Coronavirus and more....

Weekly updates and information

Coronavirus pandemic

Movers & Shakers

Mauritius declared wary victory over Covid-19, saying on May 12 it had “zero” active patients and had not documented a single new case in 17 days. The Indian Ocean island nation is the first African country to announce such a feat, though the island remains wary of new infections.

Kenya’s biggest bank by assets, KCB Group, posted 8% profit after tax in the first quarter to March at $59m. However, the lender has had to restructure more than $1bn in loans and the CEO is hesitant to predict how earnings will be impacted this year. 

Jumia, a major e-commerce platform in Africa, has reported an almost 7% fall in first quarter revenue due to supply chain disruptions, particularly in China. It also reported signs that lockdowns were hastening a shift towards online shopping in Africa.  

Kenya and Zambia have closed their borders with Tanzania, following growing fears that the government has failed to get a handle on Covid-19. The government has not announced any updates since April 29, leading to a warning from the US Embassy that the pandemic has grown exponentially in Dar es Salaam. 

The eastern-based Libya National Army (LNA) has suffered a series of military setbacks since Turkey sided with the Triopli-based UN-backed government in January. The Government of National Accord (GNA) captured the LNA’s only airbase near Tripoli, as Libya’s ongoing civil war draws in more foreign powers. 


Mo Ibrahim Foundation calls for coordinated governance and better data to combat COVID-19

Africa needs coordinated governance, improved healthcare structures and better data to help mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Based on data and indices collated from the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), only 10 African countries provide free and universal health care to their citizens, while healthcare in 22 countries is neither free nor universal.

“Governments need to make swift improvements in handling and improving access to basic health services,” the foundation said today in a report.

Data coverage on health facilities and health outcomes in Africa is also low.

Only eight African countries have complete birth registration systems, the report finds.

“Quality statistics, and the funding and autonomy of National Statistics Offices, are essential for all stages of evidence-based decision-making and policy formulation, namely in health care,” it says.

Africa must also create a coordinated and organised response to the virus.

If it does not, the virus could reverse the positive growth of the past decade and impact areas where Africa has steadily progressed, be it the fight against malaria or against poverty, it warns.

Read the full report here:


Nigeria’s private sector make donations to fight coronavirus

Many of Nigeria’s private sector leaders have made large donations to the government to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Bankers and industrialists including Aliko Dangote, Abdulsamad Rabiu, Femi Otedola, Tony Elumelu, Herbert Wigwe, Segun Agbaje and Jim Ovia have each donated $2.5m.

Access Bank and Dangote Industries – with the help of Zenith Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank, MTN and others – spearheaded a private sector initiative last week called the Coalition Against Coronavirus (CACOVID).

The organisation will work to fight coronavirus by raising public awareness, supporting healthcare professionals, institutions and governments, and by mobilising private sector leadership and resources.

“We are pulling together resources across industries to provide technical and operational support, while providing funding and building advocacy through aggressive awareness drives,” said the CEO of Access Bank, Herbert Wigwe.

Nigeria today has 131 confirmed cases as Africa’s most populous country announced a lockdown for major cities starting yesterday.


Botswana declares state of emergency

Botswana’s president Mokgweetsi Masisi has declared a state of emergency until further notice following the confirmation of three coronavirus cases in the southern African country.

Rather than the 21-days allocated to a state of emergency in the constitution, Masisi said it “would not be sufficient to employ the necessary measures to fight this pandemic”.

He also announced a lockdown for 28 days starting on Thursday.

“The threat to Botswana has escalated considerably in view of the fact that our neighbouring countries have seen a rapid rise in confirmed cases, some of which have resulted in fatalities,” he said.

“The other challenge is the low rate of testing of suspected cases in Botswana and cumbersome health protocols. The return of some of our citizens and residents from high-risk countries has also escalated the threat of the virus in our country.”

Of those countries reporting cases, Botswana has the least in Africa along with Somalia and Liberia.


Libya releases prisoners to stem spread of coronavirus

The UN-backed government in Tripoli has released more than 450 prisoners as part of measures to halt the spread of coronavirus.

The detainees were in pre-trial detention or had qualified for conditional release, a statement released by the justice ministry said on Sunday.

In the midst of fighting a civil war, Tripoli’s overcrowded detention centres were seen as dangerous areas of transmission.

While Libya’s north-African neighbours have reported the most cases on the continent excluding South Africa, the war-torn nation only recorded its first case last Tuesday.

The number of cases has today risen to eight, while many suspect the actual figure is much higher due to the country’s poor capacity to properly test for and identify the virus.

Since April 2019, forces loyal to eastern-based Khalifa Haftar have been fighting to seize the capital in an offensive that has killed hundreds and displaced 150,000 people.


Moody’s downgrades South Africa to junk status

Guest post: Jeff Gable, Head of Research at Absa Bank

South Africa’s sovereign credit rating was downgraded by Moody’s Investor Services on Friday 27 March 2020.

Thus for the first time since South Africa’s return to global markets in 1994 the country is no longer rated investment grade by any of the large global credit rating agencies.

It is tempting to ask the question, “how long does it take for a country to regain investment grade status?”

Often answers are informed by looking to the experience of other emerging markets with a sort of average time figure being used.

This misses the underlying point, however.

South Africa’s credit rating has deteriorated because of very low (and currently negative) economic growth, large fiscal deficits and sharply rising public debt, loss-making state-owned entities, and deep contestation of proposed social and economic policy reforms.

 That all agencies currently hold the country’s credit rating under negative outlook suggests that they do not see significant improvement likely soon.

And it will be that significant improvement, if delivered, that will ultimately determine whether South Africa will be able to plot of a difficult return to investment grade in the years ahead, move sideways at current levels, or slide further away from investment grade.

The answers will be found here in South Africa, rather than by looking at the examples of other emerging markets and the specifics of their economies, policy choices and politics.

It is hard to argue that South Africa hasn’t witnessed a steep deterioration in fundamentals, in part by our own ability to act over the last decade and in part due to the new risks due to the global virus.

And so it is the agencies’ duty to reflect that in their ratings.

Similarly it is clear that it is up to South Africa, and not the credit rating agencies, as to which direction that country would like to take going forward.


Ghana provides life insurance to healthcare workers

Ghana announced on Saturday it will provide insurance for healthcare professionals and other associated workers who are on the front line in the fight against coronavirus.

In a statement signed by the minister of health, death will be covered up to $60,000 and critical illness up to $4,300.

According to World Bank data, Ghana had 0.2 physicians per thousand people and 1.2 nurses in 2017.

The number of physicians places it behind north-African countries like Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt; richer sub-Saharan Africa countries like South Africa; and Africa’s island nations including Seychelles and Cabo Verde.

The top four countries worldwide are Cuba, Monaco, San Marin and Sweden, although most recent data varies.


Tax breaks for South African businesses struggling under coronavirus

The South African Treasury has announced a series of tax breaks to help businesses cope with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The country called a state of disaster and imposed a 21-day lockdown last week as it struggles to contain the virus, which has infected over 1,280 people and taken two lives.

It had previously banned visitors from major trading partners including the US, China, Germany and the UK.

Employers will be offered a tax subsidy of up to $30 per month for the next four months, which could benefit over 4m private sector employees earning below $365.

An estimated 75,000 small and medium enterprises with a turnover of $2.8m or less will be allowed to delay 20% of their employees’ tax liabilities over the next four months and a portion of their provisional corporate income tax payments, while the South African Revenue Service will accelerate the payment of employment tax incentive reimbursements.


Security forces terrorise citizens as African governments enforce lockdowns

A number of African countries have enforced lockdowns over the past few days in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, leading to violent clashes between security forces and citizens.

On Friday, dozens of people were injured in Kenya as security forces took to the streets hours before the 7pm deadline to enforce the dawn-to-dusk curfew announced last Thursday. 

In Mombasa, police officers were filmed beating and firing tear gas at passengers who were waiting to take the ferry home across the Likoni channel.

In the capital Nairobi, commuters caught out after the curfew were whipped and hassled by security forces as videos of further mistreatment circulated well into the night.

In Nigeria, policemen attached to the Lagos State Task Force were seen last Thursday vandalising people’s shops and goods as part of the partial lockdown on Lagos which came into effect on the same day.

Ramping up measures over the weekend, president Muhammadu Buhari ordered the “cessation of all movements” for two weeks in Lagos and the capital Abuja.

South African police used rubber bullets on Saturday to force shoppers gathered outside a supermarket in Johannesburg to return home.

The incident came a day after South Africa entered a 21-day lockdown as the country battles the highest number of coronavirus cases on the continent.


Tanzania’s COVID-19 response ‘grossly insufficient’, writes opposition leader

Despite adopting measures such as reducing unnecessary gathering and encouraging frequent handwashing, Tanzania’s response to the coronavirus has been “grossly insufficient”, writes Tanzanian opposition leader Zitto Kabwe in an open letter to president John Magufuli.

Whereas countries like Germany have been able to keep a low mortality rate due to massive public testing, Tanzania tested only 273 out of 39,000 individuals arriving from affected countries, he writes.

“Why is this the case? Why are we not testing more, and if we are, why are we not sharing the results of the tests? Transparency on data regarding current infections, new infections, critical patients, and deaths is very important in dealing with the coronavirus. There is no need for us to revert to secrecy,” he says.

The role of science will be key in mitigating the pandemic, and leaders must follow the advice of experts rather than personal beliefs or ideas, he adds.

The leader of the ACT-Wazalendo party also criticised Magufuli’s disregard for social distancing, as the president continues to address large crowds and encourage people to worship in mosques and churches.

Lastly, he urged the president to use the crisis as an opportunity to unite an increasingly divided country, saying ” the coronavirus does not care about political party ideology, religion, tribe or race.”

Read the open letter in full here:


Africa reaches ‘break the glass moment’, says Ghana’s finance minister

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Africa soars to almost 5,000, Ghana’s finance minister Ken Ofori-Atta has warned that the continent has reached a “break the glass moment.”

Although reported cases are far behind Europe and North America, international actors need to take drastic action to support Africa’s fragile health systems, he told the Financial Times.

Global lenders like the World Bank and IMF need to continue to offer financial support and debt relief.

The virus, which has affected 46 African countries to date, could wipe out 5-10% of the continent’s GDP as sectors such as tourism, aviation and trade are worse hit.

Ofori-Atta last week co-chaired a meeting in which African finance ministers called for a $100bn stimulus package.

“The Fund and World Bank are moving quickly, the sentiments I hear from G20 finance ministers are in the right direction,” he said.

“But we need to increase the pace and increase the amounts.”

Ghana is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most affected countries after South Africa, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire.

Managing to issue a $3bn Eurobond in January before the pandemic took hold, Ghana is better equipped than other African countries to finance a decent response to the virus.

“Without it, we would have been in tatters completely,” Ofori-Atta said.


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