Africa Media Review for November 17, 2021

Blinken Warns of Global “Democratic Recession” as He Visits Africa amid Simmering Crises in Ethiopia and Sudan
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken opened his first official visit to Africa on Wednesday in Kenya, with an appeal for the preservation of democracy and inclusion in politically and ethnically fractured societies. His message was delivered amid worsening crises in neighboring Ethiopia and Sudan. With insecurity wracking both of those countries, Blinken began a three-nation African tour in a country with its own turbulent history of democracy. Kenya will face another test of stability in a presidential election next year, yet it has emerged as a player in attempts to ease the growing conflict in Ethiopia. Before meeting President Uhuru Kenyatta and other senior Kenyan officials, Blinken spoke with civic leaders about the importance of combatting what he termed “democratic recession” around the world, including challenges in the United States that show “just how fragile our democracy can be.” … “Even vibrant democracies like Kenya are experiencing these pressures, especially around election time,” Blinken said, alluding to the presidential election set for August 2022. He said combatting misinformation, political violence, voter intimidation and corruption was critical to halting the backslide of democratic principles. CBS/AP

U.S. Envoy Meets Sudan’s Hamdok to Discuss Restoring Democratic Transition
A U.S. diplomat said she had met Sudan’s ousted prime minister Abdalla Hamdok during a visit to Khartoum on Tuesday and discussed ways to restore Sudan’s democratic transition. Late on Tuesday, a member of the ruling Sovereign Council and rebel group leader Malik Agar told Al Jazeera that Hamdok and other detainees would be released within a day or two. Hamdok has been under house arrest since the military seized power on Oct. 25. … The U.S. Embassy said Phee also met with Mariam al-Mahdi, foreign minister in the administration that Burhan dissolved, “to show U.S. support for the civilian-led transitional government.” The coup ended a transitional partnership between the military and civilian groups that had helped topple autocrat Omar al-Bashir in 2019. Efforts at mediation have stalled, with Burhan moving to cement control with help from Bashir-era veterans. The new Sovereign Council that Burhan appointed last week met for the second time on Tuesday and discussed the appointment of a new prime minister, according to SUNA. Local resistance committees across the capital Khartoum are planning protests on main roads and inside neighbourhoods on Wednesday demanding a full handover to civilian authorities and that coup leaders be tried in court. Reuters

Can the African Union Solve Ethiopia’s Year-Long Conflict?
More than a year into Ethiopia’s war, shuttle diplomacy by leaders from far and near has failed to yield any tangible outcome for the millions in the country and beyond waiting for the guns to fall silent. In recent weeks, the African Union (AU) has been leading a renewed international push to bring an end to hostilities and prevent the descent into a “widening civil war” that could further destabilise the wider region. … In August, the AU appointed former Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo as special envoy for the Horn of Africa in the hope he would have better luck in striking a deal between the warring sides. … Emmanuel Kwesi Aning, director of research at Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, agreed with Soliman, and stressed the AU must do all it could to resolve the conflict. “It [AU] is in a tight corner between a rock and a hard place. It is a guest to the people of Ethiopia and it needs to walk this tightrope to bring the parties together. I know earlier efforts have been rejected. There are suspicions around the present initiative. But I think the African Union must, by all means, become one of the critical holders in trying to bring the warring factions together,” Aning told Al Jazeera. “There isn’t much time. The opposing forces have laid down the gauntlet,” he said. Al Jazeera

Mass Detentions of Civilians Fan ‘Climate of Fear’ in Ethiopia
An ethnically motivated detention campaign largely targeting Ethiopians of Tigrayan descent threatens to further unravel Africa’s second-most populous country a year into a civil war. … On Nov. 2, the government declared a state of emergency, and the resulting roundups have swept up anyone of Tigrayan descent, many of whom had no ties to the rebels or even affinity for them. … The ethnically motivated detentions come amid a significant rise in online hate speech, which is only adding fuel to the civil war tearing apart Africa’s second-most populous nation. Reports of massacres, ethnic cleansing and widespread sexual assault by all sides in the conflict have undermined the vision of Ethiopian unity that Mr. Abiy… Laetitia Bader, the Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said “the state of emergency is legitimizing and legalizing unlawful practices” and creating “a real climate of fear.” Many ethnic Tigrayans say they now fear leaving home. Almost all those who agreed to be interviewed declined to be identified by name for fear that they might be arrested or face retaliation. Some Tigrayans in and outside Addis Ababa said they were staying with non-Tigrayan friends to evade arrest. The New York Times

Nigerian Army Killed Unarmed Protesters, Report Finds
The Nigerian Army shot and killed at least 11 unarmed, peaceful protesters and wounded dozens of others during a demonstration last year, in an incident that can be labeled a massacre, a government panel has found. Four others were missing and now “presumed dead,” according to the panel’s report on the Oct. 20, 2020, shooting at a tollgate in Lekki, an upscale suburb of Lagos, in southwestern Nigeria. The “atrocious maiming and killing of unarmed, helpless and unresisting protesters, while sitting on the floor and waving their Nigerian flags, while singing the national anthem can be equated to a ‘massacre’ in context,” said the report by the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS-Related Abuses and Other Matters. The protest at the Lekki tollgate was one of many demonstrations across the country at the time against police brutality. The demonstrators’ anger was particularly trained on the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a notoriously corrupt police unit. The New York Times

Ugandan Capital under Tight Security after Deadly Bombings
Armed police and soldiers patrolled the Ugandan capital Wednesday as security was stepped up following twin suicide bombings claimed by the Islamic State that killed three people in the heart of Kampala. Ugandans have been urged to remain on high alert after Tuesday’s attacks, the latest in a string of bombings targeting the East African nation. Checkpoints have been set up on several roads in Kampala, while the areas where the two bombings occurred have been closed off to motorists as teams of investigators scour the blast sites. … Tuesday’s attacks occurred within minutes of each other, with two suicide bombers on motorcycles disguised as local “bodaboda” motorcycle taxi drivers detonating a device near Parliament, while a third attacker targeted a checkpoint near the Central Police Station. … The bombings, which police had said were the work of “domestic terrorists” linked to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group active in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, followed two attacks last month which Uganda also blamed on the ADF. AFP

Eswatini Opens ‘Terror’ Trial for Pro-Democracy MPs
Two pro-democracy lawmakers went on trial on “terrorism” and murder charges Tuesday in Eswatini, in the absolute monarchy’s latest move to quash dissent. Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube pleaded innocent to all the charges, which could see them imprisoned for 20 years if convicted. The trial is set to last three days at the Mbabane High Court, where they stand accused of inciting protests. Both men have been in jail since their arrest on 25 July during a wave of protests calling for democratic reforms. King Mswati III’s government responded to the protests with deadly violence. Police say at least 37 people were killed, mostly in the first wave of demonstrations in June. Human Rights Watch however puts the death toll at 46. The stiff charges against the two men are the latest warning from the monarchy to the pro-democracy movement. The lawmakers have advocated for reforms to Eswatini’s complex system of non-party elections. AFP

Hundreds Go Missing in Burkina Faso amid Extremist Violence
The last time Polenli Combary spoke to her son on the phone she prayed for God to bless him. Shortly after, she called back but the line was dead. Her 34-year-old son was returning a truck used to move the family’s belongings from their village in eastern Burkina Faso after jihadis forced everyone to leave. He disappeared in March. “We will keep searching … I’m just praying to God to have him back,” said Combary, 53, sitting despondently in the eastern city of Fada N’Gourma where she now lives. Islamic extremist violence is ravaging Burkina Faso, killing thousands and displacing more than 1 million people. And people are going missing. Reports of missing relatives quadrupled from 104 to 407 between 2019 and 2020, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which defines a missing person as someone whose whereabouts cannot be accounted for and requires state intervention. “With the conflict, you have more sudden movements of people, you have more incidents which can lead to separation and disappearance,” said Marina Fakhouri, head of protection with the ICRC in Burkina Faso. AP

11 Civilians Killed in CAR Army Firefight with Rebels
Eleven civilians have been killed in north western Central African Republic during fighting between rebels and soldiers, despite a ceasefire in the country, the local prefect said on Tuesday. Rebels “infiltrated the weekly market at around 10:00 on Sunday” near Mann, a town about 600 kilometres northwest of Bangui, Dieudonne Yougaina, prefect of Ouham-Pende, told AFP. “Central African forces intervened… and the exchange of fire left 11 civilians dead, nine men and two women, as well as eight wounded,” he said. Yougaina blamed elements of the 3R (Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation) rebels. The 3R, which is mainly composed of fighters from the Fulani ethnic group, is one of the most powerful armed groups in the country. At the end of December, they joined in the rebel coalition that sought to overthrow President Faustin Archange Touadera and prevent his re-election. Touadera declared a unilateral ceasefire on 15 October in the fight against the rebels to facilitate the opening of a national dialogue. AFP

Death of Nigerian Journalist Sharpens Focus on Declining Media Environment
In an upper-class estate on the northern fringes of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, a black gate with iron bars leads into a cream-colored duplex that offers a good view of the city. It is home to businesswoman Torkwase Kuraun and her husband Jeffrey Kuraun, a geologist with the Department of Petroleum Resources. And for two months, it also was home to Kuraun’s younger brother Tordue Salem, a parliamentary journalist for The Vanguard. Salem moved in temporarily after gunmen attacked his apartment in Lugbe, some 20 kilometers southeast, in September. He escaped by a whisker. When VOA visited earlier this month, a quietness had fallen around the house — a reflection of the uncertainty the family has faced since October 13. That was the day when Salem, 43, went missing. For 28 days, his family and colleagues waited for news. Finally, on November 11, they learned the journalist was dead. National police said Salem had been hit by a car and his body taken to a hospital, which had not been able to identify the missing journalist. … But Salem’s colleagues and family are not convinced by accounts of how he died. The Nigerian Union of Journalists has demanded an independent investigation. VOA

Cameroonians Plead for Tolerance Among Religions, Francophones, Anglophones
More than 200 people, most of them women, marched in the city center of Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde, on Tuesday against what they call growing intolerance in the Central African state. The protesters, marking this year’s International Day for Tolerance, sang that there is a growing lack of respect for each other’s cultural and religious beliefs. … Tuesday’s protesters noted intolerance in Cameroon spiked in 2017 when Anglophone separatists, complaining of second-class treatment, took up arms against the French-speaking majority state. Cameroon’s separatist conflict has claimed more than 3,000 lives and displaced more than 550,000, according to the United Nations. 22-year-old University of Yaounde student Anabel Michou marched in the protest. She says hate speech and propaganda on social media by both separatists and authorities promote intolerance. … The Cameroon Women’s Peace Movement, which has been urging troops and separatists to lay down their arms, organized the protest. Movement member Nicoline Nwenushi Wazeh says the separatist conflict would be greatly reduced if Cameroonians learned to tolerate each other. VOA

Mozambique: 14 Tons of Gems Illegally Exported since January – Ministry of Mineral Resources
Fourteen tons of smuggled gold, rubies and other gems have been illegally exported from Mozambique since the beginning of the year, a senior official in the Ministry of Mineral Resources said Monday. Mozambique is home to some of the world’s largest gemstone deposits, often mined by artisanal miners with no access to official markets. Gold, rubies, garnets and tantalite – used to create surgical steel – have been exported by smuggling networks since January, Fernando Maquene, a senior official in the Ministry of Mineral Resources, told a local radio station. “We are looking for ways to fight the expansion of criminal networks that plunder our territory and our strategic resources, so that these resources can generate income to develop local communities,” he told Radio Mozambique. The illegal gem trade is largely concentrated in northern Mozambique, where an Islamist insurgency has forced some 800,000 people to flee their homes. AfricaNews

For Kenya’s Pastoralists, COP26 Promises Come Too Little, Too Late
World leaders gathered at COP26 in Glasgow last week promised new emissions-cutting targets for decades in the future, but the reality for Kenyans living in the drylands is that these pledges have come too late. On average, the Kargi men have lost half their livestock to drought this year – on top of the failed rains last year, made worse by swirling swarms of locusts that munched through the remaining pasture. You can smell the dead animals off in the dry scrub where their carcasses were dragged, their resistance spent. “If it rains now, the animals will have something to sustain them,” said Nakoridor Sigalen, thick silver rings in each ear. But the forecast is that this season’s October-December rains will be poor again – and could fail in March-May 2022 as well. Then what? “Our survival is in God’s hands,” he eventually responded. More than 2.4 million people are struggling to feed themselves in Kenya’s 10 worst drought-hit northern and southeastern counties. Among them are 368,000 people at “emergency” levels of hunger, a technical term to mean nutrition-related deaths in some households if there are no assets to sell. The New Humanitarian

COVID Now a Pandemic of Poor Nations, WHO Envoy Tells UK MPs
Covid is now a pandemic of poor nations, a leading global expert has told a cross-party group of MPs, adding that governments that are attempting to vaccinate their [own] way out of the pandemic are taking a huge risk. Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organization’s special envoy on Covid, told the all-party group on coronavirus that the world was still deep in the pandemic, with 5,413 reported deaths in the past 24 hours alone. “This is a disease now fundamentally of poor people and poor nations,” he added. … “If there is a hoovering up of vaccines for the boosters, that is just going to have a global consequences that are really quite extreme, and everybody needs to know that,” he said. According to official data, more than 22% of people in the UK aged 12 or over have had a booster dose, while an estimated 68.6% of the entire population have had at least two jabs. In stark contrast, in Africa just 6% of people had been fully vaccinated by the end of October, the WHO said. According to figures from Our World in Data, some African countries have even lower levels – in Nigeria the figure is only 2.8%. The Guardian



Photo: Adam Jones