Africa Media Review for April 10, 2020

With Africa’s Most Cases, South Africa Extends Lockdown
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday extended the country’s strict lockdown to combat the coronavirus until the end of April. In a speech broadcast to the nation, Ramaphosa said the lockdown of Africa’s most industrialized economy, which has been in effect since March 27, has succeeded in reducing the country’s average daily increase of new COVID-19 cases from 42% to about 4%. “We must proceed in a manner that is cautious,” Ramaphosa said. “If we end the lockdown too soon or too abruptly, we risk a massive and uncontrollable resurgence of the disease. We risk reversing the gains we have made over the last few weeks.” South Africa, with 57 million people, has the most virus cases in Africa, with more than 1,900. It went into lockdown and restricted travel into the country fairly early after it first recorded the virus, a strategy adopted by several other countries on the continent. South Africa’s police and military have been maintaining the lockdown, especially in the large, poor townships and informal settlements on the outskirts of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria and other large cities. The measures order all but essential workers to stay at home and sales of alcohol and cigarettes are banned. AP

Chad’s Army Says 52 Soldiers, 1,000 Boko Haram Fighters Killed in Operation
Chad’s army said on Thursday it had killed as many as 1,000 Boko Haram fighters and lost 52 of its own soldiers in a 10-day old operation that followed the jihadist group’s deadliest-ever attack on national forces. Chad’s army launched the operation on March 31 after Boko Haram killed nearly 100 Chadian soldiers in an ambush a few days earlier. It has been battling the Nigerian jihadist group in the remote western Lake Chad zone for years. “Our men occupied two Boko Haram island bases and have also deployed on the Lake Chad banks of Niger and Nigeria. They will keep their positions until the arrival of these countries’ troops,” spokesman Azem Bermadoua said in a statement. He said the operation was complete and that 196 Chadian soldiers had been wounded. The remoteness of the region meant it was not immediately possible to independently verify the death toll from the fighting, nor the impact on the civilian population. Reuters

‘SA Private Military Contractors’ and Mozambican Airforce Conduct Major Air Attacks on Islamist Extremists
The attacks are the latest attempt by Maputo to defeat the insurgency which has been gaining ground daily in the country’s northern-most Cabo Delgado province. Light helicopter gunships strafed a base of the Ahlu Sunnah wa Jamaa (ASWJ) jihadists in Mozambique’s Muede area on Wednesday and then attacked their bases in Mbau in the Awassi district and in Muidumbe on Thursday, according to security sources. They said the attacks did not include ground forces although these might follow later. They did not know if the attacks had been successful and what casualties had been inflicted on the insurgents, who have recently intensified their attacks in the province, taking major towns, raising the flag of the Islamic State (IS) and winning over locals by distributing looted goods and money. The precise identity of the private soldiers who participated in this week’s attacks is not completely clear. Daily Maverick

UN Agency Says 280 Migrants Stranded in Unsafe Port in Libya
The Libyan coast guard rescued 280 migrants in distress in the Mediterranean Sea on Thursday and diverted them to the shores of the North African country, only to have them banned from disembarking, the U.N. migration agency said. The migrants, hungry and exhausted after 72 hours at sea, remained stuck on a crowded coast guard ship overnight after being denied entry to the capital, Tripoli. Heavy bombardment of the port area prevented them from stepping on land. Fighting has engulfed Tripoli in recent months as eastern-based forces under the command of Khalifa Hifter have escalated their year-long siege. Heavy shelling on Thursday killed one migrant worker and wounded six others from Nigeria and Ghana in Tripoli’s Tajoura neighborhood, according to health authorities in the U.N.-backed government. Shrapnel tore into one man’s leg, which had to be amputated. Hifter’s forces continued to attack a major Tripoli hospital and coronavirus facility, damaging the warehouse for medical and protective supplies. AP

Cameroon’s Separatists Relaunch Attacks to Reject State Reconstruction Plan
Cameroonian separatist fighters have relaunched attacks after the government announced a reconstruction plan, claiming that peace was returning to the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of the central African state. The military said attacks were reported in at least seven villages, with about 13 fighters killed, but the fighters say the military had more casualties. Public Works Minister Emmanuel Nganou Djoumessi says road construction engineers are leaving after persistent attacks in several parts of the Northwest region, where President Paul Biya had instructed them to begin reconstructing the central African state’s English-speaking regions, devastated by three years of separatist conflict. … Biya last week created what he called the Presidential Plan for the Reconstruction and Development of the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions. … After the plan was announced, separatists warned on social media that they will not accept such projects from what they said a foreign government in Yaounde, and began attacking military posts and burning more infrastructure. VOA

Malawi Electoral Commission Plans July Vote despite Coronavirus
Malawi’s Electoral Commission (MEC) says it is pushing ahead with voter registration for July’s presidential election re-run, despite a government-ordered suspension because of the coronavirus. Malawi has so far eight confirmed cases of the virus and one death. Health officials worry people grouped for registration and voting could easily spread the virus but the MEC says only it has the authority to halt the election process. The MEC says there is no plan to stop voter registration over coronavirus concerns. … Health officials criticized going ahead with the election process at a time when they are trying to check the spread of coronavirus. Heath Minister Jappie Mhango says up to 50,000 Malawians could die from the disease if not enough action is taken to stop the virus. Mhango, who also chairs a cabinet-level committee on the coronavirus, on Tuesday announced voter registration would be suspended. … However, the MEC argues only it or the courts can halt the election. … Malawi’s Constitutional Court nullified last year’s presidential election citing massive irregularities in the re-election of President Peter Mutharika. The court ordered fresh polls by July 3. If allowed to continue, voter registration would continue until June 7. VOA

May 9 New Deadline for Sudan Final Peace Accord
The Sudanese government and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebel alliance have agreed to extend the negotiations period to May 9. They will continue to discuss the peace items through teleconferencing, in line with distancing protocols regarding the coronavirus pandemic. Dr Jibril Ibrahim, Chairman of the Justice and Equality Movement and SRF Secretary-General, told reporters in Juba, capital of South Sudan, on Thursday that both the sudden death of the Sudanese Minister of Defence in Juba in the end of March and the coronavirus pandemic have led to a delay of the negotiation process. “The strong will of the parties and their firm desire to reach a comprehensive peace have led to the extension of negotiations for one month in the hope that peace will be achieved,” he said. Ibrahim stated that the negotiating parties, in cooperation with the European Union, are working to facilitate the negotiation sessions via secure teleconferencing tools, “until the reasons that prevent the government delegation from reaching Juba have been removed.” Radio Dabanga

Foreigners Targeted in Central African Republic as Coronavirus Fears Grow
A backlash against foreigners in Central African Republic threatens to disrupt peacekeeping and aid supplies in one of Africa’s most fragile countries. Since an Italian missionary was identified as CAR’s first coronavirus case last month, xenophobia has been on the rise. Unfounded stories widely published in the country’s newspapers and on social media have portrayed foreigners as unwelcome importers of a disease that could further impoverish the country. Thousands of non-nationals are employed in CAR by UN agencies and aid organisations, which provide about 70% of the country’s health services. The UN has extended a curfew for employees due to “recent incidents of verbal aggression and intimidation as well as risks of stigmatisation of UN staff, international NGOs and humanitarian actors”, according to an internal memo. The UN peacekeeping force has suspended most internal travel and stopped bringing in new contingents of “blue helmets.” Alarmist rhetoric in CAR’s media is stoking animosity. The Guardian

In Parts of Africa, Police Are Accused of Excess Force amid Coronavirus Lockdowns
Days after Congo announced emergency restrictions to curb the new coronavirus, a police video started circulating online showing an officer in the capital beating a taxi driver for violating a one-passenger limit. The driver pleads with officers as they order him to lie face down on the road. But the punishment is meted out anyway: a sharp truncheon blow to the calves that leaves him writhing in pain. Sylvano Kasongo, who heads the Kinshasa police and is seen in the March 26 video, sent a copy to Reuters because he said he wanted to encourage others to obey the rules. The force respects human rights, he said. Reuters was unable to reach the driver in the video, which caused public outrage in Democratic Republic of Congo. … As in some other parts of the world, allegations of police brutality have surfaced in several African countries as governments impose lockdowns, curfews and other restrictions in response to COVID-19. But populations who cannot afford to stay locked down for long pose a problem for governments in countries where the virus could overwhelm their fragile health systems. Reuters

Ethiopia MPs Approve 5-Month Coronavirus State of Emergency
The Ethiopian Parliament has today approved the five-month state of emergency declared to fight coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Council of Ministers led by PM Abiy Ahmed on Wednesday declared the measure to control the spread of the virus and reduce its impact on the country. Ethiopia’s current tallies stand at 56 confirmed cases, out of which four have recovered and two have died. Two of the patients have been repatriated weeks back. Abiebie Adanech, Attorney general disclosed yesterday that the COVID-19 State of Emergency (SOE) will be supervised by the Council of Ministers & Ministerial sub committees – the later to be established on an as and when basis. Previous State of Emergencies have been overseen by Command Posts (CP), which have often been accused of gross abuse of rights including targeted arrests and use of lethal force against persons believed to flout the orders. Africa News

Burundi Shrugs Off Pandemic, Citing ‘God’s Protection’
The ruling party has sought to reassure Burundians they need not worry about the deadly pandemic sweeping the globe, allowing life to proceed as normal and even pressing ahead with a presidential election scheduled for May 20. … Weddings and funerals are proceeding, thousands of faithful are flocking to churches and mosques, and bustling markets remain open and trading in the landlocked country of 11 million. Political life also charges ahead, with Ndayishimiye and his main rival for the presidency, Agathon Rwasa of the CNL party, on the campaign trail and staging competing rallies. Even more astonishing still, Burundi remains one of the few countries on Earth to keep its first and second division football leagues running — just with spectators required to wash their hands and subject to a temperature check. But not all share the government’s faith and optimism. “Everyone is afraid we’re going to wake up with an explosion of cases in the country, even if we Burundians are ‘God’s favourites’,” said a resident in Bujumbura, the main city. AFP

Coronavirus: Nigeria Struggling as Lockdown Hits Economy
At a market on the outskirts of Nigeria’s megacity Lagos, yam trader Olatunji Okesanya is scrambling for produce as measures to halt the coronavirus cut him off from suppliers. “The restriction in movement has disrupted supply — the farmers are finding it difficult to get their produce to Lagos,” he told AFP. “The few who are able are bribing the security agents and this is making the price to rise.” Authorities in Africa’s most populous nation are battling to stop the spread of a virus that has led to 288 confimed infections and seven deaths. Lagos, an economic hub of 20 million, is deep into the second week of a lockdown that has left it a shadow of its usually frenetic self. The capital Abuja is also shut down and other states around the country have imposed their own restrictions. Officials insist that the measures are needed to contain a disease that threatens to wreak havoc on the weak health system. But farmers, sellers, and consumers complain the fight against the virus has turned Nigeria into a patchwork of roadblocks and regulations that have ruptured business links. AFP

UN Urges Governments to Tackle Recession, Scrap Debt Payment
More than 60 U.N. agencies and international organizations urged governments on Thursday to take immediate steps to address the unfolding global recession and financial crisis wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, especially in the world’s poorest countries. The U.N.-led Inter-Agency Task Force on Financing for Development said: “Billions of people live in countries teetering on the brink of economic collapse due to the explosive mix of financial shocks fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, heavy debt obligations and declining official development assistance.” In response to the crisis, global financial markets have witnessed heavy losses and intense volatility over the last month, it said, and investors have moved around $90 billion out of emerging markets – the largest outflow ever recorded. … U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said in a video statement helping to launch the report that “COVID-19 is a first of its kind global development emergency, and all countries must rise to the challenge.” She said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for a fiscal package in the magnitude of 10% of global GDP to help vulnerable and developing countries. AP

Gabon Secures $147 Million from IMF to Tackle Coronavirus
The International Monetary Fund approved a $147 million payment to Gabon under its Rapid Financing Instrument to address the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. “The Covid-19 pandemic and collapse in oil prices have weakened the macroeconomic outlook, with the possibility that the pandemic could turn more severe and persistent than anticipated with lasting impact on commodity prices, growth, and fiscal and external positions,” IMF Deputy Managing Director Mitsuhiro Furusawa said in a statement on the Washington-based lender’s website. OPEC’s second-smallest member earlier this month announced a 250 billion CFA franc ($417 million) economic package to manage the impact of the coronavirus. President Ali Bongo said 225 billion CFA francs will be used to support companies severely affected by the virus, while 6 billion CFA francs will be allocated monthly for electricity and water bills. Bloomberg

In Zimbabwe, Lack of Tests Sparks Fear COVID-19 Goes Undetected
Health professionals in Zimbabwe have sounded the alarm over the country’s limited capacity to test people for the new coronavirus, warning that a lack of critical equipment and infrastructure shortages may result in many cases being undetected. Zimbabwe reported its first case on March 20 and so far, it has tested only 392 people for COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. The country – which has only one COVID-19 test centre, in the capital, Harare – has confirmed 11 cases, including three deaths. … “As it is, there are only 500 test kits we got from World Health Organization (WHO) and we have used close to 400 of those. Apart from that, we only have one testing centre countrywide. All specimens have to come to Harare,” Norman Matara, secretary of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera on Thursday. … Zimbabwe received 20,000 testing kits from Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, last month but they are said to be faulty. “The kits from the Chinese are not functional and government has had to rely on the donated kits from the World Health Organisation,” Matara said. Al Jazeera

Coronavirus and Aid: What We’re Watching, 9-15 April: Africa
Coronavirus is having a deep impact on operations in West Africa, Julie Belanger, head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for West and Central Africa, told TNH. “We are reprioritising and looking at what programmes are absolutely essential in terms of life saving, while making sure aid workers are both safe and don’t spread the virus,” she said. Some aid groups are looking at where cash programmes can be used instead of distributing relief items, in order to avoid large gatherings of people. But there are questions about what will happen if market food prices rise. “We are not seeing it yet, but in some markets there could be a problem with food availability, which will then impact on cash programmes,” Belanger said. “The food needs to be there to buy.” Some aid groups are also warning donors against diverting funding from existing programmes in order to respond to the coronavirus. Current projects will need to be scaled up, not down: an estimated 19 million people are projected to face largely climate-related food shortages from June to August in the Sahel and West Africa. “That’s a 77-percent increase without taking into account the COVID impact,” Belanger said. The New Humanitarian

Kenyan Physicians Cope with ICU Shortages during Coronavirus Pandemic
Countries struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic are scrambling to buy intensive care equipment, especially ventilators, which are needed in the most critical cases. In Africa, the coronavirus is spreading much faster than ICU equipment can be brought in and nurses trained. As a result, physicians in Kenya are drawing on the experience of colleagues overseas to prepare.Long before the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was discovered, Dr. Wangari Waweru-Siika had for years been working on answering the difficult life-and-death questions that the world is now asking in the midst of the pandemic: which patient gets an ICU bed with a ventilator and other life-support equipment, and which doesn’t? Waweru-Siika is a practicing anesthesiologist and professor at Nairobi’s Aga Khan University Hospital. She has been at the forefront of developing ethical frameworks for intensive care in Kenya. “You need to have a clear triage system that is different from your normal triage system when it comes to COVID,” she said. VOA

Fight against Desert Locust Swarms Goes On in East Africa despite Coronavirus Crisis Measures
Sustained efforts to contain East Africa’s worst invasion of desert locusts in decades are forging ahead, despite limits on the flow of personnel and equipment stemming from the global COVID-19 pandemic, the UN food agency said Friday. The infestation remains alarming, particularly in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia where it poses an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods for millions, noted the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Restrictions imposed by many countries to contain the coronavirus outbreak are creating challenges, but FAO said is it working with Governments, farmers and agricultural producers to overcome hurdles. “There is no significant slowdown because all the affected countries working with FAO consider desert locusts a national priority,” said Cyril Ferrand, FAO’s Resilience Team Leader for East Africa. “While lockdowns are becoming reality, people engaged in the fight against the (locust) upsurge are still allowed to conduct surveillance and air and ground control operations,” he said. Widespread rainfall in March is expected to generate a dramatic increase in locust numbers in the coming months, with new swarms due to move from Kenya into South Sudan and Uganda. UN News

Ahmed Ismail Hussein, Venerable Somali Musician, Dies at 91
Ahmed Ismail Hussein, whose sweet-stringed and melancholic melodies captivated generations of Somalis and made him one of Somalia’s most important musicians, died on Tuesday in London. He was 91. He had been infected by the novel coronavirus, according to Hanna Ali, the artistic director of Kayd Somali Arts and Culture, based in London, with which Mr. Hussein had been affiliated in recent years. Mr. Hussein was famous for playing the oud, the pear-shaped lutelike instrument that is central to Arab and Middle Eastern music. “The oud is my greatest pleasure,” he told a BBC interviewer in 2003. “If there’s an oud lying near me, I’ve just got to play it.” He moved between Somalia, Djibouti and Britain over the course of his recording and performing career. His music was influential in defining and popularizing the traditional Somali style known as qaraami, which involves a singer or a poet backed by the oud or drum. The New York Times

Virtual Safaris Show Animals Emboldened by Lockdown in S. African Game Parks
WildEarth, an innovative daily live stream, provides viewers with an interactive view of an African game reserve experience in the comfort of one’s home. Hosted by experienced guides, viewers get the chance to ask questions about what is happening on screen. A vehicle stands in the background, live streaming the scene for thousands of people watching the animals from the comfort of their homes. “Since the lockdown occurred we’ve seen an amazing explosion in our audiences. Across the board we’ve seen a tripling of our audiences per safari. So literally overnight, somewhere around the end of March it went three times bigger. But more specifically we’ve seen a massive rise in the South African audience,” said Graham Wallington, CEO of WildEarth. As the number of viewers tripled over the last days of March, Wallington noted that the audience typically Americans were increasing from South Africa. The orange nation is almost two weeks into a 21-day lockdown meant to halt the spread of COVID-19. The country is the worst-affected in Africa, with more than 1,700 infections recorded so far including 13 deaths. Africa News with AFP



Photo: Adam Jones