Africa Media Review for March 24, 2020

UN Chief Calls for Global Ceasefire to Focus on ‘The True Fight of Our Lives’

In an appeal issued on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against COVID-19: the common enemy that is now threatening all of humankind. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said.  “That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world.  It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”  The ceasefire would allow humanitarians to reach populations that are most vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19, which first emerged in Wuhan, China, last December, and has now been reported in more than 180 countries. So far, there are nearly 300,000 cases worldwide, and more than 12,700 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As the UN chief pointed out, COVID-19 does not care about nationality or ethnicity, or other differences between people, and “attacks all, relentlessly,” including during wartime. It is the most vulnerable – women and children, people with disabilities, the marginalized, displaced and refugees – who pay the highest price during conflict and who are most at risk of suffering “devastating losses” from the disease. UN News

Coronavirus: Africa Braced for More Cases with Next Two Weeks ‘Extremely Critical’

African countries are bracing for a potential jump in coronavirus cases in the coming days after dozens of nations reported more infections, including local transmission. Health officials have warned people not to be complacent in the fight against the deadly new coronavirus, which has killed more than 14,000 people worldwide. “These coming two weeks are extremely critical, as we seek to contain the outbreak,” Mutahi Kagwe, Kenya’s health minister, said on Sunday as he announced eight new cases, taking the country’s total to 15. “Evidence from other countries indicates that the number of infected persons increases dramatically in the second week following confirmation of the first case,” Kagwe said. In South Africa, the health ministry warned over the weekend that a potential spread through public transport would be devastating for the country. “Once the coronavirus begins to spread in the taxis, trains, informal settlements, it’s going to create a new dynamic,” South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said. SCMP

South Africa to Go into Nationwide Lockdown from Thursday

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the measures in response to the increase of COVID-19 cases to 402. South Africa will be the third country in Africa to close down all but essential economic activity, after Rwanda and Tunisia. South Africa’s coronavirus cases jumped by 47% on Monday from the day before with 128 new cases, increasing worries of exponential growth and making it the country with the most cases in Africa, taking over from Egypt. … South Africa’s crowded working class residential areas and packed commuter trains and minivan taxis are expected to contribute to the spread of COVID-19. Ramaphosa said the lockdown would be enforced by police and the military starting at midnight Thursday. Military convoys have already deployed across Johannesburg. “We need to urgently and dramatically escalate our response,” Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation. “The next few days are crucial. Without decisive action the number of people infected will rapidly increase,” he said. “This is extremely dangerous for a population like ours, which has a large number of people with suppressed immunity because of HIV and TB, and high levels of poverty and malnutrition.” AP

Senegal, Ivory Coast Declare State of Emergency to Curb COVID-19

Senegalese President, Macky Sall and Ivory Coast, President Alassane Ouattara on Monday declared a nationwide “state of emergency,” the latest step to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in the West African country. “In accordance with article 69 of the Constitution and Law 69-29 of 29 April 1969, as of midnight tonight, I am declaring a state of emergency throughout the national territory. The Government, the administrative authorities and all the State services concerned will take all the necessary steps to implement the decree on the state of emergency without delay,” Sall said. He also ordered the defense and security forces to be ready for the immediate and strict execution of the measures imposed on the national territory. Last week, Senegal suspended international commercial flights, while Ivory Coast shuttered nightclubs and cinemas. However, in television addresses, both countries’ presidents said those measures had proved inadequate. In accordance with the law on the state of emergency, the Senegalese president said these measures will in particular give the competent administrative authorities the power to “regulate or prohibit the movement of people, vehicles or goods in certain places and at certain times.” Africa News with AFP

Mozambique Insurgents Stage Attacks Near Big Gas Projects

Mozambican troops battled Islamist insurgents in a northern town on Monday close to billion-dollar gas projects being developed by Exxon Mobil and Total, the authorities said. The general commander of the Mozambique’s police, Bernardino Rafael, said the insurgents had attacked the town, Mocimboa da Praia, and an army barracks there before dawn, wounding dozens of people. Mocimboa da Praia is just south of the Afungi Peninsula, where gas projects worth $60 billion are located. The town is strategically important to the projects. Until recently it was the location of the main airport for workers traveling to the site, before a landing strip was built at Afungi itself. And its port is used for some cargo deliveries for the projects. On Monday, however, the town fell in the cross hairs of the insurgents. “Mocimboa da Praia is currently an active combat zone,” Mr. Rafael told reporters at the police headquarters in Maputo. The army was doing all it could to restore security, he said, warning people to stay away. Security analysts said parts of the town, including the army barracks, were reported occupied by the attackers. Reuters

Attacks in Libya Kill 5 despite Calls for Pause in Fighting

At least five civilians were killed, including two members of the same family, by heavy shelling in Libya’s capital of Tripoli on Monday, officials in the U.N.-backed government said, despite increased international pressure to halt fighting over coronavirus concerns. Mortar shells launched by Libya’s eastern-based forces struck houses in Tripoli’s southern suburbs, killing a 42-year-old woman and her nephew, said Amin al-Hashemi, a health ministry spokesman. In another mortar barrage near the Mitiga airport in Tripoli, two migrant workers were killed and one Libyan civilian was wounded, the health ministry added. A 20-year-old woman was also killed when errant shells crashed into her house in Tripoli’s Tajoura neighborhood. … The attacks came just days after the warring parties expressed commitment to a humanitarian pause in fighting so authorities could focus on preventing the spread of the new coronavirus. Libya has not confirmed any cases of the virus, but public health officials fear the global pandemic could devastate the war-torn country. The conflict has ravaged key infrastructure and created dire shortages of medical supplies. AP

Algerian Streets Empty but Protesters Vow to ‘Keep Flame Burning’

The coronavirus pandemic has done what the Algerian regime had failed to achieve for more than a year – clear the streets of massive anti-government protests. Now the “Hirak” citizens movement — which brought down geriatric autocrat Abdelaziz Bouteflika last April – has vowed to adapt and reinvent its struggle for full civil rights and democracy. “We will be back stronger than before,” vowed independent journalist Khaled Drareni, who has been arrested several times for covering the demonstrations, on Twitter. “This is an opportunity to go beyond the marches.” In a flurry of ideas being floated on the internet, activists have proposed a “virtual” Hirak on the web, or mass demonstrations held on balconies. “Many proposals are being circulated on this subject — staying completely off the streets on Fridays, a (pot-banging) casserole protest, intensifying social media communications … all while keeping hope of resuming protest marches as soon as possible,” said political scientist Mohamed Hennad. “It is crucial that the flame of Hirak keeps on burning.” AFP

Ethiopia’s Abiy Seeks $150B for African Virus Response

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Tuesday urged G20 leaders to help Africa cope with the coronavirus crisis by facilitating debt relief and providing $150 billion in emergency funding. The pandemic “poses an existential threat to the economies of African countries,” Abiy’s office said in a statement, adding that Ethiopia was “working closely with other African countries” in preparing the aid request. The heavy debt burdens of many African countries leave them ill-equipped to respond to pandemic-related economic shocks, as the cost of servicing debt exceeds many countries’ health budgets, the statement said. “Just as the virus knows no borders, our responses should also know no borders,” it said. Saudi Arabia, which currently presides over the G20, last week called for a “virtual” summit to coordinate an international response to the coronavirus crisis. French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said Monday that he had spoken by telephone with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and that the two leaders agreed on the need for emergency talks. After lagging behind the global curve for coronavirus infections and deaths, Africa has seen a rise in cases in recent days. AFP

Mogadishu’s Refugees ‘Waiting for Death’ as COVID-19 Reaches Somalia

In the Nabadoon camp on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Asho Abdullahi Hassan, a 40-year-old mother of seven, has heard about the coronavirus on the radio. “I am very scared about this deadly virus. I only heard about it from the news. It is like we are waiting for death to come,” she says. Humanitarian activists are warning that it may be impossible to stop the spread of the virus in such places, where sanitary precautions are difficult and social distancing impossible. In Nabadoon, few can afford soap and water is rare. “This can get very bad. It will be hard,” said Patrick Youssef, deputy director for Africa at the International Committee of the Red Cross. “Our fear is that governments will seek to protect those they see as their own populations and people … in refugee camps will be left to fend for themselves.” … 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 those suffering from HIV and other chronic conditions. Authorities are already moving to protect some sites. In north-east Nigeria, visitors have been banned from camps housing tens of thousands of people displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency, in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The Guardian

DR Congo Locks Down Mining Area, Workers Sent Home over Coronavirus

Democratic Republic of Congo imposed a two-day lockdown in part of its copper and cobalt heartland on Monday, as two of the country’s largest mines took steps to reduce staff levels in response to an accelerating coronavirus outbreak. The governor of Haut-Katanga province, Jacques Kyabula, issued the lockdown order late on Sunday. He said the boundaries of the southeastern province, which is home to concessions owned by Ivanhoe, MMG Ltd and Chemaf, would also be closed after two people tested positive for the virus in the provincial capital, Lubumbashi. However, Congo’s health minister said late on Monday that subsequent testing revealed the two, who had flown from the national capital Kinshasa on Sunday, were not infected, meaning there have not been any cases in the southeast. Even so, companies had already moved on Monday to begin downsizing their operations. In neighboring Lualaba province, Glencore’s Kamoto Copper Company (KCC) mine, a copper and cobalt project, repatriated 26 foreign workers on Monday in response to the outbreak, a union official told Reuters. Reuters

Coronavirus: In the Shadow of COVID-19 and Ebola, Measles Death Toll Soars in Congo

The three-year-old is going blind. Cradled by her mother, Dobo lies in the ward of a health centre in a remote town in northern Democratic Republic of Congo where mosquito nets on sticks droop over rusting metal beds, and doctors work frantically to contain a deadly virus. Dobo does not have the new coronavirus or Ebola. She has measles, a preventable but extremely contagious disease that since January 2019 has ripped through Congo unchecked into remote regions. Some 6,400 people have died, according to official figures, though healthcare workers say the number is likely much higher because reporting rates are so low. … Ineffective vaccines have left thousands of others at risk without knowing, local and international health workers say, in a nation of 81 million people that is ten times the size of Britain. Complicating matters, authorities have funnelled a great deal of money and manpower into a 19-month Ebola outbreak in the east that has killed over 2,000 people, weakening efforts to contain measles, health officials say. Ebola is finally on the wane, but Covid-19 threatens to steal the limelight. After a first case in the capital Kinshasa this month, reported infections rose to 18 by the weekend. Independent

In Pictures: The Witch Hunts of Bangui [Central African Republic]

For the past eight years, the Central African Republic (CAR) has been the theatre of a brutal civil war that has left its economy in tatters, its institutions in ruins and its people traumatised. Laurent Gomina-Pampali, a professor at the University of Bangui who has previously been the country’s minister of foreign affairs, minister of human rights and minister of justice, believes it is this disintegration of the country’s social fabric that is responsible for a growing phenomenon: witch-hunts. Elderly people – normally women – are increasingly being accused of practicing witchcraft – and being killed for it. Often, the accusations come from within the families of the accused. “The accusation of witchcraft is a sentence without appeal,” explains Nadia Carine Fornel Poutou, the president of the Association des Femmes Juristes de Centrafrique, an association of female lawyers and advocates in CAR. “The Central African penal code is unable to establish what witchcraft is. Being a mystical matter, the authorities do not intervene.” As a result, the accused have only two ways to survive such an accusation. The first is to lock themselves in their homes and hope to be forgotten about. The second is to try to be taken to prison. Al Jazeera

COVID-19 Impacting Maritime Security

The COVID-19 coronavirus will have a profound impact on commercial and security trends within shipping this year, and efforts to mitigate maritime crime in West Africa will be hampered if the virus continues to spread. This is according to Dryad Global, which said the emergence of COVID-19 as a severe global public health issue has created significant ramifications, including economic disruption and the threat of a global recession, logistical complexities, geopolitical considerations, and security issues. Dryad cautioned that West Africa is particularly vulnerable to rises in piracy, partly driven by a lack of effective mitigation strategies, and co-ordinated security responses to piracy and maritime crime remain embryonic across the region. “Should, as is likely, COVID-19 spread of throughout sub-Saharan Africa, overwhelming healthcare systems and becoming most states main priority, efforts to mitigate regional maritime crime in West Africa will likely be neglected. Therefore, with the heightened risk that security responses are hampered due to widespread infection, it is unlikely there will be a decrease in piracy incidents and a partial increase is eminently possible. Nigeria is likely to remain the epicentre of West African maritime security issues, with any downturn in vessel volume unlikely to alter the current trend,” Dryad said. defenceWeb

Despite Coronavirus Fears, Nigeria Has Taken No Action to Stop Its Pangolin Trade

Since scientists learned the coronavirus (Covid-19) might have origins with bats and potentially spread to humans through pangolins in a wildlife market in Wuhan, China, Chinese authorities have closed down or put under quarantine about 20,000 wildlife farms to curb wildlife trade. Vietnam is considering a similar ban. This drastic action by China, the largest market of pangolin in East Asia is getting commendation globally from wildlife conservationists. However, they are concerned Nigeria, one of the largest pangolin trade hubs in Africa has not reacted to these reports. An investigation into pangolin trafficking found Nigeria was linked to 55% of pangolin scales seized global between 2016 and 2019. The trade of pangolin, an endangered scaly ant-eating animal has been of concern for many wildlife conservation groups as it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. In China and Vietnam, the pangolin is valued for its scales-which are used to make medicines-as well as for its meat. … “The administration of laws and regulations to nip the [pangolin] trade has so far been ineffective due to limited funding and the intractable nature of the trade,” says Stephen Aina of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF). Quartz Africa

Amidst Coronavirus Crisis, Millions of Nigerians Lack Access to Potable Water

In the wake of the increasing cases of coronavirus in Nigeria, the federal government has announced a series of measures to restrict population movement in the country and to limit the spread of the virus. Some of these measures are the ban of travellers from high-risk countries of Covid-19 and also the closing down of schools nationwide. As of Monday afternoon, Nigeria has recorded 36 cases of COVID-19 and one death. However, the most widely recommended ways to prevent one from contracting the virus are good hygiene, frequent hand washing, and social distancing. But for many Nigerians who lack access to potable water supply, such preventive measures will be difficult to implement. … The statistics above show that preventive measures of handwashing may be unrealistic in Nigeria. Even though Nigerians are willing to practice good hygiene by properly washing their hands, lack of access to clean water may defeat the intention for many. A group, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, said the urgency of checking the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed the importance of hand-washing to the fore, and places availability of clean and potable water at the centre of the campaign to check the virus’ spread. Premium Times

Water Access Critical to Beating Back COVID-19 Spread in Slum Areas

As regular hand washing is a key tool in combating COVID-19, the UN and its partners are taking steps to ensure people living in informal settlements have access to running water at this critical time, according to the agency working to achieve more sustainable cities. UN-Habitat said the impacts of the new coronavirus disease could be considerably higher on the urban poor living in slums, where overcrowding also makes it difficult to follow other recommended measures such as social distancing and self-isolation. UN-Habitat is based in Nairobi, home to the Kibera slum, where people live hand-to-mouth and water access points are hard to find. They are even harder to get to when movement restrictions are in place, in the hope of preventing further spread of the disease. As resident Anna Nyokabi put it: “We don’t have enough water to drink and cook our food, so where will we get water to wash our hands frequently?” If the international community is to beat back COVID-19, then Governments must provide Ms. Nyobaki – and the more than two billion people worldwide like her – with continuous access to sufficient water. That’s the opinion of 10 independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. UN News



Photo: Adam Jones