In Gabon, the national parks’ wildlife capture unit recently succeeded in capturing a giant ground pangolin—the largest of Africa’s four pangolin species—in Lopé-Okanda National Park. A team of scientists, led by wildlife ecologist Dr. David Lehmann, are researching this elusive scaled mammal as part of the European Union’s Ecofac6 program, which supports the preservation of fragile ecosystems and biodiversity in Central Africa. They hope that studying the 38-kilogram captured pangolin will give them insight that could help in the fight against poaching.
In Africa, China, and Southeast Asia, pangolins are prized for their meat, blood, and scales for spiritual and medicinal purposes. Since the four Asian pangolin species have been hunted to the brink of extinction, smugglers are increasingly poaching African pangolins to meet the demands of the illicit trade. The African Wildlife Foundation estimates that 2.7 million pangolins are poached each year from African rainforests.
Professor Lee White, Gabon’s minister of forests, oceans, environment and climate change, says over the past three years the Gabonese authorities have caught ivory poachers operating near the Cameroonian border with sacks of pangolin scales, a sign that existing trafficking syndicates in the region have expanded their work to include pangolin poaching.
Dr. Lehmann and his team worry that should pangolin numbers continue to drop or, in the worst-case scenario, if the animal were to become extinct, it would have a cascading effect on rainforest biomes, since pangolins play a key role in managing insect populations. A single pangolin can consume up to 70 million ants and termites per year.
The COVID-19 Link
Some experts believe that the COVID-19 pandemic began when a virus jumped from a wild animal species to a human at a market in Wuhan, China. There has also been speculation that the pangolin could be an intermediate host of the novel coronavirus. This was probably why, in June, pangolin parts were left out of the Chinese Pharmacopoeia, the official compendium of traditional Chinese and Western medicines.
Over the past decade, high unemployment has forced tens of thousands of Ethiopians to travel overseas to find work, many to the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East. It was illegal for Ethiopians to do so until, in 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed lifted the restrictions on overseas migration for work.
Migrant laborers, who are often subjected to poor working conditions, crowded housing, and little access to healthcare, are now also bearing the brunt of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She had been kept in detention for forty day before she was deported
Since mid-March, according to the Ethiopian government, more than 30,000 workers have re-entered the country. Some have returned voluntarily, but others suffered mistreatment in detention centers before they were deported. The New York Timesreported that Selam Bizuneh, a twenty-six-year-old who had lost her job as a domestic worker in Kuwait, had been kept in detention for forty days before she was deported. Shortly after arriving home, she tested positive for COVID-19.
Ethiopian officials say that nearly 1,000 migrant laborers were found to be infected with the virus on their return, but the real number is likely to be much higher. This is placing a strain on the country’s already overburdened health system, even though international funding has helped to strengthen its response to the pandemic.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Abiy launched a month-long national campaign—which includes testing 200,000 people for the virus within two weeks—to get an overview of the scale of the pandemic in order to control it better.
Muslims around the world were dismayed to learn that they would be unable to partake in the hajj, a pilgrimage to the holy site of Mecca, this year due to Saudi Arabia’s closure of its borders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Every Muslim is required to make at least on hajj in their lifetime if they are physically and financially able to do so.
For Somali Muslims, the closure of Mecca’s gates is not only a spiritual loss but also a significant economic one.
Crops and livestock make up 75 percent of Somalia’s total GDP and 93 percent of total exports as of 2018, most of which linked directly to livestock sales in the months leading up to the hajj. In normal years, livestock breeders would travel north to port cities in Somaliland or Puntland to sell their animals, which would then be shipped to Saudi Arabia to feed the millions of pilgrims descending on the remote desert town of Mecca. Forced to sell only domestically, many Somalis’ have had to lower their prices drastically.
The price of camels has dropped by nearly half
The humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger reports that the price for camels has dropped by nearly half, from US$1,000 a head to US$500. The prices of goats, sheep and cattle are similarly affected. All told, Somali livestock traders are likely to lose revenue of about US$500 million this year because of Saudi Arabia’s border closure.
Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), has been cleared of corruption following the conclusion of a second ethics probe, which the United States had insisted on. A three-person team found insufficient evidence to prove allegations of corruption and nepotism that whistleblowers had leveled against Dr. Adesina, and found his submission to be persuasive.
A report by the AfDB’s Ethics Committee and Board of Governors had cleared him of misconduct in April, but the US, which is the second-largest AfDB shareholder, rejected the internal investigation and insisted that an independent panel review the case. The panel, led by former Irish president Mary Robinson, reviewed all the evidence and agreed with the earlier finding.
The Americans’ demand for a second investigation into Dr. Adesina’s conduct sparked outrage among African states that hold shares in the AfDB, with Nigeria in particular pushing back against what they perceived as an imposition on the bank by a non-African nation.
Dr. Adesina is free to pursue his re-election bid for president of the AfDB
The AfDB has been a key financier of major infrastructure projects, such as Mozambique’s liquid natural gas plant in Cabo Delgado province and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Inga III hydropower project. The AfDB has also committed US$10 billion in funding to assist in the fight against COVID-19 on the continent.
With his name cleared, Dr. Adesina is free to pursue his re-election bid for president of the AfDB in August, running as the only candidate for the position and generally supported by the Bank’s African shareholders.
In his 2005 book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, author Jared Diamond examines various factors that led to instances of societal collapse in the past, and argues that our modern society faces many of these same challenges but on a larger scale. Today, let alone the collapse of societies, there is even a risk to the survival of our species.
Diamond was one of the first to propose that climate change and environmental degradation could lead civilizations to collapse.According to him, our current society is unsustainable and unless we make profound changes in behavior. History he showed us is full of examples of civilizational collapse because of limited resources and exploding populations.
Africa is the focus of world population growth this century. The African population is expected to increase from about 1.3 billion in 2020 to 4.5 billion by 2100, the biggest change in human history in just a few generations. If economic development and industrialization continue to be based on fossil fuel, it would probably mean the end of the planet.
Climate change and the environmental consequences will have increasing impact on the continent in the next few years. As we saw with the recent locust invasion in East Africa, Africa will see a number of environmental challenges, ranging from desertification to natural disasters, and new pandemics similar to Ebola could arrive very soon. This, coupled with a population explosion humankind, could make Africa the first “failed continent” in human history.
Any country would struggle to provide subsidized shelter, education, jobs, healthcare, and pensions for such a fast-growing population. Nor will it be possible to manage the brutal urbanization that will inevitably follow the provision of the required infrastructure, transportation, and telecommunications.
Looking to emulate “First World” societies, the youth in Africa will want improved living standards, and if they cannot get them at home, they will go in search of it, making the current migration surge to Western countries look like a picnic.
Political and Economic Challenges
Fast population growth also has implications for democracy. Many African dictators have been in power for decades. Neither party systems nor civil society organizations seem to be able to take the lead in a democratic transition. Compounding the problems of inefficient institutions, endemic corruption, and a lack of capacity and know-how are weak states, climate change, and resource scarcity. It’s a recipe for collapse. And COVID-19 has become a threat multiplier.
Besides the health crisis, the biggest challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic for Africa will be the economic and political ones. A report by the African Union warns that Africa could lose about 20 million jobs in 2020 due to the pandemic. This report was, however, done at the beginning of the spread of the disease in Africa, when there were relatively few cases. Another study, “Tackling COVID-19 in Africa” by McKinsey & Company—also compiled at the beginning of the pandemic on the continent—predicted that Africa’s economies could experience a loss of between US$90 billion and US$200 billion in 2020. But if the pandemic were to continue into 2021, as is starting to appear likely, things will get much worse.
For post-pandemic recovery, there would therefore be a strong need to increase the welfare state in all African countries, with Keynesian policies of government support. But this risks a mounting debt crisis for many African states. Africa already has some of the poorest and most indebted countries in the world, including Eritrea with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 127 percent and Mozambique with a ratio of 124 percent.
Competition among the major world powers has led to China in particular seeking to gain influence on the African continent by using debt-trap diplomacy. It extends large loans for infrastructure projects through its Belt and Road Initiative, but uses these investments to demand greater influence and access to commodities.
At social and political level, much unrest and instability are anticipated as the economic crisis unfolds this year and even more so next year. Furthermore, political heavy-handedness and anti-democratic enforcement measures will risk provoking more popular unrest. Since refugees, migrants, and displaced people across Africa are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission, governments should help to control the refugee camps and avoid border closures that could put vulnerable people at greater risk. Exacerbating the situation is the fact that the health infrastructure in Africa is inadequate to deal with such crises.
An Opportunity for Change
Yet not all is lost. The future always brings challenges and threats, but also possibilities and opportunities.
Africa could still do a lot with good leadership and cooperation. And the post-COVID-19 era could provide the opportunity for change. The most important step for Africa in the near future is to move rapidly toward an integrated market by implementing the African Free Trade Zone, and at the same time to have the support of Europe.
The Mediterranean could again become the bridge between Europe and Africa, with the possibility to make societies on either side flourish again. Instead of being the cemetery for migrants trying to cross its waters, the Mediterranean could become the connector between civilizations and histories, markets and people, for a future of prosperity and peace on both shores.
To make Africa the region of opportunities, both the Europe Union and the African Union will have to invest in the stability of the continent and in the human security of its people.
The United Nations has defined human security as “freedom from fear, from want, and from indignity,” but human security in Africa is at the lowest level in the world.
To invest in human security in Africa means first of all to address the root causes of instability and to carry out a real “peace-building” process with investments at the social, political, and economic levels of society.
Addressing the root causes of instability would involve combating endemic corruption at institutional level, empowering civil society organizations, supporting democratization, and working with international businesses to stop the pillaging of African resources. It also requires speaking out about human rights violations, tackling the security-development nexus, fighting armed groups benefitting from economic underdevelopment, supporting local economic development, and ending gender inequality and violence against women.
A Marshall Plan For Africa
Europe and the African continent will have to make important choices over the next few decades after the pandemic-induced economic crisis, which will be much worse than the economic downturn that started in 1929 leading to the "Great Depression."
This will be the decisive century for the survival of the world, and Africa and Europe will take center stage. The European Union could consider something similar to the United States’ Marshall Plan, a program to provide aid to a devastated Europe after World War II. My own country, Italy, was the third largest recipient of Marshall Plan aid. Decades after independence, African countries are still recovering from the effects of colonialism and the dictatorships that followed it, which Europe often supported. A similar plan should be developed for these countries.
The European Union will have to choose between pivoting to Africa or looking inward while struggling with domestic economic stagnation, and possibly losing the opportunity to become the cooperative leader that the world needs in this century. And Africa will have to decide whether it will look to the future or keep blaming the past.
These are tough choices, but there is no easy solution for ensuring the future of humankind: we need visionary leadership and courageous actions, or face the collapse of societies.
Maurizio Geri is an analyst on peace, security, defense, and strategic foresight. He is based in Brussels, Belgium.
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.
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.
(Juba, SOUTH SUDAN) As COVID-19 spread across Africa, South Sudan, the youngest nation in the world, was one of the last African countries to report its first case. Despite having more time to prepare for the eventual arrival of the disease, the country has struggled in its response to the pandemic. Online and in hushed conversations behind closed doors, intellectuals and ordinary citizens are saying the country is on autopilot in its fight against the disease. To date, South Sudan has reported 1,776 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 30 deaths.
A United Nations staffer who had flown into Juba days earlier tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus on April 5, 2020. The case sparked outrage on social media against the UN for importing the disease. The incident exposed the sometimes-tense relationship South Sudan has had with the UN mission in the country since the South Sudanese Civil War began in December 2013. In just more than six years, until a peace deal was struck in February 2020, an estimated 400,000 people died in the war.
President Salva Kiir Mayardit and First Vice President Riek Machar Teny jointly launched the High-Level Task Force on COVID-19 to deal with the virus. This task force has so far coordinated and communicated to citizens the measures to mitigate the spread of the disease, informed by guidelines issued by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The measures included a curfew; a ban on social gatherings, and the closure of all points of entry into the country, schools, and non-essential businesses, among others.
The sweeping plan has lacked coherence and the necessary risk analysis to develop an all-round plan that fits the South Sudanese context. Given the country’s history of violent conflict, many underlying social and political challenges complicate the response to the pandemic. This includes the neglected healthcare infrastructure, economic crisis, and food insecurity. Roughly half of the 11 million population are dependent on humanitarian assistance.
Weeks went by without a clear roadmap or decisions made by the High-Level Task Force (HLTF), which led to the suspicion that the entity had been reduced to merely announcing the number of infections instead of formulating strategic policies and measurements. Decision-making was flawed, and there was no clarity on whether it was the presidency driving the response or the HLTF.
It should be noted that South Sudan has a collegial presidency—established under the peace agreement—comprising the president, the first vice president, and four other vice presidents.
COVID-19 Outbreak among Cabinet Ministers
First Vice President Riek Machar shocked the nation when he announced on May 19 that both he and his wife Angelina had tested positive for COVID-19.
Several other cabinet ministers, including the defense minister, also tested positive for the virus. Thus far, more than ten other senior members of the cabinet have tested positive, although their identities have not been revealed.
This paralyzed the work of the existing COVID-19 task force. In response, a new body called the National Task Force Committee was formed to adopt the task of the defunct HLTF. Vice President Hussein Abdelbagi Akol was put in charge, but he tested positive barely two weeks after taking the leadership position, further plunging the country’s fight against the pandemic into uncertainty.
Since then, other leaders in government and civilian life have tested positive for COVID-19, including Vice President James Wani Igga, who is in charge of the economic cluster; several members of cabinet; as well as military and civilian leaders, of whom some have died.
The government’s mishandling of the pandemic will have dire consequences in the long term and exacerbate existing socio-political problems.
In the meantime, fighting between the army and armed opposition groups in Central Equatoria, and intercommunal violence in Jonglei and Bahr El Ghazal have created another layer of associated problems. There were reports of massive displacement of civilians, killings, kidnappings, and theft of cattle.
The pandemic’s effect on the economy is going to be much more devastating than the virus itself, mainly because it will have a serious direct impact on many more people. The government has worsened the impact by its approach to the pandemic, which has been described as a scorched-earth policy, rendering useless the indispensable sources of livelihood for many people.
It should be recalled that four out of five South Sudanese live below the poverty line, and these four work in the informal sector, which has been hardest hit by the government’s containment measures. A local said, “We made sacrifices for as long as those very orders were in place, yet reaped an exponential surge in cases of corona.”
The window of opportunity to contain the outbreak was misused. Now, most South Sudanese do not have a social safety net to endure directives that have rendered their sources of livelihood obsolete. Job losses have been reported as businesses cut down on employee numbers, and prospects for employment have dwindled under the cloud of COVID-19.
In recent months, the price of oil—which accounts for more than 90 percent of government revenue—has plummeted, further undermining the government’s capability to do anything meaningful in regard to socio-economic planning and wellbeing of citizens. As the containment measures have negatively impacted the economy, non-oil revenue has also diminished, eroding government’s ability to provide basic services.
Back to “Normal”
Some of the containment measures have since been relaxed. All points of entry have been opened for domestic and international traffic, and businesses are permitted to reopen providing they implement physical distancing and wearing of masks.
For now, ordinary citizens in the streets of the capital Juba console themselves with the knowledge that COVID-19 is less lethal than Ebola (which has fortunately not crossed the border from the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Uganda to the south), and that it is mainly the elderly and people with underlying health conditions who are at risk of developing severe complications. Most people have resumed their normal activities, disregarding COVID-19 guidelines.
Patrick Anyama is a freelance writer in Juba, South Sudan.
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.
The pandemic that crippled most of the world for months has lumbered through Nigeria, most prominently by claiming the life of Abba Kyari, President Muhamed Buhari's chief of staff. it is the northern city of Kano, where the virus seems to have claimed the most lives.
The city of about 5 million has seen a surge in deaths that the nation’s health authorities do not attribute to COVID-19, at least officially. The Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) has reported only forty-five local COVID-19 deaths, yet the people on the street know differently. Gravediggers say they cannot keep up with the demand for burials. Locals say a lack of transparency has complicated the issue in Kano.
“Authorities have claimed that these deaths were mysterious”
“Some sources reported that over a thousand persons had died from April 20 to May 4 in Kano State,” says Paul Alaje, an economist based in Lagos. “A recent report also has it that over a hundred people have died in the ten days leading up to May 4. Authorities in these states have claimed that these deaths were mysterious. There has been clarification, however, by the Presidential Task Force that most of the deaths are linked to COVID-19.”
The virus has likely spread far more widely here than the NCDC is reporting, Alaje says.
“Kano State has lost close to, if not more than, fifty prominent citizens”
The disparity between anecdotal accounts of mass deaths and the official health records of the authorities has triggered distrust in the Nigerian government’s narrative.
“From April 17 to May 17, 2020, Kano State has lost close to, if not more than, fifty prominent citizens, including at least seven professors, top serving and retired civil servants, media executives, captains of industry, first-class traditional rulers, and serving and retired security personnel,” reads a press release from the NGO Intersociety (International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law). “Deaths of their likes have also been reported in Zamfara, Nasarawa, Sokoto, Taraba, Jigawa, Yobe, and Bauchi states. The Kano harvest of deaths sprang up first on April 17, 2020, killing 150 in under four days.”
Whereas the official Nigerian death toll reported by the NCDC by June 2 was 299, Intersociety claims thousands have died: more than 1,500 people have died in Kano, 470 in Yobe, 200 in Jigawa, and 150 in Bauchi, according to Intersociety. These figures could not be confirmed by New Africa Daily.
“There are also independent or unofficial reports of more deaths of low-income and middle-income earners in Sokoto and others, but were wickedly kept from public knowledge,” says Emeka Umeagbalasi, chair of Intersociety’s board of trustees. Where these deaths are reported, they are attributed to other causes, including meningitis, Lassa fever, high fever, high blood pressure, hypertension, acute malaria, hepatitis B, typhoid fever, cough, and catarrh.
“Contradictions abound,” Umeagbalasi says. “Our firm demand is that all the infections and deaths in the northern states and similar ones in the rest of the country must be forensically detected and investigated, and their findings made public.”
Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari reassured the nation in a late April broadcast that the mysterious deaths in Kano were not attributable to the virus. However, the lockdown in Kano was extended another month, but elsewhere lockdown measures were relaxed on May 2.
Several staffers were infected due to poor handling of samples
The government in Kano may have acted to conceal the true statistics, says Dr. Lazarus Ude Eze, a medical doctor who monitors infection surveys in Nigeria.
In fact, Kano’s spike in cases in late April reportedly sparked multiple crises linked to the government’s attempts to save face. First, shortly after Kano’s testing center was set up, several staffers were infected due to poor handling of samples; then some members of the Kano State Task Force got infected, too, forcing several medical staff to go into quarantine when they were needed the most. Meanwhile, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje was seen spending his time lobbying the federal government to get a larger share of funding to battle the disease, which he previously said was not spreading in the state.
“The Kano situation as reported likely has been caused by a combination of meningitis, which kills several people about this time yearly due to the hot weather and poor ventilation,” says Dr. Tijjani Hussaini, coordinator of the state’s COVID-19 Technical Response Team. “Kano State is like any other place in the world battling with the scourge... We are in a rigorous investigation of the deaths in Kano, but as a scientist I can’t tell you exactly what the investigation will tell us about the cause of the deaths.”
Douglas Burton is a former US State Department official in Kirkuk, Iraq, and writes news and commentary from Washington, D.C.