Could Malawi’s Historic Re-Run Election Inspire Africa?

(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 18, 2019 opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) leader and presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera (L) waves to the crowd as he arrives at the last campaign rally, in Lilongwe, ahead of general elections. – Chakwera on June 27, 2020 was declared winner of this week’s presidential election re-run with 58.75 percent of the vote according to the electoral commission said, AFP reports. GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP.


The opposition triumph in Malawi’s recent landmark election re-run after last year’s fraudulent polls were overturned could spur similar democratic change across the continent, analysts and historians say.

Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party comfortably won the June 23 election with 58.5% of the vote — beating Peter Mutharika, whose re-election last year was nullified by the courts over “widespread and systematic” irregularities.

Chakwera’s official inauguration is set for Monday, to coincide with the country’s 56th anniversary of independence from Britain.

The election set the impoverished African country apart from many on the continent, making it only the second sub-Saharan African country to have presidential election results overturned in court, after Kenya in 2017.

It was also the first time in Africa that an election re-run has led to the defeat of an incumbent.

The unprecedented political feat was credited to a cohesion of several powerful forces — including the resilience of the judiciary that handed down the historic judgement.

In extraordinary scenes, Constitutional Court judges came sporting bullet-proof jackets and under military escort to deliver the ruling on February 3 overturning Mutharika’s re-election.

That was after six months of hearing evidence during a groundswell of civic society-led street protests.

“For a year they persevered with mass demonstrations against the wanton theft of their votes despite threats and repression by the beleaguered and discredited government,” said historian Paul Tiyambe Zeleza.

The election result showed that despite the power of incumbency, an organised and smart opposition can win, Zeleza said.

“This election will certainly influence subsequent elections across the African continent,” said Grant Masterson, programme manager at the Johannesburg-based Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA).

He expects that elsewhere on the continent “opposition leaders will become emboldened by this success… and ramp up post-election protests against results that did not go in their favour, combined with court challenges.”

Opposition leaders from neighbouring countries are drawing inspiration, hailing the “professionalism” displayed by Malawian institutions and “citizens’ vigilance”.

– ‘Example for Africa’ –

Nelson Chamisa, Zimbabwe’s main opposition Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance (MDC-A) leader, failed in his legal bid to have the courts overturn the 2018 election which he said was stolen from him by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

He saluted Malawi’s judiciary and security services “for acting as a bulwark against authoritarianism and defending the constitution”.

The election is “a source of inspiration to democrats across Africa and a reminder to those with determined leadership, people power, unity of purpose and an undying commitment to democratic values, that no barrier is insurmountable,” said Chamisa in a congratulatory message to Chakwera.

Zambia’s main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, who has lost two consecutive elections, hailed Malawians for having “set a great example for Africa!”

Masterson said Malawi “reminds us that even in the most peaceful of countries, the citizenry will only tolerate so much before they raise their voice in protest”.

“When enough citizens stand up, in Malawi, or Sudan and elsewhere, they will eventually bring about change,” he said.

Nic Cheeseman, a professor of African democracy at the University of Birmingham agreed.

“The impressive performance of key institutions, and the country’s democratic progress itself, is rooted in the hard work of civil society groups and the efforts of hundreds of thousands of Malawian citizens,” Cheeseman said.

Chakwera, the 65-year-old former evangelical preacher, sailed to victory thanks to a nine-party electoral alliance.

Opposition elsewhere in Africa should learn that “dialogue, not division, can offer a genuine path to change, especially in those countries with less favourable institutional conditions,” wrote Chatham House’s Africa programme projects assistant, Fergus Kell.

“Neighbouring Zambia would certainly do well to heed this example ahead of a pivotal election of its own in 2021.”


Africa Free-Trade Vision Clouded By COVID-19, Pace Of Talks

Badagry Free Trade Zone Licenced


A historic deal to smash down tariff barriers within Africa is being braked by the coronavirus pandemic and a thicket of negotiating problems.

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) was formally launched just over a year ago in a blaze of optimism.

The accord — styled as the biggest free-trade accord in the world in terms of population — gathers 54 out of 55 African countries, with Eritrea the only holdout.

It aims to phase out all tariffs on commerce on the continent of 1.2 billion people, a goal that backers say could give trade a mega-jolt as only 15 percent of trade by African nations is with continental neighbours compared to 70 percent with Europe.

It was supposed to take operational effect on Wednesday, July 1, but the timeline has slipped, under the complications caused by the COVID-19 outbreak but also the slow pace of negotiations themselves.

“Everybody can see, objectively, nothing can be done on the 1st of July,” AfCFTA’s brand-new secretary general, Wamkele Mene of South Africa, told AFP.

“Forty-two countries out of 55 in Africa are either in full or partial lockdown.”

A new date for January 2021 has been proposed by ambassadors at the Africa Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa. The recommendation has yet to be adopted by heads of state.

Mene cautioned that the proposed date is itself subject to change.

“It really all depends on the pandemic,” he said.

Mene, who was sworn in in March, himself works in Addis, as AfCTA’s headquarters in Accra, Ghana, have yet to open because of the pandemic.

– Nigeria question –

Talks on the AfCFTA got underway in 2002 and inched towards an agreement that officially began life on May 30, 2019 after it crossed a threshold of ratification by at least 22 countries.

That number has edged up to 28, and includes economic heavyweights such as South Africa and Egypt, and middleweights including Morocco, Kenya and Ivory Coast.

But Nigeria — the most populous country in Africa, with around 200 million people — still has not ratified, nor have Algeria or energy exporter Angola.

“I know that Nigeria is committed to the agreement that we signed for the AfCFTA but of course COVID-19 has caused a delay in almost everything,” Nigerian Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed said.

“So, we may have to revisit the effective period for which this will start.”

In a shock move last August, Nigeria dramatically closed off its borders with neighbours, a move that it said aimed at preventing smuggling.

But the step was carried out unilaterally and breached free-trade agreements among members of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

– Devil in the detail –

In addition to this worrying mood music from a country that was an enthusiastic backer at the dawn of the AfCFTA process, the effort to breathe life into the pact is a huge negotiation task.

Among the big questions that have to be thrashed out are the rules of origin — the identification of the contents of a product that are the nuts and bolts of any free-trade accord — and detailed timetables for scaling back tariffs.

Then there is the task of figuring out how AfCFTA should dovetail with eight existing regional organisations in Africa, such as ECOWAS and the six-nation East African Community (EAC).

“The regional economic communities remain, including the customs unions in Africa such as the EAC, ECOWAS and so on,” said Mene.

“They remain with their intra-regional obligations that they have to one another. We build on the liberalisation and the progress that those regional economic communities have achieved already.”

He said negotiations aim to scrap customs duties on 97 percent of products within 15 years.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), this would encourage intra-African trade to rise by around 16 percent — an additional $16 billion (14.25 billion euros) — annually.

AfCFTA has raised fears of a destructive impact on small manufacturers and family farms if borders are fully opened to imports.

With such concerns in mind, a more progressive phaseout is being envisaged for less developed economies.

Tariffs on intra-African trade average 6.1 percent more than on exports to non-African countries.

But Lumkile Mondi, a senior lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, said duty elimination is only one piece of Africa’s coveted single market.

Non-tariff bottlenecks to trade include poor infrastructure.

Europe’s internal market, constructed painfully over decades, has been knitted together by motorways, railways, flight routes, energy pipelines, telecom networks and so on.

In Africa, debt levels will be a handicap to creating these crucial links, said Mondi.

“African countries themselves being highly indebted means integration is going to take much longer to really be achieved,” he said.


South Africa’s Unemployment Rate Tops 30%

Commuters wearing masks as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus queue at the Bara taxi rank in Soweto, Johannesburg, on June 1, 2020. South Africa moved into level three of a five-tier lockdown on June 1, 2020, to continue efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Under level three, all but high-risk sectors of the economy will be allowed to reopen. Michele Spatari / AFP.


South Africa’s unemployment rate jumped rose one percentage point to 30.1 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to the final three months of 2019, official data showed Tuesday.

The new data is a far cry from what analysts expect to be the ultimate fallout from the coronavirus which has infected more than 100,000 people in Africa’s most developed economy.

The number of unemployed came to 7.1 million, with the formal sector shedding the most jobs, StatsSA said.

“Most industries experienced job losses in the first quarter of 2020, compared to the fourth quarter of 2019,” the statistics agency said, adding the finance sector lost 50,000 jobs.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday warned of mass job losses and “tough times” ahead as the continent’s most industrialised country braces for the economic fallout from its strict anti-coronavirus measures.

Ramaphosa imposed a strict lockdown on March 27 to try to limit the spread of COVID-19 and prepare hospitals for an expected surge in cases.

READ ALSO: Global Trade Set To Shrink 18.5% In Q2, Defying Worst Fears – WTO

But the move has cost the economy dearly. South Africa was already in recession when the virus arrived.

The central bank now forecasts the economy will shrink seven percent in 2020 as the economy buckles under the coronavirus pandemic.

Since last month the government has started loosening the lockdown to enable business activity to resume gradually.

“For a country such as ours, which was already facing an unemployment crisis and weak economic growth, difficult decisions and difficult days lie ahead,” Ramaphosa said in his weekly newsletter.

Companies, including the public broadcaster SABC, last week announced plans to lay off staff.

The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry has warned that the unemployment rate could rise as high as 50 percent due to the pandemic.


Africa Urges UN Probe Of US ‘Systemic Racism’, Police Violence

Delegates attend the resuming of a UN Human Rights Council session after its interruption in March over the coronavirus pandemic on June 15, 2020, in Geneva. – The UN’s top rights body Monday agreed to a request from African countries to urgently debate racism and police brutality this week following unrest in the US and beyond over George Floyd’s death. Fabrice COFFRINI / POOL / AFP.


African countries are pushing for the UN’s top rights body to launch a high-level investigation into “systemic racism” and police violence in the United States and beyond, according to a draft resolution seen Tuesday by AFP.

The text was being circulated to diplomats for consultations ahead of a so-called urgent debate on the topic at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday.

The debate was called for following unrest in the United States and elsewhere over George Floyd’s death in police custody.

In the draft resolution, the African group strongly condemns “continuing racial discriminatory and violent practices perpetrated by law enforcement agencies against Africans and people of African descent and structural racism endemic to the criminal justice system, in the United States of America and other parts of the world recently affected.”

The draft resolution, which could still be revised before it is tabled later Tuesday, calls for the establishment of an independent international commission of inquiry (COI) — one of the UN’s highest-level probes, generally reserved for major crises like the Syrian conflict.

READ ALSO: German Virus Hunters Track Down COVID-19 Outbreaks

The commission, the text said, should “establish facts and circumstances related to the systemic racism, alleged violations of international human rights law and abuses against Africans and of people of African descent in the United States” and elsewhere by law enforcement agencies, especially those incidents that resulted in the deaths.

The aim, it said, should be “bringing perpetrators to justice.”

– ‘Excessive force’ –

The investigators should also probe “the federal, state and local government responses to peaceful protests, including the alleged use of excessive force against protesters, bystanders and journalists,” it said.

It urges the US government, as well as governments in other relevant countries, to “cooperate fully” with the COI, which it said should present its findings to the rights council in a year’s time.

The text also calls on UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet to include updates on police brutality against people of African descent in the United States and elsewhere at each future council session.

The final text must be tabled at least 24 hours before a vote by the rights council’s 47 members on the resolution, which is due to happen following the urgent debate scheduled to begin at 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) Wednesday.

The urgent debate was requested in a letter last week from Burkina Faso’s ambassador to the UN on behalf of Africa’s 54 countries, and was accepted Monday when the council resumed its 43rd session, which had been interrupted in March due to the coronavirus crisis.

Both the letter and the draft resolution make reference to the killing of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in Minneapolis on May 25 after a white police officer, who has since been charged with murder, pressed his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

His death, which was caught on video and has sparked massive protests across the United States and around the world, “is unfortunately not an isolated incident.”

“Many other cases of persons of African descent (have) faced the same fate because of their origin and police violence,” Burkina Faso Ambassador Dieudonne Desire Sougouri told the council Monday.


Tanzania First African Country To Restart League Amid COVID-19

(Files) Tanzania poses before playing Kenya in a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations group match in Cairo last June. Khaled DESOUKI / AFP.


Tanzania this weekend became the first African country to resume a national league suspended during March because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Young Africans, who have been champions a record 22 times, won 1-0 away to Mwadui and Coastal Union overcame a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2 with visiting Namungo Saturday.

Runaway leaders Simba and Azam will both enjoy home advantage Sunday in the other two matches scheduled for this weekend.

Simba have 71 points with 10 matches to play, Azam and Young Africans share second place on 54 and Namungo lie fourth with 51.

Tanzania suspended the 20-club national championship in mid-March as the COVID-19 outbreak began to wreak havoc throughout Africa.

According to the Africa Centre for Disease Control on June 13, 225,126 people in Africa have been infected with 6,051 deaths.

READ ALSO: Messi Caps Barcelona Win Over Mallorca On La Liga Return

Spectators were permitted as the league resumed in the east African state, but the elderly, who are generally most vulnerable to the virus, and children were barred.

Before being allowed into a stadium, fans must wear a face mask, wash hands with soap or use a hand sanitiser, and have their temperature checked.

Once inside, spectators must practice social distancing by sitting or standing several metres apart.

Footballers, referees, coaches and support staff are subject to equally strict measures to combat the virus, and change rooms are fumigated before and after matches.

– Carried on playing –

Burundi, a tiny, landlocked country bordering Tanzania, were the only African country to continue playing top-flight football during the pandemic.

Footballers in Belarus, Nicaragua, Taiwan and Tajikistan also carried on playing while the rest of the global football industry shut down temporarily.

Le Messager Ngozi have 58 points and Musongati 55 in a two-club race for the Burundi title with two rounds remaining, which are set for the weekends of June 20/21 and 27/28.

Ngozi have won the Primus Ligue once while Musongati, who have also reached the FA Cup final, are seeking a maiden title.

Musongati were scheduled to meet Rukinzo in the cup final Saturday but the match was delayed as the country is mourning deceased president Pierre Nkurunziza.

Nkurunziza, 55, who had been due to step down in August after ruling Burundi for 15 years, died last Monday from a heart attack, according to the government.

A devout evangelical who believed he was chosen by God to lead Burundi, Nkurunziza will be succeeded by Evariste Ndayishimiye.

Tanzania played at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt after a 39-year absence while Burundi competed for the first time.

Both the Tanzanian Taifa Stars and the Burundian Swallows exited after the first round having lost their three group matches.


NGO Warns Pandemic To Aggravate Africa’s ‘Neglected’ Crises

Motorcyclists drive past a barricade in the road at the Kinshasa Grand market on June 9, 2020, during a demonstration where demonstrators ask for the re-opening of the shops around there which has been closed by the government as a precautionary measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. – At least three people were reported dead by local authorities. ARSENE MPIANA / AFP.


The new coronavirus pandemic risks aggravating the woes of people already suffering from the world’s most neglected crises, especially in Africa, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) aid group said Wednesday.

“COVID-19 is spreading across Africa, and many of the most neglected communities are already devastated by the economic shocks of the pandemic,” NRC’s secretary-general Jan Egeland said.

His remarks came as he presented his organisation’s annual report on “the most neglected crises in the world”.

“We need solidarity with these conflict-stricken communities now more than ever, so the virus does not add more unbearable disaster to the myriad of crises they already face,” he said in a statement.

According the report, nine of the world’s 10 most neglected crises are in Africa, with Cameroon topping the list for the second year in a row.

Venezuela was the only non-African country on the list.

Healthcare systems in these impoverished countries are not in a position to cope with the health crisis brought on by the pandemic, NRC said.

READ ALSO: Elevated Extreme Poverty To Persist Through 2021 – World Bank

According to AFP’s tally, Africa has officially reported 5,354 COVID-19 deaths and 197,823 confirmed cases.

Cameroon has been gripped by violence since a separatist revolt by the country’s English-speaking minority began in October 2017, claiming more than 3,000 lives and forcing nearly 700,000 people to flee their homes.

The Democratic Republic of Congo came in second on the list, followed by Burkina Faso, which was added to the list for the first time.

“The deep crises represented by millions of displaced Africans are yet again the most underfunded, ignored and deprioritised in the world,” Egeland said.

“Despite facing a tornado of emergencies, their SOS calls for help fall on deaf ears,” he added.

The NRC’s list is based on three criteria: lack of funding to respond to humanitarian needs, lack of media coverage, and political negligence.


Buhari Positions Africa As The Future Of Global Manufacturing, Takes A Swipe At Abacha

A file photo of President Muhammadu Buhari. Photo: [email protected]


President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday touted Africa as a key player in global manufacturing as the world adapts to changes brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

Buhari made the assertion in an article in Newsweek, a US publication.

“What we need now is for the vision of others to match our own,” Buhari said. “And Africa is positioned to play a critical role in the remolding of a post-coronavirus world that centers around manufacturing.”

The President said the continent can follow the lead of countries like South Korea and China in rapidly developing “home-grown consumer goods” and contribute to global development.

“What is true is that no country or continent has a permanent monopoly on manufacturing jobs,” he said.

He emphasized the continent’s young population, improving governance reforms and investment in infrastructure as reasons for optimism.

He added that the continent holds “shared values in democracy, freedoms of speech and religion with the Western world—and admiration and determination to learn and follow the rapid economic growth and poverty reduction that has occurred across Asia.”

In his comment, Buhari also said Nigeria could now move forward with its infrastructure ambitions after close to a billion dollars of funds stolen from the country “under a previous, undemocratic junta in the 1990s” have now been returned to the country from the U.S, U.K, and Switzerland.

The “undemocratic junta” was a reference to the military government of General Sani Abacha, who presided over the country between 1993 and 1998 and reportedly looted billions of dollars from Nigerian coffers.



Guterres Warns COVID-19 Could Send Millions In Africa Into ‘Extreme Poverty’

A man grabs a loaf of bread at a distribution of food hampers, masks, soap and sanitiser organised by different charities at the Iterileng informal settlement near Laudium, Pretoria, on May 20, 2020. MARCO LONGARI / AFP.


UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that millions of people could be pushed into extreme poverty in Africa due to the coronavirus pandemic and called for “global solidarity” with the continent.

“The pandemic threatens African progress. It will aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease,” Guterres said in a statement accompanying a UN study with recommendations for the African continent.

While he congratulated Africa for responding swiftly to the pandemic, which has claimed more than 2,500 lives across the continent, Guterres noted that “as of now, reported cases are lower than feared.”

“African countries should also have quick, equal and affordable access to any eventual vaccine and treatment, that must be considered global public goods,” he said in his statement.

Since the pandemic is still in its “early days” in Africa, Guterres stressed that “disruption could escalate quickly.”

“Global solidarity with Africa is an imperative — now and for recovering better,” he said.

Among his recommendations, Guterres urged “international action to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, avoid a financial crisis.”

It is also necessary, he added, to “support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat, and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings.”

READ ALSO: UN Chief Antonio Guterres Praises Africa’s Efforts To Stem COVID-19

Guterres called for “more than $200 billion as additional support from the international community” to help Africa recover from the pandemic.

He said he was also advocating “a comprehensive debt framework — starting with an across-the-board debt standstill for countries unable to service their debt.”


COVID-19 Stigma Weighs Heavily In Sub-Saharan Africa

A man cycles in an empty street in Eastleigh, Nairobi, on May 7, 2020, following the Kenyan government’s announcement of partial lockdown in two COVID-19 coronavirus hotspots, Eastleigh in Nairobi and Mombasa City for at least 15-days, where there shall be no movement into and out of the places. SIMON MAINA / AFP.


Landlords evict people from their homes, nurses are abandoned by their husbands and people are spurned just on suspicion of coming into contact with a COVID-19 patient.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, the stigma attached to the coronavirus is so strong that some choose not to seek treatment to avoid facing unbearable hostility.

People suspected of having contracted COVID-19 say they are treated like pariahs: singled out at work, in their neighbourhoods and even in their homes.

Fatou, a Senegalese woman in her twenties who did not use her real name, described her bitter experience about a month ago after coming into contact with a sick person.

She was immediately confined to her room and ostracised by people in her community.

“Messages have been circulating on social media with my first name, surname and address,” she said, adding that rumours were spread that she “contracted the virus by sleeping with white people”.

Fatou, who was confined to her room until she tested negative, was then forced to spend two weeks in isolation in a hotel despite having no symptoms because the doctors tracking her case had received “anonymous calls”, she said.

This at least gave her a respite “from the gossip”, she said.

Some 3,000 kilometres (1,800 miles) away in Gabon, Jocelyn, a biologist who tests suspect cases in Libreville, said he is subjected to similar discrimination on a daily basis.

READ ALSO: UN Chief Antonio Guterres Praises Africa’s Efforts To Stem COVID-19

His team tries to keep a low profile when they visit homes, even if it means endangering their own health.

“We put our suits on inside rather than on the front steps,” he said.

“The Gabonese people panic at the idea of us coming to their homes,” he added.

– Psychological cost –

In neighbouring Cameroon, a landlord evicted a tenant who tested positive for coronavirus, Yap Boum, an epidemiologist in Yaounde, told AFP.

The stigma attached to the virus is not unique to Africa. “But here we tend to be more communal, we know our neighbours,” Boum said.

Many people prefer to keep to themselves when they develop symptoms. Some have died because they delayed seeking medical treatment for fear of being associated with the virus, according to Boum, who is the director of Doctors Without Borders’ African research centre.

“The psychological aspect must be taken into account if we want to win this battle,” he said.

Caregivers in particular are often treated like “plague victims”, Boum said.

Cameroonian nurses have been left by their husbands, driven out of their homes because they were working in coronavirus units, said Laure Menguene Mviena, who heads a psychological response unit for COVID-19 patients in Yaounde.

“It is urgent to assist them psychologically because if they are mentally and physically exhausted, how will they care for others?” she stressed.

People should realise that the mortality rate is still low in Cameroon, “lower than in Europe,” Menguene Mviena said.

Only around 1,400 deaths from the coronavirus have been reported in sub-Saharan Africa.

– Nicknamed ‘Corona’ –

Some patients continue to be shamed even after they have recovered from the virus, with many believing they are still endangering public health.

After Roselyn Nyambura of Kenya was released from hospital, her neighbours mocked her and stared at her, she said.

Some even went so far as to call her “Corona”.

Once people around her had more information about the disease, the scathing comments began to cease.

“With the intervention of elders, local authorities and the church, people have started to understand that it is possible to recover from corona,” she said.

The Kenyan government needs to do more to educate people about the virus, she said.

Governments must strike a delicate balance between the need to enforce strict anti-infection measures while tamping down the fearfulness that leads to stigmatisation.

During the Ebola epidemic — which killed more than one-third of the people it infected in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone in 2014 — survivors were in a similar position, Boum said.

Recovered patients were issued certificates stating that they did not pose any further risk to the community than other citizens.

In fact, there is little upside to being a coronavirus survivor, notably in the absence of evidence that a healed patient is immune, even temporarily.

In Nigeria, public health announcements have hammered home the message that stigmatising survivors is wrong and that coronavirus “is not a death sentence”.

But scepticism persists.

Somalians run into trouble just for wearing a protective mask.

Mohamed Sharif, a driver in Mogadishu, must wear one for work and has noticed that people avoid him and even flee as he approaches.

“Sometimes you are humiliated by others who think because of the mask you have coronavirus,” he said. “I remove it sometimes to avoid this humiliation.”


‘We Can Get It Done Here’: Africa’s Tech Scene Tackles COVID-19

Fidel Mukatia (R), an electrical engineering student from Kenyatta University, stands with a group of students who made a ventilator, at the university’s facility (Chandaria Business Innovation Incubation Centre) in Nairobi on May 8, 2020, to mitigate the shortage experienced in the country and fight against COVID-19 coronavirus. SIMON MAINA / AFP.


Watching from afar as much of the world was brought to its knees by the coronavirus, African scientists, engineers and innovators have turned to homegrown solutions to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

By the time the virus hit Africa, where cases have risen relatively slowly, images of overwhelmed hospitals and stories of health workers strapped for protective gear had been streaming in for weeks.

Mehul Shah from Ultra Red Technologies, a 3D printing company in Nairobi, said he and his partner Neeval Shah quickly realised they could be “first responders” in producing locally-made equipment.

In only three days they put together a working design for 3D-printed face shields made up of a visor that clips onto a plastic sheet. They currently produce around 500 a day.

“It’s very important that we can show Kenyans that we can do this here and we don’t need to rely on importation. We have got the innovative know-how and the means to get this done here,” he told AFP.

The team is also helping produce components that would allow ventilators to be used on more than one patient, as well as printing parts for locally-made ventilators.

While Kenya only has 912 cases and 50 deaths after a little over two months, “we are preparing for the worst-case scenario,” Mehul said.

READ ALSO: Scientists In China Believe New Drug Can Stop Pandemic ‘Without Vaccine’

He said it was “a first” to see manufacturers in Kenya and even worldwide collaborating so much.

“All the companies are looking at how they can use their resources to help out. All the competitors who would be fighting against each other are all coming together.”

In Benin, the start-up Blolab — a digital fabrication laboratory – has also been printing 3D face shields.

– Contact-tracing apps –

Developers in Kenya’s thriving tech scene are among several on the continent working on contact tracing apps.

FabLab, an innovation hub in western Kisumu has developed an application called Msafari (Safari means journey in Swahili) which can track passengers on public transport.

With it, passengers entering a minibus taxi — known as a matatu — can input a simple code on their phone along with the vehicle registration number.

“If one of those passengers tested positive we are now able to trace all the contacts who checked in on that particular vehicle, ” said Tairus Ooyi, the lead app developer and data scientist at FabLab.

– Low-cost ventilators –

Another busy area of innovation has been the production of ventilators, which have been in short supply even in rich countries as COVID-19 patients needing oxygen have swamped hospitals.

Most African countries have only a handful of the machines and 10 have none at all, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Kenya, engineering students in collaboration with the medical department at the Kenyatta University, produced a low-cost ventilator at a tenth of the price of an imported machine — estimated at $10,000.

Doctor Gordon Ogweno, a medical professor at the university said Kenya had about 50 working ventilators for a population of more than 50 million.

“We are making machines with locally available material … pandemics can come and go but other conditions also require critical care,” he said.

The ventilator is undergoing clinical trials.

In Ghana, the Academic City College in Accra and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi managed to produce a ventilator costing between $500 and $1,000 which takes only an hour to assemble.

A group of Rwandan biomedical scientists at the Integrated Polytechnic Regional College in Kigali have also been testing a locally made prototype ventilator.

Meanwhile in Somalia, which has limited capacity to respond to its growing caseload, 21-year-old Mohamed Adawe has invented an automated resuscitator.

While doctors normally need to pump oxygen via an Ambu bag valve mask by hand on patients struggling to breathe, Adawe’s contraption — made up of a wooden box, pipes and an electric system — pushes oxygen from an air tank into a mask placed over the patient’s mouth.

“I saw people having difficulties in breathing and many have died because they could not get a machine to help them provide vital oxygen,” said Adawe, who is studying public health.

– Drones and robots –

Aside from locally-made items — African countries are also employing other technology to tackle the virus.

Rwanda last week began using four humanoid robots in coronavirus treatment centres to minimise human to human contact. They can screen temperatures and monitor the status of patients.

In Ghana, the US-based company Zipline which uses drones to ferry medicines, blood and vaccines to avoid poor roads, has begun to transport coronavirus tests.

“The government told us that their biggest challenge is that the virus has spread out of the cities, they have suspected cases popping up in the rural areas and the logistics from the rural areas to the cities are very difficult,” said Zipline CEO in Ghana, Daniel Marfo.


Quarter Of A Billion Africans At Risk Of COVID-19 Infection – WHO

A patient who is suspected of suffering from COVID-19 coronavirus undergoes testing at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital isolation centre on May 10, 2020. Audu MARTE / AFP
A patient who is suspected of suffering from COVID-19 coronavirus undergoes testing at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital isolation centre on May 10, 2020. Audu MARTE / AFP


The coronavirus could infect a quarter of a billion Africans and put intolerable pressure on the continent’s fragile health system, a new World Health Organisation report said on Friday, as the pandemic’s global death toll topped 300,000.

Despite fears of a second wave of infections, borders began opening up in Europe and lockdowns continued to ease as governments try to get stalled economies moving again, with experts warning world output could shrink by 10 percent.

And Donald Trump ramped up his war of words with Beijing over responsibility for what he has dubbed the “Plague from China”, threatening to cut ties between the two countries.

But it was the very human cost of the disease that was thrown into sharp relief with the discovery of infections in the world’s biggest refugee camp, where upwards of a million Rohingya live in squalor.

“We are looking at the very real prospect that thousands of people may die from COVID-19” in these camps, Save The Children’s Bangladesh health director Shamim Jahan said.

“There are no intensive care beds at this moment” in the camps at Cox’s Bazaar, Jahan said.

Track and trace teams were fanning out Friday to follow up on two positive tests.


Epidemiologists have long warned that the virus could race through the cramped, sewage-soaked alleys of the camps, where the persecuted Muslim minority have lived since fleeing a military offensive in neighboring Myanmar nearly three years ago.

The nexus of poverty and risk was also laid bare by a WHO report that warned Africa is a hotspot waiting to happen, despite so far having escaped the worst of the disease.

Researchers say frangible health systems on the world’s poorest continent could quickly be overwhelmed, with modeling suggesting 231 million people could become infected.

Up to 190,000 of them could die, the study published in the journal BMJ Global Health suggested.

With large populations living in slums, social distancing is all but impossible for many on the continent, and health experts say only a vaccine will prevent widespread infection.

Despite scientists working flat out towards that aim, experts say it could still be many months — or even years — away.

And without a robust roll-out plan, even highly developed countries could struggle to take advantage of any breakthrough.

In the US, the man formerly charged with developing a vaccine told lawmakers the government in Washington has no “master plan” to fight the pandemic and is unprepared to distribute enough vaccines to immunize millions of Americans.

“We don’t have a single point of leadership right now for this response,” said Rick Bright, who was removed from his job last month.

‘Disappointed in China’

The United States has registered almost 86,000 deaths linked to COVID-19 — the highest toll of any nation, with a third of all known global infections.

In an interview aired Thursday, Trump again accused Beijing of concealing the true scale of the problem after the virus emerged in Wuhan late last year.

“I’m very disappointed in China. I will tell you that right now,” he said.

Asked how the United States might choose to retaliate against what he has dubbed the “Plague from China”, Trump said: “We could cut off the whole relationship”.

Beijing played down the spat, saying: “To maintain the steady development of China-US relations is in the fundamental interests of the people in both countries.”

The US and China are the world’s two largest economies, doing hundreds of billions of dollars of mutually beneficial trade every year.

Nevertheless, the US president is keen to make Beijing the bogeyman in an election year when gloomy news has become par for the course.

New figures showed a further three million job losses, taking the newly unemployed to 36.5 million — more than 10 percent of the US population.

Over a third of them will have trouble paying their bills, a survey has revealed.

States are slashing their budgets because of tax shortfalls caused by the job losses, with California announcing it would have a $54 billion deficit this year.

Germany’s treasury is also expecting a big hole in its budget, with around 100 billion euros wiped off the tax take in 2020.

Europe’s biggest economy has already slipped into a recession, with GDP expected to shrink by 6.3 percent this year — the biggest contraction since 1949.

The Asian Development Bank on Friday doubled its previous estimate of the cost of the pandemic, saying the world economy would shrink by $8.8 trillion — almost a tenth of global output.

Up to 242 million jobs will vanish due to the virus, the Manila-based bank said.

‘We may need more graves’

Much of Europe was back on the road to recovery, with more parts of the continent opening up.

Slovenia opened its borders on Friday after declaring an end to its coronavirus epidemic, despite new infections still being reported.

Austria and Germany were expected to open their shared border, while Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were set to create their own “mini-Shengen on the Baltic”, allowing free movement among the three countries.

But in Latin America, the news was looking increasingly dire.

Thousands of fresh graves are being dug in the Chilean capital’s main cemetery, as the infection rate soars and as Santiago enters lockdown from Friday.

“We may need more graves, because we see what’s happened in other countries,” cemetery director Rashid Saud told AFP.

Surge In Child Mortality Forecast In Pandemic-hit Developing Countries

Children learn how to wash hands for prevention of the COVID-19 as local NGO Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) installs hand washing stations at Kibera slum in Nairobi, on March 18, 2020. Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP


Deaths from preventable disease in children under five could rise by almost 45 percent over the next six months as the COVID-19 pandemic diverts scarce health resources in developing countries, a UN report said Tuesday.

Poorer nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America could see an additional 1.2 million infants die over the period, according to the study published by The Lancet Global Health.

About 56,700 more maternal deaths could also occur in six months, beyond the 144,000 deaths that already take place in the same 118 countries, a rise of about 40 percent.

The findings were based on a computer model that calculated the impact of a reduction in family planning, antenatal and postnatal care, child delivery, vaccinations and preventive and curative services.

“Under a worst-case scenario, the global number of children dying before their fifth birthdays could increase for the first time in decades,” said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore.

“We must not let mothers and children become collateral damage in the fight against the virus. And we must not let decades of progress on reducing preventable child and maternal deaths be lost.”

The greatest number of additional child deaths would come from under nourishment, and a reduction in treatment of neonatal sepsis and pneumonia.

The study found that the 10 countries that could have the largest number of additional child deaths were Bangladesh, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda and United Republic of Tanzania.

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UNICEF said it was especially alarmed at the knock-on effects of the pandemic.

This included tens of million of children missing out on measles vaccinations, and some 370 million children who normally rely on school meals having to look for other sources of food.

UNICEF said it was launching a new global campaign called “#Reimagine” to prevent the pandemic becoming a lasting crisis for children.

The organization is issuing an urgent appeal to governments, the public, donors and the private sector to respond.