Africa Media Review for November 29, 2021

More Omicron Cases Pop Up as World Rushes to Learn More
Cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus popped up in countries on opposite sides of the world Sunday and many governments rushed to close their borders even as scientists cautioned that it’s not clear if the new variant is more alarming than other versions of the virus. The variant was identified days ago by researchers in South Africa, and much is still not known about it, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness or more able to evade the protection of vaccines. But many countries rushed to act, reflecting anxiety about anything that could prolong the pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people. … Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, meanwhile, emphasized that there is no data yet that suggests the new variant causes more serious illness than previous COVID-19 variants. … Collins echoed several experts in saying the news should make everyone redouble their efforts to use the tools the world already has, including vaccinations, booster shots and measures such as mask-wearing. “I know, America, you’re really tired about hearing those things, but the virus is not tired of us,” Collins said. AP

South African President Calls for Lifting of Omicron Travel Bans
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on countries to “urgently” reverse “scientifically unjustified” travel restrictions linked to the discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus. His comments on Sunday came as the highly mutated variant – dubbed Omicron – continued spreading around the world, with new cases identified in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia. Dozens of countries have blacklisted South Africa and its neighbours since South African scientists this week flagged the new variant. The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated Omicron a “variant of concern” that is potentially more contagious than previous variants. … “There is a lot of concern around what these travel restrictions will mean [economically] for southern Africa as a region, especially ahead of the holiday period, when thousands of visitors from Europe are expected,”[Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller] said. “A lot of anger from the president and the government around the good work, they say, scientists have been doing on genome sequencing and also tracing COVID-19 changes, but instead South Africa being punished.” Praising South Africa for informing the United Nations’ health agency as soon as its national laboratory identified the Omicron variant, Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa, also criticised travel curbs and called on countries to follow science and international health regulations in order to avoid such measures. Al Jazeera

South Africa, Where Omicron Was Detected, Is an Outlier on the Least Vaccinated Continent.
On the face of it, the emergence of the Omicron variant is the unhappy fulfillment of expert predictions that the failure to prioritize vaccinations for African countries would allow the coronavirus to continue to circulate and mutate there, imperiling the world’s ability to move beyond the pandemic. As Western nations kept most of the global vaccine supply for themselves, African countries were denied access to doses or could not afford them. Around 10 percent of people in Africa have received one dose of a vaccine, compared with 64 percent in North America and 62 percent in Europe. But the problem is changing shape. In recent weeks, vaccines have started to flow into Africa, and the new challenge is how to rapidly scale up vaccinations — as South Africa demonstrates. “We haven’t completely overcome the problem of vaccine supply to lower-income countries,” said Shabir Madhi, a virologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. “But where they are available, countries are struggling to scale up.” … South Africa has a better vaccination rate than most countries on the continent: Just under one-quarter of the population has been fully vaccinated, and the government said it has over five months’ worth of doses in its stores. But they are not being administered fast enough. The New York Times

Sudan PM Hamdok Dismisses Police Chiefs over Post-Coup Violence
Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok said Saturday he has replaced Sudan’s police chiefs after more than 40 people were killed in a crackdown on protests following last month’s military coup. Military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan seized power and detained Hamdok on October 25, but after international condemnation and mass protests he reinstated the premier in a November 21 deal. Medics say at least 42 people were killed as security forces sought to crush weeks of anti-coup demonstrations, with protests continuing even after Hamdok’s release from house arrest and return to his post last week. On Saturday, Hamdok said he had sacked the director general of the police, Khaled Mahdi Ibrahim al-Emam, and his deputy, Ali Ibrahim. In their place, he appointed Anan Hamed Mohamed Omar with Abdelrahman Nasreddine Abdallah as his deputy, the premier said in a statement. Medics have accused security forces of targeting protesters in the “head, neck and torso” with live ammunition, as well as with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas canisters. … In addition, hundreds of political activists, journalists, protesters and bystanders watching the rallies have been arrested in recent weeks, and remain in custody. AFP

Sudanese Authorities Rearrest Political Detainees after Release
The Sudanese authorities re-arrested seven former officials shortly after their release on the same day under criminal charges. Sovereign Council Member Mohamed al-Faki, Minister of Industry Ibrahim al-Sheikh, Empowerment Removal Committee, Wajdi Saleh, FFC Spokesperson Gaafar Hassan, SPA leading member Ismail al-Taj have been rearrested after their release on Saturday. A defence team member Iqbal Ali confirmed their detention and told the Sudan Tribune on Sunday that the lawyers submitted a request to visit the detainees. The authorities informed the lawyers that they are held under articles 58 and 62 of the Criminal Code related to inciting the regular forces to revolt, and inciting discontent among the regular forces. … The head of the Sovereign Council Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan signed a political agreement with Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok including the immediate release of the political detainees arrested after the coup of October 25. However, al-Burhan spoke about criminal charges against some of them without elaborating adding they have to face justice first. Sudan Tribune

Sudan Says 6 Soldiers Killed in Ethiopia Border Fighting
Sudan’s armed forces said on Sunday that six of its forces were killed in fighting in the country’s border region with Ethiopia. It came a day after the military claimed that Ethiopian military and militia forces attacked the border area of al-Fashaqa, a disputed agricultural area that straddles the two countries. The fighting is the latest turbulence for Sudan, after generals deposed the country’s transitional civilian government in late October and arrested more than a hundred officials. Mass protests followed the coup, and the generals eventually reinstated Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok under military oversight amid international pressure. However many of the country’s pro-democratic forces continue to call for the military to release its grip on power. … The decades-old dispute with Ethiopia centers on large swaths of farming land Sudan says are within its borders, according an agreement that demarcated the line between the two nations in the early 1900s. The two nations have held rounds of talks, most recently in Khartoum last December, to settle the disagreement, but haven’t made progress. AP

Ethiopian Gov’t Forces in Control of Chifra: State Media
The Tigrayan forces captured Chifra, on the border between the northern Afar and Amhara regions, after fighting intensified last month. … Much of northern Ethiopia is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is heavily restricted, making battlefield claims difficult to corroborate. Al Jazeera, however, was able to gain exclusive access to Chifra, the first international news organisation to do so. Reporting from “the heart” of the town, Al Jazeera Arabic’s correspondent Mohammed Taha Tewekel said the Tigrayan forces “were driven out of this strategic area” by pro-government militia from the Afar region, but also noted “gunfire could be heard from all directions” for hours. “It [Chifra] has been the epicentre of military operations during the past 40 days,” Tewekel said during a live broadcast, with gunfire ringing in the background. … The Afari fighters “have seized the city” and are now advancing towards the towns of Bati and Kombolcha, the correspondent said. Chifra is west of the town of Mille, which Tigrayan forces have been trying to capture for weeks, because it lies along the highway linking landlocked Ethiopia to Djibouti, the Horn of Africa’s main port. Al Jazeera

Sexual Violence as Weapon of War Spreads to New Regions in Ethiopia
As Tigrayan fighters march relentlessly closer to Addis Ababa in a military offensive that threatens to topple the Ethiopian government, disturbing evidence of brutal abuses is emerging from some of the towns and villages captured by the rebels. The evidence, gathered by human-rights researchers and The Globe and Mail, suggests that Tigrayan soldiers have perpetrated the same kind of sexual violence documented among the Ethiopian and Eritrean troops the rebels have been fighting for the past year. The Tigrayan military advances, sometimes in co-operation with Oromo insurgents, have already led to the evacuation of many foreign diplomats and United Nations staff from the Ethiopian capital. … Almost from the beginning of the war, human-rights researchers and United Nations agencies have documented the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. The earliest reports emerged in Tigray in late 2020, revealing frequent sexual assaults by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops, along with Amhara militias, as part of their offensive to gain control of the region. More recently, the war has expanded to new regions, including Amhara, after Tigrayan forces launched a counteroffensive. After regaining control of much of their home region, the Tigrayans have advanced into Amhara and closer to Addis Ababa – reportedly exhibiting a similar pattern of sexual violence along the way. The Globe and Mail

DR Congo ‘Authorises’ Ugandan Troops to Hunt Rebel Group on its Soil
The Democratic Republic of Congo will allow armed forces from neighbouring Uganda to enter its territory to chase rebels blamed for massacres in the region, sources told AFP on Sunday. The deadliest of scores of armed groups operating in the mineral-rich eastern DR Congo, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) has been blamed for dozens of attacks. “President (Felix) Tshisekedi has already raised the option of allowing Ugandan troops to enter Congolese territory to chase ADF terrorists together with” UN troops, a presidential adviser told AFP on condition of anonymity. “But Ugandan troops will not cross the border tonight or tomorrow. All procedures must first be respected, especially with respect to parliament and the DR Congo military command,” he said. Antipas Mbusa Nyamuisi, a local spokesman for the Nande ethnic group, told AFP the Uganda People’s Defence Force was given the “formal” green light to hunt down ADF fighters on Congolese soil. … Uganda has blamed the ADF for at least two suicide bombings in November, and in early October Rwanda said it had arrested 13 ADF militants who it said were planning attacks in the DRC. AFP

22 Die in Attack on DR Congo Displaced People’s Camp
A new attack on the Ivo displaced people’s camp in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday claimed the lives of 22 civilians, an aid worker said. The same camp was attacked less than a week ago when 29 people were killed. Red Cross coordinator Mambo Bapu Mance told AFP that 20 people were buried immediately in two common graves, while another two who died of their wounds were buried later. He accused the armed group Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO) of carrying out the attack. The Kivu Security Tracker (KST), a respected US-based monitor of violence in the region, cited the same death toll. The army spokesman in the region, Lieutenant Jules Ngongo, said the CODECO rebels were repelled, but did not elaborate. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles called for strong action against the perpetrators. “The EU condemns the new appalling attacks committed by the militia against civilian populations, particularly the internally displaced persons,” he wrote on Twitter. “Decisiveness against the perpetrators and support & justice for the victims are necessary for a lasting peace in the region.” AFP

Nigeria Steps Up Military Offensive as Court Declares Bandits as Terrorists
Nigeria has resolved to deploy more lethal weapons and deadly air strikes against bandits. This follows court’s declaration of the criminals as terrorists. This was revealed by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami on Friday. Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, in a ruling, declared activities of Yan Bindiga and Yan Ta’adda bandit groups as acts of terrorism. … The DPPF told the court that the ex parte application was filed on the instructions of President Muhammadu Buhari. In the affidavit filed in support of the ex parte application, it was averred that security reports confirmed that bandits were behind incessant kidnappings for ransom. … The Nigerian Air Force has been placed on the alert to deploy Super Tucano fighter jets in the North-West and North-Central regions of the country, especially in Niger, Sokoto, Kebbi, Kaduna and Zamfara states where more than 570 people have been killed by bandits and over 5,690 kidnapped in five months. The military had been reluctant to deploy the aircraft outside the North-East where it is battling insurgents because of the conditions attached to the sale of the aircraft by the United States, which was anchored on human rights. Nation

French Forces Face Violent Protests after Crossing into Niger from Burkina Faso
A French military convoy heading to Mali on Saturday ran into more trouble in a town in Niger after being delayed for more than a week by protests in Burkina Faso, with the Nigerien government reporting two deaths and 18 wounded. The supply convoy, which arrived in Africa in Ivory Coast last week, has crossed Burkina Faso and on Friday entered Niger on its way to central Mali. It was heading for a base at Gao, central Mali, a hub of France’s Barkhane operation which is shoring up allies in the Sahel against a jihadist insurgency that began in northern Mali nearly a decade ago. But clashes reportedly broke out at Tera in western Niger on Saturday morning. “The convoy of the French Barkhane force escorted by the national gendarmerie was blocked by very violent protesters in Tera in the Tillaberi region, where it had spent the night,” the interior ministry said in a statement. “In its attempt to break free, it used force,” leading to “the deaths of two people and 18 wounded,” including 11 seriously. French army spokesman Pascal Ianni told AFP that “no French soldier was wounded.” But “two civilian drivers in the convoy were hurt by stones and some civilian trucks were damaged.” “The convoy halted last night at Tera. This morning, when they wanted to continue the road to Niamey, they were stopped by 1,000 demonstrators and a violent group among them tried to take over the trucks,” he said. AFP

Senegal Calls on China to Get Involved in War-Torn Sahel Region
Senegal’s Foreign Minister Aissata Tall Sall on Sunday said she hoped China would lend support in the fight against insecurity in the conflict-ridden Sahel region at the start of a China-Africa summit. Addressing reporters in the capital Dakar after meeting her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, Sall said she hoped China would be a “strong voice” in combatting terrorism in the vast semi-arid region. Islamist militants are active across much of the Sahel, south of the Sahara desert, waging a conflict that has continued for years despite the presence of French troops and United Nations peacekeepers. Sall’s statement came at the start of a China-Africa summit in Senegal, which is due to focus on trade matters as well as security. It ends on Tuesday. … China invests heavily in Africa, and is the continent’s largest trading partner with direct trade worth over $200 billion in 2019, according to the Chinese embassy in Dakar. DR Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa are expected to attend the summit in Senegal. AFP

Western Union Suspends Services in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado
To the many difficulties the civil war has brought to the people of Cabo Delgado in Mozambique a new hardship has been added — the loss of financial services. Money transfer giant Western Union has suspended services in the province, without an explanation from either the company or the government. The suspension is a problem not just for regular customers sending or receiving money, but also for the large network of agents who earn a living from the fees charged to handle the transfers. Now, to be able to get help from friends or family members abroad, people in Cabo Delgado need to go to Nampula, the biggest city in Mozambique’s north. It is 400km from Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado, and some 650km from Palma, one of the places worst hit by the war. … Western Union confirmed that its services in northern Mozambique have been suspended. Mail & Guardian

AFRICOM Chief Concludes Southern African Visit
US Army General Stephen Townsend, commander, US Africa Command, has wrapped up a multi-country trip to the Southern Africa region, where he visited civilian and military leaders in Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana. The first stop of the trip, which began on 17 November, was in Maputo, Mozambique, where Townsend and US Ambassador to Mozambique Dennis Hearne met with Minister of Defence Cristóvão Chume, and Chief of General Staff Admiral Joaquim Mangrasse. Earlier this year, US forces conducted two Joint Combined Exchange Training programmes between US Special Operations Forces and Mozambican Commandos and Fuzileiros. The command has also facilitated tactical combat casualty care and combat lifesaver training courses for the armed forces. “We have a meaningful partnership with Mozambique and our conversations sharpened our focus on our mutual security concerns,” Townsend said. defenceWeb



Photo: Adam Jones