Can Old Ghosts Help Burkina Faso Contain Trouble in the Sahel?

Burkina Faso’s descent into anarchy began as a play in two acts set in motion by a populist uprising in October 2014. That movement foiled then President Blaise Compaoré’s attempts to amend the constitution and extend a 27-year tenure that had begun with the assassination, in 1987, of his predecessor Thomas Sankara. In 2015, Gilbert Diendéré, a close Compaoré ally, led a failed coup attempt against the transitional government that had replaced Compaoré. Both incidents ultimately led to a weakening of the army’s tight grip on the country.

Islamic radicalism that had been bubbling under the surface rose to the fore. Swathes of Burkina Faso, previously home to refugees fleeing sectarian violence and terrorism in Mali, have now become the epicenter of Islamist insurgency in the Sahel. Since 2015, there have been more than 3,000 fatalities and 750,000 people displaced in the country by the independent actions of at least three major jihadi groups: Ansarul Islam, the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. Schools have closed and economic activity has all but ended in the north and center of Burkina Faso. 

To fight back, the Burkinabe Parliament passed a law in January allowing the military to work with vigilante groups. While the Sahel’s challenge with Islamic militancy might be relatively new, Burkina Faso’s strategy has roots in Sankara’s four-year stint in power — and experts worry it risks exacerbating the region’s security problems instead of fixing them.

We can’t optimistically expect security to rein in these vigilante groups.

Corinne Dufka, West Africa director, Human Rights Watch

After the revolution, Sankara established the Comités de Défense de la Révolution (CDR), patterned after the Cuban local revolutionary cells Fidel Castro set up as “a system of collective vigilance.” Sankara’s supporters say the Burkinabe equivalent of the CDR was meant to stop the army from seizing power for itself. His critics say it was a smoke screen to keep enemies in check, sometimes brutally. When Compaoré took over, he abolished the CDR. After his own exit, the Regiment of Presidential Security, his elite execution squad headed by Diendéré, was also disbanded. 

The new law establishing the Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland as an umbrella for existing and new vigilante groups, has revived those arguments. Volunteers will work in groups incorporated into the state defense structure and complement the military and intelligence capabilities of security forces.


Protesters pose with a police shield outside the parliament in Ouagadougou.

Source Getty

With national elections scheduled for November, President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré’s actions are seen by experts as an attempt at an unorthodox solution to the security crisis. But human rights campaigners say the law could open up even more opportunities for violence and abuse.

“These self-defense groups are symptomatic of the absence of the state and the lack of public services,” says Romane Da Cunha Dupuy, a doctoral candidate at Sciences Po’s Centre de Recherches Internationales in Paris.

The cornerstone of this new policy is the 40,000-man militia known as the Koglweogo — “guardian of the bush” in Mòoré, one of the country’s major languages. In January 2019, more than 200 members of the ethnic Fulani community were murdered by suspected Koglweogo militiamen as reprisal for a jihadi attack. The Fulani are often accused of supporting or hiding jihadis.

Koglweogo spokesman Samir Abdoul Karim Ouedraogo has denied participating in ethnic killings, but the group’s role in that massacre and other similar incidents remains unresolved. If groups like the Koglweogo have state backing that threatens to deepen the cycle of violence and impunity, given the increasingly ethnic dynamics of the conflict.

Jihadis have frequently focused their attacks against agrarian communities while also concentrating their recruitment among the Fulani, explains Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“Communities with massacred civilians are the same communities that are forming the civil defense groups,” Dufka says. “These men have suffered profoundly from violence for which there really hasn’t been justice.” They are being supervised by security forces that themselves haven’t been held accountable for extrajudicial executions, points out Dufka. “We can’t optimistically expect security to rein in these vigilante groups.”

If this national experiment goes south, Burkinabe citizens will effectively find themselves trapped by violence from at least four different quarters: jihadis, armed bandits taking advantage of the confusion, vigilante groups and government forces. It’s a murky mix for a poor country dealing with the coronavirus pandemic too; as of May 3, Burkina Faso had more than 600 confirmed cases and 45 deaths. And the country’s central position today in the fight against Islamic radicalism in the Sahel means the impact of its successes or failures will be felt far beyond its borders.

To stem this bloody tide, Kaboré’s administration needs to act decisively and wisely. It needs to tweak its counterinsurgency strategy to allow the vigilante groups to operate only in a limited capacity or under the censorship of a body that can hold them accountable for human rights abuses and other excesses. The government should also investigate those implicated in recent massacres, to begin an exercise in justice and reconciliation in what is an already fragile country.

The example of Mali to its north is a cautionary tale for Burkina Faso of a Pandora’s box that could be hard to shut, warns Dufka. The Malian government never officially recognized vigilante groups, instead turning a blind eye to them. “Those groups have murdered hundreds of Fulani civilians and they have now become uncontrollable,” says Dufka. Burkina Faso and the broader Sahel can’t afford a repeat.

Is Ghana the Model the Developing World Needs Against the Virus?

“We know how to bring the economy back to life,” Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said in late March. “What we do not know is how to bring people back to life.” Six weeks later, that comment — which made international headlines — is serving as a reminder of early steps the West African state took in curbing the spread of the coronavirus, positioning Ghana as an unlikely success story.

At a time when wealthier countries like Singapore and South Korea are capturing global attention for their proactive stance in combating the pandemic, Ghana is emerging as a model for developing nations across Africa, Asia and Latin America that need smarter innovations to cope with fewer resources.

In mid-March, when Africa was relatively untouched by the virus, Ghana banned travel from any nation reporting more than 200 coronavirus cases. It rapidly ramped up testing, with more tests conducted as a fraction of its population than any other major African nation other than South Africa. In April, the government committed to buying 3.6 million locally produced masks, encouraging small businesses hit by the economic slowdown to instead manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE).


Kofi, a barber, resumes work in Accra after the lifting of a partial lockdown in parts of Ghana.

Source NIPAH DENNIS/AFP via Getty

Ghana’s aviation authorities are employing American health care logistics startup Zipline’s aerial drones to ferry testing kits and samples between the country’s rural areas and the capital, Accra. And the last batch of international travelers, who entered Ghana in April before the country stopped incoming flights, were forced into quarantine in hotels near the airport, to ensure any asymptomatic carriers of the virus wouldn’t spread it to their friends and family. 

The result? The country started the week with 4,700 confirmed cases, but has a fatality rate of 0.7 percent per 1 million population. That’s the lowest among the 10 African nations with the most infections, and a quarter of South Africa’s. It’s an exemplar that could offer valuable lessons to other nations, especially after Friday’s World Health Organization warning that Africa could see 190,000 deaths from COVID-19 by spring 2021.

Our path will be very different from some of the other countries.

Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, Ghana’s information minister

Central to the country’s strategy was testing at-risk populations “early,” when they were “very often asymptomatic,” says the country’s information minister, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah. “It’s easier to therefore assist them and get them out of the infection bracket so they recover early, so we don’t have pressure on hospitalization.”

That success now faces its sternest test, after Ghana relaxed some restrictions in major cities late in April. Since then, the country has witnessed a spike in cases compared to its earlier numbers. But its per-capita number of confirmed cases remains below that of South Africa, which has a similarly robust testing program.

Like most governments, Ghana’s didn’t react organically to the crisis, suggests Accra-based clinical psychologist Mohammed Salim Sulley Wangabi. It took criticism from the Ghana Medical Association for Akufo-Addo’s administration to install border restrictions and train emergency staff. But the government was then quick to scale up its efforts, setting up testing centers in Kumasi, Ghana’s second-largest city, even before it had recorded any cases, Wangabi says.


Steven, a bag seller, poses for a photograph next to lockdown graffiti near his shop in Accra after the easing of pandemic restrictions.

Source NIPAH DENNIS/AFP via Getty

The country turned to pool testing to increase its coverage of vulnerable populations, says Nana Kofi Quakyi, a public health researcher at New York University. Under this method, samples of a larger group of people are merged and tested together. People are tested individually only if the pool test comes back positive, thereby conserving tests.

“But that works when it’s fairly rare that you’ll pick up a positive result,” Quakyi points put. Once the virus has spread significantly, and most pool samples start turning up positive, “you have to test all the samples again individually and this means more time spent so the efficiency benefit disappears,” he says.

Other challenges persist. Akufo-Addo’s ambitious plan to build a hospital in each of 88 local districts that currently don’t have one appears a pipe dream. Critics say it’s little more than posturing ahead of the country’s December elections, in which the president hopes to win a second term. “Long-term investments in health infrastructure are always welcome in a country where health care access is limited,” says Quakyi, who warns that the government should instead focus on the more immediate need to procure PPE and mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic. “These facilities won’t be up and running in time to aid the present struggle. The priority should be lives and livelihoods over legacies.”

Still, Ghana appears to be building on its early gains, even while relaxing lockdowns. It’s enforcing distancing between passengers on public transit, and last week introduced a “no mask, no entry” policy at all public and government buildings and offices. Meanwhile, it is exempting health care workers from taxes for three months and has waived the value-added tax on donations of equipment and items needed to tackle the pandemic.

Ghana’s army is building a 100-bed facility in partnership with private firms in an Accra stadium. Another 100-bed empty hospital commissioned by the president before the crisis is now being used to treat patients.

Not everyone is convinced Ghana can stay the course and avoid becoming overwhelmed. But Nkrumah is confident the country can keep its infection rate — the fraction of those tested who are SARS CoV-2 positive — below 3 percent. “If people abide by the personal preventive etiquette, then economic activity can resume while the population is protected,” he says. “our path will be very different from some of the other countries.” The rest of the world — and especially fellow developing nations — will be watching.

The World Leader Who Thought a Shower Prevented HIV

Recent weeks have seen U.S. President Donald Trump muse about injecting disinfectant and Guinean president Alpha Condé tout drinking hot water as ways to defeat coronavirus. In Tanzania, the erratic John Magufuli has said he is ordering a plane full of herbal tonics being brandished by his presidential counterpart in Madagascar as a remedy for the virus. It’s hardly the first time in recent history a world leader prescribed an untested, unproven or outright bizarre cure for a deadly virus.

During his time in office, longtime Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh trumpeted his skills as a healer and forced an herbal concoction he invented on thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS in a bid to cure them; it — or the withholding of proven meds — killed an unknown number of them.

But most shocking is the case of Jacob Zuma, a South African power broker and former deputy president, who was arraigned for rape in December 2005. After the married daughter of a family friend — and African National Congress party comrade — who was HIV-positive accused him of raping her, Zuma confidently asserted that he had taken a shower to minimize the risk of contracting the virus.

Zuma’s utterances were emblematic of the government’s tragic handling of the AIDS epidemic.

During the trial, Zuma denied raping his accuser, claiming the sex was consensual. He also stunned the country by confessing to not using a condom, even though the accuser was a known activist for the rights of people with HIV and Zuma was well aware she had it. Just six months earlier, Zuma had been the country’s deputy president and chair of its National AIDS Council, before being ousted from office for fraud related to an international arms deal. In 2001, the Medical University of Southern Africa, which has since been renamed Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, even awarded him an honorary doctorate.

The comments prompted a backlash from AIDS activists and social workers across the country. “Statements like that can throw years of hard work down the drain,” Vicci Tallis of the Gender AIDS Forum said at the time. Both the trial and Zuma’s comments made international headlines for months, as most of the newspaper cartoons including Madam and Eve, the country’s most successful comic strip, satirized the scandal. 

“His statements were angering and patriarchal, as they would continue to perpetuate stereotypes regarding HIV and AIDS and treatment,” says Mpumi Mathabela, campaign director of Johannesburg-based One in Nine campaign, which was formed to show solidarity with the accuser in Zuma’s case and continues its advocacy to prevent violence against women. Its name is derived from a 2005 South African Medical Research Council finding that only one out of every nine rape survivors report those crimes to police. “Because he had a huge following, one of the concerns was that people would use the excuse of a shower as protection against HIV and this would leave a lot of women vulnerable to getting infected and would make it impossible to negotiate safe sex with their partners and husbands.”


Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at an ANC conference in Johannesburg in 2017.

Source GULSHAN KHAN/AFP via Getty

South Africa had been in the throes of a long-running HIV epidemic and is currently home to a fifth of the population of people infected with HIV globally. In the mid-2000s, 5 million South Africans had HIV — the highest infection rate in the world at the time — and unprotected sex was a common mode of transmission.

The numbers rose exponentially during Nelson Mandela’s tenure as president from 1994-1999 when Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s ex-wife, had served as the country’s health minister. Gender-based violence is also rampant in South Africa, where more than 40,000 rapes were recorded in 2018, according to police.

Zuma’s utterances were emblematic of the government’s tragic handling of the AIDS epidemic. It took a 2002 ruling of the country’s Constitutional Court for President Thabo Mbeki, who had earlier appointed Zuma to head the AIDS council, to approve and distribute antiretroviral drugs, which help stop the transmission of HIV from mother to child. Under Mandela, Dlamini-Zuma and then deputy president Mbeki had also supported a quack remedy for HIV/AIDS.

Zuma was eventually acquitted of rape, tested negative for HIV and went on to become president. Cast out of office in 2018, he now awaits a corruption trial for the 1990s arms deal. But the rape trial and his shower comment continue to reverberate today, insists Mathabela.

“The justice system had a chance to show that South Africa will not tolerate violence against women,” she says. “But instead they chose to show us that the system is anti-women, anti-black, anti-poor and that the burden of proof continues to be on the women while perpetrators continue to exist with impunity.”

This Ghanaian DJ Lays Beats for Beyoncé

Long before melding vintage African sounds with contemporary Western music genres for Beyoncé’s Grammy-nominated 2019 The Lion King: The Gift album, GuiltyBeatz already had a reputation for being a tinkerman.

“I started when I was 13, using my Sony Ericsson phone and there was an application on it called Music DJ,” says GuiltyBeatz now 30, with a laugh. “I used it to create instrumentals and that’s where my whole music passion began.” Over the course of his teenage years, the rookie graduated to beat-making software like Fruity Loops and eventually Logic Pro.

Born in Milan to Ghanaian entrepreneur parents, the music producer lived in Italy till he was six, when his family returned to Accra. There in the Ghanaian capital — still known only as Ronald Banful — he honed his ear for music and trained his keys to make even more.

Being the first of their two children and their only son, his parents ensured that young Banful focused on education. Nevertheless, he spent his childhood guzzling music fundamentals in a church brass band where he learned to play the euphonium — which he describes as “the tuba’s little brother.”

He graduated to the church choir, mastering the piano, then moved on to a six-person high school rap crew called Skid Boys, where he produced beats and wrote lyrics. Throughout, he fed his brain with jazz, traditional wedding songs and highlife music made by local legends like Daddy Lumba, Nana Ampadu and Kojo Antwi. The potpourri of influences that created his musical style and thus his career, was invaluable in crafting songs for Beyoncé’s album — unofficial soundtrack album curated by Queen Bey and tied in to the 2019 live-action Lion King remake in which she starred.

His new name was inspired by his favorite t-shirt — inscribed with the word “Guilty” — for which he became known while studying for his degree in social work. In 2014, a mutual friend linked GuiltyBeatz up with the Nigerian superstar Mr. Eazi, then himself an upstart. It was the start of a working relationship that launched the producer’s career beyond the borders of the former Gold Coast.

Their collaboration first bore fruit when they worked together on 2015’s Sample You — and a remix that became one of the biggest West African dance anthems the following year. They’ve been working together since and performed together at Coachella last year. GuiltyBeatz, who continues to frolic with stars from Lagos to London, has also worked with African music royalty Wizkid, Sarkodie and his erstwhile idol Antwi.

“His talent will always be undeniable,” says Mr. Eazi, whose indie label Banku Music signed GuiltyBeatz in 2018. “I think he can be the West African answer to [world-famous South African DJ] Black Coffee.”

Since then, a few of his other singles have also found cross-border appeal and this month he’s released his debut EP, Different, a six-song cycle that’s an exercise in genre obfuscation. “It’s distinct,” he brags. “The sounds that I chose, the artists that I chose … it puts them in a different light. For everyone on the tape, the songs that they’re on, is not what they usually do.” One of its standout tracks is the kwaito-inspired and aptly titled “Condom Collector,” where female duo South African singer Moonchild Sanelly and Kenyan DJ Poizon Ivy join Mr. Eazi in whispering innuendos in English and isiXhosa.


GuiltyBeatz as a young producer in an Accra studio in 2010.

“GuiltyBeatz is amazing both as an individual and an artist,” says Ameyaw Debrah, Ghana’s best-known entertainment blogger and journalist. “When it comes to music, his focus is different and so his sound is different. He tries to fuse dance and electronic music with Afrobeats that makes his music travel well. Such out-of-the box thinking is needed in sustaining the growing emergence of African music on the global stage.”

Eventually three of the five tracks GuiltyBeatz forwarded to Beyoncé’s team were selected, and they atomize the album’s general theme as a medley of African music royalty outshining the world’s biggest stars as they all purr about love and celebrate blackness. His favorite, GuiltyBeatz says, was Keys to the Kingdom — on which his label boss traded verses with Universal Music’s Tiwa Savage, Africa’s biggest female star, on a track with an intro arranged to sound like a vintage highlife sample.

“Working with Beyoncé was a great feeling,” he says, beaming. “I learned a lot from how she works, she’s very hardworking and persistent.” It wasn’t just Beyoncé who inspired him though — meeting her husband was also a game-changer. “Just being around Jay Z, I got so motivated and told myself ‘Yo, I need to be a billionaire. I need to triple my hard work.’”

Beyond the dreams of fame and fortune, GuiltyBeatz is conscious about making music that can stand taller than his 5-foot-10 frame.

“I want to tour, do festivals and scores for movies,” he says, which would follow up the score he created for the Ghanaian TV series Heels and Sneakers. “Maybe even Black Panther 2.”

OZY’s 5 questions With GuiltyBeatz

  • What’s the last book you read? Donald S. Passman’s All You Need to Know About the Music Business.
  • What do you worry about? Running out of boxers.
  • What’s the one thing you can’t live without? God.
  • Who’s your hero? God.
  • What’s one item on your bucket list? DJing at the North Pole.

North Africa Is Becoming a Pandemic Hotspot

On Valentine’s Day this year, Egypt won a race nobody wanted to win: It announced the African continent’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. Shortly afterward, WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti warned that “the window of opportunity the continent has had to prepare for coronavirus disease is closing,” and called on the whole continent to step up preparedness measures.

Around the world, increased testing has been the first step toward containing the virus. And it follows that countries that test more are often the ones that show a higher number of cases and deaths — without necessarily being worse off than nations that simply aren’t testing enough.

Yet in Africa, that equation isn’t holding — and deaths from the pandemic are serving as the biggest giveaway. South Africa and Ghana have tested the most among major African nations, both in total and as a fraction of their population. But it’s a slender slice of North Africa that’s home to a disproportionate majority of the continent’s fatalities.

Four countries — Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia — together account for two thirds of all documented African coronavirus deaths.

These four nations host only 15 percent of Africa’s population, but are also responsible for more than 40 percent of all recorded COVID-19 cases.

To be sure, Africa’s numbers — around 31,893 cases and 1,423 deaths — pale in comparison with other parts of the world. The global toll is close to 3 million cases and 206,000 deaths, according to a collation of national figures by Johns Hopkins University. But within Africa, there’s a definite pattern to the spread of the virus.

As of April 27, 2020, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia had collectively recorded 941 deaths out of 12,930 cases in these countries — meaning a fatality rate of 7.3 percent. That drops dramatically to a death rate of 2.5 percent in the rest of Africa, a continent with 54 nations. South Africa, which is neck and neck with Egypt on total cases, has a fatality rate of less than 2 percent.


A municipality worker disinfects the area around the 3,200-year-old pink-granite colossal statue of King Ramses II in Cairo, Egypt.

And while the WHO in February identified 13 African countries as at particularly high risk due to travel links with China, experts say North Africa’s particular plight might have more to do with Europe. The region’s unique geographical location, culture and socio-political history make it less isolated from Europe — one of the pandemic’s worst hotspots — than the rest of Africa. During the Spanish flu of 1918, most of the first wave was concentrated in North Africa; it was not until the second wave that the rest of the continent was engulfed by the influenza.

Travel flows to the continent are low — only about 5 percent of the world’s inbound tourism comes to Africa, according to a December 2018 Brookings Institute report. But Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria are four of the top five tourist destinations in Africa — with South Africa completing the set. They’re much more dependent on trade and tourism than other African nations, says W. Gyude Moore, visiting fellow at the Center for Global Development.

“They are thus much more connected to Europe and integrated into European value chains than their counterparts in [sub-Saharan Africa],” explains Moore, who’s Liberia’s former public works minister. “This integration translates into significant people-to-people exchanges with significant North African diaspora communities in the worst affected European countries –— Italy, Spain and France.”

Indeed, Algeria’s first coronavirus case was an Italian who had entered the country on February 17. And a majority of the country’s initial wave of cases were from a family that hosted a relative who had just returned from France. 

Routinely exposed to a range of infectious diseases — from HIV/AIDS and malaria to Ebola and Lassa fever — sub-Saharan Africa might also enjoy a slight edge in the preparedness of its response system, though Moore cautions that the gain is limited. “It might translate into familiarity with the public health measures needed to stop the transmission,” he says, “but in largely informal economies, this familiarity can only provide a limited advantage.”

With the curve increasingly flattening in China, Spain and elsewhere after months of uncertainty and tragedy, experts say it might only be a matter of time before the rest of the continent catches up with North Africa.

“Community transmission started later in [the rest of] Africa,” says Amr Bakr, founder of Cairo-based e-health startup 7keema and a former WHO pandemic preparedness consultant, “so they are still in early curve points.” The low number of cases in sub-Saharan Africa could also be a function of how they’re testing and contact tracing, he says.

Yet that’s where North Africa stands out, with its relatively high cases and a dramatically higher death rate than the rest of the continent — without testing any more than other regions. And some experts have warned that Egypt in particular might be significantly underreporting its official tally. Canadian researchers in mid-March reported dozens of tourists — most of whom were on a cruise ship that docked in the ancient city of Luxor on the east bank of the Nile — who tested positive after returning from Egypt. Their study suggested that at least 6,000 people were infected in the country, whereas the country has formally shown only around 3,200 cases.

Authorities across Africa are currently resigned to treating the fight to contain the virus as a marathon, not a sprint. And dedication to beefing up stamina for the long haul could prove decisive in flattening the curve at both ends of the continent, regardless of the starting point. In the interim, North Africans might be rueing their proximity to Europe — once an advantage, it’s now a clear and present danger.

Africa’s Tech Innovators Spy Opportunity Amid Pandemic

In March, Kenyan telecom operator Safaricom announced a move that on the surface appeared counterintuitive. For a 90-day period, it made free all person-to-person (P2P) transactions under 1,000 Kenyan shillings ($9) on the popular Nairobi-headquartered mobile money service M-Pesa, which revolutionized mobile payments globally.

Daily transaction limits on the platform have also been increased from 70,000 shillings ($660) to 150,000 shillings ($1,415) for small and medium-sized enterprises. Safaricom earns a quarter of its revenue from M-Pesa’s 20.5 million customers, mostly in Kenya and Tanzania, so it is effectively agreeing to risk losing some of those earnings.

But it’s a gamble the telecom firm appears willing to take to pull in more low-income users at a time economic, sociopolitical and cultural activities stand disrupted across the continent due to the global coronavirus pandemic. With social distancing in effect, there’s no telling when the storm will subside. So fintech startups and others in the tech ecosystem are reappraising their services to try and cater to the economically vulnerable who are most affected — an audience that they would hope to retain once the crisis passes.

After Safaricom’s announcement, Rebecca Enonchong, CEO of Cameroon-based incubator ActivSpaces, used her influencer status to appeal to MTN Cameroon on Twitter to follow the Kenyan firm’s lead. Within a few hours of other Cameroonians chipping in, the operator came through, suspending payment fees for amounts up to 20,000 FCFAs ($33).

Having mobile money operators lower or eliminate transaction rates will save lives.

Rebecca Enonchong, ActivSpaces, a Cameroon-based incubator

The moves by these big firms are spawning optimism that more companies could change in the coming weeks, potentially opening the floodgates. Experts say it’s critical that low-income earners are targeted with some sort of reprieve in these hard times.

“We’re in an unprecedented situation,” stresses Enonchong. “I think that having mobile money operators lower or eliminate transaction rates will save lives. It’s the right thing to do. … I just hope the others follow suit.”

A Laptop-Sized Solar Panel Is Lighting Rural Africa

For 90 days, Safaricom made person-to-person transactions under 1,000 Kenyan shillings ($9) free on the popular mobile money service M-Pesa.

Source Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty

As a business model, what telecom market leaders like Safaricom and MTN Cameroon are trying to do makes sense. For years, central banks around the continent have been trying to cut the percentage of Africa’s population that remains unbanked. Now, as the pandemic puts brands and people on high alert, they are trying to minimize individuals handling cash for the sake of individual safety — or fraud, as in the case of the South African Reserve Bank, which issued a statement after a group of scammers went around houses preying on innocent citizens under the guise of retrieving banknotes to reduce chances of being infected with the coronavirus.

With banks and people more reluctant to use cash, there’s greater demand for mobile payments than ever before. According to a World Bank report, two-thirds of people in sub-Saharan Africa remain unbanked, but mobile money is driving financial inclusion. Between 2014 and 2017, the percentage of those with a bank account remained unchanged — but the fraction of the region’s adults with a mobile money account doubled to 21 percent. What firms like Safaricom and MTN Cameroon are doing offers lessons for other countries with large unbanked populations, such as Pakistan and Indonesia.

African fintech companies have also been trying to capture a larger share of the unbanked population and bolster digital saving and investment cultures. E-commerce in Africa has been on the rise as internet penetration increases — 40 percent of the continent’s population is currently connected to the World Wide Web.

Challenges persist for firms trying to adapt to this period of social isolation and lockdown. Cash on delivery remains a popular option for e-commerce customers because of a trust deficit. That makes it harder for businesses to deliver products door to door without touching cash. 

But others see this crisis as an opportunity. “Our platform is primed for a time like this when physical interaction is limited,” says Chijioke Dozie, CEO and co-founder of Carbon, a digital-only lender that operates in Nigeria and Kenya. During the coronavirus crisis, it’s possible, he says, that people might need additional funds to make ends meet.

“If this does happen, we specialize in providing short-term loans [in Nigeria and Kenya] entirely digitally and with minimal information required,” he says. “All our other services, such as providing access to high-yield investments and P2P payments, do not require any human interaction.”

Meanwhile, to assist the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Abuja-based early-stage venture capital fund and accelerator Ventures Platform Hub has thrown an open challenge to the country’s tech community. Each of the first five projects approved by the NCDC will get workspace, mentorship and $1,000.

Using the crisis to breed innovation is key, suggests Enonchong. “Beyond technology solutions that will support the battle against COVID-19, creating this challenge builds a sense of community, of solidarity,” she says. “These might be more important than the tech itself.”

How Drive-Through Coronavirus Testing Took Over the World

Since January, global health care has been stretched on an unprecedented scale. The world has nearly 2 million recorded cases of coronavirus patients — and that’s likely only a sample of the total number of those carrying the infection, and potentially spreading it further. “We have a simple message for all countries: Test, test, test,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a virtual press conference in mid-March. Yet with medical facilities and isolation centers overwhelmed by the influx of patients, that’s easier said than done.

Now, a growing number of countries are trying to change that by borrowing a strategy that has been central to South Korea’s emergence as the world’s biggest success story in the face of the pandemic: drive-through testing centers. It’s an approach that has helped Seoul test about 20,000 people every day — significantly more people per capita than any other country. WHO figures show that South Korea’s fatality rate from the coronavirus is just 1.7 percent, compared to the global rate of about 5 percent.

(U.S. deaths from COVID-19 — indicated by red line — compared to American losses in modern wars.)

Others are following suit. In the U.S., the University of Washington launched the first such center in March, using a parking garage to ensure good ventilation and social distancing. Now, other states like Hawaii, Connecticut and New York — which has a six-lane drive-through facility — are also implementing the new strategy. In the Bay Area, Stanford University is running drive-through tests at seven locations.

Simply imagine a highway toll booth where you generally stop to make a payment. Here you are stopping to give a swab sample instead.

Dr. Ankur Mutreja, infectious diseases specialist, Cambridge University

In Europe, hospitals in Germany, France, Spain, Ireland and Wales have all opened drive-through centers. Governments in the UAE and Israel and a private lab in India have launched their centers, as have South Africa and Nigeria.

The idea is simple. The tests are quick — they typically take five minutes. By staying in your car, you reduce human contact with others, including the clinicians taking your sample. All of this reduces the burden on already overwhelmed hospitals.

UK Remains On Lockdown Due To Coronavirus As Infection Rate Appears To Slow

A specimen sample is deposited from a car window into a test-kit drop-off bin at a drive-through testing center at the Cardiff City Stadium in Wales.

Source Matthew Horwood/Getty

“Simply imagine a highway toll booth where you generally stop to make a payment,” says Dr. Ankur Mutreja, who heads the infectious diseases section at Cambridge University’s department of medicine. “Here you are stopping to give a swab sample instead.”

Many of the countries adopting this testing method are already deep in battle, with community spread of the disease making tracking of patients much harder than in the initial days of the pandemic. But that makes quick testing facilities even more important, as countries race to try and flatten the curve.

And the infrastructure and institutional muscle memory countries build might well prove critical to their response the next time a fast-spreading virus comes around. Take South Korea’s example.

The East Asian nation first introduced drive-through testing during a 2015 outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) that killed 38 people. Five years later, when the coronavirus came around, they were prepared to contain the outbreak before it became untraceable. South Korea “learned their lessons tremendously well,” says Mutreja.

Here’s how drive-through testing works: People who suspect they have symptoms can arrive at a center to undergo a quick swab of the nose, mouth and throat by staff in protective gear. The tests are then sent to a laboratory working around the clock to deliver results via text, phone, email or online portal. “There’s really pretty minimal interaction with the patient until you get to the testing step,” says Dr. Seth Cohen, medical director of infection prevention and employee health at the University of Washington.

Soldiers Disinfect the City As South Korea Unveils $9.8B Extra Budget to Stem Virus Fallout

South Korean soldiers wearing protective suits spray disinfectant at a coronavirus drive-through check-up center in Seoul.

Source SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty

It’s a win-win situation, says Dr. Megan Mahoney, section chief of primary care at Stanford Medicine who spearheaded the drive-through project in the Bay Area. The Stanford tests take only four minutes. “Providers feel comfortable coming into close contact with patients at high risk for COVID because they are wearing full PPE, and the patients remain protected by not having to come into a facility that might put them at greater risk for exposure,” she says.

And it’s helping authorities repurpose empty locations, rather than having to build new facilities and dip into needed funds. Beginning mid-March, Magen David Adom (Israel’s national emergency medical service) began to launch centers in its major cities. Ireland has converted its largest stadium, an 80,000-seat arena usually used for Gaelic football, to a massive testing center at a time the arena was lying vacant since all sporting events had been called off. At full operational capacity, it will handle an average of eight cars every quarter of an hour, 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Once the threat of the virus passes, all these facilities — whether at hospitals or in stadiums — can be easily dismantled.

Experts say the recent and rapid expansion of drive-through testing could trigger a ripple effect. Apart from limiting the number of people who need to visit a hospital or regular testing lab, and thereby managing the burden on health care institutions, these centers also help prevent further transmission and spread.

To be sure, challenges remain. “The problem is not the lack of technology,” stresses Mutreja, reiterating WHO’s point on the need for more tests. “Instead, it is the speed of diagnostic test approval processes, reliability of tests, standardization across the nation and the scale at which these tests are suddenly needed in times like these.” When New Orleans started drive-through testing in March, people initially often had to wait a week to get results, in part because of poor communication between the lab and public health officials.

Still, as countries embrace this approach, they’ll likely build to these standards better, just as South Korea has done. If they do, they’ll be in a position to stop the next pandemic in its tracks more swiftly, like Seoul has done with the coronavirus.

This Conference Was Kindling for Africa’s Freedom Fighters

In 1960 alone, 17 African countries celebrated their independence from former colonial overlords. From Mauritania to Madagascar, national movements won the day, nearly doubling the number of people on the African continent living in independent nations.

No sea change like that is a coincidence, and none starts at an exactly pinpointable moment. But to understand 1960, you have to go back to December 1958, to that most yawn-inducing of all events: a conference.

December 8 in Accra saw the opening of the first-ever All-African People’s Conference (AAPC). And the connections made, anger stoked and rallying done in the subsequent week would bear fruit just two years later in the form of a global power shift.

Just one year before, Ghana had made history as the first state in sub-Saharan African to extricate itself from the clutches of its colonial masters. In his inaugural speech in March of 1957, Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah spoke about his longing for freedom not just for his own nation but for other colonized areas across Africa. “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent,” he told a crowd of supporters.


And so Nkrumah, a staunch pan-Africanist, got to work with his chief adviser on African affairs, a Trinidadian intellectual named George Padmore. They’d previously had their own convictions reinforced at the Pan-African Congress in Manchester in the U.K. in 1945. Now they hoped to catch lightning in a bottle again — and help other would-be revolutionary leaders achieve their goals.

Hundreds of delegates from 28 African countries and colonies attended the AAPC. At least 65 national liberation movements were represented. It was the first time many independence movements’ leaders were meeting each other, networking and drawing strength and strategy from each other.

Tom Mboya, the then-28-year-old maverick trade union organizer who later became Kenya’s justice minister and is regarded as one of the East African country’s founding fathers, chaired the conference. Martiniquais philosopher Frantz Fanon, who played an active role in the Algerian war of independence from France around the same period, was there — as was Patrice Lumumba, who would later become the first prime minister of the newly independent Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 

Nkrumah’s convening power had also brought together revolutionaries from Nyasaland, Northern and Southern Rhodesia — now known as Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe — in Southern Africa. Participants crafted slogans like “Hands Off Africa” to signify their willingness to take action to reverse colonialism. Within a decade, almost the entire continent had declared independence.

The conference echoed outside the continent as well. A number of African-American observers were present, including the journalist and social critic Marguerite Cartwright, Shirley Du Bois, wife of the American politician and intellectual W. E. B Du Bois (who had organized several Pan-African congresses and would later settle in Accra, where he is buried today), and other U.S. observers. It inspired them to participate in a series of other forums to deliberate on civil rights and black liberation worldwide.

To colonial powers, the conference was seen as a threat — and it was. Follow-up sessions in Tunis and Cairo in subsequent years led to the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), forerunner of the African Union, in 1963. Individuals who’d attended were closely watched and sometimes had their travel restricted. According to historian Brooks Marmon of the University of Edinburgh, that helped colonial powers “to undermine transnational links between the liberation movements.”

Kwame Nkrumah Being Carried

Government officials carrying Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah on their shoulders after Ghana obtained its independence from Great Britain.

Source Getty

Ghana became Public Enemy Number One among European nations hoping to hold on to their colonies. In 1966, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson backed a coup by a group of Ghanaian army officers against Nkrumah while he was away from the country on a peace mission. The ousted leader went on exile to Guinea, where he was named co-president alongside Ahmed Sékou Touré.

Eventually the pan-African movement fell apart, bit by bit. “Africa is still in economic chains,” laments Gimba Kakanda, an Abuja-based foreign policy analyst. “So whatever they fought for, although noble, was only half successful.”

While the AAPC empowered leaders to make a difference for their countries, in the long term, many of those leaders wanted to hold on to power — and Western interests often extended military assistance to help them do it. Kakanda doubts there’s any future of pan-Africanism in a postcolonial world.

But for a moment — a crucial moment — it galvanized a generation of freedom fighters.

This Insider Gets the Best Scoops on Boko Haram

It was an unexpected hesitancy on the part of Nigerian policemen that spared Ahmad Salkida’s life in July 2009. As two officers argued over who would pull the trigger while Salkida lay on the floor of a government site, about to join Nigeria’s hundreds of victims of extrajudicial killings each year, a senior government official intervened. Mohammed Yusuf, the radical cleric who had founded Boko Haram, was not so lucky; that same week he was killed in police custody elsewhere in Maiduguri, the city where both men had grown up and grown to know each other. 

Yusuf’s killing set the stage for an explosion of the insurgency under his successor, Abubakar Shekau who has supervised a campaign of killings and bombings across northeastern Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Some 1.8 million people have been internally displaced and more than 7 million people are in need of urgent aid, according to Human Rights Watch.

And Salkida has been there to document it all. Widely seen today as the journalist with the most access to the insurgents, Salkida lives an uneasy existence between the army and the terrorists. “I am distrusted by both Boko Haram and the government. … They are only working with me because of necessity,” the 45-year old hisses, adding that he has been detained or summoned by security agencies more than 70 times. The government sees something sinister in his access; the anti-Western fundamentalists see that Salkida lives with his family in Abuja, “the land of the infidels,” he says.


Nigerian refugees pray at Cameroon’s Minawao refugee camp in March.


Salkida struggles with nightmares and the association with terrorism, which he says “is worse than the stigma of living with HIV/AIDS.”

While the Nigerian government has struggled to paint a picture of the group being “technically defeated,” as information minister Lai Mohammed has constantly insisted, Salkida’s role has been threefold: establishing access to Boko Haram, joining negotiations for hostages as a mediator and presenting accurate information to the public.

Born a Christian, he converted to Islam in 1997 while growing up in Maiduguri, the commercial city now more commonly known for being where the seeds of Boko Haram sprouted to envelop northeastern Nigeria. Salkida’s career as a journalist began in the early 2000s; he had just moved to the capital city Abuja and worked shifts as a night watchman while moonlighting as a writer. He managed to secure a job with a local newspaper with only a primary school education because of his writing skills and an uncanny ability to get scoops.

One of those scoops was an interview with Yusuf that inspired the demagogue to start making plans for his own news outfit, and was the spark for Salkida to gain continued high-level access. The relationship has often brought Salkida trouble, including the near-death experience in 2009. Back then in Maiduguri, he had sometimes attended preaching sessions out of curiosity and had a line into the group like no other journalist. The day before Yusuf’s murder, the radical cleric had called Salkida. When Salkida told the police about the call, they detained and nearly killed him. After regaining his freedom, Salkida fled to Abuja again.

In 2013, after escaping an assassination attempt, Salkida fled with his family to the United Arab Emirates where he was working as a grocer while still maintaining tabs on one of the world’s deadliest terror groups. Three years later, the Nigerian military made him a wanted man because he was the first journalist to receive footage of some of the hundreds of schoolgirls Boko Haram abducted from Chibok. The military demanded Salkida provide intelligence, so Salkida was forced to return to Nigeria, but says authorities released him almost immediately, without indictment or public acknowledgement. He’s lived in Nigeria since late 2016, but is tight-lipped about his personal life, refusing even to provide OZY with photos, an acknowledgement of the danger he continues to face.

“Journalists like Salkida play a vital role in informing citizens and monitoring the actions of government at all levels,” says Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “When our leaders threaten journalists and create a hostile environment for them, they not only threaten fundamental rights, but also keep us further away from democratic consolidation.”


A poster displayed along the road shows photograph of Imam Abubakar Shekau, leader of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram.


As someone who routinely watches videos of executions as part of his work in a country where psychosocial support barely exists, Salkida copes with nightmares and the association with terrorism, which he says “is worse than the stigma of living with HIV/AIDS.”

The routine displacement and harassment have cascaded down to his family, who have moved often for safety. His children ask him why he’s a member of Boko Haram, because that’s what they hear at school. “There is not very good knowledge of conflict reporting in this part of the world,” Salkida laments. If a Westerner has “the kind of access I have, [it’s] a journalistic feat. But if it’s a local having that, it’s seen as complicity.”

Even some of his fellow reporters question why he so closely tracks Boko Haram, says award-winning journalist Mercy Abang, a longtime friend of Salkida. She replies that journalists all over the world specialize in beats. And Boko Haram is a life-and-death beat for Nigerians. “Salkida has had to risk his life and that of his family over and over again,” Abang says. “Over the years, he’s been consistent and resilient and passionate.”

And he’s not quitting. Media companies have shied away from giving him jobs, bringing up excuses about his lack of university education, while other colleagues envy his exclusives. So in March, Salkida launched his own online newspaper, HumAngle, to cover the human side of the war neglected by big media outlets. He’s partnering with Abuja-based West African news site Premium Times, but the budding media entrepreneur is not losing sight of what got him here: If there’s a scoop to be had about Boko Haram, you know who’ll get there first.

Will the World’s Virus-Hit Nonprofits Get a Bailout?

Dr. Ayoade Alakija, Nigeria’s former chief humanitarian coordinator, is worried.

For decades, millions of vulnerable people across the world escaping conflict and natural disasters or lacking basic social amenities or simply needing humanitarian assistance have depended on charities. Now, the coronavirus pandemic is turning a global nonprofit sector that traditionally supports others into a desperate seeker of help itself from an unlikely source: governments.

With a near-global lockdown, charities — which pointedly also call themselves nongovernmental organizations — are struggling in the face of canceled fundraisers and the prospect of a sharp cut in donations. There’s precedence. Between 2007 and 2009, during the Great Recession, charitable giving in America dropped 15 percent from $376 billion to $321 billion. A similar fall globally could force critical nonprofits to scale back — or even withdraw — from vulnerable regions like West Africa that depend on them, fear experts like Alakija.

That’s prompting nonprofits, which ordinarily do not depend on government funding, to do what the private sector usually has at such times: seek bailouts. In the U.S., more than 200 nonprofits — big and small — have together written to Congress, seeking an “immediate infusion of $60 billion in capital to maintain operations, expand scope to address increasing demands and stabilize losses from closures throughout the country.” They’ve also asked for payroll tax relief, pointing out that they’re responsible for 12 million jobs — 10 percent of America’s workforce.

Some of Israel’s most respected NGOs, which — among other things — feed elderly Israelis and others living below the poverty line, say their financial capability and personnel strength is severely stretched. The leaders of nonprofits Leket Israel, Pitchon Lev, Latet, Rabanim L’Zchuyot Adam, Shatil and Mazon Israel have written to their country’s government asking for help.

Many [nonprofits] are evacuating their staff [from vulnerable West African nations].

Dr. Ayoade Alakija, Nigeria’s former chief humanitarian coordinator

And in Hong Kong, women leading seven charities have created a task force and sent a letter of appeal to the government after a survey of tax-exempt nonprofits found that a vast majority have seen a drop in funding by at least 30 percent. The charity sector employs about 52,000 people on the island.

“Without funding coming in, people’s jobs will be at stake, but those people are out serving Hong Kong’s most vulnerable,” Sue Toomey, executive director of HandsOn Hong Kong, said in a statement to journalists in March. “It’s a double hit.” 

President Trump Signs CARES Act After Passage By The House

President Donald Trump signs H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Source Erin Schaff/Getty

American nonprofits have already been promised some of the relief they’ve sought. The $2 trillion CARES Act signed into law by President Donald Trump in late March offers three provisions for loans that nonprofits can apply for to ride out the crisis. One, aimed at both for-profit and nonprofit firms with fewer than 500 employees, offers limited loans that might even be forgiven in whole or in part, according to an analysis of the law by Tom Delaney, president and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, America’s largest network of charities.

But NGOs will have to compete for those funds — meant to pay staff and cover operating costs — with for-profit firms, and it’s unclear how many small charities will benefit. And while smaller nonprofits are likely to be hit hardest, it might be only a matter of time before even those with emergency funds for such crises start reaching their breaking point, especially with multiple fundraisers canceled.

Already, donors have begun reviewing grant processes or, in some cases, pausing fund disbursement as their own staff go on compulsory leave. Consequently, projects that should ordinarily be prioritized are being put on the back burner. A grants manager in a war-torn country in West Africa — home to some of the world’s most brutal conflicts and its largest population of people in poverty — tells us about how they’ve received a note from the Dutch government, which funds some of their projects. The note asks “all of us in different places around the world — Indonesia, West Bank — how corona is affecting our implementation,” says the manager, who doesn’t have authorization to speak to the media and so requested anonymity.

In crisis zones like the Sahel and Horn of Africa, assistance from charities is critical to supplement available aid for tackling the aftermath of conflict, locust swarms and outbreaks of cholera and lassa fever. But restrictions on travel and general movement are affecting their ability to influence private-sector funding, administrative staff of nonprofits say. Cargo shipments and flights are now also being delayed or denied passage to some of these areas.


Dr. Alakija

As international NGOs leave, Alakija fears that vulnerable sections of the population already lacking social support networks will be at the mercy of nature in facing the virus threat. Experts like her are worried that shoddy conditions of health care systems in developing countries could make survival chances bleak. “Many [organizations] are evacuating their staff, but some are leaving skeletal staff,” Alakija says. “[The situation now] is the tip of the iceberg, but there could be a potentially high death rate.”

That’s a reality governments appear to be recognizing as they increasingly ban visitors to camps for refugees and displaced people to avert an outbreak there.

It’s a looming disaster the U.N. is beginning to acknowledge too. It has asked the world’s wealthier nations to help fund a $2 billion kitty for countries needing critical humanitarian assistance. “To leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries to their fate would be both cruel and unwise,” U.N. relief chief Mark Lowcock has said. “If we leave coronavirus to spread freely in these places, we would be placing millions at high risk … and the virus will have the opportunity to circle back around the globe.”

And if by then the global support system that nonprofits offer to the most vulnerable has frayed, the virus could be with us even longer.