Africa Media Review for March 31, 2020

Managing Health and Economic Priorities as the COVID-19 Pandemic Spreads in Africa
The coronavirus is placing severe strains on Africa’s health, economic, and security sectors. Mitigation and suppression efforts will require a comprehensive government response built on clear communications and public trust. As COVID-19 spreads in Africa, the effects could be devastating-even for a continent accustomed to battling infectious disease. COVID-19 endangers African lives and African economies, and efforts to control the disease will themselves come with an enormous economic and social price. In South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the pandemic has become a “national disaster.” Never before, he said, “in the history of our democracy have we been confronted by such a severe situation.” The regional chief of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that Africa is experiencing an “extremely rapid evolution” of numbers of COVID-19 cases. As the virus has followed its slingshot path around the world, countries elsewhere have seen surging numbers overwhelm local health systems, offering ominous examples for those that are later in this global sequence. In the fight against the novel coronavirus, Africa does have certain advantages. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Millions Enter Lockdown in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, as Africa Steps Up Virus Fight
More than 20 million Nigerians on Monday went into lockdown in sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest city Lagos and the capital Abuja, as the continent struggles to curb the spread of coronavirus. President Muhammadu Buhari ordered a two-week “cessation of all movements” in key cities to ward off an explosion of cases in Africa’s most populous country. Businesses are being closed, non-food shops shut and people required to stay at home as officials look to track down possible carriers of the disease after reporting 131 confirmed cases and two deaths so far. Enforcing the restrictions in sprawling Lagos will be a mammoth challenge as millions live crammed into slums and rely on daily earnings to survive. In the ramshackle outdoor markets of Lagos Island, anxious locals complained they did not have the money to stock up, while at higher-end supermarkets better-off residents queued to buy supplies. … City officials have pledged to provide basic provisions to 200,000 households but the central government in Africa’s largest oil producing nation is already facing financial strain as the price of crude has collapsed. … Dozens of African nations have imposed restrictions ranging from night-time curfews to total shutdowns. Zimbabwe, which is already suffering a recession, began enforcing a three-week lockdown after the disease left one person dead and infected six others. AFP

Coronavirus in Crisis-Hit Burkina Faso: Healthcare Centres Close as Cases Rise
The growing number of COVID-19 cases in Burkina Faso is threatening to overwhelm the country’s war-weakened health system and complicate efforts to respond to one of the world’s fastest-growing displacement crises. Near-daily attacks by jihadist groups and local militias have forced almost 800,000 people to flee their homes – the majority in the past 12 months – and caused the closure of 135 health centres around the country. As the number of people infected with the virus rises to 222, with 12 deaths – the most fatalities in sub-Saharan Africa – aid groups told The New Humanitarian it’s not clear how the country will cope with a looming public health disaster. “It’s frightening what is coming potentially with this virus,” said Laurent Saugy, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Burkina Faso. “Armed violence has weakened the health system in dramatic proportions.” … Since last week, borders have been sealed and travel has been restricted to and from towns and cities with confirmed cases. Aid groups based in the capital, Ouagadougou, worry that these measures will prevent them from accessing needy people in areas experiencing violence. The New Humanitarian

Mali: Legislative Elections Hampered by Low Voter Turnout
Few turned out to vote in Mali’s long-delayed parliamentary elections over the weekend, as the country grapples with the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, the kidnapping of main opposition leader Soumalia Cisse, and an ongoing security crisis in the state’s north and central regions. An official turnout figure was not available at the closing of the polls. However, observers from a group of civil society associations estimated that the figure was close to 7.5%. In addition to concerns over the spread of coronavirus, which meant many chose to stay at home, at least 200,000 people who had been displaced by violence were also unable to vote. The elections had already been postponed several times – the last parliamentary poll was held in 2013, which saw President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s Rally for Mali party win a significant majority. The next parliamentary election was due to be held in late 2018 following Keita’s re-election, however the vote was repeatedly deferred owing to security issues. … According to Mali’s security ministry, 274 out of approximately 12,500 polling stations were unable to open due to security concerns. DW

Sudan: Darfur Holdout Group Accepts UN Calls for Ceasefire over Cononavirus
The holdout Sudan Liberation Movement/Army of Abdel Wahid al-Nur (SLM/A-AW) accepted the UN’s calls for a ceasefire in Darfur but reiterated its rejection to join the peace process in Juba. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres earlier on 22 March issued an appeal for a global ceasefire in the conflict-hit areas across the world to allow efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus and deliver humanitarian assistance to civilians. Three days later, UNAMID head Jeremiah Mamabolo called on the SLM-AW to join the ongoing peace process in Juba and to cease fighting in Darfur. In the same vein, Gwi-Yeop Son, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, calling for a ceasefire across Sudan on 29 March. In a six-page long statement issued on 30 March, the SLM-AW leader Abdel Wahid al-Nur responded positively to Guterres call pointing that the first to call for an international action to prevent the spread of CVID-19 in the camps of Darfur displaced persons and refugees on 19 March. Sudan Tribune

IGAD Leaders Agree to Establish Regional Response to Fight Coronavirus
The IGAD leaders on Monday agreed to establish a strategy to fight pandemic diseases and an emergency fund for its implementation. The heads of states and governments of the IGAD held a meeting on Monday chaired by the Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok who is also the Chair of the IGAD Assembly of Heads of State and Government. The extraordinary meeting was dedicated to deliberate on an IGAD strategy to combat the spread of the Corona Virus (COVID-19) in the region. Besides Hamdok, took part in the video conference discussions Djibouti’s President, Ismail Omar Guelleh, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed; South Sudan FVP Riek Machar and the IGAD Executive Secretary Workneh Gebeyehu. In a statement released after the meeting, the regional body agreed on the need for a joint approach to deal with the respiratory disease due to the strong interactivity and circulation of the population in the region. The IGAD leaders decided to “Formulate an IGAD Regional Response Strategy to pandemic diseases particularly COVID-19. IGAD Ministers of Health and Finance shall meet virtually to inform the strategy,” said the statement. Sudan Tribune

Congo Ex-President Yombi Opango Dies of COVID-19
Former Republic of Congo president Jacques Joaquim Yhombi Opango died in France on Monday of the new coronavirus (Covid-19), his family told AFP. He was 81. Yhombi Opango, who led Congo-Brazzaville from 1977 until he was toppled in 1979, died at a Paris hospital, his son Jean-Jacques said. Yhombi Opango had been ill before he contracted the virus, his son added. Born in 1939 in Congo’s northern Cuvette region, Yhombi Opango was an army officer who rose to power after the assassination of president Marien Ngouabi. The troubled oil-rich former French colony was aligned with the Soviet Union during Ngouabi’s 1968-1977 rule. Yhombi Opango was ousted by long-time ruler Denis Sassou Nguesso. Accused of taking part in a coup plot against Sassou Nguesso, Yhombi Opango was jailed from 1987 to 1990. He was released a few months before a 1991 national conference that introduced multi-party politics in the central African country. He founded the Rally for Democracy and Development party but lost in a 1992 presidential election. Yhombi Opango later allied with elected president Pascal Lissouba, becoming his prime minister between 1994 and 1996. AFP

Opposition Leader in Niger Freed under Coronavirus Prison Release
The main opposition figure in Niger, Hama Amadou, who has been in prison since last November for alleged baby smuggling, is among more than 1,500 inmates who are being released early because of the coronavirus pandemic. Amadou’s name is among those of 1,540 prisoners who have been pardoned by President Mahamadou Issoufou “for humanitarian reasons and to reduce prison numbers” because of the pandemic, according to a list read on state radio. A source close to Amadou confirmed the former premier and parliamentary speaker “is definitely concerned by the presidential pardon and in theory will be leaving prison (today).” Amadou has several months left to serve of a controversial one-year jail term. The 70-year-old, dubbed “The Phoenix” for his political comebacks, ran against Issoufou in presidential elections in March 2016, but his campaign was marred from the start. … Many countries around the world have taken measures to release prisoners early to ease pressure on overcrowded jails, which health experts say offer ideal opportunities for highly contagious respiratory virus to spread. AFP

Coronavirus: Libya Frees over 450 Inmates Due to Pandemic Fears
Libya’s justice ministry announced on Sunday that over 450 prisoners were being freed in a bid to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in the wake of the war-torn country’s first declared infections. Judicial officials decided to “free 466 detainees from correctional facilities” in Tripoli, according to a statement by the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord’s justice ministry. The detainees were in pre-trial detention or had qualified for conditional release, the statement added. Authorities announced five new coronavirus cases in the western city of Misrata on Sunday, bringing the tally of infections confirmed in Libya to eight. The country’s first case had been confirmed on Tuesday. Other measures “aimed at reducing the overpopulation of prisons” will follow, including amnesty for elderly or ill prisoners and those who have served over half their sentences, according to the ministry statement. AFP

Coronastats: Botswana, 47th Infected; 7 Virus-Free, Most Impacted List
There are eight African countries that have not recorded a case of coronavirus as at midday GMT of Sunday March 30. 46 African countries have officially recorded cases. The death toll had passed 140 whiles recoveries were also rising. The region with the highest virus-free countries being southern Africa, followed by East Africa whiles Central Africa and West Africa had one country each. North and Central Africa have no virus-free countries. The basic records are referenced from the African Union’s Africa Center for Disease Control, Africa CDC we also prioritize tallies from trusted national sources. The classifications are based on where the countries are located especially in the case of countries that belong to two different blocs. Experts have stressed that it is only a matter of time before these countries likely detect cases even though much of the continent is closing borders to combat spread and improve containment of confirmed cases. African News

Ethiopia Restores Internet to Western Oromia after 3-Month Blackout
Internet connectivity has been restored to a part of Ethiopia’s Oromia region which has been without connection for about three months. In January this year, is a partial internet cut was imposed across several towns in western Ethiopia. President of the region confirmed early Tuesday that due to improvement in the security situation in the region, connection was to be restored. State-run FBC confirmed that connectivity had returned. Activists, press and human rights groups had actively campaigned for government to restore internet access in the affected areas. The campaign got a fresh impetus with the coronavirus pandemic as campaigners insisted that people in the region risked not getting enough information of the public health crisis. At the time of the blackout, government defended the move as necessary to curb rising insecurity in the area where the army was engaged in exchanges with a former rebel group. Over a dozen officials of the region have been killed in the last few months by suspected rebels in the area. The BBC confirmed back in January that “in some areas mobile call services were also not working.” The state monopoly EthioTelecom stayed away from commenting on the situation. Africa News

Egypt’s Sisi Tells Authorities to Boost Strategic Food Reserves
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has told the relevant authorities to boost strategic reserves of staple goods, a presidency spokesman said on Monday, as global concerns about food security rise amidst the coronavirus crisis. The country is due to begin harvesting its local wheat crop in April from which the government expects to procure some 3.6 million tonnes of wheat, supply minister Ali Moselhy said earlier this month, seeking to reaffirm that Egypt is well-stocked. Egypt, the world’s largest wheat buyer, said it had already had enough wheat stocks for 3.5 months of consumption, rice reserves sufficient for 4.6 months and enough vegetable oil reserves to last until October. … Egypt has not witnessed scenes of mass panic-buying as is prevalent in many European countries, but officials have nonetheless sought to reassure citizens that this behaviour was not necessary and that the country is well-stocked. Millions of Egyptians depend on the government’s subsidy programme for access to discounted staple foods such as bread, pasta and cooking oil. Reuters

Sierra Leone Lifts Ban on Pregnant Girls Going to School but Shutdown Expected
The decision, announced on Monday, follows a judgment last December by a top regional court that ordered the immediate overturn of the ban, which effectively barred tens of thousands of girls the right to finish their education. The Economic Community of West African States court instructed Sierra Leone to establish nationwide programmes to help pregnant girls return to school. “Overturning the ban is the first step in building a radically inclusive Sierra Leone where all children – regardless of class, ethnicity, tribe, disability, location, gender, reproductive or parenting status – are able to live and learn in safety and dignity,” the education ministry said in a statement. Despite the good news, Sierra Leone is expected to close schools this week in a bid to prevent the transmission of coronavirus, which has now spread to 46 countries across Africa and threatens to create huge challenges for under-resourced health services. Sierra Leone is one of only eight virus-free countries in the continent. The Guardian

South Africa: Alleged Lockdown Soldier Brutality to Be Investigated
The first days of South Africa’s national coronavirus lockdown have seen allegations of unnecessary brutality and violence by soldiers which are going to find their way to the Office of the Military Ombud. There is also a call for Parliament to set up an ad hoc committee for executive oversight and the protection of civil liberties. “There have already been numerous reports of brutality at the hands of SA National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers deployed across South Africa, with more worrying accounts including allegations of soldiers opening fire on residents and employing unnecessarily authoritarian and zealous violence and language. This is absolutely unacceptable and deeply worrying as it shows a government in contempt of the civil liberties afforded all South Africans in a free and democratic state,” is how Democratic Alliance (DA) acting leader John Steenhuisen reacted. Equally outspoken was Kobus Marais, the party’s shadow defence and military veterans minister. He “strongly condemned” social media posts showing SANDF soldiers members forcing civilians, allegedly not abiding by the lockdown regulations, to do squats and push-ups.” defenceWeb

South Africa Provides Special Transportation for Social Grant Recipients
South Africa is allowing bus and taxi service to resume this week to ease the burden on social grant beneficiaries collecting their funds, in the midst of the 21-day coronavirus lockdown. Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said Sunday the relaxed rules for buses and taxis begins Monday and will last through Friday from 5am until 8pm. Social grants are being paid this week to the elderly, people who are disabled and children. To help police enforce the guidelines for public transportation use, authorities say recipients must carry their identity documents and South African Social Security Agency cards when traveling on public transport. VOA

South Africans under Lockdown Have to Deal with Slow Internet after Another Undersea Cable Break
South Africans dealing with the disruption and frustration of a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus are also confronting slowdowns in internet speeds. Two of the undersea cables that connect South Africa to the global network are again suffering outages, dragging down mobile and landline data speeds nationwide. The slowdown comes as workers and students confront the challenges of staying at home because of Covid-19. The West Africa Cable System (WACS), a submarine fiber-optic line that carries data between the UK and the west coast of Africa, tore on Saturday about 24 miles from Britain in roughly the same spot that the cable broke in January. The break, which is requiring providers to reroute traffic to cables that drape the continent’s east coast, is at least the third fault to plague the WACS so far this year. … Failures of the subsea cables highlight the challenge of maintaining high-speed connectivity across Africa, which has some of the world’s most expensive internet access. Quartz Africa

Didier Drogba: How Ivory Coast Striker Helped to Halt Civil War in His Home Nation
Al-Merrikh Stadium, in Sudan’s second largest city of Omdurman, is not one of the world’s great gladiatorial arenas. Yet this small ground – known as the Red Castle – became the setting for one of football’s most extraordinary tales. The date was 8 October 2005. The mathematics of qualification for World Cup 2006 were simple. A win for Cameroon in Egypt would see them reach their sixth tournament. Anything less would allow Ivory Coast, playing in Sudan and just a point behind, to leapfrog them and qualify instead – for the first time. The tag “golden generation” can be a substantial yoke to bear, but the Ivorian squad in 2005 was just that. They were led by the artfully bruising Didier Drogba, with Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue, and Didier Zokora all also shining in the Premier League, a world away in London. … Yet, while Ivory Coast’s footballing stars stood on the verge of history, back home the country teetered on the edge of something dark. A civil war that began in 2002 had divided the country, with President Laurent Gbagbo’s government controlling the south and a rebel faction known as The New Forces of Ivory Coast, led by Guillaume Soro, controlling the north. BBC

Nearly Half of Jobs in Africa Could Be Lost Due to Coronavirus, UN Warns
The United Nations Development Programme has issued a call to action from the international community to assist developing countries with the enormous fallout they are expected to face due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The UNDP said in a statement that the international community has to think beyond the immediate impact of Covid-19. It expects that the crisis in developing countries threaten to devastate economies and increase inequality. Nearly half of all jobs in Africa could be lost, the UNDP warns, and income losses are expected to exceed $220 billion in developing countries. “Without support from the international community, we risk a massive reversal of gains made over the last two decades, and an entire generation lost, if not in lives then in rights, opportunities, and dignity,” Achim Steiner, administrator of the UNDP said in a statement. “The growing Covid-19 crisis threatens to disproportionately hit developing countries, not only as a health crisis in the short term but as a devastating social and economic crisis over the months and years to come.”  The UNDP believes three priority actions are needed, namely resources to help stop the spread of the virus, support to respond during the outbreak itself, and resources to prevent the economic collapse of developing countries. Fin24



Photo: Adam Jones