Why some anti-corruption campaigns make people more likely to pay a bribe

Commuters waiting at a bus stop in Lagos Adekunle Ajayi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Nic Cheeseman, University of Birmingham and Caryn Peiffer, University of Bristol

Donors and civil society groups spend tens of millions of dollars every year trying to combat corruption. They do it because corruption has been shown to increase poverty and inequality while undermining trust in the government. Reducing corruption is essential to improve public services and strengthen the social contract between citizens and the state.

But what if anti-corruption efforts actually make the situation worse?

Our research in Lagos, Nigeria, found that anti-corruption messages often have an unintended effect. Instead of building public resolve to reject corrupt acts, the messages we tested either had no effect or actually made people more likely to offer a bribe.

The reason may be that the messages reinforce popular perceptions that corruption is pervasive and insurmountable. In doing so, they encourage apathy and acceptance rather than inspire activism.

Fighting corruption

Efforts to combat corruption in “developing countries” initially focused on law enforcement by political leaders and bureaucrats. But these strategies met with limited success and so efforts switched to raising public awareness of the dangers of corruption.

This change of approach made sense. One reason that leaders don’t deliver on reforms is that they benefit from the way things are. Encouraging citizens to reject corrupt leaders would give those in power an incentive to act.

The last 20 years therefore saw a vast array of campaigns, from newspaper and radio advertisements to Twitter messages. Short films, theatre productions and signs that proclaim that government institutions are “corruption free zones” were also included.

These messages are seen by large numbers of people, but until recently there had been remarkably little systematic research on whether they actually work.

Researching corruption

To test the impact of anti-corruption messages we developed five short narratives like those promoted by civil society organisations and international donors. One message focused on explaining that corruption is widespread and damaging. Others emphasised the local impact of graft and the way it wasted citizens’ taxes.

To test the effect of more positive messages, one narrative talked about recent successes that political leaders had in curbing corruption. Another detailed the role that religious leaders played in promoting clean government.

We read the messages to 2,400 randomly selected people in Lagos. While corruption has often been identified as a major challenge in Nigeria, the Lagos State government has made some progress towards reducing government waste, ensuring all citizens pay taxes and delivering better services. It was therefore plausible that both positive and negative messages about corruption would resonate with Lagosians. The state is also ethnically diverse, with considerable poverty and inequality, and so reflects the kind of context in which anti-corruption messaging is often deployed.

Each person we interviewed was given one of the narratives. A control group was not given any anti-corruption information. This was to enable us to compare the impact of different messages. We then asked everyone a number of questions about their attitudes towards corruption.

In an advance on previous studies, we also invited 1,200 people to play a game in which they had an opportunity to win real money. In the game, players could take away more money if they were willing to pay a small bribe to the “banker” who determined the pay-outs. The game tested players’ commitment to rejecting corruption in a more demanding way than simply asking them if they believed corruption was wrong.

We were then able to evaluate whether anti-corruption messages were effective by looking at whether those who received them were more likely to demand clean government and less willing to pay a bribe.

More harm than good

In line with prior research, our findings suggest that anti-corruption campaigns may be doing more harm than good. None of the narratives we used had a positive effect overall. Many of them actually made Lagosians more likely to pay a bribe.

Put another way, the good news is that public relations campaigns can change citizens’ minds. But the bad news is that they often do so in unintended and counterproductive ways.

The reason for this seems to be that anti-corruption messages encourage citizens to think more about corruption, emphasising the extent of the problem. This contributes to “corruption fatigue”: the belief that the problem is simply too big for any one person to make a difference generates despondency. It makes individuals more likely to go with the flow than to stand against it.

This interpretation is supported by another finding that the negative effect of anti-corruption messaging was far more powerful among individuals who believed that corruption was pervasive. This reveals that the problematic consequences of anti-corruption messages are not universal. Among less pessimistic people, messages did not have a negative effect. And one message had the desired effect of reducing the probability of paying a bribe. This was the narrative that emphasised the relationship between corruption and citizens’ tax payments.

Our study therefore suggests that if we can target anti-corruption messages more effectively at specific audiences, we may be able to enhance their positive effects while minimising the risks.

What next?

Other studies have come to similar conclusions in Indonesia, Costa Rica and to some extent Papua New Guinea.

We therefore need to take the lessons of these studies seriously. Anti-corruption campaigns that send untargeted messages should be halted until we work out how to target them more effectively. The most logical response is to embrace new ways of working.

This might mean identifying messages that persuade citizens that corruption is fallingand so “nudge” them to believe it is a problem that can be overcome.

Where that’s not possible, it is also worth considering a more radical break with the past. As others working within the Anti-Corruption Evidence Consortium have argued, the most promising approach may be to abandon traditional anti-corruption messaging in favour of working more indirectly. This would involve building public demand for greater political accountability and transparency without always talking directly about corruption.

Such an approach would be less high profile, but is far more likely to be effective.

Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy, University of Birmingham and Caryn Peiffer, Lecturer in International Public Policy and Governance, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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African countries are finding difficult keeping track of covid-19

South africa had a plan for slowing the spread of covid-19. As outlined by Salim Abdool Karim, chair of the medical committee advising President Cyril Ramaphosa, on April 13th, the country would draw on its earlier experience using community health workers to deal with hiv and tuberculosis. It would screen millions of people in poorer areas. Those with symptoms would be tested and then treated and quarantined if necessary.

Yet a sound strategy has been undermined by, among other things, testing failures. State-run laboratories suggested they could do 36,000 tests per day by the end of April. Since April 5th they have managed to do just one-fifth of that. Results have also taken too long. As of June 6th the average turnaround time was 12 days.

Such delays mean the hiv-inspired strategy is “totally futile”, argues Marc Mendelson, an infectious-disease specialist at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town. Waiting 12 days for an hiv test is agonising, but the patient will probably not infect anyone during that time. In the case of covid-19, by the time a result arrives, a patient may have infected scores of others.

Delays put more pressure on hospitals. In the wider Western Cape province, which has 0.5% of Africa’s population and 17% of its known coronavirus cases, intensive-care units are filling up. Others in South Africa may soon follow suit. The country had the 11th highest five-day moving average of confirmed new cases as of June 16th—and the rate of growth is accelerating.

If South Africa—which with Ghana accounts for about half of all tests in sub-Saharan Africa—is not testing enough, then nor are most other countries in the region. At the start of June African countries had tested, on average, fewer than 1,700 people per 1m, a fraction of the number in rich countries (America had done 26 times more per million people). “Testing is our Achilles heel,” says John Nkengasong of Africa cdc, a pan-African health institution. It is also symbolic of broader weaknesses in African health systems that mean the continent is less able to cope with mass outbreaks than rich parts of the world.

The challenge of testing has long been recognised. In February the World Health Organisation (who) overhauled African labs. Today 43 of the 47 countries in its Africa region can do molecular testing for covid-19, up from just two at the start of the year. Nevertheless, most countries still lack resources. Nigeria has the capacity to do at least 10,000 tests per day, but has averaged fewer than 900 since announcing its first case on February 27th. Some countries have had to wait more than two months for orders of test kits to be delivered.

The problem is that African countries are competing in the market for testing materials with rich countries, many of which are regular customers of the manufacturers and often buy in bulk. Some small African countries have placed orders for fewer than 10,000 kits, as many as Germany uses in a few hours.

Philanthropy has helped. In most African countries most of the testing kits used are those donated by the charitable foundation of Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder. He has given at least 20,000 kits to every country in Africa. Yet this is far short of what is required. On June 3rd Dr Nkengasong said Africa needed at least 20m new test kits within 100 days.

To try to meet that goal, countries are pooling their resources and placing large joint orders. Africa cdc has agreed with manufacturers that 90m kits will be bought over the next six months. A bulk purchase establishes trust, argues Fatoumata Ba, a Senegalese venture capitalist and one of several African executives lending their expertise to the Partnership to Accelerate Covid-19 Testing (pact) scheme.

pact is a step forward, but problems remain. The first kits bought under the agreement are due to arrive only by the end of the month. And having kits does not obviate the need for technicians; South Africa laboured to keep pace even when it had enough materials.

The struggle to increase testing augurs ill for the broader response. The number of confirmed cases in Africa has been rising by about 30% a week over the past month. But that glosses over trouble spots, such as South Africa or Guinea-Bissau, where almost one-tenth of health workers have been infected. And it means that the absolute number of cases is mounting: it took 98 days for Africa to go from 1 to 100,000 cases, but only 18 days to reach 200,000.

The overall numbers matter, because African health systems will tend to be overwhelmed at an earlier point than those in Asia or Europe. Such weaknesses are the main reason why a study published by the Centre for Global Development, a think-tank, projected that death rates in Africa could be many times higher than predicted by other models that do not account for scant staff and cash-strapped hospitals. Already countries such as Kenya and Nigeria are planning ways to care for people in their homes rather than in hospitals.

Others are trying new ways of gauging the disease’s progress. Just four African countries keep high-quality records showing causes of deaths, according to the un. In many places most deaths are not recorded, let alone their cause. That makes it hard to calculate whether death rates are higher than average, a useful measure of the disease’s effects. In the absence of excess-mortality data, countries such as Rwanda and Senegal are doing “verbal autopsies”, where next of kin are interviewed.

South Africa does have mortality data going back years. In the three weeks to June 9th deaths from natural causes were unusually high in Cape Town, and on the rise elsewhere, too. At this point more testing would help, says Dr Mendelson, but the focus must be on reducing deaths. With that in mind the Western Cape is rationing public testing to those over the age of 55 and opening field hospitals. “We cannot test our way out of the crisis,” he says. ■

Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Bloomgist, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our coronavirus page

This article appeared in the Middle East & Africa section of The Economist under the headline “African countries are struggling to keep track of covid-19

‘I am a mother – I killed some children’s parents’

Tens of thousands of women took part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda but their role is rarely spoken about, and reconciliation with their family is hard. Journalist Natalia Ojewska has been talking to some female perpetrators in prison.

What started as a mundane trip to fetch water for breakfast ended with Fortunate Mukankuranga committing murder.

Dressed in an orange prison uniform and speaking in her dimmed, calm voice, she recalls the events of the morning of Sunday, 10 April 1994.

As she was on her way, she came across a group of attackers beating up two men in the middle of the street.

“When [the two] fell to the ground, I picked up a stick and said: ‘Tutsis must die!’. Then I hit one of them and then the other one… I was one of the killers,” the 70-year-old says.

Haunted by killings

These were two among 800,000 murders of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus that took place over 100 days.

After her involvement in the slaughter, Mukankuranga, an ethnic Hutu, returned home to her seven children feeling deeply ashamed. Flashbacks from the crime scene would not stop haunting her.

“I am a mother. I killed some children’s parents,” she says.

Just a few days later, two terrified Tutsi children, whose parents had just been butchered with machetes, knocked on her door asking for refuge.

‘Tide of guilt’

She did not hesitate and hid them in the attic, where they survived the massacres.

“Even though I have saved the children, I have failed these two men. This help will never turn the tide of guilt,” says Mukankuranga.

She is one of an estimated 96,000 women convicted for their involvement in the genocide – some killed adults, like Mukankuranga, some killed children, and others egged on men to commit rape and murder.https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.32.11/iframe.htmlMedia captionBetween April and July 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days.

On the evening of 6 April 1994, an aeroplane carrying Rwanda’s Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down as it was approaching the airport in the capital, Kigali.

Although the identities of the assassins have never been established, Hutu extremists immediately accused Tutsi rebels of carrying out the attack. Within hours, thousands of Hutus, indoctrinated by decades of hateful ethnic propaganda, joined in with the well-organised killing.

The women’s participation challenges a stereotype in Rwanda of women as protectors and providers of a calming voice.

“It is very difficult to understand how a mother who loves her children, would go to her neighbours’ [home] to kill their children,” says Regine Abanyuze, who works for Never Again, a non-governmental organisation promoting peace and reconciliation.

Yet, once the spark for the atrocities was lit, thousands of women acted as agents of violence alongside the men.

Women sewing in a group
In prison, the women are given time to confess and try and reconcile with the victims

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, former minister for the family and women’s development, was one of the few Rwandan women who took on a powerful leadership position in the male-dominated political scene. She played a critical role in orchestrating the genocide.

In 2011, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found her guilty of genocide. She remains the only woman ever to have been sentenced for rape as a crime against humanity.

Nyiramasuhuko bore command responsibility over militiamen who raped Tutsi women at the Butare Prefecture Office.

But while she sat at the apex, some ordinary Rwandan women were also inciting men. Others did not hesitate to use every available weapon to butcher their neighbours.

There are no separate rehabilitation programmes for female genocidaires and many struggle with reconciling what they have done with traditional perceptions of a woman’s role.

Two views of a massacre

Martha Mukamushinzimana is a mother of five children, who secretly carried the burden of her crime for 15 years, before she decided to report herself to the judicial authorities in 2009 as she could no longer live with the burden of her crimes.

Martha Mukamushinzimana
Martha Mukamushinzimana says she was just following orders

Defining themselves through the prism of motherhood, many are too overwhelmed with shame to admit to their loved ones that they failed in their role as caregivers.

“Time is the main rehabilitation tool we use. We want to give them as much time as necessary to listen to them and to slowly bring them to the point of confession,” says Grace Ndawanyi, director of the prison for female inmates in Ngoma, in Rwanda’s Eastern Province.

“Because my house was located near the main road, I heard all the whistles and saw my Tutsi neighbours being rounded up and taken to the church,” says Mukamushinzimana, sitting in a small, bare prison room and sometimes crying.

Thousands of Tutsis, crammed in and around the Nyamasheke Parish Catholic Church, fought for their lives for a week. Stanislus Kayitera, now 53, was one of the few survivors. His forearm bears a large and irregular scar from grenade shrapnel.

“I remember women collecting stones and giving them to the men, who were throwing them at us. Men were also shooting, throwing grenades and pouring fuel over people and then setting them on fire.

“Then, they stormed the church and started to kill us with clubs,” says Mr Kayitera, who survived by hiding under the dead bodies.

Mukamushinzimana says she felt compelled to follow the orders.

“I took my baby on the back and joined the group collecting stones used to kill people hiding at the church,” says Mukamushinzimana, who had given birth just two weeks earlier.

When she was jailed in 2009, not one of her relatives was willing to take care of her five children.

A woman in prison sewing
Image captionThe aim is to reintegrate the perpetrators into society

“Genocide is a crime against whole communities. It damages not only the dignity of the victims, but also that of the perpetrators. And those people need healing as well,” says Fidele Ndayisaba, executive secretary at Rwanda’s National Unity and Reconciliation Commission.

Female genocidaires who revealed the truth are encouraged to write letters to their families and relatives of their victims in order to regain the lost trust step by step.

Once released from prison, female genocidaires face very different challenges on their path to reintegration to the men.

Some of their husbands have remarried and disinherited them from their property. Their home communities do not welcome them and they struggle with rejection by their closest family.

But there is a lot of emphasis that healing takes time and there are still some prisoners reluctant to reject the ideology of ethnic hatred.

“Yes, we have some people denying their crimes. They are those hard ones, but their number is declining,” says Mr Ndayisaba.

‘I couldn’t hold back the tears’

Fortunate Mukankuranga only found the courage to confess to her crimes four years after her conviction in 2007.

She remembers feeling nervous before asking the son of one of her victims for forgiveness.

Against her expectations “he was happy and enthusiastic when he met me and I couldn’t hold back the tears as I embraced him,” she says.

Mukankuranga now looks cautiously at the future, hoping she will be able to rebuild the fragile ties with her loved ones.

“When I go back home, I will live in peace with my family and I shall be more loving and caring about people. I am paying now for the consequences of my crime. I wasn’t supposed to be in prison as a mother,” she adds.

The voices missing from South Africa’s response to COVID-19

A woman making masks in Alexandra, Johannesburg. The South African government hasn’t consulted with its citizens on COVID-19. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP via Getty Images).

Isayvani Naicker, African Academy of Sciences

Ten days after South Africa reported its first case of COVID-19 on 5 March 2020, the government moved quickly to declare a national state of disaster. Within days a National Coronavirus Command Council had been formed, travel restrictions imposed and schools closed. A national lockdown was announced on 23 March. This remains in force though restrictions are being lifted slowly.

South Africa’s response has been praised by the head of the World Health Organisation. But it has also come under intense scrutiny from those who cite major shortcomings in how the government has arrived at decisions. Specifically, it’s been criticised for whose advice it has sought and who it has chosen not to engage.

These limitations are exposed in three dimensions.

The first is the reliance on a small subset of the science community in deliberating on the response. South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 is dominated by medics and medical professionals.

The second dimension is the seemingly erratic policy options being communicated from different advisers. For example, some have supported the lockdown while others have been calling for it to be halted.

The third dimension is the absence of engagement with the public and civil society organisations. Here, the government could learn from one of the country’s provinces – the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature – which has gone online to strengthen public participation during COVID-19. The Democracy Works Foundation and Westminister Foundation of Development developed an online engagement series that allows communities to bring their challenges to the legislature.

Policy implementation is about the execution of political decisions, informed by evidence. But part of it is also about politics – being informed by the electorate. It is therefore important that government decision making and interventions be judged in terms of their capacity for effective problem solving. And for generating legitimacy.

Diversity of scientific expertise is needed

The economic, health and socioeconomic effects of the lockdown are multidimensional and far reaching. This suggests that advice from social scientists would be essential to inform the government response. Yet the voices of social scientists and civil society are filtering through to government opinion pieces and commentary in the print and social media – not through structured institutionalised advisory committees.

A public statement on COVID-19 recently released by the South African Academy of Sciences cautioned:

it is crucial that the National Coronavirus Command Council, and the structures reporting to it, such as the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19, include in its advisory bodies scientists from a much broader range of disciplines. While it is important to have epidemiologists, vaccinologists and infectious disease experts on these bodies, we believe that the pandemic is not simply a medical problem but a social problem as well. This means that social scientists and humanities scholars should also form part of these advisory structures.

Yet this isn’t happening.

Even the advice from scientists who have formally been drawn into the process of advising government has its limitations.

Scientists on the ministerial advisory committee typically frame the issue based on their involvements and expertise.

What South Africa needs now is scientists to move from being issues advocates who seek to reduce the scope of available choices. They need to become what political scientist Roger A. Pielke refers to as honest brokers of policy alternatives.

This would involve scientists engaging in decision making and integrating scientific knowledge with stakeholder concerns, thus embracing the politics of expert advice. These stakeholder concerns would include business, labour, women’s organisations, religious organisations, professional societies and civic groups.

Legitimacy

The government has recently moved from a strict lockdown to a differential risk-adjusted model of alert levels.

The five risk-adjusted levels are guided by a set of criteria. These include the level of infections and rate of transmission, the capacity of health facilities, the implementation of public health interventions and economic and social impact. Built into the model is the possibility of a differentiated approach to deal with those areas that have far higher levels of infection and transmission. Decision makers in the Department of Health say they are currently implementing what is practical and implementable. This, it’s envisaged, would be done in a way that’s “coherent and aligned to many factors”.

The question is: why are ordinary citizens not involved in decisions about what is practical and implementable, coherent and aligned?

Isayvani Naicker, Director Strategy and Partnerships, African Academy of Sciences, African Academy of Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus makes Boko Haram more dangerous than ever

Abubakar Shekau
Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau. Photo: The Cable

Boko Haram, one of the world’s deadliest jihadist groups, has long threatened the security of the vast swathes of West and Central Africa. But now the coronavirus pandemic is adding a new dimension of danger. 

Boko Haram – whose name means ‘Western education is forbidden’ – reached the height of its power five years ago, soon after it kidnapped 276 of mainly Christian schoolgirls from their school in the town of Chibok, northeastern Nigeria in 2014.

In 2015, the jihadists controlled an area of Nigeria equivalent to the size of Belgium. The fighters sought to turn themselves from insurgents to rulers and impose their ruthless interpretation of Islam over a so-called ‘caliphate’. 

Since then, national governments helped by their Western partners have beaten the group back, shrunk its territory and forced it into a gruesome guerrilla war.

Just before the pandemic struck, many political actors around the Lake Chad Basin in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad were discussing how to consolidate these gains and ultimately, defeat Boko Haram. 

But now, local governments are scrambling to shore up their healthcare systems and redeploying precious resources away from fighting the jihadists. At the same time, Western nations are turning in on themselves, fretting about post-virus austerity and retrenchment.

The fight against Boko Haram has cost thousands of lives and displaced millions. But now there is a real risk that the group could make up lost ground and make the coronavirus pandemic worse. 

Escape from Boko Haram | ‘If you gave me a gun, I would finish them all’

The terror group horrified the world when it kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria in 2014. But what happened to those who survived? In Maiduguri, photographer Simon Townsley meets those who escaped. Words by Will BrownRead more

I was born in Borno State and grew up in Yobe State, the group’s epicentre and have family members who still live in the region. I have received three death threats from Boko Haram’s leaders for my work analysing the conflict. But now the joint threat of Boko Haram and Covid-19 terrifies me.

Boko Haram’s attacks are a significant distraction for those trying to stop the virus from spreading.

Take Chad. The nation of around 15 million people confirmed its first case of coronavirus on March 19. The pandemic is bringing some of the most advanced health care systems in the world to their knees and Chad only has ten intensive care beds.

But the jihadists are making things far worse. Four days after Chad confirmed coronavirus had come to the country, Boko Haram launched a huge attack killing nearly 100 local soldiers, in one of the deadliest incidents in the country’s history. 

The damage was so significant that Idriss Déby, Chad’s dictator of thirty years, was forced to leave the capital and his country’s Covid-19 response behind and rush to Lake Chad with his troops to direct a military intervention.

On the same day in March, at least 47 Nigerian soldiers were killed in a Boko Haram ambush, as the country recorded a sharp rise in confirmed cases of coronavirus.

The head of Nigeria’s army had been preparing his troops to enforce lockdowns, transfer patients to hospitals and prepare for mass burials. But he was forced to leave the army headquarters and mount an offensive against the group.

It is clear that both attacks drew attention away from efforts to fight the virus and forced governments to fight on two fronts with stretched resources.

There is no doubt that Boko Haram recognises the opportunity that Covid-19 offers them. Boko Haram’s breakaway group, Islamic State West Africa Province, recently boasted that the pandemic is an opportunity to step up efforts and expand activities. 

In an editorial in Isil central’s bi-weekly Arabic language magazine, it celebrated recent attacks in the Lake Chad region. It said the virus and subsequent economic downturn would divert government attention, weaken capacity and increase fragility, giving its fighters more inroads.

The jihadists have a long history of targeting health and aid workers which will certainly imperil coronavirus testing and treatment efforts in remote areas.

The group has attacked polio immunisation campaigners, executed workers from Action Against Hunger and the International Committee of the Red Cross. If a vaccine were developed, Boko Haram would almost undoubtedly slow distribution in the areas they operate in.

The preachings may also damage the local people’s compliance with health measures and feed into widespread misconceptions about Covid-19.

The group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, has released recordings claiming non-Muslims and their Muslim puppets are using Covid-19 to attack Islam by stopping Muslims from practising their faith. He has encouraged people to keep taking part in group prayers and other religious activities.

In the most recent death threat I received from them last month, the 24-minute audio also mocked the government’s Covid-19 efforts.  

So far there have only been just over 20,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and fewer than 700 reported deaths in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad put together.

However, we must not be complacent. There have been reports of hundreds of unexplained deaths across northern Nigeria and testimonies from health care workers point towards a major outbreak of the virus. 

West Africa has many of the same characteristics that made Afghanistan a hotbed for extremist violence. If there is anywhere Isil can replicate its territorial achievements in Iraq and Syria, it is there.

While Western governments have their own struggles with the pandemic, they must recognise that the virus will only exacerbate the security situation in West Africa. They must keep up their support for the fight against extremist violence in the region.

The UK should proceed with the proposed deployment of an additional 250 British troops to the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Mali, which is another crucial part of the fight against jihadi groups that are becoming more and more connected. The US should also reconsider its reported move to withdraw its forces from West Africa.  

Meanwhile, in my part of the world, families and governments alike face an unholy alliance between brutal militias claiming to fight for God and a deadly new enemy in the form of the coronavirus.

  • Bulama Bukarti is Africa Analyst at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change
A Chinese language teacher speaks with students at the Confucius Institute at the University of Lagos. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images

We wanted to know if Chinese migrants in Africa self-segregate. What we found

A Chinese language teacher speaks with students at the Confucius Institute at the University of Lagos. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images

By YAN Hairong, Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Over the past 20 years there’s been remarkable growth in China-Africa links because of increased trade and investment. As a result there’s also been a great deal of movement of people between China and African countries. It’s estimated that there are now about 500,000 Africans in China, while the the number of Chinese in the 54 African countries ranges between one and two million.

Though Chinese people can now be found in most African countries, there’s a claim that some commentators and media outlets make: that they hold themselves apart from their host societies.

For instance, a US commentator writes that:

(They) have no experience in the world outside of China; no curiosity about these strange African lands and their people and a morbid indifference to Africa’s long-term future. (Most) are poorly educated and ill-equipped to live in different cultures.

To some, the claim of Chinese self-isolation might resonate due to the physical evidence of Chinatowns, such as those in the US, Canada and South Africa. However, the reverse is true.

Chinatowns in these countries are not products of Chinese voluntary self-isolation, but of forced exclusion policies of white settler societies and governments. For instance, the Chinese Exclusion Act in the US and the Chinese Exclusion Act in South Africa.

These exclusionary measures were driven by the fear of Chinese as the “Yellow Peril”: a racial construct used extensively in Western countries against Asians who were viewed as a threat to Western civilisation, with images of expansion, takeover and appropriation. Today depictions of African weakness, Western trusteeship and Chinese ruthlessness are continuations of these stereotypes. I believe that these myths persist because of bias in the media and because Chinese relations and people are sometimes used as political pawns.

My colleagues and I set out to examine the claims of Chinese self-segregation in various African countries. Based on surveys, interviews, and academic literature we examined the varied lives of Chinese people over the past 10 years. Our primary research site was Zambia, although we conducted research in many African countries including Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Sudan.

Our research examined where Chinese migrants lived, their knowledge of local languages and socialisation patterns. We found that – like all migrants – factors affecting Chinese integration include local political environment, recentness of migration, language barriers, and corporate policies to mitigate crime and conflict. In addition Chinese are also affected by host bias – such as anti-Chinese campaigns.

These have all made Chinese integration varied processes and supports previous research my colleagues and I have done.

The accusations of Chinese self-isolation in Africa does not mesh with the reality: the lives of Chinese people in Africa are varied and cannot be reduced to a single category. The accusations are also damaging as they are racist, undermine African-Chinese relations, misrepresent the global Chinese presence, and fosters suspicion of Chinese migrants as perpetual “others”.

Contract employees

One group of Chinese migrants are contract employees. They usually work with large Chinese companies as expatriate engineers, managers, and skilled workers. From our research we found that contract employees usually stay for one or two contracts (with one contract lasting between one and three years), but a small number may work as long as a decade.

Of all contract employees, contract employees working on infrastructure projects often had the most interaction with locals. This is because they lived and sometimes ate with their local colleagues.

For instance, we interviewed teams of Chinese and local drillers from a Chinese water well firm in Sudan. One Sudanese interviewee said:

Chinese live like locals. If the locals have brick houses, they’ll stay in them, but if not, they’ll stay in grass huts or tents.

In China it’s not uncommon for construction and mining workers to live collectively in compounds. They now do the same in Africa. This helps to save the company time and money, but it’s also a precaution to reduce their exposure to crime.

Company policies can also affect how much workers interact socially. For instance, our field research in Zambia found that the Chinese mine construction firm TLZD had policies whereby Chinese employees were not allowed out at night for their safety, but also because – due to language barriers – misunderstandings can lead to fights. Most Chinese in Africa, like first-generation migrants everywhere, are hampered by a language barrier.

Some company policies encourage integration because they make learning a language a requirement for the job. For instance, one Kenyan journalist based in Beijing observed that some large firms only hire Chinese “with a solid understanding of local African languages.”

Wall Street Journal correspondent Te-Ping Chen also observed that “Chinese immigrants that have come to Africa tend to live side by side with Africans (and) tend to speak local dialects.” By contrast, we found that white people have lived in South Africa for more than three centuries and Indian people for 150 years. But unless brought up on a farm, few white people speak an African language, while most young Indians speak only English or are bilingual in English and Afrikaans.

Migrant entrepreneurs

For the Chinese people that aren’t contract workers, they typically work in small and medium businesses as either owners, employees, or family dependants. Some will bring their nuclear family to Africa while others straddle two continents.

They tend to live in small groups all over cities, depending on their economic status. For instance in Luanda, Angola, less affluent Chinese groups have sprung up in informal settlements.

Scholars find that how much they mix and integrate depends on the nature of their business. For instance, Chinese retailers have much more engagement, with a variety of people such as local employees, customers, or partners.

As expected, the longer they stay the more localised they become – for instance their children go to local schools allowing them to integrate more. As many Chinese are traders, they are also active in learning local African languages.

Our research shows that even though there’s plenty of evidence that Chinese don’t self-segregate, it’s a myth that has been hard to confront because some people have examples of Chinese non-interaction and may be politically invested in generalising that tale.

YAN Hairong, Associate Professor, Hong Kong Polytechnic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

“Hell yeah, I’m a feminist”: Ugandan feminists are pressing hard

There is much to do. At Makerere University, young women recall their time in high school. One was trained to sit and talk “like a woman”. Another recounts how older boys would vet potential prefects: “They start making you turn around to see how big your butt is.” A student activist remembers a call from a female administrator advising her to leave serious business to the men. “It’s hard to be a feminist,” says Marion Kirabo, a law student. “It becomes a constant war between you and society.”

The state is both priggish and prurient. It orders female civil servants not to wear short skirts. But it also organised a “Miss Curvy” beauty contest to entice foreign tourists. Women whose nude photos are shared online without their consent have been arrested. Meanwhile, a senior policeman recently blamed women who “wiggle their butts seductively” for causing road accidents. He added that “unnecessary exposure of [female] flesh amounts to sexual assault”—on the men who see it.

Social conservatism divides the women’s movement itself. Many campaigners describe themselves as “gender advocates” rather than feminists, because they reject permissiveness on issues such as abortion, says Eunice Musiime of Akina Mama wa Afrika, Uganda’s most influential feminist group. She describes meetings where some attendees would refuse to sit next to a gay person or talk to a sex worker.

However, more radical voices are finding each other online. Stella Nyanzi (pictured), an activist with more than 200,000 Facebook followers, likens social media to “a gym in which feminists grow muscles”. Several women have made accusations against abusers online; one was even arrested for doing so. Twitter and Facebook have “taken the movement out of ngo boardrooms”, says Godiva Akullo, a lawyer.

Ugandan feminists talk about race as well as sex. Many draw as much inspiration from #BlackLivesMatter as from #MeToo. Ms Kagumire notes ways in which black women are doubly disadvantaged. For example, Western embassies interrogate single African women applying for visas, assuming that they are seeking a husband.

Online organising amplifies offline struggles. In 2018 hundreds of people marched through Kampala to protest about the police’s failure to stop the kidnapping and murder of scores of young women. And women are taking the lead in wider struggles. Last year Ms Kirabo and her fellow students led what started out as a women’s protest against rising tuition fees. Male students joined them in demonstrations that halted lectures for weeks.

Their protests draw on a decades-long tradition of women-led resistance. For at least a year market vendors have fined traders who harass them. And for generations rural women have used nudity to protest against injustices such as land theft.

The fearless Ms Nyanzi has clashed with the president himself. In 2017 she lambasted Janet Museveni, the education minister (and the president’s wife), who had said there was no money in the budget to buy sanitary pads for schoolgirls. Ms Nyanzi later spent 16 months in prison after writing a poem about the vagina of the president’s mother. She shouts, strips and swears. “You can’t just say ‘please don’t do it,’” she has said. “You’ve got to say ‘fucking don’t do it’ and shake your dreadlocks like a crazy woman and throw off your dress.” 

This article first appeared in the Middle East & Africa section of The Economist under the headline “How Ugandan feminists make themselves heard”

Lagos state officials disinfecting roads in the state. Shutterstock

Coronavirus: what Nigeria can do post lockdown

Lagos state officials disinfecting roads in the state.
Shutterstock

Doyin Ogunyemi, University of Lagos

The World Health Organisation has warned that COVID-19 infection rates are likely to remain for a long time. There is therefore a need for countries to plan one step ahead of the epidemic curve.

Nigeria is no exception. In Africa, it is among the countries with the highest number of cases. While the numbers remain low compared with many other countries in the world, it continues to rise gradually. Worryingly, the mortality rate stands at 3.1%. This is higher than some of its neighbours. For example, Ghana, which has a similar age demography and socioeconomic characteristics, is reporting a mortality rate of 0.5%.

For Nigeria, the decision to ease the lockdown on 4 May was a compromise between the heavy economic costs – including the hardship on citizens who depend on daily earnings – and the choice to contain a public health emergency.

The decision on ‘if’ or ‘when’ to ease the lockdown in any country due to the COVID-19 pandemic will always be a difficult one.

Now that Nigeria is gradually easing restrictions, the main question is what realistic public health measures can be taken to ensure infection, and fatality rates, remain at the low end of the spectrum?

To answer this question, the need for reliable data cannot be over-emphasised.

Planning without data

Accurate data should be the basis for any decision making. But this is proving difficult in Nigeria. This is for a number of reasons.

The first thing that needs to change is Nigeria’s disjointed coordination of data for evidence-based decision making. For example, the time lapse between sample collection and test results received for suspected cases sometimes exceeds the approximately two week recovery period for mild cases of the disease, instead of the 48 hours benchmark.

Although shortages of materials, especially reagents, was the reason given, such delays make it difficult to monitor the spread and intensity of the disease in Nigeria. And suspected cases not under strict isolation are able to continue to spread the virus while awaiting their results.

Secondly, Nigeria has very low testing numbers. According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, 60,825 tests had been conducted as at the end of May 2020, in a population of over 200 million people. In comparison, Ghana, whose population is about 30 million, has conducted over 200,000 tests.

This suggests there could be a gross underestimation of the number of positive cases at any given point in time when the high proportion of asymptomatic and mild cases is put into the equation.

There is also the possibility of double testing and counting – where people visit more than one test centre due to delays in receiving test results. In the United Kingdom, public health officials admitted to double counting the nasal and saliva samples of the same patient.

Ambitious testing targets set by countries including Nigeria may account for this too. This can pose the challenge of over-estimation of positive cases.

An underestimation or overestimation of positive cases allows for a false infection fatality rate which is calculated as the number of deaths (numerator) divided by the number of people infected (denominator) x 100. The fatality rate being presented depends largely on number of tests done and counting of positive tests.

Nigeria is at a stage of ongoing community transmission. This means that densely populated local government areas and states are at higher risks of transmission.

What to do next

There are some immediate steps that the country should take on top of reminding citizens about physical distancing, good hand and respiratory hygiene.

Firstly, efforts to reduce the spread need to be decentralised. This includes increased testing and setting up more isolation centres within the local government areas.

Also, risk communication, continuous surveillance, monitoring and evaluation must be scaled up. Cascading these interventions to the community level will increase effectiveness and efficiency.

Other recommendations given the country’s peculiarities include:

  • Making mobile sample collection vehicles and points available. These vehicles are three-wheeler kiosks that can navigate through the community without difficulty. This method fast-tracks sample collection for COVID-19 tests within wards and local government areas.
  • Increasing capacity of testing sites in the various states so that there is at least one laboratory in each of the 36 states of the federation. Currently, there are 28 functional laboratories for COVID-19 testing in the country and only three states have more than one.
  • Giving clients the results of their tests within 48 hours at the maximum. This will be attainable with an uninterrupted supply chain of medical supplies such as reagents, consumables and the provision of technical support and continuous training for adequate manpower.
  • Isolating confirmed positives, triaging to mild, moderate and severe cases – a process of sorting people based on their need for immediate medical treatment. This will ensure that the treatment centres are not overwhelmed.
  • Ensuring continuous training of health personnel to operate isolation centres, training of private health care facilities on high index of suspicion of cases, and well disseminated protocol on referral of suspects.
  • Coordinating sample and test result triangulation in all testing centres to avoid double counting.
  • Tailoring lockdown approaches to suit affected local government areas and communities.

    Flexibility in the adaptation of general best practices and funding of research for home grown solutions.

An opportunity to raise the bar

COVID-19 presents Nigeria with an opportunity to properly invest in strengthening its primary health care system. The health centres need to be properly equipped while health workers should be armed with adequate personal protective equipment. This will enable them to discharge their duties without the fear of being at risk of contracting the virus.

Within the context of a strengthened primary health care system, a rapid process of sample collection, result verification and contact tracing can be developed for the management of COVID-19 in post-lockdown Nigeria.

Overall, Nigeria should embark on a health sector reform and concentrate on the core values of equity, efficiency, quality, financing and sustainability in the provision of health care.

Doyin Ogunyemi, Public Health Physician and Senior Lecturer, College of Medicine, University of Lagos

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Rape? we all are guilty.

If you have never spoken up against raping of our women, you are guilty. If you are speaking but not acting, you are guilty. If you so feel you are not concerned because it’s against women mostly, you are guilty. If you know someone who engages in the act of abusing women yet you are covering them, you are guilty.

One in every three women has been raped or abused in some other way – most often by someone she knows, including her neighbour or another male family member. One of the ways to help fight this evil is to speak up against #Rape and speak up about your experience which we strongly believe will help other victims get over the experience.

Men must lead the fight

The society has made it more like the fight against rape and sexual abuse against women should have women at the front, but no, it should begin with the men. Women are not being raped by fellow women, but majorly by men who sees women as nothing but sex objects meant to satisfy their sexual urge.

Men must stand up and lead the fight against women, that is not something to think twice about but it’s a show of support and a warm acknowledgement that the men can end this evil being perpetuate by their fellow men. Men must lead the fight.

We must take a stand

The campaign against rape is a fight we all must engage with. It’s not one that should be left to a set or few in the society. Our government, religious leaders, business leaders and everyone in the society must find a voice to speak again this evil against women that is eating deep into our society.

We must fight

Gender-based violence is one of the most pervasive and yet least-recognized human rights abuses in the world.

This violence leaves survivors with long-term psychological and physical trauma; tears away at the social fabric of communities; and is used with terrifying effect in conflict settings, with women as the main target.

Join the fight against sexual abuse, SAY NO TO RAPE!

Africa’s dependency on commodity exports, including oil, makes it more vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19. Getty Images

How a post-COVID-19 revival could kickstart Africa’s free trade area

Africa’s dependency on commodity exports, including oil, makes it more vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19.
Getty Images

By Faizel Ismail, University of Cape Town

The African Continental Free Trade Area was launched two years ago at an African Union (AU) summit in Kigali. It was scheduled to be implemented from 1 July 2020. But this has been pushed out until 2021 because of the impact of COVID-19 and the need for leaders to focus on saving lives.

Studies by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and others state that the free trade area has the potential to increase growth, raise welfare and stimulate industrial development on the continent. But there are concerns. Some countries, particularly smaller and more vulnerable states, could be hurt. For example, they could suffer revenue losses and other negative effects from premature liberalisation.

The impact of COVID-19 will only worsen these structural weaknesses. The Economic Commission for Africa has reported that between 300,000 and 3.3 million people could lose their lives if appropriate measures are not taken. There are several reasons for this level of high risk. These include the fact that 56% of urban dwellings are in overcrowded slums, 71% of Africa’s workforce is informally employed and cannot work from home and 40% of children on the continent are undernourished.

Africa is also more vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19 because it is highly dependent on imports for its medicinal and pharmaceutical products and on commodity exports. The latter include oil, which has suffered a severe collapse in price.

Other contributing factors are high public debt due to higher interest rate payments than Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, a weak fiscal tax base, and the negative impact on Africa’s currencies due to huge stimulus measures taken by OECD countries.

The COVID-19 crisis has brought these weaknesses into sharp relief. But it also provides an opportunity for African countries to address them. For example, they could accelerate intra-regional trade by focusing on the products of greatest need during the health crisis. Countries could also start building regional value chains to advance industrialisation, improve infrastructure and strengthen good governance and ethical leadership.

These are all vital to guiding African countries through the current crisis.

These goals can be achieved if African states adopt a “developmental regionalism” approach to trade integration. This would include fair trade, building regional value chains, cross-border investment in infrastructure and strengthening democratic governance.

Fair trade

A number of conditions need to be met for a free trade area to succeed.

Firstly, African states vary widely in size and economic development. As a result some may warrant special attention and specific treatment. In particular, among Africa’s 55 states 34 are classified by the United Nations as least developed countries. These are low income countries that have severe structural problems impeding their development.

Building trade agreements in favour of small and less developed economies will contribute to fairer outcomes of the free trade deal.

Secondly, African governments should include their stakeholders – businesses (both big and small), trade unions and civil society organisations – in the national consultation process. This will require effective institutions that enable the fullest participation.

Additional steps countries should take to cope with the fallout from COVID-19:

  • Reduce tariffs on vital pharmaceutical products (such as ventilators), personal protective equipment and food products;
  • Stimulate intra-regional trade by prioritising these products for an immediate or early phase down in the free trade area.

Building regional value chains

African countries are increasingly connected to the global economy, but tend to operate at the lowest rung of the ladder. They are mainly supplying raw materials and other low-value manufactured outputs.

Cooperation is needed between Africa’s emerging entrepreneurs and industries to improve their competitiveness in global markets. This would have a number of positive outcomes including:

  • triggering industrialisation, which will transform economies
  • helping African countries obtain a fairer share of the value derived from African commodities and labour, and
  • improving the lives of people on the continent.

The current crisis creates an opportunity for African countries to build value chains on medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment.

The clothing and textile sector could also be restructured to meet the needs of the health sector while taking advantage of the breakdown in supply chains from China and Europe.

As more countries lock down their economies and apply movement controls, agricultural and processed food supply chains are disrupted. This creates opportunities to build regional supply chains and partner with retailers.

There are also opportunities to build infrastructure to support the health response: hospitals, water and sanitation, schools, low-cost housing and alternative energy.

African countries can also benefit from the growing interest in environmental tourism.

Cross-border infrastructure investment

Since most African countries are less developed, and many are small, intra-regional trade will require them to cooperate to improve their infrastructure. This includes physical ports, roads and railways as well as customs procedures, port efficiency and reduction of roadblocks.

Progress is already being made. Examples include the Mombasa-Nairobi Corridor; the Addis to Djibouti road, rail and port connection; and the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor, which handles more than two-thirds of West African trade.

Increased investment in these types of cross-border infrastructure projects will benefit regional integration.

Democracy and governance

Most African states have started accepting multi-party systems of governance. Many have also embraced a culture of constitutionalism, rule of law and human rights.

Democratic governance supported by active citizenship will create an environment of transparency and predictability that encourages domestic and foreign investment. Both are vital for growth and industrialisation. The process is also essential for the sustainability of regional economic integration and democracy in Africa.

Countries are becoming better at fulfilling their democratic obligations. For example, 40 African countries, including the Seychelles and Zimbabwe, voluntarily joined the African Peer Review Mechanism. The mechanism is a remarkable achievement that the free trade area agreement must build on.

The way forward

The free trade area could become a landmark in Africa’s journey towards peace, prosperity and integration. The COVID-19 pandemic, notwithstanding its devastating impact on the health and economies of Africa, could be an opportunity to advance the free trade area in a more developmental, inclusive and mutually beneficial way for African countries.

Faizel Ismail, Director of the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance, University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Message of hope for parents with special needs children

A happy family. Photo: The Hechinger Report

The life of parents with special needs children is in itself a metaphor for life. It is full of ups and downs, joy and sorrow, achievement and disappointment. As a mother of a child with Down syndrome, I can tell you that we still have to face the “normal” obstacles of everyday life, like anyone else, but with an increased intensity that an added dimension brings. Throw in a little Covid-19 into the mix and it’s a recipe for disaster. BUT it doesn’t have to be.

In March of this year, as the pandemic made its way, it brought with it a sense of impending doom and uncertainty which was compounded by school closures and the lockdown. Overnight, everything came to a halt. The crucial support we depended on for our daughter’s special education needs were gone. No speech and music therapy to aid in cognition and speech progression, no facilitator to assist in learning and no school environment to aid in gaining appropriate social interaction skills.

A happy family. Photo: The Hechinger Report

I was alarmed as the truth dawned on me. How am I going to do this? I work full time from home, I have two children and a household to manage. Panic ensued and for me, that panic manifests in trying to control everything and having to constantly DO something at all times. This is not good, as it will inevitably lead to burnout.

Then came the pressure of school sending mixed messages and demand for school fees, just to add salt to an ever-growing wound. With all of these, it is easy to see how we can be consumed by worry, doubt, fear and anxiety. It can completely take over us as we envision a bleak future for our children. But in reality where does this lead? And if you think about it, have we ever really been in control? Are we able to ensure our future by sheer will? Can we 100% say that we will be here tomorrow? We cannot and never have been able to. It’s all been an illusion we have constructed.

OK, ok, let me stop there. The title of this article is about hope and that’s enough doom and gloom, but it sets the stage for something “special” parent needs to have in their armoury and that is PERSPECTIVE.

The tumultuous journey of raising a child with special needs has prepared us somewhat for a positive and hopeful attitude during these uncertain times. When our daughter from the age of four and a half months to two and a half years old was fighting for her life, we understood that tomorrow is promised to no one. We learned to enjoy the smallest things about today, to hug deeply and cherish everything.

On a general note, parents, for the most part, don’t see themselves as teachers. We see that role as separate and for someone else. As “special” parents we don’t see ourselves as teachers, therapists, doctors and the like. We are just clueless parents. And it is about time to change that perspective. Through the experiences we’ve had in the past 4 years, I have realized that no one knows better than the parents. I seek advice and study the professionals, of course, but at the end of the day if your child has, for example, two hours of speech therapy a week with a speech and language pathologist, what happens the rest of the time? If you think about it the rest of the time, your child is learning from YOU! That makes you the main go-to, the main therapist, and the main specialist.

So what can we do as parents of special needs children during this time? I always say before you start thinking of the notions of “school” and therapy, what is the environment like in your home?

All children need a home that is nurturing and in which they feel truly loved. When a child feels loved, nurtured and knows they matter, they are more engaged and willing to participate as well as contribute to the home and wider society at large given the opportunity. For children with special needs, learning difficulties and delays, keying into that engagement opens the door to learning.

So you have a home environment of love and nurturing. Next is to get organised and make a schedule. For everyone’s sanity, a schedule is a must. Why? Having a routine during a period of anxiety and uncertainty helps with boosting mental health as it gives focus and direction.

The schedule will depend on a number of factors the biggest being:
WORK – Understand YOUR schedule and responsibilities to your employer/business if you are still working, as you will still need to deliver that AND work with your child with special education needs.
SUPPORT – The more support you have the more time can be spent focusing on schooling and supportive therapy with your child.
Note there is no one size fits all here or a wrong or right way to approach this. Again, the key is to keep good mental and physical health during this time. So families need to do what is right for them specifically.

And PLEASE give yourself a break! Cut yourself some slack. Your children will be fine. Most important is that they feel loved and nurtured.

‘I buried my cousin on Facebook Live’

The chairs were placed at least 1m (3ft) apart – family sat on one side, church officials on the other. Everyone wore a mask.

Everyone knew of the strict instructions that the Kenyan government had laid down for funerals during the coronavirus pandemic.

Only 15 people could gather for the burial of my cousin, Chris, and everything had to be done by 09:00 local time.

By 07:00 the rest of us had gathered, in front of our phones and computers, watching the burial unfold as a friend live-streamed it on Facebook.

There were hundreds of us to pay our last respects to Chris. He was a people’s person – the life and soul of family parties.

His deep laugh reached you even before he set foot in the house – in fact, you could hear it 200m away at the gate.

Chris
Image captionRelatives and friends say Chris deserved a better funeral

And Chris used to show up for people, be it at funerals or weddings. He was a great mobiliser, rallying people for all occasions.

So, on this day, we showed up for him too. But not being there meant it was not the same.

‘We couldn’t play his favourite songs’

Chris was my immediate cousin, but we were raised in the same house and he was more than a brother to me.

He died in Kisumu in western Kenya on Easter Sunday, after being unwell for a few weeks with liver cirrhosis.

The government gave us the guidelines for his burial. He had to be buried within three days.

But with many of his family and friends under lockdown in the capital, Nairobi, not everyone could attend the burial.

The sermon was short. The speeches were restricted. And there was very little singing.

Chris loved music – he played the drum kit in the Salvation Army church band. So it was painful that nobody could be there to play his favourite songs.

I watched as live comments from his friends and colleagues rolled in on Facebook.

In digital solace, people left messages of condolence and talked of how great a man Chris was.

And I thought, maybe I should take screenshots and print this out because this was essentially our condolences book.

Everything felt so different. We could not hug, touch or see each other’s tears. We could not throw fistfuls of dirt on the coffin as it was lowered into the grave.

The Facebook Live failed so I could not watch Chris’ final journey to the very end”

Mercy Juma
BBC reporter

When a loved one dies we seek to grieve, we look for comfort and closure. But how do you do that when you are confined?

I was upset. I never imagined I would have to bury a loved one through social media. I never thought I would crave human contact that much. It was like a movie, except that I was part of the cast.

And sadly, the Facebook Live failed, due to a poor network connection. So I could not even watch Chris’ final journey to the very end. I did not see his coffin being covered.

In many African societies death and life are intricately tied. Many traditions see death as a rite of passage – a transition to another form.

Hence the importance of ancestors – they are the people who have died but continue to “live” in the community.

This, in turn, means that when people die they must receive a perfect burial – complete with rituals that have been observed for generations.

For the communities in western Kenya where I come from, like the Luo and Luhya, a person’s death and their burial are incredibly important events.

Elaborate funeral with 10 different rites

A dead person is treated with utmost respect and there are death and burial rites to be followed, to ensure a faultless send-off.

First of all burials are not hurried, especially for the elderly. A person’s death is a call for celebration, even amidst the mourning and grieving.

Coronavirus: Key facts

  • Spreadswhen an infected person coughs droplets into the air
  • Virus-packeddroplets can be breathed in
  • Dropletscan also land on a surface
  • Touchingsurface and then eyes, nose or mouth creates risk
  • Washing of hands is therefore recommended after touching surfaces

Source: BBC

It takes at least a week for an adult to be buried. There is loud mourning and weeping, for days on end. People huddle together and help the bereaved to mourn.

Bonfires are lit in the homestead and people gather around them, embracing, crying, reliving the life of the departed.

There is the ritualistic slaughter of animals, and the preparation and serving of food and drinks to console mourners. It is a show of unity amongst neighbours and family.

The dead are brought home a day or two before the burial. They lie in the compound, to show that they are accepted and loved, even in death.

Coffin
Image captionOnly 10 people were allowed at the funeral

The Luo, a Nilotic people from western Kenya, have among the most elaborate burial customs in Kenya.

There are at least 10 rites involved from the announcement of death, to the removal of the shadow or spirit of the dead from the homestead, to the shaving of family members’ hair, and finally the remembrance ceremonies for the dead.

All these occasions require people to congregate and interact in huge numbers.

But during this pandemic, most of these rituals are simply off-limits, whether a person died of Covid-19 or not.

‘I have only partially grieved’

During the two days between Chris’ death and his burial, people at home were forbidden from singing loudly at night, lest they attract the neighbours who may want to come and grieve with the family.

There were no bonfires to sit around. And during the burial, even at the grave site, there was no hugging, or touching, no handshakes or kisses.

Government representatives were there to ensure all rules of social distancing were followed.

Coffin being lowered into the ground
Image captionMourners usually throw sand into the grave

Forty days after one is buried, a memorial service is supposed to be held – the final celebration of their life. We, again, will not be able to do this for Chris.

I have this feeling that I have only partially grieved for Chris. This is not how he deserves to be mourned.

Maybe when all this is over – when we can hug again, and cry in each other’s arms – we will mourn him like we should.

Why Nigeria’s efforts to support poor people fail, and what can be done about it

People receiving food handouts in Lagos, Nigeria. AAP

Peter Elias, University of Lagos

Urbanisation remains a big challenge for city managers in low- and middle-income countries. This includes Nigeria, where the proportion of the urban population increased from 17.5% in 1969 to 51.2% in 2019. An estimated 18% of the urban population live in poverty.

A 2018 UN report has projected that 55% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030. It says half of the 130 million people living in cities lack access to adequate housing, water, sanitation, durable dwellings, adequate space, and secure tenure.

This makes it imperative for governments to apply social assistance programme for the poor and vulnerable . These can include income or material support such as retirement pensions or health care schemes, as well as feeding programmes for school age children and food handouts.

According to the World Bank, per capita spending on social assistance programmes is lower in low- and middle-income countries (less than $1,000) than in high-income countries ($4,000-$5,000). It reports that Nigeria’s total spending on social assistance programmes is 0.28% of GDP and covers only 7% of the population. This is low compared with South Africa (3.31%), Benin (2.95%), Rwanda (1.5%) and Ghana (0.58%).

There is ample evidence that social assistance programmes are failing to improve housing, access to health care and basic services. They are also failing to integrate the informal economy and improve local economic development in Nigeria.

Poor and vulnerable people live below the poverty line of $1.90. They bear the brunt of disasters, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

My research shows that a host of factors – such as social and economic exclusion – stand in the way of safe and liveable cities.

In a separate paper, I identified the need for proactive measures to create stronger institutions and policies in Africa. This will lead to wealth creation and reduce poverty, social injustices and inequality.

I also found out that this requires a bottom-up participatory approach. This makes for better understanding of issues at the local level. It also ensures that location-specific methods of assistance are designed and that local resources are harnessed.

The Nigerian government introduced a lockdown strategy to contain the spread of the virus. At the same time it initiated various palliative measures. But these have not reached their intended beneficiaries, and have been plagued with difficulties.

Shortcomings

The first problem is that the government has adopted a top-down distribution system which has been poorly coordinated and highly exclusive.

In addition, the requirements for accessing the relief packages were unclear, fraught with secrecy or too restrictive. In the case of unconditional cash transfer, grain distribution and credit loan scheme for households and businesses, selection methods were also vague.

The poor and vulnerable could not fulfil some of the bank related requirements for accessing the credit facility by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Social assistance programmes in Nigeria include national cash transfers. This is aimed at financial support for the poor and vulnerable whose incomes or livelihoods are at risk due to natural, human or economic crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated lockdown.

Others include youth employment and community social development projects, like the home-grown school feeding programmes to address poverty and hunger.

Some of these programmes are being reactivated to address the consequences of COVID-19 lockdown on the poor and vulnerable.

Improvements

The Nigerian government could take a number of steps to improve the situation.

Firstly, it should apply the principle of accessibility as well as diversity. Interventions should be made accessible to the poor irrespective of age, class, ethnicity, gender or education, or residence or disability.

Secondly, the principle of social participation and human rights should be applied. This requires collaboration and partnership with pro-poor organisations and grassroot networks such as civil society or non-governmental organisations, religious groups, trade associations, and community development associations.

Thirdly, planning and implementation should be done in an open and transparent way. This could include using technology and social media for tracking and monitoring of beneficiaries and outcomes.

Fourthly, every available channel and language of communication must be used.

Lastly, there needs to be a bottom-up approach through the identification and use of local groups, resources and champions to create investment opportunities, increase incomes and build resilience of the poor and vulnerable.

Effective social assistance programmes will produce multiplier effects. They will help poor people escape poverty by enhancing their socio-economic status. They can also boost purchasing power, build resilience and catalyse local and regional economic development.

Peter Elias, Development Geographer, Team Lead, Lagos Urban Studies Group (LUSG) & Senior Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Lagos

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The ‘cradle Catholic’ promoting family planning in Ghana

“I think God has a sense of humor,” Dr. Leticia Adelaide Appiah said of her advocacy of family planning. “To let a Catholic do this is bizarre.” Credit…Francis Kokoroko for The New York Times

By Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu

ACCRA, Ghana — On the last Sunday before Lent, Dr. Leticia Adelaide Appiah was up early and the first to be ready for Mass in her home, a government bungalow in the affluent Cantonments neighborhood of Accra, the capital of Ghana.

Christ the King Catholic Church, opposite Ghana’s presidential palace, is a six-minute drive away, and in the days before coronavirus restrictions caused churches to shut, she was also a regular at weekday Masses.

Dr. Appiah’s 77-year-old mother, Susanna Kankam, said of her daughter: “She is a cradle Catholic. We baptized her two weeks after she was born.”

Catholicism is a central part of Dr. Appiah’s identity, yet in her line of work, she is actively defying one of the Vatican’s longstanding doctrines, which “condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception.”

In her position as the executive director of the National Population Council in Ghana, she is the constitutionally-mandated, independent, public health official responsible for advising the government on all matters of population.

Concerned that out-of-control population growth will curb her country’s development, the self-described “terrible introvert” has become Ghana’s advocate in chief for contraceptive use and family planning since her appointment in 2016.

Managing fertility is a serious issue in Ghana, where the population has soared to about 30 million, from around 12 million in 1984, and where only 20 percent of reproductive-age women or their partners use a modern family-planning method.

In light of that, the Roman Catholic Church’s recommendation that couples practice natural family planning, in which they have sexual intercourse only when the woman is not ovulating, does not sit well with Dr. Appiah.

“The problem with the Catholic faith is that because we have named the product contraception, we think that it is against life and we think that it causes abortion,” Dr. Appiah, 55, said at an after-Mass lunch with friends.

Listening to Dr. Appiah speak about the importance of avoiding teenage pregnancy, in Adumasa, southern Ghana, in February. In Ghana, 14 percent of adolescent girls are mothers or pregnant.
Listening to Dr. Appiah speak about the importance of avoiding teenage pregnancy, in Adumasa, southern Ghana, in February. In Ghana, 14 percent of adolescent girls are mothers or pregnant.Credit…Francis Kokoroko for The New York Times

For that stance, she has been described as the “Antichrist” by one priest, she said, and “had some people saying that ‘She has no children, so she is envious of us.’”

In fact, Dr. Appiah has three daughters, Suzzie Owiredua Aidoo, 31; Tracy Asomani Wiafe, 24; and Sharon Adelaide Asomani Wiafe, 21. (She is reticent about her family life, saying only that she is currently married, but not to the father of her children.)

The Catholic Church has a large footprint in Ghana, including in education and in medical services. In those spaces, she “wouldn’t even dare to talk about the other side of it,” meaning artificial contraception, said the Rev. Lazarus Anondee, secretary general of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference, adding that she, “will speak the Catholic way.”

But Dr. Appiah says she believes that her advocacy work has divine backing, too. “I think God has a sense of humor,” she said with a chuckle. “To let a Catholic do this is bizarre.”

She acknowledges that the criticisms “will hit you a little, you’d be a bit low but then you go for Mass in the morning, and you talk to God and ask Him: ‘Do you really want me to do this?’”

In fact, Dr. Appiah herself is uneasy about the word contraception. It puts a lot of people off, she said, adding that she preferred “planception.”

Babies “are not byproducts of entertainment, they are supposed to be planned for,” she said, reflecting her belief that, in addition to health matters, family planning was also an important aspect of women’s economic empowerment.

Dr. Appiah has proposed free family planning services and, despite fierce opposition, limiting families to three children. 
Dr. Appiah has proposed free family planning services and, despite fierce opposition, limiting families to three children. Credit…Francis Kokoroko for The New York Times

Dr. Appiah was born in Accra in 1964, to royalty on both sides of the family. Her father was an important chief, called a paramount chief, in eastern Ghana, while her mother, who became an elementary-school principal, is a member of a royal family in a different part of the country.

From a young age, she had a good idea of what she would do in the future, she said. She did well in school, she recalled, “and if you were a woman, then, of course, it is medicine.”

But her academic success was not always celebrated. As a teenager, she had an awakening when she transferred from a girls’ school to the prestigious coed Achimota School to complete her secondary education.

“If you happen to beat the boys in math and physics and get the prizes, then you become a ‘witch,’” she said. “Men don’t take it lightly when women are excelling.”

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She overcame that, however, to earn a scholarship to study medicine in what was then the Soviet Union. When she arrived in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, in 1985, Mikhail S. Gorbachev was newly in place as the Soviet leader and she said she still fondly remembered his television broadcasts about perestroika, the political and economic reforms that were aimed at revamping the sluggish economy.

On hospital rounds in Ukraine, the happiest place was the labor ward, she said. “It was flowers; it was laughter; it was joy,” she recalled. “You could see that these babies were surrounded by love and happiness.”

She returned home in 1993 with the idea of training as a gynecologist, but arriving in Ghana, she said she experienced “the rudest shock of my life.”

The maternity wards in Ghana bore little resemblance to those in Ukraine. “Babies were born and their fathers wouldn’t even come,” she said. “They were abandoned, and the babies would come back months after delivery, malnourished.”

Dr. Appiah after a church service in Accra. Her advocacy of family planning, including artificial contraception, has brought her into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church.
Dr. Appiah after a church service in Accra. Her advocacy of family planning, including artificial contraception, has brought her into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church.Credit…Francis Kokoroko for The New York Times

The stark differences went beyond the wards. The fertility rate in Ghana was at least several times higher than the approximately 1.5 births for the average Ukrainian woman in the 1990s.

Dr. Appiah’s mother had two daughters with her father, but as a tribal chief, her father had many more children with his seven other wives.

“We were so many, so you don’t even feel like royalty,” she said with a belly laugh. “My father was very busy populating the country.”

The jolt of returning to Ghana inspired her to change her specialization from gynecology to public health.

She obtained a master’s degree in public health in 2003 and rose through the ranks to become the health director of a large district of Accra. She completed a doctorate in 2018 in public health, conducting research into long-acting reversible contraceptives.

Since Dr. Appiah assumed her current post, she has proposed that free family planning services be included in the state’s health insurance package and provided to new mothers before they are discharged from the hospital. Those measures have yet to be approved, but a trial of free family planning services is underway in six districts in Ghana.

But some of her other proposals have not been received as well, such as limiting couples to three children and prohibiting benefits like free public education for any additional children.

“The government should pay only for up to three children because after three, maternal mortality increases,” she said. “The subsequent ones, the people pay full cost recovery.” She emphasized that this policy should be adopted only after free family planning had been made available to everyone.

The plan has been met with outrage in some quarters. “The proposal is as impractical as it is fascist,” said Nii Moi Thompson, the former director general of the National Development Planning Commission of Ghana. “Family planning is good, for those who need it, but it shouldn’t be misused for such an abominable agenda.”

Dr. Appiah, front right, with her daughters, from left: Sharon Adelaide Asomani Wiafe, Tracy Asomani Wiafe and Suzzie Owiredua Aidoo, at Dr. Appiah’s home in Cantonments, Accra.
Dr. Appiah, front right, with her daughters, from left: Sharon Adelaide Asomani Wiafe, Tracy Asomani Wiafe and Suzzie Owiredua Aidoo, at Dr. Appiah’s home in Cantonments, Accra.Credit…Francis Kokoroko for The New York Times

But perhaps Dr. Appiah’s greatest challenge has been the introduction of a program called Comprehensive Sexuality Education in Ghana’s schools. It was set to begin last fall until a misinformation campaign with links to American evangelical groups contributed to the government’s withdrawing it.

The president of the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, the Rev. Paul Yaw Frimpong-Manso, described the curriculum as “comprehensive satanic engagement” that would introduce school children to homosexuality. In Ghana, homosexuality is illegal.

The program would have introduced concepts like consent and gender equality, while putting a greater focus on safe sex and contraceptive use rather than abstinence in a bid to reduce the high teenage motherhood rate. In Ghana, 14 percent of adolescent women are already mothers or pregnant with their first child.

So far, the Catholic Church has not reprimanded Dr. Appiah, but that may change when she meets with bishops after coronavirus restrictions on gatherings are lifted.

She waved away the possibility that she could be excommunicated. “They can’t excommunicate me because I am not going anywhere,” she says. “I was born as a Catholic and I will die as a Catholic.”

Many refugees living in Nairobi struggle to survive because of COVID-19

A woman walks past a police armed vehicle in Eastleigh – Nairobi’s “little Mogadishu”
Photo by Billy Mutai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Naohiko Omata, University of Oxford

The economic impact of COVID-19 is being felt across the world. This also applies to refugees.

For about eight years a team of researchers in the Refugee Economies Programme at the Oxford Refugee Studies Centre has been carrying out studies in East Africa. We work closely with refugees as our research assistants.

Since the global pandemic began, we have been speaking with these research assistants to understand better the impact that COVID-19 is having on refugees living in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. The assistants – primarily from Congolese and Somali refugee communities – are people who are well-networked with fellow refugees. They include community leaders, staff members of aid organisations, pastors and representatives of community-based organisations.

All of the assistants reported primarily on the acute economic challenges that the crisis has caused for Nairobi’s refugees.

Nairobi hosts about 81,000 refugees. Despite Kenya’s encampment policy which prohibits refugees from
leaving camps, Nairobi has been a home for refugees for many years. By moving to the city, refugees largely give up their access to humanitarian assistance. However, they choose to live in Nairobi to gain better access to economic opportunities and social services, such as education and health.

In order to work in the formal sector, refugees must obtain a work permit. But these are rarely issued. This means refugees are largely excluded from formal labour markets and are heavily reliant on informal urban economies.

To curb the spread of COVID-19, Kenya has implemented a dusk to dawn curfew and lockdowns which restrict people’s movements in and out of certain counties, and parts of Nairobi. These severely constrain mobility. As a result many urban refugees are unable to pursue their livelihoods in the same ways as before.

They have few savings and depend on the day-to-day cash they generate from street vending. They now face a struggle to buy food every day. And they have the added challenge of being excluded from other channels of support.

Refugee livelihoods

Hawking, though prohibited by the Nairobi City Council, is the most common way they earn a living. A considerable number of Congolese refugees sell bitenge (African textiles) or mobile phone credit on the busy streets of Nairobi. They often venture out of the capital to other cities to explore less competitive markets.

Somali refugees typically sell clothing, tea and snacks in Eastleigh – Nairobi’s so-called “little Mogadishu” – because of the large number of Somalis who live and do business here.

Alongside informal businesses, mutual assistance between refugees is crucial for survival. When they run out of cash or food, they visit friends, neighbours, churches or mosques to get help. Some fortunate refugees also benefit from remittances sent by friends or relatives living abroad. As these examples show, for self-settled refugees in Nairobi, both mobility and various networks are key for their day-to-day survival.

Over the last several weeks, I have been communicating with our research assistants through phone, Skype, emails or WhatsApp to gather information.

From these reports we have learnt that hawkers in particular are suffering from movement restrictions and far fewer customers. Many hawkers used to take advantage of the evening hours – between 5pm and 8pm – when city council patrols would disappear. But the curfew starts at 7pm and most people on the streets now vanish at around 5pm to 6pm.

In addition, remittance pipelines appear to be dwindling. According to our research in 2017, 43% of Somali refugees received remittances. The annual median amount of remittances sent was Ksh252,000 (about US$2,500). But one Somali research assistant reported that Hawala – a money transfer system – has become “empty”. Although some remittance recipients are still getting regular support from abroad, many others have lost financial support as the pandemic-induced economic crisis also hits their remitters abroad.

Finally, our research assistants note that collective economic activities have also been disturbed by the COVID-19 lockdown. For instance, Somali refugee business people often organise ayuto – credit groups that would regularly put money together for mutual financial assistance. Now, due to business closures and restricted movements, many of these communal finance mechanisms aren’t working.

Our refugee research assistants also reported that although the Kenyan government has started to assist some vulnerable Kenyan families with food and a small cash stipend via Mpesa – the mobile money network in Kenya – refugees are excluded from government support by their legal status. One assistant reported that a group of refugees who enquired were explicitly told by government officials: “UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) is responsible for refugees, so go to UNHCR.”

Coping

To cope, refugees rely on solidarity. Among Somali refugees, those who are less affected are trying to help vulnerable community members. In the Congolese community, pastors collect food and cash donations and redistribute them to the most vulnerable refugees with the help of community-based organisations. Pastors are also providing counselling.

But all the research assistants we spoke to are concerned about how long they can sustain these informal support mechanisms. Ad hoc refugee-led initiatives are almost entirely reliant on benevolent donations from refugees themselves.

After the health risks of COVID-19 are finally mitigated, the question of how to best assist refugees’ economic recovery should be a primary concern for refugee-assisting agencies. Needs-based aid, such as giving food and non-food items, is definitely necessary and important. But reconstruction of livelihood strategies after COVID-19 needs a long-term vision and different approaches.

Naohiko Omata, Senior Research Officer, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How stealing and selling children became a business in South Sudan

PIBOR, South Sudan — Ten years ago, Mary Oleyo hid in the bushes and watched as armed bandits launched a days-long attack on her town to steal their cattle. When the dust settled, she realized that two of her children had been taken, too.

“I almost went mad,” said Oleyo. “I don’t know where they are, or if they’re dead or alive.”

Her children are just two of the thousands that have been forcefully taken from their families in South Sudan. Once kidnapped, children are often bought and sold for cows and used as brides or laborers.ADVERTISEMENT

Child abduction has been taking place for centuries in South Sudan, but the kidnappings spiked when nearly 20,000 kids were forced to the frontlines during the country’s six-year civil war. The fighting ended two months ago and many of the child soldiers have returned to their families. But those who were abducted for other reasons, Oleyo’s kids, are still missing — and South Sudan’s government has made little effort to find them.

In an act of desperation, Oleyo turned to a former warlord named David Yau Yau to help get them back.

“It becomes a business,” said Yau Yau, now governor of the state that includes Oleyo’s town of Pibor. “If someone manages to get a child from the neighboring community, he’s going to take the child to the market.”

A decade ago, when Oleyo’s children were taken, Yau Yau was the leader of a rebel group called the Cobra Faction, one of South Sudan’s fiercest anti-government militias. He was responsible for forcing more than 1,700 children, some as young as 10, to join his ranks. 

It would be years before he’d disband his rebel group and return his child soldiers to their families.

Yau Yau would then use that one act to burnish his reputation as a reformer to get himself appointed as the Governor of Boma State. He’s now South Sudan’s most vocal advocate against child abduction.

“We realized that it was totally wrong,” Yau Yau said. “We need to apply all the efforts to be able to bring back children and return them to their owners.”ADVERTISEMENT

But after two years of these efforts, Yau Yau has only managed to return 54 abducted children to their parents. Oleyo is still waiting for her children to return.

Asked if she thought Yau Yau would find her children, Oleyo said, “If there was no hope, many women would have died.”

Camera: Phil Pendlebury, Roberto Daza. Editors: Michael Shade, Josh Luddeni

Why covid-19 seems to spread more slowly in Africa

It was not what fishermen usually mean by a good catch. Last month a worker at a fish factory in Tema, a port city in Ghana, infected 533 people with the virus behind covid-19. President Nana Akufo-Addo linked the “super-spreader” to about 10% of the country’s 5,408 cases.

That Ghana could identify the person is a tribute to its response. It has tested more than 155,000 people, the fourth-highest per-person rate in Africa, according to data from cdc Africa, a public-health body. Elsewhere a lack of testing makes it harder to assess the true course of the disease. But what data there are, and new analysis by the World Health Organisation (who), suggest the virus is spreading more slowly in Africa than elsewhere—and that its path will vary across the continent.

Africa, which contains about 17% of the world’s population, has less than 2% of its confirmed cases of covid-19. By May 13th cdc Africa had counted 69,947 cases and 2,410 deaths. Over the past month reported cases have doubled roughly every two weeks. Until recently American cases were doubling about every three days.

This may partly reflect insufficient testing. Africa has checked just over 1m people—a day’s work for officials in Wuhan. South Africa and Ghana account for nearly half. The Partnership for Evidence-Based Response to Covid-19, a public-health consortium, notes that “the true number of infections is likely to be much greater than currently known.” Its rough estimate suggests a tally eight times higher.

Another sign of undercounting is the share of covid-19 tests coming back positive. The “test-positivity-rate” is an imperfect guide. But assuming those being tested have covid-like symptoms, a rate above 5-10% suggests there are many uncounted cases, says Jason Andrews of Stanford University. At least 22 African countries have rates above 10%, including Algeria (91%), Sudan (87%) and Tanzania (78%).

John Magufuli, Tanzania’s president, does not believe his country’s results. “We only see them releasing positive, positive, positive results,” he said. He claims that the national laboratory was sent papaya, goat and sheep samples that tested positive. (The lab denies this.) No new official data have been released since April 29th.

Opposition activists and ngos say that there have been dozens of burials of covid-19 victims in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city. On May 12th the American embassy said that hospitals there were “overwhelmed”. “It is a cover-up,” says Zitto Kabwe, an opposition leader.

There are similar reports of undocumented surges in other countries. In Kano, in northern Nigeria, hundreds of unexplained deaths have been alleged by gravediggers. In Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, medics claim that the deaths they are seeing do not chime with official totals.

Nevertheless there are few signs that these “ghost hotspots” are ubiquitous. Some countries, including Mauritius, Namibia and the Seychelles, have not reported a new case for two weeks. Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda have fewer than 700 cases between them and positive-test rates below 1%. Nor are there reports of surges. “In a society like ours there’s simply no way this could be kept secret,” says Berhanu Nega, an Ethiopian opposition leader.

Crucial in slowing the early spread of covid-19 was the swift introduction of containment measures. Most African countries implemented lockdowns far earlier than rich countries did. By the end of April at least 42 African countries had done so; 38 of these were in place for at least 21 days.

So despite undercounting, official data are still a rough reflection of reality in many countries, say those leading the response. “While covid-19 likely won’t spread as exponentially in Africa as it has elsewhere in the world, it likely will smoulder in transmission hotspots,” says Matshidiso Moeti, the director for the who in Africa.

Her view of a slower, longer pandemic is explained in a paper by who colleagues, published by bmj Global Health on May 14th. Unlike other models, which tend to apply patterns seen elsewhere in the world to Africa, theirs claims to make assumptions based on the continent’s “unique socio-ecological context”. For example, it takes into account the fact that Africans travel less, thanks to sparse road networks.

The authors reckon that without containment measures 16-26% of those in the who Africa region would be infected in the first year, with higher shares in well-connected countries like South Africa. About 29m-44m people would be symptomatic. This is a lower estimate than other models yield. The who also calculates that there would be 83,000–190,000 deaths without mitigating steps—implying a lower rate of infected people dying than in rich countries, mostly because Africans are younger. However, Africa does not have rich countries’ hospitals. Surges in cases would overwhelm health systems.

Because the model assumes no mitigating measures such as lockdowns, the actual tallies should be lower. Yet many African governments are in the midst of loosening restrictions, as they try to balance the harm of covid-19 with that to their economies and public health more broadly. Researchers at Imperial College London reckon that in some countries the knock-on effects on treatment for hivtb and malaria could be of the same order of magnitude, in terms of years of life lost, as that of covid-19.

Many rich countries are easing lockdowns after reaching, in theory, peaks in new cases. African countries may be doing so while case-rates accelerate. Africa seems to be suffering a slower pandemic, but the risks are still immense. ■

‘We can’t turn them away’: the family kitchen fighting lockdown hunger in Zimbabwe

Samantha Murozoki (R) hands a free meal to a young neighbour at her home in Chitungwiza on May 5, 2020, where she feeds people struggling during the coronavirus lockdown in Zimbabwe. -With the help of volunteers Murozoki serves over a 100 hot meals per day Photograph: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP via Getty Images

It is 7am and hundreds of children have come out on this chilly morning to queue for a plate of porridge.

With makeshift masks covering their faces, the children wait for SamanthaMurozoki to start dishing up the warm food into whatever plastic tub, plate, tin cup – or even ripped-off corner of a cardboard box – is presented to her.

The winding queue is a sign of the desperation that has gripped the populous township of Chitungwiza, on the outskirts of Harare, since Zimbabwe enforced national lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19, which has seen 46 cases and four deaths.

The queues have become a common sight in Seke Unit A, where Murozoki prepares porridge in the mornings for children and supper later in the day for hungry families.

With a makeshift stove, a couple of large pots and a few cooking utensils, the mother of two has been winning the respect of thousands who pass by her kitchen daily and is gathering volunteers who help her keep track of the children. A team of women serve and wash up the utensils.

None of the children have been turned away.

A queue forms outside Samantha Murozoki’s home in Chitungwizaon May 5, 2020, where, with the help of volunteers, Samantha Murozoki serves over a 100 hot meals per day from her home to families whose household income has been cut off by closure of all informal markets during the lockdown Photograph: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP via Getty Images

The feeding programme that began about a week into the national lockdown has become essential for the Chitungwiza community.

“I started with a 2kg packet of rice and 500g of beans. The number of people needing food has doubled since then. It’s not something that I had planned for,” Murozoki told the Guardian.

When food supplies were getting low soon after she started, she sold some of her personal possessions to get more.

“When my money ran out I started bartering food supplies with my jeans and sneakers,” she said.

Samantha Murozoki started the food programme after learning that neighbours were going hungry under lockdown. Photograph: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP via Getty Images

Murozoki said her feeding programme was driven by compassion after a neighbour told how her family had gone to bed hungry as work and informal trade has dried up under the lockdown.Advertisementhttps://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

An immigration lawyer, Murozoki has won the support of Zimbabweans on social media.

“After I posted pictures of what I was doing on WhatsApp my friends and family chipped in to help out. A colleague also decided to put my story on Twitter and Facebook, that is how the Zimbabwean community started helping out. They have been donating groceries and some are even wiring money from overseas,” she said.

She said beneficiaries of the programme are required to register before receiving food aid.

“We just get people coming in to register their families, so we do not segregate. The lockdown is affecting everyone. We cannot turn people away because everyone wants food,” Murozoki said.

Zimbabwe’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has partially opened up the economy to the manufacturing and mining sectors. But millions of informal workers remain on lockdown and food stocks continue to run low.

This lockdown has not spared us at all, so people are suffering

Anastencia Hove, volunteer

With a baby strapped on her back, Anastencia Hove, 35, came to Murozoki’s kitchen for breakfast and has stayed to volunteer as a cook.

“I was moved by her love. It is rare to find people who think about others. So I said as a token of my appreciation for her support, I should volunteer. This lockdown has not spared us at all, so people are suffering. The number of people I see here shows that many are hungry,” Hove said.

Gracious Mango, 39, clutches a plastic food container as she waits for her name to be called out. She explains how life has worsened during the lockdown.

“There is no food at home. It is becoming difficult every day,” Mango told the Guardian. “My husband and I have not managed to make any meaningful money because the economy had literally shut down.”

Mango’s friend, Michelle Makuvise, 30, a street vendor, said Murozoki needed everyone’s support. “I think this is good work which should not go unnoticed. The community is literally feeding on her generosity so support is needed.”

Murozoki shields her eyes from the sun as she inspects the queue outside her home. Photograph: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP via Getty Images

Zimbabwe experienced yet another poor harvest this year, leaving almost half the population in need of urgent food aid, with the most vulnerable people in rural areas already on the verge of starvation, according to humanitarian organisations.

In urban areas, 2.2 million people are in urgent need of food aid as many struggle to put enough on the table.

Government lockdown relief of US$4 per family is yet to be distributed at a time vulnerable families are failing to earn a living amid skyrocketing inflation.

As more urban Zimbabweans go hungry every day, Murozoki sees herself feeding more people, especially during lockdown.

“Even if the lockdown is lifted, I might continue for a month or so until everyone gets back on their feet. As long as Zimbabweans help me, I will be able to continue with my work,” she said.

Covid-19 outbreak in Nigeria is just one of Africa’s alarming hot spots

An empty street market last month in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. The government eased the lockdown in Lagos on May 4 but extended it in Kano, the country’s second-largest city.Credit…Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times

In the northern Nigerian city of Kano, some people say they now get four or five death notices on their phones each day: A colleague has died. A friend’s aunt. A former classmate.

The gravediggers of the city, one of the biggest in West Africa, say they are working overtime. And so many doctors and nurses have been infected with the coronavirus that few hospitals are now accepting patients.

Officially, Kano has reported 753 cases and 33 deaths attributed to the virus. But in reality, the metropolis is experiencing a major, unchecked outbreak, according to doctors and public health experts. It could be one of the continent’s worst.

The coronavirus has been slower to take hold in Africa than on other continents, according to the numbers released daily by the World Health Organization.

But blazing hot spots are beginning to emerge. Kano is only one of several places in Africa where a relatively low official case count bears no resemblance to what health workers and residents say they are seeing on the ground.

In Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, officials say that burials have tripled. In Tanzania, after cases suddenly rose and the United States Embassy issued a health alert, the Tanzanian government abruptly stopped releasing its data.

Kano’s state government, until recently, claimed a spate of unusual deaths was caused not by the coronavirus, but by hypertension, diabetes, meningitis or acute malaria. There is little social distancing, and few people are being tested.

“The leadership is in denial,” said Usman Yusuf, a hematology-oncology professor and the former head of Nigeria’s national health insurance agency. “It’s almost like saying there is no Covid in New York.”

He said he thought a significant portion of the population was probably infected in Kano, a city with an estimated five million people (though there has been no census since 2006).

Though they have now acknowledged they have a problem with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, the authorities in Kano spent precious weeks denying it, despite the surge in what AbdullahiUmar Ganduje, the state governor, called “mysterious deaths.”

“So far, there’s been nothing to suggest that they are linked with Covid-19,” Mr. Ganduje posted on Twitter on April 27, when, according to doctors in Kano’s hospitals, the city was already firmly in the grip of a serious coronavirus outbreak.

A mobile testing laboratory in Kano this month. Test results in Kano can take two weeks to come through. Credit…Sipa, via Associated Press

There was nothing mysterious about what doctors said they were seeing at Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, the city’s main public hospital. Starting well before Kano’s first case was reported on April 11, the hospital saw a steady stream of older patients with fevers, coughs, difficulty breathing and low oxygen saturation levels, many of them with underlying health conditions.

Doctors at the hospital called the government’s response team. Sometimes it took 24 hours to get a call back. Sometimes, the team refused to test or isolate patients, saying they did not qualify because they had not traveled recently.

About 60 to 70 percent of the elderly patients who went to the hospital and later died had arrived with full symptoms of Covid-19, said a doctor in the medical department, who, along with another doctor, spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution.

One doctor said the department’s death registers for April showed far more patients had died than normal. Most patients were sent home, he said, and the hospital’s staff members often would hear later that they had died.

With no personal protective equipment except surgical masks, the doctors said they knew the risks they were running in treating these patients. They said that they begged the hospital management for N-95 masks, face shields, gloves and aprons, but that none came. They asked for an isolation center at the hospital, scared that patients with other ailments would be infected. They wanted the facilities fumigated. Nothing happened.

And then it was too late. The doctors began to get sick.

“All of us were exposed,” said the other doctor. “Ultimately, what we feared has happened.”

Twenty of the 91 doctors in the hospital’s medical department tested positive, the doctors said. Overall in Kano, 42 doctors and 28 nurses have tested positive, and one doctor has died, according to Dr. Sanusi Bala, chairman of the Kano branch of the Nigerian Medical Association. Laboratory technicians in what was then Kano’s only testing laboratory got sick too, and it closed for several days. The city’s health system, already extremely limited, was crippled.

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Nigeria, a country of about 200 million people, says it can in theory do 2,500 tests a day, and Kano up to 500. But it has been conducting far fewer tests, typically 1,000 to 1,200 daily. Test results in Kano can take two weeks. Doctors awaiting their test results cannot go to work. People in quarantine cannot leave.

A coronavirus isolation center in Kano, funded by private donations, on April 7, before the virus surged in the city.
A coronavirus isolation center in Kano, funded by private donations, on April 7, before the virus surged in the city.Credit…Aminu Abubakar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“If I say thousands of people are dying from Covid, I don’t think I exaggerated the figure,” said the doctor who begged for P.P.E. “So many people are dying without being tested, without even going to the hospital.”

While the government loosened lockdowns on May 4 in the capital, Abuja, and biggest city, Lagos, it extended the one in Kano. But few people observe it. The many funerals are well attended, residents said.

Many in the city think the coronavirus is a hoax, perhaps because public messaging about it is mostly in English, which most Kano residents do not speak, health experts said.

Others believe that a Covid-19 diagnosis is a death sentence, the experts said, and do not want their neighbors to think they are infected. So they avoid being tested, and try to behave as if all is normal.

They go to burials, and shake fellow mourners’ hands because it would be socially unacceptable not to. They shop, barefaced, in crowded markets. They hold soccer tournaments — a recent one was called the “Coronavirus Cup.”

While the situation in Kano is grim, the picture varies greatly from one country in Africa to another.

From the numbers gathered by the World Health Organization and other groups, Djibouti, in East Africa, looks as if it has the highest infection rate per capita on the continent, at 1 in 746 people. But public health officials interviewed there attribute that to aggressive testing and contact tracing. Anyone who tests positive is hospitalized, even if no symptoms are apparent.

Tanzania has reported 509 cases, but it stopped releasing data two weeks ago, and the United States Embassy there said on Wednesday that the risk of contracting Covid-19 was “extremely high.” A government spokesman told the BBC that testing had been suspended while the authorities investigated the many testing kits, but denied that Tanzania was doing too little to stop the virus’s spread.

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In Somalia, more than 1,200 people have tested positive and, officially, 53 have died. But doctors, officials and humanitarian workers think these numbers are way off. Thousands of people with the virus are staying home and not getting tested, they say.

Praying at the burial of a man suspected of having died of the coronavirus last month in Somalia.
Praying at the burial of a man suspected of having died of the coronavirus last month in Somalia.Credit…Feisal Omar/Reuters

The office of the Somali prime minister, which is overseeing the response to the outbreak, has dismissed the notion of a hidden toll, saying Mogadishu has already reached its peak.

Dr. Mohamed Abdi Hassan, who is leading the medical response to Covid-19 at the prime minister’s office, said that “there might be cases here and there that abruptly died and then were buried,” but that the number of instances in which people had died of the coronavirus without being tested had been exaggerated. “We have as much as possible captured the real picture.”

In Nigeria, some say that with the outbreak in Kano so widespread, the city may already be home to a giant, unintentional experiment in herd immunity.

“The disease is taking its natural course,” said Dr. Faruk Sarkinfada, a medical microbiologist who works in Kano.

Eighty percent of tests conducted in the city are coming back positive, a presidential task force sent to Kano in late April told the BBC’s Hausa-language service.

But since no one trusts the official reports, Kano’s citizens have come up with their own ways of gauging the toll of the virus.

Nazir Adam Salih, a writer and engineer, conducted an impromptu survey of more than 100 acquaintances. Almost all said they had fever, cough and loss of smell. Almost none had gotten tested or treated.

Doctors phone relatives of the dead to conduct “verbal autopsies.”

By late April, the Kano state government finally admitted there was a Covid-19 problem and asked the federal government for help. Dr. Sarkinfada, the medical microbiologist, said that the federal government focused its efforts on increasing Kano’s testing capacity, and that test results were now coming in sooner.

“The Kano situation has seen us through deception, denial, defiance, denunciation, disagreement and finally acceptance and action to control the disaster,” said Oyewale Tomori, a virologist who leads a Nigerian government committee on Covid-19.

A crowded area of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, last month. Tanzania has reported 509 Covid-19 cases but stopped releasing data two weeks ago.
A crowded area of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, last month. Tanzania has reported 509 Covid-19 cases but stopped releasing data two weeks ago.Credit…Ericky Boniphace/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Kano’s location, population and connectivity to the rest of the region mean the consequences of an uncontrolled outbreak could be severe.

Already there are reports of hundreds more people dying “mysterious deaths” in Nigeria’s northern states of Jigawa, Yobe, Sokoto and Katsina, including three emirs, or traditional Muslim rulers, and a former health minister.

“If Kano falls, the whole of northern Nigeria falls. The whole of Nigeria falls,” Dr. Yusuf said. “It spreads into the whole of West Africa and the whole of Africa.”

Abdi Latif Dahir contributed reporting from Nairobi, Kenya, and Simon Marks from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ruth Maclean is the West Africa bureau chief for The New York Times, based in Senegal. She joined The Times in 2019 after three and a half years covering West Africa for The Guardian. @ruthmaclean

The child beggars at the centre of the Coronavirus outbreak in Nigeria

Kids from different district of Nigeria learn to read and memorize the verses of the Quran written with ink on wooden panels at a boarding school in Jimeta, Nigeria on December 08, 2014.
Image captionMany poor children enrol in Koranic schools in northern Nigeria

Powerful politicians in northern Nigeria are pushing for the scrapping of controversial Koranic schools after some pupils found themselves at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, write the BBC’s Nduka Orjinmo and Mansur Abubakar.

Tens of thousands of Koranic school children were recently crammed into open vans and sent back home from cities and towns across northern Nigeria in a controversial move by state governments to prevent the spread of coronavirus within their territories.

There was a ban on travel, but the vans, with children sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, were allowed to criss-cross the country’s highways to get the boys to their homes in villages, often thousands of miles away.

All of Nigeria’s 19 northern states had two-way movement – some children were leaving for home while others were returning home.

It was probably one of the biggest ever state organised mass movements of minors in Africa’s most-populous state, whose population of around 200 million is divided roughly equally between Muslims and Christians.

A crowd of child beggars struggle for alms from a man in northern Nigeria's Kano city (file photo)
Image captionLarge numbers of child beggars used to roam the streets of Kano

No-one knows how many of the children – known in the local Hausa language as almajirai (singular almajiri), which is derived from the Arabic word al-Muhajirun, or emigrant – were sent home but Kaduna state alone said it had repatriated 30,000.

What no-one knew was that hundreds of the children already had coronavirus, so officials had inadvertently contributed to spreading the virus rather than containing it.

‘Time bomb warning ignored’

As the children arrived in their home states, some of them were quarantined and tested.

The results caused widespread consternation – of the 169 tested in Kaduna, 65 were positive, as were 91 of the 168 tested in Jigawa.

Child being tested for Covid-19
Image captionIt is unclear how the children got infected

In Gombe, eight of the 48 children tested had Covid-19. In Bauchi, the number was seven out of 38.

Hundreds of test results are still being awaited, while many thousands more have not been tested – Nigeria has faced criticism for its low testing rate.

The head of Nigeria’s presidential task force on Covid-19, Boss Mustapha, had warned that the repatriations could cause a “time bomb”, but northern state governors ignored him.

They saw the pandemic as an opportunity to scrap the almajirai-based Koranic schools that have long been part of the Islamic education system in the mainly Muslim north.

In Kaduna state, the almajiri system is dead”Nasir el-Rufai

Governor of Kaduna

“We’ve been looking for ways and means to end this system because it has not worked for the children. It has not worked for northern Nigeria and it has not worked for Nigeria. So, it has to end and this is the time,” said Kaduna state governor Nasir el-Rufai.

He added it was better to give the almajirai “some kind of modern education than to allow them to waste their lives away, roaming about the streets begging for what to eat”.

“In Kaduna state, the almajiri system is dead,” Mr el-Rufai said.

The almajirai are mostly children from poor homes who go to live for five to 10 years in a boarding-house style setting to memorise the Koran under a teacher, known as a mallam.

Kids from different district of Nigeria learn to read and memorize the verses of the Quran written with ink on wooden panels at a boarding school in Jimeta, Nigeria on December 08, 2014
Image captionMuslims believe those who memorise the Koran will go to heaven

About 10.5 million Nigerian children aged between five and 14 years are not in school, according to the UN children’s agency, Unicef.

Unicef does not consider the almajirai as being in school so they make up a large part – if not the majority – of this number.

Children sent to beg on streets

The almajirai-based schools admit children as young as five, and they are expected to give their teachers the token sum of 100 naira ($0.30; £0.25) every Wednesday, which is the end of the week for the pupils with Thursday and Friday – a religious day for Muslims – being their weekend.

The mallams say the money is for the maintenance of the schools, and they do not pocket it.

Most almajirai have no means of paying and resort to begging on the streets to get the money. Sometimes they carry out menial jobs for families, in exchange for food or clothes.

They often live in squalid conditions with poor hygiene, and can go without a bath for weeks, despite the fact that Islam puts huge emphasis on cleanliness.

The mallams themselves are mostly poor, untrained, and unregulated. They tend to teach, and do subsistence farming. Some children help out on the farms, without getting anything in return.

Presentational grey line

Islamic teachings on hygiene:

  • Cleanliness is half of faith
  • Wash hands before and after eating
  • Wash hands after going to the toilet
  • Wash hands, face and feet before each of the five daily prayers
  • Bathe before main weekly prayer on Fridays
  • Wash a person after death; some clerics say it is fine if this cannot be done in current circumstances
Media captionCoronavirus in Africa: How to save water so you can wash your hands
Presentational grey line

The schools were shut when state governments announced the closure of places of learning in late March, but with nowhere to go, thousands of almajirai continued begging on the streets.

It was at this point that state governors – fearing that the children could be infected, and could spread it to the hundreds of people they come in contact with daily – decided to send them home.

Former almajiri student standing in front of his gas shop
Image captionFormer almajiri Imrana Mohammed chose to become a businessman

But it was too late.

No-one knows how the children became infected with the virus but Imrana Mohammed, a former almajiri, said they most likely “got it through meeting strangers while begging for alms”.

Mr Mohammed, who now runs a small business selling petroleum products, said that as an almajiri 14 years ago, he did domestic work for about $6 a month, and also got food to eat.

There have been discussions in the past about ending the system but in a region where religion is an extremely sensitive issue, defenders of the schools accused those who wanted them reformed of attempting to stop Islamic education.

Hopes of a father

Former President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from Nigeria’s south, invested billions of naira in building almajiri schools in the north that incorporated Islamic and secular education.

But his successor, Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim who is popular in the region and has called for a ban of the almajiri system, handed over the schools to state governments and Islamic scholars for management. Most of the schools are now abandoned and the pupils back on the streets.

group of child beggars
Image captionMost children use plastic bowls to beg for food

Some parents, like Shafiu Yau, do not want the system scrapped “because it is the way to heaven”.

He told the BBC that his 15-year-old son is currently an almajiri in Kano state, seen as Nigeria’s Islamic heartland. Not all the students have been sent home, especially in Kano.

“This is his second year as an amajiri and hopefully after five years he will come back with vast knowledge of the Koran and his religion,” Mr Yau said.

But that view is not shared by all.

The almajiri system, as it is today, is nothing but slavery”Sheikh

Abdullahi Garangamawa
Senior Muslim cleric in northern Nigeria

Sheikh Abdullahi Garangamawa, the chief imam of the Jafar Adam Mosque in northern Nigeria’s main city Kano, told the BBC that the almajiri system was being abused.

“The almajiri system, as it is today, is nothing but slavery and governments should stop their dragging feet and act fast on it.

“These boys sent from the villages no longer seek Islamic knowledge – many of them become criminals and thugs for politicians,” he said.

This is a harsh view of an ancient system of Islamic education in northern Nigeria, and it is unlikely to end until the government tackles poverty and offers the children – and their parents – a better alternative.

Lessons in explaining viruses to the public: rely on the science

A woman walks past a graffiti by Anthony Kihoro in Kenya sensitising people about the coronavirus.
Dennis Sigwe/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Sonak D Pastakia, Purdue University

At this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of informing people to help them make their own decisions is growing. Many regions are lifting social distancing recommendations, but epidemiologists warn of a surge in cases if restrictions are lifted too soon.

One challenge in keeping people informed, though, is that there is still so much uncertainty around the novel coronavirus. Scientists are still working to unlock its many mysteries.

And when there are gaps in information, there are often competing forces seeking to fill them. Some may be based on scientific inquiry; others may be unsubstantiated opinions. They may all be trying to allay the fears of an anxious public.

This conflict of explanations played out during the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa and Democratic Republic of Congo, and the global HIV epidemic.

The Ebola response was hindered by rumours and misinformation. Some people said Ebola was made up and didn’t exist or that it was a cover for illicit trading of organs. Many of these rumours had a negative effect on prevention and treatment efforts. Communities were reluctant to believe that Ebola was a real threat and avoided visiting clinics for care. Misinformation hindered the ability of healthcare providers to reach the populations in need and potentially contributed to the rapid rise in the number of cases. Patients who could have benefited from care continued to infect other members of the community, or passed away.

One well chronicled and researched example of the consequences of not following scientific evidence relates to HIV in South Africa. An estimated 330,000 lives were lost due to government’s failure to adopt evidence-based treatment guidelines. South Africa eventually retreated from this position and achieved dramatic improvements in HIV reduction.

COVID-19 differs significantly from HIV and Ebola, but the potential consequences of having a misinformed public are similar. And much can be learned from earlier epidemics to ensure that the same mistakes aren’t repeated.

I’ve been working with people living with HIV and other chronic conditions in Kenya over the past 12 years. I have seen how the application of evidence-based strategies can save lives.

Experiences from the field

One specific challenge with our healthcare system strengthening efforts in Kenya is that many patients preferred to receive care from herbalists and found it convenient to consult them. As a result, patients would take unproven herbal remedies to treat conditions such as HIV and diabetes and often suffer from serious side effects with uncertain clinical benefit.

Our programme has been able to incorporate evidence-based treatment options into their care by creating stronger bonds with the community. We did this by shifting care from distant facilities to meeting points that are much more accessible for patients. This approach has led to marked improvements in outcomes. Patients with hypertension have greatly reduced their blood pressure compared to what they typically experience from facility based care.

We also included patients from the communities we serve in the healthcare team. This helped us overcome many of the challenges with trust and lack of convenience that patients often mention when deciding to forgo care from the healthcare system. The inclusion of these peer providers who have successfully managed their conditions has helped serve as a bridge between the community and healthcare system to improve our relationship and ability to communicate with each other.

Our community-centred approaches have helped make evidence-based information more accessible for the population we serve and subsequently helped to improve health outcomes with limited additional costs. This integrated approach has enabled our programme to build trust with the communities we serve and directly address the challenges with misinformation as members of the community feel much greater comfort with seeking advice from providers who are based within the community.

Patients have also shown a much higher likelihood of adhering to the recommended treatments when services are delivered in this fashion. Seventy percent of patients were likely to continue seeing formally trained providers as opposed to only 31% when care is delivered from facilities.

How the public can help

As scientific inquiry reveals more about the novel coronavirus, the public must insist that leaders follow the evidence. In countries where officials are democratically elected, the ballot box is one way to remind them of the potential consequences of making decisions that harm the public.

Social media is another tool the public can use. But because it has often been cited as a source of misinformation, there’s a need for greater efforts to check facts and improve the accuracy of information shared on these platforms.


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The limitations in connectivity in remote areas are a challenge. A combination of print, radio, text message, phone, and online messaging should be introduced from trusted sources to ensure citizens have access to the latest evidence-based information.

Increasing awareness in these ways would help to relieve the burden on health workers. They spend precious time correcting the public’s misconceptions and they sometimes face abusive behaviour from a panicking public.

As we all grapple with ways to assist in the response to coronavirus, one simple thing all of us can do is rely on verifiable facts to guide our actions.

Our examples from Kenya show that when healthcare providers integrate into communities, people will be more likely to seek out their advice and trust their opinions. The public has a responsibility to follow the guidance of trained healthcare experts. But healthcare providers must develop strategies to more effectively conduct outreach activities to educate the community. Instead of waiting in clinics for patients to come to them, providers must leave the confines of the clinic to meet community members where they are (while still adhering to social distancing recommendations).

Sonak D Pastakia, Professor, Purdue University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Naked protest: how ordinary citizens reveal truth to repressive regimes

Ugandan activist and writer Stella Nyanzi outside a Kampala court after a ruling in her favour against President Yoweri Museveni. Sumy Sadurni/AFP via GettyImages

Rebecca Tapscott, Graduate Institute – Institut de hautes études internationales et du développement (IHEID)

The past two decades have seen the rise of new forms of authoritarianism. These modern authoritarian regimes use diverse tactics to keep democratic institutions weak.

For example, governments in Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Uganda have formally decentralised power under the guise of democracy, development, and diversity, while in practice weakening and fragmenting local government.

Such regimes do not eliminate democratic spaces completely, rather they make them fragile and uncertain. Citizens can criticise the regime, they can vote for the opposition, and they can bring cases to court. But there is the ever-present possibility that the regimes will intervene to restrict collective action and stifle democratic voice.

Take Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni has held power since 1986. Museveni adopted seemingly democratic policies of decentralisation, multi-partyism, and even participation in the International Criminal Court. These measures have only served to centralise the regime’s control.

Uganda’s democratic space has been described as “shrinking”. Increasing political intimidation and patronage have steadily undermined the quality of Uganda’s elections. Most protests these days are met with heavily armed police, who deploy teargas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds.

Such regimes raise important questions around the ability of citizens to claim rights and resources from the state. Citizens who attempt to make collective claims, whether at the ballot box or in the streets, face high risks. These include arrest, detention, physical or economic harm, and even death. So how can these citizens adapt to make their voices heard?

Scholarship has already identified numerous non-violent approaches that citizens employ in politically-repressive contexts. These approaches – both novel and timeworn – include humour, art, and rudeness.

Our research examines another form of ancient, non-violent protest: the baring of naked bodies. During our study in Uganda, my co-authors and I found that although public nakedness can have political effect it is not without its risks.

Ugandans employ naked protest in situations they view as desperate, where authorities are violating fundamental rights. Our analysis suggests that naked protest in Uganda is a “last resort” for the weak and vulnerable in a public space that is heavily militarised and policed.

Naked protest therefore offers a window into the strategies that ordinary citizens can use to exercise political voice in contexts marked by overt and covert forms of repression. It illustrates that though authoritarian states seek to dominate and control public space, citizens can still use creative means to disrupt the infrastructure upon which this dominance is built.

Public nakedness

Public nakedness has been documented as a means of political protest worldwide, in vastly different cultural contexts from India to Russia. In Kenya, it has been used from pre-colonial times to the modern day.

In a context such as Uganda’s, it is perhaps surprising that citizens would willingly take off their clothing in protest. This makes them even more vulnerable than they already are. But sometimes they do. A closer examination reveals both the opportunities and limitations of collective protest in such regimes.

Nakedness as a form of collective public protest has been used across Uganda by ordinary citizens when they feel that there is no alternative. In a highly publicised case, Professor Stella Nyanzi stripped to her underwear to protest work conditions at Makerere University in 2016. Women in Kampala had also used it to protest police brutality in 2012.

One of the best-known contemporary cases of naked protest in Uganda occurred in a town called Apaa, northern Uganda, where the government has been attempting to appropriate land for decades. To oppose an anticipated forcible displacement in 2016, the community gathered to protest. At the protest, elderly women stripped naked, cursed the authorities, and rolled on the ground.

By baring their naked bodies and juxtaposing them against the heavily armed bodies of the state’s security personnel, citizens employed three types of overlapping and entwined power.

First, they showed that the state cannot control them in a basic and bodily sense, thereby challenging the very foundation of the state’s authority. This is biopower.

Second, naked bodies expose strong social and cultural norms. For example, in northern Uganda female bodies are associated with the “wife” or “mother” of the community. People think that they should be protected, and therefore their juxtaposition to the violent bodies of soldiers has strong symbolism.

As a result, it can shift the terms of protest from a political framing to a moral one. In a context where might makes right, a moral framing is much better for ordinary citizens than a political one. This is symbolic power.

Finally, in northern Uganda, nakedness also has certain cultural associations. It can be used interpersonally to curse those who have challenged the moral order. The curse is believed to cause illness and even death. This is particularly relevant for citizens who seek to challenge repressive regimes because, unlike unarmed citizens, the curse cannot be stopped by armoured cars, uniformed officers, or guns – and it can strike at any time after the protest has occurred. This is cosmological power.

Last resort

These three types of power help us understand why citizens employ naked protest, and how it affects its target – in this case the militarised Ugandan state.

The naked protest in Apaa achieved its short-term goal – the military and government officials who had come to demarcate the contested land left without displacing residents. However, subsequently there have been repeated instances of state violence in Apaa to remove people from the land and hand it over to private investors. Residents have since employed various other tactics to resist. For instance, in 2018, Apaa residents occupied a United Nations compound to defend their land.

Baring naked bodies may be one way for citizens to protest militarised regimes. But in this case, its use demonstrates that the space for public dissent is extremely limited. To strip naked is a last resort. This reflects the constraints placed on exercising political voice, and resultant obstacles to instigating collective political action.

Rebecca Tapscott, Research Fellow, Graduate Institute – Institut de hautes études internationales et du développement (IHEID)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sexual and gender-based violence during COVID-19: lessons from Ebola

Victims of sexual and gender-based violence suffer trauma that lasts long beyond medical crises.
Corbis News via GettyImages

Monica Adhiambo Onyango, Boston University

The COVID-19 pandemic is a disaster that has severely disrupted the normal functioning of populations around the world and continues to proliferate indiscriminately.

Disease outbreaks like COVID-19 threaten the health of all. But women and girls are disproportionately affected. During epidemics, the very measures taken to protect populations and keep health systems afloat leave women and girls especially vulnerable to violence.

Sexual and gender-based violence is a hidden consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. As communities around the world are forced to stay at home, women and girls are at a heightened risk of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, child abuse, and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence.

Because disasters exacerbate pre-existing gender inequities and power hierarchies, violence in the home may worsen as prolonged quarantine and economic stressors increase tension in the household. Women and girls are isolated from the people and resources that can help them, and they have few opportunities to distance themselves from their abusers.

During epidemics, it’s harder for sexual and reproductive health workers to appropriately screen for sexual and gender-based violence. And referral pathways to care are disrupted.

Our research shows that an increase in sexual and gender-based violence was observed during the 2013-2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. During that outbreak, response efforts focused on containing the disease.

This focus was important, but protocols were never established to protect girls and women from violence during the outbreak. Quarantines and school closures were put in place to contain the spread of disease. This left women and adolescent girls vulnerable to coercion, exploitation and sexual abuse.

There is already concern that COVID-19 is leading to an increase of sexual and gender-based violence.

Rising levels of violence

Sexual and gender-based violence does not begin with disasters like COVID-19. But the chaos and instability they cause leave women and girls more vulnerable.

The United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, has sounded an alarm on a “horrifying global surge” of domestic violence.

In Kenya, cases of sexual, gender-based and domestic violence have increased significantly since the country began its response to the virus. In China, domestic violence reports nearly doubled after cities were put under lockdown, with 90% related to the epidemic.

Helpline calls have increased in Malaysia, Lebanon, France, Argentina, Cyprus and Singapore. A sharp drop in calls in Italy suggests that the lockdown also prevented many women from seeking help.

According to the World Health Organisation, 35% of women around the world have already experienced some form of sexual and gender-based violence in their lifetime. In some crisis settings, this number skyrocketed to more than 70%.

Ebola experience

Increases in sexual and gender-based violence were observed during the 2013-2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Estimates concerning the scope are difficult to obtain and vastly under-reported. Survivors of violence were ignored as health workers counted the number of Ebola cases.

According to some reports, Guinea reported a 4.5% increase in sexual and gender-based violence and twice as many rapes. More often than not, this violence was evident only by its devastating consequences for women and girls.

In the aftermath of Ebola, both Sierra Leone and Liberia saw an upswing in teenage pregnancy rates.

The parallels between the response to Ebola and COVID-19 are striking. Public health infrastructure during Ebola came to a grinding halt. In a desperate attempt to control the virus, governments employed many of the current social distancing strategies. These included school closures, curfews, and quarantines.

As Ebola spread throughout West Africa, heavily burdened relief efforts failed to account for particularly vulnerable populations. The needs of women and girls, especially concerning sexual and gender-based violence, were largely ignored in response and recovery planning.

Many organisations waited until Ebola was under control before addressing these needs. By then it was too late.

Lessons learned

One of the key lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak was that epidemics leave women and girls especially vulnerable to violence. Mistakes made during the Ebola epidemic are valuable lessons in the COVID-19 response.

Governments must ensure the protection of women and girls right from the beginning of an epidemic. However, a top-down approach is not enough. Prevention and mitigation initiatives need to be integrated across sectors.

Research has found independent women’s groups to be the single most important factor in addressing violence against women and girls. In light of this, women and girls should be involved in the development and delivery of services during COVID-19. And comprehensive data on the gendered impact of COVID-19 should be collected.

All protective services for women and girls must be classified as “essential” during any disaster. Domestic violence hotlines, safe spaces, sexual and reproductive health services, referral pathways, and justice mechanisms are necessary in pre-pandemic times, and even more important in crisis.

Governments should identify organisations already focused on sexual and gender-based violence and give them the tools and resources to continue supporting women and girls during the pandemic. Since social distancing limits screening opportunities, these organisations should explore alternate entry ways for women to access care, especially in places like supermarkets and pharmacies.

As hospitals and clinics deal with infected patients, the health sector should collaborate with gender-violence organisations to deliver services creatively and strengthen referral pathways in accordance with virus mitigation measures.

High-quality clinical care for survivors should be accessible at all times. Community gatekeepers including religious, traditional, women, and youth leaders should play a key role in both virus and violence mitigation initiatives. They can also serve as early warning and alert groups within the community.

Frontline workers should be trained to recognise and safely refer cases of sexual and gender-based violence. And women should be aware of the increased risk during times of crisis, and where to access help.

The consequences of sexual and gender-based violence do not end when medical crises are contained. The impact of COVID-19 will be wide scale, longstanding, and likely generational. Response and recovery planning must ensure that those most impacted by COVID-19 are not forgotten.

Additional research was done by Alexandra Regan, a Master of Public Health candidate at Boston University School of Public Health

Monica Adhiambo Onyango, Clinical Associate Professor, Global Health, Boston University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Online funerals, face masks and elections: the new Ghana

n our series of letters from African writers, journalist and former Ghana government minister Elizabeth Ohene writes about the new normal – from how to hold a socially distant election to attending online funerals.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, we have come to accept that our lives have been turned upside down.

We have been learning to cope with things nobody had ever dreamt about – like not hugging or shaking hands. Social distancing, self-isolation and quarantine have all become terms of everyday use.

Schools have been closed, and parents are discovering anew just how much food growing children eat.

There are things we studiously avoid talking about; the mortuaries are full, not from coronavirus deaths (so far in Ghana, there have been 16 from the disease) but the ban on public gatherings, which means we cannot have normal funerals.

Private burials are allowed but with no more than 25 people and that really is an unbearable experience for most Ghanaians.

So, we are keeping the bodies in the morgues in the hope that this dreadful nightmare will soon be over and the dead can be given befitting Ghanaian burials.

I joined an online funeral last week dressed in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. Nobody attends a funeral dressed like that”

Elizabeth Ohene
Ghanaian journalist

people now sit at home by their laptops and log on to join the service.

If this trend continues, it will totally subvert our funeral culture. I joined an online funeral last week dressed in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. Nobody attends a funeral dressed like that.

Now that we have gone through seven Sundays, including Easter Sunday, without church services, it is dawning on all of us that coronavirus is rather dramatic.

Teenagers watch the live broadcast of church service from home as all religious gatherings are suspended over concerns of the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Accra, Ghana, March 22, 2020.
Religious gatherings have been restricted because of Covid-19

We are into the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims have started their fasting, without the congregational prayers in the mosque that mark the breaking of the fast. More and more of us now accept that we are in unsettling times.

The capital Accra and its environs, and the second city Kumasi, were put under lockdown for three weeks and we have emerged from that too with the restriction on the movement of people now lifted.

Frantic activities

At the centre of the entire Covid-19 experience has been President Nana Akufo-Addo. He addressed the nation on the evening of 12 March to tell us of the first two cases of coronavirus in the country.

He announced the ban on social gatherings, the closure of borders, the lockdown in the two metropolitan areas, and he enumerates the tally of confirmed cases of infections.

Media captionHow can I practise social distancing at work?

There is an unstated but awkward fact that runs underneath all the frantic coronavirus activities in the country. We are due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on 7 December.

Elections are keenly contested here and campaigns are usually loud, chaotic and, of course, crowd-centred. Preparations were on a tight schedule and did not leave much room for anything to go wrong.

Poll plans derailed

Then the virus struck and the first casualty was the National Identification Authority. It has not yet been able to finish giving identity cards to everybody above the age of 16. Without it, people cannot register to vote.

The electoral commission wants to compile a fresh voters register, but the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) is having none of that and has sworn loudly that it will do everything it can to make sure it does not happen.

The commission had, in fact, planned to start the registration process more than a week ago, but since all gatherings are banned, it seems to be stuck.

A watch showing the time at noon, is displayed for a photo as people walk past Ring Road Central Street, which is almost empty during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Accra, Ghana, March 31, 2020
Image captionThe lockdown in Ghana’s capital Accra brought the city to a standstill

Furthermore, the two main parties are gauging each other as the nature of politicking has changed with the advent of coronavirus.

No-one knows if the people’s judgement is going to be based mostly on how the parties and their candidates fare during this crisis.

The candidate of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), President Nana Akufo-Addo, and the NDC candidate, former President John Mahama, know each other pretty well. This is going to be the third time they will be facing each other.

The NPP should have conducted primaries in about 150 constituencies in which it has sitting MPs last December but postponed them to April – only for them to be derailed by lockdown measures. The candidates cannot campaign, at least not in the manner we know.

Party officials are in a bind, will they be able to hold primaries and how will they manage the tensions that come with internal elections if there is no time to heal wounds?

We know how to bring the economy back to life. What we do not know is how to bring people back to life”

Nana Akufo-Addo
Ghana’s president

The NDC has most of its parliamentary candidates but its presidential candidate would have wanted to announce his choice of running mate at a big rowdy event – not at an event dominated by social distancing.

And how do you campaign when a malignant virus loose in the land and there does not seem to be any appetite for partisan arguments?

The president has addressed the country eight times since the outbreak and the whole nation listens to him.

He makes a speech and part of it goes viral: “We know how to bring the economy back to life. What we do not know is how to bring people back to life.”

The president says the virus does not have a political colour, this is not the time for politicking, and right now we must defeat our common enemy. He is having a good pandemic.

The NDC started its Covid-19 politicking on a dodgy note when its general secretary, Asiedu Nketia, expressed doubts about the existence of the virus in the country.

When Mr Nketia announced the first two cases of Covid-19 and placed a ban on social gatherings and political activities, he said the virus was a big hoax, and part of a grand design by the president to rig the elections.

But the NDC soon regained its poise and the party set up its own Covid-19 committee and Mr Mahama started issuing his own daily bulletins on the progress of the virus.

He had a digital conversation the other day, which sounded suspiciously like an address to the nation.

One week into the lockdown, tempers began to fray, small businesses were feeling the pinch, the daily wage earners were in distress and the confirmed cases of Covid-19 were rising.

An NDC MP accused government officials of asking the vulnerable for NPP party membership cards before being given food.

‘Father Christmas’

A video was released of Mr Mahama distributing food parcels in a poor suburb. He was appropriately clad in his face mask and told the recipients he knew they were suffering and could feel their pain.

The president announced a raft of interventions to ease the economic difficulties brought on by the pandemic; the government would pick up 50% of everybody’s electricity bill for the next three months, water would be free during that period, and health workers would not pay taxes.

Women wearing face masks chat at the Nima market as Ghana lifts partial lockdown amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Accra, Ghana April 20, 202
Image captionMany people wear masks to prevent infections from spreading

Last Sunday, Mr Akufo-Addo announced the government was about to start a huge hospital building programme. He said the pandemic had exposed just how badly underserved we were with hospitals and he would build and equip 94 new ones within the next year.

We had not seen the president as a Father Christmas before but there he was dishing out goodies. For the NDC, it is difficult when it wants to defeat him in elections.

Since nobody has any idea when we will get rid of this virus and there are no provisions in the constitution to postpone presidential elections, we are having to work around the possibility of holding the polls with Covid-19 around us.

South Korea did it and we might have to do it as well, socially distanced and with our masks.

Pentecostals and the spiritual war against coronavirus in Africa

Stefan Heunis/AFP/Getty Images

By Benjamin Kirby, University of Leeds; Josiah Taru, Great Zimbabwe University, and Tinashe Chimbidzikai, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity

Since the emergence of COVID-19, a number of media commentators and academics have reflected on the “spiritualisation” of the pandemic among responses in different African settings.

There’s been particular interest in the influence of prominent Pentecostal pastors on public health messaging. Some have expressed concern about the possible consequences of their invocations of spiritual warfare.

We’ve examined how idioms of (spiritual) warfare have been deployed in response to the coronavirus pandemic and wish to bring a broader perspective to recent debates about these dynamics. We consider examples from Tanzania and Zimbabwe, drawing on our ongoing research in these settings.

Many Pentecostal Christians, in Africa as well as other continents, portray the coronavirus as a “spiritual force of evil” rather than as a biomedical disease.

Through this lens, the world is presented as a battleground between God and the agents of Satan. For those who enlist to “fight for Jesus”, the most effective weapon is prayer.

Spiritual warfare provides a framework for explaining and responding to both mundane and extraordinary events – from a cancelled flight to a global pandemic. But despite their close association with Pentecostals, these militarised idioms may also resonate with other groups.

The prophet

In Zimbabwe, Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa has been criticised for reassuring his congregants that they will be “spared” from the virus. This will happen through prayer and the divine protection he mediates. “You will not die, because the Son is involved in what we are doing,” he says, calling it

the freedom that no medication can offer.

This declaration epitomises a sense of Pentecostal “exceptionalism”, embodied in the claim to be “in this world but not of this world”. It clearly risks instilling a level of complacency among his followers about the threat of the virus. It amplifies the possibility of noncompliance with government safety measures.

Advert for online service led by Prophet Makandiwa.
Christ TV Channel/Twitter

Prophet Makandiwa has also been accused of perpetuating conspiracy theories. Drawing Biblical allusions to the “mark of the beast”, he has warned followers about “microchip” implants. These, he predicts, will accompany future vaccination campaigns. This claim has also been made by pastors elsewhere in the African continent.

In Uganda, steps have already been taken to prosecute pastors spreading misinformation.

The president

Efforts to “spiritualise” the virus have also been pursued by some African leaders. For example, Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli described COVID-19 as a demon (shetani). Through it Satan seeks to “destroy” Tanzanian citizens.

Despite the government promoting physical distancing, he declared that churches or mosques would not be closed because this is where God and “true healing” (uponyaji wa kweli) are found.

Invoking the idiom of spiritual warfare, Magufuli explained that COVID-19

cannot survive in the Body of Jesus (and) will be burned away.

Commentators have observed that Magufuli is himself a Roman Catholic (albeit with Pentecostal ties). Yet few have acknowledged his implication that God can also be “found” in mosques, nor his recommendation that Tanzanians also embrace indigenous medicinal practices for protection.

In a country where Christians don’t constitute a clear religious majority, Magufuli invokes the rhetoric of spiritual warfare to articulate a sense of national religious identity.

A woman walks past an election billboard featuring now president of Tanzania, John Magufuli in Dar es Salaam.
Daniel Hayduk/AFP/Getty Images

These invocations mostly adopt a rhetorical style reminiscent of Pentecostal pastors but maintain a broad, inclusive focus on God (Mungu).

Tanzanians responded enthusiastically to Magufuli’s call for citizens “of every faith” to participate in three days of national prayer. Many took to social media to circulate photos and videos featuring the Tanzanian flag and words of prayer.

Some perspective

Yet a growing number of commentators have criticised Magufuli. As with Makandiwa, they argue that his use of spiritual warfare rhetoric generates a dangerous expectation of viral immunity.

Some commentators have taken Magufuli’s emphasis on prayer to be emblematic of the government’s perceived failure to adequately address the pandemic.

The government, say critics, has fallen prey to “superstitious” thinking. Some draw allusions to the use of water-based medicine in the Maji Maji rebellion against German colonial rule.

As others have observed, the act of giving spiritual agency to the virus as a “personal demon” can also serve to downplay structural failures which have contributed to its spread. It divests responsibility to both COVID-19 as a sentient “enemy” and citizens.

There is a risk, however, that exaggerating the “idiosyncrasy” of the Tanzanian government’s response to COVID-19 – and indeed that of Prophet Makandiwa – may perpetuate another myth of “exceptionalism”. One which echoes colonial depictions of African populations as singularly “superstitious” and “incurably religious”.

A billboard in Lagos, Nigeria.
Markus Matzel/ullstein bild/Getty Images

In truth, spiritual warfare idioms have been diversely invoked – and unevenly received – across the continent. They have prompted lively “religion and science” debates.

Moreover, the plausibility of spiritual warfare idioms should not be exclusively attributed to people’s religious sensibilities. After all, “warfare” is the signature trope with which global political figures, health experts, and media commentators have framed COVID-19.

Like Magufuli, world leaders like the UK’s Boris Johnson, France’s Emmanuel Macron and the US’s Donald Trump have all invoked warfare motifs against the single, identifiable “enemy”.

European governments have also been accused of using this framing to shift responsibility onto citizens as “combatants”, whether for failing to adhere to physical distancing or for their biomedical frailty. Narratives of individuals heroically “winning their war” against a decidedly personal demon are no less persuasive to some in Europe than to some in Africa.

None of this is intended to take away from the ambivalent and sometimes plainly harmful effects of attempts to spiritualise the pandemic. Nor is it to imply that religiously informed strategies of communication and implementation are incompatible with more “temporal” methods.

Religious groups like Pentecostal congregations may indeed constitute an important “public health resource” when it comes to delivering services and messaging. And they can cultivate a sense of hope and mutual care in the face of uncertainty.

Rather, we suggest as anthropologists and scholars of religion, this warfaring rhetoric might stem from a shared discomfort among Africans and Europeans alike at the prospect of an adversary without discernible self-will or conscience. An impersonal demon.

As literary critic Anders Engberg-Pederson
articulates it:

We declare war on the virus, because we want it to be something that it is not.

Benjamin Kirby, British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Leeds; Josiah Taru, Lecturer, Great Zimbabwe University, and Tinashe Chimbidzikai, Doctoral Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sudan criminalises female genital mutilation

There has been a global trend towards banning FGM

Sudan has criminalised carrying out female genital mutilation (FGM), making it punishable by three years in jail.

Some 87% of Sudanese women aged between 14 and 49 have undergone some form of FGM, according to the UN.

In Sudan it is common for women to get the inner and outer labia, and usually the clitoris, removed.

FGM can result in urinary tract infections, uterine infections, kidney infections, cysts, reproductive issues and pain during sex.

Girls get cut because of a widespread cultural belief that it is essential for girls’ reputations and future marriage prospects.

But there has been a global trend towards banning the practice.

The amendment to the criminal law was approved on 22 April, Reuters news agency reports.

Under the amendment, anyone who performs FGM either inside a medical establishment or elsewhere faces three years’ imprisonment and a fine.

Presentational grey line

Types of FGM:

It’s estimated one in 20 girls and women in the world have undergone some form of FGM
  • Type one: Clitoridectomy – partial or total removal of the clitoris
  • Type two: Excision – removal of the clitoris and inner labia (lips), with or without the outer labia
  • Type three: Infibulation – cutting, removal of part or all of external genitalia and stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening
  • Type four: Any other type of intentional damage to the female genitalia (burning, scraping, piercing)

Covid-19 could mark a deadly turn in Ghana’s fight against fake drugs

Substandard hand-sanitisers have been seized by Ghana’s Food and Drug Authority since the coronavirus outbreak began. Photograph: Nana Kofi Acquah/mPedigree Global Image Archive

When Joana Opoku-Darko’s daughter Anna was 18 months old, she came down with malaria, a disease common in Ghana and especially deadly for children.

She bought medication from a pharmacy in Ghana’s capital, Accra; when Anna’s fever didn’t subside she took her to a hospital, where they ran some tests.

“I was anxious, as a first-time mother. I didn’t have the experience to tell whether it’s going to get any better, or am I going to lose my child?” she says.

“They told me the medicine was no good, and we needed to start treatment all over.”

Opoku-Darko had bought fake malaria treatment drugs. Had she not gone to the hospital, Anna could have become another sorry statistic in a country flooded with substandard medicines.

The experience has Opoku-Darko worried about the pandemic, especially as experts warn issues of falsified drugs, already very deadly in Africa, will become even greater under Covid-19.

The current focus on curbing Covid-19 spread means there is less focus on routine market surveillanceDelese Mimi Darko, chief executive of Ghana’s Food and Drug Authority

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one in 10 medical products circulating in low- and middle-income countries are either substandard or fake, which is both dangerous and a waste of precious family money. Various academic studies have put the prevalence at between 11% and 48%.

Of 1,500 reports of such products, most came from Africa (42%), with south-east Asia also a major hotspot for fake medications.

It is impossible to know precisely how many such medicines are in the system. Delese Mimi Darko, chief executive of Ghana’s Food and Drug Authority (FDA), says this is an ongoing problem, especially as people smuggle drugs across the country’s borders. She too worries that Ghana, with more than 1,500 reported Covid-19 cases, will see an increase in falsified and substandard medicines due to the pandemic. Already the FDA has seized substandard hand-sanitisers.

“The current focus on curbing Covid-19 spread means there is less focus on routine market surveillance,” says Darko. “This means there could be an influx across porous borders of substandard medical products – including those for Covid-19.”

Measures like social distancing and lockdowns limit the work the regulators could do, she added.

The FDA is also keeping an eye on social media posts offering unsubstantiated cures. Ghana’s police service has cautioned people to beware online offers of vaccines for Covid-19. Earlier this month, the WHO warned of falsified chloroquine products found in Cameroon, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and called for “widespread vigilance” from all countries.

Chloroquine has been used in Africa for decades as an antimalarial, but it became internationally famous after Donald Trump said it could be a “gift from God” in the fight against Covid-19. Such claims have led to people hoarding the medicine, leading to reports of price hikes and shortages. In Nigeria, three people overdosed on the drug.

Activists for the campaign group Fight the Fakes at a Wellcome Trust-sponsored launch in Accra, Ghana. Photograph: Fight The Fakes

Kwasi Boateng, director of United States Pharmacopeia-Ghana, a public health non-profit that focuses party on combating falsified medicines, is concerned the pandemic might eventually cause a shortage of essential medicines in Ghana, allowing substandard or falsified treatments to fill the void. While he has not seen shortages of essentials yet, he says Ghana is still early in its battle with the virus and “time will tell”.

Boateng fears that if and when any official Covid-19 treatment is found, fake versions might find their way into the county.

“The kind of medicines that people normally want faked are the ones that are in demand. So, if a new medication comes up which manages the condition, that makes it very attractive for people to want to latch on to it, so we all have to be vigilant.”


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Chloroquine is no longer used in Ghana to treat malaria, but rumours suggest substandard chloroquine has been in circulation. “If we find any chloroquine on the market now, there is likely to be issues with it,” says Boateng.

In March, an Interpol operation reported an increase of more than 100% in seizures of unauthorised chloroquine, compared with the previous year. The organisation said this could be connected to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The WHO’s public health expert, Dr Mary Stephen, has said: “From the beginning of the outbreak there has been a lot of rumours and speculation in terms of which drugs will be effective for Covid-19, for Africa.”

She says steps have been taken to stem the tide of fake drugs. In January, a handful of African leaders signed the Lomé initiative, pledging new measures, including better border controls and legal processes against the smuggling of falsified products.

The founding director of the Lao-Oxford-Mahosot Hospital-Wellcome Trust Research Unit, Dr Paul Newton, warns of a “parallel crisis” of quality, availability, and access to medical products and medicines, for all essential medicines.

With global supply chains interrupted and physical distancing rules in place, regulatory work inspecting pharmaceutical factories is decreasing, Newton says. “That raises the risk of substandard medicines, and of companies cutting corners and making mistakes in the rush to manufacture,” he warns.

Newton is concerned about what will happen if and when health authorities do find medicine to prevent or treat Covid-19, and how the world’s 7.8 billion people will access it. There needs to be coordinated production and strict quality surveillance, he warned.

Before a medicine is found, Newton says he suspects criminals will have the equipment ready to make vast amounts of it.

“When they know it’s ‘medicine X’, they will make fake copies, insert them in the supply chain and make enormous amounts of money – and kill people, to be brutally frank.”Advertisement

To counter this parallel crisis, Newton calls for a global, prepared approach to assure the quality of diagnostic tests, drugs, and vaccines, where drugs are affordable and not hoarded or diverted from treating existing conditions.

Coronavirus poses ethical concerns: a view on the choices being made in Kenya

Artisans work at their shops at Gikomba Market, Nairobi, in January 2019.
Simon Maina/AFP via GettyImages

By David Nderitu, Egerton University

Many countries in the world are taking measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic, including maintaining social distance and observing personal hygiene.

Many people are now working remotely to avoid interaction with colleagues. Educational and religious institutions have been closed down in order to avoid large gatherings of people.

In Kenya, individuals who return from abroad have been required to self-quarantine for at least 14 days before they can go on with their normal life. This has now become mandatory and people are being taken to facilities identified by the government at their own expense.

The Kenyan government has also enforced a dusk-to-dawn curfew. In addition, residents of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kwale and Kilifi have been advised not to leave their counties.

When read together, these measures raise certain existential and ethical concerns. Restricting movement and forcing people to stay home might minimise the risk of spreading the virus. But these measures pose serious economic challenges for those in the informal sector. Their livelihoods depend on daily incomes. The inability to look for work will worsen poverty and suffering.

The reality of extreme poverty versus disease control in Kenya and elsewhere presents a real dilemma. Uncontrolled movement of people increases the risk of spreading the virus. But if people cannot move freely to make a living there is a heightened risk of hunger and starvation. Either way, there seems to be an unpleasant choice to be made by both the government and the people.

As the government of Kenya strives to resolve this dilemma there must be a balanced consideration of decisions. This must prioritise measures that will maximise benefit and minimise harm for the majority of citizens. The voice of the poor majority in Kenya has to carry more weight in the negotiation.

Meeting basic needs

Governments and other policy makers have an obligation to ensure that the spread of the virus is minimised. However, in resource limited settings like Kenya, the balance preventing more COVID-19 infections, and the underlying reality of poverty, lack of employment, and poor health care systems presents a big challenge.

Developed countries can afford to cushion public services and individuals from the effects of the coronavirus. And similar efforts are being made in other countries in Europe, Asia and Australia. In Africa, where many economies are struggling, stimulus packages may be a tall order. Much of the continent still depends on development aid and loans, especially in crisis situations.

For example, Kenya recently received a $50 million loan from the World Bank to support the country’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The primary beneficiaries will be infected people, at-risk populations, medical and emergency personnel, medical and testing facilities, and national health agencies.

It may take several weeks for people at the grassroots to benefit from the funding. Yet their needs are too immediate to be subjected to any delays. It is true that President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a stimulus plan to buoy Kenya’s sagging economy, but some have argued that the tax driven effort will benefit the rich more than the poor.

According to the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network’s 2018 report, almost 80% of Kenyans are either income poor or near the poverty line. As at December 2019, Kenya had an unemployment rate of 9.31%. Data from the Institute of Economic Affairs indicates that the informal sector – which employs over 80% of Kenya’s working population – is usually associated with low and irregular pay. Thus, the majority of those employed in the sector are poor.

So, when the government of Kenya encouraged people to stay and work at home, many people in informal employment did it reluctantly. The main worry in many homesteads is that if their breadwinners do not work for even a single day, it will lead to starvation. Indeed, thousands of residents of the Kibra slum in Nairobi caused a stampede while scrambling for food aid despite the risk of mass congregation.

This reflects the fears of millions of people across Africa where lockdowns and curfews have been imposed. Some Kenyans have indicated that they would rather die of a pandemic than of hunger.

Best interests

The government can either allow people to continue with their normal life and risk the spread of the virus, or force people to stay at home where those in informal jobs would miss the opportunity to provide the basic needs of their families. Of course if it had the capacity – or is it the good will? – to implement stimulus measures like the US, Europe and elsewhere, there would be no dilemma to speak of.

Kenya ignored calls to restrict international flights into the country when the new coronavirus was declared a pandemic. The government went ahead and allowed a flight from China to land at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with 239 passengers on board. Such acts of negligence were committed despite the moral responsibility of the government to protect citizens from harm.

The government must now ensure that it fulfils this primary obligation by cushioning Kenyans from the effects of extreme poverty. From a utilitarian perspective, the government is charged with the moral responsibility to promote the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

Continued enforcement of the curfew and restriction of cross-country movement only adds to the suffering of the poor in Kenya. Without sufficient mitigating measurements it would only be a matter of weeks before families began to lack for the basics. The slightest disruption to the normal chain of events in Africa, even for a brief period, can spell disaster.

David Nderitu, Assistant Lecturer of Philosophy, Egerton University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What African countries are doing to help people to eat amid the lockdowns

Stuck at home because of the lockdown, 25-year-old Ugandan Richard Kabanda is worried about feeding his family.

The motorbike taxi driver, who used to earn about $2 (£1.60) a day, has had no work since the government banned public transport last month as part of measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“We are going to die because there is nothing we can do,” he told the BBC from his house, which is in a slum, close to the swamps by Lake Victoria.

“We are going to die inside our homes because we will run out of food yet we’ve been told not to leave our homes.”

How to balance lives with livelihoods

Once his savings had run out, he had hoped to benefit from a food distribution programme that the government promised to 1.5 million of those most in need.

His experience was typical of the more than four out of five African workers who survive day-to-day in the informal sector and have no access to state assistance.

African governments, including Uganda’s, are now facing a policy conundrum.

A trader sleeps next to items to be sold at a market following a directive from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni that all vendors should sleep in markets for 14 days to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus at Nakasero market in Kampala, Uganda, on April 7, 2020.
Image captionStall holders in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, were asked to sleep with their produce during the lockdown to prevent them moving around

Many acted swiftly with lockdowns or restrictions on movement as the spectre of coronavirus approached the continent. But the authorities are also aware of the toll these measures are taking on their citizens.

They are now grappling with how to move into the next phase of how to contain the virus and restart the economy.

“Getting the balance right between people’s lives and livelihoods is the big trick for poorer countries,” said Ronak Gopaldas, director of the South Africa-based risk management company, Signal Risk.

“If people don’t work, they don’t eat. Ongoing lockdowns are unsustainable in their current forms.”

Woman selling chicken
Image captionPeople in the informal sector make up more the 80% of the workforce across the continent

Few African countries have social safety nets to catch people if they lose their jobs.

The precarious existence for those workers in the informal sector, and the large numbers of relatives who rely on them, means that the halting of economic activity could spell disaster.

So what are African governments doing to cushion their citizens from the impact of unemployment?

Looking at sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, the World Bank has predicted that the region could fall into a recession in 2020 for the first time in 25 years as a consequence of the coronavirus outbreak.

Nigeria, South Africa and Angola are likely to be hit hardest, but all countries will see a slow down.

Impact of coronavirus on GDP

Source: Standard Chartered Bank

Governments and central banks have come up with a series of macro-economic measures, including tax relief and interest rate reductions, to try to avoid the worst effects.

While those may mean that some keep jobs that would otherwise have been lost, it is the help that governments can give directly to the people that may be more significant in the short-term.

Is South Africa’s big plan working?

South Africa, with the continent’s most industrialised economy, has announced the biggest action plan so far.

Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa outlined a comprehensive $26bn (£21bn) economic package, amounting to 10% of the country’s GDP, to help boost the economy.

Economic mitigation

Some of the measures governments have introduced

  • Nigeria$1.4bn fiscal stimulus, extend cash transfers for poorest
  • Kenyatax relief and reductions, new cash-transfer scheme
  • UgandaBoosted lending capacity of development bank, food handouts
  • South Africa$26bn economic package, new cash-transfer scheme

Source: IMF

He said that this would be “equal to the scale of the disruption [coronavirus] is causing”.

Jane Barrett, who works in South Africa for Wiego, an organisation that supports women in informal employment, says that things are currently “pretty dire on the ground”.

People are relying on food parcels that are being distributed by charities and civil society organisations but “we are hearing heart-breaking stories all the time of people not being reached in rural areas and whole informal settlements where food distribution has hardly touched”, she adds.

A township resident carries a food package handed out by a non governmental organisation during a 21-day nationwide lockdown aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus disease
Image captionIn South Africa, charities have been distributing food to those most in need

About $2.6bn of the money the government is spending will be given in the form of cash transfers to those most in need.

People who are already receiving child benefit, currently $23 per child per month, will get an extra $16 per child next month and potentially more money after that.

This should help 18 million South Africans – just under a third of the population.

State pensions will also be boosted and those who are not receiving either of these benefits, or unemployment insurance, could qualify for a new payment of $18 a month for the next six months.

This is not an insignificant amount, Ms Barrett says, “but I’m not sure that it’s going to be sufficient to alleviate the terrible hunger that we are seeing”.


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Some of the money to pay for the whole economic package will not come from loans or new taxation but will be the result of a reorganisation of spending priorities and drawing on a surplus in the unemployment fund.

But South Africa will still need to borrow more to pay for these commitments.

Other countries on the continent may find this harder as they could be reluctant to incur more debt repayment costs, says Razia Khan, chief economist for Africa at Standard Chartered Bank.

While donors have announced a freeze on repayments for now, this will not last forever.

“Given the greater formalisation of South Africa’s economy it is able to come up with its package,” she adds.

“But this is the difficulty for many countries – it is incredibly hard for governments across the region to reach out to those who operate in the informal sector. This is a key hurdle.”

Kenya’s ‘pro-poor’ approach

Kenya’s government has used an existing cash transfer programme, Inua Jamii, to boost payments to more than one million vulnerable people, who are either elderly, disabled or orphaned.

A man pulls a handcart with jerrycans along the street before a curfew, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues
Image captionSome people are able to carry on working despite measures to prevent the spread of the virus

But there will still be many others among Kenya’s 51 million people who will need help.

In announcing a new scheme, known as the Covid-19 Support Stipend, President Uhuru Kenyatta said his government was adopting a “pro-poor approach… knowing that they are disproportionately affected” by the pandemic.

It has earmarked $93m for the fund that will target squatters, street hawkers, food vendors, motorbike taxi drivers and other labourers who have lost their jobs with weekly payments.

But how many, and exactly who, will qualify is not yet clear as the authorities need to establish the infrastructure to identify those most in need.

And $93m does not sound much compared to the $2.6bn in South Africa.

Is the alcohol ban in South Africa working?

Police have arrested people caught drinking in public. Photo: Getty Images

The ban on the sale and transportation of alcohol during the coronavirus lockdown in South Africa has emptied hospital beds, ruined businesses, provoked violence and political disputes, and has led to a surge of interest in pineapples, writes the BBC’s Andrew Harding from Johannesburg.

The idea was simple.

Ban all booze, and you’ll prevent drunken fights, reduce domestic violence, stop drunk driving, and eliminate the weekend binge-drinking so prevalent across South Africa. Police, medics and analysts estimate – conservatively – that alcohol is involved in, or responsible for, at least 40% of all emergency hospital admissions.

In normal times some 34,000 trauma cases arrive at emergency departments in South Africa every week.

But since the nationwide lockdown came into force last month to prevent the spread of coronavirus, that figure has plummeted, dramatically, by roughly two thirds, to about 12,000 admissions.

“It’s a significant impact,” said Professor Charles Parry, with some understatement.

A South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldier instructs a homeless man to discard his beer on the ground during an operation to enforce a national lockdown in the Johannesburg CBD, on March 27, 2020
Image captionSoldiers force a homeless man to empty his beer can in Johannesburg

He has been modelling the extent to which the alcohol ban has been responsible for the decline in those numbers for South Africa’s Medical Research Council.

“If we end the prohibition on alcohol sales, we’re going to see about 5,000 alcohol admissions in trauma units coming back into the system [each week],” he predicted.

Police minister ‘gone rogue’

The fact that those 5,000 extra hospital beds now stand empty could soon prove invaluable if the pandemic – which has been held, impressively, in check here for several weeks – begins to spread again exponentially, as government advisors predict it may.

But medical experts, while urging the government to keep the alcohol ban in place, also point out that heavy drinking weakens the immune system and may have a particular effect on respiratory conditions.

“Covid-19 is going to have a more severe impact on heavy drinkers… and in South Africa many people live in crowded conditions.

“So, alcohol sales… may increase community transmission [as people often drink socially]… and we’re likely to see an increase in gender-based violence and harm towards children,” warned Professor Parry.

Alcohol and Covid-19:

World Health Organization’s advice

  • Avoid alcohol altogether
  • If you drink keep it to a minimum
  • Immune system weakened by alcohol, especially if you drink heavily
  • Reduces ability to cope with infectious diseases
  • Can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • Drinking also increases risk of domestic violence

But how to enforce such a draconian and unprecedented clampdown for five weeks, or possibly more if South Africa’s lockdown, due to end on 30 April, is extended once again?

The man responsible for policing the new prohibition has provoked anger in some quarters by appearing to encourage the security forces to take heavy-handed, and potentially illegal, action against those caught breaking the rules.

There have already been numerous worrying examples, including the alleged beating to death of a man caught drinking in his own yard.

Police Minister Bheki Cele, well-known for his abrasive language and his swaggering enthusiasm for the alcohol ban, recently warned that his forces would “destroy the infrastructure where the liquor is sold”.

“It’s deeply concerning when you have senior political leaders encouraging police officers to use violence or force, or to break the law. It seems as if the police minister has gone rogue,” said Gareth Newham, a crime expert at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies.

South African women prepare large quantities of traditional beer (umqombothi) for the African National Council's 100th anniversary on January 4, 2012, in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Image captionTraditionally brewed beer in popular, especially in rural areas

South Africa’s alcohol industry initially sought to challenge the ban in court, arguing that it was unconstitutional and introduced without consultation. It has since backed down.

But while many in the industry acknowledge the importance of supporting national efforts to fight the virus, there is frustration about a “one-size-fits-all” approach that is causing significant damage to many businesses.

‘It could be game over’

“It’s not looking good at all,” said Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, the country’s first black female brewery owner and chair of South Africa’s Beer Association, who fears her small business may go under if the ban continues for much longer.

“The arguments against lifting the ban do make sense. A lot of people are unemployed and use alcohol as a get-away drug,” she acknowledged, but she said a more sophisticated approach – perhaps allowing limited alcohol sales – could save her industry from collapse.

Cards and beer bottles lie on the floor of an informal gambling spot after South African Police Service (SAPS) arrested 8 people because they defied the lockdown rules and the alcohol restriction in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, on March 27, 2020.
Image captionCards and beer bottles lie on the floor following a security force raid in a Johannesburg suburb

“It could be game over for us,” agreed Nick Smith, an American who owns a craft brewery outside Cape Town.

“This one-size-fits-all rule is having a major impact on smaller businesses like ours,” added Mr Smith.

Rise in home brewing

That argument is echoed by South Africa’s official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), which is in favour of a “smart lockdown model” that would allow people to buy alcohol for a few hours each day.

But another party, the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), has called the DA’s proposal “murderous” and “racist” since the current ban appears to be having the most positive impact on health in poorer, largely black, communities.

Many people have compared South Africa’s prohibition to the US’s famous, decade-long crackdown which began in 1920 in response to campaigning by religious and moral groups, and was immortalised by Hollywood in films like Some Like It Hot and The Untouchables.

As with Chicago’s notorious gangster, Al Capone, there are concerns that the alcohol ban could push the sector here into the hands of criminals who already control a lucrative chunk of South Africa’s cigarette industry.

“The longer the lockdown goes on, the more criminal networks will be able to entrench their ability to sell and distribute alcohol,” confirmed Gareth Newham, warning that the government was already losing a fortune in taxation because of the ban.

Alcohol consumption in South Africa:

  • 31%  of people aged 15 and above drink
  • 59% of them are heavy or binge drinkers
  • 26% of alcohol is homemade or illegally produced
  • Up to 60,000 of sale and distribution outlets are licensed
  • About 120,000 are not

The ban has certainly tapped into deep undercurrents here in South Africa – a country with a history of apartheid where black citizens were once banned from drinking in public, and some workers were even paid in alcohol, causing huge social problems.

“We, South Africans, don’t have a good relationship with alcohol. Over the years, it’s something that has to a certain extent got out of control,” said Ms Nxusani-Mawela.

But as things stand, one aspect of the ban does appear to be uniting people from different walks of life. It has created a new enthusiasm for home brewing, which has always been a firm fixture in rural communities.

Videos and recipes for pineapple beer and the more traditional corn and sorghum known as “umqombothi”, are now being widely touted on social media, alongside warnings that such drinks, if wrongly prepared, could prove dangerous.

From Bamako to Gaza: victims of coronavirus that the world forgot

They have survived ethnic militias, jihadists and machetes.

Now the 1,000 men, women and children sheltering amid clouds of flies and mounds of rubbish in the ‘Faladie Garbal refugee camp near the Malian capital of Bamako say their community is being slowly destroyed by coronavirus.

“We been told about the disease but we have nothing to protect ourselves against it. No gel, nothing,” said Hama Diallo, the head of the camp. “We all live closely together … and more people are arriving every day from the war.

“People who usually come to give us food are not coming anymore because of the coronavirus. We have nothing to eat and we are afraid to go out and fetch food because the police stop us,” he added.

With over 200,000 displaced people, an estimated 1.3 million in dire need of food, and the fastest growing Islamist insurgency on earth, Mali was buckling under a humanitarian crisis even before novel coronavirus arrived last month. 

But it is only one of dozens of global trouble spots where aid agencies are warning the impact of the coronavirus epidemic could dwarf anything seen in China or Europe.

More than 1.2 million people could dies of Covid 19  in Africa and Asia’s poorest countries unless immediate action is taken,  165 serving and former world leaders including Gordon Brown warned on Tuesday.

In a letter backed by Save the Children and Oxfam, the former British prime minister called on G20 governments to ditch debt payments and and provide $150 billion in urgent funding to help developing countries cope with the public health and economic fallout of the pandemic. 

Particularly alarming are the world’s active conflict zones. 

“We are seeing how this Covid pandemic is playing out in advanced countries with sophisticated health systems that are totally overrun. Now think about that happening in Somalia, or Syria, or Yemen, where the health infrastructure has been destroyed,” said Robert Mardini, Director General of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“The only thing we can do now, and we are doing as much as possible, is to work on the prevention side.  Because if it reaches the point it has elsewhere, it would be a catastrophe.”

A municipal worker sprays disinfectant on migrant workers before they board a bus to return to their villages, during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus disease  CREDIT: Reuters

It is already clear that poorer countries which cannot afford the measures rich countries in East Asia, Europe, and North America have adopted to save lives – rapidly expanding and retooling health systems and shutting down sections of the economy – are likely to suffer higher death tolls and greater economic shock from the global coronavirus crisis.

Add in hospitals destroyed in bombing campaigns, supply-chains wrecked by the threat of attack, and thousands of people living in tightly packed, often squalid refugee camps,  and the chances of “flattening the curve” fade to nothing.

The implications are so alarming Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General has made an extraordinary appeal for a global “Covid-19” ceasefire in all war zones to allow everyone to focus on defeating the pandemic.

So far, few are heeding the secretary general’s call for sanity.

The UN said in a statement on Friday that fighting has increased in Afghanistan in recent weeks despite peace talks earlier in the year. Global health experts believe a largely unmonitored coronavirus pandemic, borne by refugees returning from neighbouring Iran, is already underway in the country.

In Libya, fighting between the UN-recognised government and General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army has escalated rapidly since the country’s first coronavirus cases were reported late last month, despite both sides promising to respect a “humanitarian pause.”

Meanwhile a fresh conflict between US forces and Iranian-backed militia is threatening to break out in Iraq, where official figures stood at 772 confirmed covid-19 infections and 56 deaths on Friday.

Aid agencies, conscious of the disaster uncontrolled outbreaks could cause, are concentrating on trying to prevent coronavirus breaking into refugee camps, migrant detention centres, and prisons.  

In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the UNHCR has been scrambling to set up rudimentary isolation units and extra handwashing facilities in a bid to prevent the virus getting into the overcrowded camps that house more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees who fled a genocide campaign in Myanmar in 2017. Their current goal is to get just ten intensive care beds up and running.

In northeast Syria, The Red Cross has attempted to set up quarantine measures at the already overburdened hospital in the al-Hol detention camp, which houses tens of thousands of displaced people and where malnutrition and other diseases are already rife.

Indian people rest in a shelter for migrants set up by the Delhi government to provide shelter for migrant workers, amid lockdown, in New Delhi CREDIT: Shutterstock

In many places, however, the virus has already arrived.

In Gaza, at least 12 people have already been infected with the coronavirus according to Hamas, the Islamist terror group in control of the territory. It will almost certainly spread rapidly through the extremely dense population of two million people, and many inhabitants are only too well aware that the fragile healthcare system will likely be overwhelmed.

“The world is not only not paying attention to Gaza, it is not paying attention to anything except the virus,” said Fadia Nassar, a 37-year-old mother. “This means everyone of us must take utmost care and not wait for others or the world to tell us what to do and what not to do. To be honest, I can’t blame the world in such conditions.”

Other refugees, like Mr Diallo in Mali, have received little more than well-meaning but next to useless advice.

“They told us to wash your hands with soap and eat good things to be safe from corona,” said Gul Mir, a 46-year-old living in a make-shift refugee camp on the outskirts of the Afghan city of Herat.

“But we don’t even have water to drink, let alone washing our hands with water and soap. The price of everything skyrocketed due to corona and this quarantine, most of the refugees here who had good conditions are now near to begging.”

His sons used to scrape a living of £1 to £1.50 a day trawling for rubbish, but have seen even that precarious source of income cut off after authorities imposed a curfew to fight coronavirus infections.

Like Mr Diallo’s community in Mali, they are living a more brutal iteration of a cruel dilemma facing millions of people in poorer countries around the globe: to protect themselves from coronavirus, or starve.

As Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, summed up in a televised address to the nation on March 17: “If we shutdown the cities – people are already facing difficult circumstances – we will save them from corona at one end, but they will die from hunger on the other side.”

Pakistan’s Ministry of Planning has estimated that 12.3 million to 18.5 million people in the country will lose their jobs as a result of the coronavirus shock, and in provinces that have implemented shutdowns, the pain is already being felt. 

Abdul Rauf, a 43-year-old resident of Karachi’s North Nazimabad neighbourhood, who usually makes £5 a day as a house painter, told the Telegraph he had not had a day’s work for a fortnight.

Across the border in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the other path, announcing a three-week shutdown on March 25 in an attempt to protect the underfunded and understaffed healthcare system of the world’s second most populous state.

But ninety percent of Indians work in the informal sector, typically without contracts or monthly salaries, and many were left facing starvation overnight. Millions of internal migrant workers and left their rented homes in urban areas to walk hundreds of kilometres to ancestral villages.

The upshot was the biggest mass migration since partition in 1947 and a humanitarian crisis on top of the existing health one.

“The whole thing is completely medieval,” said Manish Tewari, an MP for  the Congress party and a former minister for Information and Broadcasting. “You have millions of poor, marginalised, displaced on the march and the government has left them to their own fate.”

The entire shock of quarantine has been compounded by the knock on effects of shutdowns in rich countries in East Asia and Europe.

In Cambodia, one of several South East Asian economies that had repurposed as the workshop of the globalised clothing trade, at least 91 garment factories employing 61,500 workers have already suspended work due to quarantine restrictions and a collapse in global demand, a spokesman for the labour ministry said on Wednesday.

The shuttered factories account for almost a sixth of Cambodia’s $7 billion garment and footwear industry, which supplies such global brands as H&M, Adidas, PUMA and Levi Strauss and is the country’s largest employer, with about 850,000 workers. Trade unions across the region have called on multinational brands to honour contracts.

And just as national governments are left with few good options, nor is there any no obvious way for international institutions to respond.

Migrants and refugees carry bags with food as they walk past piles of garbage at a makeshift camp next to the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos CREDIT: AFP

The UNHCR and the ICRC have both launched emergency appeals for funding for trouble spots, though with rich donor nations struggling to contain their own epidemics and the global economy headed for recession, the pool of funding available for aid is likely to contract dramatically.

Meanwhile, international financial institutions are looking at emergency funding for both middle income and low income countries, but they will also ultimately rely on the generosity of major shareholders.

One possible option would be debt relief. Daniel Munevar, a former UN economist with the European Network on Debt and Development, a Brussels-based NGO, estimates 45 of the world’s poorest countries will require at least US$ 93.8 billion in assistance from the World Bank or IMF to face the crisis until the end of 2020.

Without a suspension of external debt payments, US$ 21.8 billion of that would be diverted away from COVID-19 response efforts towards creditors, he said.

Doing nothing, however, is not an option.

“If you think you can lock down 1.2 billion people, think they do not exist, and that it is not going to come back and haunt you, then I have a story to tell you about Syria,” said Mr Munevar.

Reporting by Will Brown, Joe Wallen in Delhi, Ben Farmer in Islamabad, James Rothwell in Jerusalem, and Nicola Smith in Taipei

Women’s stories of breaking the mould as Muslim preachers in Kenya

An Imam addresses a Kenyan Muslim Youth Alliance meeting flanked by community leaders.
(Photo by Neil Thomas/Corbis via Getty Images)

By Hassan Juma Ndzovu, Moi University

Ramadan is a period during which Muslims across the world are deeply immersed in worship and are particularly attuned to exhortations by religious scholars.

In Kenya, Islamic public sermonising has traditionally been the domain of male clerics. However, according to my recent study, there is an emerging clique of female preachers engaging in this form of public participation through Muslim radio stations.

What explains this development? First, due to media liberalisation in the 1990s, numerous local FM radio stations were allowed to operate. These include those inclined to religious content. Second, this process of democratisation promoted a pluralism that embraced female articulations of religious doctrines and texts.

Whether espoused in a Salafi-Wahabi or Sufi framework, the emerging group of female preachers is using their advanced religious knowledge to deliver sermons through the radio stations.

My study sought to examine this phenomenon, given that radio religious sermons are easily accessible to people lacking strong literacy and religious training. This has the potential of being the most attractive religious commodity to consume.

The study also explored the controversial status of the female voice as a medium of transmitting religious knowledge to the Muslim public. Here, I was interested in interrogating the role of the female voice as a means of expression and debates over authoritative public speech. The data led me to conclude that in spite of the limitations imposed by some conservative Islamic religious scholars, new forms of female religious authorities represent a significant development among Kenyan Muslims.

Though the Kenyan Muslim communities are generally biased towards women, there is increased public presence of women in radio programmes as a religious authority. This has raised their social reputation in society.

Why women have been excluded

Female Islamic authority in Kenya is restricted by the traditional gender customs also evident in other Muslim societies. Notwithstanding their level of Islamic knowledge, the general instructional role of women is restricted to the traditional Qur’anic school to teach to read and memorise the Qur’an. This explains why, historically, Muslim women were denied opportunities to pursue higher Islamic learning beyond the “essential” basics.

Even reputable early Muslim scholars in Kenya, like Sheikh Al-Amin Ali Mazrui and Sheikh Sayyid Ali Badawi did not make efforts to recruit and encourage women to advance their knowledge in Islamic education. What could have attributed to this scenario?

Historically, the male members of the society have occupied all the institutions of Islamic authority. These range from caliph, scholar, mufti, kadhi, Sufi Sheikh and mosque preacher. The male religious scholars regarded women to be unfit to qualify for these public positions because of their supposed ability to distract the attention of the males in their company.

These conservative restrictions led Azara Mudira, a leading female scholar who sought to feminise Islamic education in Kenya, to establish an advanced Islamic theological school for Muslim women in Kenya in 1987. Established in Nairobi, its mission is

to challenge the exclusionary male-centered tradition of advanced education in Islamic studies and

to create an alternative space for authoritative intervention by Muslim women Islamic scholars in the religious realm.

A few female preachers in Kenya have made their mark. One illustrious contemporary example is that of Nafisa Khitamy Badawi, who emerged as one of the highly respected female religious authorities in Kenya (and maybe the East African region).

Despite their advanced education, Muslim women are not mandated to speak in public. They must also not engage in a public disputation of religious matters. However, this notion is being put into question with the appearance of female preachers who offer lectures – mawaidha in Kiswahili – to the Muslim public in coastal Kenya.

Women’s voices

Regardless of their exceptional position as female preachers, these women are confronted with the challenge of justifying their activities. They have to convince the male religious scholars that they are knowledgeable. They also have to plead the case that – in spite of being women – their voice is deep and less feminine. And not soft and seductive.

This is because female preachers are confronted with the prevailing belief that classifies their voices as nakedness (aura). One of the female preachers argued that,

“For me being at the radio station is similar to being behind a curtain, a strategy that Aisha used to conceal herself while addressing her male students.”

According to Islamic history, Aisha – the wife of Prophet Muhammad – was very knowledgeable on Islamic matters. Several companions of Prophet Muhammad went to her to seek religious knowledge, but behind a curtain. In equating a radio station to a curtain, the female preachers emphasized that it is

“possible to interact with the public without people [read men] seeing me.”

Female preachers in coastal Kenya are compelled to talk with a “manly” voice in order for them to be accepted and provided with a platform to articulate issues concerning their faith. As a result, the female preachers can only exist with the consent of the male religious authorities in the Muslim communities.

But female preachers are reluctant to challenge the existing behavioural norms. This out of fear of losing the preaching platforms availed to them at the Muslim radio stations. Their adherence to the “acceptable” religious and social norms guarantees their participation in the Muslim public sphere.

Hassan Juma Ndzovu, Senior Lecturer of Religious Studies, Moi University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

5 skills you should learn during this lock down

By Akujor Clinton 

Since the lock down was declared, everything in the country seems to be on standstill. Prior to the lock down everyone was busy; we now you have plenty of free time. What are you doing with it.

You have the choice to waste it or invest in learning valuable new skills. Thanks to the internet, now you can learn almost anything online.

Most jobs would become outdated by the time the lock down is over. Hence the more reason you need to acquire new valuable skills that will help you remain relevant in the business and work place. Even top company executives recommend that workers take on a new hobby or learn new skills.

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How should you go about learning a skill that would have an immediate impact after the lock down?

 First, the new skill should be practical. It should not take years to learn. Study at your own pace in the comfort of your home.

If your skill involves outdoor exercise, I advise you not to use it right now. Nonetheless, if you only want to discover a new talent that you can practice during the lock down, here are a few skills that you can learn online.

Coding

It does not extend to all IT workers, but you will undoubtedly use this enhancement in your current skills. People with coding skills will always be in demand. Think about companies and businesses that will begin to automate some of their operations and services.

Creation of content and copywriter

Businesses will always need copywriters. Content design is one of the most critical aspects of marketing, especially online. Because they use contents: images, videos, and written words to provide customers information on social media and e-mails.

Most businesses will need individuals who can create the right type of content to turn their audience to customers.

Digital Marketing

I want to encourage you to develop if you see your position as one based on achieving social goals. Facebook is situated at the crossroads of commercialization, customer experience and sales and is the source of useful business intelligence. More companies are focusing on digital marketing, selling things online.

Your ability to align your social strategy with more exceptional marketing and business goals can lead to the next stage of your career.

It is essential to understand other conventional and digital marketing approaches e-mail, conferences, lead generation, PR, and more. Such awareness will allow you to put your business socially in the broader sense of how your brand interacts with its users.

Sales Closing Skills

Regardless of the abilities and strategies of a sales person, closing a deal is and will always be a vital skill.

When the prospects are not turned to buyers, having a pipeline full of prospects would do little. The ability to close the deal would highly be needed in the job market.


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The closing of a transaction can be a daunting case. Not only does a sales specialist understand the expectations, preferences and concerns of the customer thoroughly, but also knows how their product or service meets those expectations.

In conclusion, these time can be tough, but use it to your advantage. Concentrate all your attention on success, and you will be shocked to see how easily the time passes.

There is an extensive range of free videos, applications and tools for learning any skill online. Start your search from Google and Youtube.

‘Millions hang by a thread’: extreme global hunger compounded by Covid-19

The warning from the World Food Programme (WFP) that 265 million people could be pushed into acute food insecurity by Covid-19, almost doubling last year’s total, is based on a complex combination of factors.

WFP’s latest warning underlines the increasing concern among experts in the field that for many the biggest impact will not be the disease, but the hunger hanging off its coat tails.

While the majority of people suffering acute food insecurity in 2019 lived in countries affected by conflict (77 million), climate change (34 million) and economic crises (24 million people), the coronavirus has massively complicated existing crises and threatens to worsen others.

WFP sounded the alarm in concert with a report from the Global Network Against Food Crises – an international alliance working to address the root causes of extreme hunger – that disclosed that as 2019 ended, 135 million people across 55 countries and territories experienced the highest levels of acute food insecurity and malnutrition documented by the network since the first edition of the report in 2017.

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The report identified a number of factors that could worsen food security in many of the 55 countries, classifying those dependent on food imports and oil exports (the price of oil collapsed to below zero this week) as particularly vulnerable, as well as those dependent and on tourism and remittances for income.

“Rising unemployment and under-employment and decreasing purchasing power will have serious consequences for poor and vulnerable populations in countries already dealing with crises such as conflict and/or ongoing economic and political turmoil,” the report said.‘Race against time’ to prevent famines during coronavirus crisisRead more

“Displaced people living in camps and displaced/host populations in urban settings as well as the elderly, young children, pregnant and lactating women, and the disabled are particularly vulnerable to the far-reaching impacts of this

In Yemen, as Mark Lowcock, the United Nations emergency relief coordinator, told the Guardian earlier this week, UN agencies were already feeding 13 million people, amid a funding crisis that is threatening to many people before the impact of coronavirus is even taken into consideration.

As WFP’s chief economist Arif Husain warned, “Covid-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread. It is a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat if they earn a wage. Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock – like Covid-19 – to push them over the edge. We must collectively act now to mitigate the impact of this global catastrophe.”

The new warning reinforces concern sounded by Lola Castro, regional director of WFP for southern Africa, last month. She said the interruption of food programmes for millions of people in the 12 countries that they cover, which have experienced three years of poor harvests because of drought, would have a “critical impact”.

As Castro and other experts have made clear, what is occurring as coronavirus begins to bear down on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries is a perfect storm that has seen coronavirus act as an accelerant on a host of well established problems from poverty, the impact of the climate crisis, pre-existing conflict and pre-existing health crises in places with high incidence of diseases like Aids and HIV and malaria.

Perhaps most pressing, beyond the immediate threat of the disease, is the economic impact in countries less able to deal with the shock, particularly for workers on daily subsistence wages.


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Talking about the situation in southern Africa in an interview with the Guardian last month, Castro described the specific challenges in detail.

“The lean season has been very, very hard for the last three years with almost no rain and poor harvests which have left 45 million people food insecure with 8.1 million supported by the WFP.”UN agencies issue urgent coronavirus appeal after $2bn request falls well shortRead more

Already, as Castro points out, new restrictions on travel, border crossing and the threat of the disease has disrupted ongoing operations even as more people have been pushed towards poverty by lockdowns affecting their ability to work.

“We are already the region of the world that is the most affected by HIV-Aids. We are having to totally change our distribution models: to reduce concentrations of people at distribution points; to make sure we have hand washing facilities and that people have PPE.

“Then we have to defeat borders, airlines closing, ports becoming affected, shipping and transport … we are fighting a humungous number of factors today.”

Other issues have been less visible, but are no less critical, not least any impact on southern Africa’s infrastructure for food supplies which depends on a few keys ports including Durban in South Africa and Beira in Mozambique.

And as Andrew Shepherd of the UK’s Overseas Development Institute explains, the economic impact of coronavirus on the poorest will be felt most sharply.

“Any food price inflation that is a result of coronavirus will be worst for those who are poorest, especially those who depend on daily wages. One of the impacts of the border closures that we’ve seen is that lots of poor people living along borders subsist on cross-border trading.”

Coronavirus: the big question most people are afraid to answer

By Inyiama Neche

No doubt since the discovery of coronavirus in China since December 2019, the virus which has gotten a rapid fame and spread to other countries including UK, Japan, Italy, South Korea, Germany, Iran and many other including African nations like South Africa, Ghana and even Nigeria whose first case was discovered on 24th February, 2020.

Now about the big question everyone is afraid to answer about the coronavirus case, there are more possibility it’s a negative answer.
Many will deny about having such feeling but is that the truth behind the reality?.

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Businesses are shutting down every day, schools and educational institutes have closed down too. International Airports are on lockdown. Government are left with strict measure to handle the case even at deadly cost. Nothing, absolutely nothing is left out.

UK government begged its citizen to work from home. People are dying in thousands in Italy. Germany has deployed soldiers to its border to non-resident from entering. The USA, Israel, Brazil government has mass lighted its citizens from Nigeria on discovery of COVID-19 in Nigeria.

Not even that, Donald Trump had to calm down American citizens who were trooping into the airport in mass number to leave USA their home country amid Coronavirus case. The government of many great nations has even ridiculed themselves about the Coronavirus blaming it on each other.
Coming to Africa, many countries like Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Morocco has impose strict travel ban on entry of foreign travelers. 

Even Nigeria is not left out, the government imposed travel ban on entry of people coming from those affected areas has adopted a strict measure to avoid the outbreak of the virus by imposing quarantine measure like other countries. 


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Even foreigners living in Africa before the outbreak of the virus has refused to go even at this stage their visa has expired. Chinese government has sent medical experts who helped battled the pandemic in China to Nigeria on it’s growing list of COVID-19 patients. Many government, organization, businesses and individuals has sent relief to help Nigeria battle this pandemic.

All these leave us with one question “Are people panicked and afraid about this deadly virus even when nobody is admitting it”.
I would like to know your thoughts on this.
See you in the discussion.  

Tonto declares to do what the Federal government failed to do

By Agbaka Gift Lynda

The iconic nollywood actress Tonto Dikeh, the self- declared female king, has proven very useful to the society since the advent of the dreaded COVID 19 as she is set to disinfect three states entirely in Nigeria.

Since the outbreak and spread of the Corona virus, Tonto through her foundation, The Tonto Dikeh Foundation, and that of her son, King Andre Dikeh Foundation has been of immense help to the society.

On a daily basis, she distributes food items including bags of rice, eggs, noodles, bread, bags of water, oil, tin tomatoes etc to the less privileged on the streets. She feeds the poor street children daily, by giving them plates of cooked food with other items.

Yesterday, she announced via Instagram, that she intends to disinfect three states in Nigeria from her private pocket. She called on the general public to recommend any fumigation companies they know to
contact her for the contract. She said that she intends to do this as part of her support to the federal government to fight the Covid 19.

She also said that even if we succeed in killing the virus in the body and return to the streets, that we will still contract this virus. Hence, to completely kick out this virus, the streets too must be disinfected.

She intends to lend a helping hand to the government by disinfecting three states completely in Nigeria.

Some of the states she has in mind are:
Rivers state
Imo state
Delta state and
FCT.

Isn’t this lady an angel?

Furthermore, Tonto has received national applaud for her kind gestures which she does single-handedly.

However, Tonto has faced several challenges in the cause of her good deeds. She and her foundation team were attacked by hoodlums that made away with lots of their relief packs leaving them stranded with slight bruises. But this didn’t stop her from continuing to touch lives through give aways.

Today, she took to her Instagram page to complain about how their foundation is faced with the challenge of crowd. She said that the crowd never listens to her orders despite the fact that security personnels are on ground. They overcrowd her thereby disobeying the need for social distance. In fact, they pulled down her gate, rushed in and took away all that she intends to distribute to people. She confirmed that the crowd left her and her team hurt today. They never cared about her or her safety, all that mattered to them was to flee with her stuffs. But this Angel said that it would not stop her from continuing with her charitable deeds.
She put her life at risk just to give back to the society.

In a nutshell, Tonto is an angel in disguise, no matter her past or escapades with her ex- husband and her relationship with Bobrisky, I think she still has a heart of gold for she intends to do what even the federal government have not done for Nigerians. If every rich person out there can be like her, then the world would certainly become a better place for us all.

We face coronavirus discrimination – Africans in China

Ade* was given until midnight to vacate his apartment.

Five months earlier, the Nigerian student had moved to Guangzhou, southern China, to study computing at Guangdong university. He had just paid his university fees for the new semester when his landlord informed him that he needed to leave.

He scrambled to pack his belongings. The police were waiting for him and his roommates outside.

‘In hiding’

When he attempted to drop off his bags at a friend’s warehouse, he was prevented from entering. He spent several nights sleeping on the streets.

“Look how they are treating us, how they forced us out of our houses and forced us to self-quarantine,” he told the BBC from a hotel in the city.

“They told me that the [test] result is out and I am negative. Still they don’t want me to go out.”

Notice in McDonald's restaurant saying "We've been informed that from now on black people are not allowed to enter the restaurant".
Image captionMcDonald’s in China apologised after a branch in Guangzhou barred black people from entering

African community leaders in Guangzhou believe the vast majority of the city’s African population have been forced into quarantine or are sleeping on the streets.

“Some are in hiding,” said one community leader over an encrypted social media app.

Every African national tested

In early April, online rumours began to circulate that parts of the city where Africans live and trade were under lockdown after two Nigerians who had tested positive for the virus escaped. Chinese media reported that a Nigerian patient had attacked a Chinese nurse.

The health commission began widespread testing of African nationals.

The local authority says it has tested every African national in the city for the coronavirus. It found that 111 of the more than 4,500 Africans in Guangzhou tested positive.

“They just came with their ambulance and medical team and took us. All they said was that it was Chinese law and an order from the government,” said Hao*, a businessman from Ivory Coast.

Closed African restaurant is seen in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China, 13 April 2020.
Image captionBusinesses in Guangzhou, including in the area popular with Africans, have been shut because of coronavirus fears

Guangzhou has become a hub for Africans in China.

Towards the end of the century’s first decade, hundreds of thousands were thought to live in the city. Many of them entering the country on short-term visas to buy goods from nearby factories and send them back to the continent.

By some estimates there were more than 200,000 dwelling in the city. Some settled for the long term. Many overstayed their visas.

‘Africans friendly with locals’

In recent years, the numbers have dwindled. Businessmen have complained of unfair visa restrictions and unfair treatment. In 2018, small hotels in Xiao Bei Lu, a popular area for African traders, temporarily turned away Africans from several nations, they told the BBC.

“Most of the Africans living there are nice and friendly with the locals, and they are doing business as normal for the past years,” said one Guangzhou resident who did not want to be named.

“If there is a problem, it may be that some Africans are overstaying and doing some illegal things.

“The conflict over the virus test, I think it is something of a misunderstanding. It is not about racial discrimination. That’s not the style of the Guangzhou people,” he said.

“People are not hostile to Africans in their mind, unless some Africans are doing things against the local rules,” he added.

The Chinese government dismissed claims of racism, insisting China and Africa are friends, partners and brothers and that it has zero tolerance to racism.

But many of those the BBC spoke to say they have been singled out because of their race.

“Ninety-eight per cent of Africans are in quarantine,” said one community leader who did not want to be named.

Wuhan lockdown continues – for some

Africans across China say they are facing increased scrutiny. On the deserted campus of Wuhan University African faces outnumber Chinese.

“We are the ones that are left behind,” says Michael Addaney a Ghanaian graduate student studying in the Chinese city where coronavirus was first detected.

For more than two months he has waged a social media campaign demanding his government bring his countrymen and women home.

Passengers wave from a car as it passes a toll station
Image captionThings started to get back to normal as the lockdown in Wuhan ended on 8 April

At the height of the outbreak, an estimated 5,000 African students were stranded in Wuhan and neighbouring cities, after most sub-Saharan nations failed to evacuate their citizens.

“We feel like sacrificial lambs for no reason. The plan was to keep the people safe by sacrificing us,” asked one student who did not want to be named.

“What was the point as our countries didn’t put measures in place to protect the people from the virus?”

When Wuhan officially ended its lockdown on 8 April, normality began to creep back into the city.

More than a week on, African students on campuses remain unable to leave the grounds of the university. They have no information of when their own lockdown will be lifted.

A woman passes by billboard in part of the town where most of the African people lives and works in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China, 13 April 2020.
Image captionPart of Guangzhou has become known as Little Africa, because of the large number of Africans who live and work there

Back in Guangzhou, a student from Sierra Leone said she believed Africans were being singled out.

“All of this is happening because there has been a rise in foreign imported cases, [but] the majority are from Chinese nationals,” she said.

“Only a small percentage is made up of Africans.”

She received a letter from her university stating that all Africans needed to be tested. Despite being tested twice she remains in quarantine.

‘Others not treated like this’

“With all this happening, the Chinese have exhibited racism and discrimination against black people here in Guangzhou.

“I know people from my church who are white and non-Africans who are not going through what we are going through – quarantine and multiple testing,” she said.

“Quarantine hotels are like forced detention for blacks.”

A Nigerian businessman under quarantine said that “it was the police that removed me from my apartment and put me on the streets”.

“I don’t have any problem with my landlord. He didn’t even know I had been evicted. My children slept on the streets for many days.”

On social media, hundreds of Africans in Guangzhou have organised groups supplying each other with regular updates. They send photos of numerous hotels and hospitals where businessmen, residents and students are being held across the city.

Some post test results showing that they are negative. Others post medical and hotel bills that they say they cannot afford to pay. Videos of Africans sleeping on the streets have gone viral.

The Guangdong government has publicised a hotline for “foreigners who experience discrimination”. But for those in quarantine, suspicions remain high. Videos continue to circulate online of Africans being moved between hotels by ambulance.

Xiao Bei Lu is known as “China’s little Africa” but social media videos show that its streets, at one time packed with African traders, are now deserted.

The names of the interviewees have been changed.

The Bloomgist shows a fusion of energy and style among young readers in new ad

The latest ad by The Bloomgist shows a trend of lifestyle, music, food and news among its growing young and smart readers.

Produced by Mediafits, a branding and digital communication agency, the campaign shows a variation of heat and fashion, music and style while reeling through the current affairs around the world, most importantly the coronavirsus which it showed at the end of the video.

The ad also showcases different beats covered by The Bloomgist including News. sports, technology, food and recipe, lifestyle, entertainment and more.

The news brand hopes the new campaign will make clear how much dedication and time goes into publishing stories that fits into the new trend of young and digital generation of readers who wants simpler ways to understand stories that concerns them.

Controversy over $500m loan that allows Tanzania to take pregnant girls out of their classroom

Tanzania has pledged to improve access to education for pregnant girls after receiving a controversial $500m (£402m) World Bank loan, but has stopped short of readmitting them to mainstream classrooms.

The World Bank has been accused of undermining human rights and has faced criticism from local and international civil society groups over the Tanzania secondary education quality improvement programme loan. Campaigners say approval should not have been given without first securing a commitment from the government to reverse its discrimination towards pregnant girls and end compulsory pregnancy tests.

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public notice released earlier this week by Tanzania’s education minister, JoyceNdalichako, said: “The target [of the loan] is to reach more than 6.5 million secondary school students across the country, without discrimination and shall include girls who drop out of school for various reasons, including pregnancy.

“The government is committed to ensure that they continue with their education as prescribed in the project.”

Of the 60,000 students who drop out of secondary school every year in Tanzania, 5,500 leave due to pregnancy according to World Bank data.

Tanzania’s ban on pregnant schoolgirls dates back to the 60s. Amid renewed criticism, it was reaffirmed in a 2017 speech by Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli, who stated that “as long as I am president … no pregnant student will be allowed to return to school. We cannot allow this immoral behaviour to permeate our primary and secondary schools.”


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Sierra Leone lifted a similar ban last week.

Human rights lawyer Judy Gitau, regional coordinator at Equality Now, welcomed Ndalichako’s declaration and said she was “cautiously optimistic” about “the first time the government of Tanzania has publicly announced in an official state document that it will include pregnant girls in secondary school education”

But Elín Martinez, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the Tanzanian government’s positionremained unchanged. She referred to a recent tweet in Swahili from Tanzania’s chief government spokesperson that indicated the government has set up parallel systems for pregnant girls.

“Tanzania will continue to arbitrarily deny pregnant girls the right to study in formal public primary and secondary schools – and they will only have an option of studying in a parallel system, which will now be built using the World Bank’s loan,” said Martínez, adding that the “alternative education pathways” only offer a condensed version of the curriculum, and at a cost.

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The World Bank has “undermined its own commitment to non-discrimination and to improving the lives of ‘marginalised groups,’” she said.

Gitau condemmed the parallel system and called for the “reintegration of all pregnant girls to mainstream education”.

In a factsheet about the programme released last week, the World Bank said the Tanzanian government “has reaffirmed that pregnant girls who enrol in AEP [alternative education pathways] can sit for national secondary school examinations. Once they pass, they will be eligible to enrol in the next cycle of the public school system, similar to children who undertook their education in public or private schools.”

It also stated that the government has “agreed to assess the prevalence of pregnancy testing and develop an approach to address this practice” and that the World Bank will “advocate a halt to all involuntary pregnancy testing in schools in Tanzania”.

The World Bank and the Tanzanian ministry of education were unavailable for comment.

What drives abuse of women in childbirth? here’s what care givers told us

A healthcare worker examining a pregnant woman.
GettyImages

By Patience Afulani, University of California, San Francisco

Disrespect and abuse during childbirth are a violation of women’s human rights. Women deserve care that maintains their dignity, ensures their privacy and confidentiality and is free from mistreatment and discrimination.

Most research has, quite rightly, focused on the perspectives of women. However, it’s also essential to get a better understanding of what drives providers toward this behaviour. To better understand the dynamics, we conducted research with providers in 18 facilities in rural Kenya.

Most providers we spoke to reported that women were mostly treated with respect. But some acknowledged instances of verbal and physical abuse and lack of privacy and confidentiality. We identified several drivers of this behaviour.

The drivers

Verbal and physical abuse appeared to be an expression of both helplessness and an exercise of power.

The most common reason given for abuse was that they “had to do it” to save the baby when the woman was uncooperative or difficult. Examples of what made women “difficult” included not following instructions, refusing exams or aspects of care, screaming too much, wanting to deliver on the floor or being disrespectful to providers.

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Providers said they sometimes felt overwhelmed when they felt the baby might die because of a woman’s lack of cooperation. They then reacted by being verbally or physically abusive.

Another major contributor cited by the providers was stressful work conditions and burnout. Issues raised included high workloads due to staff shortage, a lack of essential supplies and medicines, women presenting for labour without the recommended items and language barriers.

As one provider put it:

You can find yourself on night duty at the same time you are covering daytime, and so you can’t get good services that you want to give a client because you are exhausted.

Another factor was the culture within a facility, and if providers were held accountable. For example, providers thought disrespect and abuse were more likely at night when providers were often alone and would not be held accountable. Unfortunately, when providers were punished for abuse they would often just transfer to another facility.

Providers also cited poor infrastructure and lack of supplies and medications. It was sometimes difficult to maintain women’s privacy and confidentiality because of small labour wards and a lack of privacy screens. Women had to bring their own supplies like sanitary pads and detergents, and those who didn’t bring their own sheets were sometimes left uncovered.


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Community expectations of “free maternity care” under Kenya’s maternal health policy sometimes created tensions between providers and women and their families because they did not think they should have to bring their own supplies.

Few providers admitted that abuse was their own responsibility. However, a few acknowledged that disrespect and abuse were sometimes due to provider attitudes and temperament. Provider attitudes were attributed to stress, lack of motivation, ignorance, lack of training or just being human.

They also acknowledged that treatment differed based on a range of factors such as personal connections, wealth, social status, education, empowerment, age and ethnic affiliation. As one provider put it:

Some is just physical appearance, you just get in and everybody is in love with her and the other one comes in and everyone is like oooh nobody bothers to attend to her, but mostly it is race and financial status.

What next?

These findings suggest that disrespect and abuse are driven by difficult situations – real or perceived – in the health system as well as the socio-cultural environment.

Interventions need to tackle multiple intersecting factors. This should include empowering providers with the skills to manage difficult situations. Training should also aim to help providers to develop positive coping mechanisms and to identify and curb the effects of their biases.

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It will take time, motivation, practice and reinforcement to develop providers’ interpersonal skills and change their attitudes. Training to prevent disrespect should be part of both pre-service and in-service training. Providers should be equipped with the knowledge and skills to pursue alternative ways to deal with difficult situations, as well as unreasonable expectations of women in labour.

For example, providers who were more aware of women’s rights had changed their behaviour. Some said they had stopped pinching women since going to training and, as one person put it,

left the barbaric old way of nursing.

Beyond training, action is needed to address factors that contribute to stressful work conditions, such as staff shortages, lack of supplies and medicines, and poor facility infrastructure. Accountability mechanism are also needed. Improving the work environment and changing the culture of facilities and health systems are essential to ensuring every woman receives dignified and respectful care during childbirth.

Patience Afulani, Assistant Professor, University of California, San Francisco

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus: Nigeria’s mega churches adjust to empty auditoriums

By Nduka Orjinmo

The auditoriums of Nigeria’s mega churches are empty and their gates are shut as they are forced to observe a government ban on large gatherings to halt the spread of coronavirus.

But it took not only threats, but force and arrests for the message to get across.

In some cases those in charge of making the churches bolt their doors turned to the scriptures.

“May I use the words of [Prophet] Mordechai: ‘For such as time as this we do what is appropriate,'” said the leader of an enforcing team in the capital, Abuja, as he arrested a pastor in front of his congregation.

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Dressed all in black, had he had a collar he would have passed for a preacher with his baritone voice and gesticulations.

The pastor he led out of the church, donned in a burgundy-coloured suit, shiny black shoes and with hair that glowed in the sun, looked like many of those who now lead huge congregations in the West African nation.

These preachers have changed the face of Christianity in Nigeria – with their evangelical sermons, prophecies and promises of miracles.

Conspiracy theories

One of the most famous of these is TB Joshua, who last month claimed to be divinely inspired, predicting that the coronavirus pandemic would be over by 27 March, several days before a lockdown was imposed on the states of Lagos, Ogun and the capital, Abuja.

TB Joshua is one of Nigeria’s most flamboyant and controversial pastors

“By the end of this month, whether we like it or not, no matter the medicine they might have produced to cure whatever, it will go the way it came,” he said to applause from his congregation.

When 27 March passed the TV evangelist found himself mocked for his “false prophesy”.

But he defended himself – once again to cheers from worshippers – by saying: “What I meant was that the virus would be halted where it began, and in Wuhan it has stopped.”

Other pastors have been accused of flying in the face of the authorities and spreading fake news, impeding efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus.

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The biggest controversy has been caused by Christ Embassy pastor Chris Oyakhilome, who in a video post that went viral, linked the virus to 5G networks and alleged that it was part of a plot to create a “new world order”.

Such views have been widely condemned by scientists, who say the idea of a connection between Covid-19 and 5G is “complete rubbish” and biologically impossible.

Online prayer services

For some Christians, especially those who belong to the dwindling pews of the Anglican and Catholic churches, more needs to be done to weaken the influence of the mega pastors who exploit vulnerable people.

Church advertising online services
Image captionMany worshippers say they miss going to church, especially over the Easter period

“Those that sell us the miracle waters, the holy oils and all that, this is the time to prove it,” said Blessing Ugonna, a woman I met in Lagos.

But many of the mega churches, which run multi-million dollar business empires, have adapted to the changes brought about by the virus.

They are streaming prayer services online, and some families are trying to create an atmosphere at home by dressing up in their Sunday outfits with the head of the household even collecting “offerings” – or money – from the rest of the family to give to their church.

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The churches are also making donations to the government and financially stricken worshippers in a move that is likely to see them retain popularity.

Pastor Enoch Adeboye – the head of Redeemed Christian Church of God that has a branch in almost every street in mainly Christian cities and towns in southern Nigeria – has donated 200,000 hand gloves, 8,000 hand sanitisers, 8,000 surgical face masks to the Lagos state government..

And the Mountain of Holy Ghost Intervention Church – whose self-styled prophet Chukwuemeka Odumeje once caused a stir on social media for wrestling a congregant he claimed to be possessed by a demon – has earned some praise on Twitter for giving food to people who risk hunger during the two-week lockdown.

Twitter post by @chinochinwa: The devil you know is quite better than the Angel you don't know.... It doesn't matter how people see this man, Odumeje   Odumeje shared not less than 500 cartons of Indomie,3000 tubbers of yam, rice and other food items not only for his church members but anywhere you come.
Presentational grey line

Empty streets on Holy week

Nevertheless, many Christians still yearn to go to church – and last Sunday was particularly difficult for them as it was Palm Sunday.

A man enacting Jesus Christ receives a beating as he carries a cross during a procession to mark Good Friday in Lagos, on April 14, 2017.
Image captionHoly week processions, like this one pictured in 2017, have been banned

Usually, the streets of Lagos are packed on the day, with processions being held as the faithful wave palm leaves and re-enact Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem days before his crucifixion.

The streets were empty this year – just as they are likely to be over the Easter weekend.

But I did bump into a group of four – three women and a man – returning from a small service held in someone’s home.

Women who went to a service at home
Image captionThese three women attended a service at a private residence in Lagos

When I asked them why they had ignored advice to pray alone in their own homes, one of them replied: “Even the Bible said that where two or three are gathered, He is there in their midst. The Bible did not say one person.”

‘Prayer warriors’

I then went to the headquarters of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, known for its intense prayer sessions, in Ogun state.

The security guards told me there was no service.

“Not even an online service?” I asked.

“Not even online,” one of them, dressed in a lemon-coloured vest, replied.

“So how are people keeping the faith?” I inquired.


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He dug into his bag and put a booklet into my hands.

“That’s what they are reading while the lockdown lasts,” he said, before walking away and shutting the gate with more force than was required.

The 60-page booklet was called Thirty Days Prayer Retreat – with recitations from the books of the Bible.

It will not be surprising if the “prayer warriors”, as the church calls some of its worshippers, complete it during the 14-day lockdown, rather than in a month.

New book shows how corruption took root in democratic South Africa

By Mcebisi Ndletyana, University of Johannesburg

In evidence before a commission of inquiry investigating corruption, South Africans have been treated to shocking revelations about brazen looting of state coffers. Ín his new book, Anatomy of the ANC in Power: Insights from Port Elizabeth, 1990—2019, Mcebisi Ndletyana shows how the governing African National Congress (ANC) failed to enforce a strict moral code to guide its conduct in government when it took power in 1994, which laid the ground for malfeasance. Below is an edited extract from the book.

“Amandla, ANC, ANC!” (Power, ANC, ANC!), the chants reverberated throughout the municipal chamber. It was just after 3pm on 6 November 1995. The commotion was unusual for the customarily restrained municipal council proceedings.

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It marked a similarly rare occasion.

For the first time in its 134-year history, the port city of Port Elizabeth, on eastern shore of South Africa, had elected a black man, Nceba Faku, as its 53rd mayor. Faku’s election, on an ANC ticket, followed a string of white males who had occupied the mayoralty since the establishment of the municipality in 1861. Unlike his predecessors, Faku had served two stints in prison and was once denounced as a terrorist for his role in the struggle against apartheid.

His election was truly a signal that the democratic change that started in the country in 1994 , had not only permeated throughout the structures of governance, but was also irreversible.

In reality though, local government remained largely untransformed throughout the 1990s. New legislation was still relatively absent. This lacuna allowed for the continued application of old apartheid practices. One of these was allowing councillors to adjudicate over the allocation of tenders. Previous councillors had abused this to advance their own their business interests.

The new democratic city council proceeded in a similar fashion, and council regulations allowed councillors to enter into business contracts with the municipality. Before doing so, however, they had to secure consent from the council and exempt themselves from any decision-making process related to their interests.

But, councillors did not always seek consent to bid for municipal work.


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Licence to loot

Using the opportunity offered by their presence in council for business interests, or to generate alternative sources of income, was enticing for the new councillors. They only received allowances. For those to whom the allowance was the only source of income, being a councillor was an attractive opportunity to augment one’s income.

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It was common for councillors, says Errol Heynes – who was deputy mayor at the time – to be approached by business people with bribes to vote for their being awarded a tender. According to Mthetheleli Ngcete, who was one of the councillors, some councillors approached them with stacks of money showing that they had been bribed.

Involvement in business also pitted councillors against each other. Some clashed over the same business deal. A prominent example happened in the late 1990s, over the plot of land where the Boardwalk Casino and Entertainment World complex stands today.

It involved two companies, Emfuleni Resorts and Siyalanda Property Development. Siyalanda Property Development was publicly associated with councillor Sicelo Kani, while unconfirmed names of some councillors were connected to Emfuleni Resorts. Both companies made a bid for the same plots. The council could not decide, for a considerable period of time, which of the two companies should be sold the plots.

The council seemed to prefer selling to Emfuleni, whereas the executive committee appeared to favour Siyalanda. Emfuleni eventually built the casino, following a court decision in February 2000. Instead of insisting on buying the land, Emfuleni had switched to the easier option of leasing, to which the municipality agreed.

Before the lengthy wrangle was resolved, however, it had wrought serious damage on the ANC. In the midst of the impasse the executive committee was reshuffled. Five of its members – Mandla Madwara, Rory Riordan, Mcebisi Msizi, Khaya Mkefa and Errol Heynes – were removed. The dismissal was unceremonious.

 

They were not directly informed of their removal, but read about it in the newspapers. Madwara, Msizi and Heynes were, at the time, away in China on council business. Mike Xego, a prominent local ANC leader, narrates the story rather theatrically:

Bagxothwa bese China. Kogqitywa bafowunelwa kwathiwa “buyani sanuba sayenza na lonto ben” iyele apho. Anisena magunya”. [They were fired whilst in China and phoned to come back immediately since they had no standing anymore].

The ANC justified the reshuffle on the grounds of supposed poor performance by the five councillors. Heynes was personally blamed for the ANC’s poor showing amongst coloured voters in the 1999 national elections that had taken place earlier that year. The term ‘coloured’ is an apartheid-era label used to refers to people of mixed European (‘white’) and African (‘black’) or Asian ancestry.

Madwara and his colleagues accepted the decision, but rejected the supposed reasons for their removal. The claim that Madwara and his colleagues were fired on account of poor performance was spurious. It assumed that their performance would have been evaluated. None of them were. Ngcete, who succeeded Madwara as chairperson of the municipalily’s executive committee, also does not recall ever being subjected to a performance evaluation when he was a councillor.

No accountability

Close scrutiny of the municipal performance disputes the assertion of poor performance. The mayor, Faku, with whom they occasionally disagreed, was complimentary about their performance. In his mayoral speech, made on 23 September 2000 – a year after the reshuffle – Faku singled out Madwara and Riordan as deserving of special praise for gaining the Port Elizabeth Municipality “the reputation as one of the most competent municipalities in the country”.

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Ismael Momoniat, deputy director-general at the country’s National Treasury, recalls Riordan as a particularly competent city treasurer (as they were called then). As a result, according to Heynes, the municipality enjoyed a triple-A rating, which meant that its finances were sound, had reserves and could easily borrow.

Incompetence had nothing to do with the reshuffle. The real reasons, according to Mabhuti Dano, were their involvement in business and lack of accountability. They had used their positions in the executive committee, Dano explains, to advance their business interests.

Even if Madwara and his colleagues had business interests, they were not the only ones in positions of influence with such. The mayor, Faku, was a director at the construction company, Murray and Roberts, but survived the chop. Just as the 1990s came to a close, it became apparent that disputes were not settled objectively, but were swayed by personalities and factional support one enjoyed within the organisation.

COVER PHOTO: The ANC, which has governed South Africa since 1994, has failed to deal decisively against corruption in its midst.
EFE-EPA/Yeshiel Panchia

Mcebisi Ndletyana’s book, Anatomy of the ANC in Power: Insights from Port Elizabeth, 1990 – 2019., is published by HSRC Press.

Mcebisi Ndletyana, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Johannesburg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Common fears of living in Lagos

By Ezinne Success

Being one of the major hub of commercial activities in Nigeria, Lagos presents heightened opportunities to people of several tribes, which has contributed to the always increasing influx of individuals, overtime.

It is a state where the craze to succeed is at an all-time high, which contains virtually every ethnic group across the country, and deemed as everyone ‘s perfect choice.

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With the colossal spread of firms, industries, companies, institutions, vacation sites and every other gripping establishment, citizens from near and distant states get relatively attracted and consider the option of migration. Be it as it may, the greener pastures in Lagos is not without equivalent clogs.

There is a fixed phobia in the hearts of most indwellers in Lagos, which possibly stands as a deterrent to those who consider the thought of relocation. A host of these factors are carefully stated. 

1. Human Congestion: This is the dominating factor upon which others cling to. The presence of too many humans from several cultures of life, is a major fear that inhabits the minds of those who live in Lagos. This causes overpopulation and an instant upsurge and struggle for the essentials of life, thereby making opportunities limited to few individuals. The thought of either temporarily or indefinitely changing environment to Lagos, will be a nightmare for persons who have phobia for crowded places. Even though the chances of succeeding in an any enterprise is on a very high scale, one would always have to combat the issue of overpopulation. 


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2. Traffic Block: Here is nearly an unkillable fear, resident in the hearts of every single Lagosian. As a result of the ever booming population, there is direct influence on the movement of man and goods. This is the cause many who work in distant places wake and set out as early as the hour of 4, or about then, just to meet up with schedules and appointments, and ultimately defeat the daily traffic. So long as overcrowding remains unbeaten, the case of traffic, might always abound. 

3. Accommodation: The challenge of shelter will never cease being a reason for worry among Lagos residents. It varies from choosing a place of true comfort to being capable of footing the necessary bill, for such pick. This is because house owners find it a thing of delight fixing bizarre rent for their tenants, after all, living in Lagos equals being a relatively big man.

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It results in an unsettled state of mind for most occupants at the end or start of any year, as they are always left with the thought of how to garner and dole out ridiculous amounts to their landlords. So, people with the mindset of having a change in neighbourhood, are stuck with only two opposite variables – being well-off to pay the charge for a serene home or opting for a substandard apartment and having the risk of encountering sour ordeals.

4. Cost of Living: The daily expenditures of Lagos residents have not been on the very favourable side. The monies plunged into transportation, healthcare, food, clothing and other salient necessities for living, is outrageous. The effect chokes both the single and married, which is no fault of theirs.

The providers of these services take the advantage of the teeming population to boost their sales, and seeing that the services are essentials, the populace yield with no second thought.

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5. Security: The large population density in Lagos have given license to persons with heinous and nefarious intentions to thrive, thereby affecting the security percentage in the state. Be it at day or nighttime, a random dweller needs extra cautiousness to overcome the agony that accompanies boarding a vehicle controlled by kidnappers or the perils associated with meeting thugs.

This is a serious turn off for Lagosians and having no possible choice other than relocation, living with this fear, is their next door alternative. 

How the COVID-19 pandemic will affect informal workers. Insights from Kenya

By Njeri Kinyanjui, University of Nairobi

COVID-19 is going to have a devastating impact on economies. Africa has a particular vulnerability because so many people work in the informal sector. In an interview with Moina Spooner from The Conversation Africa, Njeri Kinyanjui explains how this could unfold for Kenya’s informal labourers and whether there’s anything that can be done to support them.

How many people in Kenya’s work force are informal workers and what type of work do they do?

The informal sector thrives in Kenyan rural and urban centres. According to 2015 estimates there were 11.8 million people employed in the informal economy, against 2.4 million working in the formal sector. By 2018 the informal sector accounted for 83.6% of total employment.

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But we can’t be sure of these numbers. There are no accurate statistics on how many people work in the informal economy. The figures are estimates which governments and international development organisations reach by excluding workers employed in the modern formal sector and those in small-scale farming. The methodology is in line with what multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund recommend.

There are many different categories of workers in the informal sector. And, worryingly, despite the huge number of people in this labour force, the earnings differentials between the formal and informal sectors are significant. Entry level staff in the formal sector earn between KES 10,001 and KES 50,000 (US$100-$500) a month. Those in the informal sector typically earn a monthly income of between KES 5,000 and KES 25,000 (US$50-$250).

There are those who are self-employed and work for themselves. These people – for instance tailors or welders – then hire others on weekly or monthly contracts.


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Then there are those who will take up any job that may arise. For instance, house cleaners or porters.

Some informal workers are trainees who are learning on the job or family members who are helping a family business by overseeing accounts or running errands.

The informal sector is typically viewed as a stopgap measure where people subsist while they wait for jobs in the formal sector. For these reasons, the sector is neglected by government policies at the local level and by development financiers at the global level.

But, aside from job creation, it’s hugely important to the country’s economy and many households depend on the informal sector. For instance, a lot of vehicle repair and metal work takes place in the informal sector. And the fresh vegetable trade in Kenya is largely informal and unregulated.

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What are the main challenges they face because of this pandemic?

Like any other businesses, informal sector business will end up with a reduction in customers because of the pandemic. The government is forced to implement quarantines and stay-at-home orders which will have negative consequences for spending in shopping malls, markets and restaurants.

For instance, customers will avoid crowded markets like Gikomba, Kariakoor and Wakulima – the biggest informal markets in Nairobi. The demand for their goods will decline and stocked goods may go to waste. Those making school boxes, suitcases that children use for school, or school uniforms may be affected by the closure of schools.

The businesses that supply the informal sector could, depending how long the measures last, run out of supplies. That will increase the cost of goods. This will affect the cash flow that businesses have.

Travel time to and from work will be affected if public transport is disrupted during the pandemic. This may also mean increased transport costs or delays in getting to work.

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Those with children will be affected by school closure because there will be nobody to supervise their children at home. During my field work studies and visits to markets I observed that young market women usually take their children to informal daycare centres. If these close due to the pandemic, it means they cannot go to the market every day. Those who take their children with them to their workplaces may now be too concerned for their children’s safety.


Adriana Mahdalova/Shutterstock

Informal workers will also not be able to take many of the precautions that health authorities suggest, such as social distancing, hand washing or self isolation.

Social distancing between workers in informal markets may be difficult because of crowding. For instance in markets people work close to each other and don’t have walls separating them. The same can be found in other informal sectors like in public “matatu” transport, vehicle repair and metal work.

Maintaining hygiene by hand washing with soap and water may also be a problem because there aren’t any facilities. For example in my research, I’ve not seen any water points in Githurai and Ruiru markets. I think this will apply to most of the other markets.

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Working from home is also difficult. Most informal workers live in informal settlements in single rooms or bedsitters. They do not have enough space to work from. For others, their jobs require them to be on-site, where they’re in contact with their customers. The informal economy operates in agglomerations in different parts of the city. In Kenya these are known as jua kali (hot sun) sites.

Is there anything that can be done to support them?

There is a lot that can be done to support informal workers.

In light of this pandemic, because many informal workers are in contact with large numbers of people, they should be provided with masks to protect themselves and others. Water points should also be set up in markets and other informal sector clusters.

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Longer term, the pandemic highlights the need for government and urban planners to plan cities with building designs that cater for traders, artisans and peasants. These facilities should include adequate room size for work, storage and display. There should also be a good supply of clean water, electricity and garbage collection. And there should be facilities that allow traders to access the internet.

Njeri Kinyanjui, Senior Research Fellow, University of Nairobi

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

COVER PHOTO: Vendors in a market. Billy Miaron/Shutterstock

They ordered her to be a suicide bomber, but she had another idea

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — The six young women set down their bombs and stood around the well, staring into the dark void.

As captives of Boko Haram, one of the deadliest terror groups on earth, the women had been dispatched for the grimmest of missions: go blow up a mosque and everyone inside.

The women wanted to get rid of their bombs without killing anyone, including themselves. One of them, Balaraba Mohammed, then a 19-year-old who had been blindfolded and kidnapped by Boko Haram a few months earlier, came up with a plan: They removed their headscarves and tied them into a long rope. Ms. Mohammed attached the bombs and gingerly lowered them into the well, praying it was filled with water.

“We ran for our lives,” Ms. Mohammed said.

In the decade-long war with Boko Haram that has coursed through northeast Nigeria and spread to three neighboring countries, more than 500 women have been deployed as suicide bombers or apprehended before they carried out their deadly missions — a number that terrorism experts say exceeds any other conflict in history.

The militant group Boko Haram originated in Maiduguri, the largest city of Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, and has been waging war on the region for the last decade. 

But most women who broke away from Boko Haram keep their abductions secret, knowing they would be stigmatized as terrorist sympathizers even though they were held against their wills and defied the militants. They walk the streets of Maiduguri in the shadow of billboards celebrating the heroism of Malala Yousafzai, who was shot for standing up to the Taliban.

The women are often forgotten, not unlike the more than 100 schoolgirls kidnapped from the village of Chibok who remain missing — nearly six years after their abduction caused such global alarm.

Dozens of women interviewed by The New York Times have said that Boko Haram gave them a terrible choice: “marry” the group’s fighters or be deployed as bombers. Captives have said some women chose instead to blow up only themselves.

Young women at a camp for people from the Nigerian town of Gubio, who have been uprooted after Boko Haram attacks. Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

Ms. Mohammed said she arrived at the Boko Haram camp in a daze in 2012. Boko Haram had murdered her husband in front of her after he criticized the group. Days later they came back for Ms. Mohammed, throwing her baby to the ground and abducting her. She thought her daughter was dead.

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New female captives would arrive every time fighters left the camp. Some of them were raped and forced to take birth control pills, she said. Some of them were used to test suicide vests.

At the camp, Ms. Mohammed said she listened as two women began discussing ways to kill themselves so they would no longer have to suffer there.

A militant overheard them and became angry.

“What is so difficult about killing yourselves?” he asked.

He shot them both to death.

“I was so scared,” Ms. Mohammed recalled.

She considered suicide, but she thought of her ailing grandmother who needed her as caretaker. To get out of being married off to a fighter, she said she feigned sickness. To get out of weapons training, she faked mental illness.

When fighters gave her a bomb, she said, “I felt as if I was dead.” She knew she would have to go, or be shot too.

Which is how she found herself with five others at the edge of that well.

Balaraba Mohammed, left, helped her grandmother wash herself in preparation for prayer. Her grandmother was ill, and has since died.

The bombs didn’t detonate and the young women, scared and unsure what to do, ran back to the Boko Haram camp, Ms. Mohammed said. They swore on a Quran to their captors they had accomplished their mission, and that they ran so fast to escape that they lost their hijabs on the way.

Cheers went up, and the fighters convened a feast to celebrate the women they thought had become killers.

The six women, two of them barely teenagers, had outsmarted Islamist extremists.

But the women’s relief was short-lived.

Ms. Mohammed still bears scars from burns on her face, arms and legs.

Fighters soon decided they were ruthless enough to be ready for weapons training, she said, handing them guns and lining up other captives for live target practice.

One of the girls who had thrown her bomb into the well was so distraught that she ran into the hail of bullets in the firing squad, killing herself, Ms. Mohammed said.

For women trying to escape Boko Haram’s clutches, all the options are bad. Those trying to surrender to the authorities are sometimes killed by nervous soldiers, according to UNICEF. Members of a civilian vigilante force said they had shot one woman last year who approached their outpost on the edge of Maiduguri, and her bomb exploded.

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One teenager, whose name was withheld for security reasons, was 16 when she said she was drugged and strapped with a suicide belt and sent out with two other women who also carried bombs to blow up soldiers at a checkpoint. One of the women had an infant strapped to her back. The three decided they would turn themselves in.

As the group approached the checkpoint to surrender, one of the women stopped behind a tree to urinate, the teenager said. When the woman squatted, her bomb accidentally detonated. Soldiers heard the blast and ran toward the group. Terrified, the woman with the infant ran off, untying the baby, who dropped to the ground. The baby girl sat on the ground crying, and the teenager thought of her own baby, who had died of starvation a month earlier in the Boko Haram camp where they were held hostage.

A teenager holding the hand of the three-year old girl she rescued. “To her, I am her real mother,” the teenager said. “This is what God sent to me.”Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

The teenager, her bomb still attached, said she picked up the child and soothed her until soldiers removed her explosives. She still cares for the girl, now age 3, and plans to never tell her that she is adopted.

“To her, I am her real mother,” she said. “This is what God sent to me.”

A woman who was kidnapped by Boko Haram and recruited as a bomber at an abandoned building at a camp for displaced people in Konduga, in northeastern Nigeria. She did not want to be identified because even those who fled Boko Haram often are stigmatized as terrorist sympathizers.Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

After the trick at the well, fighters sent Ms. Mohammed and the other women on a second suicide mission, replacing the girl who had died by running into the firing squad with a new captive. She said their target was to be a market in Banki, a once-bustling town. One of the fighters planned to escort the women. But the new captive assured the militants she was from Banki and knew her way through the countryside.

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Again, the women collected their bombs and used their hijabs to lower them into the well. They sprinted back to the fighters’ camp expecting the same joyous reception.

But fighters were shocked to see them arrive so soon.

Just then, the radio crackled with news: a bombing had been reported in Banki — but in a small village outside the main town, not in the market. The fighters turned on the new captive, thinking she had led the women to the wrong place.

They shot her to death.

Ms. Mohammed in a classroom at the College of Health and Technology where she was studying to become a nurse.

Days went by and fighters came and went, engaging in fierce battles that claimed some of their lives. They wanted revenge. They prepared Ms. Mohammed and other women for a major operation, to blow up the Monday Market, the biggest in northeast Nigeria.

They loaded some 20 cars, motorbikes and stolen military trucks with bombers and fighters and drove to the market. Ms. Mohammed said she was sick, and too weak to even get out of the car. She sat inside as bombs exploded and the vehicle sped away.

Ms. Mohammed, left, with Hadiza Musa, a member of the Civilian Joint Task Force that saved her after she was captured by Boko Haram.Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

Ms. Mohammed was driven back to the camp and remained ill for several days, locked in a tin shack with other captives as they listened to fighters preparing for vigilante forces to invade the camp.

“I was saying in my heart that ‘Oh God, even if I would die, let my relatives find my corpse,’” she said.

She heard gunshots and a loud noise. She lost consciousness.

Hadiza Musa, who had joined the local vigilante force to avenge the Boko Haram capture of her sister, arrived to find a horrific scene: the entire camp was on fire and there was carnage everywhere. In an attempt to distract the vigilantes, Ms. Musa said, it appeared that Boko Haram had blown up their own camp and their captives, and fled.

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Ms. Musa said she sifted through the dead and came across Ms. Mohammed, who was unconscious with burns covering her body and blood pouring from what looked like a bullet wound to her leg. Ms. Musa cried as she helped ferry Ms. Mohammed to a hospital.

Ms. Musa stayed by Ms. Mohammed, caring for her until she was conscious. She tracked down her grandmother and told Ms. Mohammed the first good news she had heard in months: her baby, Hairat, was alive.

Boko Haram is still plaguing Maiduguri, where their movement began. Last month, militants attacked vehicles lined up at a checkpoint outside the city, killing at least 30 people, some who burned to death while sleeping in their cars, local officials said.

When President Muhammadu Buhari arrived in Maiduguri to console mourners, he was jeered. The Nigerian military has struggled to gain the upper hand against fighters now armed with drones, machinery and weapons they have stolen from raiding military encampments and convoys.

Recently, the numbers of suicide bombings have declined as Boko Haram and its factions have focused on targeting military forces. Yet the incidents persist. In January in nearby Chad, a woman bomber killed nine people, and in Maiduguri, two female bombers blew up a market, killing two people.

In all, more than 540 women and girls have been deployed or arrested as bombers since June 2014, according to an estimate by Elizabeth Pearson, a lecturer at Cyber Threats Research Center and at Swansea University in Wales who reviewed years of media and United Nations reports.

Ms. Mohammed tries to ignore the comments of neighbors who are suspicious that she might be loyal to Boko Haram. Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

Ms. Musa and Ms. Mohammed now consider themselves sisters. Ms. Mohammed still bears scars from burns to her face, arms and legs. In Maiduguri where she lives with Hairat, who is now in first grade, some neighbors who know she was abducted are suspicious and think she might be loyal to Boko Haram.

“The best thing is for you to be killed,” a neighbor told Ms. Mohammed.

She tries to ignore those kinds of comments. After all, she knows none of the ordeal was her fault. She pays for Hairat’s schooling by knitting caps and selling soft drinks from a rented mini-refrigerator. She makes regular trips to the morgue to search for her brother’s body; he disappeared after he dropped out of college to join the vigilantes to avenge Ms. Mohammed’s capture.

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Ms. Mohammed has started training to become a nurse. She wants to give back. But she couldn’t afford fees for recent exams after an uncle kicked her out of his house, still suspicious of her time with militants.

Until she can save up money for the exam, she keeps a first aid kit with her, in case she comes across anyone needing help.

Dionne Searcey is a politics reporter at The New York Times where she recently worked as the West Africa bureau chief and is author of the forthcoming book, “In Pursuit of Disobedient Women.” @dionnesearcey • Facebook

Masked men, murder and mass displacement: how terror came to Burkina Faso

By Michael Safi in Kaya and Ouagadougou

The road south towards Kaya is no longer safe, but thousands take it every day. They come on foot, piled on to scooters or next to donkeys straining at their carts. They testify to atrocities by masked men that are never claimed and whose motives remain unexplained. Women and children are everywhere. The men are looking for work, in hiding, or dead.

A landlocked nation of 19 million people in the heart of west Africa, Burkina Faso was celebrated only a few years ago as a stable, vibrant young democracy. Now it is being eaten away at its eastern and northern fringes.

Armed groups, including some aligned with al-Qaida and Islamic State, are waging a campaign of indiscriminate killing that has driven soldiers, teachers, health workers and other symbols of the state from vast swathes of the country’s borders.

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“We are at a point now where the very existence of the country is at stake,” says Zéphirin Diabré, the leader of the opposition party Union for Progress and Reform.

“Officially, there is no location that has fallen to the terrorists,” says Jacob Yarabatioula, a sociologist at the University of Ouagadougou researching the violence. “But in reality, there are places at the extreme borders with Mali where you have no signs of the administration. No police, no gendarmerie, no defence forces, no schools. Those places are in a sense controlled by the terrorists.”

In the past year, attacks on civilians have surged, triggering a tenfold increase in displaced people, whose numbers rival those of Syrians from Idlib and Myanmar’s Rohingya. According to official records, nearly 800,000 Burkinabè people had fled their homes as of 29 February. But not all are being registered, and aid groups say the real number is far greater.

“If you look at the speed of arrivals and the lack of access for aid agencies and authorities to vast areas, there is no way the official figures are consistent,” says Tom Peyre-Costa from the Norwegian Refugee Council. “It’s highly probable that the figures are much, much higher.”

Burkina Faso is experiencing a fast-evolving displacement crisis. Photograph: Norwegian Refugee Council

Kaya, about a two-hour drive from the capital, Ouagadougou, is overwhelmed by the new arrivals. Outside one government office, more than 100 women gather in the red dirt jostling for bags of maize. “My family are sleeping on the ground over there,” says Aissetta Diaten, 56, pointing to a patch beneath a tree.

The deadliest attacks – 35 people killed in a village in December, a church attack in February that left 24 dead, 43 villagers murdered last weekend – are usually publicised. But with more than 100 incidents recorded in February alone, according to one estimate, most of the violence experienced by the women lining up for food has gone unrecorded.

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“They kidnapped my son three months ago,” says one, who asks to be identified as Mamdata. “The men in the village ran before us, and we left later. I don’t even know where my husband is.”

The fog extends to the perpetrators: the gunmen rarely identify themselves or claim their attacks later. Most are thought to be jihadists, including some affiliated with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), who have spilled over or returned from neighbouring Mali, where they have been among the myriad actors involved in an eight-year insurgency.

Several victims of attacks in different areas say the gunmen who arrived in their villages – always masked, sometimes wearing ammunition belts across their bodies – herded people into a local mosque to deliver coarse sermons about veiling women or cuffing pants above the ankle.

“They said they were fighting for Islam and that everyone should follow Islam,” Shamim Suleyman, in his 80s, recalls of the men who arrived in his village near the northern town of Tongomayel. “And we said, ‘Look, we’re here in the mosque. We pray, we’re Muslims’. But if someone is carrying a gun and telling you these things, you can’t argue.”

After gunmen shot Aruna, 27, during an attack on the village of Rofènéga in January, one of them asked if he could recite the shahadah, the Islamic profession of faith. “I could, I did,” he says, unbuttoning his shirt to reveal the scar tissue below his shoulder. “They took my phone and said I could leave.”


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Just how connected these groups are to Isis or al-Qaida’s leadership is unclear. Some might brand themselves as affiliates, receiving bomb-making help or funds, “but on the ground, west African groups do what they want and take advice as it makes sense”, says Judd Devermont, the director of the Africa Program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

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Both the US military and local analysts have noted that groups aligned to Isis and al-Qaida appear to have launched joint attacks in Burkina Faso and elsewhere in the Sahel – even though the two terrorist organisations are bitter rivals in the Middle East.

What is playing out in Burkina Faso and other pockets of the Sahel is more complex than a jihadist insurgency, analysts in the capital say. “At first it looked like terrorism,” Yarabatioula says. “But when we scratched the surface we noticed there were criminals involved too.”

 Aruna shows the wound he sustained when he was shot by terrorists. Photograph: Michael Safi/The Guardian

As the state presence has diminished, especially in remote areas, local militias, highway robbers and smuggling gangs have proliferated. Some work with the jihadis and others fight them. When attacks occur, it is not always clear if they are motivated by an extremist interpretation of Islam, a local dispute or to win turf.

“This is really a fight for a corridor,” says Yarabatioula. “These groups want to free a corridor to be able to smuggle drugs, cigarettes, and so on, going from Togo to Niger to Mali. And they are trying to create another corridor from western Burkina to the Ivory Coast.”

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“All these different groups are interested in the state going away,” says Mahamadou Sawadogo, a security researcher. “If there is no state, it’s good for all of them. That’s the link between them.”

The success of the armed groups is not just down to an under-resourced Burkinabè army – now being supported by French troops. They are also expertly playing on discontent in rural areas, especially among the ethnic minority Fulani group, who often complain of discrimination and neglect by the central government.

Many remote communities seethe at their lack of access to state resources, or when mines are granted to multinational companies and traditional hunting ranges are sold off as private estates, says Sawadogo.

“The terrorist groups come and say, we will give you all that the state takes from you. They take control of the hunting ranges and tell people: take it, it’s for you. They take control of the local mines and tell them: use it, it’s yours. So why wouldn’t they succeed?”

In contrast, the army’s efforts to beat back the militants have been marred by accusations of widespread human right abuses. “We’ve documented that 60 people were executed without trial last year,” says Aly Sanou, the secretary general of the Burkinabè Movement for Human and People’s Rights, a watchdog group based in Ouagadougou.


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“The population are not collaborating with the security forces, because in order to collaborate you need to trust them. Those from the Fulani ethnic group feel stigmatised, and this has allowed the terrorist groups to widen their recruitment base by recruiting more Fulanis.”

The number of people registered as displaced is expected to exceed 900,000 by next month, with no end in sight. Aid agencies say at least $300m (£244m) in funding will be required to feed and shelter the fleeing population. Reaching those left behind in areas where government control has faltered is currently impossible, says Peyre-Costa. Nobody knows who to ask for safe passage.

“In most humanitarian crises, we can negotiate access to be able to reach everyone in need,” he says. “But in the case of Burkina Faso, we don’t know who’s actually in control.”

Additional reporting by Oumar Zombre

Five ways academics can manage COVID-19 shutdowns

What lecturers and students can do in the absence of the bricks-and-mortar lecturing experience. Getty Images

By Willie Chinyamurindi, University of Fort Hare

The COVID-19 pandemic has begun affecting a range of African countries where infection rates have been rising, though not at the rates being experienced in the US and Western Europe.

Governments have been taking drastic steps to stop the spread of infection. One has been the decision to close schools and universities. This has been true in a number of African countries where schools, colleges and universities have suspended classes and even graduation ceremonies.

For most, this is a devastating interruption of the academic year as the bricks-and-mortar lecturing experience is shut down. But there are steps that can be taken to ensure that teaching and learning continues.

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In the past decade my colleagues and I have carried out research in Africa exploring as a broad theme the relationship between technology and human capital development. The aim has been to contribute to developing digital citizens.

The research we have done shows how technology can be used as an enabler to development. It also shows what stands in the way. At the core of this, as we have found, are motives and how they shape and guide the technology we adopt and use. Understanding these motives allows us to make sense of usage patterns and the technology that we adopt.

For example, we were able to show that technology, through social media, can create solutions. A precursor to this was exploring motives that drive such behaviour. One such motive is the desire for convenience and ease of use.

In a follow-up study we later found
the role of mobile devices, not just among young people but also the elderly, as key in the transmission of information.


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Our work also identified a technology-savvy young generation that was adapting new tools to their lived experiences. Their attitudes were very different to that of the older generation. But this generation gap could work in favour of young people trying to complete their studies while universities are shut down.

Based on my research, as well as my own experience, I have come up with five ways in which academics can salvage some of what they need to teach. All involve the use of technology.

What can be done

Put recordings of classes online. I am due to start teaching a second-year Human Resources Management module with 130 students. In this module, I was due to teach two contact sessions adding up to six hours. I was also due to meet students for consultation.

Instead, I’m turning to different ways of delivering the work. A number of free online platforms exist that can be useful to host learning content in audio and video format. These include YouTube, SoundCloud, Twitch and Audiomack.

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Some of these platforms also allow for recorded learning content to be downloaded online onto a device and then played later by a user at no cost. This can fit well, especially if data costs are very high.

I find Youtube and SoundCloud helpful because they offer the convenience of presenting a class either in video or sound format. Students can select which they prefer.

However, caution is needed. Putting content online doesn’t add up to effective teaching. Some issues specific to the student and their environment need to considered.

In a study we carried out in South Africa’s corporate sector, we found issues such as gender, attitude towards technology and even the ease of use of the technology affected how the technology was adopted. These findings were also confirmed in a follow-up study we conducted using a student sample within a university context.

This points to the need to consider issues specific to the individual and their environment when content is put on line.

Conferences. I was scheduled to present a paper this month at an international conference on technical and vocational education. But the event has been postponed.

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Academic conferences offer opportunities for networking and collaboration with leading scholars locally and internationally. An alternative is web-conferencing. This allows multiple users in different locations to meet in real time over the internet or intranet. This has also led the growing use of web seminars or webinars.

I have found web-conferences useful and often cheaper than physical attendance. The drawbacks here are the need for a reliable internet connection and missing out on the collaborations that often happen between conference attendances during tea, lunch and dinner.

Use of Skype and WhatsApp Audio and Video for meetings. I’m constantly in touch with my students, offering direction on their research projects and helping others complete theirs through these platforms. I also use them for meetings with colleagues and external stakeholders.

We use these tools because of ease and convenience. For example, in one study we found that this was why students used them extensively to hunt for jobs.

Skype and WhatsApp are easily available and are already popular. The issues we flagged in our research around ease, convenience and performance expectancy make Skype and WhatsApp favourable. Again, there is the need for a reliable internet connection.

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Off campus library access. A number of universities offer access to leading electronic resources, journals and databases through off-campus access. Due to issues of licensing in accessing these resources, this privilege is usually for registered students and staff members. I’m increasingly recommending this alternative to fellow staff and students.

From the comfort of my home, I can access the physical library through the use of technology without being in public contact. Such features, as shown in our research, are key in forming online learning communities.

Keep informed, watch out for misinformation. Information has become more and more critical. At the same time it’s important to watch out for misinformation. A common source of misinformation could be posts usually shared through social media that are not verified.

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In a study we carried out on social media usage within a higher education setting, we found that social media was mostly used for problem solving and communication purposes. This shows that social media is a crucial information portal. This heightens the role of information not just among academics but society in general.

But caution needs to be exercised. Equal to personal hygiene is cyber-hygiene. In our quest for information, we should watch out for misinformation and avoid spreading unverified information.

What gets in the way

My work has also highlighted the barriers to putting these ideas into practice. These include inadequate infrastructure and hardware as well as the fact that a number of communities and universities on the continent remain under-resourced. And as we have found in research conducted on the use of technology in the work place, technology can present its own set of problems, such as contributing to job-overload.

Nevertheless, there are opportunities for both academics and students to further develop their skills. This requires seeing technology not as an old foe but as a new ally.

Willie Chinyamurindi, Associate Professor, University of Fort Hare

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Running takes hold among women in Somaliland

HARGEISA, Somalia — “Why can’t you just stay at home?” the man shouted at the two young female runners as they darted by on the racecourse — wearing long skirts, arm-covering T-shirts and running tights in the 90-degree heat.

He was not the only person jeering the women running in this 10-kilometer race, part of an annual event that includes a marathon, where more than 250 of the 320 contestants this year were men. But some spectators had kinder words.

“Run and beat the boys with the skinny legs!” urged a woman decked in a brown jilbab, a traditional loosefitting robe, as a different pair of women sprinted past. All the female runners were dressed in line with Muslim practice in the region, which calls for most of a woman’s body to be covered.

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The marathon began two years ago as a fund-raiser for educationin Somaliland, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991, setting up its own Parliament, currency and flag.

The breakaway region, in the northwest of Somalia, is not recognized internationally. But in contrast to areas in the south, which are plagued by clan infighting and terrorism, Somaliland is an oasis — attracting tourists, hosting a prominent literary festival, and even enticing multinationals like Coca-Cola.

The running events are part of this cultural and commercial outreach, with athletes from all over the world participating. This year, runners from 16 nations came to Hargeisa, the region’s capital, to take part.

Each year, more Somali women have been competing, though only in the 10-kilometer event, and the increased participation reflects how life is changing, albeit slowly, for women here.

In Somaliland’s male-dominated society, government, business and the media are still almost the exclusive preserve of men. Women are twice as likely as men to be unemployed and less likely to reach higher levels of education, and face persistent obstacles in winning elections, according to a study published last year.

Still, in recent years, there have been hints of change, with women becoming doctors, entrepreneurs, teachers and human rights activists.


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And some are running.

Hanna Mukhtar, 17, runs each morning at dawn on the outskirts of Hargeisa, usually with a teenage friend.

There are barely any sidewalks, let alone running tracks. But by leaving the city proper, they avoid the traffic that clogs its sandy roads, where donkey carts and S.U.V.s jostle for space.

Goats and sheep wander aimlessly, and the city’s minarets and colorful corrugated roofs appear in the distance.

Here, the young women don’t have to withstand the stare and taunts from men and some women who disapprove.

“When I run, I feel strong and free,” said Ms. Mukhtar, who won the 10-kilometer run this year and last.

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With one million people, Hargeisa has grown over the past few years. Shopping centers, apartments and hotels have sprung up. New restaurants, serving camel steak, and sweet and creamy tea, have opened, along with cultural centers offering live music and dance.

The city’s center bustles with activity, as traders sell spices and frankincense next to vendors with textiles imported from China. Money changers with wads of cash sit under billboards advertising telecom companies promising cheap data and international call rates.

Asma Dhamac, a psychologist and mental health advocate, also likes to run with friends outside the city in the early hours of the day, taking advantage of the cooler morning air.

Even amid the acacia trees and quiet roads, she said they still sometimes encounter people who chide them.

“They would say: ‘Women are not allowed to run or wear trousers. You will become barren,’” said Ms. Dhamac, who competed in the 10-kilometer race this year.

Comments like this do not seem to be making much of an impression, though, on Somali women.

In 2018, the first year of the event, only 13 women competed in the 10-kilometer race, and only five of those were Somali. This year, 55 Somali women ran in the event, out of 63 female competitors.

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Edna Adan, a former foreign minister in Somaliland and a pioneer activist in the struggle to end female genital mutilation, sees this as an important sign.

A former runner herself, the 82-year-old Ms. Adan, founder of a respected maternity hospital, said it was important to remind Somali female runners that what mattered was “the training they did, the preparation they made and the ability that they could keep up with women of different countries.”

The race is about reminding young girls that their gender or nationality isn’t “a handicap” to their own success, Ms. Adan said.

At this year’s 10-kilometer race, it seemed as if the women found support in each other.

The competition began at 7:30 a.m. in the Hargeisa Stadium. The women jostled against one another, running on the grass carpet of the arena before hitting the labyrinthine streets and alleys of the city, where tea shops and kiosks were just opening up.

Throughout the relatively flat route, they ran in pairs, sometimes pulling each other by the hand, and encouraging one another to keep going even after some gave up and started walking a few kilometers in.

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Women in Hargeisa who are interested in sports are finding other outlets besides the marathon. One is the Lions Women’s Football Initiative — an informal soccer league that also offers training for women in self-defense and running, along with workout and nutrition guidance.

Just a few months after it started in 2016, dozens of young women came to train and run at a private pitch rented by its founders, Asma Saed and Savannah Simons, who both work for the marathon.

That, Ms. Simons said, showed “a genuine need for sporting participation.”

Grandmothers and children come to watch the teenagers work out every week. In the beginning, said Ms. Simons, a British national, so did young boys, who crowded the gates or got on the walls around the pitch to peer and jeer at the women. They are no longer doing that.

“It’s slowly becoming normal to see a girl running,” she said.

Other spaces dedicated to women’s swimming, yoga, basketball, and taekwondo have also sprung up in the past two years in Hargeisa. And many young women are also forming groups and exercising before going to work or after they leave university, said Marwa Mawliid, a soccer coach at the Ubah Inspire and Fitness Center.

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When the center was established in 2017, “people thought we were crazy,” Ms. Mawliid said.

“They would ask, ‘Why do you need to be fit? Why do you need to run? Are you men?’” she said. “Many people don’t understand that a healthy mind is in a healthy body.”

Many say it will take time before a full cultural shift supporting female running takes root. But Ms. Mukhtar, the 17-year-old runner, isn’t waiting.

Next year, she’s aiming to become the first Somali woman to compete in and finish the marathon itself.

And her ambitions after that: “I want to run for my country,” she said. “I want to compete on the global stage.”

COVER PHOTO: The Somaliland marathon was born two years ago. The event, and a related 10-kilometer race, is attracting increasing numbers of women.Credit…Mustafa Saeed

The Kenyan beauty parlour serving female heroin users

Naima Said stands back and studies her handiwork. “Not quite,” the self-taught beauty therapist mumbles, her forehead furrowed in frustration. Then she delicately dabs her client’s eyelid with a squishy makeup sponge. She’s not finished yet.

Several years ago Said, 31, used YouTube videos to train herself in everything from dying hair to pedicures. Now she runs the Beauty Corner – a small but perfectly formed parlour in Mombasa on the Kenyan coast. Every weekday at 8am, she lays out her equipment and waits for women to walk through the door. Like Said, those who seek out her services are addicted to heroin, or in recovery.

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Housed in the Reachout Centre Trust, a Kenyan organisation that helps Mombasa residents to fight drug addiction, the parlour opened last year with the aim of attracting more female users to its services, which include HIV testing, counselling, methadone treatment and cervical cancer screening.

Said was a heroin user for 10 years. After her father ran out of money to pay for private school, she was at a loose end, she says. Aged 17, she started smoking marijuana with her friends. By 21, she was a “full=blown” heroin addict.

“I was half-dead, half-alive,” she says. “I started selling sex to pay for my next hit. On the streets, you need to look beautiful but I looked dirty. I was a junkie. People would see me and get scared.”

Until recently, hard drugs – especially heroin – were rare in Africa. Since 2010, however, heroin use has increased faster across the continent than anywhere else in the world, according to the 2017 report of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

There are two reasons. First, despite the billions of pounds spent by the US and its allies to curb the production of opium poppies in Afghanistan, the amount grown has seen an “almost continuous rise”, says Simone Haysom of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GIATO).

In 2017, opium cultivation reached a record high (jumping 87% in one year). It has since fallen by 20% but Afghanistan still produces 82% of the world’s heroin.

Second, Africa has become an attractive drug transit route. Historically, most of the heroin trafficked to the west from Afghanistan came overland via the “Balkan route”. But after conflict and increased security made this path trickier to navigate, according to a report by the GIATO, smugglers took to the seas.


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Since 2010 the “southern route” – also known as the “smack track” – has grown in popularity; heroin is trafficked from Afghanistan via the Indian Ocean into east and South Africa. From there it makes its way to Europe, Asia and North America. As more heroin has washed into east Africa, more people have become hooked.

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“Instead of the drug just moving through the region, the region itself is now a destination,” says Haysom.

In 2017, the UNODC said heroin addiction appeared to be on the rise in Kenya, particularly along the coast. As east Africa’s largest port, Mombasa has borne the brunt of this increase, but usage has spread to other areas, including Nairobi and Kiambu county. Data is patchy, but it is estimated that between 18,000 and 55,000 Kenyans use heroin.

 Heroin users prepare their fix in Lamu, Kenya. Photograph: Goran Tomaše