Africa Media Review for March 19, 2020

Africa Should ‘Prepare for the Worst’ with Virus, WHO Says

Africa should “prepare for the worst” as the coronavirus begins to spread locally, the World Health Organization’s director-general said Wednesday, while South Africa became the continent’s new focus of concern as cases nearly doubled to 116 from two days before. South Africa’s health minister, Zweli Mkhize, this week called that kind of rate “explosive” in the country with the most cases in sub-Saharan Africa. Fourteen of the latest cases were from local transmission – and six were in children under 10. Though the pandemic is in its early days on the continent, health experts have warned that even facilities in Africa’s richest nation could be overwhelmed by the virus’ spread. … Crowded conditions in poor areas could lead to even faster transmission, experts say. Countless South Africans continue to pack into commuter trains and minivan taxis. But the annual pilgrimage of the Zion Christian Church, which attracts about 3 million people, was cancelled. “We have low-income workers who cannot afford to self-isolate or take time off work,” said public health expert Dr. Atiya Mosam, who also worried about the large population without clean water or sanitation or vulnerable from HIV or tuberculosis. Others asked how a person can self-quarantine in a crowded slum. The continent has several of the world’s fastest-growing cities. AP

Africa CDC: Continent ‘Must Be Prepared’ as Coronavirus Causes ‘Havoc’

Three African countries account for most of the continent’s coronavirus cases, but the deputy director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the entire continent must be ready for the virus. “The virus is causing a lot of havoc in other parts of the world, and we in Africa must be prepared so that it does not catch us in the numbers that we are seeing in Europe and Asia, because our health systems will not be able to cope,” Dr. Ahmed Ogwell told VOA via Skype from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The best strategy, he said, and one his agency is advising governments to follow, “is to prevent and minimize the harm that the virus will cause to the continent.” Ogwell said his organization, which is a technical agency of the African Union, is working to strengthen countries’ preparedness in three main areas, including improvement of surveillance at ports of entry and hospitals; increasing countries’ ability to test for COVID-19, a capacity 43 African countries now have; and strengthening the capacity for infection prevention and control so infected patients can be isolated and monitored. VOA

Ignoring Coronavirus Fears, Malawi Concentrates on Its Own Political Crisis

Malawi is yet to register a single case of the coronavirus, but a health system in decay and a tumultuous political crisis has left the country bracing for a nightmare if –  or when – the virus arrives. Authorities are yet to ban travel or stop large gatherings, despite the virus edging closer. Neighbouring Zambia and Tanzania confirmed their first cases of coronavirus this week, while South Africa –   the country’s main trading partner, connected by regular two-hour flights –   is battling an outbreak that has so far infected 116 people. The country is effectively in campaign mode as it prepares for new presidential elections on  May 19. These were scheduled after last year’s poll – won by President Peter Mutharika – was annulled by the Constitutional Court in February due to widespread irregularities. Mutharika, who analysts argue is preoccupied by the political crisis, has yet to address the nation on the subject. On Tuesday, however, he sacked army chief General Vincent Nundwe –   a decision described by analysts as politically motivated. “The president was supposed to take [the] lead but is yet to even deliver a speech. It’s like there is no war out there. It’s small people like us and churches who are leading the fight,” said Dorothy Ngoma, a health rights advocate who previously served as adviser on maternal health issues to former president Joyce Banda. Mail & Guardian

Proposed UN Resolution Would Support Sudan’s Peace Efforts

A proposed U.N. Security Council resolution would replace the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan’s restive Darfur region with a U.N. political and peace-building mission whose primary aim would be to support Sudan’s fragile transition to democracy including in drafting a new constitution and preparing for elections. The draft resolution, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, would basically eliminate the main mission of the U.N.-AU force known as UNAMID – the protection of civilians in Darfur. That responsibility would be handed over to the transitional government formed last August by the military and civilian protesters following the ouster of the country’s longtime autocratic ruler Omar al-Bashir. The proposed resolution would establish “a political, peace support and peace-building mission,” to be known as the United Nations Political and Peace-building Integrated Mission in Sudan or UNPPIMS, starting May 1 for an initial period of one year. It would authorize the deployment of up to 2,500 international police and one battalion for a quick reaction force – usually between 500 and 800 troops – to protect U.N. personnel, facilities and humanitarian workers. AP

Violence and Obstruction: Cameroon’s Deepening Aid Crisis

Humanitarian organisations are struggling to keep pace with the increasing needs of civilians as conflict between the government and pro-independence groups escalates in Cameroon’s anglophone regions. Limited access to those driven from their homes, low levels of donor funding, and what aid workers have described as government “obstruction” means the majority of the 1.3 million people affected by the violence cannot be reached. Since November 2019, there has been a surge in violence in the Northwest and Southwest regions – referred to collectively by pro-independence fighters as the Southern Cameroons or the Republic of Ambazonia. Nearly 900,000 people have been made homeless, and an additional 60,000 have fled into neighbouring Nigeria. The four-year conflict, triggered by the perceived marginalisation of the region from majority French-speaking Cameroon, has left at least 3,000 dead. Needs include food, shelter, and psychosocial support as the government forces and pro-independence fighters routinely torch homes and, increasingly, entire villages, forcing people into the bush. … The UN’s children’s agency, UNICEF, estimates that only 34 percent of health facilities are operating, causing a dip in life-saving immunisation and nutrition services. The New Humanitarian

Egypt Arrests Activists including Ahdaf Soueif over Coronavirus Protest

Egyptian security forces arrested the Booker-shortlisted novelist Ahdaf Soueif and three other women after they staged a protest demanding the release of prisoners over fears of a coronavirus outbreak in the country’s overcrowded jails. Soueif, her sister Laila Soueif, the activist Mona Seif and Rabab El-Mahdi, a political science professor, held a small demonstration in central Cairo on Wednesday afternoon. “We are in front of the cabinet, asking for the state to take serious steps regarding corona in prisons. As we know, at any time Egypt’s prisons are clusters for disease,” Mona said in a Facebook live video, according to Ahdaf Soueif’s son, Omar Robert Hamilton. Three of the group are relatives of one of Egypt’s most prominent bloggers and activists, Alaa Abd El Fattah, who was imprisoned last September after rare, small-scale protests erupted demanding the toppling of the president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. There have been increasing concerns among supporters of Abd El Fattah and his family about conditions in Egyptian prisons, where human rights groups have repeatedly warned about overcrowding and lack of hygiene. The Guardian

Foreigners in Ethiopia Being Attacked over Virus

The US embassy in Ethiopia has warned that foreigners are being attacked in cities across the country after being accused of being infected with Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus. In a security alert posted on its website, the embassy said it “continues to receive reports regarding a rise in anti-foreigner sentiment” since the first case of the virus was detected in Africa’s second-most populous state last week. Typical derogatory comments such as “China” and “ferengi” (a reference to foreigners) have been “reportedly coupled with the label ‘corona’, indicating a disparaging view on the link between the outbreak of Covid-19 and foreigners in Ethiopia,” it added. “Reports indicate that foreigners have been attacked with stones, denied transportation services… being spat on, chased on foot, and been accused of being infected with Covid-19,” the embassy added. Ethiopia has detected six cases of coronavirus – the first was that of a Japanese national who travelled from the West African state of Burkina Faso. BBC

Women Plough the Way to Peace in South Sudan Resettlement Project

Women who had been displaced by fighting in South Sudan are sowing seeds of peace, with support from the UN mission in the country, UNMISS. They have been given ox ploughs to work the land, as part of a campaign to resettle returnees in the Rumbek North area who were uprooted during intercommunal clashes last year. “We realized that household food security is one of the key factors for return and reintegration to be sustainable,” said Caroline Opok, a representative of the peacekeeping mission. … Due to persistent intercommunal violence, including cattle raids, revenge attacks and armed ambushes, many people in the region have been reduced to relying on relief aid. Tired of depending on external assistance, and with oxen aplenty available, residents figured that having ploughs could improve their situation. … They will be put to good use, according to Mary Agor, a local women’s leader. … Ms. Agor also had a message for the national authorities: “We want our Government to make sure that there is enough security so that we can bring in our bulls and cultivate. Without peace, that will not be possible. Right now, the roads are full of armed youth. They should go away so that our men can safely return with their cattle.” UN News

South Africa: Coronavirus Uncertainty Affects Asylum Seekers

Fears around the spread of the coronavirus have led to the South African government taking the extraordinary step of closing 35 of the country’s 72 ports of entry. After President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster on March 15, some refugee reception offices have apparently also suspended issuing and renewing asylum permits while their staff wait to receive protective gear. A number of migrant and non-governmental organisations that help asylum seekers have reported anecdotal incidents of these offices, including the ones in Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Durban, not accepting new applicants. The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town and the Nelson Mandela Refugee Rights Centre in Port Elizabeth say they have heard of asylum seekers being told that the refugee reception offices in these cities won’t be taking new applicants until staff members have been supplied with masks, gloves and hand sanitisers. … Linton Harmse, director of the Refugee Rights Centre, said the closure of these offices could have a severely negative impact on new asylum applicants as well as existing asylum seekers in South Africa wanting to renew their permits.  Mail & Guardian

Testing, Testing, 123: Unpacking the Confusion around SA’s COVID-19 Testing

Pandemics spark panic, and Covid-19 is no exception. One effect of this in SA is the high volume of people who want to be tested for the coronavirus. But as the country’s laboratory service risks buckling under the strain, health authorities are pleading for the limited stocks of tests to be reserved for those who are genuinely high risk. When 40-year-old Mary* stepped off her flight from South America at OR Tambo International on Friday 13 March, she was already feeling a bit unwell. Given a health screening form to complete before she passed through immigration, Mary dutifully noted down her symptoms: scratchy throat, headache, fluey. Covid-19 was on her mind. Since leaving South Africa on 12 February, Mary had taken a total of 12 flights during her month away spent researching for a work project. Her travelling was confined to South America, which is not considered a high-risk zone for the coronavirus. What worried her more was the amount of time she had spent over four weeks in airports, crammed into confined spaces with international travellers, during the period when Covid-19 spread to the status of a global pandemic. Perhaps the person who would collect her health screening form at the airport would be able to tell her whether her concern was justified, she thought. But it didn’t work out that way. Maverick Citizen

Leroy Brewer: South Africa Hunt Rhino Poaching Investigator’s Killers

South African police are hunting the gunmen who killed one of its top rhino poaching investigators in an ambush. Lt Col Leroy Brewer’s killing was “senseless” and a “huge loss,” police chief Gen Khehla Sitole said. He had “always excelled in cracking complex cases, particularly related to rhino poaching,” Gen Sithole added. South Africa has seen a fall in poaching in recent years after stepping up efforts to protect the animals. A total of 594 rhinos were killed for their horns in 2019, compared with 769 in 2018 and 1,028 in 2017, official statistics show. … Who was Col Brewer? In 2016, he was named the best detective in the Hawks, an elite police unit which investigates organised crime. Col Brewer investigated poaching syndicates in the Kruger, as well as syndicates involved in ambushing armoured vehicles transporting cash from banks. He was driving to work when he was shot dead by gunmen with high-calibre weapons on Tuesday. He died on the spot. Gen Sithole had ordered a “multidisciplinary” team of investigators “not to rest until Col Brewer’s killers are brought to book,” the police chief’s office said in a statement. BBC

Nigeria’s Lassa Fever Death Toll Rises to 161 amidst New COVID-19 Cases

Few minutes after Nigeria announced five new confirmed cases of Covid-19, the weekly Lassa fever situation report from Nigeria Centre for Disease Control showed that 161 people had died from the ongoing outbreak. While nobody has died from the Covid-19 outbreak in the country, the Lassa fever outbreak has been a different story as new cases and deaths have been increasing weekly. As at the time of reporting, a total of 3,735 suspected cases with 906 confirmed cases (11 probable) and 161 deaths have so far been reported in 123 local government areas in 27 states. These figures represent the total cases from the beginning of the year till March 15. Figures from NCDC for the same reporting period in the previous year shows cases this year are higher than what is obtainable for the year. As of the same period in 2019, a total of 1801 suspected cases with 495 confirmed cases and 114 deaths were reported in 73 local government areas in 21 states. Nigeria, since the beginning of the year has been reporting cases of Lassa fever, with the season for the outbreak expected to peak between January and May. Premium Times

African Governments, Facebook and Twitter Are Fighting to Dispel Misinformation on Coronavirus

With nearly 600 confirmed coronavirus cases across Africa, public anxiety and safety fears are proving fertile ground for the spread of misinformation. But just as they deal with testing, diagnosing and treating patients, some governments on the continent are also being deliberate about pushing back against false information. South Africa’s national health department has set up a WhatsApp support service to provide information to locals. The automated service shares information ranging from symptoms, prevention tips and testing information to users after a keyword prompt. Crucially, it also dispels growing myths about cures, from eating garlic to taking hot water baths, and sensitizes about possible scams looking to take advantage of the public’s fears. While it offers citizens a credible source for information, South Africa authorities are also penalizing anyone spreading coronavirus-realted misinformation with six-month jail terms and fines. Quartz

Price Hikes in Africa Aggravate the Coronavirus Crisis

In Kigali, Jean Marie Mutsinzi often shops at the Kimironko market, among the largest of Rwanda’s capital. He said he was caught by surprise by the rapid rise of prices. “The food I was buying last week at RWF1500 [US$2, €1.80] increased by more than RWF1000 and this is a problem for the people,” he told DW. He added that the same is happening everywhere the country, as he has learned from relatives. Rwanda’s was the first African government to act. Late on Monday, the trade ministry fixed prices for 17 food items including rice, sugar and cooking oil. But it did not specify punishments for price-gouging. Teddy Kaberuka, an economist based in Kigali, says the price hike is due to a number of reasons. Sellers are trying to profit from the crisis. There is also an increase of demand owing to panic-buying by people who don’t know what tomorrow will bring. “Thirdly, it is connected to the global trade environment. Many commodities come from China and since the Chinese market was heavily affected since the beginning of the year, traders don’t travel to China anymore,” Kaberuka said. DW

Kenya Deploys Military General to Fix Graft-Ridden Capital

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed a military officer to run the nation’s capital, Nairobi, and rid the city of widespread corruption. Air Force Major-General Mohamed Abdala Badi becomes director-general of the Nairobi Metropolitan Services, Kenyatta said in a televised briefing Wednesday. The move comes after county Governor Mike Sonko, who is facing graft charges, which he denies, agreed to hand over management of several functions to the central government. “The biggest problem that the city faces is corruption and the cartels that have a vice-like grip on city hall,” Kenyatta said. From the collection of garbage, to parking in the city, water supply and issuance of permits, “corrupt practices have made service delivery impossible,” he said. Nairobi, home to more than 4 million people, is a hub for diplomatic missions and the regional operations of companies including Coca-Cola Co., Alphabet Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp. Residents of the county have to contend daily with heaps of uncollected garbage, insufficient water supply, perennial traffic congestion and potholed roads. Bloomberg

No Water! No Fear! Kenya’s Community Leaders Step Up to Coronavirus Challenge

Few residents in Nairobi’s sprawling informal settlement of Kibera have access to running water to wash their hands – but most have heard of a deadly new disease killing off people in China and Europe. Although the disease was slow to hit Africa, more than 30 countries now have cases of the coronavirus – Kenya has seven. So concerned residents in neighbourhoods neglected by Kenya’s notoriously corrupt government are setting up handwashing stations and organising teams of volunteers to educate people about the disease. “We can’t sit pretty in our houses knowing that tomorrow we may have a crisis beyond our control,” said Ed Gachuna, the chief finance officer of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), an organisation set up by Kennedy Odede, who was born and brought up in Kibera. Community-led initiatives like SHOFCO’s coronavirus drive are far more likely to win compliance from residents than edicts from a government noted only for its neglect – an important lesson learned from the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa in 2014 and in Congo last year. … The stations are staffed by volunteers like 24-year-old Judy Adhiambo, whose dimpled smile greets each passerby as she tells them the symptoms of the disease and how to prevent it. Children squeal with delight at the water and suds, but the adults listen. “Rub between the fingers very well,” Adhiambo advises a young boy washing his hands with his mother. “Asante,” the woman says quietly as they leave – thank you. Reuters



Photo: Adam Jones