Trends and Challenges in West and Central Africa
The number of recorded Covid-19 cases in countries across the region more than quintupled in the past week, reaching over 1,279 cases in 20 countries in West and Central Africa; Sierra Leone reported its first case on 31/03.
To date, the most affected nations are Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana; only Sao Tome has not yet reported cases. So far, 44 Covid-19- related deaths have been recorded in ten countries.
Local transmission rates are increasing in several countries, suggesting that the rate of infection is likely to increase dramatically in the coming weeks. A 10-minute coronavirus test might be manufactured soon in Senegal, and would be available for $1.
Most of the West and Central African countries do not have the capacity to manufacture respirators, medicines, or medical supplies. With the closure of air and many land borders, reliance on shipments from manufacturing nations whose own economies have also been severely affected and whose priorities are their population’s health.
Regional trends and challenges
The West and Central African region presents specific fragilities related to the weakness of basic social services, economic pressures impacting livelihoods as well as growing security challenges that can in turn aggravate an already fragile situation. The pandemic has/will have a major impact on the below:
Migrants and mobile populations in the region are heavily affected by the consequences of the pandemic (such as border closures) and can find themselves in particular vulnerable situations. So far, over 3,500 migrants are stranded at borders (see map) and over 2,500 are currently waiting in transit centers (mainly in Niger, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso) for their voluntary return. Most of the centers have already reached maximal capacities. In Mali, IOM is limiting admissions only to the most vulnerable migrants. Overpopulation and lengthier stays in transit centres may lead to increased tensions and psychological stress among migrants and may expose them to a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
Over 5 million IDPs live in the region and confinement and social distancing in sites are a luxury that just a few can afford. Although no cases of Covid-19 have yet been reported in IDPs sites by the authorities, prevention and protection remain critical to avoid possible outbreak of the virus in the sites.
Borders and intraregional flows
Despite border closures and travel restrictions in place across the region, a number of land borders are still open to the transport of goods. The closure of border posts has a heavy impact on border communities’ economy and it may lead to the crossings at non-official points of entry, especially small-scale border traders, who have potentially lost their income.
Border officials are “the frontline fighters” against COVID-19 and as such are involved in the response. However, the majority of them do not have neither the equipment to screen for the disease at border crossings, seaports and airports nor the information to raise awareness among border communities and travelers.
Although too early to confirm as a new trend related to COVID-19, migration flows have decreased by 10% in the region since early 2020.
The border closures have a dramatic impact on the price of goods. As an example, there’s been an increase of 40% on the price of milk and eggs in Chad, while in Ghana the price of Gari (cassava) jumped from 7 GHS to 30 GHS per kilo. Additionally, the suspension by governments of non-essential activities across the region also has an impact on the local economy and thus, on returnees’ reintegration activities.
The pandemic sparked an oil price war and led to lower demand: the most oil-producing countries in the region (Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Ghana, and Nigeria) are vulnerable to global price shocks and countries such as Nigeria may decide to devalue its currency dramatically thus pushing up the cost of basic goods and services, and raising unrest risks.
The security threats in the region calls for a continuous action against non-state armed groups. Last week, two deadly attacks by NSAG in Chad and in Nigeria killed more than 140 soldiers. These groups may exploit the current chaos, taking advantage of the overall international attention being distracted by the COVID-19 crisis, reportedly perceived as a “window of opportunity” by jihadist groups.
The sharp increase in armed attacks in the region is disrupting access to basic social services. Health centres are closed or not fully functioning, leaving millions of people without access to adequate services.
Indications of growing animosity among local populations, some of whom perceive foreigners or minorities as responsible for spreading the disease. Xenophobic incidents were reported in the region. The likelihood of such incidents will probably grow as Covid-19 continues to spread.
There is a risk that governments use the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine fundamental rights and free flow of independent information by taking emergency laws, especially amid elections.