Public reaction to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s tweet announcing the death of Lands and Agriculture minister Perrance Shiri on July 29 summarised the polarised nature of the Zimbabwean society, while also serving as a barometer of the effectiveness of government policies in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although Mnangagwa did not immediately reveal the cause of death, word had already gone around that Shiri – a powerful former head of the air force and the former commander of the infamous 5th Brigade which is estimated to have killed about 20,000 civilians in the Gukurahundi massacre in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions in the early 1980s – had succumbed to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On July 31, Mnangagwa confirmed Shiri had indeed died of Covid-19, after bizarrely visiting his family brandishing test results. Meanwhile, some family members questioned the claim, and told the media that they suspected that Shiri had been poisoned. Shiri’s death shook the corridors of power and resulted in several ministers and high-ranking government officials going into self-isolation after coming into contact with him.
Shiri – a powerful former head of the air force and the former commander of the infamous 5th Brigade which is estimated to have killed about 20,000 civilians in the Gukurahundi massacre in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions in the early 1980s – succumbed to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the president praised the departed minister, Zimbabweans responded by criticising government corruption and reported looting Covid-19 funds and demanding working hospitals. A response from @libyPatendero read: “Build hospitals (rather) than promoting corruption through Command Agriculture. Covid-19 is the greatest equaliser.”
Command Agriculture is a support scheme for farmers introduced by government and was overseen by then vice president, Mnangagwa, who chaired the Cabinet Committee on Food and Nutrition. It was introduced at the beginning of the 2016-17 farming season to ensure food security. Joseph Made was the agriculture minister at the time.
Under the controversial programme implemented through Sakunda Holdings owned by Mnangagwa’s advisor Kuda Tagwirei, beneficiary farmers, among them ministers and senior government officials, army commanders and judges received farming inputs and implements. In 2018, Sakunda Holdings failed to properly account for close to $3 billion, according to Auditor-General Mildred Chiri’s audit report for that year, subsequently corroborated by Lands and Agriculture ministry senior officials in parliament.
Shiri’s death shook the corridors of power and resulted in several ministers and high-ranking government officials going into self-isolation after coming into contact with him.
Responding to the president’s tweet, other Zimbabweans openly celebrated the minister’s death, citing the role he played in the Gukurahundi massacres; Shiri has been as “one of the key architects of the Gukurahundi mass executions in the early 1980s”. Other respondents said Shiri was a typical example of the country’s powerful political and military elite, which had subjected Zimbabweans to all sorts of human rights violations.
The state of decay of the country’s health care system has certainly been exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic – and with it, another glaring inequality. It is common knowledge that the members of the ruling elite hardly ever use local hospitals. In an emergency they might use an expensive private hospital, but only until they can fly out to a better-equipped foreign hospital.
When former President Robert Mugabe died on 6 September last year, he was in Singapore, where he had been treated periodically for over a decade. Mnangagwa was treated in South Africa after a poisoning scare in 2017, while Vice President Constantino Chiwenga is a frequent visitor to China, where he has been receiving treatment since last year. Chiwenga has also been treated in South Africa and India.
While the president praised the departed minister, Zimbabweans responded by criticising government corruption and reported looting Covid-19 funds and demanding working hospitals.
Other cabinet ministers and high ranking Zanu PF officials have shown a similar preference for costly overseas treatment. Co-Vice President Kembo Mohadi and Defence Minister Oppah Muchinguri were treated in South Africa after being caught in a bomb blast in 2018. Mohadi also visited South Africa several times last year for treatment. Indeed, at one time, both Zimbabawe’s vice presidents were hospitalised in the neighbouring country at the same time.
Popular opinion regarding Chiri’s death reflects the views expressed in the responses to the president’s tweet. “Covid-19 knows no elite or poor person. This pandemic is a killer, [and] it should remind the likes of Mnangagwa that they are mortal,” said Miriam Muchongwe (33) a vendor resident in Mbare, a high density suburb in Harare.
She was happy, she said, that limits on international travel meant that powerful people could not easily fly out of the country for treatment. “I may sound like a callous person, but I hope the pandemic hits those at the top hard. Zimbabweans are not stupid. They demand that the government should invest tax-payers’ money in hospitals and other social needs, instead of funding their luxurious lifestyles.”
Responding to the president’s tweet, other Zimbabweans openly celebrated the minister’s death, citing the role he played in the Gukurahundi massacres.
Zimbabweans have expressed their disappointment on various platforms – health care, industry and trade unions, among others – at the containment measures adopted by government to stop the spread of the pandemic since the first case was reported on 20 March.
Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights secretary general Norman Matara told me that Covid-19 had brought many lessons with it. “Basically, as a country we were not prepared for Covid-19. Pandemics and natural disasters don’t give warnings, so it is important for countries to have strong systemic building blocks for health systems.”
Zimbabwe has been shown to be weak in all six system components as recommended by the World Health Organisation, Matara said: leadership and governance, service delivery, health system financing, health workforce, medical products, vaccines and technologies and health information systems.
“Covid-19 knows no elite or poor person. This pandemic is a killer, [and] it should remind the likes of Mnangagwa that they are mortal” – Miriam Muchongwe
“As a result, the positive policy steps taken by the government to contain the pandemic, such as introducing a national lockdown, equipping hospitals and isolation centres, decentralising Covid-19 treatment and so on, failed. You can’t neglect hospitals for decades and then attempt to equip them in six weeks. When the pandemic struck, Wilkins Isolation Hospital didn’t have plug points, or a single ventilator.”
Although Covid-19 treatment had been decentralised, most provincial hospitals lacked resources such as beds, ventilators and even personnel, including ICU nurses and anaesthesiologists, while some districts were unable to transfer patients due to a lack of ambulances. The same lack of resources has seen the government failing to roll out Covid-19 tests, with many Covid-19 deaths being discovered only during routine post mortems.
One vital lesson from the pandemic, Matara said, was that the Zimbabwean government should adhere to the Abuja Declaration, in which African leaders committed to allocate 15% of their annual budgets to improving the health sector.
Zimbabwe has been shown to be weak in all six system components as recommended by the World Health Organisation.
In an effort to stem the spread of the virus, government declared a 21-day total lockdown on 30 March, which was extended by two weeks before being gradually eased. Meanwhile, according to the official figures, Covid-19 cases are on the rise. As of 18 August there were some 5,378, with 141 deaths reported and 4,105 recoveries.
However, it is not clear how accurate these figures are. No comparative statistics for Zimbabwe are available. Across Africa, though, the total number of Covid-19 cases is much higher than official numbers suggest, according to the International Rescue Committee. The lack of data may be “due to a variety of factors – such as testing capacity, health infrastructure devastated by conflict, and stigma,” the organisation says.
The rapidly rising numbers raise the question of the effectiveness of the lockdown. Around the world, the primary aim of lockdowns has been to prevent health care systems from being overwhelmed by cases of Covid-19. But Zimbabwe’s severely neglected health care system broke down very soon anyway. So, as Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) secretary general Japhet Moyo told me, the lockdown was pointless.
As of 18 August there were some 5,378, with 141 deaths reported and 4,105 recoveries.
The government also failed to provide effective social safety nets for citizens. Most people in the country are dependent on the informal sector for a living, and they were forced to continue informal trading activities despite lockdown regulations. There was also a lack of any effective public transport, as well as a shortage of staple foods such as mealie-meal, with the result that there were often long queues at bus terminuses and shopping centres. Crammed minibus taxis and long queues are concentrations of people, and the very opposite of physical distancing, which increases contagion risk. So it’s likely that enforcing the pointless lockdown has increased the infection rate.
Moreover, while the government had introduced a taskforce, chaired by Mohadi, to fight the pandemic, it had erred by not including a range of stakeholders, among them labour and business, in the taskforce’s deliberations, Moyo said. “It’s very unfortunate that our government does not believe in dialogue or inclusivity. On many occasions business and labour were caught by surprise by some Covid-19 measures and announcements. Consultations could have seen us all pulling together in the national interest. Going forward, the government must learn to consult.”
On 1 May, Mnangagwa announced a ZW$18 billion ($430 million at the time) Economic Rescue and Stimulus Package, “designed to scale-up production in all sectors of the economy in response to the adverse effects of Covid-19.” The amount would see ZW$6.1 billion going to stimulate agricultural production, ZW$3 billion to cover capital and operational expenses for the manufacturing sector, a ZW$1 billion credit support facility for the mining sector, ZW$500 million to support the tourism and hospitality industry and ZW$1 billion for the procurement of Covid-19 testing kits, PPEs and the purchase of drugs.
Across Africa, the total number of Covid-19 cases is much higher than official numbers suggest, according to the International Rescue Committee.
The ZCTU had asked information on disbursements during a Tripartite Negotiating Forum meeting involving government, labour and business on 14 July, Moyo said. However, they were told that the plan “remained an intention”.
In any case former finance minister Tendai Biti has said that the plan did not set aside enough money to save Zimbabwe’s ailing industries. At least $1 billion would be needed, he told the Zimbabwe Independent in mid-June. CZI President Henry Ruzvidzo concurred, describing the stimulus as “a modest amount given the challenges faced by industry” to the Zimbabwe Independent in the same article.
As noted in previous blogs in this series, even before the Covid-19 outbreak, Zimbabwe’s economy was hamstrung by a number of problems, among them a debilitating liquidity crunch, acute fuel and foreign currency shortages, currency volatility and low capacity utilisation as well as runaway inflation. Covid-19 has worsened the plight of Zimbabwe’s ailing industries while stretching its ill-equipped medical facilities and exposing the weakness in the health sector.
Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, Zimbabwe’s economy was hamstrung by a number of problems, among them a debilitating liquidity crunch, acute fuel and foreign currency shortages, currency volatility and low capacity utilisation as well as runaway inflation.
As Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights’ Matara noted, major crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic seldom announce themselves, allowing time to plan. As we have seen around the world, the major difference between countries that have weathered the pandemic relatively well and those that haven’t has been the presence or absence of strong, capable institutions – in leadership, health care and research, among other areas.
It was clear from the beginning that decades of under-investment in health care would leave Zimbabwe totally unprepared for the pandemic. And as it turned out, public health care facilities at all levels were completely unable to cope.
Now other major crises are looming, with climate change at the top of the list. Some of my fellow blog writers in this series have mentioned the looming impact of climate change on Africa’s environments. Africa in Fact’s recent edition on the environment (July 2020), to which I contributed, looks at this in a number of African countries.
The warnings are clear. Also for Zimbabwe. Indeed, climate change is one crisis that is actually announcing itself. Much remains unpredictable, but we know quite a lot about its causes and likely impacts. Time will tell, though, if the message of the pandemic is loud and clear to Mnangagwa and his administration.
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Owen Gagare is the assistant editor of the Zimbabwe Independent, a weekly newspaper, covering business, politics and investigative stories. He has previously worked for NewsDay and the Chronicle. Owen has also written for the Mail and Guardian and has a passion for investigative and in-depth stories as well as human rights and governance issues. He is based in Harare, Zimbabwe.
A sustained combination of internal and external pressure is required to create a genuine civilian government in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga (C) and colleague Julie Barnes hold placards as they are arrested during an anti-corruption protest march on July 31, 2020 in Harare. Police were enforcing a ban on protests coinciding with the anniversary of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s election. PHOTO: ZINYANGE AUNTONY/AFP
Ahead of planned mass protests on July 31, Zimbabwe’s state security apparatus cracked down on citizens. Largely initiated via social media, the calls for the protests galvanised popular sentiment and mobilised citizens to exercise a co-ordinated political voice against corruption, the failing economy and repression.
The regime responded by sending a strong signal to would-be dissenters. In a startling resemblance to events unfolding in Belarus, it arrested journalists and detained, abducted and tortured opposition members, or indeed anyone appearing to question the state.
For consistently exposing government malfeasance and corruption, veteran journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was abducted from his home on July 20. In particular, Chin’ono had revealed Covid-19 related corruption to the tune of $60m.
He is being unlawfully detained at the Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. Arrested on the same day was Jacob Ngarivhume, who had been spearheading the calls for a July 31 protest.
Both were spuriously charged under the auspices of inciting citizens to participate in public violence. Chin’ono’s lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, was then accused of treating the court with contempt because of comments on a Facebook page associated with her.
She has since been barred from defending Chin’ono in a mockery of the rule of law.
In addition to these arrogations of justice, the military junta imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew (ostensibly to slow the spread of Covid-19) and openly beat citizens and opposition members.
Five senior members of the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC-A) and its two vice-presidents have recently appeared in court, along with other activists. The Zimbabwean judiciary has been co-opted by Zanu-PF, and opposition groups and many civil society organisations have been infiltrated by the regime.
Zimbabwean journalist and documentary filmmaker Hopewell Chin’ono (R) watches while police search of his offices in Harare on July 21, 2020, a day after he was arrested and charged with incitement to commit public violence. PHOTO: JEKESAIi NJIKIZANA / AFP
The government then attacked a judicious pastoral letter by the Catholic Bishops Conference, stating that the letter’s “evil message reeks with all the vices that have perennially hobbled the progress of Africa”.
It accuses the archbishop of “fanning the psychosis of tribal victimisation”, dismissing the Gukurahundi massacre of the early 1980s as a mere “dark spot”. It is far worse than that, with upwards of 20,000 people recklessly murdered while the very perpetrators hold positions of power today.Despite this narrowing of the democratic space in Zimbabwe over recent months, largely behind the smokescreen of Covid-19, the Southern African Development Community has failed to condemn the behaviour of the regime.
Bilaterally, SA eventually responded by sending the first of what will likely be a number of diplomatic envoys to Zimbabwe. SA is at least now shedding the hollow excuse of non-interference in the affairs of a sovereign state that tends to animate foreign policy.
Through premeditated violence, the July 31 mass protests were scuppered before they started. Hopes of a southern Arab Spring were dashed. Does this suggest that public protest is not worth it, especially given that the Arab Spring largely turned to a prolonged winter of discontent?
No. Were it not for the planned uprising, the world would have continued to turn a blind eye. Some serious focus is now directed towards Zimbabwe, particularly through the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign.
This is a necessary — if insufficient — condition for change, given the state’s denial of the crisis and its culpability in human rights violations.
A sustained combination of internal and external pressure is now required to convince the military to relinquish power and create the space for a genuine civilian government to be formed.
Internally, the probability of a credible coup attempt seems low. The 2017 coup that ended Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule is historically anomalous. Constantino Chiwenga (the vice-president) appears unlikely to upend President Emmerson Mnangagwa, despite apparent tensions between them.
Had credible internal support for a coup existed, it is difficult to see why Chiwenga wouldn’t have launched one already.
When Mnangagwa retired four generals loyal to Chiwenga in early 2019, that would, presumably, have been the opportunity. Either way, the internal dynamics of the governing coalition (and state-military relations) are not stable and could potentially be exploited to effect change.
South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa with his Zimbabwean counterpart, Emmerson Mnangagwa. PHOTO: GCIS
The probability of free and fair elections being held any time soon is close to zero. The last elections (2018) were a charade and resulted in a predictable unleashing of violence against citizens. Economically, the situation is dire, with 90% of the population out of formal employment and inflation above 700%.
As a result, citizen appetite for revolt appears ripe. While the regime’s calculus is that repression is less costly than reform, an active citizenry can nonetheless win out.
Externally, global powers presumably have a direct self-interest in ensuring regional stability and need to step up to the plate.
But the US and the UK face intense pressures on the home front that they are struggling to address. And China and Russia hardly epitomise respect for human rights. Their respective leaders have shattered internal power-sharing mechanisms and are hardly likely to condemn Zimbabwe for pursuing autocratic consolidation.
SA — its political leaders and its businesses with interests in Zimbabwe (such as Anglo Platinum, Implats, Old Mutual and Pick n Pay) — will therefore have to intensify efforts to intervene fruitfully in Zimbabwe. A serious second envoy, including President Cyril Ramaphosa himself, is surely the next step.
Below is a World Economic Forum video on the role of civil society in shaping a future where people matter.
This article first appeared in the South African newspaper Business Dayhere.
Dr Ross Harvey is Director of Research & Programmes at GGA. Ross is a natural resource economist and policy analyst, and he has been dealing with governance issues in various forms across this sector since 2007. He has a PhD in economics from the University of Cape Town, and his thesis research focused on the political economy of oil and institutional development in Angola and Nigeria.
Pressure has been piling up on the Kenya government to accelerate the national roll-out of its proposed Universal Health Coverage (UHC) plan in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Speedy implementation of the comprehensive medical coverage will enhance service delivery, health financing and governance, according to the Chairman of the Council of Governors Wycliffe Oparanya.
“This is a people-centred health system. Its ultimate execution in all the 47 counties in Kenya would have saved many lives, especially at such a time when we are faced with the COVID-19 crisis,” Oparanya, who is also governor of Kakamega County, noted in an interview with Africa In Fact.
President Uhuru Kenyatta declared UHC a national priority on 12 December 2018 as part of a grand development blueprint, known as the “Big Four Agenda”, that sought to sustainably transform the country. Besides healthcare, other pillars on the “Big Four” agenda are food security, manufacturing and affordable housing.
Pressure has been piling up on the Kenya government to accelerate the national roll-out of its proposed Universal Health Coverage (UHC) plan in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the UHC initiative, President Kenyatta committed to make strategic investments in health, with all Kenyans able to access essential medical care by 2022. But the plan appears to have stalled almost 10 months after one-year pilot programmes in Kisumu, Machakos, Isiolo and Nyeri counties ended in October 2019.
The Kenyan Government undertook to appraise the project when the test experiments in the four counties were concluded. The exercise would evaluate the UHC package and if necessary, make improvements to it before countrywide roll-out, Ministry of Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe told me.
The evaluation appears to have been carried out, but not published. One of the main challenges identified during the trials, Kagwe said in an earlier interview with me, was the monumental demand for care. Medical facilities that are barely developed have been labouring to respond to the huge pressure for care. But insiders say the evaluation has been ignored. (Kagwe did not respond to requests for comment on this.) No further effort appears to have been made to pursue the UHC initiative.
The evaluation of the Universal Health Care pilot projects appears to have been carried out, but not published. One of the main challenges identified was the monumental demand for care.
Meanwhile, hospitals are being ineffectively managed, with inadequate budgetary allocations, and demoralised personnel, putting the lives of many Kenyans at risk. Kenya National Union of Nurses Secretary General Seth Panyako says such challenges could force the union to withdraw its members from facilities until their grievances are addressed. “Frontline workers are neither getting responsibility allowances, [n]or insurance [cover]; this will have spiralling effects on the spread of the virus,” he said.
In a March 2020 peer-reviewed research paper Tessa Oraro-Lawrence and Kaspar Wyss used interviews with informants in the national and county levels of healthcare to establish points of agreement and divergence on the aims of the UHC. On the basis of these interviews they say that “the perceived lack of strategic leadership from Kenya’s national government has led to a lack of agreement on stakeholders’ interpretation of what is to be understood by UHC, its contextual values and priorities”.
The authors note that most interviewees supported the expansion of access to health services, but that conflicting priorities of key stakeholders are slowing progress towards this goal. The conversation around healthcare policy had become highly fragmented, they note. Kenya needs “a centralised, systematic and inclusive process” to drive the development and implementation of UHC. The authors recommend that the national government and particularly the Ministry of Health should “foster collaboration in Kenya’s health space”.
Meanwhile, hospitals are being ineffectively managed, with inadequate budgetary allocations, and demoralised personnel, putting the lives of many Kenyans at risk.
Endebess Member of Parliament Robert Pukose agrees. A trained surgeon and medical doctor, Pukose told me that there is a “clearly visible and long-standing strain between county governments and the national government in the running of the health docket”. “Why would the national government allocate more resources to the health ministry than those allocated cumulatively to the 47 counties’ health docket?” he asked.
Healthcare in Kenya is supposed to be a completely devolved function, but the national government appeared hell-bent on controlling it, he said.
In the last financial year, the national government allocated 5.1% (Sh 90 billion) of its budget to the health sector. Of the Sh 90 billion, recurrent expenditure consumed Sh 49.1 billion while grant transfers to seven semi-autonomous government agencies under the ministry took Sh26.9 billion. The remaining amount was spent on universal health coverage transfers and personnel emoluments. Counties spent 27.2% (Sh 121 billion) of their budgets on health, but experts say the number is still below the 35% commitment made before devolution.
There is a “clearly visible and long-standing strain between county governments and the national government in the running of the health docket”. – Endebess Member of Parliament Robert Pukose.
Council of Governors Health Committee Chairman Mohammed Kuti agrees that tension between county governments and national government on funds allocation to medical care has impacted negatively on their service delivery. “Clear policy action is needed in order to develop a logical and consistent approach towards UHC,” said Kuti, who is also governor of Isiolo County.
“If adequate funds were allocated to counties, we would certainly not be under strain in fighting coronavirus disease,” said Kuti. “[But] most of the resources have ended up being misused or stolen while counties struggle with meagre resources to serve the people,” he told me.
For the 2020/2021 financial year which started on 1 July, the Parliamentary Budget and Appropriations Committee approved Sh2.73 trillion ($27.3 billion) for the national and county governments, of which the Health Ministry was allocated Sh111.7 billion ($1.1 billion). Meanwhile, the 47 counties in the country were allocated a total of Sh316.5 billion ($2.9 billion) – but this amount is the same as last year’s allocation, meaning that funding for the counties has stagnated. Moreover, the allocation covers a range of portfolios, says Jackson Mandago, governor of Uasin Gishu county.
“If adequate funds were allocated to counties, we would certainly not be under strain in fighting coronavirus disease,” – Council of Governors Health Committee Chairman Mohammed Kuti
“How do you explain this dismal figure to all the county governments that handle almost all functions ranging from agriculture, infrastructure, health, education, among others?” the governor asked. Relative to the amounts likely to be available to counties for the health portfolio, the allocation to the Ministry of Health was large, he suggested. “It is time counties got the maximum stipulated amount of 35% of the total national budget as envisaged in the Constitution,” he added.
In early August, reports began to emerge that funds meant to mitigate against the deadly disease were being stolen by influential people. According to a series of stories published by the Daily Nation, a leading newspaper in the East African region, businessmen close to President Kenyatta and some of his relatives had profited from the inflated prices of various Covid-19-related tenders.
On 3 August, one of the articles reported that the country had secured Sh223 billion ($2.23 billion) from various donor sources – the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the European Union and the African Development Bank – to support its fight against Covid-19, much of which had ended up in the pockets of powerful individuals.
In early August, reports began to emerge that funds meant to mitigate against the deadly disease were being stolen by influential people.
So powerful are the figures behind the theft and corruption that they have even been able to waylay well-wishers’ donations at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) — a guarded facility — and divert them to private warehouses. As Paul Wafula, the author of the article mentioned above put it, they were “waiting for the procurement whistle to be blown” – with the likelihood that it never will.
“Kenya’s health ministry is headed by hyenas. The policymakers’ business is to endanger our lives with their mission to be limitlessly rich,” Kimilili Member of Parliament Didmus Barasa told me. He urged the “hyenas” to stop trying to eat as much as they can within the shortest time possible, and the Ministry of Health to channel funds “to gainful undertakings”. The pandemic had emphasised the need for “high quality research to inform action, not only to combat the coronavirus but also inspire solutions to future pandemics.”
Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) CEO Twalib Mbarak says that corruption must be fought ruthlessly, and made “a high-risk, low-return vice. If there [were] full disclosure, transparent and accountable use of resources, counties would be doing their own tests and also reporting their own COVID-19 statistics, which will go a long way in informing policy,” he told me.
They were “waiting for the procurement whistle to be blown” – with the likelihood that it never will.
Constitutional lawyer Wachira Maina says that the country has pursued a range of reforms and launched various commissions of inquiry into corruption without effect. Corruption cases are routinely reported in the media, in the Auditor General’s reports and to EACC, but they are rarely fully investigated or even resolved. “If any investigation is done, it is aimed at exonerating the powerful or to punish their enemies. Corruption is deeply embedded in politics, which it both funds and subverts,” he observes.
On social media, public opinion about the reported corruption has been vitriolic. Economist Professor David Ndii, in a tweet on 3 August, asked President Kenyatta to check on his “relathieves” from “plundering our taxes with your protection” as the country’s healthcare system suffered a paucity in resources.
Donald Kipkorir, a well-known lawyer, said that a government that had allowed “tenderpreneurs” to profit from pandemics had “surrendered its soul to the devil”.
Beryl Achieng’, a Nakuru town resident, told me she was a Covid-19 survivor. She had been in hospital for nearly three weeks with the disease, she said, but “it was a struggle to access proper care. Drugs were in insufficient supply, [and] doctors also appeared demoralised.” She suspected that donations and resources from well-wishers and development partners were being misused and stolen with the government showing little concern about it.
Corruption cases are routinely reported, but they are rarely fully investigated or even resolved.
Meanwhile, on 2 August it was reported that Marian Awuor Adumbo, a nurse working at the Rachuonyo sub-county Hospital in Homa Bay in Western Kenya, died of Covid-19 complications in a context of reported shortages of protective gear for medical care staff. She had been pregnant, and gave birth to a baby boy before succumbing to the disease.
UHC is an ambitious scheme to extend proper healthcare to the whole country. But under the present circumstances, even the more incremental improvements in healthcare aimed at battling the Covid-19 pandemic are proving difficult to implement.
Improving healthcare in Kenya will require national and county governments to work together. But this would require a willingness on the part of key stakeholders to put aside their differences in the interests of the greater good. Health funding should be properly distributed, or the structure of health funding as provided for in the constitution revised to ensure sufficient health funding to counties.
Marian Awuor Adumbo, a nurse working at the Rachuonyo sub-county Hospital in Homa Bay in Western Kenya, died of Covid-19 complications in a context of reported shortages of protective gear for medical care staff.
Given the political logjam that prevents adequate funding from reaching hospitals and treatment centres, there appears to be little chance of this being corrected, either in relation to the pandemic, or indeed, to the wider problem of endemic corruption.
As I pointed out in my previous blog, the ruling party has ensured a lack of critical evaluation of its policies and actions by striking a deal with the opposition. Meanwhile, key political stakeholders in healthcare have no interest in revising the structure of health funding, since that would deny them influence over budgets – and access to rents to be derived from them. Similarly, they will have little interest in ensuring proper healthcare funding within the present structures, for the same tawdry reasons.
So the country’s capacity to deal with other potential crises, such as climate change, has been further diminished. With other contributors to this blog series on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on countries around Africa, I have to agree that in Kenya, too, the pandemic – a global and national emergency – has simply been another opportunity for members of the entrenched elite to conduct business as usual. For them, that means entrenching their power bases and siphoning off public funds.
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Mark Kapchanga is a senior economics writer for the Standard newspaper in Kenya and a columnist for the Global Times, an English-language newspaper in China. He is pursuing a PhD in investigative business journalism at the University of Nairobi.
Few issues highlight the dilemma of policy-making more than the choices faced by African governments during the Covid-19 pandemic. For many African countries with large numbers of day workers in the informal sector, the lockdown solution – preventing workers from earning their daily bread – was often worse than the problem it sought to solve.
For others, with large budgets fuelled by loans, the pandemic brought other, more serious, ails.
Take South Africa, for example. When citizens heard the country had secured a R70 billion ($4.3 billion) loan from the international Monetary Fund to support its post-Covid efforts, we were struck by a sense of despair. Why? Because in South Africa, the longer-term pandemic is corruption.
For many African countries with large numbers of day workers in the informal sector, the lockdown solution was often worse than the problem it sought to solve.
The IMF loan is not without checks and balances. But, apart from the burden of debt, citizens have ample reason to be concerned that the funds will find their way into the pockets of corrupt politicians and their business associates.
It is not an overstatement to say South Africans were astounded at the level of corruption during the lockdown. “Stealing from your own people is a crime; stealing during the pandemic is a crime against humanity,” said the Daily Maverick’s editorial in early August.
With reports of corruption involving state tenders in the fight against COVID-19 circulating, President Cyril Ramaphosa set up a ministerial committee to investigate the issue. Ramaphosa has asked for speedy updates and has promised decisive action.
In South Africa, the longer-term pandemic is corruption.
Among the many reported incidents were suspected deals between government officials and businesses providing medical equipment, huge mark-ups on personal protection equipment and the sale of food aid parcels meant for the poor.
Ramaphosa himself described those profiting from the disaster as a pack of hyenas circling wounded prey: “It is difficult to understand the utter lack of conscience that leads a businessperson who has heeded the call to provide lifesaving supplies during a devastating pandemic to inflate the price of a surgical mask by as much as 900%.
“Nor can one explain why a councillor would stockpile emergency food parcels meant for the poor for their own family, or why another councillor would divert water tankers en route to a needy community to their own home.”
Citizens have ample reason to be concerned that the funds will find their way into the pockets of corrupt politicians.
It is impossible to review policy in South Africa without tackling corruption. There is some progress, though slow, in this direction, as JP Landman records in an 18 August article. The country’s Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has already noted that the country will need a permanent, multi-disciplinary structure to combat corruption.
South Africa, with the fifth highest Covid-19 infection rate in the world, has seen its already fragile economy decimated. The inequality gap has widened as the wealthy have been able to weather the storm from their Wifi enabled homes while poorer manual labourers have struggled from hand to mouth.
Covid-19 has laid bare the fault lines in our society: Inequality, fragile health systems, an under-delivering economy, large joblessness and unacceptably high levels of gender-based violence.
“Stealing from your own people is a crime; stealing during the pandemic is a crime against humanity,” – Daily Maverick editorial
As the country prepares to build back after the pandemic, it is important not to leave behind the most vulnerable. There is sufficient evidence that women have been particularly hard hit with the International Labour Organisation predicting that measures to curb Covid would disproportionately affect women workers.
At least two-thirds of the three million South Africans who were estimated to have lost their jobs in the informal sector are reported to be women. That same research, based on the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey, showed that women in the informal economy, and particularly those in informal self-employment, recorded large cuts in working hours and earnings during the lockdown.
The country has a long list of policy making priorities. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has reiterated that the National Health Insurance plan is still on the agenda. Indeed, Dr Nicholas Crisp, a consultant at the Ministry of Health and a key figure in developing the NHI, says that the healthcare public/private partnerships that had been developed to deal with the pandemic have shown that “we can do it”, according to a 28 July report. The government was pushing ahead with its plans to introduce the NHI, the minister said.
Ramaphosa himself described those profiting from the disaster as a pack of hyenas circling wounded prey.
But the government’s record on managing health care in the country isn’t great. As I reported in a previous blog, severe mismanagement has seen the (near) collapse of health care systems in at least one province, the Eastern Cape. Meanwhile, overall spending on health care has declined in real terms over the last few years, according to a Section27 report.
Moreover, “in 2017/18 health departments accounted for 57% of unpaid bills by government. Budget constraints are exacerbated by fruitless, wasteful and irregular expenditure (National Treasury, 2019). In 2017/18, departments of health had some of the poorest audit results (AGSA, 2018)”.
Crisp admits that public health care has seen “inefficiencies” and “deficiencies”. This suggests that the problems are merely occasional, and the system is functioning otherwise.
Covid-19 has laid bare the fault lines in our society.
But corruption and mismanagement are not incidental. They are structural elements of how the county has been run. It has been calculated that corruption over the second term of Jacob Zuma’s presidency cost the country R1.5 trillion. That amount could pay for the country’s public health care budget for seven and eight years, calculated by this year’s allocation.
For all the promises of change and building back better after the crisis calms, the reality is that South Africa’s policy making has been held hostage to declining levels of accountability for more than two decades. The NHI is a noble goal, but we have seen noble goals abused for corrupt purposes before. We cannot more forward effectively until we deal with the issue of corruption.
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Paula Fray is a leading media trainer and coach who works across Africa and the Middle East. The former regional director for Inter Press Service Africa, she is the CEO of the pan-African communications company frayintermedia, which has worked to improve the quality of journalism in Africa since 2005.
Prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Cameroon, an oil exporter with a bloated bureaucracy, was still reeling from the 2014-2016 oil price collapse – one of the most significant oil price slumps in modern times.
The country had also increased security spending countering Boko Haram incursions in the north since 2014, while battling to quell an armed secessionist struggle in its English-speaking regions since 2017. The economic shock and insecurity were already a burden, but were compounded by necessary increases in humanitarian spending. Then, the coronavirus struck.
The economic shock and insecurity were already a burden, but were compounded by necessary increases in humanitarian spending. Then, the coronavirus struck.
In five months, following the outbreak of the coronavirus in Cameroon on 6 March, 2020, the government has spent slightly over 21.9 billion francs CFA (circa $54.1 million) in its response to the pandemic, according to a report on reliefweb on 29 July, 2020.
The money was used to construct isolation units, finance communication campaigns, purchase PPEs, rapid diagnostic kits and drugs for the management of patients, provide resources for the free treatment and management of patients, amongst others. The government would continue to spend “along these budget lines” while the virus pandemic continued.
The government has spent slightly over 21.9 billion francs CFA (circa $54.1 million) in its response to the pandemic.
As mentioned, the government was incurring this unforeseen expenditure at a time state revenue was shrinking. Now, the closure of borders and the introduction of restrictions on movement and other measures to slow down the spread of the coronavirus has meant a reduction in customs and tax revenues – two important income streams. In a 7 May interview with the state-owned Cameroon Tribune newspaper, Director General of Taxation Modeste Mopa Fatoing said it was certain the health crisis would mean the loss of a projected 2,103 billion francs CFA (circa $3.8 billion) in taxes this year.
Taxes are a prime source of revenue for the government and were projected to cover half of the 2020 state budget. By May, Cameroon had lost 22 billion francs CFA ($39.7 million) in projected customs duty and 92 billion francs CFA ($166 million) in tax revenue due to tax relief granted by the state to economic operators.
In the midst of the ravaging coronavirus, the World Bank’s Development Committee and the G20 finance ministers rolled out a Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) to help the governments of some of the world’s poor countries to free up financial resources they could use to respond to Covid-19. Cameroon was one of the countries that indicated it had a problem simultaneously managing its debt burden and the unprecedented health crisis. It applied for the debt relief, which has helped it mobilise 0.5% of GDP in DSSI savings.
Taxes are a prime source of revenue for the government and were projected to cover half of the 2020 state budget.
According to Misheck Mutize, a post-doctoral researcher at the Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town, participating in the debt suspension comes at a cost. In a 28 july article in The Conversation, he argued that such countries could be viewed as defaulting, which might result in an investment rating downgrade. “A rating downgrade would erode the benefits accrued from the debt relief as countries would have to pay more interest on the same volume of debt,” Misheck posited.
Fiscal deficits caused by the need of governments to respond to the coronavirus have been a global phenomenon, according to Prof. Kelly Mua Kingsley, a Harvard-trained expert in financial engineering. He told Africa in Fact that the situation made it difficult for many countries, including Cameroon, to keep up with both internal and external debts.
“It was obvious for Cameroon to seek the debt relief in order to keep the economy going,” Kingsley said. Cameroon and other eligible countries have different options in negotiating their debt relief, varying from full cancellation of debt to rescheduling datelines for debt servicing, with or without additional interest paid, among others, according to Kingsley.
Participating in the debt suspension comes at a cost.
Despite the risk, Cameroon decided to take debt relief. And for the time being, it hasn’t suffered any ratings downgrade.
On 7 August, 2020, rating agency Moody’s confirmed Cameroon’s B2 (stable) rating, but expressed concerns that the country’s ongoing participation in the DSSI posed risks to private creditors. The rating agency said it would reflect any related changes in risk should the probability of losses to private sector creditors increase and become clearer.
“The stable outlook reflects Moody’s view that the pressures the sovereign faces in the wake of the coronavirus shock, and prospects for its credit metrics in general, are likely to remain consistent with the current rating level, given Cameroon’s comparatively more diversified economy relative to neighbours, the anticipated renewal of the IMF programme providing a backstop, and Cameroon’s membership of the Central African Economic and Monetary Union (CEMAC) attenuating external vulnerability risks,” Moody’s highlighted.
While the government is said to be working on a comprehensive global response plan, a government official, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t mandated to talk to the press, said the government is also counting on response measures by the African Development Bank (AfDB), Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), and other bodies.
The AfDB’s continent-wide approach is to provide monetary envelopes to fast-track budget support to ensure that countries are able to fund their response measures. It seeks to sustain growth, strengthen economic and financial governance, support policy and institutional reforms, mitigate the adverse impact of shocks, and contribute to the recovery, state building and arrears clearance in fragile states.
For its part, CEMAC’s Economic and Financial Reform Programme, which has been running since 2016, plans to “leverage industrialisation and economic diversification” for post-Covid-19 recovery in the sub-region. This follows the desire of the six heads of state of the membership-based CEMAC to have a common destiny for the sub-region.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” the government official said.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” the government official said.
With the coronavirus showing signs of lingering in Cameroon, people are beginning to integrate the virus into their way of life. More than five months into the pandemic, things have largely gone back to business as usual.
But other than applying for debt relief, the government does seem to have learned lessons from the pandemic. Cameroon is a country prone to floods, while climate change, with rising temperatures, is seriously threatening public health, agriculture and livestock production. These threats are well-known, and could significantly alter Cameroon’s growth prospects.
The country also suffers institutional challenges, corruption and public financial management key weaknesses, according to Worldwide Governance Indicators. Moreover, its internal stability is remains affected by the ongoing sectarian struggle in the north and a separatist conflict in the south-west, with continuing violence. Press freedom is also under attack. Clearly, the government is also returning to “business as usual”.
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Amindeh Blaise Atabong is a Cameroonian freelance journalist. His interests include gender, human rights, climate change, environment, tech, conflict, peace-building and global development. In 2019, he was a finalist in the inaugural True Story Award, and also won a prestigious Kurt Schork Award in International Journalism. His works have been published by independent regional and international outlets, including Quartz, Mail & Guardian, Reuters, Jeune Afrique, Epoch Times, African Arguments and Equal Times.