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Africa/Global: Coronavirus Reflections and Updates

AfricaFocus Bulletin
March 26, 2020 (2020-03-26)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Like the climate crisis and economic inequality, the COVID-19 pandemic may not at first glance seem to be a “foreign policy” issue. But it powerfully points up the need to forge a global perspective – and global alliances – without delay. Progressives must lead the way, and the coronavirus is an immediate opportunity to change the way we think to always recognize domestic and global realities as intertwined. Both self-interest and moral values make this imperative.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a new essay by William Minter and Imani Countess, entitled “Can Coronavirus Be a Catalyst for Thinking Globally?” and an op-ed in the Financial Times by the prime minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed, entitled “If Covid-19 is not beaten in Africa it will return to haunt us all.”

In addition, it includes a selection of links related to COVID-19 in the United States, globally, and on the African continent. All of us are undoubtedly in danger of overload from a profusion of information, but I hope find useful this selection of a few of the analyses and sources of data that I have found most useful in the 10 days since the last AfricaFocus on this issue on March 16 (

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

More on social distancing

Key evidence on social distancing
“Kentucky vs. Tennessee on coronavirus may be the best example of ‘elections matter’ in decades,” Alternet, March 22, 2020.

Updated graphs and comments on this comparison are available on the Facebook page of Dr. Stephanie Jolly (

Testing is also essential, and personal protective equipment

Country comparisons

This site contains the latest data available, based on the same underlying sources as other on-line sources with maps, but also allows you to drill down for many countries. You can look particularly at the daily new cases and active cases graphs to see how different countries are doing. Thanks to my son Samuel Minter for recommending this site. He is not a health expert, but is an expert in interpreting data and data visualizations (see his site on the U.S. elections at

Can Coronavirus Be a Catalyst for Thinking Globally?

by William Minter and Imani Countess

Originally published on March 25, 2020 in Organizing Upgrade

Imani Countess is an Open Society Fellow focusing on economic inequality. William Minter is the editor of AfricaFocus Bulletin. This article builds on a multipart essay series entitled Beyond Eurocentrism and U.S. Exceptionalism.

The COVID-19 pandemic is global, but national responses have spanned a wide spectrum. After initial denial, China mobilized massively and appears to be winning its battle against the virus. Several close neighbors of China – Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea – reacted quickly and decisively, taking advantage of systems set up to counter earlier epidemics.

But Italy and other European countries, as well as Iran, were slow to respond, and the United States is even more laggard, making all these countries vulnerable to exponential growth.

African countries, with the help of the World Health Organization, responded quickly, and the case count at this writing still mainly consists of imported cases from Europe. But the rapid growth that is almost inevitable in Africa could quickly overwhelm poorly resourced health systems. And social distancing is impossible for the majority of Africa´s population.

On March 23, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown intended to curb the virus, with plans to mobilize national resources to protect South African formal and informal workers as well as businesses. His speech, available on YouTube and as a transcript, was detailed and determined. But implementation will be extraordinarily difficult.

Much of Latin America and South Asia is in a similar situation, along with many countries in other regions. And, as in the United States, investments in public health institutions have been eroded by austerity policies in countries around the world.

The Trigger, Not The Cause

At national and global levels, the pandemic has already led to drastic economic consequences, for the stock market and for the real economy. But the disease is the trigger rather than the only cause of these problems, notes Marxist economist Michael Roberts in an extended blog post. “That’s because … now the profitability of capital is low and global profits are static at best, even before COVID-19 erupted. Global trade and investment have been falling, not rising.”

Households and government institutions at all levels face challenges that are coming fast, and a fast learning curve is imperative if we are to survive. At an individual level, we are learning rapidly that social distancing, which is really physical distancing, is essential. Along with reaching out to our families and personal networks, we know we must mobilize support for essential health workers, grocery workers, and others who are required to work on the frontlines despite personal risks. One among many such creative efforts is a project in New York City that organizes unemployed gig drivers to deliver meals to vulnerable seniors.

At national level, the pandemic is revealing the failures of our institutions and testing their capacity to adapt. Policy debates show sharp contrasts between those who would use the crisis to blame others and accentuate inequalities and those who are questioning entrenched assumptions about the role of government in defending common interests.

Resistance to learning lessons is most firmly entrenched in the Trump administration and the Republican Party. But the pressure to bail out the rich and neglect the most vulnerable is widespread, despite calls for a different course, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren´s conditions for corporate bailouts, or this proposal to follow Denmark´s ambitious stimulus example.

At the global level, it is past time both for mutual learning and for solidarity. And on both counts, the United States is behind the curve.

Global Learning

Within specialized scientific communities, scientists from China, the United States, and other countries are in contact regularly to share research about the virus. “Preprint” articles appear daily on sites such as medRxiv. Although these articles have not been formally peer reviewed or published, they are an important means of airing new ideas and receiving scientific feedback. When one such article in early February sparked the viral spread of a conspiracy theory on Twitter, pushback was immediate, and the faulty article was withdrawn within days of its release.

At the policy level, however, ingrained institutional and cultural biases block rapid learning. This is particularly true in the United States, with its longstanding hubris and belief in U.S. exceptionalism.

Mainstream commentators, such as foreign policy veteran Dennis Ross, are already lamenting the U.S. failure to provide global leadership. But their emphasis is on how the United States is losing geopolitical ground to China rather than on the missed opportunity to learn from other countries´ experiences, including South Korea as well as China. Such learning is happening, but the pace is still limited by assumptions of U.S. exceptionalism and the lack of established bilateral channels at the level of governmental institutions.

There is also the need for more fundamental questioning of the models of industrial agriculture that analysts say have fueled the rise of zoonotic diseases, as natural habitats are invaded by human populations. According to a new report from the African Centre for Biodiversity:

“Most pandemics in fact, including HIV/AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, SARS, Lyme disease and hundreds more, have their roots in environmental change and ecosystem disturbances. These infectious zoonotic diseases originate from animals, wild and domesticated. These diseases are magnified through the erosion of ecosystem health, deforestation, biodiversity loss, ecosystem destruction and the removal of essential, natural, protective barriers.”

The point is also developed in a recent interview with Rob Wallace, author of Big Farms Make Big Flu.

Analyst Walden Bello argues that both Western and Chinese models of capitalism share this extractivist orientation.

Global Solidarity

With the United States struggling to confront the coronavirus at home, the country´s capacity to provide solidarity to other countries is very limited. Help will have to come from elsewhere when, as expected, the global pandemic and its economic impact land with full force on Africa and other vulnerable regions. If the United States wanted to help efficiently, it could immediately provide additional financial support to multilateral agencies such as the World Health OrganizationUNICEF, as well as a UN special fund being launched.

The UN Secretary General on March 19 eloquently called for global solidarity:

“We are facing a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations — one that is spreading human suffering, infecting the global economy and upending people’s lives. A global recession – perhaps of record dimensions – is a near certainty.”

Saudi Arabia, the current chair of the G-20 group of major economic powers, has called a virtual summit for this week at the urging of India. Although the potential for agreement on common action is uncertain, it is very likely that China will play a major role, and that the United States will be irrelevant at best.

Already China is taking the lead, not only in dealing with the virus at home, but also in providing supplies and expertise to other countries. Initiatives are coming both from the Chinese government and from the Chinese private sector. Billionaire Jack Ma, for example, has provided 500,000 test kits and 1 million masks to the United States. He has also shipped 1.1 million testing kits and 6 million masks to Ethiopia to be distributed by Ethiopian Airlines around the African continent.

Cuba is not a member of the G-20, but it has continued its decades-long tradition of medical solidarity. When a British cruise ship in the Caribbean was denied entry by the United States and other countries, Cuba accepted the almost 1,000 passengers, including 50 with symptoms of coronavirus, and provided secure transport to meet chartered planes to fly them back to Britain. And last week, Cuba sent more than 50 doctors to northern Italy to join the battle there against coronavirus. A Facebook video of their arrival on March 22 gained almost 4 million viewers within 24 hours.

Like the climate crisis and economic inequality, the COVID-19 pandemic may not at first glance seem to be a “foreign policy” issue. But it powerfully points up the need to forge a global perspective – and global alliances – without delay. Progressives must lead the way, and the coronavirus is an immediate opportunity to change the way we think to always recognize domestic and global realities as intertwined. Both self-interest and moral values make this imperative.


If Covid-19 is not beaten in Africa it will return to haunt us all

Only a global victory can end this pandemic, not a temporary rich countries’ win

Abiy Ahmed

The writer is prime minister of Ethiopia and the 2019 Nobel Peace prize laureate

Financial Times, March 25, 2020

There is a major flaw in the strategy to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Advanced economies are unveiling unprecedented economic stimulus packages. African countries, by contrast, lack the wherewithal to make similarly meaningful interventions. Yet if the virus is not defeated in Africa, it will only bounce back to the rest of the world.

That is why the current strategy of unco-ordinated country-specific measures, while understandable, is myopic, unsustainable and potentially counter-productive. A virus that ignores borders cannot be tackled successfully like this. We can defeat this invisible and vicious adversary — but only with global leadership. Without that, Africa may suffer the worst, yet it will not be the last.

We are all in this together, and we must work together to the end. Fragile and vulnerable at the best of times, African economies are staring at an abyss.

Let me illustrate this with the situation in my own country.  Ethiopia has made steady progress in the provision of health services over the past two decades. But nothing has prepared us for threats posed by Covid-19.

Access to basic health services remains the exception rather than the norm. Even taking such common-sense precautions as washing hands is often an unaffordable luxury to the half of the population who lack access to clean water. Even seemingly costless social distancing is hard to implement. Our lifestyle is deeply communal, with extended families traditionally sharing the burdens and bounties of life together, eating meals from the same plate. Our traditional and rain-dependent agriculture is dictated by the fixed timeframes of weather cycles in which planting, weeding and harvesting must happen. The slightest disruption to that chain, even for a brief period, can spell disaster, further jeopardising already tenuous food supply and food security.

Take Ethiopian Airlines, the country’s largest company, which accounts for 3 per cent of national output and is a major source of hard currency. It will be pushed to the brink as its business is upended by the pandemic. Shortage of hard currency will then make it all but impossible to source essential medical supplies and equipment from abroad. The cost of servicing our debts is already often more than our annual health budgets. The list continues.

This grim reality is not unique to Ethiopia. It is shared by most African countries. But if they do not take appropriate measures to tackle the pandemic, no country in the world is safe.

Momentary victory by a rich country in controlling the virus at a national level, coupled with travel bans and border closures, may give a semblance of accomplishment. But we all know this is a stopgap.

Only global victory can bring this pandemic to an end. Covid-19 teaches us that we are all global citizens connected by a single virus that recognises none of our natural or man-made diversity: not the colour of our skin, nor our passports, or the gods we worship. For the virus, what matters is the fact of our common humanity.

That is why the strategy to tackle the human and economic cost of this global scourge must be global in design and application. Health is a worldwide public good. It requires global action guided by a sense of global solidarity. But Covid-19 has also exposed our dark underbelly. The world community desperately needs global-level leadership to tackle swiftly pandemics such as this, and in a way that is institutionalised rather than ad hoc.

A good place to start is with the World Health Organization. As countries with the necessary resources focus on fighting the pandemic through their national institutions, the WHO must be empowered and resourced sufficiently to co-ordinate responses globally and directly to assist governments in developing countries.  In the meantime, the G20 must provide collective leadership for a co-ordinated global response.

There is no time to waste: millions of lives are at risk. Building on what has been announced by international financial institutions, the G20 must launch a global fund to prevent the collapse of health systems in Africa. The institutions need to establish a facility to provide budgetary support to African countries. The issue of resolving Africa’s debt burden also needs to be put back on the table as a matter of urgency.

Finally, all of Africa’s development partners must ensure that their development aid budgets remain ringfenced and are not diverted to domestic priorities. This is where true humanity and solidarity must be demonstrated. If such aid were ever necessary in Africa, it is now more than ever before.


Links on recent articles of interest: USA and Global

"It It Wasn’t Just Trump Who Got It Wrong: America’s coronavirus response failed because we didn’t understand the complexity of the problem,” The Atlantic, March 24, 2020. By Zeynep Tufekci .

[Short excerpts below.]

Many will be tempted to see the tragic coronavirus pandemic through a solely partisan lens: The Trump administration spectacularly failed in its response, by cutting funding from essential health services and research before the crisis, and later by denying its existence and its severity. Those are both true, but they don’t fully explain the current global crisis that has engulfed countries of varying political persuasions.

As it turns out, the reality-based, science-friendly communities and information sources many of us depend on also largely failed. We had time to prepare for this pandemic at the state, local, and household level, even if the government was terribly lagging, but we squandered it because of widespread asystemic thinking: the inability to think about complex systems and their dynamics. We faltered because of our failure to consider risk in its full context, especially when dealing with coupled risk—when multiple things can go wrong together. We were hampered by our inability to think about second- and third-order effects and by our susceptibility to scientism—the false comfort of assuming that numbers and percentages give us a solid empirical basis. We failed to understand that complex systems defy simplistic reductionism.

Widespread asystemic thinking may have cost America the entire month of February, and much of what we’d normally consider credible media were part of that failure.

None of this erases the administration’s failures, which are grave, but the painful truth is that we could have tried to do a lot at the local level that would have helped. Not everything had to wait for the government. Hong Kong, too, had a largely unresponsive government, but great popular pressure and people’s own actions—immediate adoption of social distancing in January, universal mask wearing, calling for closures and cancellations even when the government dragged its feet—have meant that the city had a very low rate of infection until late March, despite its nearness to China and its status as one of the most densely populated places in the world. Hong Kong is now facing a second wave, but even that uptick, which has caused the anti-government and pro-democracy Telegram channels I follow in Hong Kong to burst with exhortations to the people not to let their guard down, still brings it to only about 360 cases total. That’s a minuscule number compared with, say, the more than 15,000 cases just in New York.

For full article click here.

“The coronavirus threatens all of humanity. All of humanity must fight back”, Washington Post, March 24, 2020. By UN under-secretary general Mark Lowcock and WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“UN launches major humanitarian appeal to keep COVID-19 from ‘circling back around the globe’,” UN News, March 25, 2020

European Center for Disease Prevention and Control
Another useful site with global and national background, updated statistics, and comparisons

"The 5 WWII Lessons That Could Help the Government Fight Coronavirus,” Politico, March 19, 2020.

“It Takes a World to End a Pandemic: Scientific Cooperation Knows No Boundaries—Fortunately,”
Foreign Affairs, March 21, 2020. By Mahlet Mesfin.

Links on recent articles of interest: Africa-Specific

Direct link to WHO Africa Dashboard – regularly updated
Note: you may have to sign in but you can do with Facebook or Google.

Regularly updated on coronavirus in South Africa

March 19, 2020 – Update, including WHO statement on Africa

March 20, 2020

March 21, 2020

March 22, 2020

March 23, 2020

March 24, 2020

“COVID-19 – Africa's Looming Humanitarian and Security Crisis,” Guest column by Dr. Mehari Taddele Maru

Additional particularly useful links from previous AfricaFocus Bulletin of March 16, 2020

For general background one of the most usable sites is, the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. Among useful pages on that site are an infographic with basic facts and an explanation of social distancing.

Much additional information can be found on the website of the World Health Organization ( and the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (

For regularly updated statistical data on cases around the world, there are two sites which provide good visualizations of the situation. was launched by a 17-year old student in Seattle, Washington, the earliest location of large-scale transmission of the virus in the United States. provides more fine-grained data.

A very useful explanation of how the virus spread in South Korea is available from Reuters.

The Africa office of the World Health Organization regulates updates data on coronavirus on the continent, including situation reports, news articles, and a map-based dashboard. The link to the website is>

For articles on coronavirus in Africa in the last 7 days (from the time of your search), you can use this customized Google News search:

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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