EAC states must avoid falling into Covid-19 debt trap

An unexpected outcome of the Covid-19 pandemic for many poor countries, East Africa included, is the extent to which it has raised the International Montery Fund and World Bank’s appetite for lending. As the devastating social and economic impacts of the pandemic manifested themselves in the United States, the UK, France, Italy and Spain, the IMF and World Bank duly announced emergency credit lines for roughly two dozen African countries. In near unison, East Africa’s finance ministers have whipped out the begging bowls and approached a variety of lenders for ‘corona response’ and ‘budget support’ funding.

The effort has not been in vain. Although it was not on the initial list, Uganda a fortnight ago secured approval for a $491 emergency facility from the IMF. In that, it joined Rwanda and Kenya that, to varying degrees, had earlier been tipped for similar financial interventions. For Uganda, the IMF package supplements plans to borrow another 600 million Euros from the EU. Separately, President Yoweri Museveni is seeking another two facilities worth $500 million for balance of payments support. If all goes according to plan, Uganda will in a short time have added $1.6 billion in debt to her already existing burden in the region of $14 billion.

With a GDP of 28.5 billion in 2019, the additional borrowing will tip the debt to GDP ratio past 50 percent. Uganda’s example is a cautionary tale of the inherent risks in the Covid-19 debt relief bonanza. Concerted campaign Until now, Uganda has been the only country in the region with a debt to GDP ratio below the critical 50 per cent threshold. Her neighbours who were hovering in the high 50s and lower 60s, have similarly piled up additional credit. From the concerted campaign for debt cancellation and payment holidays that has been mounted by African leaders, it would seem that secretly, they hope their slate will be wiped clean by benevolent Western donors.

The major obstacle to such a prospect however, is the West’s insistence that China, which holds a huge chunk of African debt, must be part of any multilateral debt relief effort for the continent. China has not warmed up to this proposition so far, choosing instead to negotiate bilaterally with its African debtors. The calls for cancellation suggest that African leaders are conscious of the precarious position previous borrowing has put their economies into. The debts of many of these countries is already unsustainable. In some instances, 100 percent of export revenues and upwards of a third of the annual budget are dedicated to debt servicing.

The need for Covid relief is not debatable but it also underscores the risk one assumes when borrowing against the future. Ultimately, public debt has to be repaid by taxpayers. That should not be a problem if debt worked for the public god and helps achieve verifiable economic benefits. It is erroneous for Africa to assume that its debt will always be forgiven. Failure to pay debt is equal to becoming insolvent. Unless Africa demonstrates a willingness to be disciplined and to meet its financial obligations to others, it might become ineligible for credit in the near future.

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An unexpected outcome of the Covid-19 pandemic for many poor countries, East Africa included, is the extent to which it has raised the International Montery Fund and World Bank’s appetite […]

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Kenya shuts Tanzania, Somalia borders over Covid-19

Kenya has closed its borders with Somalia and Tanzania as the country strives to stem further spread of the coronavirus. In a televised address to the nation on Saturday, President Uhuru Kenyatta said he was imposing more measures after it emerged that some of the cases had crossed the border from Tanzania and Somalia.

“If we do not take additional precautionary measures and get even more serious in implementing existing guidelines, the number of people who will get sick and die is going to rise sharply,” said President Kenyatta.

The decree, effective Saturday midnight, does not affect cargo vehicles. The move, unprecedented in the history of the East African Community’s 20-year existence, came as Kenya said it had blocked 78 truck drivers from Tanzania from entering the country.

The President also announced that the number of Covid-19 cases in the country had risen to 830 after 49 more people tested positive. Forty-three of those detected this week had crossed the border from the neighbouring countries, according to Kenyatta.

“As of yesterday [Friday], the cases across the border were distributed as follows, Wajir 14, Isebania 10, Namanga 16, Lungalunga 2 and Loitoktok 1,” Kenyatta said, referring to border towns near Tanzania. The decision to block infected Tanzanian truck drivers came as member states in the region struggled to have a common policy on limiting the spread of Covid-19, while allowing free movement of goods. Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan belong to EAC. However, during a virtual meeting convened Tuesday by EAC Chairman and Rwandan President Paul Kagame, only Nairobi, Juba and Kampala participated. Tanzania later claimed the meeting was for the Northern Corridor, a reference to countries that mainly import goods through Kenya’s Port of Mombasa. Shutting the border could effectively strengthen those corridor divisions even though Kenya argued it was simply protecting its people. “I know that our economy has taken a big hit, and the sectors that are linked to foreign trade, travel and production are under intense stress…even though the measures we are putting in place are inconvenient to all of us, the far worse outcome is for this pandemic to grow out of control,” added President Kenyatta. Somalia, too, has faced rising cases, blowing from 26 only in mid-April to 1284 by Friday night. Mogadishu has not given the figures on the number of those tested.

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CIVIC FREEDOMS AND THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC: A SNAPSHOT OF RESTRICTIONS AND ATTACKS

On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. The spread of the pandemic, and the response of states to the crisis, have created unprecedented living conditions for much of the world’s population. A range of restrictions on freedoms has been introduced in attempts to curb the pandemic. However, some of these have had troubling impacts on human rights and the space for civil society. In many cases, they have patterned onto and reinforced existing restrictions of civic space.

Civic space is the bedrock of any open and democratic society and is rooted in the fundamental freedoms of people to associate, assemble peacefully and freely express their views and opinions. Since 2016, the CIVICUS Monitor has documented and analysed the state of civic space in 196 countries.

States have taken measures that include emergency laws, nationwide lockdowns and restrictions on movement. But one month after the declaration of the pandemic, CIVICUS has documented several alarming civic space trends that have resulted. These are:

  • Unjustified restrictions on access to information and censorship;
  • Detentions of activists for disseminating critical information;
  • Crackdowns on human rights defenders and media outlets;
  • Violations of the right to privacy and overly broad emergency powers.

International human rights law recognises that in the context of officially proclaimed public emergencies, including in public health, which threaten the life of a country, restrictions on some rights can be justified, but they must have a legal basis and be strictly necessary, of limited duration, respectful of human dignity, subject to review, proportionate to achieving the objective, not involve discrimination and be used strictly to the extent required by the emergency in question. Even where an official proclamation of emergency has been made, non-derogable fundamental rights such as the right to life and freedom from torture and inhuman, cruel, or degrading treatment still must not be infringed. Where a proclamation of emergency has not officially been made, rights can only be restricted during a public health threat in accordance with the limitations allowed in normal times under the relevant provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

International law is clear, but there are concerns that some of the actions taken by some states may be exceeding justifiable restrictions and negatively affecting civic freedoms. CIVICUS has compiled information on key civic space issues that have surfaced due to the response by governments and some other groups to the COVID-19 pandemic, raising serious concerns about the state of civic space at this time. These reports are sourced from civil society groups and activists, credible news sources and official documents. The restrictions are happening in a range of countries with different civic space ratings. When a country is referenced the respective rating colour is also displayed:

   OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

Censorship and restrictions on access to information

In  China, the government initially  responded to the outbreak by withholding information from the public, under-reporting cases of infection and downplaying the severity of the infection. The authorities also censored numerous articles and social media posts about the pandemic, including those posted by families of infected people seeking help and by people living in cordoned-off cities documenting their daily life. In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro, through a ‘medida provisória’ (provisional measure), decreed that government officials were not obliged to answer any freedom of information requests during the outbreak. The Supreme Court subsequently suspended the decree.The CIVICUS Monitor has shown that in 2019, censorship was the most common tactic used by states to silence activists, journalists and government critics and suppress critical information. Human rights groups have documented attempts to censor or restrict information on the COVID-19 pandemic. These have potentially prevented people from accessing information about the pandemic that can help them protect themselves and their families and being able to ask informed questions about the decisions being taken by the authorities in response to the pandemic.

In Turkmenistan, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s government is limiting the use of the word ‘coronavirus’ as much as possible in order to deter the spread of information about the pandemic. It has ordered the word’s removal from health brochures distributed in hospitals, schools and workplaces. In El Salvador journalists have not been allowed to ask questions during press conferences related to the crisis and the government’s response.

In Vietnam, where the state controls all conventional media and implements strict social media censorship, the authorities have been cracking down on people using Facebook and bloggers who are trying to deliver timely and valuable information about the pandemic. As of 17 March, at least 654 people who posted on Facebook about the outbreak had been summoned to police stations for interrogation about their posts, and 146 of them have been fined.

During this crisis, internet shutdowns directly harm people’s health and lives, and undermine efforts to bring the pandemic under control. The shutdown in Indian-administered Kashmir is hampering the ability of doctors to obtain information about the virus and educate the public. Similar concerns have also been raised in Rakhine state in Myanmar, which is also subject to an internet shutdown.

Threats and arrests for criticising state response

There have also been reports of people being threatened or arrested for criticising their state’s response or disseminating information on the pandemic.

In Iran, civil rights activists, journalists, a city councillor and a footballer have all been  detained or summoned for questioning after criticising the Iranian government’s management of the pandemic in social media posts. Some of those who were summoned were accused of portraying the country in a negative light and pressured to be supportive of the government’s response to the outbreak.

In the Solomon Islands, the Ministry of Health has sent out a memo threatening ‘termination with immediate effect’ for staff who post comments online criticising the government’s response to the pandemic. It said the regulations were included under the State of Public Emergency declaration. In Sri Lanka, on 1 April, the Inspector General of Police instructed all police officers to take legal action against those who publish posts on social media criticising government officials.

Police in Pakistan have arrested dozens of doctors and medical staff who protested about a lack of personal protective equipment in their fight against the pandemic. In Thailand, on 23 March, an artist was charged under the draconian Computer Crime Act for a Facebook post criticising the lack of airport COVID-19 screening.

Restrictions on the media

Journalists and the media have a key role to play in sharing timely information about the pandemic. However, some states are shutting down media outlets, restricting the media and criminalising journalists.

On 17 March it was reported that decrees had been issued by the governments of JordanMoroccoOman and Yemen to suspend newspaper printing and distribution in response to the pandemic. This includes both independent and state-owned media outlets. Authorities reportedly imposed this to prevent the possible spread of the virus during the printing, delivery and distribution of papers.

On 5 March, authorities in Niger arrested Kaka Touda Mamane Goni, an independent journalist who publishes news reports on his Facebook and Twitter pages, at his home in Niamey, Niger’s capital. His arrest stemmed from a complaint filed by the local General Reference Hospital, which alleged that his social media posts about a suspected COVID-19 case at the hospital posed a threat to public order.

In Kenya, blogger Robert Alai was arrested on 20 March for posting false information about the virus. Alai had claimed that the government was concealing crucial information about the spread of the virus and that its impact was far greater than the government was acknowledging. He is accused of contravening the Computer Misuse and Cyber Crimes Act 2018.

The house of journalist, Darvinson Rojas in Venezuela was raided and he was detained by agents of the Special Action Forces of the Bolivarian National Police on 21 March for his reporting on the pandemic in Venezuela. At the hearing on 23 March, Rojas was accused of ‘instigating hatred and public instigation’.

On 26 March, the President of Vanuatu signed a declaration of a State of Emergency in response to the pandemic. As part of the declaration it was announced that all news articles on the virus had to be vetted by the National Disaster Management Office after consultation with the Ministry of Health.

Journalists have at times also been subjected to physical assault or harassment while covering COVID-19 lockdowns. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, journalist Tholi Totali Glody was reportedly chased by police officers and thrown off a motorcycle taxi on 22 March in Likasi, Haut-Katanga province, resulting in injuries that included a broken leg.

Passage and use of restrictive laws to counter ‘fake news’

The pandemic’s spread has been matched by the proliferation of misinformation about the virus. While misinformation is a serious problem, some states have resorted to unduly repressive laws on ‘fake news’ that could have wider impacts.

On 18 March, the government of South Africa’s new regulations criminalising statements intended to deceive any person about COVID-19 or the government’s response to it. The regulations were published in the Government Gazette under the 2002 Disaster Management Act and carry penalties including fines, imprisonment, or both.

The Philippines government declared a state of emergency in response to the pandemic on 25 March and passed a law that included provisions penalising the spreading of ‘false information’ on social media and other platforms. Those found violating this provision may face two months’ imprisonment or a fine of not less than P10,000 (approx. US$196). Courts may also impose a fine of up to P1 million (approx. US$19,642). On 28 March, Egypt’s general prosecution said that those spreading ‘fake news’ and rumours about the virus may be imprisoned for five years and fined EGP 20,000 (approx. US$1,266).

Turkey’s Ministry of Interior announced on 23 March that legal action had been taken against 316 social media account holders who had shared information about the virus ‘to cause worry among the public, incite them to fear and panic and target persons and institutions’. In Malaysia, the authorities reported on 11 March that they had opened 37 criminal investigations related to the spread of ‘fake news’ on the virus.

Targeting of human rights defenders

There is also evidence that governments and others are using the pandemic as an opportunity to target human rights defenders.

In Honduras, on 24 March, police arbitrarily arrested Evelyn Johana Castillo for being on the street during the emergency, while she was returning home from buying food with her husband and older daughter. She is the Assistant Coordinator of the Ojojona Women’s Network and a member of the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders in Honduras. Evelyn stated that this attack against her may have been a reprisal.

A human rights defender in El Salvador has been the target of a smear campaign after posting on Facebook on 13 March about overcrowding and the lack of hygiene for people held in quarantine during the pandemic. She received messages containing harmful speech, intimidation and threats, including misogynistic insults and derision of her feminist activism.

According to local civil society groups, death squads in Colombia are taking advantage of lockdowns to kill rural activists. Marco Rivadeneira, a high-profile activist, was murdered in the southern Putumayo province, Ángel Ovidio Quintero was shot dead in the western Antioquia region and Ivo Humberto Bracamonte was killed on the eastern border with Venezuela.

Police abuses during lockdowns

Civil society groups and journalists have raised concerns about the use of excessive force or inhumane and degrading treatment by law enforcement officials towards people who have violated lockdowns in various countries. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings has raised concerns about this.

According to Human Rights Watch, police and local officials in the Philippines have  confined those arrested for violating the government’s COVID-19 regulations in dog cages and forced them to sit in the midday sun as punishment, among other abuses. In Indiavideos have circulated of police officers violently caning those who do not respect the restrictions. Violators have also been publicly shamed in India by being forced to do squats, push-ups, crawl or roll around the streets.

In South Africa numerous videos have emerged that appear to depict police officers and soldiers kicking, slapping, whipping and even shooting lockdown violators. On the first day of South Africa’s lockdown, police fired rubber bullets at News24 journalist Azarrah Karrim, despite her shouting ‘I’m media’, when she was covering the dispersal of people by security forces in Johannesburg.

In Kenya, police in various locations were also recorded caning people who defied the curfew. Videos and photos also featured the police lobbing teargas canisters and clubbing people with batons in the city of Mombasa to clear the streets in advance of the curfew.

Surveillance and violations of the right to privacy

There have been numerous examples of states increasing intrusive surveillance measures. Any surveillance measures and restrictions on the rights to privacy introduced in response to the pandemic should be provided for by law and be necessary, proportionate, timebound and implemented with transparency and adequate oversight; they must be the least intrusive available to achieve the desired result. The reality has not lived up to these standards.

China’s authorities are notorious for using technology for surveillance, unconstrained by privacy legislation. Its universal street camera system, first deployed for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, has been expanded all over the country’s main metropolitan areas and has been recently upgraded with facial recognition capabilities. The authorities have been using this system to catch, shame and fine citizens going outside without face masks and to identify and quarantine individuals who show symptoms.

The move by the authorities in Israel to permit the security service to use mobile phone data of infected people has also raised privacy concerns. This system is apparently already operational, with 400 people having received text messages warning them of potential contact with infected people.

On 31 March, Armenia’s parliament passed amendments to broad surveillance powers to enable the use of mobile phone data for tracking COVID-19 cases. The amendments impose restrictions on the right to privacy and allow the authorities to access confidential medical information related to people exposed to the virus. In Fiji, civil society raised privacy concerns after the Ministry of Health disseminated private information that listed the names and addresses of passengers who were on the same flight as the country’s first confirmed COVID-19 patient. The list of 82 names included residential addresses.

Overly broad emergency laws and new restrictive legislation

International civil society has documented a number of countries that have declared a state of emergency or passed emergency laws or regulations to combat the virus that grant the state overly broad powers and endanger civic freedoms. International human rights law is clear that any measures introduced must be subject to sufficient oversight by both the legislature and the courts, should not be discriminatory and must be time bound.

Among the emblematic cases highlighted by CIVICUS partners is Hungary. Its new law (Bill on Protection against the Coronavirus or Bill T/9790), adopted on 30 March, extends the government’s power to rule by decree by absolving it from parliamentary scrutiny and does so without providing a clear cut-off date. The new law also amends the Criminal Code concerning the crime of ‘imparting or conveying false information’: anyone who publicises false or distorted facts that interfere with the ‘successful protection’ of the public or might alarm or agitate the public could be punished by up to five years in prison.

The government of Cambodia has drafted a state of emergency bill, containing many overly broad and vague provisions, which would empower Prime Minister Hun Sen to override fundamental human rights protections. This includes unlimited surveillance of telecommunications, control of the media and social media and complete authority to restrict the freedoms of movement and assembly. Articles 1 and 4 of the bill would allow the law to be used even after the crisis ends.

Some states have also used the crisis to quietly pass restrictive legislation without adequate scrutiny. For example, amid the chaos of the pandemic in the USA, at least three states have passed  laws imposing new criminal penalties on protests against fossil fuel infrastructure.

Recommendations to governments

Given the concerns outlined above, it is clear that governments need to do more to respect civic freedoms when responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments should implement the following recommendations to ensure that fundamental freedoms do not become another casualty of the virus:

  • Safeguard the freedom of expression in all forms while addressing the pandemic and refrain from censoring social and conventional media. Any restrictions should be pursuant to an order by an independent and impartial judicial authority, and in accordance with due process and standards of legality, necessity and legitimacy, in line with international law and standards.
  • Maintain reliable and unfettered access to the internet and cease internet shutdowns that prevent people from obtaining essential information and services during the crisis.
  • Address violations against human rights defenders and journalists during the pandemic, and ensure that those who commit violations are independently and promptly investigated and the perpetrators are brought to justice.
  • Respect and protect media freedom, as guaranteed under international human rights law, during the pandemic.
  • Replace approaches to misinformation on the pandemic that rely on censorship and criminal sanctions with those emphasising transparency and media freedom.
  • Ensure that surveillance measures adopted to address the pandemic are lawful, necessary and proportionate. As part of this, ensure that any expanded monitoring and surveillance powers are timebound, and only continue for as long as necessary to address the current crisis.
  • Ensure that increased collection, retention and aggregation of personal data, including health data, is only used for the purposes of responding to the pandemic.
  • Ensure that law enforcement officials respect the law and avoid abusive conduct while enforcing lockdowns and curfews, and investigate those suspected of such abuses and bring the perpetrators to justice.
  • Guarantee that any new emergency laws and decrees deployed to combat the pandemic do not in any circumstances restrict certain fundamental rights, including the right to life, prohibition of torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment, recognition before the law and the presumption of innocence. Make sure that any such laws or decrees are not discriminatory in any way, including on the grounds of race, ethnicity, sex, sexual identity, language, religion and social origin, and are timebound and subject to sufficient oversight by both the legislature and courts.

On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. The spread of the pandemic, and the response of states to the crisis, have created unprecedented living […]

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Coronavirus lockdowns could spark rise in HIV infections, experts warn

If lockdowns and stay-at-home orders are succeeding in slowing the spread of the coronavirus, health experts warn that the measures could unintentionally undermine efforts to contain another potentially deadly disease: HIV. At the start of April, Travis Sanchez, an epidemiologist at Emory University, carried out an online survey of around 1,000 men who have sex with men, and half of them reported a drop in the number of sexual partners, as well as reduced use of hook-up apps. In theory, this should reduce transmission.

But he quickly added a disturbing warning: a quarter of the men said they had experienced problems getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases, because thousands of centers that used to provide them have closed down. That means that those people still having sex have no idea about their status, which Sanchez warned is a potential ticking bomb. “It’s very likely that people’s risk behaviours will resume before they will have full access to prevention services,” he said. “And I think that combination could lead to increases in HIV transmission.

” The full impact of the pandemic on HIV transmission will not be known before next year, when the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes its statistics on 2020 infections. But numerous experts and healthcare professionals fear a step backward, a year after the United States announced the goal of cutting the number of new infections by 75 percent by the year 2025.

In Washington, a city that has been hit hard by HIV, the Whitman-Walker clinic has had to stop its daily walk-in tests for the virus and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia. Around 50 people used to come in every day to get tested, including many gay people, and for many it had become a routine check-up carried out every three months. “All those folks are going without testing,” said nurse practitioner Amanda Cary, who now only sees symptomatic patients by appointment. “I do think there’s going to be a rise in STIs,” she said.

The CDC told AFP it was expecting a drop in the number of STIs being diagnosed in the short term, “but an increase in the long-term once restrictions lift and more people are screened and tested again.” It said that for HIV, “the decrease in the availability of testing and limited access to treatment and prevention services may result in more infections and poor health outcomes in the long run.” EVERYTHING CAN CHANGE In San Francisco, Doctor Matthew Spinelli worries about the homeless, or those who lack the connectivity to take part in the televisits that have replaced in-person visits to health centers.

“People are just scared of a hospital right now, so I’m pretty worried,” said Spinelli, who practices at the city’s largest hospital. His clinic is also following some 3,000 people living with HIV. He fears that in the chaos of the pandemic, some of them are not going to pharmacies or taking their daily medication, which could allow their viral load to shoot up and make the patients to become contagious again. “I’m worried that their mental health or substance use may be worsening in this environment and hence their pill-taking adherence is worse,” he told AFP.

In the United States, the use of the preventive daily pill PrEP, which allows those who take it to be almost 100 percent risk-free from contracting HIV during unprotected sex, has increased, but Spinelli reports that some have stopped taking it during the lockdown. Which leads to the question: will they start again afterwards? “On the balance it is probably going to worsen the HIV epidemic, that would be my prediction, both in this country, and worldwide,” Spinelli said. But by forcing healthcare professionals to improvise, the pandemic will also bring about other lasting, positive changes in prevention strategies.

Telemedicine will become commonplace, for one thing. Needle exchange programs are already handing out more syringes at one time, and even shipping them out by mail. The use of home HIV test kits, which have been around for years but have been under-utilized, will spread, said Stephen Lee, director of Nastad, an association of public health officials who specialize in HIV. The CDC is pushing home-testing, and both Florida and Tennessee are considering implementing it, he told AFP. “The pandemic has shown us that we can and should do it,” he said.

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If lockdowns and stay-at-home orders are succeeding in slowing the spread of the coronavirus, health experts warn that the measures could unintentionally undermine efforts to contain another potentially deadly disease: […]

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Pandemic adds to string of disasters that render Africa perpetually hungry

Recurrent floods since late 2019, an upsurge in locust invasion, and now the Covid-19 outbreak, all make for disaster for food security in East African countries, experts are warning. The World Food Programme (WFP), for example, says due to Covid-19, the world faces “multiple famines of biblical proportions”. A “hunger pandemic” is what the WFP chief David Beasley called it, one that could kill 300,000 people every day.

Mr Beasly, speaking during an online briefing broadcast by the UN, said there are currently 821 million food-insecure people in the world. In East Africa, abundant seasonal rains have benefited crops and rangelands but they have also fostered a severe desert locust outbreak and flooding. In October 2019, widespread flooding affected nearly 3.4 million people throughout the region according to January 2020 report by the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha).

This aggravated the effects of the recurrent drought and instability in the region by causing population displacements, livelihood disruption, and increased humanitarian needs. Somalia and Ethiopia were the most affected, while Kenya and Uganda experienced landslides as well as destructive flooding. Desert locust upsurge has remained alarming particularly in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, where a new generation of locusts is emerging, posing potentially adverse impacts on the agricultural seasonal yields and local economies affecting food security.

The indirect impacts of Covid-19 through government interventions to control its spread, including social distancing, movement restrictions, and border closures, have driven a slowdown in economic and trade activity that has led to a sharp decline in household income and, in some cases, contributed to spikes in food prices. And Ocha predicts that household food access, especially in urban areas, will most likely decline in the near- and medium-term.

CONCURRENT SHOCKS

“Household food availability from mid- to late 2020 could also be affected if access to seeds and agricultural inputs becomes constrained. Reductions in household income to purchase food and essential non-food commodities, coupled with limited coping options, are driving an increase in the stressed, crisis and emergency food situations for populations across the region,” said this month’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fews Net) report.

The report warns of acutely food insecure population rises due to Covid-19 and concurrent shocks. An analysis by Fews Net points to rising food prices that could restrict household purchasing power. In Kenya tight regional supply is driving high maize and bean prices. The retail maize price in key urban and rural reference markets reached up to 14-33 per cent above the five-year average while wholesale bean prices reached up to 18 to 40 per cent above the five-year average.

Fews Net cross-border monitoring data indicate that maize imports into Kenya during late 2019 accounted for 12 per cent of total regional imports. Based on Fews Net estimates, the national maize balance is expected to be approximately 3.06 million tonnes in June 2020, before the start of the long rains harvest. WREAKING HAVOC Although imports from Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia were expected to fill the gap, it is unclear how this will pan out with the new global Covid-19 crisis.

Floods are already wreaking havoc across Kenya, Uganda and Burundi. Already, in 2019, over 27 million people in six Intergovernmental Authority on Development members — Uganda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Ethiopia, were classified as being in acute food and livelihood crisis or worse — a phase of acute dietary diversity deficit. The six countries faced all three main drivers of acute food insecurity — weather extremities, conflict and economic shocks — with negative impacts reinforcing each other, adding to the complexity of the food security situation.

Now experts are worried about the outcomes of the Covid-19 and renewed flooding in parts of the region to add onto the converging issues. In Rwanda, food prices were already unusually high in early 2020 as a result of increased transport costs and trade disruptions caused by torrential rains as well as reduced imports from Uganda. In Somalia, the number of acutely food-insecure people was projected to increase from 1.2 million in January to March 2020, to 1.3 million from April to June due to substantial crop and pasture losses due to desert locusts, and as the main harvest in July, forecast at 15 to 25 per cent below-average.

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Recurrent floods since late 2019, an upsurge in locust invasion, and now the Covid-19 outbreak, all make for disaster for food security in East African countries, experts are warning. The […]

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Coronavirus creeps along East Africa’s trucking corridors

Every day hundreds of trucks fan out from East Africa’s main ports in Kenya and Tanzania carrying cargo to the landlocked hinterland, and fears are rising they are becoming a major vector for the coronavirus.

Their drivers gather at truckstops, weighbridges and customs points, socialising at lodges, restaurants and with sex workers who ply the busy routes linking the port cities of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

With most East African countries under strict restrictions to curb the coronavirus, truck drivers are among the few allowed to circulate as they ferry essential goods across the region.

However, border testing has revealed a high number of cases among the drivers and alarm is growing over their potential to be superspreaders.

“It is clear… the remaining sources of the disease are the truck drivers within Uganda and the region,” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said earlier this month.

Uganda has carried out thousands of tests on truck drivers, with 51— a mixture of Tanzanians and Kenyans—found to be carrying the virus. The country has a total of 126 recorded cases.

Rwanda has for three weeks said its case numbers—currently 286— “reflect a rise in cases of cross-border truck drivers and their assistants”, without detailing how many have been infected.

Truck drivers have also tested positive in Kenya, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

‘They can spread it far’

Osborne Ndalo, a clinician in Mombasa with the North Star Alliance, which runs health clinics at truck stops, said one Kenyan driver who tested positive at the Ugandan border was found to have infected a lover at one stop in Kenya, as well as up to three others he interacted with along the road.

“What makes the drivers a risk group is mobility… They come into contact with people from different regions, from different backgrounds,” he told AFP.

Ndalo said he believes drivers are spreading the virus “much further, we don’t even know”, as testing is limited.

Uganda’s health services director Dr Henry Mwebesa said the sex trade was an added risk.

“An infected truck driver can infect a sex worker by mere contact, and the virus spreads not only among the drivers but the communities around too if they get in touch with contaminated surfaces.”

This pattern harks back to the spread of HIV/AIDS, which severely impacted truck drivers in the region.

“They need to be careful, they can spread it very far,” said Nicholas Mbugua, secretary general of the Kenya Long Distance Truck Drivers Association (KLDTDA), which is working hard to educate the drivers on handwashing and social distancing.

Kenya has now ordered drivers passing in either direction across the border to obtain a certificate proving they have tested negative for the virus, and undergo a nasal swab test every two weeks.

Traffic, relays and protests

Museveni said stopping trucks from entering the country would be “suicidal” for Uganda, which like many of its neighbours has no access to the sea or rail transport for imports and exports.

The crisis has led to a panoply of new measures at borders across the region that are disrupting trade and leading to days-long queues and protests.

Uganda’s testing regime has seen truckers stuck in long queues at the border, sometimes for days.

“It’s too problematic, we have lots of traffic lasting up to three to four days,” said Hussein Juma, 43, from Mombasa, adding that truck drivers were also being stigmatised and called names such as “corona”.

Uganda has also banned drivers from pulling in at traditional stopover points, designating mandatory stops where they are registered and tested, and their vehicles disinfected.

The country is mulling implementing a relay system at the border where a driver would hand over to a Ugandan driver at the border.

Rwanda has already put the system in place, with all trucks offloaded and sanitised before being handed over to Rwandan truck drivers.

“Some of the truck drivers that come from our neighbouring countries don’t usually have protective gear and do not abide by the protection guidelines to self-isolate, wear a mask” and so on, Abdul Ndarubogoye, chairman of the Rwanda Truckers Association, told AFP.

‘Weak link’ Tanzania

Rwanda imports mainly through Tanzania—and to a lesser extent Kenya via Uganda —and its rules have irked Tanzanian drivers who have protested at the Rusumo border post, blocking their colleagues from Rwanda from entering the country.

“It’s like the East African countries are not trusting each other in the way each handles Covid-19,” said Tanzania Truck Owners Association board member Rahim Dossa.

Trucks from Tanzania mostly transport cargo from the port of Dar es Salaam to Zambia, the DRC, or to Kenya where its tea is auctioned in Mombasa.

However, the country is only checking the temperatures of drivers at the border.

This week Zambia shut its frontier with Tanzania after noting a high number of cases in its border town Nakonde.

“If one country is a weak link then we are not doing much with this fight against Covid-19,” said Ndalo, the Mombasa clinician.

Source

Every day hundreds of trucks fan out from East Africa’s main ports in Kenya and Tanzania carrying cargo to the landlocked hinterland, and fears are rising they are becoming a […]

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Drivers standoff turns EAC states relations on its head

A stalemate between truck drivers and border control officials at different EAC crossing points has paralysed movement of goods within the region, raising the possibility of severe shortages of supplies in the coming weeks.

The standoff, which has been caused by East African Community member countries’ failure to agree on how to stop regional spread of the Covid-19, has created massive traffic jams at border control gates of member countries as truck drivers boycotted work to protest against perceived mistreatment.

Hinterland countries, mainly Uganda and Rwanda, have accused Tanzanian and Kenyan drivers of spreading the deadly virus to their countries, watering down their efforts to control the pandemic through strict restrictions of movement and public gatherings of their own nationals.

Kampala and Kigali have been calling for fumigation of trucks and a changeover of crew (relay driving) at the borders or offloading of cargo at crossing points, but Tanzania and Kenyan drivers have opposed the proposals.

Tanzania Truck Owners Association and Kenya Transporters Association (KTA) have suspended transport of goods to Kigali, citing strict measures put by the Rwanda Revenue Authority as well as fears over security and safety of drivers and their cargo.

“We suspended ferrying Rwandan cargo until the Rwanda government eases measures which are against the EAC protocol for free movement of goods especially during this Covid-19 pandemic. We cannot risk loss of cargo and truck by involving multiple drivers in a single haulage,” said Mercy Ireri, the KTA chief operating officer.

She added that the relay driving advocated by Rwanda is impractical since it would require recruitment and training of new drivers and would drastically increase the cost of transportation at a time cargo volumes were low and transit times longer.

In Uganda, Kenyan truck drivers have been directed to the Nelson Mandela Stadium, Namboole, and are not allowed to access the country beyond that point.

Kenya has so far reported the highest number of Covid-19 infections in the region with 621 cases followed by Tanzania (509), Rwanda (273), Uganda (114), Burundi (19) and South Sudan (120).

Different scripts

Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya have imposed strict restrictions on movement of people and public gatherings, while Tanzania and Burundi have a more relaxed stance against the virus which has infected more than 3.8 million people globally and killed over 270,000 since December.

Truck owners complain that they have incurred additional fuel expenses, and increased truck and cargo security expenses which has increased their overheads.

EAC trade officials, however, appear to be reading from different scripts.

“Ministers and permanent secretaries of Trade, Health and EAC have met and issued a protocol on how the truck drivers should operate during the Covid-19 measures,” Kenya’s Principal Secretary in charge of Trade, Johnson Weru, told The EastAfrican.

“Parameters have been set, places where the testing should take place and modalities of how it should be carried out has been agreed upon. It is only implementation that is varying from one country to another.”

Last week, both the EAC Customs and Trade Commissioner General Kenneth Bagamuhunda and his Health counterpart Dr Michael Katende visited the Kenya-Uganda border seeking solutions to the thorny issue of truck drivers.

They were, however, unable to resolve the stalemate.

“On April 30, 2020, I made an assessment mission to Malaba where I discussed with heads of border agencies from both sides the operational interventions to address the challenges. There are joint efforts by Kenya and Uganda to remove congestion at the borders,” said Bagamuhunda in an interview.

On May 1, the Customs and Trade boss visited Busia one-stop-border point and met Heads of Customs and Port Health of Kenya and Uganda.

Assuaging fears

Even as the EAC issued administrative directives for uniform implementation of measures to allow free movement of cargo as envisaged under the EAC Common Market Protocol, implementation bottlenecks persist.

Rwanda is only allowing in trucks that have changed crew at its Rusumo and Kagitumba Customs border posts.

Kenya on Wednesday announced that cargo drivers must be tested at least 48 hours before travel and issued with a Covid-19 free certificate before loading cargo in Mombasa.

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A stalemate between truck drivers and border control officials at different EAC crossing points has paralysed movement of goods within the region, raising the possibility of severe shortages of supplies […]

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Misery all round as floods kill and displace people across the region

East Africa Community partner states are sitting on a time bomb as floods cause havoc in the region.
Floods have killed 200 in Kenya, displaced 10,000 people and more than 65 deaths reported in Rwanda by Friday, as a second wave of locusts is expected to hit Kenya next month, threatening agriculture and food security in the region.
This piles misery on the region’s 1,519 Covid-19 cases and almost 200 fatalities as of May 7, 2020.
But it is the floods that are killing more people, and destroying farmlands raising fears of food insecurity, affecting the most vulnerable who are already dealing with effects of both the Coronavirus and poverty.
Only last week, EAC’s Lake Victoria Commission executive secretary Ally-Said Matano warned people living in low laying areas around Lake Victoria in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania to move to higher ground as the lake basin experiences unprecedented high levels of water. This has caused massive flooding in the lake region.

In Kenya, Energy CS Charles Keter, warned at press conference in Nairobi on Wednesday that; “The Masinga dam has reached its full capacity. We are warning those who live along the River Tana, those in downstream counties of Garissa and Tana River to move away from the river.’’

Heavy rains
According to the Kenya Metrological Department, the heavy rains are expected to continue until end of May, with parts of western, Mt Kenya, northeastern and Rift Valley put under watch.
“The situation is serious. The reservoir in Masinga as of this morning has reached historical figures of 1,057.86 metres above the sea level. Maximum reservoir is 1,056…it is a serious issue,” the Energy CS said.

Kenya’s Interior Minister CS Dr Fred Matiangi issued a warning: “Effective this morning, Wednesday May 6, we have raised the alarm in relation to floods in the country. We have no option but we will begin to move people out by force. It is better we talk to you when you are still alive than when you are dead,” he said.
Meanwhile Kenya is expanding locust surveillance in the northeastern parts of the country, amid fears of a second wave of invasion later this month.

According to a joint team from the national and county governments collaborating with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) who are leading the fight, the next phase of war on locusts will be won largely if weather conditions such as wind directions as well as the country’s ability to track and spray will be done diligently.
Every day, the surveillance team made up of scouts from the National Youth Service and trained community volunteers go out to gather and relay data using the e-locust 3M smartphone app.
The data will be transmitted to the national locust centre, the FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy as well as at the six command bases which have been set up in the region to co-ordinate training and surveillance activities.
“This war will most likely go into late May and June, latest July. But that will depend on whether we will have new invasions,” Prof Hamadi Boga, the country’s Crops Development and Agricultural Research said.

Earlier this month, FAO had warned locusts could further devastate the region in June, in an invasion that would be 20 times larger than the first one.

Source

East Africa Community partner states are sitting on a time bomb as floods cause havoc in the region. Floods have killed 200 in Kenya, displaced 10,000 people and more than […]

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Confusion at East Africa borders will slow down economies.

The confusion witnessed at East Africa’s border points this week demonstrated the consequences of a discordant approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the relative lack of depth of regional mechanisms, or commitment to them.

Tanzanian long-distance drivers forced a closure of their country’s common border with Rwanda as they protested over Kigali’s introduction of a relay (driver hand-over) system for long-distance commercial truckers.

As the number of mostly imported cases of Covid-19 cases rose, Kigali introduced a requirement for a crew change at the common border.

Inbound or transit cargo would have to be offloaded, warehoused and then transferred to Rwandan transporters for onward delivery.

On the Kenya-Uganda border, queues of trucks stretched back 40 kilometres as drivers waited to go through sample collection for Covid-19 tests. Both approaches have created a logistical nightmare and conditions that could actually aid the spread of the coronavirus among crews.

Rwanda and Uganda are apprehensive about their neighbours to the East and South, because routine testing has revealed more positives among long distance drivers than from within the community.

Although these numbers might not be an accurate predictor of the pandemic given that testing is biased more towards cross-border drivers than from within local communities, they are nevertheless informing the official response. Add in Tanzania’s reluctance to lockdown its population and you have a level of asymmetry that reflects long-ignored fissures.

East African cooperation is in peril. Members have over time slowly digressed from their commitments. What is happening now is only possible because for a long time the region has not been talking.

Kenya and Uganda have been caught in an unnecessary trade war; while Rwanda and Uganda are on the precipice of a deep political crisis.

The failure to write a common manual for management emanates from a crisis of trust and the failure to add fidelity to the systems that are supposed to entrench economic cooperation.

Under normal circumstances, a certificate of health, issued by any of the member states should be trusted by all the others. Keeping drivers in a pipeline with designated stops, should then prevent them from mixing with the community, but where is the goodwill and infrastructure to support that?

This newspaper has in the past argued that only deeper cooperation will save the region from this and any other crises in the future. We still stand by that view.

The current standoff is unwarranted, unproductive and will only inflict long-term harm on the business community who are the real engines of the regional economy. Collapse of firms will make a post-Covid recovery even more protracted and slow down economies.

President Yoweri Museveni has argued correctly that it would be suicidal to close borders to commerce. Export and import trade, though subdued, is still a critical lifeline to the regional economy.

It is therefore necessary that leaders take a leap of faith and give the EAC protocols and conflict resolution mechanisms a chance to demonstrate their functionality. So far, there is nothing to show that the rules have failed.

Instead, all evidence points to a failure of the spirit of regional cooperation.

Source

The confusion witnessed at East Africa’s border points this week demonstrated the consequences of a discordant approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the relative lack of depth of regional mechanisms, […]

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WHO says ‘extreme vigilance’ needed in exit from lockdowns.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that “extreme vigilance” was needed as countries begin to exit from lockdowns imposed to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, amid global concerns about a second wave of infections. Germany earlier reported an acceleration in new coronavirus infections after it took early steps to ease its lockdown. South Korea, another country that had succeeded in limiting virus infections, has seen a new outbreak in nightclubs. “Now we are seeing some hope as many countries exit these so-called lockdowns,” Dr Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergencies programme, told an online news briefing. But he added that “extreme vigilance is required”. “If the disease persists at a low level without the capacity to investigate clusters, there’s always the risk that the virus takes off again,” he said. Governments around the world are struggling with the question of how to reopen their economies while still containing Covid-19, the lung disease caused by the new coronavirus. Ryan said he was hopeful that Germany and South Korea would be able to suppress new clusters and praised their surveillance, which he said was key to avoiding large second waves. “It’s really important that we hold up examples of countries who are willing to open their eyes and willing to keep their eyes open,” he said. In contrast, he said other countries, without naming them, were “trying to drive through this blindly”. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the same briefing that lifting restrictions was “complex and difficult” and that the “slow, steady lifting of lockdowns” was key to protecting lives and livelihoods.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that “extreme vigilance” was needed as countries begin to exit from lockdowns imposed to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, amid […]

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Sexual and gender-based violence during COVID-19: lessons from Ebola

The COVID-19 pandemic is a disaster that has severely disrupted the normal functioning of populations around the world and continues to proliferate indiscriminately. Disease outbreaks like COVID-19 threaten the health of all. But women and girls are disproportionately affected. During epidemics, the very measures taken to protect populations and keep health systems afloat leave women and girls especially vulnerable to violence. Sexual and gender-based violence is a hidden consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As communities around the world are forced to stay at home, women and girls are at a heightened risk of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, child abuse, and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence. Because disasters exacerbate pre-existing gender inequities and power hierarchies, violence in the home may worsen as prolonged quarantine and economic stressors increase tension in the household. Women and girls are isolated from the people and resources that can help them, and they have few opportunities to distance themselves from their abusers. During epidemics, it’s harder for sexual and reproductive health workers to appropriately screen for sexual and gender-based violence. And referral pathways to care are disrupted

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The COVID-19 pandemic is a disaster that has severely disrupted the normal functioning of populations around the world and continues to proliferate indiscriminately. Disease outbreaks like COVID-19 threaten the health […]

Continue reading "Sexual and gender-based violence during COVID-19: lessons from Ebola"

Government needs NGOs to win war on Covid-19

“Epidemics are tests of social and political systems” writes Simukai Chigudu, in a fascinating article for the online platform, Africa Is A Country. Chigudu is a Zimbabwean academic and Associate Professor of African Politics at the University of Oxford. Citing his book, The Political Life of an Epidemic: Cholera, Crisis and Citizenship in Zimbabwe, which looked into the roots of the 2008 cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, he notes that it is the “political, economic and social processes that … shape the trajectory of [an] epidemic” not just the biological properties of the virus or bacterium involved.

This is not to say the actions of governments are not important. The trajectory and the evolution of the Covid-19 pandemic so far have been largely dictated by the actions of states. The thousands of lives it has so far claimed are not evenly distributed globally, but rather concentrated in countries that for a variety of reasons either didn’t take the pandemic seriously or were slow to react to it. In a very real sense, it is not just the virus that is killing people. They are also dying from state inaction, incompetence and malfeasance.

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“Epidemics are tests of social and political systems” writes Simukai Chigudu, in a fascinating article for the online platform, Africa Is A Country. Chigudu is a Zimbabwean academic and Associate […]

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High Court Stops Demolition Of Sonko Rescue Team Sanitiser Booths.

The High Court has stopped the destruction of COVID-19 sanitiser booths erected in various parts of the city by the Sonko Rescue Team (SRT). SRT is a Non-Governmental Organisation associated with Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko, that undertakes various charitable work.

In recent weeks, it was involved in fumigating city slums and also erected sanitiser booths at strategic locations on city streets and bus stations as well as at the Kenyatta National Hospital and other government installations. However, some of them were destroyed by police and other officials said to be from the Ministry of Health.This prompted the NGO to file a case in court Tuesday. Consequently, Justice Weldon Korir issued orders restraining respondents in the matter from interfering, in any way, with charity functions of the NGO, pending hearing and determination of the case. The Judge observed that the petition by the NGO had raised weighty issues that require determination.

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The High Court has stopped the destruction of COVID-19 sanitiser booths erected in various parts of the city by the Sonko Rescue Team (SRT). SRT is a Non-Governmental Organisation associated […]

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State sets new rules on Covid-19 donations

The Government has directed that all philanthropic efforts to communities impacted by the coronavirus be coordinated by the Kenya Covid-19 Emergency Fund, governors and county commissioners. Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i said the government has banned direct distribution of food and non-food donations to affected communities since they were retrogression to the measures to control spread of the respiratory virus.The coronavirus pandemic has seen a number of philanthropic groups and corporates, who want to donate to those disadvantaged by the disease, but the State says unstructured distribution was exposing more people to the virus. “Whereas we applaud these noble, charitable and philanthropic efforts, they have inadvertently led to breach of the social distancing guidelines as set out by the Ministry of Health, besides creating disorder,” Matiang’i said. The new measures come a day after food distribution at Deputy County Commisioner’s office in Kibera turned into a shoving contest as residents jostled to benefit from donations by Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

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The Government has directed that all philanthropic efforts to communities impacted by the coronavirus be coordinated by the Kenya Covid-19 Emergency Fund, governors and county commissioners. Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred […]

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Covid-19 Fund issues donations guidelines after chaos.

The national steering committee on coronavirus has outlined guidelines on how the public can donate to Kenyans affected by the pandemic. In a statement issued Sunday, Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund Chair Jane Karuku said those who wish to make donations should engage the Fund Secretariat, who will in turn coordinate distributions to families and persons in need. Tracking coronavirus “The notification to the fund is to enable coordination of donations to facilitate security arrangements, alignment with the needs assessment map, health surveillance and related public guidance necessary to facilitate safe distribution of the donations,” she noted.

 

Ms Karuku noted that well-wishers within Nairobi can notify the Fund Secretariat through their email address secretariat@kenyacovidfund.co.ke as well as through their rapid response phone numbers: 0702000055, 0702000077 or 0772429949.

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The national steering committee on coronavirus has outlined guidelines on how the public can donate to Kenyans affected by the pandemic. In a statement issued Sunday, Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund […]

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Win for long-distance truckers, now among essential service providers

Movement of trucks and cargo is now classified under essential services in the East African Community in line Covid-19 Administrative Guidelines. The measures, outlined in a 17-page document, and seen as a response to rising cases of positive Covid-19 cases among long distance truck drivers, further directs country Commissioners of Customs and other agencies to allow scanned documents in lieu of original documents that may take longer to be physically couriered to facilitate faster movement of goods.

Further, transporters must use the EAC gazetted transit routes along the Northern and Central corridors while partner states should waive fees on port and border handling charges for essential goods required during this period. Closures opposed The joint EAC team chaired by deputy secretary general in charge Productive and Social Sectors, Dr Christoph Bazivamo, head of Health department Dr Michael Katende, and the director of Customs and Trade, Kenneth Bagamuhunda, cautioned partner states against closing border crossings by imposing measures that impede access to all designated points of entry and exit of cargo.

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Movement of trucks and cargo is now classified under essential services in the East African Community in line Covid-19 Administrative Guidelines. The measures, outlined in a 17-page document, and seen […]

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How coronavirus is changing daily life in Nairobi

Since Kenya confirmed its first coronavirus case on March 13, authorities have adopted various measures to curb the spread of the virus while stopping short of imposing a full lockdown.

AFP spent a day this week exploring how the measures are impacting the capital Nairobi and its 4.3 million inhabitants, as the health crisis exacerbates social inequalities and batters the economy of the regional powerhouse.

6:45 am, Ndenderu police checkpoint

The sun has just risen and morning mist envelops a valley on the outskirts of Nairobi.

On this road heading north towards the Rift Valley region armed police monitor vehicles and pedestrians.

“The only people who can go through are the ones with the authorisation: the lorries carrying food, doctors, etc,” explains police inspector Julius Kariuki Mugo.

Edward, a 25-year-old driver, shows a stamped pass from his boss that enables him to continue on his route to deliver flour to a town 75 kilometres northwest.

Since April 6 Kenya has blocked movement in and out of Nairobi, three coastal towns, and the northeastern county of Mandera. Two refugee camps have also been cordoned off, as well as one suburb in Nairobi and one in Mombasa.

After initially creeping up slowly, virus cases this week began to jump, with authorities fearing rampant community transmission in slums and poor areas of the capital and second city Mombasa.

There have been 582 cases and 26 deaths, and Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe has urged citizens not to make a “mockery” of two months of efforts as social distancing fatigue sets in.

8:30 am, central Nairobi

Normally congested during rush hour, central Nairobi is quiet.

In a store that sells bicycle spare parts, brothers N. Shah and S. Shah, both in their fifties, are feeling the impact of the pandemic on the economy.

“We’re doing 10 percent of our usual business,” says N. Shah.

“People don’t have money. If you don’t have money to pay your rent, you don’t have money for shopping,” says S. Shah.

Their neighbour, A.J. Shah, does not know how he will pay his rent and the salaries of his four employees with business at “around 15 percent” of its normal level.

His shop sells food and cleaning products to hotels and restaurants. Even if hotels reopen, it is unclear who would actually stay in them.

“The crisis is hitting everywhere,” he says. “Who is going to come to visit the wildlife?”

11:00 am, physiotherapy practice

Since mid-March, Kenyan authorities have closed schools and encouraged working from home, which many have taken up. But it does not make sense for everyone.

“For us, working from home is not an option,” says Victoria Choi, who runs a physiotherapy practice in the Westlands neighbourhood with her husband Bernard.

Only one client is allowed in the office at a time, and all must use hand sanitiser and wear masks.

Like many parents, Bernard and Victoria have rearranged their schedules to take care of their two youngest children—girls aged 15 and nine.

Their social lives have also taken a hit.

“I miss going out with the boys,” Bernard says, adding that “having a beer alone in the house in front of the television” is not exactly a substitute.

1:00 pm, Java café

An institution in Nairobi, the Java chain of restaurants has continued operating, albeit at a much reduced pace.

“We’ve been affected a lot since we’re only doing takeaways” and home deliveries, explains Pamella Gavala, deputy manager of this franchise.

Java, with 2,500 employees in total and 50 restaurants in Nairobi alone, plans to reopen gradually after the government last week approved a supervised resumption of restaurant activity.

To comply with the new rules, employees must be tested for Covid-19 and customers must undergo temperature screening.

Once inside, no more than two people can sit at tables which have been spaced out to allow for physical distancing.

3:00 pm, Foodplus supermarket

Grocery stores, one of the few sectors still booming during the pandemic, have also had to make changes.

Masks are required, thermal screening takes place at the entrance and shopping carts are regularly wiped down with disinfectant.

At the registers, markers on the ground indicate where customers must stand to keep an appropriate distance.

“They’re more than cooperative,” Daniel Mutuku, the manager of the Foodplus store in the Kilimani neighbourhood said of customers.

5:00 pm, La Tasca tapas restaurant

Normally open from noon “until the last customer leaves”, Maurizio Fregoni’s restaurant in upscale Lavington is almost completely dead.

The 7:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew imposed since March 25 has brought Nairobi’s nightlife to a standstill.

The restaurant is currently relying on a limited takeaway business and hoping for better days for its 14 employees, most of whom are taking unpaid leave.

Fregoni, an eternal optimist, says the quiet period has given him “time to rethink the menu”.

7:00 pm, Kibera slum

This settlement in the heart of Nairobi, home to hundreds of thousands of Kenyans and often billed as the largest slum in Africa, continues to buzz with activity.

Cans of soap and water have been set up in front of stalls and masks are common, though some wear them around their chins.

A handful of cases of the virus have cropped up here and in other slums in the capital, sparking fears of a massive outbreak in the crowded settlements where social distancing is near impossible.

It is residents of such areas who have been hardest hit by the economic slump the virus has caused.

George Juma, a 39-year-old electrician, has not had work in a month.

“Everybody is afraid of the disease so they don’t want to bring you in their home,” he says.

Juma managed to convince his landlord to let him pay rent “when it’s over”.

In the meantime, his family of four is scraping by thanks to a food donation from a

NGO and the benevolence of vendors who sell to him on credit.

As curfew approaches, a police helicopter shines its spotlight on Kibera.

Joel, 45, rushes to pack up the stall where he sells fried fish—which used to stay open until 9:30 pm.

With the curfew in place, his earnings have been cut “around 25 percent”.

9:00 pm, downtown Nairobi

The city centre is deserted. At the headquarters of the Nation Media Group, a sign broadcasts prevention messages: “Stay home”, “Wash hands”.

Lilian, one of the few people around to actually see the sign, sweeps the streets of the capital.

She will finish at midnight, then sleep for a few hours in a shelter before curfew lifts at 5:00 am so she can take a share-taxi home.

Source

Since Kenya confirmed its first coronavirus case on March 13, authorities have adopted various measures to curb the spread of the virus while stopping short of imposing a full lockdown. […]

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Misinformation flood hampers fight for virus vaccine in Africa

The task of introducing a vaccine for the coronavirus faces an uphill struggle in Africa, where a flood of online misinformation is feeding on mistrust of Western medical research. Across the continent, Facebook, WhatsApp and other platforms have been swamped by messaging that characterises vaccine research as harmful or even part of a plot to kill black people.

The world’s poorest continent—and the most vulnerable to the disease, given its poor health infrastructure—Africa has recorded more than 48,000 Covid-19 cases, 1,900 of which have been fatal, according to an AFP tally as of Wednesday. The toll is below that of other continents, although the true figure may be considerably higher, given the lack of access to testing. The absence of a cure has sparked a flurry of claims for purported remedies.

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The task of introducing a vaccine for the coronavirus faces an uphill struggle in Africa, where a flood of online misinformation is feeding on mistrust of Western medical research. Across […]

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Somalia, Djibouti cases soar as porous borders become new threat.

Somalia and Djibouti’s covid-19 cases could become the new worry for regional neighbours already fighting their local battles against the scary virus disease. As at Wednesday, Djibouti had reported 1,120 cases as Somalia filed 835 incidences of infections. Both countries have a common language and common cultural practices with neighbours Kenya and Ethiopia. But a rise in their cases was directly affecting neighbours. On Wednesday, Ethiopia reported 17 new cases of the virus disease.

Dr Lia Tadesse, the Ethiopian Health Minister indicated that 13 of those had recently returned to Ethiopia, illegally, from Djibouti and Somalia; reflecting the porous borders between the countries.Four other people were residents of Addis Ababa with no travel history, indicating a community spread something officials had dreaded weeks ago. Ethiopia now has 162 total cases with four deaths and 93 recoveries.

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Somalia and Djibouti’s covid-19 cases could become the new worry for regional neighbours already fighting their local battles against the scary virus disease. As at Wednesday, Djibouti had reported 1,120 […]

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EAC member states lack cohesive plan to fight pandemic

Failed attempts by EAC Heads of States to hold a virtual conference on the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the widening ideological rift between member countries. Current chair of the East Africa Community and Rwandan President Paul Kagame last week said the lack of co-ordination at the presidential level has exposed the region to a wider, cross-border spread of the virus.

President Kagame had convened a virtual Heads of States summit on April 15 to discuss joint responses to the pandemic, which has so far infected more than 3.2 million people and killed over 233,000, but only two other presidents were ready to take part. “The Summit did not happen because a number of countries—three specifically—were not able to connect with the rest of us and all members have to be available for the virtual meeting to take place,” said President Kagame at a Monday press briefing. While Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda were ready for the meeting, South Sudan, Tanzania and Burundi were not.

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Failed attempts by EAC Heads of States to hold a virtual conference on the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the widening ideological rift between member countries. Current chair of the […]

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Burundi should reconsider its upcoming poll

The trajectory of the Covid-19 pandemic in Africa by and large continues to reflect a rising case burden, even factoring in isolated pockets of remission. The number of confirmed cases on the continent had risen from 450 on March 17, when aggregate data on the pandemic’s course began to get captured, to 37,391 on April 30. Amid a debate over what approach Africa should take to stop the pandemic, many countries have played safe by employing strict social distancing and hygiene measures that appeared to work elsewhere, especially in China. A few exceptions have bought into the argument that with its relatively very young populations, lockdowns would have limited benefits in Africa from a public health standpoint, yet exact a heavy economic toll. With only about 11 confirmed cases so far, Burundi appears to be sold on that viewpoint. Bujumbura has imposed only minimal restrictions to movement, which appear to prevent importation of cases or rapid community transmission. With an election around the corner, the country has launched into full campaign mode. As mass events that are typically preceded by a lot of movement between geographical locations and close physical contact between people; electoral campaigns represent a lot of unknowns in the context of the fight against Covid-19. Matters are compounded further by the fact that nobody, at this point, knows why the pandemic’s spread has been varied, with low resource countries such as South Sudan, Burundi and Uganda reporting quite low numbers. Optimists interpret that trend would seem to validate the idea of a lower risk in those specific countries. On the flipside however, one cannot ignore the near exponential growth in the case load in Tanzania and Kenya in recent times. In reality, the varied outcomes across the region demonstrate what is working and what may need adjustment.The one constant from what is happening in the region and what has happened elsewhere, is that Covid-19 is deadly. Without variations to approach, attempting an election in the present circumstances is similar to a high-wire act. And it could be all it will take to alter the pandemic from its largely benign course in Burundi. Although some countries, notably South Korea have pulled off an election in the midst of the pandemic, it is worth noting that the contenders did not hold mass rallies. On the other hand, Bujumbura appears to have thrown all caution to the wind, opening up the field in traditional fashion.Elections are important but they should not be taken as a matter of life and death. If they cannot wait, are they worth the risk of unmitigated spread that could overwhelm already shaky national health infrastructure? And if they must be held, are open campaigns the only way of conducting an election? Bujumbura should carefully weigh the inherent risks in proceeding with its election campaigns. It should choose to err on the side of caution. Despite the obviously divergent interests between politics and science, Burundi should heed health experts’ advice.

The trajectory of the Covid-19 pandemic in Africa by and large continues to reflect a rising case burden, even factoring in isolated pockets of remission. The number of confirmed cases […]

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Press freedom: The new threat to media in Kenya

“If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” Said the 26th American President, Theodore Roosevelt. It is sad that capitalist cronies have literary used this words to take control of the media in Kenya. The media industry is controlled by a network of State and private entities, under a state capture, which is defined as a political project in which a well-organised elite network constructs a symbiotic relationship between the constitutional state and a parallel shadow state for its own benefit. On Sunday we marked the World Press Freedom Day against the backdrop of the fact that the current threat to media freedom in Kenya is not just upsurge in harassment and attacks on journalists perpetrated by security agencies, but also ownership and control of advertisement revenue by the State. Growing up, I remember the first thing we viewed on our small, black-and-white television, on the only public broadcaster, was the image of then President.I grew up believing the President was the only newsmaker—it was all about where he went, what he said or even what he ate. Everything else was secondary. As participatory democracy grew and airways liberalised, more television and radio stations came up, unleashing new realities and opinions. Freedom was nigh. While we were busy enjoying watching a sprout of local productions, crafty businessmen and greedy politicians went on a purge on free radio frequencies.Everything was stolen, including frequencies set aside for public broadcasting. Those in power were awarded licenses without following proper procedure. By 2019, there were 127 TV and 194 radio stations in Kenya, according to the latest Kenya Economic Survey. Most of these stations are owned or run by politicians or their kin, ready to be used as propaganda or election campaign tools. This gave birth to the formation of a new battle ground for politicians. Political divisions would be visible on either side of media stations, carrying or interpreting headline stories differently, depending on who is being favoured. Some radio stations were accused of spreading hate speech and incitement to violence during the hotly contested 2007 elections. A spotlight was then beamed on the media, and a myriad of activities took place trying to control the sector, including laws regulating free speech. Since 2013, new control of media, which human rights organisation, Article 19, refers to as Soft Censorship, has been gaining traction. In this type of censorship, government being the biggest advertiser, applies indirect financial pressure on media organisations, by giving or denying ad revenue to the media that give (or deny) favourable coverage to the State and public affairs. In 2015, the control got worse. The Government Advertising Agency was established, publicly fashioned as a body that will take charge of consolidating procurement and payment functions of all government advertisement requirements, seemingly to rationalizse and manage advertising expenditure. But it later turned out to be a silent beast, awarding “loyal” media houses with advertisement. Disparity grew among the debt owed to media houses, with suspicion that government leveraged advertisement to influence editorial policy. This is the new battle for free press in Kenya; professional journalists toiling to investigate crime and corruption in private or public sector, versus dwindling advertisement revenue, threatening to bring down newsrooms .Media houses are held ransom by their own government and private conglomerates. The situation has worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic. Media houses have reported losses in revenue, and journalists have had their pay reduced, all while standing on the frontlines to continue exercising their watchdog role. Journalists are also battling hate and disinformation to help deliver accurate news to citizens on the virus.A government that truly works for the best interest of its citizens, will support the growth of media by supporting its existence by promoting a competitive business environment.

“If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” Said the 26th American President, Theodore Roosevelt. It is sad that capitalist cronies have literary used this […]

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Protecting School Feeding Programmes to suport children during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Last week, millions of children and young people should have been returning to classrooms after the Easter break. But with more than half of the world’s population forced into lockdown to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, many are unable to even leave the confines of their homes. The impact on education is a major concern for governments and institutions across the Commonwealth, many of whom have responded with measures such as online lessons, video-conference classes and the distribution of laptops to ensure everyone, including disadvantaged children, can keep learning. The effect on access to education is not the only worrying consequence of the Covid-19 crisis. For many children, attending school is not just an opportunity to learn, but their only chance to eat a hot meal. The School Feeding Programme is used across the world to protect some of the most vulnerable children, alleviating short-term hunger, improving nutrition and cognition of children and transferring income to families. In some poor households, it represents about 10 per cent of their monthly income. Across the Commonwealth, we have great examples of school feeding programmes offering a lifeline for poor and marginalised children and those in remote areas. They provide free food grains, nutritionally balanced meals and innovations such as digital school meal planners. The grave concern is that, despite these strategies, many children are missing out, particularly at a time when an increasing number of families are dealing with unemployment and income loss. Worrying statistics The World Food Programme estimates 368 million children across the world are currently not receiving school meals, up from 300 million in mid-March. And, in the Commonwealth, more than 133 million children are thought to be missing out. Alternative solutions As governments battle with the unprecedented scale and impact of the crisis, we are seeing alternative solutions emerging that can be shared and replicated across the 54 member countries. These include: • Voucher schemes to support schools which are unable to use their usual suppliers, such as in-house and private catering teams, and local authority catering services; • Arrangements to deliver food grains or cooked meals directly to the homes of beneficiaries; • Depositing money directly into parents’ accounts during the period that schools remain closed; • Using locally-sourced provisions, which can be easier to access and healthier than imported options; and • Ensuring emergency programmes created in response to the coronavirus crisis include vulnerable school children and their families. What have we learnt? As we continue to create strategies to protect and improve school feeding programmes during the Covid-19 pandemic, here are some points to consider: • Studies show the strongest and most sustainable programmes are those that respond to a community’s needs, are locally owned and incorporate some form of parental or community involvement. • Engaging communities is important in securing transparency, accountability and effective implementation. So, programmes should bring in different degrees of community involvement, covering both cash and in-kind contributions. • School feeding programmes provide an entry point to reach households in the wider community through campaigns for improving hygiene, health and nutrition practices at the household level. A nutrition and healthy consumption practices campaign should be included in the preparedness and response approaches to the pandemic. • It is important to ensure the benefits of programmes reach poor and vulnerable children, including orphans who were already food insecure before the crisis impacted incomes. • With many governments likely to suffer budgetary constraints, targeting the needs of disadvantaged and vulnerable children requires setting clear criteria and practical guidelines. • The efficiency and effectiveness of feeding programmes will depend on how well programme designs and implementation are tailored to countries’ specific systems and resources. • We need a multisectoral approach to school feeding. The success of programmes is dependent on collective effort and partnership, including working with the private sector, and alongside the health sector’s efforts to avert disease spread. A rough situation Without school meals, millions of children will become susceptible to malnutrition and other health risks as their immunity diminishes. Effective school feeding programmes also provide indirect benefits to communities, such as employment opportunities in school kitchens, increased income and skill acquisition opportunities for smallholder farmers, and complementary school feeding activities such as community nutrition volunteers. These factors should be considered given that the pandemic has had negative impacts on food security, especially for vulnerable populations including children, women, the elderly and the poor. Experience from previous health crises, such as the Ebola virus outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2014 when rice and cassava prices skyrocketed by 30 and 150 per cent respectively, indicates that many countries are exposed to the risk of rising domestic food prices. Sustainable healthy diets that contain sufficient fruits and vegetables are crucial in protecting people’s immunity. This is a particular concern for those already at risk of, or suffering from food insecurity, such as the 23 African countries severely impacted by the current locust plague. Food insecurity may lead vulnerable households to resort to negative coping mechanisms that include reduced number of meals, increased school drop-out rates, inability to cover health expenditures, gender-based violence, selling of productive assets and child labour. It is critical that we work to protect our school feeding programmes during the coronavirus crisis, by collaborating across borders and sectors and sharing information, ideas and solutions.

Last week, millions of children and young people should have been returning to classrooms after the Easter break. But with more than half of the world’s population forced into lockdown […]

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Tanzania parliament suspended as another lawmaker dies.

The speaker of the National Assembly Job Ndugai yesterday suspended parliamentary sessions following the death of Sumve MP Richard Ndassa in Dodoma. Ndassa is the second legislator to have died in the past 10 days in Tanzania. Ndassa who was aged 61, died in the early hours after a short illness, Speaker Ndugai confirmed but he did not reveal the cause of death. President John Magufuli sent condolences to the grieving family and the speaker, describing the late Ndassa as a friend and counterpart in his political career. “I recall in 1995 when Ndassa and I became members of Parliament. He was an MP for Sumve constituency and I was the MP for Biharamulo East which is now known as Chato constituency. May his soul rest in peace,” said a statement issued by the Directorate of Presidential Communications, quoting President Magufuli. According to the Speaker, the Parliament was in consultation with his family and government over his burial which is expected to take place today. He said Parliament will do all that is in its powers to make sure the legislator is buried in Sumve, a constituency that he has represented since 1995 on the CCM ticket.Ndassa’s death comes 10 days after the ruling party CCM lost another MP, the Reverend Gertrude Rwakatare, who died in Dar es Salaam.

The speaker of the National Assembly Job Ndugai yesterday suspended parliamentary sessions following the death of Sumve MP Richard Ndassa in Dodoma. Ndassa is the second legislator to have died […]

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Tanzania parliament suspended as another lawmaker dies.

The speaker of the National Assembly Job Ndugai yesterday suspended parliamentary sessions following the death of Sumve MP Richard Ndassa in Dodoma. Ndassa is the second legislator to have died in the past 10 days in Tanzania. Ndassa who was aged 61, died in the early hours after a short illness, Speaker Ndugai confirmed but he did not reveal the cause of death. President John Magufuli sent condolences to the grieving family and the speaker, describing the late Ndassa as a friend and counterpart in his political career. “I recall in 1995 when Ndassa and I became members of Parliament. He was an MP for Sumve constituency and I was the MP for Biharamulo East which is now known as Chato constituency. May his soul rest in peace,” said a statement issued by the Directorate of Presidential Communications, quoting President Magufuli. According to the Speaker, the Parliament was in consultation with his family and government over his burial which is expected to take place today. He said Parliament will do all that is in its powers to make sure the legislator is buried in Sumve, a constituency that he has represented since 1995 on the CCM ticket.Ndassa’s death comes 10 days after the ruling party CCM lost another MP, the Reverend Gertrude Rwakatare, who died in Dar es Salaam.

The speaker of the National Assembly Job Ndugai yesterday suspended parliamentary sessions following the death of Sumve MP Richard Ndassa in Dodoma. Ndassa is the second legislator to have died […]

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Kenya Truck Drivers Protest Uganda Border rules.

Kenyan truck drivers and transport companies have protested a decision by the Ugandan government to stop them at entry points and make them hand over to Ugandan drivers. The proposal will see Ugandan drivers deliver the cargo to its final destination within the country or hand it over to another driver in case the truck is still on transit. The decision follows a spike in the number of foreign truck drivers testing positive for Covid-19. This has raised fears that while Ugandans have been locked in their homes, foreign truck drivers have become the real threat to efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Recruit Ugandan drivers On Friday, Ms Robinah Nabbanja, the State minister for Health in charge of general duties, said the Ugandan government had asked companies to recruit local drivers within three weeks to implement the new directives. “They can have a chance to recruit Ugandan drivers and other country drivers because they (companies) had one, two or three drivers…policy now requires that when you come to the border, the vehicle continues with another driver,” she said. However, members of a Kenyan transporters association have protested the decision saying it will raise the cost of transporting goods. They have also said that the security of goods and trucks will be compromised. Additional expenses “This would drastically increase the cost of transportation to the trucking companies while the business has been affected due to reduced cargo volumes and longer transit times. Transporters would also incur additional expenses in providing accommodation for additional drivers,” a petition signed by Ms Mercy Ireri, the chief operating officer of Kenya Transporters Association reads. Ms Ireri said they have instructed their members to adhere to all regulations enacted by regional governments in the fight against the coronavirus by providing face masks to the truck drivers, sanitisers, handwashing soap and water as they travel. “The drivers are under firm instructions not to carry any passengers on the way, sanitise after handling any documents which should be done while wearing gloves.Most importantly, the drivers are under instructions to self-quarantine within their trucks to avoid interactions while undertaking a trip to a given destination,” she said. Cargo safety She said the security and safety of the cargo would be compromised by using multiple drivers in a single haulage. Ms Ireri added that the changeover of drivers would create inefficiencies and that truckers would face challenges in tracing drivers’ responsibilities on truck misuse, damages and theft of fuel. She also said the relay driving would raise insurance challenges as any accident or theft would likely be challenged by the insuring companies. Uganda is yet respond to the petition. Attempts to get a clarification from Trade Minister Amelia Kyambadde on how her ministry will respond to the petition were not successful. Gen Jeje Odongo, the Minister for Internal Affairs, and Gen Katumba Wamala, the Works minister, did not respond to repeated calls from the Daily Monitor. Mandatory testing The Kenyan trucker’s association has proposed that drivers undergo mandatory Covid-19 tests at the border. According to the proposal, if a driver is found to be Covid-19 negative, he or she should be allowed to proceed with the trip to its destination while those who test positive should be put in isolation in accordance to the World Health Organisation regulations. The transporting company should be informed to make arrangements for another driver to proceed with the journey after undergoing Covid-19 testing.

Kenyan truck drivers and transport companies have protested a decision by the Ugandan government to stop them at entry points and make them hand over to Ugandan drivers. The proposal […]

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Uganda plans phased lifting of countrywide lockdown.

The Ugandan Cabinet has agreed to lift in a phased manner the lockdown which started on April 1 aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. In a meeting chaired by President Yoweri Museveni on Tuesday, the Cabinet agreed that each sector of government will develop a plan for the phased reopening of the country.A source who attended the meeting said President Museveni tasked the ministers to present the sector plans at a special Cabinet meeting on May 2 which will review them and decide on the phased implementation when the current lockdown ends on May 5. In an effort to tackle the spread of the coronavirus into the country from neighbouring states, the Cabinet ministers reportedly agreed that each truck will be allowed to have only a driver and he or she will be tested at the border before entering the country.Later on Tuesday in a televised address, Museveni said stringent measures had helped in containing the spread of the disease. “Ugandans should separate anger from logic,” Museveni said during his 12th address to the nation on the pandemic. Nearly all the new cases of Covid-19 cases in the last two weeks have been cargo truck drivers bringing in essential commodities from Kenya and Tanzania. Kenya has announced that it has started massive testing of all truck drivers to ensure that they do not spread the virus to different parts of their country and the region. Monitor borders Another source said the Ugandan Cabinet agreed to concentrate its efforts at the borderline where they will heavily deploy security officers to ensure no one enters the country without undergoing testing and being quarantined. Truck drivers are among the few workers who were allowed to continue working during the lockdown as they are considered essential to the survival of the economy. Last week, Internal Affairs Minister Jeje Odongo said truck drivers will operate in a relay.A foreign transport company whose trucks enter Uganda must have a specific driver who will drive it in the country upon reaching the border.However, the borders will remain closed to non-cargo traffic until the coronavirus is defeated in Uganda and in the neighbouring countries. Public gatherings On March 18, President Museveni suspended public gatherings, closed schools and worship centres, pubs and cultural meetings for 32 days.All people arriving from abroad were subjected to 14-day quarantine and could only be released if they tested negative to the coronavirus.Following the first Covid-19 case recorded on March 21, the airport and all borders were on March 22 closed to passenger traffic except cargo. The president on March 27 suspended public transport for 14 days. This was later followed by suspension of private transport, only allowing cargo trucks and essential delivery vehicles to continue operating.On March 30, a curfew was imposed and a total lockdown declared for 14 days. The lockdown was extended for another three weeks up to May 5.

The Ugandan Cabinet has agreed to lift in a phased manner the lockdown which started on April 1 aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. In a meeting […]

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DISSIDENTS AND CRITICS BEAR HEAVY BRUNT OF INCREASING RESTRICTIONS ON EXPRESSION

Tanzania continues to suffer a dramatic decline in press freedom under President John Magufuli, as basic freedoms are restricted through repressive laws and presidential decrees. At least three newspapers were banned in 2019 for alleged criticism of the President, while violation of LGBTIQ rights continues. In June 2016, President Magufuli announced a ban on political gatherings until 2020 – the ban remains in force with general elections scheduled for October this year. In practice, it has affected opposition parties wishing to hold rallies. Expression On 2nd April 2020,exiled opposition leader Tundu Lissu spoke out against President Magufuli in the lead-up to the October 2020 elections and questioned whether free and fair elections will be allowed, considering Magufuli’s assertion that there will be no opposition in the upcoming vote and threats to imprison critics of his government. He called on the international community to diplomatically censure the government and impose travel bans and asset freezes on officials who have carried out political suppression. Lissu has been in self-exile in Belgium since 2018, after he was flown from Nairobi in 2017 for further treatment following a failed attempted assassination in Tanzania where unknown gunmen shot him 16 times. On 23rd March 2020, journalist Khalifa Said was dismissed by Tanzanian media house Mwananchi Publications a day after he published a post on his twitter account criticising President Magufuli’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Said had challenged Magufuli’s insistence that citizens continue to attend places of worship amid the outbreak and had called on citizens to organise rallies to get the government to respond to their demands. In separate developments related to the above, on 22nd March 2020, the Prime Minister of Tanzania, Kassim Majaliwa released a statement warning the public against publishing, forwarding or creating “fake news” and “misinformation” about the coronavirus in the country. He directed the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) to follow up on those who fabricate news through social media, threatening prosecutions. On 24th February 2020 journalist Erick Kabendera was released after seven months in prison, following a plea bargain with the prosecution. Kabendera had been charged with money laundering, tax evasion and leading organised crime – all non-bailable under Tanzanian law. The journalist, who has a reputation for reporting on issues deemed sensitive, including regarding public authorities, has written for several British publications, including The Independent, The Guardian and The Times, as well as for newspapers in Tanzania and the wider region. As previously reported on the Monitor, his arrest was seen as an example of rising repression against the press and critics of Tanzania’s President John Magufuli. It showed Tanzania’s continued trend of arresting and detaining journalists in 2020, despite international concern raised throughout 2019, including from the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), who expressed concern over “the unprecedented number of journalists and opposition politicians jailed for their activities” in November 2019. Conditions of the plea bargain are exorbitant and it remains unclear whether Kabendera will be able to pay the agreed fines, which amount to thousands of US dollars. While welcoming the news about his release, Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, noted: “Tanzania must stop misusing laws to violate people’s rights to liberty, freedom of expression and information, peaceful assembly and association. The country must publicly commit to ensuring that everyone can freely exercise all their human rights and stop the politically motivated persecution of dissidents and journalists like Erick Kabendera.” Rights commission warns against use of hate speech After much delay, new members of the Commission on Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG) were appointed in late 2019. Following months of initial work, on 5th February 2020, they raised concern about the use of “hate speech” by some politicians against those with opposing ideologies, saying that it signalled a violation of human rights and good governance pillars. They called on political parties to prohibit the use of inflammatory language by their followers, which may lead to human rights violations. Application against draconian online content regulations quashed In January 2020, the High Court sitting in Mtwara quashed an application by civil society organisations, including the Legal and Human Rights Centre, trustees of the Media Council of Tanzania and the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, challenging the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations (EPOCA). As reported previously on the Monitor, the regulations came into force in March 2018 and give the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority wide discretionary powers in regulating content published online, thus impacting bloggers, radio and TV stations streaming online, and other online platforms. Plans to block unregistered sim cards cause concern In mid-January 2020, government officials announced plans to block all sims cards not biometrically registered by 20th January 2020 in what they said was a bid to tackle escalating cases of cybercrime. The registration exercise aims to link sim cards with either a national identity card or foreign passport, and fingerprints. There was concern however from citizens who worried that those who cannot or are afraid to register risked losing out on vital communication channels. It may also pose a potential risk for human rights defenders (HRDs) and members for the LGBTIQ community, who try to use untraceable SIM cards as a protection mechanism against state surveillance and monitoring. Opposition party members also expressed concern that this would hamper campaigns ahead of the October 2020 general elections. Opposition party member receives death threats for criticising government policy In late January 2020, opposition party member of parliament Zitto Kabwe of the Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT) party received death threats and was targeted by the ruling party for his criticism of a controversial US$500 million World Bank education loan. Kabwe had written to the bank opposing the loan, citing the government’s failure to lift its education ban on pregnant students and adolescent mothers, worsening gender inequality and human rights violations in Tanzania. In a parliamentary session held on 31st January 2020, the speaker of the Assembly called Kabwe’s letter ‘treasonous’ while Abdallah Bulembo from the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) called for Mr Kabwe’s killing. On 30th January, the World Bank board of directors postponed their vote on the loan following concerns raised in Kabwe’s letter. Association Human Rights Watch report documents systematic attacks on LGBTIQ community. On 3rd February 2020, Human Rights Watch published a report on Tanzania’s anti-LGBTIQ crackdown and its impact on the right to health. The report titled “If We Don’t Get Services We Will Die’: Tanzania’s Anti-LGBT Crackdown and the Right to Health” documents a systematic crackdown by the government on the LGBTIQ community and community organisations that support them, since 2016. The report found that organisations have been barred from assisting LGBTIQ people, meetings have been raided by police and drop-in centres have been closed down. There are also claims that LGBTIQ activists and lawyers have been subjected to forced ‘anal examinations’, a brutal technique that purports to seek “evidence” of same-sex intercourse, but is unscientific, invasive, and amounts to a form of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBTIQ rights researcher at Human Rights Watch said: “The Tanzanian authorities have orchestrated a systematic attack on the rights of LGBT people, including their right to health. Manufactured threats around the so-called ‘promotion of homosexuality’ have displaced best practices and evidence-based approaches in guiding HIV policy in Tanzania… authorities should ensure that not one more Tanzanian is arrested for being gay or trans – or for attending an HIV education session.” Government official banned from travel to the US for targeting LGBTIQ community. On 31st January 2020, a Tanzanian official who launched a surveillance squad dedicated to hunting down LGBTIQ people was banned by the US from entering the country. The US state department said Paul Makonda, the Regional Commissioner (administrative chief) of the capital, Dar-es-Salaam, was involved in “gross violations of human rights”. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that Mr Makonda’s ban came amid concern about the “deteriorating” state of human rights in Tanzania. As previously reported on the Monitor, in 2018, Makonda announced plans to form a government taskforce to hunt down people believed to be from the LGBTIQ community, although the government distanced itself from those remarks, terming them “personal opinion”. On 21st January 2020, human rights groups called for the release of human rights activist Tito Magoti, who was arrested on 20th December 2019 in Dar es Salaam in what is believed to have been retaliation for his human rights work. He is charged with non-bailable offences of economic crimes: leading an organised criminal racket, possessing a computer program designed to commit an offence, and money laundering. Magoti works for the leading Tanzanian non-governmental organisation Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) who said that the police questioned Magoti about his online activism and his involvement with other rights activists and opposition members. Seif Magango, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern Africa said: “It is outrageous that the Tanzanian government continues to abuse the criminal justice system by detaining critics on unbailable offences for weeks and months on end under the guise of investigating cases. This is an outright abuse of due process of the law and a perversion of justice.” He remains in pre-trial detention at the time of writing, following repeated postponement of his hearings. The next hearing is expected to take place in mid-April. Peaceful Assembly On 10th March 2020, a magistrate’s court in Dar-es-Salaam sentenced eight senior members and one former senior leader of Tanzania’s main opposition party, CHADEMA, to five months imprisonment, or fines totalling 350 million Tanzanian shillings (USD 152,000) on charges including sedition and unlawful assembly. The nine defendants were found guilty on 12 out of 13 charges relating to a demonstration which they held in February 2018 which had been banned by president Magufuli. According to UN Human Rights Office, the sentences denote an ongoing strategy by the government to use the criminal justice system to target its critics by imposing large fines or jail terms on opponents, journalists and civil society figures.

Tanzania continues to suffer a dramatic decline in press freedom under President John Magufuli, as basic freedoms are restricted through repressive laws and presidential decrees. At least three newspapers were […]

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Opposition Activist Found Dead in her House

An opposition activist, Barbara Alimadi, was on Monday found dead in her house, located in Kiwatule, a Kampala suburb. One of her closest friends, the Nakawa LC III Happy Nasasira told New Vision that Alimadi’s death was a shock as she did not hear her complaining of any sickness.She added that the deceased has been staying alone. “For sure, I have run short of words because I talked to you Barbara, and you were fine, what could have killed you!” she wept. Alimadi came into limelight in 2012, when she stripped half-naked at Kampala Central Police Station, protesting the manner in which her colleague Ingrid Turinawe, had been arrested by Police. Turinawe was arrested while heading to Nasana, where the ‘For God and My Country’ (4GC) political pressure group, had organised a rally. In 2012, the then, Kampala Metropolitan Police Commander, the late Andrew Felix Kaweesi, arrested Alimadi, alongside others including; Happy Nasasira, Harriet Nakiyemba, Winfred Nakajubi, Aisha Nagudi, and Teo Namutebi. Later, they were cautioned and released on condition that they do not repeat their actions. In addition, she (Barbara Alimadi) staged another demonstration on June 25, 2012, at Parliament, demanding the resignation of the then, prime minister, John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, accusing him of corruption. At the time of her death, she has been the Secretary for International Affairs, at the national executive council, of the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT). She has also been ANT- coordinator in the diaspora, a position she scooped on May 22, 2019. On Tuesday, the ANT President retired Maj.Gen. Mugisha Muntu, posted her photo on his social media platforms, in solidarity. Alimadi holds a degree in engineering from the UK, and also a master’s degree in human rights, from Makerere University. She was born to the former Ugandan Prime Minister, the late Erifas Otema Alimadi, of Patiko-Gulu, district.

An opposition activist, Barbara Alimadi, was on Monday found dead in her house, located in Kiwatule, a Kampala suburb. One of her closest friends, the Nakawa LC III Happy Nasasira […]

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Tough Measures for Cargo Truck Drivers

After the recent confirmed COVID-19 cases being of cargo truck drivers, the Government has stepped up vigilance to nip the challenge in the bud. The sub-committee resolved to bar cargo truck drivers from stopping at all certain hitherto popular points in the country in a number of towns. The truck drivers will have a few designated stop points. During a meeting held on April 24, the sub-committee, agreed that certain stop points should be declared out of bounds for cargo truck drivers and they should only stop at 12 major points.

Under the proposed measures, truck drivers will be barred from stopping at Tororo, Mbale, Lira, Corner Kamdini, Mbiko, Naluwerere, Sanga, Ruti, Migeera, Lyantonde, Namawojolo and Luwero. Speaking to New Vision on Saturday,  Uganda works minister Gen. Katumba Wamala said the sub-committee’s resolutions will be tabled before Cabinet today for approval before implementation. Cabinet is expected to consider the measures ahead of President Museveni’s address to the nation tomorrow.

“This is just a proposal. Once Cabinet approves, we shall announce it to the general public,” Katumba Wamala said.
President Museveni on Friday, while handing over vehicles to the health ministry, said he would give an update on the fight against COVID-19 on  Tuesday (today). He said cargo truck drivers were now the new front line in the war against the coronavirus.

Uganda has in the recent weeks registered a spike in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. This is due to long-distance truck drivers from Kenya and Tanzania, who are now posing a challenge to the country’s efforts to flatten its coronavirus curve.

So far, the country has registered 20 positive cases among the drivers. This brings to 75 the number of cases as of Saturday evening. Forty-six of these have so far recovered. It is against this background that the trade and transport sub-committee of the COVID-19 national taskforce met and agreed on measures to be implemented immediately.

The committee also wants each truck to have one driver for the next four weeks, after which, the proposed relay system for drivers will be adopted. However, the transporters who are ready, are urged to start employing the system. For domestic trucks, they proposed a maximum of two people; a driver and owner of the cargo.

 

Stop points

 

The sub-committee also agreed to designate a maximum of three stop points per route for the truck drivers. Those from Kenya, will be required to only stop at Namboole, Lukaya and Ntungamo/Ishaka, while the trucks on the second route from Kenya will stop in Soroti and the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) offices at Corner Kamdini.

Trucks from Tanzania heading to South Sudan will stop in Kampala, at Karuma and Pakwach. Those from Tanzania heading to DR Congo will stop at Namboole, Mubende and Fort Portal. For the last route to DR Congo, trucks will stop at Ishaka and then proceed to the border.

“All cargo, inbound and outbound transit cargo trucks should follow  the same journey management plan indicated above,” reads the resolutions.

The sub-committee also agreed that all agencies, including the health ministry work 24 hours at Malaba, Mutukula and Busia to reinforce border patrols and surveillance at all illegal entry points. They also agreed that freight forwarders commit to paying for the testing kits. The modalities for payment will be worked out between the private sector and the health ministry. The sub-committee wants the Government to procure more 5,000 e-seals for the regional cargo trucking system for URA.

Truck drivers will be required to have and use personal protective equipment and sanitisers.

On Saturday, Police spokesperson Fred Enanga said URA had been given seals to monitor truck drivers who should only make stopovers at the designated points, avoid contact with locals and observe all guidelines issued by the Government.

Kenya  transporters body views 
The Kenya Transporters Association Ltd (KTA) protested the proposed relay driving for cargo transporters, saying it will lead to additional expenses that could cripple the transport industry. The KTA agreed with rest of the proposed measures, including designated stops, same journey plans, no diversion of trucks from designated routes, one driver per truck and use of PPEs. However, the organisation called for review of proposed relay driving. Relay driving, which is yet to be agreed on by the Cabinet, will involve a driver from a neighbouring country handing over the truck to a Ugandan one at the border, after the vehicle has been sanitised.

The Ugandan driver then takes the cargo to the frontier, where a driver from that country takes over, after the vehicle has been sanitised and drives on to the merchandise’s final destination.

In their petition dated April 25, KTA said the proposed system will require new drivers’ recruitment and training, which would drastically increase the cost of transportation to the trucking companies, yet the business has been already affected by reduced cargo volumes and longer transit times. Through their chief operating officer, Mercy Ireri, they argue that transporters would also incur additional expenses in providing accommodation for additional drivers. They argue that the security and safety of the cargo would also be compromised by multiple drivers involved in a single haulage

“The relay driving changeover by drivers would create inefficiencies. Truckers would face challenges in tracing driver’s responsibilities when it comes to trucks misuse, damages and theft of fuel,” Ireri said.

She said it would also pose a challenge in the matter of insurance since any accident or theft would likely be challenged by the insurance companies.

They proposed that drivers undergo mandatory COVID-19 tests at the borders and if one is found negative, they be allowed to proceed with the journey to the destination.

Those found positive, should be put in isolation and the transporter informed so that they make arrangements for another driver to undergo tests and complete the journey.

They said currently the freight drivers are under strict instructions not to carry any passengers, sanitise themselves after handling documents, and to self-quarantine within their trucks in order to avoid interactions in the course of a journey.

https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1518341/tough-measures-cargo-truck-drivers

After the recent confirmed COVID-19 cases being of cargo truck drivers, the Government has stepped up vigilance to nip the challenge in the bud. The sub-committee resolved to bar cargo […]

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Kenya’s Parliament plans to hold Virtual Meetings.

Members of Parliament in Kenya could soon hold virtual meetings and conduct online debate sessions as they pass laws on dealing with COVID-19.The House’s sitting capacity has been reduced from 418 seats to 40 to ensure proper spacing and social distancing. Parliament is also in the process of reviewing some of its standing orders as well as developing new rules to accommodate virtual sessions and online debates. guide online debate sessions. House resumes its sittings after end year recess. It is expected to prioritize approval of Uhuru Kenyatta’s proposed fiscal measures that are aimed at cushioning Kenyans from the negative impacts of COVID19. Members of Parliament will be required to approve proposals to reduce Value Added Tax(VAT) from the current 16 percent to 14 percent. Those earning less than 24,000 per month are also to be exempted from income tax.There will be 53 seats designated for use by members in the chamber, for voting purposes. MPs and parliamentary staff aged 58 years and above, those with pre-existing medical conditions as well as those expectant or lactating, are encouraged to work from home.Members and staff who have taken voluntary tests but have not received their results, as well as those who may have come into contact with COVID-19 cases, are asked to refrain from attending sittings or its committees. Members are advised to stop exchanging seats. In the event that a seat becomes vacant, it will immediately be disinfected. MPs, staff and service providers will be required to wear a face mask, at all times. This rule will also apply to parliamentary staff and all those individuals accessing the precincts of parliament. All other Ministry of Health rules on use of sanitization facilities and social distancing, as per sitting arrangements within parliament’s designated areas, will apply.The Main Members’ Dinning area has since been converted into a holding area, which has been reconfigured to have only 36 members from the initial 240.The Upper Members’ lounge shall now have 16 members from the previous 130 while the Small Dinning Room shall take 10 members instead of the initial 50.Waiting areas shall be set up at the courtyard, each manned by at least two officers at a time.Staff deployed during House sittings have also been reduced. The Ministry of Health will advise parliament on implementation and adherence to health and safety measures at all times.

Members of Parliament in Kenya could soon hold virtual meetings and conduct online debate sessions as they pass laws on dealing with COVID-19.The House’s sitting capacity has been reduced from […]

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Burundi vote campaign begins in shadow of violence and Covid-19

Burundi’s political parties started campaigning for next month’s presidential elections on Monday despite opposition accusations of intimidation and the ongoing global coronavirus crisis. With only one death and 15 Covid-19 cases found in minimal testing, authorities are pressing on with the May 20 vote for a successor to President Pierre Nkurunziza, an ex-rebel leader in power since the end of a civil war in 2005 that killed 300,000 people. Nkurunziza ran for a third term in 2015 in a move the opposition said violated the terms of the peace deal. The move triggered violent protests and a failed coup in the East African nation of just over 11 million people. Since then, nearly half a million people have fled, the economy has nosedived and low-level political violence has simmered. Nkurunziza’s ruling CNDD-FDD party is fielding Evariste Ndayishimiye, a retired army general who heads the department of military affairs in the president’s office. His foremost opponent is opposition party CNL’s candidate Agathon Rwasa, a deputy chairman of the National Assembly and another former rebel leader. Unlike most other nations, Burundi has not put restrictions on gatherings or internal travel due to the coronavirus crisis, so campaigning should be relatively unimpeded. Rights groups and opposition parties say CNDD-FDD’s youth wing members, known as “Imbonerakure”— or “those who see far” in the local Kirundi language—have attacked foes, while the government has threatened and arbitrarily arrested journalists and activists. “Unspeakable acts” A United Nations report last year accused security forces and the ruling party of gang rapes, torture and killings. CNL has also accused the police, intelligence services and officials of carrying out killings and enforced disappearances of its members. “Some of the perpetrators of the unspeakable acts are officials of the ruling party and its allies, public officials who are members of the ruling party, youth members of the party in power and workers of the Intelligence Service or the police,” Therence Nahimana, CNL’s spokesman, told reporters last week. Nahimana said more than 200 CNL members had been detained and party members’ property, crops, houses and other assets destroyed. Burundi government spokesman Prosper Ntahorwamiye told Reuters in a WhatsApp message he had no comment. The government has previously denied accusations of rights violations. Between January and March, Ligue Iteka, an exiled Burundian rights group, documented 67 killings, including 14 extrajudicial executions, and six disappearances. “These elections will be accompanied by more abuses, as Burundian officials and members of the Imbonerakure are using violence with near-total impunity to allow the ruling party to entrench its hold on power,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. Five other candidates are vying for the presidency, including the first vice president Gaston Sindimwo and former president Domicien Ndayizeye. Parliamentary and municipal elections will be held at the same time. Rights groups around the world are concerned that repressive governments may exploit the coronavirus crisis to crack down on opponents and consolidate their power. Elsewhere in Africa, Tanzania, Ivory Coast and Guinea are also all due to hold elections this year.

Burundi’s political parties started campaigning for next month’s presidential elections on Monday despite opposition accusations of intimidation and the ongoing global coronavirus crisis. With only one death and 15 Covid-19 […]

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Covid-19 spate of expulsions drive wedge between EA neighbours

Uganda and South Sudan governments’ decisions to deport a Tanzanian and Kenyan nationals who tested positive for Covid-19 has strained relations among EAC member countries, putting at risk cross-border movement of goods in the region. The repatriations, which are against World Health Organisation guidelines on how to handle pandemics such as the Covid-19 outbreak, have also put to test the East African Community common market and free movement protocols. Uganda is on record for having decided to repatriate a Tanzanian and Kenyan truck drivers who tested positive for coronavirus, while a South Sudanese taskforce on the Covid-19 pandemic also resolved to have two sick Kenyans evacuated by air. “A male Kenyan truck driver, aged 27, was found positive among the 372 truck drivers tested yesterday. His sample was also collected at Malaba entry point. Arrangements are being made to return him to Kenya for treatment close to his family,” read a statement released on April 20 by Uganda’s Director General of Health Services, Dr Henry Mwebesa. Source of concern With an average of 1,000 trucks entering the landlocked Uganda every day, long-distance drivers have become a key source of concern for Kampala, as they have proved to be the highest source of imported coronavirus positive cases. Out of 11 new Covid-19 positive cases reported in Uganda on Friday, six were Tanzanian truck drivers who arrived via the Mutukula border post while five were Kenyan truck drivers who entered the country through the Malaba and Busia border posts. Own volition Of the six EAC countries, Kenya had the highest number (336) of Covid-19 cases as at last Friday, followed by Tanzania (284), Rwanda (154), Uganda (74) Burundi (11) and South Sudan (5). The global number of infections had shot to more than 2.7 million as at Friday afternoon, with over 191,000 dead. Dr Mwebesa, in a telephone interview, denied that Uganda had adopted a policy of repatriating coronavirus patients to neighbouring countries. “The truck driver in question returned to Kenya of his own volition. When we tracked him to the border, we were informed that after reaching his destination, Tororo Cement Company, he returned to Kenya on his own,” said Dr Mwebesa, adding that there are Kenyans on treatment at Mulago and Entebbe hospitals. Uganda’s public health surveillance teams, backed by security forces, are said to have also mounted a search for a Tanzanian truck driver ‘to return him home for treatment’ on April 16. “The other case is a 34-year-old Tanzanian truck driver from Dar es Salaam who arrived at Mutukula border post (on) April 16, he did not exhibit any symptoms consistent with Covid-19,” said Dr Mwebesa. Juba has also suffered cases of imported Covid-19 patients from the expatriate community, including the United Nations Mission on South Sudan. Medical evacuation In a statement dated April 18, South Sudan’s High Level Task Force on Covid-19 pandemic, chaired by First Vice President Riek Machar, stated that it would seek special permission from “the Embassy of the Republic of Kenya to land aircraft 5Y-HOT CARAVAN C208 at Juba International Airport on MEDEVAC (medical evacuation) operation of two Kenyan nationals.” Article 23, 26, and 27 of WHO’s International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005 provide that travellers found in a health-risk declared area should be treated at the place of diagnosis. Tanzanian public officials declined to comment on the repatriations, while their Kenyan counterparts were guarded in their responses. The Tanzanian Director of Communication at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Emmanuel Boholela, referred The EastAfrican to the Ministry of Health for comment. The Minister for Health, Ummy Mwalimu, had not answered our calls by the time of going to press. Government spokesman, Dr Hassan Abbas, did not also answer our calls or respond to text messages. “We have treated many foreign nationals who have tested positive for Coronavirus from Comoros, Cameroon, Pakistan, Burundi, and DRC. As a country we have not found it appropriate to repatriate them because of the risk involved while on transit,” said Dr Patrick Amoth, the acting Director General in Kenya’s Ministry of Health. “It is surprising to act in that manner because you stand a high chance of infecting more people if you allow a coronavirus patient to travel over a long distance when it should have been appropriate to treat them in the country where they were tested,” added Dr Amoth. Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau said the matter involving the truck drivers was being handled by both the ministries of Trade and Health. “Our major concern is whether cargo that was on transit gets to the desired destination in a secure and faster manner as envisaged under the Multi Agency Protocol to facilitate movement of cargo across borders of which I am a member,” said Johnson Weru, Principal Secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Trade. Remedial action The governor of Busia County, which borders Uganda to the East, in a statement released by governor Sospeter Ojaamong described the repatriations as ‘unfortunate’ and capable of causing tension between the two countries. Uganda on Thursday said it is devising measures to control entry of cross-border cargo truck drivers. The Minister of Internal Affairs, Jeje Odongo, told reporters that the national task force is studying possible remedial actions such as relay driving, whereby a driver from a neighbouring country hands over the vehicle to a Ugandan driver at the border crossing after the vehicle has been sanitised. The Ugandan driver then takes the cargo to the final destination, or hands over the truck to another driver at the border crossing in case of lorries transiting to Rwanda, South Sudan or eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The other measure that is being discussed, according to the minister, is deploying rapid test kits at the border so that test results are obtained before drivers enter Uganda’s territory.

Uganda and South Sudan governments’ decisions to deport a Tanzanian and Kenyan nationals who tested positive for Covid-19 has strained relations among EAC member countries, putting at risk cross-border movement […]

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How to protect your mental health in the time of corona virus

We are seeing the spread of a virus, but we have also, from the very beginning, been seeing the spread of fear as well,” says Aiysha Malik, a psychologist at the World Health Organization. As well as having to wrap our heads around the threat of the virus itself, public and personal life has changed beyond recognition. The actions we have had to take to curb the spread of disease have left some of us struggling to cope with a lack of childcare while working, a loss of income, separation from family and friends, and serious health fears. For others, it has meant working on the front line, facing potentially traumatic experiences and making tough moral decisions. Whatever our situation, it’s time to look at what we can all do to limit the toll on our mental well-being.

Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24632790-900-how-to-protect-your-mental-health-in-the-time-of-coronavirus/#ixzz6KTPxW2LX

We are seeing the spread of a virus, but we have also, from the very beginning, been seeing the spread of fear as well,” says Aiysha Malik, a psychologist at […]

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Involve young people in the fight against corona.

The Covid-19 pandemic is the glaring rampant global health crisis of our time. Cases are rising daily in the world, in Africa and more specifically in Kenya. The pandemic is a poignant contagious wave neither choosing race, gender, age nor status. It affects us all. Youth are as vulnerable as everybody else. A careful analysis of the current state of Covid-19 in Kenya and recent reports of the first two cases, now confirmed as recovered, is testament that youth in Kenya are indeed susceptible to the virus. The susceptibility of youth contracting Covid-19 should be taken with utmost seriousness by the government and the young people themselves. The mentality that youth are immune to contracting coronavirus should be kept at bay and indeed challenged. More so, the casual attitude toward the coronavirus and sometimes inevitable socio-economic barriers to maintaining the required social distancing is at odds with the realities of the public health system reports. A recent analysis by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that about one in five people hospitalised for Covid-19 infections are 20 to 44 years old and more than one in eight of the young people were admitted to intensive care in the US. World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus warned that young people are not invincible and should take the pandemic just as seriously. SEE ALSO :KQ suspends Rome- Geneva flights over coronavirus pandemic Africa has the greatest population of youth globally, and countries like Kenya, with 75 per cent of our population (34 million Kenyans) aged below 35 is a clear reflection of this reality. While most countries in the north record high fatalities amongst elderly persons, we must not forget that most of these countries generally have a high population of older persons with Italy and Spain recording a 13 per cent average of the youth population. Therefore, the vulnerability of Africa’s youth, being directly infected or affected by the virus, remains markedly high. Government institutions and other duty-bearers must ensure that their programming prioritises young people; a population that is often left out, marginalised with their needs mostly unmet. In addition to global warming, unemployment, student debt, political instability, terrorism and the great recession, the Covid-19 outbreak is the latest global crisis that young people have had to contend with. Currently, over 861 million children and youth globally have no access to formal education, according to the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organisation. The subsequent much-needed actions by governments for full or partial lockdowns have deprived young people of social engagement with their peers and educators. Prolonged periods of closures and movement restrictions may lead to additional emotional unrest and anxieties and when those close to them are infected, quarantined or pass away, there is need for protection and psychosocial mechanisms to support them. According to the WHO, Kenya ranked sixth among African countries with the highest rates of depression (at 1.9 million cases). SEE ALSO :Coronavirus in Kenya: Traders asked not to hike prices In 2019, general hospitals with psychiatric units in Kenya, reported high caseloads of youth- up to 300 per month- seeking help. While the Ministry of Health prioritised youth mental health as a key strategic action in the Kenya Mental Health policy (2015-2030) to enable youth to access user-friendly targeted interventions that would enhance their resilience and mitigate risk factors, the Covid-19 pandemic is a challenge to the ministry to be innovative in their approach to addressing mental health squarely in the face of these restrained conditions. While governments and institutions grapple with Covid-19, and the world slows down day by day, let’s not forget that young people are watching. They are watching how their caregivers, parents, governments and institutions are acting in the face of the crisis. Covid-19 is now exposing some inabilities of large-scale institutions to address challenges. Consequently, distrust on institutions builds up and family or a close circle of friends become a default system that young people rely upon. However, Kenya and Africa as a whole stands a chance to harness the power of youth to flatten the curve, by recognising them as patriotic citizens and powerful agents of change. Any crisis presents the opportunity for youth to learn, increase resilience, while building a safer and more caring community. In this crisis, the youth, can be an important resource in awareness creation, breaking misconceptions, mitigating risks and conducting community outreach. Covid-19 presents an opportunity for institutions, both governmental and non-governmental, to take advantage of this untapped resource by investing in their economic security and social protection, through employment opportunities during deployment, online jobs and in conducting the much-needed outreach interventions in their communities. Youth are richer in spirit and many choose to be beacons of hope, the strong in our society and the aid required by our communities during the crisis – let’s use them.

The Covid-19 pandemic is the glaring rampant global health crisis of our time. Cases are rising daily in the world, in Africa and more specifically in Kenya. The pandemic is […]

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Keeping our eyes on the ball:Human Rights in the time of COVID-19

We know that extraordinary measures are a necessary companion to these extraordinary times. Protecting people’s health and safety are paramount. But that doesn’t take away our responsibility to ensure that, down the road, such exceptional measures do not become the new rule of law. For many of us, the reality of COVID-19 went from being a distant tremble on the horizon to a full-on earthquake, in very little time. As a global human rights network, our first thought here at IFEX was to reach out to member organisations – over 100, in over 60 different countries. We asked: How are you? How is this affecting you? What are your priorities now, in the face of all this? Their advice: Don’t take your eyes off the ball. They know what they’re talking about. Time and again, they have seen supposedly time-limited emergency measures that bypass human rights become entrenched as the very laws they need to fight, years after an emergency has passed. This makes them understandably wary and watchful that hard-won gains for press freedom, access to information, and freedom of expression will be suspended and even lost, with little or no oversight, due to the crisis. Their warning is even more compelling in conjunction with the other single most resonant message we heard from them: It isn’t just that we need to defend these rights despite the health crisis; these rights are essential to people’s efforts to tackle it, and survive it. So they are even more concerned to see the spread of COVID-19 accompanied by a surge in misinformation, disinformation, and, in some countries, government censorship, at a time when access to factual and timely information has never been so important. Despite efforts to provide timely fact-checking and some form of responsible content moderation, it is much easier to spread misinformation than to counter it. The lie goes viral; the correction generally does not. The problem is exacerbated by some world leaders who are exploiting this crisis and the elevated platform it gives them to ramp up their rhetoric vilifying the media – sowing confusion and distrust among people already reeling from the pandemic and hungry for answers. And this at a time when the physical safety of journalists reporting on the pandemic is further being endangered by exposure to the virus without the necessary precautions. In addition, members tell us that hard-won privacy rights are being tossed aside, as pre-existing constraints on the use of surveillance technology are relaxed to track the spread of the disease and enforce quarantine laws. There is an uptick in legislation being used to silence activists and government critics on social media. And in ways that touch us all, the pandemic is endangering the health of civil society at a time when a social safety net is more vital than ever. We know that extraordinary measures are a necessary companion to these extraordinary times. Protecting people’s health and safety are paramount. But that doesn’t take away our responsibility to ensure that, down the road, such exceptional measures do not become the new rule of law. That is why the work of defending human rights must never flag as this crisis develops. While our programming is naturally affected by necessary constraints on travel and physical meetings, human rights work is never done in isolation. It is rooted in personal connections based on mutual understanding, respect, and trust. We will continue to find ways to nurture the connections and solidarity this work requires. Finding engaging ways to collaborate on projects and campaigns, to participate in critical national, regional and international advocacy efforts, or to exchange knowledge and skills – it’s always been a challenge, but already we are all discovering new approaches to keep our relationships strong, and active. It takes much longer to build something than to knock it down; this is true of our human rights, as well. We will keep our eyes on the ball. Freedom of expression and access to information are so important. We will remain vigilant in the defence of civil society and its essential work promoting and defending these rights. After all – our actions now do not just shape the world we are in, they shape the world we will all be living in once this crisis passes. Annie Game is the Executive Director of IFEX, the global network of organisations promoting and defending freedom of expression

We know that extraordinary measures are a necessary companion to these extraordinary times. Protecting people’s health and safety are paramount. But that doesn’t take away our responsibility to ensure that, […]

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The pandemic is being used to erode democratic freedoms; Civil society must fight back!

Several African governments have been praised for their decisive actions in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has already been responsible for more than 140 000 deaths worldwide and more than 18 000 reported cases in Africa. In countries such as Rwanda and South Africa, the measures put in place to prevent the spread of the virus are among the most restrictive in the world. With the notable exceptions of Burundi and Tanzania — where government leaders remain in dangerous denial — taking quick action appears to have limited the spread of the disease. However, the strict imposition of curfews and lockdowns have also raised a number of concerns. One of the main criticisms has been that strategies used in wealthier nations may not work in Africa, especially in countries where the average citizen lacks the personal savings and access to food that may ultimately be needed to see out the crisis. What has received less attention to date, but is equally as important, is the way that Covid-related restrictions are now being used to undermine democratic freedoms. In some countries, leaders responded so rapidly that critics fear they are manipulating the crisis to consolidate their own political power. Most notably, governments in Malawi and Uganda banned public gatherings — and hence opposition rallies and civil society protests — before their countries had recorded a single case. Their counterparts in Guinea and Zambia are using the cover of the coronavirus to advance their authoritarian agendas and prolong their time in office. At the same time, efforts to enforce restrictions in the continent’s most influential states — including Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa — have resulted in widespread human rights abuses by security forces, which have a history of exploiting rather than protecting civilians. This creates a stark problem for opposition parties and independent civil society groups, because the same measures being taken to tackle the pandemic also undermine their ability to defend democracy. Pro-democracy forces across Africa are thus being kneecapped — and often violently — under the expedient guise of public health and national security. The challenge of defending democracy In the midst of the pandemic, African opposition parties and civil society groups have little opportunity, tools or platforms with which to defend their hard-fought gains. The emergency powers recently enacted have, in many cases, shut down their operations altogether and limited their funding sources, especially as major donors and aid organisations continue to reactively shift their priorities. Any attempt to hold mass protests or to break the new rules would make it possible to depict dissenters as a threat to national security, thereby playing directly into the hands of abusive governments and their henchmen in the security forces. In Algeria, for example, this scenario is playing out on a daily basis, together with a targeted assault on journalists and activists on social media.

Several African governments have been praised for their decisive actions in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has already been responsible for more than 140 000 deaths worldwide and more […]

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