by governments responding to COVID-19
African Government Responses to COVID-19
141 new measures
have taken legislative action to address the coronavirus.
have either fully or partially prohibited gatherings.
We have identified 141 new measures by governments responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in 46 African countries south of the Sahara. These include legislative action (passage of laws and regulations, orders/decrees), executive orders/decrees, and other practices that have not been codified. These exclude actions taken by governments using existing legislation – for example, prosecuting journalists and citizen reporters and protesters. We are tracking these separately.
Most of the measures are some form of executive order or proclamation. We have counted 28 declarations of a state of emergency, national health emergency, or national disaster in 37 countries:
- 19 declarations of states of emergency: Angola; Botswana; Cape Verde; Cote d’Ivoire; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Equatorial Guinea; Eswatini/Swaziland; Ethiopia; The Gambia; Gabon; Guinea; Guinea Bissau; Lesotho; Liberia; Mozambique; Namibia; Sao Tome and Principe; Senegal; and Sierra Leone.
- 4 declarations of national states of disaster: Angola (state of calamity); Malawi; South Africa; and Zimbabwe
- 11 declarations of (public) health emergencies: Botswana; Burkina Faso; Republic of Congo; The Gambia; Gabon; Kenya; Liberia; Madagascar; Niger; Togo; and Uganda.
- Sierra Leone imposed a 12-month state of emergency before recording its first COVID case.
Only one of these countries has since lifted its State of Emergency: Gabon (which replaced its State of Emergency with a State of Health Emergency). Senegal has indicated that it will lift its State of Emergency on July 30, 2020. The rest of the countries tracked continue to extend their States of Emergency.
We have also recorded 106 other executive measures not arising to a state of emergency. As could be predicted given how easily COVID-19 spreads in crowds, most of the measures heavily curb the freedom of movement and of peaceful assembly, either outright banning of all gatherings, or limiting gatherings to smaller crowds (we’ve seen bans of groups of more than 2 people in Zimbabwe all the way up to bans of more than 100 people in Togo). As of July 12, 2020:
- At least 37 of the 46 countries have either fully or partially prohibited gatherings:
- Full prohibition: 13 countries
- Partial prohibition (limiting numbers of people gathering from between 2 to 100): 24 countries
- At least 36 of the 46 countries imposed Only 11 of these 36 countries have fully or partially lifted these lockdowns.
- At least 25 of the 46 countries imposed curfews. Of these, only 9 countries have since fully or partially lifted the curfews.
Governments are increasingly cracking down on dissent by using “fake news” or disinformation charges to suppress public criticism of a particular government’s response to the pandemic. At least 8 countries have introduced such new measures, or are relying on existing laws and regulations.
Multilateral Statements & Resources
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Elections in Africa during the COVID-19 Pandemic (July 22, 2020)
Press release on the protection of Human Rights Defenders during the COVID-19 pandemic, ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa (May 1, 2020)
Press Release on Reports of Excessive Use of Force by the Police during the COVID-19 Pandemic, ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa (April 17, 2020)
Press Release on the Importance of Access to the Internet in Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic, ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (April 8, 2020)
Human Rights-based Effective Response to the Novel COVID-19 Virus in Africa, Main Statement (March 24, 2020)
Initial Statement (Feb 28, 2020)
ICNL’s Africa Team is observing some interesting trends as the pandemic progresses, which are likely to have an impact on the work of civil society and other stakeholders. We will update these, and others that may arise, with examples and case studies as the situation unfolds.
Limited oversight on scope and use of emergency measures
- How will legislators and the judiciaries oversee and check executive action in the ongoing context of lockdowns and the continued spread of the pandemic? In many countries on the continent, both institutions have limited connectivity and ability to work remotely to continue providing services. How will this affect their oversight responsibilities?
- How will civil society play an effective monitoring role, in addition to dealing with the humanitarian emergency, particularly in light of constraints to human and financial resources and obligations to deliver on ongoing projects?
Securitization of responses versus treating COVID primarily as a public health issue
- How will governments ensure there is no unjustified use of force, particularly where defense forces are deployed? An example of the authorization of the use of force is Malawi’s declaration of a 30-day state of disaster that allows national security apparatus to enforce the restrictions on gatherings. Similar provisions are included in measures in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
- We are recording multiple cases of police and security force brutality in the name of “enforcing” measures, including in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa and Zimbabwe, against journalists and members of the public (especially those from the informal sector). How do we support communities and CSOs to respond to these challenges?
Use of legislation that regulates freedom of expression and access to information and digital technologies during and post-COVID
- Instead of harnessing the power of technology to strengthen the response to the pandemic, governments are using disinformation laws, “fake news” provisions, etc. to clamp down on dissent. Can this be resisted, or will the pandemic become a catalyst for the use of digital technologies and freedom of expression laws to clamp down on civil society?
- For example, on March 30, Zimbabwe issued regulations that subject those who publish or communicate false statements about public officers that are enforcing the national lockdown to a penalty of up to level 14 (ZWL$ 120,000) or imprisonment of up to 20 years. This is one of the more extreme measures.
- Other disinformation measures include South Africa’s new directions that require internet service providers to remove all fake news on COVID-19 and Niger’s arrest of activists who posted about suspected Covid-19 cases on the grounds that they were disseminating data “likely to disturb public order” in violation of the existing Cybercrimes law.
- In contrast, government of Ethiopia eventually gave in to renewed local and international pressure and lifted a long-term shutdown of the internet in Oromia region in order to allow flow of information on Covid-19.
The impact of socio-economic challenges in the global South on the short- and long-term response to COVID
- High poverty levels, overcrowded living conditions, strained infrastructure (medical, water and sanitation, service delivery) make social distancing, curfews, and lockdowns difficult to enforce, especially over a long period of time. How can governments and civil society be supported to use more innovative methods that take these realities into account?
- This Advisory from Kenyan civil society offers additional information.
The impact of emergency measures on large populations of IDPs, refugees, and asylum seekers in established camps throughout Africa
- For example, South Africa is using this opportunity to build a fence on its border with Zimbabwe to “stem the tide of Coronavirus.”