Africa Media Review for March 30, 2020

Police and Military Abuses Reported in Africa’s Pandemic Lockdowns
Rubber bullets and tear gas were wielded by security forces in two of Africa’s biggest countries on the first day of tough new restrictions meant to keep millions of people at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of police and soldiers were deployed on Friday to enforce a national lockdown in South Africa, while anti-riot police were mobilized in Kenya to impose an overnight curfew, as cases of the coronavirus continued to soar across the African continent. In both countries, there were reports of security forces assaulting citizens and using excessive force to clear the streets. A number of South Africans were hit with rubber bullets or beaten by soldiers, while hundreds of Kenyans were assaulted by police who fired tear gas and swung batons, according to video clips and news reports. The reports demonstrate the difficult balance between health measures and civil liberties in two of Africa’s leading democracies, which have introduced some of the world’s strictest controls on public movement as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. The Globe and Mail

Africa a Few Weeks from Height of Coronavirus Storm, Says UN
Africa is two to three weeks away from the worst of the coronavirus storm and needs an emergency economic stimulus of $100 billion to bolster preventative measures and support its fragile healthcare systems, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Almost half of the funds could come from waiving interest payments to multilateral institutions. That would give countries the fiscal space needed to impose social-distancing measures, widen social safety nets and equip hospitals to treat the sick ahead of an expected surge in infections, UNECA executive secretary Vera Songwe said by phone from Washington. “If we want to have a fighting chance, we need it immediately,” she said. “In the next two to three weeks, if we act really decisively, we may be able to flatten the curve and then when the storm comes it will not be as brutal as we see in Europe.” Bloomberg

Guinea Opposition Rejects Constitutional Referendum Result
The Guinean opposition on Saturday rejected the result of a constitutional referendum, which they fear will be used by President Alpha Conde to extend his grip on power. The proposal to change the constitution was hugely controversial in the West African state, spurring mass demonstrations in which at last 32 people have been killed, according to an AFP tally. Independent National Electoral Commission president, Amadou Salifou Kebe, told reporters on Friday that 91.59 percent of ballots were in favor of adopting the new constitution, while 8.41 percent were against, following the March 22 plebiscite. The FNDC, an umbrella opposition group, had called for a boycott of the referendum and rejected the result outright. “These results mean nothing to the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC) or the Guinean people,” said opposition official Ibrahima Diallo. “Let’s avoid Soviet-style tallies from another time,” another opposition leader, former prime minister Sidya Toure tweeted. The day of the vote was marred by violence, with scores of polling stations ransacked across the country and, according to the country’s political opposition, dozens were killed. AFP-JIJI

Five Myths about Coronavirus in Africa
The spread of the coronavirus in Africa has been accompanied by pervasive misinformation. Fact-checking and ongoing public service communications by all actors are needed to curb the costs of these myths. The World Health Organization is warning that an “infodemic” has developed alongside the coronavirus pandemic. WHO calls it “an over-abundance of information-some accurate and some not-that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” In the effort to help dispel some of this misinformation, here are five common myths that have been circulating about COVID-19 in Africa. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

France and Allies Establish New Task Force in Sahel
France and several of its European allies have officially set up a new task force, called Takuba, made of special forces that will fight armed groups in the West African region of Sahel alongside the armies of Mali and Niger. After an audio conference on Friday, representatives of 13 countries – Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Mali, the Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and the UK – issued a statement in which they committed to further efforts to overcome the “terrorist groups’ resilience.” The statement said Takuba, which means “sabre” in Tuareg, is planned “to have an initial operational capability (IOC) by the summer of 2020 and expected to become operational (FOC) by early 2021.” It added that new task force will assist regional armies in countering armed groups and will complement efforts made by France’s Operation Barkhane and the regional G5 Sahel Joint Force, comprised of troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. The new task force will operate in the Liptako region, an area between Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, according to the statement. Liptako is known for being a stronghold for fighters linked to ISIL (ISIS). Al Jazeera

Polls Close in Mali amid Coronavirus Threat, Security Fears
Polls have closed in Mali’s long-delayed parliamentary elections which were held despite concerns about security and the coronavirus pandemic. Sunday’s vote came hours after the violence-hit West African country announced its first coronavirus death and days after main opposition leader Soumaila Cisse was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen. The vote was expected to see new MPs elected to the 147-seat National Assembly for the first time since 2013, when President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s Rally for Mali party won a substantial majority. Parliamentary elections were meant to take place again in late 2018 following Keita’s re-election, but the poll was postponed several times, largely due to security concerns. After Sunday’s first-round vote, a second round is scheduled for April 19. Late on Saturday, just hours before polls were scheduled to open at 08:00 GMT on Sunday, the country’s first coronavirus death was announced, with the number of infections rising to 18. Al Jazeera

Somali Governor Killed in Al-Shabaab Suicide Blast: Official
A governor in Somalia’s Puntland has been killed in a suicide bombing claimed by the al-Shabaab jihadist group, police and hospital sources said Monday. Abdisalan Hassan Hersi, governor of Nugaal region, succumbed to his injuries after being rushed to hospital in Garowe, the capital of Puntland where the blast occurred Sunday. “The doctors tried to save the governor’s life but unfortunately he died from his injuries,” Mohamed Weli, a police officer in Puntland, told AFP by phone. “He was in a critical condition when he was admitted to hospital.” … A former police commander and a civilian also wounded in the blast were being treated at hospital, officials said Monday. Several witnesses described the attacker running at the governor’s vehicle before detonating a suicide vest, triggering an explosion. Al-Shabaab, an Islamist militant group waging a deadly insurgency in Somalia, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement. AFP

In Somalia, Coronavirus Goes from Fairy Tale to Nightmare
Then Somalia’s first virus case was announced on March 16, and one of the world’s most fragile nations staggered even more. Nearly three decades of conflict, extremist attacks, drought, disease and a devastating outbreak of locusts have taken a vast toll. Already vulnerable, millions of Somalis now contemplate a new way to die. “We have been overcome with an extraordinary fear about the disease,” Ali said as she worried about her six children. “And we are even avoiding shaking hands with people. Our fear is real, and we are helpless.” Even as mask-wearing health workers entered her Sayidka camp in the capital, Mogadishu, to demonstrate lathering up with soap and water, some authorities shuddered. Small children mimicked the virus prevention measures, happily covering their mouths with their hands. Somalia ranked 194th of 195 countries in the Johns Hopkins Global Health Security Index for 2019 and scored zero in several areas, including emergency preparedness, emergency response, infection control practices and health care access. AP

New Coronavirus Cases Confirmed in Libya as War Escalates
Two new cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in Libya, authorities said on Saturday, after the first was detected earlier this week, with international aid agencies warning of a disaster if it spreads. Battles erupted this week on several fronts in a new escalation after months of suspected imports of weapons and foreign fighters in breach of an arms embargo, and on Saturday one side said a senior commander had been killed. The two cases were discovered in Tripoli and Misrata, the National Centre for Disease Control said, without giving any further details. The first, confirmed on Monday, was a man who had recently returned to Libya from overseas. … On Tuesday, the GNA mounted an offensive to try to drive the LNA back from Tripoli, with heavy fighting on several fronts both on the city outskirts and in other parts of the northwest. In Friday’s battles, focused in the southern suburbs of Tripoli and in the area between the coastal cities of Misrata and Sirte, dozens of fighters were reported killed on both sides. … The World Health Organisation and other agencies have warned that the fighting will make it far harder to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Libya, and the United Nations has called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. Reuters

Coronavirus: UN Humanitarian Coordinator Calls for Ceasefire across Sudan
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Gwi-Yeop Son, has called for a ceasefire across Sudan as part of a global fight against coronavirus pandemic. “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown, pull back from hostilities and focus together on saving lives,” Son said. “Let’s not forget that in conflict-affected areas health services have been affected the worst. Therefore, it is crucial to create corridors for life-saving aid and open precious windows for diplomacy and ultimate peace,” Son added. Last week, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres appealed for global ceasefire while the world faces a common enemy: Covid-19. …  The UN Humanitarian Coordination (OCHA) points out that the health system in Sudan has been affected by years of under-investment and economic crisis. … While armed conflict between the Government of Sudan and most of armed movements has reduced following unilateral cessations of hostilities over the recent years, there have been occasional flare-ups in parts of the Jebel Marra area in Darfur, the statement concludes. Radio Dabanga

Media Watchdog: Algeria Arrests Independent Journalist
An Algerian journalist was arrested on Friday, press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said, accusing the country’s government of using the coronavirus crisis to crack down on independent media. Khaled Drareni, who serves as RSF’s Algerian correspondent, has been arrested several times for covering “Hirak” anti-government protests that had been held in the capital, Algiers, every Friday since February 2019, until they were suspended last week. “This evening Algeria arrested our correspondent Khaled Drareni,” RSF’s North Africa Twitter account tweeted on Friday. It went on to denounce “the shameless use of COVID-19 by the Algerian regime to settle scores with free and independent journalism.” The CNLD prisoners’ rights group said Drareni had been taken to a police station and faced indictment on Saturday. He was arrested on March 7 while covering a Hirak protest, accused of “inciting an unarmed gathering and damaging national integrity.” He was then released on March 10. AFP

Tanzanian President Criticized for Refusing to Close Places of Worship
Opposition leaders in Tanzania are criticizing the government’s response to the coronavirus, after President John Magufuli said he would never close down places of worship. While Tanzania has been taking the same measures against coronavirus as other African nations – closing schools, quarantining foreign arrivals, and banning public events – Magufuli’s government refuses to close down churches. At a Sunday service this week, Magufuli said the virus is “satanic” and therefore cannot thrive in churches. The chairman of the opposition Civic United Front party, Ibrahim Lipumba, told VOA that government statements on the virus should focus on prevention. If people continue gathering in crowds, he said, there will be danger. Abdul Nondo, youth representative for the Alliancefor Change and Transparency party, said via a messaging app that Magafuli’s statement goes against World Health Organization guidance. VOA

EAC Health Ministers Unveil Action Plan to Contain Coronavirus Spread
Ministers in charge of Health and East African Community Affairs in the region have issued several directives to all six partner states, regarding the coronavirus outbreak, top of which is a call for additional contingency and emergency funds to mitigate the impact of the disease in the region. The ministers, in a video conference on Wednesday chaired by Dr Daniel Ngamije, urged the EAC Secretariat and each partner state to mobilise resources and invest in public health systems to ensure resilience and health security for all citizens. They compared notes on the pandemic. Dr Ngamije is Rwanda’s Minister for Health and Chairperson of the EAC Sectoral Council of Ministers responsible for Health. Top on the conference’s agenda was sharing knowledge and information on the Covid-19 outbreak, deliberate on the pandemic, map up containment strategies to stem out any further spread of the disease in the region, and to develop a clear plan for mitigating impacts caused by virus in the bloc. The EAC has an ad hoc regional co-ordination committee on Covid-19 response. The East African

Zimbabweans Fear ‘Starving in Their Own Homes’ as 21-Day Coronavirus Lockdown Looms
Zimbabweans braced on Sunday for a three-week lock-down to curb the spread of the coronavirus which has killed one person so far and infected six others, and for many the lockdown means tough times ahead. President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared a 21-day “total” lockdown from Monday that will curtail movement within the country, shut most shops and banks, and suspend flights in and out of Zimbabwe. With independent sources saying the official number of infections is understated, the spread of Covid-19 could prove devastating for a country whose economy is crippled by hyperinflation and whose social health care systems are crumbling. Poor rains have exacerbated the crisis, with half of the 15-million-strong population facing severe food shortages. … We are supposed to stock up enough things to last us 21 days, but most of us live on what we earn daily, so we only manage a few groceries. I can see us facing tough times ahead,” said Sayeed. The cash-strapped government will not be able to cushion businesses against the lockdown. AFP

New Front: Worry over COVID-19 Spreading in African Refugee Camps
As the rapidly spreading virus gains ground, aid groups warn of the potentially disastrous consequences of a major outbreak of COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, in places where healthcare systems are already strained and not easily accessible to large segments of the population. Lack of funding and years of fighting have gutted critical infrastructure in several parts of the continent, which could leave many countries unable to respond to a surge in infections, said Crystal Ashley Wells, regional spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Nairobi. For example, in South Sudan, where more than 1.6 million people are internally displaced, it often takes people hours, even days, to reach healthcare facilities, and the leading cause of death is “often preventable: treatable diseases like malaria and diarrhea,” Wells told Al Jazeera. … Indeed, UNHCR on Wednesday launched a global appeal for $255m to respond to the coronavirus in refugee camps and other vulnerable areas, as part of a wider humanitarian relief plan seeking $2bn. Al Jazeera

Nigeria Imposes Lockdown in Cities of Lagos and Abuja to Curb Coronavirus
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday ordered the “cessation of all movements” for two weeks in largest city Lagos and capital Abuja to stop the spread of coronavirus. “All citizens in these areas are to stay in their homes” starting from 2200 GMT on Monday, Buhari announced in a televised address to the nation. “Travel to or from other states should be postponed. All businesses and offices within these locations should be fully closed during this period.” Buhari said the restrictions – which also cover Ogun state neighbouring Lagos – did not include hospitals, food shops and petrol stations. “Although these establishments are exempted, access will be restricted and monitored,” he said. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, has so far registered just 97 confirmed infections and one death from COVID-19, but testing has been limited. Authorities in Lagos, a sprawling megacity of 20 million people, had already closed schools, shut non-food shops and restricted gatherings to limit movement. Enforcing a total lockdown will be a mammoth challenge for the authorities in a country where millions of people rely on their daily earnings to survive. AFP

Nigeria’s Fashion Designers Take On Coronavirus with Glitter and Rhinestones
The fashion stylist to some of Nigeria’s biggest stars was flying home from a fabric-buying spree in Istanbul when she noticed people staring at her – and not in a flattering way. Must be the surgical mask, she thought. “They were looking at me like, ‘Oh, is something wrong with you?'” said Tiannah Toyin Lawani, 38, who shares her atelier videos with 860,000 followers on Instagram. “But imagine if the fabric had matched my ensemble. They would think, ‘That’s fashion.'” Then it clicked: Protective gear could use more glamour. Now, seven tailors have moved into her mansion in the commercial capital, Lagos, as business in Africa’s largest economy crawls to a halt. They’re wearing custom hazmat suits and sewing glittery, rhinestone-studded face masks for sale and donation. With a giant asterisk, of course: Even medical-grade coverage isn’t guaranteed to stop the novel coronavirus. But while the effectiveness of homemade masks is unproven, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they’re better than none in last-resort situations, which is why tailors around the world are stitching substitutes in the face of a global shortage. The Washington Post

DW Africa Correspondents on Life under the Threat of COVID-19
As the global pandemic evolves, Africa is taking measures to defend itself. We asked our correspondents across the continent of 54 nations how their countries are coping and how their own lives have been affected. … Thuso Khumalo in South Africa: It’s day one of the lockdown in South Africa and towns already resemble ghost cities as citizens heed the government’s call to stay at home. The military and the police have taken over the streets. Citizens who need to buy medicine, visit a doctor or buy groceries are the only ones allowed to step outside their yards. Many citizens feel this is some form of imprisonment that will leave them traumatized. However, with the number of those infected with the coronavirus rising, many say it is better to be alive in a prison than die. For me as a journalist, conducting interviews via WhatsApp, Skype and the telephone have become my new way of getting stories. My dining room table has been turned into a broadcasting desk. It’s a strange new normal for me, but one that I have to get used to if I am to avoid the coronavirus. DW



Photo: Adam Jones