Africa Media Review for May 24, 2021

Dispelling COVID Vaccine Myths in Africa
A preponderance of COVID vaccine myths is causing many Africans to forego vaccinations at a time when new, more transmissible coronavirus variants are spreading across the continent. The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines was supposed to be a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. Yet, just as the supply of vaccines has been increasing in Africa, so too has misinformation about their safety and efficacy. Fears about the vaccines range from simple lack of information to far-fetched conspiracy theories. … Comments by prominent African leaders have created further confusion and mistrust. A survey by the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that vaccine hesitancy is compounding the COVID threat. More than half of respondents in 15 high-risk countries said that the seriousness of COVID-19 is exaggerated. … So, what are some of the key myths circulating on the continent? Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Nigeria’s Army Chief, 10 Others Killed in Plane Crash
Nigeria’s top-ranking army commander Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru and other military officers have been killed when their plane crashed in the country’s north, according to officials. The incident on Friday occurred “due to inclement weather” as the plane was landing at the Kaduna International Airport, the armed forces said in a statement, adding that the crash “claimed the lives of 10 other officers including the crew.” … Chief of Army Staff Attahiru was only appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in January as part of a shake-up of the top military command to better fight surging violence, including the more than decade-long battle against the Boko Haram armed group. Buhari, a former general first elected in 2015, has been under increasing pressure from allies and critics alike over his government’s handling of mounting security problems in the country. … Attahiru died as reports emerged that Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau had been seriously wounded or possibly killed after clashes with a rival faction. The army chief had once been in charge of leading the front-line offensive against Shekau’s fighters in the northeast in 2017. Al Jazeera

Is Boko Haram Leader Abubakar Shekau Dead This Time? The Nigerian Military Is Investigating.
The Nigerian military is investigating claims that Abubakar Shekau, the Boko Haram leader who orchestrated mass kidnappings of schoolchildren during his decade-long war against Western influence, has died in northeast Nigeria. … An internal report by Nigeria’s intelligence agency said the militant commander — known for his grisly videos and use of child suicide bombers in massacres across the Lake Chad Basin — detonated explosives that killed him Wednesday when fighters with the Islamic State West Africa Province, or ISWAP, tried to capture him in his Sambisa Forest hideout. … If Shekau is indeed dead, the insecurity rocking life in the region is still far from over, said Matthew Page, formerly the U.S. intelligence community’s top Nigeria expert. Boko Haram fighters may defect to ISWAP, creating more unity between the militants. Or the infighting could intensify, which carries the risk of further uprooting communities. “Just taking out one person isn’t a curtain call on the group,” Page said. “Over time, you may see degradation because there are junior terrorists running the show. But there can be volatile, unpredictable scenarios going forward.” The Washington Post

US Restricts Visas, Aid Over Conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region
The United States on Sunday announced visa restrictions on Ethiopian and Eritrean officials accused of fueling the 6-month-old war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, saying those involved had “taken no meaningful steps to end hostilities.” “People in Tigray continue to suffer human rights violations, abuses, and atrocities, and urgently needed humanitarian relief is being blocked by the Ethiopian and Eritrean militaries as well as other armed actors,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “Despite significant diplomatic engagement, the parties to the conflict in Tigray have taken no meaningful steps to end hostilities or pursue a peaceful resolution of the political crisis,” he added. Blinken also announced wide-ranging restrictions on economic and security assistance to Ethiopia, adding that the U.S. would continue humanitarian aid in areas such as health, food and education. He said the visa restrictions targeted “current or former Ethiopian or Eritrean government officials, members of the security forces, or other individuals — to include Amhara regional and irregular forces and members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).” AFP

DR Congo’s Nyiragongo Volcano Erupts, Causing Thousands to Flee; At Least 15 Dead
Fifteen people have died in a volcano eruption in Congo late Saturday that turned the sky above a fearsome red and sent thousands fleeing from a city that was devastated by lava flows in 1977 and 2002. Government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said on Sunday night that two people had burned to death in the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo, nine died in a traffic accident while attempting to flee and four prisoners who had tried to escape their cells were also killed. He said property damage was reported in 17 villages surrounding the volcano, including Goma’s suburbs. Local journalists reported the still-smoking molten rock had stopped just short of the outskirts of Goma, a picturesque lakeside city that is eastern Congo’s hub for trade and transport, averting greater disaster. Goma residents remember well the eruption in January 2002, when swift-moving lava and its accompanying carbon dioxide fumes left by some counts hundreds dead and more than 100,000 homeless. Well over 1 million people live near the active crater. … Rwandan officials said more than 3,500 Congolese people had sought refuge across the border in Rwanda. The Washington Post

Sudan: International Court Opens Evidence Hearing in Darfur Case
The International Criminal Court Prosecutor opened a hearing Monday of evidence against an alleged leader of a notorious militia blamed for atrocities in Darfur, calling him a “willing and energetic” perpetrator of crimes in the conflict-torn region of Sudan in 2003-2004. Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s comments came at the start of the first presentation at the global court of evidence against a suspect charged with involvement in crimes by the Janjaweed militia in Darfur. … “Let me express my sincere respect and admiration for the courage, patience and resilience of the Darfur victims who have waited for so long for this day to arrive,” [Bensouda said]. Ali Mohammed Ali Abdul Rahman Ali, known as Ali Kushayb, is charged with a total of 31 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes dating back to the deadly Darfur conflict in 2003 and 2004 including murder, rape, torture and persecution. Kushayb surrendered to authorities in a remote corner of northern Central African Republic, near the country’s border with Sudan, more than 13 years after the ICC first issued an international arrest warrant for him. AP

Senior Sudan Official Resigns Over Killing of 2 Protesters
A senior Sudanese official said she resigned on Saturday in protest over the killing of two protesters during a rally earlier this month, when the military dispersed a demonstration in Sudan’s capital. Aisha Musa, a civilian member of the ruling military-civilian Sovereign Council, said she submitted her resignation a day after troops forcibly dispersed a protest outside the military headquarters in Khartoum. Two young protesters were killed and over three dozen were wounded, according to a local medical group. Prosecutors were questioning some 100 troops over the deadly dispersal. Musa, a university professor and rights activist, announced her resignation in a televised statement. She claimed that civilians in the 14-member Sovereign Council have been sidelined. There was no immediate comment from the ruling body, chaired by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan. Mousa called for sweeping reforms to the justice system and quick investigations into the killings of protesters during and after the popular uprising that led to the military’s overthrow of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. AP

Sudan, SPLM-N Hold Meetings Ahead of Peace Talks
The Sudanese government and the SPLM-North, led by Abdel Aziz Al-Hilu, held preparatory meetings ahead of the peace talks that will take place in Juba on 26 May. On 28 March, the head of the Sovereign Council and the leader of the SPLM-N signed a declaration of principles providing to separate state and religion and to form a single national army at the end of the transitional period. Later on, the South Sudanese mediation announced that the two sides will resume negotiations on 26 May. In a meeting chaired by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on Sunday, the Supreme Peace Council discussed the upcoming negotiations to end the conflict in the South Kordofan area and the Blue Nile. In a statement released after, the Chairman of Sudan’s Peace Commission, Suleiman al-Dabailo said the meeting discussed all the arrangements related to the talks with the SPLM-N al-Hilu. Al-Dabailo further said that the government negotiating delegation will travel to Juba on 25 May. The talks between the two sides had been stalled for over a year due to the rejection of the military component in the Sudanese government of the separation between the state and religion. Sudan Tribune

S. Africa to Push for Military Action against Mozambique Insurgents
South Africa will press for urgent military action by regional body SADC to quell an Islamist insurgency in Mozambique threatening to destabilize neighbouring countries, the foreign minister said on Friday. It will make this call at a summit of the Southern African Development Community’s 16 member states next week, Naledi Pandor told Reuters in a telephone interview. SADC leaders have been discussing how to tackle the insurgency by Islamic State-linked militants, with an option for force, but this is the first time South Africa has explicitly thrown its weight behind the idea of a military intervention. Since 2008, SADC has had provision for a standby brigade, part of a regional defence pact that allows military intervention to prevent the spread of conflict. “We support the use of the defence pact. It’s never been really been utilised in the region, but we believe this is the time, this is a threat to the region,” Pandor told Reuters. Reuters

DRC Stares at $3.7b Loss in Skewed Mining Deals
Democratic Republic of Congo leader Félix Tshisekedi is seeking a review of some mining contracts with foreign companies as a lobby warns that the country will potentially lose at least $3.7 billion in skewed mining and oil deals with controversial Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler. Kinshasa has already lost out on nearly $2 billion in revenue by selling mining and oil assets to Mr Gertler, according to a coalition of Congolese and international organisations, which has urged the government to review the deals. Companies owned by Mr Gertler, who is under US sanctions for alleged corruption in Congo, stand to gain $1.76 billion in the next 20 years from copper and cobalt projects in the country, said the lobby, Congo Is Not For Sale. … “The coalition calls on Congolese authorities to end their silence on this matter and take urgent measures to ensure that Congo’s mineral wealth benefits the DRC Treasury and its people,” the group said in a report. The lobby wants President Tshisekedi to “take the bold step of ordering a thorough and credible investigation into all mining deals involving Mr Gertler.” The EastAfrican and Bloomberg

Tunisia PM Visits Libya Seeking Economic Cooperation
The prime minister of Tunisia, which is struggling with a deep economic crisis, called Saturday for a relaunch of economic cooperation with Libya at the start of a two-day visit. “Our economies complement each other, and what is good for Libya is also good for Tunisia,” Mechichi said after landing in the capital of the oil-rich neighbouring country. He was accompanied by several government ministers and around 100 business leaders expected to take part in a joint economic forum in Tripoli. Ten years since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, the North African country faces political and economic crises compounded by the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown measures. Unemployment has risen to 18 percent, with predictions it could reach 20 percent by the end of the year, according to a joint study by the government and United Nations. The IMF expects the country will see GDP growth of 3.8 percent this year, after an unprecedented 8.9 percent contraction in 2020. AFP

Nigeria’s Economy Grows in First Quarter on Oil Price Rise
Nigeria’s economy grew 0.5% in the first quarter, lifted by higher crude production and oil prices, the country’s statistics office said on Sunday, as activities slowly gain momentum after the gradual easing of coronavirus lockdowns. Africa’s largest economy, exited its second recession since 2016 in the fourth quarter, despite a full-year contraction in 2020. Nigeria had been grappling with low growth before the coronavirus pandemic triggered a recession and created large financing gaps, including dollar shortages and inflation. Nigeria is inoculating its 200 million citizens, but last month directed its regions to stop giving first doses of AstraZeneca vaccines once they use half their current stock, to safeguard supply for a second dose. The NBS said the non-oil sector, which the government is trying to make the main growth sector, rose 0.79% in the first quarter. Telecoms, crop production, real estate, food manufacturing and construction lifted growth in the quarter. Reuters

From Above: Johannesburg during Lockdown
Over the past year, my duty as a photojournalist has been to document the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on the people of South Africa. I often try to approach stories a bit differently and so I decided to supplement my usual photographic coverage with drone footage. I thought that, from up there, the drone’s camera might provide some interesting and unusual perspectives. In response to the outbreak of Covid-19, the government imposed a strict lockdown, which was eased only gradually. Initially, people were ordered not to leave their homes unless it was to buy basics or medical supplies. The army and the police enforced the lockdown, often with violent consequences. This was a difficult time for many impoverished South Africans and migrants living in the overcrowded and dilapidated buildings of Johannesburg’s inner city, shack settlements and other densely populated areas. Without land or gardens – and with all public spaces closed – many felt trapped. For them the only place to go was up… to the rooftops. On these rooftops I could see many things. Children played football or catch. Men busied themselves with card games or sometimes even bawo, the traditional East African game played on carved wooden boards with small rocks, beads or seeds. New Frame



Photo: Adam Jones