Africa Media Review for March 27, 2020

‘Go Home!’ South Africa Has 1st Deaths as Lockdown Begins

A shaken South Africa on Friday announced its first two deaths from the coronavirus as the country’s cases rose above 1,000 and a three-week lockdown began, with some police screaming at the homeless on emptying streets. The health minister said the deaths occurred in Western Cape province, home of Cape Town. South Africa has the most virus cases in Africa, with the total across the continent now above 3,200. Security forces with megaphones screamed at people shortly after midnight in downtown Johannesburg, the country’s commercial hub. Homeless people scattered, looking for places to shelter, to the astonishment of residents who lined up on balconies and filmed the patrols with their mobile phones. … South Africa’s military helped to enforce measures that include bans on sales of cigarettes and alcohol, even dog-walking. After daybreak, police and military forces again surrounded a few dozen homeless people in downtown Johannesburg close to the main train station. … South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, in full military uniform, on the eve of the lockdown told troops to be a “force of kindness” and reminded police that “our people are terrified right now and we should not do anything to make their situation worse.” AP

G20 Pledges US$5-Trillion in Global Stimulus Funding amid Pandemic Crisis

Canada and other G20 countries are pledging US$5-trillion in economic stimulus measures to fight the COVID-19 crisis, along with a focus on supporting vulnerable countries that might lack the health-care systems and resources to keep their populations safe. … “We put Africa’s case forward very strongly,” said [South African President Cyril] Ramaphosa, whose country is the only African full member of the G20. “We will need a lot of support, particularly because our health systems in the continent are challenged. A number of countries in the world are very sympathetic to Africa’s situation.” He appealed to the G20 on behalf of the continent’s leaders to ensure that the rising wave of lockdowns and travel restrictions do not prevent medical supplies from reaching Africa, where there are shortages of ventilators and other equipment to care for an anticipated surge of COVID-19 patients. “They should not close Africa off,” Mr. Ramaphosa said. In their statement, the G20 leaders said they were “gravely concerned” with the serious risks to all countries, “particularly developing and least-developed countries, and notably in Africa and small island states, where health systems and economies may be less able to cope with the challenge, as well as the particular risk faced by refugees and displaced persons.” The Globe and Mail

Mali Opposition Leader Abducted with Campaign Team in North

The leader of Mali’s political opposition and members of his campaign team have been taken hostage by unidentified gunmen in the north, the spokesman for his political party said Thursday. Soumaila Cisse’s bodyguard died from injuries sustained during the abduction and two others are injured, according to spokesman Demba Traore. They are being treated. “At the moment, Soumaila Cissé and some members of his campaign team are still being held hostage,” Traore said. They were abducted in the Niafunke circle area where he was campaigning for Sunday’s legislative elections. The kidnapping has not been claimed but took place in an area controlled by extremist groups linked to al-Qaida. The Malian government said in a statement that “all practical arrangements are being made to find the missing personalities and bring them back to their families.” The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali said it has deployed an MD500 helicopter to search for Cissé at the army’s request. Cissé placed second in the 2018 presidential election. AP

The COVID-19 Pandemic Is a Wildcard That Will Change Politics as We Know It

Just a few weeks ago, Peter Mutharika’s political future was looking bleak. Malawi’s much-maligned president had been the subject of more than six months of vociferous anti-government protests, which were showing no sign of simmering down any time soon. The president’s administration had been on the receiving end of a scathing, unprecedented Constitutional Court judgment that annulled last year’s presidential election, citing widespread irregularities. And a new opposition coalition seemed to all but guarantee that Mutharika would be unable to muster the support necessary to win the rerun, scheduled for early July. But things are looking up for Mutharika, thanks to a wildcard that no one could have predicted or planned for: the coronavirus pandemic. After initially being taken by surprise, Mutharika has wasted no time in taking full advantage of these exceptional circumstances. Although it remains to be seen if his recent decisions will be effective in preventing the spread of the virus, there can be no denying their political effects. …. Mutharika is not alone in using the coronavirus to advance his own political interests. Mail & Guardian

Public Distrust Hampers Africa Fight against Virus Misinformation

African nations fighting the novel coronavirus face a foe as stealthy and dangerous as the microbe itself: misinformation and apathy, fuelled by deep distrust of government. Bogus news and indifference to official warnings are emerging as giant obstacles in a region where poor healthcare infrastructure, sanitation and overcrowded slums provide fertile ground for Covid-19 to spread. Africa has recorded nearly 2,800 cases and at least 70 deaths, according to an AFP compilation as of Thursday. The tally may lag far behind that of other continents but the World Health Organisation (WHO), backed by the top names in medicine, has bluntly warned: “Prepare for the worst.” African countries have begun to implement strict rules including lockdowns, curfews and even prison terms for those sharing false claims. But such measures appear futile in stopping the spread of misinformation. … “This is a new challenge that we are facing and it’s a big challenge,” South African infectious disease expert Thumbi Ndung’u told AFP. AFP

Nigeria Warns Virus Cases Could Explode ‘In Days Ahead’

Nigeria’s government on Thursday warned that Africa’s most populous nation could soon see an “exponential” increase in coronavirus infections unless contacts of confirmed cases are tracked down quicker. The country of around 190 million people has so far recorded just 51 infections and 1 death, but testing has been limited. “We have 4 370 people of interest whom we are tracing. We urge those who have had contact with suspected cases to immediately report to the authorities,” Information Minister Lai Mohammed said. “We are on the verge of reaching the level of community spread. We must stop this immediately or we will record exponential cases in the days ahead.” Experts have cautioned that Nigeria is highly vulnerable to the spread of the disease given its weak healthcare system and high population density. The country has taken a raft of measures to try to curb the virus including closing its airports and land borders, shuttering schools and telling people to stay home in key cities. AFP

Boko Haram Proves It’s Still a Threat

Two deadly attacks by jihadist groups in Chad and Nigeria this week killed more than 140 soldiers, underlining the militants’ continued threat in the Lake Chad region, despite reports of factional fighting and leadership changes. On Sunday night, the Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram attacked a Chadian island base on Boma Peninsula, in Lac Province. After a seven-hour gun battle, 92 Chadian soldiers were dead and several armoured vehicles destroyed. It is the worst loss the Chadian army, seen as among the best in the region, has suffered in a single battle. In northeast Nigeria, so-called Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) – a Boko Haram splinter – reportedly killed 50 soldiers in an ambush on a convoy on Monday transporting explosives and ammunition. It was a blow for the military, which since moving to a “super camp” strategy – the pulling of troops out of the countryside and into better defended garrison towns – has been able to reduce its losses to both Boko Haram and ISWAP.  Close to eight million people are in need of aid in northeastern Nigeria. The controversial super camp strategy leaves large swathes of the region under the control of the jihadists, and beyond the reach of humanitarian agencies and government services. The New Humanitarian

Cameroon Rebels Declare Coronavirus Ceasefire

A separatist militia in Cameroon is to down its weapons for a fortnight so people can be tested for coronavirus. The Southern Cameroons Defence Forces (Socadef) said its ceasefire would come into effect from Sunday as “a gesture of goodwill.” It is so far the only armed group among many operating in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions to have heeded the UN’s call for a global ceasefire. The fighters say they are marginalised in the majority French-speaking nation. For the three years, they have been fighting government forces in the Anglophone regions with the aim of creating a breakaway state called “Ambazonia.” But there is no indication that one of the biggest rebel group – Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF) – is to follow suit and declare a ceasefire. Chief mediator Alexandre Liebeskind, from the conflict resolution group Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, told the BBC that the ADF had refused to join the negotiations. “They are the only group which refused to join the process,” he said. But he added that he hoped other groups would follow Socadef’s example. BBC

Jihadist Group Claims Northern Mozambique Attacks

A jihadist group that assaulted two towns in northern Mozambique this week has released a video claiming the attacks, its first official communication in over two years of activity in the gas-rich area. Insurgents descended on Mocimboa da Praia, a town in Cabo Delgado province on Monday, ransacking government buildings and hoisting their flag before retreating. A similar attack was launched on Wednesday in the nearby town of Quissanga, where assailants destroyed police headquarters. A video making the rounds on social media on Thursday showed men dressed in Mozambican army uniforms addressing Quissanga from the district governor’s residence. If “you who are watching us out there, we are calling on you to come here to fight under this flag,” said one man in Portuguese, wielding a kalashnikov and a black-and-white flag with Arabic inscriptions on it. “We are not fighting for wealth, we only want Islamic law,” he continued. African history expert Eric Morier-Genoud said he considered the video to be genuine and recognised the speaker from an older clip. … The insurgents had so far mainly targeted remote villages but the latest attacks suggest they are building momentum, as government troops have failed to restore order. AFP

Egypt Forces Guardian Journalist to Leave after Coronavirus Story

Egyptian authorities have forced a Guardian journalist to leave the country after she reported on a scientific study that said Egypt was likely to have many more coronavirus cases than have been officially confirmed. Ruth Michaelson, who has lived in and reported from Egypt since 2014, was advised last week by western diplomats that the country’s security services wanted her to leave immediately after her press accreditation was revoked and she was asked to attend a meeting with authorities about her visa status. On Sunday 15 March, Michaelson had reported on research by infectious disease specialists from the University of Toronto as well as public health data and news stories that pointed to Egypt having a higher rate of coronavirus cases than the number confirmed by the government. … Press freedom in Egypt has severely deteriorated since the military took power in 2013 and the former commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, became president the following year. The Guardian

African Development Bank Sells Record $3 Billion “Fight COVID-19” Bond

The African Development Bank (AfDB) sold a record $3 billion debt issue on Thursday, joining the fold of multilateral and public lenders ramping up efforts to raise financing to help combat the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak. The spread of the coronavirus – which has killed more than 22,000 people worldwide and wreaked havoc in economies and markets around the globe – has been slower across Africa than in Asia or Europe. However, more than 40 nations on the continent have now reported a total of 2,850 cases with 73 death, according to a Reuters tally, amid rising concerns over what it could mean for a continent where healthcare systems are often fragile and overburdened already. The three-year bond, the AfdB’s biggest dollar issue to date, aims to provide “support and financing to countries and businesses fighting against COVID-19,” a note from a lead manager of the issue said. “Through this Fight COVID-19 Social Bond, investors will be able to support African communities to help curb the spread of the virus and overcome the many challenges caused by the outbreak,” the statement said. Order books grew to more than $4.6 billion, according to lead managers. The bond will pay a coupon of 0.75%. Reuters

In Pictures: Riding Kenya’s Matatus amid New Coronavirus Measures

With limited resources and insufficient beds in intensive care units (ICUs), many African governments are looking to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as much as possible. In almost every East African country, cases have been confirmed. Kenya on Thursday reported its first death from COVID-19, while the total number of confirmed cases in the country rose to 31. All international flights are suspended, and a curfew from 9pm to 7am is in place. According to the United Nations, the African continent is seeing an “extremely rapid evolution” of the coronavirus pandemic. Kenya is known for its matatus – minibuses that often transport more people than they have seats. The vehicles are typically used by millions of Kenyans on a daily basis. But amid fears that the informal network could be a weak link in the fight against the coronavirus, Kenyan authorities have issued a series of directives for matatu companies. All matatus now have to provide hand-sanitisers for all passengers before entering. Vehicles need to be cleaned twice a day and long-distance operators are asked to keep a detailed list of all their passengers. In order to prevent contamination, Kenyan officials have said that 14-seater matatus will carry only eight passengers, and vehicles that carry more than 30 passengers will carry not more than 60 percent of their capacity. Al Jazeera

WHO Is Raising Coronavirus Awareness Globally Using a WhatsApp Bot Developed in South Africa

One of the biggest challenges for governments, public health authorities and ordinary citizens around the world will be coping  with the overwhelming amount of daily information about the scale of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Perhaps the key challenge is not just the volume but also being able to confidently discern between accurate and reliable sources from incorrect and misleading information. In the social media age where hundreds of millions of people around the world have a mobile device with access to platforms including Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, even while the world’s top scientists struggle to fully understand the scope of the pandemic, that need for trustworthy sources becomes vital, even life-saving. This is why a WhatsApp platform developed by the South African company, Praekelt.org to provide information on the coronavirus outbreak has been quickly adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) to reach at least 50 million people around the globe. Quartz Africa



Photo: Adam Jones