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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 2nd April 2020

Politics of the pandemic

Blue Lines

In Europe, the coronavirus has brought the command economy back into fashion. Without similar financial resources, African governments will struggle to follow suit in subsidising businesses and wages and converting factories to make ventilators and protective equipment. But they have been quick to impose curfews and lockdowns – the other side of the response.

That means closing down political rallies and campaigning, which suits authoritarians. Some governments, like Ethiopia, have cited the pandemic as reason to postpone elections. Others, such as Guinea and Mali, have gone ahead with elections because low turnouts suit their political ends.
The economic damage and accompanying stimulus measures will drag on, as may measures to enforce social distancing. That could pose a new threat to political freedoms and the media.

At this stage, decisive action and transparency are being rewarded. South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa and Ghana's Nana Addo Akufo-Addo have strengthened their positions. Meanwhile, Egypt's autocratic Abdel Fattah el Sisi, whose government has been widely accused of concealing the number of coronavirus cases, could become still more unpopular, as could Zambia's Edgar Lungu. He was derided for waiting until this week to give a national address on the pandemic. For some weeks, Tanzania's John Magufuli played down the crisis, suggesting that religious observance rather than medical science would be able to defeat the virus.