Africa Media Review for April 6, 2020

Mapping Risk Factors for the Spread of COVID-19 in Africa

African countries face varying levels of risk that will require adapting a diversified set of response strategies to the coronavirus. The most vulnerable countries may not be those with the earliest onset. Much remains unknown about the trajectory of the transmission of COVID-19 in Africa. Many fear that with its high levels of poverty, weak health systems, and crowded urban areas, the virus could be particularly devastating. Others hope that with its warmer climate, youthful population, and experience fighting infectious disease, that Africa will be able to avoid the worst of the pandemic. This analysis provides a review of relative risk factors associated with the novel coronavirus as a means of generating potential insights into the varied and at times overlapping levels of vulnerability faced by each African country. Understanding the relative risks each country faces can better guide response efforts in both the introductory and subsequent stages as the pandemic evolves. Following are a series of maps graphically representing relative levels of vulnerability across the continent. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Violence Imperils Coronavirus Response in Conflict Zones around the World

The head of the United Nations has urged a global cease-fire. So has the Pope. Yet violence keeps battering swaths of Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe as governments struggle to fight both insurgents and the coronavirus pandemic. “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said recently during a virtual speech. … In conflict zones across the globe, the threat of airstrikes, ambushes and roadside bombs is blocking health-care workers from patients, medical experts say, and national security forces – newly tasked with enforcing strict lockdowns – are stretched thin. “If you were a rebel leader right now, you’d probably find fewer troops against you,” said Roudabeh Kishi, research director at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, which tracks international unrest. … From Mali in the west to Somalia in the east, extremism continues to claim lives across Africa, erupting in deadly spurts as dozens of countries seal their borders, close their airports and focus on the public health menace. Soldiers and police officers throughout the continent are now juggling two jobs: defend their country and oversee a crop of stay-at-home orders. The Washington Post

African Union Leaders Agree on Need to Reverse COVID-19 Crisis

Nine African Union (AU) leaders on Friday held talks remotely on how their countries can collectively join in the battle against the Covid-19 global pandemic. Held via video link, the conference, which is a second and a follow-up meeting among African leaders, aims to design a continental response mechanisms to cope with the adverse effects of the coronavirus on African countries. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is the AU chairperson, convened the discussions in the presence of leaders of the AU Bureau of Heads of State and Government member states. … The heads of states highlighted the unprecedented threat that Covid-19 presents to the health of African citizens and to the continent’s hard-won developmental and economic gains. They also recognised the need to establish humanitarian and trade corridors in a spirit of African solidarity and integration and agreed to establish continental ministerial coordination committees on health, finance and transport in order to support the comprehensive continental strategy. They underscored the need for a comprehensive and coordinated continental approach, and to speak with one voice on Africa’s priorities. Daily Nation

Autocrats’ Dilemma: You Can’t Arrest a Virus

When the virus hit, the strongmen hit back as they know best. For Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, that meant deploying chemical warfare troops, clad in protective suits and armed with disinfectant, to the streets of Cairo, in a theatrical display of military muscle projected via social media. … In responding to the coronavirus pandemic, the world’s autocrats are turning to their tried-and-tested tool kits, employing a mixture of propaganda, repression and ostentatious shows of strength to exude an aura of total control over an inherently chaotic situation. In the immediate term, the crisis offers the autocrats an opportunity to taunt rivals or entrench their already vast powers with little risk of censure from a distracted outside world, where the scramble to contain the pandemic has forced even liberal democracies to consider harsh measures, such as invasive cellphone surveillance systems. … The virus cannot be arrested, censored or outlawed. The economic toll of a pandemic will strain the patronage networks that underpin many autocracies. Leaders who portray themselves as saviors are more exposed to blame if the death toll soars. The New York Times

UN Chief: Coronavirus Pressures Leading to Global Surge in Domestic Violence

The U.N. secretary-general warned Sunday that the increase in social and economic pressures brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has led to a global increase in violence against women and girls. Last week, Antonio Guterres called for a global cease-fire so that the international community could focus all of its attention on stopping the virus and helping those who have contracted it. “But violence is not confined to the battlefield,” he said in a statement Sunday evening. “For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest – in their own homes. And so I make a new appeal today for peace at home – and in homes – around the world.” Many countries have reported a surge in domestic violence incidents and calls to abuse hotlines since the pandemic started spreading globally earlier this year. In France, domestic violence rates surged by a third in one week. In South Africa, authorities received nearly 90,000 reports of violence against women in the first week of its lockdown. VOA

South Sudan 51st of 54 African Nations to Report Virus Case

South Sudan has announced its first case of COVID-19, making it the 51st of Africa’s 54 countries to report the disease. A U.N. worker who arrived in the country from Netherlands on Feb. 28 is ill with the disease, confirmed First Vice President Riek Machar and the U.N. mission in South Sudan. The patient, a 29-year-old woman, first showed signs of the disease on April 2 and is recovering, said officials. South Sudan, with 11 million people, currently has four ventilators and wants to increase that number, said Machar, who emphasized that people should stay three to six feet apart from others. “The only vaccine is social distancing,” said Machar. The patient is under quarantine at U.N. premises and health workers are tracing the people who had been in contact with her, said David Shearer, head of the U.N. operations in South Sudan. He said he hoped the measures would contain the case. To prevent the spread of the virus in South Sudan, President Salva Kiir last week imposed a curfew from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. for six weeks and closed borders, airports, schools, churches and mosques. AP

4 Soldiers, 63 Jihadists Killed in Clash in Niger

Four soldiers and 63 jihadists have been killed in fighting between Niger’s army and heavily armed extremists in the nation’s west, the government said Friday. Extremists on motorcycles fought the army Thursday in the Tillaberi region near the border with Mali before being forced to flee, according to a defense ministry statement. The army was able to recover dozens of weapons and motorcycles, it said. Since December, at least 174 soldiers have been killed in Niger in several attacks. At least two were claimed by fighters linked to the Islamic State group. Extremism has grown in West Africa’s Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert, with attacks increasing near the borders of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, where many jihadists linked to al-Qaida or IS operate. AP

Suspected Boko Haram Suicide Bombers Kill Several in Northern Cameroon

Seven people were killed when two suicide bombers, suspected to be members of Nigeria’s Boko Haram jihadist group, attacked a village in northern Cameroon on Sunday, police and a local official said. “Two Boko Haram bombers blew themselves up at around 8pm” in the attack on Amchide, on the border with Nigeria, a policeman said Monday, while a local official said a village chief and two teenagers were among the dead. The attack took place as the villagers were “returning home” though a zone that the authorities have said is dangerous after 6pm, the official said. Amchide is a small trading village in Cameroon’s Far North province, a tongue of land that lies between Chad to the east and Nigeria to the west. The province has been hit since 2014 by Boko Haram fighters making incursions from northeast Nigeria. The jihadists’ campaign has killed more than 27,000 people since 2009, several thousand of them in Cameroon, and displaced more than two million, sparking a dire humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad region. AFP

Boko Haram War: Nigerian Army Suspends Voluntary Retirement of Soldiers

In an internal memo, the Nigerian Army has suspended approvals for voluntary retirement requests from soldiers, saying the rate at which applications to quit service was flooding its headquarters lately was “disheartening.” The directive, which military sources told Premium Times went out late March, said all forms 9B (military retirement application document) have been suspended and would no longer be made available to soldiers willing to voluntarily discharge from service. The order did not provide figures that show a spike in recent retirement requests compared with previous times, but it counselled broadly against frivolous voluntary retirement applications that were being allowed to advance through the chain of command when they should have been rejected at the early stages. A spokesperson for the Nigerian Army, Sagir Musa, did not confirm or deny the memo went reached for comments by Premium Times. Military sources saw the move as a coercive measure by the Nigerian Army to pull the breaks on droves of personnel exit in recent months. Premium Times

Kidnapped Mali Opposition Leader ‘Doing Well’ as Release Talks under Way

Mali’s opposition leader Soumaila Cisse is “doing well” a week after his kidnapping, his political movement said on Friday, as negotiations were under way with his captors for his release. A former finance minister and presidential contender, Cisse, 70, and members of his team were snatched in jihadist-ridden central Mali by unidentified gunmen who attacked their convoy. Cisse’s bodyguard was killed and two others injured by the assailants, likely members of an Al-Qaeda affiliate led by radical Islamist preacher Amadou Koufa, according to security and local sources. Eight people kidnapped alongside Cisse have now been freed, his party said on Friday, leaving only Cisse in captivity. Cisse’s Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) initially said that five members of its leader’s entourage had been freed, but on Friday night it announced the release of the remaining three members. AFP

Libyan Revolution Premier Jibril Dies from Coronavirus

Mahmoud Jibril, who abandoned Muammar Gaddafi to become Libya’s rebel prime minister during the 2011 revolution, died on Sunday after contracting the novel coronavirus, an aide and his party said. Jibril was interim leader until the country held its first free elections in four decades in 2012, following the toppling of Gaddafi the year before. He died in a private hospital in Cairo where he had been treated since contracting the virus late last month, said the aide, Fawzi Ammar. Jibril, who was in his late 60s, had mainly lived in Egypt in recent years after losing power. A former technocrat in Gaddafi’s regime, he was sidelined following the 2012 election and the passing of a law which banned former Gaddafi officials from public office. Before Jibril passed away, Libya’s internationally recognised government in Tripoli had confirmed 18 coronavirus cases in the country and one death. Reuters

Libya: Coronavirus Outbreak Could Be ‘Catastrophic’ for Migrants

An outbreak of the coronavirus in Libya could be “truly catastrophic” for the internally displaced people (IDP) and close to 700,000 refugees and migrants in the war-torn country, the United Nations migration agency has warned. Libya has so far reported 17 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, including one death. It has enforced a nationwide curfew from 2pm to 7am and prohibited intercity travel to curb the spread of the virus that has infected more than a million people worldwide and killed more than 60,000. … Since 2014, the country has been split between two rival administrations. The internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj is based in the capital, Tripoli, while the House of Representatives, allied to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA), is based in the country’s east. The plight of the Libyans and the migrants has been compounded by the continued fighting in the country. Since April 2019, forces loyal to Haftar have been fighting to seize Tripoli in an offensive that has killed hundreds and displaced 150,000 people. Al Jazeera

Morocco to Free over 5,000 Prisoners to Curb Spread of Coronavirus

King Mohammed VI on Sunday pardoned more than 5,000 inmates to prevent the new coronavirus from contaminating Moroccan prisons, the Justice Ministry announced. … The pardoned detainees were selected according to “their age, state of health, length of detention and good conduct,” according to the text. Their release will take place “in stages”, taking into account “the exceptional circumstances associated with the state of health emergency and the precautions required.” The ministry does not specify whether detainees of the “Hirak,” a protest movement that has agitated Morocco in 2016-2017, are among those pardoned. Morocco, which on Sunday recorded 960 cases of contamination with 66 deaths and 69 recoveries, took drastic measures by closing its borders and declaring a state of health emergency in mid-March to limit the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. In this country of 35 million inhabitants known for its overcrowded prisons (an incarceration rate of 232 per 100,000 inhabitants), human rights defenders recently called for the release of “political prisoners” as well as other priority categories of detainees (on remand, vulnerable or at the end of their sentences). Africa News with AFP

Eritrea Urged to Free Political Prisoners amid COVID-19 Threat

Prominent human rights groups have urged the government of Eritrea to “immediately and unconditionally” release political detainees held in the country’s jails amid the threat of the new coronavirus pandemic. In a statement released on Friday, Amnesty International said “the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions” in Eritrean prisons increase chances of transmission of COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. Calling Eritrea a country “notorious for arbitrarily arresting or forcibly disappearing people”, the United Kingdom-based group highlighted the case of Ciham Ali Ahmed, who turned 23 on Thursday. She has been held in a prison for eight years incommunicado after attempting to leave the country when she was 15. … Eritrea has so far recorded 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Thousands of people have been jailed in Eritrea for their political views, their work as journalists or for practising their religions, many of whom are held in poor, unsanitary conditions, according to Amnesty International. Al Jazeera

‘Complete Collapse of Economies’ Ahead as Africa Faces Virus

Some of Uganda’s poorest people used to work here, on the streets of Kampala, as fruit sellers sitting on the pavement or as peddlers of everything from handkerchiefs to roasted peanuts. Now they’re gone and no one knows when they will return, victims of a global economic crisis linked to the coronavirus that could wipe out jobs for millions across the African continent, many who live hand-to-mouth with zero savings. “We’ve been through a lot on the continent. Ebola, yes, African governments took a hit, but we have not seen anything like this before,” Ahunna Eziakonwa, the United Nations Development Program regional director for Africa, told The Associated Press. “The African labor market is driven by imports and exports and with the lockdown everywhere in the world, it means basically that the economy is frozen in place. “And with that, of course, all the jobs are gone.” More than half of Africa’s 54 countries have imposed lockdowns, curfews, travel bans or other measures in a bid to prevent local transmission of the virus. They range from South Africa, where inequality and crime plague Africa’s most developed country, to places like Uganda, where the informal sector accounts for more than 50% of the country’s gross domestic product. AP

South Africa’s TB, HIV History Prepares It for Virus Testing

South Africa, one of the world’s most unequal countries with a large population vulnerable to the new coronavirus, may have an advantage in the outbreak, honed during years battling HIV and tuberculosis: the know-how and infrastructure to conduct mass testing. Health experts stress that the best way to slow the spread of the virus is through extensive testing, the quick quarantine of people who are positive, and tracking who those people came into contact with. “We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization and a former Ethiopian health minister, said recently. South Africa has begun doing just that with mobile testing units and screening centers established in the country’s most densely populated township areas, where an estimated 25% of the country’s 57 million people live. Clad in protective gear, medical workers operate a mobile testing unit in Johannesburg’s poor Yeoville area. In the windswept dunes of Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township, centers have been erected where residents are screened and those deemed at risk are tested. AP

Tunisia ‘Robocop’ Enforces Coronavirus Lockdown

Tunisia’s interior ministry has deployed a police robot to patrol the streets of the capital and enforce a lockdown imposed last month as the country battles the spread of coronavirus. Known as PGuard, the ‘robocop’ is remotely operated and equipped with infrared and thermal imaging cameras, in addition to a sound and light alarm system. In images and a soundtrack posted on the interior ministry’s website last month, PGuard calls out to suspected violators of the lockdown: “What are you doing? Show me your ID. You don’t know there’s a lockdown?” Tunisia has been under night-time curfew since March 17 and authorities imposed stricter lockdown orders from March 22. Since March 2, 14 people have died from coronavirus in Tunisia where 455 confirmed cases have tested positive for the disease. AFP

Senegal Postpones Independence Day Celebrations
Senegal marks 60 years of independence on Saturday and its achievements since are worth celebrating. But the independence ceremony has been postponed to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus. “The situation is serious. I say this tonight in all solemnity.” With these words, Senegal’s President Macky Sall addressed the nation on March 23, as he declared a state of emergency and imposed a night-time curfew. This was his first measure in trying to slow down the spread of the coronavirus in the country. “The disease is spreading so quickly that we are forced to adapt our response. Otherwise we risk a catastrophe,” the president said in a televised speech. The coronavirus is spreading rapidly on the African continent. There is great concern that it will be difficult to maintain social distancing especially in poorer communities, where large families live together in tight spaces or in markets places. Senegal also placed a ban on Friday prayers for Muslims and Sunday church services for Christians. Schools and universities have been closed and Independence Day celebration on April 4 – canceled. Only the military is allowed to put up a parade on this day. DW



Photo: Adam Jones