Africa Media Review for September 23, 2021

Vaccine Inequity Comes into Stark Focus during UN Gathering
The inequity of COVID-19 vaccine distribution will come into sharper focus Thursday as many of the African countries whose populations have little to no access to the life-saving shots step to the podium to speak at the U.N.’s annual meeting of world leaders. Already, the struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic has featured prominently in leaders’ speeches — many of them delivered remotely exactly because of the virus. Country after country acknowledged the wide disparity in accessing the vaccine, painting a picture so bleak that a solution has at times seemed impossibly out of reach. … Countries slated to give their signature annual speeches on Thursday include South Africa, Botswana, Angola, Burkina Faso and Libya. … On Wednesday, during a global vaccination summit convened virtually on the sidelines of the General Assembly, President Joe Biden announced that the United States would double its purchase of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shots to share with the world to 1 billion doses, with the goal of vaccinating 70% of the global population within the next year. The move comes as world leaders, aid groups and global health organizations have growing increasingly vocal about the slow pace of global vaccinations and the inequity of access to shots between residents of wealthier and poorer nations. AP

Tunisia’s President to Ignore Parts of the Constitution and Rule by Decree
Tunisia’s president Kais Saied has declared that he will rule by decree and ignore parts of the constitution as he prepares to change the political system, prompting immediate opposition from rivals. Saied has held nearly total power since 25 July when he sacked the prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority, citing a national emergency in a move his foes called a coup. His intervention has undermined the democratic gains of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution that ended autocratic rule and triggered the Arab spring, despite Saied’s pledges to uphold the freedoms won a decade ago. As the weeks have passed, he has come under growing pressure from Tunisian political players and western donors to name a prime minister and explain how he intends to move past the crisis. The new measures announced on Wednesday go far beyond the steps he took in July, writing into the official gazette rules that transform Tunisia’s political system to give the president almost unlimited power. Rules published in the official gazette allow him to issue “legislative texts” by decree, appoint the Cabinet and set its policy direction and basic decisions without interference. The elected parliament, which he suspended in July using a highly contentious reading of the constitution, will not only remain frozen but its members will stop being paid their salaries. They will still be stripped of immunity from prosecution. Saied did not put any time limit on his seizure of power… The Guardian

Central African Republic War: No-Go Zones and Russian Meddling
Amid a Russian-backed advance, the growing threat of landmines and improvised explosives in the Central African Republic (CAR) points to a dangerous tactical shift in a new and unfolding guerrilla war. Earlier this month, a convoy driving across CAR’s volatile north-west struck an explosive device, killing an aid worker from the Danish Refugee Council. Even in one of the world’s most dangerous countries for aid workers, who routinely face violence and intimidation, the tragic incident stood out – highlighting a growing and unprecedented threat after years of civil war. These indiscriminate devices, which can kill or cause horrific injuries, are keeping aid and human-rights investigators out of hotspots – and leaving desperate communities without a lifeline. “Fighting is happening behind closed doors,” said Christine Caldera, from advocacy group the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, adding that it was civilians who were paying the price for the increasing use of explosive devices. … In total, between January and August, explosive ordnance killed at least 14 civilians, including a pregnant woman and two children, injured a further 21 as well as two peacekeepers in more than two dozen incidents, according to the UN’s humanitarian agency Ocha. BBC

Democracy Delayed in Eswatini
Three months after Eswatini was convulsed by pro-democracy protests and the worst rioting in its history, King Mswati III’s hold on power is as absolute as ever, his defiance of demands for constitutional reform just as resolute. The protests, which began in June and degenerated into three weeks of frustration-fueled looting and arson across the country, have demonstrated just how entrenched the monarchy is – exposing the vulnerability of the opposition rather than the royal establishment. The government’s response to the unrest was to send troops into the streets, who together with the police, officially killed 27 people, although rights groups say the count could be closer to 100. There have been few calls for accountability for what Amnesty International described as a “full-frontal assault” on human rights. Two maverick MPs, Mthandeni Dube and Mduduzi Mabuza, who sparked the youth-led demonstrations demanding limits to monarchical power, were arrested on terrorism charges, and last week had their bail applications turned down by a judge appointed by Mswati. … “To us, democracy doesn’t mean we all get rich, and our problems are over,” explained Titus Mkhoshwa, another youth demonstrator. “Democracy means we have a chance. We can choose a government that responds to our needs. But the king has decided to keep everything for himself.” The New Humanitarian

Benin President Meets Rival and Predecessor Boni Yayi
Benin’s President Patrice Talon met on Wednesday with his predecessor Thomas Boni Yayi for the first time in five years… For his part, Boni Yayi said: … “I made some proposals to the president… notably that he put an end to political arrests so that all of our exiled compatriots… can come home.” The two men are former allies — Talon, a cotton tycoon, bankrolled Boni Yayi’s successful presidential runs in 2006 and 2011. But they fell out in late 2012, prompting Talon to leave the country for three years, accused of trying to poison Boni Yayi. Once praised as a vibrant multi-party democracy, the former French colony has veered onto an authoritarian path under Talon, with a steady campaign against his political foes, critics say. … Reckya Madougou, one of the opposition leaders who were barred from running [in the 2021 Presidential Election], was detained in March on accusations of plotting to disrupt the vote, a charge her lawyer said was politically motivated. Another opposition figure, academic Joel Aivo, was arrested after the election, as well as dozens of activists. AfricaNews with AFP

Key Libya Commander Suspends Duties Ahead of December Vote
Libya’s powerful, east-based commander announced Wednesday he was suspending his role as leader of a self-styled Libyan army for the next three months — the clearest indication yet that he may be contemplating a run for president in December elections. If he runs, commander Khalifa Hifter would be one of the frontrunners in the Dec. 24 vote but his candidacy is likely to stir controversy in western Libya and the capital of Tripoli, the stronghold of his opponents, mostly Islamists. Hifter’s forces had besieged Tripoli in a year-long campaign that tried to capture the city. The campaign ultimately failed last year, leading to U.N.-mediated talks and the formation of a transitional government charged with leading Libya until the parliamentary and presidential elections. A statement from Hifter’s office said he was delegating his military duties to his chief of staff, Abdel-Razek al-Nadhouri, for three months, starting Thursday. AP

Ethiopia’s Tigray Rebels Accused of Shelling, Shooting Civilians
Rebels from Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray opened fire on civilians while looting and shelling villages and towns in the neighboring Amhara region earlier this month, killing and wounding dozens of people and possibly many more, witnesses told AFP on Wednesday. The Amhara regional government described the violence in and around the town of Kobo as a “massacre,” although the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group has previously denied claims it has targeted civilians in northern Ethiopia’s 10-month-old war. Witnesses said the violence erupted on September 9 in the village of Gedemeyu, seven kilometers (four miles) south of Kobo, after TPLF fighters began searching homes for firearms and other weapons. Residents fought back and drove the TPLF out of the town, but the rebels began attacking civilians as they fled north, then returned the following day to carry out more attacks, the witnesses said. The area around Kobo is predominantly lowland sorghum and onion farms. A communications blackout there made it difficult to verify accounts from the witnesses, who have fled more than 150 kilometers (93 miles) south to displacement camps in the town of Dessie. The Defense Post with AFP

Congo Arrests Middle Eastern National for Links to Islamist Militia
Democratic Republic of Congo has said it has arrested a Middle Eastern national for alleged ties to an Islamist militia in the east of DRC, potentially the first time a non-African fighter has been found working with the group. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist armed group led by Ugandans, has been blamed for dozens of massacres with hatchets and firearms in the last three years, mostly in remote villages. In 2019 the ADF’s leadership pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS), which has in turn claimed dozens of the ADF’s attacks, although United Nations experts say they have not found conclusive evidence that IS has control over ADF operations. Congo’s government spokesman Patrick Muyaya confirmed the man’s arrest. “The person arrested is of Jordanian nationality. He was taken back to Kinshasa for further interrogation,” Muyaya told Reuters. According to documents seen by Reuters, however, the man was carrying a Kosovo residence permit, identifying him as a 40-year-old Saudi Arabian national. Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the document’s authenticity. The man is believed to have been in charge of the militia’s drones, and was arrested on Sept. 18 in Makisabo, near the city of Beni, North Kivu province, where the ADF are active, according to internal army reports seen by Reuters. Reuters

Nigeria: ISWAP Knocks Off More Electricity Towers to Sustain Maiduguri Blackout
ISWAP has blown up additional electricity towers near Maiduguri city, Borno State capital, in an attempt to sustain the blackout wrecking economic growth. Multiple towers along the Damaturu-Maiduguri Transmission line connecting the garrison city and environs to the national grid, were brought down in the early hours of Friday, Sept. 17. The attack, which happened a few kilometres from Auno, comes months after the group destroyed installations and took electricity supply offline in March, two months after the transmission company of Nigeria (TCN) initiated temporary repair work and restored power to the city. Authorities were also attempting to provide an alternative electricity route through the Damboa-Maiduguri transmission line. The Maiduguri-Damaturu axis is prone to attacks on commuters, logistics supply, and security forces by insurgents. In February, while the repairs were ongoing, two members of the repair team sustained injuries when their vehicle struck a landmine laid by ISWAP. HumAngle

Algeria Closes Airspace to Morocco over ‘Provocations and Hostile’ Actions
Algeria has closed its airspace to all Moroccan planes, the presidency said on Wednesday, in the latest dispute between the two countries at odds mainly over Western Sahara. “The High Security Council has decided to shut its airspace immediately to all civilian and military aircraft as well as to those registered in Morocco,” said a statement. Algeria broke off diplomatic ties with its neighbour Morocco on August 24, accusing it of “hostile actions” after months of heightened tensions between the two North African countries. The decision to close Algeria’s airspace was announced after a meeting of the High Security Council chaired by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune. AFP

US Court Finds Former Liberian Military Commander Thomas Liable for War Crimes
A Pennsylvania court in the United States found Colonel Moses Thomas, commander of the defunct Armed Forces of Liberia’s elite Special Anti-Terrorist Unit, responsible for the 1990 massacre of over 600 civilians sheltering in the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Monrovia, Liberia. The court found that Thomas, as commander of the Armed Forces of Liberia’s elite Special Anti-Terrorist Unit, ordered and directed one of the deadliest civilian massacres in Liberia’s First Civil War, and is liable for war crimes, crimes against humanity, extrajudicial killing, attempted extrajudicial killing, and torture. Four survivors of the massacre sued Thomas in 2018 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where he had been living since 2000. … Thomas left the United States and returned to Liberia at some point in late 2019 or early 2020 when the case was filed against him. … As President George Weah’s administration reneged to prosecute perpetrators, the massacre survivors are now working with campaigners to ensure Thomas is expatriated to the US. … For now, Liberia is yet to establish a specialized war crimes court to prosecute those responsible for war-time violations, despite a recommendation from the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the United Nations, as well as pressure from Liberian civil society and a few lawmakers. RFI

Cinema Returns to Somalia with First Public Screening in 30 Years
Somalia has hosted its first movie screening in 30 years under heavy security as the conflict-ravaged country hopes for a cultural renewal. The event was held at the National Theatre of Somalia, which has a history that reflects the tumultuous journey of the Horn of Africa nation. It has been targeted by suicide bombers and used as a base by warlords – and until Wednesday it had never screened a Somali film. “This is going to be a historic night for the Somali people: it shows how hopes have been revived … after so many years of challenges,” theatre director Abdikadir Abdi Yusuf said before the screening. “It’s a platform that provides an opportunity to … Somali songwriters, storytellers, movie directors and actors to present their talent openly.” … Mogadishu was home to many cinema halls during its cultural heyday, and the National Theatre – built by Chinese engineers as a gift from Mao Zedong in 1967 – hosted live concerts and plays. But the seaside capital fell silent after civil war erupted in 1991. Warlords used the theatre as a military base and the building fell into disrepair. It reopened in 2012, but was blown up by al-Shabaab jihadists two weeks later. The Guardian

John Nkengasong, of the Africa C.D.C., Will Lead PEPFAR
The Biden administration plans to nominate John Nkengasong, a virologist and director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to lead the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, according to several sources familiar with the matter. … PEPFAR is a $7 billion operation that funds and sets goals for AIDS care in many nations, most of them in Africa. Dr. Nkengasong, who was born in Cameroon, is the first person of African origin to head the program, which is housed in the Department of State. “This is a huge leap forward for the U.S. government to name someone from the region where much of the PEPFAR work is,” said Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC, a nonprofit organization promoting H.I.V. treatment worldwide. “It shows a commitment to truly listening to and learning from the people PEPFAR is meant to serve.” … Dr. Nkengasong has been the director of the Africa C.D.C. since 2016, when the organization was established. He has decades of experience in global health, with long stints at the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The W.H.O. appointed him as its special envoy for Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic. Several public health experts and activists called Dr. Nkengasong an unexpected but inspired choice. The New York Times