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Africa Update for May 2020

The latest edition of Africa Update is out! We’ve got mental health in Ghana, home brewing in South Africa, vintage Somali May Day celebrations, Nigerian digital art, and more.

Photos from last year’s Lamu dhow race, by Roland Klemp

West Africa: In Ghana, activists are encouraging men to speak out about their mental health issues.  Ghana is also using drones to efficiently transport coronavirus test swabs for analysis.  Lockdowns are hitting countries like Senegal hard, where 85% of people in a recent survey said their incomes had dropped.  

Central Africa: Uganda has banned the import of used clothing over concerns about coronavirus.  Uganda has also prohibited the use of public transport during the pandemic, even though this is cutting many people off from medical care and increasing rates of domestic violence.  This is a strangely beautiful drone video of Kampala’s empty streets during lockdown.  Here’s how a financier of the Rwandan genocide was captured in France 26 years later.

Some interesting data on revenue performance across the continent, via Amaka Anku

East Africa: Somalia has launched its first ever government-run cash transfer program for over 1 million vulnerable citizens.  Somalia also has few reported coronavirus deaths, but informal reports from gravediggers suggest the real toll is higher.  Kenya has created a new state corporation meant to profit from the labor of people in prisons.  Tanzania appears to be covering up its real number of coronavirus deaths, even as the president has refused to take basic safety precautions.

Southern Africa: Malawi is one of the few countries without a coronavirus lockdown, after the high court blocked it over concerns of its economic impact on poor citizens.  South Africa banned alcohol sales during the lockdown, leading supermarkets to just coincidentally leave all the ingredients for home brewing next to each other.  South African Airways will be divided up amongst its competitors after going into bankruptcy.

Art interlude: check out this amazing vintage Somali May Day Poster, via Faduma Hassan

Coronavirus: Many African countries have limited scientific lab capacity, and had to use it for testing instead of genomic sequencing, which means that any eventual vaccine might not be as effective for viral strains on the continent.  There’s some interesting data here about the varied nature of lockdowns across Africa, including the fact that most countries imposed them unusually early, with fewer than 10 domestic cases.  Reporting on coronavirus in Africa should do more to highlight the many mutual aid groups supporting their communities.

Other health news: A new malaria vaccine being piloted in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi could make the virus less severe.  Only 18 African countries have adequate systems for recording births and deaths.  Putting chlorine dispensers next to communal water sites is an easy way to improve sanitation in Uganda. 

Agriculture: Here’s a good summary of how the pandemic is affecting food systems across Africa.  People used to respond to locust invasions in East Africa by eating them, but new research says that this strategy doesn’t work any longer as the bugs are exposed to too many pesticides. How can regional rice market integration help avoid shortages in West Africa?  Exports of medical marijuana and hemp are growing across Africa, even as many countries still ban recreational smoking.

Countries vary widely in the percentage of their citizens without access to national IDs, via Carlos Lopes

Economics + technology: Global remittance flows are expected to drop by more than US$100 billion as immigrants abroad are affected by the pandemic.  African tax collectors don’t have very many good options for making up lost revenue due to the pandemic. On the bright side, the virus is driving innovations in technology across Africa.

Gender: Check out the great resources at the African Feminism website and the African Feminist Archive.  Meet the female athletes breaking barriers in Somaliland.  Nigeria has some of the world’s strictest abortion laws, and over 60,000 women die annually from illegal abortions or complications during childbirth.  Rwanda has pardoned 50 women accused of having illegal abortions, but hasn’t changed its restrictive abortion laws.

I’m loving Adekunle Adeleke‘s creative digital portraits

Immigration: In China, African immigrants are facing discrimination over fears that they’re spreading the virus.  Israel has nullified a law which discouraged people from applying for asylum by forcing them to deposit 20% of their monthly salaries in savings accounts.  Meet the scholar studying the global fashion history of the African diaspora.  And Astrid Haas and I have written about whether safe rural migration programs could support urban safety nets in African countries during the pandemic.

Snapshots of IPA’s RECOVR research hub

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My partner Tom has done some interesting analysis of the projects listed on IPA’s RECOVR coronavirus research hub as of late April.  His previous research found that most social science research registries focused on coronavirus were focused on high income countries, but fortunately RECOVR is doing better on this front.

Some key points:

There are [56] projects all over the world, with 25 covering Africa, and 18 in Asia. They cover a huge variety of topics — health is naturally in the lead, but there are many studies of Social Protection, Peace and Recovery, and Financial Inclusion. It looks like there’s room for some more studies on education and agriculture…

One other welcome note: almost two thirds of the studies listed have at least one person from (one of) the countries being studied, on the team of named principal investigators.

Also, it’s not just RCTs!

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I should add here (with an inevitable bit of bias) that Tom’s a talented researcher and program manager, with a focus on behavioral science.  He’s currently open for consulting or full-time work based in London.

How are African academics being impacted by the pandemic?

That’s the focus of a new research briefing from the Mawazo Institute.  The project team surveyed over 500 academics, mostly from East Africa, about whether the pandemic had disrupted their research and teaching.  The vast majority said they were experiencing interruptions to their courses and research, while less than 40% said that e-learning was being offered by their institutions.  Combine this with concerns about already-low research output across the continent, and it’s going to be a difficult year for the higher education and research sectors.

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Are African countries doing enough to provide economic relief during the pandemic?

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A pre-covid cash transfer withdrawal in Kenya, via Wikipedia

I’ve got an article out at the New Humanitarian looking at how African countries have responded to the economic impacts of coronavirus.  Most countries were quick to take public health measures to contain the virus, but responding to its economic harms has taken more time.  The first wave of economic measures mostly benefitted the middle class:

Economic relief efforts have come in two waves so far. The first, implemented in late March and early April, often involved cuts in the fees and taxes citizens must pay to the government or to banks.

For example, Kenya has cut income tax rates for both the lowest and the highest earning categories, and has cut corporate tax rates from 30 percent to 25 percent. Ghana is providing free water to citizens as long as they don’t have any overdue bills with the national water company. And 18 African countries have lowered interest rates to encourage individuals and businesses to borrow from banks.

These relief efforts are fairly easy for governments to implement, since they only involve changing payment policies. They also primarily benefit the middle class, who are more likely to have formal jobs that pay income taxes, fully paid water bills, and loans from a bank.

Pro-poor relief efforts are now getting off the ground, albeit more slowly:

The second wave of economic relief efforts is now getting underway as of mid-April. This has involved direct support to poor people who might otherwise go hungry.

Rwanda and Uganda have already begun providing people in their capital cities with food aid. Kenya and Malawi have started cash transfers, and South Africa has increased its monthly payments to current welfare beneficiaries, and is creating new cash transfer programmes for the newly unemployed…

Notably, the countries that moved relatively quickly on economic relief all had welfare programmes in place already. But these existing schemes are primarily aimed at alleviating rural poverty, while the impact of coronavirus is being felt most heavily in cities. This means many countries are being forced to create new relief programmes rather than scaling up existing ones.

 

Scholarship updates for African students and researchers, May 2020

I’ve recently added nearly two dozen new items to my lists of scholarships for African MA and PhD students, and of research and travel funding for African academics.  Do check out the full lists!  (As always, I can’t provide personalized scholarship advising.)

Snapshots of coronavirus response in Kenya and Senegal

Two interesting new sets of polling data have recently come out about pandemic response in Kenya (from the Population Council) and Senegal (from the Center for Global Development).  Here are some key points.

Kenya

  • Public health
    • 83% of people knew that fever was a symptom of the disease, but only 52% knew that coughing also was
    • 85% of people said they’re staying home more than they usually do, but 79% had left the house at least once in the last day (likely for work or shopping)
    • 76% of people say they’re washing their hands 7 times per day or more
  • Economics
    • 36% of people have lost all their income and 45% of people have lost some of their income in the last two weeks (81% of total sample)
    • 68% of people say they’ve had to reduce their food intake
    • Only 7% of people have received any assistance
    • Most of the assistance provided came from NGOs or the business community, and was largely soap (72%) and food (40%)
    • The people receiving assistance often did not report that they had been skipping meals, suggesting that the most vulnerable people aren’t being helped

Senegal

  • Public health
    • Almost everyone had heard of coronavirus, and 90% of people said they had stopped attending services at their mosque due to the lockdown
    • 72% of people supported a continued lockdown, although support is lower among people who’ve lost some of their income
  • Economics
    • 85% of people report having lost some or all of their income
    • Over 33% are skipping meals
    • 45% of people say that food prices have increased
    • The population of Dakar has decreased by 5% as people flee to rural areas