Africa Media Review for April 3, 2020

Africa Faces an ‘Existential Threat’ as Virus Cases Spread
Some African countries will have more than 10,000 coronavirus cases by the end of April, health officials projected Thursday, as the continent least equipped to treat serious infections has an “enormous gap” in the number of ventilators and other critical items. While cases across Africa are now above 6,000 at what has been called the dawn of the outbreak, the continent is “very, very close” to where Europe was after a 40-day period, the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. John Nkengasong, told reporters. The virus “is an existential threat to our continent,” he said. All but four of Africa’s 54 countries have cases after Malawi on Thursday reported its first, and local transmission has begun in many places. Nkengasong said authorities are “aggressively” looking into procuring equipment such as ventilators that most African countries desperately need, and local manufacturing and repurposing are being explored. “We’ve seen a lot of goodwill expressed to supporting Africa from bilateral and multilateral partners,” but “we still have to see that translate into concrete action,” he said. AP

Extremists See Global Chaos from Virus as an Opportunity
Both the Islamic State group and al-Qaida see the coronavirus as a threat, but some of their fighters also see the upheaval from the pandemic as an opportunity to win over more supporters and strike harder than before. Messages from the Islamic extremist groups show concern about the virus mixed with bravado, asserting that it is punishment for non-Muslims while also urging followers to repent and take care of themselves. Al-Qaida suggested in a statement Tuesday that non-Muslims use their time in quarantine to learn about Islam. But in a sharp commentary in its al-Naba newsletter in mid-March, IS urged followers to show no mercy and launch attacks in this time of crisis. … Though analysts said it was too soon to say which attacks can be blamed on militants exploiting the coronavirus, Islamic extremists in late March carried out their deadliest assault yet against the military of Chad, a significant contributor to Africa’s growing counterterrorism efforts, killing at least 92 soldiers near the border with Nigeria and Niger. In Egypt, two military officials reported a spike in IS attacks in March in the restive northern part of the Sinai Peninsula. AP

Nigeria Announces ‘Massive’ Joint Offensive on Jihadists in Region
Nigeria on Thursday said it had launched a “massive” joint offensive with troops from Chad and Niger against jihadists waging a decade-long insurgency in the region. The announcement comes after Chad’s defence minister said on Tuesday his country had deployed forces across its neighbours’ borders to battle insurgents who killed almost 100 Chadian soldiers last month. Nigeria’s military said attacks by fighters from Boko Haram and a splinter group affiliated to the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) group had “necessitated the contiguous nations of the Lake Chad basin to jointly launch this massive onslaught.” Details about the operation were sketchy. Nigeria has made repeated claims in the past to have rolled back the insurgents. … The militants on 23 March killed at least 98 Chadian soldiers in an attack on an island army base in Lake Chad. Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno declared the surrounding area a “war zone” as he pledged a “lightning response” to the killings. Chad earlier withdrew some 1 200 troops from Nigeria in January after a months-long mission battling the jihadists. AFP

Aid Groups Blocked from Burundi Coronavirus Quarantine Sites
Humanitarian organisations have been blocked from providing assistance to hundreds of people kept at “unsanitary” coronavirus quarantine sites in Burundi, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday. The sites were set up for Burundians and foreign travellers arriving in the country by air and land but are “overcrowded” and lack adequate supplies of food, water, and hygiene facilities, the rights groups said. “The Burundian government needs to protect people’s health and welfare, and any interventions should be in line with international human rights standards,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at HRW. The small East African country reported its first two cases of COVID-19 – both Burundian men who had recently returned from abroad – this week. The president’s spokesperson, Jean-Claude Karerwa, had earlier described Burundi as an “exception among other nations” and “protected” by God when asked about the virus. Last year, authorities refused to declare a malaria outbreak an epidemic despite recording 8.5 million cases in a country of just 11 million people. The New Humanitarian

South Africa’s Ruthlessly Efficient Fight against Coronavirus
One week into South Africa’s nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and it is tempting – dangerously tempting – to breathe a sigh of relief. After all, look at how much has already been achieved. More than 47,000 people have been tested, and 67 mobile testing units have been organised. There are even drive-through testing centres. Soon the country will be able to test 30,000 people every day. To date, only five deaths from the virus have been confirmed. About 1,400 have tested positive for Covid-19. South Africa seems to have acted faster, more efficiently, and more ruthlessly than many other countries around the world. Heading the fight here against Covid-19, President Cyril Ramaphosa has emerged as a formidable leader – composed, compassionate, but seized by the urgency of the moment and wasting no time in imposing tough restrictive steps and galvanising crucial support from the private sector. And one rung below the president, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has likewise garnered near universal praise for his no-nonsense, energetic performance, and his sober, deeply knowledgeable, daily briefings. Of course, there have been mistakes, and worse. BBC

‘We Will Starve’: Zimbabwe’s Poor Full of Misgiving over COVID-19 Lockdown
Nelson Mahunde, 70, trudges along the deserted streets of Harare’s central business district to collect his monthly pension. In one hand, he clutches a pension letter; with the other, he holds on firmly to his walking stick. The frail Mahunde has travelled from Murehwa, about 100km from Harare, to collect the meagre amount of money, equivalent to $10 (£8). To his dismay, the bank is closed. He pleads with the security guard to withdraw enough cash for his bus fare, but the ATM has no money. Mahunde is turned away. The 70-year old had no idea Zimbabwe has been plunged into a 21-day national lockdown to curb the spread of Covid 19. The country has eight confirmed cases, and one death. The popular television journalist Zororo Makamba died last week. “No one in my village told me that the banks would be closed today. I don’t even know what to do. My family depends on that money for survival. If it is true that no one will be moving for 21 days, then my family will starve,” says Mahunde. “It is going to be the longest 21 days ever. There is nothing at home,” Mahunde said. The Guardian

UN Warns Mass Hunger Facing West Africa Will Worsen as Coronavirus Takes Hold
A new United Nations food assessment of 17 West African countries finds more than 19 million people in the region will go hungry during the upcoming lean season between June and September, when food stocks are depleted.  This is a 77 percent increase over last year’s number, and it’s being complicated further by the coronavirus pandemic. The World Food Program calls this huge upsurge in the number of hungry people unprecedented.  Those who are most at risk, it says, are in the Central Sahel region, which includes Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Eric Branckaert is WFP senior vulnerability analysis and mapping adviser.  He says insecurity is a major factor behind the humanitarian crisis affecting the Central Sahel. “With increased insecurity incidents over the years and it is continuing to escalate this year.  This results in serious movement of population and internally displaced persons … on top of that, we obviously have the COVID-19 coming our way,” he said. Branckaert notes the food assessment analysis does not include the potential impact of COVID-19 on the region’s food security. VOA

UN Agency Keeps [Southern] Africa Food Aid Flowing amid Coronavirus
The United Nations food agency has negotiated a humanitarian corridor to keep food aid flowing in southern Africa after many countries shut their borders to stop the spread of the coronavirus, an official said on Thursday. Up to 45 million people in southern Africa face hunger following a devastating drought and two cyclones last year, and there are growing fears the crisis could be compounded by the outbreak of the virus. Lola Castro, World Food Programme director for southern Africa, said South Africa had agreed to let vessels carrying food aid land on its shores and move it to countries like Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana and Namibia, which face food shortages. Castro told reporters during a video conference that Africa’s most advanced economy, which has declared a 21-day lockdown, had agreed to “a sort of humanitarian corridor,” a move that would help the agency continue its work. “At this moment we are actually maintaining our normal food distributions but maybe in the future, depending with the effect of the virus and effect on the food system, especially on the smallholder farmers … maybe we will see an increase in prices and number of people who require food assistance,” she said. Reuters

Coronavirus Deals Blow to Newspapers in North Africa
Measures to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic have affected the distribution and publication of newspapers across Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, according to local media and officials. In Tunisia, seven daily newspapers and 20 weeklies have been suspended from publication by their owners in recent days, the Tunisian Federation of Newspaper Directors (FTDJ) said Thursday. “Several subscriptions are held by government administrations and airlines which are closed and the distribution of newspapers in kiosks has suffered” as a result of a lockdown in place since March 22, FTDJ president Taieb Zahar told AFP. In Morocco, the culture ministry last week called on editors to stop the publication and distribution of newspapers until further notice, according to the official MAP news agency. A ministry spokesman said the decision was aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus. AFP

Media Watchdog Says Algeria Using Virus to ‘Settle Scores’
Reporters Without Borders has accused Algeria’s government of taking advantage of the coronavirus epidemic to “settle scores” with independent journalists, including those covering long-running anti-government protests. In a statement co-signed with Algerian NGOs, the watchdog called on Thursday for the immediate release of its correspondent Khaled Drareni, who has been in pre-trial detention since 29 March on a charge of inciting an unarmed gathering and endangering national unity. Drareni has been arrested several times for covering the “Hirak” anti-government protests held in the capital Algiers every Friday since February 2019. Imprisoning people during a pandemic is “an act of physical endangerment,” RSF said, accusing the government of “taking advantage of the coronavirus epidemic to settle scores with independent journalism.” The statement also called for the immediate release of journalists Belkacem Djir and Sofiane Merakchi. AFP

Over 250 Rescued in Niger Desert, Put in Quarantine
More than 250 Europe-bound migrants were rescued in Niger’s arid north and placed in coronavirus quarantine after being abandoned by traffickers, the International Organisation for Migration said on Thursday. The IOM provided food and water to the group, including 104 Nigerians, 53 Ghanaians and 34 Burkinabes, who were rescued last week, the UN agency said on Facebook. They were transported from near the Libyan border to Agadez and housed in a football stadium for 14 days. IOM said large numbers of migrants were still coming to Niger, a key transit country for people hoping to make it to the West, despite Niamey closing its borders in the wake of the epidemic. A total of 764 migrants were quarantined at Assamaka, near the Algerian border, IOM said, including children and pregnant women. AFP

Africa Coronavirus Infection Data Fairly Reflects Real Cases, WHO Says
The World Health Organization said data on Africa’s confirmed coronavirus cases fairly reflects the underlying trend even though governments are grappling with a shortage of test kits. The continent had less than 7,000 confirmed results of the disease on Thursday, compared with a global tally of more than 950,000 people since the virus was first detected in China in December. Governments across Africa have closed their borders and placed countries or cities under lockdown to prevent widespread contagion in a region with under-resourced health-care systems. South Africa is the only country on the continent that has so far recorded more than 1,000 cases. “We clearly are not seeing 100% of the people who are infected, but I do not think that there are large numbers of people” who have been missed by the detection systems, Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, told reporters Thursday on a video conference call. Bloomberg

G-20 Prepares Coronavirus Rescue Package for Africa
A group of G-20 leaders are preparing an international response to the impact of the coronavirus crisis in Africa that would include debt relief and financial aid, African officials and European diplomats said. A comprehensive package supported by countries including France and Italy would incorporate recent demands from President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, who have called on the world’s most industrialized countries to support the continent through the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. They want rich countries to waive all interest payments on Africa’s debt obligations and provide immediate cash injections through the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and African Development Bank. “Solidarity during these unprecedented times in our history does not refer to vague gestures of sympathy, but actual cooperation,” said Ebba Kalondo, spokesperson for the chairperson of the African Union. “It is not charity. It frankly is common sense and our common survival depends on it.” Last week, the G-20 agreed to inject $5 trillion into the global economy and noted the “serious risks” posed to Africa due to its health systems and economies being less able to cope. Politico

COVID-19: Relief Promises for Africa’s Small Businesses
Africa is overwhelmingly a continent of small businesses, petty traders and micro-firms, with an estimated 95% of enterprises falling into this category. These are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Few have the savings to cover things like rent and pay wages as lockdowns across the continent see businesses close, custom dry up and employees let go. “Small business owners are quite terrified by what is going on right now — the uncertainty of how long this lockdown will continue and how long the economy will take to rebound after this,” said John Dludlu, the CEO of South Africa’s Small Business Institute, a national advocacy group for small business owners. This was echoed by the President of the Association of Small Business Owners of Nigeria, Femi Egbesola. “Our members are worried, they are scared,” said Egbesola on the phone from Ikeja in Lagos State. To cushion the blow of the coronavirus pandemic, international organizations as well as African corporations, government and individuals are rushing to set up relief measures. Here’s an overview of what South Africa and Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economies, are doing. DW

Gambia and Senegal: Borders Are Closing to Fight the Coronavirus. Now This Village Is Split in Two.
For nine decades, only a beige stone divided the border village of Ngunta. On one side is Senegal, the French-speaking West African country, and on the other is Gambia, a former British colony where English is the official language. In normal times, residents pay little attention to the territorial boundary. They are just from Ngunta – population: roughly 900. They speak to each other in regional languages, strolling between countries like city dwellers move from block to block. “We are very close,” said Modi Dem, 43, the village chief. … Gambia, the smallest country in continental Africa, is nearly surrounded by Senegal with a short Atlantic Ocean coastline – a legacy of colonial-era demarcation. The caterpillar-shaped nation sealed its 465 miles of border on March 23. … Travel bans around the world have scrambled markets, doomed business deals, wrecked study-abroad plans and canceled untold vacations, but the impact here is more intimate. The Washington Post

African Governments Team Up with Tech Giants to Fight Coronavirus Lies
Governments across Africa are teaming up with technology giants including Facebook and WhatsApp to fight misinformation about coronavirus on social media platforms that could propel the pandemic on a continent with shaky healthcare systems. South Africa, which has more infections than any other African country, with more than 1,300 confirmed cases, has launched an information service about the coronavirus on WhatsApp. In Nigeria, health officials are partnering with the messaging service owned by Facebook to send push notifications to users with advice on symptoms and how to avoid infection. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is also getting free ad space on Facebook for outreach about the pandemic, a benefit available to public health authorities in 11 other African countries, and around the world. Twitter has been tweaking its algorithm to elevate medical information from authoritative sources – an initiative available in 70 countries, including five in Africa. “There has never been a more critical time than now for us to leverage on social media in sending out the right message,” said Chikwe Ihekweazu, who heads the NCDC. Reuters

South Africa: Man on a Mission: Art Teacher’s Quest to Keep Hope Alive as Lockdown Hits Township
After his art school in Joe Slovo township near Port Elizabeth was closed when SA went into lockdown, teacher and education activist John Lombardo started raising funds for the families of the township. In the week since lockdown he has provided food and support to many people whose lives have been turned upside down – with one mission: To get the precious artists he is teaching through the next three weeks. Daily Maverick



Photo: Adam Jones