Africa Media Review for April 16, 2020

African Adaptations to the COVID-19 Response
Africa faces the world’s most dramatic public health burden in any given year, given its constant fight against recurring and infectious diseases. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the stress it has caused to some of the world’s most advanced health systems, therefore, was soberly noted by Africa’s public health community. With high levels of poverty, urban density, widespread infectious diseases, limited access to healthcare, and overcrowded informal settlements, Africa faces a preponderance of risk factors that threaten to exacerbate the pandemic on the continent. Given these challenges, many African countries followed the global trend of imposing shutdowns of businesses and human movements. Yet, with 70 percent of some African populations relying on subsistence livelihoods, it was understood that this would only be a temporary solution. Africa’s response to the pandemic would need to be customized to its own realities, challenges, resources, and strengths. This has spurred a number of innovations and adaptations to the coronavirus response in Africa-initiatives that continue to unfold. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Richest Countries Agree to Freeze Poorer Nations’ Debt
The world’s richest countries agreed Wednesday to freeze poor nations’ debt obligations, shortly after nearly 20 European and African leaders made a joint appeal for a massive international effort to boost Africa’s coronavirus response, saying that “only a global victory that fully includes Africa can bring this pandemic to an end.” Finance ministers of the G-20 group of major economies, which includes the U.S., China, India and others, said they will immediately put on hold poor countries’ obligations to service debt they owe. The statement issued after a videoconference put to rest concerns that China would block such a measure, which is aimed at helping the poorest nations focus their spending on healthcare and assistance to vulnerable people to contain the outbreak and its fallout. The joint appeal signed by the leaders of France, Ethiopia, Germany, South Africa and other nations, published in the Financial Times, had called for dramatic measures that include an immediate moratorium on all debt payments, public and private, until the pandemic is over. … It is a moral, human duty, Macron added, calling on China, a major lender to African nations, to help. He’s also pushing for debt rescheduling and, in some cases, debt cancellation. … “No region can win the battle against COVID-19 alone,” it said. “If it is not beaten in Africa, it will return to haunt us all.” AP

Dozens Killed in Suspected Militia Attacks in DR Congo’s Restive East
More than two dozen people have been killed in two separate attacks in eastern DR Congo, a region in the grip of militia violence, officials said Wednesday. “CODECO assailants attacked the people of the village of Koli while they were asleep, killing 22 civilians,” said Adel Alingi, head of the Djugu administrative region in Ituri province, referring to an armed group targeting the Hema ethnic community. The raid took place overnight Saturday-Sunday. “All (of the dead) were from the Hema community,” Alingi told AFP, adding that the motive for the attack remained unclear. “The people of the village have fled for their lives,” he said. In the second attack on Tuesday, two soldiers, a civilian and five members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia were killed in Beni, in neighbouring North Kivu province, the army’s regional spokesman, Anthony Mualushayi, told AFP. CODECO – whose official name is Cooperative for the Development of Congo – is an armed political-religious sect in Ituri drawn from the Lendu ethnic group. AFP

Opportunity or Threat? How Islamic Extremists Are Reacting to Coronavirus
Islamic extremists hope to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic to launch new attacks, motivate followers and reinforce their credentials as alternative rulers of swaths of unstable countries across the Middle East, Asia and Africa. But the responses of different extremist groups have differed. … Experts say the reaction to the pandemic has also evolved within extremist organisations, as its scale and threat has become better known. … In Somalia, al-Shabaab held an urgent meeting two weeks ago to discuss the threat of the epidemic where senior commanders decided to tell Muslims to take precautions against the disease. Al-Shabaab, which controls swaths of territory and is fighting local government forces backed by US airstrikes and other African troops, blamed the disease on “the crusader forces who have invaded the country and the disbelieving countries that support them.” An al-Shabaab leader said the group rejoiced in the suffering of the US and its European allies. … Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Boko Haram breakaway faction of extremists in Nigeria, released an audio clip this week claiming that his brutal version of Islam was an “anti-virus” and portraying social distancing measures that have closed mosques as an assault on the faith. The Guardian

‘Killing in the Name of Corona’: Death Toll Soars from Kenya’s Curfew Crackdown
The coronavirus hasn’t devastated Kenya yet. Its ripple effects, however, have proved deadlier here than the virus itself. Police have killed at least 12 people while enforcing a dusk-to-dawn curfew that began more than two weeks ago, making Kenya’s lockdown one of the deadliest in the world. But the true death toll is higher still: An untold number of others have died because of the curfew itself and the fear prompted by police batons and bullets. That fear gripped Vidia Nduku Mati, 41, and her husband as the delivery date for their baby approached at the end of March. They prayed that she wouldn’t go into labor in the overnight hours – but fate wouldn’t cooperate. It was the deep of night, well into curfew, when the pain became unbearable. … While human rights groups and police oversight agencies collect and verify reports of those killed directly by police during curfew enforcement – a number that is already higher than the country’s covid-19 death toll of nine – more, like Vidia and her unborn child, are dying uncounted. The Washington Post

Suspicion and Fear Linger as Ethiopia’s Campus Wars Go Quiet
On a December morning last year, students at Ambo University in Ethiopia’s Oromia region awoke to find threatening notices pinned to the walls of their dormitories. The message was simple: boycott classes. Anyone failing to do so would face punishment. Written by Oromo student activists calling themselves the Qeerroo, the notices demanded solidarity with fellow Oromos at universities in the neighbouring region of Amhara, after a spate of deadly ethnic clashes there. Similar boycotts had been called in universities across Oromia, the country’s largest region. Ethiopia’s most recent round of campus unrest began in November, when fighting broke out at Woldia University in Amhara between students watching a football match on television. One student was thrown off a building to his death, another was beaten to death, 13 were injured. The violence spread to universities across both regions. … To maintain order, the government has effectively imposed a state-of-emergency conditions at all public universities, deploying federal police, enforcing curfews and banning unauthorised gatherings. The Guardian

For Algeria’s Hirak Protest Movement, COVID-19 Could Prove an Opportunity
A year ago, Algeria’s stunning popular uprising forced out longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and rocked a power establishment in place since independence. Today the coronavirus pandemic has emptied streets once packed with millions of anti-government protesters, while authorities continue a campaign of intimidation and arrests, critics say. Some predict the pandemic, which now leaves Algeria with Africa’s biggest reported death toll, may unravel the largely peaceful Hirak protest movement born early last year. Yet other analysts believe, paradoxically, that COVID-19 could see it emerge stronger than ever. “The Hirak is taking charge of the health crisis,” said Anissa Daboussi, Middle East and North African program officer for the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). “Once again, civil society is offering the answers, not the state.” With more than 300 coronavirus-related deaths as of Wednesday, Algeria has Africa’s highest reported mortality figures, although its overall caseload lags South Africa and Egypt, according to the Johns Hopkins’ Coronavirus Resource Center. VOA

Police Boss Says Nowhere in Northern Mozambique under Insurgent Control
No parts of Mozambique’s troubled northernmost province are under the control of insurgents, national police commander Bernardino Rafael said on Wednesday. Rafael’s comments come after an increase in the frequency of attacks in the province of Cabo Delgado, home to multi-billion dollar gas projects led by oil majors such as Total. Security analysts say in some cases insurgents have occupied parts of towns, villages or government buildings and hoisted a black and white flag. “There are no areas that can be said to be in the hands of insurgents, what exist are areas prone to the incursions of criminals,” Rafael told reporters in the northern province of Nampula. He said the situation in a number of areas, including Mocimboa da Praia – some 350 kilometres (220 miles) from the gas projects – was tense. Reuters

Malawi Court to Hear Mutharika Appeal against Vote Re-Run
Malawi’s Supreme Court on Wednesday is to begin hearing an appeal by President Peter Mutharika against the re-run of an election in which he was returned to office last year. The Constitutional Court in February annulled the results of the May 2019 poll and ordered a re-run, citing “grave” and “widespread” irregularities including the use of correction fluid on tally sheets. Mutharika appealed against the landmark ruling, accusing the court of bias against him. Two weeks of hearings will begin Wednesday in Lilongwe, judiciary spokeswoman Agnes Patemba told AFP. … A new election has been set for July 2, although it could be delayed by the appeal and the coronavirus outbreak in the southern African country. The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) also appealed the Constitutional Court ruling on similar grounds. … The court ordered a fresh election within 150 days, as well as an investigation into the conduct of the electoral commission. Both Mutharika and the MEC have made various attempts to delay the process. AFP

‘We Have Nothing’: As Lockdown Bites, Migrants in Tunisia Feel the Pinch
From 6pm to 6am, the security services enforce the curfew. Like most other countries in the world, Tunisia remains in lockdown. At all other times, tight restrictions on public movement are in place to limit the spread of coronavirus. Across the country, many businesses are shuttered up, with employees preparing themselves for the long and potentially economically devastating wait until something like normal life returns to the country. Partway through the initial lockdown, protests erupted in some of the poorer neighbourhoods near the capital, Tunis, as the strain of the lockdown began to tell on people already accustomed to surviving on the bare minimum. For the country’s migrant population, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, the threat posed by Covid-19 is especially acute. In Wardia, near the capital, the 56 migrants housed in one of the country’s reception and orientation centres went on hunger strike over the lack of protection they feel they have been afforded. The Guardian

Nigeria: At Least 19 Killed in Ethnic Fighting in Taraba
At least 19 people have been killed in fighting between members of ethnic groups in central Nigeria’s Taraba state over ownership of a fishing lake, police said. The violence broke out on Monday between the Shomo and Jole ethnic groups in Lau district. “Nineteen people were confirmed dead,” state police spokesman David Misal told AFP news agency on Wednesday. “Around 100 houses were burned and several people were also injured.” Misal said long-standing animosity between the neighbouring communities over the lake’s ownership had already cost dozens of lives. … President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the clashes in a statement late on Tuesday, expressing sadness at “the resort to violence over disagreements that could be resolved through dialogue.” AFP

Gunmen Kill Nine in Central Nigeria Attack
Gunmen on Wednesday killed nine civilians in an attack on a village in central Nigeria, said police, in what one politician describe as the latest outburst of intercommunal violence. A police spokesperson for Plateau state said the unidentified assailants shot dead residents and burnt 22 houses in the assault on the village of Hura. The bloodshed followed a rise in tensions between the local Irigwe community and Fulani herders over alleged cattle rustling and land disputes. Regional lawmaker Haruna Maitala denounced the “worrying reoccurrences of attacks and counter-attacks. … Attacks in remote areas often go unreported, but the authorities in Plateau state insist that the bloodshed has decreased following reconciliation efforts between the communities. AFP

Coronavirus: Interpol Busts 1.5 Million Euro Face Masks Fraud Traced to Nigeria
Interpol says it has foiled a coordinated multinational face mask supply fraud worth Eur 1.5 million linked to Nigeria. Interpol in a statement on Tuesday said the scheme involved the use of compromised emails, advance payment fraud, and money laundering. The alleged fraudsters use the global scarcity of medical supplies following the coronavirus pandemic to dupe their victims. According to INTERPOL the suspects used a compromised email address linked to a legitimate company in Spain selling face masks and a fake website. The company originally claimed to have 10 million masks but could not deliver them. It later referred the buyer to a dealer in Ireland. The Irish dealer also promised to put the buyer in touch with a different supplier in the Netherlands. … Luckily due to an alert raised by investigators, the UK bank successfully recalled the full amount and the funds have been repatriated to the Netherlands where it remained frozen. Premium Times

IMF Okays Almost $230 Million in Coronavirus Aid for Niger, Burkina
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved emergency aid totalling nearly $230 million to help two Sahel countries fight coronavirus. The IMF’s executive board gave the green light to disbursements of $115.3 million to Burkina Faso and $114.5 million to Niger to address the Covid-19 pandemic, the Fund said in statements late on Tuesday. The money is being allocated under the IMF’s Rapid Credit Facility, to help meet urgent balance-of-payments needs. They will also benefit from IMF debt service relief. The two countries, which rank among the poorest in the world, are also struggling with a jihadist insurgency in the Sahel that has claimed thousands of lives and driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. The IMF has also announced emergency aid for Ghana of a billion dollars and $442 million for Senegal to help them tackle the coronavirus crisis. On Tuesday, it said it expected sub-Saharan African economies to shrink by 1.6% in 2020, as part of a global contraction of 3.0%. AFP

COVID-19 Compounds Africa’s Pre-existing Health Sector Problems
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe have been among Africa’s most notorious high profile medical tourists in recent years. As the COVID-19 pandemic, the luxury of flying abroad is no longer really an option for the privileged few in Africa. In order to protect their fragile health care systems, governments around the continent have closed borders and halting air traffic. More than 30 of Africa’s 57 international airports have closed or severely limited flights, according the the US State Department. Flight trackers show only a few planes crossing over the African continent, with many of them being domestic flights. A survey by the pan-African Afrobarometer research network recently showed that more than half of all Africans go without the necessary medical care at least once in a given year. Four in 10 patients experience long waits or never receive care, while about one in eight recounts having to pay a bribe in order to obtain treatment. Africans identify health as the second-most important national problem their governments should address, according to Afrobarometer. DW

Kenya’s 3D Printing Community Is Making COVID-19 Equipment to Fill a Deficit as Caseloads Rise
As Kenya prepares for a rise in novel coronavirus (Covid-19) cases, 3D printing companies are designing and printing personal protective equipment (PPEs) and parts for medical devices to address the expected medical equipment deficit in the country. Ultra Red Technologies, along with a coalition of other Kenyan-owned 3D printers, has borrowed from open source prototypes designed by 3DVerkstan, a company in Sweden, to print plastic face shields to fill a gap before established plastic manufacturers can create a mould and begin producing quickly at affordable prices. 3D printing of  high-end medical equipment is on the rise in Africa. … Despite Kenya’s lead in digital technology on the continent its nascent 3D printing industry is relatively small compared to those in other African countries, such as South Africa. Like other Sub Saharan Africa countries, Kenya’s health system is at risk of being easily overwhelmed if the East African country sees a steep rise in coronavirus cases. Quartz Africa

In Pictures: Life in Dakar during Coronavirus Pandemic
A coronavirus epidemic in Africa could have potentially catastrophic consequences: Lack of medical capacity and the difficulty to maintain social distancing would let COVID-19 spread aggressively. Armed with some headway, Senegal braced itself. The country had recent experience fighting the Ebola outbreak of 2014-2016. Senegal’s initial cases were linked to travellers and community transmission remained low. That changed mid-March when a Senegalese, returning from Italy, infected 20 people in Touba, the second most populated city. The expatriate community in Senegal started leaving. Days later, Senegal closed its airspace. By March 23, the cases jumped to 79 and Senegal declared a state of emergency. That evening, President Macky Sall, while imposing a dusk-to-dawn curfew, addressed the nation and said: “The situation is serious. I say this tonight in all solemnity.” Al Jazeera

Coronavirus: Rwandan Radio Stars Spread Hygiene Message
A group of young people in Rwanda have been writing and producing a series of radio dramas to teach listeners about the vital role hand-washing and sanitation play in preventing the spread of diseases such as Covid-19. The radio plays were produced in partnership with the charity WaterAid, over an 18-month period. And photographer Elena Heatherwick has created a series to show the radio producers at work. Broadcast on Radio Ishingiro, the plays reach four million listeners, a third of the population of Rwanda. BBC



Photo: Adam Jones