Africa Media Review for April 20, 2020

Africa Deaths above 1,000, including Nigerian Chief of Staff
Africa now has more than 1,000 deaths from COVID-19, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Saturday, while Nigeria said the president’s chief of staff had died. A total of 52 of the continent’s 54 countries have reported the coronavirus, with the overall number of cases surpassing 20,000 on Saturday. Nigeria’s government said Abba Kyari, chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, died Friday of COVID-19. “May God accept his soul,” the statement said. Kyari had been considered by some as Nigeria’s most powerful government figure. His infection had been one of the highest-profile in Africa. Several government ministers and a U.S. ambassador were infected with the virus earlier in Burkina Faso. Kyari announced his illness last month, saying that “I have made my own care arrangements to avoid further burdening the public health system, which faces so many pressures.” He was reported to have been infected during a visit to Germany. AP

Bandits Kill 47 People in North of Nigeria: Police
Bandits riding more than 100 motorbikes killed 47 people in coordinated attacks against several farming villages in Katsina State, northern Nigeria, the president’s office and local police said Sunday. The mounted raiders carried out “organised and simultaneous attacks” on the villages, Katsina state police spokesman Gambo Isah said in a statement. The predawn raids Saturday targeted villages in the Dutsenma, Danmusa and Safana districts, he added. A spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari, confirmed the attack in a statement condemning the gunmen as “bandits.” Isah said members of the security forces, including soldiers and policemen, had deployed to the area on Sunday. The bandits were thought to be members of criminal gangs specialising in cattle theft and kidnap for ransom in the area. Villagers had put up stiff resistance fighting off an earlier attack, said the police statement. But the gang returned at around 0230 GMT on around 150 motorbikes, riding in twos and threes. They went on a shooting spree in the villages, setting fire to homes, residents had told police. AFP

44 Suspected Boko Haram Members Found Dead in Chad Prison
A group of 44 suspected members of Boko Haram who had been arrested in Chad during a recent operation against the jihadist group have been found dead in their prison cell, apparently poisoned, Chad’s chief prosecutor has announced. Speaking on national television on Saturday, Youssouf Tom said the prisoners were found dead on Thursday. Autopsies on four dead prisoners revealed traces of a lethal substance which had caused heart attacks in some victims and severe asphyxiation in others, he said. The dead men were among a group of 58 suspects captured during a major army operation around Lake Chad launched by the president, Idriss Déby Itno, at the end of March. An investigation was ongoing to determine exactly how the prisoners had died, he said. Earlier this week, the justice minister, Djimet Arabi, told AFP the captured men had been handed over to the court system on Wednesday, and had been due in court for trial on Thursday. A security source, speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP that “the 58 prisoners were placed in a single cell and were given nothing to eat or drink for two days.” AFP

Burkina Faso Security Forces Executed Unarmed Detainees: HRW
Burkina Faso’s security forces have allegedly executed 31 unarmed detainees in a northern town, Human Rights Watch said, calling for an immediate investigation. The men, all from the Fulani ethnic group, were allegedly killed just hours after being arrested on April 9 during a government counterterrorism operation, the New York-based rights group said on Monday. The incident took place in Djibo, about 200km (120 miles) north of the capital Ouagadougou. After hearing gunfire, local people found the bodies of 31 men, last seen in the custody of the security forces, said HRW. Several had had their eyes or hands bound. None of the witnesses saw any of the arrested men with a firearm. Security forces made “a brutal mockery of a counterterrorism operation, that may amount to a war crime and could fuel further atrocities,” said Corinne Dufka, HRW’s director for the Sahel region. HRW interviewed 17 people over the killings, including 12 witnesses to the arrests and later burial of the victims, a statement said. Al Jazeera

Mali Election Runoff Tarnished by Intimidation and Allegations of Vote Rigging
Acts of intimidation and allegations of vote buying marred the final round of legislative elections in Mali on Sunday aimed at reviving confidence in embattled institutions despite a bloody jihadist conflict and a virus pandemic. In central Mali, the president of a voting station was forcibly removed and representatives of the electoral commission “chased away by armed men,” one of the representatives told AFP. Military sources confirmed the incident. Elsewhere, voting was cancelled after jihadists threatened to attack voters, witnesses said. Already on Saturday, unknown assailants had destroyed voting equipment in northern Mali. And on Sunday, observer umbrella group Synergie said there had been many incidents of vote buying at several voting stations. The first provisional results are to be announced at the start of the week. The election had been repeatedly delayed, and the first round on March 29 was disrupted by jihadist attacks as well as the kidnapping of opposition leader Soumaila Cisse. AFP

Lesotho’s Army Withdraws as Calls Mount for PM to Resign
Lesotho troops deployed by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane withdrew from the capital’s streets on Sunday in a showdown between the octogenerian leader and opponents demanding his resignation. Thabane faces mounting calls to step down from rivals within his ruling party and opposition groups over suspicions he had a hand in the murder of his estranged wife in 2017. An AFP journalist in the capital Maseru reported that soldiers backed by armoured vehicles had returned to their barracks by Sunday morning after Thabane had deployed them the day before to “restore order” while accusing unnamed law enforcement agencies of undermining democracy. A South African envoy has arrived in Lesotho, Thabane’s senior private secretary Thabo Thakalekoala told AFP on Sunday. …  In power since 2017, Thabane, 80, deployed troops on Saturday a day after the constitutional court overturned his decision to suspend parliament for three months. The premier has been under immense pressure to step down after the police investigations suggested his involvement in the murder of his late wife, Lipolelo Thabane, three years ago. AFP

Concerns of a Coup Stir in Sudan as Capital Braces for a Virus Lockdown
A dispute over measures to counter the coronavirus in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, has led to an open confrontation between the country’s military and political leaders, underscoring the fragility of the country’s transition to democracy. The civilian prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, announced on Thursday that he had fired the governor of Khartoum, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Abdoun Hamad, for defying a government order to cancel Friday prayers in Khartoum and its sister city across the Nile, Omdurman. … But General Hamad refused the prime minister’s order, saying in a statement issued by his office hours later that he intended to remain in his position – an unusually public act of defiance that exposed a growing rift inside the ruling Supreme Council, which is composed of civilians and army generals and is supposed to lead the country toward democratic elections in 2022. The New York Times

Ghana President Lifts Lockdown on Improved Virus Readiness
Ghana became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to ease movement restrictions after a 21-day lockdown of its biggest cities bought the government enough time to improve its preparedness for the coronavirus pandemic, said President Nana Akufo-Addo. Residents of the capital, Accra, and major centers are allowed to return to work from Monday even though other restrictions such as school closures and a ban on sport and religious meetings remain in place, Akufo-Addo said Sunday in a televised address. The disease has brought three years of economic expansion of 6% or more to a sudden halt in the nation of 30 million people, with the finance ministry forecasting that growth could slow to 1.5%, the least in 37 years. The International Monetary Fund last week disbursed $1 billion in emergency funds to Ghana while a debt standstill from the World Bank will free up $500 million in interest and principal payments. “The decision to restrict movement has occasioned a number of severe difficulties for all of us across the country, especially for the poor and vulnerable,” Akufo-Addo said. Going forward, “we’ll tailor our solution to our unique social economic and cultural condition. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach.” Bloomberg

Ghana Turns to Drones to Enable Faster Coronavirus Testing
Ghana is using delivery drones from U.S.-based startup Zipline to enable it to test people more quickly outside major cities for the novel coronavirus, the company said on Monday. Ghana has 834 confirmed infections and nine people have died from COVID-19, the disease the virus causes. Zipline operated its first coronavirus test flight on April 1 and will now fly samples collected from more than 1,000 health facilities in rural areas to laboratories in the capital Accra and to Kumasi, the second-largest city. “Using contactless drone delivery to transport COVID-19 test samples will allow the government to respond to the pandemic and help save lives more quickly,” Zipline Chief Executive Keller Rinaudo said in a release. As of April 15, the Ghana Health Service said it had tested 57,000 coronavirus samples. Reuters

Malawi High Court Sets Aside Coronavirus Lockdown Pending Review
A Malawi high court on Friday granted a temporary injunction against the government’s 21-day coronavirus lockdown period due to start on Saturday, pending a judicial review within seven days. Justice Kenyatta Nyirenda set aside the lockdown in response to a challenge by the Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), which argued that more consultation was needed to prevent harm to the poorest and most vulnerable of society. Small-scale traders, often young people, had been staging protests in the three major cities against the lockdown plan, carrying placards declaring that it would be better to contract the virus than die of hunger because they are unable to work. Most of those protesting called on the government to provide them with cash and food hand-outs if a lockdown went ahead. Reuters

Scores of Civilians Killed in Worsening Inter-Ethnic Violence in DR Congo
The U.N. Human Rights Office reports scores of civilians are being killed, wounded and abducted in worsening Inter-ethnic violence between the Hema and Lendu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri Province. More than 150 people have been killed in Djugu and Mahagi territories in Ituri province since early March, raising the number of civilian deaths this year to more than 200. In addition, the U.N. Human Rights Office reports scores of other civilians have been wounded and abducted in this inter-ethnic conflict. The agency says attacks by CODECO fighters, a militia tied to the Lendu ethnic group, have escalated against the Hema people after their commander was killed on March 25 by the DRC Military. U.N. human rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, says 23 civilians were killed in the latest attack last week in the village of Koli. VOA

Ethiopia Plans to Close Eritrean Refugee Camp despite Concerns
Ethiopia is stepping up preparations to go ahead with a planned closure of a camp for Eritrean refugees, despite concerns among residents and calls by aid agencies to halt their relocation over coronavirus fears. Home to some 26,000 people, including some 1,600 minors, Hitsats is one of four camps in the northern Tigray region hosting nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR). Earlier this month, Ethiopia’s Agency for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) announced to residents in Hitsats camp that the federal government had decided to relocate them to Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps, or offer them the possibility to live in towns. The plan has yet to be executed amid the coronavirus pandemic, but officials say preparations continue. … In a statement sent to Al Jazeera on Friday, the UNHCR urged the government to put on hold any relocation effort, saying it risked making refugees vulnerable to COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. “Any large-scale movement now will expose the refugees to risk of COVID-19 outbreak in camps,” the agency said. Al Jazeera

Nigeria Confirms First Coronavirus Case in Conflict-Hit Borno
Nigeria on Monday confirmed its first coronavirus infection in the insurgency-hit northeast of the country, after a medic with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) died from Covid-19. The region has been ravaged by a decade-long insurgency by Boko Haram jihadists that has forced around 1.8 million people from their homes. Aid workers fear the virus could prove devastating if it spreads inside the crowded camps holding hundreds of thousands of displaced people. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control said on Twitter that it had recorded one case of the disease in Borno state, the epicentre of the conflict. MSF said in a statement that one of its staff died on 18 April in the state capital Maiduguri “and post-mortem test results indicated that they were positive for Covid-19.” The international aid group said it was supporting Nigeria’s health ministry “in contact tracing.” MSF insisted it “will continue to operate, providing essential treatment for communities in Nigeria.” AFP

Out of School, Forced to Fight: Children Pay Price for Sahel War
Djan Diagahate was 12 years old last year when he watched a group of gunmen storm his village in central Mali and burn it to the ground. His home and his school – everything he knew – were destroyed. Since then, he has been living in a small tent made of tarp and twigs at a camp for displaced people in Sevare, some 100km (62 miles) from his home in Ballanguine. Instead of going to school, he spends his days sitting around the Chirifila site with his family and other children displaced by the violence that has engulfed Mali and other Sahel countries in recent years. Diagahate is not alone. An entire generation of children in the country and across the region has fallen years behind their grade level. A surge in attacks and threats against public schools, teachers and students in Central and West Africa has led to the closure of more than 9,000 schools… Since 2015, the number of violent attacks perpetrated by “militant Islamist groups” in the Sahel has doubled each year, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a US Department of Defense research group, said in December 2019. Deaths linked to these attacks have also doubled each year. Al Jazeera

Africa Faces Off with China over Alleged Racism and Profiling
A host of diplomats across the continent’s capitals either summoned Chinese ambassadors or wrote sharp protest letters to Beijing, objecting to the mistreatment that was captured in widely circulated social media clips. China is reported to have imposed compulsory Covid-19 tests in its southern Guangdong city, but enforcement of the order saw blacks evicted from their residences, denied service in restaurants, hospitals and supermarkets and in some cases even assaulted. The AU Commission chairperson, Moussa Faki, said Africa was “extremely concerned” at the reports of racial profiling of black people and called for immediate action. He held talks with Chinese ambassador to the AU, Liu Yuxi; even as African ambassadors in Beijing also pushed the Chinese government on the matter. The East African

In Shadow of Coronavirus, Muslims Face a Ramadan Like Never Before
Days before the holy fasting month of Ramadan begins, the Islamic world is grappling with an untimely paradox of the new coronavirus pandemic: enforced separation at a time when socialising is almost sacred. The holiest month in the Islamic calendar is one of family and togetherness – community, reflection, charity and prayer. But with shuttered mosques, coronavirus curfews and bans on mass prayers from Senegal to Southeast Asia, some 1.8 billion Muslims are facing a Ramadan like never before. Across the Muslim world the pandemic has generated new levels of anxiety ahead of the holy fasting month, which begins on around Thursday. In Algiers, Yamine Hermache, 67, usually receives relatives and neighbours at her home for tea and cold drinks during the month that Muslims fast from dusk till dawn. But this year she fears it will be different. “We may not visit them, and they will not come,” she said, weeping. “The coronavirus has made everyone afraid, even of distinguished guests.” Reuters

Africa’s Most Vulnerable Countries Have Few Ventilators – or None at All
The most critical piece of lifesaving equipment of the coronavirus pandemic is in desperately short supply in Africa: According to the World Health Organization, there are fewer than 2,000 ventilators across 41 countries that reported to it. Somalia’s Health Ministry still doesn’t have a single one. The Central African Republic has three. South Sudan, four. Liberia, five. Nigeria, with a population two-thirds that of the United States, has fewer than 100. … The inadequate equipment and training mean that Africa’s most vulnerable countries stand little chance of saving the lives of their most severe covid-19 cases as the number of patients begins to spike. As of Saturday, there were more than 21,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,000 deaths across the continent. “We are now failing. Let me use that word deliberately,” said Mahad Hassan, one of Somalia’s few epidemiologists and a member of the government’s coronavirus task force. “At our main treatment center, almost nothing is there. Last time I visited, beds, only beds. No oxygen, no ventilators.” The Washington Post

How to Translate a Pandemic
Mororo moros. Corolla virus. Coro. These are the aliases that the deadly novel coronavirus goes by in West Africa. As the virus pummels Europe and the United States, governments here are scrambling to prevent an outbreak by enforcing lockdowns and ramping up public health campaigns. But getting the message across to people who don’t speak or understand English – more than half the population in some areas – is hard. Explaining to them that the virus makes no distinction between poor and rich is not straightforward. Prevention measures come in terms so foreign that there are no literal translations for them in many local languages. But to save the lives of millions, finding the words to communicate the seriousness of the pandemic is crucial. It’s why Vickie Remoe, a publicist in Sierra Leone, got to work the minute neighbouring Ghana and Nigeria announced index cases of the virus. Mail & Guardian (The Continent)



Photo: Adam Jones