Africa Media Review for October 7, 2021

Domestic Disinformation on the Rise in Africa
From Asmara to Abuja, Sudan to South Africa, digital disinformation is becoming an increasingly common feature of Africa’s domestic political landscape. These efforts adopt sophisticated tactics first deployed in Africa by foreign actors such as Russia and Saudi Arabia. The distorting and distracting impact of digital disinformation is making it increasingly difficult for the African public to discern between facts and “fake news” while following political, social, and security developments across the continent. The resulting deterioration of trust and truth online has softened the ground for further conspiracy theories and fabricated content to take root in a murky information environment. Disinformation inhibits informed decisions on issues affecting Africans’ daily lives such as whether to receive a vaccination or whether to participate in the political process. Ultimately, this is the intent of disinformation in its most malicious form—to sow fear and confusion to advance the political purposes of those plying these falsehoods. The Africa Center for Strategic Studies spoke to Tessa Knight, a South Africa-based researcher with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), about these trends and measures to mitigate their effects. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

UN Endorses World’s 1st Malaria Vaccine as ‘Historic Moment’
The World Health Organization on Wednesday endorsed the world’s first malaria vaccine and said it should be given to children across Africa in the hope that it will spur stalled efforts to curb the spread of the parasitic disease. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called it “a historic moment” after a meeting in which two of the U.N. health agency’s expert advisory groups recommended the step. “Today’s recommendation offers a glimmer of hope for the continent, which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease. And we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and grow into healthy adults,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Africa director. WHO said its decision was based largely on results from ongoing research in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that tracked more than 800,000 children who have received the vaccine since 2019. The vaccine, known as Mosquirix, was developed by GlaxoSmithKline in 1987. While it’s the first to be authorized, it does face challenges: The vaccine is only about 30% effective, it requires up to four doses, and its protection fades after several months. Still, scientists say the vaccine could have a major impact against malaria in Africa, home to most of the world’s more than 200 million cases and 400,000 deaths per year. AP

Ethiopia Used Its Flagship Commercial Airline to Transport Weapons during War in Tigray
Ethiopia’s government has used the country’s flagship commercial airline to shuttle weapons to and from neighboring Eritrea during the civil war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, a CNN investigation has found. Cargo documents and manifests seen by CNN, as well as eyewitness accounts and photographic evidence, confirm that arms were transported between Addis Ababa’s international airport and airports in the Eritrean cities of Asmara and Massawa on board multiple Ethiopian Airlines planes in November 2020 during the first few weeks of the Tigray conflict. It’s the first time this weapons trade between the former foes has been documented during the war. Experts said the flights would constitute a violation of international aviation law, which forbids the smuggling of arms for military use on civil aircraft. Atrocities committed during the conflict also appear to violate the terms of a trade program that provides lucrative access to the United States market and which Ethiopian Airlines has benefited greatly from. Ethiopian Airlines is a state-owned economic powerhouse that generates billions of dollars a year carrying passengers to hubs across the African continent and all over the world, and it is also a member of the Star Alliance, a group of some of the world’s top aviation companies. CNN

UN Chief Demands Proof from Ethiopia after Staff Expulsion
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has demanded evidence from Ethiopia after seven UN staff were expelled for allegations of misconduct. … Guterres then took the unusual step of asking for the right to reply. In his response to the council, the UN chief said he had not seen any information from Ethiopia about these claims and demanded documents that proved the new allegations. “We believe that Ethiopia is violating international law in doing so,” Guterres said. “And we are ready to cooperate with the government of Ethiopia in relation to any situation in which the government of Ethiopia feels that any member of the UN is not behaving in total impartiality, in total independence, as humanitarian law prescribes.” Guterres also said he told Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed twice that if there were any concerns about the impartiality of UN staff then the government should share the information so the UN could investigate. “Twice, I asked … the prime minister. Until now, I had no response to these requests,” Guterres said. “The people of Ethiopia are suffering. We have no other interest but to help stop that suffering.” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield described the Ethiopian move to expel the UN officials as “reckless,” adding: “There’s no justification for the government of Ethiopia’s action, none at all.” Al Jazeera

Sixteen Soldiers Killed in Central Mali Attack
Sixteen soldiers were killed and 10 wounded in an attack in central Mali on Wednesday, security and health officials in the war-torn Sahel state said. In a statement, Mali’s army said the troops had been the target of a “complex IED attack” – referring to an improvised explosive device – and then came under heavy gunfire shortly before 11:30. The army blamed the attack on suspected jihadists, and said that after pursuit, 15 of the assailants were killed and 20 motorcycles seized. … Laying roadside bombs – or IEDs – is a common tactic of jihadist groups in the region. Four Malian soldiers were killed by an IED blast in the region on 20 September. A jihadist ambush also killed five soldiers in central Mali on 12 September. Both those attacks were claimed by the al-Qaeda-aligned Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM). AFP

Hundreds in Burkina Faso, Including Minors, Await Trial on Terrorism Charges
In Burkina Faso, at least 400 people have been awaiting trial on terrorism charges for years, including several minors. Houretou Sidibé says three relatives, including her son, have been held in a Burkina Faso maximum security prison for three years. Sidibé, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, says she does not know why they’re being held. Since Burkina Faso began its war against armed groups linked to Islamic State, al-Qaida and local bandits seven years ago, at least 400 citizens have been arrested on suspicion of terrorism-related offenses and are being held in custody. Some are children under the age of sixteen. “It has been more than a year since I’ve been able to visit them, because I have no means to do it,” Sidibé said. “Two weeks ago, my brother was able to visit them and gave me some of their news.” The West African country created a penal code for terrorism offenses in 2019. But so far, only two people have been to trial and convicted on terrorism charges. … Attending a conference on the processing of terrorism offenses Friday, Burkina Faso President Roch Kabore said the country will continue to prosecute terrorism suspects despite funding concerns. “We’re pleased we’ve been able to hold the first trial of a terrorist and I can tell you that I’ve noted all the concerns and we will ensure that the state can effectively meet these conditions,” he said. “It is true that we have to take into account the fact that we have financial difficulties, but I think that an effort can be made to reinforce what we already have.” VOA

Burkina Names New Army Chief in Military Revamp
Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore on Wednesday revamped the military by axing his army chief of staff and several other senior officers. Kabore acted by decree two days after suspected jihadists killed 14 soldiers in an attack in the north of the country, as fresh bloodshed hit the region plagued by years of Islamist violence. Army chief of staff General Moise Miningou leaves a post he had held since 2019 and gives way to his former deputy Gilbert Ouedraogo, with fellow colonel Vinta Some as deputy. Kabore also named colonel Marie Omer Herman Bambara as chief of staff of the national gendarmerie and colonel Ousmane Ouedraogo in the equivalent air force role. In June, as a precursor to Wednesday’s restructure, Kabore had already sacked his defence and security ministers after demonstrations in reaction to several jihadist attacks. AFP

Armed Bandits Kill 18 in Nigeria’s Zamfara State
Armed men killed at least 18 people and set ablaze cars and shops in Nigeria’s Zamfara state, where the government has imposed a telecoms blackout as part of a security operation against groups of kidnappers, two residents said on Wednesday. Northwest Nigeria has been engulfed in crisis since late 2020, when groups of armed men began a spate of mass abductions from schools and other violent attacks on villages and on people travelling by road. Two residents said the attack on Kuryan Madaro village in Zamfara happened around 9 p.m. on Tuesday when a dozens of bandits rode into the village on motor-bikes. Abubakar Yakubu a resident of Kuryan Madaro who had travelled to neighbouring Kebbi state told Reuters by phone that the men had shot sporadically, forcing villagers to flee. … Zamfara State is among states worst hit by kidnappings and is under a telecoms blockade since early September, which authorities said they imposed to disrupt coordination among the bandits and help the armed forces to tackle them. But that has also meant few people know what is going on in Zamfara as authorities are not forthcoming with information on their operations. Reuters

Guinea Junta Names Former Civil Servant Beavogui as Prime Minister
Guinea’s military junta on Wednesday named Mohamed Beavogui, a former civil servant and expert in agricultural finance, as prime minister to preside over a promised transition back to democratic rule following a coup in September. Beavogui, 68, is also the nephew of Diallo Telli, a celebrated Guinean diplomat who served as the first secretary-general of the Organisation of African Unity, the predecessor to the African Union, and was killed by the regime of dictator Sekou Touré in 1977. Beavogui, whose nomination was announced in a decree read on national television, will oversee a transition whose precise contours have yet to be defined. Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya, leader of the Sept. 5 putsch against President Alpha Conde, was inaugurated as interim president last Friday. He promised to organise free and transparent elections but did not say when. The coup against Conde was the fourth in West and Central Africa since last year, following two putsches in Mali and one in Chad. He angered his opponents by changing the constitution to allow himself to stand for a third term. West African states, fearing a contagion effect across the region, agreed last month to impose sanctions on junta members and their relatives. Reuters

Gambia: U.S. Acts to Seize Former Gambia Leader Jammeh’s Property
Gambia’s former president Yahya Jammeh whose rule was characterised by allegations of widespread abuses is faced with a forfeiture process in U.S. courts. Jammeh who lost to President Adama Barrow in 2016, refused to concede defeat and ECOWAS leaders had to step in to mediate the impasse, resulting in he and his family leaving for Equatorial Guinea. After his departure, the government established a Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission where hundreds of witnesses testified of alleged atrocities such as torture, rape and dissapearances under the Jammeh government. In 2020, the U.S. government said it would move to seize property owned by Jammeh and his family in the U.S, as well as imposing sanctions on Jammeh’s wife Zineb Jammeh. Now official court documents issued by the U.S. District Court of Maryland have been served to Yahya Jammeh and his family in Equatorial Guinea. The documents require their response to suits of forfeiture against properties in the U.S. Recently President Adama Barrow’s party announced it would be working with Jammeh’s party to secure a second term for the incumbent. The agreement is to ensure that Yahya Jammeh, who is currently in exile, returns to the country peacefully. The announcement was greeted with shock and anger by Gambians who say they suffered for 22 years under Jammeh’s rule. AllAfrica

eSwatini Army Brutalises Students Boycotting Exams
On 23 September, students of William Pitcher College in the city of Manzini, the economic hub of eSwatini, marched to the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare in the capital Mbabane and delivered a petition. The students have been striking and boycotting their exams. Planning is under way to organise further protests. The students began their protest on 19 September. They were demanding the immediate dispersal of the unpaid monthly allowances and the promised refund of their hostel fees for the academic year 2020-2021, when accommodation and food facilities on campus were unused for the most part because of the Covid-19-induced lockdown. The army, allegedly at the invitation of the college administration, entered the campus that evening and brutalised the students. The president of the college’s Students Representative Council (SRC), Bheka Mabuza, told Peoples Dispatch that the students were forced to do repeated push-ups while being beaten by the soldiers. … Over the past few months, an unprecedented pro-democracy movement, demanding multiparty democracy and an end to the rule of the last absolute monarch on the African continent, has for the first time mobilised the rural majority and rattled King Mswati III, whose security forces have grown increasingly brutal. New Frame

Moderna Plans to Spend $500 Million on Vaccine Plant in Africa
Moderna Inc. said it would spend as much as $500 million to build a factory in Africa that could produce half a billion messenger RNA vaccine doses a year. In a statement, the company said that the new factory would produce the drug substance for messenger RNA vaccines, including its Covid-19 vaccine and shots for other diseases, and potentially also have vial-filling capabilities. Moderna will start working on site selection soon, it said. Moderna has been under pressure to make its vaccine in Africa, the continent with the lowest immunization rate. The other main manufacturers of mRNA vaccines for Covid-19, Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE, announced a deal in July to start producing shots at a facility in Cape Town, South Africa. In an interview, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said the aim was to build a factory comparable to the company’s main U.S. production facility in Norwood, Massachusetts. It will be owned and operated by Moderna but staffed mostly with local workers. The deal wouldn’t involve transfer of intellectual property, Bancel said. He noted that the company has previously said it won’t enforce its patents related to Covid vaccines during the pandemic. … There is a short list of some five African countries with the political stability, infrastructure and educated workforce suitable for a high-tech messenger RNA factory, Bancel said. Bloomberg

Ndakasi, Gorilla Who Photobombed a Selfie, Dies in the Arms of Her Caretaker
Andre Bauma met Ndakasi when she was just 2 months old, just after she was holding onto her mother’s dead body. A decade later, Ndakasi has died holding onto Mr. Bauma. She was 14. In between those two embraces, Ndakasi, a mountain gorilla in the Democratic Republic of Congo, rocketed to global fame. In 2019, Ndakasi and another female mountain gorilla, Ndeze, photobombed a selfie taken by a ranger at the Virunga National Park in Congo, where they lived. When the image was posted on Instagram, it went viral. It shows one park ranger, Mathieu Shamavu, in a T-shirt and posing for a selfie, the two gorillas behind him. One gorilla looks over her left shoulder, chin down, a just-another-day look on her face, peering toward the camera. The other is leaning forward, as if determined to make it into the shot, a hint of a smile at the edge of her mouth. Heyy! Behind them is another ranger, hands behind his back, peering intensely at the scene. … The mountain gorillas live mainly in forests in national parks in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. Climate change, traps set to kill other animals, human encroachment and people with guns are among the gorillas’ biggest challenges to survival. In April 2007, the Congolese park said its rangers had found Ndakasi “clinging to the lifeless body of her mother, gunned down by armed militia hours earlier.” … The killings of other mountain gorillas like Ndasaki’s family led to extensive security upgrades throughout the park. In 2009, a center focusing on the care of orphaned mountain gorillas was created inside the park. Mr. Bauma became its manager. The New York Times



Photo: Adam Jones