Africa Media Review for September 25, 2020

Guinea’s Opposition Urges West African Leaders to Step In

Guinea’s main opposition leader called on neighboring West African states to head off a political crisis in Guinea where President Alpha Conde is running for a third term in October elections. The 15-nation West African group known as ECOWAS supports democracy in the region and has recently pressed Mali’s junta, who seized power last month, to return the country to civilian rule. Guinea’s opposition leader, Cellou Dalein Diallo, said Thursday that he would like to see the regional body turn its attention to his country. Diallo, 68, has denounced as unconstitutional Conde’s decision to run again in the Oct. 18 elections. … “We are a little jealous of the promptness with which ECOWAS acted in Mali to help that country reconcile when it has not taken action to help Guinea which has long been in crisis,” Diallo told reporters in Dakar, Senegal, where he was visiting Thursday. AP

Three Malian soldiers were killed on Wednesday in a “complex” attack in the restive centre of the country, the defence ministry said, in the latest violence to hit the Sahel state. Militants ambushed troops patrolling south of the central Malian town of Boulkessy, near the border with Burkina Faso, killing three soldiers and wounding four, according to a provisional toll. The patrol “was the target of a complex attack,” the defence ministry said in a statement late Wednesday, adding that Malian troops had wounded 15 assailants. Mali has been struggling to quell a jihadist insurgency which first emerged in 2012 and has since spread into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger. … The soldiers killed on Wednesday were deployed as part of the G5 Sahel force, an anti-jihadist military alliance between Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and Chad. AFP

A former defence minister and retired colonel will be sworn in as president of Mali as the west African country at the heart of the battle against extremism in the Sahel begins a fraught transition back to civilian rule after a coup last month. Bah Ndaw will take his oath of office on Friday, along with new vice-president Colonel Assimi Goita, head of the military junta that deposed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita last month. … The selection of the pair has raised concerns about just how strong a role the military plans to play in Mali’s transition to democracy. The international community – including west African regional bloc Ecowas and former colonial power France, which is leading the fight against jihadism in the region – along with opposition groups have called for a swift return to civilian power. … Ayisha Osori, executive director of Open Society Initiative West Africa, said: “I think that putting Ndaw who is ex military and then putting a military person as his vice-president is being clever.” The appointments were “disappointing,” she added. FT

Down but Not Out, Haftar Still Looms over Libya Peace Process

His assault on Libya’s capital has collapsed. Foreign powers have tried to sideline him. But military commander Khalifa Haftar still sits astride oil terminals, with enough fire power and political sway to thwart any plans for peace. Having failed in his bid for national rule, Haftar, 76, is now severely diminished. His troops have been driven out of western Libya, while in his eastern stronghold foreign powers that backed him are making overtures to rivals. But his role in partially lifting an oil blockade over the past week shows that he remains a linchpin in eastern Libya, where he has built up a security apparatus over the past six years. Foreign countries are now promoting talks to push warring factions towards a unity government. But diplomats say Haftar’s role bedevils negotiations, as it has done for years. Reuters

Egypt Braces for Fresh Anti-Sisi Protests

Egypt is bracing for another day of protests as anger over corruption and deteriorating living conditions mounts. Calls for demonstrations have multiplied in recent days, with activists urging participation in what they have dubbed the “Friday of Anger” rallies. The latest wave of protests came after Mohamed Ali, a former military contractor who lives in self-imposed exile, last week called on people to take to the streets to commemorate a similar movement for change a year ago. Since then, several protests have been held, mainly in the governorates of Giza and Beni Suef. Images posted on social media showed demonstrators holding placards and chanting slogans against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. … Security services tried to pre-empt the latest wave of protests by launching a campaign of arrests that included political figures such as left-wing political thinker Amin al-Mahdi. Al Jazeera

Africa’s Low COVID-19 Death Rate Has Multiple Causes, WHO Says

Africans may be twice as likely to experience COVID-19 without any illness, compared with people in the rest of the world, according to preliminary analysis by the African branch of the World Health Organization. The results from several blood-sample studies in Africa could help to explain the low death rate that has confounded the early predictions of devastation on the continent. More than 80 per cent of Africans who were infected with the virus were asymptomatic, the preliminary analysis found, based on testing in several African countries. This compares with an estimated 40 per cent to 50 per cent who were asymptomatic in the rest of the world. … Even when estimates include thousands of excess deaths, likely to be caused by COVID-19 but not officially recorded as such, the death rate in Africa has been lower than many experts had expected. The Globe and Mail

At UN, Africa Urges Fiscal Help against Virus ‘Apocalypse’

African nations came out swinging on the third day of the United Nations annual gathering of world leaders Thursday, calling for dramatic fiscal measures to help economies survive the coronavirus pandemic – which one leader called the “fifth horseman of the apocalypse.” Africa’s 54 countries estimate they need $100 billion in support annually for the next three years, pointing out that it’s a fraction of the trillions of dollars some richer countries are using to revive their economies. … Debt cancellation is needed to free up more resources to tackle the crisis, African heads of state said. … President Roch Marc Christian Kabore of Burkina Faso recalled the U.N. chief’s speech early this year warning against the “four horsemen of the apocalypse,” including geopolitical tensions and climate change. “Unfortunately,” he said, “less than two months later, a fifth horseman of the apocalypse – very destructive, the coronavirus – has appeared.” AP

Ethiopia: 2,000 Charged over Violence Sparked by Pop Star’s Death

About 2,000 people are facing charges over violence that erupted in Ethiopia after the June killing of an iconic pop star from the Oromo ethnic group. Attorney General Gideon Timothewos made the announcement on Thursday, denying investigations were politically motivated. “The current figure we have is about 2,000 suspects are being charged for their participation in the violence that has taken place in Oromia regional state,” he said during a news conference. The charges are linked to days of inter-ethnic attacks and deadly violence triggered by the killing on June 29 of Hachalu Hundessa, an iconic Oromo singer and prominent voice in anti-government protests that led to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed coming to power in 2018. More than 9,000 people, including journalists and prominent opposition politicians, were caught up in subsequent mass arrests that stoked criticism towards the prime minister. Al Jazeera

Suspected Extremists Abduct 3 Non-Muslims in Kenya’s North

Officials in Kenya say three non-Muslim bus passengers were abducted by suspected Islamic extremists in Kenya’s northern Mandera county that borders Somalia. Armed gunmen, believed to be Somalia’s al-Shabab rebels, stopped a bus about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Lafey town and ordered everyone out. The attackers picked three passengers from 54 on the bus and ordered the rest to leave, regional police chief Rono Bunei told The Associated Press Thursday. “We are still pursuing them in an effort to rescue them alive. We are wondering how they (the attackers) knew the three were on board the bus,” he said. He said it’s not clear why the bus did not have a police escort, a requirement for commercial transport traveling in Mandera county which has been hard hit by violence from Somalia’s extremists. AP

Kenya’s Chinese-Built Railway Proves Pricey

Kenyan lawmakers want the operating costs of a Chinese-built railway nearly cut in half and have called for renegotiating the Chinese loan to finance the line’s construction. Parliament’s Transport Committee says huge operating losses and debt to Chinese banks are straining taxpayers already hit by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Members of the National Assembly’s Transport Committee unveiled a report Wednesday asking lawmakers to push for reduced costs on the railway line, known as the Standard Gauge Railway, or SGR. The head of the committee, David Pkosing, says legislators also want the government to seek new terms for the $4.5 billion in loans used to build the railway. … In June, Kenya’s court of appeal ruled that the Kenya Railways Corporation, as the procuring entity of the Standard Gauge Railway, failed to meet the constitutional threshold of fairness and transparency. VOA

Ghana Is Planning to Sell Most of Its Future Gold Royalties

… A somewhat more genteel rush is now under way to sell the rights to most of the government’s bullion royalties in Africa’s biggest gold producer. The deal, which some see as a model for other resource-rich developing countries, is aimed at providing cash now against income from royalties in the future. The appeal to Ghana’s government is obvious. It is struggling to cope with the economic hit of covid-19 and to sustain public spending under the crushing weight of debt that is expected to equal almost 70% of gdp this year. Yet it is also causing controversy, with critics raising questions over the rushed and opaque process, as well as its terms. The Economist

South Africa: Protest against Foreign Nationals a Signal That Violence May Follow, Say Experts

… Gschwari was part of a group of about 50 people who marched to the embassy yelling profanities about foreigners, who they claimed were responsible for human trafficking, drug abuse, violence against women and service delivery failures. … The low attendance at the march might suggest there is limited support for acting on such xenophobic rhetoric, but anti-foreigner arguments have recently become more sophisticated and entrenched, which could lead to further xenophobic attacks as politicians try to stand out and communities and leaders search for scapegoats for the country’s problems. The march was attended by unaffiliated individuals and relatively unknown groups such as Action for Change, Voice It In Action, Only One SA and the Khoisan Revolution Party. It drew widespread attention on Twitter, largely driven by former soldier Sifiso Jeffrey Gwala’s @uLerato_Pillay account. Daily Maverick

Cameroon Journalists Say They Are Regularly Abused, Brutalized

Cameroon’s journalism association has called on authorities to immediately and unconditionally release journalists detained while covering anti-government protests this week. Police detained at least eight journalists covering Tuesday’s protests, searched the homes of four of them, and seized or destroyed their equipment. At least one journalist was still in custody Thursday. Rights activist Andelbert Mvomo said Cameroon is becoming notorious for its abuses on journalists, including beatings and rights violations. Such acts, he said, soil Cameroon’s image and disgrace its people. …The Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday that police were still holding one of the arrested journalists, Lindovi Ndjio. VOA

Sudan Jails Artists for Gender-Mixed Theater Workshop, Echoing Bashir-Era Repression

A Sudanese court convicted six artists of “public nuisance” and sentenced them to two months in jail on Thursday for mixing with members of the opposite sex, bringing the total number charged to 11 after a similar ruling last week. The group was prosecuted after holding a mixed-gender theater workshop last month, under laws often abused by the autocratic regime of Omar Hassan al-Bashir, which was deposed in a popular uprising last year. They were also fined around $90 each. … “The case underscores how police, prosecutors, and judges are still operating as they did under former president Omar al-Bashir, using vague provisions that give wide discretionary powers for authorities to restrict basic rights and freedoms,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement. The Washington Post

Accidental Cover-Up: Social-Media Platforms Are Destroying Evidence of War Crimes

“Put your hands up! Put your hands up!” shouts a gunman at his hooded captive, who already has two hands in the air and shuffles about, seemingly unsure what more to do. The gunman then shoots his victim to the ground before firing more bullets into the body and saying: “You have been misled by Satan.” Until fairly recently, brutal acts such as this might never have come to light. But a video showing this murder was posted on Facebook in 2016. A year later the International Criminal Court (icc) issued its first-ever warrant that relied, in large part, on videos posted on social media by the perpetrators of war crimes themselves. It called for the arrest of Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a Libyan warlord (pictured). It accused him of being the gunman in the killing described above and of being responsible for murdering 33 people in seven incidents captured in videos on Facebook. The Economist

Nigerian Military Leader, Fatally Wounded in Boko Haram Ambush, Remembered as Hero

Nigerians in the northeastern states of Borno and Yobe are mourning the death of a military commander who was fatally wounded in an ambush by Boko Haram militants and remembered as a hero. Colonel Dahiru Bako and his troops were attacked by militants Sunday morning near Damboa, a community in southern Borno state. In fierce fighting, Bako was severely wounded and three of his soldiers were killed, said Col. Ado Isa, a spokesman for the Nigerian Army’s 7th Division. … Bako was taken by helicopter to a military hospital in Maiduguri, Borno state’s capital, for treatment, but died Monday. He was buried Tuesday at a military cemetery in Maiduguri. Speaking at Bako’s funeral, Nigeria’s army chief, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, credited his leadership of a special military unit countering the Boko Haram insurgency. He said Bako led many successful raids, and he described the late soldier as a hero. VOA

The Nigerian University That Defies Boko Haram

The University of Maiduguri, commonly known by its acronym UNIMAID, is the largest institute of higher learning in northeastern Borno State. Its alumni include the state Governor Babagana Umara Zulum and some of his counterparts elsewhere, Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff Tukur Yusuf Burati and Senate President Ahmed Lawan. UNIMAID dates back to the 1970s. The university has admitted thousands of students each year since. The emergence in Maiduguri of the radical Islamist Boko Haram in the early 2000s has left a mark but never forced the institution off track. … In addition to education, the UNIMAID offers refuge too  – thousands of students and staff live in hostels on campus. Sulaiman Victor Mshelia remembers it as the safest place in Borno State at the height of the insurgency. In an interview with DW in Maiduguri, the former student also remembers the dread that Boko Haram instilled. DW

The Jerusalema Dance Challenge, a South African internet craze, is sweeping the African continent. As the Jerusalema spreads across Africa, in Zimbabwe, the wildlife is joining in. Staff at Zimbabwe’s Wild is Life sanctuary for rescued wildlife have seen their online dance video with elephants, giraffes and other animals go viral. The song “Jerusalema,” by South African DJ and record producer Master KG and vocalist Nomcebo, went viral during the coronavirus lockdown. Dancers, both professional and amateur, began posting their performances to the song online – including with some wildlife. Roxy Danckwerts, the founder of Wild is Life, said they used their phones to record the video. VOA