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confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 30th April 2020

A coronavirus rights crisis

Blue Lines

Concerns are deepening that authoritarian regimes in Africa are exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to crack down on oppositionists and bolster surveillance of dissidents.  Activists are under attack in Uganda, where one of opposition leader Bobi Wine's political allies has been blinded by police torturers. There have been reports of coup plots in Sudan and Zimbabwe, where economic conditions are horrendous after decades of corrupt authoritarianism.

President Mutharika of Malawi has used the lockdown to quell mass protests against his government, giving him serious advantages as the country goes to the polls in July. President Magufuli was already clamping down on opposition in Tanzania before special measures against Covid-19 gave him even more opportunities to ensure the ruling party has a landslide in October.

Such assessments come as the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's latest survey of military spending shows that African governments increased arms purchases by 17% to $41.2 billion over the past decade, over half in North Africa, led by Egypt's security state, closely followed by Algeria and Morocco, who are still at odds over the future of the Western Sahara. South Africa was runner-up with an arms budget of $3.5bn although it faces no insurgencies nor any serious national foes in its region. However, its military may face big cuts as President Cyril Ramaphosa tries to boost social spending as growth shrinks.