Africa Media Review for September 17, 2020

UN Report ‘Extremely Concerned’ about Burundi’s New Leader
A new report by the United Nations commission of inquiry on Burundi sees little optimism in the government of new President Evariste Ndayishimiye, saying it is “extremely concerned” that he has appointed senior officials who face international sanctions for alleged human rights abuses in the country’s 2015 political turmoil. The report released Thursday said targeted killings, intimidation and sexual assaults of both men and women were committed against opposition supporters ahead of the disputed May election in the East African nation. It said children were forced to take part in ruling party meetings and even forced to vote by officials “who gave them the voting cards of deceased or exiled voters.” ome of the abuses may constitute crimes against humanity, the report said, saying the main perpetrators were the Imbonerakure youth wing of the ruling party, police and agents of the National Intelligence Service. “They have continued to enjoy nearly total impunity,” it said. AP

South Sudan: Progress on Peace Agreement ‘Limps along’ UN Envoy Tells Security Council
Although the transitional government in South Sudan continues to function, with state governors now appointed, among other developments, progress on the 2018 peace agreement “limps along,” the top UN official in the country told a virtual meeting of the Security Council on Wednesday. David Shearer, head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), updated ambassadors on the country’s ongoing political and security situations, which are unfolding amid the COVID-19 pandemic and an upturn in inter-communal violence in Jonglei and other states. “COVID-19 has slowed implementation of the peace agreement, including meeting key benchmarks, but the pandemic is not entirely to blame,” he said, speaking from the capital, Juba. “We are seeing a reversion to ‘business as usual’ where progress on the peace agreement itself limps along.” UN News

Mali Junta Says Working to Meet Regional Bloc’s Demands
Mali’s junta said Wednesday it was working to respond to the renewed demands made by West Africa’s regional bloc that the country’s military leaders announce a new civilian transitional government within a week’s time. Questions remained, though, about whether the junta would still try to include military figures in the interim government, which then will organize a new election within 18 months. The junta’s comments come a day after meeting with six West African presidents in Ghana, whose president is the new chairman of the 15-nation regional bloc known as ECOWAS. … Both sides now appear to agree on an 18-month time frame, though divisions remain on who could steer the country until a new election. Over the weekend, junta leader Col. Assimi Goita suggested that the transitional leader could come from the military, but ECOWAS is insisting otherwise. … Choguel Maiga, a member of the M5-RFP opposition coalition that staged anti-government demonstrations in the weeks leading up to the coup, praised the regional pressure for civilian leadership. AP

Jihadists Kill 11 Villagers in Northeast Nigeria
Fighters from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in several pickup trucks opened fire on Wasaram, 90 kilometers (55 miles) from regional capital Maiduguri on Tuesday, killing eight villagers and injuring 20, they said. Three villagers were also killed in a separate attack in Auno earlier that day. “We recovered 11 bodies from the two attacks which occurred yesterday in Kaga district,” militia leader Ibrahim Liman told AFP. The insurgents had accused the villagers of alerting troops about their movement on their way to rob traders in the nearby town of Ngamdu, he said. Soldiers intercepted the jihadists and engaged them in a gun battle, forcing them to retreat, said militiaman Umar Ari, who gave the same death toll. AFP

Leader of Libya’s UN-Backed Gov’t Wants to Hand over Power
The head of Libya’s U.N.-supported government said Wednesday night that he wants to hand over power to a new administration in October, amid peace talks on ending the country’s yearslong conflict. Fayez Serraj said the U.N.-brokered talks between the country’s rival factions have led to a “new preparatory phase” to unify Libyan institutions and prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections. “I announce to everyone my sincere desire to hand over my duties to the next executive authority, no later than the end of next October,” he declared in a televised speech from the capital, Tripoli. … Under heavy international pressure, delegates from rivals camps met earlier this month and agreed on a preliminary deal that aims to guide the country toward elections within 18 months and demilitarize the contested city of Sirte. The city, which is controlled by Hifter, is the gateway to Libya’s major oil fields and export terminals, also held by Hifter. AP

Algerian Referendum Looms as Test for President and Opposition
A vote on a new constitution in Algeria in November marks a turning point for a country that has been rocked by huge protests and political upheaval and which is now struggling to move on from the tumult. For President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, adoption of the charter would be a welcome new beginning after his predecessor and many top officials were toppled by mass demonstrations last year. For the “Hirak” opposition movement, the Nov. 1 referendum will show what clout it still has, after its protests ended the 20-year rule of veteran leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika but failed to achieve its ambitions of deeper change. The weekly mass protests, which sought to sweep away the entire ruling elite, were put on hold when the coronavirus pandemic reached the north African country in March. … Influential people in the Hirak, such as Islam Benatia, see the constitution as doing little to answer their demands and the referendum as a tactic to sideline their movement. Reuters

Suspected Arms Dealers Moved Millions in Somali Money Transfers, Report Says
Somali money transfer companies moved more than $3.7 million in cash between suspected weapons traffickers in recent years, including to a Yemeni under U.S. sanctions for alleged militant links, according to a report seen by Reuters. The findings by a Geneva-based research group, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, could further complicate attempts by Somali transfer companies to retain access to international banking services. Though they provide a lifeline to millions in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation, few banks will do business with them because of the risk of falling foul of international transparency and anti-money laundering regulations. Asked about the report, the Central Bank of Somalia, which regulates money transfer firms, said it was unaware of the transfers but would investigate and was in general making progress in countering terrorism financing. Reuters

Security Services Seize Huge Amount of Explosives Circulating in Sudan
The Sudanese authorities on Wednesday said they seized a huge amount of explosives feeding an illicit trade in the artisanal mining of gold but also can be used in terrorist attacks. In a press conference held in Khartoum, Attorney General Taj al-Sir Ali al-Hebir said that the Rapid Support Forces (SRF) “set up 12 ambushes that resulted in the arrest of 41 people and seizure of dangerous explosive materials, which could blow up the entire capital, according to forensic analyzes.” Al-Hebir stated that the seized explosives were “very dangerous, which are TNT and ammonium nitrate,” that caused the Beirut port explosion last month. He said that information about the explosives trade had been received in various locations, which were being followed up by intelligence services. Sudan Tribune

Since Ethiopia-Eritrea Peace Deal, Little to Show: Analysts
Analysts say a peace deal reached between Eritrea and Ethiopia in July 2018 has brought few tangible benefits, with trade routes still blocked and tension on the border still rife. They note that regional strong men in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, which borders Eritrea, have yet to forge a lasting peace deal with the leadership in Asmara. The border has yet to be demarcated and heavily armed soldiers still man disputed areas. Initial signs after the peace deal between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki were positive – in that telephone connections were re-established, flights between Addis Ababa and Asmara resumed and goods flowed over the border. Experts, however, say huge barriers still remain in order to achieve a lasting peace and normalized relations. VOA

Niger: Fear of Terror – and the Military
The bodies of the 71 civilians were discovered with hands cuffed behind their backs and their skulls smashed. Human rights researchers say Nigerien army units were behind the mass executions. The Niger National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) said its investigation found that the bodies of the 71 people found in the graves were among the 102 civilians who went missing between March and April earlier this year. The CNDH blamed Nigerien army units stationed in the Tillaberi region for the killings. The massacre is not an isolated case in the Sahel region, where a coalition of armed forces known as the G5 Sahel Group is battling several terrorist organizations including Boko Haram, the so-called “Islamic State” and al-Qaida. DW

Cameroon Deploys Military to Thwart Opposition Protesters
Cameroon has deployed military troops to stop opposition supporters from protesting against long-serving President Paul Biya. Political opposition and rights groups blame Biya, who has been in power for 38 years, for rights violations and a four-year separatist conflict. Cameroon authorities have vowed to arrest anyone who tries to demonstrate against the government. Opposition supporters say at least 12 of their members have been detained since Friday by what appear to be Cameroonian military troops. 27-year-old Christophe Nkemche says eight motorcycle taxi drivers in the city of Douala were detained and have not been seen since. … Cameroon’s opposition leaders say the detentions appear aimed at thwarting protests against the country’s first regional elections and President Paul Biya. Biya in late August announced the elections would take place December 6. VOA

Guinea Bissau: Migration Agency Head Nabbed for Cocaine Trafficking
The head of Guinea-Bissau’s migration agency was arrested for suspected involvement in cocaine trafficking, police said, one of the most senior officials in the West African country detained in connection with drug smuggling. Guinea-Bissau is a major crossing point for Latin American cocaine bound for Europe. Experts and diplomats say some military and political officials are heavily involved in the trade. Migration agency boss Colonel Alassana Diallo was taken into custody last Friday, accused of taking 83 capsules of cocaine for himself after a seizure at the Bissau airport, said Domingos Monteiro, deputy director of the judicial police. Monteiro said after the drugs were seized by the judicial police in March, national guard soldiers burst into a police station to free the suspected dealer and take the cocaine. Soldiers said they were acting on orders from their boss, Monteiro said. At the time, Diallo was head of criminal investigations for the national guard. Reuters

Uganda Says 219 Prisoners Escape, Some with Guns and Ammunition
The inmates escaped late on Wednesday from a jail in Karamoja, a remote, semi-arid northeastern region, said the spokeswoman, Brigadier Flavia Byekwaso. Before fleeing, they broke into the prison armoury and stole 15 AK-47 rifles, 20 magazines and other ammunition. “It’s a mass escape … these were hard-core criminals,” she said, adding they included murderers, robbers and rapists. … It was Uganda’s third prisoner escape since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in March as fears of contracting the virus in cramped jails spurred inmates’ efforts to break out. At least three cases of the coronavirus have been reported in Ugandan jails. The total number of inmates in Uganda rose 10% to 65,000 in the five months to August, according to the prisons service, a surge attributed to a large number of people apprehended for violations of various anticoronavirus measures like curfews and travel restrictions. Reuters

South Africa Says 12 Million ‘Probably’ Had Coronavirus
More than 20% of South Africa’s population of 58 million have had the virus at some point, Dr. Zweli Mkhize estimated this week. He cited studies that found the presence of coronavirus antibodies in blood samples taken from parts of the population. The findings have prompted the government to launch a national study, he said. “South Africa has seen the surge receding, and thus raises the question of the level of immunity that may already be existing in society,” he said. … With confirmed virus cases dropping significantly, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday evening announced that South Africa’s borders will reopen as of Oct. 1… The president warned that the second wave of the pandemic in some countries has been worse than the first. “A second wave would be devastating to our country,” he said. AP

‘Confounding’: COVID May Have Already Peaked in Many African Countries
The coronavirus pandemic has peaked earlier than expected in many African countries, confounding early predictions, experts have told MPs. … Prof Francesco Checchi, a specialist in epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told MPs it was “broadly” true that coronavirus had not behaved in expected ways in African countries… “We are certainly observing a pattern that confounds us a little,” he told the international development committee’s inquiry into the impact of Covid on humanitarian crises. … He and colleagues are now looking at explanations for the earlier than predicted peak in some low-income countries. “These range from the effect of age, to some sort of role for pre-existing immunity to pre-exposure to other infections, to other hypotheses. It isn’t a simple analysis.” On Tuesday, a special envoy to the World Health Organization warned that the world was still at the “beginning” of the pandemic. The Guardian

The Language of Lockdown: Excuse Me, Do You Speak COVID?
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, a whole new set of terms entered our lexicon. Broadcasters, translators and language practitioners had to scramble to find ways to translate them into indigenous languages. The proverbial biblical tale of the Tower of Babel doesn’t come close to conveying the somersaults expected of indigenous language practitioners called upon to translate Covid-19-speak from English into the other 10 official South African languages. “The information coming from the World Health Organisation, the National Department of Health and the Institute for Communicable Diseases came in English; so the first call was to translate the information into indigenous languages,” says Dr Napjadi Letsoalo, a language professional based at Unisa. Daily Maverick

Staple Food Prices Rise by 50% in Sudan Amid Economic Strife, Floods and COVID
Millions of people in Sudan are facing hardship as the cost of food and transport soars amid economic turmoil in the country. The cost of some staple foods has increased by 50% over the past few weeks, driving inflation to a record high of 167%, up from 144% in July. The government declared a state of economic emergency last week after a sharp fall in currency. Reuters reported on Tuesday that the Sudanese pound had dropped to 234 against the dollar, from 140 the previous month. Dozens of Sudanese currency dealers have been arrested in Khartoum over the past two weeks as the government attempts to crack down on the black market trade in dollars. … The country is also grappling with recent devastating floods, which killed at least 99 people and affected more than half a million, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic. The Guardian

Deadly, Worst-In-A-Century Floods Inundate Sudan
The White Nile and Blue Nile rivers are Sudan’s lifeblood. Recent heavy rains, however, have transformed them into a force for calamity. [Photographs] The Washington Post