Africa Media Review for September 9, 2021

Africa COVID Death Toll Tops 200,000
Africa, home to more than 1.3 billion people, has … recorded a total of 200,254 deaths since the virus emerged in China in December 2019. The worldwide total stands at more than 4.57 million. After several deadly months, including some 27,000 deaths in July and 26,000 in August, the pandemic appears to be easing on the continent, with current daily figures of 617 compared to as many as 990 in late July, a record for the region. The figures are based on tolls communicated daily day by health authorities in each country or by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) and include the countries of North Africa. The WHO has said that if excess deaths directly or indirectly linked to coronavirus are taken into account, the real toll could be two or three times higher. The total number of infections is also likely to be an under-estimate, given insufficient testing capacity in Africa. “It’s probably a lot higher than that,” said researcher Glenda Davidson of South Africa’s Cape Peninsula University of Technology. “Testing resources are very low on the continent.” … Africa has seen the lowest vaccination rate to date of all the continents, with only eight jabs administered per 100 inhabitants, according to an AFP tally, compared with 102 in Europe and 116 in the United States and Canada. According to the WHO, around three percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population are fully vaccinated. By comparison, 52 percent of people are fully vaccinated in the United States of America and 57 percent in the European Union. AFP

ECOWAS Suspends Guinea after Coup
West Africa bloc ECOWAS has decided to suspend Guinea following a military coup in the country, the organisation said after an emergency summit on Wednesday, calling for “an immediate return to constitutional order.” Special forces led by Lieutenant Colonel Mamady Doumbouya seized power in the West African state on Sunday and arrested President Alpha Conde, sparking international condemnation. Conde, 83, had come under increasing fire for perceived authoritarianism, with dozens of opposition activists arrested after a violently disputed election in 2020. But the putsch in Guinea has sparked fears of democratic backsliding across West Africa – where military strongmen are an increasingly familiar sight. It has drawn parallels with its neighbour Mali: the Sahel state has suffered two coups since August last year led by Colonel Assimi Goita, who was also a special forces commander. Leaders from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) held an extraordinary video summit to discuss the turmoil in Guinea on Wednesday. After the meeting, ECOWAS said in a statement regional leaders decided “to suspend Guinea from all ECOWAS decision-making bodies with immediate effect.” The bloc also demanded that Guinea’s military release Conde and held the coup plotters responsible for the ousted leader’s physical safety. A high-level ECOWAS mission will be dispatched immediately, the statement said. AFP

EU Pledges More Support to Libya Elections
The European Union is ready to do “more” to support the organization of elections scheduled in Libya in late December, in particular by supporting the reform of the security sector, assured Wednesday in Tripoli the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell. “The EU has already provided technical support to the High National Electoral Commission (in Libya) and we are ready to give more,” Borrell said at a press conference with his Libyan counterpart, Najla al-Mangoush. Brussels is “willing to help the Libyan government reform the security sector,” a sector that has disintegrated since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, giving way to a myriad of militias and armed groups with shifting allegiances. After a ceasefire agreement between rival authorities in October 2020, a unified, transitional government was installed under UN auspices in early 2021 to lead the country to elections, scheduled for December 24. But divisions have resurfaced and the holding of the poll is becoming increasingly hypothetical in the absence of a constitutional framework. “There is no time to lose in approving the necessary legislation,” Borrell continued, urging Parliament “to do its job” and take “concrete steps,” he added. “Time is running out,” he said, recalling that “there are only 105 days left until December 24. AfricaNews

Islamists See Big Losses in Moroccan Parliamentary Elections
Morocco’s moderate Islamist party suffered major losses in parliamentary elections on Wednesday, a stinging setback in one of the last countries where Islamists had risen to power after the Arab Spring protests. Moroccans cast ballots in legislative, municipal and regional races, the first such votes in the country since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite turnout figures showing nearly half of Moroccans didn’t cast a ballot, the results were clear: The Justice and Development Party, the moderate Islamists known as the PJD, who have held power since 2011, faced steep losses up and down the ballot — enough to lose control of Parliament. With most of the votes counted, the winners included the National Rally of Independents (with 97 seats, according to the Interior Ministry) and the conservative Istiqlal party, both seen as closely aligned with the monarchy. The PJD had 12, according to early results. Any changing of the guard, however, is unlikely to herald major policy shifts in a country where the royal palace has long been in command. While Morocco is officially a constitutional monarchy, its Parliament lacks the power to overrule the will of Mohammed VI, said Saloua Zerhouni, a political science professor in the capital, Rabat. “The monarchy will continue to control political parties, undermine the powers of government and the Parliament, and position itself as the sole effective political institution,” Ms. Zerhouni said. The New York Times

Somalia: Farmaajo, PM Roble Turf Wars Escalate over ‘Minister’s Dismissal’
Somalia’s President Mohamed Farmaajo has overturned yet another major decision made by Prime Minister Hussein Roble as differences between the two leaders escalate. This comes after Mr Roble announced that Internal Security Minister Hassan Hundubey resigned and his position had been filled. On Wednesday, Mr Roble appointed Abdullahi Mohamed Nur, a member of the outgoing parliament, to replace Hundubey. However, President Farmaajo later announced that the prime minister has no powers to make such a decision. … The president said Mr Roble’s current job is to deal with the election implementation and other state priorities. There has been debate on whether Farmaajo’s administration is a caretaker government given that its term elapsed and Somalia is due to hold delayed elections. In additional, transitional clauses in the Provisional Constitution give the Prime Minister overall control over the government, especially the Council of Ministers. But Somalia’s lack of strong courts to help interpret the law has led to political leaders interpreting it as they wish. Earlier in the week, Farmaajo overturned an order by the PM to suspend then intelligence chief Fahad Yasin. Mr Yasin has been in the eye of storm after 25-year-old intelligence agent Ikran Tahlil Farah disappeared in June, and the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) last week declared that the spy had been abducted and killed by Al-Shabaab militants. The militants denied the accusations. The EastAfrican

Kenya Removed from Piracy Red List
The global shipping industry has removed Kenya maritime waters within the Indian Ocean from the piracy red list, 12 years after it was designated a high-risk area (HRA). The move will save Kenya and East Africa millions of shillings in insurance and other security expenses, and could open up Kenya’s ports for more business. The decision was communicated to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the United Nations (UN) agency responsible for improving the safety and security of global shipping on Wednesday. This was as a result of a heightened campaign by Kenya to end labelling of Kenyan waters as high risk, which made shipping prohibitively expensive and threatened the nascent blue economy. Kenyan maritime waters were designated as high-risk area in 2009 by BMP-5, which comprise five largest global shipping industry associations — International Association of Dry Cargo Ship Owners, International Association of Independent Tank Owners, International Chamber of Shipping, Oil Companies International Marine Forum and Baltic and International Maritime Council. This followed increased incidents of piracy in the Indian Ocean, including in Kenyan maritime waters. The re-designation will also benefit other regional port user countries such as Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan who depend on the port of Mombasa for both their exports and imports. The EastAfrican

Verified Twitter Users in Kenya Are Being Paid to Spread Disinformation
High profile Twitter users in Kenya are being hired by a mysterious agency to participate in highly organised harassment and disinformation campaigns targeting activists and members of the East African country’s judiciary, a new report from the Mozilla Foundation has found. For $10 to $15 (about £7.25 to £10.90) a day, influencers allegedly peddle unfounded claims, malicious content and tweet propaganda material under designated hashtags – turning the cogs of “well-oiled” disinformation campaigns designed with the intent of swaying public opinion during “high pressure” political events, maligning activists, and undermining trust in Kenya’s judiciary. With help from an army of bots, rented verified accounts, and sock puppet accounts, the report claims harmonised disinformation campaigns play on Twitter’s algorithm to the platform’s “Trending” section. But they don’t know where the money is coming from. It was when Kenya underwent a hotly contested constitutional review process popularly known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) – a scheme to make fundamental changes to the structure of the East African nation’s constitution – that Brian Obilo and Odanga Madung, Mozilla fellows and authors of the report, noticed that something was wrong. … The research shines fresh light on the silently booming shadow industry of disinformation-for-hire in Kenya: a microcosm of a burgeoning global disinformation industry… VICE

Estonian President Arrives in Kenya on Maiden African Tour
Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid landed in Kenya’s capital Nairobi on Thursday in her first trip to Africa that could carry a lot of significance. She was received at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Raychelle Omamo and Defence counterpart Monica Juma. Ms Kaljulaid will hold talks with Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta as well as other senior government officials on her three-day official visit. [T]he president is scheduled to meet Safaricom chiefs, officials of taxi-hailing app Bolt, and senior officials at the Ministry of Education, which could signal leveraging the IT expertise of the digital savvy state. The European Union member state, which has heavily embraced the digital world in most functions, was among the pioneers of e-voting – testing online voting for municipal elections in 2015. It has continued to implement the system and in the last election implemented electronic voting alongside physical voting. The country runs an e-ID system, one of the most advanced in the world, which allows owners to sign on travel documents or even insurance certification remotely. People can apply for travel documents without setting foot in the bureau. … Estonia, which has just two embassies on the continent, could leverage IT specialty to improve its business ties with the continent. According to the country’s ten-year Regional Strategy to 2030, it plans to open a full embassy in Nairobi by next year. The EastAfrican

No Obstacle to Electronic Voting in Nigeria – El-Rufai
Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai has said the people of the state have once again shown that there was obstacle to the adoption of electronic voting in Nigeria. … He said this in a statewide radio and television broadcast, in Kaduna, late on Tuesday. The governor commended the people of Kaduna State for “showing for the second time that there is no obstacle to the successful adoption of electronic voting technology in Nigeria.’’ El-Rufai recalled that “voters in Kaduna state first made history on 12th May 2018 when they cast their ballots on electronic voting machines to elect chairmen and councillors for the 23 local government councils in our state.” He described the successful conduct of the elections as a victory for democracy and a boost for unity. El-Rufai noted that the election has placed Kaduna State as the first in Nigeria to use electronic voting, the first sub-national in Africa to do so and has also positioned Nigeria as only the second country in Africa after Namibia to use the technology. He said “The local government elections of 4th September 2021 further validate the Kaduna State Government’s decision to invest in Electronic Voting Machines to promote electoral integrity and transparency. “Kaduna state is proudly upholding a new chapter in elections in Nigeria, using electronic voting technology, championed by a government that is determined to respect the outcome, win or lose.” Punch

Nigerian Security Agency Says Armed Gang Stole Its Court Files
Lawyers for a Nigerian security agency that said its case files were stolen by armed robbers won an adjournment on Wednesday of a lawsuit filed against it by associates of a Yoruba separatist leader. Twelve associates of Sunday Adeyemo, also known as Sunday Igboho, sued the Department of State Services (DSS) in an Abuja federal high court for alleged breaches of their constitutional rights. DSS detained the men in a raid on Adeyemo’s compound in the southwestern city of Ibadan on July 1. The men are seeking 100 million naira in exemplary damages, claiming DSS detained them beyond 48 hours without charging them in court and displayed them before media when they had not been convicted by any court. But DSS counsel Idowu Awo told the judge that a gang of thieves had boarded a vehicle carrying a colleague and taken the case files, necessitating an adjournment, which the judge granted. Earlier this month, DSS filed a five-count terrorism charge against two other Adeyemo aides. Adeyemo himself is detained in neighbouring Benin, and Nigerian authorities are seeking his return to the country. DSS previously said it had found a stockpile of weapons during the July 1 raid. Reuters

The Journey of Boko Haram Defectors through Geospatial Lens
Thousands of defectors consisting of combatants and non-combatants navigate through water bodies and thick vegetation while at the same time evading interception from hostile insurgents during their rough journey to the other side. Once a vast shrubland known for its distinct biodiversity, Sambisa forest has become synonymous with Boko Haram and the centre of gravity of the recent wave of mass terrorist defection. Located in the southwestern part of Chad Basin National Park and close to the Mandara mountain range in Northeast Nigeria, the forest and the adjoining environment provide sanctuary for insurgents from military campaigns as well as resources for their survival and operations. The Nigerian military has published several multimedia materials on ground operations and bombing runs targeting fighters and settlements in Sambisa, often with buildings hidden amid trees.  Over the past few weeks, thousands of persons associated with Boko Haram consisting of fighters and civilians have fled the Sambisa general area and flooded nearby garrison towns, navigating through the challenging terrain of muddy grounds and thicker grasses and shrubs that accompanies the wet season in the region. The mass defections towards Konduga, Bama, Gwoza, and Mafa Local Government Areas (LGAs) are part of the aftershocks of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) assault on the group’s stronghold, the subsequent death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, and attempts to absorb the group. HumAngle

Abductions: The Hidden Face of Mali’s Crisis
More people have been abducted in Mali in the first eight months of 2021 than in any other year documented by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). The country has seen 935 incidents since 2017, including 318 since January this year, says the conflict monitoring organisation. United Nations figures broadly confirm this trend. But while kidnappings are on the rise, they seem to go relatively unnoticed, despite intense media and international scrutiny of violence in the country. Although the problem is not new in Mali, the increase in frequency reflects the interests of those driving conflict. And while victims were mostly foreigners in the past, now Malians face the greatest risk. Abductions are carried out for different reasons and by a variety of perpetrators. Unsurprisingly, many cases are attributed to jihadist groups (46.6 per cent between January 2012 and July 2021), according to ACLED. They use this tactic to isolate communities from the government and the outside world, and stifle any sign of local resistance. Hostages are also used as leverage to bargain with the authorities. Militias and community self-defence groups are also responsible for kidnappings (17.6 per cent of cases over the same period). This is sometimes in retaliation against those they suspect of being involved in violence against a particular community. Premium Times

Mali Attempts to Lift US Sanctions Blocking Import of C295
The Malian government has asked the United States to lift restrictions preventing the arrival of a new C295 military transport aircraft. The Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Abdoulaye Diop, attempted to lift sanctions preventing the import the aircraft from its manufacturer Airbus. The aircraft apparently only needs a transponder, to be provided by the US, to be delivered. It was supposed to have arrived by the end of June this year. The attempt was part of Diop’s recent mission to the US to strengthen political dialogue between the two countries as Mali continues its political transition. During his stay in the US from 16 to 20 August, Diop met with, among others, the Director of African Affairs at the White House, David Diaz, and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Robert Godec. … US ambassador in Mali, Dennis Hankins, said Mali was under two US sanctions that prohibited it from benefiting from some kinds of security assistance. Hankins added that full cooperation between the two countries will resume once the political transition in Mali is completed with democratic elections in February 2022. defenceWeb

Officials: Ethiopia’s Tigray Forces Kill Some 120 Civilians
Local officials in Ethiopia alleged Wednesday that Tigray forces have killed more than 120 civilians in recent days following battlefield losses, in what would be one of the deadliest massacres of the East African nation’s 10-month war. Tigray forces denied killing civilians. Sewunet Wubalem, administrator for the Dabat district in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region, told The Associated Press that 123 bodies had been recovered and more were expected to be found. … A spokesman for the Tigray forces, Getachew Reda, told the AP last month that Tigray forces aren’t targeting civilians as they fight in Ethiopia’s Amhara and Afar regions. But multiple witnesses even before the latest killings have alleged otherwise. The conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region has spread into other areas in recent weeks, displacing hundreds of thousands of people. The Tigray forces say they are trying to pressure the government to lift the near-complete blockade on food aid and other essential supplies to their region as some 400,000 people there face a famine. Ethiopia’s government has called on all able citizens to join the effort to stop the Tigray forces “once and for all,” urging students and others into basic military training. AP

Juba, Khartoum Draw Up Plans to Facilitate Border Crossings
South Sudan said Thursday it has drawn up a strategic plan with neighbouring Sudan to facilitate border crossings as the two countries continue to dialogue over how to end disputes over claimed and contested border areas. Senior presidential aide Tut Gatluak Manime told the Sudan Tribune on Thursday that “good progress” was being made between the two neighbours, pointing to the presence in Juba of a technical high-level Sudanese delegation led by the Defence Minister, Yassin Ibrahim Yassin. “There is good progress in the security arrangement meetings. We have drawn up a strategic plan to facilitate border crossings between the two countries so that the movement of people and goods continue to benefit the two sides,” said Manime. Last month, a two-day visit by the Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok resulted in a series of agreements between the leadership of the two countries. Border crossings, river transportation, and railway were agreed upon by the parties to enhance the 2012 cooperation agreement. Sudanese defence told reporters on Wednesday that he was in Juba to deliver a letter from the head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council General Abdel Fatah al-Burhan to the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir. The letter conveys the commitment of the government of Sudan to continue supporting the implementation process of the revitalized peace agreement. Al-Burhan also commended President Kiir’s continued support for the ongoing efforts to bring peace in Sudan, saying stability of Sudan and South Sudan is interlinked. Sudan Tribune

South Africa Puts Off Municipal Election for 4 Days after Court Bars Long COVID Delay
South Africa set a Nov. 1 date on Tuesday for municipal elections, after a court last week rejected a request to delay them until early next year to allow more time for COVID-19 vaccinations. The new date, a delay of just four days, was the latest permitted by the court. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) had sought a delay of several months, saying it would be hard to organise a fair vote with the pandemic raging. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, told a virtual briefing that the new date had been chosen in coordination with the IEC to allow the maximum possible time to prepare. It would be officially proclaimed later in September following a voter registration weekend to be held by the IEC, which the court authorised to boost voter rolls. Following the court’s judgement, the commission also re-opened the registration process for candidates – a boost for the governing African National Congress (ANC) which had failed to register candidates on time in dozens of municipalities. Reuters

Think Disasters Are Isolated? Think Again, Warns the UN
Given the ever-increasing frequency of severe weather events, human-made catastrophes and epidemics, piecemeal and fragmented responses will fail to address root causes and may in fact compound the challenges, a new United Nations report argues. The Interconnected Disaster Risks report analyses 10 disasters of 2020 and 2021, including the Amazon wildfires, the Beirut explosion, and the cold wave in Texas in the United States among others, and makes the case that solving such problems will require addressing their root causes rather than surface challenges. “If we keep trying to manage disasters as isolated events, we will fail,” Jack O’Connor, senior scientist at the United Nations University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security, told Al Jazeera. “Unless we change our approach to not only ask ‘what’ happened when investigating disasters, but also ‘why’ they happened, any preparatory measures we devise will not be enough,” said O’Connor, who is the lead author of the report. To illustrate how disasters are far from localised, the report notes that the Amazon’s human-made wildfires led directly to 2,195 people being hospitalised in South America. But in total, 4.5 million people worldwide were affected by the harmful levels of air pollution. Al Jazeera



Photo: Adam Jones