Africa Media Review for May 23, 2022

Civilian Killings Soar as Russian Mercenaries Join Fight in West Africa
The man knew what to expect from Islamist fighters. They had appeared at his door for years, demanding money or livestock — the taxes he paid to survive. Then one morning in March, the threat in his rural community suddenly had a confusing new face: White men in military fatigues, yelling in a language he did not recognize. “They were shooting people. People in their homes,” he said. “Everywhere, bodies were dropping to the ground.” At least 300 people are believed to have been killed in the man’s town of Moura, in central Mali, though he and other witnesses suggest the toll could be far higher. Similar accounts have emerged across the West African nation since hundreds of Russian mercenaries joined the Malian army this winter in the fight to reclaim territory from groups loyal to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The hired guns of the Wagner Group — a covert arm of the Kremlin, according to the United States and Western allies — have been repeatedly accused of war crimes, leaving a trail of atrocities across the Middle East and Africa. Profits flow back to Moscow, according to Western intelligence officials and security researchers, helping prop up Vladimir Putin’s government at a time of growing economic isolation over its war in Ukraine. Washington Post

Security Concerns, Lack of Support Stall Africa’s Green Wall
A series of complex challenges, including a lack of funding and political will as well as rising insecurity linked to extremist groups al-Qaida and the Islamic State in Burkina Faso, are obstructing progress on Africa’s Great Green Wall, according to experts involved in the initiative. There have been some modest gains for the project, which plans to build an 8000-kilometer (4970-mile) long forest through 11 nations across the width of Africa to hold back the ever-growing Sahara Desert and fend off climate change impacts, but many involved with the plan are calling for renewed momentum to combat both insecurity and environmental decline. Just 4 million hectares (9.9 million acres) of land has been afforested since work on the Green Wall began 15 years ago — a mere 4% of the program’s ultimate goal. Adama Doulkom, the coordinator for the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative in Burkina Faso, said political instability and security issues are significantly stalling progress in nearly 4,000 villages across the country. AP

Ethiopia: Olusegun Obasanjo Secures Release of More than 4 000 Prisoners of War in Tigray
Former Nigeran president Olusegun Obasanjo has secured a diplomatic victory in the Ethiopian civil war, with the transitional government of Tigray committing to release more than 4 000 prisoners of war. The prisoners were drawn from armies of the Ethiopian authorities, the Amhara region and Eritrea, and their release is a “confidence-building exercise” which is part of honouring the “mini truce” that has been in place for more than a month. Tigray’s external affairs office said in a statement said it would be done with the assistance of the African Union Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa, led by Obasanjo, who has been “trying to help us secure a peaceful way out of the war in Tigray.” Of the more than 4 000 prisoners, 401 are women. “Accordingly, per the promise we made to Chief Obasanjo, we have decided to release 4 208 prisoners of war. Of those to be released, 401 are women,” the office said. News 24

Ethiopia Launches Crackdown on Journalists and Activists
Ethiopian security officials are conducting a massive operation across the country that has led to the arrests of more than 4,500 people in one region alone. The crackdown on journalists, activists and others, dubbed a “law enforcement operation,” came into effect after the administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on May 20 cited the need to “protect citizens and ensure the survival of the nation.” On Monday morning, security officials in the northwestern Amhara region announced the arrests of more than 4,500 people. Desalegn Tassew, head of peace and security in the region, told state media outlets the arrests were made “to uphold law and order, deal with criminal activities and get rid of outside enemies.” Rights groups are expressing alarm. Tigist Shumye, a sister of prominent Ethiopian journalist Solomon Shumye, told The Associated Press he was arrested at his home by people in civilian clothing on May 20. “They were not willing to tell us who they were. They even detained me for two hours, just because I am a sister to a journalist,” she said. AP

Concerns Grow Ethiopia’s Fragile Truce May Break
Observers of Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict have seen encouraging signs of peace in the past few months. The truce announced by Ethiopia’s federal government is still holding nearly two months after it was announced. Tigray fighters, who have been battling a coalition of federal forces and regional militias since November 2020, have largely withdrawn back into the northern Tigray region from neighboring Afar. There have been reports of sporadic reports of fighting in the Amhara region, which also borders Tigray, as well as in western Tigray, which is under Amhara region administration, but it is unclear who is involved and who is to blame.  By and large, though, there has been a “pause in large-scale fighting,” finds the International Crisis Group, an independent think tank, in an April analysis of the situation in Ethiopia. This “has generated cautious optimism,” the analysis finds. The US State Department also speaks of “encouraging actions” that have laid the groundwork for peace in past months, including the government’s lifting of the state of emergency and its release of some political prisoners, as well as the delivery of “desperately needed food aid to war-affected communities.” But there are concerns that if more isn’t done and done soon, full-scale conflict could flare up again. DW

WHO Chief: The COVID Pandemic Is ‘Most Certainly Not Over’
The COVID-19 pandemic is “most certainly not over,” the head of the World Health Organization warned Sunday, despite a decline in reported cases since the peak of the omicron wave. He told governments that “we lower our guard at our peril.” The U.N. health agency’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told officials gathered in Geneva for opening of the WHO’s annual meeting that “declining testing and sequencing means we are blinding ourselves to the evolution of the virus.” He also noted that almost 1 billion people in lower-income countries still haven’t been vaccinated. In a weekly report Thursday on the global situation, WHO said the number of new COVID-19 cases appears to have stabilized after weeks of decline since late March, while the overall number of weekly deaths dropped. While there has been progress, with 60% of the world’s population vaccinated, “it’s not over anywhere until it’s over everywhere,” Tedros said. AP

African Union Chief Announces Visits to Moscow, Kyiv
Senegalese President Macky Sall on Sunday said he would travel to Russia and Ukraine soon on behalf of the African Union, whose presidency he currently holds. The trip had been due to take place on 18 May but did not go ahead due to scheduling issues and new dates have been put forward, Sall said at a joint news conference with visiting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. He had received a mandate from the African Union to undertake the trip, for which Russia had extended an invitation, he added. As soon as it’s set, I will go of course to Moscow and also to Kyiv,” Sall said. He added: “We have also accepted to get together all the heads of state of the African Union who want to with (Ukrainian) President (Volodymyr) Zelensky, who had expressed the need to communicate with the African heads of state. That too will be done in the coming weeks.” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has hit African economies hard due to rising cereal prices and fuel shortages, has met with a divided African response. AFP

Monkeypox Spreading in Europe, US, Has African Scientists Baffled
As more cases of monkeypox are detected in Europe and North America, some scientists who have monitored numerous outbreaks in Africa say they are baffled by the unusual disease’s spread in developed countries. Cases of the smallpox-related disease have not previously been seen among people with no links to Central and West Africa. France, Germany, Belgium and Australia confirmed their first cases of monkeypox on Friday. In the past week, the UK, Spain, Portugal, Italy, US, Sweden and Canada all reported infections, mostly in young men who had not previously traveled to Africa. “I’m stunned by this,” said Oyewale Tomori, a virologist who formerly headed the Nigerian Academy of Science and who sits on several World Health Organization (WHO) advisory boards. “Every day I wake up and there are more countries infected,” Tomori said. Al Jazeera

Olaf Scholz: Germany Will Work to Restart Ukrainian Grain Exports to Africa
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday said Berlin will actively work to push for the restart of grain exports to Africa from Ukraine that have been halted as a result of Russia’s invasion. He also spoke of the need to ensure the steady transfer of fertilizers out of Africa. Scholz was speaking in Dakar ahead of a meeting with Senegalese President Macky Sall at the beginning of a three-day trip to Africa — his first since taking office six months ago. Ahead of Scholz’s visit, the former German ambassador to Moscow said Russian President Vladimir Putin is deliberately aiming to trigger a famine in the Middle East and Africa. The Kremlin’s goal is to destabilize Europe through a massive refugee influx, Rüdiger von Fritsch told Sunday’s edition of the Tagesspiegel newspaper. DW

IMF Extends Somalia Funding to August Following Election
The International Monetary Fund has agreed to extend the duration of a crucial aid package to Somalia, following a long-overdue presidential election last weekend. The three-year $400m aid package from the IMF had been set to automatically expire on May 17 if a new administration was not in place by then, with multiple election delays adding to the heavily indebted country’s turmoil. But last week the IMF Executive Board accepted the Somali government’s request for a three-month extension until August 17, giving newly-elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud‘s government time to examine and endorse planned reforms. “The extension will provide the time needed to confirm policy understandings with the new government and confirm financing assurances with development partners,” Laura Jaramillo Mayor, the IMF’s mission chief for Somalia, told AFP in an email sent late Thursday. Somalia’s international partners have welcomed the election of President Mohamud, with many hoping it will draw a line under a long-running political crisis that has distracted the government from other threats, including a violent armed uprising and a devastating drought. Al Jazeera

Somalia’s New President Faces Familiar Political, Security Challenges
Somalia’s new president is starting his four-year term facing familiar top issues such as the country’s political divide and rising attacks by al-Qaida-linked insurgent group al-Shabab. As he settles into office, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud faces a politically divided nation, high public expectations and the specter of al-Shabab, which has remained a potent threat since it emerged in 2007. Fawzia Yusuf, a former deputy prime minister who ran for president in the just concluded elections, said the new president has the uphill task of constituting a competent government given the many competing interests. “Since our system is currently based on tribal 4.5, people are expecting him to choose people from different tribes,” she said. “So, one of the challenges is putting together a very strong Cabinet, which are technocrats which are not based on tribal but on meritocracy.”…Besides tackling the political question, Mohamud must contend with the security threats posed by militant group al-Shabab.According to Abdurahman Sheikh Azhari, the director of the Mogadishu-based Center for Analysis and Strategic Studies, the new president, like his predecessor, doesn’t have much leeway in dealing with al-Shabab. Voice of America

Tanzania: Dar Port Reaps from Rising Political Heat Ahead of Kenya Polls
The heat from Kenya’s campaigns ahead of the August 9 General Election is affecting the flow of goods on the Northern Corridor, with Tanzania benefiting from the windfall as more cargo destined for the Great Lakes region is diverted to the Dar es Salaam port. With memories of the 2007/08 post-election violence that disrupted transport on the corridor still fresh —  and a $63 million compensation award ordered by a Nairobi court still pending — many importers, especially Ugandans and Rwandans, are opting for the Central Corridor. Due to this cargo flight, transit volumes through the Dar es Salaam port to the Central Corridor have recently recorded significant growth as Mombasa registers plateaued or declining volumes of goods on the northern route. According to the latest Mombasa Port Corridor Community Charter report, transit volumes through the Dar es Salaam port grew at 21 percent in 2021 while those through the port of Mombasa declined 6.2 percent in the same period. East African

Sudan Doctors: Gunshot Wounds Among 125 Protesters Injured in Marches of the Millions
The Central Committee of Sudan Doctors (CCSD) has confirmed that 125 people were injured during the violent suppression by security forces of the May 19 Marches of the Millions in Khartoum. The doctors highlighted that the injuries were caused by live ammunition, stun grenades, burning, being run-over, and stone-throwing. Five people suffered limb fractures, nine people sustained bullet wounds, 64 were injured by stun grenades, and 25 people experienced breathing difficulties from teargas. The doctors explained in a previous press statement to Radio Dabanga that the forces fired large quantities of tear gas canisters directly at the protesters, endangering their lives by nearly suffocating them or injuring vital parts of their bodies. such as the head, neck, chest, and abdomen. Dabanga

Trilateral Mechanism Says “Deeply Concerned” Excessive Violence Against Protesters in Sudan
The Trilateral Mechanism of the AU, IGAD and UNITAMS Sunday voiced deep concern about the continued excessive use of violence in Sudan hampering their efforts to end the seven-month crisis in the country. The security forces killed a protester in Omdurman on Saturday, increasing the death toll of those killed after the coup d’état to 96 people. In a statement issued after a meeting on Sunday, the Mechanism said “deeply concerned by the continued use of excessive force in responding to protests.” The three envoys stressed they have consistently called on the Sudanese authorities the need to stop violence against protesters, release political detainees and loft the state of emergency. “Creating these conducive conditions is critical for the success of the political process and must be done as a matter of urgency,” stressed the statement. The head of the Sovereign Council had several times pledged to implement confidence-building measures in order to create a suitable atmosphere for a dialogue process facilitated by the three bodies. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in November 2021 designated Adama Dieng as an expert on human rights in Sudan, following a request from the UN Human Rights Council. Sudan Tribune

Mozambique Insurgency: Why 24 Countries Have Sent Troops
At least 24 countries have sent soldiers to support Mozambique in its fight against insurgents in northern Cabo Delgado province. The discovery of 7,000 “ghost soldiers” in the ranks of a poorly paid and badly trained army underline why Mozambique needs help. The Carta de Moçambique daily newspaper discovered many of the salaries of fake soldiers were paid to senior defence officials, and that there are a growing number of children of former officers and politicians who receive salaries without ever having been in military training, let alone setting foot in a military unit. More than 2,000 well trained Rwandan troops were sufficient to largely take control of the two coastal districts, Palma and Mocimboa da Praia, near giant gas fields. Despite their successes, Mozambique’s civil war rumbles on. The big struggles now are political – about money, the causes of the war, who can fight, and if the gas project can resume. Cabo Delgado is Mozambique’s resource-curse province, with gas, rubies, graphite, gold and other natural resources. Protests were growing that the profits were all going to an elite in the ruling party, Frelimo, and that few local jobs were being created. BBC

UN Accuses DRCongo Militia of Attack on Peacekeepers
A top UN official on Sunday accused the M23 militia force active in the Democratic Republic of Congo of attacking peacekeepers in the troubled east of the country. The statement from Assistant Secretary General Bintou Keita came after the DR Congo’s army launched an offensives against the group on Thursday… The army and the Monusco soldiers then launched a joint operation against the rebels, her statement added. Residents of Goma, the main city in North Kivu province, said Monusco had used helicopters in their operation against the rebels. A statement from the M23 force said their fighters had forced the government to retreat and they had taken refuge at a Monusco base, thus forcing the peacekeepers to intervene. The M23 group emerged out of a 2013 ethnic Tutsi Congolese rebellion that was supported by neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda at the time. They resumed fighting earlier this year, accusing the government of having failed to respect a 2009 agreement under which their fighters were to be incorporated into the army. AFP