Nigerian authorities have been in touch with around 100 people who may have been exposed to an Italian man who is the country’s first coronavirus patient, the Lagos state health commissioner said on Sunday. The man arrived in Lagos on 24 February from Milan on a Turkish Airlines flight that had a connection in Istanbul. The following day he travelled to neighbouring Ogun and was in the country for almost two full days before being isolated. The Italian man, who is being treated at the Lagos Biosecurity Centre in Yaba, works as a vendor for cement company Lafarge Africa Plc in the southwestern state of Ogun. The Ogun state government shut down the company’s cement factory in Ewekoro and placed at least 28 persons who came in contact with the Italian under quarantine. The Lagos state government also denied numerous media reports that patient zero attempted to escape over the uncomfortable state of the isolation centre.

South Africa’s rand weakened on Tuesday as data showed the economy entered its second recession in two years in the final quarter of last year, while stocks edged higher. The recession is another setback for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s efforts to revive the economy and stave off a downgrade of the country’s sovereign debt to below investment grade by rating agency Moody’s. South Africa’s economy in the fourth quarter of 2019 contracted 1.4%, Stats SA said, a far worse showing than economists had expected. A Reuters consensus forecast saw a shrinkage of just 0.1%. As a result of the dismal Q4 performance, South Africa’s economy only grew 0.2% in 2019, its worst showing since the throes of the global financial crisis in 2009, when it shrank 1.5%. This followed a 0.8% contraction in Q3 – a downward revision from a previous estimate of -0.6%. Stats SA said seven out of the 10 broad industries that make up the gross domestic product (GDP) figure contracted in the fourth quarter. Construction posted its sixth straight quarter of decline, and the sector has only had growth in one quarter since the start of 2017. Agriculture posted a 7.6% fall in output, while manufacturing declined 1.8%. Drought and load shedding were the two-punch combo here. Mining was one of the few bright spots, with Q4 growth of 1.8%.

Rights groups are accusing Cameroonian security forces of waging an increasingly brutal counter-insurgency campaign against English-speaking separatists after one of the deadliest civilian massacres in recent years sparked international condemnation and fears of an expanding conflict. The attack on 14 February in Ngarbuh village left at least 21 civilians dead, including 13 children and one pregnant woman, according to more than a dozen eyewitness survivors who spoke to The New Humanitarian on the ground shortly after the incident. Government forces and an ethnic Fulani militia were to blame, the survivors said. Analysts said the government’s alleged use of the local Fulani militia – who are fighting for their own identity-based interests – in the Ngarbuh attack, represents a dangerous new phase of the conflict that may increase tensions between the Fulani community and other ethnic groups who are perceived to support the separatists. The massacre comes amid a recent escalation of violence triggered by nationwide parliamentary and local elections in early February. Both government forces and rival anglophone separatists have stepped up arrests, abductions, and raids, according to rights groups, driving thousands from their homes. The government has dismissed reports of the Ngarbuh massacre as “terrorist propaganda”. In its version of events, five people died – one woman and four children – when fuel tanks exploded during a gun battle between the security forces and separatist rebels based in the village.

The new leader of the Islamic State West Africa Province, Lawan Abubakar, otherwise called Ba Lawan, is moving rapidly to consolidate his position, by executing five Shura council members (the supreme leadership council of the terrorist group) including the erstwhile leader of the group Abu Abdullahi Umar Al Barnawi, also called Ba Idrisa, Premium Times quotes “authoritative sources familiar with developments around the group” said Sunday in Diffa and Maiduguri. “It is by far the most bloody and extensive move in the history of the group to behead its leadership crop in one fell swoop” researchers and reporters on the Media and Terrorism collaborative project of Premium Times and HumAngle Media Foundation learnt at the weekend, an indication that the regime of Ba Lawan may be paved with blood and pain. After an early February coup that led to the overthrow of Ba Idrisa, the new leadership detained him together with four members of the Shura who constituted his kitchen cabinet, sources said. The precise date of the execution is still in contention, but multiple sources familiar with the development said the killing of Ba Idrisa, along with Mohammad Bashir, Mustapha Jere, Ali Abdullahi, and the notorious Baba Mayinta, believed to be the power valve and key behind the throne under the Idrisa dispensation, “definitely triggered the mutiny of Wednesday 26th February into Thursday, 27th February by Ba Idrisa loyalists.

Commentary

  • While the human effect of the coronavirus on Africa has been minimal thus far, the real effect has and will be economic. More cases have been recorded in Africa since Nigeria reported its first case. Senegal recorded its second case of COVID-19 the ministry of health confirmed in a statement late Tuesday. Authorities said the patient was a French national who arrived in Dakar on 29 Feb from Paris. This case is similar to the first which was recorded on Monday also of a French national resident in Senegal but having flown in from France. Morocco’s health ministry on Monday evening confirmed that the country had recorded its first coronavirus case. Zimbabwe’s Health Minister says the country will deport foreigners who enter the country without medical clearance from their respective countries. Ivory Coast, Kenya, Ethiopia and Botswana have recorded suspected cases. All except Botswana have reported that the tests were negative. COVID-19 is already exacting a high toll on tourism, services and especially travel; the International Air Transport Association says African airlines risk losing about $400 million from flight cancellations and suspension to and from China. However, as the outbreak grows across the continent, the price countries will pay in spite of increased awareness and preparedness will be high.
  • South Africa is a cautionary tale playing out right before our eyes on how not to defer fundamental issues, and on how not to enthrone politicking while key economic and social indices are collapsing. Nigeria would do well to learn from this. The road ahead for the rand will be filled with many obstacles as investors question whether Moody’s, the last of the top three agencies to rate the country’s debt at investment level, will downgrade South Africa’s credit rating at the end of the month. Bonds were firmer, with the yield on the benchmark 2026 government issue down 21 basis points to 7.945%. In the 2020/21 budget review last week, the Treasury had estimated 2019 growth of 0.3%, so its number crunchers have to go back to the drawing board. Its growth forecast of a sluggish 0.9% for 2020 is already looking optimistic, especially with concerns around the coronavirus already hitting the global economy. This is the legacy of the Zuma years coming home to roost, and it will take leadership that Mr Ramaphosa has failed to show thus far to avert the impending “Sub-Saharan Africanisation” of the South African state.
  • This accusation is only the latest in a series of accusations levelled against the Cameroonian military for human rights abuses in their attempt to quash separatists in its English-speaking region. Despite numerous recorded incidents of killings by government forces, there have only been weak condemnations by Western governments with the only international effort to resolve the crisis coming in May 2019 via an informal meeting of the UN Security Council. Nigeria, nominally the big boy in Cameroon’s neighbourhood is busy with its own internal security challenges, but would ironically support the French-speaking government in Cameroon over the English-speaking rebels with whom it has a shared history, because of its own concerns over separatist groups here. The violence in the Ambazonia region has displaced about 700,000 people and unleashed a flood of refugees into Nigeria, particularly in Cross River State which borders the wantaway region. It appears that the Cameroonian government is tapping into ethnic grievances in the region to attack the separatists. This has the potential of raising tensions and violence in these regions by introducing this dimension of inter-ethnic violence. It is very likely that the government will step up and sustain abductions, raids and arrests in the region as part of measures to suppress the attempt to secede.
  • It seems that there is a lot of instability within ISWAP considering the numerous leadership changes that have taken place within the past couple of years. This is in stark contrast to the JAS faction which is under the iron grip of Abubakar Shekau. This could affect the conflict in two major ways: when taken together with clashes with the JAS faction of Boko Haram, the internal crisis in ISWAP could further weaken the group and make them less effective. This provides a window of opportunity for Nigeria’s military to further close in on it with offensive tactics and air campaigns in order to apply more pressure on them. However, the new leadership might decide to show some bite by abandoning al-Barnwai’s doctrine and attacking travellers and villages, in addition to their known tactics of targeting aid workers and non-Muslims. This could mean more attacks on the vital Maiduguri-Damaturu highway or on roads towards the northern part of Yobe State, or renewed attacks on military bases in the region. The future of ISWAP with depend on how well Lawan handles the internal differences and individuals loyal to the leaders executed. The future of Musab al-Barnawi, another former leader, and his role in the group remains uncertain, as SBM’s own sources, at this time at least, have failed to ascertain if he was among those executed. Furthermore, the crisis could lead to more JAS-like hardline doctrine which could be disastrous for civilians and everyone in the region.