Africa Media Review for May 8, 2020

Coronavirus Could ‘Smoulder’ in Africa for Several Years, WHO Warns
The Covid-19 pandemic could “smoulder” in Africa for several years after killing as many as 190,000 people in the coming 12 months, the World Health Organization has said. The WHO warned last month that there could be 10m infections on the continent within six months, though experts said the pandemic’s impact would depend on governments’ actions. A study released by the organisation this week predicts that between 29 million to 44 million people could become infected in the first year of the pandemic if containment measures fail. This “would overwhelm the available medical capacity in much of Africa” where there are only nine intensive care unit beds per million people. “While Covid-19 likely won’t spread as exponentially in Africa as it has elsewhere in the world, it likely will smoulder in transmission hotspots,” said the director of the World Health Organization’s Africa region, Dr Matshidiso Moeti. … More than 51,000 people in Africa have been infected and 2,012 have died. The total number of cases has risen sharply in the past week. The Guardian

Virus Exposes Gaping Holes in Africa’s Health Systems
Africa has recorded over 51,000 cases of COVID-19, a fraction of the 3.76 million cases recorded globally, according to a Reuters tally. But the number of cases jumped nearly 38% in the past week. … Low levels of testing make it impossible to know the true scale of infection. Africa has carried out a fraction of the COVID-19 testing that other regions have – around 685 tests per million people, although the rate of testing varies widely between countries. By comparison, European countries have carried out nearly 17 million tests, the equivalent of just under 23,000 per million people. Africa’s public health systems are notoriously ill-equipped, but there is also little public data on the resources they have to fight the virus. Reuters sent questions to health ministries and public health authorities across Africa. Health officials or independent experts provided answers in 48 out of Africa’s 54 countries, to create the most detailed picture publicly available on resources including intensive care beds, ventilators, testing and essential personnel. The findings are stark. Reuters

COVID-19: A Threat to Peace Efforts in Africa
In the conflict hotspot of South Sudan, there is a semblance of peace for the time being. So far, COVID-19 has spared the crisis-ridden country, which only has 58 confirmed cases of the virus to Thursday May 7. South Sudan’s unity government of President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, which has been in power since March 12, reacted early and restricted the movement of its people to prevent the virus from spreading across the country. Neighboring Sudan also imposed a nationwide lockdown last week after a jump in the number of cases. However, these travel restrictions have also delayed three police units joining the UN peacekeeping mission UNISFA, which is deployed in the contested territory of Abyei straddling the border between the two countries. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, too, the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO has had to change its work routines, according Benno Müchler, head of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in the DRC. DW

Malawi President Files for Election Rerun with Ex-Leader’s Son
Malawian President Peter Mutharika on Thursday joined forces with a former president’s son for a rerun of an election that he narrowly won in disputed circumstances. The African country’s Constitutional Court had in February annulled the May 21, 2019 vote and called for fresh polls, citing widespread irregularities and fraud. … Only three of 10 expected candidates have presented credentials to run in the upcoming poll. Opposition figures Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima filed their nomination papers on Wednesday. … The court said the poll results were fraught with widespread irregularities – in particular, the “massive” use of correction fluid on tally sheets. [Mutharika] … has also refused assent to the proposed electoral law amendments, notably one that requires a more than 50 percent majority to secure a win. Both the president and the electoral commission have appealed against the election annulment. The Supreme Court of Appeal is scheduled to deliver a ruling on Mutharika’s case on Friday. Al Jazeera

Mother and Son Killed by Malawi Petrol Bomb
A mother and her son have died in a fire after a petrol bomb was thrown at an office of the opposition UTM party in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. The family lived in the same building as the UTM office, which came under attack at around midnight when they were asleep. The mother awoke and tried to save her four children from the flames, witnesses said. Three of the children survived and are being treated for burns in hospital. UTM is the party of Vice-President Saulos Chilima, who has fallen out with President Peter Mutharika. He is standing as a running mate to Lazarus Chakwera, the leader of the main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), in elections scheduled for July. Political violence has been on the increase ahead of the poll, called after the Constitutional Court annulled those held last May. The head of the European Union delegation in Malawi, along with other foreign diplomats, have issued a joint statement condemning the political violence. “We have been shocked by the recent acts of violence apparently fuelled by political motives, and are deeply saddened,” it said. BBC

Egypt Lodges Complaint to UN Security Council over Ethiopia’s Plan to Fill Dam
Egypt has submitted a complaint letter to the UN Security Council in protest to Ethiopia’s plan to fill the controversial hydro-power dam project known as Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Ethiopia is set to begin filling GERD reservoir in June and July raising serious concerns from Egypt. The water filling strategy for the dam has long been the most contentious issue and yet unresolved in the Nile talks between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. According to local news agency, Ethiopian-Insider, Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs has submitted a 15-page complaint letter to the Security Council via Mohammed Endris, the Egyptian ambassador to the UN. … Cairo warned that Ethiopia’s move potentially poses a serious threat to regional peace and security. The East African

Ethiopia’s Abiy Warns of Opposition Power Grab amid Pandemic
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Thursday that opposition politicians were trying to exploit uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic to seize power, risking instability. “Those pushing for unconstitutional ways to grab power… will be punished by law,” Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said in a recorded speech posted on Facebook. “Young people should not die, mothers should not cry and houses should not be demolished just so politicians can take power.” Africa’s second most populous country was due to hold national elections in August that Abiy hoped would give him a mandate for wide-ranging political and economic reforms. But the election board announced in late March that it would be impossible to organise the polls on time because of the pandemic. That means elections will not happen before lawmakers’ mandates expire in October, creating what analysts and opposition politicians describe as a political crisis. AFP

Zimbabwe Opposition Boycotts Parliament after Members Dismissed
Zimbabwe’s main opposition party on Thursday boycotted parliamentary proceedings to protest against the dismissal of four of its legislators at the behest of a faction opposed to the party leadership. On March 31, the country’s Supreme Court declared that Nelson Chamisa’s leadership of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was illegitimate and ordered the party to hold an election to replace him within three months. A majority of MDC leaders have rallied behind Chamisa, arguing that the leadership issue was settled when the party held a congress in 2019 to choose a new executive. But a faction opposed to Chamisa has been emboldened by the court ruling and this week asked parliament to eject four senior MDC members, all allies of Chamisa. Their dismissal should trigger a by-election but the new coronavirus outbreak makes this uncertain. The pandemic also makes it difficult for the MDC to organise protests. Reuters

Amnesty: Zimbabwe Playing Politics with Food Aid Distribution
As southern Africa battles the coronavirus pandemic, Amnesty International warns that in some areas, authorities are tying food aid to recipients’ political affiliation.  It says the problem is especially acute in rural Zimbabwe, where people who don’t belong to the ruling party are being denied the means to survive. In the impoverished country, lockdowns triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and shuttered markets have made it hard for people to work or find food. Millions are dependent on the government for sustenance. In a report published this week, the London-based human rights group said some are being denied food because they do not support the ruling ZANU-PF party. One such person, who wished to be identified only as Peter, lives in Murehwa, about 100 kilometers east of Harare.  He told VOA that opposition members in his rural community are being treated as second-class citizens. … South Africa and Angola are also mentioned in the Amnesty report as countries where authorities are distributing food aid along partisan lines. VOA

Lesotho’s King Assents to Bill Limiting PM Thabane’s Powers
The king of Lesotho, Letsie III, has assented to legislation that prevents Prime Minister Thomas Thabane from dissolving parliament and calling an election in the event of a vote of no confidence against him, the attorney general said on Thursday. Thabane, 80, has been under pressure to resign over a murder case in which he and his wife are suspected of killing his previous wife. They both deny the charges. “The ninth amendment (to the constitution) is now a law given that His Majesty has assented to it. It’s already effective, just awaiting printing,” Attorney General Haae Phoofolo told Reuters. The law means that in the event of a vote of no confidence against Thabane passing, he would have no choice but to leave office. Thabane has previously said he will leave at the end of July, but his opponents say that is not soon enough. Reuters

Liberia: Government Clamping Down on the Media amid COVID-19 Fight?
The government of Liberia claims the role of the media in the fight against the relentless spread of COVID-19 cannot be overemphasized, but it is, at the same time, cleverly attempting to restrict journalists’ access to information during the state of emergency declared by the President to enforce health protocols. The Deputy Minister of Information, Eugene Fahngon, who suddenly declared as null and void press passes issued by the ministry to media institutions has threatened actions permitted by the state of emergency against any media practitioner who would not be in possession of the latest access pass. The Press Union of Liberia (PUL) had earlier called on all of its members not to accept the new access pass, claiming that it’s an attempt by the government to deny some media institutions access to information during this state of emergency. FPA

COVID-19 Cases in Sierra Leone Double in One Week
Sierra Leone has recorded a massive jump in coronavirus cases over the last seven days. The country took 29 days from the end of March to the end of April to reach 104 cases. But things took a turn for the worse this week, with 121 new cases reported – bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 225. The Head of Case Management at the Emergency Operations Centre in the capital Freetown, Professor Sahr Foday has explained that the rise in numbers is “because we are actively searching and identifying cases and bringing them to the hospital.” … Foday, who is a serving brigadier with the Sierra Leonean military, said the idea was to chase the virus. Therefore, they had identified three slum communities – Susan’s Bay, Thompson’s Bay and Mabela – where they wanted to undertake random testing. RFI

ECOWAS Denies Endorsing Madagascan COVID-Organics Herbal Remedy
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Wednesday disassociated itself and the West African Health Organization (WAHO) from the claim that they ordered Madagascar’s Covid-Organics for the treatment of the novel coronavirus. They said this in a statement issued by Oghogho Obayuwana of the Communication Directorate of the Commission. Last Month, the Madagascan President, Andry Rajoelina, launched a herbal remedy that he said could prevent and cure patients infected with the virus. Countries like Tanzania, Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, and the Republic of Congo have indicated interest in the herbal remedy. Despite these claims and that of other countries around the world, ECOWAS in the statement said that only products shown to be effective through scientific study would be endorsed by them. Premium Times

Amid Pandemic, the World’s Working Poor Hustle to Survive
From India to Argentina, untold millions who were already struggling to get by on the economic margins have had their lives made even harder by pandemic lockdowns, layoffs and the loss of a chance to earn from a hard day’s work. More than four out of five people in the global labor force of 3.3 billion have been hit by full or partial workplace closures, according to the International Labor Organization, which says 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy “stand in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed.” … Judith Andeka has seen tough times before. The 33-year-old mother of five lost her husband two years ago and was left to make ends meet on just $2.50 to $4 a day from washing clothes in Nairobi’s Kibera, one of the world’s biggest slums. She’s been forced to send all five kids to live with relatives who are slightly better off: “I had no choice, because how do you tell a 2-year-old you have no food to give them?” Like many others in Kibera, home to an estimated 300,000 to 800,000 people, Andeka wakes up early and rushes to a food aid distribution point to try her luck. Crowds often overwhelm the aid workers in their desperation, and men with sticks beat them back and police fire tear gas. AP

CAR Refugees in South Darfur Moved to a New Site
The UN Refugee Agency has started the relocation of some 14,000 refugees, who fled the Central African Republic (CAR) for Um Dafug in South Darfur to El Mashaga, which is a better site further away from the border. Living conditions near the CAR border were harsh and refugee men, women and children were exposed to the elements in an area that was difficult to reach by humanitarian actors, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported in its Sudan Flash Update on Monday. El Mashaga site was prepared by UNHCR, the Sudanese government’s Commissioner for Refugees (COR) and other partners, including World Vision International. The new site has a water supply and is located closer to basic services such as health facilities. It is also easier to reach in the rainy season when dirt tracks in areas near the border cannot be used. So far, the first 1200 men, women and children have arrived safely in El Mashaga where they received non-food items such as blankets and shelter material. Keeping Covid-19 guidelines such as physical distancing in place, fewer refugees were carried on the busses than normal. Radio Dabanga

Deforestation in Africa Accelerates: UN Food Agency
Africa is the only continent in the world where deforestation is accelerating, according to key findings of a five-year report released Thursday by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In South America, where some countries have been blamed for rampant forest exploitation, the rate of forest loss was halved over the last decade. South America lost an average 2.6 million hectares annually over the last 10 years, compared with 5.2 million hectares of forest per year between 2000 and 2010. Forest loss in Africa accelerated, from 3.4 to 3.9 million hectares annually over each period. “This is indeed very bad news” for the African continent, said Anne Branthomme, a global forestry expert at FAO. “One explanation is certainly population growth in the region. Much of the deforestation in the region is due to small-scale subsistence agriculture,” Branthomme told AFP. AFP

South Africa: Using Codewords to Protect against Domestic Violence
Are you selling koesiesters?” is a WhatsApp text message Caroline Peters has come to expect. What may seem like an innocuous message enquiring about a traditional Cape Flats Sunday morning treat is actually a cry for help. Koesiesters are different from koeksisters. The Cape Flats delicacy is of a doughy, doughnut-like texture, and flavoured with spices, dipped in sugar syrup and rolled in desiccated coconut. Peters does not sell koesiesters. She is the co-ordinator of the Cape Flats Women’s Movement, set up to uphold rights and advocate against gender-based violence. During the lockdown she has been inundated by calls for help by victims of domestic abuse using the code message about koesiesters. Because of the lockdown, many of these women are unable to leave their homes. They’re spending extended periods of time indoors with their abusers and are at great risk of violence. Mail & Guardian

Africa’s Forgotten World War II Veterans
May 8, 1945, marks the 75th anniversary of the surrender of the German armed forces and the end of the Second World War in Europe. … More than a million Africans served as combatants as well as war workers and carriers in World War II for the colonial powers – more than half enlisted by Britain with the rest serving France and Belgium. Some served in Africa or Europe; others fought on battlegrounds in the Middle East or as far afield as India, Myanmar and the Pacific Islands. Many were wounded or killed. Their services have been rarely acknowledged by the governments of the former colonizers. Some progress has been made – at least symbolically. On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Allied landing in Provence in southern France, President Emmanuel Macron expressed gratitude for the contribution of African soldiers in defeating the German forces occupying France. DW



Photo: Adam Jones