Africa Media Review for March 16, 2020

African Nations Close Borders, Cancel Flights to Contain Coronavirus Spread
Several African governments on Sunday closed borders, canceled flights and imposed strict entry and quarantine requirements to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, which has a foothold in at least 26 countries on the continent as cases keep rising. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster and warned the outbreak could have a “potentially lasting” impact on the continent’s most-developed economy, which is already in recession. Measures to be taken there include barring travel to and from countries such as Italy, Germany, China and the United States. “Any foreign national who has visited high-risk countries in the past 20 days will be denied a visa,” he said, adding that South Africans who visited targeted countries would be subjected to testing and quarantine when returning home. South Africa, which has recorded 61 cases, will also prohibit gatherings of more than 100 people, Ramaphosa said. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said his government was suspending travel from any country with reported COVID-19 cases. … In West Africa, Ghana will ban entry from Tuesday to anyone who has been to a country with more than 200 coronavirus cases in the past 14 days, unless they are an official resident or Ghanaian national. Ghana has recorded six cases. Reuters

In Burkina Faso, COVID-19 Fight Complicated by War, Displacement
Just like much of the rest of the world, the coronavirus pandemic is about to upend daily life in Burkina Faso. Starting on Monday, all schools and universities in the West African country will remain shut for the rest of the month. Authorities have also banned gatherings of more than 50 people, leading to large events such as concerts and football matches being postponed or cancelled. In the capital, Ouagadougou, popular venues for socialising were noticeably quieter over the weekend while some residents said they would avoid travel between cities. Burkina Faso has so far registered seven cases of the highly infectious respiratory disease called COVID-19 but NGOs fear many cases could go undiagnosed in a country whose healthcare system has been gutted by conflict. …  “In Burkina Faso, the conflict has severely compromised the health infrastructure,” Laurent Saugy, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in the country, told Al Jazeera. “Some 1.5 million people have seen their access to healthcare cut or significantly reduced since 2019, due to the escalation of violence.” Al Jazeera

Masked Men, Murder and Mass Displacement: How Terror Came to Burkina Faso
The road south towards Kaya is no longer safe, but thousands take it every day. They come on foot, piled on to scooters or next to donkeys straining at their carts. They testify to atrocities by masked men that are never claimed and whose motives remain unexplained. Women and children are everywhere. The men are looking for work, in hiding, or dead. A landlocked nation of 19 million people in the heart of west Africa, Burkina Faso was celebrated only a few years ago as a stable, vibrant young democracy. Now it is being eaten away at its eastern and northern fringes. Armed groups, including some aligned with al-Qaida and Islamic State, are waging a campaign of indiscriminate killing that has driven soldiers, teachers, health workers and other symbols of the state from vast swathes of the country’s borders. … The deadliest attacks – 35 people killed in a village in December, a church attack in February that left 24 dead, 43 villagers murdered last weekend – are usually publicised. But with more than 100 incidents recorded in February alone, according to one estimate, most of the violence experienced by the women lining up for food has gone unrecorded. The Guardian

Couple Kidnapped in Burkina Faso Two Years Ago Found in Mali after Escaping
A Canadian woman and her Italian partner kidnapped in Burkina Faso in 2018 have been found in good health in the northwest of Mali after fleeing their captors, and were set to be repatriated, diplomatic and UN sources said on Saturday. Edith Blais and Luca Tacchetto, both in their thirties, managed to escape near the northern city of Kidal on Friday and were taken to the local base of the UN mission in Mali, known by its French acronym MINUSMA. The couple were then flown out on Saturday afternoon on a special plane to Mali’s capital Bamako. They appeared in good spirits, but seemed taken aback when greeted by the Malian, UN and Canadian officials with extended elbows. The pair were then informed about the coronavirus crisis and the new social etiquette. A health official sporting a mask and protective gear then took their temperature. The couple, who were wearing white T-shirts, did not speak to reporters. … It was not immediately clear how the couple were found in the vicinity of Kidal … But foreign minister Drame said their escape was the latest bit of “good news” in Mali. AFP

Coronavirus Tests Algeria’s Protest Movement
Month after month, protesters in Algeria have braved cold weather, the threat of force and arrests to demand an end to decades of kleptocratic rule – only to now be confronted by an unexpected obstacle: the new coronavirus. With 37 confirmed cases to date and three deaths recorded from the coronavirus outbreak, now classified a pandemic by the World Health Organization, members of the year-old protest movement appear divided on how and whether they should continue their weekly demonstrations. Still, several hundred protesters on Friday took to the streets of central Algiers, defying authorities’ calls to desist marching. “Neither the coronavirus nor the cholera is going to stop us, we’re getting our freedom, come what may,” they chanted. “The coronavirus isn’t going to scare us, we were brought up in misery.” … In Oran, Algeria’s second-biggest city where literature laureate Albert Camus’s famous novel The Plague is set, protesters appeared to be heeding authorities’ calls, with far fewer numbers taking to the streets on Friday. Al Jazeera

A Year after Deadly Cyclone, Mozambique Now Braces for Virus
A year after hundreds of people were killed by one of the southern hemisphere’s worst cyclones, Mozambique’s port city of Beira is rebounding, but more than a million people need food aid there and in the surrounding countryside. … “Under the surface, and on the fringes of the city, there are widespread shortages of food. We are finding that the levels of severe acute malnutrition are still high, especially among children,” [Daniel] Timme [UNICEF] said. … Now another health challenge looms large: the new coronavirus. So far Mozambique has not recorded a case of COVID-19 but the disease is spreading across Africa. Neighboring South Africa on Sunday declared a national disaster after dozens of confirmed cases. Mozambican health officials are increasing surveillance and working to improve hospitals. But the high levels of malnutrition make many Mozambicans especially vulnerable. An estimated 1.6 million people don’t have enough to eat, according to UNICEF. More than 3,000 children under 5 have been diagnosed with life-threatening severe acute malnutrition in Beira and the surrounding plains of central Mozambique, Timme said. AP

UN Agency Says over 400 Migrants Intercepted off Libya Coast
Libya’s coast guard intercepted over 400 Europe-bound migrants off the country’s Mediterranean coast and returned them to the capital of Tripoli over the past 24 hours, the U.N. migration agency said Sunday. The International Organization for Migration tweeted that 301 migrants on three boats were intercepted on Saturday and brought back to Tripoli. Another 105 migrants on two boats were intercepted on Sunday. It said most of the migrants were taken to detention centers in Libya, where there are “serious concerns over their safety.” Some migrants managed to escape at the disembarkation point, as the boats were brought back to shore, the IOM said. “It is unacceptable for this to continue despite repeated calls to put an end to the return of vulnerable people to detention and abuse,” said Safa Msehli, a spokeswoman for the IOM. Libya, which descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, has emerged as a major transit point for African and Arab migrants fleeing war and poverty to Europe. AP

UN Appeals for $1.3B for South Sudan Refugees, Host Countries
The U.N. refugee agency and partners are appealing for $1.3 billion to assist more than two million South Sudanese refugees and five major countries hosting them – Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. After seven years of conflict, South Sudan has formed a Transitional Government of National Unity and appears to be on the cusp of peace.  But the new government faces many challenges. One of the biggest is finding solutions for millions of South Sudanese who have been forcibly displaced by years of conflict, both internally and as refugees.  In the meantime, the U.N. refugee agency says some 2.2 million refugees and the countries hosting them continue to depend upon international support to provide them with life-saving assistance. UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told VOA many thousands of refugees who have returned to South Sudan on their own initiative are stuck in limbo in their home country.  He says most of those who remain outside the country are in no rush to return.  They are waiting to see if peace holds. VOA

South Sudan: UN Chief Commends ‘Spirit of Compromise and Collaboration’ as New Cabinet Is Unveiled
Following the unveiling of a new unity cabinet in South Sudan on Thursday, the UN Secretary-General has commended the “spirit of compromise and collaboration” shown by President Salva Kiir and rival-turned-top deputy, Riek Machar, on what has been a rocky road towards forging lasting peace. “The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement of the cabinet of South Sudan’s Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity,” said the statement from Secretary-General António Guterres, issued by his Spokesperson on Friday night in New York. “He commends the spirit of compromise and collaboration displayed by the parties which led to this important development,” it continued. “He encourages the South Sudanese parties and their leaders to make additional efforts to meet the 35 per cent quota for the representation of women throughout the peace process.” … “The Secretary-General calls upon the leaders of South Sudan to prioritize the implementation of transitional security arrangements, step up efforts to address inter-communal violence, fight impunity and focus on the delivery of essential services,” said the UN chief’s statement. UN News

Sudan Govt, SPLM-N Initial Political Document on Two Areas
The delegations of the Sudanese Government and the Malik Agar faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N Agar) initialled a Political Document at the Sudanese peace talks in the South Sudan capital Juba on Saturday, on issues of governance, powers and authorities in the Two Areas (South Kordofan and Blue Nile state). The signing took place in the presence of the leadership council of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebel alliance, the South Sudan mediation, the United Nations, and international observers of the peace process. … Member of the government delegation to the peace talks, Maulana El Taj, noted in press statements that “the signing of the document is an essential step in the process of achieving peace in Sudan,” referring to the necessity of readiness of the parties to the talks to face challenges of implementation of the agreement in reality. He commended efforts of the South Sudan mediation in bringing the parties closer. … The head of the SRF emphasised the front’s commitment to reach a final peace agreement according to the April 9 date set by the mediation. Radio Dabanga

Sudan Will Mediate Egypt-Ethiopia Dam Dispute, General Says
A top Sudanese general on Sunday said his country would mediate a deal on an escalating dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt over Ethiopia’s controversial dam on the Nile River. The deputy head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, said his country would work to bridge the gap and “reach an agreement” in the years-long dispute. Tensions are rising in east Africa because of the impasse between Ethiopia and Egypt over the $4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. … Dagalo’s remarks, which were carried by Egypt’s official news agency Sunday, came at the end of two-day visit to Cairo where he met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. Sudan sits between the Egypt and Ethiopia along the Nile’s route. … The deadlock over the dam became increasingly bitter in recent weeks, with Egypt saying it would use “all available means” to defend “the interests” of its people. Last week, Ethiopia’s top military officers visited the site of the dam and issued a statement vowing to “retaliate if there are any attacks on the dam,” a veiled warning to Egypt not to try to sabotage the structure. AP

DRC: Tshisekedi Calls Out to Regional Leaders to Revive Dams Project
Democratic Republic of Congo President Félix Tshisekedi is planning to hold a conference in Kinshasa next month, in what officials said would be the first step to seek regional political support for Africa’s biggest proposed water project. The DRC leader, with the support of the African Union, has invited leaders from Angola, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa and Kenya to discuss the feasibility of the Grand Inga Dam project on the Congo River. A preliminary programme for the April 28 meeting shows that Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and potential investors have been invited to help kick of the project that was mooted 10 years ago. The AU special envoy for Infrastructure and Development, former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, had been tasked with speaking to leaders directly about the meeting. AUDA-Nepad had been behind the project it sees as the ultimate solution for Africa’s power shortage and green energy. When the leaders converge in Kinshasa, they will be required to define the funding sources, contractors and timelines for the project – the three key issued that delayed it. The East African

Six Nigerian Soldiers Killed in Boko Haram Ambush
Suspected members of the Boko Haram on Sunday morning ambushed Nigerian troops in Banki area of Borno State killing six soldiers. Military sources confirmed that the attack occurred close to Banki junction. Premium Times is withholding the identities of the slain soldiers to allow the army brief the families. However, the victims, members of the 151 Task Force battalion, include two sergeants, two lance corporals and two privates. “We lost six soldiers to Boko Haram terrorists this morning. The guys came unexpectedly with sophisticated weapons,” an army officer in Borno said, asking not to be named for fear of victimisation. Banki is 130 km southeast of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital. Apart from the original residents, the community also houses some 45,000 people displaced by the Boko Haram violence. Sunday’s attack in Banki is the latest in a string of attacks by the terror group on Borno communities. … The Nigerian military has been able to limit the activities of the terror group to the three North-eastern states. However, the group is still able to carry out attacks on civilian and military targets in those three states. Premium Times

Nigeria: They Ordered Her to Be a Suicide Bomber. She Had Another Idea.
The six young women set down their bombs and stood around the well, staring into the dark void. As captives of Boko Haram, one of the deadliest terror groups on earth, the women had been dispatched for the grimmest of missions: go blow up a mosque and everyone inside. The women wanted to get rid of their bombs without killing anyone, including themselves. One of them, Balaraba Mohammed, then a 19-year-old who had been blindfolded and kidnapped by Boko Haram a few months earlier, came up with a plan: They removed their headscarves and tied them into a long rope. Ms. Mohammed attached the bombs and gingerly lowered them into the well, praying it was filled with water. She let go. “We ran for our lives,” Ms. Mohammed said. In the decade-long war with Boko Haram that has coursed through northeast Nigeria and spread to three neighboring countries, more than 500 women have been deployed as suicide bombers or apprehended before they carried out their deadly missions – a number that terrorism experts say exceeds any other conflict in history. The New York Times

Nigeria Gas Explosion: 17 Dead, Rescue Efforts under Way
Rescue efforts are ongoing in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, after a gas pipeline exploded on Sunday, resulting in the death of at least 17 people. A spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency, Ibrahim Farinloye, said more than 100 houses had caught fire and many people were wounded. Lorries, cars and motorbikes were also destroyed by the blast. Farinloye said the explosion was triggered when a truck hit gas bottles stacked up in a gas processing plant near a pipeline in Abule-Ado area of Lagos. “We are recovering dead bodies as we speak and putting them in bags,” said local Red Cross official Adebola Kolawale. “We have a school here, and it’s a residential area. And we have a trade fair here as well. As a crowd looked on, rescue workers sought to remove rubble from a girls boarding school attended by more than 250 pupils. The school headmaster was killed in the explosion, as were a couple and their two sons who lived nearby. The explosion’s impact was so strong it led to “the collapse of nearby houses and damage to a pipeline,” according to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. Al Jazeera

Coronavirus: The Lessons to Learn from Ebola
On March 9, Italy – the worst-hit by coronavirus outside of China – extended its lockdown to the entire country in a bid to curb the spread. That decision in the European country of 60 million resonated with many in West Africa. When Sierra Leone found itself in the grip of Ebola in September 2014, authorities imposed an unprecedented 72-hour nationwide lockdown. The government recruited and deployed scores of health teams door to door, or “Ose to Ose Ebola Tok” in Krio. “Italy could learn some good lessons from what we got from the lockdown during the Ebola outbreak,” said Harold Thomas who was in one of the teams that went house to house in Freetown, bearing information and soap. The lockdown was a chance for “the entire population to reflect on the magnitude of the problem, and collectively look at ways to put it to an end,” he told DW. “Coronavirus now, if we compare it to Ebola, is a droplet infection and social distancing is overly important.” DW

Senegal Partners with UK Lab to Develop a Hand-Held Coronavirus Test Kit
UK-based laboratory Mologic is working with scientists in Senegal to make a diagnostic test for coronavirus that can produce test results within 10 minutes, the company said. The handheld device is the first diagnostic kit developed in the UK to be jointly-manufactured in Africa, according to Mologic in a statement announcing the UK-funded initiative. The laboratory said it was working with the Pasteur Institute in Dakar and five other international research organizations to authenticate the test kits that will be produced by DiaTropix, a manufacturing facility also in the West African nation. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the lab last week and announced a £46 million fund (approximately $58 million US dolllars) for British experts to find vaccines and develop test kits to fight the coronavirus pandemic and prevent future outbreaks of the virus. Mologic said it received a £1 million (about $1.3 million USD) from the fund to make a rapid test kit that works without electricity and does not need a laboratory analysis to give results for coronavirus, paving the way for health workers to detect cases and place people under quarantine quickly. CNN



Photo: Adam Jones