by governments responding to COVID-19
African Government Responses to COVID-19
149 new measures
have taken legislative action to address the coronavirus.
have either fully or partially prohibited gatherings.
We have identified 149 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.
We have counted 35 declarations of a state of emergency, national health emergency, or a state of national disaster or calamity in 28 countries:
- 17 declarations of states of emergency: Angola; Botswana; Chad; Cote d’Ivoire; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Eswatini/Swaziland; Ethiopia; The Gambia; Gabon; Guinea; Guinea Bissau; Lesotho; Liberia; Mozambique; Namibia; Senegal; and Sierra Leone.
- 8 declarations of national states of disaster or calamity: Angola; Cape Verde; Guinea Bissau; Sao Tome and Principe; (statess of calamity); Malawi; Mozambique; South Africa; and Zimbabwe (states of disaster).
- 10 declarations of (public) health emergencies: Botswana; Burkina Faso; Republic of Congo; Equatorial Guinea; Liberia; Madagascar; Niger; Sao Tome and Principe; Sudan; Togo.
- Sierra Leone imposed a 12-month state of emergency before recording its first COVID case.
As at November 5, 2020 ten of the 16 countries with states of emergencies have either lifted or allowed the state of emergency to lapse (Angola; Botswana; Democratic Republic of Congo; Ethiopia; The Gambia; Gabon; Liberia; Mozambique; Namibia; Senegal). Some of these countries replaced the State of Emergency with a State of Health Emergency or State of Calamity). Only two countries have lifted their states of health emergency. The rest of the countries tracked continue to extend their various emergencies.
We have also recorded more than 100 other executive measures not arising to a state of emergency. 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 of between 2 people (as seen in Zimbabwe) all the way up to bans of more than 100 people (for example in Togo). As of October 26, 2020:
- At least 41 of the 46 countries have either fully or partially prohibited gatherings:
- Full prohibition: 15 countries
- Partial prohibition (limiting numbers of people gathering from between 2 to 100): 26 countries
- At least 32 of the 46 countries imposed lockdowns. Only 16 of these 32 countries have fully or partially lifted these lockdowns.
- At least 28 of the 46 countries imposed curfews. Of these, only 11 countries have since fully or partially lifted the curfews.
Governments are also 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 12 countries have either introduced such new measures, or are relying on existing laws and regulations.
Multilateral Statements & Resources
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Resolution on Human and Peoples’ Rights as central pillar of successful response to COVID-19 and recovery from its socio-political impacts – ACHPR/Res. 449 (LXVI) (2020)
Resolution on upholding human rights during situations of emergency and in other exceptional circumstances – ACHPR/Res. 447 (LXVI) (2020)
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)
Africa’s Governance Response to COVID-19, Preliminary Report, African Peer Review Mechanism (July 2020)
A Checklist to assess whether COVID-19 legal measures comply with international legal guidance to protect association and assembly rights issued by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Human Rights Based Effective Response to Covid-19 in Africa) and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association (Ten Key Principles to ensure measures respect human rights to association and peaceful assembly).
A Briefer on the international legal framework governing public health emergencies. It covers existing international human rights treaties that set out the parameters for protecting fundamental rights in times of emergency to assist states in ensuring a rights-respecting response.
A Briefer outlining the Open Government Partnership system and how this approach can help protect civic space during the pandemic. It provides examples that enable individuals and organizations to review new measures, share concerns directly with law and policymakers, and continue to protect fundamental human rights while controlling the pandemic.
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?
- This ICNL briefer outlines country examples in which civil society groups in Sub-Saharan Africa have played a watchdog role in monitoring decisions and policies adopted by governments since the onset of the pandemic in 2020. In concludes with regional norms outlined in the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights 449 Resolution.
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.
- This ICNL briefer outlines how countries across Sub-Saharan Africa have used new technologies to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides guidance on data protection and countering online misinformation. It concludes with regional norms related to technology and personal data outlined in the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights 449 Resolution.
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.”
The impact of the measures on elections, considering that many are scheduled for this year
- This ICNL briefer analyzes government COVID-19 restrictions and measures that have undermined civic freedoms, which are an essential prerequisite to free and fair elections. It provides country examples from across Sub-Saharan Africa of measures put in place to protect elections as well as those that have negatively affected participation and the fairness of electoral processes. It concludes with regional norms and recommendations.
- Mali has already gone ahead with its election.
- Ethiopia has postponed its election – might this offer opportunities for new ways of voting? How does this impact participation rights?
Strategic Efforts to Push Back against Restrictive Measures through Litigation
- This ICNL briefer outlines how civil society groups and other actors have responded through litigation challenging illegal and disproportionate government COVID-19 measures that violate fundamental human rights. It provides country examples and regional norms outlined by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights 449 Resolution.
Restrictions that interfere with the freedom of assembly, expression, and the media
- This ICNL briefer provides country examples of government COVID-19 restrictions that have interfered with civic freedoms, including freedom of assembly, expression, and the media. It provides regional norms for adopting and enforcing COVID-19 measures outlined by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights 449 Resolution.