Africa Media Review for April 17, 2020

Africa CDC Steps Up Coronavirus Response by Rolling Out 1m Tests
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) plans to distribute one million COVID-19 test kits from next week to help countries across the continent address a testing shortfall, according to the director of the African Union body. “There is a big gap on the continent on testing,” John Nkengasong said at a weekly press conference on Thursday at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa. “Something has to be done.” Official figures show that Africa has so far been hit less hard than other continents by COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, with 911 known deaths and 3,546 registered recoveries among 17,247 confirmed cases. But limited testing in many countries has deprived African officials of a full picture of the disease’s spread. Nkengasong noted that the problem was especially apparent in the continent’s two most populous countries. Nigeria, with nearly 200 million people, has conducted about 6,000 tests, while Ethiopia, with more than 100 million people, has conducted about 5,000, he said. Al Jazeera

Virus Seen Killing 300,000 in Africa, Even with Interventions
The coronavirus pandemic could kill 300,000 people in Africa this year, even with assertive government measures to limit social interactions, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Overcrowded slums with no access to water coupled with fragile health-care systems make the continent especially vulnerable to the disease, the Addis Ababa-based body said in a report on Friday. Countries across the continent have implemented measures from nationwide lockdowns, in which people are only allowed to leave their homes to buy food and medicine, to suspending schools, prohibiting public gatherings and halting all travel. The report presents four scenarios and shows that zero interventions — a worst-case scenario — would lead to the death of as many as 3.3 million people in a continent with a population of 1.3 billion. “How African countries respond to the Covid-19 crisis in the coming weeks will affect the trajectory of national epidemics across the continent,” it said. … Africa needs an initial $100 billion to beef up its health-care system and social-safety net and another $100 billion in emergency economic stimulus, Uneca said. Bloomberg

Nigerian Security Forces Killed 18 People during Lockdowns -Rights Panel
Nigerian security forces killed 18 people in two weeks while enforcing lockdowns imposed to halt the spread of the new coronavirus, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said. Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous country and biggest energy producer, has recorded 407 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths from the highly contagious lung disease. Lockdowns initially slated to last 14 days were put in place on March 30 in the southern commercial hub Lagos, neighbouring Ogun state and the capital Abuja. They were extended on Sunday by two weeks and other states, such as the northern economic hub Kano, have also imposed restrictions. The NHRC, an independent body, said in a statement dated April 15 that there had been “eight documented incidents of extrajudicial killings leading to 18 deaths” between March 30 and April 13. It said the killings were carried out by the Nigerian Correctional Service, the police force and army. Reuters

Libya Announces 10-Day COVID-19 Lockdown, France Pushes for Ceasefire Talks
Libya’s UN-backed government based in the capital, Tripoli, has announced a lockdown that will last 10 days starting on Friday to slow the spread of Covid-19 in the war-torn country. Meanwhile, France is pushing for the UN Security Council to discuss the implementation of ceasefires in the world’s worst conflict zones to curb the deadly virus from taking further hold. The besieged Tripoli administration ordered the shutdown of all large markets and non-essential shops in its territory, and banned cars from the roads. Citizens wearing masks may venture out by foot from 8am to 2pm, the statement said. Banks, a main source of crowding in recent weeks, would also close. The government, which rules a shrinking corner of the country’s west, had initially left it to local officials to impose most of the restrictive orders. But as confirmed infections rose to 35, including one death, it accepted a proposal from the National Center for Disease Control to take harsher steps. France24 with AFP

‘Race against Time’ to Prevent Famines during Coronavirus Crisis
Vulnerable parts of the developing world, particularly in Africa, are at risk of sliding into famine as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, while humanitarian relief efforts are being hindered by lockdowns and travel restrictions, according to the UN. Experts raised the spectre of unrest similar to that seen in 2007-08 when food price rises sparked riots around the world, destabilising fragile states and fuelling conflict in ways that are still being felt. They told the Guardian that the world could still avoid such a crisis, but time was running out. “From a food security perspective, some places are very close to famine,” said Dominique Burgeon, the director of emergencies at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). “The number of people on the verge of being extremely vulnerable was already very high. What we fear is that this number will further increase because of the impact of Covid-19 on food security.” The Guardian

Informal Vendors Rally against Coronavirus Lockdown in Malawi
Informal traders have taken to the streets in Malawi, protesting against a coronavirus lockdown which comes into effect at the weekend, vowing to disregard it. Thousands of vendors in the northern town of Mzuzu on Thursday marched to the city council’s offices protesting against the shutdown. They brandished banners with slogans such as: “Lockdown more poisonous than corona” and “We’d rather die of corona than of hunger.” … President Peter Mutharika has announced a 21-day lockdown starting on Sunday to contain the spread of the new coronavirus which has killed two people in the southeast African country. … So far, 16 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Malawi, mainly in the main cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe, the government said this week. Meanwhile, the civil rights organisation Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) is seeking a court order to stop the government from implementing the lockdown. The group said its action is based on the government’s failure to announce any measures to cushion the poor during the lockdown. Malawi is one of the poorest countries on the continent where more than half of the population live below the poverty threshold. Al Jazeera

IOM Calls for Halt of Ethiopia Repatriations amid COVID-19 Concerns
The UN’s International Organisation on Migration (IOM) has called for a temporary suspension of repatriation flights to Ethiopia after many of a group of around 5,000 returned from abroad without going through any prior Covid-19 health screenings. The organisation called for the measures to be put in to place so that the Ethiopian authorities could safely repatriate them. “Cooperation and open dialogue between border management and agencies is critical at this time to ensure everything is being done to halt the spread of Covid-19 and that the movements of people are safe and orderly and regular,” says Maureen Achieng, chief of mission in Ethiopia for IOM. Most of the Ethiopians who came through Dire Dawa, a big city to the east of the capital, Addis Ababa. All were irregular migrants living abroad, according to Yvonne Ndege, IOM spokesperson. They were all deported from Djibouti because of the current coronavirus crisis. Djibouti currently has 435 cases recorded, with two deaths. RFI

The Mystery of Cameroon’s Unusually Absent President: ‘Sir, Are You Alive?’
It had been 35 days since anyone saw the president of Cameroon – or, at least, since anyone had revealed his whereabouts – and people in the central African country had questions. “Sir, are you alive?” one man asked on Twitter. The public absence of Paul Biya – who, at 87, is the oldest leader in Africa – during the coronavirus pandemic fueled outrage, concern and wild theories before the strongman turned up Thursday in a photo with the French ambassador to Cameroon. “On the menu for our exchange this afternoon: managing the COVID-19 pandemic in Cameroon, France and around the world,” Biya tweeted. “You have risen?” someone wrote in response. “We don’t ask you to receive people,” another said. “We ask you to address the nation.” … On social media, Cameroonians demanded to hear him speak about the growing outbreak on their soil. The nation has recorded 848 cases and 14 deaths. The airports are closed. Schools and places of worship have shuttered. … The silence is a stark contrast to other presidential approaches to covid-19. … “During this pandemic, every single country in the world needs to hear from their head of state,” said Kamto, the Cameroonian opposition leader. The Washington Post

DRC: Grassroots Mobilisation Is Key to Fighting an Outbreak
Last week health workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were getting ready to take a collective sigh of relief. The Ebola outbreak in the country – the second-largest on record – was about to come to an end. But last Friday, the country’s health ministry confirmed that a 26-year-old man in Beni in eastern DRC had died from the virus. News of another death, this time of an 11-month-old girl, quickly followed – dashing hopes the outbreak would be considered over as the fight against the coronavirus intensified. … In a statement after the resurgence of Ebola in eastern DRC, IFRC’s director of health Emanuele Capobianco said the news is “a stark reminder that when conditions that allow diseases to thrive and spread remain, flare-ups can be a reality.” He warns that relaxing regulations and lockdowns will not spell the end of the coronavirus. “Unfortunately ending the lockdown will most likely bring more new cases,” he tells the M&G. “Because where the lockdown has been able to reduce the number of cases, once people will start to circulate again, we will see the number of cases probably going up. The magic here will be to open up the interaction within societies in quite a cautious way.” Mail & Guardian

Coronavirus in Africa: ‘No Time for Half Measures in Helping the Economy’
Not only could coronavirus “cause thousands of deaths” in Africa, but it has the potential to “unleash economic and social devastation”, according to the head of the World Health Organization for the continent, Matshido Moeti. Her words are a reminder that the pandemic is not only a health emergency. A year ago, the World Bank’s Africa Pulse report was forecasting sub-Saharan economies to grow in 2019 and 2020 by around 2.8%. A fragile rate, disguising some more promising news, but now the bank forecasts that the region will fall into its first recession in 25 years, with the overall economy shrinking by somewhere between 2.1% and 5.1%, because of the impact of the spread of Covid-19. The World Bank says the effects of Covid-19 on the continent can essentially be broken down into three areas: Trade disruption and falling commodity exports; reductions in the amount of investment and other money coming from abroad; the day-to-day economic problems caused by lockdowns and other restrictions. BBC

Coronavirus Exposes Africa’s Oxygen Problem
As a viral respiratory pandemic sweeps the world, the machine that breathes for patients – a ventilator – has become essential life-saving medical equipment, and is in short supply. But there’s also a desperate shortage in Africa of something we all take for granted – oxygen. The most common diagnosis in severe COVID-19 patients is extreme pneumonia, with most critical cases requiring mechanical ventilation, according to guidelines drawn up by the World Health Organisation for clinical management of coronavirus. Medical oxygen is what flows through the ventilators that breathe for critically ill patients – another key piece of equipment that’s scarce across Africa. The limited availability of oxygen in hospitals is a result of funding, politics, and supply chains that have all led to the neglect of production and distribution of the vital gas – especially for regional and lower-tier hospitals outside of capital cities. The New Humanitarian

Years before China’s Belt and Road Plan Got Its Name, Huawei Was Driven to Seek Emerging-Market Contracts
When Jacky Gao Kexin put his hand up for his first overseas assignment in 2004, the young Huawei engineer had just completed three years of after-sales customer service in Henan and Jiangsu provinces in his home country. Finding himself halfway around the world in Lagos, a megacity of 16 million people in Africa’s fourth-largest economy, it would take Gao countless long weekends and sleepless nights – including being robbed at gunpoint, twice – to make headway in Nigeria. VMobile, a local network operator with close to 1 million cellular phone users, approached Gao with a problem that its vendor had left unresolved. Gao worked through a weekend with his technicians and came up with a solution, displacing the then vendor Alcatel, and eventually Ericsson, as VMobile’s hardware and software supplier in Nigeria. … By 2007, when Huawei promoted Gao to head its business in Yaounde, the company’s share of central Africa’s telecoms market had risen to an estimated 40 per cent, including its first US$100 million contract in Cameroon. A decade later today, Huawei counts Africa as its third-biggest sales market as it rides on the explosive growth in mobile phone usage to dominate the sale of telecoms backbone equipment and software on the continent, operating in 40 of Africa’s 54 countries. South China Morning Post

Comoros: ‘There’s No More Water’: Climate Change on a Drying Island
Hundreds of brightly clad women flock to the banks of the river each week to scrub their way through bundles of laundry. Some of them travel hours from tiny villages to access a critical but increasingly endangered resource here on the island of Anjouan: water. The island, part of the nation of the Comoros off the East African coast, receives more annual rainfall than most of Europe. But a combination of deforestation and climate change has caused at least half of its permanent rivers to stop flowing in the dry season. Since the 1950s, the island has been clearing forests to make way for farmland and in the process disrupted a delicate ecosystem. With so many trees and plants cut down, the water they would normally collect and feed back into the ground and rivers is disappearing. Families in parts of the island now struggle to meet their domestic needs, and farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to irrigate their fields. … The challenges it is seeing now are likely to become more acute in other parts of the developing world in years to come, experts warn. The New York Times

Namibia’s Youngest MP Enters the Crucible as Africa’s Youth Lead the Way
One of Africa’s youngest cabinet members to date is experiencing a baptism of fire. Emma Theofelus, 23, was appointed Namibia’s information, communication and technology deputy minister a week after coronavirus hit Namibian shores. “I have literally been learning on the job so far,” she says. Part of Theofelus’s role is to help lead communication to the public on preventative steps against the pandemic. The former youth activist and justice ministry legal officer was having a quiet Saturday at home when the surprise call came from State House. “I have been put in a position, regardless of what limitations I might have, to show up and do the best that I can do,” says Theofelus, who has had to learn very quickly how to navigate governance and political issues. So far Namibia has seen “tremendous results” in giving real-time information about coronavirus to the media and the public while thwarting fake news, she says. The Guardian

In Soweto, a South African Who Celebrated History Is Mourned
Benedict Somi Vilakazi had been surrounded by history. His grandfather was South Africa’s first black lecturer at Witswatersrand University and produced an English/Zulu dictionary, enormous achievements in a country then divided sharply by race. The most famous street in Soweto shares his name, and two Nobel Peace Prize winners – Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu – lived along it. Vilakazi was proud of that past and put a mural about his grandfather in his coffee shop that was popular with tourists and locals alike. Some of them gathered, carefully, keeping a distance and many wearing facemasks, on Thursday to mourn the 57-year-old Vilakazi, who died of COVID-19. The pallbearers wore full protective suits. … “Somi took great pride in telling people about the history of the family and Soweto,” his cousin said. Vilakazi had taken the coronavirus threat seriously, observed precautions while serving customers and closed the shop well before South Africa went into lockdown on March 27, family members said. … South Africa has confirmed more than 2,500 cases of COVID-19, and more than 30 deaths. Its nationwide lockdown was imposed relatively early and is credited with helping to control the spread of the disease, bringing the daily average increase in cases down from 42% to 4%. AP

Image of Khartoum Vigil during Sudan Revolution Named World Press Photo of the Year 2020
An image by Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer Yasuyoshi Chiba* of a young man, illuminated by mobile phones, reciting protest poetry while demonstrators chant slogans calling for civilian rule during a blackout in Khartoum on June 19, 2019, has been named as World Press Photo of the Year 2020. The then ruling military junta that overthrew the 30-year dictatorship of Omar Al Bashir in April 11, following the massacre during the break-up of the sit-in at the General Command of the army in Khartoum on June 3, ordered an internet blackout, asserting that the internet was “a threat to national security.” This resulted in Sudan being effectively digitally cut-off from the outside world for a period of 38 days. Radio Dabanga



Photo: Adam Jones