Africa Media Review for April 24, 2020

Africa’s 43% Jump in Virus Cases in 1 Week Worries Experts
Africa registered a 43% jump in reported COVID-19 cases in the last week, highlighting a warning from the World Health Organization that the continent of 1.3 billion could become the next epicenter of the global outbreak. Africa also has a “very, very limited” and “very, very strained” testing capacity, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in his weekly briefing on Thursday. The surge in infections on the continent is almost certainly under-reported and even higher in reality, say medical experts. WHO’s recent report painted a grim picture for Africa, one of the last continents to be hit by the pandemic. WHO warned the virus could kill more than 300,000 people and push 30 million into desperate poverty. Africa still has time to avert such a disaster, Nkengasong said, but testing people and tracing virus cases is critical. … “If you don’t test, you don’t find. And if you don’t test, you are blinded. If you don’t test, you are not ahead of the curve,” Nkengasong said. African governments reported a total of nearly 26,000 cases as of Thursday, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up from just over 16,000 a week ago. Around 1,200 people have died. AP

Protect Civilians in the Sahel and Lake Chad Regions, Urges UN Refugee Agency
An upsurge in military action against armed groups in West Africa’s vast Sahel and Lake Chad regions has prompted the United Nations refugee agency to call on all warring parties to protect people caught up in the violence. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) revealed on Thursday that since 29 March, thousands of people have fled their homes and villages each day, as security forces from Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon launched a military crackdown on armed groups in border regions that have seen numerous attacks on citizens and national military forces. “Too many civilians in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin have already paid a high price and should not be made to suffer more,” said Aissatou Ndiaye, Deputy Director for UNHCR’s Bureau for West and Central Africa. Nearly 50,000 people, including thousands of women, children and the elderly, have been displaced in the region this year – including 25,000 when the Chadian army, with support from other countries, launched operation ‘Wrath of Boma’ on the shores of Lake Chad at the end of March. UN News

ECOWAS Recognises Umaro Sissoco Embalo as Guinea-Bissau President
A regional bloc of West African countries has recognised Umaro Sissoco Embalo as the winner of Guinea-Bissau’s presidential election, after months of dispute over the results. The country’s electoral authority has repeatedly said Embalo, a former army general and prime minister, won a runoff presidential vote on December 29. But losing candidate Domingos Simoes Pereira, from the long-ruling PAIGC party, called the election fraudulent and took the case to the Supreme Court, which has not yet ruled. On Thursday, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc said in a statement that they recognised Embalo as president but also called for constitutional reform to be put to a referendum within six months. … “In the face of the persistence of this blockage and after an in-depth analysis of the country’s political situation, the ECOWAS heads of state and government decided to recognise the victory of Mr. Umaro Sissoco Emablo,” the statement said. … The Supreme Court has said it cannot rule on Pereira’s challenge in the absence of its chief judge, who fled the country for Portugal after the election, saying he feared for his safety. Al Jazeera

ECOWAS Leaders Appoint Buhari Champion of COVID-19 Response
Presidents of West African countries, under the aegis of the Economic Community of West African States Authority of Heads of State and Government, have appointed the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), Champion of their COVID-19 response. According to a statement by Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, the appointment took place on Thursday at the Extraordinary ECOWAS Summit on COVID-19, which was held via teleconference under the Chairmanship of the President of the Republic of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou. During the teleconference, Buhari was said to have called on fellow ECOWAS leaders to look beyond the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and tap into various opportunities that it presents for the betterment of lives in the Member States. He said, “In every challenging situation such as the current one, there are also opportunities. Our region must, therefore, seek to find those opportunities provided by this gloomy global outlook for its benefit by embarking on the implementation of such critical policies, which, before now, will be difficult to accept.” Punch

Black Market for Coronavirus Test Kits Flourishes in Climate of Mistrust, Stigma in Nigeria
A black market in coronavirus test kits is flourishing in Nigeria, spurred in part by negligible faith in the country’s health system to defeat an emerging threat. Testing is a crucial weapon in combatting Covid-19. It not only identifies where the stealthy virus has invaded – it also helps to prevent frontline workers, in healthcare and the economy, from falling sick in turn. Every country is struggling to carry out sufficient testing, but in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, the situation is dire. Just 7 100 tests have officially been carried out in a population of around 200 million people. By comparison, neighbouring Ghana, which has a population of 30 million, has carried out 68 000 tests, while South Africa, with 58 million people, has conducted nearly 114 000. Right now, Nigeria’s 36 states have 12 official coronavirus labs, which together have a capacity to test 1 500 people per day. “We have no idea of the status of propagation of Covid-19 in Nigeria,” a representative of a private medical lab told AFP. The lab is awaiting government approval to purchase thousands of test kits and a machine able to carry out several hundred tests per hour. But “demand for these tests on the black market is off the scale, off the scale,” the source said. AFP

Lesotho Prime Minister Rejects Retirement Offer amid Scandal over Ex-Wife’s Murder
Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane is rejecting an offer of an immediate, dignified retirement, telling the Lesotho Times he will not be told when to leave office. The 80-year-old leader has been under pressure to step down after being linked to the murder of his ex-wife, 58-year-old Lipolelo Thabane, three years ago. Lesotho’s coalition government and South African mediators released a joint statement on Monday, saying Thabane’s departure should be graceful and that he should get what the statement described as a secure retirement. It’s unclear if that means Thabane would no longer face legal consequences for his alleged ties to his estranged wife’s murder. … Thabane has also been criticized for calling up troops last weekend, following his claim that some leaders in law enforcement were seeking to undermine democracy in the small country surrounded by South Africa. Observers believe the troop deployment to the capital, Maserua, was a last-ditch effort by Thabane to remain in power. VOA

Ramaphosa Announces Gradual Easing of COVID-19 Lockdown in South Africa
On Thursday night President Cyril Ramaphosa announced an easing of the nationwide lockdown in response to the Covid-19 outbreak in South Africa. He said a phased reopening of the economy will begin on May 1. Ramaphosa noted that although a lockdown remains the most effective way to limit the spread of the virus, the prosperity of South Africans would be at risk with a continued lockdown. “Nationwide lockdown cannot be sustained indefinitely,” he said. “People need to eat, earn a living and companies need to be able to produce and trade, need to generate revenue and keep people employed.” The president, however, noted that the lockdown has worked and the need to save lives and prevent the country’s health system becoming overwhelmed remains paramount. In consultation with scientists and other experts, the government has introduced a tiered system of response to the virus – South Africans may find some echos in the tiered system to that used for load-shedding, with level five signalling the most strict response. Mail & Guardian

Mozambique Army Killed 14 Civilians in the North: Renamo
Mozambique´s main opposition Renamo party on Thursday accused security forces of killing 14 civilians in the northern Cabo Delgado province which has been repeatedly attacked by jihadists. The former rebel movement-turned-political party named all the 14 alleged victims it said died in three recent incidents. One of the incidents took place on April 12 when security forces intercepted a boat transporting people and goods from Pemba to Ibo island off the northern coast, Renamo said. After “interrogation, they dragged the vessel under the pier and they shot at all the occupants, causing the death of eight citizens,” Renamo spokesman Jose Manteigas told journalists in Maputo. Four days later, soldiers opened fire at a vessel which was sailing from Palma to Pemba as it passed through Ibo Island. Two of the three people on board were shot dead. Manteigas said soldiers had also shot four people in Palma district on a date he did not specify. Mozambique has deployed military troops and special police units to Cabo Delgado, but they have failed to rein in the insurgency which started in 2017. AFP

Malawi’s President Ordered a Lockdown. The Court Said No
It took Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika a long time to address the looming threat of the Covid-19 pandemic. But when he finally got around to it, on April 14, he followed in the footsteps of most other world leaders and announced drastic measures: imposing a state of disaster and a national 21-day lockdown, to begin on April 18. The president’s announcement was not well received. Protests broke out in the streets of major cities. Doctors and nurses downed tools. The president was even sued by a civil society group, the Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition, which argued that the president had not prepared an adequate safety net to protect the poor. In a stunning decision, the high court in Lilongwe ruled against the president, and set aside the lockdown until he had put the necessary socio-economic protection measures in place. This multi-pronged resistance to Mutharika’s efforts to contain the coronavirus can only be understood against the backdrop of Malawi’s recent political history. Mail & Guardian

Coronavirus Surges in Djibouti as Population Ignores Measures
Djibouti has seen a rapid spike in coronavirus cases, with the Horn of Africa nation now recording the highest prevalence on the continent as the population largely ignores measures imposed by authorities. The tiny but strategically important country that hosts major US and French military bases has recorded 985 positive cases — small on a global scale, but the highest in East Africa. Two people have died. This is largely due to testing. Djibouti, with a population of around one million, has conducted just over 10,000 tests — a similar number to neighbouring Ethiopia, which has more than 100 million people. But more alarming than the figure itself is the runaway rate of multiplication: in just two weeks, Djibouti has recorded a seven-fold increase in cases. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday said that with 98.6 cases per 100,000 people, Djibouti has the highest prevalence on the continent. AFP

Algeria Rights Groups Say Government Cracking Down on Critics
When the well-known Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni was arrested by the police in late March there were no demonstrations on the streets of the North African country. In an initial attempt to contain the coronavirus outbreak in Algeria, which has reported 2910 total cases and 402 deaths as of Thursday, the government on March 17 announced a series of measures, including a ban on marches and public gatherings. Drareni, who has widely reported on Algeria’s protest movement that erupted in February 2019, had previously been arrested on March 7 but he was provisionally released after an outcry and protests outside the courthouse. … “At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of accurate reporting, Algerian authorities have instead opted to clamp down on the free flow of information,” said the Committee to Protect Journalists in a statement after the arrest. “Algerian authorities must release Khaled Drareni from this ludicrous prison sentence and drop all charges against him.” Al Jazeera

Can Libya’s Khalifa Haftar Pull Back Following Tripoli Defeat?
The campaign will be swift. This was eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s pledge to his supporters at home and abroad when he launched his offensive against the internationally recognised government in Tripoli in April 2019. But more than a year into the operation, his Libyan National Army (LNA) could not be further away from its goal of overtaking the city of 2.3 million people. On April 14, it was dealt its biggest setback yet when a counteroffensive by the United Nations-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) resulted in the loss of seven western cities stretching from the capital all the way to the Tunisian border. “Haftar’s loss of an area estimated at 500-square kilometres is an event of seismic magnitude both for him and his foreign supporters,” said Walid Ratima, a Turkey-based Libyan columnist. Amid a global economic downturn caused by the new coronavirus, questions over the feasibility of Haftar’s project are unlikely to fade away from the minds of his international supporters, said Ratima. Al Jazeera

Ghana to Test 8,000 Police Deployed to Coronavirus Hot Spots
Over 8,000 police officers are to be tested for COVID-19 after they were deployed in virus hot spots during a three-week lockdown that was lifted last Sunday by President Akufo-Addo. They were part of 30,000 police – military deployment. The figure represents about one-third of officers deployed over the period to enforce the measure meant to curb spread of the virus which has so far affected over 1,000 people in the West African nation. The lockdown on the capital and two other metropolis was lifted at a time many expected an extension but government insists the lifting is backed by data and improved testing admitting an economic aspect too. However, schools remain closed, authorities are enforcing a ban on public gatherings, borders remain closed and the wearing of face masks decreed across the Greater Accra region as at April 22. About 800 people are facing prosecution for infractions during the three-week period. Ghana has recorded 1,154 cases of COVID-19 – making it West Africa’s most impacted – recoveries are at 120 including nine deaths as of April 24. Africa News

Masks, Bans and Questions: Inside Cameroon’s COVID-19 Response
For more than a week now, Frankie Manghen never steps out of his home without putting on a face mask. “I wear it every day because I fear contracting COVID-19,” says the 25-year-old auto mechanic in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde. From April 13, the government made it obligatory for people to wear face masks whenever appearing in public as part of measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Along with concerns about catching the “dreadful” COVID-19 disease, Manghen says he is totally unprepared to pay any fines for not wearing the face-covering gear. … “Masks are compulsory but many Cameroonians whose businesses are already affected by the spread of COVID-19 say they cannot afford these masks regularly,” says Nkongho Felix Agbor, a human rights lawyer. Agbor’s organisation, the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA), has stepped in to distribute thousands of masks for free and provide hand-washing points in several communities amid efforts to educate the public about the danger of the coronavirus. Al Jazeera

Madagascar Hands Out ‘Miracle’ Virus Cure as It Lifts Lockdown
Unarmed Madagascar soldiers went door-to-door in the capital Antananarivo, doling out sachets of a local herbal tea touted by President Andry Rajoelina as a powerful remedy against the novel coronavirus. Baptised Covid-Organics, the tonic is derived from artemisia – a plant with proven efficacy in treating malaria – as well as other indigenous herbs. It has been developed by the Madagascar Institute of Applied Research (IMRA) but has not been tested internationally. … There is currently no known cure for coronavirus, which has infected at least 121 people in Madagascar and more than 2.6 million worldwide. Yet military officials on the Indian Ocean island nation say the infusion would be better than nothing. “It will strengthen immunity,” said military doctor Colonel Willy Ratovondrainy on state television, as troops launched a mass distribution campaign. … The WHO has cautioned against untested home therapies. “While some western, traditional or home remedies may provide comfort and alleviate symptoms of Covid-19, there is no evidence that current medicine can prevent or cure the disease,” it said in an emailed statement to AFP. It added that there are “several ongoing clinical trials” of both western and traditional medicines. The homespun “remedy” was launched as confinement measures were progressively lifted. The president said the lockdown was eased because a “solution against coronavirus” had been found. AFP

South Sudan Confirms Its Fifth COVID-19 Case
South Sudan confirmed its fifth Covid-19 case Thursday after testing travellers headed in and out of Juba. Dr Angok Gordon, Covid-19 incident manager at the National Ministry of Health, told The EastAfrican on Thursday evening that the case describing is a South Sudanese national. “The fifth case is confirmed as a local transmission. We today tested some people who wanted to travel out of the state and one tested positive of the pandemic,” said Dr Angok. The Ministry of Health, through an order from the High-Level Taskforce on Covid-19, introduced a policy of testing travellers from Juba to all States as a preventive measure to mitigating the spread of the virus to the grassroots. The policy permits an individual to travel to the state with clearance license. Thursday’s results according to Dr Angok came as a result of the policy. The East African

UN Agency Calls for $1 Trillion Developing World Debt Write-Off
Around $1 trillion of debt owed by developing countries would be cancelled under a global deal proposed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on Thursday to help them overcome the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The world’s developing economies, which were already struggling with a rapidly growing debt burden, must now confront a record global downturn, plummeting prices for their oil and commodities exports and weakening local currencies. At the same time, they need to spend more money on healthcare and to protect their economies. Some 64 low-income countries currently spend more on debt service than their health systems, according to UNCTAD. … Using as a benchmark the case of post-war Germany, which saw about half its debt cancelled, UNCTAD calculated the figure for developing economies would be around $1 trillion. An independent debt authority would oversee the process rather than the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which are among poor countries’ leading creditors and therefore not impartial, according to UNCTAD. Reuters



Photo: Adam Jones