News Timeline: Africa 2021

January 8 – Africa

Global Health, coronavirus, or COVID-19

A reported number of Covid-19 cases in Africa amounts to 3.8 million with over 98,000 deaths (40 percent of those are in South Africa).[1] This number (for all 54 African countries) is only slightly higher than the number of deaths in France. The number of Covid cases and deaths is considered underreported because the governments in African countries don’t formally register deaths. In 2017, only 10 percent of deaths were registered in Nigeria, and in other countries the percentage is even lower. There are several reasons, such as stigma, people unable to get tested, the fact that the threshold for reacting to any disease is high, as well as deaths from Covid-19 are being misidentified.[2]

More on Covid-19 situation in Africa

February 17 – Nigeria


Armed men in military uniforms abduct about 40 students and staff from a boarding school in the town of Kagara in Nigeria’s Niger state. This is the latest in a series of kidnappings by criminal gangs, many of them involving children. Kidnappings for ransom by organized armed criminal gangs has become more sophisticated and are seen as a national security challenge for the Nigerian government. Some of the causes include difficult economic times and overstretched security forces facing threats on several fronts, insurgents and land battles between herders and farmers.[3]

February 26 – Ethiopia / Eritrea

Tigray conflict

In a newly issued report, Amnesty International accuses Eritrean forces of  massacring hundreds of unarmed civilians in the city of Axum in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray last November. It also says this could amount to a crime against humanity. Responding to the report the United States calls for Ethiopia and Eritrea to cease fighting in the Tigray region and the withdrawal of their forces from the region.[4]

How a massacre in the sacred city of Aksum unfolded

Amnesty International report: The Massacre in Axum

March 29 – Egypt

One of the world’s largest cargo ships that belongs to the Taiwanese company Evergreen Marine is refloated again, opening the passage through the Suez Canal.  The almost quarter-mile-long Ever Given vessel ran aground and became wedged across the waterway, blocking all traffic through the canal for six days causing a disruption in the world trade.  Fourteen tugboats were involved in dislodging the ship at high tide, while 450 ships were stuck behind it waiting to pass through the canal.  The blockage has cost the Canal about $15 million a day in lost revenue.  About 12 percent of global trade, around one million barrels of oil and roughly 8 percent of liquefied natural gas pass through the canal each day.  An alternate route around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope adds another eight and a half days of travel.[5]

Pictures, maps and history of Suez Canal

April 20 – Chad

Change in leadership

Idriss Déby, Chad’s president for the last 30 years and just reelected for the sixth term, dies from his wounds sustained in clashes with advancing rebels.  An army officer by training, Déby came to power through an armed uprising, and later faced numerous coup plots and rebellions himself.  Although an autocrat, he made Chad more stable than its other country-neighbors.[6]  Still, despite Chad’s great wealth of oil deposits, the country’s main export commodity, 40 percent of Chad’s population still lives below the poverty line.[7]

Immediately after Idriss Déby’s death, the government and parliament are dissolved, while his son, General Mahamat Déby is named the leader of the Transitional Military Council.  The Council will stay in charge for the next 18 months followed by elections.  The move is unconstitutional as it is the speaker of parliament that should take over when a sitting president dies in office.[8]

About Idriss Déby

May 24 – Mali / ECOWAS

Coup d’état

Just nine months after Mali’s Colonel Assimi Goïta ousted the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta in a military coup and nominated himself vice-president of an interim government, he stages another coup d’état ousting this time interim President Bah Ndaw and the acting Prime Minister Moctar Ouane.  He says they failed to inform the military about plans to reshuffle the cabinet, as well as to resolve the ongoing strikes.  This time he declares himself president, but claims that elections will still take place next year as planned.  The Economic Community of West African States and the African Union (ECOWAS) suspends Mali’s membership, while France suspends its military operations in the country. French forces have been helping fight militants in the Sahel region.[9]

Mali – country profile

About coups in Africa

About the 2020 coup in Mali (video, 02:06 min)

June 20 – Eswatini

Politics: Protests for Change

Widespread protests calling for political reforms in Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, intensify and turn violent with the government’s heavy-handed response.  Eswatini’s King Mswati III has been the ruler of this small country for the last 35 years who governs by decree.  The protests started in May after the demonstrators accused the police of killing a law student.  They quickly turned into calls for political changes, an end to the absolute monarchy, political freedoms, and against police brutality.  Another key demand is an end to the royal family’s lavish lifestyle, while most Swazis have to look for work abroad and send money home.  Also, the country’s infrastructure and basic services are collapsing, including the health service in a country with the world’s highest prevalence rate for HIV/Aids.[10]

July 25 – Tunisia

Politics and Government

Tunisian president Kais Saied suspends the parliament, sacks the prime minister, and assumes power amid violent anti-government protests across the country.  The president’s supporters celebrate the move, while his opponents accuse him of staging a coup.  Under the Tunisian constitution, the president is only in charge of the military and foreign affairs, but Saied has long been in conflict with the prime minister. 

Background: Tunisia has had nine governments since the 2011 revolution. Issues such as endemic unemployment and crumbling state infrastructure that sparked the uprising have yet to be resolved.  The government inept handling of the coronavirus pandemic is adding to anti-government popular unrest.  Deaths from Covid-19 reached a record for the country last week and only 7 percent of the population has been vaccinated.[11]

About Kais Saied

Tunisia, 10 years after the Arab Spring

August 5 – Ethiopia / Eritrea

Ongoing conflict

The Tigrayan TPLF forces take control of Ethiopia’s historic town of Lalibela as the conflict between the Tigrayans and the central government spills beyond the Tigrayan region.  Lalibela, a historic town in the region of Amhara, is famous for its 12th-century rock-hewn churches, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage site.  The town is also a popular pilgrimage site for Orthodox Christians.   Local Amhara forces who are allied with the central government fled the area before the Tigrayan forces enter the town.[12]

More about Rock-Hewn Churches in Lalibela as a World Heritage Site

Background:  The Ethiopian army has been engaged in a military conflict with the TPLF since November, after Tigrayan forces attacked government military installations in the Tigray region.   Neighboring Eritrea is also militarily involved. This conflict together with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has impacted Ethiopia’s economy.

More on Ethiopia’s economy battered by Tigray war

August 12 – Zambia

Democratic elections

Businessman Hakainde Hichilema wins a landslide victory in Zambia’s presidential elections defeating incumbent Edgar Lungu by more than a million votes.  This was Hichilema’s sixth attempt at winning the presidency.  During the campaign, he promised to address corruption and the lack of jobs especially for young people.  In his speech, Lungu accepts defeat and promises a smooth transition of power.  This is Zambia’s third peaceful transfer of power to an opposition candidate, making it one of Africa’s most democratic country.[13]

Zambia elections: what you need to know

Hakainde Hichilema supporters celebrate victory

A legacy of dignity shapes an African election


[1] “COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 6, updated 18 February 2021.” European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. February 18, 2021. Accessed February 22, 21 from

[2] Ruth Maclean. “A Continent Where the Dead Are Not Counted.” The New York Times. January 2, 2021. Updated Jan. 4, 2021. Accessed February 22, 21.

[3] “Ruth Maclean and Ismail Alfa. “Gunmen in Nigeria Attack School, Abducting Dozens and Killing a Student.” The New York Times. February 17, 2021. Updated March 2, 2021. Accessed April 3, 21 and “Violent kidnappings for ransom spread across Nigeria.” TRT World. May 18, 2019. Accessed April 3, 21.

[4] “Ethiopia: The Massacre in Axum.” Amnesty International. 26 February 2021. Accessed March 17, 21 and Aaron Pellish and Laura Smith-Spark. “US calls for withdrawal of Eritrean forces in Ethiopia following investigation into massacre.” CNN. February 28, 2021. Accessed March 17, 21.

[5] Mary-Ann Russon. “The cost of the Suez Canal blockage.” BBC News. March 29, 2021. Accessed April 22, 21.

[6] “Chad’s President Idriss Déby dies after clashes with rebels.” BBC News. April 20, 2021. Accessed May 18, 21 and “Idriss Déby obituary: End of Chad’s ‘Great Survivor’.” BBC News. April 20, 2021. Accessed May 18, 21.

[7] Central Intelligence Agency.  “Chad.” World Factbook. May 19, 2021. Accessed May 18, 21.

[8] Ibid 6.

[9] “Mali’s coup leader Assimi Goïta seizes power again.” BBC News. May 25, 2021. Accessed June 15, 21 and “Mali’s coup leader Assimi Goïta declares himself president.” BBC News. May 27, 2021. Accessed June 15, 21 and “France suspends military ties with Mali over coup.” BBC News. June 3, 2021. Accessed June 15, 21.

[10] “King Maswati not fled Eswatini’s violent protests – PM.” BBC News. June 29, 2021. Accessed July 21, 2021.

[11] “Tunisia’s PM sacked after violent Covid protests.” BBC News. July 26, 2021. Accessed August 18, 2021.

[12] “Ethiopia: Tigray forces seize UNESCO site Lalibela.” Deutsche Welle (DW). August 5, 2021. Accessed September 27, 21.

[13] “Zambia election: Hakainde Hichilema beats President Edgar Lungu.” BBC News. August 16, 2021. Accessed September 29, 2021.