Africa Media Review for May 5, 2021

Eritrea’s President Visits Sudan Amid Tensions over Ethiopia
Eritrea’s president arrived in Khartoum on Tuesday for talks with Sudanese officials amid tensions over a longtime border dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia. President Isaias Afwerki landed at Khartoum’s international airport and was received by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council. The two leaders then began closed-door talks on cooperation and ways to develop ties between the two countries, according to a statement from the Sudanese sovereign council. It said the two also discussed regional issues in apparent reference to the border tensions between Ethiopia and Sudan and a decade-long dispute over a massive dam Ethiopia is building over the Blue Nile. The statement did not provide further details. The two-day visit comes after Sudan in February accused a third party of siding with Ethiopia in its border dispute with Sudan. It was likely referring to Eritrea, which has deployed troops to the Tigray region to fight alongside Ethiopian federal forces in the conflict there. … Also on Tuesday, Burhan discussed the border and dam disputes with U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., chairman of a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., chairman of a subcommittee on Africa and global health policy. AP

Rapidly Spreading Variants Compound Africa’s Coronavirus Woes
New coronavirus variants have proliferated across southern and eastern Africa, exacerbating the challenge of bringing the pandemic under control, analysis of the genomics data shows. A strain first detected in South Africa late last year is “completely dominating all infection in southern Africa and seems to be entering East Africa,” said Tulio de Oliveira, director of Krisp, a genomics institute in the port city of Durban, which is leading a group that’s evaluating the data. “Another variant is completely dominating infections in Uganda and Rwanda, and is spreading through truck routes.” Africa is the world’s least-vaccinated continent, with many countries’ inoculation programs dependent on Covax — a global initiative that aims to ensure there is equitable access to the shots. The spread of variants has raised alarm because some of them appear to be more transmissible than the original virus and may be resistant to some inoculations. The longer populations go unvaccinated, the higher the risk that mutations will occur. … “East Africa had a dormant epidemic variant that has been circulating, it has started adding some mutations that could increase transmissibility and the ability to neutralize antibodies,” he said. “It’s quite a concern.” Bloomberg

35 Killed in ISWAP Jihadist Attacks in Nigeria’s Borno State: Sources
Jihadists have killed 35 people, including five troops and 15 militiamen, in two attacks in Nigeria’s troubled northern Borno state, sources told AFP Tuesday. Islamic State-aligned militants have intensified attacks on army camps in recent weeks as part of a decade-long insurgency that has killed 36,000 people and forced more than two million to flee their homes. Fighters from Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) came in several trucks fitted with machine guns and stormed Ajiri town late on Monday. They attacked a military base, leading to intense fighting in which five soldiers and 15 anti-jihadist militia were killed, two military sources said. ISWAP had raided the same base on Sunday, killing the base commander along with six civilians and carting away weapons, military sources said. Troops returned to the base on Sunday. “We lost five troops and 15 Civilian JTF (militia) in the fight,” a military officer told AFP. The source said 10 civilians were killed in the crossfire. The Defense Post with AFP

We Will Not Overthrow Buhari – Nigerian Military
Nigeria’s military has warned local politicians to desist from incitement and pledged it would not overthrow President Muhammadu Buhari, whose government has come under criticism over growing insecurity in the country. From a jihadist insurgency in the northeast to herder-farmer clashes in the centre, banditry in the northwest and separatist tensions in the southeast, Buhari’s armed forces appear to be struggling to curb insecurity. However, the country’s military, while reacting to agitation by some secessionists and opposition figures to topple the government, has pledged its loyalty to Mr Buhari, a former army general. Such a coup, if it happened, would effectively end civilian rule that was restored in 1999 after prolonged military rule. In a statement issued by Acting Director Defence Information, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, the military said it has no intention of taking over power again in Nigeria. This, it says, is because it believes that despite tough times, democracy is the way to go and militarism is no longer fashionable. The army also warned politicians nursing ambitions of ruling Nigeria outside the ballot box, saying it would continue to defend the country’s democracy. Nation with AFP

Nigeria: Buhari Approves Centre for Small Arms Control, Appoints Dikko as Coordinator
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has approved the establishment of a National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons. A statement from the presidency on Monday noted that the centre would be domiciled in the Office of the National Security Adviser. It read, “The NCCSALW replaces the defunct Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons and shall serve as the institutional mechanism for policy guidance, research and monitoring of all aspects of Small Arms and Light Weapons in Nigeria. This decision is part of ongoing restructuring of Nigeria’s security architecture to address emerging threats and strengthen regional mechanism for the control, prevention and regulation of SALW. The impact of the proliferation of SALW across national borders in Africa and the Sahel region has resulted in terrorism, human trafficking, organized crime, and insurrections in West Africa and Nigeria.” The president also appointed Retired Major General AM Dikko as the National Coordinator of the centre. Punch

Mozambique Town Remains Traumatised Weeks after Deadly Jihadist Attack
Six weeks after it was raided by Islamic State-linked fighters, the northern Mozambican town of Palma remains deeply traumatised and hundreds of its residents flee each day, survivors and aid workers say. The jihadists swooped on the coastal town on March 24, killing dozens of people and triggering an exodus that included workers on a multi-billion-dollar liquefied natural gas (LNG) project. The raids marked a major intensification in an insurgency that has wreaked havoc across Cabo Delgado province for over three years as the militants seek to establish a caliphate. The violence pushed France’s Total to suspend work on the nearby LNG scheme, one of Africa’s largest. The dead include several expatriate oil workers. After days of fighting, the government said its forces had driven out the extremists and that calm had returned. But many people still feel unsafe and are leaving the area. … Although cellphone communications and electricity — cut off on the day of the attack — have been restored, access to the town is still restricted for both the media and humanitarian organisations. … Receiving a $100-million World Bank grant last week for infrastructural projects, President Filipe Nyusi vowed to “restore normalcy” and end the “barbaric,” “malicious” terror attacks. AFP

French Journalist Kidnapped in Mali Appears in Video Asking for Help
The head of Reporters Without Borders says that French journalist Olivier Dubois was kidnapped April 8 while working in Mali’s northern city of Gao. A video was released Wednesday showing Dubois saying he was kidnapped by the al-Qaida-linked group JNIM. In the video he calls on his family, friends and authorities to work for his release. The video could not be independently verified. Reporters Without Borders Secretary General and Executive Director Christophe Deloire confirmed the kidnapping to The Associated Press, and called for the reporter’s release. “We ask the Malian and French authorities to do everything possible to obtain his release and send all our support to his family and loved ones,” he posted on Twitter. Dubois was reporting in Gao in northern Mali and did not return to his hotel after lunch on April 8, Deloire said. Dubois usually works for LePoint Afrique. France24 with AP

Rights Critics Condemn French Sale to Egypt of 30 More Jets
France is selling another 30 Rafale fighter jets to Egypt in a deal condemned Tuesday by rights advocates, including the French wife of a jailed activist. The deal, confirmed separately by both countries, will build up Egypt’s fleet of the advanced warplane to 54, second only to the French air force. The sale makes good on France’s policy of not conditioning its economic and defense cooperation with Egypt on progress on human rights. The wife of jailed Palestinian-Egyptian activist Ramy Shaath said France should be using the sale as leverage to pressure for human rights improvements and prisoner releases. … French President Emmanuel Macron said in December, when Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi visited Paris, that “disagreements” over human rights will not stand in the way of economic and defense deals. El-Sissi has overseen the toughest crackdown on critics in Egypt in living memory, jailing thousands of Islamists along with pro-democracy activists, reversing freedoms won in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, silencing critics and placing draconian rules on rights groups. AP

“We Need Free and Fair Elections” – Zambia’s Opposition Leader Hakainde Hichilema
Zambia’s main opposition criticised the government on Tuesday, saying it had no idea how to deal with the debt problem after the country became Africa’s biggest defaulting economy during the coronavirus pandemic. The southern African country of 17 million people is planning presidential and parliamentary elections in August, with an estimated external debt of nearly $12 billion, half of which is held by private creditors. In October, Zambia missed a deadline to pay $42.5 million in interest due on a $750 million bond that matures next year. Three months later, it failed to pay $56.1 million in interest on another bond. … This crisis, poverty and a struggling economy are expected to dominate the polls where “HH”, as he is known to his supporters, leading the United Party for National Development (UPND), is expected to face incumbent President Edgar Lungu, 64. “Zambians want change,” says the man who is making his sixth bid for the presidency, having narrowly lost in 2016. “We need free and fair elections,” he said, pointing to irregularities in voter registration and restrictions on freedoms. Africanews

South Africa’s Ruling Party Moves to Suspend Accused Officials
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress has set in motion the process of suspending officials who are facing criminal charges and have ignored a directive to step down, according to a senior ruling party official. Jessie Duarte, the ANC’s deputy secretary-general, is drafting letters to those whose membership is being revoked and they could be served on Tuesday and Wednesday, said Fikile Mbalula, the party’s head of elections and a member of its decision-making National Executive Committee. Those in the firing line include Ace Magashule, the ANC’s secretary-general, and Bongani Bongo, a former state security minister, both of whom are being prosecuted for graft yet deny wrongdoing. Magashule has repeatedly challenged President Cyril Ramaphosa’s authority and been linked to an ANC faction aligned to former President Jacob Zuma, who the party forced to step down in 2018 after he became embroiled in a succession of scandals. Magashule’s exit could add impetus to Ramaphosa’s efforts to tackle the corruption that became endemic during Zuma’s rule and bolster the odds of him securing a second term as ANC leader next year. Bloomberg

Suspected Extremist in Kenya’s East Blow Up Truck Killing 2
At least two people were killed near Kenya’s eastern border with Somalia when the vehicle they were travelling in ran over an explosive device suspected to have been planted by the extremist al-Shabab rebels, officials said Tuesday. It is 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. The incident happened Monday in the eastern part of Lamu county, Lamu County Commissioner Irungu Macharia said. Three people were in the water bowser – the driver, his assistant and a passenger – all employees of a private contractor building a wall at the Kenya-Somalia border wall construction site. The passenger survived with slight injuries, he said. “We strongly believe the improvised explosive device was planted by al-Shabab militants but our teams are pursuing them,” he said. AP

Kenyan, Tanzanian Presidents Sign Pipeline Deal
Kenya and Tanzania have signed a deal for a gas pipeline that will run between the coastal cities of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam. The signing took place Tuesday, as Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan made her first visit to Kenya following the death of her predecessor, John Magufuli. Speaking to reporters in Nairobi after a closed-door meeting that lasted more than three hours, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said the two countries are ready to improve their relations. Relations between the two East African nations grew strained during the five years Magufuli was president of Tanzania. Magufuli died of heart disease in March and was replaced by Hassan, his vice president. Kenyatta said Tuesday he and Hassan signed a gas pipeline deal that will improve the lives of his people and businesses. The pipeline will help reduce the cost of electric power, Kenyatta said, and will help transition Kenya to environment-friendly energy. Hassan said she and Kenyatta also agreed to reduce barriers to bilateral trade, in order to grow businesses and investment between the two countries. VOA

Tanzania Announces Coronavirus Measures to Combat New Variants
Tanzania has announced new measures to control the spread of coronavirus in a departure from the approach taken by its late leader John Magufuli, a COVID sceptic who had downplayed the pandemic. Travellers entering Tanzania must show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken in the 72 hours prior to arrival, the health ministry said late on Monday, citing concern about new variants of the disease. Those arriving from countries with a high number of coronavirus infections will also need to pay for an additional rapid test, though it was not specified how this criterion would be determined. In addition, those who have visited a country with “new COVID-19 variants” in the previous two weeks will be required to undergo mandatory 14-day quarantine at their own expense. Citizens can isolate at home, while foreigners will need to choose a government facility. “Based on the global epidemiological situation and emergence of new variants of viruses that cause COVID-19, there is an increased risk of their importation into our country,” Tanzania’s Chief Medical Officer Abel Makubi said in a statement. Al Jazeera

Congo Declares End to Latest Ebola Outbreak in Nation’s East
Congo has declared an end to the latest Ebola outbreak that killed six people in its east. Congo’s Minister of Public Health, Dr. Jean-Jacques Mbungani on Monday announced the end of the outbreak that began Feb. 7 in the town of Butembo in the North Kivu province. The World Health Organization also confirmed the end to the outbreak, congratulating Congo on combatting it within three months. There were 12 cases of Ebola, with six deaths and six recoveries in four health zones in the North Kivu province, according to WHO. The last two patients had been discharged from the Ebola Treatment Center of Katwa in Butembo on March 24. This was the 12th Ebola outbreak in conflict-ridden Congo since the virus was first discovered in the country in 1976, and the third to hit the country in less than a year. AP

‘Gamechanger’: Uganda Launches Drone Delivering HIV Drugs to Remote Islands
As the bottles of medication are carefully loaded into the body of the drone, a small crowd gathers to watch on the other side of the yellow tape marking out the grassy landing strip. With a gentle buzz the drone rises, a little uncertainly, into the sky, on its 1.5-metre wings. The precious cargo leaving Bufumira health centre III, in Uganda’s Kalangala district, is critical drugs for people living in some of the most far-flung communities in the region. Kalangala is made up of 84 islands in Lake Victoria, the world’s largest tropical lake, which Uganda shares with Tanzania and Kenya. The drone taking off last week was a pilot for a new project which will now see 20 scheduled flights a month, carrying mostly HIV medicines out to 78 community groups and health facilities across the widely scattered Ssese islands, which have the highest HIV prevalence in Uganda. Located about 60 miles from the capital, Kampala, and home to more than 67,000 people, Kalangala district has an HIV prevalence rate of 18%, far higher than the national rate of 5.6%. … Other African countries, including Rwanda and Ghana, are also using drones to deliver blood and medical supplies, with the technology estimated to be serving more than 22 million people. The Guardian

Fighting African Climate Change, Millions of Dollars at a Time
Biden administration officials say they are serious about global climate change, and that they are demonstrating their intent with an initiative that funds projects across the African continent. Climate change, poverty and economic growth — these three indicators, the U.S. leadership says, are inextricably linked in the fight against environmental degradation in the developing world.  Enter the Millennium Challenge Corporation, an independent U.S. agency that gives out big grants to modernize infrastructure, address policy reforms, and promote growth in sectors that affect everyone in the economy, from the youngest child to the most ambitious entrepreneur. Acting CEO Mahmoud Bah explained in a call with journalists on Monday. “These grants are large, multi-year and predictable,” he said. “These are not loans and they do not add to the country’s debt burden. Our compacts tend to pair large investment in infrastructure in sectors like water, energy, agriculture with institutional and policy reforms that ensure those investments have a significant and sustainable impact.” What that looks like on the ground, he explained, is this: hundreds of millions of dollars poured into developing nations — most of them African — for hydropower projects, agricultural improvements, better access to electricity and land reform. VOA

Instagram Fuels Rise in Black-Market Sales of Maids into Persian Gulf Servitude
The advent of Instagram in recent years has helped create an international black market for migrant workers, in particular women recruited in Africa and Asia who are sold into servitude as maids in Persian Gulf countries. Unlicensed agents have exploited the social media platform to place these women into jobs that often lack documentation or assurances of proper pay and working conditions. Several women who were marketed via Instagram described being treated essentially as captives and forced to work grueling hours for far less money than they had been promised. “They advertise us on social media, then the employer picks. Then we are delivered to their house. We are not told anything about the employers. You’re just told to take your stuff, and a driver takes you there,” said Vivian, 24, from Kenya. … A review of Instagram activity by The Post identified more than 200 accounts that appeared to play a role in marketing women as maids in countries including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Washington Post



Photo: Adam Jones