Africa Insiders - the Big Stories You're Missing Due to COVID-19

9 April 2020
analysis

The coronavirus pandemic will hit Africa hard, but it is not the only newsworthy development of the past few weeks. Here is a quick overview of stories you might have missed.

The other plague: locusts

Locusts are continuing to ravage crop production in East Africa. The situation has even arguably worsened in recent weeks. Plenty of rain and limited availability of insecticides due to COVID-19's effects on global supply chains has created the ideal conditions for breeding and the forming of new swarms. Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia continue to be the hardest-hit countries. Farmers could lose a second harvest to the plague, adding to the economic hardship and health risks produced by the pandemic.

Conflicts don't care

Despite a call by the UN for a global ceasefire to allow all societies to concentrate on the threat posed by COVID-19, fighting continued in all major conflict theatres across the continent. 6 April saw another devastating attack by insurgents on a military base in Mali, killing at least 25 soldiers.

Fighting also continued in Libya. Much of the limited international attention is paid to the air war, with both main conflict parties being supplied with modern armed drones by their respective foreign backers. But the ground war is not calming down either, although the presence of Russian mercenaries, as well as Turkish, Egyptian and Emirati material support, is less visible to international observers. The EU meanwhile has launched a maritime mission to curb arms transfers, which might inconvenience Turkey, but not backers of the warlord "General" Haftar like Egypt that rely on air transport or shared borders.

In Somalia, a US airstrike killed a high-ranking al-Shabaab commander. This is unlikely to deter the group, though, as it has experienced attacks on its command structure for years. As a general rule, these types of decapitation attacks have only led to further radicalisation. Meanwhile, there is a conflict brewing between Kenya and Somalia over the semi-autonomous region Jubbaland and an accompanying section of the Indian Ocean where oil and gas reserves might be located.

Some much needed good news come out of South Sudan. At least for the moment, the civil war is officially over, with the war's two main antagonists, President Salva Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar agreeing on a new power-sharing deal. Six years after the latest round of decades worth of strife kicked off, this will bring some relief to South Sudan's population. Of course, many of the underlying problems persist and the peace agreement will collapse if there is no concerted effort to work on its implementation. But it is a huge step forwards for a country that has taken a lot of steps backwards in recent years.

Measles and cholera in the DRC

The Democratic Republic of Congo is emerging from an Ebola epidemic, now essentially declared over, even as it deals with ongoing twin outbreaks of measles and cholera. The measles outbreak, which began last year, has spread to all of the DRC's provinces and killed at least 5,300 children. There have been an additional 31,000 cases of cholera. The health teams working on the response have warned that neither outbreak is getting anywhere near enough attention or funding. With COVID-19 beginning its spread across the DRC, that is probably not going to change.

Measles in the CAR

The Central African Republic is also trying to bring a measles outbreak under control. The outbreak has been ongoing since the beginning of 2019, generating 11,500 suspected cases and more than 100 deaths. The outbreaks of preventable diseases, like measles, are worrying in and of themselves. They should also raise alarms about what will happen if concerns about the coronavirus cause countries to interrupt their regular immunisation schedules.

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