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Low-skilled workers, developing countries at risk of steep economic decline as coronavirus advances

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The global economy could shrink by up to one per cent in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and may contract even further if restrictions on economic activities are extended without adequate fiscal responses, according to analysis released today by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

The DESA briefing finds that millions of workers are at risk of losing their jobs as nearly 100 countries close their national borders. That could translate to a global economic contraction of 0.9 per cent by the end of 2020, or even higher if governments fail to provide income support and help boost consumer spending.

Struggling service industries

According to the forecast, lockdowns in Europe and North America are hitting the service sector hard, particularly industries that involve physical interactions such as retail trade, leisure and hospitality, recreation and transportation services. Collectively, such industries account for more than a quarter of all jobs in these economies.

As businesses lose revenue, unemployment is likely to increase sharply, transforming a supply-side shock to a wider demand-side shock for the economy. The severity of the impact will largely depend on the duration of restrictions on the movement of people and economic activities and on the scale and efficacy of responses by national treasuries.

Against that backdrop, UN-DESA is joining a chorus of voices across the UN system calling for well-designed fiscal stimulus packages which prioritize health spending and support households most affected by the pandemic.

“Urgent and bold policy measures are needed, not only to contain the pandemic and save lives, but also to protect the most vulnerable in our societies from economic ruin and to sustain economic growth and financial stability”, said Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.

Spillover to developing countries

Today’s analysis also warns that the adverse effects of prolonged economic restrictions in developed economies will soon spill over to developing countries via trade and investment channels. A sharp decline in consumer spending in the European Union and the United States will reduce imports of consumer goods from developing countries.

Developing countries, particularly those dependent on tourism and commodity exports, face heightened economic risks. Global manufacturing production could contract significantly, and the plummeting number of travellers is likely to hurt the tourism sector in small island developing States, which employs millions of low-skilled workers.

The UN civil aviation body, ICAO, welcomed the commitment by leaders of the G-20 industrialized nations late last week indicating that bold fiscal support was needed to safeguard the global travel industry, in order to aid the global recovery in the coming months.

Meanwhile, the decline in commodity-related revenues and a reversal of capital flows are increasing the likelihood of debt distress for many nations. Governments may be forced to curtail public expenditure at a time when they need to ramp up spending to contain the pandemic and support consumption and investment.

Elliot Harris, UN Chief Economist and Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, said the collective goal must be a resilient recovery which puts the planet back on a sustainable track. “We must not lose sight how it is affecting the most vulnerable population and what that means for sustainable development,” he stressed.

‘The alarms raised by UN-DESA echo another report, released on 31 March, in which UN experts issued a broad appeal for a “large-scale, coordinated, comprehensive multilateral response” amounting to at least 10 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP).

Shared responsibility, global solidarity

The document, titled “Shared responsibility, global solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-10,” describes the speed and scale of the outbreak, the severity of cases, and the societal and economic disruption of the coronavirus.

Secretary-General António Guterres launched the report with a dire warning about the scope of the crisis. “COVID-19 is the greatest test that we have faced together since the formation of the United Nations,” he stressed, noting that the virus is “attacking societies at their core, claiming lives and people’s livelihoods.”

The UN Chief underscored the importance of focusing on the most vulnerable by designing responses that, among other things, provide health and unemployment insurance and social protections while also bolstering businesses to prevent bankruptcies and job losses.

The recovery from COVID-19 must lead to an economy focused on building inclusive and sustainable economies that are more resilient in facing pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges, he added.

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Managing Cash Flow When Revenue And Funding Dry Up

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Africa.com has convened the largest ever gathering of Africa’s CEOs, managing directors, finance directors, private equity and venture capital investors, bankers, asset managers, corporate law partners, senior executives and diplomats. Over 8,000 business leaders from 81 countries – 41 countries on the continent and 40 countries throughout the world, registered for Africa.com’s “Crisis Management for African Business Leaders,” a four-part webinar series hosted by Africa.com and faculty from Harvard Business School.

The next session of this weekly series will take place on April 22, 2020 at 15:00 South African time, on the topic of Liquidity: Managing Cash Flow When Revenue and Funding Dry Up.
Speakers include: Sim Tshabalala, Chief Executive, Standard Bank Group
                                  Kunle Elebute, Chair, KPMG, Africa
                                  Welela Dawit, CFO, GE Africa
                                  Admassu Tadesse, Chief Executive, TD Bank

Teresa Clarke, Chair & CEO of Africa.com said, “When we surveyed the 8,000 registrants for the webinar series, liquidity was the number one concern. Business leaders are worried about how they will fund their companies when their revenues have plummeted. African business leaders are also very concerned about how they can support their employees, their communities and their nations when their own resources are drying up.”

The webinar series features panel discussions led by faculty from Harvard Business School, in conversation with African business leaders including:
• Sola David-Borha, Chief Executive, Africa Regions, Standard Bank
• Welela Dawit, CFO, GE Africa
• Kuseni Dlamini, Chair, Massmart
• Kunle Elebute, Chairman, KPMG Africa
• Nolitha Fakude, Chairman, Anglo-American Management Board
• Foluso Phillips, Chair, Phillips Consulting
• Funke Opeke, Founder and CEO, MainOne
• Jay Ireland, Former President and CEO, GE Africa
• Admassu Tadesse, Chief Executive, Trade and Development Bank
• Fred Swaniker, Founder & CEO, African Leadership Group
• Sim Tshabalala, Chief Executive, Standard Bank Group
• Rob Shuter, President/CEO, MTN Group Ltd.

Registration is free at virtualconferenceafrica.com.

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Dangote Group And SAP Collaborate to Achieve Achieve Digital Transformation in Record Time

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With two of the continent’s most ambitious industrial projects underway, Nigeria’s Dangote Group has achieved the seemingly-impossible with an SAP-led digital transformation that was completed in record time.

“We want our Refinery to be not just the largest single train Refinery in the world but also the most modern and smart Refinery with the latest state-of-the-art technologies like SAP S4HANA 1909,” says Mr.Devakumar Edwin, Group Executive Director,Dangote Group.

According to Ramakrishna Potluri, Head – IT & Business Applications (Refinery), the Dangote Refinery and Fertiliser strategic business units upgraded their SAP landscape to SAP S/4HANA 1909 in mere six days. “The upgrade affected all three systems landscapes – development, quality assurance and production environments – and required excellent collaboration between the Dangote internal SAP Centre of Excellence team and the SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud teams. Despite being spread across four continents and three time zones, the project teams managed to work round the clock to achieve a full upgrade within six business days. The upgrade is important for our Oil & Gas businesses to enable with SAP’s latest IS-Oil industry solution”.

The Dangote Group is currently constructing the World’s largest single train Oil Refinery in the Lekki Free Zone near Lagos. The refinery will process up to 650,000 barrels of oil per day to produce 10.4 million tons of gasoline, 4.6 million tons of diesel and four million tons of jet fuel per year.

Commissioning of the Dangote Fertilizer plant is currently in its final stages in Lagos at the same location as the refinery. Once completed, it will be the largest in the world, with capacity for three million tons of fertiliser a year, enough to meet all domestic demand.

“This project required exceptional levels of support and collaboration and was driven by a highly-skilled and diverse team of specialists,” says Pedro Guerreiro, Managing Director, SAP Central Africa. “Through an on-going commitment to customer success during all stages of the implementation, the team was also able to help Dangote take major steps toward achieving their intelligent enterprise ambitions. The new system landscape will support the growth of these vital strategic business units for years to come.”

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European Commission Appoints ALM Editor, Kingsley Okeke as a member of the Grand Jury for the 2020 Lorenzo Natali Media Prize

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Kingsley Okeke, the group managing editor of the African Leadership Magazine UK has been appointed by the European Union as a member of the Grand Jury for the annual Lorenzo Natali prize for Journalism.

Mr. Okeke, a renowned journalist and member of the board of Directors of the A.D. King Foundation, was appointed alongside Zaina Erhaim, Communication Manager, Institute of War and Peace Reporting; Maria Latella Radio & TV Journalist, Sky Italia, Radio 24, Il Messaggero; Marites Vitug Editor-At-Large, Rappler; Gillian Joseph, Presenter, Sky News UK. The Grand Jury has been tasked with selecting three winners of the prize for 2020.

Each year, a Grand Jury of leading figures in media and recognised experts in development and cooperation from around the world come together to choose the winners of the Lorenzo Natali Media Prize. The Grand Jury select the most compelling stories they feel best illuminate the qualities and importance of journalism for sustainable development. Every Grand Jury member become a key part of the Natali Prize Community.

In a letter conveying the appointment, Hannah Cole, Head of Unit, European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development stated that: “we would warmly welcome your participation as we truly believe that your reputation and that of your organization will add more prestige to the Prize.”

Kingsley Okeke is a journalist with 15 years’ experience in print journalism.

He is also the Chief
Media Consultant, Centre For Economic and Leadership Development, (CELD), a
leading NGO currently in special Consultative Status with the United Nations
Economic and Social Council (UN ECOSOC). He is a member of the Nigerian Union
of Journalist.  He is a member of the
board of Directors of the A.D. King Foundation, a Not-for-profit organization,
founded by Alfred Daniel King, Civil Rights leader and the younger brother of
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  His
commitment to the promotion of purposeful leadership has made him a regular
guest on high profile panels across the world, including the annual EU
Development Days Forum – Brussels; The Doha Forum, Doha; the Chinese
Government’s Belt and Road Initiative Forum, Beijing; amongst others.

Established 25 years ago, The Lorenzo
Natali Media Prize was launched to recognise and celebrate excellence in
reporting on sustainable development issues
. The Prize also gives a voice
to those whose vital message is often overlooked or ignored. It was created by
the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and
Development, and named after Lorenzo Natali, a precursor of European
development policy. Since 1992, the #NataliPrize has celebrated journalists
from around the globe for their online, print or audio-visual reporting of
stories of human achievements and perseverance around sustainable development
issues. The Prize recognises journalism’s contribution to building more
sustainable, fair and prosperous societies.

The overarching theme of sustainable development relates to, but is not limited to, fighting poverty and inequalities, human rights, democracy, youth, gender equality, environment and climate change, health, technology and digitalization.  

Each category winner will receive €10,000. The winner of the Best Emerging Journalist category will also be offered work experience with a media partner.

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Protect detainees at risk of COVID-19, unclog prisons and release prisoners of conscience

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Authorities in Sub-Saharan Africa must take urgent action to protect people in detention from COVID-19, including releasing prisoners of conscience, reviewing cases of pre-trial detention, and guaranteeing access to healthcare and sanitation products in all facilities, Amnesty International said today.

In many countries across Sub-Saharan Africa, a high proportion of those in detention are there just for peacefully exercising their human rights. As well as being the right thing to do, releasing prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally would free up space in these facilities and help to protect prisoners and staff from the COVID-19.

Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Director for West and Central Africa. 

“As COVID-19 spreads across Sub-Saharan Africa, the severe overcrowding seen in many prisons and detention centres risks becoming a public health catastrophe, especially given the general lack of health care and sanitation,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Director for West and Central Africa.

“In many countries across the region, a high proportion of those in detention are there just for peacefully exercising their human rights. As well as being the right thing to do, releasing prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally would free up space in these facilities and help to protect prisoners and staff from the virus.”

Amnesty International is also calling authorities to consider early, temporary or conditional release of older prisoners and those with underlying medical conditions, as well as women and girls who are in detention with dependent children or who are pregnant.

Across Sub-Saharan Africa, pre-trial detention remains widely used excessively and as a tool of punishment.  As at June 2019, there were 28,045 people detained in prisons in Madagascar which have a total national capacity of 10, 360. More than 75 percent of the 977 boys detained were in pre-trial detention. Children and adults accused of petty crimes in Madagascar are equally forced to stay in overcrowded and unhygienic prisons for longer than the legal term of pre-trial detention.

In Senegal, before the release of detainees announced in March 2020, the country had 11,547 people held in 37 prisons with a total capacity of 4,224 detainees. Similarly, Burundi, whose prisons have a capacity of 4,194 people, had 11,464 detainees by December 2019, of which 45.5% were in pre-trial detention.

The latest data available from Makala Central Prison, in the DRC, shows that in 2016 it held 8,000 prisoners, more than five times its official capacity of 1,500.  While about 700 prisoners were released countrywide in 2019, at least 120 detainees died from starvation, lack of access to clean water and proper healthcare in the same period.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, prisons in DRC were deadly places. As well as exposing the appalling reality people deprived of their liberty face, the virus is exacerbating the risks that detainees face day to day.

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, prisons in DRC were deadly places. As well as exposing the appalling reality people deprived of their liberty face, the virus is exacerbating the risks that detainees face day to day,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

Journalists, human rights defenders, students

Many countries in the region have a long record of arbitrarily detaining people for exercising or defending the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly or association, which has contributed to overcrowding.

Amnesty International has highlighted the plight of several prisoners of conscience, who are now faced with the real threat of COVID-19 in prison. These include:

The journalist Ignace Sossou in Benin was sentenced on 24 December 2019 to 18 months imprisonment for “harassment through electronic means of communication” for tweeting remarks attributed to the public prosecutor, who spoke at a conference organized by the French Media Development Agency (CFI).

In Burundi, human rights defender Germain Rukuki was arrested for his work and is currently serving a 32-year prison sentence, while four journalists working for one of the country’s few remaining independent media, Iwacu, were sentenced on 30 January 2020 to two and a half years in jail for attempting to investigate deadly clashes in the country.

Three students, Fomusoh Ivo Feh, Afuh Nivelle Nfor and Azah Levis Gob, were sentenced to 10 years in prison for “failing to report terrorism related information” after texting a joke on Boko Haram in Cameroon. Among people still detained for protesting peacefully either against the alleged irregularities during the 2018 presidential election or in favor of economic and social rights in English-speaking regions, there  is notably the case of Mancho Bibixy Tse. He was arrested on 9 January 2017 and sentenced on 25 May 2018 by a military court to 15 years in prison for “terrorism”, simply for having peacefully protested marginalization of English-speaking Cameroonians.

In Chad, Martin Inoua, the director of the privately-owned newspaper Salam Info, was sentenced to three years imprisonment in September 2019 for defamation, slanderous accusation and criminal conspiracy after publishing an article alleging sexual assault by a former minister.

Amnesty International considers all these people prisoners of conscience who have been imprisoned for exercising their human rights. They must be released immediately and unconditionally.

Deprose Muchena. 

“Amnesty International considers all these people prisoners of conscience who have been imprisoned for exercising their human rights. They must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Deprose Muchena.

In Guinea, activists of the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC) are arbitrarily detained for peacefully demonstrating against a constitutional reform project that could allow President Alpha Condé to run for a third term and the holding of the constitutional referendum of 22 March 2020.

Ibrahimo Abu Mbaruco, a journalist in Mozambique, was forcibly disappeared on 7 April 2020 after sending a text message to a colleague saying he was being harassed by soldiers near his house in Palma town, in Cabo Delgado Province in the North. Mozambican authorities are known for arbitrarily detaining journalists in prison, and subjecting them to torture and other ill-treatment.

It is frightening that such a large number of people who peacefully exercised their human rights are now faced with the risk of contracting the deadly COVID-19 in prisons across Africa. They must all be released without further ado.

Deprose Muchena

“It is frightening that such a large number of people who peacefully exercised their human rights are now faced with the risk of contracting the deadly COVID-19 in prisons across Africa. They must all be released without further ado,” said Deprose Muchena.

In Somaliland, President Muse Bihi Abdi pardoned 574 prisoners on 1 April to ease overcrowding in the face of COVID-19 but failed to release freelance journalist Abdimalik Muse Oldon, who was arrested and arbitrarily detained a year ago for criticizing the president on Facebook.

Political opponents and government critics

In Congo, four supporters of the opposition movement “Incarner L’Espoir”, Parfait Mabiala, Franck Donald Saboukoulou Loubaki, Guil Miangué Ossebi and Meldry Rolf Dissavoulou, were accused of endangering state security and have been detained arbitrarily for several months. Political opponents and candidates for the 2016 presidential election, Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and André Okombi Salissa, were condemned for endangering the internal security of the state in 2018 and have since been in arbitrary detention.

In Eritrea, anyone expressing a differing political view from that of the government is at risk of arrest; thousands of politicians, journalists, human rights defenders and even their family members have been detained for years with no record of their release.

While Ethiopia has released over 10,000 prisoners about to complete their sentences or serving a maximum of three-year jail-terms in the face of COVID-19, the government continues with the unjust detention of opposition politicians and journalists simply for their views or for doing their work.

In Madagascar, Arphine Helisoa, publishing director of the ‘Ny Valosoa’ newspaper, was sent to pre-trial detention in the capital city’s Antanimora prison on 4 April after being charged with spreading “fake news” and “incitement of hatred towards President Andry Rajoelina”, for criticizing the president’s handling of the national response to COVID-19.

In South Sudan, the National Security Service has arbitrarily detained hundreds, possibly thousands, of perceived government opponents, journalists and members of civil society without charge since the conflict begun in 2013. Prisoners rely on their families for food, many of whom are now unable to do so because of COVID-19 restrictions.

In Tanzania, human rights lawyer Tito Magoti and his co-accused Theodory Giyani have been in police detention since 20 December 2019, the court adjourning their trial for the ninth time on 15 April 2020. In Uganda, military police arrested writer and law student Kakwenza Rukira on 13 April 2020 over his book “Greedy Barbarians”, which criticizes the country’s first family. He is yet to be charged.

The spread of COVID-19 is a public health concern even in prisons and other detention facilities. Reducing the number of people in detention should be an integral and urgent part of state responses to COVID-19, which must begin by immediately and unconditionally releasing all those who shouldn’t be incarcerated in the first place.

Samira Daoud

“The spread of COVID-19 is a public health concern even in prisons and other detention facilities. Reducing the number of people in detention should be an integral and urgent part of state responses to COVID-19, which must begin by immediately and unconditionally releasing all those who shouldn’t be incarcerated in the first place,” said Samira Daoud.

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‘Phased process’ for lifting restrictions is key, WHO chief urges G20

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 Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reiterated the UN’s appreciation committing to further strengthen WHO’s mandate in coordinating the international fight, noting that “all of your countries have been affected, and you are all at different stages of the response.”

With some countries such as Austria, Germany and Italy, beginning to announce an easing of restrictions in line with encouraging data such as falling caseloads and hospital deaths, Tedros said it was key to see lifting so-called lockdown restrictions as “not the end of the epidemic in any country; it’s just the beginning of the next phase.

“It’s vital in this next phase that countries educate, engage and empower their people to prevent and respond rapidly to any resurgence”, he said adding that it was essential to ensure they have capacity to “detect, test, isolate and care for every case, and trace every contact, and to ensure their health systems have the capacity to absorb any increase in cases.”

He welcomed a pledge from G20 chair, Saudi Arabia of $500 million to support global efforts against the pandemic, including concrete action with the G20 Global Innovation Hub for Improving Value in Health, the Digital Health Task Force and the Global Patient Safety Leaders Group.

The WHO chief said he was deeply concerned that the virus now appears to be “gathering pace in countries that lack the capacity of many G20 countries to respond to it. Urgent support is needed, not only to support countries to respond to COVID-19, but to ensure other essential health services continue.”

WHO sounded the alarm ‘loud and clear’

He added, in response to criticism from the US and other sceptics over WHO’s handling of the early stage of the international health emergency in China, that “since the beginning”, the agency had “sounded the alarm bell loud and clear.”

“And we continue to fulfil our mandate to coordinate the global response, working with partners to save lives. We’ve engaged thousands of scientists and experts all over the world to develop detailed technical guidance for countries. We’ve shipped supplies of lab diagnostics and personal protective equipment to many countries, and expanded testing capacity.”

Tedros noted that WHO had provided training for more than 1.5 million health workers, launched the Solidarity Trial, to generate robust safety and efficacy data about the four drugs which could lead to a breakthrough in treatment to lower the fatality rate.

The international community has rallied in support of the global response, he told the G20, with more than $900 million pledged thus far for the agency’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan.

Through the UN Supply Chain Task Force, he said WHO was working with the World Food Programme (WFP) and other partners to distribute personal protective equipment to countries all over the world.

Three asks

Tedros concluded by making three requests of the most powerful economies on the planet: “First, we urge each of your countries to continue to fight the pandemic with determination, guided by science and evidence. Second, we are looking to the G20 countries to continue to support the global response to COVID-19.

We will soon publish a second Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, with an estimate of the resources needed for the next phase of the response.

And finally, he called on all G20 countries to work together to increase the “production and equitable distribution” of essential supplies, and to remove trade barriers that put health workers and their patients at risk.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of a simple truth: we are one humanity. We share the same planet. We share the same hopes and dreams. We share the same destiny”, he concluded. 

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Security Forces Allegedly Execute 31 Detainees

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 Burkina Faso’s security forces allegedly executed 31 detainees on April 9, 2020 in the northern town of Djibo, Human Rights Watch said today. The men were apparently killed just hours after being arrested, unarmed, during a government counterterrorism operation. The government should immediately and impartially investigate the killings and hold to account all those responsible, regardless of rank.

The apparent massacre in Djibo, about 200 kilometers north of Ouagadougou, the capital, occurred amid a worsening security and humanitarian crisis in Burkina Faso’s northern Sahel region. The growth of Islamist armed groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahel (ISGS) has fueled violence that had displaced over 775,000 people by late March.

“The Burkinabè security forces apparently executed 31 men in a brutal mockery of a counterterrorism operation that may amount to a war crime and could fuel further atrocities,” said Corinne Dufka, Sahel director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should stop the abuse, fully investigate this terrible incident, and commit to a rights-respecting counterterrorism strategy.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 17 people with knowledge of the April 9 killings, including 12 witnesses to the arrests and later burial of the victims. Witnesses provided a list of victims, all men from the Peuhl ethnic group, as well as maps indicating where the men were executed and later buried.

Beginning in 2016, armed Islamist groups, which have largely recruited from the nomadic Peuhl or Fulani community, have attacked security force posts and civilians throughout Burkina Faso, but mostly in the Sahel region bordering Mali and Niger. Human Rights Watch has since 2017 documented the killing of over 300 civilians by armed Islamist groups and the killing of several hundred men by government security forces for their alleged support of these groups.

The residents speculated that they had been targeted because of the recent presence of some armed Islamists around Djibo. “The jihadists have been roaming around lately,” one said. “It’s like we’re punished for their mere presence.” 

Local residents said scores of security force personnel were involved in the April 9 operation, which lasted from around 10 a.m., when the arrests began, until around 1:30 p.m., when they heard several bursts of gunfire. The victims were arrested from several neighborhoods, or “sectors,” while they were watering their animals, walking, or sitting in front of their homes. They were taken away in a convoy of about 10 military vehicles including pickup trucks, an armored car, and motorcycles.

Residents said that around 4 p.m., they ventured to where they had heard the gunfire and found the bodies of 31 men who were last seen in the security forces’ custody. Several had bound eyes or hands. Residents said none of the men were armed.

The Security Forces Involved in the Operation

Witnesses said that most of the security force personnel wore military uniforms with protective vests. Several were dressed in black or wore mixed military and civilian clothes. Many wore helmets while some covered their faces with turbans, and most had military assault rifles. Large machine guns were mounted on at least two vehicles. The soldiers spoke French and Mooré, one of Burkina Faso’s principle languages. Three people said they saw soldiers with walkie-talkies.

The Burkina Faso government has three key security force camps in Djibo – a police station, a gendarme base, and a base housing the Groupement des Forces Anti-Terroristes (GFAT), a mixed counterterrorism force. Residents said they believed those implicated in the April 9 killings were based in the GFAT camp, in part because of the size of the operation, and because it is the only camp in which they’ve seen armored cars. Several told Human Rights Watch they had received calls from family members living close to the GFAT base before the arrests to report that a large convoy was leaving the base, and again around 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., when the convoy returned.

The Arrests

The first arrests, of at least 6 men, occurred around 10 a.m. in sectors 8 and 9. A woman from sector 8 said she saw the convoy stop at a clinic and observed soldiers asking people for their ID cards.She said the security forces were already holding two men she knew, their eyes bound with their turbans. “After some minutes, the convoy left, but on the way, they arrested another Peuhl man who had taken out his ID card,” she said. “The soldiers ordered him into the pickup with the others and drove off. They were all found dead.”

Three animal herders, including 1 with a mental health condition, were arrested at a watering hole in sector 8. “The army suddenly showed up in 3 vehicles and 7 motorcycles,” said a herder who managed to hide. “There were 3 adult men there with their animals. They tried to show their IDs but one of the soldiers said, ‘We don’t want your IDs, it’s you we want.’ They tied their hands with their turbans, ordered them onto a pickup, and drove off.”

Between 11 a.m. and noon, the convoy moved to sector 7, a few kilometers away, arresting at least 25 more men, including several who had been displaced by violence elsewhere. “About 10 pickups and many motorcycles rode through the streets rounding up any Peuhl who couldn’t hide … from their homes, at the well, on the road, in front of their stores,” a trader said.

Another sector 7 resident said:

Two brothers on bicycles were on their way back from a baptism but they coincided with the convoy arrival.… I saw the soldiers order them off their bikes and to board a pickup with the other arrested men.… Later, I received a call saying the shepherd who tends our cattle was also taken.

While hiding, a woman in sector 7 saw soldiers arrest a sick man resting near his house:

Soldiers dragged him 30 meters and onto their pick-up … the man cried out in pain, saying he’d just had an operation. The soldiers accused him of lying but released him after seeing the bandages on his abdomen. They rode off with about 6 other detainees.

The Executions, Search for, and Burial of Bodies

Witnesses said they heard several bursts of gunfire between 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. “I’d just finished afternoon prayer when I heard gunfire from the direction the convoy had taken,” said a man who lost two close relatives. “We knew then, our loved ones were no more.” Another resident said “After the arrests, we waited with heavy hearts. When the shots rang out, we knew our loved ones weren’t coming home.”

Eight people described helping retrieve and bury the dead, who were found about 4 kilometers from central Djibo, 50 meters from the cemetery in sector 7 [also known as Firguindi]. Witnesses counted between 29 and 31 bodies, all Peuhl men between the ages of 20 and about 60. They included fathers and sons, and at least 2 brothers. Human Rights Watch received a list of 31 people allegedly killed during the incident. The names match those retrieved from witnesses.

The witnesses said the bodies were divided into 4 groups, most separated by a distance of about 50 to 100 meters. An elder said:

At around 4 p.m., after the gunfire and after seeing the army convoy return to Djibo – we went in search of our people. It was a terrifying scene.… Many of the bodies were in pieces like they’d peppered them with a powerful gun. I was only able to recognize my brother from a piece of his clothing.

Another man said he found five of his family members: “As night fell, we took flashlights and went with a camel-drawn cart. The bodies were divided into four groups. I had to look at all of them to identity my people. They’d been shot with bursts of gunfire, tearing several bodies beyond recognition.”

Witnesses said 6 men were buried in the sector 8 cemetery, 5 in the sector 7 cemetery, and the rest in several common graves adjacent to where the executions had taken place. 

Need for Investigation and Accountability 

None of the witnesses saw any of the arrested men with a firearm. “This was not a battle,” a trader said. “There was no gunfire before the arrests. If there had been tension, or an attack … we’d not have gone to the well, clinic, or to our fields,” said an elder. “How can unarmed people be thrown into a vehicle and murdered by our own army without even being interrogated or tried?” said another man, who had lost his brother.

Several people said that the Peuhl population was being targeted by both sides. “Both jihadists [armed Islamists] and the army threaten and kill us,” an elder said. “Both have prevented us from going to the market to buy and sell.”

A religious leader said “Many of us adhere to the Tijāniyyah sect of Islam, based on tolerance. The jihadists see us as traitors and threaten us for not joining them.”

“The Burkina Faso authorities should urgently and impartially investigate this alleged war crime and suspend any implicated security force commander pending the investigation’s outcome,” Dufka said

The European Union, France, and the United States should press the government to conduct a credible investigation and hold those responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said. They should ensure that any military assistance provided to the Burkinabè security forces is not being used by units responsible for this or other atrocities for which no one has been held to account.

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Debt-laden countries at risk, as financial markets screech to a hal

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 Since the start of the pandemic, financial institutions including the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – along with UN entities, regional organizations and country groups such as the G20 – have been examining the tools available to stabilize markets, prevent job losses and preserve hard-fought development gains.

At a joint high-level meeting of the IMF and the World Bank on Mobilizing with Africa on Friday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres commended the bodies’ swift actions to support member countries, while emphasizing that more work will be needed.

“We know this virus will spread like wildfire and there are no firewalls,” he said.  “Alleviating crushing debt is absolutely crucial.”

The UN chief noted that in Africa, households and businesses were suffering liquidity challenges even before the virus gained a toehold on the continent.  As countries work to prevent millions from plunging into poverty, already unacceptable levels of inequalities are growing, fragility is increasing and commodity prices are declining.

Debt and pandemic: a ‘perfect storm’

The current health and economic emergencies sparked by COVID-19 have emerged against the backdrop of high indebtedness for many developing nations – including middle-income countries – around the globe.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, public external debt in many developing countries has spiked. Low interest rates and high liquidity boosted many countries’ access to commercial lending. By January 2020, the debt of 44 per cent of least developed and other low-income developing countries was already considered at high risk or in distress. 

The COVID-19-induced contraction is having disastrous consequences. Global financial markets are coming to a standstill as investors race to pull funds out of emerging-markets and other high-risk sec­tors.  The pandemic is straining national budgets as countries struggle to meet health needs, respond to rising unemployment and support their economies.

UN experts warn that Africa may be in its first recession in 25 years, while Latin America and the Caribbean is facing the worst recession in its history. Similar decelerations are being seen in Asia and the Arab Region.

Shaping proactive responses

Against that backdrop, the UN is advocating for a comprehensive COVID-19 response package amounting to a double-digit percentage of global GDP.

It is also urging international financial institutions to do everything possible to prevent a devastating debt crisis with disorderly defaults, stressing that debt relief must play a central role in the global response to the pandemic.

Speaking at the joint IMF/World Bank meeting, the Secretary-General welcomed initial steps by the G20, including the suspension of debt service payments for all International Development Association nations. 

He also called for more resources for the IMF – including through the issuance of special drawing rights – as well as enhanced support for the World Bank and other global financial institutions and bilateral mechanisms.

Three-phase plan to tackle debt

The Organization has put forward a three-step strategy aimed at preventing heavily indebted countries from suffering the worst impacts of the COVID-19 emergency.

First, it calls for an across-the-board “debt standstill” for developing countries with no access to financial markets.  Second, it requests more comprehensive options for debt sustainability with instruments, such as debt swaps, and a debt mechanism for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Third, the plan calls for tackling structural issues in the international debt architecture, to prevent defaults.

The framework is built on a foundation of shared responsibility among debtors and creditors, as well as the understanding that debt restructuring should be timely, orderly, effective, fair and negotiated in good faith. 

“In all our efforts, we must focus on the most vulnerable and ensuring that the rights of all people are protected,” the UN Chief said.

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How The Continent’s Economies Can Recover

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The African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) Senior Policy Seminar has placed a spotlight on fragility of growth in African economies, seeking to stimulate an informed policy dialogue and related policy-making aimed at reducing identified fragile contexts and building a more resilient African economic sector. However, social and economic issues that were already highly challenging have now become exponentially more serious due to the current COVID-19 health crisis and the catastrophic effect it is having on the African economies as well as the global economy.

Despite decent economic and social progress achieved in the last two decades, growth in most African countries remain characteristically fragile. This inherent fragility extends across the economic, social, political and cultural fabrics of life in Africa. The typology of the fragile context revolves around political instability, weak institutions that lead to poor accountability and leadership, civil and political unrest, low human development, low investment levels and the low level of economic diversification that produces protracted economic decline with a negative shock from one sector of the economy, among many other factors.

AERC’s Executive Director Professor Njunguna Ndung’u notes that although the effects of the coronavirus pandemic are devastating on already fragile African economies, the outlook is not completely dire. “In order to move forward, we need to look at the lessons learnt from this crisis and heed the urgency for change that it has highlighted. Weak points, some known, others underestimated, have been brought to the fore. In addition to infrastructural issues, the reliance of African markets on imported goods (and services) has proven to be a detrimental factor during this crisis – particularly regarding the shortage of masks and other health and safety resources typically sourced from outside Africa”.

AERC’s Executive Director Professor Njunguna Ndung’u

There is an urgent need for solutions that will move the continent forward, reduce risk and maximise on opportunities in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Proposed means of achieving this include:

  1. Policymaking and interventions that consider the existing weaknesses within African economies, the post-crisis challenges facing the continent and future long-term methodologies to forestall the negative effects of crises
  2. Enlisting the support of multilateral institutions and bi-lateral partners and working together to develop comprehensive and effective solutions to overcoming challenges across different sectors.
  3. Governments and the private sector need to consider ways to help the population and African markets recover from the debilitating effects of COVID-19 on factors such as GDP growth, critical macro-economic indicators, inflation, exchange rates, employment and livelihoods to vulnerable sectors.
  4. The implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement needs to be accelerated – boosting intra-African trade, development and economic diversification, making African economies less vulnerable to economic shocks and more resilient to global crises or market disruptions.

Ndung’u added that how Africa reacts in the aftermath of this social and economic crisis will be definitive in guiding the recovery and inclusive growth of the continent. “We cannot predict the future, but we can be better prepared for the uncertainties that lie ahead”.

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African Development Bank strongly rebuts claims that it plans to provide financial support to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project

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The African Development Bank has become aware of an inaccurate news article stating that the institution plans to provide financial support to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project.

The Bank strongly refutes the claims in the misleading article, which references a letter by a group of civil society organizations and climate change advocates asking the institution to withdraw from the project due to its potential social and environmental damage.

Here are the facts:

  1. The NEPAD Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility (NEPAD-IPPF) has not provided financing to any Private Sector Company for upstream oil or gas pipeline projects in East Africa.
  2. No commitment was therefore made to any party to fund the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project. The project is not included in the Bank’s lending program.
  3. The Bank is strongly committed to renewable energies.

It is important to point out that the African Development Bank Group has for more than a decade played a leading role in crafting policies and delivering investments that promote sustainable development practices on the continent, including climate adaptation and resilience.

The Bank is committed to facilitating the transition to low-carbon and climate-resilient development in African countries across all its operational priority areas.

From commitment to action
These commitments are articulated in the range of strategies, policies and action plans which are aligned to all Bank operations and are available to the public. In 2019, approximately 36% of total financial approvals were directed to climate action. The African Development Bank further commits to doubling its climate finance to $25 billion between 2020 and 2025. Furthermore, the Bank is joining forces with the other Multilateral Development Banks to design a framework that ensures that all our investments align with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

100% renewable projects and sustainable, low-emission agriculture and infrastructure
The Bank has prioritized investment in renewables and has not invested in any coal project in the past decade as it sees renewable energy as the future. Since the launch of the Bank’s Strategy for the New Deal on Energy in 2016, up to 2019 renewable energy projects constitute about 85% percent on average of the Bank’s power generation investments. The Bank is working closely with African countries to realize their renewable energy potential and has developed dedicated programs and instruments to achieve this goal.

Upholding the principles of inclusion, participation, ownership, transparency and accountability
The Bank recognizes and appreciates the critical role that civil society organisations play in promoting transparency and accountability in all spheres of development for the common good of grassroot communities. The African Development Bank has made significant strides and continues to enhance its engagement of Civil Society and Community Based Organisations, through information sharing and regular exchanges on various platforms such as the Civil Society Open Days, the Annual Civil Society Forum and many other fora.
The Bank will, therefore, continue to work with its shareholders, its clients and civil society organisations, to ensure that it upholds the highest standards.
The institution remains focused on its core mission to help lift millions out of poverty, by using the resources entrusted to it in a responsible and efficient manner.

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EY, SAP, and Qualtrics Collaborate to Bring Resources to Governments Around the World to Help in the Fight Against COVID-19

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 EY, SAP, and Qualtrics have announced a collaboration to provide resources to governments around the world as they battle the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic. These Qualtrics® and SAP® solutions will be implemented by EY and include tools to help governments pre-screen and route potential COVID-19 patients, support healthcare workers, and manage the flow of information and resources to their citizens.

To help manage the impact of the pandemic, EY, SAP, and Qualtrics have collaborated on providing agencies with a comprehensive set of services and solutions to meet the initial urgent and critical needs of governments, globally. These offerings are helping organizations take immediate action in the fight against COVID-19 and are available to all 50 U.S. states and more than 90 countries worldwide. In addition, the services and solutions are provided in eight languages – English, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, French, German, and Greek – through EY implementation and enablement services. Specifically, the solutions available to governments include:

Qualtrics COVID-19 Pre-Screening and Routing: This online, guided pre-screening questionnaire allows citizens concerned about COVID-19 to enter their symptoms, and automatically routes them to appropriate online resources or advises them to contact their doctor. It provides instant access to relevant health and safety resources and produces automatic reports that identify any gaps in information availability.

Qualtrics COVID-19 Dynamic Call Center Script: Local governments are standing up call centers (often for the first time) to respond to the crisis. To reduce call volume, and provide accurate, up-to-date information to callers, this solution directs citizens to the right resources based on their interests/questions. It also includes automatic reporting showing caller trends, patterns, and gaps in information requests.

Qualtrics Healthcare Workforce Pulse: Governments need to monitor healthcare providers and their frontline healthcare workers within healthcare systems, hospitals, pharmacies, and clinics. This Healthcare Workforce Pulse is designed to capture feedback on the resources, safety, resilience, and communication needs of those treating patients with the disease.

Critical care protocol solution: This is a customized solution for governments and ministries of health directed at early identification for critical care/high-risk patients. This solution utilizes guidelines from the World Health Organization and the Edmonton Frailty Scale and is powered by a critical care protocol algorithm. The solution assists in early flagging of high-risk patients by sharing and analyzing results in real time, allowing for more targeted allocation of critical care services that are already in short supply.

Image by© Image Source/Corbis

EY, SAP, and Qualtrics released the following statement regarding these solutions: “Governments around the world are having to act quickly and decisively as they lead their citizens through uncertain times. These solutions and services help governments quickly interact with their citizens at scale by providing a means of collecting and analyzing data in real time. This allows them to take immediate action amid an ever-changing situation and bring immense benefit to their citizens during the current crisis. We are proud to stand together to help governments use the power of experience management to navigate this difficult and unsettling situation as we all work to keep our communities and loved ones healthy and safe.”

Public entities around the world are rapidly deploying these solutions and seeing immediate results. In the U.S., Africa, Europe, and APAC, state and country governments and agencies are running health assessments for citizens, identifying testing centers for those in need, and triaging screening and treatment follow-up. On a national level, countries around the world are asking what information citizens need and how they could work together to provide essential services during this worldwide pandemic.

Qualtrics technology is GDPR, HIPAA, HITRUST, and FedRamp compliant – maintaining the highest levels of security and privacy protection available.

To learn more about these solutions and other resources available to governments worldwide, please visit: qualtrics.com/here-to-help.

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Africa.com Convenes Top African Business Leaders With Harvard Business School Faculty to Respond to COVID-19

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As COVID-19 takes hold of African economies, African business leaders are challenged with new risks and uncertainty. Africa.com has partnered with faculty of Harvard Business to lead a four week webinar series, “Crisis Management for African Business Leaders.”

The webinar series will feature panel discussions led by the faculty, in conversation with African business leaders including:

• Welela Dawit, CFO, GE Africa
• Kuseni Dlamini, Chair, Massmart
• Kunle Elebute, Chairman, KPMG Africa
• Foluso Philips, Chair, Philips Consulting
• Funke Opeke, Founder and CEO, MainOne
• Jay Ireland, Former President and CEO, GE Africa
• Admassu Tadesse, Chief Executive, Trade and Development Bank
• Fred Swaniker, Founder & CEO, African Leadership Group
• Sim Tshabalala, Chief Executive, Standard Bank Group
• Rob Shuter, President/CEO, MTN Group Ltd.

The four webinars are as follows:

April 15
Leadership in Times of Crisis, led by Linda Hill, Ph.D., Harvard Business School Professor of Business Administration, Faculty Chair, Leadership Initiative

April 22
Liquidity – Managing Cash Flow When Revenue & Funding Dry Up, led by Kunle Elebute, Chair of KPMG Africa

April 29:
This Isn’t the West – How Africa’s Informal Sector Reacts to COVID-19, led by Hakeem Belo-Osagie, Harvard Business School Senior Lecturer of Business Administration

May 6:
Strategic Planning in the Face of Uncertainty, led by Andy Zelleke, Ph.D., Harvard Business School Senior Lecturer of Business Administration

All webinars take place on Wednesdays, for 1.5 hours, commencing at:
9:00 EDT (New York) | 14:00 WAT (Nigeria/UK) | 15:00 CAT (South Africa) | 16:00 EAT (Kenya)

Teresa Clarke, Chair and Executive Editor of Africa.com, said “We are moved beyond words with the generosity shown by African business leaders and Harvard faculty to set aside their own tremendous challenges today, in order to share their best thinking with other African business leaders on how they are taking companies forward and protecting the communities they serve.”

Registration is free at virtualconferenceafrica.com.

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Journalist Feared ‘Disappeared’

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Mozambique authorities should urgently locate a journalist who has been missing since April 7, 2020 in the embattled northern province of Cabo Delgado, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. Before he was reported missing, Ibrahimo Abu Mbaruco had sent a text message about soldiers near his house in the town of Palma, raising concerns that he has been forcibly disappeared.

Mbaruco, a journalist and newscaster at Palma Community Radio Station, was on his way home from work on the evening of April 7 when he met a group of soldiers, his brother said. He sent a text message to a colleague around 6 p.m. asking him to call because the soldiers were harassing him. When the colleague tried to call, Mbaruco’s phone went unanswered. 

“Ibrahimo Mbaruco’s apparent forced disappearance is of grave concern, particularly given the Mozambican security forces’ alarming record of wrongfully detaining journalists,” said Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Mozambican government should urgently take all necessary steps to locate Mbaruco and ensure his safe release.” 

Enforced disappearances are defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution. 

Fighting has taken place in Cabo Delgado province since October 2017, when an Islamist armed group known locally as Al-Sunna wa Jama’a or Al-Shabab attacked a police station in Mocimboa da Praia. The armed group has since carried out more than 350 attacks, leaving over 115,000 people displaced. Security forces involved in operations against the group have been implicated in serious human rights abuses, including intimidation, arbitrarily arrests, and ill-treatment of detainees. 

Mbaruco’s enforced disappearance comes amid growing evidence that Mozambican security forces have continued to harass, intimidate, and arbitrarily detain journalists covering fighting between government forces and the armed group. 

On April 14, police officers detained Hizidine Acha, a journalist for SOICO, the largest Mozambican private media group, for two hours and forced him to delete images on his phone and camera. The images allegedly showed the officers beating people. A police spokesman was later quoted by Zitamar News saying that Acha was temporarily detained because he had not identified himself as a journalist before taking the pictures of the officers. 

On January 5, 2019, the police arrested Amade Abubacar, a journalist, in Macomia district for documenting attacks by armed groups against civilians in Cabo Delgado province. Two weeks later, on January 18, police arrested Germano Adriano, a journalist at the community radio and television station Nacedje. Both Abubacar and Adriano were detained for three months without charge, then released on bail. 

Since June 2018, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented many other cases in which government forces barred various media organizations and correspondents from visiting the province, while security forces detained or arrested journalists who entered the province on bogus charges. 

“Mozambican journalists should not live in fear of detention or abduction for doing their job,” said Deprose Muchena, southern Africa director at Amnesty International. “The government must promptly, thoroughly, transparently, and effectively investigate the enforced disappearance of Ibraimo Mbaruco. The authorities must take urgent measures to stop security forces from harassing and intimidating journalists, and those found to be doing so must be held to account.”

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African Development Bank’s SEFA grants $760,000 to develop small-scale renewable energy projects across Sub Saharan Africa

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 The African Development Bank-managed Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (SEFA), has approved a $760,000 grant to Empower New Energy AS (EmNEW), to develop at least eight small renewable energy projects with capacity ranging from1-10 MW, towards bankability and construction. 

The grant will support a broad range of project preparation and development activities, including technical feasibility studies, legal due diligence, environmental and social impact assessment, quality assurance and risk management.

Through its Empower Invest fund, EmNEW invests in small and medium-scale renewable energy projects in Africa, with a focus on solar power, hybrid, and hydro technologies.

Welcoming the approval, Terje Osmundsen, EmNEW’s CEO, said, “We are very excited to be entering into a partnership with the African Development Bank and SEFA. There is a large number of strong small or medium scale projects across Africa that remain unrealised because they can’t access competitive financing. Our approach allows us to bridge this gap and working with SEFA, will help us to accelerate this process and support more high-quality projects. Together, we can bring impactful investment to Africa, while helping the continent to meet its electrification, carbon-reduction, and sustainable development targets.”

 The Bank’s support to EmNEW through SEFA is fully aligned with SEFA’s strategy to tackle challenges faced by smaller renewable energy projects in many African countries in accessing financing to cover their initial development costs, the Bank’s Acting Director for Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Daniel Schroth noted.

Drawing on high-quality local partnerships in Africa, EmNEW invests in renewable energy projects through competitive equity to small and medium scale projects which helps to reduce the time and resources required to finance projects while delivering environmental and social impact.

“Accelerated deployment of distributed solar power and small hydropower is one of the fastest and most cost-efficient ways to bridge the energy access gap, fight climate change and promote sustainable development in Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Wale Shonibare, the Bank’s Acting Vice President for Power, Energy, Climate and Green Growth.

EmNEW has regional offices in Kenya and Ghana, with projects expected to unlock up to $500 million in renewable energy investment, reduce CO2 emissions by 320,000 tons, create 20,000 new jobs, and eventually produce 585 GWh of clean electricity.

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Prisons Face Covid-19 Catastrophe

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 The Democratic Republic of Congo’s overcrowded and unsanitary prisons are at grave risk of Covid-19 outbreaks that threaten the health and lives of detainees, guards, and the broader population, Human Rights Watch said today.

Since March 21, 2020, magistrates have released just over 2,000 pretrial detainees and prisoners detained for low-level offenses to reduce the country’s prison populations, according to the United Nations peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO. However, many more of the estimated 71 percent of detainees who have not been convicted of any crime or are awaiting trial should urgently be released, and those newly arrested for nonviolent or minor offenses should not be detained.

“Congo’s government needs to take bolder steps to prevent a major crisis in overcrowded prisons and jails,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “It has inherited a prison system that has been neglected for decades and, with Covid-19 at the prison gates, the clock is ticking before a potential crisis unfolds.”

The Congolese government should quickly provide allocated funds to prisons and ensure that they provide inmates adequate food and medical care. The authorities should improve basic hygiene and sanitation, allow detainees’ families to safely deliver much-needed food parcels, and ensure access to legal counsel.

Congo’s main prisons are at 432 percent of capacity, according to MONUSCO, making them some of the most overcrowded in the world. Prisons in the eastern cities of Goma and Uvira are over 600 percent capacity, while Kinshasa’s central prison, known as Makala, is at 461 percent, with hundreds of inmates crammed in together and no beds.

“In the wing I was at until a few days ago, there were at least 850 of us in a space with a capacity of 100 people,” a detainee told Human Rights Watch. “No one can even find a meter of space to sleep, and the situation is worse in some of the other wings. If the coronavirus reaches Makala, there will be no one left.”

Although internationally recommended to prevent transmission of Covid-19, it is not feasible in Congo’s prisons to impose “social distancing” – allowing two meters of separation at all times among detainees and staff, including during meals and within cells. This reinforces the need for the authorities to immediately reduce prison populations.

People in pretrial detention for low-level or nonviolent offenses should be released immediately. Older people, pregnant women and girls, people with disabilities, and people with compromised immunity or chronic conditions that place them at greater risk of Covid-19 complications, such as heart and lung disease, diabetes, or HIV, should also be prioritized for release, Human Rights Watch said.

It is critical to keep transfers from police custody to prisons to a minimum, Human Rights Watch said. Dozens of new detainees are brought in weekly according to UN sources and prisoners. “They [new detainees] arrive in groups and mix among us,” a Makala detainee said. “But we have no idea whether they have been tested – I don’t think they have.” It is not clear whether new detainees are being screened for fever and other symptoms. Clean isolation units that are not punitive should be set up for suspected Covid-19 cases.

On April 2, the justice minister banned deliveries of outside parcels and meals from relatives, the only source of food for most detainees, to mitigate the risks of Covid-19 entering the facilities. Detainees from several Congolese prisons and jails said that the measure has not been enforced since most prison directors recognize the necessity of this support.

In Kinshasa, on April 4, dozens of people camped outside Makala in protest when prison officials attempted to enforce the ban, some throwing rocks at the prison guards, detainees said. “Luckily, they have backtracked on enforcing the ban,” said one detainee. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be dying of the coronavirus but of hunger.”

Covid-19 is primarily transmitted through close and prolonged contact between people and there is very limited evidence that food is a source of transmission. Bans on outside food and meals do not appear to serve the legitimate end of protecting prisoners’ health. While there are some risks that containers could be contaminated with the disease, this could easily be mitigated by disinfecting the parcels according to best practices.

Malnutrition and related illness have long resulted in inmate deaths in Congo’s prisons and jails. At best, detainees get one meal a day, in part because food portions are budgeted according to prisons’ capacity rather than their real populations. Between April 9 and 13, five inmates reportedly died “because of lack of food” in Matadi jail, in the southwest.

In the western town of Mbandaka, the prison rarely supplies food: “Catholic nuns come twice a week and feed us with beans and cassava balls,” a detainee said. “We don’t know which days the prison will serve food, we eat thanks to what’s coming from the outside.”

Since January, prison administrations across the country have had to buy food and essential supplies on credit because government funds have not been received. At least 40 inmates died of hunger in Makala in January and another 20 in February, according to MONUSCO. The prison’s coffers had been empty for several months and prisoners were not fed.

On April 2, the justice minister banned lawyers from visiting their clients. The government should find safe alternatives to ensure that the rights of all detainees are protected amid restrictions due to the Covid-19 crisis.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on March 25, urged governments to reduce prison populations, stating that “Measures taken amid a health crisis should not undermine the fundamental rights of detained people, including their rights to adequate food and water. Safeguards against ill-treatment of people in custody, including access to a lawyer and to doctors, should also be fully respected.”

The authorities have erected handwashing stations in some detention centers across Congo, but accounts from detainees suggest that access to water and clean sanitation remains a major issue. “There is no water at all here – our families bring us potable water,” said a detainee from Mbandaka prison. “There is no handwashing station here and the toilets are filthy. We’re not just at risk of coronavirus contamination, we also fear other diseases, like cholera.”

In Munzenze prison, in Goma, a prisoner said the number of handwashing stations did not match the needs. In Makala, water is scarce as well. “In my wing, most taps are dry, only one gives us water but it works two to three hours a day,” one detainee said. “Imagine the number of people fighting to get a bit of it. We’re told to observe distancing rules these days, but can this be possible in such conditions?”

“The Congolese government has an international obligation to protect and medically treat the inmates who remain in detention,” Mudge said. “It should give prisons the means to prevent and respond to Covid-19 to protect inmates and staff while allowing detainees safe access to family and legal counsel.”

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UN chief calls for greater protection for children caught up in COVID-19 crisis

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 In a statement on the new findings, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for urgent action to support the world’s children amid the universal crisis.

“Thankfully, children have so far been largely spared from the most severe symptoms of the disease. But their lives are being totally upended”, he said.

“I appeal to families everywhere, and leaders at all levels: protect our children.”

The report finds that the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, together with measures to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus, could potentially be catastrophic for millions of children worldwide.

It details how the crisis is putting young lives at risk in key areas that include education, food, safety and health.

Education on lockdown

Practically all students worldwide are now out of school because of the pandemic.

Nearly 190 countries have imposed school closures, affecting 1.5 billion children and young people.

The report stated that the losses in learning today, and in their future development, are hard to fathom.

“Some schools are offering distance learning, but this is not available to all”, the Secretary-General said, adding that children in countries with slow and expensive Internet services are severely disadvantaged.

Millions missing out on school meals

Child nutrition is another vital concern, according to the report.

The UN chief recalled that even before the pandemic, childhood malnutrition and stunting were at unacceptable levels.

With classrooms shuttered, the nearly 310 million children worldwide who rely on school meals are missing out on this daily dose of nutrition.

Meanwhile, hastily implemented lockdown measures risk disrupting food supply chains and local markets, posing a potentially grave threat to food access.

Safety at home and online

Sixty per cent of all children worldwide are living in countries that have implemented full or partial lockdowns, according to the report.

As the crisis deepens, family stress-levels also are rising, and children confined at home are both victims and witnesses of domestic violence and abuse.

School closures also mean the loss of what the UN chief called “an important early warning mechanism” for incidents.

“There is also a danger that girls will drop out of school, leading to an increase in teenage pregnancies”, he added.

Earlier this week, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and partners reported that with more children relying on technology for learning and socializing, the risk of online abuse and exploitation is rising.

The Secretary-General underlined the special responsibility social media companies have in ensuring child protection online.

Child health a casualty

Though coronavirus infection rates so far have been “far milder” among children, the report found the broader effects of the crisis on child health are significant.

Hospitals and health facilities overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients are making it difficult for children to access standard care.

Families out of work, or otherwise experiencing reduced incomes, are forced to cut back on essential health and food expenditures, which particularly affects children, women and breastfeeding mothers.

Polio vaccination campaigns have ceased, thus setting back progress in eradicating the disease in its last two strongholds: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Additionally, 23 countries have suspended measles immunization campaigns targeting nearly 80 million children.

“With the global recession gathering pace, there could be hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths in 2020”, the Secretary-General warned.

This scenario would effectively reverse progress made in reducing infant mortality over the past two to three years.

“And this alarming figure does not even take into account services disrupted due to the crisis – it only reflects the current relationship between economies and mortality, so is likely an under-estimate of the impact,” said the report.

Action for children

While the COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented, it is also an opportunity for “unprecedented international solidarity” for children and humanity.

Governments are urged to take steps to counter the unintended effects on children by rolling out or expanding social assistance to families, securing food supply chains and local food markets, and prioritizing the continuity of services such as schooling, nutrition programmes, and maternal and newborn care.

The report further recommends specific protections for the most vulnerable children, such as migrants, refugees, minorities, children with disabilities, and those living in slums.

Standard strategies for physical distancing and lockdowns should be adapted in places such as low-income settings in urban areas, refugee camps and conflict zones.

The report underlined that the UN is working across all settings and stands ready to support countries striving to invest in the world’s youngest generation.

Said the Secretary-General: “With the pandemic placing so many of the world’s children in jeopardy, I reiterate my urgent appeal: let us protect our children and safeguard their well-being.”

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Government intervention required as millions face hunger under COVID-19 lockdown regimes

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Millions of people across Southern Africa face hunger as lockdowns imposed in the region to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic mean they are unable to access food, Amnesty International said today.

With inequality and unemployment so high across Southern Africa, the majority of people live hand to mouth – meaning that they cannot afford to remain in lockdown for a week, let alone for a month

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa

The organization is calling on governments to urgently put in place social protection measures to uphold the right to food. The measures to address food insecurity could include food subsidies for those living in poverty, and directly providing food to those who are unable to provide for themselves. 

“With inequality and unemployment so high across Southern Africa, the majority of people live hand to mouth – meaning that they cannot afford to remain in lockdown for a week, let alone for a month, because they have no financial means to stockpile,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

“Without support from the government, the lock down could become a matter of life and death for those living in poverty. Currently, many are being forced to choose between complying with lock down measures and going hungry, or stepping out to access food and being penalized for it.”

The vast majority of people in the region make their living in the informal economy, for example as street vendors or manual labourers. Under the current lockdown regime these are considered non-essential roles and people in this sector are prohibited from working. As a result, many people cannot earn money to buy food.

While supermarket trips are permitted under lockdown rules because food is deemed “essential”, those who are found on the streets in townships trying to go and buy food with whatever money they can find, or those hustling for food, are often criminalized and sometimes attacked by the security forces.

Unlawful use of force 

Across the region, a combination of civilian police and soldiers have been deployed to the streets to monitor the movement of people and ensure they comply with lockdown measures implemented by governments. However, security personnel are using disproportionate force in dealing with members of the public, including beatings and other forms of public humiliation such as making people crawl on the ground. In some instances, police are accused of entering people’s homes and assaulting them.

In Zambia, police were seen indiscriminately beating up people on the streets, including in pubs, after they were found in public. The national police spokesperson, Esther Katongo, later said on national television that police in Zambia had adopted a strategy to “hit” and “detain” anyone found on the streets. “We hammer you, we hit you, then we do detention. If you escape, you are lucky,” she said in a media interview.

In Zimbabwe, police officers raided Sakubva vegetable market in Mutare at dawn on 3 April, causing more than 300 vegetable vendors to flee and leave behind their produce. Police carried out the raid despite the agriculture sector being flagged as an essential service during the 21-day lockdown, which meant that the market could continue to service people who needed it to buy food. Police later burnt the vegetables and the vendors are yet to be compensated for their loss. According to the World Food Programme, some 4.3 million people were in urgent need of food aid in the country before the pandemic

In Mozambique the local television station STV has reported cases of police accused of taking advantage of the state of emergency to raid informal vendors’ tuckshops and steal their goods, even when the tuckshops are closed. One informal trader said: “We are dying of hunger [because we are not allowed to trade]. [It] is unbearable. I can’t take it anymore. Who should solve this problem?”

In Angola, several incidents of police violence have been reported since security forces were deployed to the streets to ensure public compliance to the national response against COVID-19 on 27 March. Seven men were arrested while on their way to buy food in the market in Cabinda on 4 April. The men were progressively released from 5 April and the last two men were released on 7 April.

Livelihoods under threat

Media reports in different countries across Southern Africa have highlighted the problems that lock down measures in the absence of adequate support from the government, have created for those living in poverty. Women, children and other vulnerable groups such as those with disabilities are especially impacted.

In Alexandra, a township north of Johannesburg, residents took to the streets on 14 April, saying that they were hungry. Residents queued on the streets after they were promised food by some non-governmental organizations. Some of the residents told eNCA, a local 24-hour television news station, that they fear dying of hunger more than COVID-19. One woman said: “We want food. We are not going anywhere. We will stand here until midday. Corona can be here, we don’t care.”

Another woman said: “We want to eat. We are hungry. The corona (lockdown) must be suspended. We want to go back to work. We sell tomatoes and potatoes (on the streets), now we cannot sell and we are unable to make a living. We want food, we want to eat.”

In Madagascar, one of the world’s poorest countries, there are growing concerns regarding people’s access to food. There has been a sharp increase in the price of basic food commodities following the lockdown. There are also fears of growing tension on the streets as people are increasingly anxious about sources of livelihoods. For example, rickshaw workers have protested against the lockdown in the north-eastern town of Tamatave which has led to clashes with the police. They claim they are unable to obey the lockdown as they live on their daily wages.

Governments cannot criminalize people for leaving their homes to look for food or because they need to work in order to make a basic livelihood

Deprose Muchena

According to media reports, in Botswana informal sector workers and small businesses are facing devastating economic consequences as the lockdown means that bus drivers, car washers, hawkers and street vendors are no longer able to earn a living. Approximately 20% of people are unemployed and without much needed social protection, are struggling to access food, health care and other essential services.

“Lockdown measures in place across the region, intended to lessen the catastrophic consequence of COVID-19, must be accompanied with social protection measures for those living in poverty and facing unemployment in order to mitigate the impact of this double jeopardy of lock down and hunger. Governments cannot criminalize people for leaving their homes to look for food or because they need to work in order to make a basic livelihood,” said Deprose Muchena.

“Governments must ensure that no one faces hunger and should put social protection measures in place to uphold human rights. No one should be left behind.”

Governments must assess their capacity to protect people’s health, livelihoods, and human rights and request assistance from the international community for where they see gaps or are unable to guarantee necessary protections.

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Mastercard champions safe and secure payment transactions in Middle East & Africa with increase to contactless payment limits

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Mastercard announced today that it is championing efforts to increase contactless payment limits across the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region as people look for safer ways to pay in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative is in line with recommendations from global and regional health authorities and governments to practice social distancing that has led a growing number of merchants to encourage consumers to pay with contactless over cash to avoid human-to-human contact

Globally, Mastercard has been spearheading the transition to contactless for over 15 years. In MEA, the company has worked with various industry partners and sectors in multiple markets to increase the use of digital and contactless payment technology in an effort to enhance safety, security, speed and convenience in the payment experience for cardholders. In 2019, the MEA region saw >200% growth in contactless transactions. Today almost 1 in 9 Mastercard transactions at point-of-sale (POS) terminals in MEA are contactless. 

While following best practices from around the world, Mastercard is working closely with its partners to enable businesses and retailers to implement contactless limit increases quickly and efficiently. Cardholder verification method (CVM) limits are being increased in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Mauritius. This will ultimately improve purchase experiences for people across the region making them safer and more convenient for consumers and businesses alike.

“Mastercard remains committed to offering safe, secure, and simple payment solutions across the region. In the current environment, we are grateful that contactless payments are available so consumers can follow social distancing recommendations, and that people are embracing these safe and hygienic solutions as their preferred form of payment every day. Today’s announcement reflects the pace of those changing behaviors, offering consumers ease, speed and peace of mind in a rapidly changing world. We will continue to work with our industry partners to guide and support them through this effort,” said Mete Guney, Executive Vice President of Services, Middle East & Africa at Mastercard

Cardholders should look for the contactless symbol on the front or back of their credit or debit cards to determine whether they have a contactless-enabled card or can add their debit or credit card to their mobile wallets on their contactless-enabled devices to tap and pay where contactless payments are accepted.

Mastercard’s effort to raise CVM limits is one of many the company is leading to do its part for its employees, customers and cardholders. Most recently, the company announced a partnership with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Welcome Trust to accelerate the development and access to treatment for COVID-19 with the initial grant of US$20 million funding announced to three institutions to fund clinical trials. 

Please find below all the countries with their old and new limits:

CountryKenyaTanzaniaUgandaMauritius
CurrencyKESTZSUGXMUR
Current Limit2,50055,00090,000500
New Limit3,50080,000135,0002,500

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Press statement by Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President, African Development Bank

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An article in Le Monde has come to my attention. Following its publication, I have been overwhelmed by the tremendous show of support and solidarity I have continued to receive.

The African Development Bank has a very high reputation of good governance. The Bank was rated as the 4th most transparent institution in the world by Publish What You Fund. I have strong confidence in the governance systems of the Bank put in place by the Board of Governors of the Bank.

The Ethics Committee of the Board of Directors is following its internal review systems and should be allowed to complete its review and work without interference from anyone or the media.

I am 100% confident that due process and transparency, based on facts and evidence, will indicate that these are all nothing more than spurious and unfounded allegations.

I would like all our highly dedicated Bank staff, shareholders and partners not to be moved or shaken by any of these blatantly false allegations.

I will stay calm and resolute. I will not be distracted. No amount of lies can ever cover up the truth. Soon the truth will come out.

I will continue to discharge my duties and responsibilities as President, with the highest level of professionalism, dedication and unshaken resolve, to lead and support the Bank’s bold mission for Africa’s accelerated development, and to help protect the continent at this time of the COVID19 pandemic.”

Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina
President, African Development Bank

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UN chief calls for domestic violence ‘ceasefire’ amid ‘horrifying global surge’

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In a reference to his repeated appeals for a ceasefire in conflicts around the world, to focus on the shared struggle to overcome the virus, the Secretary-General pointed out that violence is not confined to the battlefield, and that “for many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes”.

The combination of economic and social stresses brought on by the pandemic, as well as restrictions on movement, have dramatically increased the numbers of women and girls facing abuse, in almost all countries. However, even before the global spread of the new coronavirus, statistics showed that a third of women around the world experienced some form of violence in their lives.

The issue affects both developed and poorer economies: nearly a quarter of female college students reported having experienced sexual assault or misconduct in the USA, whilst in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, partner violence to be a reality for 65 per cent of women.

Research by the World Health Organization (WHO), details disturbing impacts of violence on women’s physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health: women who experience physical or sexual abuse are twice as likely to have an abortion, and the experience nearly doubles their likelihood of falling into depression. In some regions, they are 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV, and evidence exists that sexually assaulted women are 2.3 times more likely to have alcohol disorders.
87,000 women were intentionally killed in 2017, and more than half were killed by intimate partners of family members. 

Shockingly, violence against women is as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of ill health than traffic accidents and malaria combined.

Strain on services hampering response

Since the pandemic, the UN is reporting that Lebanon and Malaysia, for example, have seen the number of calls to helplines double, compared with the same month last year; in China they have tripled; and in Australia, search engines such as Google are seeing the highest magnitude of searches for domestic violence help in the past five years.

Together, we can and must prevent violence everywhere, from war zones to people’s homes, as we work to beat COVID-19 António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

These numbers give some indication of the scale of the problem, but only cover countries where reporting systems are in place: as the virus spreads in countries with already weak institutions, less information and data will be available, but it is expected that the vulnerability of women and girls will be higher.

Responding to the rise in violence is further complicated by the fact the institutions are already under a huge strain from the demands of dealing with the pandemic. “Healthcare providers and police are overwhelmed and understaffed”, said Mr. Guterres, “local support groups are paralyzed or short of funds. Some domestic violence shelters are closed; others are full”.

Reasons for the shortage of shelters include their conversion into health facilities, or new measures barring new victims for fear of further spreading COVID-19. As for police, they and other members of security forces are, in many instances, less willing to arrest perpetrators of violence, limiting direct engagement, or are overwhelmed by policing lockdowns.

The UN chief urged all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19, and outlined several actions that can be taken to improve the situation (see text box).

“Together”, concluded the UN Secretary-General, “we can and must prevent violence everywhere, from war zones to people’s homes, as we work to beat COVID-19”.

Violence spike at home

Meanwhile, in Kosovo, the UN Population Fund, UNFPA cited the Ministry of Justice in reporting a 17 per cent jump in gender-based violence cases, with urban areas witnessing a particular spike.

Last month after dozens of COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the country and the government declared a public health emergency, a 13-hour curfew was imposed by 24 March.

UNFPA’s Besnik Sherifi urged women to “use the window of free-movement time” if they needed to escape the house, but added that the possibility of being locked up with an abuser for 13 hours “is something that should worry us all”.

UNFPA has responded by providing support to shelters for survivors while also working with faith-based organizations and religious leaders to raise awareness of the heightened risks of gender-based violence during the pandemic

“We need to ensure that measures are in place to prevent, protect and mitigate the consequences of all forms of violence, stigma and discrimination, especially those against women and girls during quarantine and self-isolation processes and procedures,” said Visare Mujko-Nimani, UNFPA’s head of office in Kosovo.

UN domestic violence reduction recommendations

  • Increase investment in online services and civil society organizations,
  • Make sure judicial systems continue to prosecute abusers,
  • Set up emergency warning systems in pharmacies and groceries,
  • Declare shelters as essential services,
  • Create safe ways for women to seek support, without alerting their abusers,
  • Avoid releasing prisoners convicted of violence against women in any form,
  • Scale up public awareness campaigns, particularly those targeted at men and boys. 

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Peacekeepers help fragile countries navigate conflict and COVID-19

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 “Peacekeeping operations must be able to continue their critical work and to maintain operational capability, so we can deliver on our life-saving mandates –promoting conflict resolution and helping to protect the populations we serve, as well as our UN personnel”, said the UN chief of peacekeeping operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix.

In line with the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate global ceasefire, peacekeeping operations are encouraging parties to the conflict to ‘silence the guns’, facilitate humanitarian access and to dedicate their efforts towards preventing and mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

UN Peacekeeping has put in place a number of measures to prevent the pandemic from spreading among its personnel and to ensure that peacekeepers are not a contagion vector while minimizing its adverse impact on carrying out mandated tasks. These include working closely with national authorities and setting up World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.

“On the ground, we quickly added additional precautionary measures including quarantine and containment of incoming personnel in cooperation with host country authorities”, said Mr. Lacroix. 

Troop rotation halted

On 27 March, the UN chief informed Member States that the UN is working with troop-contributing countries to manage rotations in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus.

The Secretary-General maintained that because moving troops in and out of countries during a global health pandemic is “extremely challenging”, the UN had postponed rotations. 

“Criteria are being developed to determine when rotations can take place in the current circumstances, and we are in close dialogue with host countries and troop contributing countries and police contributing countries in order to overcome the difficulties that exist today”, explained Mr. Guterres.

Battling COVID-19 Arm-in-arm

In addition to protecting themselves from the coronavirus, peacekeeping missions are doing everything possible to assist national authorities.

“We are providing multi-faceted support”, Mr. Lacroix elaborated, such as providing technological capabilities to facilitate remote communications, helping to maintain critical supply chains and raising awareness through local radio, digital media platforms and during patrols.

He pointed out that in support of local authorities, the Joint African Union-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has delivered equipment and supplies, such as generators to local authorities in north Darfur.

And earlier this week, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) donated surgical masks, gloves and protective suits to the Naqoura Municipality, which hosts the UN Mission’s Headquarters in south Lebanon.

Mandated duties

Peacekeeping operations also continue to implement their mandates to protect and assist the people they serve.

In the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), peacekeepers had provided vital logistical and operational support in the preparations for last Sunday’s legislative vote and secured polling stations on election day.

Blue Helmets in the Democratic Republic of the Congo helped free 38 civilians, including women and children, who had been abducted by an armed group in the country’s east, as it aided the national army to repel an attack.

UN Peacekeeping’s ongoing efforts demonstrate that the fight against the deadly virus requires everyone to be united and to act together.

“All the UN peacekeepers who are currently deployed deserve our gratitude and support”, concluded Mr. Lacroix. “These women and men continue to serve under the blue flag in the cause of peace, in conditions even more difficult due to COVID-19”.

More than 95,000 military, police and civilian personnel are deployed across 13 UN peacekeeping operations around the world.

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