The decision by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to postpone the elections in Ethiopia has created a constitutional crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic is the context for this but not the cause.
The Ethiopian government decided to postpone the scheduled elections for an unlimited time as a result of the pandemic. But this extension comes with a unique problem, what the authorities are now calling a constitutional crisis.
The five-year term of the federal and regional legislatures, as well as their administrations, will expire on September 30. This brings about a distinct challenge.
Beyond September 30, who will have the mandate to govern until an election can be held?
The ruling party presented four possible scenarios to circumvent the constitutional crisis: dissolving parliament; declaring a state of emergency; amending the constitution; and seeking a constitutional interpretation.
Of the four options, the ruling party was partial to constitutional interpretation. Parliament endorsed this on May 5, 2020. They have asked the House of Federation to issue an interpretation within a month. Most opposition parties with significant constituencies have rejected the decision.
The Oromo Federalist Congress and its six coalition parties have rejected it and called for a dialogue to find a political solution. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front rejected it as unconstitutional and said it would prepare for regional elections. It said this would avoid an illegitimate power grab by the incumbent.
In Ethiopia’s divisive ethno-political landscape, this year’s planned elections were always going to be a tricky affair.
Was the current impasse avoidable?
The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia was reorganised in 2018. Former opposition leader Birtukan Midiksa was appointed as its head. Despite these developments the government remained reluctant to hold elections on schedule.
Prime minister Ahmed stated that his government needed to consult all the political groups in the country to decide whether holding the election on time was appropriate.
In its most recent report, the International Crisis Group indicated that Ahmed’s tactics were reminiscent of the authoritarian past he had vowed to abandon. This included the arrest and harassment of activists and opponents.
It was only in October 2019 (following the Nobel Committee’s announcement that Ahmed had won the Nobel Peace Prize) that the premier stated explicitly that any delays in the poll would affect the legality and legitimacy of his government.
The electoral board and its new chairperson claimed that they had begun working on preparations for elections. However, an election timeline was only released in February this year. This goes contrary to custom whereby the board should have announced the calendar nine months prior to polling day.
In the February calendar, it planned to hold the elections on August 29, 2020.
Several organisations and political groups expressed their concern about the choice of date. Because of the rainy season, most rural areas are not accessible at that time. This would limit the participation of the majority of Ethiopians. The electoral board insisted on going ahead with the August date, claiming that any delay would result in a constitutional crisis because an un-elected government would be in office.
From this sequence of events it is clear that the constitutional crisis was already brewing before the additional problems posed by COVID-19. The late preparations and unrealistic choice of date already posed a very serious problem to the practicality and legitimacy of the elections. COVID-19 gave the government a golden opportunity to justify further delays.
The way forward
Analysts who follow Ethiopia closely, for example Rene LeFort – a writer, reporter and author of Ethiopia: An Heretical Revolution? – have indicated that Ahmed is increasingly personalising power. They say he has shown his aspirations to become the “big man” of Ethiopia at any cost. This would include operating outside the legal framework if necessary.
The Abiy administration has reversed early gains that were made by opening the political space. The resumption of intimidation and mass incarceration of opponents point to a return to the old authoritarian days. His regime is failing to deliver on its promises and is quickly losing its legitimacy.
When it dissolved the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and replaced it with the Prosperity Party it arguably abandoned its legality. The Prosperity Party only has the façade of legality because the representatives who were elected under the front irregularly assumed Prosperity Party membership.
The postponement of the poll without proper political settlement could be the last straw. The country is at risk of balkanisation along ethnic lines.
The Tigray region has declared that it will go ahead with its regional elections. Neither the electoral board nor Ahmed’s government can legally stop the Tigrayans from holding elections.
Any attempt to stop the election by force could split the Ethiopian army along ethnic lines. Such an attempt could be a recipe for the Tigrayans to invoke article 39 of the constitution and declare an independent state. Several major opposition groups, including the largest coalition of Oromo national organisations, have also declared they might go it on their own beyond September 30. They refuse to recognise an illegitimate government.
The solution, therefore, is more political negotiation rather than constitutional “interpretation”. None of the provisions in the constitution, however much they are stretched for convenient interpretation, allow for the extension of the incumbent’s mandate beyond September.
An agreement on the poll date, as well as the type of provisional administration to bridge the gap between September and the next election, can only come through dialogue between all political parties and key civil society organisations. Anything less could spell the most severe crisis in Ethiopia’s modern history.
India is spending around $16 million -- half of it in Africa -- on pharmaceuticals, test kits and other medical assistance for some 90 countries battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
The South Asian nation has already sent consignments of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), paracetamol and other drugs to 25 African countries at a total cost including transportation of around 600 million rupees ($7.9 million), according to a foreign ministry source.
"We worked out a list of essential drugs keeping their requests in mind," the official told the Nikkei Asia Review on condition of anonymity. "Transportation is a problem, but we are trying to reach them by the end of May or early June."
"HCQ has a preventive use, although there is no conclusive evidence on its efficacy against coronavirus," a medical officer posted in one of the COVID-19 hospitals in New Delhi told Nikkei.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, the anti-malarial HCQ can be used as a prophylaxis to prevent COVID-19 infection, but not as a treatment. It can be taken by doctors, health care workers and close contacts of COVID-19 cases. U.S President Donald Trump once promoted the drug as a coronavirus "game changer," but lately he has toned it down.
"Paracetamol is used in symptomatic care in COVID-19 cases where we see fever," the medical officer said. He noted that most of the HCQ supplied by India to Africa is going to sub-Saharan countries threatened by malaria. The World Health Organization has warned that malaria deaths could double in that region in 2020 because of disruptionns caused by the pandemic.
Assistance to Africa and Latin America is the second phase of India's COVID-19 health diplomacy initiative, and follows assistance to immediate South Asian neighbors. On Mar. 15, Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed $10 million from an emergency fund to assisting seven fellow members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.
India has also sent medical supplies, including masks and other types of personal protective equipment to countries around the Indian Ocean and in Central Asia, and also to six African nations.
The official at the Ministry of External Affairs told Nikkei that it has committed to medical aid worth 600 million rupees for 67 countries. Procurement orders have already been placed with government agencies and state-owned companies, such as Kerala-based HLL Lifecare. The ministry is also providing financial aid to some countries and regional funds.
India is donating 10 million hydroxychloroquine tablets to the 67 countries, with nearly 30% already delivered to 24 of these. Requests for medical assistance from 35 countries, mostly in Africa and West Asia, are being processed.
The country's defense forces have been enlisted to help in the health diplomacy, particularly in the Indian Ocean. In early April, the Indian air force delivered 6.2 tonnes of essential medicines to the Maldives using a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. On May 10, the Indian naval vessel INS Kesari set out for the Maldives, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Madagascar and the Comoros, with food items and medicines, including traditional Indian remedies.
India is also trying to help with capacity building by offering health care training for COVID-19 management and protocols to 160 countries. It has also offered training in lockdown management to some foreign police forces. The foreign ministry official said concept papers have been invited for upgrading hospitals and vaccine centers.
India has previously helped countries like Sri Lanka and the Maldives build hospitals and health care centers. "This is an opportunity for India to prove itself not only as the pharmacy to the world but also a net public health security provider," an diplomat told Nikkei.
With a population of around 1.3 billion, India is facing a major battle of its own fighting COVID-19, but officials believe it can still play a global role. "Our pharma companies have the capacity to not only take care of India's needs but of other countries as well," said Harsh Pant, a professor of international relations at King's College in London.
India's diplomatic play comes at a crucial juncture in international politics as the U.S. and China argue over the precise origin of the novel coronavirus amid widespread concerns over their respective shortcomings in the crisis.
"Through its health diplomacy, India may be trying to carve out an independent space for itself," Pant told Nikkei. "The world looks set for a new Cold War between the U.S. and China -- COVID-19 may have brought the middle power moment in international politics."
"The post-coronavirus world order could create space for a group of middle powers to provide global leadership," said Gautam Bambawale, a former Indian ambassador to China. He believes Japan, India, France and South Africa are among the countries that could become more influential.
- Nikkei Asia Review
An Angolan soldier shot and killed a teenager during an operation to enforce face-mask wearing to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the government has said.
The home affairs ministry said a 17-year-old boy “was a victim of a gunshot” fired by a soldier on Friday while “allegedly” protesting against a military-led awareness campaign on the use of face masks.
In a statement late on Friday, the ministry described the case as “homicide” and that it was investigating the incident.
On May 9, a 21-year-old man was “accidentally” shot when police clashed with a group of people caught flouting a curfew and a ban on social gatherings in Luanda’s impoverished Huambo neighbourhood.
President Joao Lourenco declared a state of emergency in March, banning public gatherings and restricting movement to limit the spread of COVID-19.
In April, the government made wearing face masks compulsory.
Rights groups across the continent have denounced widespread incidents of violence by security officials enforcing anti-coronavirus restrictions.
To date, Angola has recorded just 48 cases of coronavirus, including two deaths.
Mauritius on Wednesday declared wary victory in its first battle with coronavirus, saying it had “zero” active patients and had not documented a single new case in 17 days.
The Indian Ocean island nation initially surged ahead of other eastern African countries in terms of caseload, hitting a peak of 332 just shy of six weeks into its outbreak. Ten people died.
It imposed one of the first and strictest lockdowns in Africa, going so far as to initially shut supermarkets for 10 days, a measure that has been extended until June 1.
“Today we are at 17 days without a new case. Mauritius now has zero active cases,” Health Minister Kailesh Jagutpal said in an address on national television.
“We have won the battle thanks to the cooperation of the public, who understood that the government needed to take extreme measures, including complete confinement, and the closure of supermarkets and our borders. But we have not yet won the war. Let’s remain vigilant.”
From May 15, a limited selection of essential stores such as bakeries, butcheries and fishmongers will be allowed to re-open, but most businesses, bars, shopping centres and markets will stay shut.
Schools will remain closed until August 1, the island’s famed beaches will remain off limits and no more than 10 people will be allowed to attend weddings and funerals.
Independent epidemiologist Deoraj Caussy told AFP Mauritius needed to remain on alert.
“It is imperative to use random sampling and continue to test… Zero active cases does not mean that it is over and life is returning to normal.”
Meanwhile the government is busy debating two pieces of legislation, the Covid Bill and the Quarantine Bill, which will legislate aspects of the eventual lifting of the lockdown and planned return to normal of all activity from June 2.
However the laws have come under fire from unions and civil society who say they weaken individual freedoms and workers rights.
Among the changes made will be those allowing employers to fire workers with one month salary and on short notice, while another change will allow police to enter a home without a warrant.
A statement from a collective of unions in the country warned that social discontent was currently confined but “could erupt like a social volcano at any moment”.
“We still need to make sacrifices to return to a semblance of normalcy. We are counting on the understanding of the population to not let their guard down,” said Justice Minister Maneesh Gobin.
The UK and some US states have set out plans for easing coronavirus lockdowns. Ultimately, any government that attempts to ease restrictions must keep a close eye on daily infection numbers and the spread of the virus. Ideally, every new case should be traced and managed.
The problem is that most countries lack the resources to test and contact-trace enough people. But our app, which is called the COVID Symptom Study and is based on some 3.4 million users in the UK, US and Sweden logging symptoms daily, could help. In a new study, published in Nature Medicine, we show that this app can estimate whether someone has COVID-19 purely based on their symptoms – with a high degree of accuracy.
The app (formerly known as the COVID Symptom Tracker) was launched by our team at King’s College London in collaboration with the health technology company ZOE (which one of us helped co-found) in March. Users are asked to say whether they are feeling well or experiencing any symptoms related to COVID-19 every day. Within 14 days, with the help of social media, we gathered 2 million users, collecting vital information on the symptoms of coronavirus infection and the spread of the disease across the UK.
For our new study, which has been peer reviewed, we analysed data gathered from just under 2.5m people in the UK who had been regularly logging their health status in the app. Around a third had logged multiple symptoms associated with COVID-19. More than 15,000 people reported having had a test for coronavirus, with nearly 6,500 testing positive. We confirmed the findings with data from around 168,000 US-based users of the app – 2,736 of whom had been tested for COVID-19, with 726 testing positive. US users started participating about one week after UK ones.
We then investigated which symptoms known to be associated with COVID-19 were most likely to predict a positive test. Loss of taste and smell were particularly striking, with two thirds of users testing positive for coronavirus infection reporting them compared with just over a fifth of the participants who tested negative.
Next, we created a mathematical model that can predict with nearly 80% accuracy whether an individual is likely to have COVID-19 based on their age, sex and a combination of four key symptoms: loss of smell or taste, severe or persistent cough, fatigue and skipping meals.
The implications of this are huge: in the absence of widespread, reliable testing for coronavirus, symptom logging through the app is a simple, fast and cost-effective way to help people know whether or not they are likely to be infected and should take steps to self-isolate and get tested.
We’re now further validating our prediction model by working together in the UK with the Department of Health and Social Care’s coronavirus testing programme, offering swab testing to thousands of app users reporting new symptoms every week. In the US, we are planning studies to deploy antibody tests to see if people who reported symptoms in the past were indeed infected with the virus and if antibodies are enough to protect against another infection.
Importantly, our results suggest that loss of taste or smell is a key early warning sign of COVID-19 infection. A loss of appetite and severe fatigue also outperformed the classical symptoms like cough and fever. Focusing on just cough and fever will miss many cases. Although the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recently expanded the list of symptoms, many governments like the UK have been slow to change. NHS England still lists cough and fever as main symptoms on its website.
We strongly urge governments and health authorities everywhere to broaden the range of symptoms, and advise anyone experiencing sudden loss of smell or taste to assume that they are infected and follow local self-isolation guidelines.
The detailed symptom data being collected is showing us the enormous diversity of clinical presentations of the virus, such that we are beginning to define distinct clusters over time that have different outcomes and duration. For example, multiple symptoms occurring rapidly have a better prognosis than those coming on more slowly involving fatigue and chest symptoms.
We are also finding many people with symptoms waxing and waning for over a month. Working alongside testing and contact tracing, which most governments are doing to some extent, the COVID Symptom Study app is a potential tool for getting countries out of lockdown more safely. This is especially important as testing resources will remain scarce. Gathering detailed health data from as many people as possible is an essential part of this, while also ensuring that consent and privacy are fully respected.
This data-driven approach relies on millions of people using the app to log their health on a daily basis. Even as we return to our normal lives, we need to stay vigilant - and people need to understand the full range of symptoms. We are asking people to download the app and get in the habit of spending just a minute every day checking in. The app has been endorsed and promoted by charities as well as the governments of Wales and Scotland – but not yet by NHS England.
The rapid roll-out of the COVID Symptom Study app and others like that used in Israel proves the worth of apps like this for real-time epidemiology in the immediate response to a pandemic. There’s an even larger role for the app in research.
Working together with a large team at Massachusetts General Hospital in the US and the charity Stand Up to Cancer, we are producing early data on risk factors across countries like obesity, blood pressure medication and social deprivation. We are also looking at the risk to healthcare workers. Some of this work hasn’t yet been subject to peer review, the process by which experts scrutinise each other’s work.
The COVID Symptom Study app is available to download from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store in the UK and USA as well as Sweden. Daily research updates and data which is shared with the NHS can be found here.
Some hard-pressed residents in Harare have resorted to sharing face masks in desperate attempts to comply with a government directive for citizens to wear protective clothing as part of measures to avoid the spread of Covid-19.
Following the directive, Zimbabwean supermarkets, transporters and other public places are barring those without masks from accessing their facilities.
In terms of new health regulations, anyone found in public without a face mask faces up to one-year imprisonment or a $500 fine. For fear of falling foul of the law, some locals now share masks in order to access supermarkets.
A Harare resident said government should assist some poor locals with the protective material.
"Some people are sharing face masks to travel to places where they are required to wear them.
"We need free face masks from the government because we are at great risk of the Covid-19 pandemic," said one Harare resident.
However, some creative locals have turned old clothing into home-made masks.
"I have no money to buy face masks. In fact, I do not even have anything to eat with my children.
"I have cut this T-shirt so that we do not get into trouble with the law when we go out," said one Debra Moyo, a resident of Mabvuku high density suburb.
Taking advantage of the requirement, some people are now in the business of picking some used face masks from dumpsites and reselling them to desperate and unsuspecting locals at prices they can afford.
Disposable masks are meant to be used once and be discarded.
Credit: New Zimbabwe
I must repeat that Africa deserves to be paid a compensation for the damages COVID-19 pandemic is inflicting on lives and livelihoods.
In their prickly reaction to my April 16 Washington Post #ChinaMustPay article (a response published in the Guardian Newspaper of May 3, 2020), the Government of China through their Embassy in Nigeria missed the opportunity to responsibly address the serious issues raised.
I must repeat that Africa deserves to be paid a compensation for the damages COVID-19 pandemic is inflicting on lives and livelihoods.
Unfortunately and unfairly, my country, Nigeria, is one of fifty-four countries in Africa that are struggling to respond to the disruptive effects of China’s failure to take responsibility for a pandemic that could have been easily contained and localized to avoid the ruin it has caused our continent and the world at large.
Since Beijing failed to adhere to basic scientific and research transparency in the critical early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, it must accept responsibility with humility. Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili
Therefore, a legitimate demand for accountability and payment of penalties by rich and powerful countries for damages their behaviors do to vulnerable people ought not to attract the kind of sour response China released.
There are six points that authorities in Beijing ought to humbly consider.
First, it is now clear to the world that China’s opaque handling of the pandemic is costing my country, our continent and people too much in lost lives and livelihoods. The unjustified suffering of the poor and vulnerable brought on by the actions of a comparatively rich and powerful country demands a new system for addressing global inequities.
I maintain that information in the public domain points to the fact that China suppressed vital information from the rest of the world on COVID-19. The burden to present convincing counter-factual information lies with China and,so far, it has failed to do so.
Second, I assert again that China owes Africa yet-to-be-estimated compensation. Its acts of negligence in December and early January resulted in a fast-spreading global pandemic that collapsed the continent’s economic growth from 2.9% in 2019 to negative 5.1% in 2020. Most importantly, China should, in the interim, take responsibility and ease the severe fiscal pressure on our countries, by announcing a cancellation of over $140 Billion in loans its government, contractors and banks have advanced to Africa over the last two decades.
Following this debt cancelation, an international consortium made up of the G20, China, Africa Union Commission and global institutions like the United Nations, World Bank and IMF should be constituted to assess the full extent of damages and the compensation due.
Third, Chinese authorities should know that we are Africans who are not lackeys of any power. Laying a baseless charge of “dancing to the tune of others” to an African reveals an appalling mindset toward our continent. It may in fact be this same sort of attitude that frames the extremely offensive profiling of Africans who are resident in China.
We do not dance to the drumbeat of any country or any continent -- our sole tune is the African Beat.
Fourth, the spirit of transparency ought to be in China’s own interest. It is intriguing that Beijing has so far failed to embrace my suggestion to allow an Independent International Panel of Experts to review and assess China’s handling of the COVID19 pandemic. Why? Is China afraid of full disclosure that can help the world learn vital lessons on how to manage global threats and risks better?
Fifth, this global New Normal requires faster prevention of cross-border risks and threats. The best antidotes to minimize global negative externalities that harm the weak and vulnerable are absolute transparency and removal of information asymmetries by countries.
As part of this New Normal, the global community has a duty to learn and correct past failures to penalize bad behavior. My #ChinaMustPay article is a call therefore to innovate global mechanisms that compel countries to start now to do the right things whenever risks and threats emerge.
Innovation is what China rode on to economic greatness. What then is wrong with asking for such as a legitimate part of our global New Normal?
Sixth, it should be in China’s historic and conscientious national interest to prevent future exploitation of vulnerable countries by economic supwerpowers. I did acknowledge previous global risks that similarly emanated from other rich and powerful countries and injured Africa’s economic growth and development. I find it hard to believe that China, given its history and experience with colonial mistreatment, would want this cyclical pattern to continue. Do the authorities in Beijing really want Africans to simply accept harmful actions of rich and powerful countries?
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in an April 2020 report on coronavirus pandemic stated that “over 300,000 Africans may lose their lives due to COVID-19.” According to the Africa Union Commission, the coronavirus is already collapsing many economies in Africa and worsening poverty. Already, the livelihoods of hundreds of millions on the continent, especially children, young people and women are already lost to the damaging economic disruptions caused by COVID-19.
The IMF calls the impact of the pandemic on Africa as “the worst reading on record”. It went further to state that Africa’s “Fiscal space is limited, and fiscal financing needs to address the crisis are large - at least $114 billion for this year”. International rating agencies have massively downgraded the credit ratings of African countries making investors more skittish.
I proposed a penalty system in the form of a Global Risk Burden Tax that will from now be payable to weaker and more vulnerable countries and their people whenever forced to bear a disproportionate burden from preventable global risks that emanate from rich and powerful countries.Such penalty tax would also serve as a disincentive to prevent the kind of unbecoming actions and decisions that escalated the spread of the deadly virus out of Wuhan.
China must know that where our lives and livelihoods are concerned, no country, regardless of how powerful it may be, can intimidate us Africans ever again.
Beijing should do the right thing now and accept the debt it owes Africa as a result of its failures on COVID-19. That is how responsible world powers should behave in the 21st Century if they are to be taken seriously.
Ezekwesili is the former vice-president for the Africa region at the World Bank and the former minister of education for Nigeria. She is the co-convener of #BringBackOurGirls Movement.
On Friday, Alameda County’s interim public health officer, Dr. Erica Pan, said that health orders to contain a Covid-19 outbreak in the region are still in place, and that Tesla does not have a “green light,” to resume vehicle production at its main U.S. car plant in Fremont, California, yet. She also noted, “We have been working with them, looking at some of their safety plans, and have had some recommendations.”
Tesla had wanted to start production again on Friday afternoon. The plant is where the company makes vehicles for Europe and North America. The company’s headquarters are in Palo Alto, not part of Alameda County.
Unlike other automakers, Tesla’s employees are not part of a union, so it would be easier for the company to significantly alter its operations.
Insulting Pan personally, Musk wrote on Twitter:
“Tesla is filing a lawsuit against Alameda County immediately. The unelected & ignorant ‘Interim Health Officer’ of Alameda is acting contrary to the Governor, the President, our Constitutional freedoms & just plain common sense!”
He also claimed that: “Tesla knows far more about what needs to be done to be safe through our Tesla China factory experience than an (unelected) interim junior official in Alameda County.”
Alameda County responded with a statement saying its Health Care Services Agency and Public Health Department have been working closely with Tesla in Fremont on a safety plan. They said they aim for Tesla to reopen while protecting the health of thousands of employees who travel to and from work at the factory.
“We look forward to coming to an agreement on an appropriate safety plan very soon,” the county said without offering specific details on a timeline. “We appreciate that our residents and businesses have made tremendous sacrifices and that together we have been able to save lives and protect community health in our region. We need to continue to work together so those sacrifices don’t go to waste and that we maintain our gains.”
While Musk characterized Pan as “ignorant,” the doctor has deep experience in both public health and infectious diseases.
Among other things, Pan is a graduate of Tufts medical school, completed a residency and fellowship at UCSF and has worked at Alameda County Public Health Department since 2011 while also working as a physician and professor. She previously worked for six years as the Director of Bioterrorism and Infectious Disease Emergencies at San Francisco Public Health Department, according to her resume on LinkedIn.
Previously, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO cursed and called Covid-19 health orders “fascist,” on a Tesla earnings call. He also erroneously stated that children are “essentially immune” to Covid-19, among other controversial tweets about the novel coronavirus and governments’ efforts to deal with the pandemic.
Musk, who has a following of more than 33 million on Twitter, also encouraged shareholders to file a class action lawsuit against the county.
After the provocative string of tweets from Musk on Saturday, Fremont Mayor Lily Mei said in a statement: “As the local shelter-in-place order continues without provisions for major manufacturing activity, such as Tesla, to resume, I am growing concerned about the potential implications for our regional economy.” She also expressed support for Tesla specifically, and urged the county authorities to “come up with acceptable guidelines,” to help Tesla and others reopen their businesses.
One Fremont based Tesla employee told CNBC workers there don’t know how to feel about Musk’s tweets on Saturday. This person, who asked to remain un-named as they did not have permission to give media interviews, said many Tesla employees would prefer that the CEO would just work with the county, make sure the factory is safe, and reopen as quickly as possible.
Tesla did not reply to a request for further information about its plans to move headquarters out of the state, as Musk said they intend to do.
The SEC previously sued Tesla and Musk after the CEO tweeted that he would take the company private at $420 per share, and had funding secured. The agency said those tweets violated securities laws. As part of the eventual settlement between them, Musk agreed to have his Tesla communications reviewed by in-house counsel or some other so-called Twitter-sitter. It was not clear whether his Saturday tweets were approved by such a point person at Tesla.
Tesla shares have been on a run in 2020 and are up more than 95% for the year.
“We know how to bring the economy back to life. What we don’t know is how to bring the dead back to life.” – Nana Akufo Addo, president of Ghana
The total number of deaths in the coronavirus pandemic has passed the 250,000 mark. The health and economic calamity continues to evolve rapidly; the world is scrambling to understand it.
Even as there are signs that the curve is flattening in the U.S., scene of one-third of the world’s fatalities, estimates of how many will die have doubled from 60 to 120,000. Italy and Spain, two of the worst hit countries in Europe, have peaked.
California, the largest state in America, has flattened the curve, joining Asian nations such as South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and, of course, China. Europeans and North Americans are starting to emerge from lockdown. New Zealand claims to have totally eliminated community transmission of coronavirus.
But the virus is continuing to take its toll. The United Kingdom has passed the 20,000 death mark; Russia, which appeared initially to have escaped the worst, is battling with an outbreak that led President Vladimir Putin to declare that “we don’t have much to brag about.”
New infections and deaths are on the rise in Brazil and Ecuador, giving rise to fears that the third wave of the coronavirus will be experienced in the developing world.
Despite dire forecasts, Africa has so far experienced only a fraction of the number of cases seen elsewhere.
By late April, the known infections worldwide was 3.4 million and the number of deaths about 240,000. Africa had only 45,000 reported cases, with 1,800 deaths – less than one per cent of the total in both categories.
Though it is too early to claim anything conclusive, fears of a tsunami of cases in Africa have not been lost yet.
In a continent as large as Africa with 54 countries, it is hard to pinpoint what explains this. One possibility is that, other than South Africa and Ghana, there has been less testing. This is suggested by the fact that Africa’s morbidity rate – the number of people who die after contracting the virus – is around 5 per cent, compared to a world average of less than two per cent.
South Africa – with 90 deaths and about 5,000 cases – has a case fatality rate (CFR) of about 1.8 per cent, somewhat less than the rest of the region but close to the global average.
The global CFR could in reality be much lower, as it is believed that many more people have been infected than tested positive. This is certainly the case in the U.S. where, as more testing has been carried out, the CFR has decreased.
Further complicating the picture are suggestions based on data from New York, Italy, the U.K. and Spain that the actual number of deaths from COVID-19 is at least twice the official number. People who die at home or in nursing homes before they are tested are not counted.
Curve flattens in South Africa’s powerhouses
While the number of positive cases in South Africa has risen along with more testing, it is still not increasing at anywhere near the level of the worst hit regions.
Relatively speaking, South Africa has contained the spread since the first cases were brought in on a flight from Italy in early March.
The South African response was decisive and carefully thought out and much credit goes to President Cyril Ramaphosa and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize in the way they have led the response and mobilised the country.
Because of our history with the HIV/AIDS crisis, the country has some of the best infectious disease experts and epidemiologists in the world, exemplified by the husband and wife team of Salim Abdool Karim and Qarraisha Abdool Karim.
South Africa was also willing to learn from what worked in other countries such as South Korea and China.
Most experts agree that the lockdown has limited the spread of the virus, reducing infection rates and delaying the onset of the peak and buying us time.
But there is no cause for complacency. Professor Salim Karim has warned that preventing exponential spread in South Africa is very, very unlikely.
Professor Shabir Madhi, of Wits University, who is heading the public health subcommittee advising the president, estimates that up to 45,000 South Africans could die from COVID-19. That means the worst is yet to come.
Nigeria, with a long experience of dealing with infectious diseases – and a history of containing Ebola during the 2014 epidemic – has also flattened out the number of positive cases, although new cases continue to rise.
Still, there is growing concern out of the most populous State, Kano, where a number of elderly people, including some of the State’s most prominent citizens, have died in recent weeks. These deaths have been attributed to other causes but with the negligible amount of testing, we are unable to know for sure.
But while the continent’s two biggest economic powers are not typical, it is striking how uniform the African numbers are. No African country has yet been affected anywhere close to the scale of the worst affected countries.
The African Exception?
From the beginning, there have been warnings that Africa, with its dense urban slums, large numbers of people with chronic illnesses, and inadequate public health systems could be facing a catastrophe.
But this has so far proven not to be the case.
In response, there have been suggestions on social media that people are resistant to the disease by virtue of being black.
The U.S. is, sadly, proving the opposite. African-Americans are dying at alarmingly higher rates than other population groups.
In Chicago, about 70 per cent of deaths are black, while the city is only 30 per cent black. In Milwaukee in Wisconsin, where only 26 per cent are black, 73 per cent of those dying are black. In the nation’s capital, Washington DC, it is 44 per cent and 72 per cent.
Eugene Scott, in the Washington Post, puts this down to four factors that are specific to African-Americans: higher rates of underlying health conditions and less access to health care; blacks holding a lot of the “essential” jobs that make social distancing difficult; insufficient information from the government reaching the black community; and racial disparities in housing.
All of these factors are prevalent to an equal or even greater degree in South Africa, where housing for the majority of the population and the access to health care is often worse.
Unlike the Great Recession of a decade ago, all the major economies will be struggling or crashing at the same time. Kristalina Georgieva, IMF managing director, said 170 of its 189 member countries will suffer falling output in 2020. “The bleak outlook applies to advanced and developing economies alike. This crisis knows no boundaries. Everybody hurts”…
What is extraordinary is how much we still don’t know about the silent killer that the New York Times this week described as capricious: “The question of why the virus has overwhelmed some places and left others relatively untouched is a puzzle that has spawned numerous theories and speculations but no definitive answers.”
What seems to be the case is that Africa was the last continent to be affected because of proportionately fewer air links with the rest of the world. By moving to lockdown early on, many African authorities have slowed the spread of the virus in the general population, but we have to contend with the reality that the constrictions on economic activity cannot be sustained.
The Africa Centres for Disease Control has warned that it is too early to draw any firm conclusion, but there are a few clues as to what is going on in Africa.
Africa benefits from having a youthful population.
A Lancet Infectious Diseases paper found that globally, the case fatality rate for those under the age of 60 is 1.4 per cent. For those over the age of 60, the fatality rate jumps to 4.5 per cent. For those 80 and over, COVID-19 appears to have a 13.4 per cent fatality rate.
The global CFR among those under 20 is 0.2 per cent.
Africa has a median age of 19.4, against 40 in Europe. Of the continent’s 1.2 billion people, only about 50 million are over 60.
Africa might have benefited from being in the tropics and from the fact that the virus first struck during summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
Research from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore indicates that higher temperatures and humidity are correlated with a lower rate of coronavirus spread, similar to the correlation between climate and the influenza virus.
This is confirmed by researchers from Spain and Finland, who found that 95 per cent of positive cases occurred at temperatures between -2 and 10 °C.
Researchers from Beihang University in China, found that in the early days of the outbreak, hot and humid cities saw a slower rate of spread than cold and dry ones.
If this is valid, this is an ominous sign for South Africa, as it heads into the winter months.
Several recent studies have suggested a link between the BCG (the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin) vaccine – which was developed to fight tuberculosis – and the rate of death from COVID-19.
Tuberculosis is caused by a type of bacteria, while COVID-19 is caused by a virus. But the BCG vaccine might help people build immune responses to things other than tuberculosis.
Medical researchers in the U.S. and U.K. concluded by analysing data from 178 countries that those countries that do not have a BCG vaccination policy saw ten times greater incidence of and mortality from COVID-19, compared with those that do. Some of the worst hit countries such as the U.S., Spain and Italy do not administer BCG.
Almost all African countries administer BCG, though some only began doing so in the 1990s.
This link has not been scientifically established, but clinical trials are now being held to determine whether those nations that make BCG vaccination mandatory at birth are less susceptible to high COVID-19 related deaths. If this could be conclusively shown, it would be a massive breakthrough.
A World On Life Support
The path of the coronavirus and response to the pandemic has devastated the global economy. The Financial Times describes it as the worst collapse since the Second World War, and the most difficult moment for the global economy in almost a century.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects the global economy to shrink by 3 per cent this year. This is far worse than its 0.1 per cent dip in the Great Recession year of 2009.
The lockdowns, business shutdowns and travel restrictions are destroying demand, at the same time as a financial crisis is unfolding.
In a worst case scenario, the world is heading into a global Great Depression.
Unlike the Great Recession of a decade ago, all the major economies will be struggling or crashing at the same time. Kristalina Georgieva, IMF managing director, said 170 of its 189 member countries will suffer falling output in 2020. “The bleak outlook applies to advanced and developing economies alike. This crisis knows no boundaries. Everybody hurts,” she said.
The IMF predicts that worldwide trade will plummet by 11 per cent this year. Global manufacturing supply chains are being broken.
During the Great Recession, China continued to grow at 9 per cent. Although it is reopening its economy ahead of the rest of the world, China’s GDP plunged by 5.8 per cent in the first quarter of this year, dipping into recession for the first time in 44 years. Meanwhile, the country remains on guard against a second wave of infection.
The U.S. economy is at a standstill and economists are projecting unemployment to reach 20 per cent in the second quarter. The IMF expects the U.S. economy to contract by 5.9 per cent this year.
Most of Europe is on lockdown and Germany, France and the U.K. are in deep recession. The Eurozone will suffer a 7.5 per cent drop and Japan, 5.2 per cent. U.K. output could dip by 6.5 per cent this year.
Emerging markets and low-income nations across Africa, Latin America and much of Asia are at especially high risk.
On a more positive note, the recent monetary and fiscal policy responses from across the world have generated some optimism for a rebound.
The world is desperate for good news, but there will be no end to the pandemic and return to pre-crisis behaviour until a vaccine is developed, which could be well into 2021. The impact of the coronavirus is likely to be prolonged and the peaks could be followed by more peaks.
The IMF forecasts that there will be 5.8 per cent global growth in 2021, but this is at best a thumb-suck because there is still so much uncertainty.
Governments in the developed world have been willing to make massive interventions to stimulate demand and interventions by central banks to ensure liquidity by keeping the cost of borrowing low and financing credit supply.
The U.S. enacted three aid packages worth $2.7 trillion. The Federal Reserve has enacted a $2.3 trillion rescue package for the economy. But at least 32 million Americans have lost their jobs and there is more pain to come.
And President Donald Trump’s erratic moves could jeopardise a U.S. recovery, even as the rest of the world struggles to get back on its feet.
African Economies In Pain
Even though Africa is the continent least scarred by the health crisis, it could end up the most damaged by the economic calamity.
Emerging market assets have been precipitously dumped and there has been capital flight worse than during the Great Recession.
Commodity prices that have buoyed African economies for the last quarter century have collapsed. Major mining operations have been mothballed.
Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, has been driven into deep recession by the oil price crash – and is expected to contract by up to 7 per cent this year. Angola has been battered as well.
The tourism industry, a key part of the economies of countries such as Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa, has shut down.
Remittances from diaspora communities have declined dramatically.
There has been a huge fall-off of trade with partners such as China, Europe and the U.S.
The World Bank predicts that growth in Africa could fall to between minus 2.1 per cent and minus 5.1 per cent, led by severe downturns in Nigeria, Angola and South Africa.
Africa’s domestic economies have had a stranglehold placed on them where countries have implemented social distancing measures, closed borders and imposed lockdowns.
The majority of Africans work and trade in informal markets, meaning that millions are now unable to work.
The African Union estimates that up to 20 million workers could lose their jobs. Even in developed countries, workers are just one pay-cheque away from being completely broke. The scale and impact in human terms are unimaginable.
People have no money to spend, further collapsing demand. There are signs of widespread hunger and the World Bank is warning of a food security crisis. Social and political unrest will surely follow.
And this is before the full health impact is felt.
The World Bank, IMF and African Development Bank have announced billions of dollars in emergency credit facilities to African countries and called for bilateral debt relief. But that will not be enough.
Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the IMF, estimates that emerging countries may need as much as $2.5 trillion in support. African leaders are calling for, at the very least, a debt standstill.
The needs are insatiable – scaling up the health sector response, maintaining wage payments amidst a massive wave of firm bankruptcies, relieving social distress and growing hunger and poverty, all while protecting the overall stability of the financial system.
President Ramaphosa’s R500 billion social and economic package is intended to go some way towards alleviating the worst of the crisis in the short term but much will depend on its execution and the fiscal sustainability of the programme. Given the experience of the past decade, can we expect those implementing the programme to ensure that this massive pot of money will find its way to the intended recipients?
The early signs are not encouraging.
In order to pay for it, Ramaphosa has indicated that he will use whatever is available to prop up the economy and prevent social collapse, including IMF loans, but at some point the bill will come due.
Other African countries do not have our options. They are being called upon to drain their treasuries to provide support for the poor and unemployed and to bolster their health systems, just as tax revenues have literally collapsed. Ken Ofori-Atta, the Ghanaian Finance minister, says he is green with envy at the “unthinkable stimulus packages” being announced by the developed nations.
“Their generous tool kits are not available to us,” he laments.
Living With a Pandemic
There is great uncertainty about the speed of the recovery, largely because it depends on the continued path of the virus – and medical advancements that have not yet happened.
The world is desperate for good news, but there will be no end to the pandemic and return to pre-crisis behaviour until a vaccine is developed, which could be well into 2021. The impact of the coronavirus is likely to be prolonged and the peaks could be followed by more peaks.
With so much at stake, there is an unprecedented global race underway to produce a vaccine, with seven clinical trials underway, and a group from Oxford University providing the most optimistic timeline of about six months.
For Africa, the main lesson is, in the words of Ken Ofori-Atta, that it is time to challenge the unbalanced nature of the global architecture. Which means, perhaps, that the point is not to replace one overlord with another but to imagine a world order in which we all have a place at the table…
The ability of the virus to mutate and to come back, maybe in a more virulent form, is why the Asian nations emerging at the other end of the first wave are not dropping their guard.
The lockdown strategy has been implemented to flatten the curve – to prevent the pandemic occurring in a compressed time frame – and buy time to prepare health facilities for a spike in cases.
In the absence of a vaccine, therapies of existing drugs are being used for COVID-19 patients. But while studies are being fast-tracked around the world, they are not yet conclusive. The drug, remdesivir, originally developed to treat Ebola, is said to be showing some promising early results but other therapies such as the much touted hydroxychloroquine are still viewed with skepticism and only used to treat the most severe cases.
In the absence of a vaccine, attempts to move countries out of lockdown – which are now underway – have to be strategic, phased, targeted and managed on a long-term basis – and accompanied by widespread testing and surveillance and proper equipment for health care providers. Countries could also go back into lockdown if there are further spikes.
There will be no way forward without knowing where the enemy is – tracking the virus and isolating it. South Africa has one of the world’s most innovative programmes, sending 28,000 health workers into communities for screening and testing.
Some of what we know about catastrophic viral pandemics is drawn from the experience of the 1918 Spanish flu which killed between 50 million and 100 million people.
The flu came in three waves. The first relatively mild version was in March 1918 and it appeared to have run its course by the northern summer. The second more virulent and infectious version struck in September 1918 and the third continued through 1919.
The second wave came to South Africa via two troopships of soldiers who were returning from the Western front and stopped in Freetown en route, where the flu was raging. When they docked in Cape Town, they were quarantined, but not effectively, and set off a wave of infections that ended with the deaths of about 300,000 people – six per cent of the population of the country at the time.
Epidemiologists have puzzled over why the diamond miners in Kimberley, almost a quarter of whom died in the flu, died at 35 times the rate of the gold miners in Witwatersrand.
It is now believed that the miners on the Reef had already developed some immunity from the first strain that had traveled up from Durban earlier in the year. The more isolated Kimberley miners only experienced the second, more lethal wave.
The End of Globalisation?
In seeking to find a culprit for the pandemic, we do not need to look too far: the globalised economy, the era of free and easy travel and movement between countries spread the virus. Globalisation made the globe more vulnerable to a pandemic.
The upside of globalisation – the free movement of capital and ideas and the free trade that has driven the global economy since 1945 – is presently being reassessed in a harsher light. Some assume that the age of globalisation is now over.
French President Emmanuel Macron sees the crisis as an “existential event for humanity” that will change the nature of globalisation and the structure of international capitalism.
Is it likely that nation states will turn themselves into fortresses surrounded by moats to keep out aliens and foreigners? Depending on the devastation to economies and the forces of populist nationalism that will be unleashed by the pandemic, that could well be the outcome.
But it would hard to see recovery in such a world. It was a global trade war in the 1930s – spurred on by the U.S. Congress’ Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act – that was one of the major drivers of the Great Depression and helped set the stage for the Second World War.
The stronger argument is that the moment demands greater community between nations in fighting a common enemy. What the coronavirus has taught us is that the existential threats of the 21st Century, from the pandemic to climate change, are ones that threaten us all.
The very qualities required to defeat this virus – scientific knowhow, capable and responsible government, global solidarity, basic humanity – are what we need for survival and prosperity in the years ahead.
These are the very elements that are threatened that at this moment.
However, instead of co-ordinated policy responses from governments around the world, we see a fracturing of international co-operation.
We should not forget what the last quarter century of turbo-charged globalisation has brought us. It has lifted billions of people out of extreme poverty, not just in India and China, but in many other nations, and in large parts of Africa as well.
However, as the gap closed between the developed and the developing world, it brought stagnation and job losses to the middle and working classes of the U.S. and Europe, and widened inequality between a global super-class with unimaginable wealth and just about everybody else.
It also gave us the pandemic which, if nothing else, is a moment to reflect and reset.
One reason for pessimism is that the U.S., which was the prime mover and leader of the post-1945 world, has been missing in action.
Trump has steered the U.S. away from any constructive international role. He has rejected calls to create a global taskforce to deal with the pandemic and threatened to cut funding to the World Health Organisation in the middle of the worst health crisis in a century. While his administration’s incompetence at home has cost many lives, its reputation abroad has been badly tarnished.
Trump has dashed hopes that the world’s two leading economic powers will co-operate. He has indicated that he wants to run for re-election on a China-baiting platform, exacerbating the ill feeling that has been generated by the last three years of trade wars.
With the U.S. abdicating, many people are finding it hard to imagine a globalised world without a hegemon, which is why many believe China will takes the U.S.’ place in a new global order. Xi Jinping has, for the last three years, already emerged as the most outspoken champion of globalisation.
But to be the leader of a free world, one must also possess the magic ingredient of soft power, which presupposes an admiration for one’s system of governance. China, with the recent experience of the Hong Kong protests and the many thousands of Muslim Uighars still in detention, not to mention its initial lack of transparency around the outbreak of the coronavirus, might not be best placed to lead the new world order.
There’s also a lot of anger towards China right now. Oby Ezekwesili, Nigeria’s former minister of Education and a former vice president of the World Bank, has argued that China should pay compensation to Africa for failing to transparently and effectively manage the global catastrophe.
For Africa, the main lesson is, in the words of Ken Ofori-Atta, that it is time to challenge the unbalanced nature of the global architecture. Which means, perhaps, that the point is not to replace one overlord with another but to imagine a world order in which we all have a place at the table, and in which the two greatest powers find it in themselves to work together, and with the rest of us, for a common humanity.
If there’s any upside to the unprecedented uncertainty gripping the world right now, its that the economic fallout has opened up a new debate about the right sort of policies to have. Its time to think creatively about what we can do and where we want to take this country, this continent and this planet. Its time for new thinking, imagination and boldness.
Mcebisi Jonas is the chairman of MTN and former deputy Mminister of Finance in South Africa.
To control the spread of coronavirus, the Kenyan Ministry of Health COVID-19 Taskforce implemented initial prevention and mitigation measures. These included encouraging the public to wash their hands, wear face masks and stay home.
But not everyone will be able to adhere to these because they rely on a daily wage and cannot afford to stay home. Many of these people live in Nairobi’s low income settlements which are overcrowded and where sanitation and social distancing measures are near impossible to maintain. COVID-19 would spread rapidly under these conditions.
To make sure this doesn’t happen, health authorities need timely data to design policies and interventions that are easily understood and relevant to the lives of urban slum inhabitants.
Along with our colleagues at the Population Council (an organisation dedicated to carrying out research on critical health and development issues), we worked with the government’s taskforce committees to do just that. We used rapid phone-based surveys to collect information on knowledge, attitudes, practices and needs among 2,000 households in five Nairobi urban slums. The survey will be conducted every 2 to 3 weeks over the coming months as the pandemic unfolds in Kenya.
Some of our key findings so far are that prevention methods are being adopted by most, but people are starting to struggle: many are missing meals, have lost work and say that the cost of living is going up.
It’s vital to have this information as it will help to inform prevention, control and mitigation measures during epidemics. A recent example is from the Ebola response, where surveys identified the prevalence of misconceptions about Ebola transmission and prevention, the need to prevent stigmatisation of Ebola survivors, and to foster safer case management and burial practices.
What people are saying
One of our key findings so far was that most people are adopting prevention practices, including social distancing, hand washing and wearing face masks. For instance participants reported that – compared to before COVID-19 – they: saw less of family (56%), saw less of their friends (87%), avoided public transportation (76%) and stayed at home more (85%).
But staying at home is proving more difficult. In the day before the survey, 79% had left the house; 37% left once, 24% left twice, 39% left three times or more. Of those that left home, 34% travelled outside of the slum where they live, suggesting significant travel around Nairobi.
When it came to wearing face masks, 89% said they had worn one in the last week, 73% said they always wore the face mask when outside of the home. Of those who did not always wear a face mask, the reasons were mainly that they were uncomfortable (57%) and unaffordable (19%).
Hand-washing was also a widely adopted practice: 95% said most public spaces have hand-washing stations, 76% said they washed their hands more than seven times a day, and 88% said they always used soap. Only 5% of participants say they wash their hands between 1 and 3 times per day. Barriers to regular handwashing were a lack of access to water at home (25%) and that they couldn’t cannot afford (32%) extra soap or water.
Hand sanitisers were used far less: 40% of participants said they don’t use them because they’re too expensive (83%) or not available in shops (24%).
The pandemic is clearing having a negative impact on people’s health and economic and social status.
Most people who responded to our survey (68%) said they had had skipped a meal or eaten less in the past two weeks because they did not have enough money to buy food. Only 7% had received any type of assistance – such as cash, vouchers, food and soap – and only half said the assistance given was enough to cover their households’ most important needs.
Participants expressed their single biggest unmet need was food (74%) followed by cash (17%). This may be related to 77% of participants reporting increased food prices and 87% noting household expenditures increased, as well as more than 4 out of 5 participants reporting complete or partial loss of income or employment.
Women may be disproportionately affected with increased time spent on chores (67% vs 51% of men) and more women reported a complete loss of income or employment compared to men.
When it came to how well-informed people are of the illness, we found a big majority knew that fevers (83%) were a symptom. But less knew about difficulty breathing (48%) and coughs (52%).
We also found that young people were less likely to think they were at high risk of becoming infected compared to older people. We identified two other persistent myths: 27% thought that coronavirus was a punishment from god and 13% thought it could not spread in hot places.
Based on our findings, we recommend that the Kenyan government continue its public education campaigns, with a focus on:
Clarifying that everyone can be infected with COVID-19 and pass on the virus to others, even if they themselves are not at high risk from severe illness.
Recognise that people are starting to be flooded with information on COVID-19 from all sources. This suggests that messaging can be refocused toward accurate prevention measures and accessing social protection.
Given the high rates of people forgoing food, and experiencing a complete or partial loss of income, assistance must be provided so as to avoid a secondary humanitarian crisis. It is particularly important that assistance gets into the hands of women to help them cope with these challenges.
Current assistance efforts are reaching less than 10% of the participants and should be ramped up in a coordinated way.