lake Tanganyika. The government said that more than 2,000 people were evacuated to Muramvya, several kilometres away from Gatumba. The EastAfrican

How a Group of Nigerian Journalists Are Digitising Thousands of Old Newspapers
An ambitious project is underway in Nigeria to archive 18,627 days of newspapers – one newspaper for each day from 1 January 1960 to 31 December 2010. The Tracking archvi.ng project aims to capture not only a snapshot of Nigeria’s political, social and cultural history, but also to create an open resource for the public, researchers and journalists. In this vein, the group of volunteers behind the archive have opened their product roadmap, financial goals and process online, as part of the “public library spirit.” “We didn’t start this project just because we want archives to exist. It’s about the things we know will happen when you have access to over 500,000 stories across five decades of Nigerian history,” writes Fu’ad Lawal, one of the project’s organisers, on the team’s Medium account. Lawal started the project with a group of friends as a “weekend hobby” to see how many newspapers from this period – with titles including The New Nigerian, National Concord and The Nigerian Tribune – they could find in libraries and archives across the country. Reuters Institute



Photo: Adam Jones