News Briefs 8 February 2021

eSwatini

Urgent need for vaccines as new COVID-19 strain ravages Mozambique, Eswatini and Malawi

As a highly infectious new strain of COVID-19 spreads through Southern Africa, health workers in Mozambique, Eswatini and Malawi are struggling to treat escalating numbers of patients with little prospect of a vaccine to protect them from the virus. International medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) calls for COVID-19 vaccines to be distributed equitably, prioritising and protecting frontline health workers and people at highest risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 in all countries, including in Africa.

“We are appalled by the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines across the world,” says MSF director of operations Christine Jamet. “While many wealthy countries started vaccinating their health workers and other groups nearly two months ago, countries such as Eswatini, Malawi and Mozambique, which are struggling to respond to this pandemic, have not received a single dose of vaccine to protect the most at-risk people, including frontline health staff.”

In Eswatini, a country of 1.1 million people, 200 new cases are being reported each day and deaths are around four times higher than in the first wave, with health workers saying that patients are becoming more severely sick this time around. With health facilities overwhelmed, MSF teams have set up tented wards at Nhlangano health centre and brought in extra doctors and nurses to care for critically ill COVID-19 patients.

Relief Web 3 February 2021

Eswatini has vowed to ban Chinese companies from its cellphone networks

The Kingdom of Eswatini has promised to keep its cellphone networks “clean”, without the involvement of Chinese equipment manufacturers the United States considers a threat to its information security.

In a joint statement first reported by the Eswatini Observer and ITWeb, the two countries said they had committed to “safeguarding each country’s national security by excluding high-risk digital equipment suppliers.”

That will see Eswatini join the Clean Network group of the US State Department, which has participants from a handful of mostly European countries, but to date included none from Africa.

Business Insider 21 January 2021

Democratic Republic of Congo

Tshisekedi supporters move to remove Kabila ally in DRC Senate

Prosecutors and senators in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have reportedly launched new moves against the camp of former President Joseph Kabila just days after the removal of a prime minister loyal to him.

More than 60 of the Senate’s 100 members demanded the resignation of Kabila ally and upper house leader Alexis Thambwe Mwamba in a letter, seen by Reuters news agency, addressed to the office of the Senate and signed by Senator Valentin Gerengo M’vene.

Tuesday’s actions mark the latest move by allies of President Felix Tshisekedi to weaken his predecessor’s lingering power.

In recent months, Tshisekedi has chipped away at the influence of Kabila, with whom he had an awkward political alliance following a disputed 2018 election.

IOL 2 February 2021

Congo parliament selects new speaker in another boost to Tshisekedi’s power

The parliament of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday elected a new speaker in a move that cements President Felix Tshisekedi’s control of the house without elevating a potential rival for the next election.

The election of Christophe Mboso, the oldest member of parliament, is the latest in a string of setbacks for Joseph Kabila, who stepped down as president in 2018 but continued to wield influence through his party’s parliamentary majority.

Since December, when a close Kabila ally was toppled as parliamentary speaker and replaced by Mboso on an interim basis, Tshisekhedi has succeeded in forming a new coalition with an overwhelming majority, and he is now poised to appoint a new government free of Kabila loyalists.

Crucially, Mboso does not represent a threat to Tshisekedi’s hopes for re-election in 2023.

IOL 4 February 2021

Central African Republic

‘Meaningful and inclusive’ dialogue essential to end upsurge in clashes across Central African Republic

In a statement issued by his Spokesperson, the Secretary-General said he had been closely following the political situation, including taking note of the final results of parliamentary elections, issued by CAR’s Constitutional Court on Monday.

An alliance of armed groups, known as the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), launched attacks ahead of the 27 December presidential vote, which saw incumbent Faustin-Archange Touadéra, returned to power, on 4 January.  

Assaults and ambushes have continued, including against UN peacekeepers, seven of whom have been killed in recent weeks.

According to reports, he defeated more than a dozen other candidates with nearly 54 per cent of the vote. The upsurge in violence was triggered by the rejection of former President Francois Bozize’s effort in early December, to run again, prompting him to join forces with the CPC.  

UN News 3 February 2021

UN chief calls for truce in Central African Republic

The UN secretary-general late Wednesday condemned recent violence in the Central African Republic (CAR), reiterating his call for a global cease-fire in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, his spokesman said.

Stéphane Dujarric said Antonio Guterres remains concerned about recent armed clashes and threats to civilians.

“He regrets the loss of human lives, the deterioration of the humanitarian situation, the forced displacement of over 200,000 persons, and the increased suffering of the population.’’

He reiterated that perpetrators of grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as serious crimes, including the killing of civilians and UN peacekeepers, must be held accountable.

He said Guterres has taken note of the final results of the first round of legislative elections, as proclaimed by the Constitutional Court on Feb. 1. A second round is scheduled for Feb. 14.

Anadolu Agency 4 February 2021

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe journalist Hopewell Chin’ono turns to music to protest

Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, who has been arrested three times in six months, has turned to music as a form of protest against corruption in the country.

Barely a week after his release from a maximum-security prison on bail, Chin’ono composed a reggae song titled Dem Loot, narrating Zimbabwe’s challenges due to corruption and looting.

Chin’ono told TimesLIVE that he was inspired to write the song after noticing that there was an information barrier between the elite, the intellectuals and ordinary youths.

“I challenged the youths to come to the debates about the political discourse in Zimbabwe … and they said we were using a language they did not feel comfortable with.

“A lot of youths listen to dancehall music. I decided to take the issues of hospitals not working, the roads potholed, jobs not available, and put them as lyrics and sing about the issues,” he said.

TimesLive 4 February 2021

Outrage as Zim asks citizens to pay for Covid-19 vaccine themselves

Zimbabweans were left outraged on Wednesday evening after a senior government official said citizens will have to pay for their Covid-19 vaccine shots. The southern African country, which recently said it had put together US$100 million (~R1.5 billion) for the procurement of vaccines for 60% of its population, is expecting to recover this money from citizens.

In an interview with Zimbabwe Television Network (ZTN), that country’s finance minister Mthuli Ncube said government will only cater for frontline workers and the most vulnerable members of society. “Look, private citizens obviously would have to pay for the vaccine as we have maintained the vaccine is actually cheaper than some of the personal private equipment [PPE] that they are procuring.

“So, there will be some payment model so that government can recoup the cost of procurement.” Ncube said this will also help government to raise enough resources to cover the entire population beyond the 10 million herd immunity target. “Paying something for the vaccine from private citizens is very important so that we can cover those who cannot afford at all,” said Ncube.

Big News Network 5 February 2021

Somalia

Why Somalia’s presidential vote is likely to be delayed

Somalia’s presidential election is due on Monday but it is unlikely to go ahead, according to provincial officials despite talks between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and opposition candidates.

The process to pick lawmakers was scheduled for December but has yet to start after the opposition accused the federal government of placing presidential allies in the electoral commission.

Due to continued daily attacks by al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgents and delays in preparation, Somalia chose an indirect vote, meaning lawmakers would choose the next leader.

“What’s really been difficult this time around is that the level of contestation internally in Somalia is so much higher and really the level of trust between the main electoral stakeholders and parties is much lower than it has been in the past,” said Omar Mahmood, a senior Sonalia analyst at the International Crisis Group.

Africa News 5 February 2021

Al-Shabaab militants capture Warmahan town

Warmahan is a small agricultural town located 80 kilometers (49 miles) southwest of the Somali capital Mogadishu.

A military official in the lower Shabelle region told Anadolu Agency by phone that the militants attacked the town from the north, engaging the Somali army in a gun battle. He said the army retreated but came back to recapture the town.

Bille Adan, a police official in lower Shabelle region, told Anadolu Agency by phone that at least three military personnel were killed and several others wounded during the fighting.

Al-Qaeda affiliated group Al-Shabaab claimed that its fighters are controlling the town.

Local residents told Anadolu Agency they heard massive gunfire in the town, confirming al-Shabaab’s presence in the town before Thursday evening.

Anadolu Agency 4 February 2021

Sudan

Border tensions mount between Sudan, Ethiopia

On Sunday, Ethiopian forces stationed in the Abdel-Rafi area fired mortar shells towards a Sudanese reconnaissance force crossing the Abu Teyyour Mountains, according to news reports. No casualties were reported.

Ethiopian authorities have called for dialogue on condition that Sudanese forces leave the disputed border region. Senior leaders in the Sudanese army, however, have stressed that Sudan will not back down from land that, according to them, constitutes sovereign territory. “Going backwards will not be among the options of the Sudanese army,” a military source in the Sovereign Council told Ayin on the condition of anonymity. “What is Sudan negotiating? There is no negotiation. This is our land.”

The head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah el Burhan, said in a recent fiery speech that Sudan had been patient about this borderland for a long period, enduring “25 years of offences and threats and accusations, but everything has a limit”. Both sides claim ownership of the fertile Al-Fashqa region. “Sudan did not start the conflict, Ethiopia did, and now it’s eye for an eye,” Burhan said.

Mail& Guardian 3 February 2021

Protests over bread, transport, and excessive violence by authorities continue in Sudan

Protests continued for a second day in a row in the city of El Gedaref on Thursday, accompanied by acts of violence, vandalism, and looting. Protests over bread, transport, and excessive force by authorities during demonstrations continued in Nyala and Khartoum.

The protesters stormed a rural municipality office in El Gedaref, burning two vehicles and a motorcycle and also targeted a number of houses and shops. These protests have meant that the market has remained closed.

Dozens of protesters looted market shops while the police withdrew from the vicinity. Activist Jafar Khadar told Radio Dabanga that there was a complete absence of any police presence at the market.

The leader of the protests, Mataz Mohamed, was detained by the police after accusing the police of being responsible for the chaos in El Gedaref market, said Khadar.

Khadar accused the former regime of being involved in what he described as a “conspiracy”.

Dabanga 5 February 2021

South Sudan

South Sudan Declares Partial Lockdown on COVID Surge

South Sudan has imposed a one-month, partial lockdown after a jump in coronavirus cases. Africa’s youngest nation has confirmed more than 4,000 cases and 65 deaths but, some residents worry this first lockdown since June could hurt people’s livelihoods.

South Sudan’s national task force on COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, said Wednesday the partial lockdown was necessary after a surge in cases.

Taskforce member Doctor Richard Laku said virus cases have doubled in the past week.

“In the last seven days, we have recorded 218 confirmed cases, compared to the week before which is the week of 20-26th,” said Laku. “We have 140 cases, but the week 2nd of February we have 218 cases which shows almost doubling of the cases along the two weeks, and this shows that the possibility rate has been increasing from last week to this week.”

The chairman of the taskforce, Hussein Abdelbagi, said the new lockdown measures affect all businesses and events that attract large crowds.

Voice of America 4 February 2021

State surveillance rife in South Sudan, Amnesty finds

Imagine living in a country where you are afraid to speak on the phone because you know the government could be listening in or your private conversations could be watched by government spies targeting dissent.

That’s the daily reality for many journalists, activists, government critics and opponents in South Sudan, as Amnesty International found out in a new investigation.

The National Security Service (NSS), South Sudan’s national security wing, uses both electronic and physical surveillance to silence critics, leading to a climate of intense fear. The surveillance is so widespread and operates under conditions of secrecy and without any clear legal safeguards, that just the threat of being spied on is enough to make people censor themselves. Amnesty International’s report, the result of a two-year investigation, also highlights the role played by telecommunication and surveillance companies, which enable the interception of phone calls without adequate legal safeguards.

Through telecommunication companies, Israeli company Verint Systems supplied communications interception technology to South Sudanese authorities, including the NSS, at least between 2015 and 2017, despite the high risk that the equipment could contribute to human rights violations.

Mail& Guardian 3 February 2021

Western Sahara

Western Sahara’s Polisario Front says it’s ready to talk, not lay down arms

The Polisario Front, which seeks independence for the Western Sahara, said Tuesday that it was still willing to join UN talks on the territory’s future — but would not lay down its arms.

“In the past, we put all our trust in the international community and definitively ended our armed struggle,” said senior Polisario security official Sidi Ould Oukal.

“We have waited 30 years. Thirty years of broken promises, prevarication and untenable waiting.”

The Polisario Front fought a war for independence from Morocco from 1975 to 1991.

A UN-backed ceasefire deal was meant to lead to a referendum on self-determination in the former Spanish colony, of which it controls about one fifth.

Morocco has offered autonomy, but maintains that the Western Sahara is a sovereign part of the kingdom.

IOL 19 January 2021