C-19: Africa’s “wicked problem”: An Africa in Fact pandemic blog series

How African governments go about the challenges of dealing with the pandemic will shape the future of the continent for many years. In this Africa in Fact series of blogs, six of our correspondents across the continent will report over the next twelve weeks on aspects of their governments’ policies and actions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the corona virus a pandemic on 11 March, and most governments, including many African governments, have adopted a range of measures to contain it. Most countries have opted for a lockdown, with citizens required to stay at home and observe social distancing when not at home. The Asian Development Bank estimated that the drop in economic activity will cost between $5.8 tn and $8.8 tn, equal to between 6.4% and 9.7% of global economic output (BBC, 15 May 2020).

The Asian Development Bank estimated that the drop in economic activity will cost between $5.8 tn and $8.8 tn, equal to between 6.4% and 9.7% of global economic output (BBC, 15 May 2020).

In their lack of preparedness, governments and elites around the world show that they have failed to learn the lesson of the crisis of 2008, commented Nobel-prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz on 15 April in Foreign Policy: they had been happy to create a new international financial system that was “good at absorbing small shocks, but was systemically fragile”. They had not, he suggested, planned for systems that were resilient to large shocks.

Other prominent global thinkers also briefly outlined their views on the core issues relating to the pandemic. Most were concerned that businesses and governments would resort to economic nationalism, and that the crisis will usher in growing inequality both within and between nations with many attendant issues, such as food security and energy security. Global trends toward digitalisation and work automation will also likely speed up – further widening the technological gap between the developed and developing countries. Many businesses (mostly small companies) and jobs will be lost.

While the pandemic is the first crisis to “engulf” both developed and developing economies, according to Harvard’s Carmel M Reinhart, it will likely have very different effects on them. The poor living conditions of most of Africa’s inhabitants will make it difficult to contain and mitigate the pandemic, while some governments’ “neglect of marginalised segments of society” has left many people vulnerable to the disruption of such a large-scale shock, according to Eddie Ndopu, a UN Secretary-General’s Advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals (weforumorg, 1 April 2020).

In mid-April, the ILO said the pandemic would destroy 195 million jobs globally and “drastically cut the income of another 1.25 billion, most of whom are already poor”. The pandemic is a “magnifying glass” on inequality both in and between countries, according to columnist Andreas Kluth (Bloomberg, 13 April 2020). In the US, the wealthy can self-isolate while workers must continue working, thus facing a greater risk of infection. The virus moves faster through poor neighbourhoods, and disproportionally kills black people.

Yet these social differences are even more extreme in a “shantytown in India or South Africa”, Kluth points out. For many people in developing countries, social distancing is impossible. Moreover, as Richard Cash and Vikram Patel argue in 2 May 2020 article in The Lancet, lockdown conditions are also not practicable, and hunger is an immediate threat to the two billion people who work in informal economies around the globe. As a result, inappropriate policies aimed at addressing the pandemic might result in more social uprisings, especially in developing countries.

Estimates of the immediate, public health effects of the coronavirus on Africa vary widely. A mid-April report by the UN Economic Commission for Africa predicated some 1,2 billion infections and 3.3. million deaths in Africa from the virus over the next year. However, the WHO estimates that about a quarter of a billion Africans will be infected, and that the continent will suffer about 190,000 deaths from the virus. It must be said that the reports are not strictly comparable, as they are based on different sets of data.

The WHO estimates that about a quarter of a billion Africans will be infected, and that the continent will suffer about 190,000 deaths from the virus.

The WHO study argues, for instance, that Africa’s youthful population will contribute to lower transmission rates. It is believed that the Covid-19 virus is more infectious and fatal for older people, for men, and for the obese. If so, lifestyle factors, such as the continent’s relatively low proportion of obese people, may help, as Karen McVeigh suggests, writing in The Guardian on 15 May 2020. But in reality, both studies are based on limited assumptions. “Prediction”, as the scientists insist, is a matter of probabilities.

“[A] disproportionate share of the world’s poor risk massive upheaval as health, political, and economic systems struggle to manage the pandemic,” according to Kaysie Brown and Megan Roberts, two senior officers of the UN Foundation (‘Tackling COVID-19’, Council on Foreign Relations, 24 March 2020). Of all the continents, Africa is likely to be most seriously affected on every level.

No fewer than 33 African countries are among the least developed in the world. According to a 2016 RAND Corporation report, 22 out of the 25 countries most vulnerable to infection outbreaks are in Africa (Kaan Devecioglu 2 April 2020, Andolu Agency). “The welfare of a billion people depends on how governments balance saving lives from the virus while minimising economic damage in a continent where more than 400m people live on the equivalent of less than $1.90 a day,” according to The Economist on 26 March 2020.

In this series of blogs, six Africa in Fact correspondents across the continent will use the “wicked problem” lens to report on their governments’ policies and actions. In outline, a “wicked problem” has “multiple stakeholders involved in complex and unpredictable interactions”, according to Williams and Van ‘t Hof (2014). More specifically, “wicked problems” may have no definitive description, nor any one “correct” solution, and it can even be difficult to know when and if they have been solved. Our blog series will look at the following six broad themes, each of which represents part of the C-19 “wicked problem”:

  • Leadership Style;
  • Rule of Law;
  • Work and Jobs;
  • Public Health Measures;
  • Social Support Measures; and
  • Planning The Future We Want.

Each of these areas represents a choice out of many options. But each theme selects an area of life, at least, that is clearly crucial to Africa’s future. How, in fact, have African governments been dealing with this unprecedented crisis in these areas?

Certainly the Covid-19 pandemic represents “something new under the sun”, according to Columbia University’s Adam Tooze. No crisis in the modern world has been so extensive, multi-facetted, or fraught with large but unpredictable consequences. Governments around the world, and African governments in particular, face immense pressures and challenges.

No crisis in the modern world has been so extensive, multi-facetted, or fraught with large but unpredictable consequences.

Yet as noted, in policy studies, such situations can be described as “wicked problems” and they can be addressed. They involve multiple stakeholders in complex and unpredictable interactions. That is, every complex problem has constituent parts in various relationships with each other. Together, they make up the overall shape, or structure, of the problem. A systemic analysis of a “wicked problem” will start, then, by looking closely at the stakeholders involved, as well as their relationships and their perspectives. The approach is outlined in the following steps:

 

Relationships

  1. Who and what are the elements of the problem situation?
  1. How do their processes contribute to the situation?
  1. What sort of relationships exist between them? (friendly, antagonistic e.g.)
  1. What patterns emerge from these relationships?
  1. Which relationships are key to the situation?

 

Perspectives

  1. Which stakeholder roles are key to solving the situation?
  1. What are the key stakes involved?
  1. What are the stakeholders’ perspectives on the situation?
  1. How do their perspectives shape their actions and expectations?

 

Evaluation

  1. Which key relationships are privileged and marginalised?
  1. Which key perspectives are privileged and marginalised?
  1. What ethical, political and pragmatic considerations are important?[1]

 

This approach does not, and cannot aim at a particular “solution” that is specified beforehand. The angle we take on the problem will influence our decisions in each of these areas.

In the context of Africa’s response to the C-19 crisis, stakeholders might be governments, scientists, citizens, and medical supplies companies, for example. Or they might be governments, workers, businesses and legal advisers. Similarly, the relationships between stakeholders will be shaped by the angle we take. Pharmaceutical companies might have a cooperative or an antagonistic relationship with government, depending on context.

And finally, even how we evaluate the overall situation – that is, what we regard as a “solution” – will also be partly determined by the angle we take. Is the main purpose to protect public health? Or is it to protect the economy? Or to ensure that the country is closed to outside influence? And how might policymakers be influenced to protect health and economic dynamism simultaneously?

“Wicked problems” may appear intractable, but they have been effectively studied and addressed just because they are an increasingly influential factor in modern societies. Very different answers to these questions are playing out in different governments’ responses to the crisis today. And as with other “wicked problems”, we believe that a clearly outlined systemic approach to the major themes of Africa’s C-19 crisis can provide a helpful backdrop to evaluating and strengthening the response of African governments to the pandemic.

 

We are pleased to have a stellar group of writers working with us on this series. They are:

Vanessa Offiong – Abuja, Nigeria

Amindeh Atabong – Yaounde, Cameroon

Tamrat Georgis – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Mark Kapchanga – Nairobi, Kenya

Sarah Nyengerai – Harare, Zimbabwe

Owen Gagare – Harare, Zimbabwe

Paula Fray – Johannesburg, South Africa

 

To find out more about each of them, check out their biographies elsewhere in this Africa in Fact microsite. Each of the countries they work from is having a very different experience of this C-19 crisis. We look forward to hearing from them over the next twelve weeks as they build up a truly pan-African picture of the pandemic and what our governments are doing, or could better be doing, to mitigate it.

 

We’d love to hear from you! Join The Wicked Conversation by leaving your comments below, or send your letter to the editor to richard@gga.org.

 


[1] Adapted from Williams and Van ‘t Hof, Wicked Solutions, 2014, pp 18-22.

 

Richard Jurgens is editor of Africa in Fact. He spent ten years in exile with the ANC, in Africa and Europe. Since 1994 he has worked as a journalist, editor, translator and writer, with experience in South Africa and Europe in mainstream media, corporate communications and alternative media. An author with several books to his name, he has a BA (Hons) in philosophy and is currently pursuing a Master’s in public policy studies at the Wits School of Governance.

COVID-19: In Kenya, social media are aflame

One rule for the ruler…

The Kenyan Twitterverse turned into a furnace on 15 June after the Kenyan opposition leader, Raila Odinga, displayed his Covid-19 test results on social media and appealed to the people to take tests, sanitise and observe social distancing.

Some commentators reminded Odinga, one of the country’s major political figures, that the negative result did not show that he was immune to the coronavirus. Dr Lukoye Atwoli, associate professor at the Moi University College of Health Sciences, said the negative result meant that “the virus was not detected in the samples collected from an individual at a particular time”.

On that basis, he noted that the COVID-19 “negative certificate” was worthless beyond confirming that the person, at the time of testing, was unlikely to be infected. The Twitterfever had hardly tapered off when State House said four staff members had contracted the disease. However, “His Excellency the President and the first family are safe and free from Covid-19.”

The Twitterfever had hardly tapered off when State House said four staff members had contracted the disease.

To reinforce the outbreak’s containment measures, State House spokesperson Kanze Dena Mararo said auxiliary access protocols for State House staff and visitors had been introduced. But the announcement soon set another Twitterfire burning as Kenyans mocked President Uhuru Kenyatta for breaching the basic guidelines included in executive orders aimed at taming the spread of the deadly disease, especially as regards restrictions on movement.

Most political leaders seem to have adhered to the movement restrictions. However, people dear to the president’s circle continue to disregard the rule of law, as well as Ministry of Health directives on Covid-19 by holding public gatherings across the country. Currently, many governments are restricting gatherings, based on the understanding that up to 80% of infections result from so-called “super-spreader” events, which are “mostly … indoor gatherings in which lots of people from different households [a]re in close, extended contact, such as religious services, birthday parties, and choir practices”, according to one report.

People dear to the president’s circle continue to disregard the rule of law, as well as Ministry of Health directives on Covid-19 by holding public gatherings across the country.

At State House in Nairobi, for instance, the president recently conducted two separate meetings with members of the National Assembly and the Senate. He seemed to want to reprimand “errant” members of these bodies for apparently inclining to his deputy, William Ruto. The latter is thought to have “disrespected” the president by focusing on continuing his campaign for the 2022 general elections instead of focusing on serving the electorate. A third session, bringing together the governors of the county governments, deliberated on ways to combat the pandemic.

Ironically, on 10 June, the same day governors converged on State House, a warrant of arrest was issued against former Kakamega Senator Dr Boni Khalwale, an ally of Ruto, for “breaching” the government’s guidelines on public gatherings by distributing food to the vulnerable in western Kenya. This reflects a drift toward “one rule for the rulers, another rule for the ruled” that one sees occurring in other countries around the continent, as reflected in the other blogs in this series, for example.

This reflects a drift toward “one rule for the rulers, another rule for the ruled” that one sees occurring in other countries around the continent.

In early June, the senior coordinator of the Africa Bureau of the US Agency for International Development, Christopher Runyan, warned that some African governments were using the coronavirus pandemic to erode democratic freedoms. He pointed to “disturbing” trends, including the muzzling of the media, the cancellation or postponement of elections, targeted crackdowns on key population groups, and increased gender-based and criminal violence. [Editor: Check out Reporters without Borders’ Tracker_19 for an updatable map of repressive measures against the media.)

It is worth remembering that in the wake of the coronavirus disease outbreak, Kenya came up with drastic measures to confront it. As at 16 May 2020, President Kenyatta had addressed the country six times, reiterating the state’s determination to cushion the people against the dreadful effects of the Covid-19 crisis.

He pointed to “disturbing” trends, including the muzzling of the media, the cancellation or postponement of elections, targeted crackdowns on key population groups, and increased gender-based and criminal violence.

The president has implored Kenyans to stick to the guidelines provided by various government agencies. It may be that the guidelines — a product of various directives, policies and laws on public health, fiscal policies, social status and the administration of justice — have played an important role in managing the spread of the disease in Kenya since the first case was reported on 13 March, 2020.

According to the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Mutahi Kagwe, the infection rate would have been far higher than the current 3.14%. As at 15 June, Kenya had recorded 3,727 positive cases, out of 118,701 samples, with 1,286 recoveries and 104 deaths.

Appreciating that “the virus is unforgiving, and its rate of growth if not arrested is exponential”, Kenya has come up with a number of legal notices that restricted the movement of people. To supplement the executive’s directives, the judiciary, too, issued circulars on the administration of justice to facilitate smooth operations in courts.

But these guidelines, supported at they are by a range of legislation, have been perceived as applying to some, but not others. Aside from the State House assemblies, politicians who enjoy the president’s political warmth — among them Cabinet Secretaries Fred Matiangi, Sicily Kariuki, Joe Mucheru, Eugene Wamalwa and James Macharia — have also been roaming across the country “launching development projects”.

Politicians who enjoy the president’s political warmth have also been roaming across the country “launching development projects”.

At these gatherings, “big” people appear exempt from protocols such as social distancing and the wearing of masks. Meanwhile, reports indicate that the police are arresting, harassing, brutalising and extorting bribes from members of the public for petty matters, such as “inappropriately fitting” face masks.

This selective application of the law has brought the executive into increasing conflict with the country’s judiciary. Law Society of Kenya President Nelson Havi has argued that “toxic” advice by the Attorney General to the executive has helped this selective approach to the law to gain currency during the Covid-19 crisis. On June 8, Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya, David Maraga, bluntly criticised President Kenyatta at a press briefing for thinking that he could “cherry pick judges”.

Clearly angry, Maraga said the government had formed the bad habit of “routinely disregarding court orders”, citing the eviction of more than 1,000 families from the Kariobangi area in Nairobi, “all in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic”. President Kenyatta, he added, had adopted an attitude of “what will you do about it?” The head of the state had no choice but to respect the laws of the land because he had sworn “to defend and uphold the Constitution and the laws of Kenya”, Maraga said.

Will the president, his government, and its various agencies, including the police, heed these warnings? Time will tell.

 

We’d love to hear from you! Join The Wicked Conversation by leaving your comments below, or send your letter to the editor to richard@gga.org.

 

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.

C-19: In South Africa, rule of law questioned

Disaster regulations declared unconstitutional

The tenth of April 2020 was a warm autumn day, and Collins Khosa, 40, was sitting in his yard at his home in the Far East Bank of Alexandra township in northern Johannesburg, enjoying a glass of beer. But then South African National Defence Force members tasked with enforcing the lockdown found him.

When the government declared a lockdown on 27 March – under a declaration of disaster, rather than a state of emergency – it introduced additional measures, among them a total ban on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes. What happened next would lead to Khoza’s death and heighten concerns of the fragility of law and order in the country, under pandemic conditions.

What happened next would lead to Khoza’s death and heighten concerns of the fragility of law and order in the country.

Khoza was sitting in his own yard. However, his brother-in-law Thabiso Muvhango was with him. Within minutes, Khoza and Muvhango were being accused of violating the lockdown.

Additional soldiers were called and beers confiscated from the house. Witnesses say an argument ensued when one of the soldiers slammed the garden gate on Khosa’s car. An Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) report quoted witnesses who said the soldiers said they wanted to “prove a point” and “deal with” Khosa and Muvhango because they had “an attitude”. The report also found that five metro [city] police officers had failed to intervene.

Witnesses claimed the soldiers poured beer on the two men and held Khosa’s hands behind his back while they choked him, slammed him against a cement wall, hit him with the butt of a rifle, and kicked, slapped and punched him. But an SANDF board of inquiry exonerated the soldiers and said “the force used was pushing and klapping [slapping]”, and intended to get the men to go into the house. (From the reports, it appears that the soldiers thought that they should be inside the house.) It also claimed that “Mr Khosa was conscious and healthy when the security forces left”.

Witnesses claimed the soldiers poured beer on the two men and held Khosa’s hands behind his back while they choked him, slammed him against a cement wall, hit him with the butt of a rifle, and kicked, slapped and punched him.

North Gauteng High Court Judge Hans Fabricius found otherwise. Referring to the founding values in section 1 of the Constitution, which include the rights to human dignity and equality, as well as the supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law, the judge ordered the immediate suspension of the soldiers and ordered a proper investigation of the incident.

The court noted that people need to be able to trust the government to abide by the rule of law, make rational regulations, and not intrude on the rights of those subject to the law. It was, in many ways, a turning point for South Africa. The country was paralysed by fear and succumbing to a willingness – until then – to tolerate curtailments of personal liberties and of the rule of law in the interests of the greater good.

The court noted that people need to be able to trust the government to abide by the rule of law.

Khosa was not the only person to be assaulted. There have been at least 11 deaths at the hands of security forces. Meanwhile, there have been numerous reports of people on their way to the shops being subjected to arbitrary humiliations by members of the security forces, including being forced to do push-ups, and of women being manhandled.

Following the tragedy of Khoza’s death, which was widely reported, the country saw a growing pushback against the lockdown. By late May, Minister of Police Bheki Cele reported almost 230,000 cases for contraventions of lockdown regulations. In addition, cases of gender-based violence have also increased.

There have been at least 11 deaths at the hands of security forces.

“If the country doesn’t get this right, it’s not going to win the fight against COVID-19,” wrote Cathleen Powell, Associate Professor in Public Law, University of Cape Town. The confusion, resistance and violence accompanying the current lockdown are an object lesson on the value and necessity of the rule of law, she said.

But South Africans find refuge in their courts, as the pushback against state capture has shown. From the start of the lockdown there were court applications against aspects of the lockdown – the first, in week one, by a private citizen who wanted exemption from the travel prohibition to attend a funeral.

Since then, a queue of individuals, non-governmental organisations, faith-based organisations, business groups and, of course, political parties have marched to the courts. Their applications have ranged from questioning the ban on alcohol and tobacco to those wanting to prevent the re-opening of schools.

President Cyril Ramaphosa says he welcomes these court challenges as a natural function of democracy.

President Cyril Ramaphosa says he welcomes these court challenges as a natural function of democracy.

It is not unusual to excuse excesses of law in the name of security. South Africa’s constitution is the ultimate arbiter and it recognises the possibility of suspending the law in conditions of emergency. But our history is reflected in the constitution, which means that the president has only limited powers to suspend the normal rule of law, and these can only occur during a state of emergency under Section 37 of the Constitution. Even then, the purpose of any such suspension must be to restore “peace and order”.

But, as noted, we are not in a state of emergency, but operating under a declaration of disaster. And a high court has found that “an overwhelming number of regulations” promulgated under the state of disaster are “unconstitutional and invalid”.

Should individual rights be trumped by a public health emergency? After all, the right to life is a paramount individual right. Surely anyone would be willing to give up some rights for the right to life? We have already given up our right to freedom of movement, assembly and trade. Section 36 of the constitution makes it clear that laws restricting individual rights should be proportional to the harm identified. And any measures they include must be carried out in a way that does not encroach on other rights.

Should individual rights be trumped by a public health emergency?

While issues relating to the implementation of the lockdown have caused concern, so too has the way in which the lockdown is being managed. Commentators have questioned a blurring of legal lines, given that the National Coronavirus Command Council has effectively been governing in the place of a constitutionally mandated cabinet.

President Ramaphosa has largely framed South Africa’s response in terms of constitutionally guaranteed rights – particularly the right to life, dignity and access to health care. The president has so far done well in terms of rule of law, writes Mark Heywood, editor of Maverick Citizen, an online news publication focusing on human rights and a former director of Section27, a public interest law centre.

But the SANDF’s apparent readiness to condone deadly violence by its members raised a red flag. Whether the government comes down on “the right or wrong side of human rights”, as Heywood puts it, remains to be seen.

 

We’d love to hear from you! Join The Wicked Conversation by leaving your comments below, or send your letter to the editor to richard@gga.org.

 

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.

Governance implications of the Malawi election June 2020 rerun

Opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) leader Lazarus Chakwera was declared winner of the June 2020 presidential election re-run with 58.75 percent of the vote according to the electoral commission. PHOTO GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP

Introduction

Late on Saturday 27 June, 2020, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) Chairperson, Justice Chifundo Kachale, formally announced the election results. Dr Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) had won the election with 58.57% of the vote. Chakwera received 2.6 million votes, while incumbent President Arthur Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progress Party (DPP) received 1.75 million votes (39.4%). The voter turnout was 64.8%. This election comes after a year-long battle for the independence of Malawi’s democratic institutions, and should be seen as an important milestone in the movement towards democratic consolidation on the continent. It also provides a host of potential lessons for both policymakers and activists at the local, regional, and international level, on how to best support developing nations in times of constitutional crisis.

Malawi’s Constitutional Court had struck down the previous election results, citing widespread irregularities, including the use of correction fluid on ballots. The court was harshly critical of the manner in which the MEC handled the May 2019 election, finding the former Chairperson, Jane Ansah, and her commissioners incompetent. The election results triggered months of nationwide protests, calling for new elections and demanding Ansah’s removal. Mutharika responded by appointing Justice Kachale, who vowed the rerun election would be free, fair and credible.

The voter turnout in May 2019 was 77.4%. Mutharika won 38.57% of the vote, against Chakwera’s 35.41%. Chakwera and his Vice President, Dr Saulos Chilima (United Transformation Movement), together achieved more than they did individually in the previous election when they both stood as independent candidates, thus validating their decision to run on the same ballot ticket. Both Chakwera and Mutharika had allied with other parties. Chakwera’s alliance with Chilima was supported by most other opposition parties and was called Tonse Alliance (“all of us” in the local Chichewa language). Mutharika had formed an alliance with Atupele Muluzi (United Democratic Front). The election result divides the country into two with the MCP-UTM alliance gaining a majority in all districts of the northern and central provinces, while the DPP-UDF alliance gained a majority in all districts of the southern province.

In his official announcement, Justice Kachale was careful to clarify that all complaints they had received were handled at the local level of election staff at the polling stations, with the exception of one complaint, which had to be elevated to the national level. The MEC stated it had received dozens of complaints in the days following the election, most from the outgoing DPP government. Their complaints related to instances of violence against party representatives and safety concerns at some of the polling stations. The complaints of violence were considered criminal, and were dispatched to the police for further investigation. The complaints concerning security for party representatives at the polling stations were rejected, citing that security arrangements had been well taken care of by the military and the police.

Outgoing President Mutharika addressed the nation on Saturday afternoon where he implicitly accepted his defeat. However, this did not stop him from characterising the rerun as the worst election in Malawi’s history before urging the people to accept the results of the MEC and the country to move on as one Malawi and one people.

Implications

The impact of this election process, both on the region and the continent, should not be downplayed.

It is only the second time on the continent where the judiciary has overturned a presidential election and called for a fresh election. The first was in Kenya in 2017, but saw the opposition boycotting the rerun election. In Malawi, there was full participation of all political parties. Doubts were raised about the timing of the rerun election, and lack of international assistance and international observers. Contrary to these doubts,  the rerun election process appears to have been largely positive, with the MEC ensuring transparency and verification, thus legitimising the outcome.

While there were no international observers present, invitations had been sent but could not be honoured due to tight time constraints. Travel restrictions, quarantine rules and health considerations in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic also impacted the non-attendance of international observers. However, embassies, the UN and international organisations with a presence in the country were accredited as observers. There were also national election observers from about 20 different local stakeholders, including civil society organisations, ecclesiastical organisations, human rights organisations and academia. Most were in agreement that the rerun election process and results were legitimate.

Lessons learned

An important lesson to be taken from this election process is the manner in which the Malawians adopted a “home-grown ownership” of this election process. While the international community had raised concerns about the country’s ability to hold elections in a free, fair, transparent and credible manner, Malawi proved that it could be done successfully. Malawi should be commended for the manner, under very trying circumstances, in which it conducted a credible rerun election.

A major positive long-term effect that the “legal miracle” relating to this rerun election process will have on the region will be the imbedding of the idea that it is possible to trust the judiciary to be professional and independent. An important legal precedent has been set that should find some footing in courts across the region. This important precedent, overriding the May 2019 election results, may act as a catalyst to embolden regional activists, lawyers and democracy advocates in other countries in dealing with issues of poor governance and instances of perceived electoral fraud. The outcome of the court judgment may be indicative of the further consolidation of democracy and good governance in Malawi.

A further lesson from Malawi’s election rerun relates to the finalisation of election reports produced by international observer teams. In hindsight, their observation processes can be criticised as most observers compile their reports based on the formal framework of the election, including the pre- and post-election periods. However, the major contestation arose from the counting process itself. Once the results had been tallied, most observers had either left the country or completed their deployment and had submitted their election observation reports. As a result, the endorsing election observation reports unwittingly created the misconception that the election was held in a free, fair, transparent and credible manner and was used as a justification by Mutharika to endorse his flawed election victory. Thus, it may be argued, the international election observers may have contributed to the polarised situation that followed. With regards to upcoming elections in the region, election observer missions should study the Malawian case carefully to gather important lessons for future election observer deployments.

Dr Craig Moffat is Head of Programme: Governance Delivery and Impact at Good Governance Africa.

COVID-19: A pandemic unfavourable to journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic came with its own set of rules and regulations, which anyone who chose to disobey, did at their own risk. Many of these rules infringe on rights, across the board. Governments appear to have taken advantage of the crisis to prohibit or restrict all manner of things, including public gatherings.

The pandemic has also ushered in a difficult time for journalists, who have to try to do their jobs in the face of a new, unspoken rule: “Thou shalt not criticise thy leaders.” Between March and May this year, for example, there were no fewer than 10 reported assaults on journalists in Nigeria. Journalists have also lost their jobs.

The pandemic has also ushered in a difficult time for journalists, who have to try to do their jobs in the face of a new, unspoken rule: “Thou shalt not criticise thy leaders.”

On 26 March, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State in Nigeria’s south, sacked Vincent Ake, general manager of the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation. No reason was given, but it has been reported that Ake had published a report on the first case of COVID-19 in Rivers State without getting approval from the taskforce on coronavirus set up by the state government.

Next door, in Imo State, Angela Nkwo-Akpolu, of Leadership newspaper was assaulted and her iPad seized on 28 March by personnel from the Department of State Security. According to a statement by the Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nkwo-Apolu was attacked while taking pictures of a hotel in Owerri where guests had been forcibly quarantined – allegedly because the hotel had not complied with government directives on checking the spread of the coronavirus.

Further south, the chairman of the Delta State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Michael Ikeogwu, and Mathew Omonigo, a journalist with the Daily Post, were beaten up on 1 April by members of the state Environment Task Force. This happened as they were monitoring the stay-at-home order aimed at curtailing the pandemic’s spread.

Michael Ikeogwu and Mathew Omonigo were beaten up on 1 April by members of the state Environment Task Force.

Ikeogwu said they were held for more than 45 minutes by overzealous officials. “It took the swift intervention of the chairman of the Environment Task Force … to free us,” he said.

On 2 April, police arrested 12 journalists filing their COVID-19 reports at the NUJ secretariat in Adamawa State in Nigeria’s north-east. They were accused of breaking lockdown rules. The state NUJ chairman, Ishaka Deden, said he was “very shocked to see three trucks loaded with armed policemen coming to disrupt the peace of the journalists who were on assignment waiting for an update from the disease control centre.”

On April 22, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, south east Nigeria, barred two journalists from state functions for life. In a live state-wide broadcast Umahi alleged that the journalists habitually wrote negatively about the state. He said he didn’t know why his officials had allowed the journalists to do this, and added that: “You have the pen, we have the koboko. Let’s leave the court alone.”

“You have the pen, we have the koboko.” – Governor Dave Umahi

These are threats reminiscent of Nigeria’s military dictatorship era. The koboko is a whip made of cowhide, and during the military dictatorships it was used by military officers “to discipline the unruly.” The governor’s remarks were greeted with wide condemnation which forced him to  soft pedal, describing the dissension as a case between “a father and his son,” and unintentional.

Kufre Carter, a journalist with XL 106.9 FM, in Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State, was arrested on 27 April and arraigned in court two days later on a charge of defamation. He had called out the state’s health commissioner, Dominic Ukpong, on Facebook for mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic. Ukpong had questioned the number of cases confirmed in the state by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

Carter was detained for a month by Nigeria’s State Security Services (SSS) and denied access to his lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, and his family. Effiong secured a High Court order to reduce his bail from N3 million to N200,000, supported by a “surety” from a prominent person within the jurisdiction of the court. He was eventually released on 27 May after the authorities had ignored a court order to free him on bail.

Carter was detained for a month by Nigeria’s State Security Services (SSS) and denied access to his lawyer.

The next day, on 28 April, Emma Bricks Oko, publisher of the online magazine brickswrite.com.ng, was arrested by members of the COVID-19 Joint Task Force, which includes members of the police. Oko was spotted filming their violent enforcement of the lockdown on commercial motorcyclists in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. He was charged with obstructing the work of the task force. A magistrate sentenced Oko to three hours’ community service and a N5,000 fine.

The authorities’ brazen disregard for the law has been condemned by civil society organisations. For one thing, it was clear that the relevant authorities had failed to adequately communicate the status of journalists to their members, says Maxwell Kadiri, a senior legal officer with the Open Society Justice Initiative, which is part of the Open Society Foundations network, founded by George Soros. Journalists, he noted, play a vital role in disseminating information, especially in the context of public communication on the pandemic.

Journalists play a vital role in disseminating information, especially in the context of public communication on the pandemic.

Kadiri’s organisation advocates for the adoption and effective implementation of freedom of information laws across Africa. Commenting on Ake’s firing, he said there had been some cases where information provided by the NCDC had to be withdrawn after challenges from state and other government organisations. Journalists were within their rights to publish NCDC figures, given the fact that the NCDC has primary responsibility for such issues, he told Africa in Fact.

Worryingly, some government organisations see fit to accuse journalists of disseminating disinformation and misinformation. Apparently, it is convenient to make such allegations when the government is shown in a bad light, as with the case of Carter in Akwa Ibom State. If allowed to continue, this could become a trend beyond the pandemic, Kadiri says.

Nigeria’s legislation only covers issues relating to false information, and does not address disinformation – information disseminated with the deliberate intent to mislead – Kadiri adds. “I don’t know of any law that speaks to the exact language of disinformation. So, we don’t even have clarity from a legal standpoint.” The onus should be on the state to prove any claims of disinformation, he argues.

“When journalists become afraid, and when the government is allowed to get away with this level of highhandedness, the chances are that there will be severe adverse consequences for freedom of information across the board,” he told Africa in Fact.

“When journalists become afraid, and when the government is allowed to get away with this level of highhandedness, the chances are that there will be severe adverse consequences for freedom of information across the board” – Maxwell Kadiri

One outcome of this approach would be that, the only information allowed would be that, which shows the government in a good light. Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) clearly stipulates that “the media has a responsibility to hold the government accountable to the people.” This is supported by further provisions of the FOI Act.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has noted that the pandemic has brought about a wave of human rights violations around the world. It has brought “a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering,” he said, appealing for “an all-out effort to end hate speech globally. The virus threatens everyone. Human rights uplift everyone.”

The African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) and Human Environment Development Agenda Resource Centre (HEDA) have jointly condemned the acts noted above, as well as others. “Independent journalism, citizen reporting, open public discourse and the free flow of information are indispensable in the global effort to counter COVID-19,” they said.

Will the Nigerian government heed these calls and help to ensure that the pandemic does result not in journalists becoming an endangered species in Nigeria?

 

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Adie Vanessa Offiong is an award-winning journalist in Abuja, Nigeria, with experience in investigative, science and development journalism. She is member of the Health Systems Global, African Investigative Publishing Collective and of the Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism. Vanessa was the winner of the 2019 Africa Media Development Foundation (AMDF) Journalists of the Year Award and was the only female finalist of the 2019 Continental Journalism Awards on the African Union Charter.

Ethiopia faces a ‘perfect storm’

A few months ago, security agents intercepted five of Ethiopia’s opposition figures at Addis Ababa airport and took them to a place where individuals contracting the coronavirus were isolated and treated.

They had been on their way to attend a political summit in a northern town, the seat of an increasingly restive regional state, but they were kept under quarantine and prevented from attending. Reportedly, they were detained before they joined a meeting called by “federalist forces”.

The incident showed that the COVID-19 public health crisis could not have come at a worse time for Ethiopia. For those following developments in the country, the polarisation in Ethiopian society is reaching a point of grave concern. Unity of purpose and action remain elusive in the face of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 public health crisis could not have come at a worse time for Ethiopia. The polarisation in Ethiopian society is reaching a point of grave concern.

Since my last blog, the virus has started spreading like wildfire through the country. The death toll is also on the rise, although the mortality rate from COVID-19 remains half the global average. More than 200,000 people have been tested, representing 0.0014% of the population. A little over 3,700 people tested positive for the virus, of whom nearly 850 have since recovered.

In response, Ethiopia’s authorities have closed schools, compelled members of the civil service to work from home, closed borders, and discouraged mobility between the regions. But Tigray Regional State in the north, was the first to declare a state of emergency, ahead of both the federal government and other regional states.

A little over 3,700 people tested positive for the virus, of whom nearly 850 have since recovered.

The declaration, in response to the spread of the virus, appears to be as good as a poison pill for the country’s fraught political process, and the result is a profound constitutional crisis.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is celebrated across the world as a rare African leader to have won a Nobel Peace Prize. Yet, now, he finds himself in difficulty, without the electoral means to stay in power. Officials in Ethiopia have declared that they are unable to administer national elections scheduled for August this year, fearing that such a large-scale enterprise could help the virus`s spread.

It must be noted that this is not unusual: across the globe, some 52 countries have put elections scheduled for this year on hold due to COVID-19. However, in Ethiopia’s case postponing elections may leave the country without a legal government.

In Ethiopia’s case postponing elections may leave the country without a legal government.

Unfortunately for the prime minister, the Constitution limits the terms of both chambers of the legislative houses to five years; there is no provision for allowing an extension. The framers of the Constitution clearly abhorred a power vacuum, and were determined never to let any incumbent overstay their mandate. The terms for the current legislative houses end in the first week of October this year, so the mandate of Abiy’s administration to govern will end soon.

Constitutionalism and the rule of law have dominated the airwaves in the political discourse. Ethiopia does not have a constitutional court, while its Supreme Court does not have the power to resolve constitutional disputes. So far, though, this has not helped Abiy in his quest for legitimacy.

Ironically, three days before the House of Federation’s 153 members began deliberations to determine whether the Constitution can be interpreted as supporting a further lease on life for the incumbent Prosperity Party, the Speaker, Keria Ibrahim, resigned in protest against a government that she says “not only endangers the constitutional political order, but also the very survival of the country”. A senior leader of the TPLF, which governs Tigray Regional State, she accuses Abiy of governing in an “unconstitutional and dictatorial manner”.

Tigray has declared its intention to conduct a provincial election of its own, in defiance of a decree from the federal government. Its leaders appear to take the view that the central government’s management of the threat of the coronavirus may prove to be a threat to the viability of the Ethiopian state. They have urged the international community not to sit by idly, or to let the Horn of Africa “fall apart”.

Tigray has declared its intention to conduct a provincial election of its own, in defiance of a decree from the federal government.

What lies behind this is the fault lines in Ethiopia’s “shifting political landscape”, as René Lefort and William Davison put it. Whereas earlier regimes were shaped by a unitarist vision of the Ethiopian state with a “one country, one flag” mantra, more recently the disagreements are between different views of federalism.

On the one side, there are disagreements between those who abhor a multiculturalist form of federalism and support “geographic” federalism, while others emphasise self-determination and autonomous rule in the regional states. On the other side, there are those who support a “softer federalism with a strong central government” and those who support stronger regions.

It is a safe bet, then, that the views of the “federalist forces” whose summit was disrupted a few weeks ago did not please the government in Addis Ababa.

The COVID-19 induced political confrontation in Ethiopia is escalating by the day. However Abiy responds, it will likely only add to a myriad of problems that the country faces, which could only be described as a perfect storm.

 

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Tamrat G Giorgis is the managing editor of Fortune, which covers mainly the economies of Ethiopia and Africa. He has over 28 years experience in nearly every aspect of publishing with more than 11 various publications. He is a member of the Alumni of the University of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Policy and regularly contributes to specialised international publications.

In Cameroon, the wearing of face masks is mandatory – but not for Mr President

Cameroon occupies a prominent position on the list of countries in sub-Saharan Africa badly hit by the coronavirus. By 15 June, the country had surpassed the 10,000 mark in terms of confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 275 deaths.

Like other countries, Cameroon has been struggling to suppress the spread of Covid-19, while grappling with the resulting effects. In a bid to protect lives, and at the same time livelihoods, the country has adopted different sets of measures which restrict freedom of association, movement, religion, trade, amongst others – all guaranteed by the Constitution.

The country has adopted different sets of measures which restrict freedom of association, movement, religion, trade, amongst others – all guaranteed by the Constitution.

On April 13, on the instructions of the president, Paul Biya, the wearing of face masks in all places open to the public became compulsory. Even though by that time face masks were scarce and unaffordable for many, people still made efforts to wear them as police carried out arrests and levied fines.

But Biya has not led by example. When he last received the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa, François Louncény Fall, on 13 May and the French ambassador to Cameroon, Christophe Guilhou, as well as the outgoing South Korean ambassador to Cameroon, Bok-Ryeol Rhyou, on 5 June, he did not bother to put on a mask. Yet, these audiences were held at the Unity Palace and opened to accredited pressmen as well as the president’s aides.

The country’s lawmakers also seem to have copies of the playbook from which Biya is reading. In March, both the lower and upper houses of parliament – the National Assembly and Senate – met in ordinary session, despite the prohibition of gatherings of more than 50 people. They are repeating the same for the June session.

In March, both the lower and upper houses of parliament – the National Assembly and Senate – met in ordinary session, despite the prohibition of gatherings of more than 50 people.

Back then, the speaker of the National Assembly, the Hon. Cavayé Yéguié Djibril, was just arriving back from France (a high-risk country), where he had been treated for an undisclosed illness. He did not quarantine for 14 days as stipulated by health ministry guidelines, even though ordinary citizens were forced to quarantine.

It would be natural to wonder how officials could expect the “common man” to obey the law when they themselves do not. You’d think that everyone should be seen to respect the rules. What is good for the goose, should be good for the gander.

What is good for the goose, should be good for the gander.

Yet the president has also violated the Constitution and flouted rules aimed at guaranteeing the separation of power in other ways. Following national and international calls to decongest prison cells amid the spread of the coronavirus, Biya signed a decree on 15 April commuting and remitting prison sentences. Article 8 (7) of the Constitution of Cameroon empowers the president to exercise the right of clemency “after consultation with the Higher Judicial Council”. But Biya does not appear to have consulted the Higher Judicial Council, despite the fact that the Constitution makes it obligatory and not optional.

Moreover, some coronavirus rules caused confusion. Initially, the government ordered bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other leisure spots not to operate after 6PM. Then, later, it lifted the ban. But people are required to wear face masks while boozing and to observe physical distancing in restaurants, bars and nightclubs. This seems naive. When alcohol is involved, people are less likely to obey rules.

The government’s coronavirus regulations and directives have sparked questions about their appropriateness and proportionality to the threat. Cameroon has relied on legal provisions applicable in ordinary times to combat a pandemic in extraordinary times – and in the process, mixed some measures that are legally binding with others that are not, argues Dr Éric-Adol Gatsi Tazo of the Faculty of Laws and Political Science at the University of Buea.

Cameroon has relied on legal provisions applicable in ordinary times to combat a pandemic in extraordinary times.

Legally binding measures rely on “legislative provisions which make these administrative authorities the guarantors of public order in their respective jurisdictions” and include declarations making it obligatory to wear face masks (city of Bertuoua) and regional prohibitions against alcohol consumption in public (Littoral region), the transport of corpses and unsanctioned donations to fight the virus (Lekie division).

The non-legally binding measures include closing the borders, the schools and universities, bans on gatherings of more than 50 people, closing drinking spots, restaurants and other places of leisure from 6PM (lifted on 30 April, 2020), restrictions on urban and inter-urban movements, as well as the requisitioning of private health facilities, hotels and vehicles and the requirement to wear face masks in public, according to Tazo.

Some of the latter look like emergency measures, but are enacted under ordinary law, he says. Already, they have been used to close shops, impound cars and to justify the use of force to dispel gatherings of more than 50 people, although they have “no legal basis”.

It would have been natural, also, to conclude that Tazo is arguing that the fact that the authorities had not felt it necessary to adopt legally binding measures suggests that they might do so in future, in matters unrelated to the pandemic – thus undermining the rule of law. But the situation is worse than that. “Covid-19 does not threaten the rule of law in Cameroon since it is almost permanently threatened,” concludes Tazo. “It is only a pretext for the perpetuation of the common practices in Cameroon.”

 

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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. 

COVID-19: In South Africa, a constitutional crisis and even worse inequality

Flattening the curves

When President Cyril Ramaphosa stepped up to the podium on 15 March 2020, to announce a National State of Disaster, 10 days after the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the country, there was a collective sigh of relief.

He was calm, his plan detailed and his team well-qualified.

The Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, had the health and political experience and was drawing on lessons learned from devastating impact of the denialism that characterised the government’s approach to HIV for the COVID response.

By March 23, the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) had decided on a national 21-day lockdown.

A day after the lockdown started, days after middle class South Africa had cleared supermarket shelves of toilet paper, pasta and tinned foods, social media platforms were abuzz with scenes from townships of long queues that showed no signs of social distancing.

Social media platforms were abuzz with scenes from townships of long queues that showed no signs of social distancing.

This was South Africa: the suburbs firmly ensconced behind high walls, and the working poor — newly paid and finally free of work obligations — queueing for their lockdown supplies.

The police and army were already on the streets with arbitrary punishments and arrests. These arrests are only some of the constitutional issues that have arisen – including the role of the NCCC itself. On 2 June, a damning High Court judgment declared invalid and unconstitutional most of the lockdown regulations issued by Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma in terms of the Disaster Management Act. The minister had 14 days to review, amend and republish the regulations.

The police and army were already on the streets with arbitrary punishments and arrests. These arrests are only some of the constitutional issues that have arisen.

For all the planning, the press conferences and the late-night addresses to the nation, implementation relies on systems fragile from years of apartheid with minimal redress in the years thereafter.

This is South Africa.

While President Cyril Ramaphosa won initial praise for his handling of the crisis, he has also been criticised for subsequent decisions. The debate has become polarised.

The old adage to never let a crisis go to waste is not unnoticed. But the pandemic has only brought to the fore long-known issues and has exacerbated the existing crises.

South Africa’s inequality is one. Unemployment, now further battered by Covid-19, is another.

But the pandemic has only brought to the fore long-known issues and has exacerbated the existing crises.

At the end of 2019, the unemployment rate was 29.1%, or five times the rate for other parts of the world. The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry has warned that unemployment could rise to 50% as a result of the pandemic.

The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry has warned that unemployment could rise to 50% as a result of the pandemic.

For some, there have been positive changes. For many, it is not enough.

As the president himself has acknowledged, mistakes have been. It is clear that the relief measures for the poor are not enough.

Our Covid-19 choices – social distancing versus opening up the economy – have been presented as a matter of life and death. For many South Africans already excluded from the economy, the debate is moot.

We have been warned that the coronavirus will have a second wave. The true challenge for this leadership is not whether we can flatten the curve of the spread but whether we use this moment to flatten the curve of inequality.

Because this is South Africa.

 

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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.

COVID-19: Corona cases triple in precarious Zimbabwe

On 23 March, 2020 Zimbabwe recorded its first coronavirus (COVID-19) casualty, national broadcaster Zororo Makamba. The renowned and highly influential 30-year-old journalist contracted the virus during a visit to New York, and his subsequent passing created widespread panic resulting in a quick call-to-action.

Shortly after Makamba’s death and as the number of infections increased, on the 30 March, the president of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, declared a 21-day national lockdown. Consequently, the lockdown was extended by 14 days and on 17 May, the president declared an indefinite shutdown, with restrictions that will be reviewed fortnightly.

The president declared an indefinite shutdown, with restrictions that will be reviewed fortnightly.

As part of the continuous effort to prepare the health sector for the fight against COVID-19, on 12 May a team of 12 Chinese doctors arrived in Zimbabwe from Hunan Province in south central China to help in the fight against the coronavirus. The medical team, with “frontline” experience in curbing the spread of the virus, brought testing kits and protective clothing and spent a fortnight in Zimbabwe. Part of the team’s mandate was visits to medical and isolation centres involved in the national COVID-19 response initiatives.

According to the Ministry of Health and Childcare, by 31 May, Zimbabwe had 178 confirmed coronavirus cases, comprising of 145 active cases, 29 recovered and four deaths. It is prudent to note that in a short space of time from the 22-31 May, the figures more than tripled from 56 confirmed cases to 178. Official statistics from the Ministry of Health and Childcare indicate that as of 31 May, the latest positive cases were from quarantine areas; returnees from mainly Mozambique, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Consequently, cases of infection are likely to continue rising as returnees filter back into the country.

Another area of concern is education. Institutions of higher learning face considerable challenges in keeping staff and students safe as they prepare to reopen their doors at the beginning of the winter season, notwithstanding that certain universities and colleges are currently being used as quarantine centres for returnees.

Institutions of higher learning face considerable challenges in keeping staff and students safe as they prepare to reopen their doors at the beginning of the winter season.

Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Amon Murwira told local newspaper the Sunday News (31 May 2020) that the re-opening of universities will be done in phases, with final-year students set to get first preference.

Similarly, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education will apply a five-phased approach when reopening schools. The phased approach will cater first for students set to write end-of-year national and international examinations and Early Childhood Development centres will be the last to reopen.

Before the global pandemic, Zimbabweans were already grappling with a fragile economy, which has hindered service delivery in key sectors such as health, social welfare and education.

As the country continues to grapple with economic challenges COVID-19 causes potential threat primarily to the 7.7 million (both rural and urban) who are already failing to meet their minimum threshold of food security (2100kcal). (World Food Programme Report (May, 2020)

COVID-19 causes potential threat primarily to the 7.7 million who are already failing to meet their minimum threshold of food security.

Now, lockdown measures are impacting many people’s livelihoods too. The informal sector, which remains under restriction, is the largest employer of the economy, but it has been badly affected. Informal sector trade is not conducive to social distancing, which makes re-opening the sector risky.

A 2018 report on shadow economies by the International Monetary Fund indicated that Zimbabwe’s informal sector makes up 60.7% of GDP, the third highest level in the world after Georgia (64.9%) and Bolivia (62.3%). According to a 2019 Labour Force and Child Survey by the International Labour Organization, the informal economy’s share of employment was 76% of total employment.

Zimbabwe’s informal sector makes up 60.7% of GDP.

Yet informal businesses which support more than 70% of the urban population officially remain closed. Meanwhile, of necessity, some trade continues. According to a Covid-19 2020 report by the Zimbabwe Council of Trade Unions, this puts women more at risk of being infected and of infecting others, given their dual gender roles as traders and as family care givers. Both reports highlight the extreme economic vulnerability of most of the country’s population.

As the nation begins its winter season widespread concerns remain regarding the potential increase in infections and loss of life.

 

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Sarah Nyengerai is an academic and freelance writer based in Zimbabwe with a strong passion for social, cultural, economic and political issues that affect women.  She believes literary works form the foundation for the dialogue required to sustain momentums of change and aims to bring attention to such matters. A member of NAFSA (Association for International Educators) and Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), Sarah is actively involved in the advancement of education for women.

COVID-19: In Kenya, confusion and corruption while politicians flout lockdowns

Kenya was engulfed by a cloud of apprehension on 12 March 2020, when the Ministry of Health confirmed the country’s first case of coronavirus since its outbreak in China in December 2019.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, who has been giving routine updates on the pandemic, said the suspected case was a Kenyan who had travelled to Nairobi from the United States through London.

He noted that there was no need for alarm as the woman was stable, behaving “quite” normally and the government was drawing up measures to guard against the spread of the potentially deadly disease in Kenya.

Measures to confront COVID-19 included the activation of the National Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus that was tasked with preparedness, response and the provision of strategic leadership.

Measures to confront COVID-19 included the activation of the National Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus.

Barely four days after disclosure of the first case in Kenya, the government abruptly closed schools and colleges, disrupting nearly 17 million learners. Since then, the Ministry of Education has been issuing contradicting and oftentimes confusing pronouncements on how learners can access education from their homes.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has insisted that students were not on holiday and should, therefore, continue schooling via technology-mediated learning on television, radio, and local education technology applications. However, this has been opposed by parents and activists who say the move would exclude children in remote areas who lack access to power and modern technology.

Besides the closure of learning institutions, a dusk to dawn curfew was imposed on 25 March, businesses shut down, and public transport scaled back, while organisations were encouraged to implement “working from home” plans as a strategy to minimise contact. On the other hand, COVID-19 hotspots such as Nairobi, Mandera, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale counties were placed under restricted lockdown, which limited the movement of people in and out of these regions.

COVID-19 hotspots such as Nairobi, Mandera, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale counties were placed under restricted lockdown, which limited the movement of people in and out of these regions.

Even with these limitation measures, the reported coronavirus cases in Kenya have been on a gradual rise. As at 1 June, the country had a total of 2,021 cases from a total of 80,054 samples tested since the onset of the pandemic. Similarly, the number of recoveries increased to 483 patients, while the number of lives lost as a result of the disease hit 69. This is in contrast to the 2 May when there were only 435 cases, with recoveries and deaths figures reported as 152 and 22, respectively.

Apart from the fact that the number of people being tested has gone up, automatically translating to a bigger volume in cases, the spike in numbers has also been attributed to what is seen as a relaxation in the restrictions put in place to suppress the crisis.

Despite the threat from Kagwe that “if we continue to behave normally, this disease will treat us abnormally”, it is widely perceived that the movement restrictions and social distancing guidelines exclude politicians who continue flouting them by holding public gatherings. Indeed, in what appeared to be a show of growing frustration from the political class, the Chief Administrative Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr Rashid Aman, confessed to the media in late May that “we have no control over politicians and leaders who go against the COVID-19 protocols”.

It is widely perceived that the movement restrictions and social distancing guidelines exclude politicians who continue flouting them by holding public gatherings.

Ironically, Kenyans continue to be arrested and placed under a 14-day mandatory quarantine for breaching the coronavirus regulations. Initially, those arrested were asked to foot the bill for their own quarantine. But on 6 May, having noticed people had grown averse of voluntary tests, the government stepped in and said it would cover the isolation expenses. Even so, those in isolation centres complain of mistreatment, negligence, lack of medical care and sanitary facilities.

In what appears to be a show of a lack of focus, seriousness and leadership in confronting the COVID-19 pandemic, the health ministry on 29 May noted that at least 140 people who had tested positive for coronavirus provided incorrect contact information, an issue it said was “very serious” as these people “were roaming around”, spreading the deadly virus.

Worse, the country appears to have grown weary of Kagwe’s daily press briefings on the coronavirus. Politicians have also turned a sword on him, saying the numbers without proper plans meant nothing in the battle against the pandemic. A week ago, a section of leaders criticised the Cabinet Secretary for engaging in what they termed a public relations exercise in Nairobi even as county governments faced drugs and human resources shortages amid the pandemic.

According to the Kenyan Constitution, healthcare is a function of the devolved units. However, they face an insufficient allocation of funds from the national government to sustain their operations. Governors claim the funds meant for Covid-19 continue to be misused in Nairobi as Kenyans suffer.

Governors claim the funds meant for Covid-19 continue to be misused in Nairobi as Kenyans suffer.

Only recently, a leaked memo on the breakdown of Ksh1.3 billion spent in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic showed that Sh42 million had been spent on leasing ambulances, Ksh4 million for tea and snacks, and Ksh2 million on airtime. The expenditure was part of the Ksh1 billion donated by the World Bank for an emergency response that was to cater for the procurement of personal protective equipment, medicines and the setting up of isolation facilities.

But even with the few funds available, counties have been under the spotlight, suspected of extravagance and embezzlement. In early May, four senior Kilifi county officials were arrested over tenders for the construction of a Kilifi Covid-19 Complex Centre and the repair and maintenance of equipment in county hospitals worth millions of shillings. Meanwhile, Bungoma County Governor Wycliffe Wangamati is under investigation by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission over the inflation of prices of sanitary items for combatting coronavirus.

As the second phase of the lockdown comes to a close, pressure is mounting on President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been pre-occupied with the review of the Constitution and “instilling discipline” in his Jubilee party, to be on the frontline and show leadership in confronting coronavirus.

 

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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.

Africa in Fact C-19 blog series: Theme 1: Leadership Style

On 28 May, Ethiopia marked the 29th anniversary of the fall of a military Marxist government in May 1991. It was also a day when the country marked its highest increase in the number of people who have contracted the COVID-19 virus since the first case was reported in March this year. Close to 5,000 people were tested that day, and 100 of them were found to be positive with the virus.

The figures were greeted with subdued alarm in a country of more than 100 million people. The sudden jump in positive tests obviously correlates with a sharp rise in the rate of transmission of the virus. But, so far, the pandemic has received a cautious or lacklustre response from the government.

The first transmission reportedly occurred after a Japanese national travelled to Ethiopia via West Africa for work. For nearly two months after that, most cases were said to have been imported by people returning mainly from Dubai. In April, new cases of infection were reported – people directly associated with the returnees. When the reported cases of infection reached 55, and two people died as a result of the virus, the government declared a state of emergency.

By the time of writing, eight people had died and 761 hospitalised. Close to 200 others were discharged from isolation centres after testing negative.

By the time of writing, eight people had died and 761 hospitalised.

The health authorities have readied 15,000 beds for cases needing isolation – but have tested only 0.001% of the total population. Of the people found positive on 28 May, close to 40% reported having no interaction with those testing positive or returning from abroad. Chillingly, transmission had reached the community level, forcing the government to cordon off two counties in the middle of Addis Ababa, the capital.

The decision to declare a state of emergency was thought “strict” by some. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration has been accused of heavy-handedness, of giving itself sweeping new powers. Yet the country has not been placed under complete lockdown; although schools are closed and 60% of the civil service have been told to stay home. The authorities appear to be cognisant of the economic and social consequences that might result from drastic public health measures, even in a crisis.

Despite good economic growth for more than a decade, Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world with GDP per capita at $790. Annually, around eight million citizens have to rely on humanitarian food assistance, a fact not helped by the displacement of millions due to domestic political violence following a change in the political order in 2017.

Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world with GDP per capita at $790. Annually, around eight million citizens have to rely on humanitarian food assistance.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has readjusted Ethiopia’s growth prospects to 3.2%, by more than half of its projection earlier in the year. Commentators worry that the slowing economy will bring massive unemployment, and possibly the layoff of 1.9 million people formally employed. Nonetheless, more than 80% of Ethiopia’s adult population is believed to be engaged in the informal sector and subsistent agriculture.

More than 80% of Ethiopia’s adult population is believed to be engaged in the informal sector and subsistent agriculture.

The authorities say they are prepared to feed up to 30 million Ethiopians in a worst-case scenario, to force people to stay home. Aside from the closure of the schools, the authorities are discouraging the faithful from going to places of worship, asking them to follow sermons and prayers from home via television broadcasts instead. Meanwhile, citizens are out and about.

Many restaurants remain open, although some international hotel franchises are closed. Markets are open, though the gathering of more than three people for any purpose is banned. Hardly any weddings are taking place; people in the regional states who tried to hold weddings were arrested. But large numbers of people gathering for funerals are common.

The authorities appear to be anxious to avoid provoking protests, and so tinker with measures. A month ago, a plan was introduced to limit road traffic to vehicles with plates ending either in odd or even numbers each day. The idea was that keeping half of all vehicles out of circulation would discourage car owners from going out. If only it had worked. The measure was shelved this week, but the public transport tariff was increased by 100%.

Like other countries, Ethiopia is caught in a dilemma: economic collapse under complete lockdown versus greater mobility and higher rates of infection.

Like other countries, Ethiopia is caught in a dilemma: economic collapse under complete lockdown versus greater mobility and higher rates of infection. Either way, they will be damned if they don’t act, as any policies they introduce could trigger political turmoil.

A national election scheduled for August 2020 has been postponed, which has plunged the country into a constitutional crisis. The constitutional terms of both the existing legislative bodies and the executive are limited to five years, with no option of extension. So far, COVID-19 looks, first, like an economic crisis, and then a political deadlock. The projected massive casualties on the health front have yet to occur. The official numbers of infections, which the authorities announce daily are in the meantime going up by hundreds. They are no longer in single or double digits.

 

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Tamrat G Giorgis is the managing editor of Fortune, which covers mainly the economies of Ethiopia and Africa. He has over 28 years experience in nearly every aspect of publishing with more than 11 various publications. He is a member of the Alumni of the University of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Policy and regularly contributes to specialised international publications.