Africa Media Review for November 24, 2020

Ethiopia: Tigray People ‘Ready to Die’ as Leader Rejects Call to Surrender
The leader of Ethiopia’s dissident Tigray region has said his people are “ready to die” defending their homeland, rejecting the prime minister’s Sunday night ultimatum that they surrender within 72 hours. … The federal army says its forces are within 37 miles (60km) of Mekelle, the Tigracy capital and the seat of the TPLF, ahead of a threatened bombardment of the city of half a million people. … On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Tigray forces said they had “completely destroyed” the army’s 21st mechanised division. There is no confirmation of the claim and government officials did not return calls seeking comment. … The army has threatened a “no mercy” tank assault on the TPLF leadership in Mekelle, warning civilians to leave while they can. The threat has prompted widespread concern, with human rights campaigners saying it could breach international legal codes. … The UN security council will hold its first meeting on the conflict in Tigray on Tuesday, diplomatic sources said late on Monday. The Guardian

Uganda Death Toll after Opposition Leader’s Arrest up to 45
The death toll from last week’s protests over the arrest of Ugandan opposition presidential hopeful and musician Bobi Wine has risen to 45, police say, with more than 800 people arrested. Police spokesman Fred Enanga told reporters on Monday that “our hearts go to the families” of those killed. It was Uganda’s worst unrest in a decade. The election is early next year. Enanga said the arrests occurred during the two days of protests that broke out on Nov. 18 after Wine was arrested again in the eastern town of Luuka. … The United Nations secretary-general condemned the violence last week and called on Ugandan authorities to ensure that all” perpetrators of human rights violation are held accountable. AP

Opposition Leaders Speak in One Voice after Release of Bobi Wine
Presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine was on Friday released on a Ush1 million ($270) bail, ending three days of tension in Kampala. His arrest on Wednesday triggered protests in the city and major towns, and were crushed by Uganda’s security forces. Bobi Wine was ordered to report back to court on December 18. Immediately after his release, five presidential candidates jointly issued a statement raising concerns that “the Electoral Commission (EC) has been overrun by security agencies and is no longer in charge of the elections.” …  “We are in this together as leaders who are responding to a failing state,” their statement reads. They are seeking to oust President Yoweri Museveni, 76, who has been in power since 1986. The EastAfrican

Somalia at a Crossroad, UN Envoy Urges ‘Deepened’ Political Consensus
The “broad political consensus” reached in September that ended a two-year stalemate in Somalia must be “preserved and indeed deepened,” the country’s UN envoy told the Security Council on Monday. Although the agreed model of voting “regrettably fell short” of the constitutional requirement for parliamentary elections based on the principle of universal suffrage, Special Representative James Swan, who also heads the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), acknowledged that it did reflect “wide Somali political consensus and ownership.” … The UNSOM chief underscored that agreed-upon processes must be “more participatory and inclusive” and welcomed the agreement of political leaders to ensure a 30 per cent quota for women to sit in Parliament. “[Historically underrepresented groups] have much to contribute to peace, stability, and development in their country,” upheld the Special Representative. UN News

Life after Al-Shabab: Driving a School Bus Instead of an Armed Pickup Truck
The Somali militant group al-Shabab recruits thousands of foot soldiers, but also needs people to provide public services in the area it controls. Any caught trying to leave are put to death. At the same time, the government tries to encourage defectors, and runs rehab centres to help them re-enter society. … There are three of them sitting opposite me in the dark room. … [T]hey have all defected from the violent Islamist group, al-Shabab, which has been in existence for more than a decade and controls large parts of Somalia, imposing harsh rules and punishments. The group has set up a parallel administration, with ministries, a police force and a justice system. It runs schools and health centres, irrigates land and repairs roads and bridges, and needs people to carry out this work. BBC

Ethiopia’s Other Conflicts
The conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region has cost hundreds of lives and sent tens of thousands of people fleeing to Sudan over the past three weeks. But the region is just one of several in the country experiencing violent unrest amid a fraught political transition. Some analysts fear the conflict in Tigray – which pits the northern region’s heavily armed leadership against the authority and forces of the central government – could fuel conflict in other parts of the country, which is divided into 10 ethnically-based regions. Armed violence may increase due to opportunism or a heightened sense of grievance. … Unlike the battles in Tigray, most incidents of non-governmental violence involve loosely-defined militia, according to records maintained by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a conflict monitoring group, while a minority of cases are attributed to organised armed groups. The New Humanitarian

In Pictures: Inside Humera, a Town Scarred by Ethiopia’s War
A pair of burned-out tanks now signals the entrance to the Tigray town of Humera, where the streets are lined with rubble and residents remain in shock after an Ethiopian army assault earlier this month. The conflict between Ethiopia’s federal government and the leaders of the northern Tigray region arrived quickly in the farming town, with artillery barrages bombarding commercial buildings and homes as residents fled or cowered in terror. A communications blackout and restrictions have made reporting on the conflict difficult, but AFP news agency journalists reached Tigray – the first independent journalists to report from inside the conflict zone since fighting started – and found the scars of conflict everywhere. “We didn’t expect shelling,” said Humera resident Getachew Berhane, a short, bald 42-year-old in a crisp yellow T-shirt. “Suddenly, we started to hear war weapons, explosions, and then people panicked.” AFP

Nigeria: How a Bloody Night of Bullets and Brutality Quashed a Young Protest Movement
What happened on October 20, and into the early hours of October 21, at the eight-lane Lekki toll gate — a key piece of Lagos’ road network — has stunned the country. The protesters who were present have told CNN it was a “massacre” with multiple people killed and dozens wounded. But local authorities have downplayed that account. Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, admitted to CNN that footage showed uniformed soldiers firing on peaceful protesters but claimed only two demonstrators were killed. … In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the army denied any involvement, describing reports of the incident as “fake news,” before backtracking and saying that soldiers were present but fired their weapons in the air and used blanks, not live rounds. … But an investigation by CNN into the disputed events has cast doubt on authorities’ shifting and changing statements. CNN

Nigerian Soldiers Had Live Ammo during Deadly Protest
The Nigerian Army has admitted for the first time that soldiers were given live bullets when they went to disperse a large crowd at the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos, where several peaceful protesters were killed in late October. The deadly Oct. 20 shootings at the plaza caused both local and international outrage. At least 10 people protesting police brutality were killed in the Lekki Plaza shooting, according to Amnesty International, which charged that army troops opened fire on protesters without provocation. The government said two people died and 20 were hospitalized. Brig. Gen. Ahmed Taiwo, Commander of the 81 Military Intelligence Brigade, told a judicial committee Saturday that the soldiers indeed carried live bullets. … The army had initially maintained that its troops were not at the site of the shooting, but later admitted they were deployed. AP

Congo Ex-Militia Leader Handed Life Sentence for War Crimes
A military court in Congo on Monday sentenced ex-warlord Ntabo Nataberi Sheka to life imprisonment for war crimes including murder, mass rape, sexual slavery and the recruitment of child soldiers. The crimes were committed in Congo’s eastern province of North Kivu between 2010 and 2014. Among other things, Sheka and another militia commander, Seraphin Zitonda, who also received a life sentence, were found guilty of organizing raids in Walikale territory in mid-2010 during which 380 people, including children, were raped, and 287 killed. Sheka’s Nduma Defence of Congo (NDC) militia, which he claims was formed to fight Rwandan Hutu rebels from the FDLR, was also accused of having recruited at least 154 children as fighters. His soldiers were blamed for destroying almost 1,000 homes and businesses. The ex-warlord had managed to avoid arrest for six years before turning himself in to UN peacekeepers in 2017. The subsequent trial in the eastern city of Goma lasted two years. DW, Reuters, and AFP

Libya’s Rivals Meet to Discuss Transitional Government
Libya’s rivals began a second round of talks Monday on a mechanism to choose a transitional government that would lead the conflict-stricken country to elections in December next year, the United Nations said. U.N. acting envoy for Libya Stephanie Williams headed the online meeting of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum a week after the first round of the talks in Tunisia failed to name an executive authority. The 75-member forum reached an agreement to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on Dec. 24, 2021. They also agreed to name a volunteer legal committee to work on the “constitutional basis for the election.” “You made significant steps forward and raised the Libyan people’s hopes and expectations for the holding of national elections. There is much work left to be done to alleviate the suffering of Libyans,” Williams told the participants. AP

Who Is Al-Qaeda’s New North Africa Chief?
The new leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is a well-known veteran among the armed groups wreaking havoc in North Africa but experts say it is unclear what path he will chart to assert his authority. Abu Obaida Yusuf al-Annabi, an Algerian national born in 1969, replaced Abdelmalek Droukdel following his killing by French forces in Mali last June, according to the SITE monitoring group. Al-Annabi was already head of AQIM’s Council of Dignitaries and “was also one of its media chiefs,” said Laurence Bindner, co-founder of the JOS Project that analyses armed group’s propaganda online. “He’s the one who pledged allegiance in the group’s name to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the main al-Qaeda chief, in 2011. And he’s authored several of its main statements in recent years,” said Bindner. The United States placed al-Annabi, who is thought to still be based in Algeria, on its “terrorism” watch list in 2015, a move followed by the United Nations the following year. AFP

A ‘Missing’ President Is Sparking Deja Vu in Rudderless Algeria
Algeria’s 75-year-old leader flew to Germany last month for treatment after catching Covid-19. He hasn’t been seen in public since and barely a word on his condition reaches home. The prolonged absence of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is now the hot topic of political debate, supplanting a vote on constitutional reform and the rumblings of war near the country’s western border. But it’s also stirring uncomfortable echoes of veteran predecessor Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who spent months in the hospital abroad before his bid for re-election sparked mass unrest and his downfall last year. Algerians are again in limbo as the protest-wracked country faces its biggest economic challenge in decades, plotting a recovery from the pandemic and a fall in income from energy exports. The latest update on the president’s condition came Nov. 15, when his office said he’d completed treatment and was undergoing tests. Bloomberg

Sudanese Professionals Association: ‘COVID-19 Is a National Security Threat’
The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) said in a statement on Sunday that it considers COVID-19 a national security threat. It called on the health authorities to raise an alert. “The new cases announced by the ministry in its regular reports do not reflect the real epidemiological situation,” the SPA stated. It condemned that the cases registered in private laboratories are not included in the official figures and that there is no plan to make that happen. The association reported that seven health care professionals died in Sudan in the past week. Medics working in the isolation ward of the private Universal Hospital in Khartoum announced they will today lay down their tools for 72 hours. They demand improvement of their working environment, an operating laboratory within the hospital, and additional medical staff to be able to deal with the influx of COVID-19 patients. One of the medics added that there is a “significant shortage of medicines,” including basic medicines for coronavirus patients. Radio Dabanga

A Successful Ebola Vaccine Delivery Shows How a COVID-19 Vaccine Would Work in Africa
There have been growing concerns the very low-temperature requirements for the promising Covid-19 vaccine candidates developed by Pfizer and Moderna will lead to storage and logistics challenges that may hinder access to these vaccines in most parts of Africa and other developing regions, even in rural parts of developed countries. … “We are not starting from scratch in Africa. There are some experiences some countries have learned in the past,” says Dr. Richard Mihigo, the deputy incident manager for emergency response at WHO Africa. “The Ebola vaccine developed by Merck also used ultra-cold equipment of about -70 C and we were able to deploy that vaccine in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to respond to the North Kivu outbreak where more than 300,000 people were immunized.” … This success was made possible mainly by a piece of technology called the Arktek introduced in 2014 during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. Quartz Africa

Africa Urged to Remain Alert over Coronavirus into Holiday Season
Nearly 20 African countries have reported a 20 per cent increase in new cases in the past one month according to the World Health Organisation. The agency issued a warning of a possible surge in Covid-19 cases as families plan end-of-year festivities. After reporting a downward trend then a plateau, Africa has been experiencing a rise in cases since early October and the WHO said the latest increase is driven by the North African region, where temperatures are falling… The WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti called for vigilance in the next few weeks to avert a further surge that could overwhelm health systems. In particular, he cited Kenya, Morocco and South Africa where infections have been increasing. “As we near the time of year when people spend their holidays together, there is a bigger risk of Covid-19 transmission. WHO is worried a new cluster of cases could emerge in places that have so far been unaffected as people travel or gather for festivities,” said Dr Moeti. The EastAfrican