What works in Europe can go wrong in Africa. This applies, for example, to the lockdown. The Nigerian government imposed a total curfew in Abuja, Kano and the 20 million cities of Lagos. The majority of the inhabitants work in the informal sector, that is, from hand to mouth. If they don’t earn anything for a day, they have nothing to eat in the evening. There is no insurance, the relatives and friends act as insurance. But when the curfew cuts all relationships, people are on their own – and often lost.
Last week, the government briefly extended the lockdown by two weeks. The atmosphere, especially in the slums, is extremely tense. Crime, especially pickpocketing, has skyrocketed. The President has promised emergency aid for the poorest, but it is a drop in the ocean. The police react violently to violations of the curfew. The security forces have already killed 18 Nigerians in this context.
Last Friday, 140 people were summoned to court for lockdown related crimes. At the same time, people complain that the police don’t come when you need them, for example in the event of nightly robberies. Raids of gangs, sometimes real, sometimes just rumours, create “self-defence militias” in the neighbourhoods, which often fuel violence and paranoia rather than contain them.
Riots in several African countries
The situation is similar in South Africa, where there is also one at the end of March Curfew was ordered, which is valid until the end of April. It is the most severely affected by SARS Coronavirus-2 in sub-Saharan Africa, with around 3,450 infections, 58 of which were fatal. Here, too, the life-threatening loss of income of the poorest population is hardly absorbed by the sparse food aid. Because many hungry South Africans are left empty-handed in the distribution of food, there are repeated outbreaks of violence, to which the police react with tear gas and rubber bullets. Now the government wants to mobilize an additional 70,000 soldiers to implement the lockdown.
In Kenya, there is “only” a curfew at night, but the social climate is also tense there, especially in the slums of Nairobi. In the Kenyan capital, 60 percent of the population live in huge slums. There are repeated violent attacks and injuries when distributing food. In addition, the rush leads to mass crowds that promote the spread of Sars-CoV-2, just like the crowds of minibuses when everyone tries to make it home before the curfew. Here the measures against the virus proved to be counterproductive.
There was unrest in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, before the curfew announced for Saturday was in effect. Several thousand street vendors roamed the streets of the economic metropolis of Blantyre on Thursday, announcing that they would not adhere to the lockdown. At the last minute, the Supreme Court declared the curfew illegal.
In Abidjan, the largest city in Cote d’Ivoire, residents protested against the establishment of a health centre. The demonstrators set up barricades, the police used tear gas and arrested 12 people. Sars CoV-2 tests should be carried out in the lot. The demonstrators chanted: “We don’t want a coronavirus!” Some said that forced vaccinations would take place. The issue is all the more delicate since there are rumours in several African countries that Bill Gates wants to use a vaccine serum in Africa that actually kills people. The rumour also got a boost from the mass-distributed video by two French researchers about possible Corona experiments in Africa speculated. “We are not guinea pigs,” is the tenor of the African commentators.
Parallels to the Ebola crisis
The situation is reminiscent of the beginning of the Ebola epidemic. Even then, the medical personnel – in their uncanny “space travel suits” – often triggered fear and were often attacked or even chased away. Governments also had similar experiences with curfews back then as they do today with Covid-19. As the then President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the poor district West Point from the rest of the capital Monrovia in summer 2014 there was a revolt because the residents soon simply had nothing to eat and they had to undo the measure.
Many regimes in Africa are authoritarian, which is particularly evident during the Corona crisis. Measures such as curfews, isolation of cities or lockdown are not reflected on taken from the west, although the Living conditions completely different are. Because the government has little trust and legitimacy with the population anyway and the measures are hardly justified, the citizens only perceive the restrictions as further harassment and repression. Examples are Cameroon, Zimbabwe or Niger, where there were revolts over the weekend against the ban on collective prayers that were put down by force.
But there is also the opposite case, as in Tanzania and Burundi, where the presidents downplay the danger of corona and withhold any protection from the population. In the case of Sars-CoV-2 in particular, it would be extremely important that the necessary measures were discussed with representatives of the neighbourhoods, villages and various population groups in order to Solutions adapted to the specific living conditions to find. However, many governments are so used to a top-down approach that they never come up with the idea of a participatory approach.
What is the current crisis doing to a continent where relationships often replace insurance and pensions and where the health system is completely inadequate in many places?