Out of Africa

Amid all the gloomy news about the Coronabug coming in from around the world, I was cheered by one report from Darkest Africa.

It seems that the erstwhile president of Tanzania, John Pombe Magafuli has decided that the best protection against the rampaging bug is the power of prayer. He doesn’t believe in the official testing kits, particularly after a goat and a paw paw (papaya to my English readers) tested positive for the bug.

Speaking to a cheerful crowd in Chato in the noth west, he told them that his officials had taken samples from a goat, a sheep and a paw paw, assigned them human names and sent them off for testing.

Lo and behold, the samples from the goat and the paw paw tested positive for the virus.

Well, if this wasn’t more of the political claptrap we are being bombarded with from around the world, perhaps he has a point, although churches in Britain have been closed down under government decree, so prayer can only be on a small scale.

Mind you, Zimbabwean officials obviously do not agree with Mr Magafuli. Deputy Minister for Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Energy Mutodi has mocked the idea that prayer can deal with the coronabug.

In a tweet last Monday, Mutodi said Tanzania now has six hundred and thirty COVID-19 cases while Zimbabwe has thirty one, proof he claimed that Zimbabwe’s strategy is working better than Tanzania’s.

Maybe so, but while Zimbabwe may have fewer COVID-19 cases compared to Tanzania, it had only done just over eleven and a half thousand screening and diagnostic tests as of 3 May. Furthermore, Zim at one point reported forty cases but revised the number to thirty four. Mutodi now says the number is thirty one so God only knows which figure – if any – is correct. Figures emerging from anywhere in Africa are notoriously suspect I’m afraid and can be changed at any official’s personal whim.

Meanwhile in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari has – and not for the first time – appointed a dead man to a senior government post.

The appointee is the late legislator Mr Tobias Chukwuemeka Okwuru whose funeral was in February. Okwuru had been appointed to the Federal Character Commission but was not available to take up the position due to his death at the age of fifty nine.

This is not the first time Buhari has appointed a dead person either. In recent months, he appointed at least five people who were long dead onto several boards of government entities.

Meanwhile, Buhari’s media aide said that when Okwuru died, the information was not communicated to the Federal government.

Surely presidents are supposed to know when their personal favourites turn their toes up?

Back in Zimbabwe, the government has pledged to implement economic, political and governance reforms in its plea to International Financial Institutions to be given a financial bailout package.

In a letter to International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva dated April 2, 2020, Finance and Economic Development Minister, Mthuli Ncube, accepted that Zimbabwe has made ‘missteps’ – a euphemism for ruinous economic policies which have pushed the country to the verge of implosion. However, he did not seem particularly concerned and promised that the government would mend their ways.

‘The Government of Zimbabwe fully recognizes that requesting a process for arrears clearance and debt rescheduling at this point in time, given the policy missteps during late 2019, is rightfully a cause of concern to our Development Partners. However, the Government wants to assure Development Partners of its resolve to implement a comprehensive and credible policy reform agenda.

‘In this regard, we detail below some important areas of reform that can be incorporated as part of the Arrears Clearance and Recovery Plan, including some reforms that can be targeted as prior actions.’

Ncube went on to highlight some of the economic reforms he said Harare will implement in order to unlock funding. They were all pretty extreme but even as he was penning this latest begging letter, President Emmerson Mnangagwa was chartering a private jet from Dubai to perform a thirty-minute flight to Mozambique. Hardly showing financial restraint I’m afraid. He could have driven there in a couple of hours.

Mnangagwa visited Chimoio, which was the headquarters of ZANU’s military wing, ZANLA, during the 1970s war of independence against the Rhodesian security forces. There he met Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi with the two leaders condemning acts of banditry and terrorism being perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists in the provinces of Cabo Delgado, Manila and Sofala.

The two leaders also reviewed bilateral economic relations and compared notes on the world-wide fight against the Coronabug. As I said, I have little faith in figures or statistics emanating from Africa, but to date, Mozambique has recorded seventy six positive cases and no deaths, while Zimbabwe has recorded forty positive cases (later amended!) five recoveries and four deaths.

When compared with deaths elsewhere in the world and the fact that rural Africans in both countries live very much cheek by jowl, if these figures are even close to accurate, what are they doing right which we in the West are not?

In South Africa, President Ramaphosa instituted a public lockdown to the support of most thinking South Africans, but there is a definite sense of disquiet there now and the people are growing restless.

While Ramaphosa himself seems to have faded back into the shadows, the country would appear to be governed by a cabal of ministers, led by Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma (ex wife of that convicted thief Jacob Zuma who during his presidency robbed the country of many trillions of rands) and Police Minister Bheke Cele. Dlamini Zuma is passionately anti tobacco and Cele equally passionately anti alcohol, so those two crutches for the suffering have been banned outright.

Ramaphosa doesn’t say a word.

South Africans are only allowed to exercise outside between six and nine in the mornings with the inevitable result that everywhere is crowded and social distancing is largely ignored. They can buy cold food but not hot food and are banned from purchasing certain items of clothing.

South Africans are tough and resilient people but they are running scared at the moment. The country faces an economic decline the likes of which it has never seen before. To put this in perspective, during the 2008/9 global recession, South Africa lost one million jobs. The National Treasury is now projecting the loss of between three and seven million jobs. 

Without the considerable income that is normally derived from alcohol and tobacco, the economy – once the most profitable in Africa – seems doomed to collapse.

And still President Ramaphosa says nothing!

Here in Britain, last night was the seventh successive Thursday evening where mass clapping for the NHS took place at eight o’clock.

All very commendable I suppose and I have joined in on a couple of occasions but now the residents of Belper in Derbyshire have been taking part in a ‘mass moo’ – making collective cow noises in their gardens. 

When hundreds of people spontaneously start mooing in perfect harmony, it’s probably time to assume that this lockdown has gone on too long. 

Howling at the moon can’t be far behind. 

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