Africa in the news: Elephant overpopulation in Zimbabwe, famine in Tigray, and Twitter ban in Nigeria

A man reads a newspaper at a newsstand in Abuja, Nigeria June 5, 2021. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Overpopulation of elephants in Zimbabwe and Kenyan reports of no rhinoceros poaching in 2020

While Africa’s elephant population has experienced a dangerous decline over the last 30 years, stringent conservation efforts in Zimbabwe have resulted in a remarkable overpopulation of elephants in the country. Zimbabwe authorities estimate their elephant population stands above 100,000, out of the 415,000 elephants that remain in Africa today. Zimbabwe’s elephant population has grown—up from 84,000—nearly 20 percent since 2014. Conservationists in Zimbabwe also estimate the country’s carrying capacity for the elephants—the population size of a species that a specific habitat can support—is around 45,000. The surplus of elephants has led the government to consider population-control measures, such as culling the herd, administering elephant contraceptives, and selling hunting rights, in a bid to protect other wildlife and the country’s vegetation. As the African forest elephant is listed as critically endangered and the African savannah elephant as endangered, Zimbabwe authorities are also considering relocating elephants. However, a lack of funding has hampered relocation efforts.

On Tuesday, Kenya’s Wildlife Service announced that no rhinoceroses were poached in the country in 2020—the first time since 2000. The announcement follows the initiation of Kenya’s first wildlife census, to which the Kenyan Wildlife Service attributes last year’s reduction in rhinoceros poaching cases. In conjunction with the wildlife census, Kenya plans to maintain monitoring and conservation efforts with a better understanding of their wildlife populations. Poaching decimated Kenya’s wild rhino population, reducing it from more than 20,000 in 1960 to a few hundred in 1990, but the country’s continued conservation efforts have allowed the population to recover to over 1,200.

Elections postponed in parts of Ethiopia, war in Tigray continues, and famine takes over the region

On June 10,  Ethiopia’s electoral board announced that elections in the Harar and Somali regions would be postponed until September due to irregularities and problems with printing ballot papers. In addition to the Harar and Somali regions, voting will also not take place in the Tigray region, where there is no new date set for voting. Ethiopia is set to hold national and regional parliamentary elections in the next two weeks without these three regions, which account for 63 of the 547 parliamentary seats, in what would be the country’s first democratic transfer of power.

The elections are set to commence even as the humanitarian crisis continues in Tigray. An estimated 350,000 people in the region are living in famine conditions, a figure higher than anywhere in the world according to Al-Jazeera. The humanitarian crisis has inspired international action in recent weeks. On Thursday, Western members of the United Nations Security Council pushed Russia and China to support the council’s publicly addressing the crisis in Tigray, something it has yet to do. Also on Thursday, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that it will provide more than $152 million in additional aid to the region. “This urgently needed humanitarian aid will address life-threatening hunger and acute malnutrition by providing nearly 100,000 metric tons of food—enough to feed three million people for nearly two months—as well as seeds, tools, and fertilizers for farmers to replant crops intentionally destroyed by armed actors,” USAID said in a press release.

Fighting in Tigray first broke out in November 2020 and has continued create instability and now famine in the region. For more on the conflict, see “Averting civil war in Ethiopia: It’s time to propose elements of a negotiated settlement” and “Africa in the news: Ethiopia, Republic of Congo, Kenya, and Somalia Updates.”  You can also watch the recording of “Crisis in Ethiopia and its regional repercussions.”

Surging kidnappings in Nigeria and the president’s Twitter ban

Local Nigerian media reported on Thursday that at least 60 women had been abducted from their villages in the northwestern province of Zamfara State. The incident is the latest in a series of abductions that have primarily targeted students in exchange for ransom money. Since December, armed groups in northern Nigeria have kidnapped more than 700 students for ransom. The kidnappings can be deadly: An abduction of 20 students and two staff from Greenfield University in April saw the executions of five students. The inability of authorities to stop the surge of kidnappings has sparked protests across the country.

In other Nigeria news, President Muhammadu Buhari called for full suspension of Twitter operations in the country last Friday, after the social media platform removed a tweet made by the president for violating its “abusive behavior” policy. Nigerian television and radio stations were told to deactivate their accounts and not to use the “unpatriotic” platform for information gathering. The ban has drawn heavy criticism from Nigerians, who view it as an infringement on their civil liberties and access to information. Many Nigerians continue to tweet using virtual private networks (VPNs), risking punishment and arrest amid unconfirmed reports of citizens having their phones searched for the Twitter app. A worker strike in Nigerian courts is making it more difficult to take legal action to reverse the ban.