Africa Media Review for October 21, 2021

African Nations Deploy Envoys to eSwatini to Help Stem Unrest
Southern African countries have deployed envoys to eSwatini, formerly known as Swaziland, to try to stem the unrest that saw one person killed and at least 80 people wounded by security forces in the latest wave of pro-democracy protests. The demonstrations in the kingdom have flared up recently, months after authorities loyal to the country’s absolute monarch quashed an earlier round of demonstrations. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who currently chairs the security organ of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), ordered high-level envoys to fly to eSwatini on Wednesday to meet King Mswati III to discuss “security and political developments.” … Gunfire was heard into the night on Wednesday in the Eswatini capital Mbabane, and the civil servants’ union NAPSAWU said at least one man had been shot dead earlier in the day. … Fifty of its members were taken to hospital in Mbabane, with another 30 admitted to hospital in the city of Manzini, including some with gunshot wounds, he added. … The kingdom again shut down the internet as images of the violence began circulating on social media. On Thursday, mobile operators were told to suspend access to Facebook and its messenger app until further notice. … Heavily armed soldiers and police were seen on the streets, while one Mbabane high school caught fire, sending plumes of smoke billowing over the city. Al Jazeera

Sudan Cities Brace for Marches of the Millions Today
Sudanese across the country are preparing to take to the streets today in the Marches of Millions… Marches have already begun in several cities, and in the capital Khartoum, the streets leading to the General Command of the Armed Forces, as well as several major bridges have been closed, amid a heavy deployment of police and other regular forces. The Joint Chamber of Marches of Millions for Civil Governance has called on the Sudanese public to fill the streets in all the country during the Marches of Millions on October 21 million to support the democratic transition and civilian rule. At time of posting, early reports say that protest marches have already begun in El Fasher, capital of North Darfur, El Geneina, capital of West Darfur, Atbara in White Nile state, and in some neighbourhoods of Omdurman adjacent to Khartoum. … At a press conference on Wednesday, the spokesmen for the Chamber, which includes 70 Resistance Committees and revolutionary, professional, and other bodies, demanded that the military hand over power, the formation of the Revolutionary Legislative Council and the completion of the peace process, in addition to handing over Al Bashir and his co-accused to the International Criminal Court. Radio Dabanga

Youth Yearning for Independence Fuel Western Sahara Clashes
“Low-intensity hostilities,” as a recent United Nations report describes them, have raged for the past year along the 2,700-kilometer (1,700-mile) berm — a barrier second in length only to the Great Wall of China that separates the part of Western Sahara that Morocco rules from the sliver held by the Polisario Front, which wants the territory to be independent. Both sides claim the area in its entirety. For nearly 30 years this swath of North African desert about the size of Colorado — that sits on vast phosphate deposits, faces rich fishing grounds and is believed to have off-shore oil reserves — has existed in limbo, awaiting a referendum that was supposed to let the local Sahrawi people decide their future. Instead, as negotiations over who would be allowed to vote dragged on, Morocco tightened its control of the territory, which was a Spanish colony until 1975. Last year, the Polisario Front announced that it would no longer abide by the 1991 cease-fire that ended its 16-year guerilla war with Morocco. The decision was fueled by frustration among younger Sahrawi — many of whom were born in refugee camps in Algeria, have never lived in their ancestral homeland, and are tired of waiting for the U.N.-promised referendum. AP

Ethiopia Conducts Two Air Strikes on Tigray within Hours, War Escalates
The Ethiopian government carried out a second air strike within hours on the Tigray region on Wednesday, significantly escalating a campaign to weaken rebellious Tigrayan forces in an almost one-year-old war. The second strike was in Agbe in the Temben region some 80 km (50 miles) west of the regional capital Mekelle, targeting a military training centre and heavy artillery depot, government spokesperson Legesse Tulu said. That came after a morning air strike in Mekelle, the third this week. Tigrai Television said the attack targeted the centre of the city while the Addis Ababa government said it targeted buildings where Tigrayan forces were repairing armaments. … “The federal air strikes on Mekelle appear to be part of efforts to weaken Tigray’s armed resistance, which has recently made further gains in eastern Amhara region, with fighting ongoing in some areas,” said Will Davison, a senior analyst on Ethiopia at the International Crisis Group think-tank. “Along with superior manpower, control of the skies is one of the few remaining areas of military advantage for the federal government,” Davison said. Reuters

Nigerian Police Fire Tear Gas at Anniversary of Protest
Nigerian police officers fired tear gas at protesters in Lagos, the country’s largest city, as they tried to disperse hundreds of people demonstrating against alleged police brutality on Wednesday. One year ago, thousands marched in Nigeria for the #EndSARS movement to protest the activities of the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit accused of police brutality. The police on Wednesday fired tear gas at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos, a key site of those protests. While people ran away, one officer shot at a protester in a bid to arrest him, according to Lawrence Akinkpelumi, who was at the protests. There are widespread accusations of police brutality in Nigeria and police often clamp down on Nigerians demonstrating against police. In the days leading up to Wednesday’s demonstration, police warned protesters against any public gatherings, threatening to arrest anyone who disobeyed the directive. … Shuaibu Yakubu, 23, said the tear gas also got into his eyes. “They started shooting tear gas at us and chasing people who came here to remember those killed in October 2020. All my eyes are full of teargas,” he said. AP

“Over-Zealous” Security Undermining Peace in South Sudan
State security forces in South Sudan are responsible for new and potentially arbitrary restrictions against prominent civil society leaders, issuing “credible” death threats undermining peace efforts, UN-appointed independent rights experts said this week. In an alert, the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan alleged “over-zealous” security forces prevented dissent to the extent civic space is eroding “at an accelerating pace”, forcing rights defenders to flee and discouraging others. “The State targeting high-profile human rights defenders will have a chilling effect on civil society and discourage public participation and corrode confidence in important processes such as transitional justice, constitution making and national elections, essential for success of the transition envisaged by the 2018 Revitalised Peace Agreement,” Commissioner Andrew Clapham said. Actions of the National Security Services (NSS) include detentions, raids, a likely internet shutdown and enhanced security presence in Juba, the panel said in a statement. Those targeted by threats, harassment and intimidation include human rights defenders, journalists and representatives of civil society. Many are key to the country’s peace and justice processes. defenceWeb

UN’s Top Envoy Warns Great Lakes Region Is ‘At a Crossroads’
For Mr. Xia, the main threat to peace and stability in this region around the Great Rift Valley, remains the persistence of non-State armed groups. He pointed to “an upsurge in attacks,” whether by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), or those launched by the RED-Tabara against Bujumbura airport, in Burundi, last September. Since the beginning of this year, in DRC alone, at least 1,043 civilians have been killed, including 233 women and 52 children. “This violence continues to have serious consequences on the already fragile humanitarian situation, as well as on the socio-economic stability of the affected area,” the Special Envoy said. He told the Council Members that “these negative forces also remain involved in the illicit exploitation and trade in natural resources, the revenues of which finance their arms procurement and recruitment.” “How to put an end to it?,” he asked. “This is obviously an old question that haunts anyone interested in the region.” Despite the challenges, he highlighted several bilateral and regional initiatives, saying they “attest to the emergence of a community aware of the added value of dialogue and cooperation.” UN News

Libya Hosts International Conference to Drum Up Support Ahead of Elections
Libya’s fragile unity government hosts senior foreign officials on Thursday to drum up support on spiky transitional issues as the war-torn country gears up for a landmark December election. The conference comes two months ahead of planned presidential polls under a United Nations-led peace process that seeks to end a decade of conflict and chaos. Tripoli has said the world body’s Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo and Libya envoy Jan Kubis will attend. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Wednesday he would also be there, and officials from regional powers including Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are also expected, according to Libyan press agency LANA. Libya and the UN have been striving to turn the page on the violence that has wracked the country since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi. A ceasefire between eastern and western factions last year led to a unity government taking office in March with a mandate to take the country to elections. The presidential vote is set to take place on December 24, but legislative polls have been delayed, with a date to be set in the new year, amid east-west wrangling. … The fate of [mercenaries and foreign] fighters will feature high on the agenda at Thursday’s conference, Mangoush said, adding that the foreign armed presence “represents a threat not just to Libya but to the entire region.” AFP

Kenya Plans to Set Up Vaccine Factory in Six Months
Kenya plans to set up a vaccine production plant in Nairobi’s Embakasi in the next six months. President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday said the firm, known as Kenya Biovax Limited, will help address access to vaccines in the country. “The Ministry of Health should operationalise this company to manufacture vaccines in our country by Easter next year,” he said during his Mashujaa Day (heroes) address. … Kenya Biovax is expected to be a fill-and-finish factory, where vials will be filled with vaccines and packaged for distribution. In the pharmaceutical industry, many drug makers use third parties for this final process of manufacturing. Such facilities package ready-made vaccines and distribute them. The Nairobi facility will be built at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) depot in Embakasi. The plant will also produce other vaccines such as polio drops, the Ministry of Health said. Vaccine ingredients will be imported in bulk. At the new plant, the vaccines will be produced, sealed in vials, labelled and distributed. In May, the Health ministry said talks were underway with the Oxford AstraZeneca manufacturers to import large quantities for repackaging in vials. The negotiations are almost complete, the authorities say. The EastAfrican

Pandora Papers: Nigerian Code of Conduct Bureau Set to Probe Peter Obi, Bello-Koko Others
Nigeria’s Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) has declared interest in the Pandora Papers revelations regarding Nigerian past and present public officers reported to have owned undeclared assets offshore. The agency has expressed a commitment to open investigations into the allegations. The CCB is the Nigerian public agency dealing with issues of corruption, conflict of interest, and abuse of office by public servants. … Premium Times, which is among 151 media outlets partnering in the ICIJ-led Pandora Papers project, has exposed some Nigerian former and current governors, lawmakers, and other senior officials, including a judge, as having secret, usually suspicious, financial dealings tucked away in secrecy and tax havens. “Sadly, it is no longer news that some current and former public officials in Nigeria featured prominently in the acquisition of secret properties, which they failed to declare to the Code of Conduct Bureau as enshrined in the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended,” the Code of Conduct Bureau said in its letter. … In what is the the first known action by any Nigerian law enforcement agency following the Pandora Papers revelations, the anti-corruption agency, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has summoned Mr Obi [former Anambra State Governor and former Vice-Presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party] for questioning and sources at the agency told Premium Times investigations would be extended to others in “an ongoing, gradual process.” Premium Times

Sudan Sentences Six Militiamen to Death for Killing Student Protesters
El-Obeid Court in North Kordofan state Thursday sentenced to death six members of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) for the killing of student protesters two years ago. On July 29, 2019, six students were shot dead by the RSF militiamen as they dispersed angry protests in the capital of North Darfur state over food and fuel shortages and high inflation. The death sentence did not include one of the RSF recruits who took part in the killing of protesters many of whom were wearing school uniforms. The court found that was a minor under the age of 18 when he committed the crime. The SRF militia which operates under the command of the Deputy Chairman of the Sovereign Council Mohamed Hamdan Daglo Hemetti is widely accused of recruiting children, also they are accused of committing widespread brutalities and grave human rights violations in Darfur and South Kordofan. The Public Prosecution had charged the Rapid Support personnel under Articles 21, 130 and 186 of the Criminal Code, related to criminal participation, premeditated murder and crimes against humanity. On 24 May, a Sudanese court sentenced to death an RSF officer for the killing of a protester during the brutal breakup of the pro-democracy sit-in in June 2019. Sudan Tribune

Prosecutors to Challenge ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero’s 25-Year Prison Sentence
Last month, a Rwandan court sentenced Paul Rusesabagina, whose heroism during the Rwandan genocide inspired the “Hotel Rwanda” movie, to 25 years in prison after he was found guilty of forming a terrorist group. Now, prosecutors who had sought a life sentence are appealing the judgment. The decision to contest the ruling was announced in a one-sentence tweet Wednesday. Prosecutors did not provide further information and could not immediately be reached for comment early Thursday. Rusesabagina, a prominent critic of Rwanda’s authoritarian president Paul Kagame, was sentenced after a months-long trial decried by supporters and international observers, including the American Bar Association, as procedurally flawed and politically motivated. He has maintained his innocence. “Rwandan authorities may see an interest in keeping the trial in the news in an attempt to control the story,” said Carine Kanimba, Rusesabagina’s daughter, in an email. “They want the world to see Paul Rusesabagina as a terrorist, because this is not only punishment … but it will also have a chilling effect on others who might want to dissent.” “25 years is already a life sentence,” she added. The Washington Post

Water-Poor Egypt Eyes Quadrupling Desalination Capacity in 5 Years
Water-scarce Egypt aims to more than quadruple desalination capacity by granting private companies concessions from its sovereign wealth fund to build 17 plants over the next five years with sustainable solar energy. The plan fits into Egypt’s push to diversify its sources of fresh water for a fast-growing population as it faces competition for Nile River water from the giant hydropower dam that Ethiopia is building upstream. The new concessions are designed to encourage private investment and technological development, both areas in which the Arab world’s most populous country has struggled. Investment in new desalination plants would be kick-started with the government guaranteeing to buy the water and re-sell it to domestic and industrial consumers at a steep discount that would entail a large subsidy, according to fund chief executive Ayman Soliman. He declined to estimate the size of the subsidy. The new plants would produce a combined 2.8 million cubic meters a day, an amount that would be doubled longer term. Reuters

Egypt Detains Artist Robot AI-Da before Historic Pyramid Show
She has been described as “a vision of the future” who is every bit as good as other abstract artists today, but Ai-Da – the world’s first ultra-realistic robot artist – hit a temporary snag before her latest exhibition when Egyptian security forces detained her at customs. Ai-Da is due to open and present her work at the Great Pyramid of Giza on Thursday, the first time contemporary art has been allowed next to the pyramid in thousands of years. But because of “security issues” that may include concerns that she is part of a wider espionage plot, both Ai-Da and her sculpture were held in Egyptian customs for 10 days before being released on Wednesday, sparking a diplomatic fracas. “The British ambassador has been working through the night to get Ai-Da released, but we’re right up to the wire now,” said Aidan Meller, the human force behind Ai-Da, shortly before her release. “It’s really stressful.” … Meller, an Oxford gallerist, said he always hoped his project would prompt debate about the rapid rise of AI technology. “She is an artist robot, let’s be really clear about this. She is not a spy. People fear robots, I understand that. But the whole situation is ironic, because the goal of Ai-Da was to highlight and warn of the abuse of technological development, and she’s being held because she is technology. Ai-Da would appreciate that irony, I think.” The Guardian



Photo: Adam Jones