Africa Media Review for April 1, 2020

UN Launches COVID-19 Plan That Could ‘Defeat the Virus and Build a Better World’
The UN chief launched on Tuesday a new plan to counter the potentially devastating socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, calling on everyone to “act together to lessen the blow to people.” “The new coronavirus disease is attacking societies at their core, claiming lives and people’s livelihoods”, said Secretary-General António Guterres, pointing out that the potential longer-term effects on the global economy and individual countries are “dire.” The new report, “Shared responsibility, global solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19.”  describes the speed and scale of the outbreak, the severity of cases, and the societal and economic disruption of the coronavirus. “COVID-19 is the greatest test that we have faced together since the formation of the United Nations,” underscored the UN chief.  “This human crisis demands coordinated, decisive, inclusive and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies – and maximum financial and technical support for the poorest and most vulnerable people and countries.” UN News

Ethiopia Postpones Major Election Because of Coronavirus
Ethiopia’s election set for August has been postponed as the national election board said Tuesday the coronavirus makes it impossible to prepare. The vote has been highly anticipated in a country that has seen sweeping political reforms in the past two years but a surge of violence as some people use the new freedoms to settle old scores. Both the government and opposition camps have expressed support for the election board’s decision. With the government’s mandate expiring in a few months, lawmakers are expected to vote to extend it. This is the first major election in Africa to be postponed because of the coronavirus. Several African countries have upcoming presidential votes this year, including Burundi and Tanzania. “Although the circumstances of the delay are deeply worrying, it does offer an opportunity to reset Ethiopia’s troubled transition,” William Davison, the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for the country, said in a statement. AP

ECA Contributes Awareness Materials to Aid Ethiopia’s Fight against COVID-19
The Economic Commission for Africa and the UN Communications Group last week handed over to the Government of Ethiopia, awareness materials to ensure ordinary citizens have access to timely and accurate information in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak. Over 40,000 flyers and brochures were printed for distribution by relevant government entities. Topics include emergency preparedness and response, the disease and its conditions, healthy living and safety, among others. “We are honoured to partner with the Ethiopian Public Health Institute and the Ministry of Transport during this time of crisis,” said Ali Todaro, Chief of Conference Management Section at the ECA. “The UN is working around the world to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak. We recognize that a positive outcome is only possible if the ordinary person is fully informed.” Charles Ndungu, Chief of ECA’s Printing and Publishing Unit, added his voice, saying, “Every time one places a call in Ethiopia, they get an educational message about coronavirus prevention. But we all know that is not enough because not everyone has a cell phone. The ECA is happy to be playing its small part in this massive fight against the deadly virus that is set change our world as we know it, if we do not act fast.” Modern Ghana

EU Launches New Naval Mission to Police Libya Arms Embargo
The European Union announced Tuesday the launch of a new naval mission in the Mediterranean Sea aimed at enforcing the U.N. arms embargo on Libya, after Italy blocked a previous operation claiming that the warships attracted migrants to Europe’s shores. The new operation, dubbed Irini, the Greek word for “peace,” will start work for a year from Wednesday. The European Council said it will have as “its core task the implementation of the U.N. arms embargo through the use of aerial, satellite and maritime assets.” “In particular the mission will be able to carry out inspections of vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya suspected to be carrying arms or related material to and from Libya,” a statement said. It will also gather information about illegal fuel and oil smuggling from Libya and help build up the Libyan coast guard, including by training its personnel. … “Diplomacy cannot succeed unless it is backed by action. The U.N. arms embargo on Libya needs to be effectively enforced,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters as he unveiled the operation. He said the EU sees Irini has “an important part of the solution to contribute to a permanent cease-fire.” AP

Burundi Announces First Two COVID-19 Cases
Burundi has confirmed its first two coronavirus cases, Health minister Thadée Ndikumana announced late Tuesday. Dr Ndikumana said the two patients are Burundians aged 56 and 42. “Both are Burundian nationals who had travelled to Rwanda and Dubai respectively and are being hospitalised at Bumerec hospital in Bujumbura,” the health minister told a news conference. He, however, did not announce the day they arrived in the country saying it might jeopardise contact tracing efforts. “We cannot provide the dates as investigations are ongoing,” said Dr Ndikumana. As neighbouring countries of Rwanda, DR Congo and Tanzania reported cases of coronavirus, Burundi suspended all flights to and from Melchior Ndadaye International Airport and started screening returnees and visitors from countries affected by Covid-19. The East African

No Lockdown Yet as Sierra Leone Records First Case of COVID-19
Sierra Leone which was the only West African country without a case of coronavirus has finally reported its first case. In a nationwide broadcast on Tuesday, President Maada Bio announced that the index case is a 37 year old male who arrived in the country from France on an Air Brussels flight on the 16 March and was immediately put into quarantine. The man reportedly finished the requisite 14 days isolation at a hotel on Sunday and was collected by his wife yesterday. Apparently the subject’s wife, who is a medical doctor, noticed the signs and symptoms of Covid-19 and immediately drove her husband to the 34 Military Hospital where he tested positive for the virus. Emphasising that from now on “Every minute matters,” President Bio disclosed that “we have quickly isolated case number one. We have immediately and aggressively operationalised tracking and surveillance for all primary and secondary contacts. RFI

Somaliland Reports First COVID-19 Cases
Authorities in the self-declared republic of Somaliland reported the territory’s first two cases of coronavirus on Tuesday. Health officials in the capital, Hargeisa, said samples taken from two individuals – a local man who visited Britain and a Chinese man – had tested positive for COVID-19. Authorities were trying to track down people the men had contact with. Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in May 1991 but has never received international recognition. The two cases brought the number of confirmed cases in Somalia to five, all of them travel-related. Health officials in Somalia and Somaliland have undertaken separate efforts to restrict travel and public gatherings. With almost nonexistent primary health services and no labs to test potential coronavirus samples, Somali officials have launched public awareness campaigns to confront the deadly pandemic. Vehicles mounted with loudspeakers have circulated in Mogadishu with basic information about the virus. The government has distributed leaflets advising people to wash their hands and practice social distancing. … Since Somalia does not have a laboratory, samples are taken to a WHO-certified center in neighboring Kenya, which local health professionals said was a huge challenge. VOA

New African Consulates Cause Trouble for Western Sahara
The events are similar. Morocco’s foreign minister, Nasser Bourita, appears alongside one of his African counterparts smiling, cutting a ribbon, or solemnly unveiling a plaque – a symbol of friendship between their countries. With each act of solidarity, a diplomatic step is taken and another African nation opens a consulate in Western Sahara. These buildings are surfacing rapidly. Since the end of 2019, ten African states have opened diplomatic services in Western Sahara under their mission to Rabat. The latest, Burundi, plans to open one in either El Aaiun – the largest city in the Western Sahara region run by Morocco – or in the city of Dakhla. Burundi follows countries already represented in the region including Central African Republic, Sao Tome, Gabon, Comoros, Guinea, Djibuti and Ivory Coast. Liberia most recently opened its representative office in Dakhla. This is happening amid the decades-long hostilities in Western Sahara. In 1975, Morocco occupied the area on the Atlantic coast of northwest Africa. More than 40 years after the left-wing liberation group Polisario Front started an armed struggle for a self-determined state of Western Sahara, the Moroccan occupation shows no signs of ending. DW

South Sudan Activists Hope to Unify Divided Nation
The people ofSouth Sudan haveendured decades of war, first in the fight to win independence from Sudan, and then in a brutal conflict that began in late 2013. An estimated400,000 people died in the civil war, which officially ended with a 2018 peace agreement. The intense fightinghas left deep scars on the nation, with ethnic communities pitted against one another. In February,rival politiciansPresident Salva Kiir and former deputy Riek Macharformed a transitional unity government aftermore than a year of negotiationand delay. Dr.James Okuk, a professor ofpolitical science at the University ofJuba,said he is cautiously optimistic about the recent formation of the unity government. “It is a start, but the task is overwhelming. We hope they will be up to the task, particularly reconciliation, which really requires a lot of time, requires a lot of effort,” he said. “The political leaders have created these grievances by making the civilians to take sides in these political quarrels, and taking sides has created these enmities among communities and with peace coming back, I think it’s time to mend those broken relations.” VOA

Kenyan Police Shot Dead a Teenager on His Balcony during a Coronavirus Curfew Crackdown
Just past midnight Tuesday morning, on Kenya’s fourth night under a coronavirus curfew, the country’s covid-19 death toll stood at one, but the toll of an accompanying police crackdown ticked up to two. That’s when Yassin Hussein Moyo, 13, bled to death. He had been standing on his third-floor balcony in a shantytown in Nairobi, watching police storm the neighborhood, using their batons to beat people who refused to abide by the curfew, when a police bullet struck him in the stomach. Like many other African countries, Kenya has imposed sweeping restrictions on movement to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The curfew, which requires people to stay in their homes from dusk to dawn, is the most stringent limitation and has led to a wave of police violence. Over the weekend, police injured dozens in a crackdown in the coastal city of Mombasa. On Saturday morning, a motorcycle taxi driver died of injuries that his family says he sustained from being beaten by a policeman after he dropped off a pregnant woman at a hospital after curfew. The Washington Post

Coronavirus: Zimbabwe, Nigeria Adopt Cash-Transfers to Most Vulnerable
The Zimbabwean government on Monday (March 30) reported that it had budgeted over $600 million to cover one million vulnerable households under a cash transfer programme for the next three months. The move is part of efforts to mitigate the impact of Covid-19, for which reason government imposed a 21-day total lockdown to contain its spread. The measure announced last Friday started yesterday. According to Finance and Economic Development Minister Mthuli Ncube, the Social Welfare Department will use its structures to identify the beneficiaries under the facility. An amount of half a billion dollars has already been provided to fight Covid-19. The ministry said it was ready to attend to more requests. “Vulnerable groups in our society are the most exposed under this Covid-19 crisis,” he said. “Accordingly, Treasury has set aside resources to cover one million vulnerable households under a cash transfer programme and payment will commence immediately,” he added. Zimbabwe recently okayed the use of the US dollars due to coronavirus related economic squeeze. The country’s health system is one of the continent’s most fragile. Africa News

Could High HIV Rates Worsen the Coronavirus Crisis in South Africa?
In an address to the nation on Sunday, March 15, President Cyril Ramaphosa said, “Never before in the history of our democracy has our country been confronted with such a severe situation.” And HIV could make things much worse. South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world. According to the UN, there are 7.7 million people living with the virus in South Africa, including one in five adults aged 15-49. An estimated 2.5 million of those infected do not have access to the anti-retroviral drugs which ensure the healthy functioning of the immune system. “The concern is that if you do not have a good immune system, your ability to ward off this infection could be compromised,” professor Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council, explained to FRANCE 24. Gray, who has never been busier and wakes up at night with panic attacks triggered by thoughts of the pandemic, also said that people with weak immune systems could remain infectious for longer periods of time. But she emphasised that, in practice, it is too soon to know what the concrete effects of HIV will be on the Covid-19 contagion. “We are still gathering the data,” she said. France24

Africa Seeks IMF, World Bank and EU Support on Debt Relief – UNECA
African finance ministers want International Monetary Fund, World Bank and EU support for bilateral, multilateral and commercial debt relief amid the coronavirus crisis, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) said. Africa is facing a perfect storm of an impending global economic downturn, plummeting oil and commodity prices and weaker currencies which threaten to imperil its coronavirus response. Co-chaired by South African Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and Ken Ofori-Atta of Ghana, the ministers met via video conference on Tuesday. Many wore medical masks, said the UNECA, which hosted the meeting. … In an initial meeting organised by UNECA last month, ministers called for a $100 billion stimulus package, including a suspension of debt service payments. Following Tuesday’s meeting, they said the continent’s development partners should consider debt relief and interest rate forbearance over a two to three-year period for all African low-income and medium-income countries. They also called for the creation of a special purpose vehicle to “deal with all sovereign debt obligations” though no further details were given as to what shape it would take. Reuters

Ethiopia, Uganda Lead in Global Searches for Coronavirus Info: Google
Google provides details of searches for a few African countries including Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. In South Africa coronavirus tips were trending, along with Italy and China as search terms. Nigerians are searching for symptoms, cures and also interested in what’s happening in China and Italy, a pattern similar to that in Kenya. Google, like other technology companies is working with first responders to the pandemic including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and different countries’ health ministries. For every search, Google displays a special Covid-19 alert section that provides credible information on symptoms, prevention, treatment and the latest statistics of the pandemic. WHO has already declared the massive amounts of coronavirus-related information available on the internet as an infodemic, and users are encouraged to only seek answers from verified sources like health ministries, centers for disease control and international agencies like the World Health Organisation. Africa News

Senegal’s Graffiti Artists Offer COVID-19 Information via Murals
In response to the growing coronavirus outbreak in  Senegal, where as of early Wednesday morning the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases had climbed to 175, the government has closed the country’s airspace and shut down restaurants, schools and even mosques. The president declared a state of emergency this week, imposing travel restrictions and a curfew of 8 p.m. But many people are not following recommendations to remain 2 meters apart and to wash hands regularly. In a country where only half the population is literate, how can people get the message out? To spread awareness, some people are getting creative. Alpha Sy (pronounced al-fa cee) is an art student and a member of Senegalese graffiti artist collective, RBS, or Radikl Bomb Shot. The group of about 30 artists has been creating murals around Dakar to illustrate proper hygiene practices and to encourage people to stay home and respect the curfew. VOA



Photo: Adam Jones