Africa Media Review for November 19, 2020

Death Toll up to 7 in Uganda’s Unrest after Bobi Wine Arrest
The death toll from protests over the arrest of Ugandan opposition presidential hopeful and musician Bobi Wine has risen to seven, police said Thursday, as a second day of demonstrations began. Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesman Patrick Onyango said the toll is likely to rise after more than 30 people were injured during the protests Wednesday in different parts of the East African country. “There are those who are badly off,” he said. Protests resumed for a second day in the capital, Kampala, with protesters blocking roads and burning tires. Police and army have deployed heavily in the capital to stop the protests that broke out after Wine was arrested. Police accuse him of flouting COVID-19 guidelines that require presidential candidates to address less 200 people. AP

Picture in Ethiopia’s Rebel Region Unclear as Both Sides Claim Victory
Both sides in Ethiopia’s raging internal conflict claimed military successes on Wednesday, creating a muddied picture of fighting even as the government promised it would soon be over. … A communications blackout in Tigray, where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered military operations on November 4, has made it hard to get a clear view of hostilities now entering their third week. “We’re inflicting heavy defeats on all fronts against the forces that came to attack us,” Tigrayan leader Debretsion Gebremichael said in a statement, referring to federal forces. “I call upon all the Tigrayan people to go out en masse to drive out the invaders,” he added. But army chief Berhanu Jula said his forces were “winning on all fronts” and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was “in a state of desperation.” AFP

After Fleeing to Sudan, Ethiopians from Tigray Recount Brutal Killings
From makeshift shelters in refugee camps here, just across the border from Ethiopia, refugees recounted what they saw while fleeing an escalating conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. “They’re killing people madly,” said Zam Zam Maconin, 26, referring to government soldiers, her voice still filled with terror as she gripped her 5-year-old daughter. “We saw a lot of dead people on the way. “We didn’t bring any food or clothes — we just escaped to save our lives and our children’s lives,” she added. Nearby, Semere Tesfai described seeing human heads detached from bodies stabbed with knives and axes, terrifying the thousands who walked for days to seek safety in Sudan. The Washington Post

Anxiety and Foreboding as Ethiopia Conflict Entangles Tigrayans
As fighting intensifies in the mountainous region amid a communications blackout, reports have also emerged about a number of ethnic Tigrayans in other parts of the country being allegedly dismissed, suspended and even arrested from various positions in the military, police and civil service since the start of the offensive. “I have been suspended from work ever since the conflict broke out,” said Hagos, a father of three who has been working as a civil servant for almost 30 years. “However, my superiors in order to keep track of me oblige me to sign a daily work attendance letter.” But it is not just job insecurity and the fear of not being able to feed his family that has left Hagos worried. He said colleagues and friends have suddenly begun to cast a suspicious eye on him, often questioning him about his “suspected sympathy to TPLF.” Al Jazeera

Ethiopia Crisis: ‘a Political Mess That Makes Fathers Fight Sons’
This is the gravest crisis of Mr Abiy’s tumultuous two-and-a-half-year premiership — one that has already included the award of a Nobel Peace Prize for concluding a peace deal with Eritrea, an assassination attempt and an attempted coup. It threatens to scupper any chance of credible democratic elections next year, which had already been made harder by the arrest of senior opposition figures. … The country, with a history of independent states stretching back three millennia, is divided into 10 ethnically defined regions, each with their own distinct language, culture and history. “There are eerie similarities with Yugoslavia, except Yugoslavia imploded,” says Payton Knopf, senior adviser to the Africa programme at the United States Institute of Peace. “If you do see fragmentation in Ethiopia . . . it won’t just collapse in on itself, but it will become a black hole that draws in all of its neighbours.” FT

African Continent Hits 2 Million Confirmed Coronavirus Cases
The African continent has surpassed 2 million confirmed cases as the top public health official warned Thursday that “we are inevitably edging toward a second wave” of infections. The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the 54-nation continent had crossed the milestone. Africa has seen more than 48,000 deaths from COVID-19. Its infections and deaths make up less than 4% of the global total. The African continent of 1.3 billion people is being warned against “prevention fatigue” as countries loosen pandemic restrictions to ease their economies’ suffering and more people travel. “We cannot relent. If we relent, then all the sacrifices we put into efforts over the past 10 months will be wiped away,” Africa CDC director John Nkengasong told reporters. He expressed concern that “many countries are not enforcing public health measures, including masking, which is extremely important.” AP

Sudanese Opposition Leaders Pledge Commitment to Peace Deal
Sudanese rebel leaders who returned to Khartoum this week said they are fully committed to implementing a new peace agreement with the government in good faith. Al Hadi Idris, chairman of the Sudan Revolutionary Front, an umbrella organization of rebel groups which signed the deal with Sudan’s transitional government, told reporters at a Tuesday news conference in Khartoum that he sees the deal as a golden opportunity “to build a new Sudan” in which all citizens are treated equally. Idris said he and other opposition leaders returned to Khartoum this week with “open and sincere hearts.” “This agreement is great, unique and it is different from all other previous agreements. It has been signed in a different political environment, it has gained regional and international support and I am confident that Sudanese citizens will stand beside us and we all implement this agreement together,” said Idris. VOA

Africa’s Biggest Bank Says Ramaphosa Winning Corruption Battle
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is making inroads with his crackdown on corruption that became endemic during his predecessor’s almost decade-long rule, according to the continent’s biggest bank. “I’m very confident that he is winning the battle,” Lungisa Fuzile, the chief executive of Standard Bank Group Ltd.’s South African unit, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “The speed may not be what we wish for, but these issues are very complex. The fight against corruption is well underway.” Since taking office in 2018, Ramaphosa has made new appointments to crime-fighting institutions that were hollowed out under former President Jacob Zuma. He also appointed new executives to state-owned companies that have collapsed under mismanagement and graft. Bloomberg

Malawian ‘Prophet’ Shepherd Bushiri Arrested after Fleeing South Africa
Self-proclaimed prophet and church leader Shepherd Bushiri has surrendered to police in Malawi where he had fled. Bushiri is wanted on charges of theft and money laundering in South Africa. Bushiri and his wife, Mary, fled from South Africa to Malawi last week, violating bail conditions that were set after he was arrested in connection with a multimillion-dollar money laundering case. Bushiri turned himself in to police Wednesday in Lilongwe. Police spokesperson James Kadadzera said the arrest was in response to a warrant issued by the international police organization Interpol. “And it actually stated that the two are on trial in South Africa and are believed to have absconded their bail condition,” Kadadzera said. “So, we launched a manhunt yesterday, and we are sure that the couple got wind of the news that police are looking for them, and now we have them in our custody.” VOA

The ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’ behind Zambia’s Default
When Zambia sold the last of its three US dollar bonds in 2015, it capped a decade in which the copper-endowed African country went from needing debt relief reserved for the world’s poorest nations to tapping the global capital markets with ease. But just five years later, that bond is in default, with the rest of Zambia’s $3bn international bond borrowings, after President Edgar Lungu’s government skipped a $42.5m interest payment due last week in the middle of fraught negotiations on restructuring its debt. Africa’s first bond default during the coronavirus pandemic — and its first ever default on multiple US dollar bonds at the same time — “risked setting a more adversarial backdrop” for those talks, bondholders said this week. … Mr Lungu’s government, which is battling for re-election next year, has blamed coronavirus for problems managing its $12bn of debt. … But analysts say the default also illustrates how high-octane borrowing and misrule combined to scupper one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. FT

A Breakthrough in COVID-19 Wastewater Checks Could Speed up Tests for Informal Settlements
Scientists discovered early in the pandemic that people infected with the virus shed bits of genetic material days before showing any symptoms. Wastewater monitoring can therefore provide “a canary-in-the-coalmine” early-warning system that can then be refined with clinical testing. … But for sub-Saharan Africa, where less than 10% of the population is connected to the sewer network, wastewater monitoring only tells a small (and privileged) part of the story. In South Africa, the continent’s most advanced economy, none of the big cities have 100% sewer coverage. South Africa’s Water Research Commission (WRC) therefore decided to see whether and how they could monitor non-sewered communities. “Non-sewered sanitation is the Achilles Heel of wastewater surveillance. We cannot leave out whole sections of society,” said Jay Bhagwan, WRC’s executive manager for water use and waste management. Quartz

The Bookseller of Tunis: One Man’s Fight to Preserve Relic of Bygone Age
Despite the pandemic, shoppers crowd the small bookshop at 18 Rue d’Angleterre. Many are here for the first time, squeezing their way between the stacks of books piled high along the walls of the bookshop said to be the oldest in Tunis. Sunk within an obscure street near the city’s medina, there is little to distinguish number 18 from its rival further down the street, or the small haphazard book stands that shelter in the square opposite from a rain that never quite comes. … Recent years have not been kind to the bookshop. Battered by changing tastes, new technology and now the pandemic, the old shop is facing closure. But with the news spreading – via social media, with no little irony – people have come from across Tunis, eager to make a purchase to help out or simply to explore this unknown part of their city’s heritage before it vanishes. The Guardian

Africa Basks in Booker Boost for Female Writers
Two African women are in the running for the 2020 Booker Prize, in a historic first for the UK’s most prestigious literary prize – and a major boost for storytellers on the continent. News that Ethiopian-American Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King, and Zimbabwean Tsitsi Dangarembga, with her novel This Mournable Body, were on the shortlist for the £50,000 ($66,000) award was received with celebration on the African literary scene. … Discussions around the novels and the Booker have also focused attention on the socio-political situations in the authors’ home countries. With Ethiopia on the brink of another conflict – as clashes intensify in the country’s Tigray region – the historical war at the heart of the novel offers a commentary on current events in ways the author could not have foreseen. In Dangarembga’s case, Booker recognition has helped highlight the author’s principled stand against corruption in her country. BBC



Photo: Adam Jones