A multinational consortium of telecommunications companies—including Facebook, China Mobile International, MTN Global Connect, Telecom Egypt, and Vodafone—announced the construction of a new undersea fiber-optic cable that will connect sixteen African countries, Europe, and the Middle East. Named 2Africa, the 37,000 kilometer-long communications cable is scheduled to go live in 2023 or 2024.
Africans pay some of the highest data rates in the world.
In March, two undersea cables serving Africa experienced breakages that drastically reduced Internet connectivity for days as repairs were made. The addition of 2Africa will help improve Internet access for millions of Africans, and mitigate disruptions should other cables experience failures in the future. Such disruptions are not only frustrating for Africans, who pay some of the highest data rates in the world, but also have a negative impact on the African economy.
A 2017 report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) concluded that intentional Internet shutdowns in twelve countries between 2015 and 2017 cost sub-Saharan Africa more than US$237 million. Unforeseen connectivity disruptions naturally can have far greater negative impact on national and regional economies.
COVID-19 is expected to curtail much of the economic progress made in sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade, with the International Monetary Fund forecasting an average regional GDP shrinkage of 1.6 percent due to a dip in commodity prices. However, five African countries are actually projected to exit the pandemic with positive growth rates, three of which are located in West Africa.
Niger and South Africa are seeing some of the worst GDP growth contractions on the continent.
Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Guinea, Botswana, and the Seychelles are all predicted to see positive growth rates—between 6.8 and 8.7 percent—in 2021, thanks in part to their economies being largely dependent on the agricultural sector. Nations like Nigeria and South Africa, dependent on oil and raw ore exports, respectively, are seeing some of the worst GDP growth contractions on the continent. Other sectors, such as tourism, transport, and commerce, will still feel the oncoming recession induced by the pandemic, piling on additional public debt burdens on these states.
The combination of existing outstanding debts coupled with these grim economic forecasts has resulted in a chorus of African leaders, including African Union special envoy for infrastructure Raila Odinga, to call for full debt relief.
Although virtually every African is aware of COVID-19, a May report from the Partnership for Evidence-Based Response to COVID-19 (PERC) found that one in five Africans believed they were immune to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. About 54 percent of the respondents also believed the myth that a hot climate would prevent the spread of the virus, and 29 percent were convinced COVID-19 could be contracted from any Chinese person in their country.
Results from this report come at a time when countries like Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa have begun easing restrictions, coinciding with an uptick in cases.
There’s also the danger of a boomerang effect.
Misinformation (inaccuracies stemming from error) and disinformation (deliberate falsehoods) about the pandemic jeopardize the gains that health authorities have made in limiting the spread of outbreaks. To discourage disinformation, several African governments have enacted regulations that carry harsh penalties, including fines and imprisonment, leading to concerns that this criminalization could threaten press freedom.
There’s also the danger of a boomerang effect: by threatening to punish citizens for sharing information counter to government sources, even accidentally, trust in national and international institutions could weaken. And this could push people to turn to other sources of information and potentially into conspiracy territory, resulting in some of the responses noted by PERC.
Nigeria’s federal government has announced plans to gradually open up the country over a six-week period after instituting a strict lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Among the numerous provisions that are part of the reopening, commercial banks will only operate for six hours per day, inter-state travel is forbidden except for essential services, a curfew will be enforced between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. and any arrivals in Nigeria will be required to undergo a supervised fourteen-day quarantine.
This strategy is indicative of the push-and-pull between the Nigerian government’s desire to ensure public safety and the needs of its citizens, many of whom cannot survive an extended lockdown due to poverty. On Monday, April 27, the same day the reopening policy was announced, dozens of Nigerian construction workers went on strike to protest against lockdown measures in Lagos.
The greatest concern is the risk of a second wave of infections arising from relaxed measures.
Lockdown Tensions Mount Everywhere
Similar frustrations have been expressed in other parts of Africa, forcing governments to implement their own versions of reopening. The greatest concern emerging from this strategy is the risk of a second wave of infections arising from relaxed measures, which would quickly overwhelm fragile healthcare systems across sub-Saharan Africa and likely undercut any economic gains made from easing restrictions.
Margaret Adenuga, who is sixty-eight years old, gave birth to healthy twins, a boy and a girl, at Lagos University Teaching Hospital on April 14 following a fourth attempt at in-vitro fertilization. Because of her age, a specialist team monitored the pregnancy and delivered the babies via cesarean section.
She and her seventy-seven-year-old husband, Noah Adenuga, are first-time parents.
Many of these deaths are from preventable causes
It is a story of success in a country that has one of the highest incidences of maternal death in the world. The World Health Organization estimates a Nigerian woman has a 1 in 22 lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy, childbirth, or postpartum, whereas in the most developed countries the lifetime risk is 1 in 4,900. Many of these deaths are from preventable causes.
Free maternal healthcare is available in most public hospitals in Nigeria, but obstacles remain, such as the cost of transport and laboratory tests. Bribery is also a too-frequent occurrence for women seeking access to free basic medical care and drug prescriptions. Some corrupt health providers extort illegal fees from women seeking antenatal care.
Fighting corruption should be a priority for the Nigerian government if it wants to improve maternal care.
Chad’s recent offensive into the Lake Chad Basin disrupted Boko Haram’s control of the area. Yet without sustained engagement in the region the terrorist group could easily return.
On 23 March, Jama’atu Ahlis-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal-Jihad (JAS) attacked an army position in Boma, a Chadian peninsula on the Lake Chad Basin. Ninety-eight Chadian soldiers were killed, the most ever in an attack. About forty were wounded and military equipment was captured. Chad’s retaliation was as unprecedented as the JAS attack. The Wrath of Boma military campaign spans three countries: Chad, Niger, and Nigeria.
The Boma attack confirms that JAS remains as formidable a foe to the Lake Chad Basin countries as the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). More than eight hours of fighting on a swampy semi-island with heavy casualties for Chad demonstrates JAS’s combat capacity, which included significant amphibious equipment, diligent planning and meticulous intelligence work.
It also shows that the JAS and ISWAP operational sectors often intersect and overlap. The sub-faction of JAS led by Ibrahim Bakura, operating around the northern part of the lake, has since 2019 allowed JAS leader AbubakarShekau to extend his area of operation beyond Southern Borno in Nigeria, into Niger and Chad.
Lake Chad Basin countries
(Click on the map for the full-size image.)
On the same day as the Boma attack, a Nigerian army unit was ambushed by ISWAP in the Konduga area in Borno State, resulting in around 100 casualties. A Nigerien military reconnaissance outpost in Chetima Wangou, Diffa Region, was attacked two weeks earlier, resulting in eight deaths.
Attacks for resupply and hostage-taking for ransom have persisted across the Lake Chad Basin, but assaults on military positions have intensified across the region since March 2020. These events are part of a trend since the last quarter of 2018 that show the resilience of Boko Haram factions, particularly ISWAP.
Recent attacks on civilians and humanitarian actors in the region have raised concerns about JAS’s enduring capacity to execute large-scale assaults. Since Boko Haram splintered in August 2016 and its strategic camp in the Sambisa Forest was dismantled in December that year, JAS was thought to have been diminished, disorganized and confined to Southern Borno.
Persistent attacks have also raised questions about the effectiveness of the Lake Chad Basin states’ responses to eradicate Boko Haram. The ability of governments in the region to enhance their legitimacy and deliver much-needed services to their communities has also come under scrutiny.
Assaults on military positions have intensified across the Lake Chad Basin region since March 2020
In March this year, before engaging in Lake Chad’s swamps and islands, Chad obtained agreement from Niger and Nigeria for its troops to deploy on their territory. Niger and Nigeria also agreed to block their respective territorial lake shores to prevent JAS fighters from fleeing. This large-scale military response has Shekau’s troops on the run, as is clear in his audio message from 11 April urging his troops to stand firm.
The intensity of Chadian combat operations could open a new chapter in counter-terrorism efforts in the Lake Chad Basin. But there are fears of history repeating itself. Military operations after the deployment of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in 2015 rolled back Boko Haram’s territorial gains considerably. But a failure to hold these spaces and win the hearts and minds of the communities meant the groups were never totally eradicated.
A state of emergency has been declared in the departments of Kaya and Fouli in Lac Province, Chad. People living in these border areas – which were declared a war zone from 27 March to 16 April – have been asked to move further inland to avoid being mistaken for Boko Haram combatants.
Lac has a total of 169 000 internally displaced people, 13 000 refugees and 47 000 Chadian returnees resulting from Boko Haram-related emergencies. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs adds about 20 000 to the above number of internally displaced people since the end of March.
Humanitarian consequences will worsen given that COVID-19 responses restrict inter-city movements
The humanitarian consequences will considerably worsen given that COVID-19 responses are restricting inter-city movements. These vulnerable communities are already the double victims of Boko Haram abuses and states’ security-based responses. There is currently no clear strategy to provide shelter or food for these new internally displaced people, exposing them to further health risks and deepening their vulnerabilities.
Beyond the strategic aim of degrading Boko Haram, operational priorities should also focus on helping vulnerable communities. On 4 April, Chad’s President Idriss Déby discussed the MNJTF’s control of the Lake Chad islands with force commander Major General Ibrahim Manu Yusuf. Yusuf has prioritized reconquering these islands by integrating the police and civil society. While this is happening, the Lake Chad Basin states must ensure the flow of humanitarian aid to help manage additional displacements.
The complex mix of actors trapped in Boko Haram’s operational areas must also be considered. Ongoing Institute for Security Studies research shows that large-scale military operations often trigger the return of voluntary and involuntary associates of Boko Haram in all four of the Lake Chad Basin countries. It’s important to differentiate between ex-combatants, abductees and detainees of Boko Haram in order to propose responses suited to each category.
The collaboration between Chad, Niger and Nigeria on the Wrath of Boma military operation should be extended to diplomatic, developmental and peacebuilding efforts. Cameroon should also be part of this partnership.
Beyond destroying Boko Haram, operational priorities should include helping vulnerable communities
Lake Chad Basin countries should use this opportunity to strengthen and sustain the regional cooperation required to both outlast Boko Haram and launch effective peacebuilding in the area. The MNJTF can enhance this coordination and ensure that liberated areas are held by civil defense forces that are able to protect citizens.
The countries of the Lake Chad Basin have missed some important opportunities to eradicate violent extremism and stabilize the area. Better communication and a coordinated response, both in the military and development fields, will help bring down Boko Haram.
Remadji Hoinathy is the scientific director of the Centre de Recherches en Anthropologie et Sciences Humaines (CRASH) in N’Djaména, Chad, and a lecturer at the Department of Anthropology at the University of N’Djamena.
This article was originally published on ISS Today under the heading “Is counter-terrorism history repeating itself in Lake Chad Basin?”
Nigerian authorities reported the country’s first confirmed coronavirus case on February 28, the first in a sub-Saharan African country, according to Associated Press. The outbreak is now feared to have spread to the region with the world’s weakest health systems. Nigerian “patient zero” is in fact an Italian citizen who had travelled from Milan to Lagos, Africa’s most populated city with more 20 million people, on a business trip. The Health Commissioner for Lagos said the authorities were working to identify all of the man’s contacts since he arrived in Nigeria in an attempt to contain further contamination in the fourth-most densely populated city in the world.
According to the Associated Press, Nigeria is among the African countries that the World Health Organization classified as high priority in this outbreak. The country was praised for its response to Ebola, specifically for the effectiveness of its public awareness campaigns. Such focus on raising public awareness has been particularly visible in the authorities’ coronavirus response, with social media serving as a key tool of engagement.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control’s Twitter and Facebook accounts have been particularly active since the first #COVID19 case was reported, demonstrating preparedness at the local level for “risk reduction”. Through the Centre’s Facebook account, for instance, we learn that the authorities have established a National Rapid Response Team and an Emergency Operations Centre at Ogun State. The page also regularly posts “UPDATE” vignettes linking to official communications in English from the NCDC’s website with further updates and details. Similarly, NCDC’s Twitter account has ramped up its activity over the last few days with links to official government statements and guidelines, and communicating on its director general’s media appearances where he addresses latest developments on the authorities’ response to a potential outbreak.
An analysis of the NCDC’s recent Twitter activities using a publicly available social media analytics tool shows that the NCDC’s official account has posted more than 1,100 unique tweets and retweets over the past five hours, with the majority of which (more than 300) linking to the NCDC’s official website, ncdc.gov.ng.
The NCDC’s Twitter account was further boosted following a Tweet by Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari commending “the excellent responses of… Nigeria Centre for Disease Control… to the Coronavirus situation in Nigeria” while directly linking to a tweet from the NCDC account.
Nigerian authorities overall should indeed be commended for their social media engagement on the coronavirus situation. In a space that is oftentimes dominated by conspiratorial accounts, NCDC appears to be fulfilling its key function of mainstreaming fact-based narratives on an unfolding situation that is likely to get more critical by the day.
Nigeria’s elections body has announced that 75 political parties had been deregistered for breaching regulations that govern their operations.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, at a press conference in Abuja on Thursday said the affected parties “did not satisfy the requirement of the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution.”
Prior to today’s exercise, Nigeria as Africa’s most populous nation with over 200 million people had a total of 93 registered parties. There are only 18 parties that are currently authorized to operate.
Details of the reasons that led to the de-registration included:
Failure of the parties to win at least 25% of votes cast in one state of the federation in a presidential election or one local government of a state in a gubernatorial vote.
Failure to win at least one ward in a chairmanship election, a seat in the national or state legislature, a seat in at the councillorship level.
INEC under section 225 A of the Nigerian constitution (Fourth Alteration, No. 9) Act, 2017 also reserves the power to de-register a party over a breach of any of the regulations for registration.