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. 

 
 

Ghana is the first African country to lift a lockdown

President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana has lifted a three-week lockdown in two cities, citing improved coronavirus testing and the “severe” impact of the restrictions on the poor and vulnerable in the West African nation.

Nonessential businesses in Accra and Kumasi, the country’s two largest cities, were re-opened yesterday and residents can return to work but must continue to practice social distancing, he said.

In a televised address on Sunday, Akufo-Addo said the decision did not mean the government was letting its guard down, saying existing bans on public gatherings and school closure were still in place.

Ghana today is the sixth most affected African country with 1042 cases.

It takes a different trajectory to other countries such as South Africa and Nigeria which have chosen to extend their lockdowns.

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African Union calls for urgent action to protect women and girls from violence during pandemic

The Women, Peace and Security initiative of the AU has called for an end to gender-based violence, which has escalated significantly since national lockdowns began on the continent, echoing global trends. The AU highlights that “as the virus continues to hold the world in its grip, there is growing evidence that women and girls are at risk in specific, gendered ways”.

There have been widespread reports of increasing domestic violence , gender-based violence and sexual offences, as families are confined due to quarantine and lockdown measures. South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe have all reported significant spikes in gender-based domestic violence over the past two weeks.

The AU is not only calling for more vigilance and actions to continue protecting women and girls, it has also pointed out that women make up 70% of the workers in the health sector, although these numbers decrease in leadership positions. Often, women are also the primary caretakers in their communities. This puts them at the forefront of battling the crisis, thus exposing them to high risk of infection and fatalities, particularly as personal protective equipment (PPE) remain scarce.

The pandemic has also escalated fighting and unrest in Lake Chad, and in the Sahel regions an escalation of violence by Boko Haram has been reported in north east Nigeria, where young girls are particulaly vulnerable to kidnap from the Islamist insurgency. The AU warns that if the coronavirus strikes hard in conflict zones, the consequences will be dire.

The Women, Peace and Security has been at the forefront of the AU’s programme in 2020, particularly because this year has been dedicated to “Silencing the Guns; Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development”.

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US oil plunges below zero for the first time since records began

West Texas crude, the benchmark for US oil prices, plummeted yesterday to negative territory for the first time in history, falling to minus $37.63 a barrel.

American energy companies have run out of room to store the light and sweet crude oil following oversupply as COVID-19 brings the global economy to a standstill.

“There is little to prevent the physical market from the further acute downside path over the near term,” said Michael Tran, managing director of global energy strategy at RBC Capital Markets.

“Refiners are rejecting barrels at a historic pace and with U.S. storage levels sprinting to the brim, market forces will inflict further pain until either we hit rock bottom, or COVID clears, whichever comes first, but it looks like the former.”

Special Drawing Rights – what are they and how can they help? 

There has been much talk these last few weeks around debt relief. Whether it’s the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African Union (AU) taskforce or different governments, the call has been to provide African countries with the necessary firepower to deal with the dual health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

More specifically they have called for debt standstills (ie a pause of between one and two years in relation to interest and debt repayments) and also an increase in Special Drawing Rights. But what are SDRs and how do they work?

Because of the pandemic and half the world in lockdown, many countries will have seen their exports come to a grinding halt, from exports of commodities, to tourism and other goods. Countries though still require foreign currency to enable them to import critical products, be it food, fuel and medical goods.

Special Drawing Rights, often referred to as ‘paper gold’, provide central banks access to dollars through the IMF, giving them foreign exchange liquidity. But how do they work? SDRs are part of the foreign exchange reserves of countries, and they can be sold or used for payments to other central banks. The IMF is the one issuing the SDRs but requires shareholder approval (member countries) in order to issue SDRs.

The great advantage of SDRs is that they are highly-liquid assets and if deployed effectively in developing countries it could truly support liquidity and ease pressure on central banks and local economies.

There is a catch. SDR allocations are made according to IMF quotas (ie shares in the IMF), which means that only a small fraction of the allocated SDRs would be available to developing and emerging economies (around 40%).

A number of economists and leaders such as Gordon Brown, George Soros or Lawrence ‘Larry’ Summers are calling for the IMF to issue additional SDRs and for advanced economies to voluntarily transfer part or all of their SDRs to low and middle-income countries. In 2009, world leaders sanctioned an additional $250bn of additional SDRs and this crisis is said to be having a deeper and more profound impact on the global economy. Larry Summers is calling for an extra $1 trillion in SDRs.

To read more, click here.

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Ecobank contributes around $3m across its Africa footprint to support the fight against COVID-19

Lomé-based Ecobank has contributed round $3m to the fight against COVID-19 across its footprint in Africa.

Various contributions were made to support the efforts of governments, the World Health Organization as well as the private sector in alleviating the effect of the pandemic on the most vulnerable on the continent.

It provided support in the form of cash, healthcare equipment and supplies.

Ade Ayeyemi, Group CEO, Ecobank Group said: “COVID-19 is a major global threat adversely affecting all countries and our home, Africa, is particularly vulnerable.

“We believe in the importance of creating awareness in our communities, while also empowering them to protect themselves and their families as we battle the pandemic. We are particularly mindful of the needs of our communities and therefore focused on these to ensure positive impact both in our urban and rural areas. “

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Africa must unclog prisons says Amnesty International

Authorities in Sub-Saharan Africa must take urgent action to protect people in detention from COVID-19, including releasing prisoners of conscience, reviewing cases of pre-trial detention, and guaranteeing access to healthcare and sanitation products in all facilities, Amnesty International said today.

“As COVID-19 spreads across Sub-Saharan Africa, the severe overcrowding seen in many prisons and detention centres risks becoming a public health catastrophe, especially given the general lack of health care and sanitation,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Director for West and Central Africa.

“In many countries across the region, a high proportion of those in detention are there just for peacefully exercising their human rights. As well as being the right thing to do, releasing prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally would free up space in these facilities and help to protect prisoners and staff from the virus.”

Amnesty International is also calling authorities to consider early, temporary or conditional release of older prisoners and those with underlying medical conditions, as well as women and girls who are in detention with dependent children or who are pregnant.

Across Sub-Saharan Africa, pre-trial detention remains widely used excessively and as a tool of punishment.  As of June 2019, there were 28,045 people detained in prisons in Madagascar which have a total national capacity of 10, 360. More than 75 percent of the 977 boys detained were in pre-trial detention.

Children and adults accused of petty crimes in Madagascar are equally forced to stay in overcrowded and unhygienic prisons for longer than the legal term of pre-trial detention. In Senegal, before the release of detainees announced in March 2020, the country had 11,547 people held in 37 prisons with a total capacity of 4,224 detainees. Similarly, Burundi, whose prisons have a capacity of 4,194 people, had 11,464 detainees by December 2019, of which 45.5% were in pre-trial detention.

The latest data available from Makala Central Prison, in the DRC, shows that in 2016 it held 8,000 prisoners, more than five times its official capacity of 1,500.  While about 700 prisoners were released countrywide in 2019, at least 120 detainees died from starvation, lack of access to clean water and proper healthcare in the same period.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, prisons in DRC were deadly places. As well as exposing the appalling reality people deprived of their liberty face, the virus is exacerbating the risks that detainees face day to day,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

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German newspaper issues $130bn invoice to China for its role in pandemic

Germany has sparked outrage in China after a major newspaper put together a £130bn invoice that Beijing “owes” Berlin following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Germany has followed France, the UK and the US in becoming more critical of China over recent weeks.

The tension comes amid findings that Beijing appeared to cover up the true scale of the crisis, as the source of the outbreak remains a mystery.

The UK has joined US intelligence officials in investigating claims that the virus originated in a Wuhan virus lab and not a wet market.

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Ongoing insecurity in eastern DRC could derail coronavirus containment

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency is warning that the latest rounds of violence in eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) displacing thousands of people could unleash terrible consequences for the country as it grapples to initiate a new fight against the deadly coronavirus.

More than five million people have been uprooted by conflict within the DRC’s borders, the single-largest internally displaced population in Africa. The country also hosts over half a million refugees, fleeing unrest and persecution in the neighbouring countries.

Recent attacks in North Kivu and Ituri provinces are reported to have displaced more than 35,000 people in recent weeks including some 25,000 in villages south of Lubero territory.

In the meantime, security has deteriorated in the Djugu Territory in Ituri province, where a growing number of attacks by unknown assailants have displaced over 12,000 persons so far this month.

These attacks hamper humanitarian access, hinder assistance to desperate displaced people, and disrupt vital coordination on COVID-19 prevention and sensitization.

Ongoing violence and insecurity in other parts of the country could also make it harder for the displaced to access public health facilities. Many areas and sites hosting displaced people are also overcrowded, making it difficult to implement physical and social distancing.

As confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in DRC with 287 confirmed cases and 23 deaths, mainly in the capital Kinshasa, UNHCR is working closely with other UN and humanitarian partners to prevent the spread of the disease among refugees and the internally displaced.

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Open Society Foundations gives $130m to aid people hardest hit by COVID-19

The Open Society Foundations will give more than $130m to combat the ravages of COVID-19 around the globe, with a focus on providing immediate relief for vulnerable communities and pushing back against government encroachment on political freedoms.

Half of Open Society’s initial COVID-19 response will go toward the United States, which has so far suffered the largest number of confirmed deaths, and where systemic inequality will have profound global consequences in the years to come.

As the virus spreads across continents, the organisation will also focus its efforts on the Global South, particularly in countries where weak institutions face both public health and economic disaster.

“The scale of this pandemic has laid bare the fault lines and injustices of our world,” said George Soros, founder and chair of the Open Society Foundations.

“We missed the opportunity to create a more just economy after the financial crisis of 2008 and provide a social safety net for the workers who are the heart of our societies. Today, we must change direction and ask ourselves: What kind of world will emerge from this catastrophe, and what can we do to make it a better one?”

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Online ideathon addresses the challenges of COVID-19

The African Development Bank has organised a 72-hour ideathon to address the challenges presented to African societies, economies and individuals by COVID-19.

At a time when isolation and social distancing measures make it impossible to continue with face-to-face collaboration, the #AfricaVsVirus Challenge is bringing participants together online to co-create tech and non-tech solutions to some of the most pressing challenges posed by the pandemic.

Socially committed citizens, problem solvers, creative minds, health experts, programmers, graphic and web designers are joining up in the collaborative digital process from April 17-19. Participants will work in teams and build solutions to specific challenges submitted by the public.

The best solutions will be fully implemented with partners and donors in Africa and worldwide.

For more information go to https://africavsvirus.com/

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