Africa Media Review for May 6, 2021

Millions Staring at Famine as Food Insecurity Soars: Report
Food insecurity in the world’s poorest countries reached record highs in 2020, with millions staring at famine, a situation exacerbated in part by the COVID pandemic, according to a UN report. From Haiti to Syria, some 155 million people across 55 countries who rely the most on humanitarian assistance were classified as being in “crisis” – meaning in urgent need of food – a 20 million increase since 2019, according to the report released Wednesday. The report – based on a study organised by the Global Network Against Food Crises, a partnership between the European Union, Food and Agriculture Organization, and the UN World Food Programme – attributed three main factors to the worsening situation: conflict, economic factors related to the COVID pandemic and climate change. … Those most affected by food insecurity live in countries of conflict or recent conflict – including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Sudan. “Conflict and hunger are mutually reinforcing,” Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, wrote in the report’s foreword. “We need to tackle hunger and conflict together to solve either…conflict forces people to leave their homes, land and jobs. It disrupts agriculture and trade, reduces access to vital resources like water and electricity, and so drives hunger and famine.” Al Jazeera

They Desperately Need COVID Vaccines. So Why Are Some Countries Throwing Out Doses?
Emily Janoch, with the aid group CARE, has been tracking what’s happened to the COVID vaccine doses that have been trickling into low- and middle-income countries since February through COVAX (the initiative led by the World Health Organization), as well as, in case of African nations, a similar, but separate purchasing effort by the African Union. … “What we found is that a lot of countries have received doses, but haven’t administered them yet, or haven’t administered a significant proportion of them yet,” says Janoch. For instance, 24 countries, almost all in Africa, report using less than a third of their vaccines to date. … Officials and aid groups involved in vaccine deployment in these countries point to two main reasons: There hasn’t been enough international help to cover the logistical costs of vaccination. And there’s been a surge in distrust in the wake of recent news about extremely rare but potentially deadly side effects from some of the vaccines available to the continent. … The takeaway, says Janoch, is that wealthy donor countries and organizations need to put a lot more money and effort not only into purchasing vaccines for low-income countries — but into funding the logistical side of vaccine delivery once the doses are on the ground. NPR

Who’s Afraid Of COVID-19? Somalia’s Battle with the Virus
With one of the weakest health systems in the world and a government in turmoil, Somalia is struggling with a new wave of coronavirus infections that will likely lead to a surge in unrecorded and unrecognised deaths, health officials and aid workers warn. Officially, there have been more than 14,000 confirmed cases and over 720 fatalities, but “this is the tip of the iceberg,” Mohamed Mohamud Ali Fuje, chief medical adviser to the government’s COVID-19 National Task Force, told The New Humanitarian. Somalia has a poor testing rate. Just 156,000 tests have been performed in a country of more than 15 million people, so gauging the severity of the outbreak through official data is extremely unreliable, while information on any new variants is almost non-existent. … Somalia received 300,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in March and has reportedly inoculated close to 120,000 people with the first jab of a two-shot rollout. But the vaccines delivered so far cover under 0.5 percent of the population. … “Even the states deemed friendly to Mogadishu did not coordinate smoothly with the federal government,” Zakaria Yusuf, Somalia analyst for the International Crisis Group, told The New Humanitarian. At both federal and state level, “the capacity of government institutions… is weak,” he added. The New Humanitarian

Pfizer-Biontech Vaccine Is Highly Effective Against Variants, Studies Find
The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is extraordinarily effective at protecting against severe disease caused by two dangerous variants, according to two studies published Wednesday. The studies, which are based on the real-world use of the vaccine in Qatar and Israel, suggest that the vaccine can prevent the worst outcomes — including severe pneumonia and death — caused by B.1.1.7, the variant first identified in the U.K., and B.1.351, the variant first identified in South Africa. “This is really good news,” said Dr. Annelies Wilder-Smith, an infectious disease researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “At this point in time we can confidently say that we can use this vaccine, even in the presence of circulating variants of concern.” … Together, the studies suggest that even with the new variants, vaccination remains a plausible path out of the pandemic, experts said. “If we can get vaccines to the world and get coverage up,” Dr. Neuzil said, “I believe we can get on top of this and we can get on top of the emergence of new variants.” The New York Times

US and South Africa Agree to Cooperate on Mozambique Insurgency and Expand COVID-19 Vaccine Production
International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have agreed on the need for the US and South Africa to cooperate in addressing the Islamist insurgency in Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado. Pandor and Blinken also agreed on the need to expand Covid-19 vaccine production, at a meeting on the margins of the G7 foreign and development ministers’ meeting in London on Wednesday. This agreement took on added significance later when the Biden administration publicly backed South Africa and India’s demand for waiving intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines to allow cheaper production by developing countries. Until now the US has strongly opposed the moves to suspend intellectual property protections for pharmaceutical companies. But late on Wednesday, Katherine Tai, the US trade representative, announced the administration’s about-turn. “This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” she said. “The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines.” Daily Maverick

IS-Land: Has the Age of Southern African Terrorism Properly Begun?
The violent insurgency in the Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado has spurred a mini industry interrogating whether/when/how southern Africa will become a hub for international terror syndicates, in particular the Islamic State. But according to the United Nations Security Council, terror and organised crime are increasingly interconnected. In which case the region has a problem that the insurgency could massively compound. … “[T]he UN has warned South Africa that its banking institutions and financial system are being used to fund illegal trafficking and terrorism,” says Liesl Louw-Vaudran, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies. “The money definitely travels through South Africa.” Not a single expert Daily Maverick spoke with for this story disputed this view. As for attacks within South Africa, the country has blessedly avoided becoming a major target for such unpleasantness. … Jasmine Opperman, Africa analyst at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, insists that the South African context is unique, and needs to be viewed as such. “We need to stop comparing ourselves to Europe, the Middle East, or even Nigeria,” she told me. “Logic dictates if IS wanted to gain access to South Africa, organised crime is the route they’d go. South African vulnerability lies in its organised crime syndicates.” Daily Maverick

EU Considers Training Mission to Steady Mozambique
The European Union will consider sending a civilian training mission to Mozambique to help the government withstand a growing insurgency, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday. Mozambique’s government has been facing an Islamist insurgency since 2017 and rebels have stepped up attacks in the past year, putting at risk natural gas projects that are aimed at transforming the country’s economy. Mozambique wrote to the EU in September to ask for help in training its armed forces to battle the insurgency. “The Mozambique government has been asking for help, we will try to send a training mission…in order to contain the security situation,” Borrell said as he arrived for a meeting of EU defence ministers, who will discuss Mozambique. Borrell said any mission would be similar to the EU’s involvement in the Sahel, where its experts provide training and advice to national security forces. The EU also trains Mali’s armed forces and fights organised crime in Niger. Reuters

Gunmen Kill 15 Soldiers in Attack in Southwest Niger
Unidentified gunmen killed 15 soldiers and wounded four more on Tuesday in an attack on an army post in southwest Niger, the ministry of defence said on Wednesday. The attack in north Tillabery region, which borders Mali and Burkina Faso, came two days after gunmen killed 16 soldiers in the nearby Tahoua region of the West African country. The soldiers were part of a special anti-jihadist force called Operation Almahaou, said Niger’s defence minister in a statement. They were attacked on Tuesday afternoon by heavily armed men on motorcycles, whom he described as “terrorists.” Several of the assailants were also killed in combat, while others retreated toward the north and are being pursued, said the statement. The area is overrun by jihadist groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State, who have killed hundreds of soldiers and civilians since 2018 when they began broadening their reach beyond bases in Mali. Reuters

Ethiopia Replaces Head of Interim Gov’t in War-Wracked Tigray
Ethiopia’s federal government has replaced the head of the interim administration of Tigray, a region racked by more than six months of catastrophic conflict. Mulu Nega had held the position since November, shortly after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced a military campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the northern region’s ruling party that had dominated national politics for decades. Mulu was replaced by Abraham Belay, who had been serving as minister of innovation and technology in the federal government, Abiy’s office said in a Twitter post on Thursday. … In an interview with AFP in February, he said he knew Mekelle residents had “mixed feelings” about his presence in the office formerly occupied by their overthrown leaders. “They want to have a government take over the governance activities in the region,” he said. “On the other hand, as we are not elected, they have also some doubts. That’s natural.” Mulu said he was happy in the job but did not want to stay on for long, and that he was planning to leave after elections are held in Tigray. The region will not take part in national elections planned for June 5 and it is unclear when voting will happen there. Al Jazeera

US Envoy in Egypt for Talks on Ethiopia’s Dam Dispute
The U.S. envoy for the Horn of Africa on Wednesday met with the Egyptian president as part of Washington’s new push to find a resolution to a regional decade-long dispute over Ethiopia’s massive dam on the Nile River’s main tributary. Jeffrey Feltman arrived in Cairo on Tuesday on the first leg of a tour that includes stops in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan amid growing concerns the dispute could escalate into a military conflict, threatening the entire region. On Wednesday, Feltman met with Egyptian President President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who reiterated his warnings that Cairo will not tolerate any moves by Addis Ababa that could reduce Egypt’s share of water from the Nile because of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam. El-Sissi said Egypt would not accept anyone “harming its water interests” and described the issue of the dam as “existential” to his country, urging the U.S. to play “an effective role” to settle the dispute. … In Khartoum, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware and chairman of a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the dam dispute needs be negotiated “in good faith” to produce an agreement guaranteeing a “safe and steady flow of the Nile.” AP

U.S. Senators Call for One Army in Sudan under Civilian Control
U.S. Senators called to unify all the militias and armed groups in Sudan under the control of the civilian government. Senators Christopher Coons and Chris Van Hollen concluded a visit to Khartoum on Wednesday where they held a press conference before leaving the country. The two lawmakers voiced their support for the democratic transition in Sudan and vowed to support the ongoing efforts to bring Sudan Ethiopia and Egypt to stick a deal over the GERD filling and operation. Speaking about the transition in Sudan, Senator Coons said they support the reforms undertaken by the civilian government of Abdallah Hamdok to achieve democratic change in the country. He further called for the formation of a unified army including all the militias and armed groups, under the umbrella of the civilian government. Sudan Tribune

Egypt, Turkey Officials Meet for Talks to Reset Frayed Ties
Egyptian and Turkish officials met Wednesday for talks aiming to reset ties between the two regional powers after years of enmity. The two-day “political consultations” in Cairo are chaired by Hamdi Loza, Egypt’s deputy foreign minister, and his Turkish counterpart Sedat Onal. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, which announced the meetings in a statement late Tuesday, described the talks as “exploratory discussions” that would focus on “the necessary steps that may lead towards the normalization of relations between the two countries, bilaterally and in the regional context.” … Claudia Gazzini, a Libya expert at the International Crisis Group, said a possible Egypt-Turkey rapprochement would help stabilize Libya, which has recently become a theater of rivalry between regional and world powers. “There is no doubt that if these two regional rivals find a way to work together, improve bilateral ties and commercial ties and de-escalate what was a very confrontational relation over the past years, this will reflect in pushing forward political stability in Libya,” she said. AP

Weak and Tattered, 29 Students Freed in Nigeria’s Kaduna
Kidnappers have released the remaining 29 students they were holding captive on Wednesday, nearly two months after abducting them from a forestry college in Nigeria’s Kaduna state. Gunmen took 39 students from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization in northwest Nigeria on March 11 and previously released 10 of them. The newly released students arrived at police headquarters in Kaduna city on Wednesday night looking weak, forlorn and wearing dirty, torn clothing. One female student could not walk alone and was carried into the building, while another was rushed to the hospital. Police did not allow journalists to speak to the students. Reuters

Ugandan LRA Commander Dominic Ongwen Sentenced to 25 Years in Jail by ICC
The International Criminal Court on Thursday sentenced Dominic Ongwen, a Ugandan child soldier who became a commander of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), to 25 years in jail for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ongwen, 45, was found guilty in February of 61 charges including murders, rapes and sexual enslavement during a reign of terror in the early 2000s by the LRA, led by the fugitive Joseph Kony. AFP

Gambia’s Top Court Declares MPs’ Personal Loans Unconstitutional
The Supreme Court in The Gambia on Tuesday declared as “unconstitutional” a decision by the country’s lawmakers to award themselves personal loans from the public purse. … The move in November 2020 came less than two years before the end of term of the current legislature, which raised doubts about the ability of MPs to repay their loans. For many ordinary Gambians, the MPs’ move was inconsiderate as they awarded themselves a financial bailout at a time when the country is going through tough economic times, amids reports widespread corruption in government. … It is not clear if the money had already been disbursed, as an earlier ruling by the same court had rejected the campaigners’ request for an injunction to prevent disbursement. Nonetheless, Sait Matty Jaw, one of the activists who championed the case, described the ruling as “victory for democracy.” “I think this ruling has energised and emboldened civil society to be more proactive, to understand that there are tools that are available for them outside the usual protests or even lobbying that they are doing,” he said. The EastAfrican

Kenya Set to Appoint First Female Chief Justice at Sensitive Moment
Kenyan judge Martha Koome has defended dissidents and helped to write women’s rights into the constitution – now she’s on track to be the first female chief justice in a country where the role is particularly sensitive. A child of subsistence farmers, she was chosen by a judicial panel over the lawyer who argued President Uhuru Kenyatta’s case in a 2017 battle with the Supreme Court that she will now head. Kenyatta endorsed her and his legislative majority means she is set to be confirmed by the end of this month. That makes her likely to be in place during next year’s elections, when Kenyatta must step down after two terms in office. In 2017, the Supreme Court annulled initial election results that showed Kenyatta had won a second term, the first African court to have scrapped the win of a sitting president. Kenyatta won the rerun after the opposition boycotted the vote. Koome – who has 33 years of legal experience – cut her teeth representing political detainees such as former prime minister Raila Odinga when he protested against repression under the late president Daniel Arap Moi in the 1980s and 90s. “She played a key role in the fight for the second liberation from the authoritarian regime of President Moi,” Priscilla Nyokabi, a lawyer and former legislator, said. Reuters