What are African journalists, scholars and activists saying about Covid-19?

April 16, 2020

     By Duncan Green     

Although Covid’s impact in poor countries is starting to look pretty terrifying (as, often, is the political response), the debates that I see are still being framed largely in Northern terms of self-isolation, PPE and all the rest. And often it’s advice from well-meaning northerners about how Delhi, Nairobi or Cape Town should be responding.

In search of other views, I came across the Canadian Association of African Studies thread on Covid-19 articles by African authors.

Which raises a wider issue – who, if anyone, is collating and synthesizing the views of developing country writers on Covid-19? And not just them – the volume of reportage, analysis and research on Covid is rapidly approaching tsunami proportions (here’s just one round up on the Conflict and Governance angle from Heather Marquette). Who is summarizing all this and making it accessible? Could someone kidnap Dave Evans (who summarizes hundreds of conference papers for fun) and force persuade him to provide such a service?

Here’s a taster of what I found:

Critiques of simply importing rich country responses

‘If you live in a township, make a living in the informal sector, or travel on a crowded bus, how do you self-quarantine?’ By Karsten Noko

‘It’s hard to wash your hands when 380 families share three taps’. Views from a Cape Town informal settlement, by Vincent Lali

OluTimehin Adegbeye  on why ‘we need an African solution to a global problem: Social distancing is a valid containment solution for the novel coronavirus, yes. But it is a solution that doesn’t grasp a reality that is extremely widespread across Africa: people survive difficulty by coming together as communities of care, not pulling apart in a retreat into individualism.’ 

Mwanahamisi Singano (on FP2P) on How to stop Coronavirus Lockdown Leading to an Upsurge in Violence Against Women

‘It is planting season in most parts of the Continent, and yet farmers are being asked to sit at home, the movement of seasonal workers is restricted, research institutes that provide seeds, fertilizer blending companies and agrodealers, processors and markets are all being shut down.’ Ndidi Nwuneli  on Ensuring that hunger does not kill more people than COVID-19

Concerns on Africa’s Political Leadership’s ability/willingness to respond

Excellent, if worrying, overview of Africa’s (un)readiness for Covid-19, and the likely politics of the response. From Afrobarometer’s E.Gyimah-Boadi and Carolyn Logan

Crisis, Covid-19 and Capitalism in Africa: Activists and researchers from across Africa speak about the impact of Covid-19 on their countries. Writing from Kenya, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Nigeria and Zimbabwe, Femi Aborisade, Heike Becker, Didier Kiendrebeogo, Gacheke Gachihi, Lena Anyuolo and Tafadzwa Choto look at how the crisis is taking shape – how governments are using the virus as a cover for wider repression, and the broader context of capitalism, climate change and popular struggles for radical change.

George Ogola argues that Africa’s news media is abdicating its responsibilities by not questioning the appropriateness of the global response to the crisis.

Professor Chidi Oguamanam: ‘As the virus berths on the continent’s 54 countries, there is a dreadful and ominous vacuum of political leadership. Some political leaders are ensconced in their palatial opulence scampering for their own personal health now that they can no longer travel overseas for medical tourism. Save for a few countries like South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia, there is little appreciation of the scale of the problem and the danger it portends. Nigerians have yet to hear the voice of their President on the COVID-19 pandemic. Africa as a highly religious and communal society is forced to seek solace outside their resilient traditional cultural and social structures. It is a steep learning curve for a society ravaged by insecurity, unaccountable political leadership and economic stagnation.’

Zaheera Jinnah on lockdown politics in South Africa: ‘the real test for South Africa is not if the lockdown will help slow down the pandemic. Instead, lurking within and throughout this lockdown is a battle for the future of South Africa’s democracy. Three issues to watch out for over the next three weeks:

  • Will South Africans comply with the rule of law? 
  • Will the army and police rein themselves in?
  • Will our politicians remain united?’

Patrick Gathara argues that ‘governments should stop seeing non-governmental actors as a threat to their own legitimacy’.

Emerging Agency from social movements, civil society organizations and others

This is the bit I am most interested in – things like this week’s FP2P piece on organizing in informal settlements in the Cape Town lockdown. Or this piece from Jessica Horn on why the response needs to listen to African feminist organizations. Or this from Ruth Nyambura on organizing with an eco-feminist perspective. More of this kind of thing is bound to emerge, either in response to the virus, or to the negative consequences of the way governments are responding – do please send links.

Overall, that’s just a flavour, and some of the links are quite old (in a time of Covid, that means over two weeks), so please help me out – where to look for regularly updated syntheses? Is there a round-up of round-ups somewhere?