Africa Media Review for September 21, 2020

Ethiopia Charges Prominent Opposition Figure with Terrorism
Ethiopia has charged its most prominent opposition figure, Jawar Mohammed, and 23 others with terrorism-related offenses, telecom fraud and other crimes, the attorney general’s office announced Saturday. They could face life in prison if convicted. They will appear in court on Monday. The charges relate to deadly violence that erupted in July in parts of the capital, Addis Ababa, and the Oromia region after the killing of singer Hachalu Hundessa, a prominent voice in anti-government protests that led to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed coming to power in 2018. Authorities said over 180 people were killed in July’s unrest. Jawar, a media mogul-turned-politician, has huge support among youth in the Oromia region and returned to Ethiopia after Abiy took office and urged exiles to come home amid sweeping political reforms that led to him receiving the Nobel Peace Prize last year. … Human rights groups have warned that such arrests show that Abiy’s political reforms are slipping. AP

AU Ramps up Pressure on Mali Junta to Restore Civilian Rule
The African Union (AU) has called on the military junta in Mali to quickly appoint civilian leaders to manage an 18-month transition towards elections after last month’s coup. The AU’s 15-member security body late Thursday echoed the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, which imposed sanctions on landlocked Mali after the coup toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Junta leader Colonel Assimi Goita met with West African leaders this week in Ghana but failed to resolve a critical sticking point — whether soldiers or civilians will lead the transition. ECOWAS called for a civilian-led transition government to be installed “in days” and said the bloc would lift its sanctions — which include closed borders and a ban on trade and financial flows — once the change has been made. Smail Chergui, the AU’s peace and security commissioner, said on Twitter Thursday night that he was calling “for a return to constitutional order and early civilian-led transition in Mali.” AFP

Ivory Coast Opposition Urges Civil Disobedience before Vote
Opposition candidate Henri Konan Bedie called Sunday for civil disobedience to take place nationwide to protest President Alassane Ouattara’s quest for a third term, which his critics consider unconstitutional. The public declaration by Bedie ahead of the Oct. 31 vote raises the specter of unrest in a country already scarred by post-election violence in 2010-2011 that left more than 3,000 people dead. In their declaration Sunday, Bedie and several other opposition leaders also called for the return of two prominent politicians in exile including ex-President Laurent Gbagbo who refused to concede defeat after the 2010 vote. … At a meeting over the weekend, the opposition leaders called on Ivorians to “mobilize for legitimate demonstrations throughout the country, in accordance with the Constitution, for the restoration of democracy and the rule of law, for fair, regular, transparent and inclusive elections.” AP

Somalia: Al-Shabab Attacks Intensify as Election Looms
In the past week alone, Somalia has been the scene of over a dozen deadly terror attacks by al-Shabab. The Islamist militant group is seen to be bent on thwarting the forthcoming elections in the Horn of Africa country. … The attacks come as Somalis prepare to go to the polls for a staggered general election. The process is due to start with legislative elections on November 1 and culminate in a presidential election by the beginning of 2021. The dates were announced on Thursday following the resolution of a drawn-out dispute over the electoral model between the federal government in Mogadishu and the leaders of regional states. After a series of talks, the two sides reached a consensus on an indirect election similar to that held in 2016. Some of the leaders had pushed for universal suffrage, last in force in the country half a century ago. … The legislative election will see 101 electoral delegates vote in the members of parliament, who will then elect the president. President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo’s mandate expires in February. DW

Former Central African Republic Presidential Guard Chief Arrested on Torture Charges
A former presidential guard head who worked for deposed Central African Republic President François Bozizé was arrested in France for alleged torture and complicity in crimes against humanity, according to a statement by the French Anti-Terrorism Prosecuting Authority (PNAT) released on Saturday. Former presidential guard Eric Danboy Bagale, 41, was arrested in Besançon, eastern France on Tuesday and placed under judicial investigation on Friday, according to PNAT. Bagale wore two hats during the crisis in the Central African Republic according to prosecutors, as head of the presidential guard, and then as the head of the anti-Balaka militia, a so-called self-defence force. In addition to alleged torture and complicity, he was also indicted for the “criminal association for the preparation of a war crime” for acts committed between 2007 and 2014, according to the statement. Bagale was named as one of the “liberators” who helped then-general Bozizé seize power from Ange-Felix Patassé in a coup d’etat. RFI

Cameroon Deploys Peacekeeping Troops to CAR for Election Stability
Cameroon is sending hundreds of troops and police to the Central African Republic to protect civilians and build peace ahead of December elections. The troops, under the U.N.’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSCA), finished training this week in the border village of Motcheboum. Cameroon’s defense minister, Joseph Beti Assomo, says the troops would foster peace by protecting civilians, election staff, their materials, international observers and refugees returning to the C.A.R. Years of political instability and fighting between armed groups have displaced nearly a quarter of the Central African Republic’s people. The U.N. has asked Cameroon’s troops to help the C.A.R. address itssecurity and sociopolitical turmoil by enabling citizens to rebuild destroyed institutions. VOA

Burundi Rebel Group Claims Attacks in New Offensive
A Burundian rebel group claimed responsibility Friday for a spate of recent attacks on security forces and the ruling party’s youth league that it said had killed dozens. The RED-Tabara group said it had between Sunday and Thursday engaged soldiers and police as well as members of the Imbonerakure youth league, which is often referred to as a militia.  … The attacks, which follow others in previous weeks in the same areas, are part of what the group described as an “offensive” launched in mid-August against the “dictatorial” ruling CNDD-FDD. … Thierry Vircoulon, a researcher at the French Institute of International Relations, said RED-Tabara’s new offensive was meant to “show the new president that they exist, that he will have to deal with them.” AFP

OPEC’s Libya Edges Closer to Reopening Battered Oil Sector
Libya moved closer to reopening its battered oil industry after the state energy firm said it would resume exports, though only from fields and ports that are free of foreign mercenaries and other fighters. The National Oil Corp. is ending force majeure — a legal status protecting a party that can’t fulfill a contract for reasons beyond its control — at “secure” facilities in the conflict-ridden nation and has told companies to resume production. The shutdown would continue elsewhere until militias leave, the NOC said in a statement Saturday. Oil facilities have been at the heart of Libya’s civil war, now almost a decade old, with different groups closing or sabotaging them to press political and economic demands. Daily crude production slumped to less than 100,000 barrels in January from 1.1 million after Khalifa Haftar, a Russian-backed commander who controls eastern Libya, blockaded energy infrastructure. Bloomberg

Inside Zim’s Illicit Gold Mine Trade
Details about how the gold trade in Zimbabwe works, and who profits, are scarce. Every now and then legal proceedings shed some light on a murky world that implicates some of the country’s most senior officials. In 2003, for example, Emmerson Mnangagwa – at the time the speaker in Parliament and now the country’s president – was accused of receiving Zim$8-million from an illegal gold miner. The allegations emerged during the prosecution in the high court of Mark Matthew Burden, who was accused of trading in gold without a licence. Burden, who owned several legal mines, was in court for illegally milling gold ore from small-scale miners and gold panners in the Kwekwe district, thus fuelling and profiting from the illegal gold trade. A detective with the Zimbabwe Republic Police said that not much has changed over the years. Mail & Guardian

Mozambique Journalists Union and MISA Condemn Attack on DW Journalist
Luciano da Conceição was assaulted by strangers outside his home and taken to a beach area in the town of Maxixe, where he remained until the next day. According to the victim, the perpetrators seized parts of his work equipment. “Before I opened the door of the house I was surprised by two unfamiliar individuals with masks and a knife, who told me not to make any noise. They put a cloth in my mouth and beat me until I was unconscious,” the journalist told DW. The National Union of Journalists (SNJ) in Inhambane issued a statement saying that “it received with concern the information that the DW journalist suffered bodily harm on Sunday night.” The union said that “the case was made known to the police authorities in the town of Maxixe.” The SNJ demanded that the perpetrators be found and held responsible. DW

Lawyer: Ugandan Writer Arrested for Second Time This Year
A Ugandan writer and critic of the government has been arrested for the second time this year, according to his lawyer. The lawyer says the move was prompted by an unpublished manuscript that details the writer’s arrest, detention and alleged torture in April by military personnel. Security personnel thought to be from Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military intelligence stormed Kakwenza Rukirabashaija’s home Friday morning and took him into custody. “He has been arrested this morning at 6:30, for continuing to write,” Rukirabashaija’s lawyer, Eron Kiiza, told VOA in a phone interview. “Because he has been promising to publish the new book, ‘Banana Republic,’ that recounts his previous torture in April. And they arrested him in the presence of his wife and also in the presence of the chairman of the area.” VOA

Kenya Braced for the Worst. the Worst Didn’t Happen. Why?
Just weeks ago, Kenya was girding for the worst. As the country reported hundreds of cases daily, the health minister asked schools to prepare rooms to isolate all the people hospitals wouldn’t be able to treat. Cemeteries dug mass graves. But then, just as quickly as the cases rose, they plummeted. They went from a peak of more than 600 cases a day in August to fewer than 100 the past three days. The first wave of COVID-19 has seemingly come and gone with fewer than expected deaths – just over 600 – leaving many baffled. … To get at some of this mystery, Dr. John Ojal and his colleagues at the Kenya Medical Research Institute Wellcome Trust Research Program put together a statistical model. They drew on testing data, results from a nationwide antibody study and mobility data from Google, which shows the degree to which Kenyans are moving around. They concluded that in major Kenyan cities, the epidemic is already past its first peak. NPR

Food Is Now up to 250 Percent More Expensive across Africa
Well before COVID-19 hit, more than half of sub-Saharan Africa struggled to afford a healthy diet. But since the beginning of the pandemic there has been a spike in food insecurity across the continent, up by 135 percent in West and Central Africa, and 90 percent in Southern Africa. Around 80 percent of the food consumed on the continent is domestic – produced and distributed, often informally, from within the boundaries of a country, and not imported. Lockdown measures, coupled with social distancing, have put the brakes on this system, limiting formal and informal business transactions, local labor activity and the production and sales of crops and livestock. With crop reduction comes food scarcity, and prices go up with demand. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network found that Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda, Zimbabwe, DRC, Mauritania, Nigeria, Guatemala and Haiti are the countries that have been most affected by the drop in crop production. Vice

Three Women, 2 from Africa, in Final Five for WTO Leadership Race
Three women, two of them from Africa, advanced to the second round of selection to become the next director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the field was cut from eight to five, the Geneva-based body said on Friday. The WTO is looking for a new director-general to replace Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down a year earlier than expected at the end of August. The 25-year-old trade body has never had a leader who is female or from Africa. The five to go through to the next round are Kenyan Minister Amina Mohamed, former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad al-Tuwaijri and former British Minister Liam Fox. … Round two, in which the WTO’s 164 members will give their preferences from September 24 to October 6, will whittle the candidates down to two. The WTO said it wants to select the winner by early November. Reuters

West African Portrait Photography – in Pictures
Post-colonial west African portrait photography is celebrated in a show bringing together the work of some of the region’s most important photographers, including Sanlé Sory, Rachidi Bissiriou, Malick Sidibé and Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou. The Guardian



Photo: Adam Jones