Africa Media Review for October 22, 2021

Protesters Take to the Streets Demanding Full Civilian Rule in Sudan
Hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators have taken to the streets of the Sudanese capital Khartoum and other major cities demanding full civilian rule, just days after a sit-in was launched calling for a return to military government. Images posted on social media showed vast crowds marching in different parts of the Sudanese capital in protests to reject military rule as the crisis in the country’s troubled transition from authoritarian rule deepened. The military has shared power with civilians in an increasingly frayed transitional sovereign authority since a popular uprising removed President Omar al-Bashir after three decades in power. At least one Sudanese journalist was reportedly shot in the head while covering the protests, which came amid mounting tension over the country’s faltering democratic transition. … The demonstrations on Thursday were organised by Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the civilian umbrella coalition that led the movement to topple Bashir. … “October 21 is a lesson for any tyrants, loyalists or opportunists deluded into thinking they can turn back the hands of time,” wrote Sovereign Council member Siddig Tawer, one of several civilian officials who endorsed the protests. … Prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, who leads the cabinet under the military-civilian power-sharing agreement, remains popular despite an economic crisis. He has said he is speaking to all sides in the crisis in order to find a solution. The Guardian

Russian Mercenaries Leave Trail of Destruction in the Central African Republic
When the tattooed Russian fighters arrived in Alindao, a town in the southern Central African Republic (CAR), the rebels fled — and the people rejoiced. “They were white. They were very big,” said Fatima, 32. “They looked so strange, they had tattoos everywhere — snakes, skulls, human heads . . .[but] they were going to help.” But soon stories began circulating from nearby villages — of looting and torture, killings and rape. Then one day last month they took Fatima’s brother from their home. The next, they took her to a nearby military camp, where she says three of them raped her until she lost consciousness. “They were very scary — we were all so scared,” she said. “We thought they came here to restore peace to our country. Now I wish they’d never come.” The mercenaries who attacked Alindao belong to a Kremlin-linked network of companies known as the Wagner Group that has helped president Faustin-Archange Touadéra beat back rebels and saved his government, according to security, humanitarian, diplomatic and opposition sources in the CAR. FT

eSwatini Bans Protests as Hospital Floors ‘Drenched in Blood,’ Mediation Begins
Africa’s last absolute monarchy Eswatini on Thursday banned protests as regional mediators landed in the kingdom amid rumbling pro-democracy demonstrations. A demonstrator died in hospital on Thursday from gunshot wounds sustained the day before when security forces opened fire on a protest, according to unions. At least 30 health workers were treated for gunshot injuries, the nurses’ union said. Railways workers led new protests on Thursday in the kingdom formerly known as Swaziland. … Internet access was limited, with Facebook completely shut off for a second day. Jeff Radebe, head of the mediators sent to the country by the 16-nation Southern African Development Community, told the SABC: “Images that are coming from Eswatini are very disturbing indeed, and we can see that the political temperature is very hot.” The Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union said in a statement that nurses and other workers who had converged on a public park in Mbabane, “were met with unprecedented show of force by the police and the army.” The union said: “They were brutally dispersed and scattered all over the capital. As they were running, they were shot with live ammunition.” AFP

Somalia’s President, Prime Minister Agree to Speed Up Election
Somalia’s president and prime minister resolved a dispute over appointments to security bodies, allowing a stalled process to elect a new parliament and president to go ahead, the government spokesman said late on Thursday. Somalia was meant to choose a new president this month, culminating a complicated indirect election process that would also select a parliament. But that was halted during a dispute between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble over who would head the National Intelligence Service Agency. The president and the prime minister had each appointed a different candidate to replace the head of the agency, who was suspended last month after an agent went missing. Under the agreement, the president’s appointee will now take up the post in an acting capacity, while the man chosen by the prime minister will be given a different role as a state minister. A separate disagreement over who would head the internal security ministry was also resolved, the spokesman said. Reuters

Libya Conference Attempt to Salvage Election Hopes
Rival factions in Libya launched a last-ditch attempt on Thursday to shore up support for their efforts to hold democratic elections in December. At an international conference, representatives of the legislature based in the east of the country and the High State Council that sits in the capital Tripoli met with delegates from the United Nations as well as regional and western powers. Opening the one-day meeting in Tripoli, Libyan Prime Minister Mohammed Dbeibeh voiced support for holding the election as scheduled. “The conference underlines our continued support for implementing the elections, providing favourable circumstances for them and encouraging all Libyan sides to respect their results,” he said. Holding national elections on December 24 is a key provision of a UN-backed peace plan that has seen the warring factions cease hostilities for nearly a year after a decade of conflict brought on by the toppling of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The Libya Stabilization Conference ended with a communique from Libyan Foreign Minister Najla El-Mangoush stressing the need for confidence-building steps to enable fair, transparent and inclusive elections. Sitting next to her was her Kuwaiti counterpart Ahmed Al-Sabah, who said that the group rejected “all forms of foreign interference in Libya.” DW

French Barkhane Troops Kill Senior Jihadist Fighter in Mali
French soldiers have killed a commander from a jihadist group close to Al-Qaeda that operates along Mali’s troubled border with Burkina Faso, the army’s general staff announced Thursday. Nasser Al Tergui was the number two in the Gourma-Serma brigade of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin), the French statement said. Al Tergui, who joined Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2012, had “major operational responsibilities” in the support group. “He was notably specialised in planting improvised explosive devices,” according to the statement. His death “will reduce the capacity to cause harm of an armed terrorist group known for carrying out attacks against local forces and numerous acts of violence against the local population,” it added. … The strike comes after Mali’s interim government this week entrusted its religious affairs ministry with talking to jihadist groups, a policy fiercely opposed by former colonial power France. AfricaNews with AFP

US Condemns Escalation of Violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray
The United States government has cautioned Ethiopia’s warring parties after violence escalated this week with the aerial strikes in Mekelle, the capital of the troubled northern Tigray region. Washington, which has threatened sanctions on peace spoilers, said the parties must lay down arms and choose dialogue. “We have seen the credible reports of attacks in and around Mekele. The United States condemns the continuing escalation of violence, putting civilians in harm’s way” State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted on Wednesday. The US had threatened to impose sanctions if the parties to the Tigray conflict fail to reach a negotiated settlement to end the nearly year-long bloody civil war that killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions. … “The government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) must end hostilities and begin talks now,” Mr Price said. … The air strikes come amid reports of heavy fighting in the Amhara region south of Tigray, where the TPLF launched an offensive in July. On Wednesday Getachew claimed on Twitter that TPLF fighters had taken control of at least two new towns in the region, putting the cities of Kombolcha and nearby Dessie — where tens of thousands have sought refuge from the rebel advance — “within artillery range.” Much of northern Ethiopia is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is restricted, making battlefield claims difficult to independently verify. AFP/The EastAfrican

Fuel Shortages Block Food Aid in Famine-Threatened Tigray: UN
Fuel shortages have forced some aid groups to suspend food distribution in Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray region, where famine stalks hundreds of thousands of people, the UN said. Some 14 fuel trucks are stranded in Afar region, home to the only viable land route into Tigray, despite having been granted permission to proceed, the UN’s humanitarian coordination office said in a report released late Thursday. “Due to the severe shortages of fuel, several humanitarian partners were forced to significantly reduce or suspend their activities,” it in a weekly situation report for the year-long conflict in northern Ethiopia. “Since 11 October, out of the seven main active food partners, for instance, at least three have already [been] forced to cease food distribution. The other four will also have to cease distribution outside of Mekele within one week if fuel is not received.” AFP

In South Sudan, Flooding Called ‘Worst Thing in My Lifetime’
He feels like a man who has drowned. The worst flooding that parts of South Sudan have seen in 60 years now surrounds his home of mud and grass. His field of sorghum, which fed his family, is under water. Surrounding mud dykes have collapsed. Other people have fled. Only Yel Aguer Deng’s family and a few neighbors remain. This is the third straight year of extreme flooding in South Sudan, further imperiling livelihoods of many of the 11 million people in the world’s youngest country. A five-year civil war, hunger and corruption have all challenged the nation. Now climate change, which the United Nations has blamed [for] the flooding, is impossible to ignore. … The U.N. says the flooding has affected almost a half-million people across South Sudan since May. Here in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, the Lol River has burst its banks. This state is usually spared from extreme flooding that plagues the South Sudan states of Jonglei and Unity that border the White Nile and the Sudd marshlands. But now, houses and crops have been swamped. A new report this week coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization warned of increasing such climate shocks to come across much of Africa, the continent that contributes the least to global warming but will suffer from it most. AP

Why Separatists in Cameroon and Nigeria Have United
Cameroon’s five-year conflict could be taking a significant new turn with reports that its English-speaking separatist groups are getting help from an armed group in neighbouring Nigeria. After two attacks by Anglophone militants which cost the lives of 15 Cameroonian soldiers last month, the army issued a statement declaring that “the separatists have used heavy weapons for the first time, in violation of international humanitarian law.” It went on to add that “the rise in power of these terrorist groups… is largely due to their co-operation with other terrorist entities operating outside the country.” … A video posted on the ADF Facebook page earlier this year shows Cho Ayaba, the leader of the Ambazonia Governing Council – one of the two main English-speaking separatist groups, and Ipob leader Nnamdi Kanu announcing a “strategic and military” alliance. … How big a deal is this? Analysts are divided. “For the moment, the contribution of this alliance on the ground in the Anglophone zone is not yet clear,” says Elvis Arrey, senior analyst for Cameroon at the research group International Crisis Group (ICG). However, Raoul Sumo Tayo, a historian and security analyst in the region, says it should not be downplayed, as it offers both groups rear bases where they can retreat, beyond the reach of their respective countries’ armed forces. BBC

Nnamdi Kanu: Nigeria Separatist Pleads Not Guilty to Terrorism
The Nigerian separatist Nnamdi Kanu has pleaded not guilty to charges levelled against him by the authorities, including terrorism and treason. His appearance in court was the first time he had been seen in public since he was captured abroad and repatriated in June. Mr Kanu’s initial arrest in 2015 triggered protests by his supporters. The authorities deem his Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob) group a terror organisation. Journalists were barred from entering the court in the capital, Abuja, with critics calling it a “secret trial.” At the trial, the Ipob leader appeared healthy and happy in pictures taken with his lawyer that are circulating online, including one photo where he can be seen smiling. There was a strong security presence at the court proceedings, including the army and police who were deployed outside the premises. Along with terrorism and treason, Mr Kanu is facing charges of running an illegal company and publishing defamatory material, which appears to relate to comments he made about President Muhammadu Buhari. He is also alleged to have encouraged Ipob members to attack Nigerian security operatives, BBC Pidgin reports. BBC

UN Says Boko Haram is Weakened, but Remains a Threat, Calls for Renewed Efforts to Rebuild Cameroon
A top U.N. official for central Africa recently visited the Lake Chad Basin to assess living conditions in the area. Years of attacks by Boko Haram have left much of the infrastructure there in ruins. Francois Lounceny Fall, the U.N. Secretary General’s special representative in central Africa, says attacks by the jihadist group have diminished over the past five months. Fall says the U.N. is mobilizing the international community to support the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), a regional military alliance, as it fights against the extremist group for a lasting peace to return. He says he is visiting Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria and Niger to assess ways to start rebuilding and focus on reducing poverty. Those four countries contribute troops to the MNJTF, along with Benin. Fall said the U.N. Development Program is raising funds to build roads linking Cameroon, Nigeria and Chad to facilitate movement of people and goods. He said the UNDP is also helping villagers to plant trees. He said the U.N. refugee agency is helping displaced persons return to their villages, establishing lost documents like birth certificates, and providing funds for women to open businesses. VOA

Tuskless Elephants Escape Poachers, but May Evolve New Problems
A deep enough wound will leave a scar, but a traumatic event in the history of an animal population may leave a mark on the genome itself. During the Mozambican Civil War from 1977 to 1992, humans killed so many elephants for their lucrative ivory that the animals seem to have evolved in the space of a generation. The result was that a large number are now naturally tuskless. A paper published Thursday in Science has revealed the tooth-building genes that are likely involved. One of those same genes is linked to a syndrome in human females that causes abnormal tooth growth. In both humans and elephants, the mutation is lethal to males. Although evolving to be tuskless might spare some surviving elephants from poachers, there will likely be long-term consequences for the population. Normally, both male and female African elephants have tusks, which are really a pair of massive teeth. But a few are born without them. Under heavy poaching, those few elephants without ivory are more likely to pass on their genes. Researchers have seen this phenomenon in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, where tuskless elephants are now a common sight. The New York Times



Photo: Adam Jones