Africa Media Review for March 18, 2020

What Africa Is Doing to Fight Coronavirus
The World Health Organization has warned of the risk that COVID-19 could overwhelm strained public health systems in sub-Saharan Africa. Here is a selection of measures countries are taking to prepare for the virus and limit its spread. With more cases than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa is barring entry to foreign travellers coming from or transiting through high-risk countries… [Nigeria] has stepped up surveillance and is preparing for the possibility of an influx of patients. Lagos, the biggest city with some 20 million people, could handle 2,000 cases, said Bamidele Mutiu, who heads a regional biosafety team. To do this, they would need to use two camps previously housing people displaced by violence, he said. … [Kenya] is suspending travel from any nation with reported COVID-19 cases. … [Ethiopia] closed schools nationwide and offered to transport people on government buses to ease congestion on public transport. … Reuters

Africa Braces for Coronavirus, but Slowly
Commuters on bicycles and motorbikes wove through traffic in this West African city wearing face masks to protect their lungs – but not against coronavirus. They were protecting themselves from the fine dust blowing in from the Sahara. Widespread panic over the coronavirus has not yet arrived in this country and many others in Africa, even as the pandemic has swept across China, and now Europe and the United States. Sub-Saharan Africa has not been hit as hard or as early by coronavirus, despite predictions by many experts who had warned that the high traffic between the continent and China, where the outbreak started, would set off the infection in Africa. Instead, it has been mostly people coming from Europe and North America who have carried the virus to Africa. … But some experts said that people across the continent had yet to take the threat of coronavirus seriously enough, even though African presidents have begun announcing strict measures to try to prevent its spread. “That’s the danger I’m worried about. We can’t wait for a repeat of what happened in China,” said Oyewale Tomori, a professor of virology and former president of the Nigerian Academy of Science. The New York Times

Gambia Records First Case, 31st African Country Infected
The Gambia recorded its first coronavirus case yesterday in a statement by the health minister. The country becomes the 31st to be infected in Africa. The case involved a young woman who flew in from the United Kingdom. All passengers on the flight she came in with are being traced, authorities confirmed. Gambia’s only neighbour Senegal has also been greatly impacted by the pandemic with close to thirty confirmed cases. President Macky Sall last week announced a raft of measures that included ban on public gatherings and closure of schools. The Gambia has yet to announce such measures which most African countries – affected or virus-free – are implementing as preventive or containment measure. Africa News

Malawi President Sacks Celebrated Army Chief
Malawi’s leader Peter Mutharika on Tuesday fired the country’s army commander whose men have in recent months protected demonstrators protesting against fraudulent elections that returned the president to office. A statement from the presidency said General Vincent Nundwe was replaced by the former air force commander, Major General Andrew Lapken Namathanga. Nundwe will be assigned to other duties in the public service, the statement said. The move comes days after Mutharika dissolved his cabinet, his latest political move after his May re-election was annulled over irregularities. In a landmark ruling last month the Constitutional Court ordered officials to hold a fresh presidential poll within 150 days in the poor southern African nation. It is the first time a presidential election has been challenged on legal grounds in Malawi since independence from Britain in 1964. Mutharika is attempting to quash new balloting that would require him to win more than a 50 percent majority to secure a second term. He has refused to ratify new electoral laws and filed an appeal against the court’s decision to nullify election results that had declared him the winner with just 35.8 percent of the vote. AFP

Militia ‘Sect’ Wreaks Havoc in Remote DR Congo Region
With three fingers chopped off his left hand, Father Guy-Robert Mandro bears physical witness to a resurgence of violence in DR Congo that has gone widely unnoticed in a world fixated by the coronavirus pandemic. Since the start of the month, around 50 people have been killed in the eastern province of Ituri, 15 of them overnight Sunday alone, according to local sources. Bloodletting in this troubled region has already claimed some 700 lives since late 2017 — a tale of trauma and sexual violence blamed on a little-known militia. Mandro, the parish priest in Fataki, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of the provincial capital Bunia, said he was attacked after mass about a week ago. “A group of young people came up to me. They hit me about the head with machetes. I protected myself and that’s how I lost three fingers,” he said. … The violence is being blamed on an armed group called the Cooperation for the Development of the Congo (Codeco), which claims to defend the Lendu, an ethnic group that mainly comprises farmers. Its militiamen roam in small groups, mainly targeting members of the Hema, a herder and trading community. AFP

Niger Says Army Kills 50 Boko Haram Extremists after Attack
Niger says its army has killed at least 50 Boko Haram extremists after an attack on a military post. The West African nation says the heavily armed Boko Haram fighters attacked the eastern Toumour post overnight into Sunday. The government says the army used air and ground forces to fight back, killing at least 50 fighters and destroying a large number of vehicles. One soldier was injured. Boko Haram is based in neighboring Nigeria. Its decade-long insurgency has focused on attacks inside that country, but the extremists also have staged attacks in Niger and Cameroon. AP

Alassane Ouattara: How Ivory Coast’s President Stunned West Africa
Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara has stunned his critics by announcing that he will not run for a third term, putting pressure on other regional leaders to follow his example, writes the BBC Newsday’s James Copnall from the main city, Abidjan. … Earlier this month, Alassane Ouattara, 78, formally announced that he would not run for a controversial third term as president of cocoa-rich Ivory Coast, even though a recently modified constitution appeared to allow him that possibility. There were gasps from the politicians who had gathered to hear him speak in the capital Yamoussoukro – and perhaps even louder sounds from the vicinity of the presidential palace in neighbouring Guinea. For months opposition politicians in Guinea have been insisting that President Alpha Condé, 82, is intent on using any means he can to extend his stay in power. There have been huge protests – and even deaths – in several places in Guinea over the issue, and Mr Condé is attempting to organise a referendum which would allow him to run again, even though he is in what is currently his second and final term. BBC

Cameroon Opposition Claims Assassination Attempt against Leader
Cameroon’s main opposition party says the government is plotting to assassinate its leader, Maurice Kamto.  The Cameroon Resistance Movement reiterated its claim Monday, three days after the party says an armed man tried to shoot and kill Kamto during a visit to the city of Garoua.  The government says there was no assassination attempt. In a statement Monday, the CRM party said it wants the world to know there are plans to eliminate their leader, Maurice Kamto.  In the release, Kamto calls on Cameroonians to take note and insists that he was elected president of Cameroon in the October 2018 polls but that long-serving President Paul Biya stole his victory. On Friday, Kamtovisited Garoua, capital of the North Region.  He was riding in a car, with crowds of supporters lining both sides of the road, when his private security guards riding behind him dove toward someone following them on a motorcycle.  The guards said the man was carrying a rifle to kill Kamto. The security guards took the armed man, later identified as a member of the Cameroon military, to the governor.  The governor, who is, the highest-ranking official of the North Region, did not make a statement. VOA

Sudan Orders Arrest of Former Foreign Minister over 1989 Coup
The Sudanese prosecutor’s office on Tuesday ordered the arrest of former foreign minister Ali Karti for his role in the 1989 coup which brought Omar al-Bashir to power. It said in a statement that Karti’s assets would be frozen and that arrest warrants had been issued for five other people, including Omar Suleiman, a former head of a parliamentary chamber and the man believed to have accompanied Bashir to Khartoum, the capital, during the coup. Bashir, who was ousted in April following mass protests against his 30-year rule, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague and is facing an arrest warrant over allegations of genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region. The prosecution’s case against Bashir and other members of his regime accused of orchestrating the coup had begun before an assassination attempt targeting Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok last week, which he escaped unscathed. The country’s ruling council called the incident a terrorist attack and said Sudan would step up its drive to stamp out Bashir loyalists. Reuters

UN Security Council Halts Meetings Due to Coronavirus
The UN Security Council called off its two remaining meetings for the week on Monday due to the coronavirus crisis. After the earlier cancellation of the meeting planned for Tuesday, the Security Council was planning to discuss the situation in Sudan’s Darfur region and hold a multilateralism meeting on Thursday. The council was “still functioning” despite abandoning its remaining sessions for the week, said the Chinese mission, which holds this month’s rotating presidency of the body. “Council members will maintain communication and consultation on issues on the agenda with a view to taking necessary actions as needed to fulfill the Council’s mandate,” a spokesperson for the mission said in a statement. AFP

Algeria Bans Street Marches Due to Virus; Some Protestors Unswayed
Algeria has banned street protests over the coronavirus, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said on Tuesday, in a bid to end a year of unprecedented mass demonstrations that brought down the veteran president and convulsed the state. Speaking in a televised address after meeting government ministers and security officials, Tebboune said gatherings and marches were prohibited. “The lives of citizens are above all considerations even if this requires restricting some freedoms,” he said. It was not immediately clear if all protesters would agree to suspend their movement. One, school teacher Mohamed Hachimi, said the demonstrations would not stop. “The system is trying to use coronavirus as an argument to end our revolution. Tebboune and his men will fail because marches will continue,” he said. Algeria has confirmed 60 cases of the coronavirus including five deaths, mostly in the town of Blida, south of the capital, and has restricted much foreign travel and closed mosques. … As the coronavirus arrived in North Africa this month, some protesters said they would no longer march for the sake of public health, though thousands still took to the streets. Reuters

AFRICOM Cancels North Africa Multinational Training Exercise Phoenix Express over COVID-19 Concerns
United States Africa Command cancelled this year’s run of Phoenix Express, a joint naval security exercise with African partners, as a precaution to limit the spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). … year’s Phoenix Express was scheduled for April 5-18 in the Mediterranean Sea. The exercise is “designed to improve regional cooperation, maritime domain awareness, information-sharing practices, and operational capabilities” in order to promote security in the Mediterranean and along the coasts of participating nations. Fourteen countries took part in last year’s drills, including North African forces from Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. Countries took part in training simulations involving trafficking of drugs, weapons and people. The Mediterranean is a gateway to Europe for smugglers. Several European nations including Italy, Greece, Spain, and the U.K. have participated in past Phoenix Express exercises, which began in 2005. AFRICOM said planning for next year’s exercise is underway. The Defense Post

Somali National Army Launches Action to Oust Al-Shabaab from Janaale
Somalia’s Federal Government said elements of the Somali National Army and elite Danab forces launched an operation to capture the town of Janaale from al-Shabaab militants at dawn on Monday. “Government forces have successfully taken over the Janaale bridge and drive[n] al-Shabaab from their strongholds in the city,” the information ministry said in a Tuesday, March 17 statement. “Ongoing military operations continue inside the city to completely rid the terrorist al-Shabaab from Janaale and surrounding areas. The initial assessment from commanders is that several militants have been killed thus far,” the statement said The ministry encouraged people with relatives in Janaale to “inform them of this operation and encourage them to stay in their homes.” Pro-government media outlet Somali National Television reported that the SNA had captured the town after al-Shabaab militants fled on Monday. A spokesperson for Somalia’s information ministry also said Janaale is under government control as of Tuesday. The Defense Post

‘I Feel Strong and Free’: Running Takes Hold among Women in Somaliland
“Why can’t you just stay at home?” the man shouted at the two young female runners as they darted by on the racecourse – wearing long skirts, arm-covering T-shirts and running tights in the 90-degree heat. He was not the only person jeering the women running in this 10-kilometer race, part of an annual event that includes a marathon, where more than 250 of the 320 contestants this year were men. But some spectators had kinder words. “Run and beat the boys with the skinny legs!” urged a woman decked in a brown jilbab, a traditional loosefitting robe, as a different pair of women sprinted past. All the female runners were dressed in line with Muslim practice in the region, which calls for most of a woman’s body to be covered. The marathon began two years ago as a fund-raiser for education in Somaliland, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991, setting up its own Parliament, currency and flag. The New York Times

Coronavirus: Why Washing Hands Is Difficult in Some Countries
About one billion people live in slum-like conditions, making up 30% of the world’s urban population. These housing facilities tend to have very little ventilation, drainage and sewage facilities, with diseases spreading easily. Celestine Adhiambo, 43, lives in the Mukuru slum in Nairobi with her husband and six children. The family’s one-room house has no running water or electricity. She says her children can’t move around much without banging into each other. “It is not possible for us to separate a child from another in case of any infection. We don’t have any space. No rooms here. The government should take the infected people to hospitals,” she told the BBC. Her husband works as a carpenter and on the days he works, he earns about 400 Kenyan Shillings (£3.15, $4) and every day the family spends about 50 shillings on buying 10 buckets of water. But the water supply is erratic and on days when there is no water, the family has to forgo the quick bath they are accustomed to. … Dr Poppy Lamberton, a lecturer in delivering health services at the University of Glasgow in the UK, said governments need to step up in a big way. “Some governments are poor, but not as poor as individuals. In the case of an outbreak, they should be able to isolate a whole community.” BBC

‘Tip of the Iceberg’: Is Our Destruction of Nature Responsible for COVID-19?
Only a decade or two ago it was widely thought that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic wildlife threatened humans by harbouring the viruses and pathogens that lead to new diseases in humans such as Ebola, HIV and dengue. But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise – with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections between the wellbeing of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems. Is it possible, then, that it was human activity, such as road building, mining, hunting and logging, that triggered the Ebola epidemics in Mayibout 2 and elsewhere in the 1990s and that is unleashing new terrors today? … Kate Jones, chair of ecology and biodiversity at UCL, calls emerging animal-borne infectious diseases an “increasing and very significant threat to global health, security and economies.” The Guardian

A 10-Minute Coronavirus Test for $1? Researchers in Senegal Say It’s Coming.
Researchers at the Pasteur Institute in coastal Senegal – a World Health Organization partner that has battled viral outbreaks for more than a century – say they’re as little as three months away from releasing $1 diagnostic kits that can detect the respiratory contagion in 10 minutes. … The Senegalese team, which helped the WHO through the region’s Ebola epidemic from 2014 to 2016, was one of the first two labs on the continent to be able to identify the coronavirus, fielding samples from other countries. (Forty-three of Africa’s 54 nations now have diagnostic tools.). … The virologists knew, however, that having just a few labs per country wasn’t enough to shield rural communities, where electricity is often scarce. They needed something that could work through a power cut. Enter the pregnancy-test model. It’s already used in malaria and HIV kits worldwide: Patients drop blood or saliva onto the devices and wait for a bold line to appear. Between manufacturing facilities in Dakar and the United Kingdom, the team expects to produce 8 million tests annually, said Joe Fitchett, Mologic’s medical director, and sell them for $1 each to governments and global disease-fighting bodies. “The idea,” he said, “is we make it available as widely as possible.” The Washington Post

Coronavirus Will Slam African Economies, Experts Say
As the coronavirus spreads across Africa, countries are taking stronger measures to curb its spread.  The restrictions may contain the virus, but will likely have a deep impact on the continent’s economies. With several African governments closing borders, canceling flights and enforcing strict quarantine requirements to curb the spread of the virus, experts say there will be consequences for the continent’s economy.  The United Nations said it now estimates Africa’s GDP rate will fall from 3.2 percent to 1.8 percent this year. “This is going to deal a very severe blow to growth,” said Vera Songwe, secretary-general of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, “even though the numbers of cases on the continent are quite small.  If you look at that Africa does not seem to be affected. But then when you look at the economics, I think that is where the big story is for Africa. We are being severely affected.” Over the weekend Kenya shut its border to foreigners, while Ghana banned entry to anyone who visited a country with the coronavirus in the last two weeks. South Africa, already in a recession, declared a national state of emergency and banned travel to and from China, Europe and the U.S. VOA



Photo: Adam Jones