THE AFRICA REPORT
English-language monthly magazine that focuses on African politics and economics.
Respecting social distancing n Kigali, Rwanda
LE POINT
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Contain & Innovate — African Success In COVID-19 Response

Three months ago, as the pandemic began to spread beyond Asia, many worried that Africa was particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Yet, so far, the toll has been relatively contained across the continent. In Africa, there have been a total of circa 200,000 recorded cases, compared to over two million in Europe and more than three million in the Americas. In several African nations, often without the same resources as more developed countries, the response has stood out for its success in implementing innovative medical equipment, effective quarantine measures and large-scale aid programs. Three examples, Namibia, Rwanda and Tunisia, have not only done well in curbing the impact of coronavirus, but also thinking to the future for how to handle future health crises.


NAMIBIA: The Southwest African country of nearly 2.5 million people has recorded zero deaths from coronavirus and only 31 confirmed cases, which may be partly attributable to low population density. Still, The Africa Report said key policies taken by both the government and non-governmental players also helped limit the spread.

  • Quick closure: President Hage G. Geingob declared a state of emergency after just the first two cases were recorded and quickly shut down international borders, quarantining the capital Windhoek. A national health care program was also implemented to make sure medical facilities were prepared to treat patients.

  • Direct aid: Though one of the most inequitable countries in the world in terms of economic prosperity, Namibia issued a one-time grant and food packages to the most vulnerable in society, including indigenous communities and those working in informal sectors. Businesses were also given stimulus packages.

  • Looking ahead: The government is using coronavirus as an opportunity to address deeper inequalities. As Prime Minister Saara Kuungongelwa-Amandhila said, it is necessary to "strengthen healthcare systems, ensure women are included (and) build resilience including economic resilience."

A woman is tested for COVID-19 in Windhoek, Namibia — Photo: Jacobina Mouton/Xinhua/ZUMA


RWANDA: The East African country took early steps to curb an outbreak, including a nationwide confinement, and hospitalizing those who tested positive to avoid overwhelming the health care system. Special treatment centers were also constructed at existing hospitals to avoid contamination and to allow hospitals to focus on serious cases requiring pulmonary care.

  • Hygiene: As Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana told RFI, "Before the containment measures, there were also other hygiene measures, which were applied throughout most of the territory, to ensure that people were preparing, even before the detection of the first cases of coronavirus on Rwandan soil."

  • Tech: The country turned to new tech during the pandemic, including producing ventilators in the country and partnering with the California start-up Zipline to deliver medicine to hard to reach places using drones.The United Nations Development Program in Rwanda also deployed five robots to conduct temperature screening, store medical records and patient monitoring.

  • Redistribution: To aid poor workers impacted by confinement measures, the umudugudu, the smallest Rwandan administrative entity, is distributing donations from wealthier citizens in the capital Kigali and beyond.

A motorcycle rider sanitizes a passenger's hands before carrying him in Kigali, Rwanda​ — Photo: Cyril Ndegeya/Xinhua/ ZUMA


TUNISIA: Since beginning the reopening on May 5, Tunisia has only had six recorded deaths (out of less than 50 since the start of the pandemic) from coronavirus and less than 100 new recorded cases.

  • Trust: Early implementation measures like thermal cameras in airports built public confidence in a unified government response early on, notes Benoit Delmas in Le Point, "By playing the transparency card, the emblematic democracy that emerged from the Arab Spring was able to control the pandemic."

  • AI: The Corona Bot, created by developers in Tunis, uses artificial intelligence to not only help those with coronavirus, but also those experiencing mental health issues brought on by the pandemic. It has already helped nearly 4,500 families in French and multiple Arabic dialects.

  • Teaming up: Tunisia has also partnered with neighboring Algeria to curb the spread of coronavirus and encourage economic revival. This is especially important for regional summer travel, given Tunisia's reliance on tourism: 8 to 14% of GDP comes from this industry.

Lavatories for people to wash their hands on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria
Nigeria
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Lockdowns, Crackdowns, Diaspora: COVID-19 Seen From Africa

When Lesotho recently discovered its first coronavirus case, it marked the arrival of the pandemic in every country in Africa. Already, 70,000 people have been infected across the continent and the World Health Organisation warns of upwards of 190,000 deaths in Africa this year from COVID-19. The economic impacts are also forecast to be devastating: The World Bank estimated 20 million jobs will be lost in 2020, and as other health issues are pushed to the side, a "hunger pandemic" could follow.


Still, there is hope that Africa might actually wind up relatively well-protected from the pandemic. It is the world's youngest continent, with 60% of the population under age 25, a group that is less susceptible to coronavirus's deadliest impacts. Many African countries have also become accustomed to handling diseases including Ebola, HIV/AIDS and malaria. But a lack of more developed health care systems combined with the difficulty of social distancing in crowded urban centers and multigenerational households might prove to be a lethal combination. Here's how three countries across the continent are tackling the pandemic.


Morocco, Shutdowns & Crackdowns: Since mid-March, the North African kingdom has enforced strict containment measures that have limited the spread of coronavirus. Although, the heavy police surveillance and arrests of more than 85,000 violators has created what one UN operational officer described to Le Monde as a "culture of toxic lockdown" for human rights. Starting during Ramadan, the country has deployed drones to monitor potential social distancing violations and share alert messages. Morocco has also used the pandemic as an excuse to crack down on the limited rights of NGOs and independent journalists, with a drafted March law calling for increased restrictions on free speech, La Croix reports. On the positive side, the country is producing its own innovative PPE: It became an exporter of masks within a few weeks and a group of engineers and computer scientists created a prototype for a smart respirator that can tell if the user is sick. The Moroccan news outlet Yabiladi even reported that more Moroccans in the global diaspora have died of coronavirus than in the country itself. Aid packages have been created for both formal and informal workers, with the government distributing a basic income of around 100 euros a month. But the country's sub-Saharan migrant population has largely been forgotten, with at least 20,000 people facing an humanitarian emergency.

A health worker disinfects a building in the countryside of Sale in Morocco — Photo: Chadi/Xinhua/ZUMA

Nigeria, Oil Fallout & Covid-19 Humor: Despite an increasing number of coronavirus cases, Africa's largest economy is beginning to reopen, with the hope that informal and formal sectors will pick up again. Less than 20,000 people have been tested and social distancing measures including wearing masks and overnight curfews are still in place. While only 10 coronavirus deaths were reported in April, that number is expected to grow exponentially. Over 600 people have reportedly died in the northern state of Kano, raising suspicions of a widespread outbreak. Economically, Nigeria" dependence on its oil industry in lieu of more diversified development has proven fatal with prices collapsing. The country is set to enter its second recession in four years. With schools having been closed since March, remote learning is largely nonexistent, with only one in four Nigerians having internet access. But education is continuing: Nigerian filmmaker Niyi Akinmolayan released an animated video to teach kids about the importance of staying inside and comedians are creating humorous sketches to inform the public.


Ethiopia, Diaspora & Democracy: Plagues of locusts and the coronavirus might prove a deadly combination for Africa's second most populous country. Although only 250 cases have been reported, a coronavirus outbreak in Ethiopia could be devastating, with a ratio of only one doctor per every 10,000 people, according to the World Bank. The country's only ventilator expert is trying to train as many medical professionals as possible. The many Ethiopian doctors who are now working around the world, including in pandemic hotspots like New York City, are also calling into a popular weekly radio show to share their experiences. They provide medical tips and advice on acquiring PPE as well as combat widespread superstitions in the religious country that God will save them from illness. Those with resources including pop star Hamelmal Abate donated their homes to be used as quarantine centers in Addis Ababa. Politically, the country might be gearing up for government upheaval, having decided to indefinitely postpone the August presidential election and its parliament ending its five-year term in October.

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A visiting medical student watches a teacher to post anti-epidemic poster in Changchun University.
Geopolitics
Carl-Johan Karlsson

China, Africa And The Speed Of History

From the downfall of the European Union to the end of capitalism, grand political theories of a post-pandemic world loom large. These are times where talk of watersheds and historic shifts suddenly can't be brushed away as mere sensationalism. Yet rather than trying to identify what will change, it may be more useful to gauge the rate of acceleration of power dynamics that have already been underway for decades.


The global rise of China is perhaps the most crucial — if most complicated — such shift. And in no place has that been more evident and underestimated than on the African continent. Much remains to be seen how the China-Africa relationship will evolve, and potentially accelerate, as a result of COVID-19, but there's little doubt about Beijing's intentions or ambitions.


After the virus first spread from the Chinese city of Wuhan, and was apparently mostly contained, Beijing has looked to step up its role as global leader by sending healthcare equipment abroad. Chief among the recipients have been several countries in Africa, which has in the last decade been a key region in China's strategy for long-term economic growth.


With the U.S. and EU busy consolidating their own economic and humanitarian response, African governments are now calling for an additional $100 billion in assistance from China as well as debt relief, according to The Africa Report. Perhaps wary of setting too soft a precedent, China has so far asked at least one nation, Zambia, to provide collateral in the form of copper-mining assets.


What arises are the same questions, only more urgent, over what ramped-up Chinese dominance in Africa could mean for the 1.3 billion-strong continent, as well as for the rest of the world. Beijing has been an attractive business partner for African leaders, mostly as trade agreements have been free of the ideological and transparency conditionality typical of the West.


Still, detaching business from ideology is no guarantor of equality and fairness. Should China's broader policy in Africa become financial-aid-for-resources, it would be little less than a continuation of a long list of skewed arrangements with resource-rich but underdeveloped African countries. One prime example is the minerals-for-infrastructure deal with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by which China was given mining rights to $50-billion worth of cobalt in exchange for a $6-billion investment into the DRC's war-torn infrastructure. Indeed, for democracies around the world, while China tightens its grip on Africa's resources (including the many minerals used in our technological revolution) the list of anxieties should also include the strengthening of authoritarian undercurrents should China step in to fill the leadership void left by the U.S.


Still, China's ambitions in Africa and elsewhere will be questioned ever more closely in light of the pandemic. Beijing is progressively earning the opprobrium of the whole world for its silencing of whistleblowers at the beginning of the outbreak, and more recently for the ongoing hostilities towards Africans in the Chinese port city of Guangzhou. Yet, with many fearing Africa's worst period in the crisis still ahead, and relatively little aid expected from the West, it would leave the poverty-ridden continent even more open to exploitation by its largest trade partner from the east. One more reason this crisis will have its place in history, even if it's just in making it arrive even faster.

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