Africa Media Review for September 20, 2021

‘I Just Cry’: Dying of Hunger in Ethiopia’s Blockaded Tigray
In parts of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, people now eat only green leaves for days. At a health center last week, a mother and her newborn weighing just 1.7 pounds died from hunger. In every district of the more than 20 where one aid group works, residents have starved to death. For months, the United Nations has warned of famine in this embattled corner of northern Ethiopia, calling it the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade. Now internal documents and witness accounts reveal the first starvation deaths since Ethiopia’s government in June imposed what the U.N. calls “a de facto humanitarian aid blockade.” Forced starvation is the latest chapter in a conflict where ethnic Tigrayans have been massacred, gang-raped and expelled. Months after crops were burned and communities stripped bare, a new kind of death has set in. “You are killing people,” Hayelom Kebede, the former director of Tigray’s flagship Ayder Referral Hospital, recalled telling Ethiopia’s health ministry in a phone call this month. “They said, ‘Yeah, OK, we’ll forward it to the prime minister.’ What can I do? I just cry.” … Food security experts months ago estimated that 400,000 people in Tigray face famine conditions, more than the rest of the world combined. But the blockade means experts cannot collect the needed data to make a formal declaration of famine. AP

Biden Threatens New Sanctions against Ethiopia War Leaders
President Biden signed an executive order on Friday threatening sweeping new sanctions that aim to stop the escalating war in northern Ethiopia and allow urgently needed humanitarian aid to flow into the region. The administration has not yet applied the sanctions, hoping to shift the course of the war without directly punishing officials from Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country and an important strategic ally. … The U.S. action is driven by a sense of urgency at a rapidly deteriorating situation and fears that fighting could intensify with the coming end of the rainy season. Just 10 percent of required humanitarian aid reached the Tigray region in the past month as a result of Ethiopian government obstruction, according to two American officials who provided a background briefing to reporters. … The executive order targets individuals and entities from the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Amhara regional government, who face possible asset freezes and travel bans. … To avoid sanctions, the Americans are demanding that leaders on all sides must enter peace negotiations and accept mediation under the former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, an African Union envoy who is scheduled to land in Ethiopia this weekend. To ease the humanitarian crisis in Tigray, where five million people are in urgent need of help, the Ethiopian government must allow daily convoys of relief trucks, and restore basic services like electricity, communications and banking, the official added. The New York Times

Guinea’s Junta Rules Out Exile for Ousted President as Opposition Activists Return to Conakry
The statement from the ruling council came in defiance of international pressure for Conde’s release and a six-month timetable for elections after a coup on September 5 sparked global condemnation. It also followed the visit on Friday of a mission from ECOWAS led by two heads of state from the 15-member West African bloc. … During their visit, the Ghanaian head of state Nana Akufo-Addo, whose country holds the rotating presidency of ECOWAS, and his Ivorian counterpart Alassane Ouattara, presented the junta with the organisation’s demands for elections within six months. They also insisted on the release of Conde. “We had very frank, fraternal talks with Colonel Doumbouya and his associates and collaborators and I think that ECOWAS and Guinea will find a way to walk together,” Akufo-Addo said at the end of the visit. … Local rights groups, including the Guinean Organisation for the Defence of Human Rights (OGDH), put out a statement voicing their concern over “respect for democratic principles and the rule of law” and called on the ruling junta to “communicate as soon as possible a roadmap for the transition that takes into account all the proposals arising from the consultations.” AFP

Tunisian Protesters Demand Return to Constitutional Rule Two Months after President’s Power Grab
Several hundred protesters marched through central Tunis on Saturday to demand a return to parliamentary democracy after a July power grab by President Kais Saied. The march was tightly marshalled by security forces on the ground and an interior ministry surveillance drone overhead, AFP journalists reported. Most of the protesters were supporters of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, which formed the largest bloc in parliament before its dissolution by the president. “The people want the collapse of the coup,” the protesters chanted. “We want legitimacy.” On July 25, Saied sacked the government, suspended parliament, removed lawmakers’ immunity and put himself in charge of all prosecutions. Saied has renewed the measures for a second 30-day period, and has yet to respond to calls for a roadmap for lifting them. “This is a demonstration to show that there are Tunisian men and women who reject the coup and the steps taken by President Saied,” said Jawhar Ben Mbarek, a prominent leftist among the protesters. AFP

Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria’s Former Surveillance-State Strongman, Dies at 84
Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the former Algerian president who fought in his country’s bloody independence struggle against France and then maneuvered through coups, conflicts and political intrigue to become the longest-ruling leader of Africa’s largest country, has died at 84. State television announced his death on Friday, citing a statement from the office of current president Abdelmadjid Tebboune. Additional details were not immediately available. Mr. Bouteflika was rarely seen after being hospitalized for a stroke in 2013. He won a fourth term in office the next year thanks to much-criticized changes in the constitution, but resigned in 2019 following pressure from the army and mass public protests that brought an end to his two-decade rule. … Mr. Bouteflika also operated with a level of secrecy and surveillance — and, critics said, corruption — that made real democracy impossible. He jailed journalists and ousted opponents, used periodic handouts to placate an increasingly unemployed and youthful populace, and altered his nation’s laws so he could remain in power. The Washington Post

Gambia Election 2021: Jammeh’s Victims Worried about Ruling Party Alliance
Gambia President Adama Barrow dropped a political bombshell earlier this month ahead the campaign season for the 4th of December presidential polls by forming an alliance with the political party of exiled former dictator Yahya Jammeh. The shock announcement shook Gambians who have lived through 22 years of Jammeh’s iron-fisted rule. Especially hard hit are the victims of the Jammeh regime. “Now that the government is allying with them how are they going to prosecute people they are joining with? It becomes a bit controversial,” says Baba Hydara, whose veteran journalist father, Deyda Hydara was assassinated in 2004 by members of Jammeh’s hit squad The Junglars, allegedly under his authority. … Although the terms and conditions of the agreement between Barrow’s National People’s Party (NPP) and Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) party have not been disclosed, senior APRC officials say Barrow would grant Jammeh amnesty if he wins the December polls. He reportedly would have the right to allow Jammeh, who is currently in exile in Equatorial Guinea, to return to The Gambia. … Gambian analysts and civil society activists have frowned on the new APRC-NPP pact, calling it a desperate move by Barrow to win a second term. RFI

UNSC Urges Somalia’s Feuding Leaders to Settle Dispute
The United Nations Security Council has urged Somalia’s feuding government leaders to resolve their disagreements through dialogue and give top priority to holding long-delayed national elections this year. The 15-member body in a statement on Saturday also called on the federal government and regional states “to ensure that any political differences do not divert from united action against al-Shabab and other militant groups.” The text approved by all council members followed emergency consultations on Friday on Somalia’s worsening political crisis, which has raised regional and international concerns that elections could be threatened and the wider region could face further destabilisation. The meeting came a day after President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed said he had suspended Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble’s power to hire and fire officials, the latest action in their increasingly divisive relationship. In the statement, council members expressed “deep concern about the ongoing disagreement within the Somali government and the negative impact on the electoral timetable and process.” They urged all parties “to exercise restraint, and underlined the importance of maintaining peace, security and stability in Somalia.” Al Jazeera

French Minister in Mali to Thwart Hiring of Russian Mercenaries
France’s Armed Forces minister arrived in Mali on Sunday to pressure the military junta to end talks to bring Russian mercenaries into the country and push it to keep a promise to return the country to constitutional order in February. Diplomatic and security sources have told Reuters that Mali’s year-old military junta is close to recruiting the Russian Wagner Group, and France has launched a diplomatic drive to thwart it, saying such an arrangement is incompatible with a continued French presence. West Africa’s main political bloc, ECOWAS, as well as other allies combating militants in the Sahel region, have also expressed concerns over the potential deal. … The visit by Florence Parly to Mali is the highest-level trip by French officials since the talks with Wagner emerged. An official from the French Armed Forces Ministry told reporters ahead of the visit that Parly would stress “the heavy consequences if this decision were to be taken by the Malian authorities.” She would also underscore the importance of keeping to the calendar for the transition to democracy leading to elections in February 2022, the official said. Reuters

Kenya Judge: Policemen Must Answer for Killing of Human Rights Lawyer
Four police officers and a police informer have a case to answer in the killing of a human rights lawyer, a Kenyan judge ruled on Monday, a rare move in a nation where rights groups have accused the police of hundreds of extrajudicial killings. Lawyer Willie Kimani, 32, and his client Josephat Mwendwa disappeared in June 2016, shortly after filing a complaint alleging that Mwendwa had been shot and injured by police. Days later, their bodies – along with their taxi driver Joseph Muiruri – were recovered from a river outside Nairobi. Four police officers – Frederick Leliman, Leonard Mwangi, Stephen Cheburet and Silvia Wanjiku – and informer Peter Ngugi have a case to answer in the case, judge Jessie Lessit said. All five men have previously pleaded not guilty. Their lawyer was not immediately reachable for comment. Kimani had been working for the International Justice Mission, a global legal rights group, which welcomed Monday’s ruling as “a positive move in realising justice” for the three dead men. Kenyan cases typically move through three stages: the prosecution must prove whether the accused has a reasonable case to answer; the accused then present their defence; and a judge reaches a verdict and delivers a sentence. Reuters

‘If the Congo Basin Forest Is Lost Then So Is the Fight against Climate Change’
At a hilltop research centre high above the canopy, Vincent Medjibe is assessing the power of Gabon’s forests. Tasked in 2012 with working out just how much of the world’s emissions are sucked up by his country’s vast forests, Mr Medjibe can tell just by looking how much carbon is locked in a single patch of trees. Unlike its neighbours in Central Africa, Gabon has protected its share of the Congo Basin from intensive logging and farming, and is still more than 80 per cent forest in a country the size of the UK. That has made it a haven for wildlife, including 60 per cent of the continent’s forest elephants, but also a huge carbon sink, sucking up 140 million tonnes of CO2 every year, according to Mr Medjibe’s calculations, compared to the 40 million tonnes it emits. That leaves 100 million tonnes that it is sequestering from the rest of the world, roughly the annual emissions of a small developed country such as Belgium and making it one of the world’s last remaining carbon negative countries. With the oil reserves it relies on for 45 per cent of GDP now dwindling, Gabon now wants to be paid for its role as the world’s “second lung,” as the Congo Basin is known. “We are doing all this not only for us but for the rest of the world,” says Mr Medjibe. “Before, our natural resource was petrol, now it’s forest.”  Telegraph

Niger’s Nomadic Herders Get Together to Celebrate Cultural Ties
For three days, this semi-arid patch edging the Sahara desert blooms with a riot of colours – red, orange, blue, fuschia – as thousands of nomadic herders don their best dress for a festival celebrating their culture. For most of the time, the tiny oasis town of Ingall has a population of just a few hundred. But once a year north Niger’s traditional gateway to the Sahara, known for its salt flats, is the gathering point for the Cure Salee festival of Tuareg and Wodaabe pastoralists. The festival which ends on Sunday marks the end of the rainy season, when herders bring their animals to graze – and where they meet old friends, exchange news and reinforce cultural ties and traditions. Every year we come, we meet breeders from Zinder, Tahoua, Tilia, from all over Niger,” says Banwo Marafa, 46, dressed in a purple polished-cotton robe topped by a long white turban. “We’ve known each other for a long time. We get together every year with music and dance. It’s a big party.” This year is even bigger, he said, because last year’s gathering was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. AFP

Fighting a Pandemic, While Launching Africa’s Health Revolution
When Dr. John Nkengasong took the job as the first head of Africa’s new Centers for Disease Control in 2017, part of the continent had just emerged from a devastating Ebola outbreak. Less than three years later, Covid-19 hit. Dr. Nkengasong is now trying to bring together the governments of a vast, diverse continent to anticipate and fight public health threats and make them less reliant on international institutions like the World Health Organization or the Red Cross. He has helped Africa speak with a unified voice, particularly about what he calls “vaccine famine,” with rich countries buying up millions of doses they do not need while Africa goes wanting. Perhaps Ebola was a signal that something bigger was looming, he says, and that something turned out to be Covid-19. He also thinks Covid-19 could be a harbinger of something worse to come: a virus as contagious as the Delta variant but with the high fatality rate of Ebola. The Africa C.D.C. was started in response to the Ebola outbreak, with funding from the African Union and some other donors. When Dr. Nkengasong arrived, for months there was no office, no staff and even at one point no internet; the Ethiopian government had shut it down to prevent people from cheating on university entrance exams. But, he says: “We can do public health under the tree. It doesn’t really matter. The thing is the concepts. Are you committed to solving problems of inequity and health security?” The New York Times



Photo: Adam Jones