Women and children fell to the ground, bloodied and trampled in a desperate surge for food being handed out in a Nairobi slum, as police fired tear gas and men with sticks beat the hungry.
As African countries grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, observers warn that the traumatic scenes which played out on Friday last week would not be the last if governments fail to help millions of urban poor who live hand-to-mouth.
“I give them [the government] one to two weeks before things get worse. Not in terms of the coronavirus, but in terms of hunger,” said Kennedy Odede, who runs Shining Hope For Communities, a grassroots movement that works in the Nairobi slum of Kibera and other informal settlements in Kenya.
“If it continues like this, we might be playing with fire,” Odede added.
Kenya has so far cordoned off the capital and parts of its coastline and imposed a nighttime curfew and other social distancing measures.
Many of these restrictions are having wrenching effects, causing loss of jobs among the poor, Odede said.
While Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has wielded the threat of a full lockdown to get citizens to comply with the rules, officials have said that it is an agonizing choice, especially as 60 percent of Nairobi’s residents live in slums.
“Locking up people in the slums will be the last option. A lot needs to be done before that,” a high-ranking security official said on condition of anonymity.
While much of the developed world waited weeks to begin taking action, countries in Africa rapidly shut borders and banned mass gatherings.
Mauritius, Rwanda and Tunisia were the first to impose full lockdowns, with Mauritius going so far as to shut supermarkets and bakeries for 10 days.
South Africa is the biggest economy on the continent to completely confine its citizens, while Nigeria imposed lockdowns on Lagos — the continent’s largest city — and its capital Abuja, which on Monday were extended for another two weeks.
Both have millions of people packed tightly in urban slums.
“The inevitable reaction has been to follow what the rest of the world is doing,” said Jakkie Cilliers of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, which has called for Africans to come up with a “unique solution” to stave off the coronavirus crisis.
“A lockdown is unenforceable and unsustainable across much of Africa. You are trying to do something that is not possible and you are condemning people to a choice between starving and getting sick,” Cilliers said.
“It’s not possible for 10 people living in a tin shack ... to not go outside for three weeks,” Cilliers added.
In sub-Saharan Africa, Liberia and Zimbabwe have also imposed full lockdowns, but most nations across the continent have stopped short of forcing all of their citizens to stay indoors.
Madagascar and Ghana have completely locked down selected regions and towns, while Senegal, Mauritania, Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Niger have imposed states of emergency and nighttime curfews.
Ethiopia, with a population of over 100 million, has closed borders and schools, and discouraged large gatherings, but has yet to restrict citizens’ movement.
“We can’t impose a lockdown like more developed nations, as there are many citizens who don’t have homes,” Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said. “Even those who have homes have to make ends meet daily.”
A CAUTIONARY TALE: Bookseller Lam Wing-kee speaks of the danger that his adopted home Taiwan now faces and the ordeal of his detention in China Lam Wing-kee (林榮基) leaned forward in his chair, answering quickly and sharply to issue a warning to the people of his new home, Taiwan. “Be ready now,” Lam said. “We should be more alert as citizens, we should get ready,” the 64-year-old Hong Konger said. “If they can take Hong Kong back, the next place, I feel, is Taiwan.” Late in Taipei at Causeway Bay Books Mark II, on the 10th floor of a nondescript building, Lam, a wiry, gray-haired bookseller, was sitting at his desk with a bemused gaze behind thin oval glasses. The desk was neat, but crowded with books and a
‘POLICE EVERYWHERE’: A law that would criminalize the publication of images of police officers was passed by the National Assembly and awaits Senate approval Violent clashes erupted in Paris on Saturday as tens of thousands took to the streets to protest against new security legislation, with tensions intensified by the police beating and racial abuse of a black man that shocked France. Several fires were started in Paris, sending acrid smoke into the air, as protesters vented their anger against the security law, which would restrict the publication of police officers’ faces. About 46,000 people marched in Paris and 133,000 in total nationwide, the French Ministry of the Interior said. Protest organizers said about 500,000 joined nationwide, including 200,000 in the capital. French President Emmanuel Macron late
Not enough beds and not enough doctors: a skyrocketing COVID-19 caseload is pushing hospitals in the Balkans to the cusp of collapse, in chaotic scenes reminding some medics of the region’s 1990s wars. After nearly a year of keeping outbreaks more or less under control, the nightmare scenario that the Balkans feared from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic is now starting to unfold. In hard-hit Bosnia-Herzegovina, one doctor described the distress of having to juggle the care of multiple patients whose lives were hanging by a thread. “The situation reminds me of the war, and I’m afraid it could get even worse
SIGNIFICANT RULING: That male prisoners are denied a choice as to their hair length suggests they are treated less favourably than female prisoners, the judges wrote Prison staff were wrong to cut the hair of a former Hong Kong legislator known for his long locks, the territory’s top court said yesterday, in the second significant ruling against authorities this month. The decision came as powerful establishment voices called for an overhaul of the judiciary — something opponents fear could muzzle the Hong Kong legal system’s vaunted independence as Beijing cracks down on its critics. The ruling by the Hong Kong Final Court of Appeal is the culmination of a long legal battle by former Hong Kong legislator Leung Kwok-hung (梁國雄), 64, who served a brief jail sentence in