by governments responding to COVID-19
African Government Responses to COVID-19
102 new measures
have taken legislative action to address the coronavirus.
have either fully or partially prohibited gatherings.
We have identified 102 new measures by governments responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in 45 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:
- 18 declarations of states of emergency: Angola, Cape Verde; Cote d’Ivoire; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Equatorial Guinea; Eswatini/Swaziland; Ethiopia (so far, only for the regional state of Tigray); Ethiopia (federal state of emergency); Guinea; Guinea Bissau; Lesotho; Liberia; Mozambique; Namibia; Senegal; Sierra Leone; and Botswana and The Gambia, which also both declared a public health emergency before they declared a state of emergency
- 3 declarations of national states of disaster: Malawi; South Africa; and Zimbabwe
- 10 declarations of (public) health emergencies: Botswana; Burkina Faso; Republic of Congo; The Gambia; Kenya; Liberia; Madagascar; Niger; Sudan; and Togo
- Sierra Leone imposed a 12-month state of emergency before recording its first COVID case.
Four countries have now extended their States of Emergency: Equatorial Guinea (for a further 15 days), The Gambia (for a further 45 days), Madagascar (for a further 15 days), and Senegal (for a further 30 days).
We have also recorded 74 other executive measures not arising to a state of emergency (including prohibition of gatherings, imposing curfews, etc.) 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 Malawi):
- At least 37 of the 45 countries have either fully or partially prohibited gatherings:
- Full prohibition: 22 countries
- Partial prohibition (limiting numbers of people gathering from between 2 to 100): 15 countries
- At least 31 of the 45 countries are currently imposing curfews or full lockdowns.
The most concerning measures are those that have an indefinite duration, as these measures may be carried on after the pandemic has ended and generally grant the executive branch wider discretion. More than 20 countries have one or more measures of indefinite duration in place.
Governments are increasingly cracking down on dissent by using excessive force or by using “fake news” or disinformation charges to suppress public criticism of a particular government’s response to 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?
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.”