In the absence of treatment for COVID-19, African states are forced to take preventive health measures which often seem far from the everyday reality of the populations they lead. After a decision was made to reopen schools, Aide et Action is concerned about this discrepancy and the multiple consequences of the current crisis, especially for children and youth.
Since the start of the spread of the pandemic, the WHO warned that the COVID-19 crisis would be more catastrophic in Africa than elsewhere.
From the first confirmed cases on the continent, African states adopted, as a matter of urgency, very strict preventive health measures: curfews, quarantines in many cities, closure of schools, borders, markets, bars/restaurants, significant reduction or even halt of public transport etc.
But, if their usefulness is no longer to be demonstrated, it is worth noting that these measures have been adopted in a systematic manner and applied without possible adaptation to the realities specific to each of the contexts, countries, and territories where they are currently implemented.
Insufficient means to meet the scale of needs
Wearing a mask is currently compulsory in Benin, Togo, Niger, and Burkina Faso, but no official solution allows the populations to obtain, in sufficient quantities, masks that meet the required protection standards. Individual solutions and other “plan Bs” are developed without any guarantee of quality.
In addition, the obligation to wear a mask for everyone will probably lead to a significant increase in prices. However, due to the implementation of sanitary measures, the majority of urban populations of Burkina Faso lost their jobs, often daily ones. Without being able to buy several masks (when and if they are available), families are inclined to share them. In the streets of Ouagadougou, fruit sellers are already wearing the same mask, thus rendered useless, to fool police checks.
Informal sector shutdown and violence
The African informal sector is affected everywhere by the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. While the latter represents more than 85% of the continent’s economy1 and feeds millions of families, the current crisis has brought it to a grinding halt, causing serious social and economic difficulties.
In Togo, the temporary ban of motorcycle taxis has deprived 500,000 young people of their only source of income. Some have decided to defy the ban and chases between young people and the police, with potentially dramatic consequences, have taken place. In some countries of the Sahel, like in Niger, scuffles have pitted the police against the inhabitants of several districts of Niamey and riots have broken out in several other cities of the country. In Burkina Faso, the public prosecutor had to intervene to straighten out the police and encourage them to act only in strict compliance with the law.
Meanwhile, the Togolese government has decided to set up a monthly compensation fund for the benefit of all those who’ve lost livelihoods due to government measures against COVID-19. This initiative is innovative, but will it be really effective in terms of statistical reliability and target identification? In Africa, today, faced with the global COVID-19 pandemic, disarray of populations is at the height of the powerlessness of state authorities.
Education in danger?
In Burkina Faso, the government has asked associations of women weavers of “Faso danfani” (local fabric), as well as army clothing units to make masks and equip students, teachers and administrative staff for the reopening of classes. But these means seem far removed from the industrial production and logistic capacities necessary to cover the needs of the whole country.
For Aide et Action, “education” should not become synonymous with “endangerment”. It is essential to respect the right to health and protection of the youngest, especially in schools. In African countries, where social safety nets do not exist and where it is not uncommon for pupils to be over 60 per class, the return to school must also be conducted in optimal safety conditions.
Because we cannot count on the unique and likely in-vain hope of respect of preventive measures by children, under such conditions, it is up to each government to take responsibility and contextualize the measures and decisions taken.
1International Labour Organisation (ILO), 2016