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Founded in 1966 • June/July 2020 • N°602

The bestselling pan-African magazine

Commentaries: Ade Ayeyemi; Dr Brandrup-Lukanow; V. Srivathsan; Kamel Ghribi; Ivor Ichikowitz; Lord Peter Hain; Baffour Ankomah; Kelebogile Motswatswa; Onyekachi Wambu; Allen Choruma Sports Profiles: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alphonso Davies




WHY AFRICA CAN WIN THE WAR Inequality Diplomacy

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CONTENTS p. 16 Coping with Covid-19 A full analysis of Africa’s response and prospects.

Readers’ views

04 Your comments and letters


Ivor at large

32 Digital connectivity is a human right

06 Briefs 13 Quote/unquote

Talking point


In conversation

15 The Promised Land


34 Lessons from other pandemics 36 Kamel Ghribi, Chairman, MEA, Gruppo San Donato

16 Coping with Covid-19: Can Africa fight off the virus? 20 What Covid-19 has taught us

Focus: agriculture

Baffour’s beefs

Letter from london

In conversation

Special report: cameroon

22 Once bitten, twice shy 24 Ade Ayeyemi, Ecobank Group CEO 26 Lord Hain on governance

The bigger picture 28 Difficult choices

View from the top

30 Africa can feed the world post Covid-19

38 AfDB’s TAAT – planting the seeds of change 40 The real heroes of Covid-19

Covid-19 around Africa 50 Zimbabwe: IMF hammers country already on its knees 54 Kenya: Police harassment is growing concern 56 Ethiopia: Toxic mixture of idle hands and empty pockets 58 Egypt: Soft approach seems to be winning strategy 60 Uganda: Will discipline hold as economy bites 61 Rwanda: Rapid response stalls virus march 62 South Africa: Ramaphosa walks a tightrope

Jo’burg diary

66 New hope rises from embers of despair

42 Cameroon makes strides towards peace 44 The battle against Covid-19 45 The economic impact of the coronavirus 47 The benefits of being bilingual

Book review

Speaker’s corner

74 Don’t be too harsh on China

48 Physician, heal thyself

68 The legend of Krom Hendricks


70 African soccer star profiles: Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang and Alphonso Davies

Back to the future

NewAfrican The bestselling pan-African magazine, founded in 1966. JUNE/JULY 2020 ISSUE 602 www.newafricanmagazine.com

UNITED KINGDOM IC PUBLICATIONS, 7 Coldbath Square, London EC1R 4LQ. TEL: +44 20 7841 3210 FAX: +44 20 7713 7898 EMAIL: editorial@icpublications.com www.newafricanmagazine.com FRANCE IC PUBLICATIONS 609 BAT A 77 RUE BAYEN 75017 Paris TEL: +33 1 44 30 81 00 EMAIL: info@icpublications.com www.icpublications.com FOUNDER Afif Ben Yedder GROUP PUBLISHER Omar Ben Yedder o.benyedder@icpublications.com EDITOR Anver Versi a.versi@icpublications.com EDITOR-AT-LARGE Baffour Ankomah baffank@gmail.com REPORTER Thomas Collins t.collins@icpublications.com ASSOCIATE EDITORS Jon Haynes, Hichem Ben Yaiche, Ridha Kefi, Kalundi Serumaga, Onyekachi Wambu, Allen Choruma SENIOR CORRESPONDENTS Wanjohi Kabukuru, Peter Ezeh, Clayton Goodwin, Epajjar Ojulu, Mushtaq Parker, Rafiq Raji, Juliet Highet, Desmond Davies, James Jeffries, Fred Khumalo CORRESPONDENTS Femi Akomolafe, Erik Kabendera, Michael Nkwar, Beverly Andrews, David Wood

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4 new african june/july 2020

Our African lifeline My wife and I were very pleased to get a digital copy of your April/May issue and thoroughly enjoyed reading it during the isolation enforced on us by the coronavirus here in Atlanta. It makes a very welcome change from our usual US-centred navel-gazing and the unrelieved gloom that has descended on this country – to be fair, around the world. As you know, we have a prize chump as our President and every time he opens his mouth in public, which he does all the time when he is not tweeting, our hearts sink a little lower. So it was good to dive into New African and I am so pleased that he decided not to focus too much on Covid-19 because as you say in your editorial referring to the disease: “I think there is far too much talk, especially when a good deal of it is ill-informed, totally baseless and seems produced simply to confuse and alarm people. Everybody feels compelled to add their tuppence-worth – so we have religious leaders sometimes dangerously extolling the power of prayer to protect you from the virus and thus contributing to its spread; we have quacks of all kinds offering medication; we have sangomas and other traditional ‘ doctors’ suggesting revolting remedies and worse, we have a plethora of false reports, some disguised as proper news channels.” You were talking about Africa but believe me, we have more than our fair share of exactly the same thing. We may not call our quacks sangomas as you do, but there is hardly any difference. You will have heard of one of our ‘sangomas’ suggesting people imbibe disinfectant and somehow get sunshine inside their bodies! We were pleased to learn from your editorial that one of the governors in Kenya, Alfred Mutua, has organised his county’s response admirably and is using the occasion to drive some home truths to the country’s leaders about investing more in healthcare. Way to go. We have also been following the news that to date [as at early May], Africa has defied all the predictions that millions would die and the streets would be littered with corpses.

Touch wood, Africa this time will be an example to the world. We have become very interested in African affairs since a friend introduced us to your magazine some two and a half years ago and during this time of isolation and introspection, we have felt very close to Mother Africa. Unfortunately, neither of us have managed to visit Sub-Saharan Africa but we did attend a conference in Morocco. (We are retired academics – me in political science and my wife in literature.) We have resolved that once we get the green light to travel, we shall visit as many African countries as possible and make as many friends as possible. In the meanwhile, please continue providing us with our ‘lifeline to Africa’. God bless you.



Herman and Susie Blake, Atlanta, US

You will be more than welcome and if your route takes you via London, make sure to contact us – we would love to meet up with you. Ed.

Bright light on Djibouti Thank you very much for the muchneeded report on Djibouti (NA, April/May issue). As a Djiboutian, I have been very disappointed at the lack of coverage on this dynamic little country that is, as you say, ‘punching above its weight’. It has not been an easy journey for us to get to where we are today, and many interested parties have tried to trip us up along the way. We have also had our share of internal conflicts – often stoked by outsiders – but we have pulled through. We are grateful to Almighty Allah first and foremost and also thank Him for providing us with very good leaders who are wise and who care more for the country than their own prestige. We also thank you for shining a bright light on our country. Please keep up the good work.

Aboukader Omar, Djibouti



A B a




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Finally an end to malaria? British and Kenyan scientists have discovered a microbe that completely protects mosquitoes from being infected with malaria. The researchers are investigating whether they can release infected mosquitoes into the wild to spread the microbe, which has “enormous potential” to control the disease. “The data we have so far suggest it is 100% blockage, it’s a very severe blockage of malaria,” Dr Jeremy Herren, from the International Centre of Insect Physiology

and Ecology (ICIPE) in Kenya told the BBC. He added: “It will come as quite a surprise. I think people will find that a real big breakthrough.” More than 400,000 people are killed by malaria each year, most of them children under the age of five. While huge progress has been made through the use of bed nets and spraying homes with insecticide, it is widely agreed that new tools are needed to bring about a definitive end to malaria.

Volcano throws new light on Stone Age African tribe

from one lone individual) there were three groups of humans moving across this volcanic landscape in around 11,000 A prehistoric volcanic eruption BC. Group one consisted of has preserved the remains of a Stone Age African tribe living three people (two individuals with female-sized feet and one in present-day Tanzania. individual with male-sized Hundreds of ancient feet) walking at a fast pace footprints, preserved in away from a volcano which was volcanic mud, are yielding either erupting at the time or, extraordinary insights into more likely, had very recently daily life 13,000 years ago. done so. As they moved rapidly A detailed analysis of the across the landscape, their feet prints, carried out by US kept slipping in the volcanic scientists, has revealed that mud. the gender-based division of Group two consisted of labour, which has affected and two people (one male and one afflicted human society for female), also walking at a fast most of its history, probably had its roots back in the Stone pace, away from the volcano (the still active Oldoinyo Age. Lengai, which, translated from The footprints were made Maasai into English, means the by between 22 and 32 people as they walked (and sometimes Mountain of God). Group three consisted of ran) across freshly deposited volcanic mud near the banks of 14 women, two men and one a large saltwater lake in what is probably male teenager, who were moving as a unit a few now northern Tanzania. hours or a day or two after The analysis, published groups one and two, but at a by the London-based science much more leisurely pace, this journal Nature Scientific time towards the volcano. Reports, reveals that (apart

The Grand Egyptian Museum, located near the pyramids of Giza, will not be opened until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, President Abdel Fattah alSisi said. “The president announced postponing the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum but we are still working hard to finish it technically and archaeologically as soon as possible. Of course, there was a delay in the last month and a half, like [for] all projects,” said Dr Khaled Al-Anani, the Egyptian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities. The Grand Egyptian Museum has been under

construction for well over a decade. It is intended to showcase Egypt’s ancient treasures, while drawing in tourists to help fund its future development. But the project has been subject to repeated delays and several plans for its opening have repeatedly been scrapped. The museum is a series of towering concrete halls that will eventually hold some 50,000 artifacts. That includes the famed mask of pharaoh Tutankhamun. The government said it has moved more than 5,000 objects from the collection of Tutankhamun to the museum.

Covid-19 delays Grand Egyptian Museum

Algeria produces Covid-19 testing kits

Below: An Egyptian archaeologist restoring the throne of King Tutankhamun in the conservation centre of the Grand Egyptian Museum

Algeria has started manufacturing testing kits which provide results in 15 minutes, the government has said. The production company – operating with support from Jordan and Canada - can produce 200,000 units a week. Algeria is one of Africa’s most impacted countries, with 709 cases as of 18 May. According to experts, most African countries are lagging behind in the area of testing for the virus, a situation that could largely account for the relatively lower cases compared to other regions. Africa’s biggest tester so far is South Africa, with over 300,000 tests, which have returned over 11,000 confirmed cases. Countries purchasing these kits also benefited from deployments by the WHO Africa office, the AU’s African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and donations, among others, from the Jack Ma Foundation.


Afrobeat legend Tony Allen RIP Legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, who created Afrobeat along with his bandmate Fela Kuti, has died at the age of 79 in Paris, France. Allen was the drummer and musical director of Fela Kuti’s band Africa ’70 in the 1960s and 1970s. Afrobeat involved combining West African musical styles such as highlife and fuji music with the American imports, jazz and funk. The duo recorded more than 30 albums together, before going their separate ways in the late seventies. Tony Allen remained hugely influential and beloved by generations of musicians. “Fela’s relationship with Tony Allen, who joined the Fela Ransome-Kuti

Tony Allen performing at the UK's Glastonbury Festival in 2010

Quintet in 1964, was one of permanent collaboration, for though Afrobeat was overwhelmingly Fela’s creation, Allen’s drumpatterns were signature ingredients. “Allen was the anchorman of all Fela’s bands for fourteen years, as the Quintet morphed first into Koola Lobitos, then Nigeria ’70, then Africa ’70, and finally Afrika ’70. Along with most of Fela’s musicians, he left Afrika ’70 in 1978, triggering the formation of Egypt ’80,” the Nigerian Legend’s Memorial website wrote about Allen.

World Bank provides $500m to fight locusts The World Bank has made $500m available in grants and low-interest loans to combat the threat of a locust invasion in East Africa and some parts of the Middle East. Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda will receive $160m immediately, to tackle the region’s worst invasion in 70 years. According to the Bank, some of the support will be direct cash transfers to affected farmers for seed and animal fodder to help preserve food security in the coming years. The World Bank has invited other countries to apply for

locust-prevention funding, even if they are not currently affected. World Bank Group president David Malpass, announcing the support, said: “Locust swarms present a double crisis for countries that are also battling the Covid-19 pandemic.” Two waves of locust swarms have wreaked havoc over much of East Africa, severely reducing food production, especially by small-scale farmers. It is estimated that some 23m people across the sub-region are facing food shortages. The World Bank also warns that the Horn of Africa region could suffer up to an estimated $8.5bn worth of damage to crop and livestock production by the year’s end unless broad measures to reduce locust populations and prevent their spread are put in place.

Sacred Jerusalem stone used for national cathedral

Ethiopia plans to plant five Nana AkufobillionAddo treesDankwa this year, as Addo, President, used part ofGhana’s the government’s aGreen stoneLegacy gifted from Jerusalem initiative to act as the foundation which started in 2019. stone forLaunched a national by cathedral Prime located in the capital, Minister Abiy Accra. Ahmed, the The stone, to overall goal isaccording to plant 20bn Israeli ambassador Shani trees within the next few Cooper, symbolises the years. sacredness of the land Last July, Prime earmarked for thereported project, as Minister’s office Christians regardyoung Jerusalem that over 100m treesas the site in the world.  hadmost beenholy planted after a sixSheperiod, added which that Israel’s hour meant involvement the building Ethiopia hadin broken the of therecord National 66m setCathedral in India. of

Ghana will strengthen ties

The final figure of tree seedlings planted, according to the Minister of Innovation and Technology, came to exactly 353,633,660 in a space of 12 hours. The Minister said this was the verified final figure on the number of trees planted according to the National Steering Committee. The Guinness Book of World Records said it has yet to verify the claim, the BBC reported.

Ethiopia targets five billion trees a year PM Abiy Ahmed planting seedlings during Ethiopia's Green Legacy initiative last year

Morocco is Africa’s most popular holiday destination Marrakesh in Morocco has been named among the 25 most popular destinations in the world, according to TripAdvisor’s 2020 Travellers’ Choice Awards. It was described as a magical place brimming with markets, gardens, palaces and mosques. 

Botswana’s Masisi is ace farmer Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi has joined other African presidents by broadcasting his farming activities on social media. The President shared photos of himself on his farm where he rears animals – specifically, sheep and cattle. In casual clothing and adhering to Covid-19 guidelines, the masked

Masisi also wore a cowboy hat as he toured his farm. “To many, I am the President of Botswana. But before I am President, I am a son to my mother, Mma Tshelang. I am a husband to Neo, a father to Atsile, a nephew, a brother and an uncle. All these titles come with responsibilities which I perform with pleasure,” he said. “I am also an ardent farmer and this weekend I want to give you a peep into Mokgweetsi the farmer’s life.” Masisi joins a number of African leaders who have publicly spoken about their love for farming including Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Namibia’s Hage Geingob.


Netflix has announced the introduction of a ‘Made in Africa’ collection – a curated list of original and licensed series, fi lms and documentaries to celebrate Africa Month, which runs throughout May. The collection aims at showcasing the wide variety, diversity and quality of African talent and stories made on the African continent. It includes over 100 titles made in African countries ranging between new and library licensed entertainment as well as Netflix Originals like Queen Sono (below), which debuted in February. Other titles featured in the collection include criticallyacclaimed African fi lms and series like Jerusalema; King of Boys; Lionheart; Mokalik; Uncovered; The Wedding Party; Tjovitjo;

Castle & Castle; The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind; Azali; Potato Potahto; Joy and more. African countries have also played a role as the shoot location or for part of the storyline in some major international fi lms and series that were fi lmed either predominantly or completely on the continent. Examples include Holiday in the Wild (South Africa & Zambia); The Red Sea Diving Resort (Namibia & South Africa); Troy: Fall of a City (South Africa); Beasts of No Nation (Ghana); as well as Hollywood blockbusters like Blood Diamond (Morocco, Sierra Leone and South Africa), riveting documentaries like Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Ivory Game and the Oscar-nominated Virunga. Happy viewing during the lockdown.

Netflix celebrates Africa month

Tunisians build first satellite Tunisia has manufactured a satellite named ‘Challenge One’ as the North African country joins a burgeoning number of space programmes across the continent. The spacecraft was produced by Telnet with support from Russia and is set to be launched on 15 November. Anis Youssef, Head of Innovation Activities at Telnet, said: “Telnet’s specificity – as a Tunisian company – is that we are not buying a satellite. We are developing one ourselves. “All this is in the interest of creating a gateway between Russia and Tunisia, around space nano satellites, and the technology of the Internet of Things.” The satellite is 100% made by Tunisian resources and skills, and thanks to a new technology developed

in Tunisia. There are many possible uses for Challenge One, ranging from remotely activating solar pumps in the Sahara to tracking livestock crossing Tunisian borders into Algeria or Libya. Mohamed Frikha, CEO of Telnet Holding, said: “In the world, countries are valued by two things: by democracy and by technology. I think that in Tunisia we have potential. I am personally convinced of that and justifiably, this project will give a very good image of Tunisia in the world and it will also give Tunisians the confidence that we are capable of becoming one of the leaders of technology.” The African space market is in full bloom and is now estimated at more than $7bn a year. In almost 21 years, 32 satellites have been launched by eight African countries, three of which are financed by African institutions.




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Quote / unquote

“If there is a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must write it,” TONI MORRISON, NOBEL PRIZE-WINNING AFRICAN-AMERICAN AUTHOR

“The companies that produce the tests are finding it very difficult to meet global demand because of the competition that exists in the form of Western countries buying all the tests. We’ve learned that when the world is challenged with access to limited commodities then global solidarity collapses,” JOHN NKENGASONG, DIRECTOR OF AFRICA CDC

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. As such, it can no longer be business as usual,” AKINWUMI ADESINA, PRESIDENT, AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT BANK

“We have won the battle thanks to the cooperation of the public, who understood that the government needed to take extreme measures, including complete confinement, and the closure of our borders. But we have not yet won the war. Let’s remain vigilant,” KAILESH JAGUTPAL, MAURITIUS’S HEALTH MINISTER

“First propose to the people what they want and if they like it, then the money comes later,” MANU DIBANGO, THE LATE CAMEROONIAN MUSICIAN

“It is inconceivable that we continue to accept this. Africa is not a laboratory. I strongly denounce these serious, racist and contemptuous remarks! Help us save lives in Africa and stop the spread of this virus which is destabilising the whole world, instead of considering us as guinea pigs. It is absurd!” DIDIER DROGBA, IVORIAN FOOTBALLER

“While the World Bank and the IMF have supported a debt standstill for nine months, we believe that we will need a debt standstill for two years,” CYRIL RAMAPHOSA SOUTH AFRICA’S PRESIDENT

“In the 17 years I have been in business, I have always paid myself last and have never had the highest salary in the company,” REBECCA ENONCHONG, CAMEROONIAN TECH ENTREPRENEUR

“Responding effectively to the Covid-19 pandemic means making tough decisions. Political leaders have to strike a balance between actions to control the pandemic and the impact of the measures on the lives of their people and national economies,” MATSHIDISO MOETI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, WHO AFRICA

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again,” NELSON MANDELA

june/july 2020 new african 13

From the Editor

Anver Versi

The Promised Land


e have devoted this issue almost entirely to Covid19 and how Africa is coping with this virus that has paralysed the entire world. For once during a natural calamity, Africa seems to be coming off far more lightly than the rest of the world. However, the crisis is not over and no one can predict what tomorrow will bring. We are aware that by the time you read this issue, the figures we have provided will have been superseded by fresh ones but we feel that our coverage will form a sort of benchmark for whatever else is to come. It also presents a cross-section of the situation across Africa and although we have focused on only a few countries, we feel that they do provide a sort of template for the continent. In the Cover Story, we discuss the possible reasons why instances of both infection and deaths in sub-Saharan Africa are very much lower than in other regions. Of course, this is based on deductions resting on observation rather than scientific research – which will come very much later – but what we can say is most African countries, having undergone massive epidemics before, were taking on chances and acted quickly and decisively. More to the point, they fashioned their responses to the African reality, rather than blindly following the examples of the developed countries as we are usually wont to do. In this instance, Africa went its own way and so far at least, it has paid off. The one ugly shortcoming has been the use of violence to enforce lockdowns in too many countries. I put it down to a knee-jerk response but the fact that authorities have apologised for this lapse on the part of their security forces bodes well for the future, when we hope the relationships between governments and their people will be one more based on cooperation than hostility. Covid-19 has forced us all to reflect on our lives, our societies and what we hold valuable and important in life. We have learned for example that we can do without a

lot of the trappings of life, such as cars or offices or places of entertainment.

Finding the right values

We have learned that we don’t have to keep up with the neighbours or curry favour with the rich or powerful or join this or that set or be seen in this or that company. We have learned that all these are artificial constructs, existing only in our minds and totally without value when life itself is under threat. We have learned that our own homes, however humble, are our safest refuge and that our own families and close friends are the most important company we can have. We have learned, from quarantines and self-isolation that just the freedom to wander about in the fresh air, to sit under a tree, to soak up the sun, to watch the moon and stars at night is a great blessing that we have never been fully aware of. We have learned that objects made of plastic or metal or wood, no matter how attractive, do not satisfy the soul and we hanker to sit with our fellows in our places of worship as we badly miss the spiritual nourishment we have taken for granted. We have discovered that in the absence of bars and clubs and sporting events, we can entertain each other with conversation, stories and jokes, we do not need these brought to us, readymade and packaged. We have learned that when it comes to the crunch, all countries look after themselves first, the concerns of everybody else are just driven out of mind. We have learned that we do not need help from those who are themselves in trouble, and that we can fend for ourselves. We have learned that within us, with our resources, our lands, our crops, our fruits, our knowledge, our traditions, our imagination, our skills, our people, we are complete and whole. It is said that sometimes, the most valuable lessons in life are learned during dire crisis. Covid-19 has alerted us to our own possibilities. What we do with them is up to us, but we have seen the Promised Land. NA

june/july 2020 new african 15

Right: A health worker in protective gear preparing to disinfect the apartment (l) of Kenya’s first Covid-19 patient, in Ongata Rongai, near Nairobi

Cover Story

COPING WITH COVID-19 Can Africa fight off the virus? Africa, touch wood, has so far escaped the worst attrition from Covid-19. Are we being lulled into a false sense of security while the virus spreads its tentacles unseen and unknown, only to spring up on the continent in time, or has the continent dealt with the threat better than others? Discussion by Anver Versi.


hen Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the DirectorGeneral of the World Health Organisation, made the assessment that Covid-19 could be officially described as a pandemic due to the rapid increase in the number of cases outside China on 11 March, most of us feared the worst for Africa. While various countries across the world scrambled around to deal with (or not deal with it in some cases) the pandemic, the outlook for Africa, according to experts, was dire. Not long after the announcement of the onset of the pandemic, according to a regional WTO official, coronavirus cases in Africa could surge from just thousands then to 10m within three to six months. According to modelling by Imperial College, London. Africa could see 300,000 deaths from the coronavirus even

under the best-case scenario. Under the worst-case scenario with no interventions against the virus, said the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the continent could see 3.3m deaths and 1.2bn infections. As Covid-19 continued to ravage the advanced countries of Europe and the US, we waited for the hammer to fall – as did the rest of the world. Melinda Gates, speaking on CNN, predicted that the pandemic would devastate the developing world and that she would imagine bodies lying on the streets of African countries. This was when refrigerated trucks were carrying off the corpses of Covid-19 victims from US hospitals, and sports arenas were being repurposed as intensive care units in the US. It seemed inevitable that Africa, which has felt the brunt of virtually all epidemics to hit the world over the last 50 years, would become the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. If even

june/july 2020 new african 17

Cover Story

the highly advanced medical teams and state-of-theart equipment in Europe and the US could not halt its relentless march, what hope had Africa? Well, the hammer did not fall – or rather, it fell rather lightly, causing very little damage, relatively speaking. Let’s look at some comparative figures as at 20 May: Africa: 91,365 cases – the five countries reporting most cases are South Africa (17,200), Egypt (13,484), Algeria (7,377), Morocco (7,023) and Nigeria (6,401). Deaths: 2,903 – the five countries reporting most deaths are Egypt (659), Algeria (561), South Africa (312), Morocco (193) and Nigeria (192). Asia: 833,437 cases – the five countries reporting most cases are Turkey (151,615), Iran (124,603), India (106,750), China (84,065) and Saudi Arabia (59.854). Deaths: 25,417 – the five countries reporting most deaths are Iran (7,119), China (4,638), Turkey (4,199), India (3,303) and Indonesia (1,221). America: 2,186,907 cases – the five countries reporting most cases are the United States (1,528,568), Brazil (271,628), Peru (99,483), Canada (79,101) and Mexico (54,346). Deaths: 129,680 – the five countries reporting most deaths are the United States (91,921), Brazil (17,408), Canada (5,912), Mexico (5,666) and Peru (2,914). Europe: 1,740,551 cases – the five countries reporting most cases are Russia (299,941), the United Kingdom (248,818), Spain (232,037), Italy (226,699) and Germany (176,007). Deaths: 164,349 – the five countries reporting most deaths are the United Kingdom (35,341), Italy (32,169), France (28,022), Spain (27,778) and Belgium (9,108). Oceania: 8,500 cases – the five countries reporting most cases are Australia (7,068), New Zealand (1,153), Guam (154), French Polynesia (60) and Northern Mariana Islands (21). Deaths: 127 – the four countries reporting most deaths are Australia (99), New Zealand (21), Guam (5) and Northern Mariana Islands (2). Worldwide, the figures were: 5,035,898 confirmed cases, 326,228 deaths and 1,988,535 recoveries.

Astonishingly low

Taking its population into account, Africa’s infection and death rates are astonishing. The only other region with remarkably low infection rates is Oceania, with only 8,500 so far, but its entire population is only 42,156,769 people compared to Africa’s 1.2bn. What is more, Australians comprise roughly 60% of the population of Oceania, with New Zealanders making up 11.5%. Both these countries were very quick to shut out the rest of the world by closing their airspaces and borders and by imposing strict lockdowns. They also have some of the most advanced medical facilities in the world. Sub-Saharan Africa on the other hand, as we know, has on average, the most basic public health facilities. Only South Africa can be said to have some facilities that come up to world standards, but even these are not easily accessible to the average citizen. Before the virus arrived, South Africa had the highest number of ventilators at 1,500, but 10 countries in Africa had none. Egypt has the highest number of intensive care beds, at 10,300 (and more were made

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Right: South African policemen going about their work in face masks and gloves in the densely populated township of Diepsloot, Johannesburg

available through repurposing when the virus struck) but six countries have none. Again, as we know to our cost, Africa has more than its fair share of other epidemic diseases: roughly 24m Africans live with HIV and a million die each year from the condition; malaria kills an estimated 430,000 Africans a year and 2.5m are infected with TB. Malnutrition is endemic in many part of Africa. Therefore, all the so-called underlying causes that leads to serious Covid-19 illness and death are plentiful in Africa yet infection numbers remain low. The question is, why? There have been all sorts of theories. There has not been enough testing and when tests are carried out fully, the picture will change dramatically. Not quite. Many African countries have been carrying out testing successfully and identifying and isolating those who are carriers. True enough, there are not enough test kits or diagnostics, as Dr John Nkengasong, the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention readily admits, but organisations such as the Jack Ma Foundation and even the government of Ethiopia have donated a considerable amount of equipment to carry out tests. In any case, we do not see the overwhelming demand for hospital treatment or deaths that accompany the virus elsewhere, so even if a large number of the population are carriers, or have been exposed to the virus, it has remained largely benign. Then there is the theory that the virus does not like heat and humidity and Africa is hot and humid. But not all of Africa is hot or humid and these climate factors have not helped Brazilians or other Latin Americans to escape Covid-19. Perhaps, someone suggested, it has to do with the African’s dark pigment. But if that were the case, then all people of a dark hue everywhere in the world would be protected. In fact, the opposite is true – the largest burden of deaths from the disease in the UK and US has fallen on Black and Asian people. Then there is the theory that Africans have special immunology acquired from diseases such as malaria, or that the treatment of such illness acts as a barrier to the coronavirus. This has led to speculations that antimalarial treatments such as hydroxychloroquine would work against coronavirus. Donald Trump seems to be a firm believer in this remedy despite warnings from medical experts that it does not cure the illness but can have serious side-effects. But the fact is that the majority of Africans do not have access to anti-malarial drugs and in any case, many of the infections were acquired by Africans while they were abroad, so the theory of their special immunity does not stand up.

Better at managing crisis

So, why is Africa so far holding out against the dreaded pandemic? “A rather obvious possibility stares us in the face,” writes journalist Jina Moore in the New Yorker. “What if some African governments are doing a better job than our own of managing the coronavirus?”

yet another viral outbreak.” But, he argues, “many African countries have long experience in dealing with infectious diseases and by now have developed know-how that many Western countries might not have. And many African leaders are also not unaware of their fragile healthcare systems unlike some of their Western counterparts.” He says that just as someone who is diabetic knows to avoid sugar, “African governments understand that their most effective strategy in the battle against Covid-19 is prevention and applying lessons learned from previous and/or ongoing outbreaks.” Another reason why Africa has so far fared better than many other regions is because 70% of its population is under 30 years of age. It seems that the majority of Covid-19 victims are the elderly and infirm. In the UK, 40% of the deaths have been in care homes (residences designed for the elderly). Such institutions are virtually unknown in subSaharan Africa. If the elderly can no longer live with their children in urban centres, they move to their villages where they are respected as senior citizens.

A new age for Africa and the world

We can say with confidence that most African governments have risen to the challenge and acted swiftly to lock down their countries. She recounts that when Dutch anthropologist Ingrid Gercama landed in South Sudan, she was taken to a separate screening area, where her temperature was recorded along with her hotel address and telephone number by local health officials. She was questioned about her travel and contacts and she saw a good amount of posters on the disease in the area. She had to wash her hands before and after the testing. She left Juba on 19 March and flew first to Stockholm and thence to Amsterdam. In neither airport was her temperature recorded or was she asked about her travel history. “When she passed through passport control,” writes Moore, “she found no leaflets, no Covid-19 awareness banners, no hotline. ‘They didn’t even tell me to self-isolate,’ Gercama told me. ‘I did so because I have common sense’.” “One reason why we may be seeing what we are seeing is that the continent of Africa reacted aggressively,” Dr Nkengasong, the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told Moore. “Countries were shutting down and declaring states of emergency when no or single cases were reported. We have evidence to show that that helped a lot.” (Please see pages 44-45 and 50-64 on how various African countries responded to the virus threat.) Caleb Okereke, a Nigerian journalist and filmmaker based in Kampala, Uganda writing for Al Jazeera, says: “Predictions of mass deaths in Africa are problematic for reasons beyond inaccuracy. They assume that nothing that African countries do can mitigate the spread of the disease and prevent high death tolls. They presuppose that Africans will be just passive victims of

One should not tempt fate by believing that Africa has indeed coped with the coronavirus better than other regions; there is still a long way to go and the situation may have changed dramatically by the time you are reading this, but if the status quo more or less holds with new cases increasingly only gradually, then Africa can salute the timely and tough action taken by its leaders. But of course there are exceptions. Some leaders have tried to use the lockdown to clamp down on opposition or entrench themselves in power; some have used heavyhanded intimidation to enforce curfews; some have allowed bribery and corruption to run riot and some, like Tanzania’s John Magufuli, have played reckless, egoled games with the lives of their citizens. Nevertheless, we can say with confidence that most African governments have risen to the challenge and acted swiftly to lock down their countries, but many have done so with the clear knowledge that the majority of their citizens have to work in order to eat and pay their rents. At their best, the lockdowns have been sensible – reducing the opportunities of transmission by social distancing and the wearing of face masks but making them flexible enough to allow people to continue to earn their living. The knowledge that African governments, with the support of their people, can survive such global catastrophes, will no doubt inspire new confidence in the ability of Africans to solve their problems in their own ways. Africa, like the rest of the world, will need considerable support – according to Kagame, to the tune of £100bn – as well as debt forgiveness to fire up its economic engines again after this crisis has ended (as end it surely must). But this will be a changed Africa and my bet is that it will take the lead in many ways, in giving new life, shape and purpose to the global economy. It will also be the time to spread Africa’s unique philosophy of Ubuntu to the rest of the world. n

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Cover Story

Among other things, Covid-19 has turned our world upside down – many of the pillars of our daily lives, our systems, our beliefs have been blown away and we have been left to contemplate a very different reality. Leaders have been measured and many have been found wanting while a new host of heroes has emerged. What lessons can we draw from this extraordinary experience? Essay by Anver Versi.

What Covid-19 has taught us


t is always dangerous to tempt fate by making boastful claims – fate has a habit of slapping you down rather harshly as our great fount of all wisdom, US President Donald Trump discovered when he declared on 27 February that the new coronavirus was just like flu, nothing to worry about there. But the virus, as we have learned, has no respect for rank or wealth or social status; it begged to disagree. But Trump of course always knows better and even by 10 March, when countries left and right were in the process of locking down and the WHO had declared, almost a month earlier, a global health emergency, he was telling his country: “Just stay calm; it will go away”. It didn’t. On 11 March, the WHO said it was not just a global health emergency, but a pandemic. It was only then that the penny finally dropped and under pressure, Trump declared a national emergency. On 17 March, he admitted that it was a pandemic but, “I always knew this was a pandemic – I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” Trump’s sheer brazenness has no equal – although Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who shrugged and said ‘So what’ when informed that the country’s death toll from coronavirus was nearly 19,00, is doing his best to emulate his hero. The UK’s Boris Johnson, who likes to think of himself as another Winston Churchill and another Trump fan, was just as dismissive about the disease, boasting that he had gone to hospitals and shaken hands with everybody and allowed a major horse racing festival, attended by over 200,000 people, to take place. He went down with the virus and emerged looking shaken and sobered up about the true nature of the pandemic. The above examples illustrate two points – one, that hubris, deriving from extreme egotism and the belief that somehow you are superior to anybody else, is a very dangerous trait in a national leader and two, that the decisions and actions taken by leaders, especially of powerful countries, have ramifications well beyond their borders and are therefore of concern to all of us. It is also a very clear demonstration that we live in an interconnected world and that what happens thousands of miles away has a direct impact on our everyday lives. This concept of ‘exceptionalism’ – “we are special, we are different, we are better” that underlies all nationalistic

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bombast, is nothing more than empty vanity. By ignoring advice from experts, these three leaders were responsible for far more deaths in their countries than should have been the case; at the time of writing, the death toll in the US was above 90,000 and heading towards 100,000; over 35,000 in the UK and 18,000 and counting inBrazil. But let us not forget that they were all democratically elected in their countries. What does that tell us about the value systems, when such as these are held in high esteem and chosen above others? But we should be measured in our criticism since we also elected our leaders and we have not always chosen the best candidates. Perhaps the brutal exposé of leadership failings the crisis has revealed will help us to pause and think more deeply before we mark our cross against our preferred candidate’s name, the next time it is our turn to vote.

Worst economic crisis in memory

Actions, or lack of action by some of these leaders, accelerated and amplified the crisis, leading to a global economic shutdown and plunging the world into the worst economic crisis in living history. We in Africa, as well as billions of people elsewhere, are feeling the lash of this irresponsibility. To make matters worse, in a desperate attempt to deflect blame on someone else, Trump has latched onto the WHO and cut funding to the organisation just at a time when it is most needed, to coordinate a global solution to the crisis. This means that countries around the world whose health systems depend very much on the WHO and which are already struggling against a host of illnesses, will be directly hammered. The petulance of a Donald Trump in the US White House could and probably will lead to the unnecessary suffering and deaths of countless people and children in the developing world. What this pandemic also showed us was that the more bombastic the leaders, the more they lacked substance. They were exposed as empty vessels who only made a lot of noise. When it came to the crunch, they failed miserably. The quieter, more reflective and more inclusive

the leaders were, the more effectively they performed. Germany’s Angela Merkel, New Zealand’s Jacinta Ardern, Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-Wen and a few others showed remarkably astute leadership to mitigate against the virus, keep casualty figures down and create conditions that could lead to earlier and safer lifting of lockdowns. Incidentally, all are women heads of state but the gender balance has been redressed by the performance of African leaders such as Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni (see pages 60-61).

Reflecting on fleeting nature of life

The quality, or lack of it, of leadership is just one of the questions that we are being forced to ask ourselves during this period of lockdown. It raises many other questions and challenges so many of our long-held beliefs. It is forcing us to reflect on the fleeting nature of life and what we do with our time. This microscopic virus, which is so insubstantial that it cannot even be rightly called a ‘creature’, has undone all the great works and systems of mankind in a very short space of time. It has stood everything on its head. It has brought the vast global economic machinery to a grinding halt. It has banished millions of aircraft, trains, buses, ships and other vehicles to parking spaces. It has closed down offices, schools, factories, stock-markets, restaurants, hotels, cinemas, bars, clubs, beaches. It has chased away farm workers and left ripe grain and fruits to rot unharvested. It has devastated social life, separated families and outlawed funerals; it has imprisoned individuals in their home cells. It has severed people from their work (unless you happen to be in the essential services category or in the informal sector in the developing world), thus taking away one of the major planks of what we consider normal life. It has left some of the world’s largest armies and

Below: Residents of Iterileng informal settlement near Pretoria in South Africa queuing for food parcels, face masks, soap and sanitiser at a distribution organised by charities

navies, with their terrifying arsenal of weapons including nuclear bombs – all designed to kill other people – helpless against an invisible enemy. It has left the rich as isolated and fearful as the poor. It has stripped away all the accoutrements of wealth, status, privilege that so many have worked so assiduously to accumulate. It makes no distinction between the highly qualified and the ignorant, the religious and the pagan. It has, in many cases, reduced us to our basic humanity and made us look at ourselves naked in the mirror. It has forced us to ask the question, what sort of person are you? Those of a religious bent say it is a preview of the great Day of Judgement where only your deeds will decide your eternal fate. But despite all the suffering and loss, the coronavirus has also had a few silver linings. It cleared away the accumulated choking pollution of cities as if by magic and people were able, for the first time, to see landscapes that had been fogged under layers of dust and smoke. In the blessed, traffic-less silence, some people heard birdsong for the first time in their lives. We realised that life can go on without our rushing from pillar to post and that we do not need to gather in bars or restaurants to feel connected with one another. Many of us learned to share with others because we realised that in the end, what we all have is the one life and the one world and neither are permanent. We learned about the futility of wars, hatred, dogma and ideology. We were brought down to earth when the microscopic virus mothballed our mighty engines of war and left us weak and vulnerable. We learned to salute a new breed of heroes – those who risked their lives to try and save others in hospitals and clinics; a hitherto unsung army, poorly paid and easily disregarded. Yes, the virus changed us; the question is whether for the better or worse? Time, as always, will surely tell. NA

Faced with the mounting threat of Covid-19 and with an eye on the December elections, Ghana’s President Akufo-Addo is once again making extravagant pledges. Why should anybody believe him?

Once bitten, twice shy


had wanted to continue from where I left off last issue – telling the story of Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah’s betrayal which was hatched in the bowels of the very White House where Mr Trump now holds sway. But something has happened in my native Ghana that must break my stride. “A time has come when silence is betrayal. That time is now,” said Dr Martin Luther King at the time the odds were heavily against the Civil Rights Movement in the US in the 1960s. So he spoke! And the rest is history. So, encouraged by Dr King, and similarly by British writer and essayist George Orwell (author of 1984), who said: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”, I am going to speak here, hoping that the rest will be history. What is the grave matter then? On Sunday 25 April, Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa AkufoAddo gave a televised address and said something that he should not have said. But having said it, he reminded me of a character that Ian Smith, the last Prime Minister of Rhodesia, so eloquently illustrated in his book, The Great Betrayal: “A statesman

thinks of the next generation, a politician thinks of the next election,” Ian Smith wrote. On 25 April, Akufo-Addo, facing re-election this coming December, behaved much like Ian Smith’s “politician” who thinks of the next election, instead of the statesman Akufo-Addo thinks himself to be. According to him, in the televised address, the coronavirus pandemic has made him realise the inadequacy of Ghana’s health infrastructure. This is a President who has been in power for three-and-a-half years already! And he did not know the strength of his health service until a virus came to tell him. But let’s listen to him: “There are 88 districts in our country without district hospitals,” Akufo-Addo, informed by the coronavirus, now tells the nation. “We have six new regions without regional hospitals. That is why [the] government has decided to undertake a major investment in our healthcare infrastructure. “We will this year, begin constructing 88 hospitals in the districts without hospitals … Each of them will be a quality, standard design 100bed hospital with accommodation for doctors, nurses and other health workers. The intention is to complete

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them within a year. We are also putting in place plans to construct six new regional hospitals in the six new regions, and the rehabilitation of Effia Nkwanta Hospital in Sekondi which is the regional hospital for the Western Region.” This normally should be good news worth celebrating. But this time it isn’t. Rather, it is an insult to the intelligence of the good people of Ghana.

Empty election pledges

Why? First, during the 2016 election campaign that brought him to power, Akufo-Addo promised that if elected, he would build one factory in each of the 216 districts of the country to provide employment for people,

President Akufo-Addo (c) gives a thumbs-up during South Africa’s Working Visit to Accra in 2019. He has adopted a similarly upbeat tone in recent pronouncements, yet his promises to build 94 new hospitals look like electioneering given his poor infrastructure record

especially the jobless youths. He would build one dam in each of the villages of the dry northern regions of the country. He would also give each of the 275 constituencies in the country $1m every year for development projects of the constituencies’ choice. Three-and-ahalf years later, those promises are largely unfulfilled, proving that he is not a man of his word. Second, Akufo-Addo came to power on the back of an aggressive infrastructure building programme by the man he defeated at the 2016 election, former President John Mahama. There has only been one man in Ghana’s history who was a greater builder than Mahama – the eternal Kwame Nkrumah. In one term of four years, Mahama drove himself like a man possessed to leave a healthy legacy of infrastructure projects all over the country, including hospitals (some of which he could not complete before the election defeat). What did Akufo-Addo do when he came to power? He left most of Mahama’s uncompleted projects in stasis. Some of the hospitals have, in fact, been overtaken by weeds. Not only that; Akufo-Addo – you just cannot believe it, kind reader – has also let some of the completed hospitals go to waste, like the splendid Legon Hospital in the grounds of the University of Ghana, and the Bank Hospital built by the Bank of Ghana in Cantonments in Accra. The first phase of the Legon Hospital was opened by Mahama after the election defeat, before he left office on 7 January 2017. But this massive hospital, the like of which you don’t even see in Europe, has been standing idle since December 2016. It was only when coronavirus hit the country in February 2020 that Akufo-Addo’s government allowed some patients to be taken there for treatment. This impressive teaching hospital, the first of its kind in West Africa, had been initiated by the University of Ghana in partnership with an Israeli hospital group to provide specialist referral facilities for Ghana and West Africa. For threeand-a-half years, Akufo-Addo let this fully-equipped hospital stand

idle, for reasons best known to his government. The pettiness that Akufo-Addo has demonstrated in his first term astounds! In fact, it belies his education and history. A man who fought all his political life to gain justice and respect of human rights for Ghanaians from a cruel military dictatorship run by his now bosom friend, Jerry Rawlings; a man who could not be stopped by two bitter electoral defeats (only winning on the third attempt) could not be this myopic, dear Lord.

Sheer disbelief

I supported him in the 2008 elections and felt very sore when he lost by a whisker. From my home in Kumasi, I watched in sheer disbelief when he pulled out of the Tain re-run and allowed Prof. John Atta Mills to win by 40,000 votes. Maybe, it was a blessing for Ghana that AkufoAddo did not become President in 2008, especially judging from his behaviour in office. The distance from his office in State House to the Accra airport where Mahama had almost completed a spanking new Terminal Three before losing the 2016 election, is just about a mile and a bit. But Akufo-Addo would not (and did not) go to open Terminal Three when it was finished in 2018, because it was built by Mahama. Now he wants to abuse our ears by promising to build 94 hospitals in one year – 88 district and six regional hospitals! Our dear people do not deserve this insult, especially when he said nothing in his televised address about the hospitals and other projects started by Mahama which are now overgrown by weeds. The shame of it all is that all these infrastructure projects were started with state financial resources, much of it borrowed from abroad, which Ghana is going to pay for decades to come. And now, with only six months to the next elections, Akufo-Addo wants to build 94 hospitals. What was he doing for three-and-a-half years? The Akan people of Ghana have a proverb: “When a naked man promises you clothes, listen to his name first.” NA

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In Conversation

Ecobank’s Ade Ayeyemi Ecobank Group CEO, Ade Ayeyemi discusses business survival strategies in the time of Covid-19 with Omar Ben Yedder.

Right choices are critical


he first time I interviewed Ade Ayeyemi was in September 2016, a year after he’d joined the bank from Citi as the Group CEO. We met in Montreal during the Global Fund’s replenishment conference. The Global Fund is the biggest organisation in the fight against AIDS, TB and malaria. The replenishment conference had raised $13bn and Ecobank had pledged to commit $10m to support the Fund’s efforts in Africa, where most of its work in terms of prevention and treatment happens. My meeting with him this time was against a backdrop of a health crisis that has effectively locked down half the world, with economic consequences that could prove very grave for the continent. Like most meetings in a Covid-19 world, this one took place via Teams, Microsoft’s own virtual collaboration platform. During our first meeting, I’d wondered if that commitment to the Global Fund had been little more than ticking the CSR box. So I decided to ask him, now we’re experiencing a once-in-alifetime health crisis, whether he felt somewhat vindicated. “The crisis is demonstrating the importance of public health as one of the foundation infrastructure for economic wellbeing,” he tells me, hinting that economies and governments will have to recalibrate their priorities. “As a society, there will be some re-alignment and some changes. It was good to have supported those initiatives at that time.” The private sector across Africa has risen to the challenge during this latest pandemic. Given the continent’s fragile healthcare

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systems, companies across the spectrum have mobilised efforts to support the most vulnerable and provide assistance to purchase protective equipment and tests and thus build resilience into the system. The week before our video call, Ecobank had just announced a $3m contribution supporting various agencies and international organisations on the continent in the fight against Covid-19. That same week, they’d also announced a partnership with the AU’s development agency (AUDANEPAD) to support MSMEs, the lifeblood of African economies. Given their large African footprint in 36 countries, did they see any major trends – shifts in patterns of spending, in transactions? With lockdowns in many of the countries they operate in, he told me, and enforced physical distancing, they did see a significant reduction in economic activity. Cross-border transactions, namely around trade, for example saw a large drop. There was also a slowdown in the buying and selling of goods. At the same time, there was a considerable uptake in their digital services, and the fact that transfers, payment of salaries and other services could be done digitally, effectively kept the economies ticking. “In Nigeria, banks were given 24hrs notice to close. Thirty years ago,” he says, “you would have had riots.” But today, the transition was somewhat seamless and the enforced mass experimentation of having to do everything remotely and digitally has shown that the backbone and infrastructure is there. As well as a surge in internet

Left: Ade Ayeyemi back in 2016 at the Global Fund’s replenishment conference in Montreal, where Ecobank pledged $10m to support the Fund’s efforts in Africa

banking and digital transfers, they did notice that people were also preserving their cash savings, given the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

Private sector must step in Does he foresee greater investments in healthcare from the private sector? Governments, he says, will not be able to do it alone – that is a certainty. So the private sector will have to step in one way or another. “This pandemic will have alerted the world of the need for a functioning healthcare system. And the market is there.” It is estimated that Nigerians alone spend over $2bn annually on medical care abroad. As countries exit lockdowns and rebuild their economies, is he worried about the damage that has been caused by this global health and economic crisis? Commodity prices having recovered from the fall in 2014/5, have once again tumbled, the most noticeable of these being oil. Questioned on his bank’s exposure to the oil and gas sector in Nigeria and the threat of increased impairments, he appeared calm. “Nigeria as a country,” he explains, “only contributes some 15% of the bank’s revenues and less than 5% of the bank’s profits before tax.” As far as Ecobank is concerned, diversification through its large footprint will stand it in good stead, he says, and warns against knee-jerk reactions. The bank, he stresses, is there to help businesses ride this wave, working alongside them, across all industries. “Am I concerned for our customers in oil and gas? Yes. But if a business is decently run, the fall in the price of oil may delay payments

but businesses will ultimately be able to make the payments. “So things will change, but we don’t see it as catastrophic. There will be some customers that may have bigger problems and we are working with them to see the best way to weather the storm.”

Positioned to withstand shocks The company made profits of $400m before tax last year, he says, and he feels it is well positioned to withstand the possible shocks from the pandemic as it works its way through the economy. Does that mean he’s expecting a V-shaped recovery? “It’s too early,” he notes, “for anyone to predict what type of recovery we will have, and a lot will depend on how we control this virus – not just as a continent but globally, and how the virus evolves.” The bank, he says, is prepared. Several scenarios have been worked on, ranging from the most optimistic (a quick vaccine or effective therapy), which would lead to a V-shaped recovery, to a prolonged economic slowdown, resembling more an L-shaped scenario. “The role of governments and policy makers in ensuring that the right choices are taken on policy and actions at the right time,” he stresses, “will be critical in determining the economic and health outcomes in the different countries.” Does this uncertainty and possible prolonged slowdown mean that the regulators will have to be more lenient with the banks and give them more space to support the economy? He thinks that monetary policy will have to be loosened to

encourage spending and kick-start demand – and that includes the regulators having policies that are supportive of the banking system. “It will be important that the capital elevation that was created as a result of the global financial crisis [when banks were asked to hold larger capital reserves], is now drawn down to allow the society to survive and build it up again over time.” Twice in our discussion, he emphasised the role of regulators and central banks and the need to provide banks with sufficient flexibility from both a capital and operational point of view to enable them to play a meaningful role in getting the economy back on its feet. Operationally, banks should not have to maintain branches just for the sake of it, he stressed, especially as the world digitises. Will African economies have to change fundamentally? He says this crisis does present an opportunity and “technology is on our side. You can have a good diagnostic centre in a place like Lagos or Timbuktu, using the best experts from across the world. You can use 3D printing to enable complicated manufacturing.” Business models, he argues, are radically changing and you can do things on the continent that were unthinkable 10 years ago. But he doesn’t think it’s just going to happen. “The crisis allows us to start thinking about how we re-start our economies. The continent is not destined to be poor, but at the same time, we are not predetermined to be successful. We need to make the right choices, and if we make them, we can actually get a better outcome.” NA june/july 2019 new african 25

A f C F TA

In Conversation Lord Hain has long campaigned against apartheid and was one of the key negotiators in finding a solution to the Northern Ireland crisis. In a recent podcast with Desné Masie, he tells us how the current pandemic has exposed the weakness of ‘strong men‘ and why good governance is driven by strong values. Peter Doerrie reports.

Governance and leadership in the age of Covid-19


here are few people with a more distinguished career in UK politics than Lord Peter Hain (pictured right). An MP for Neath for 24 years, he served in the cabinets of both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and in 2015 was nominated for a life peerage. But his formative years were spent far away from Westminster. “I am a son of Africa,” says Lord Hain, who was born in 1950 to South African parents, Adelaine and Walter Vannet Hain, in Kenya. His parents, fervent anti-apartheid activists, soon returned to South Africa. After several arrests and facing financial ruin due to a de facto occupational ban on Peter’s father, an architect, the family was forced into exile when Peter was 16. Peter soon followed in his parents’ footsteps, becoming a leader of the UK’s anti-apartheid movement. “We focused especially on disrupting the appearance of all-white South African sports teams like the Springboks through direct actions like pitch invasions,” Lord Hain remembers in his conversation with African Business Podcast. A private prosecution at the Old Bailey financed by apartheid-supporting white South Africans later found him guilty of criminal conspiracy related to the campaign, resulting in a fine of £200. Lord Hain escaped more serious legal ramifications after a plot by the South African Bureau of State Security to frame him for a bank robbery failed. A letter bomb sent to him in 1972 didn’t explode due to faulty wiring. While his transition to party politics was smooth and his rise from being the winner of a by-election in 1991 to a career in cabinet lasting 12 years was rapid, his family history, personal experience, and activism have been evident throughout 26 new african june/july 2020

his influential political life. As Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he helped negotiate the 2006 St. Andrews Agreement, furthering the peace process initiated by the Good Friday Agreement. The example of South Africa’s negotiated end to Apartheid had a profound influence on his approach, Lord Hain says. “What is really impressive both in South Africa and Northern Ireland is that people came together to pull in the same direction, instead of continuing the conflict,” he argues. “Violent conflicts can only rarely be won by one party outright. Most require a negotiated solution. This is where my passion and commitment to good governance comes in. During Apartheid, bad governance created a chasm of inequality, of poverty, of racism in society. And after the end of a conflict, the question is, how do you move forward, how do you create a better society?” Lord Hain says that good governance is a crucial aspect of conflict resolution, which is why he has watched South Africa’s trajectory under former President Jacob Zuma with great dismay. “He institutionalised corruption and cronyism on an absolutely massive scale. He plundered the country and rendered a lot of its systems of administration and governance, from the national to local level, dysfunctional.” This is why, he says, the current President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has a difficult task, having to navigate a global pandemic in a country that has massive inequality, a legacy of the apartheid regime, and weaker state institutions that have been damaged by Zuma’s ten years in power. Lord Hain became intimately involved in the effort to dismantle the scandal surrounding Zuma and the

undue influence of some businessmen and other cronies, that they called ‘State Capture‘. He testified before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in 2019, alleging “massive complicity of international financial and other institutions, global corporates and foreign governments.” His testimony was instrumental in shining the light on the involvement of international consultancies like KPMG and McKinsey & Co., which profited handsomely from enabling the corruption of South African politicians and business people. He was also key to holding UK Public Relations firm, Bell Pottinger, accountable. He says that Bell Pottinger ironically made a cardinal mistake, forgetting about its own reputation while advising others on how to manage theirs. The firm’s role in South Africa’s state capture scandal eventually led to it losing high-profile clients and ultimately, its bankruptcy. While Covid-19 has not hit the African continent as hard as Asia, Europe, and parts of the Americas, Lord Hain worries that it may be a question of time. He fears that the public sector in most African countries doesn’t have the necessary capacity to introduce much more than lockdowns that don’t solve anything. While they can give politicians time to develop the policies required to react to the pandemic and ramp up the health sector’s capacity for treatment and testing and for that he commends the early actions taken in Africa including in South Africa lockdowns in and of themselves need to be managed carefully to avoid, on the other side, economic devastation, he argues. Even more than elsewhere, in Africa, “the people who will pay the heaviest price are the people who always do: the poorest and those who have

been exploited and are living very deprived lives.”

A return to Keynesianism

For Lord Hain, it is evident that there can be no return to the “old normal, the world of global neoliberalism,” which he sees at the root of many of the world’s and Africa’s contemporary problems. Like after the Second World War, he thinks that worldwide, there is a need to create a robust public sector alongside and in cooperation with a healthy and thriving private sector. “When it came to this crisis, the government that had been attacking people like me for arguing against their policy of austerity, found the magic money tree, didn’t they,” he laughs. He sees the value of a Keynesian approach to economics as self-evident in the light of the impact of Covid-19. Still, he cautions that the trillions of government stimulus that will be spent worldwide only increase the need for good governance and investments into well-run and sustainably financed public services and institutions. Just as Jacob Zuma played a pivotal role in South Africa’s regime of systematic bad governance, Lord Hain argues that leaders will have to shoulder individual responsibility for how their countries will emerge from the pandemic. “The leaders who have been most impressive in this crisis have been the ones who have genuinely shown compassion, who display integrity, who exude trust and who are committed to transparency and equal opportunities.” He is convinced that these qualities will translate into more successful economic recoveries in countries like Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand, compared to those run by so-called populists and strongmen like US President Donald Trump, Russia’s Putin or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Ultimately,” Lord Hain cautions, “what is true for government ministers is also true in private business: if you are not committed to the principles of good governance, you can’t succeed. You may get rich quickly in a minority of cases, but you won’t be able to sustain your reputation, your happiness as an individual, and your relationship with others.” NA (You can listen to the full interview by visiting our sister website, www. africanbusinessmagazine.com/podcast, or downloading the podcast through your provider)

The pandemic has taken its grimmest toll in the advanced North but while some countries have been devastated, others have so far managed the crisis as well as possible. What can Africa, so far spared the worst, learn from these experiences?

THE BIGGER PICTURE Assia BrandrupLukanow

DiďŹƒcult choices


ive months or so ago, while the world was going about its daily business – work, or studies or leisure – a virus so small you need an electronic microscope to see it, hit our lives, livelihoods, and daily habits and turned everything upside down. At first, as virtually everybody in the world now knows, in December and January, only the people of the city of Wuhan in China were affected and Wuhan was closed, with a huge cost to the population to protect the rest of the country and world. But it was too late, the virus had already infected others, unbeknown to them, and travelled to far-away countries and places, hitting both vulnerable and less vulnerable populations there, and causing unprecedented death tolls and a huge strain on the health care and hospital system in the first round. The most prosperous and industrialised region in Italy, Lombardy, with the design hub and financial capital Milan as its main city, was the first and hardest hit. As hospitals overflowed and Italians watched helplessly and incredulously as their relatives and loved ones were isolated in intensive care wards and respirators, many were destined never to return to

their families and to be buried alone, without family funerals, sometimes in such a rush, that relatives struggled to find out which cemetery they would be able to find them in later. The country prepared to protect its other citizens and followed the example of China, Korea and Taiwan in isolating and closing off the regions with the most cases. Soon the lockdown was extended to other parts of the country, culminating in a total closure of schools, workplaces, places of worship, bars and restaurants, and sports events. People were asked to stay at home, and only allowed to go out, one at a time, for essential goods and food. The police controlled people on the streets or in cars, and breaking the rules was fined heavily. Italy closed its borders to protect others from the virus spreading. But, yet again, the virus had already travelled on. Throughout Europe, the end of February is school winter break, when many people traditionally go to the Alps of Northern Italy, France, Switzerland and Austria to ski and enjoy the snow. When these travellers and families returned to their home countries in Northern Europe, many carried the virus with them and became very sick or died in intensive care.

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The story of Northern Italy seemed to repeat itself, as nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, often not sufficiently protected, set about their grim task of picking up patients with fevers and respiratory symptoms from their homes to take them to the nearest hospital and intensive care units. Tragically, many of the health workers themselves subsequently fell ill and some died.

Communication is the key

The other countries of the North though, had some advantages: they had had a few weeks to see what was happening in southern Europe, and could therefore do their homework and prepare themselves for what was inevitably to come in terms of radical measures of social distancing and the lockdown of economies. Governments knew that they would have to impose unpopular measures and had to think of how to get all on board for what was to happen. What made the difference between the countries that were successful in getting the population to go along with these measures and those that did not, was the credibility of their communications and the congruence between what they said and what they did. Denmark, for example, was one

of the countries in which most people adhered to the recommendations to stay at home, self-isolate if they had symptoms, and go for testing when this was made available. Their secret of success was that one week prior to the lockdown, the government convened across all parties and with the workers’ trade unions and association of employers, and together, they worked out a stimulus package which would, among other measures, cover 75% of employees’ loss of income. Other measures to provide support would provide support to companies, shops, event organisers and small enterprises were also put into place. This helped enormously to pre-

Below: A worker in protective clothing sanitising Piazza del Duomo in Milan, the capital of Italy’s Lombardy region, on 31 March

pare people mentally for what was to come and to reassure them that their government would not leave them behind. When the lockdown came, and with death tolls rising, everyone went along with it; the payments to employees arrived as promised and citizens who were abroad were brought home. Throughout, the rules were spelt out clearly. As time went on, there were new challenges, differing points of view, and many questions from the public. This led to the need to re-discuss guidelines, to reopen the scientific discussion and to go back on some decisions regarding testing. Mistakes made were admitted openly in press conferences and apologies for delays in some actions were presented to the public by government officials. However, the adherence to the rules and the near total lockdown had its desired effect; the numbers of new infections, hospital admissions and deaths dropped, leading to a decision to partially reopen schools and some workplaces much earlier than originally envisaged. By mid-May, many areas of life – schools, workplaces and leisure venues – were returning more or less to normal but always under strict measures and supervision. This came as a very welcome breath of fresh air to all.

A heavy price for neglect

Other countries, which waited longer to address the coming threat, or grossly underestimated its seriousness, found themselves having to react with far less preparedness. The tragic results have been very high hospitalisation and death tolls across all generations and all groups of society. The most vulnerable, we discovered, were those groups that are already in disadvantaged positions: the elderly, often living in isolation or in under-resourced long-term care facilities, those who live in more crowded conditions, those who do not have white-collar jobs that can be done from home, and those who have underlying conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity – so-called ‘lifestyle issues’ which derive from the generally poorer quality of life they are often

forced to live as a result of low incomes and marginalisation. We know today that the social distancing measures and lockdowns take a toll beyond that of the disease itself, through lost jobs and poverty, but also through the secondary effects of home confinement and conflicts, with domestic violence rising and help hotlines never busier. We also know that the pandemic has a gendered face; although men are slightly more vulnerable to the disease than women, women bear the bigger burden, forming the majority of frontline health workers, carers at home as well as in institutions. They also form the bulk of those who are working in informal and unprotected jobs as household helpers and field workers, for whom there will be no trade union unemployment insurance or benefits. A new poverty will spread among women, which in turn will have its negative impacts on families and children, if not counteracted quickly. The countries of Africa are, today, in the privileged position of being able to observe how other countries in the world have been coping and to choose those models most applicable to them, while reviewing and strengthening their health systems, health insurance and social protection measures. The one aspect the whole world has in common today is that no one has yet found the solutions to the virus, but we know that the best solutions will be found only through listening and consulting each other. Where governments listen to their peoples’ fears and concerns, and suggested solutions, and take them seriously, the people are more likely to listen to their governments’ thoughts and instructions and take them seriously. Heavy-handed approaches – as we have seen in some parts of the world – have proved disastrous; however, the pandemic has also revived solidarity in our societies and a readiness to help each other.

Dr Assia Brandrup-Lukanow is a medical doctor and specialist in public health

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The huge disruption to agricultural productivity that has hit the world in the wake of the pandemic has, ironically, opened the door for Africa to step into the breach and become a net exporter of food, rather than an importer as it currently is.

Africa can feed the world post Covid-19


he world has changed over the past couple of months, courtesy of the Covid-19 global pandemic, lockdown by countries big and small, global aviation almost coming to a grinding halt, people being forced to stay indoors and so forth. This scenario could have been and indeed, has been the theme of at least one major Hollywood blockbuster film, but few would have believed it possible even at the turn of the decade. But what we are witnessing now is just unprecedented and beyond the wildest imaginings of fiction writers. Ominously, the new abnormal has suddenly become normal. Africa of course is no exception. While almost all the African nations are, mercifully, greatly lagging behind the numbers in terms of infected people and mortality rates, there is a genuine fear that the gradually increasing numbers could be the forerunner of a hitherto unseen spike; and given the continent’s fragile healthcare system, unless the countries can manage to contain Covid-19 properly, we may have to face a huge humanitarian catastrophe. But so far, so good. Almost all the countries in Africa have

VIEW FROM THE TOP Ve n ka t a r a m a n i Srivathsan

been doing a reasonably good job in containing the spread. This has called for a delicate balance between economic activity and using lockdowns for containment. Elsewhere, especially in the West, lockdowns have created many other issues. Apart from the disruption to supply chains, there are genuine fears of a shortage in food production as many farmers

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are not likely to return to their farms, at least in the near term. This presents a key challenge for Africa, which is a big importer of food. But it also throws open a huge opportunity. As everyone now looks for a diversification of supply chains, can Africa become a net exporter of food to Western countries? Can it replace the traditional sources of supply or, simply put, can it be

Gross Agriculture Cultural Value

Crops Production Quantity

Area Harvested




















Côte d’Ivoire












South Africa








Africa Total








Africa, % of World





FAO Stat, 2016

FAO Stat, 2018

FAO Stat, 2018

Notes: Crop statistics provided for 173 products

the next China, at least in terms of food products? The answer lies in how African governments move in tandem to exploit the opportunity. I believe they are better poised to do so now than in the past. But before we start thinking (or dreaming) of such an ambitious goal, the continent has to address some of the basic structural issues.

production losses. It is estimated that about 30% of the produce goes to waste at the farm gate level. Low productivity combined with huge post production/harvest losses serves as a double whammy. Addressing the agri infrastructure has to be a top priority. Here again the traditional approach by governments has not yielded great results. We have to have an innovative approach, using novel ways of financing, leveraging on digital technology and of course building the bricks and mortar physical infrastructure for storage, road and rail connectivity. Another key factor is the need to create as many primary and secondary processing facilities as close to the farm gate as possible. This would have the twin effect of eliminating the post-harvest losses and also creating value at source. There is in addition a need to create a robust food processing ecosystem.

How to raise productivity

Agriculture in Africa is dominated by smallholder farmers. It is estimated that Africa has more than 35m, mainly involved in subsistence farming. Historically, Africa has the lowest productivity in terms of yield per hectare. This is one of the primary reasons why Africa continues to be a large importer of food items. Take a look at the statistics in the table below. The table clearly highlights the issue. With such a low productivity, even achieving self-sufficiency is a challenge. But increasing the yield/ productivity is not rocket science. It requires a focused approach in terms of right usage of agriculture inputs, proper fertilisation, good agronomy practices and diligent use of technology. Agri infrastructure is another key challenge. The lack of some basic infrastructure leads to large post-

Financing ecosystem

Below: A farm worker harvesting a corn crop near Boons, North West Province, South Africa

Financing is another key issue. The policy makers have to create an agriculture-based financing ecosystem that is fit for purpose. It’s not just simple lending - given the host of smallholder farmers involved, micro-lending is critical. It is also crucial to have robust crop protection insurance as risk mitigation is a must. Here again technology, such as mobile money, digital wallets etc, can be fully leveraged to have a wider coverage. Countries also need to create strong regional supply chains. In this context the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) assumes greater significance. The first real test is the rollout of the AfCFTA. Already, the original timeline of July 2020 has been pushed back to January 2021. But more importantly, the bilateral and multilateral negotiations need to be completed quickly in the common interest of all. Intra-African trade was a mere 17% of total trade in 2018. This needs go up greatly before Africa can start marching successfully towards the rest of the world. The biggest stumbling block in effective implementation of the AfCFTA, aside from the lack of

physical infrastructure, is the mindset of the countries on making and producing everything themselves. It’s a sad fact that many African countries today are willing to import from outside the continent rather than from another African country. The lack of seamless connectivity makes things worse but first, this mind-set has to change. Each country should leverage on its strength and create scale to serve the regional and global markets competitively. The other key issue is how countries can collaborate with each other to have better negotiating power in the international marketplace. Last year, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana came together to levy a Living Income Differential (LID) on cocoa bean exports, to protect the farmers from the volatility of international cocoa prices and assure them a minimum price per tonne. This is a great example of successful collaboration.

Not a pipe dream

It’s also true that every country is in some way addressing these issues and has met with differing levels of success. At country level, policy implementation efficacy varies vastly and that’s one of the key reasons for success or otherwise. But to really move the needle and to reach the next level, i.e., to become a ‘food basket for the rest of the world’, countries need to work in tandem and there has to be a greater level of collaboration. The AfCFTA is a great platform for achieving this degree of co-operation and the timing could not have been better. In conclusion, I would say that becoming a global food basket is not a pipe dream for Africa. But it can’t happen overnight. Only if Africa can approach the challenge methodically and African countries work in tandem can this become a reality in a post Covid-19 world, sooner rather than later.

Venkataramani Srivathsan is the MD and CEO, Africa and Middle East, Olam – but the views expressed in this article are the author’s personal views.

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The pandemic has clearly highlighted the acute need for better, more affordable digital connectivity in Africa. Have our leaders learnt the right lessons from this horrific event?

Digital connectivity is a human right


he Covid-19 pandemic has once again demonstrated the immense power of digital connectivity, as billions of people around the world flock to the ‘information superhighway’ to run their businesses virtually, hold meetings, trade, shop, study and keep in touch with loved ones. Unsurprisingly, the internet has provided a lifeline for nearly every aspect of the human psyche...but only for those who have access to it. If there is one lesson to learn from the impact of this pandemic, it is this: like access to clean water, digital connectivity must be deemed a basic human right. Africa’s young people agree – nearly eight in ten (79%) view wifi connectivity as a fundamental human right, according to the most comprehensive survey of African youth published in February, weeks before Covid-19 brought the world to its knees. I’m sure if that survey was conducted today, the response would be very close to 100%. Unlike the rest of the world, however, Africa’s technological ecosystem was woefully unprepared for the crisis of the pandemic. We must see now that those excluded from the ability to access all that the Digital Revolution

IVOR AT L ARGE Ivor Ichikowitz

affords will be silent no longer. What was once an existential challenge, is now a threat to African security made palpable; an issue our leaders can no longer ignore. The vast digital inequality between Africa and the rest of the world cannot be tolerated or sustained and Covid-19 has expedited the call to action on good governance here. Africa’s leaders must not hold back our next generation, including many largely living under the poverty line or throughout our continent’s diverse rural communities, as these populations can form a significant economic driver of developing African countries. It is in our power to encourage digital inclusivity as a priority across nation and intra-national mandates. We must drive technological investment to rural areas and create policies that support equal access for all.

Storms of history

While most countries around the world are under lockdown or facing severe restrictions, with all of us struggling to minimise the human costs and left to only estimate the devastating economic costs of the pandemic, Covid-19 has caused

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Right: A young businessman using wifi and his laptop to work on the move in Pretoria, South Africa

particular uncertainty and outright fear about the future of an African continent that experienced seismic social, political and financial pressures long before its outbreak. Yet despite our unparalleled ability to weather the storms of history – and no doubt this crisis will be included in that anthology – the pandemic has also marked a watershed in inequality unheard of since the dawn of the continent’s independence. No question, Africa has made great strides in the development of its economy. Ten years ago, the continent was estimated to have had as much fibre in the ground as a small European country. Unparalleled demand forced this picture to change dramatically. The continent has since demonstrated the fastest growth in internet usage over the past decade, the foundations of our coming digital revolution becoming much more evident. From the agricultural use of drones in Mozambique to solar irrigation systems in Niger, from digital production in South Africa, to e-commerce (critical when considering the World Health Organisation flagged cash as a conduit for the spread of the coronavirus), we

are perpetually embracing innovative technologies to bolster our socioeconomic trajectory. Today, the demand for greater connectivity that I speak of, long an issue for Africans to access the very same opportunities for education and market inclusion that have broken out across the developed world, has skyrocketed. Covid-19 has only intensified it. The next generation are no longer satisfied with the digital divide that exists with the rest of the world. They now wish to carry the torch in ushering in the digital economy with determination and enthusiasm. However, there is clearly much work to be done to take this great potential to fruition

and the pandemic has, very publicly, expedited the urgency. The onus of responsibility so too falls on the private sector. The startlingly high cost of internet access (in certain cases as expensive as $35 per gigabyte of data) – means that affordable internet connectivity is well out of reach for many Africans.

‘Connectivity’ is a right, in my view, that young African men and women are prepared to fight for, if they have to.

Compounding the matter, connectivity speeds across the continent are widely recognised as falling well below the global minimum standard. This is frankly, unacceptable. Here and now, at the precipice of Africa’s Covid-19 recovery and at the dawn of its Digital Revolution, there is a clear opportunity for governments to fast-track the regulatory processes that our policy leaders have failed to move on for years; a moment for the private sector to step up to the market opportunities presented by conquering Africa’s connectivity challenges. For today’s leadership to continue to fail to do so may jeopardise our stability tomorrow. The right to ‘connectivity’ is a right, in my view, that young African men and women are prepared to fight for, if their voices are once again not heard and they deem it necessary to do so. No question, every industry, every worker wants to return to work. We must clearly balance how we do so with the utmost efficacy and how we do so safely so as to avoid a recurrence of the pandemic.

Time to look inwards for inspiration

This is not exclusive to Africa. Today’s global economic downturn will alter assumptions and realities in every time zone. Labour markets will change, and so too will old patterns. However, with a youthful, entrepreneurial generation now coming into their own, I am hopeful that Africa will provide the basis for new growth, and even leadership. Even in the darkest moments of this pandemic, the time will soon come for all of us to start charting a path out of the depths of despair. It is how we chart that path in Africa that our next generation will be watching. Now is the time for Africa to look inwards for the inspiration it needs to get through this global crisis; to take hold of its brighter, digital future ahead. Be warned: the ‘Digital Revolution’ will take a far more literal shape if our leaders choose to continue to discount the voices of the disconnected.

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While Africa is grappling with Covid-19, it is still also battling other epidemics like HIV. What lessons learned from these can we apply to the new threat?

Lessons from other pandemics


hile the world is preoccupied with battling the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, it is easy to forget the epidemics of HIV, tuberculosis (TB), Ebola and malaria (most of which also qualify as multi-continent pandemics) that equally plague the planet with even more devastating consequences. Experts including economist Professor Jeffrey Sachs; the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Uganda-born Winnie Byanyima; organisations such as the WHO and IFRC; and some epidemiologists and virologists, have suggested that countries like South Africa are in a better position to contain Covid-19 because of lessons learned fighting HIV and Ebola. South Africa, according to Byanyima, “has the best government response to Covid-19 in Africa, guided by lessons learned from the HIV epidemic. They engaged various stakeholders in the battle against HIV. In other African countries Covid-19 responses are dominated by epidemiologists and science with hardly any input from [the] community, civil society and NGOs.” Perhaps it was a mere coincidence that Byanyima was in Cape Town a day earlier when the country’s first Covid-19 case was

confirmed on 5 March in KwazuluNatal province. She and her UNAIDS delegation met President Cyril Ramaphosa for talks on Pretoria’s HIV/Aids eradication plans and urged him to renew his government’s commitment to fighting HIV and to end gender-based violence, including rape in the country. The question was: with the focus on Covid-19, are financial and other resources for containing the other epidemics being diverted to Covid-19 mitigation? Bill Gates had to reassure the HIV communities in Africa that the Gates Foundation would continue to support their work. Pretoria has already designated HIV/Aids “as a strategic priority and an essential element of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” which targets the eradication of the disease as a public health threat by 2030. Whether the country will achieve its goal of expanding HIV treatment to 6.1m people by the end of 2020, given the unexpected disruption caused by Covid-19, remains doubtful.

Lessons learned

So, what are the lessons learned from HIV and Ebola? The IFRC identified several from the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa:

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TALKING POINT Mushtak Parker

* Communities play a vital role in preventing and responding to epidemics. There are strong traditional beliefs and stigmas around Ebola, and therefore effective communication is crucial to helping communities abandon deep-rooted beliefs and take actions to prevent disease or treatment for illnesses. It is possible to achieve this by listening to people’s fears, perceptions and beliefs about Ebola and tailoring key messages and social mobilisation activities to address these fears. * Interactive radio programmes can play a vital role in addressing stigmas and risky practices. * Community-based response can be the difference between an isolated outbreak and a national catastrophe. * Responding to epidemics is much costlier than preventing them. Using the locally based Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteer network to share clear information in an epidemic is vital, albeit their protection is key. British Red Cross mapping specialist, Kareem Ahmed, who worked on the Ebola (2014) and Zika (2015) virus outbreaks, concurs that there were several mistakes made, including “lack of clear communication strategies by the authorities, no

Nurses working for the WHO prepare to administer the rVSV-Zebov Ebola vaccine in Mbandaka, DRC, during the country’s Ebola outbreak (Zaire strain) of May 2018

community preparedness, and poor protection and security of health/ frontline personnel. “Of course, the necessary investment in healthcare is much less costly than an ill-prepared response. From a mapping, epidemiological perspective in West Africa, because of a lack of standardised village names and accurate to-scale maps, it was much more difficult to do contact tracing of cases, and this is one area our team focused on.” The statistics of epidemics are dire. According to the WHO, by midMay 2020, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases globally had risen to 4.4m and related deaths to 300,000. In contrast, some 74.9m people globally became infected with HIV in the period between the epidemic’s onset in 1984 and the end of 2018, with the loss of a staggering 32m lives. At the end of 2018, 37.9m people were living with HIV. In 2018 alone, 770,000 people died of Aids-related illnesses. 25.7m people are living with HIV in Africa; of this number, South Africa has the largest prevalence in the world with 7.7m, followed by Mozambique with 2.2m, and Nigeria with 1.9m. Ebola is one of the most virulent viruses. In a recent Science article, virologist Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who contracted Covid-19 in mid-March, stressed he was glad to have coronavirus instead of Ebola. He is one of the ‘discoverers’ of Ebola in 1976 in DRC. According to Piot, Ebola has a high mortality rate and has a habit of resurfacing periodically. The West African Ebola epidemic that began in 2014 was the most widespread in history, causing 11,323 deaths and socioeconomic disruption in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. TB too remains a major killer, especially multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB), which has led to a public health crisis in Asia and Africaaffected countries, including Nigeria and South Africa, and a global health security threat. The WHO estimates 10m people got TB worldwide in 2018, resulting in 1.5m deaths (including 251,000 people with HIV). The WHO estimates that in 2018, there were 484,000

new cases with resistance to rifampicin – the most effective first-line drug, of which 78% had MDR-TB.

Malaria still biggest killer

These figures are dwarfed by the sheer prevalence of malaria. In 2018, there were an estimated 228m cases worldwide, with estimated deaths at 405,000. The WHO African Region accounted for 93.5% of all malaria cases and deaths in 2018. Mapping the lessons of one epidemic to another is complex given specificities, similarities and differences, especially in the transmission of each pathogen. UNAIDS, explained Winnie Byanyima in a podcast in April, “is trying to leverage everything it learned from the HIV crisis in the fight against Covid-19 while at the same time ensuring that none of the gains made by the HIV movement in terms of services, rights, and unity of organisations are lost.” Byanyima explained: “What we learned from HIV and Ebola is that a pandemic is not merely a health issue. It is about how society is structured; to what extent communities are empowered; about science and finding solutions, politics and how health is prioritised in our countries; about human rights and legal systems. It’s not a case of just finding the medicine and solving the issue. You have to bring the whole of government and society together.” A crucial truism is that pandemics feed on inequality, especially between rich and poor countries. The people hurt are the most vulnerable. It took five years to get the antiretroviral (ARV) drugs following campaigns by the HIV movement to get prices down. But the delay cost millions of lives during the period. In the case of Covid-19, history seems to be repeating itself. African countries are at the back of the queue after the rich countries for testing kits, masks and ventilators. According to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), South Africa accounts for 30% of Africa’s Covid-19 tests, although it has less than 5% of the population. Nigeria, which has 15% of the population, has carried out just 2% of the testing.

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In Conversation

Kamel Ghribi, Chairman, MEA, Gruppo San Donato The Tunisian healthcare entrepreneur discusses the impact of the coronavirus and other issues with New African.

We need a hybrid model


amel Ghribi (right) is chairman for the Middle East and Africa at Gruppo San Donato (GSD), one of Europe’s largest private healthcare providers, with over 19,000 employees. At the height of the epidemic in Italy, GSD hospitals and clinics assisted the authorities by opening up its facilities to accommodate Covid-19 patients. According to a recent statement by the group, GSD treated as many as 18% of Covid-19 patients in Lombardy, the country’s worst-hit region. Ghribi is originally from Sfax, Tunisia. Sfax has long been the industrial engine of Tunisia and the people of Sfax are known for their hard work and entrepreneurial spirit. Like many Tunisians of his generation, he left Tunisia at 18 to go and study abroad. Now based in Lugano, Switzerland, he made his fortune working in oil services in Italy and the Middle East before setting up GK Investment Holding group. Although his investments are across multiple sectors, healthcare has always been a priority. His passion, he says, is using his experience, networks and investment capital to help fast-track development in Africa. Ghribi says that if the virus has demonstrated anything, it is how vulnerable we are. Despite our machines, science and know-how, it has hit the world like a tsunami. Having seen first-hand what had happened in Italy, Ghribi has been calling for a much more coordinated response and greater solidarity. Too many countries, he says, have turned their backs on each other at a critical time of need. “I’m worried

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that this will encourage countries to close up when the need for a more collaborative approach and freedom to exchange resources are greater than ever.” With Ghribi on board, GSD has increased its activities in Africa and the Middle East. The group has collaborated with hospitals in a number of countries including Morocco and Mozambique, through medical exchanges, infrastructure investments, training, provision of essential equipment and the construction of paediatric clinics. However, Ghribi is on a mission to do more and this health crisis has given him an added urgency and impetus. The next two years, he assures us, will see a much more pro-active organisation as the group increases its footprint across Africa.

Healthcare investments need ramping up Investment in healthcare is still low in Africa. While a few countries in North as well as South Africa have developed centres of excellence – medical tourism in countries like Tunisia and Morocco has grown considerably in the past two decades – government spending on health is far below the 15% threshold agreed in the Abuja Declaration of 2001. “In fact only South Africa and Rwanda ever reached that target,” he says, “and in 19 countries on the continent, spending on health is less than what it was back in 2001.” That said, Ghribi thinks that the burden shouldn’t fall on government alone and the private sector will need to play a significant role. Despite TV showing scenes of

despair in Italian hospitals during the pandemic, Ghribi says the healthcare system in that country is one of the best in the world. “The model is actually very robust and anyone, irrespective of wealth or origin, can get access to free treatment,” he says. The state offers universal health coverage but it works hand in hand with the private sector to fulfil the country’s health requirements. A kind of hybrid model is what he feels would be best suited to Africa. “If healthcare investment across the continent is insufficient, it’s often because financing is not forthcoming and models are inappropriate,” he says. He wants governments to be more imaginative and to provide the necessary frameworks and incentives for groups such as GSD to be able to invest – as they are doing in Egypt and Botswana, where the group has signed an agreement to manage a hospital in the country. Ghribi feels this is the perfect time to develop blended finance solutions, crowding in money from philanthropists and foundations. They have a vested interest, he adds. “This is a time when people have to be giving back and we have found out that you cannot grow businesses and economies without a healthy workforce.” But he acknowledges that healthcare is an expensive business, with a substantial capital outlay – not to mention the training and everything else that goes with it. In Italy for example, they have a university hospital equipped to train doctors and nurses. Successful healthcare investment, he says, requires a long-term approach and

patient capital. On the day we spoke, Donald Trump had just named a Moroccan, Moncef Slaoui, the former head of R&D at GlaxoSmithKline as his Covid-19 vaccine czar. Does Ghribi not worry that the continent is losing some of its best talent to the rest of the world? He says, “I’m proud to see that so many frontline workers all over the world come from Africa, and many, be it in science or medicine, are leading the fight against Covid-19. “But we need to do more to retain our doctors and nurses in Africa and somehow find ways of attracting many of them back to the continent; this means being able to ensure they are well paid and valued.” Many people who have succeeded abroad, himself included, want to give back and want to contribute to the continent, he notes. The challenge is in mobilising these people and creating the conditions and incentives for them to return and make a difference.

Squaring up to economic crisis Is he proud of the way his home country of Tunisia has managed the Covid-19 situation? “I commend them for averting what could have been a nasty shock for the country, especially given its close links with Italy and France, two near neighbours that have been badly hit by the virus. But I feel that the healthcare system has deteriorated over the past 20 years and I’m also worried about the ensuing economic crisis.” He hopes that Tunisia’s partners at the European Union will

support it but he is aware that the EU is facing its own issues, having been badly hit by the pandemic. “Everybody is looking after their own interests right now.” He believes the biggest issue facing Tunisia is actually what is happening in Libya. Ghribi knows the country well, having dealt with it for many years when he worked in oil. “Tunisia cannot be strong until the situation in Libya is resolved,” he insists. “The economic impact on Tunisia is considerable and this partly explains why the country has not been able to get back on its feet after the revolution of 2011.” “The situation in Libya should be the international community’s biggest priority if they care about helping Tunisia,” he adds. “By bringing peace in Libya, you bring prosperity to Tunisia.” Economically, Tunisia has a lot going for it, he says. “Smart, educated people, reasonable infrastructure, proximity to Europe.” But Ghribi laments the fact that the Tunisian leadership is often not bold enough: “They should be strengthening international ties and playing a more active role in the global arena. The country’s politicians and leaders are too inward-looking when they could be building bridges and forging ties across not only the Mediterranean but also in Africa and Asia.” Does he see himself going back to Tunisia and running for government office one day? He laughs off the suggestion, saying that with Covid-19, he’s got his hands full right now, but you wouldn’t bet against it. NA june/july 2019 new african 37

A f C F TA

Focus: Agriculture Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT), funded by the African Development Bank, is revolutionising African agricultural production by accelerating the provision of improved seeds and other farming technologies and practices tailored for the continent’s diverse soil and climate conditions. Report by Neil Ford.

AfDB’s TAAT – Planting the seeds of change


udanese farmer Hachem Ahmad Salam has been working his wheat fields for more than 20 years and was yet to see the muchanticipated African green revolution, touted to transform the continent into a breadbasket to the world, come his way. Things may be about to change. An African Development Bank (AfDB) agriculture initiative is helping him to revolutionise how he does agribusiness and boost his crop yields. The AfDB-funded Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation initiative, or TAAT, disseminates ‘best bet’ crop seed varieties, agricultural inputs and farming practices to farmers by directing proven technologies across the African landscape. With tens of millions of smallholder farmers potentially benefiting from TAAT, the initiative is bringing a green revolution closer to home. “With the support of the TAAT wheat project, I received improved wheat seed as well as training on row planting and other production techniques at farmer field school,” says Salam. He also says the TAAT programme’s heattolerant seeds helped increase his wheat harvest from an average 1.8 tonnes per hectare to 5.5 tonnes per hectare, in a region known for seasons of unforgiving heat. TAAT is active in Sudan and 27 other Sub-Saharan African countries, and seeks to encourage countries to work together on harmonising policies and regulations to allow the millions of African farmers to more efficiently access and make use of technologies like improved certified seeds, livestock and fish across borders and agro-ecological zones. “The goal is to radically transform African agriculture 38 new african june/july 2020

into a competitive, profitable sector and help reduce Africa’s food import dependence by producing more of our own grains, produce, livestock and fish supplies,” said Dr Andrew Mude, an agriculture division manager at the AfDB responsible for the TAAT initiative. Since its launch in 2018, TAAT has focused on nine priority areas, such as the promotion of beans, cassava, rice, wheat, maize, sorghum and orange-flesh sweet potato production. Improved aquaculture development and livestock rearing are also priorities. A large part of the ‘tech’ in TAAT, is around improved seeds, providing higher yields and greater resilience to drought, heat, pests and other stressors. Take ordinary wheat, which needs temperatures between 20 to 26 degrees Celsius to produce high yields. Heat-tolerant wheat seed can thrive in areas where field temperatures rise in

Above: The AfDB’s TAAT specialists toured and held talks with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Zimbabwe, exploring areas of potential collaboration Right: Dr Jennifer Blanke, the Bank’s VP for Agriculture (l), speaking to a Sudanese farmer about TAAT-provided heat-resistant wheat seed, which has doubled his yield

excess of 30 degrees. As a result of these developments, in Ethiopia, farmers planting heat-tolerant wheat seed are cultivating bumper harvests in the country’s previously underused lowland areas – once considered too arid to produce quality grain. According to the AfDB, this not only reduces the country’s grain import bill, but also creates jobs and generates steady, decent incomes in rural agricultural communities. The initiative engages partner organisations and implementing agencies

to ensure a wide rollout. It works with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture on boosting bean production in eight countries in Central, East and Southern Africa. One implementing agency, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, is promoting TAAT-funded wheat production in seven countries, including East Africa’s highlands.

Crossing borders, harmonising policy TAAT Coordinator Dr Jonas Chianu says the initiative aims to increase African food production by 120m tonnes over the next eight to ten years – a figure worth some $1.5 to $2.8bn, depending on future

market prices. Cross-border cooperation is key to ensuring that new seed varieties can be deployed for use across entire agroecological zones that stretch across numerous countries, rather than just within specific countries. As regional seed markets are opened up and national restrictions are lifted, TAAT officials say, a single seed-testing programme can result in new seed varieties that can thrive in upward of 10 countries that share the same agro-ecological zone. TAAT collaborates with the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research centres (CGIAR) such as AfricaRice. Between the years 2011 and 2015, AfricaRice worked with Nigerian farmers to increase the use of new seeds, fertilisers as well as information and communications technology support. CGIAR also advocated for the introduction of

public policy in support of cross-border cooperation. By the end of the period, paddy rice production by test group farmers increased by 7m tonnes per year and average yields doubled. This success, buoyed up by regional harmonisation policy, resulted in about 4.2 tonnes of this climate-smart rice seed being supplied to four countries: Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Nigeria.

Wheat production boom Much of TAAT’s implementation success lies in the numbers: in just a few years, about 30,500 tonnes of heattolerant varieties of wheat seed have been deployed in Sudan, 25,438 tonnes of

seed have been distributed in Ethiopia and to date, 7,600 tonnes of seed are being utilised in Nigeria – a country that TAAT’s programme coordinator in Abuja says has significant potential. “Nigeria stands to save a lot of money in reducing wheat imports, if more wheat was grown in country,” says Dr Chrysantus Akem. The challenge, he added, is the erroneous perception that wheat is exclusively a crop for Mediterranean area nations. TAAT is changing that perception, by deploying stress-tolerant wheat varieties developed to produce high yields in Africa. In Nigeria, Akem says, farmers worked with TAAT to screen a range of stresstolerant wheat seed over the last three years, and identified three varieties that produced up to 4x yields. “Tropical rainfall and comprehensive irrigation could allow wheat to be grown year round,” he added.

Fighting fall armyworm TAAT is also part of the fight to counter the spread of fall armyworm, an invasive insect threatening crops of smallholder farmers. Fall armyworm first appeared in Africa in 2016, and without appropriate action, the insect could cause maize yield losses of an estimated $2.4–$6.2bn over five years. Fall armyworm prefers maize but can feed on over 80 additional species of plants including rice, sorghum, millet, sugarcane, vegetable crops and cotton. In Zambia, TAAT is working with the government, seed companies and community leaders to distribute pesticidetreated and drought-tolerant wheat, maize and sorghum to farmers. Since 2018, TAAT has provided Zambia with over 28,000 litres of chemical used to treat close to 5,000 tonnes of seed, that resists fall armyworm infestation. Almost half a million Zambian farmers have benefited. “We need collaborating partners such as TAAT to come in and complement what the government is already doing,” said Alick Daka, Deputy Director of Zambia’s Ministry of Agriculture, during a recent tour of agribusinesses participating in the TAAT initiative. From the lab to Africa’s fields TAAT is supporting research to adapt global agri-tech best practices to the African continent. The AfDB is collaborating with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, which is using hydroponic technology to boost cassava plant production. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, about half of the world’s cassava production is in Africa: the crop is grown in more than 40 African countries. “I believe we have a role to help usher in Africa’s Green Revolution,” said Dr Jennifer Blanke, Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development at the AfDB. “So many technologies exist. With these technologies, Africa should be able to leapfrog, but this can only happen if projects are scaled up,” she added. Back in Sudan, wheat farmer Hachem Ahmad Salam says TAAT-supported agricultural technologies are doing more than improve his harvest – they are also improving his and his family’s quality of life. “My increase in income from TAATsupplied wheat allowed me to send my two children to Khartoum to study at a private university,” Salam said. (This story was produced with the support of the African Development Bank) june/july 2020 new african 39

A disastrous approach by the British Conservative government has resulted in the second-highest Covid-19 death toll in the world and an economy in smithereens. The only saving grace has been the extraordinary courage and sense of duty of the country’s mostly BAME NHS frontline staff, who have laid down their own lives to help others.

The real heroes of Covid-19


t was going to be so easy – we should have been looking forward to another golden summer of sport with football’s Euro 2020 championship, West Indies taking on England at cricket, significant boxing matches, and the prelude to the Olympic Games. London reports would have included also the election of a new mayor, celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the ending of the Second World War, and maybe a tribute to the singer Millie Small. Instead, I find myself writing about a courage and quality of endeavour far greater than that shown on any pitch, or in the ring and arena, and an unsurpassed selflessness in the calamity which has exposed the inequalities of the nation – hitting London twice as hard as any other region. A government obsessed by “getting Brexit done”, cabinet reshuffles and private holidays when the rest of the world was facing up to the impending pandemic, was caught on the wrong foot. The chance of imposing a timely lockdown was missed as crowds flocked to major sports events, or drank in pubs and ate in restaurants, while the unchecked virus made its deadly transmission.

Complacent and arrogant, the government ignored the World Health Organisation’s direction to “test, trace, isolate” until the pestilence was beyond traceable and a chance to co-operate with European countries was missed through a “lost e-mail”. Or was policy dictated by years of neglect and marketisation which left the NHS ill-equipped for the emergency? There were not enough protective kits for healthcare workers, nor adequate test equipment, and much that was available was unusable. As ministers let weeks slip by contemplating whether to let the virus rage through the country (in the cause of “herd immunity”), with an unacceptably high count of fatalities, time and lives were lost. Africans were thrust by government incompetence, history, and their own high sense of professional duty, into the forefront of this new danger. New, that is, to this country because other parts of the world, not least in Africa, are well-acquainted with the suffering of epidemics.

for so long as being a drain on the National Health Service, have sustained the National Health Service in its hour of need. The backbone to this jewel in the British crown has long been the African, Caribbean, Asian and Eastern European doctors, nurses, carers and helpers – as New African drew attention to in the January 2019 issue. Together with transport workers and those in the other public services, they have literally put their lives on the line in serving those in their care (too often without the security of adequate protective equipment). The cuts of the years of austerity have bitten deep. As a representative of their profession has written, “nurses are trained to save the lives of other people, not risk their own”. Alas, those Africans who have paid the ultimate price are too many for us to be able to provide an individual tribute to the human beings behind the statistics. Under public pressure, the gov-

Jewels in the crown of service

Right: Medical staff at London’s Nightingale hospital join in with the ‘clap for carers’ that takes place every Thursday across the UK to thank NHS and key workers during the crisis

Immigrants, and the children of immigrants, who have been blamed

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Back from illness, Johnson proclaimed a policy which had led to more deaths than anywhere except the US, untold misery and economic mayhem, a ‘success’!

Dr Walter Rodney was one of the most influential political, social and academic thinkers of his generation

ernment has agreed to extend the visas of frontlife staff and to think again about charging NHS staff from abroad for the opportunity of risking their lives. Those who have been prepared to sacrifice everything for this country should automatically become citizens of this country. Every Thursday evening at 8pm, the residents of every street have come to their doors and front-windows and clapped in appreciation of the health and care workers. We clap because we are proud to have such people in our community. The lower front of the house directly across the road from where I am writing is covered with a large Union Jack with the motto: Thank you NHS. The appreciation is welcome, but deeds from the government would be preferred to words and gestures. In Dublin along the north bank of the River Liffey running through the heart of the city, there are symbolic bronze statues in memory of the victims of the great Irish famine. It is not ostentatious – it is very moving and effective. Something similar would not be out of place – depicting all people who have been involved and recording tastefully the names of those who have given their lives in the line of duty. African sculptors/artists should be invited to participate. That Black people are four times more likely to die from Covid-19 confirms social and economic reality (apart from their over-representation in those sectors of the caring services exposed most closely to the danger). African and ethnic minorities tend to live in neighbourhoods of cramped accommodation, where ill-health is a pressing concern and a healthy lifestyle more difficult to maintain. Generations of the same family often live in the same apartment/house, unlike the better-off, whose members are spread over several dwellings. If the government really wants to raise the social, health and economic prospects of the Black – or any – sector of the population they would need to improve the standard of accommodation, raise the quality

of their neighbourhood, extend their opportunities of employment; but we have experienced this already with the fire at Grenfell Tower three years ago. The virus has exploited, not created, inequality. The appointment of Baroness Doreen Lawrence to head a Labour Party review into why Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities have suffered disproportionately shows a deft political and public-relations touch by new leader Keir Starmer. She has acquired the respect as well as the sympathy of the community, which should inspire confidence.

Rolling mill of slogans

Our political representatives have reacted to the situation by resorting to the tactics honed over three successful elections and a referendum. Where ‘government leadership’ would be an oxymoron too far, ministers have relied on bluster, waffle, an avalanche of epithets, a rolling mill of slogans, mangled data and statistics, and, when under pressure, interjecting progressively grandiose promises while those made earlier have still not been effected – all couched in idioms gleaned from films about the Second World War. Returning from his own illness, Boris Johnson proclaimed a policy which had resulted in more deaths than anywhere except the US, untold misery and economy mayhem, as a “success”! Where exactly is the success, Stammer asked pointedly of an administration whose approach compares unfavourably to that of the other constituent parts of the United Kingdom (as well as countries overseas). Political appointment has been by adherence to Brexit rather than on ability. Nick Cohen of the Guardian has referred to the “ministry of all the sycophants” (rather than all the talents). Yet the public cannot avoid blame. Voters have regularly returned to office those politicians who, while paying lip-service to the NHS have weakened its effectiveness. Without the health of the people, there can be neither wealth nor economy. It has not been easy.

june/july 2019 new african 41



In the second part of our Special Country Focus on Cameroon, we examine how an admission of guilt by the government and the impact of Covid-19 has opened the door to lasting peace between the two warring linguistic spheres in the country. We also look at the impact of the coronavirus on various aspects of life, including the economy, in the country and detail the massive potential of viewing bilingualism as a unique advantage instead of a source of division. Report compiled by Neil Ford.

Cameroon makes strides towards peace


he government of Cameroon’s decision to admit that its forces had carried out a massacre of civilians in February could open the way for an eventual peace deal between the central government and secessionist forces in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest of the country. Coupled with a ceasefire (prompted by the Covid-19 crisis) by one of the main rebel groups, it raises hopes that a more conciliatory position is developing.

The United Nations (UN) and human rights groups have welcomed the government’s admission. The UN reported that the killings occurred in the village of Ngarbuh in the Northwest during the night of 13 February. It stated that a total of 23 civilians were killed, including nine children under the age of five, six other children and two pregnant women. For its part, the government has now said that a vigilante group and three soldiers attacked a rebel base when a container filled with fuel exploded, killing three women and 10 children. The government statement said that the pro-government forces tried to cover up

Below: A view of the Unity Palace in Etoudi, Yaoundé, the official residence of President Paul Biya

what had happened by setting fire to houses in the village. An independent investigation, with government support, may be needed to determine whether there was an explosion. Human Rights Watch said that Yaoundé’s admission was the first step towards clarifying what happened and ensuring justice was done. The NGO’s director for Central Africa, Lewis Mudge, said: “The fact that an investigation was launched and that the results of this probe acknowledged the role of some soldiers and were published seems to have been a real effort on the part of the government.” The attack was one of a number of atrocities claimed on both sides in the conflict. In a statement, Cameroonian human rights group, the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, said the acknowledgement of government responsibility for the Ngarbuh massacre was unprecedented and added: “This acknowledgment should not be the end, but instead open doors for further investigations into similar atrocities committed.” The government said that its initial denial of any wrongdoing was the result of “a biased account” of the events given by the sergeant responsible for the operation to his superior officers, including blaming separatist fighters for the deaths. It has now ordered his arrest. The human resources director in Cameroon’s Ministry of Defence, Colonel Joseph Ajang Sone, said: “Cameroonian defence and security forces, if they commit deviant acts during operations, are tried in military courts and they do not go unpunished.”

The wider conflict

The conflict has been driven by a fracture that runs through Cameroonian national cohesion: the Anglophone and Francophone division of the country that is the result of Cameroon’s unique colonial history. Many in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest provinces have felt marginalised by the dominant French-speaking bulk of the country. Until now, the linguistic diversity has proved to be more a source of division than strength but as we discuss on page 47, it could prove a long-term benefit by providing strong links with both English- and French-speaking parts of West and Central Africa, plus linguistic skills in the two most important European languages on the continent. Enthusiasm for secession or greater Anglophone autonomy has fluctuated over time but the current wave seems to have been triggered by protests in late 2016 over the deaths of Anglophone teachers and lawyers who were opposed by the security forces. In 2017 a number of Anglophone armed groups began attacking army posts in the two English-speaking regions and kidnapping government officials. The army intensified its operations in the Anglophone regions in an effort to suppress both the rebels and support for them. However, this seems to have encouraged support for full independence rather than just greater autonomy. Some of the secessionist groups want to set up an independ-

Above: Policemen patrolling a market in Buea, capital of the Anglophone Southwest region

ent state called Ambazonia. About 2-3,000 people have been killed in the fighting, while an estimated 700,000 others have been displaced. In the long run, the government may wish to reinstate the federal system that was in place until 1972 and which gave the Anglophone regions the right to control their own judiciary and police force, as well as perhaps reinstate a regional assembly. One Anglophone group, the Southern Cameroons Defence Forces unilaterally declared a ceasefire on 29 March while the coronavirus crisis was ongoing. However, more than a dozen other armed Anglophone groups did not join the ceasefire. One of them, the Ambazonia Governing Council, said that it feared that government forces that have not halted operations would take advantage of a wider ceasefire. The army is still patrolling the Northwest and Southwest and is searching for kidnapped government officials. Yaoundé’s stance on the February killings could result in attempts to revamp the army’s operations in the Anglophone areas, while its recognition of the wrongdoing could trigger a second look at other claimed atrocities by both sides in the conflict and in the battle in the far north of the country,

Any reduction in tensions between pro-government and secessionist forces should help the country cope with the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and associated economic fall-out.

where the army is engaged in a separate conflict against Islamist group Boko Haram. This is not the first time that the government has acted against its own armed forces. Seven soldiers were arrested in 2018 after two women and two children were killed in the far north. Their trial began behind closed doors this January.

Calming tensions

In December, the national parliament offered to give the Northwest and Southwest regions greater autonomy but it seems that most rebel groups now want either a federal system or secession. Government efforts to resist all change merely entrenched positions and resulted in more violence. However, more concessions, alongside the lines of the admission over the February killings, could act in the opposite direction – calming fears and encouraging a new round of talks that could eventually lead to a negotiated settlement. Any reduction in tensions between progovernment and secessionist forces should help the country cope with the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and associated economic fallout. We look at Cameroon’s battle against the virus on page 44. Moving towards a negotiated settlement could also help to boost the economy and create jobs, both in the Anglophone regions and across the country as a whole. The Covid-19 pandemic is already having a massive short-term effect on all economies but it seems likely that there could also be a much longer-lasting downturn. Planned iron ore and bauxite projects could face delays if international prices and demand do not recover soon. Given the role that China plays in demand for global commodities, it will be interesting to see how quickly the Chinese economy rebounds. We look at the wider economy on page 45.



The battle against Covid-19


ameroon has been more affected by the coronavirus pandemic than its Central African neighbours, although the official infection and death rates are much lower in the region than in Western Europe, for instance.

By 17 May, 3,300 confirmed cases and 147 deaths had been reported in Cameroon but it is difficult to make accurate comparisons because of a lack of testing across most of Sub-Saharan Africa. In common with most other countries, Cameroon began placing restrictions on social gatherings from March. The government closed all schools and banned nonessential travel but police were forced to intervene to disperse people from more than a dozen mosques in the country, where they had gathered during Ramadan in contravention of the government ban on large meetings. Cameroon’s Minister of Health, Manaouda Malachie, says that it is important that people of all faiths pray at home to protect themselves, their families and their communities. It is now mandatory to wear face masks, including for the military, with fines imposed on those not wearing them. The price of face masks rocketed after their use became compulsory but NGOs have tried to help in some areas by handing them out for free and providing hand-washing points where access to washing facilities is limited. As elsewhere in the world, prisoners have been released from their sentences early to avoid the disease spreading in what are confined spaces.

Refugee complications

Relatively few cases have been reported in the Northwest and Southwest, though this could be attributable to many reasons. However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees calculates that 400,000 refugees from other countries are living in Cameroon. During an epidemic it is particularly difficult to support people who are living in refugee camps and sheltering in more remote areas. According to Unicef, 255 out of the 7,421 health facilities in the Anglophone areas are not operating because of the conflict. UN secretary-general António Guterres said: “The fury of the virus illustrates the

Above: Workers making face masks in Yaoundé. The government has made it mandatory to wear them, with fines for not doing so

folly of war. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.” Cameroon’s National Medical Council has complained about the increasing number of attacks on medical staff associated with the crisis, with people either angry about being diagnosed with Covid-19 or upset at being told that their relatives have died of the coronavirus rather than because of something else. This suggests that there could be some stigma associated with diagnosis that the government may have to seek to correct. Some medical workers have been badly injured in the attacks and police intervention has been necessary on some occasions. There is also a cultural element, as some families have disapproved of the early burial of their loved ones that was deemed necessary to stop the spread of the virus. Health workers who sought to stop bodies being exhumed were attacked, while Health Minister Manaouda Malachie has sought to counter rumours that Covid-19 does not actually exist. Similar myths have spread around the world. The neighbouring countries of Chad, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea and

Gabon continue to block entry for Cameroonians. Truck drivers from Cameroon have been stopped at the border and their trucks disinfected before drivers from the destination country take over.

Easing lockdown

Yaoundé eased its lockdown measures on 1 May but is still encouraging social distancing by asking people to keep at least 1.5m from each other. The government is having to balance out precautionary measures to contain the spread of the virus as well as slowly opening up the economy and ensuring businesses can get back to work. Growth forecasts of 4% at the start of the year will have to be revised downwards although no official guidance has been given. The government has put in place a support package of approximately $400m helping businesses and the most vulnerable. To date, job losses seem to have been averted although it’s too early to say how damaging the global slowdown will be on the economy. Public transport services have resumed and restaurants can now open after 6pm. People are still required to wear face masks in public and hundreds of people have been arrested and fined for flouting the rules. This extends to any form of travel, so vehicles have been seized where the driver and occupants have not been wearing masks.

The economic impact of the coronavirus

A this year.

part from the terrible human cost, the Covid-19 crisis has had a huge impact on the Cameroonian economy, although the scale of the recession is only likely to become clear later

GDP will surely suffer a fall of historic proportions, while the collapse in oil prices will see a big drop in export revenues. A quick recovery could minimise the impact but it is possible that the economic effects will extend into next year and beyond. Despite Cameroon experiencing more recorded Covid-19 infections and deaths than any other country in Central Africa, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has suggested that it will suffer the least economic impact. Although oil accounted for 14% of government income in 2019, it is certainly less oil dependent than Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon or Equatorial Guinea. It remains to be seen how long-lasting the downturn will be.

This is important for the region as a whole, as Cameroon has the biggest economy in the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) region, with 39% of the block’s money supply and 24.7% of intra-community trade. In late April, credit ratings agency Fitch forecast that the Cameroonian economy would contract by 2.1% this year, as a number of infrastructural projects were delayed because of reduced access to finance. At the same time, lockdown measures severely affected construction, transport and trade activity. However, it expects a modest recovery of 2.8% in GDP next year, as long as the coronavirus crisis is brought under control, but allowing for continued security problems.

Government finances

The crisis has not had an entirely negative impact on government finances, as Yaoundé has saved money on fuel subsidies, while capital expenditure has been cut. However,

government debt as a proportion of GDP looks set to rise from 48% in 2020 to 60% next year, with the current account deficit widening from 3.7% of GDP in 2019 to 5.2% in 2020. At the start of May, the IMF agreed a $226m rapid credit facility for the government of Cameroon to help protect the country from the oil shock and support its balance of payments. It is hoped that donors will also help to plug the short-term funding gap. Mitsuhiro Furusawa, Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair of the IMF, said: “Cameroon is facing serious challenges from the twin Covid-19 pandemic and terms of trade shocks. Weak global demand, depressed commodity prices, and domestic containment measures weigh on the outlook, and are causing significant adverse economic and social effects. The shocks have given rise to substantial fiscal pressures and an urgent Below: Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital


balance of payments need.” The government has provided some support to cushion the financial impact of the crisis but its financial resources are limited. At the same time as its revenues have nose-dived, it has increased its health sector expenditure. Cameroon’s Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute has already announced financial support for companies and families in the form of tax forgiveness, higher pensions and increased family allowances but the economic strain on most people has been huge.

Africa Cup of Nations

Work has been suspended on developing many infrastructural projects associated with Cameroon hosting the Africa Cup of Nations. The event had already been moved from this summer until January 2021 at Cameroon’s request because of concerns over extreme weather but it seems likely that it will be postponed again. Given that Cameroon is heavily dependent on the export of raw materials, it is vital that trade volumes bounce back quickly after the coronavirus emergency subsides and that commodity prices recover. Analysts were a little surprised that oil prices recovered by about $10 a barrel over two weeks in the middle of May, with the markets appearing to regain a level of optimism. However, credit ratings agency Fitch forecasts an average Brent crude price of $35/barrel this year, down from $64.1/barrel last year.


Planned mining projects have already been delayed for a number of years because of lower international prices and the Covid-19 crisis could result in further delays. The biggest projects are Canyon Resources’ Minim Martap bauxite mine in Adamawa Region; and Sundance Resources’ MbalamNabeda iron ore project, close to the border with Congo-Brazzaville at the other end of the country. Regional logistics restrictions, such as the ban on Cameroonian truck drivers entering neighbouring countries, also need to be lifted or at least made to work more smoothly, if cargo volumes at the Cameroonian ports of Douala and Kribi are to recover. However, a global recession could delay investment decisions by potential tenants at Kribi’s new industrial zone.

Port of Kribi’s vital role

The port of Kribi, which lies 320km south of Douala, was originally developed to serve Chadian oil exports via the Chad-Cameroon pipeline but a container terminal is being added. Its deep-water harbour will be ideal for the export of iron ore and bauxite when commodity prices recover. The government is also keen to attract processing and manufacturing companies to the industrial zone to help diversify the economy. Kribi Port Authority selected Louis Berger – now known as WSP – to develop the enormous 26,000 hectare site, with water, power, telecoms and other infrastructure

Above: Timber being transported through Lobéké National Park in mid-2019. Lockdown measures have severely affected trade activity in Cameroon, including timber exports

on site and a modern port with container, bulk and breakbulk services able to export commodities and fi nished goods around the world. In the longer term, the government’s plan envisages the construction of a new city with up to 300,000 inhabitants by 2040. It also announced, earlier in the year, plans to develop a new technology hub in its capital by 2030. Cameroon has a thriving tech ecosystem in the country’s Southwest region that has produced groundbreaking innovations. The government is pushing ahead with its energy projects and is keen to ensure that the country has sufficient generating capacity to drive its economic and industrial ambitions. Most recently, on 7 May, the Ministry of Energy and Water called for expressions of interest for the contract to develop a 350MW gas-fired power plant in Limbé in the southwest of the country. The first electricity is expected in 2024. This appears to suggest that the existing memorandum of understanding on the project between Cameroon and the Eranove Group, which was signed in 2014, is no longer valid. In common with many other African governments, Yaoundé hopes to achieve universal electrification within a generation.

Benefits of being bilingual


long-term peace settlement could generate huge benefits for both the English and French-speaking parts of Cameroon. As well as saving lives, it would allow hundreds of thousands of displaced people to return to their homes, either from neighbouring Nigeria or from other parts of the country. It could also provide an opportunity for Cameroonians to change their perspective on their linguistic diversity and begin to see it as an economic and cultural advantage, rather than a schism that cannot be overcome. As trade levels rise across Africa and the service sector begins to compose a bigger share of the overall economy, having both French- and English-speaking parts of the country could prove a big strength that few other parts of Africa possess. Mauritius already makes the most of its dual colonial heritage, with the French and English proficiency of its citizens utilised in a range of different sectors, from tourism to banking. Cameroon is already Central Africa’s regional trade centre and it can build on that historic role. However, trade between French- and English-speaking parts of West and Central Africa is still far more limited than it should be, partly because of different legal and regulatory traditions but also because of the language barrier. At the same time, the European colonial powers created infrastructural and trade patterns, such as railway and road networks, that bound French-speaking territories together but isolated them from their Englishspeaking neighbours. Cameroon could act as a bridge between the two, particularly with regards to promoting trade between Francophone Africa and by far the most populous country in the region, Nigeria. There have already been small steps in this direction elsewhere in the region, with the Ghanaian ports of Tema and Takoradi attracting cargo exported from and shipped to the landlocked Francophone states of the Sahel that previously relied almost entirely on Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire. Both Central and West Africa need greater economic integration and here too Cameroon can act as a bridge between West Africa and the CEMAC zone.

Anglophone role in power trading

The English-speaking regions have a role to play in power sector integration between West and Central Africa. Nigeria’s power

sector problems have been well documented, with the country somehow unable to convert gas-to-power projects into reliable power supplies. Central Africa’s hydro potential could be tapped not only to provide electricity to people within the region but for export to the West African economic superpower. A lasting peace settlement between the government and Anglophone secessionist groups could help pave the way for the development of the 420MW Nachtigal hydro scheme on the Sanaga River, the largest river in Cameroon, 65km northeast of Yaoundé. Some power from the scheme could be exported to Nigeria, with the required 400kV interconnector passing through the Anglophone regions. Several new transmission lines are due to be built to take electricity from Nachtigal to different parts of the country, including one line to Bafoussam that could be extended to Nigeria. An Indian firm, Kalpataru Power Transmission, is to carry out the technical studies on the transmission projects. It will be interesting to see if electricity from the scheme will also be used to supply the

Central Africa’s hydro potential could be tapped not only to provide electricity to people within the region but for export to Nigeria, West Africa’s economic superpower.

A projected image of the Nachtigal hydroelectric dam on the Sanaga River, 65km north of Yaoundé. Construction is due to be completed in 2023

Northwest and Southwest regions. The hydro project is to be developed by Nachtigal Hydro Power Company (NHPC) under a Build Operate Transfer contract, with ownership transferring to the government after 35 years. NHPC is owned by French firm EDF, the International Finance Corporation and the government of Cameroon. A 2km-long dam with a height of 14m will be required to create a reservoir with the capacity for 27.8m cubic metres of water. The IFC is providing an equity investment of $70m, plus a $127m loan, while the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency are providing finance of $300m and $223m respectively. Construction is due to be completed in 2023 but has already been delayed several times. The same stretch of the Sanaga River hosts the Mbakaou and Lom Pangar hydro schemes. In the longer term, hydroelectricity from the Congo Basin could be transported through Cameroon, including the Anglophone regions, to Nigeria. The Grand Inga site near the mouth of the River Congo is widely considered to have the world’s biggest hydro potential. However, rather than focusing only on selling power to South Africa, supplying Nigeria, Cameroon and the rest of the region could make it commercially viable. n

Why do we Africans look up to outsiders to provide solutions to problems in our own house as if they live in it? Why have we become masters in copying and pasting blueprints from others instead of finding our own home-grown innovative solutions that work best for us?

Physician, heal thyself


frica has what it takes to be prosperous – abundant natural resources and a young, dynamic and educated population. There is an African joke that goes, “If you randomly throw a stone in Lagos you hit a professor”, literally meaning Africa is not short of intelligent, highly educated and capable people. Yet despite all these attributes, whenever we are faced with a problem – even when answers are right in front of us – nevertheless we rush to look for solutions elsewhere, as if foreigners have a magic wand that solves all our problems in an instant. Why do we stoop so low and think that anything foreign, from London, Paris, NYC or Beijing is a blueprint to solve African problems? Why do we keep extending ‘begging bowls’ to the IMF and World Bank – choking ourselves in debt – when we can leverage on our own abundant natural resources, much in demand on global markets? Why is it that we repeatedly sing hymns of praise for days unending when we receive assistance from foreign philanthropists and keep silent when our own sons and daughters at home and abroad do the same? Why do our leaders shun our healthcare systems, spending mil-

lions of dollars of taxpayers’ money seeking medical treatment abroad, leaving behind broken and decaying healthcare facilities? Why is it that when we are faced with a pandemic like Covid-19, we look down at anything African and shun even our own traditional medicines when we probably have a herbal solution right at our doorstep, or a weed in our garden which we could use as a remedy? It is said old habits are hard to break and new ones difficult to form. Behavioural patterns we repeat from time to time are literally etched in our neural pathways. The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do.”

Copy and paste

When the WHO declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, true to our old habits, we copied and pasted disaster response manuals developed in some Western capitals blindly hoping they would work in Africa. Some countries from whom we copy, the likes of the UK, France, the US, to name a few, have, ironically, performed disastrously – with insufficient epidemic prevention and response measures – resulting in them recording the highest numbers of deaths, more than the rest of the

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world combined. Figures don’t lie. To think that the mighty UK or the US, with enormous wealth, first-class healthcare systems, did not have adequate basic things like personal protective equipment (gowns, facial masks, gloves), ventilators and drugs, is mind-boggling. Yet despite all their glaring shortcomings we still look up to them for salvation.

Below: A lab technician at the Infectious Disease Unit of Nairobi’s Kenyatta National Hospital speaks to a man waiting to be tested for Covid-19


In the face of Covid-19, the initial response by our governments, and rightly so, was to place countries under lockdown. But it doesn’t require someone to drop from heaven and tell us that Africa needs to tweak these generic lockdown

Some countries we copy from – the likes of the UK, France and the US – have done disastrously, recording the highest fatality statistics.

mechanisms to suit our prevailing social and economic situations. Lockdowns have a short shelflife. We need to develop sustainable home-grown disaster response measures that are balanced, allowing us to control the spread of Covid-19, and enable our people to carry on with their livelihoods, albeit under certain practical and enforceable rules. Our economies are largely driven by small-scale agriculture in rural areas, and small to medium-size and informal businesses, mostly in towns. Informal businesses operate on a ‘hand to mouth’ basis and cannot survive long periods of inaction. The UK and US, as an example, have economies that can sustain shocks induced by lengthy periods of lockdown and can afford to dish out billions of dollars in social grants, unemployment benefits, business stimulus and rescue packages. The signs are already there in Africa that a continuation of restrictive measures, in the manner that they are being applied, is unsustainable and putting people on the edge, and could result in civil unrests and instability as people cannot eat if they don’t work.


Africa is riddled with glaring inequalities. It doesn’t require a rocket scientist to figure out that applying uniform Covid-19 control measures in suburbs, townships and informal settlements does not work. The Central Market in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, is a hive of activity with more than 3,000 tuck-shops, employing about 30,000 people and attracting thousands of traders and buyers a day. How do you apply WHO standards on social distancing or, to put it simply, keep one or two metres away from the next person in such a place? “If you live in a township, make a living in the informal sector, if you travel in a crowded bus, how do you self-quarantine?” asked Zimbabwean lawyer, Karsten Noko, on Al Jazeera’s online news feed in March. How do you observe basic hygiene recommendations like regularly washing your hands with soap and water, in a sprawling township like Chitungwiza in Zimbabwe,

known for its many water shortages?

Colonial mind-sets

Africans, are we brainwashed to the extent of believing that anything invented or made in Africa or anything to do with African culture or ‘African-ness’ is backward and should be abandoned? African author, scholar and philosopher, Professor Mandivamba Rukuni, in his article, ‘When the music changes, so does the dance’, has weighed in on this subject and hit the nail on the head, when he remarked that: “One area that is poorly researched, debated and published is herbal and natural remedies for such viruses [Covid-19]. “This is largely because of colonial and religious baggage and trauma that has made such important applications and discoveries a taboo. The coronavirus challenge is an example of times in which all those with herbal solutions capabilities – from professors to practitioners – come out with guns blazing, and put the natural solutions on the formal pathway. “Now we know for instance, that for almost every condition you may have, you probably have a herbal solution right at your doorstep, or ‘weed’ in your garden that you are not aware of as a remedy.” Despite our own capabilities, we continue looking for solutions from some professor or scientist hailing from Oxford or Johns Hopkins to come to Africa and prescribe what works and what doesn’t work for us! We live in vibrant communities in Africa, bound together by deep traditional values of Ubuntu, and we have traditional remedies, self-regulatory mechanisms and solutions that work for us in the face of adversities. Fellow Africans, we are judged by what we repeatedly do. There is an African adage that says, “If you don’t want to be called a thief, don’t steal.” We need a total mind-set shift and to start believing in ourselves and our capabilities and use our own innovative solutions, inventions, ideas and resources to solve our problems and to build the Africa we want.

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Covid-19 Around Africa Zimbabwe Mercifully, Zimbabwe’s infection and death rates from Covid-19 are so far very low but the economy, already labouring under the effects of drought, has been hit by the lockdowns. Worse, the IMF has decided it cannot advance any of the $50bn facility to help developing countries out of this crisis, to Zimbabwe. Story by Baffour Ankomah.

IMF hammers country already on its knees


othing is straight in Zimbabwe any more. Not even Covid-19 and all its discontents. After 20 years of Western economic sanctions imposed with the goal of stopping the land reform programme started in 2000, Zimbabwe has grown to accept that what is normal in other countries cannot be normal here. For example, low-income countries impacted by the coronavirus have been enjoying a $50bn facility from the IMF to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, but Zimbabwe, low-income as ever, does not qualify because it owes no debt to the IMF. Which is worse, paradoxically, because it owes a huge debt to the World Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the European Investment Bank (EIB), and other international financial institutions. So heads or tails, Zimbabwe loses, even though if any nation needs donor support to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, Zimbabwe does. The country announced its first coronavirus case on Friday 20 March. Health Minister Obadiah Moyo told the nation in a solemn televised address that a 38-year-old man, a resident of the tourist town of Victoria Falls, 880km southwest of the capital Harare, had travelled to Manchester, UK, on 7 March and returned on 15 March via South Africa, only to find that he had been infected while abroad. Even before this first case, the government – swayed by what was 50 new african june/july 2020

happening in Europe and elsewhere – had announced measures to contain the virus. This included the closure of schools, pubs, sporting events, church meetings of over 100 members and other public gatherings. Informal sector closed down Later, after the first two cases were announced in late March, the government imposed a travel ban and closed the country’s borders. A three-week national lockdown was also imposed, which was later extended twice (14 days each time), making it seven weeks in a row.  Announcing the second extension, President Emmerson Mnangagwa made the wearing of face masks in public spaces mandatory, even though at the time (end of April) the national tally stood at a merciful 34 positive cases, five recoveries, and four deaths. This was at a time when the US had recorded nearly 70,000 deaths, Italy 29,000 and Britain also 29,000. Zimbabwe’s four deaths were therefore very manageable. Thus, as part of the second extension, Mnangagwa allowed some strategic businesses (like mining and those in agriculture) to reopen but under strict conditions, even as he announced a ZW$18bn (US$60m) stimulus package to resuscitate the economy. However, government help to the needy was a bit non-committal (the President only directing vulnerable groups to “approach the Department of Social

Welfare to register for assistance”). Surprisingly, the informal sector where the largest percentage of Zimbabweans now earn their living remained closed. “As we plan to slowly return to a normal way of life,” the President explained, “it is important that we adopt a national strategy of possible exits from the lockdown, informed by the imperatives of Zimbabwe and its peculiarities. Our priority remains to reduce transmissions of Covid-19, and to gradually re-start the economy, without undermining the efforts to contain the pandemic.”   According to him, the lockdown had proved to be an effective strategy to curtail the spread of the virus, while measures such as mandatory quarantine and isolation of all returnees had been key in achieving the low infection figures.

Right: Workers for ZUPCO, the stateowned Zimbabwe United Passenger Company, cleaning a Harare bus rank on 1 April, during the initial lockdown

Life versus livelihood The worldwide debate of life versus livelihood had also been paramount in the government’s calculations. Was it to err on the side of reopening the economy or continue with the lockdown to save lives? The government erred on the side of life. “It is imperative,” the President said, “that our nation continues to act on two fronts, namely saving people’s lives on one hand, and saving the national economy on the other hand. Hence, we have gradually lifted lockdown restrictions in some sectors, such as mining and the

marketing of tobacco.” To him, the choice was not difficult to make. “The economy can be resuscitated but you cannot resuscitate dead people,” the President explained. “So we decided to save lives by imposing a lockdown instead of reopening the economy. We can always resuscitate the economy when the emergency passes.” Part of the “resuscitation” is the ZW$18bn Rescue and Stimulus

Package, which is equivalent to 9% of the country’s GDP or 28.6% of this year’s national budget. “This Stimulus Package is designed to scale-up production in all the sectors of the economy in response to the adverse effects of Covid-19,” the President said. “Concessional terms and conditions that include an interest rate of 10% per annum will apply. A grace period of six months and repayment periods varying from one to four

years, depending on the nature and scope of business to be financed, will be applicable,” he added. On the whole, Zimbabwe has been lucky that Covid-19 has largely spared the country the profound agony of burying thousands and thousands of citizens, as has happened in Europe and America. Maybe it was divine intervention. Because after 20 years of Western economic sanctions, Zimbabwe just does not have the medical

Covid-19 Around Africa Zimbabwe and financial resources to fight a major pandemic, like the current one that has brought sheer misery to the entire world.  The country’s medical service, starved of vital infrastructural and operational resources for two decades, is in intensive care itself, truth be said. For example, the number one Covid-19 referral facility in the country, Wilkins Hospital in Harare, only has 60 beds. Other facilities were later made available nationwide but treatment resources were always meagre. Therefore, if the virus had spread into the poor suburbs where people live cheek by jowl, it would have been a total disaster. At the time of going to press, Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 tally stood at 51 cases, 4 deaths, 18 recoveries; and the government had imposed an indefinite lockdown to be reviewed every two weeks.   IMF’s cruel game It is against this background that the playing of Zimbabwe by the IMF – a cruel game that has gone on intermittently for the last 20 years – callously took place. Zimbabwe cleared its $107.9m debt to the IMF in October 2016. But after President Mnangagwa was elected in July 2018, his new Finance Minister, Prof. Mthuli Ncube, who has been described uncharitably by his critics as the “IMF man in Harare” (ie, doing the IMF’s bidding at the expense of national interest), embarked on a programme, with the fervour of a zealot, to pay off other debts owed to the World Bank ($1.2bn) and the AfDB ($605m). This meant starving the country of vital financial resources to run domestic affairs, like repairing roads and providing water, fuel, and electricity – all of which have been in short supply since late 2018.    In March 2020, the IMF announced, as the coronavirus was approaching menacingly from Europe and the US (where Zimbabwe’s first cases came from), that Harare did not qualify for the $50bn IMF facility to cushion lowincome countries impacted by the coronavirus. Zimbabweans could 52 new african june/july 2020

financial institutions (IFIs). “Zimbabwe still has arrears to multilateral development institutions such as the World Bank, AfDB, and the European Development Bank,” Imam explained. “IMF rules do not permit us to provide financial support in these circumstances. Thus, before becoming eligible for financial support from the IMF, Zimbabwe will need to clear these arrears.”

After 20 years of Western sanctions, Zimbabwe just does not have the financial and medical resources to fight a major pandemic. not laugh or cry. Murky does not even begin to describe it. “The hypocrisy is staggering”, The Herald, Zimbabwe’s leading newspaper, thundered in an editorial comment on 16 April, referring the IMF to its own Article IV Report on Zimbabwe released in February 2020 in which the global lender pointedly remarked that: “While highly uncertain at this stage, it is clear that Covid-19 will adversely impact the economic outlook for Zimbabwe and [the country will] require additional health-related spending and international support.” Patrick Imam, the IMF country representative in Zimbabwe, explained that “the $50 billion facility provides grants to cover upcoming debt services to the IMF. Now given that Zimbabwe’s debt to the IMF is zero, there is no debt service to pay, and hence the facility would not be of any use.” Imam said the regular programmes that the IMF offered member countries severely impacted by Covid-19, such as the Rapid Credit Facility, were currently not available to any country that was in debt distress or had arrears to international

Above: President Mnangagwa made the wearing of masks in public spaces mandatory as the lockdown was extended for a second time, at the end of April Right: Adapting to the crisis – a police water cannon is used to spray an empty marketplace with disinfectant in Nkulumane township, Bulawayo

Embarrassingly deliberate gesture Imam’s explanation would be ridiculous in this bitterly serious time if it was not so embarrassingly deliberate. Interestingly, on the heels of his remarks came the news that Mthuli Ncube had written to the heads of the IMF, World Bank, AfDB, Paris Club and the European Investment Bank on 2 April, asking for debt relief and a $2.2bn bridging loan to clear the IFI debts. But by 7 May, Ncube had had no replies. Ncube told the media: “Domestic resources to allow the authorities to mitigate the impact of the pandemic are insufficient and access to external financing is severely constrained due to external debt arrears.” Zimbabwe’s debts to the IFIs outside the IMF stand at a staggering $8.1bn, and Ncube wants to reschedule them over 15 years, with a 5-year grace period. Much of the debt – $5.9bn – is accumulated arrears, penalties, and interest arrears. Which means the principal debt itself is just $2.2bn. This left George Guvamatanga, the permanent secretary of Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Finance, gasping: “It is very unfair for Zimbabwe to be locked out of support to deal with a global humanitarian crisis [Covid-19], which it did not create, especially considering that we were already on our own dealing with a drought and cyclone-induced crisis.” The lesson: Pay your debts but hold some resources back to cater for a bad day, like a coronavirus attack. NA

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Covid-19 Around Africa Kenya Kenya has so far had the most cases and fatalities in East Africa. It was among the first in Africa to impose a lockdown but beatings, some fatal, and harassment by security forces have left the population more fearful about the authorities than the disease. Report by Tom Collins.

Police harassment is growing concern


hree weeks after Kenya announced its first Covid-19 case on 13 March, the government moved to make face masks mandatory in public places, among other preventive health measures. In a matter of days, local manufacturing companies had pivoted to mass produce the protective gear and Kenya’s 54m inhabitants were kitted with bright and colourful face masks bearing mostly African designs.

Celebrities and models were soon photographed sporting designer face masks and the add-on to everyday day life has been adopted without complication. Kenya was one of the first African countries to introduce the measure on 4 April, followed by more than 15 others including Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia. More then 50 governments across the world have introduced the measure, notwithstanding

a notable lack of adoption by countries with the highest death rates, including the US and the UK. Although health experts differ on the masks’ effectiveness in combating Covid-19, it stands to reason that they will help prevent the spread of an infectious disease. New normal In other areas, Kenya – along with many African countries – made key interventions at the very outbreak of the virus which may yet spare it

some of the devastation witnessed in North America and Europe. Only two days after the first case was announced, President Uhuru Kenyatta banned international travel, suspended learning institutions and asked those able to work from home to do so. Salons, restaurants and bars were some of the first businesses closed as the government implemented strict social distancing and anti-gathering guidelines. As the number of infections rose steadily, a partial lockdown was introduced, including a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew and a ban on movement in and out of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kwale and Kilifi – the four counties worst hit by the deadly virus. As of 19 May, Kenya had 963 cases with 50 deaths. It has the most cases in East Africa – although concerns mount over unreported cases in neighbouring Tanzania – and is 16th on the list for the entire continent. Bucking the trend in Africa, Kenya decided in mid-May to prolong its lockdown by a further 21 days, to 6 June. “I know there is growing pressure to ease the measures put in place for all of us to get back to normal. Other countries eased their measures and later suffered as they witnessed a spike in the rate of infections,” Kenyatta said on 16 April, addressing the nation. Ghana was the first African country to ease restrictions, citing economic ruin otherwise, for a population with 90% of its citizens working in the informal sector. South Africa, Rwanda and Nigeria, among others, have tentatively followed suit. According to government statistics, 83% of Kenya’s population makes a living in the informal sector. Governments are torn between minimising the spread of the deadly virus, and preventing economic hardship that may cause even more deaths in the context of lowerincome countries, experts have warned. Elsewhere, the US and many European countries are easing

Opposite: Soldiers checking for movement permits at a Nairobi border point in late April. Movement in and out of Nairobi was banned except for food supplies and other cargo

restrictions, though cautionary tales from Singapore and South Korea warn of the dangers of a ‘second wave’ of infections. Ghana has seen a fivefold increase in positive cases since it lifted its lockdown on 20 April. With only six months of Covid-19 data available, best practice can only be established in by avoiding wild deviations from the norm, as seen in Tanzania and Burundi, which have both shown active disregard for the virus. However, Kenya has underperformed in the number of tests conducted, compared to Africa’s leading testers. Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said that Kenya is currently conducting an average of 600 tests per day and it has trained 100,000 healthcare workers to fight Covid-19, none of whom have succumbed to the virus. This brings the total number of tests to almost 44,000 as of 17 May. The two leading testers in Africa, South Africa and Ghana, have conducted 461,000 and 160,000 tests respectively. Kenya has blamed its failure on supply chain issues like the lack of nasal swabs to take human samples, while its critics believe the delay is costing lives. “You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. We cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected,” said World Health Organisation Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Long shadow While the government has introduced a raft of measures to combat the virus, the heavy-handed enforcement of these measures has cast a long shadow over any positive steps taken. Prior to the implementation of the 7pm to 5am curfew on 27 March, security forces fanned out in urban centres like Nairobi and Mombasa to crack down on any commuter caught out by the new directive. What followed was a night of beatings and harassment as the police and the army used the occasion to brutalise the population.

Scenes from Mombasa’s Likoni Ferry showed the police using sticks and gunshots to violently disperse a crowd waiting to use the ferry system to cross over to the mainland, where many who work in the city live. The Washington Post reported that on the fourth night of the curfew, Kenyan police accidentally killed a 13-year-old boy named Yassin Hussein Moyo, who was standing on his balcony when he was hit by a ricocheting bullet from indiscriminate fire in the neighbourhood below. On 16 April, the same paper reported that Kenyan police had killed at least 12 people: more than Covid-19 at the time. Kenyans live in fear of being caught out past the curfew, when heavily-armed police and the army take to the streets to harass and extort money from any unlucky traveller who is stopped by the blockades. Charles Warria, chief operations and learning officer at iGov Africa, told a webinar panel hosted by the Kenyan publication The Elephant that the security forces have failed to differentiate their response from that to the 2007-2008 election violence, which posed a fundamentally different existential threat. “We are not in a state of emergency, there is absolutely no need to deploy all manner of society apparatus to block the roads,” he said. “We are in a state of emergency response.” Elsewhere, citizens fear being taken to one of the government’s infamous quarantine facilities, where people are forced to live in squalid conditions and must pay exorbitant fees before being released. The New York Times reported that despite testing negative for Covid-19 on three separate occasions, Valentine Ochogo was held for a further 32-days after her initial 14-day quarantine period until she paid $434 in fees. She was eventually freed after managing to reduce the payment to $65. “I got really lucky,” she said. NA june/july 2019 New African 55

Covid-19 Around Africa Ethiopia With a population in excess of 100m, both infection and death rates from Covid-19 are remarkably low. The country was quick to clamp down on transmission routes but the additional loss of income and jobs could create a febrile political atmosphere. Report by James Jeffrey.

Toxic mixture of idle hands and empty pockets


thiopia reported its first Covid-19 coronavirus case on 13 March. The infected individual was later identified as a Japanese citizen. Ten days later the Ethiopian government announced the closure of the country’s land borders. By 8 April, the government declared a fivemonth State of Emergency (SOE) to help limit the spread of the virus. Despite such dramatic actions – or perhaps partly because of them – so far, like most of the rest of Africa, Ethiopia is faring reasonably well, all things considered. Of the 352 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Ethiopia – as at 19 May – there have been 116 recoveries and five deaths. The positivetest rate remains below 1% – an enviable statistic compared to many countries: in the US at the start of April that rate reached 21% – and there are no reports of surges. But it is estimated that the country’s number of Covid-19 cases will likely peak in June or July, leaving plenty of time for the situation to change dramatically. Ethiopia has just one doctor for every 10,000 people, according to the World Bank – half the ratio for neighbouring Kenya, four times less than that for Nigeria and nine times less than that for South Africa. There are already increasing cases of community spread, with officials warning that complacency could undermine containment. As a result, despite current low numbers, the fear remains that Ethiopia’s weak health infrastructure could 56 new african june/july 2020

easily become overwhelmed by a major surge in cases. “I’m sceptical of the Ethiopia numbers and the very short briefings given every day by the Ministry of Health,” says Elias Gebreselassie, a freelance journalist based in the capital Addis Ababa. “Many of us fear the worst of Ethiopia’s coronavirus situation is yet to come, given the government’s and the public’s half-hearted gestures seemingly slowly dying out. The mood of many people is strangely semi-fatalistic, with lacklustre adherence to private and public health measures,” he adds. But while such scepticism of governmental transparency has a fair grounding given Ethiopia’s past, there is an argument that it may not be warranted in the case of Covid-19. “In a society like ours there’s simply no way this could be kept secret,” Berhanu Nega, an Ethiopian opposition leader, recently told the media. Increased powers Gebreselassie grants that the government has been swift to act in Addis Ababa, reportedly detaining 1,305 people for not wearing masks when they should have been. The SOE gives the government and security forces increased power to impose limitations. In addition to the mandatory wearing of face masks in certain situations, other measures being enforced range from the banning of handshakes and all meetings of four of more people, to the closure of schools, bars,

cinemas, theatres and nightclubs. Addis Ababa Bole International Airport and other international ports of arrival have put in place additional measures to screen passengers arriving, departing or transiting through Ethiopia, such as temperature measurements and checks on recent travel to affected areas. All passengers arriving in the country are now subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine

in hotels designated by local authorities. But coordinating effective Covid-19-related counter-measures around the entire country, with a population in excess of 100m, is another matter. “People are concerned, and at the same time much of the public appears to be downplaying the seriousness of the disease, which is making the days ahead both scary and problematic,” says Elias Meseret, another Addis Abababased journalist. Ethiopia is a deeply religious

country and the world’s secondoldest practitioner of Christianity after Albania. As a result, there are reports that many Ethiopians assume God will protect them from the disease, an outlook susceptible to confirmation bias due to the small number of local cases so far. For now, most of Covid-19’s impact in Ethiopia is unrelated to public health. Civil society and the

Below: A cleaner in protective gear waiting to disinfect a metro carriage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

economy have borne the brunt of its fallout thus far. After Covid-19 arrived in Ethiopia, there were reports of abusive behaviour towards foreigners – with foreigners blamed for bringing the virus into the country – including a small number of cases of assault. The situation led to the Ethiopian government having to issue a stark warning to citizens to refrain from attacking foreigners. Ethiopia’s important flower export industry has been detrimentally affected. After Europe was hit with the coronavirus, the demand for flowers plummeted and the price dropped by more than 80%. A total of 150,000 employees in this industry are also at the risk of losing their jobs. Ethiopian Airlines, the country’s flag carrier, reports that it’s working at only 10% of its capacity, and has reported a loss of $550m in the months of January to April 2020. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimates that Covid-19 will shave 2.9% off Ethiopia’s economic growth for the fiscal year 2020. Mitigating economic fallout The Ethiopian government has taken actions to try mitigating the economic fallout for ordinary Ethiopians. Landlords have been banned from evicting or increasing rents for their private tenants during the SOE. All commercial and private employers are prohibited from reducing their workforces or prematurely terminating employment contracts. Ethiopia is receiving outside assistance also. This has included the diaspora coming to the fore, with Ethiopian doctors based in places harder hit by the virus, like the US, offering hard-earned advice and guidance remotely. The US government has announced a $37m assistance package to bolster case management, infection prevention and control, laboratory strengthening, public health screening, and communications and

media campaigns. “As we have done time and time again, the United States will continue to support others during their time of greatest need,” US ambassador to Ethiopia Michael Raynor said at the start of May. “Both during and after this crisis, we will remain steadfastly alongside our Ethiopian friends and partners to help build a brighter future for all Ethiopians.” The political implications of Covid-19 remain to be seen, though they are already playing out. The highly anticipated general election, set to be held on 29 August 2020, has been postponed, with the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia temporarily ceasing all activities related to it. The election is regarded as an important test of the reformist agenda of Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, as he seeks to break away from the country’s past authoritarian tendencies. Previous elections in Ethiopia have been marred by allegations of rigging and intimidation. The International Crisis Group’s Ethiopia analyst, William Davison, has told the media that Abiy’s ruling party should use the extra time to discuss “critical topics” – including how to make the elections free and fair – with opposition parties. “Although the circumstances are deeply worrying, the delay does offer an opportunity to reset Ethiopia’s troubled transition,” Davison says. Ethiopia’s fault lines were already looking more precarious before Covid-19 arrived, with Abiy increasingly struggling to position himself as a unity candidate whose reforms could replace repression as the necessary glue holding Ethiopia’s often fractious federal regions together. Now, more than 26m Ethiopian students are affected by school closures due to the coronavirus, according to UNICEF. Ethiopia can ill-afford more disgruntled youths swelling its unemployed numbers, further adding to the government and country’s challenges. NA june/july 2019 new african 57

Egypt Although Egypt is currently second only to South Africa in the number of infections in Africa, rapid and well thought-out measures appear to have stemmed the tide of new infections without causing major upheavals during the holy month of Ramadan. Report by Ahmed Fouad.

Soft approach seems to be winning strategy


urrently, Egypt comes second in Africa, after South Africa, in terms of the numbers of people infected with Covid-19. However, its experience in combating the outbreak of the virus may later turn into a model for many neighbouring countries which are similar in terms of population structure and medical system capacities. According to officials, the first case involved a Chinese man, in his mid 30s, residing in Egypt. It is believed he became infected by a Chinese female who was on a business trip to Egypt in early February. This was before the Egyptian authorities banned flights to and from China. Since then, the Egyptian authorities have taken progressive steps to counter the outbreak of the virus. In addition to the gradual transformation of 47 hospitals specialising in the treatment of fevers and chest issues nationwide into isolation hospitals, the Egyptian government closed down schools and universities on 15 March. On 19 March, the Egyptian government decided to reduce the working hours of restaurants and cafes; they had to be closed at 5pm although home delivery services were allowed throughout the day. Despite the measures, the total confirmed cases continued to increase gradually, to 402 cases on 24 March. The government subsequently 58 new african june/july 2020

decided to impose a partial night curfew from 7pm until 6am for a period of 15 days, starting from 25 March, allowing only physicians, pharmacists, police and armed forces officers and home delivery workers to move during the curfew hours. Since then, the ban has been extended three times, by a new period of 15 days on each occasion. The curfew hours were reduced, with a start time of 8pm, and subsequently 9pm for the beginning of Ramadan on 24 April. Also, on 25 March the government announced the suspension of work in some of its headquarters and service-providing centres, such as the state registries, passport offices and traffic facilities in charge of renewing and issuing driving and vehicle licences. The courts and prosecution headquarters were also closed. Along with the governmental measures, the private sector reduced the number of inhouse employees, expanding the dependence on remote working via the internet in sectors where this was possible.

Infection and other rates

The governmental and private measures combined to help create a 40% decline in the movement of Egyptians in the streets during the first 15 days of implementing the curfew and reduced working hours, according to Google data and statistics obtained by the

Right: A volunteer at work distributing water, food and juice to fasting drivers in Egypt’s Menoufia Governorate during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan

government and announced, on 2 May, by the Egyptian Minister of Health. Evaluating governmental and private sector measures to reduce crowds and encourage social distancing depends on exploring many factors, such as the infection rate (R), which is the average rate at which the virus is transmitted from infected cases to other areas during the period of precautionary measures (which is the most important criterion, according to many experts in epidemic control). Other factors include recovery and mortality rates. The infection rate during the period 9-24 March (the 15 days prior to imposing the precautionary measures), amounted to 7.31 new cases per patient, as the total number of patients increased in that period from 55, on 9 March, to 402, on 24 March. In other words, each of the first 55 cases transmitted the infection to about 7.31 new cases, bringing the total number to 402. After seven weeks of imposing the curfew and the protective measures, the average 15-day infection rate declined by 72.6% from 7.31 to 2, as the total number of patients increased from 5,537 cases, on 30 April, to 11,228, on 15 May. In this context, Islam Annan, a professor of epidemiology at Ain Shams University, believes that recording ‘zero’ cases isn’t related to the decline of numbers of infected people as much as being related

to infection rates. He said: “A country may record 1,000 cases in a day, but thanks to the precautionary measures and social distancing, the infection rate may reach 0, so that those cases won’t transmit infection to others, and subsequently the disease may end completely”. Regarding the situation in Egypt, Annan said: “The infection rate in Egypt is promising in light of its continuous decline, but measures must be developed to lead to further declines in shorter periods, so as to make sure that the increase in cases won’t put pressure on the medical sector in Egypt.” The precautionary measures, including the expansion of converting fever and chest hospitals into isolation hospitals, contributed to improving the capacity of the health sector in Egypt to treat patients. The recovery rate increased from 24.9%, on 24 March, to 30%, on 15 May, when 3,363 patients had recovered from a total of 11,228 infected cases, while the daily recovery numbers reached the peak of 173 patients leaving isolation hospitals and centres on 15 May; when it had been 12 patients on 24 March. The average mortality rate

decreased to 5.9% of the total cases on 8 May, as the total deaths came to 503 of 8,476 total cases. The mortality rate had reached its peak on 23 April, at 7.4%. Khaled Mujahid, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, attributed this to the expansion of the use of more efficient treatments such as the Japanese flu drug Avigan and a treatment protocol approved by Egypt that includes the drug Tamiflu with a number of immunity-boosting medicines.

Onus laid on citizen responsibility

Despite the promising figures concerning infection, recovery and mortality rates, fears grew that the Egyptian health system would not be able to deal with spikes in the number of new infections. On 8 May, Hala Zayed, the Minister of Health, announced that infected persons placed in isolation hospitals had nearly occupied all the available capacity. Zayed therefore announced, on the same day, arrangements for 33 new fever and chest hospitals to work as isolation wards from the beginning of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan on 23 May.

Also, there is a worry that a great deal of precautionary measures depend on citizens being aware of risks and applying appropriate safety measures. The government has been reluctant to resort to punitive or heavy-handed measures on violators given the fact that the holy month of Ramadan is traditionally a time for people to visit each other. The Egyptian State Information Service had announced that Egypt had conducted about one million tests to detect those infected with the coronavirus, including the use of 105,000 PCR diagnoses, 105,000 respiratory virus swabs and 790,000 rapid tests. Those million tests have been conducted for 900,000 suspected of being infected, either from being in contact with infected persons or being returnees from abroad as part of the government’s campaign to bring all stranded citizens back. Egypt banned flights to and from the country on 19 March, as a part of the precautionary measures. So far, the rapid and flexible approaches taken by the authorities have succeeded in severely reducing the spread of the disease without causing the populace undue hassle or mass losses of livelihood. NA

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Uganda Tough lockdown measures taken early and enforced vigorously have so far kept Covid-19 infections low and there have been no reported deaths. But will discipline hold as the economic downturn begins to bite?

Will discipline hold as economy bites?


ganda, like its neighbour Rwanda has so far emerged unscathed from the virus, despite infections. At midMay, it had 248 cases but no deaths and 63 people had recovered. Uganda imposed an initial 14-day lockdown from 30 March, urging people to stay indoors, but did not go so far as a full shutdown. It closed its borders except in the case of trucks ferrying essential goods to the landlocked country. Shops and supermarkets selling food as well as pharmacies were allowed to remain open and people could move about on foot but only in groups of five at most. Shopping malls and businesses selling non-food items were ordered to close. Factories could open as long as the workers remained on the premises. The use of private vehicles was also banned to prevent people from making a beeline for the countryside, as poorer people saw better chances of survival in their home villages than in the cities, where most live hand-tomouth and need to work every day to feed themselves. President Museveni, in a TV address to the people, explained: “I would have given the public time to adjust but a longer time would enable people to go to the villages and in so doing they would transfer the very sickness we’re trying to prevent.” The enforcement of the lockdown and curfew was undertaken by the police and Local Defence Units commanded by the military. As happened in Kenya, the units resorted to heavy-handed methods, violently clearing the streets of people. In the face of growing public

60 new african june/july 2020

Right: A community leader addressing local residents on how to curb Covid-19 from the top of a building in Kampala

anger at this treatment, General David Muhoozi, Chief of the Defense Forces of Uganda apologised publicly, saying the action was “highhanded, unjustified and regrettable” and promised that the offending officers would be dealt with. In the meantime, the government said it would provide food to those who most needed it. Parliament urgently passed a supplementary budget of Ush60bn (approx. $19m) for the government to buy food. However, he said that only the appropriate government agencies would be allowed to distribute food.

Opportunistic politicians?

There was criticism that the distribution of food was too slow and also, reports that some officials had been pilfering substantial quantities of items like flour for their own use. Opposition leaders Kizza Besigye and Bobi Wine organised food deliveries to people who had lost their incomes but earned the ire of the President, who accused them of indulging in “cheap politics”. “I direct the police to arrest the opportunistic and irresponsible politicians who tried to distribute food,” he said. “Anybody arrested

in that effort will be charged with attempted murder.” Uganda’s next general election is scheduled for February 2021 but Museveni has said that if the virus threat persists, it may have to be postponed. “To have the election when the virus is still there would be madness,” he said. The 75- year-old President will be running against at least 24 other candidates. On 4 May, having already extended the lockdown once, Museveni extended it for another 14 days, but eased some of the 35 restrictions that had been in place. Wholesalers, hardware shops and warehouses would be allowed to open, but have to observe social distancing principles of two metres and the use of masks. Museveni said that metal and woodwork shops would be open and insurance providers would be added to the list of essential services, The Uganda Law Society would be allowed to have 30 lawyers at any one time to handle urgent matters. The issue of truck drivers remains a thorny one in East Africa, especially for landlocked countries that depend heavily on trucks for vital goods as well as exports. In midMay, out of 203 confirmed cases, 143 were cross-border truck drivers. The Ministry of Health has announced that only drivers who test negative will now be allowed to enter the country. As we went to press, the ramifications of the economic slowdown were getting serious and it was expected that the country would lift more restrictions during the months of May and June. NA

Rwanda Very early and decisive action to shut in the country and impose a lockdown has so far paid off for Rwanda in terms of few infections and no deaths. But the economy is hurting.

Rapid response stalls virus march


wanda, like its neighbour Uganda, has so far been one of a very small handful of countries to report coronavirus infections but no deaths. Rwanda, in fact, was the first African country to impose a ban on all commercial air traffic, from 19 March, making it among the earliest in the world to do so. Two days later, on 21 March, it followed this up by shutting down its borders with its neighbours Burundi, Uganda, DRC and Tanzania, except for goods and cargo – a vital lifeline for this landlocked East African country. It also imposed a nationwide lockdown on the same day and closed its three national parks, home to world-famous communities of gorillas and chimpanzees. Rwanda’s economy depends heavily on tourism and international conferences but according to the authorities, the dangers posed to its wildlife from the virus made it imperative for them to close down the parks. At any rate, it also applied a travel ban on all except returning Rwandans, who were subject to 14 days of quarantine. The wearing of face masks is mandatory and a programme of mass screening and testing is going on. President Paul Kagame, who has won the reputation of being a man of measured action, said: “We are not taking any chances. We are doing what we can to rein in this pandemic.” During the lockdown, the government put into action a social

ensued and police resorted to using force to establish some sort of law and order.

Partial easing of lockdown

Top: Boardingschool students washing their hands before returning home after the closure of all schools in mid-March Right: People standing in spaced circles to observe social distancing rules as they wait for a bus in Kigali on 4 May

protection programme to deliver free food to at least 20,000 households in the capital, Kigali. Kagame told the nation: “We know that this is not an easy period for most Rwandans, whose livelihoods have been interrupted across the country. But we ask you to be patient. Although we are making good progress, we cannot afford to relax yet.” Reports suggest that the President himself was with some of the teams delivering food to households under lockdown. Rwanda’s approach has contrasted sharply with incidents in Kenya when free food, donated by individuals and companies, was trucked to slum areas and people invited to come for it. This resulted in pandemonium as a scramble

The government announced a partial easing of the lockdown from 4 May. “Public and private businesses will resume work with essential staff while other employees continue working from home. The manufacturing and construction sectors will open with essential workers,” said a communiqué issued by Prime Minister Édouard Ngirente after a cabinet meeting. “Markets will open for essential vendors not exceeding 50% of registered traders. Hotels and restaurants will open and close by 7pm, but meetings in public spaces and mass gatherings are prohibited,” it said. Under the new guidelines, a curfew was introduced, preventing movement from 8pm to 5am, and funeral gatherings were restricted to not more than 30 people, although using public or private transport between different provinces and the city of Kigali is not permitted. Schools, the government said, will remain closed until September. This would also apply to places of worship, bars and recreation centres. Speaking to The Financial Times, President Kagame said African countries need at least $100bn this year alone to recover from the shock of the pandemic and its effects on their economies. He said the amount was “a fraction of what wealthy countries are already injecting into their economies with the stroke of a pen.” NA

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South Africa Although South Africa had the highest rates of both Covid-19 infections and deaths, swift consensus-forming and action by President Ramaphosa appears to have nipped the epidemic in the bud. But a blanket lockdown and heavy-handed enforcement is hitting ordinary people the hardest. How long will they accept it for? Mushtak Parker reports.

Ramaphosa walks a tightrope


hen historians look back and assess the Covid-19 mitigation response of governments around the world, then South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration will no doubt feature at the top end of the rankings. He has won plaudits from political friends and foes at home and organisations such as UNAIDS and the WHO for the decisiveness and inclusiveness of his government’s measures to combat the health and socioeconomic impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19). On 11 March, the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic and a week later Ramaphosa met leaders of the 14 parties represented in Parliament, building a crossparty consensus on fighting and containing the spread of the disease. “All leaders agree that Covid-19 poses a real threat to the lives, livelihoods and prosperity of our people. Our country finds itself in an extreme situation that requires extraordinary measures. All state institutions will be mobilised, but if we are to succeed, every company, trade union, NGO, university, college, school, religious group and taxi association will need to play its part,” declared the President. Five days earlier, on 5 March, the health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize confirmed the country’s first case of Covid-19, in Kwazulu-Natal province. Ramaphosa immediately established a National Command Council chaired by himself “to coordinate all aspects of our 62 new african june/july 2020

extraordinary emergency response.” He also declared a National State of Disaster to “enable us to have a coordinated disaster management mechanism that will focus on preventing and reducing the outbreak of Covid-19.” South Africa has been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic while it is in recession. In March, Statistics South Africa confirmed that the country had slipped into its second recession in two years in the final quarter of 2019, when the economy shrank 1.4%, following a revised 0.8% contraction in Q3. GDP growth in 2019 registered 0.2% compared with 0.8% in 2018, making last year the annus horribilis for the South African economy. Minister of Health Mkhize advised on 11 May that the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases had passed the 10,000 mark to reach 10,652, with a total of 356,067 tests conducted; and sadly, 206 Covidrelated deaths.

Slowdown in rate of infection

In the fortnight up to 10 April, South Africa saw an unexpected slow-down in the daily rate of infections. Was President Ramaphosa justified in suggesting that this was due to the two-week lockdown, which was extended to the end of the month? The lockdown started on 27 March, restricting all South Africans – apart from essential services workers – to their homes. Ramaphosa’s restrictions were aimed at containing the internal transmission of the pathogen and its

wider societal, economic and health impact. The measures announced by President Ramaphosa from 15 March were comprehensive. The government imposed travel bans on foreign nationals from high-risk countries; cancelled visas to visitors from those countries; banned South Africans from travelling to high-risk countries; required South Africans returning from high-risk countries to undergo testing and self-isolation; strengthened surveillance, screening and testing measures at the country’s 72 ports of entry (land, sea and air), closing 43; and stopped all government non-essential foreign and domestic travel. The government encouraged social distancing by banning gatherings of over 100 people; cancelled mass celebrations; closed schools until after the Easter weekend; and required all businesses, industries, shopping malls and entertainment centres to intensify hygiene control. It increased capacity at all designated hospitals and for contact tracing processes; partnered with the private sector to set up a national tracking, tracing and monitoring system for all people infected with Covid-19 and those they have been in contact with; and launched a communication campaign on good hygiene and effective prevention behaviour. “We are calling for a change of behaviour amongst all South Africans,” maintained Ramaphosa. The economic impact of Covid-19 includes a decline in exports, tourist arrivals, production,

A South African National Defence Force soldier frisking a man during a lockdown patrol in Johannesburg

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South Africa

the viability of businesses, job retention and job creation. Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s R500bn (US$26.91bn) stimulus package is complemented by a R300bn monetary package announced by the South African Reserve Bank, bringing the total economic response to R800bn. The response included a R20bn boost for the health budget; and R50bn towards the relief of hunger and social distress. The measures include topping up several grants including child support and providing assistance for companies and workers through a set of tax reliefs and payment deferments. There is also a R200bn loan guarantee scheme for firms and the phased re-opening of the economy, conditional on businesses installing a screening and testing system and providing a safe environment. “Growth will not recover immediately. The longer it remains weak, the greater the risk of permanent destruction of economic capacity,” said Mboweni. “This has serious implications for income of households and firms. Global weakness further compounds these growth effects, 64 new african june/july 2020

South Africans have been told to prepare for living with the threat of Covid-19 for a year or longer, even as restrictions are eased. alongside the impact of a weaker currency and higher borrowing costs. Unsustainable state-owned enterprises are putting great pressure on the budget. While we are aware of the need for a shortrun enormous intervention, we must ensure that our choices do not mortgage our future,” he added.

Heavy-handed approach?

Some have criticised the heavyhanded enforcement of the lockdown. Ramaphosa knows that it was unsustainable indefinitely, because “our people need to eat and to earn a living. Companies need to produce, trade and to generate revenue and keep their employees in employment.” After 30 April, the country began a gradual and phased recovery of economic activity, balancing “the need to resume economic activity

Above: A soldier assisting citizens at a food distribution point in Diepsloot, Johannesburg

with the imperative to contain the virus and save lives.” Ramaphosa also urged citizens to “wear a face mask whenever you leave home”. The all-party consensus started to crumble after the initial lockdown period had passed and been extended. The Democratic Alliance opposition, and various interest groups, want the lockdown relaxed immediately because it is deemed ineffective, especially in the townships and informal settlements, and is starving the Treasury of much-needed revenues. They want greater involvement by the private sector in delivering economic recovery. The economic cost of lockdown is estimated at between R13-R20bn a day; the tax shortfall at around R285bn; and job losses between 3-7m. But, the spectre of race always lurks in the psyche of South Africans. Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane caused a stir when she insisted on the use of Black Economic Empowerment as part of the criteria for allocating the government’s R200m emergency funding for the tourism sector. The DA also objects to the continued ban on alcohol during the lockdown because of the tax loss to the Treasury. The idea behind the ban was to stop drink-driving, drunken fights and socialising and to free up vital hospital beds.  South Africans have been told to prepare for living with the threat of Covid-19 for a year or longer, even as restrictions are being eased. Ramaphosa has promised to “introduce new measures to make contact tracing more effective. We will need to implement mass sanitisation of workplaces, public transport and other spaces.”  A survey conducted by Victory Research in April showed that initially, 77% of South Africans supported Ramaphosa’s lockdown. However, less than 40% supported an extension of the lockdown past 30 April. People are feeling the pinch as the lockdown affects them economically and over half of those surveyed said they could only pay for essentials for three weeks or less during lockdown. NA

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In the midst of the pandemic that has brought grief to so many, our columnist finds new ways to be thankful and seize hope from despair.

New hope rises from embers of despair


n this harrowing time of a global pandemic, we have all been throttled into a space of unnerving uncertainty and unshakeable angst, amongst other feelings that are quite difficult to process and articulate. As I sit in the discomfort, seeking ways to adjust to the ‘new normal’, I find myself oscillating between incredulity and utter fear for my sanity and physical health. In an effort to curtail the virus’ spread and flatten the curve, we have all been forced to spend an inordinate and most uncomfortable amount of time in our homes. We’re on lockdown; our freedom of movement is limited to the grocery store; we can’t spend time with our loved ones. As I consider the impact that these restrictions have had on me, I can’t help but think of those without the means to cope with the silence in the streets and the stoppage of various industries - those who have gone hungry, and those who have lost their sources of income. I can’t stop thinking about the doctors whose lives have been rendered dispensable as they are placed on the frontlines of the war against a virus whose epidemiology we are yet to uncover. The heart-wrenching reality of

the majority of South Africans who suffer at the hands of the nation’s inequality is overwhelming and has been ever more exposed during this time. The collective trauma that we are going through is shaking us at our core as we find ways to navigate a life ruled by disquiet, but I have been able to find glimpses of hope in the dark valley. There are things that I have discovered about myself, other people and life itself that I could have only learned in a crisis such as this.

A grim kaleidoscope of loss

Working from home is a luxury only available to a minority of South Africans who are in the formal work sector. The majority of South Africans and foreign nationals are informal workers who depend on daily and weekly jobs for a source of income. In the wake of the lockdown, many have been displaced; they have been pushed deeper into poverty and under-employment. The picture is grim as sorrow-laden families stand in long queues to receive food packages. The loss of a livelihood that was already precarious before the lockdown is a burden that weighs heavily on many South African householders,

66 new african june/july 2020


Kelebogile Motswatswa

who have lost the ability to provide for their families. About eight million South Africans depend on welfare support, as many of them live under the poverty line. The South African government has increased social grants to assist those who are poor but one can only hope that this adjustment of the social grant system remains in place even after the lockdown period, since there’ll be time needed for the economy to recover. As we grapple with the virus and its effects, this is the perfect time for us to reassess our attitudes to poverty, inequality and unemployment. Social grants are much-needed in the short term, but what of long-term solutions?

The biggest loss is connection. We were created for community and without the dinners, gatherings and live shows, there is not much to give us energy or comfort if needed.

How do we address inequality in a way that radically changes the status quo? The lockdown has afforded us the opportunity to ask these questions more urgently. The government’s response has revealed that the political will to act exists, it just needed to be brought to life. Two weeks into the lockdown, I started to experience a deep and consuming sense of loss, and it was difficult to make sense of what was going on inside of me. While I have been affected financially by the state of the industry within which I operate, I still have a roof over my head and food to give me the nourishment I need

to meet my work obligations. But, the sense of grief has proven too stubborn to soothe. I’ve spent my therapy sessions uncovering my losses during this time, losses I believe many of us can relate to. The biggest loss is connection, especially for those of us who live alone. We were created for community and without the dinners, church gatherings and live music shows, there is not much to give us energy or comfort when it is needed. Something else that has been affected is my sanctuary. For many, home is a place of rest; it’s where you unwind after a long day of meetings and productivity. Currently, home is where we work, have

Below: A teacher poses for a portrait at her Johannesburg home after receiving food and cleaning products distributed by an NGO. Inequality issues in South Africa have been ever more exposed during the crisis

meetings, go to church and sleep. The commute from work to home enabled us to transition from work mode to rest mode; it has become difficult to make that transition and now home has been corrupted, somewhat, especially because not everyone has a home office. Many parents are now being forced to be teachers as well as employers – this has robbed them of a moment to breathe and take breaks between the roles. Exhaustion lingers as we all try to find new ways of being in a year that has demanded more from us than we were prepared for. 2020 really caught us off guard. Besides bringing capitalism to its knees, forcing governments to act fast and business to work differently, this year, so far, has really sent us to our rooms and given us time to reflect on just how limited our locus of control is; which, in my opinion, isn’t such a bad thing. Golden embers in a global fire In the midst of this global pandemic, which has drastically impacted our lives, revealed just how wide the gap is between the privileged and the poor, and has almost put the world on pause, not all is lost. On a personal level, I have come to realise that productivity, non-stop movement and money are untrustworthy sources of validation, and this has brought me ineffable peace. I have learned to be content in uncertainty and comfortable with the small victories that show me that even when there is little, there is much to be celebrated. I have learned to set boundaries when people demand more than I can give. I’ve seen that it’s possible to create a work-life balance. I have seen what is possible when the government joins forces with private companies. I have also seen just how valuable my relationships are; may I never take them for granted. While we sit here in the belly of grief, there is a hope that beckons, asking that we be still and take stock. It is never comfortable in the cocoon but so liberating is the becoming that follows that we can only look forward to the new world.

june/july 2019 new african 67


When was the first time that someone’s race became a major barrier to representing South Africa in sports? This timely book brings the long-forgotten story of Krom Hendricks, who was barred from playing for his country in the 1890s, to the surface and in doing so, adds to the current discussion about race in the country. Review by Mushtak Parker.


The legend of Krom Hendricks


o most cricket fans the world over, the name William Henry Hendricks would be meaningless. Yet he was a South African cricket icon who was rejected by the mighty empire of Cecil John Rhodes, perhaps the mother of all arch-imperialists, simply on the grounds of his race. The compelling story of Hendricks seems to have been buried, or deliberately excised from the perfidious annals of ‘Empire’ as if he never existed. It was done no doubt with the collusion of Rhodes, the Premier of the Cape Colony between 189096, the powerful Afrikaner Bond party and the self-serving Western Province cricket establishment. It is one of the first examples of state capture, and the suppression of a sporting history, in the world. The irony is that Hendricks’ ethnicity is as shrouded in mystery as the origins of his mischievous sobriquet ‘Krom’, meaning ‘askew’ or ‘crooked’ in Afrikaans. He was classified as ‘Coloured’ (‘mixed race’) and once even as a ‘Malay’ in the racial lexicon of the Empire and later, in Apartheid South Africa. The reality remains that Krom

was the first sportsman to be formally barred from representing South Africa on the grounds of race, which paved the way for the institutionalisation of racism as part of government policy in South African sport for the next century. Fast-forward seven decades when in 1968, history repeated itself with the Basil D’Oliveira affair. That same axis of evil – the Afrikaner government of Premier John Vorster, the cricket establishment, the MCC and even the UK PM, Sir Alec Douglas-Home – colluded to exclude D’Oliveira from the original MCC tour party to South Africa. D’Oliveira, of Indian-Portuguese descent, who had been forced to leave South Africa in pursuit a cricket career in Britain, was later included in the English Test team to tour South Africa. Stung by this move, John Vorster rejected what he termed “a politically imposed selection”, which resulted in the tour being cancelled.

Desperately needed to be written

It is in the context of such historical intrigue and shenanigans that Jonty Winch and Richard Parry

68 new african june/july 2020

Top: Too Black to Wear Whites shows how the barring of Krom Hendricks from representing South Africa at cricket paved the way for the institutionalisation of racism in South Africa’s policy on sport for more than a century

have unearthed the story of Krom Hendricks in their fascinating book, Too Black to Wear Whites, published in February. Ironically, the launch was at the famous Newlands Cricket Ground in Cape Town, from where Hendricks was barred from representing his country. The book is a prodigious and forensic exercise in storytelling. In his foreword, the renowned sports historian and Chair of the Transformation Monitoring Committee at Cricket South Africa, Professor André Odendaal, says it “desperately needed to be written”. As such, the authors have done South African, and world cricket, a huge service in articulating a nonWhite sporting heritage fraught with adversity, sacrifice, courage and humanity. Hendricks, according to Parry, “was unequivocally the best fast bowler of his time; the victim of a virulent social racism and a political ideology, which had much to do with the developing economics of the mining industry.” The book’s scope is so huge it would need several readings just to absorb the scale of scholarly detail. It takes in Hendricks’ origins and

the interaction between the colonial power, the ‘Coloured’ Christians and the Muslim Cape Malays. It examines the racially-charged discourse on whether to include Hendricks in the South African team to tour England in 1894 and the claims of his prowess “as probably the fastest bowler South Africa has ever produced”. It comments on similar interactions between race and cricket in the ‘brown’ and ‘black’ corners of the Empire in India, Ceylon and West Indies and comparisons with the D’Oliveira affair. “There are other Hendrickses out there,” explains Parry, “and each has a story illuminating the struggle over race and the power of the South African state but Krom created the template. “He was not the only ‘mixed race’ player in the Southern African setup in the period and other similar

struggles in rugby and elsewhere do much to flesh out the real experience of colonialism, whether practiced by Britain or the South African regime.” The publication transcends the genre of mainstream sports books on South Africa, which in the past have tended to concentrate more on performance and personalities than the politics of race and sport. Parry, who did his MA thesis on Cecil Rhodes and spent 16 years as an international tax expert at the OECD in Paris, had acquired a keen additional interest in the politics of cricket, when he teamed up with co-author, Jonty Winch, himself an accomplished sports journalist and historian. “My primary motivation,” explains Parry, “was anger at his [Krom’s] treatment and that of countless other South Africans and the way this historical record was stolen by the colonial state.”

Below: Authors Jonty Winch (l) and Richard Parry (r) at the book launch for Too Black to Wear Whites, held at Newlands Cricket Ground in Cape Town

Krom Hendricks, stressed the authors, “was an exceptional cricketer in extraordinary circumstances. He was caught in a political machine that dehumanised him, denying his talent, his identity and his pride as a South African. His deselection for the tour of England in 1894 by Cecil John Rhodes, the arch-imperialist bestriding southern African politics and finance, fixed the colour bar in cricket.” Rhodes acted within a broader political alliance with Jan Hofmeyr, the leader of the newly-formed Afrikaner Bond, no doubt with the knowledge of the Foreign & Colonial Office in London. This narrative is not only about how Hendricks became “the central figure in the genesis of sports segregation in southern Africa,” but equally importantly, rescues him “from historical anonymity”. Hendricks was born in the Cape Town enclave of BoKaap in 1857, a father of five and a member of the Christian minority in a predominantly Muslim majority community, comprising mainly Cape Malays, Indians and Ottoman Turks. He played for several key ‘Muslim’ clubs. This book is also a trip down memory lane, for I also grew up in the BoKaap stamping grounds of the likes of Hendricks and D’Oliveira and other non-White cricketing legends such as Taliep Salie, Sakkie Abrahams and Dol Freeman, albeit a generation or two before me.

Krom’s legacy

So what legacy does the Krom Hendricks story hold out for cricket in a post-Apartheid era? The fact that even D’Oliveira did not know of Krom Hendricks speaks volumes. “The rewriting of South Africa’s history,” says Parry, “is an essential platform for fighting the ongoing struggles of the present, of building a better understanding beyond our current ideology and kleptocracy. “Sport has at key moments been at the heart of culture, politics and economics. In the Hendricks case sport actually leads the way in how society structures itself. There is a huge amount of work to be done in this area,” maintains Parry. I could not agree more! NA

june/july 2019 new african 69

Sport / Soccer

Continuing our very popular series on African soccer stars playing in the European top-flight leagues, we focus on Arsenal and Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alphonso Davies, who plays for Bayern Munich and Canada. Both players made their mark in what is probably the most skill-laden league in the world, Germany’s Bundesliga. By Michael Renouf.

African soccer star profiles: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alphonso Davies


ierre-Emerick Emiliano François Aubameyang (right) was always going to be an international footballer – the only question was, for which club? He is the son of former Gabonese international Pierre Aubameyang; his mother Margarita is Spanish and he was born in Laval, France on 18 June 1989. He was approached to play for Italy at youth level and did in fact turn out for the land of his birth in the under-21s, but he would ultimately follow his two older brothers, Catilina and Willy’s lead and choose to represent his African roots on the full international stage. The now prolific striker started his professional career at Italian giants AC Milan, who did not see his potential and after sending him out on loan to several French clubs early in his career, eventually cashed in their chips when they sold him to Ligue 1 side St. Etienne, in the winter transfer window of the 2011/12 season. In 2009, before his permanent move, while turning out for Dijon in Ligue 2, the former French national team player, then head coach for Gabon, Alain Giresse, selected him whilst still a teenager for the national side, his first time at full international level. It was a decision that took little over half an hour to pay off as Pierre-Emerick scored his side's opening goal in a 2-1 victory against Morocco. He scored his first hat-trick as a professional in the second half of St. Etienne's 4-2 home win over Lorient just before Christmas in 2012. It was while representing the club

70 new african june/july 2020

– which, despite all PSG’s recent success since being bankrolled by Qatari cash, has still won the most top-flight titles in France – that Aubameyang won his first trophy, when they beat Rennes 1-0 to lift the 2013 Coupe de la Ligue. In the 2012/13 season, he would finish as the second-top goalscorer in the league with 19 goals – only being bettered, by the legendary Zlatan Ibrahimovic. This brought him to the

attention of Jurgen Klopp and Borussia Dortmund. Just before he made his move across the border, Aubameyang scored a hat-trick of penalties for Gabon in a World Cup qualifier to help ‘The Brazilians’ (so-called after their kit rather than their prowess on the international stage) to a 4-1 triumph over Niger in the Gabonese capital of Libreville. 27 July 2013 was the day he made his competitive bow for Dortmund, as a second-half substitute in the

m a b u A

Top Gunner

DFL-Supercup, as the team beat Bayern Munich 4-2. A fortnight later he made his Bundesliga debut, which was the stuff of dreams, scoring a hat-trick in a 4-0 away demolition of FC Augsburg, the other goal coming from a certain Robert Lewandowski.

Lethal partnership

A year later he would play in his second DFL-Supercup, again against Bayern and again coming out on the winning side. This time

g n a y me he was selected to start and in the second half managed to get on the scoresheet with the last goal in a 2-0 victory. The opener was scored by Armenian international Henrikh Mkhitaryan, with whom Aubameyang would form a lethal partnership during their time plying their trade for the team, that for the last decade has been Bayern Munich’s main rivals. In 2015 he became the first and so far, only Gabonese player to

win the African Footballer of the Year award, for which he has been regularly voted into the top three. 2016/17 saw Aubameyang became the top scorer in Germany with 31 Bundesliga goals, swapping places with former teammate Lewandowski – now at Bayern Munich – who had held him off to win the award the previous season. Early on in the season, he was on fire, including scoring what his Spanish mother would call a ‘poker’ (4 goals) in an away humbling of Hamburg by 5-2. He would also score the winning goal – his 40th of the season – with a coolly executed ‘Panenka’- style penalty that left Eintracht Frankfurt keeper Lukas Hradecky (who had conceded the spot kick) floundering, in Dortmund’s 2-1 victory in Berlin, which helped his team lift the DFB-Pokal for the fourth time in the club’s history, in front of 74,000 fans. However, despite the fact that he has not scored less than 25 goals in a season in all competitions since the 2013/14 season, his first in Germany, his haul of silverware is not as great you would expect for such a talented individual. He has won two German supercups, equivalent to the Community Shield in England, so not considered a major trophy by many fans or players. He has won the French League Cup and the German FA Cup once each but no league titles or European trophies. But of course, no striker, however talented, can deliver trophies on this own. He has to be in teams that are exceptionally competitive and have all round excellence. But he still has time left in his career and the major silverware could well follow in a stream if and when he finds himself in an all-conquering side.

Golden Boots

He was again on the move in the winter transfer window at the beginning of 2018, when, the man who loves to celebrate his goals with a somersault or a mask made his way to the English Premier League (EPL), signing for Arsenal. He scored his first goal for the Gunners with a deft finish over England’s Jordan Pickford to put them 4-0 up inside 40 minutes as he june/july 2020 new african 71

Sport / Soccer linked up with former Dortmund teammate Mkhitaryan in his new team, helping to blitz Everton on his debut in a game that finished 5-1. He hit the ground running in the EPL, bagging 10 goals in 13 games, including the winner against Huddersfield, which proved to be the last goal of Arsene Wenger’s 22-year tenure in north London, although he could do little to prevent a 3-0 defeat in the League Cup final to Manchester City. The 18/19 season, under new Arsenal coach Unai Emery, started off relatively slowly for Aubameyang, with only two goals in his first seven games, but thanks to a last-day brace he ended up winning the Premier League Golden Boot (22 goals/36 games) in a three way tie with fellow African superstars Mo Salah and Sadio Manė. He ended the season with 31 goals in all competitions, including a hat-trick in the second leg of the Europa League semi-final in Valencia. Over the two legs Arsenal netted seven times, all scored by the joint strike force of Aubameyang and Alexander Lacazette. Although the two former Ligue 1 rivals formed a firm friendship and became somewhat of a deadly duo for the Gunners – they scored 50 of the team's 112 goals plundered over all competitions for the season – they still ended the season without a trophy, as not even Europa League specialist Emery – he had previously guided Seville to three titles – could guide the north London team to victory over Premier League rivals Chelsea. What more could Aubameyang have done, you ask? Well, actually he could become even more deadly in front of goal as he missed more ‘big chances’ than any other player in the EPL for the season. This season Emery promoted Pierre-Emerick to club captain a few weeks before he was relieved of his duties and replaced as manager by Mikel Arteta. Gabon’s all-time record goalscorer was sitting second behind Jamie Vardy in the race for the Golden Boot when the season came to a grinding halt because of Covid-19.


nlike former Bundesliga star Aubameyang, Alphonso Davies (right) did not have the helping hand of a famous father to kick-start his career; in fact his childhood could not have been further removed from that of the Gabonese superstar. Alphonso or ‘Phonzie’ as he is nicknamed, was born in Buduburam, a Ghanaian refugee camp on the 2 November 2000, where his parents Debeah and Victoria had fled to escape the Second Liberian Civil War (less than a decade after the start of the first and under two years since the fighting had ceased in the initial conflict that set countryman against countryman). He played his earliest football games not under the watchful eye of an experienced international footballer, but rather with his cousin Aloysius at the ‘Children Better Way Park’ and the ‘Pupu Park’ in the camp that thousands of displaced people called home. Earlier, his parents had lived in the Liberian capital of Monrovia where they would have to “cross over bodies to go and find food”, according to his mother. However, he has stated in interviews that he does not remember much of the five years he spent in Ghana, which came to an end when his family moved to Canada through a resettlement programme. Edmonton, Alberta was the place that the Davies clan of five would call home – Davies has two younger siblings – and in 2015 he would be signed by Vancouver Whitecaps. At first his parents did not want him to leave the sanctuary of their new home – his mother had seen on television how easily teenagers can go off the rails. Eventually they relented and Alphonso moved to the coastal town, over 1000km away, as part of Vancouver’s residency programme. Debeah and Victoria had nothing to worry about, they had raised a level-headed son with the help of Nick Huoseh, who coached  him at a junior level and would go on to become an important figure in Alphonso’s life, as he concentrated on his football career. He made his professional debut

for Whitecaps FC2 in 2016, aged 15 years, three months, becoming the youngest player at the time to play in the United Soccer League, the North American second tier. He played 11 games, scoring two goals in his only season at this level. Later the same year he would move up to the first team, making his debut for the Vancouver Whitecaps as a substitute on 1 June against Ottowa Fury in the Canadian Championship. The next month he made his bow in the top tier of North American football, Major League Soccer (MLS), and in doing so became the second-youngest player to play in that league – only Freddy Adu, who coincidentally was also born in Ghana, turning out at a younger age.

Roaring success

Alphonso made his international debut for the senior team as a second-half substitute in Canada’s 2-1 victory over Curaçao at the tender age of 16 years, 7 months and 12 days. He impressed coach Octavia

Bayern’s prince in waiting

on h p l A

Zambrano enough to earn a place in the squad that travelled south to the neighbouring US for the 2017 Gold Cup. In his first game as a starter on 8 July, he inspired Canada to a 4-2 victory over French Guiana, scoring his first and second goals at this level. Five days later he was at it again, this time scoring the opener against Costa Rica in a 1-1 draw. His first international tournament came to an end when Canada went down 2-1 to event runners-up Jamaica at the quarter-final stage. Young Alphonso was a roaring success, playing in all four of Canada’s games as either a left or right winger. Not only did he tie for the Golden Boot, he was awarded the Young Player of the Tournament  trophy and was selected for the tournament's Best XI. However, in his next international, things did not run as smoothly. He received his first and so far, only red card as a professional against familiar opponents Jamaica for violent conduct in the 76th minute. What

made it worse however was that he had only come on to the pitch as a 70th-minute substitute in what was just a friendly match.

Big move up the grades

Davies had proved himself in the MLS but come January of 2019 it was time to step up several levels by signing for German giants Bayern Munich – officially putting pen to paper on New Year’s Day. Alphonso made his Bundesliga debut as a late substitute at home to VfB Stuttgart on 27 January in a 4-1 victory. It would be nearly two months before he scored his first goal for the Bavarian behemoth in a 6-0 rout of Mainz, again at the Allianz Arena. In his first season in Europe he was used sparingly by manager Niko Kovac, coming on as a substitute in all his games in fact, so for the first time in his career he was not the main attraction. The next season however would see a change of fortune, thanks to some bad luck for his teammates. Early on, injuries to Lucas Hernandez and Niklas Sule meant David Alaba was switched into the centre of Bayern’s defence and Kovac played Davies at left back instead of in his normal attacking role. Although Kovac was sacked within two weeks of this decision - after his charges were demolished 5-1 by Eintracht Frankfurt – it proved a sound move and the youngster would soon establish himself in this new position in the side under former assistant Hans-Dieter Flick, who had been promoted to the head coach’s role. The former Bayern midfielder has been so impressed he has picked Alfonso for every game since becoming boss. We now all hold our breath to see where Alphonso goes next. Will he fail to fulfil his potential like Adu, or will the teenager who became Canada’s youngest-ever player at 16, gave a speech at a FIFA congress at 17 which helped his adopted nation secure joint hosting rights – along with Mexico and the US – for the 2026 World Cup, and who is described as humble by so many, light up the game for years to come? NA

s e i v a D o h ons

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We should be careful not to fall into the US-led trap of condemning China without due care and attention.

Don’t be too harsh on China


great deal of fuss has rightly been made about the mistreatment of Africans in China during this Covid-19 emergency. It’s important that this fuss is made in order to nip in the bud practices that none of us wish to see normalised or institutionalised. The hermetically sealed Middle Kingdom (and its heavenly mandate), has its own ingrained sense of manifest destiny, which can lead to a problematic attitude to foreigners, at home and abroad. We have seen this from Chinese business people on the continent itself, for example caning staff in Kenya. Hence the importance from the outset of our renewed engagement and trading relationship with China, that we should have drawn up firm protocols for conducting such trade. Thirteen years ago, in my book Under the Tree of Talking: Leadership for Change in Africa, a chapter focused on future strategic relations with China. Concerns were mounting that it might replicate Western racist behaviour – despite its boasts about not having a colonial empire, south-south solidarity and itself being a victim of similar racism from the West. A leading Chinese thinker advised, at the time, that African experiences and interests should

drive our relationships with China, rather than our seeking simply to copy China’s own successful model or see it as a sugar daddy. Unfortunately, this advice was not followed, especially within the framework for current AfricaChinese engagement, FOCAC – the Forum on China Africa Cooperation. FOCAC essentially frames the relationship as an aid relationship, where China dispenses billions in soft loans without questions asked and Africa gratefully receives them. There are renewed attempts to frame it as a trading relationship which would suggest two equal partners, trading goods in which they enjoy a comparative advantage. Regrettably, that hasn’t happened and Africa has been seen by the Chinese as aid-takers, hence the trickle-down disrespect of some Chinese on the African continent and the maltreatment of our business people and students in China.

Avoid dangerous precedents

So, we understand that there are some underlying issues that FOCAC or bilateral contacts need to quickly address. However, the strategic tone of many African Covid-19 emergency responses has been short sighted. On social media, Africans have joined the anti-China rantings of the Trump

74 new african june/july 2020

Those who seek reparations from China over Covid-19 have remained mute about seeking reparations for Western slavery and colonialism.

White House as it deflects attention from his failings by blaming China and seeking reparations. Africans should be cautioned against joining these ill-advised campaigns. First, because establishing a precedent for reparations for unleashing a deadly virus, will come back to bite the continent the next time an Ebola-like virus emerges from Africa, given the propensity for such outbreaks. Second, those who seek reparations from China have remained mute about seeking reparations for 400 years of Western depredations through slavery and colonialism. An internet meme (misattributed to Voltaire) that runs: ‘to learn who rules over you, find out who you’re not allowed to criticise’, probably explains their silence. African religious groups in alliance with their American counterparts, are behind the criticism where the Chinese Communist Party is now being delegitimised and characterised as uniquely evil and godless. Of course, this ignores the fact that the first major English slave ship, which helped unleash the current Western-run capitalist system, was John Hawkins’ ‘Good Ship Jesus’. Third, China will soon be the biggest economy globally. It is the workshop of the world and over the last 20 years has not only been the biggest investor in Africa, but Africa’s largest trading partner, with which we also enjoyed a positive trade balance until 2015. Most of the well-fed Africa Rising chatter unleashed amongst the young (and even amongst the vicious new critics) has been a result of the multiplier effect of such Chinese investment. Trump and some of his Western allies, seeing the Chinese expansion, now seek to divide the world again into two, the Huawei and non-Huawei halves, to maintain their control over the non-Huawei world. Africans need not fall into this trap. We have intimate relations and interests in the West, which we have paid for with 400 years of blood and treasure, and China is the future, at least until Africa’s rise. It is important as in the last Cold War that we once more adopt a position of non-alignment as a strategic position. NA

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New African June/July 2020  

We devote virtually the whole of the June-July issue of New African to a detailed examination of the Covid-19 epidemic as it impacts on the...

New African June/July 2020  

We devote virtually the whole of the June-July issue of New African to a detailed examination of the Covid-19 epidemic as it impacts on the...


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