Journalists Struggle Through Information Blackout in Ethiopia

As fighting erupted in the Ethiopian region of Tigray in early November, the northern part of the country was cut from internet, mobile phone and landline communications. Journalists say the government-imposed blackout made it virtually impossible to get accurate information about the conflict.   “We’ve had journalists, publication houses speaking out and saying that essentially it’s incredibly difficult to document what’s happening on the ground,” said Muthoki Mumo, the Committee to Protect Journalist’s sub-Saharan Africa representative. “Because you’re unable to contact sources, it’s difficult to verify what you’re hearing, and it’s in this kind of environment where the work of journalists becomes difficult, perhaps where you might even see misinformation going unchecked.” At crucial moments such as the push in recent days by the Ethiopian military to retake the northern city of Mekelle, news outlets were unable to verify basic information. Exact numbers of casualties remain elusive. FILE – An Ethiopian refugee who fled fighting in Tigray province sits holding a radio in the shade of a straw shack at the Um Rakouba camp in Sudan, Nov. 18, 2020.The federal government said the Tigray incursion is a limited military action against some members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) after it attacked a military base. But the TPLF calls it a war against Tigray, one that its forces continue fighting. Federal forces said they had retaken the airport in Mekelle and a key military post while avoiding civilian casualties. TPLF said there were widespread civilian casualties and that federal forces were shelling the city center. The government says it is now in control of the region and has declared victory. But due to blackouts and curbs on reporting, major news outlets run disclaimers saying they cannot independently verify claims. “The jobs that journalists do are most crucial at moments like this,” Mumo said. “It’s at moments like this that we must be jealously guarding the gains that we’ve had in freedom of the press … we need journalists shining a light on what’s going on.” Not first blackout This is not the first time the Ethiopian government has switched off communication when tension flared in the country. In 2019 there were widespread communications blackouts following a coup attempt in the Amhara region. In June of this year, the government FILE – A man reads The Reporter newspaper, with the cover showing the Peace Nobel Prize ceremony for Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, in Addis Ababa, Dec. 11, 2019.Samuel is concerned that Ethiopian journalists will leave the profession, making way for foreign journalists to mostly cover the news. “When passionate people leave the media, it ends up being [public relations], mostly Chinese companies implementing their ideas and pushing us to be like them,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with being like China, but many of us prefer to be like Ethiopia. We might take different ideas from here and there, but we are passionate. I mean we are born here.” Samuel urged the international community not to give up on Ethiopian journalism and Ethiopian progress. He said over the last two years he was fortunate enough to cover positive stories about reforms in the country. “I think many of us were tired of reporting sad stories about Ethiopia forever,” Samuel said. “And we were beginning to see hope. And I hope that hope will come back because the last two years since 2018, with the exception of this year, was, I think, the greatest Ethiopian years I have seen in my generation.” 
 

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Ghana’s Essential Workers Vote Early Ahead of Next Monday’s National Election

Ghana’s essential workers, including police, health care workers and military personnel cast their votes Tuesday ahead of next Monday’s national elections.President Nana Akufo-Addo is facing 11 challengers, including former president John Mahama. The opposition leader is expected to be the president’s strongest rival in the West African nation’s election.    The Congo-based media outlet AfricaNews cites a recent survey by the Center for Democratic Development that shows incumbent President Akufo-Addo  held a slight lead over Mahama.  Both candidates made reviving Ghana’s economy a cornerstone of their campaigns. The Electoral Commission said so-called Covid-19 ambassadors will be located at all 311 voting centers to make sure voters follow protocols, including wearing masks, getting temperature checks and are sanitizing their hands.Ghana has confirmed more than 51,600 coronavirus case and 323 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, which tracks COVID-19 globally.  

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Horse Racing Returns to Mali’s Hippodrome After COVID Shutdown

Mali’s iconic Hippodrome in Bamako recently reopened its traditional horse races on Sundays after closing in March due to COVID-19.For jockeys like Mahamadou Tangara, the closure meant a complete loss of income. On any given Sunday, a jockey can win between $91 (50,000 francs) and $182 (100,000 francs) in prize money. No work means no winnings, Tangara said, adding that he felt nothing but difficulty for those eight months of shutdown.The races started up again November 15 — and immediately, the sport’s large, loyal audience returned to the track. Yacouba Dansoko, a sports journalist and race announcer, spoke about the importance of the races to the Malian public, saying that in terms of the audience, it’s No. 1. Soon after the races reopened, COVID-19 cases again rose sharply in Mali. Some jockeys and organizers wear masks, but most of the audience appears indifferent to COVID precautions. Officials are now discussing new COVID-19 countermeasures, which could include shutting down the races. The jockeys would lose their livelihood again, but Dansoko said the community is ready to accept the shutdown if it means saving lives. 
 

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Clash Kills Somali Soldiers, Civilians and Al-Shabab Militants

At least 15 people were killed early Monday morning in the central Somalia town of Ba’adweyene in the most recent attack by al-Shabab militants.The insurgents’ assault on a military base on Ba’adweyne’s outskirts left four soldiers dead, along with 11 civilians who had joined the battle, an official with Somalia’s Ministry of Information told VOA Somali on Tuesday.The ministry also said in a statement that 51 militants were killed and six were captured, with regional officials sharing photos of the militants on social media. The statement said an al-Shabab commander was captured in the fighting.Meanwhile, al-Shabab claimed on its website Tuesday that it had overrun the military base, killing 53 soldiers and seizing six vehicles outfitted with guns. The militant group published photos of weapons purportedly seized from the base, including anti-aircraft and B-10 recoilless rifles mounted on vehicles.VOA Somali could not independently verify the exact death toll from the fighting.Somali government officials did not say how many militants were involved in the attack on the base outside Ba’adweyne, a town 200 kilometers from the regional capital, Galkayo. A ministry official said the militants apparently arrived at the scene on foot, killing the four soldiers. Armed residents joined in the fighting and helped troops regain control, several residents told VOA Somali in phone calls. The residents are not being named for security reasons.Meanwhile, the government commended the residents for supporting government troops in battling al-Shabab.“This is a testament that if the public supports the army, enemy attacks and plots can be stopped,” the ministry statement read.Al-Shabab aims to overthrow the internationally supported government and establish an extremist Islamic state in Somalia.This report originated in the VOA Somali Service, with Harun Maruf reporting from Washington and Abdiwahid Maolin Isak from Galkayo, Somalia. 

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Fears Grow of Further COVID-19 Spikes Ahead of Ghana’s Election

Ghana has been lauded for its COVID-19 response and a fairly low death toll of 323 people.  Total cases have now surpassed 50,000, however, and the president recently warned citizens to stay vigilant. Experts fear that cases will increase as political parties go into full campaign mode ahead of the December 7 vote.Ghana’s Health Service recently estimated that more than 80% of Ghanaians are not wearing face masks, a drastic drop from previous compliance levels.Last month, President Nana Akufo-Addo urged Ghanaians to put on the masks during rallies for the December 7 election. But at campaign events across the nation, for both Akufo-Addo’s New Patriotic Party and the opposition National Democratic Congress, supporters are flouting the rules.As she waited for the president to show up for an outdoor campaign event in Accra, Cynthia Asiamah said it was frustrating to see other supporters without their masks.“Some people are not wearing the nose masks, but they don’t listen — seriously — they don’t listen to their president, because [the] president told us everybody must wear the nose mask first,” she said.Some political organizers are taking precautions, holding events outdoors or online. Some hold health walks instead of traditional rallies.Public health expert Nana Kofi Quakyi said it was “wishful thinking,” though, to believe the large outdoor gatherings would not increase risks, especially given the low compliance to social distancing and mask-wearing.“Yes, they are outdoors, so they are less risky than they would be if they were indoors, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe. By virtue of that fact — by virtue of the fact it’s not a zero-risk scenario — the more of those that happen, with more acute conditions around mask-wearing, distancing and ventilation, you would expect to see some marginal contribution to the infection rates,” said Quakyi.Quakyi said the false belief that COVID-19 usually doesn’t have a major impact on health has led some Ghanaians to take more risks.Ghanaian sports journalist Gary Al-Smith is trying to spread the word that for many who survive the virus, there can be long-term effects.He was infected with COVID-19 while reporting on it and documented his recovery.“If your inclination is that you have COVID for 14 to 21 days and after that, you will be fine, but you get to know the realities, as in my case.  I had headaches constantly for two months; I could not take 10-minute walks because after five minutes I was completely blown away, I was completely finished,” said Al-Smith.He said he often feels like a “broken record” when he speaks about COVID-19, finding a widespread lack of interest in hearing about the virus now, especially as the election has taken center stage. 

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Nigerian Officials Worry as Citizens Flout Coronavirus Rules

In Nigeria, authorities are worried that COVID-19 may spike again, as millions ignore safety measures such as wearing facemasks and social distancing. Timothy Obiezu reports from Abuja.
Camera: Emeka Gibson 

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