Africa Media Review for May 6, 2020

Boko Haram Jihadists in Deadly Clash with Army in Southwestern Niger
Boko Haram fighters clashed with government forces on Sunday in Diffa, the largest city in southwestern Niger, in what the jihadists said was a successful attack on a military camp. Conflicting versions of the outcome emerged on Tuesday, with the Islamists claiming to have overrun the site but local residents telling AFP that the assailants had been repelled. A propaganda video released by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), a Boko Haram splinter group affiliated to the so-called Islamic State, purports to show heavily-armed insurgents storm an army camp following sustained fighting and heavy weapons fire. … The area around Diffa, a city of around 200,000 people located near the Nigerian border, has been repeatedly attacked by the jihadist group, which emerged in Nigeria in 2009. Local people testified that they heard the sound of heavy fighting. AFP

Russian Mercenaries Act as ‘Force Multiplier’ in Libya, UN Says
Russian operatives are engaged in a large-scale effort in Libya to bolster eastern commander Khalifa Haftar through a mix of technical support, direct involvement in combat operations and sophisticated influence campaigns, according to United Nations experts. About 800 to 1,200 mercenaries from the Wagner group — headed by a confidant of President Vladimir Putin — have been actively operating in Libya since 2018, including at least 39 Russian snipers on the front lines, the UN experts monitoring sanctions on the North African country wrote in their first extensive report on mercenaries, which was viewed by Bloomberg. … A Wagner-linked entity engaged in a “highly sophisticated and extensive social media campaign” to support Haftar and his ground operations, the panel noted, adding that “psychological operations” are prohibited under the UN arms embargo. … The report also indicated strains in the relationship between Russia and Haftar, with Moscow meeting most of Haftar’s requests while his responses have frequently been “less than amicable.” Bloomberg

Attacks on Civilians, Arbitrary Arrests, Top List of Abuses in Libya: ICC Prosecutor
Unabated violence, particularly in and around the Libyan capital, has now been raging for more than a year, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) told the Security Council in a virtual briefing on Tuesday, warning that war crimes may have been committed. “Of particular concern to my Office are the high numbers of civilian casualties, largely reported to be resulting from airstrikes and shelling operations”, said Fatou Bensouda. The stalled offensive on Tripoli is being carried out by the so-called Libyan National Army, an eastern-based militia headed by General Khalifa Haftar, with the backing of some foreign powers. As Ms. Bensouda’s team gathers and analyses information, she reiterated that under the Rome Statute, intentionally attacking non-combatant civilians is a war crime that could be tried by the ICC. The top prosecutor also highlighted “grave and persistent” arbitrary detentions and serious mistreatments of migrants and refugees who attempt to transit through Libya. UN News

Somali Plane Crash Carrying Coronavirus Medical Supplies Shrouded in Mystery
Kenya’s foreign ministry called for an urgent investigation on Tuesday after a humanitarian plane carrying medical supplies for the fight against the coronavirus crashed in Somalia, killing all six people on board. According to the Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority, the Kenyan-registered twin-engine private cargo plane with African Express Airways crashed Monday afternoon “under circumstances we are yet to confirm.” The plane took off from Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, stopped over in Baidoa in the country’s southwestern Bay region and then continued its flight south to Bardale town where it crashed. … The crash comes amid strained relations between the two East African countries. In April, Kenya accused Somali troops of an “unwarranted attack” over its border near the northern town of Mandera, describing the incident as a provocation. DW

French Commander: Extremists in Africa Try to Exploit Virus
Islamic extremists in West Africa’s Sahel region are trying to exploit COVID-19 to gain followers but haven’t had much success, according to the commander of the French military’s Operation Barkhane there. The coronavirus has had little impact on counterterrorism operations by the more than 5,000 French soldiers in the arid region just below the vast Sahara Desert, Gen. Pascal Facon told reporters Tuesday. COVID-19 “doesn’t change anything and everyone is very focused on the way the mission goes,” he said, adding that they have learned to adapt accordingly. “Much has been done to implement individual and collective measures to ensure that this constraint is as minimal as possible.” … Experts have said that limited testing capacity in remote and volatile parts of Africa means health authorities aren’t able to track the virus well. As for the extremists, Facon said “they exploited it as propaganda by saying it was punishment.” He said Barkhane has recorded substantial progress in the fight against the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, though he wouldn’t give specific details. AP

Coronavirus Border Closures Strand Tens of Thousands of People across Africa
Tens of thousands of migrants are trapped in dangerous conditions at frontiers, mines, ports and in transit camps across Africa after states shut their borders in an attempt to stem the spread of Covid-19. Some have been abandoned by smugglers unable to take them further on their journeys to Europe or elsewhere. Others were returning home or moving across the continent in search of work when frontiers were closed in March. They include large numbers of Chadian students stranded in Cameroon, about 1,800 Nigerien workers stuck in remote goldmining areas in Burkina Faso, and more than 1,000 migrants from Mali and Senegal trapped in Mauritania. In east Africa, about 2,300 migrants are stranded in Djibouti after being abandoned by traffickers. The Guardian

African Countries Should Reopen Economies Gradually, Once Data Shows It’s Safe, Experts Say
The World Health Organization, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Economic Forum have issued guidelines for African countries looking to reopen their economies after weeks of lockdown due to the coronavirus.  Health authorities are concerned that opening up too quickly could trigger a fresh wave of COVID-19 cases on the continent. With the coronavirus having thrown many African economies into a deep freeze, many governments are facing pressure to end lockdowns and travel restrictions so people can get back to work. But health experts say any country planning to reopen for business needs to do so gradually and based on science-based reasoning. In a new report, the WHO, Africa CDC, World Economic Forum and Vital Strategies, an organization that helps governments strengthen their public health systems, say governments should first open up vital sectors of their economies and only when the data show it is safe to do so. VOA

Coronavirus: Most Africans ‘Will Go Hungry in 14-Day Lockdown’
More than two-thirds of people surveyed in 20 African countries said they would run out of food and water if they had to stay at home for 14 days. Just over half of the respondents said they would run out of money. The Africa Centres of Disease Control and Prevention research was conducted to help governments map out future policies on how to tackle coronavirus. It warns that if measures are not adapted to local needs, there is a risk of unrest and violence. The report, Using Data to Find a Balance, shows the difficulties of maintaining strict lockdown policies on the continent. The research was conducted in 28 cities in 20 countries to assess the impact of the crisis and people’s attitudes to restrictions imposed. Several African countries which had responded swiftly to the coronavirus threat are now easing restrictions. “The proliferation of peaceful protests demanding government relief is evidence of the strain some people are already under, and highlights gaps in current responses,” the report says. BBC

Ivory Coast Arrests Soldiers in Alleged Coup Plot Linked to Soro
Ivory Coast arrested fourteen soldiers and five civilians for preparing a coup, an alleged crime for which presidential hopeful Guillaume Soro is also wanted, according to the public prosecutor. Soro, 47, was last week convicted and sentenced in absentia to 20 years in jail for embezzlement of public funds and money laundering, but still faces a charge of endangering state security. He was accused in December of plotting a coup after a seven-minute recording surfaced in which he allegedly tells an unknown interlocutor that weapons and key people are positioned in strategic locations. Investigators have since found corroborating evidence after they seized vehicles that were allegedly used to transport arms, Richard Adou, the public prosecutor, told reporters Tuesday in the commercial capital, Abidjan. … [Soro] resigned as speaker of the national assembly in 2019 to create his own political platform and has said that he wants to contest for the presidency in elections scheduled for later this year. Bloomberg

Ivory Coast PM to Spend Weeks in France on Medical Rest after Heart Exam
Ivory Coast Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, the ruling party’s candidate in this year’s presidential race, will stay in France for a few weeks of medical rest after undergoing a heart exam, the presidency said on Tuesday. The 61-year-old Gon Coulibaly, who had heart surgery in 2012, flew to France over the weekend for medical checks. A coronary angiogram was carried out on Monday and his doctor recommended he be monitored, the presidency said in a statement. … Defence Minister Hamed Bakayoko is serving as interim prime minister in Gon Coulibaly’s absence. In March, President Alassane Ouattara designated Gon Coulibaly as the ruling RHDP party’s candidate for October’s presidential election after saying he would not himself seek a third term. Gon Coulibaly’s candidacy has faced scepticism from some of Ouattara’s allies, who fear he lacks the charisma to run an effective race. Reuters

Burundi Vote Campaigns Marred by Clashes
Burundi’s Attorney-General Sylvestre Nyandwi has urged politicians not to incite violence following several clashes, some involving machetes, between governing party supporters and those backing the opposition. There have been attacks in various parts of the country ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due to be held in two weeks. At least two people have been killed in recent days. Human Rights Watch says there has been a systematic campaign of repression against Burundi’s media and opposition. Other countries in the region have imposed restrictions on movement because of the coronavirus, but large political rallies are taking place across Burundi. BBC

Ethiopia’s Tigray Region Eyes Election in Challenge to National Unity
Ethiopia’s Tigray region plans to hold elections, its main party said, setting it on a collision course with the federal government and testing the country’s fragile unity. The Horn of Africa country in March postponed parliamentary and regional elections scheduled for August due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. A new date has yet to be set, and parliament failed to settle on one in a meeting on Tuesday. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the region’s governing party, split acrimoniously from the national Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition last year when its three other parties merged to form the new Prosperity Party. The TPLF said late on Monday it would proceed with elections in Tigray despite the nationwide postponement of voting. Reuters

Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki Makes Surprise Visit to Ethiopia
Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki on Sunday made an unexpected visit to Ethiopia, ending curiosity and wild speculation over the whereabouts of the reclusive long-time leader. Upon arrival at Bole International Airport, President Afwerki — accompanied by Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and Presidential Advisor Yemane Ghebreab — was received by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The leaders subsequently discussed bilateral ties and regional concerns of common interest. Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde hosted a luncheon for the visiting Eritrean leader and his delegation. The event was held at a public park in the capital Addis Ababa. … The two leaders also inaugurated an irrigation project located outside the capital in Oromia regional state. Daily Nation

Rebel Splits and Failed Peace Talks Drive New Violence in Congo’s Ituri
When hundreds of militiamen arrived in January at a government-run demobilisation camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s northeastern province of Ituri, there was a flicker of hope that more than two years of conflict might be abating. But a few weeks later, the fighters – from a group known as the Cooperative for the Development of Congo, or CODECO – deserted the camp with their children and wives, citing hunger, dismal conditions and broken promises by local authorities. Now violence is peaking again in a province where more than 1.2 million people have already been displaced by a two-year conflict that has divided communities and revived memories of past wars that rank among Congo’s bloodiest. … The recent violence appears linked to the killing last month by the Congolese army of CODECO’s self-described leader Justin Ngudjolo. This triggered an internal power struggle within the group, now scattered across Ituri’s vast countryside. But the violence also highlights the continued absence of an effective process to disarm fighters in Congo… The New Humanitarian

Sudan’s PM Hamdok Discusses Gold Exchange Rate, Escalating Violence in Abyei, and State Governors
On Monday, Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok said that the delay in appointing civilian state governors has hugely affected change in the states and their people. Via a phone call, Hamdok and the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir discussed the security situation in Abyei, the disputed area between the two countries. Hamdok also issued a decision to establish a gold stock exchange to unify the price of gold with the international price. In a press conference on Monday, PM Hamdok said that the government, the Forces for Freedom, Change (FFC), and the armed movements are discussing the possibilities of appointing state governors and legislative council as soon as possible, so that “people in these states can see the promises of the revolution.” “Above all, we need to achieve a comprehensive peace to address the root causes of the problems in these war-affected states,” PM Hamdok said. He further explained that state institutions in these states are very weak and need to be reformed to function properly. Radio Dabanga

Nigeria: Protesting Coronavirus Patients Take Over Highway in Gombe, Decry ‘Poor Treatment’
There was confusion Tuesday in Kwadon community of Gombe State, as COVID-19 patients at an isolation centre in Yamaltu Deba Local Government Area forced their way out of the facility to protest alleged poor treatment by the state government and the coronavirus taskforce. Premium Times learned that nearly 20 patients took over the federal highway linking Gombe State with neighboring Borno State. The patients said they were not properly cared for, and that their conditions had worsened and they prefer to get outside for self-medication and proper care. A witness at the protest told Premium Times “we in the community have been in serious shock knowing how dangerous this disease is.” “Government should do the needful before it gets out of hand because the patients we saw today are really angry and we don’t know what could happen next,” he said declining to give a name. Premium Times

Survivors of Nigeria’s ‘Baby Factories’ Share Their Stories
As 16-year-old Miriam* stepped out of her tent to fetch water near the Madinatu Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state in January last year, a middle-aged woman she knew as “Aunty Kiki” approached her. She asked Miriam if she was interested in moving to the city of Enugu to work as a housemaid for a monthly salary. Miriam, who is now 17, wasted no time in accepting the offer and began to prepare for her trip to the east the following day. … There is no official data to show how many babies are bought and sold each year in Nigeria, nor the number of girls exploited by human traffickers. The United Nations estimates, however, that “about 750 000 to one million persons are trafficked annually in Nigeria and that over 75 percent of those trafficked are trafficked across the states, 23 percent are trafficked within states, while 2 percent are trafficked outside the country.” Al Jazeera

Nigeria Senate Wants Decentralisation of Police
The Senate has called for the decentralisation of the Nigeria Police Force into 13 zonal commands, each with “operational and budgetary powers.” The lawmakers also urged state assemblies to make necessary laws to legalise community policing to be established at the local government level while state governors should fund the community policing from grants appropriated to each local government. These were part of the recommendations of the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Nigeria Security Challenges which was considered and adopted during plenary on Tuesday. The Senate had on January 29 set up the 17-man committee headed by the Senate Leader, Abdullahi Yahaya, to investigate the rising cases of insecurity across Nigeria. Premium Times

Cameroon Doctor Faces Influx of COVID-19 Patients
With the help of a nurse, Dominique Djomo puts on his personal protective equipment – a cap, coveralls, protective glasses, visor and gloves – and starts another day dealing with an influx of COVID-19 cases. The anesthesiologist’s work at Douala’s gynecology, obstetrics and pediatric hospital has changed beyond recognition since the first case of the new coronavirus was detected in Cameroon in early March. The Central African country now has one of the highest case rates in the region, with over 2,000 people infected and more than 60 dead. While scenes of overwhelmed hospital wards have been broadcast from across Europe and the United States, most African countries have so far been spared much of the mayhem. As cases rise, however, doctors are beginning to get a taste of the challenges that lie ahead. Reuters

Young Inventor Helps Ethiopia’s COVID-19 Crisis
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, ventilators, face masks and gloves have become much-sought-after items around the globe. Sourcing medical and personal protection equipment is a huge problem for poorer countries such as Ethiopia. The pandemic has spurred on creative minds, though, including that of Ezedine Kamil, an 18-year-old natural science student from Welkite, a rural town 160 kilometres from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Ezedine has 30 inventions to his credit so far. Thirteen have been patented by the organization SaveIdeas. The onslaught of the virus presented a unique opportunity to Ezedine. He first designed a contactless electrical soap dispenser with a built-in sensor, which could also be operated using a mechanical pedal during power blackouts – common occurrences in Ethiopia. Ezedine said his invention has been embraced by the local community. Fifty dispensers have been produced by the local university and distributed in banks and hospitals across Welkite. DW

Madagascar: A Cornucopia of Beauty
Situated some 250 miles off the coast of southeast Africa, Madagascar – the fourth largest island on Earth – is a world of its own. Sometimes referred to as the eighth continent, Madagascar split from the Indian subcontinent 88 million years ago and the African mainland some 47 million years before that, so it is perhaps not surprising that about 90 percent of its fauna and flora is found nowhere else on earth. Much of the island’s megafauna (including nearly 10-foot-tall elephant birds and lemurs the size of gorillas) has been driven to extinction. And some 90 percent of the original forest habitat here has been lost since humans first arrived some 2,000 years ago – first from the Malay Archipelago and, much later, from mainland Africa, Arabia, India and Europe. But Madagascar still boasts a panoply of unique plants and animals, from numerous species of baobab trees and endemic orchids to chameleons, giraffe-necked weevils and the bizarre-looking aye-aye. The New York Times



Photo: Adam Jones