Africa Media Review for May 22, 2020

Hundreds Killed in South Sudan Tribal Clashes: ICRC
Hundreds of civilians, including three aid workers, were killed in a series of tribal clashes in villages in South Sudan’s vast Jonglei state, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday. The territory of South Sudan has been plagued for decades by ethnic clashes over cattle and land, as well as blood feuds. But violence has risen in recent months after the government in February designated ten new states, including Jonglei, but failed to agree on governor appointments, creating a power vacuum. Fighting between Lou Nuer and Murle groups broke out on Saturday in and around the town of Pieri, leaving hundreds injured and thousands displaced. Aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in a statement on Tuesday it had lost a South Sudanese staff member and two others were injured in the clashes. A South Sudan Red Cross volunteer was also killed. ICRC warned that Covid-19 restrictions have made it more difficult to evacuate wounded by air and to provide surgical care for trauma injuries. They said more lives will be lost if violence keeps escalating. East African

Burundi Counting Votes in Presidential Election; Opposition Alleges Fraud
Burundi’s opposition leader Agathon Rwasa is claiming an early victory in the country’s first presidential election in five years. Longtime president Pierre Nkurunziza decided not to run again, giving voters a choice between his hand-picked would-be successor – Secretary-General Evariste Ndayishimiye – Rwasa and five others. Voters were also choosing a national legislature and local leaders. … The National Independent Electoral Commission is telling people to be patient, saying official results will not be ready until at least Monday. Ballots from 3,800 polling places need to be collected, taken to local election headquarters and counted. But Rwasa told VOA’s Central African service that polling officers from his National Council for Liberty (CNL) party said he is winning. … Although he is making an early claim of victory, Rwasa alleged the elections “were not free, they weren’t fair, and they weren’t that transparent.” … Human rights observers accuse the government of countless abuses, which it denies. VOA

In Stunning Reversal, Turkey Emerges as Libya Kingmaker
A string of victories by Turkish-backed forces in western Libya this week dealt a heavy blow to the ambitions of the aspiring strongman Khalifa Hifter and signaled the arrival of Turkey as a potentially decisive force among the foreign powers battling for supremacy in the Middle East’s biggest proxy war. Libyan fighters backed by Turkish firepower captured on Monday a major air base west of Tripoli, the capital, used drones to destroy newly arrived Russian air defense batteries, and on Thursday pressed their offensive by ousting Mr. Hifter’s forces from a key town south of Tripoli. The triumphs marked a stunning reversal of fortunes for the United Nations-backed Tripoli government, which looked weak and badly besieged by Mr. Hifter until President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey sent troops and armed drones in January. It was Turkey’s most forceful intervention in the oil-rich North African nation since the end of the Ottoman Empire over a century ago. New York Times

Africa Heads Toward Severe Food Crisis amid COVID-19 Outbreak, Locust Swarms
The coronavirus pandemic, climate chaos and locust swarms have exacerbated the food crisis in Africa, which is already home to millions of food-insecure people. In West Africa, over 40 million vulnerable people have been at risk of desperate food shortages amid coronavirus restrictions. In East Africa, lockdowns imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic have slowed efforts to combat locusts, especially imports of the pesticides needed for aerial spraying that is called the only effective control. This is likely to make the continent even more dependent on externally sourced food. An estimated 12 million children under 5 years old could be acutely malnourished from June to August in the region, up from 8.2 million in the same period last year, according to the World Food Program (WFP). Daily Sabah/AFP

COVID-19: United Nations Launches Global Initiative to Combat Misinformation
Today the United Nations is launching “Verified”, an initiative to combat the growing scourge of COVID-19 misinformation by increasing the volume and reach of trusted, accurate. “We cannot cede our virtual spaces to those who traffic in lies, fear and hate,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who announced the initiative. “Misinformation spreads online, in messaging apps and person to person. Its creators use savvy production and distribution methods. To counter it, scientists and institutions like the United Nations need to reach people with accurate information they can trust.” Verified, led by the Department of Global Communications, will provide information around three themes: science — to save lives; solidarity — to promote local and global cooperation; and solutions — to advocate for support to impacted populations. It will also promote recovery packages that tackle the climate crisis and address the root causes of poverty, inequality and hunger. UNNews

Even with New Government, Algeria Continues Crackdown on Dissenters
Two courts in Algeria jailed three activists after finding them guilty of criticizing President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and the judiciary on social media, which comes under the charge of threatening national unity, according to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD). Larbi Tahar and Boussif Mohamed Boudiaf were sentenced to 18 months in prison in El Bayadh, southern Algeria, while Soheib Debghi was sentenced to one year by an Algiers tribunal. After 20 years under Abdelaziz Bouteflika, voters elected Tebboune last December following Bouteflika’s ouster and months of street protests against the political elite. The activist group CNLD maintains that the new government is quashing human rights. Reports of arrests against journalists, bloggers and others expressing dissent has intensified since the coronavirus pandemic began. … The Tebboune government claims it will actually improve freedoms later this year when the referendum for a new constitution is put to the vote. RFI

Sudan and Ethiopia Agree to Resume Nile Negotiations
Prime ministers of Sudan and Ethiopia have agreed to resume negotiations on the filling and use of the Grand Renaissance Dam [GERD], signalling a partial end to tensions over the Nile waters. Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok on Thursday in a video conference with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, agreed to have respective water ministers restart talks on the controversial project. Sudan which also depends on the Nile, had been the sort-of go-between between Egypt and Ethiopia, who have disputed over the $4.5 billion project on the Blue Nile since it was launched nearly a decade ago. … A dispatch on Thursday said the two leaders insisted on the importance of the return of the three parties to the negotiating table to complete the remaining part of the agreements to fill and operate the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, as was done in the negotiating tracks in recent months. East African

Coronavirus: Countries ‘Arbitrarily’ Postponing Elections – Jonathan, Madeleine Albright, Other Leaders
Some global leaders, including former president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, have alerted the world that democracy was at risk globally because of the novel coronavirus. The leaders, 27 of them, said in an open letter that some countries were using health emergency laws to arbitrarily postpone elections. They said such countries abandoned “appropriate political channels as stipulated by their constitutions and international standards” and did not have a “consensual process for fixing a new date” for elections. The letter was written under the auspices of the Kofi Anan Foundation and it is titled “Democracy must not become the silent victim of the coronavirus pandemic”. Madeleine Albright, a former U.S Secretary of State and the Chair of the National Democratic Institute; Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-British billionaire businessman and the founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation; Toomas Ilves, former President of Estonia; and Michael Moller, former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, are among those who signed the letter. Premium Times

Malawi’s Elections Chief Resigns Ahead of Re-run
The head of Malawi’s electoral commission has resigned a month before a presidential election re-run. The vote was ordered by the Constitutional Court which overturned last year’s poll giving a second term to President Peter Mutharika. Protesters had demanded that Jane Ansah stand down over irregularities in the original election, including the use of correction fluid on ballot papers. But in an interview on state television she denied she was giving in to pressure. The re-run will take place on 23 June. BBC

Kenya: Elite Cart Away Over U.S.$3 Billion of World Bank Aid
Kenya’s elite siphoned Sh328 billion of World Bank aid payments to offshore accounts in two decades, a new study shows. …” Elite Capture of Foreign Aid: Evidence from Offshore Bank Accounts”, published in February, offers details of how the Kenyan ruling elite connive to enrich themselves by wiring foreign aid money meant to help the vulnerable to foreign offshore accounts. The study was conducted by Bob Rijkers of the World Bank, Jorgen Juel Andersen of BI Norwegian Business School, and Niels Johannesen of the University of Copenhagen. It covers two decades between 1990 and 2010. The study compared data on aid disbursements from the World Bank with foreign deposits from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), focusing on 22 aid-dependent countries including Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. … According to the document, the ruling elite in Tanzania siphoned Sh61.89 billion and Uganda Sh28.55 billion during the period under review. Daily Nation

Gov’t, SPLM-N Agar Agree to Establish Religious Freedom Body in Sudan
The transitional government and the SPLM-N Agar agreed on Thursday to establish a commission tasked with the monitoring of violations of religious freedom in Sudan. The two parties held a new session of talks via videoconference to end the conflict in the Blue Nile State and South Kordofan. … Dhieu Matouk further said that the two delegations agreed to establish a religious freedom commission. “Religious freedom is part of human rights, but due to the importance of this freedom, the two parties have agreed to establish a special commission for religious freedoms,” Matouk said. “This is an important step to address the root causes of the crisis in the Two Area and entire Sudan,” he added. … “The establishment of such a body would be a response to the violations of religious freedoms and grants full citizenship to Christians in Sudan,” said Yasir Arman SPLM-N Agar deputy leader and the group’s chief negotiator in statements to Sudan Tribune earlier this month. Sudan Tribune

Questions Remain over Extrajudicial Killings against Fulani in Burkina Faso
The latest case of 12 extrajudicial killings of Fulani men in Tanwalbougou, northeastern Burkina Faso, has gripped the public after gruesome details emerged following their detention by gendarmes in the area, adding to the overall crisis in the Sahel. Human rights groups are calling for an independent investigation into their murders. Although the military has issued a statement admitting that 12 of the Fulani (also called Peul) men, arrested on suspicion of terrorism, died in military cells, a number of the facts are in dispute. Twenty-five men, aged between 20 and 70, were detained by Burkinabé security forces on 11 May in the afternoon, according to the Burkinabé Movement of Human Rights and People (MBDHP). Beaten and humiliated, they were piled into 4x4s and taken to the gendarme barracks at Tanwalbougou. RFI

Tanzanian comic detained ‘for bullying the president’
Popular Tanzanian comedian and former Big Brother Africa winner Idris Sultan is being held by police for allegedly bullying President John Magufuli. According to his lawyer Bennedict Ishabakaki, Mr Sultan was detained on Tuesday and has been denied bail. The police officially questioned the comedian and reality TV star on Thursday for allegedly violating the country’s controversial Cybercrimes Act, Mr Ishabakaki said. Recently a video clip showing him laughing at an old photograph of President Magufuli, wearing a suit that appears to be a few sizes too large, went viral on social media in Tanzania. “They are questioning him for allegedly contravening section 23 of the act. In a nutshell, they [the police] are accusing him of bullying the president through that video clip,” Mr Ishabakaki told the BBC. … The law states that someone should not “initiate or send any electronic communication using a computer system to another person with intent to coerce, intimidate, harass or cause emotional distress”. BBC

Tanzania’s President Shuns Masks to Pursue Herd Immunity
Tanzanian President John Magufuli ordered the phased reopening of schools and resumption of foreign tourist flights, touting the controversial “herd immunity” strategy in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. “Experts say herd immunity increases when there is contact between people,” Magufuli said in a televised speech. “If you lock people inside, their immunity falls by 30%, according to the literature that I have seen.” The strategy allows for more than 60% of the population to gain some resistance to the virus by becoming infected and recovering, resulting in less economic devastation and human suffering than with lockdowns designed to stop the spread, according to some experts. … The government has scrapped plans to open a 1,000-bed Covid-19 facility in Dar es Salaam after a sharp decline in hospitalizations, Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu said, without giving supporting data. Bloomberg

South Africa to Probe Giraffe, Meerkat, Rhino Shipments to China
Barbara Creecy, South Africa’s environment minister, said she is planning an investigation after animal rights organizations alleged that wildlife ranging from giraffes and meerkats to rhinos are being illegally sold and shipped to Chinese zoos. In a 118-page report, Ban Animal Trading and the EMS Foundation alleged that at least 5,035 animals were shipped from South Africa to China between 2016 and 2019, many of them in contravention of the Convention of International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. The minister “is convening an urgent online meeting between EMS Foundation, Ban Animal Trading and the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries to discuss how we investigate these allegations of irregularities, whether the convention or other aspects of South African law have been infringed, and if so, what remedial action needs to be taken,” the department said in a statement. Bloomberg

Remains of Rwanda War Crimes Suspect Found in Congo
The remains of Augustin Bizimana, former Rwandan defence minister and one of the top suspects wanted over the country’s 1994 genocide, have been identified in a grave in the Republic of Congo, a United Nations war crimes prosecutor has said. Serge Brammertz said Bizimana, who was indicted on 13 charges, including genocide, murder and rape, is believed to have died in Pointe Noire, in Congo, in 2000. His remains were identified by DNA testing. “Bizimana was alleged to be responsible for the murders of former Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and 10 Belgian United Nations peacekeepers, and for the murder of Tutsi civilians” in five Rwandan regions, Brammertz said in a statement on Friday. He is believed to have died around August 2000. Al Jazeera



Photo: Adam Jones