Africa Media Review for March 20, 2020

Coronavirus Spreads through Africa [Map]

The coronavirus pandemic has spread rapidly since it arrived in Africa. This time series analysis tracks the logarithmic dissemination of COVID-19 across the continent. Africa reported its first case of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, on February 15, 2020-a full two months after it was first identified in China. Once it arrived on the continent, the virus spread to over 30 countries in less than a month. North Africa has seen the highest number of COVID-19 infections thus far, though more West African countries have been affected than any other region on the continent. With confirmed cases in Africa rising at a rate of approximately 26 percent per day, time is of the essence if Africa is to avoid the worst effects of the pandemic. While nearly two-thirds of affected African countries thus far have reported only imported infections, slowing the exponential expansion of the virus will increasingly rely on reducing in-country transmissions. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Africa Sees ‘Extremely Rapid Evolution’ of Pandemic, UN Says

More African countries closed their borders Thursday as the coronavirus’ local spread threatened to turn the continent of 1.3 billion people into an alarming new front for the pandemic. Africa is seeing an “extremely rapid evolution,” the World Health Organization’s regional chief, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, told reporters. Thirty-six of Africa’s 54 countries now have cases, with the total over 720. Chad and Niger announced their first cases Thursday. The first case in sub-Saharan Africa was announced Feb. 28, less than three weeks ago. Moeti said she did not believe that large numbers of infected people are going undetected but acknowledged a shortage of testing kits. Forty-three countries have testing capability, up from two when the outbreak began. By Monday, countries will have 60,000 testing kits. The WHO regional chief also expressed concern about travel restrictions and their impact on the ability to deliver needed resources. The WHO is considering humanitarian corridors, Moeti said. But many African nations were taking their cue from China and other countries by sharply restricting travel. AP

Africa’s Fragile Health Systems Rush to Contain Coronavirus

Governments across Africa are rushing to reinforce measures to contain the spread of coronavirus, fearing that fragile health systems will be swiftly overwhelmed if the disease spreads beyond a small number of cases on the continent. World Health Organization (WHO) officials have called for a strong response to a “tremendously fast rise in the number of countries with cases being confirmed.” “We have to ratchet up what is being done,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa. “It is what is done at this point that will determine the numbers who will become very ill … I still think it is possible that we will prevent large numbers of people dying but it needs coordination, a huge effort and huge resources.” Most infections involve people who have recently been in Europe or other disease hot spots, but the number of cases of internal transmission are rising every day. … Health officials across Africa know that hospitals can deal with only a fraction of those needing care if the virus spreads through overcrowded cities, remote villages and among vulnerable populations such as refugees, the malnourished or those suffering from HIV and other chronic conditions. The Guardian

Mali: Dozens of Soldiers Killed in Tarkint Base Attack

At least 29 Malian soldiers have been killed in an attack on an army base in the country’s northeast, according to the armed forces. There was now immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, the deadliest against the Malian army this year, in the town of Tarkint, north of the city of Gao. The army said earlier on Thursday that just two soldiers had died but tweeted later that the death toll had “heavily evolved” to 29 killed and five wounded. Mali’s army has repeatedly suffered heavy casualties from armed groups active in the area with links to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS). … French army chief Francois Lecointre told senators last month that the Malian, Nigerien and Burkinabe armies were losing the equivalent of one battalion per year to the fighters’ attacks. Many parts of the Sahel that have seen the most fighting are severely underdeveloped. The several armed groups operating in the region have exploited poverty as well as religious and ethnic divisions for recruitment. Al Jazeera

Guinea Defies Virus for Vote That Could Keep Leader in Power

The West African nation of Guinea is defying the coronavirus pandemic to hold a controversial referendum on Sunday that could allow the president to stay longer in power. Nearly 5 million voters are registered for the vote, which also will choose 14 National Assembly members. President Alpha Conde, whose second and currently final term ends in December, might win the chance to stand for two more seven-year terms. Some civil society groups urge authorities to postpone the vote until the end of the pandemic. Guinea has two cases of the virus, according to the National Agency for Health Security. However, the ruling party has said the cases cannot prevent the rest of the county from voting. … A coalition of opposition and civil society groups, the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution, which has been demonstrating against the referendum, has called for another demonstration on Saturday and Sunday against the election. … Conde, first elected in 2010, is barred from running for a third term under the constitution. While the amended constitution would keep a two-term limit and increase terms from five years to seven, Conde has implied that his previous terms served would not count. AP

In Virus-Free Malawi, Thousands Attend Opposition Alliance Announcement

Seven opposition parties in Malawi have announced the formation of a coalition ahead of presidential poll rerun ordered by the courts in February 2020. The coalition is led by two main opposition figures, Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party, MCP, and Saulos Chilima of the United Transformation Movement, UTM. Chakwera placed second in the annulled vote while Chilima – a former vice-president to Mutharika – came third. In his address to supporters, Chilima stressed that the MCP & UTM alliance was not a personal alliance that is meant to benefit only a few. “It’s not an alliance about regions or tribe or one that aims at protecting someone from court cases. It’s an alliance for all Malawians & for the benefit for all Malawians,” he is quoted to have said. … Thousands of people in party colours thronged to the Kamuzu Institute of Sports in the capital Lilongwe where the alliance was officially signed onto. This is against the backdrop of the COVID-19 outbreak that has forced most governments to ban gatherings. … The country’s constitutional court annulled the May 2019 reelection of President Peter Arthur Mutharika after main opposition leaders filed a petition citing irregularities in the vote. The rerun is slated for next month even though the process faces an executive hurdle after President Mutharika refused to sign the electoral reform bill passed by parliament. Africa News

Coronavirus Triggers Xenophobia in Some African Countries

In the midst of its novel coronavirus crisis, the South African government is allocating $3.1-million to build 40 kilometres of fence on its border with Zimbabwe. It says the fence will prevent any “infected persons” from entering the country – even though Zimbabwe has no confirmed cases of the virus. Fences, both real and metaphorical, are rising fast at borders across Africa, and even within countries. There have been widespread border closings, travel bans and flight shutdowns, but the COVID-19 pandemic is also creating barriers of discrimination and hostility among people of different ethnicities, social class or nationality. In Africa, the virus is often seen as a foreign import, spread by visitors from Europe or Asia, or by wealthy locals who travelled to those regions and brought the virus home with them. The result has been a wave of xenophobia and racial prejudice in some countries. … In reality, COVID-19 is likely to have a disproportionate impact on the poor and vulnerable in South Africa, because of underlying chronic diseases such as HIV that could make it difficult for them to fight off the virus, Mr. McKaiser wrote in an essay in the Mail & Guardian newspaper in South Africa this week. The Globe and Mail

Ethiopia PM Warns Citizens against Attacking Foreigners over COVID-19

Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, on Thursday cautioned citizens against taking any form of attacks targeting foreigners in the wake of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. The premier’s remarks came this afternoon after the US embassy in Addis Ababa, issued a statement Wednesday, alleging that Ethiopians in parts of the country are mistreating foreigners living in the country. … Prime Minister Ahmed said “prevention efforts need not be a barrier to humanity and disposition for compassion as a global community” He called on Ethiopians not to bend down for fears and panic, if nation is to attain the ongoing nation-wide efforts to quell the spread of the pandemic disease. “As a global community, we are each other’s keepers. Let us not let fear of the disease to rob us our humanity,” said Ahmed. He stressed that adhering to the Ministry of Health evidence based prevention and care guidelines is essential. “As Covid-19 awareness efforts continue nationally, it is important to note that the virus is not related to any country or nationality. Everyone is equally at risk,” said Ahmed urging against any kind of mistreatment to foreigners. The East African

Nigerian Troops Kill Many ISWAP Leaders in Air Raid – Official

The Defence Headquarters says that several leaders of the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) and fighters have been neutralised in a successful air interdiction mission by Nigerian forces at Alinwa in Borno. The Acting-Director, Defence Media Operations, Bernard Onyeuko, disclosed this in a statement on Thursday in Abuja. Mr Onyeuko added that the air strike also destroyed the dwellings of the terrorists as they gathered for meetings in a cluster of settlements West of Alinwa on the Lake Chad green fringes in Northern Borno on Wednesday. He disclosed that the feat was achieved during the ongoing subsidiary Operation Decisive Edge. According to him, the air strike was executed on the heels of impeccable intelligence reports, indicating that some top ISWAP commanders with their fighters and designated suicide bombers had assembled at the location for meetings. The meeting was aimed at orchestrating coordinated attacks against a number of targets in Borno and environs. Premium Times

Nigerian Doctors Go on Strike as Coronavirus Cases Rise

Nigerian doctors in the capital, Abuja, have gone on strike, demanding two months’ back pay, despite the steady rise in coronavirus cases in the country. The doctors said it was a difficult decision. There have been a total of 12 confirmed coronavirus cases in Nigeria. The latest were four new cases were detected in Lagos State – Nigeria’s commercial capital.  Two of those who tested positive had recently travelled to Europe, the others had not left the country. Nigeria is tracing the contacts of all current cases. “We are following over 1,300 people right now to find information about the state of their health and the number is increasing,” said Lagos Commissioner for Health, Akin Abayomi. … Nigeria has closed its borders to 13 countries, including the US and UK. But it’s a largely informal and trading economy, and business is expected to take a significant hit. As a result of tumbling oil prices, Nigeria is already considering cutting its $37 billion budget – passed only in December – by as much as 14 percent. The New Humanitarian

Coronavirus Pandemic: Experts Say Somalia Risk Greater than China

The coronavirus pandemic could kill more people in Somalia than anywhere else if preventive measures are not put in place urgently, medical experts and analysts have warned. The East African country confirmed its first case of COVID-19, the infection caused by the novel coronavirus, on Monday in a student who returned from China and is now in quarantine, according to the country’s health ministry. “If this virus has killed thousands in developed countries like China and Italy, and also killed hundreds in Spain and Iran, you can imagine what the death toll will be in Somalia if nothing is done,” Mohamed Mohamud Ali, chairman of Somali Medical Association (SMA), told Al Jazeera. “Currently, we don’t have a single testing kit in the country. We send samples to South Africa and wait for at least three days to know the results. This is a big challenge for us,” Mohamed said. … Mohamed Ahmed Ali, an analyst based in the capital Mogadishu, also told Al Jazeera more needed to be done if lives are to be saved in the country. Al Jazeera

Locust Crisis Poses a Danger to Millions, Forecasters Warn

The locust crisis that has now reached 10 countries could carry on to endanger millions more people, forecasters have said. … The FAO has warned that the food security of 25 million people could be endangered by the locusts, which according to the agency’s locust monitoring service have been spotted in at least 10 countries over recent months. One swarm recently reported in Kenya covered an area the size of Luxembourg. The organisation has requested $140m (£120m) to help fight the ongoing breeding of the insects, predicting that a continuation through late March and April could see the existing number of locusts grow by 400 times by June. The current crisis is considered the worst in decades, and there are fears it could last longer than previous locust outbreaks. … By late 2019, the locusts had moved into the Horn of Africa, finding favourable conditions when an unseasonaal cyclone hit Somalia in December. This extended breeding time and allowed them to spread to areas authorities could not control because of the country’s security problems. The Guardian

South Africa Comes Together Politically against Coronavirus

The spread of novel coronavirus seems to have turned everything upside down in South Africa, including its usually fractious politics. As cases surged past 100, the nation was also treated to a startling show of political unity from President Cyril Ramaphosa and his bitterest political opponents. The president and his rivals stood side by side at a Cape Town news conference, although they intentionally kept their distance and did not touch each other except for elbow bumps. … Ramaphosa also said political leaders had discussed issues of inequality that could impact efforts to stop the virus. Many lower-income South Africans lack basic services at home, and rely on crowded public transportation where the virus could easily spread. … John Steenhuisen, leader of the pro-business Democratic Alliance, also praised the president and appealed to customers and entrepreneurs to act responsibly. “I would like to make an appeal to two aspects, to South Africans, to the private sector and big business, particularly, to get involved in the effort,” he said. “This is going to require the best efforts of all South Africans to come together to fight this virus, and its effects of the economy. It’s not a time for anyone to be sitting back on their hands.” VOA

Difficult Past Clouds Namibia’s 30 Years of Independence

In 1989, Namibian human rights lawyer Bience Gawanas was being held in a refugee camp in southern Angola. Then one day she was told she could return home from exile. “It was like a dream, that in my lifetime we are going back to Namibia. My eldest daughter was born in a refugee camp,” Gawanas told DW. Her daughter, used to living in Angola’s green environment, was dismayed upon arriving in Namibia. “My daughter asked me: ‘Is this really the country you fought for?'” Gawanas said. 30 years on, Gawanas is now the Special Advisor on Africa at the United Nations and Namibia is one of Africa’s wealthiest and most stable country. “I fought for the independence of Namibia so that my children and their children do not experience what I experienced growing up under apartheid,” Gawanas added. Namibia underwent decades of dehumanizing colonialism and then from 1920 onwards, it was illegally occupied by South Africa. The same sweeping apartheid legislation took a stranglehold of Namibia triggering a war of independence in 1966. DW

Population of Critically Endangered African Black Rhino ‘Slowly Increasing’

The numbers of African black rhinos is slowly rising thanks to the efforts of conservationists, new figures have shown. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said in an update that the total number of these critically endangered rhinos increased from 4,845 in 2012 to 5,630 in 2018 – an annual rise of 2.5 per cent. This success has been put down to a combination of law enforcement measures and actions taken to manage the rhino population, such as the relocation of certain animals. Dr Grethel Aguilar, acting director general of IUCN, said: “While Africa’s rhinos are by no means safe from extinction, the continued slow recovery of black rhino populations is a testament to the immense efforts made in the countries the species occurs in, and a powerful reminder to the global community that conservation works.” “At the same time, it is evident that there is no room for complacency as poaching and illegal trade remain acute threats,” she added. Independent

Senegal’s House-Bound School Children Take Classes from TV

Senegalese schoolboy Ibrahima Diongue listened intently as a teacher held forth about a tricky maths problem. It was a regular school day, except Diongue was in his living room and the teacher was on the other side of a flickering TV screen. The coronavirus pandemic has shut schools across West Africa and beyond, but in Senegal a television channel has launched daily lessons to prevent children falling behind with their studies and to educate them about the virus. “It’s a contagious disease, it is lethal, it is serious,” recited Diongue, his lap piled with textbooks and notes he had jotted down in wobbly cursive during the programme. Those behind the initiative hope it will provide a dose of normality at a time when daily life in Senegal, which has so far confirmed 37 cases of the virus, is being upended by the closure of schools, mosques and the suspension of many flights abroad. The programmes could provide a template for other countries in the region, where many households do not have ready access to the internet, but whose children face weeks or longer out of school as the world fights to contain the epidemic. Television ownership, although not universal, is widespread. Reuters

‘No Work, No Food’: For [Kenya’s] Kibera Dwellers, Quarantine Not an Option

Take a stroll down Kibera avenue and at first glance you would not realise that the world is in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic. Vendors are still selling vegetables and motorbike drivers continue to congregate at intersections, waiting for customers. Yet, at closer inspection, it is obvious that things have slowed down. Increasing numbers of roadside stands are empty and the main thoroughfare of the largest informal settlement in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, is less crowded than usual. Rhoda Mukii, a roadside produce vendor in Kibera, voices her frustration at how quickly things have changed for her business. “Now people are not going to work and I’m not earning as much as before. We need the government to work faster to fix this issue.” The new coronavirus is still a relatively recent arrival in Kenya, with seven cases confirmed in one week. However, the government has already taken a series of strict measures, including closing schools, banning major public events and barring entry to the country to everyone except citizens, in an attempt to curb the outbreak, which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. … However, despite calls for social distancing and quarantining, residents of poorer areas of the city continue to go outside, interacting with others and working to support their families. Al Jazeera



Photo: Adam Jones