Former child soldiers who were embroiled in the Central African Republic’s civil war have now become frontline aid workers in the country’s fight against COVID-19. As part of UNICEF’s WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) relief program, which began in 2015, the former soldiers are hired to provide safe drinking water by manually drilling wells and laying pipes. So far, they have installed wells for about 25,000 people, a critical service, especially during the pandemic.
The program offers a path to rehabilitation
Years of civil war devastated the Central African Republic’s already fragile healthcare system and left about half of the population dependent on humanitarian aid. For the child soldiers, the WASH program offers a path to rehabilitation; it has given them the opportunity to learn valuable skills and to earn a living. It helps to minimize the chances of them relapsing into fighting by joining one of about a dozen armed groups operating in the country.
It also encourages communities to accept these former child soldiers back into their communities. Rejection is another motivating factor for recidivism, even though the country’s militias agreed in 2015 to free all child soldiers and end child recruitment.
Morocco, which maintained one of the strictest border lockdowns in response to COVID-19, will begin to reopen its borders in phases starting next week. Moroccan citizens and expatriates will be allowed to return in the first phase beginning July 14, but only after presenting results from both a PCR (polymerize chain reaction) test and an antibody test. Foreign citizens stuck in Morocco will now finally be able to return home as well.
The severe border closures imposed on March 15 left many Moroccans stuck in foreign countries, including 500 in Spain, some without resources to support themselves during this forced exile.
A resumption of travel may help Royal Air Maroc, Morocco’s state-owned national airline, alleviate some of the major losses it sustained after cancelling all routes due to the pandemic, though it is unlikely to return to its former fleet size as the pandemic persists.
In the Republic of the Congo, concerns persist over the health of Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, a former military chief and opposition politician who has been in prison since 2016, when he was arrested with others after refusing to accept the re-election of Denis Sassou Nguesso as president. In 2018, he was sentenced to twenty years in prison for undermining state security.
His health has suddenly deteriorated. He tested negative for COVID-19, and according to the latest press release he has acute malaria, aggravated by hypertension. Several NGOs and Congolese civil society organizations have called for Mokoko to be placed under house arrest so he could be treated by his family doctor. The authorities have not yet responded to these repeated calls, despite condemnation from other African heads of state and the United Nations.
A video resurfaced showing him purportedly discussing a coup
Prior to his imprisonment, Mokoko served as adviser for peace and security to President Denis Sassou Nguesso, before quitting his position in February 2016 to run against Nguesso in the March presidential election. A few days after Mokoko had announced his candidacy, a 2007 video resurfaced showing him purportedly discussing a coup to overthrow Nguesso with a French intelligence agent.
The polemic around Mokoko’s imprisonment reflect a broader discussion occurring across Africa as the continent grapples with the dangers involved in keeping prisoners behind bars, where cramped and often unsanitary conditions increase the risk of contracting COVID-19.
Before being struck by a once-in-a-generation global pandemic, the Horn of Africa was already contending with a locust plague the likes of which hadn’t been experienced in several generations. A second, larger wave of the destructive desert locusts has been making its way across Somalia, Kenya, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, threatening food security for millions of people and costing the region (along with Yemen) up to US$8.5 billion according to the World Bank.
The fungus has proven to be deadly to locusts while not harming other insects
The effectiveness of chemical pesticides to control locust swarms has been limited, at best, due to the swarms’ quick pace and size, along with limited resources as these nations and foreign donors focus on COVID-19. Thus, it fell to the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), an international research institute housed in Nairobi, Kenya, to devise more innovative and environmentally friendly means of tackling the locust problem.
One approach has been the use of a biopesticide developed from the Metarhizium acridum fungus, which has proven to be deadly to locusts while not harming other insects.
Commercial brands use this kind of fungus in their powder products. Such powders are mixed with oil and sprayed onto fields from planes or trucks. The fungus then penetrates the locust’s hard outer layer and starts feeding on the insect, sapping away
Another tactic homes in on locust pheromones, disrupting their biochemistry to break up swarms before they form and encouraging cannibalization among immature locusts before they gain the ability to fly.
A third approach is to introduce the protein-rich locusts as a foodstuff—either cooked or crushed—for people and animals. ICIPE is developing nets and backpack-vacuums to capture large numbers of locusts.
Burundi’s swearing-in ceremony on June 30 for new ministers of the National Assembly was accompanied by a statement from newly elected President Évariste Ndayishimiye pledging renewed efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the small East African nation. Among the new policies is a 50 percent reduction in the price of soap and reduced rates for drinking water in Burundi’s urban areas.
This is a marked change from his predecessor, Pierre Nkurunziza, who was much more blasé about the threat of the virus to Burundi. Whereas other African countries were in some form of lockdown, Burundi kept restaurants, bars, and sports events open to the public, and top officials defended Nkurunziza’s lax attitude as a sign of his evangelical faith and belief in God’s protection.
They suspect the former president succumbed to COVID-19
Officially, Burundi has 170 confirmed cases, 115 recoveries, and one death, but they are likely undercounted. Nkurunziza’s death at the beginning of July was declared to be the result of cardiac arrest, but opposition leaders and foreign observers suspect the former president succumbed to COVID-19. There is concern that several members of Burundi’s political leadership may have been exposed to and are currently infected with the virus.
As the world continues to fixate on the COVID-19 pandemic, it is feared that efforts to combat malaria will fall by the wayside. Caused by a parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, which is transmitted by the female Anopheles mosquito, malaria is one of the most persistent and deadliest diseases in Africa.
In the Central African Republic, this concern is even more important as the country continues to painfully rebuild from a civil war that began in 2012 and wreaked havoc on the country’s already weak healthcare infrastructure.
There has been an uptick in malaria cases where artemisia-based treatments seem to be less effective than before
At the Pasteur Institute in Bangui, Dr. Romaric Nzoumbou-Boko is focusing his research on the possibility of a new strain of the Plasmodium falciparum parasite that may have developed a mutation that has made it resistant to treatments derived from the artemisia plant. Medical professionals in the capital of Bangui have noted an uptick in malaria cases where artemisia-based treatments seem to be less effective than before. If this were true, it would be a significant upset to public health in numerous countries, not just in Africa, where artemisinin extracted from the Artemisia annua plant has been used for prophylactic and therapeutic malaria treatments for years. The efficacy of this chemical extract has been proven in clinical trials.
Dr. Nzoumbou-Boko analyzed samples at two sites in Bangui between 2017 and 2019, and could not find a strain that had developed a mutation making it more resistant to artemisinin. Although his finding was reassuring, the noticeable decline in the impact of artemisinin on treating malaria is motivating Dr. Nzoumbou-Boko to pursue further research on a previously unreported Plasmodium falciparum strain that may have developed such a mutation. He is seeking to conduct further trials to map the parasite’s potential artemisinin resistance across the Central African Republic in order to develop more effective malaria treatments.
Efforts by Cameroonian president Paul Biya to grant further autonomy to the Anglophone regions of Northwest and Southwest Cameroon, along with other measures allegedly designed to increase local power, have been put on pause due to the ongoing health crisis posed by COVID-19. These measures were originally proposed during a “Major National Dialogue” held between September 30 and October 6, 2019.
Among the various proposals, one of the more symbolic ones was a suggestion to formally change the country’s name to the United Republic of Cameroon, acknowledging the different histories between the country’s Francophone and Anglophone regions, which were unified on October 1, 1961.
The Cameroonian parliament also introduced laws to formalize bilingualism; establish “super mayors” for the country’s fourteen largest cities, to be elected by popular vote, who would act as delegates to the national government; create regional assemblies composed of a house of representatives and a chamber of traditional chiefs; and provide greater financial assistance to the regions.
Anglophone separatists boycotted last year’s peace talks
While emblematic of the Biya administration’s sincerity in granting further autonomy to Cameroon’s provinces, the government has taken a hard stance against any sort of federal system, creating an intractable deadlock between Biya and Anglophone separatists, who boycotted last year’s peace talks in protest.
Complicating matters is the distrust among Cameroon’s opposition politicians, who view the National Dialogue as a public farce and doubt the legitimacy of the country’s current ruling party, which won the legislative elections earlier this year despite a high rate of voter abstention, potentially as high as 70 percent.
The African Union (AU) has suspended South Sudan’s participation in meetings over its inability to pay financial contributions of about US$9 million for the past three years. Hakim Edward, deputy spokesperson for South Sudan’s ministry of foreign affairs, explained that the country had not been deprived of its membership, but South Sudanese diplomats may not take part in or contribute to African Union meetings. He said efforts were under way to resolve the matter.
The failure to pay its dues points to South Sudan’s economic woes as it tries to formalize a unity government, a critical component of the 2019 peace agreement that put an end to a bloody seven-year civil war. The deal was struck around the same time that the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report detailing how several South Sudanese officials had embezzled state funds, and how lucrative oil contracts had been used to fund armed militias engaged in the civil war.
The suspension risks hampering critical discussions
Suspending South Sudan’s participation in meetings is the result of new measures the AU implemented in 2018 to ensure member states fulfill their financial obligations. But it risks alienating South Sudanese and hampering critical discussions, especially as the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) struggles to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in the country. South Sudan’s healthcare infrastructure is among the poorest on the continent, and millions of internally displaced people living in UN-protected camps are at high risk of contracting the virus.
President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China delivered a keynote speech during a virtual China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against COVID-19. The Chinese president began by emphasizing China’s role in providing medical equipment and teams to help Africa combat the pandemic, including the construction of China-Africa hospitals and the bold promise to guarantee that Africans will be some of the first to receive a potential COVID-19 vaccine developed in Chinese labs.
This marks the first time the Chinese government has formally addressed the issue of African debt
He went on to emphasize the need for greater investment and cooperation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as well as pledges to help alleviate African debt through zero-interest loans that will mature by the end of 2020. This marks the first time the Chinese government has formally addressed the issue of African debt, which has become a major sticking point as COVID-19 continues to strangle African economies, many of whom are saddled with billions of dollars’ worth of debt from Chinese infrastructure projects linked to the BRI.
Soon after the outbreak reached most of Africa, Western news outlets began to openly ponder whether China would be willing to embrace the growing calls for debt relief emanating from numerous African heads of state, the European Union, and financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
President Xi’s call for “taking China-African friendship forward” prepares the continent for a geopolitical shift toward China. This is, perhaps, how US secretary of state Mike Pompeo saw it when he said “no country will rival what the US is doing” when it comes to assisting African countries with the fight against COVID-19.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo declared a new Ebola outbreak after five people have died of the deadly virus disease in the city of Mbandaka in Equateur province.No one knows how the virus resurfaced during a time that travel restrictions are in place to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Less than two months ago, the DRC was on the point of declaring an official end to the Ebola epidemic that had lasted for two years and killed more than 2,000 people. Then new cases surfaced in Beni, the epicenter of the outbreak in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri.Yet the authorities believed the outbreak was in its “final phase”.
“This is a reminder that COVID-19 is not the only health threat people face”
The Ebola cases in Mbandaka come at a time that the country is also battling measles and COVID-19. “This is a reminder that COVID-19 is not the only health threat people face,” says Dr. Tedros Adhanom, director general of the World Health Organization. “Although much of our attention is on the pandemic, WHO is continuing to monitor and respond to many other health emergencies.”
WHO has sent a team to support the response to the new outbreak. Mbandaka is a busy transport hub on the Congo River, near the border with the Republic of Congo, so there is concern that the virus could spread.
The Largest Measles Outbreak in the World
In the past year, the DRC has also reported 369,520 measles cases and 6,779 deaths, according to WHO. Médecins Sans Frontières, which has teams working in various parts of the country to help with patient care, vaccination, and monitoring the spread, saysall twenty-six provinces of the country have been affected by the outbreak.
Young children are dying from a disease that can be prevented through vaccination. Whereas the rising number of measles cases in the rest of the world can mostly be attributed to a reluctance to use vaccines, in the DRC it’s caused by poor access to healthcare. Dr. Xavier Crespin, chief of health for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in the DRC, saysa lack of investment in healthcare over the past five years, combined with vaccine shortages, high rates of malnutrition, and ongoing conflict, has created a “national crisis”. Logistical difficulties because of bad roads and long distances—the DRC is the second largest country on the continent—contribute to the problem.