Saturday, April 04, 2020

Will Healthcare Matter More?

The coronavirus pandemic has grounded the elite who used to jet off to Europe or Asia for health care unavailable in their nations. As countries impose  travel restrictions, they now have to take their chances at home.

For years, politicians from Angola to Zimbabwe have received medical care abroad while their own poorly funded health systems limped from crisis to crisis, including deadly outbreaks of Ebola and the scourges of malaria and HIV. Health experts warn that many countries will be overwhelmed if the coronavirus spreads, and it is already uncomfortably close. Several ministers in Burkina Faso have been infected, as has a top aide to Nigeria’s president. An aide to Congo's leader died.

“COVID-19 is an opportunity for our leaders to reexamine their priorities,” said Livingstone Sewanyana of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, which has long urged African countries to increase health care spending.

Spending on health care in Africa is roughly 5% of gross domestic product, about half the global average. That's despite a pledge by African Union members in 2001 to spend much more. Money is sometimes diverted to security or simply pilfered, and shortages are common.

Ethiopia had just three hospital beds per 10,000 people in 2015, according to World Health Organization data, compared to two dozen or more in the U.S. and Europe. Central African Republic has just three ventilators in the entire country. In Zimbabwe, doctors have reported doing bare-handed surgeries for lack of gloves.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Lockdown in Lagos

25 million people are placed on a two-week lockdown in parts of Nigeria in a bid to curtail the spread of coronavirus, poor people in congested neighbourhoods are worried about how they will cope. A lockdown in Lagos - the commercial hub of Nigeria, as well as the neighbouring state of Ogun and the capital Abuja - came into force on Monday night.

"From where do we get the extra water to wash the hands you are talking about," asked Debby Ogunsola. For Ms Ogunsula it will be difficult to remain indoors. She and her family live in one room in a block of 20, locally called Face-me-I-face-you because of their close proximity to each other. There is no electricity. Outside there were two toilets and bathrooms shared by all the families living in the 20 rooms. There is no pipe-borne water either in Alapere, and Ms Ogunsola is forced to walk more than 50 metres to a broken public water pipe for her supply.

"It's my children I am worried about," she said. "If I am not able to go out and sell, how will they survive?'' asked Ms Ogunsola, who earns money by selling fruit and vegetables by the roadside. "It is hunger I am worried about, not a virus."
But many Nigerians live hand-to-mouth, often on less than $1 (£0.80) and they cannot stock up on food or other essentials. Many workers are also yet to be paid their wages for March so there are deep concerns about the financial implications of a lockdown.
President Muhammadu Buhari outlined some measures to ease the hardship, including a one-month advance payment of the monthly $13 given to the poorest of the poor, but most people feel that millions of self-employed Nigerians have been left without financial aid.
"It's only those who have money that can buy now. If you do not have what can you do?" said a taxi driver parked outside a supermarket.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Covid-19 and Kenya

In Kenya coronavirus containment measures are expected to bring additional economic hardship in a country where only 17.9 percent of households have an internet connection and informal labourers account for 83.6 per cent of the total workforce.

These are mainly rate workers, day labourers and informal traders - and many of them are under heavy pressure to keep working in order to be able to put food on the table. While urged to maintain physical distancing, the majority of Kenyans live hand to mouth and have barely been able to stock up on food and other items. Health experts recommend frequent and thorough washing of hands with clean running water and soap as an important control measure to slow the spread of the disease, but nearly 80 percent of households in the country have no place for hand-washing in or near the toilet
These are hard times for many Kenyans - not least because of the fear of contracting the new coronavirus. Kenya has shut borders and suspended most air travel, except cargo flights. Kenya also asked government institutions, businesses and companies to allow staff to work from home, "with the exception of employees working in critical or essential services".

"There are businesses that have placed employees on standby; some on half pay, others with no pay," said Kwame Owino, chief executive officer of the Institute of Economic Affairs in Kenya. "Whole sectors of businesses are down."

In a country where labour laws are as weak as they are unheeded, many workers have either been let go or sent on unpaid leave as nearly all sectors of the economy - including tourism and flower and horticultural exports, Kenya's key foreign exchange earners - have taken a beating. The crisis hit Kenya at a turbulent time, further exposing an economy already weighed down by rising public debt - standing at $60bn as of September 2019 - years of missed revenue collection targets and a budget deficit hovering at more than six percent of GDP.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Coronavirus Crackdown

Police fired tear gas at a crowd of Kenyan ferry commuters as the country’s first day of a coronavirus curfew slid into chaos. Elsewhere, officers were captured in mobile phone footage whacking people with batons.

Virus prevention measures have taken a violent turn in parts of Africa as countries impose lockdowns and curfews or seal off major cities. Health experts say the virus’ spread, though still at an early stage, resembles the arc seen in Europe, adding to widespread anxiety. Cases across Africa were set to climb above 4,000 late Saturday.

Abuses of the new measures by authorities are an immediate concern. 
Minutes after South Africa’s three-week lockdown began Friday, police screamed at homeless people in downtown Johannesburg and went after some with batons. Some citizens reported the police use of rubber bullets. Fifty-five people across the country were arrested. The country leads Africa with more than 1,000 cases.
In an apparent show of force on Saturday, South Africa's military raided a large workers' hostel in the Alexandra township where some residents had defied the lockdown.
In Rwanda, the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to impose a lockdown, police have denied that two civilians shot dead Monday were killed for defying the new measures, saying the men attacked an officer after being stopped.
And Zimbabwe, where police are widely criticized by human rights groups for deadly crackdowns, is set to enter a three-week lockdown on Monday. The country's handful of virus cases already threatens to overwhelm one of the world's most fragile health systems.
In Kenya, outrage over the the actions of police was swift.
“We were horrified by excessive use of police force” ahead of the curfew that began Friday night, Amnesty International Kenya and 19 other human rights groups said in a statement issued Saturday. “We continue to receive testimonies from victims, eyewitnesses and video footage showing police gleefully assaulting members of the public in other parts of the country.”
 The tear gas caused hundreds of people trying to reach a ferry in the port city of Mombasa ahead of the overnight curfew to touch their faces as they vomited, spat and wiped away tears, increasing the chance of the virus’ spread, the rights groups said. Even some health workers reported being intimidated as they tried to provide services after the 7 p.m. curfew.
'People must be treated humanely'
The police actions were unacceptable and “brutal,” the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops' Justice and Peace Commission said in a separate statement.
“I am appealing to our people to make it very unnecessary for them to engage with police by staying at home,” Kenya's Cabinet secretary for health, Mutahi Kagwe, said. “I am also urging the police that people must be treated humanely.” The country has 38 virus cases. 
Kenya’s interior ministry on Saturday replied to criticism in a statement saying the curfew "is meant to guard against an apparent threat to public health. Breaking it is not only irresponsible but also puts others in harm’s way.”
Kenya's government has not said how many people have been arrested. Because courts are also affected by virus prevention measures, all but serious cases will now be dealt with at police stations, the government has said. That means anyone detained for violating curfew faces time in crowded cells.
The Law Society of Kenya will go to court to challenge the curfew on the grounds that it is unconstitutional and has been abused by police, president Nelson Havi said in a statement. The penalty for breaking a curfew is not corporal punishment, he added.
“It is evident that COVID-19 will be spread more by actions of police than of those claimed to have contravened the curfew,” Havi said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
If Kenya goes further and imposes a lockdown, “there is bound to be violence,” said James Shikwati, an economist. People in poor neighborhoods of cities like the capital, Nairobi, will need a way to access food, water and sanitation. 
“It will mean for the first day, maybe, they stay indoors," he said. “Then the second day, when they are hungry, they will move out.”

Friday, March 27, 2020

South Africa's Inequality

Just 3,500 people – 0.01% of the adult population – own 15% of total wealth in South Africa, according to a new study. 

And, there has been no decrease in wealth inequality in the 26 years since democracy.

  • The top 10% (3.5 million people) control 86% of all wealth
  • The top 1% (350,000 people) control 55% of all wealth
  • The top 0.1% (35,000 people) control 29% of all wealth
  • The top 0.01% (3,540 people) control 15% of all wealth
  • The bottom 90% (31,8 million people) control 14% of all wealth
By contrast, due to their debt, the bottom 50%, or 17.7 million people, have an average negative net wealth of -R16,000.
A 2016 study by Anna Orthofer suggested that 1% of the South African population owns at least half of all wealth, and the top 10% owned up to 99% of all wealth. 

By comparison, Victor Sulla and Precious Zikhali’s 2018 World Bank report “Overcoming Poverty and Inequality in South Africa”, suggests that the top 10% of households account for 71% of household net wealth.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The fifth wife

In Niger where traditional forms of slavery still exist. One of them is a practice called "fifth wife," which means that for wealthy men, in addition to four wives permitted by Islam, they take on an additional wife — fifth wives — who are essentially treated as slaves and they just serve their masters, in both domestic and sexual ways.

We had a woman called Hadijatou Mani who ran away from this kind of situation and built her life in freedom and married another man she freely chose. But she was thrown in jail after her former master denounced her as breaching the rules of what he called marriage.
We took that case on and we took that to an international court and we won that case. She was amazingly brave to testify against her former master and against her own government for failing to protect her from slavery.
She won that case and then 10 years later her marriage not only was finally cancelled, but the whole practice was ruled unlawful, so her own personal fight ended in actually criminalizing the practice that has persisted in the country for hundreds of years. And hundreds of women and girls will be protected from that form of slavery from now on.

Monday, March 23, 2020

A Triple Whammy

The IMF has not yet announced that any country will qualify for debt cancellation, but the JDC said there were examples of countries – such as copper-rich Zambia and oil-exporting Chad – facing severe problems.

The leading ratings agencies have started to flag up the problems that Covid-19 will pose to Africa.
Standard & Poor said around half the 54 countries in the world’s poorest continent had confirmed cases of the coronavirus and warned that Africa could find itself among the regions hardest hit.
An S&P report said African economies and the banking sector were particularly vulnerable to the spread of Covid-19 because of the region’s weak public health systems and reliance on commodity exports, tourism, and remittances sent home from abroad. It also highlighted high levels of foreign debt and the low creditworthiness of most African countries.
“The pronounced deterioration of financing conditions could hurt African countries with a high current account deficit and dependence on external capital flows for financing,” said S&P global ratings credit analyst Mohamed Damak.
Interest rates had spiked on average by 3.5 percentage points for low- and middle-income countries since the mid-February and that costs for new borrowing stood at 10%.

At the same time, commodity prices have plunged, with the price of copper down by 21% since the start of 2020, oil 61% lower, and coffee falling by 15%. The Bloomberg commodity price index – which measures a basket of oil, metals and food prices – has dropped 27% since the start of the year and is now at its lowest level since 1986.