Africa Media Review for March 26, 2020

COVID-19 and Africa’s Displacement Crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping across Africa at the same time the continent is facing record numbers of population displacement. Africa currently has more than 25 million people who are forcibly displaced-internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees-as a result of conflict and repression.  …  Africa is also experiencing high levels of migration-people leaving their homes in search of better opportunities-often to urban areas where there is more economic activity. … Roughly 80 percent of economic migrants remain in Africa. While neither of these groups has been identified as key focal points of transmission of COVID-19, the high densities of forcibly displaced populations and the mobility of migrants make both groups highly vulnerable to exposure and therefore a priority for reducing the spread of the coronavirus in Africa. This will require informed and efficient policy engagements and public messaging, as well as the tamping down of the stigmatization and fear-based xenophobia toward these groups. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Libya Battles Escalate as Coronavirus Arrives in Country
Battles erupted around Tripoli on Wednesday following intensified bombardment of the Libyan capital, defying international pleas for a truce to tackle the coronavirus after the first case was confirmed in the country. The internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) launched an assault on several fronts early in the day, including an attack on an airbase west of Tripoli, according to both sides. However, later on Wednesday the Libyan National Army (LNA) of eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar said its forces moved from repelling the attack to capturing territory near Zuwara, 30 miles (45km) north. “Attacks and counterattacks in Libya continue to inflict further suffering and civilian casualties,” the U.N. mission said in a tweet, calling for an immediate halt to the violence. Residents of Tripoli, seat of the GNA, said the shelling was the worst in weeks, shaking windows in the city centre miles from the front line in the southern suburbs. … The escalation in the fighting could spell disaster for Libya’s already fragmented and badly stretched health system in handling the coronavirus, after authorities confirmed the first case of the disease late on Tuesday. Reuters

Zimbabwe Doctors, Nurses Strike over Little Virus Protection
Zimbabwe’s public hospital doctors and nurses went on strike Wednesday over a lack of protective gear as the coronavirus begins to spread in a country whose health system has almost collapsed. It’s the latest blow to a nation where some patients’ families are asked to provide such basics as gloves and clean water. “Right now we are exposed and no one seems to care,” said Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association president, Tawanda Zvakada. … Neighboring South Africa’s coronavirus cases jumped to 709, its health minister said, as the country with Africa’s most cases prepared to go into lockdown Friday. Dog-walking is barred, police said, along with running and alcohol sales. Borders are closed to human traffic. South Africa’s police minister, Bheki Cele, said two people with the coronavirus have been charged with attempted murder because they didn’t obey orders to isolate themselves. Cases across Africa are now well above 2,400. Forty-six of the continent’s 54 countries have the virus with Mali, Libya and Guinea-Bissau the latest to confirm their first. In western Kenya, riot police fired tear gas after traders resisted attempts to close a crowded market in Kisumu to help curb the virus’ spread. The country has 25 cases and on Wednesday imposed a curfew, as did South Sudan. AP

Coronavirus Cases in Africa Pass 2,400 amid Fears for Health Services
There are now more than 2,400 confirmed cases of Covid-19 across Africa and growing warnings that the pandemic will cause major challenges for the continent’s under-resourced health services. World Health Organization officials have said the statistics are likely to significantly underestimate the true number of cases. There have been 60 reported deaths so far. About a third of the cases are in South Africa, which recorded a steep rise overnight. The country’s health minister, Zweli Mkhize, said on Wednesday that the number of coronavirus cases had reached 709, up from 554 a day before. South Africa will go into a strict 21-day lockdown at midnight on Thursday in an attempt to avoid a “catastrophe of huge proportions”, said the president, Cyril Ramaphosa. He called on the 56 million people in sub-Saharan Africa’s most developed economy to show patience, courage and unity. … Fartun Mohamed Nur, a 36-year-old mother of three in Mogadishu, Somalia, said she had once believed the disease would only hit non-Muslims or white people but had changed her mind after attending an information session run by a local NGO. “I have learned that this is a virus and affects all humans. I am now going home with my children. We were told to wash hands very well,” Nur said. “I am now prepared to protect myself and my children from coronavirus.” The Guardian

War-Ravaged, Impoverished Somalia Starts on Road to Debt Relief
Shattered by decades of war, Somalia can finally look forward to rebuilding normal economic ties with the world after the IMF and World Bank announced it had taken the necessary steps to see most of its $5.2 billion of external debt forgiven. The decision announced on Wednesday allows the Horn of Africa nation to get badly-needed grants from the World Bank and African Development Bank to combat a locust invasion and floods and strengthen its health system to face the coronavirus, said World Bank country representative Hugh Riddell. It will also clear the way for Somalia to receive grants as part of over $50 billion in emergency aid being made available by the International Monetary Fund for coronavirus response. The IMF’s executive board also approved Somalia to receive a new three-year financing arrangement worth $395 million. “This is in the nick of time,” Riddell told Reuters. “Without Decision Point, Somalia would not have had access to World Bank money to invest in health systems and pandemic preparedness.” Reuters

Somalia Suicide Bomber Detonates in Tea Shop, Killing 2
A Somali police officer says a suicide bomber has walked into a tea shop in Somalia’s capital and detonated, killing at least two people. Capt. Mohamed Hussein says the bomber, posing as a pedestrian, entered the shop and detonated his vest among the crowd. Wednesday’s blast in Mogadishu was the first since the country confirmed its lone case of the coronavirus on March 16. The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group claimed responsibility. It often targets the capital. The blast shattered a period of calm amid a large security presence in Mogadishu that officials had said prevented al-Shabab from smuggling explosives-rigged vehicles into the city. AP

Mali on Lockdown as First Coronavirus Cases Reported, but Elections to Go Ahead
Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita announced a nationwide night-time curfew on Wednesday to limit the spread of coronavirus, but said a parliamentary vote planned for this week will go ahead. In a televised address, Keita said the government will enforce a curfew between 21:00 to 05:00, from Thursday, and close land borders in response to the virus. Freight will still be allowed into the West African state, he said, and markets will remain open.  Earlier on Wednesday, Malian authorities recorded the country’s first coronavirus infections, in two nationals who had recently arrived from France. Experts fear the country is particularly exposed to an outbreak because of its jihadist conflict, which first broke out in the north in 2012 and has since engulfed the centre. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have died in the conflict, and swathes of Mali’s territory remain outside state control. Despite the coronavirus risk, Keita said that a long-delayed parliamentary election – whose first round is planned for Sunday – will go ahead, although in “scrupulous respect” of health measures. “The government will do everything in its power to ensure that this is so,” he said. Holding parliamentary elections was a key recommendation from crisis talks in December, which aimed at exploring non-military solutions to the country’s worsening violence. AFP

Nigeria: Suspected Bandits Kill 29 Security Operatives in Niger
Armed men suspected to be bandits have killed at least 29 security officials in Niger State, Premium Times has learnt. The victims were members of a joint security patrol team compromising officials of the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Police Force and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). The attack occurred around Galkogo Forest, in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State on Sunday. A military source said the security operatives engaged the bandits in heavy gunfire. PRNigeria on Wednesday reported that the bandits suffered heavy casualties. The bodies of security operatives and volunteers killed during the encounter were immediately evacuated and conveyed to the Minna General Hospital. A day before the attack, unknown gunmen attacked two villages of Galkogo and Zumba, also in Shiroro local government, killing and injuring several people. Premium Times

Nigerian Army Prepares for Coronavirus Lockdown, Mass Burials
The Nigerian Army is preparing to forcibly transfer the sick to hospital and enforce curbs on movement to try to shield the country from coronavirus, and is leasing equipment for “possible mass burial,” according to an army memo seen by Reuters. The memo from Army headquarters also outlines plans to protect government food storage from looters as Africa’s most populous nation braces for the illness to spread further in the country. “Following the rise and continuous spread in cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Nigeria, the (Chief of Army Staff) has deemed it necessary for all to take protective measures to ensure the safety of (Nigerian Army) personnel and their families,” the memo said. There are currently 46 confirmed cases in Nigeria, and one death, but the infection has hit the top levels of society, infecting President Muhammadu Buhari’s chief of staff. With a population of 200 million, 20 million of whom are packed in the commercial capital of Lagos, many fear the virus could spread quickly without containment. The memo said the army is suspending all leave passes for all personnel and called for them to be on “maximum security alert and be ready for deployment.” Reuters

Benin: ‘Outrageous, Unjustified:’ Lawyers Take Journalist’s Imprisonment to the UN
Attorneys for a journalist jailed for tweeting about a speech in Benin, West Africa, have asked the United Nations to investigate his detention, arguing his case sets a dangerous precedent for press freedom. Ignace Sossou, 31, has been in prison since 20 December 2019, after a senior prosecutor, Mario Mètonou, complained about comments Sossou published on social media. Last month, lawyers for Sossou filed a complaint against the Government of Benin with the United Nations’ working group on arbitrary detention. The working group, based in Geneva, can investigate cases “of deprivation of liberty imposed arbitrarily.” “The detention of Ignace Sossou is outrageous and unjustified: 18 months in jail for three tweets,” said Henri Thulliez, one of the lawyers who petitioned the United Nations. … Arnaud Froger, head of RSF’s Africa desk, said that Sossou’s case may be the first time that a West African journalist has been jailed for “correctly reporting comments on social media.” “Sossou’s case is the most blatant evidence that the flourishing laws aiming at fighting disinformation, cybercrime, hate speech or even terrorism in Africa are very often too vaguely worded and very restrictive,” Froger said. Premium Times

West Africa: Using Lessons from Ebola, West Africa Prepares Remote Villages for Coronavirus
Community workers trained to help with Ebola response are being retrained to help with coronavirus. West African countries are using community health systems set up after the Ebola outbreak to detect and prevent the spread of coronavirus in remote areas, health experts said on Wednesday. After Ebola swept through the region from 2014 to 2016, countries like Senegal trained community workers to proactively check for symptoms and share health information in places where people lack access to the internet or government services. Now those community workers are being retrained to spot the signs of coronavirus and educate communities, said the World Health Organization (WHO), which hopes this will help protect the most vulnerable as the disease spreads on the continent. Coronavirus has so far infected over 2,400 people in 43 African countries. It is not yet widespread in rural areas, but experts fear it could have disastrous effects in places where health services barely extend beyond the capital. “The people that we’re targeting are rural communities that typically aren’t within a close distance to a health post,” said Nickie Sene, Head of Programmes at international charity Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Senegal. “The majority are illiterate. The information they’re receiving are rumours from WhatsApp or word of mouth,” she said. Thomson Reuters Foundation

S. Africa Plans to Move Shack Dwellers over COVID-19 Fears
The South African government says it will relocate people living in temporary shelters amid fears that an outbreak of Covid-19 would prove uncontrollable in overpopulated shanty towns. StatsSA, the South African statistics bureau, estimates that over 5.5 million people, dominantly black South Africans and immigrants, still live in shacks, either in urban areas or squatter camps. Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said that as the country prepares for a national lockdown which kicks on Thursday at midnight, 29 informal settlements in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Western Cape would be affected. The government has identified land in the four provinces where people removed from informal settlements would be moved to “as a matter of urgency.” She said “there would be difficulties in providing health and emergency services to the congested areas should a large number of people contract the virus” which has infected a confirmed 702 people in South Africa. She added that the congested informal settlements have already been identified as areas that could hamper the fight against the pandemic. The East African

Russia Records $1 Billion in Military Orders from Africa over the Last Six Months
African countries have ordered around $1 billion worth of military hardware from Russia over the last six months, according to Russian officials, as Russia keeps its position as one of the world’s top arms exporters. Director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSVTS), Dmitry Shugaev, told Interfax this month that “Representatives of most African countries have confirmed the disposition to develop strategic cooperation with us, including in the military-technical sphere. Many have expressed interest in acquiring military equipment and weapons, increasing quotas for training national personnel, and assisting our specialists in various kinds of consultations. But the most important thing is that since October 2019, the portfolio of African countries’ orders for Russian weapons has been replenished by about $1 billion. Thus, the [Sochi] summit gave a tangible, real impetus to our cooperation with the countries of the continent.” defenceWeb

‘Sensitise to Sanitise’: Bobi Wine Uses Song to Fight Coronavirus across Africa
Bobi Wine, a Ugandan musician and rising political force, has joined the likes of footballer-turned-president George Weah in resorting to song to help stem the spread of coronavirus in Africa. Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, worked with fellow artist Nubian Li to release a song on Wednesday laced with east Africa’s signature rhumba melodies about the importance of personal hygiene. “The bad news is that everyone is a potential victim,” Wine sings. “But the good news is that everyone is a potential solution.” The pair exhort people to regularly wash hands, keep a distance and look out for symptoms such as a fever and cough. Uganda on Wednesday confirmed five more cases of Covid-19, bringing its tally to 14, four days after it recorded its first patient. President Yoweri Museveni’s government has already taken a raft of measures including sealing off borders, closing bars, and banning public gatherings to contain the outbreak. … In Senegal, activist hip-hop group Y’en a Marre have recorded a rap about washing hands, disposing of used tissues and avoiding crowds in their latest release, called Shield against Coronavirus. The Guardian