Africa Media Review for October 18, 2021

Africa’s COVID-19 Cases Are Seven Times Higher than Official Count, WHO Says
Health officials are making a dramatic revision of their pandemic assessment in Africa after a new analysis found that 85 per cent of the continent’s COVID-19 infections are going undetected, largely because of a severe lack of testing. Officially, 8.4 million cases of the virus have been recorded in Africa. But in reality, there have been 59 million infections across the continent, according to the revised data released Thursday by the World Health Organization. Deaths, too, are believed to be far higher than the official count – probably three times more than the official toll of 214,000 dead, the WHO says. The new data challenge the common myth that Africa has been relatively unscathed in the pandemic. While Africa’s young population has helped it to avoid a high death rate during the pandemic, the total number of infections has been much worse than most people realized. … “With limited testing, we’re still flying blind in far too many communities in Africa,” WHO Africa director Matshidiso Moeti told a briefing on Thursday. … “In Africa, with our low vaccination rate, it’s vitally important to have a better grasp of where and how the virus is circulating in our communities.” … To tackle the testing problem, the WHO is launching a pilot program to expand the level of community screening in eight African countries, using rapid diagnostic testing that can produce results within 15 minutes. The Globe and Mail

Opposition Candidate Neves Wins Cape Verde Election
Opposition candidate and former Prime Minister Jose Maria Neves won Cape Verde’s presidential election on Sunday, as his main rival, the ruling party’s flagbearer Carlos Veiga, conceded defeat. Neves, 61, who served as prime minister from 2000-2016, will inherit the responsibility for stabilising the Atlantic archipelago nation’s tourism-driven economy after the COVID-19 pandemic drove it deep into recession. President Jorge Carlos Fonseca is stepping down after serving the maximum two five-year terms allowed by the constitution. Neves had 51.7 percent of the vote based on official results from 99.4 percent of polling stations, ahead of Veiga with 42.4 percent. Five other candidates all won less than 2 percent each. Veiga, who served as prime minister from 1991-2000 and represents Fonseca’s centre-right Movement for Democracy (MpD), conceded defeat late on Sunday. “The will of the people was heard and the will of the people was granted,” he said in a statement. “I want to offer my congratulations to Jose Maria on his election as president of the republic.” … The transfer of power will be the fourth between the MpD and PAICV since independence from Portugal in 1975, consolidating Cape Verde’s status as one of Africa’s most stable democracies. Reuters

‘God Have Mercy’: Tigray Residents Describe Life under Siege
As food and the means to buy it dwindled in a city under siege, the young mother felt she could do no more. She killed herself, unable to feed her children. In a Catholic church across town, flour and oil to make communion wafers will soon run out. And the flagship hospital in Mekele, the capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, wrestles with whether to give patients the expired medications that remain. Its soap and bleach are gone. A year of war and months of government-enforced deprivation have left the city of a half-million people with rapidly shrinking stocks of food, fuel, medicine and cash. In rural areas, life is even grimmer as thousands of people survive on wild cactus fruit or sell the meager aid they receive. Man-made famine, the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade, has begun. Despite the severing of almost all communication with the outside world, The Associated Press drew on a dozen interviews with people inside Mekele, along with internal aid documents, for the most detailed picture yet of life under the Ethiopian government’s blockade of the Tigray region’s 6 million people. AP

Key Leader of West African Terrorist Group Is Dead, Nigerian Army Says
A leading figure in a terrorist group that has declared an affiliation with the Islamic State and destabilized a vast region in West-Central Africa has died, according to Nigeria’s top military commander, but the threat from violent extremists in the area is far from over. The militant, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, was a key figure in a group known as the Islamic State West Africa Province, or ISWAP. Gen. Lucky Irabor, Nigeria’s military commander. said on Thursday that he could “authoritatively confirm” the death of Mr. Barnawi, but did not provide any further details. ISWAP splintered off from the better known group Boko Haram in 2016, and for years both outfits have terrorized people across Nigeria and the neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon and Niger, leaving tens of thousands dead and millions homeless. ISWAP has focused its attacks on the military — in contrast to Boko Haram, which is thought to be responsible for the vast majority of deaths of civilians, according to analysts and military officials in the region. ISWAP is now thought to be as powerful — if not more so — than Boko Haram. Mr. Barnawi, whose age was unknown, was the son of Mohammed Yusuf, Boko Haram’s founder. The longtime leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, was also reported to have died this year, killing himself before he could be taken prisoner by Mr. Barnawi’s group. The New York Times

Sudan Protest Calls for Military Coup as Political Crisis Deepens
The military and civilian groups have been sharing power in the east African country in an uneasy alliance since the toppling of long-standing President Omar al-Bashir in 2019. But following a failed coup attempt in September attributed to forces loyal to Bashir, military leaders have been demanding reforms to the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition and the replacement of the cabinet. Civilian leaders, however, have accused them of aiming for a power grab. A military-aligned faction of the FFC, including armed groups that rebelled against Bashir, called for Saturday’s protests and held a short event in a nearby convention hall. … Unlike previous demonstrations, protesters were able to reach the gates of the presidential palace which is typically barricaded. There was little police presence at the protest. … Earlier, members of an unidentified armed group removed security barriers around government buildings and prevented the police and security forces from preparing for the march, Khartoum State governor Ayman Khalid said in a statement. … Pro-civilian groups have called for protests on Thursday. Reuters

Thousands Protest in DR Congo to Demand Neutral Poll Body
Police in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have fired tear gas as governing party members attempted to stop tens of thousands from marching to seek a neutral election commission. About 10,000 opposition demonstrators marched through the streets of Kinshasa on Saturday and tore down a statue of President Felix Tshisekedi. They were met by members of the governing Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party who tried to stop the march by hurling petrol bombs, witnesses told Reuters news agency. Police fired tear gas to disperse them and let the demonstration continue. The protests were sparked by the proposal from six religious groups to install Denis Kadima as head of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI). Religious groups, which are mandated by the constitution to nominate the leadership of the CENI by consensus, had been at loggerheads for months and failed to reach an agreement. … Tshisekedi is expected to seek a second term when Congolese voters return to the polls in 2023, with CENI likely to play a pivotal role again. Al Jazeera

eSwatini Transport Strike for Release of Pro-Democracy MPs
Public transport remained at a standstill on Sunday in Eswatini, in the latest protest against Africa’s last absolute monarchy, rocked by a wave of pro-democracy demonstrations. Private taxi and commuter bus operators calling for the release of two pro-democracy lawmakers pledged to continue a transport shutdown until their demands were met. … After a meeting on Sunday, transport operators made it clear services would not resume unless King Mswati agreed to release MPs Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube, detained during pro-democracy protests earlier this year, said transport association (SACAWU) secretary Sticks Nkhambule. Pupils and students in the tiny, landlocked nation formerly known as Swaziland have been protesting for a number of weeks, boycotting lessons and calling for free schooling, as well as an end to the regime under King Mswati III. Authorities said on Saturday schools had been shut indefinitely, a day after the country shut down the internet for two hours as pro-democracy marchers headed to the capital. At least 28 people have died as police clashed with protesters in some of the worst unrest in the southern African country’s history. The latest fatality came on Wednesday. AFP

CAR Declares Unilateral Ceasefire in Fight with Armed Groups
Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadera has declared a unilateral cessation of fighting against armed groups, saying he hoped it would lead to peaceful dialogue. The country has seen recurrent rounds of rebel violence since former President Francois Bozize was deposed in 2013. Armed groups control large swaths of territory, and about one-quarter of the nearly 5 million population has been displaced. Touadera said on television on Friday that he believed the ceasefire would help protect civilians from violence and allow them to access humanitarian aid and basic services. “It is to give peace a chance that I am here to announce to you this evening the end of military operations and all armed action on the whole of the national territory,” said Touadera, stating that the move would take effect at midnight. The spokesman for the main rebel alliance, the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), told Reuters news agency he welcomed the initiative, and the CPC would respect the ceasefire if the government did. Past peace accords have quickly fallen apart. … Touadera announced he would hold a national dialogue with his opponents shortly after being sworn in, but the talks have not yet materialised. Reuters

Is the Death of a Military Junta Rebel Leader in Mozambique the Curtain Call for Renamo Resistance?
On 11 October, Mariano Nhongo, leader of Junta Militar da Renamo (RMJ), was killed by Mozambican security forces in the Gorongosa forest in the central province of Sofala. … Nhongo and the Junta Militar had broken away from Renamo when its new leader Ossufo Momade signed a comprehensive peace deal with Nyusi in August 2019. Momade was elected as president of Renamo after the death of its long-time charismatic leader Afonso Dhlakama, who died of natural causes in 2018. Nhongo and his band of die-hards denounced Momade as a traitor and continued the fight from August 2019 to December 2020. … But will his death really close this fat “dossier” – the bitter, protracted but intermittent military resistance of Renamo to Mozambique’s ruling Frelimo party, which dates back to 1977? … Veteran Mozambican journalist Paul Fauvet wrote this week that: “There is no obvious successor to Nhongo, and so his death may signal the end of the Military Junta. Over the past few months, members of the Junta have been surrendering, including some of Nhongo’s close aides, and have applied for demobilisation pay.” But others disagree, including the remnants of the Junta Militar who vowed to fight on under a new leader, Lieutenant-General Augusto Faindane Phyri, better known as Massiaphfumbi. Daily Maverick

In Nigeria’s Troubled Northwest, Phone Blockades Hurt Locals
Mobile phones have been lifelines for residents of northwestern Nigeria who have relied on warning calls to escape escalating bandit attacks. But recent blockades on mobile telecommunications by authorities have left many rural people cut off and more vulnerable, say residents. The bandits — armed groups who plunder villages and often kidnap, rape and kill — are increasing their attacks in Nigeria’s northwestern and central states. At least 2,500 people were killed in the first half of 2021 in the northwest and central regions, according to the US Council on Foreign Relations, which collates daily media reports on such attacks. The widespread banditry in the northwest is in addition to the 10-year Islamic extremist insurgency in northeast Nigeria. Responding to the surging violence, the governors of five northwestern and central states have blocked mobile networks to prevent the outlaws from communicating with collaborators. While the communications blackout has had some positive effects, it also hampers local communities, according to multiple interviews with residents, officials and security experts. AP

Ivory Coast’s Ex-Leader Gbagbo Vows Return to Political Life
Former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo told supporters Sunday that he’ll be involved in politics until his dying day, detailing his ambitions publicly for the first time since being acquitted of war crimes charges. The 76-year-old ex-president addressed a weekend gathering held for the new political party that he has launched: the African People’s Party of Ivory Coast, also known by its French acronym, PPA-CI. Gbagbo returned home to Ivory Coast in June after more than a decade abroad, having spent the last two years awaiting prosecutors’ appeal of his acquittal at the International Criminal Court in connection with the West African nation’s 2010-2011 postelection crisis. Since his arrival, Gbagbo has made public appearances but has limited his comments about politics, making Sunday’s comments his most direct yet on his future plans. … Gbagbo led Ivory Coast from 2000 to 2010, then refused to concede defeat to opponent Alassane Ouattara. The fighting between their supporters brought Ivory Coast back to the brink of civil war, leaving at least 3,000 people dead. Ouattara ultimately prevailed after Gbagbo was arrested from his underground bunker and extradited to The Hague. Ouattara has been president ever since, stoking controversy last October when he won a third term after previously saying he would only serve two terms. AP

Zimbabwe’s Health System Is Failing Because of ‘Looted’ Funds, Says Journalist
Zimbabwe’s six central hospitals are sorely in need of funding, and yet money is available, according to Zimbabwean investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono. “In terms of vaccination, the government has tried – we used Chinese vaccines,” says Chin’ono on the sidelines of the Africa-France Summit in Montpellier this month. … [H]e pointed out that in Zimbabwe, Covid-19 has claimed lives because hospitals are either not equipped, or there are not enough beds. He was arrested twice last year for his work on the Zimbabwe graft scandal that forced health minister Obediah Moyo to resign. “There was a US$60 million facility for Covid-19 to buy Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and gloves for nurses and doctors, and that fund was being looted,” he said. … Fast forward to what’s happening in hospitals today, and the situation is dire, he said. “The biggest hospital, right now, as we speak, does not have intravenous paracetamol,” he said, adding medication is hard to come by. RFI

As Erdogan Set for Another Tour, Turkey Deepens Ties with Africa
East Africa’s largest indoor arena in Rwanda; a national mosque in Ghana; an army base in Somalia; and an almost 400km-long railway project which would help give landlocked Ethiopia direct access to major trade routes through the port of Djibouti. These are just some of Turkey’s increasingly growing footprints across sub-Saharan Africa as Ankara has over the past two decades sought to present itself as an alternative player in a continent that has long witnessed fierce competition between traditional European powers and newcomers. Nonetheless, Turkey’s outreach might bear more fruit as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to kick off another round of a diplomatic tour on Sunday that covers Angola, Nigeria and Togo. Alongside the signing of new deals, the trip will also see business forums banding Turkish and local business people together in each country in a bid to cultivate relationships and agreements. It also comes ahead of two major events – the Turkey-Africa Business Summit later this month and the third Turkey-Africa Summit in December – that the Turkish government has been preparing for. … A military cooperation agreement Ankara signed last July with Niger would allow a Turkish military presence in the country. Al Jazeera

In a Flashpoint South Sudanese Town, Women Peacemakers Try to Bridge the Divide
More than 18 months into a power-sharing government between South Sudan’s rival leaders, local conflicts still simmer, undermining a fragile peace accord. But in the northern flashpoint town of Malakal, a group of women peacemakers is trying to reverse that narrative by healing ethnic divisions to head off another bout of violence. The gateway to the country’s largest oil fields, Malakal, once a thriving cosmopolitan centre, is now an empty shell, its deserted streets strewn with abandoned cars, rusted bedsteads, chairs, zinc sheeting – the detritus of three years of fighting. … Rebecca Anyiel wants to revive the interdependence that historically existed. A Dinka, she is part of the Women’s Union, a local self-help group whose membership cuts across ethnic divides – around one third of the women in her group are Shilluk from the PoC. “There is a reason for the mistrust between both communities,” she told The New Humanitarian. But by “speaking honestly” to one another, “asking for forgiveness,” and atoning for wrongs, those “fears will diminish slowly over time.” Like Anyiel, most of her group’s members are market traders and meet regularly around a wooden table in an old building near Malakal market. These gatherings – to discuss how to strengthen their businesses and promote women’s rights – have helped forge real friendships between the women in Malakal town and those in the PoC. The New Humanitarian

Africa’s Largest Film Festival Kicks Off in Burkina Faso
Africa’s largest film festival kicks off Saturday in Burkina Faso amid both the COVID-19 pandemic and a growing jihadi insurgency in the West African nation that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 1 million in recent years. Alex Moussa Sawadogo, head of the Pan-African Film and TV Festival of Ouagadougou said organizers wanted to go ahead with the event known by its French acronym, FESPACO in spite of the challenges to show Burkina Faso can still “inspire imagination through cinema.” … Sawadogo said the number of venues has been reduced this year. The weeklong festival showcases works by African filmmakers and works produced on the continent. Out of nearly 1,200 films submitted, 282 have been selected to compete, some of which have already been shown at places like Cannes and the Toronto Film Festival. “In these very difficult times for Burkina Faso and all the countries of the Sahel because of the terrorist attacks, I have the pleasure of offering a beautiful comedy to make people smile, to entertain the public and ask questions about our current identity, to show our identity to others and enjoy theirs,” Diallo, 59, said. Burkina Faso was once regarded as a beacon of peaceful coexistence in the region, which some attribute to its rich cultural scene. AP