Africa Media Review for May 14, 2020

Lessons from the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu Pandemic in Africa
The 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic brought death and disruption across the globe, infecting an estimated 500 million people (about a third of the world’s population) and killing 20-50 million. The severity of the pandemic’s toll was particularly acute in Africa, much of which was under colonial administration. Nearly 2 percent of Africa’s population is estimated to have died within 6 months–2.5 million out of an estimated 130 million. The Spanish flu tore through communities, in some cases infecting up to 90 percent of the population and generating mortality rates of 15 percent. The pandemic’s impact on South Africa is particularly notable, as it was one of the five worst-hit parts of the world. Roughly 5 percent of South Africa’s population perished. … In many parts of the continent, medical facilities were overwhelmed. … While both the pandemic of 1918 and COVID-19 are respiratory diseases largely spread through the air by coughing or sneezing, the two pandemics are different in important ways. Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Coronavirus: Africa, at First Spared, Now Confronts Outbreaks All over the Continent
From South Africa to Ghana to Nigeria, African countries are scrambling to contain the Covid-19 outbreak as hotspots emerge across the continent. In Ghana, more than 500 workers at a fish factory tested positive for coronavirus; in South Africa, Cape Town has become the nation’s coronavirus epicentre. In East Africa, there is growing concern that truck drivers, who transport cargo across borders, have been super-spreaders of the pandemic. Initially, Africa was not hit as hard as the United States, Europe and parts of Asia, but in the past two weeks or so, the continent has seen a steep increase in new cases. With the announcement Wednesday that Lesotho has its first confirmed case of Covid-19, all 54 countries on the continent have now reported cases. … At the start of May, Africa, with a population of 1.3 billion, had 39,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,640 deaths. But as of Tuesday, less than two weeks later, cases had jumped to more than 70,000 and deaths rose to 2,389. SCMP

Sudan Clashes Kill 26, including Paramilitary Forces
Armed clashes in Sudan’s South Kordofan province killed more than two dozen people, including paramilitary troops, over 48 hours, authorities said Wednesday. It marked the third outbreak of violence this month that could derail the country’s transition to democracy. The fighting poses a significant challenge to efforts by Sudan’s transitional government to end decades-long rebellions in some areas of the country. Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising led the military to overthrow former autocratic president Omar al-Bashir in April last year. Fighting broke out this week between armed residents in a market in the city of Kadugli, the provincial capital of South Kordofan, said Deputy Chief of Staff of Sudan’s military Abdalla al-Bashir. He said 26 people were killed over two days. Al-Bashir said the dispute was over an arms sale and that it escalated in the past two days in the market and in some villages in Kadugli. AP

Niger Says 75 Boko Haram Fighters Killed in Two Operations
Approximately 75 members of the Boko Haram armed group have been killed in the southeast Sahel state of Niger and in neighbouring Nigeria. Twenty-five “terrorists” were killed on Monday south of Diffa, the main city in southeast Niger, while “about 50 … were neutralised” on the same day on Nigerian soil in the Lake Chad region in two operations by a regional force, the defence ministry said in a statement quoted by the AFP news agency on Wednesday. On Monday, troops from Niger’s contingent in the regional force carried out “aggressive reconnaissance” on the banks of the Komadougou river and clashed with Boko Haram fighters at a locality 74km (45 miles) south of Diffa, the ministry said. “All the terrorist group” comprising 25 combatants was killed, it said, adding that two soldiers were injured. The same day, approximately 50 “enemy elements” were “neutralised” in coalition air raids and artillery bombardment of Tombon-Fulani, an island in the marshy Lake Chad region in northeastern Nigeria, the defence ministry added. Al Jazeera

Niger Lifts Coronavirus Night-Time Curfew, Allows Mass Worship
The Sahel state of Niger has announced the end of a night-time curfew on the capital Niamey and reopening of places of worship that had been closed since late March under measures to contain the novel coronavirus (Covid-19). “The government, after receiving proposals from religious leaders and after consultation with the Covid-19 experts’ committee, and in the light of the favourable trend of Covid-19 disease development, has decided to reopen places of worship as of Wednesday,” an official statement read on state radio said. The measure was widely expected in the Muslim-majority nation, where the government had already eased measures for Ramadaan. The statement issued late on Tuesday also said that the curfew imposed in Niamey was being lifted as of Wednesday. AFP

Burkina Faso Prosecutor Launches Probe after 12 ‘Terrorism’ Suspects Die in Detention
A Burkina Faso prosecutor has launched an investigation after 12 people died during the same night in detention cells, hours after they were arrested for suspected terrorism-related offences in a town in the east of the country. The case comes weeks after advocacy group Human Rights Watch said it believed Burkina Faso security forces summarily executed 31 unarmed detainees during operations against Islamist militants. The prosecutor, Judicael Kadeba, said in a statement late on Wednesday the incident took place the town of Fada N’Gourma, around 220km (137 miles) east of the capital Ouagadougou. He said 25 people were arrested during the night of May 11 – 12 by Burkina Faso security and defence forces for suspected terrorism in a village in the Fada N’Gourma area. Reuters

Coronavirus Response Takes Backseat as Election Looms in Burundi
The politicians arrived in white Toyotas to a red-carpet welcome. Their supporters got caps, flags, and embroidered shirts. The one thing missing at the ruling party’s first election campaign rally in the Burundian capital, Gitega, last month: personal space. Millions of Burundians are gearing up to vote in a divisive general election next week, but there are growing concerns over the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic as mass rallies draw thousands into jam-packed public spaces across the country, and hospital workers speak of a spike in cases. Though just 27 people have been confirmed with COVID-19 so far in Burundi, doctors and nurses in Bujumbura – the country’s largest city – told The New Humanitarian they are treating many more patients with the virus, while aid officials said the World Health Organisation has been sidelined from participating in the response. The WHO’s representative in Burundi was reportedly declared persona non grata today. The New Humanitarian

Tanzania Opposition Angry over No Coronavirus Update in Two Weeks
Tanzania’s opposition has demanded the truth about the country’s coronavirus infections two weeks after the last update, as the United States’s embassy raised alarm over “overwhelmed hospitals” in the East African nation. The government stopped giving daily updates after President John Magufuli complained last month they were causing panic, and went on to question the data from the national laboratory. The last total of 480 cases and 16 deaths was given on April 29. “The government of Tanzania shouldn’t keep its citizens in the dark,” Zitto Kabwe, the leader of the opposition Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT-Wazalendo), told the AFP news agency. “Transparency is key in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kabwe said. Al Jazeera

S. Africa Plans Localised Lockdowns as Pressure Mounts to Reopen
South Africa plans to keep its major cities under tight lockdown but is preparing to ease national restrictions further this month in order to stem heavy damage to its economy.President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a televised national address on Wednesday that “we are now preparing for a further easing of the lockdown and a gradual opening of the economy” at the end of May. But Mr Ramaphosa, who is facing rising public frustration over the slow pace of reopening after nearly two months of restrictions, said that his government also planned to consult on measures to keep areas with high rates of infection under stricter measures.South Africa, which is Africa’s most industrialised nation, has reported more than 12,000 cases and 219 deaths to date. There has been a sharp uptick in reported cases in some regions in recent days, particularly the Western Cape, the home of Cape Town, as testing has revealed clusters of outbreaks. Infection rates are high in other cities. FT

Zimbabwe’s Central Bank Says the Dominant Mobile Money Platform Is Running a Ponzi Scheme
Once touted by Zimbabwean authorities as the effective solution to the country’s cash problems, mobile money is now being blamed for the rapid loss in value of the country’s Zimdollar currency. The central bank has described the leading EcoCash platform as a Ponzi scheme in court papers seeking to sustain a directive to disable its agent lines. Zimbabwe continues to battle a severe financial crisis that has only worsened through the Covid-19 pandemic. Mobile money had helped boost financial inclusion in Zimbabwe as banks-which have been closing branches-fail to meet depositors’ demands for cash withdrawals. Mobile money usage in Zimbabwe has moved from just basic digital payments and rapidly evolved to include salary payments and remittances among other use cases. But regulators now have a different position as they allege EcoCash, with over 11 million registered mobile wallet users, of fueling illegal currency dealings on the streets. Quartz Africa

Can Zimbabwe’s Embattled Press Survive COVID-19?
With Zimbabwe in lockdown since 30 March, sales of hard copies of newspapers appear to have plummeted. Insiders say media houses have been valiantly churning out copy ‘”virtually for free.” But that can’t continue. According to Tabani Moyo, director of the local chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), “most of [the media houses] announced a 50 percent salary slash for their journalists. There will be a very bleak future post-Covid.” Quoting a memo to workers, independent news website Zim Morning Post reported last week that “scores” of media workers, including those on fixed monthly retainers, had their contracts terminated at Zimpapers, the country’s biggest publishing company in which the government has majority shares. The group publishes more than a dozen titles and runs a number of radio stations, including Harare-based Star FM and Capitalk 100.4 FM. RFI

Sudan Appoints New Defence Minister
The military component of the Sovereign Council on Wednesday nominated a former Maj Gen for the post of defence minister. In a statement released on Wednesday, the collegial presidency said Yassin Ibrahim Yassin was nominated to replace late minister Jamal Omer who died in Juba last March. Under the transitional constitution, the defence and interior ministers are nominated by the military component and appointed by the prime minister. Ibrahim who is from North Kordofan worked in eastern and southern Sudan before independence. He also worked as a teacher at the Joint Command and Staff College in Khartoum. Sudan Tribune

Libya: Operation Irini Up and Running in the Mediterranean
The EU naval operation in the Mediterranean, previously concentrating on migrants is up and running with a new mandate and name since the beginning of this month. It is now Operation Irini, named after the Greek goddess of peace, and the major objective of the multi-nation naval operation is to stop the flow of illegal arms to Libya. Officially termed the EU Operation EUNavFor Med Irini, it commenced work on 4 May when the French naval vessel Jean Bart and a maritime patrol aircraft from Luxembourg moved into the operational area. DefenceWeb

Egypt Presses On with New Capital in the Desert amid Virus Outbreak
While Egypt’s economy has stumbled due to the coronavirus outbreak, construction at a new capital taking shape east of Cairo is continuing at full throttle after a short pause to adjust working practices, officials say. The level of activity at the desert site – where trucks rumble down newly built roads and cranes swing over unfinished apartment blocks – reflects the new city’s political importance even as the government grapples with the pandemic. Known as the New Administrative Capital, it is the biggest of a series of mega-projects championed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as a source of growth and jobs. … One senior official said last year the cost of the whole project was about $58 billion. While some Egyptians see the new capital as a source of pride, others see it as extravagant and built to benefit a cocooned elite. … Critics have questioned the diversion of resources away from existing cities, including Cairo, parts of which are in slow decay. Reuters

How COVID-19 Is Destroying Africa’s Tourism Industry
At the beginning of 2020, Africa’s tourism sector looked set for a lucrative year. The continent had the world’s second fastest growing tourism industry and was projected to rake in billions of dollars. But when COVID-19 struck, tourists stopped coming and the industry ground to a sudden halt. Tourism across the continent has always relied on international travelers. But now, a dangerous combination of national lockdowns, a tiny local tourism customer base, and an industry aimed at high-paying foreign visitors means Africa’s tourism industry may not adapt quickly enough to avoid collapse. Tours along Ghana’s forts and castles have ceased, the safari vehicles that normally prowl East Africa’s Serengeti in the hunt for the perfect wildlife photograph are standing still, and luxury camps in Botswana’s Okavango Delta are gathering dust. DW

High-Flying Balloons to Boost Northern Mozambique’s Internet
Balloons floating 12 miles over northern Mozambique are planned to provide the remote and violence-prone region with stable internet connections, according to Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and local mobile telecoms provider Vodacom. The stratospheric balloons are expected to be over Mozambique in a few months to expand 4G internet coverage to Mozambique’s Niassa and Cabo Delgado provinces. Loon, a subsidiary of Alphabet, recently launched similar balloons over parts of rural Kenya. In recent months, telecoms transmitters in Cabo Delgado have been repeatedly damaged by Islamic extremists, who are waging an insurgency which more than 1,000 people have been killed since 2017. … The balloons will be launched in the United States and will sail on winds in the stratosphere to Africa, according to Loon. When operational over Mozambique the balloons will provide internet service that supports data, voice, SMS and mobile financial services. AP



Photo: Adam Jones