Activists and researchers from across Africa speak about the impact of Covid-19 on their countries. Writing from Kenya, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Nigeria and Zimbabwe, Femi Aborisade, Heike Becker, Didier Kiendrebeogo, Gacheke Gachihi, Lena Anyuolo and Tafadzwa Choto look at how the crisis is taking shape – how governments are using the virus as a cover for wider repression, and the broader context of capitalism, climate change and popular struggles for radical change.
Nigeria: a perfect excuse for the business class
By Femi Aborisade
I live in Nigeria. My wife works in a government-owned hospital. I have children in tertiary institutions. I recently attended a conference in a major hotel in Lagos, the largest commercial centre in Nigeria. From yesterday (22 March), reports have it that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases is still relatively low, nine in Lagos and the remaining cases in some other states. Yet, the figure is likely to be more in reality.
Very few people have the opportunity to access medical care in hospitals. Many feel compelled to seek spiritual healing for their health conditions by approaching their pastors and imams for prayers because they lack the means to access health care even in public hospitals.
From what I experience directly and discussions with my children, personal protective equipment is not distributed to health workers, students and workers. There is no facility in public places, buildings, markets, bus stops and offices for water, public toilets, hand washing, etc. I have not witnessed any practical measure put in place to curtail the spread on the coronavirus epidemic in Nigeria. Unless measures are taken urgently, the outcome could be catastrophic.
The Central Bank of Nigeria has announced the setting aside of a huge fund, a N1.1tn [about £2.5bn] intervention fund to support local manufacturers, import substitution by the business class and to support health authorities to ensure laboratories, researchers and innovators work with global scientists to patent and produce vaccines and test kits in Nigeria.
This fund is a perfect guise to pass public resources to the business class. What is required is that the state should assume primary responsibility for health care and provision of free health services. In Nigeria, very few sick people go to the hospitals because of inability to afford the costs. Public hospitals are few. Where they are available, only consultation is largely free. Treatment has been commercialised. There is no information as to where coronavirus tests can take place. Many of the hospitals, public or private lack facilities to test, not to talk of having facilities to treat coronavirus. Indeed, Nigeria has been unable to eradicate mosquitoes and malaria. A government that is unable to control or eradicate malaria would be helpless in the event of coronavirus epidemic.
Many ordinary people live in crowded environments. Many are homeless. The outbreak of coronavirus epidemic calls for attention to be paid to ensure basic needs, including social housing and health care are provided for ordinary people. Rather the government is in a hurry to use the crisis to pass public wealth to their business partners. Governments are not concerned about regular payment of salaries and non-payment of the recently announced increase in national minimum wage but are concerned with looting in the name of the fight against the coronavirus.
Announcements are being made for temporary closure of schools and places having more than 50 persons. However, the central labour organisation, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), is worried that employers may use such closures and other measures dictated by the current period to attack the rights of the working class. The NLC has warned it would resist any attacks on the rights of the working class, under the guise of fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
Femi Aborisade is a socialist, writer and lawyer based in Lagos. He was recently interviewed on roape.net; the interview can be accessed here.
South Africa: Covid-19 in the most unequal society on earth
By Heike Becker (please also read Heike’s update of the situation in South Africa in the comments section at the bottom of this blog)
The coronavirus crisis has truly arrived in South Africa over the past week. This morning (Saturday, 21 March), the statistics recorded just over 200 confirmed infections. Last Sunday, when the numbers stood at 68, then 85 confirmed cases, the cabinet went into a special meeting. The consultations took their time. President Cyril Ramaphosa was said to address the nation at 5pm, then at 6pm; eventually he came on screen about 7.30pm. The wait was worth it, everyone agrees. The presidential directive, supplemented and detailed the next morning by ministries, put firm restrictions into place. No gatherings of more than 100 people allowed. From Wednesday this week no visitors have been allowed into the country from ‘high-risk countries’ (defined as China, Iran, Italy, South Korea, UK, Germany, Spain and United States). Currently 14 airplanes from these countries are grounded at OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg. Non-South African citizens and residents on board will be sent back. Returning citizens and residents will have to go into 14 days’ quarantine. Schools are closed. Universities have suspended their academic programmes and entered into early, and in most places extended, academic recess. While not entirely deserted, the streets of suburban South Africa are eerily empty.
These are difficult times, mentally and emotionally deeply destabilising. Since the past weekend I have been constantly checking in with my students who are worried and feeling confused, struggling psychologically. They are also worried about the financial implications since lecturers at South African universities have been told to move teaching onto online platforms. Students, certainly at the predominantly black, working-class university where I teach, lack access to the internet now that most are off-campus in the townships and locations because they cannot afford the excessive prices for data packages charged by South African mobile network companies.
The university’s academic and administrative staff and students have been prohibited from coming to campus since yesterday, except for those students who have opted to stay on in the residence halls. Thankfully, the University of the Western Cape (UWC) unlike some other universities has not given 72-hour eviction notes to students in residence halls; Wits University in Johannesburg was taken to court by law students about this measure but the judge threw out the application this morning.
Two days ago, an academic from my faculty tested positive for Covid-19. There has been much direct and indirect exposure. Before developing suspected symptoms, the colleague, who had returned from an overseas trip, had interacted with staff and students, who again had interacted with others, all before the test results came back. I have been self-isolating since Wednesday, only leaving the house for solitary walks and exercise.
Like myself, many middle-class people have been given the option of working from home. This makes sense, especially since the first cases of Covid-19 were brought into the country by members of the globally mobile middle and upper classes. But now internal transmissions have started, and those most at risk are not the toilet-paper hoarding shoppers at Woolies, the beloved Woolworths outlets of affluent South Africa (think Marks & Spencer in the UK).
One big issue is paid leave for workers who have to use crowded public transport – imagine there is just one infected person in a crowded train carriage or minibus taxi, no space for physical distancing, no sanitisers, gloves or face masks. As I have been writing, I had to interrupt and attend to a conversation with UWC colleagues on WhatsApp: we were shocked to learn that the cleaners – outsourced vulnerable workers – are still working on campus and thus still travelling to and from work in the unsafe conditions of South African public transport. Some of us in the faculty have been approaching the Dean to take this up with the institution’s executive, who will in turn have to raise the issue with the private companies that employ the most vulnerable workers at our institution where workers were not put back on the university’s payroll (see my blogpost From Johannesburg to London: student-worker struggles).
There is so little one can do while in self-isolation. I have been part of social media campaigns to urge South African mobile network companies with their excessively expensive data packages to make academic and other educational sites zero-rated for students. If our students don’t get proper internet access for online teaching, they will lose the semester (to be concluded in mid-May).
I understand from social media posts that there has been a meeting this morning to try and coordinate community-based responses in Cape Town. I don’t know much about it though and I can’t attend.
It’s bleak. Like the multiple environmental crises we have been facing (see my blogpost Cape Town Water Musings: the Politics of Environmental Crisis and Social Inequality), the pandemic once again reveals and deepens the divide between the few haves and the many have-nots in South Africa. My soul weeps when I think about the threats for sheer survival the many face in the most unequal society on earth.
Heike Becker teaches social and cultural anthropology at UWC in South Africa. Her work explores themes at the interface between culture and politics and focuses particularly on popular culture, digital media and social movements in southern Africa. Heike is a regular contributor to roape.net.
Burkina Faso: terrorism, pollution and the Covid-19 pandemic
By Didier Kiendrebeogo
The coronavirus was declared in Burkina Faso on 9 March. Quickly, government measures first targeted union demonstrations that were already under way. However, contaminated ministers and high officials continued to hold large rallies as part of their electoral campaigns (national elections are due to be held in November this year).
From 24 March we have 114 people who have tested positive, including at least five members of the government and four deaths all linked to Covid-19. These, of course, are only the official statistics. A free number has been set up for the population, but it is extremely difficult to get a response, or any assistance. The country does not have substantial equipment needed for testing. Only the wealthy have access.
The country already faces a climate emergency, foreign mining companies (around 15) pollute the environment and diseases are multiplying in the areas where they are active. Needless to say, this happens without people benefiting from the ‘dividends’ of mining and the state does nothing.
We must not forget that Burkina Faso has recently surprised the world. First by carrying out a popular insurrection in October 2014 to oust the dictator, Captain Blaise Compaoré, after 30 years in power. Then with a week of resistance in which the population forced the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP), a militia better equipped than the national army, during the coup d’état in September 2015, to hand back power to the government.
Today, the Burkinabè people must face a totally incompetent regime, which is content to plunder national wealth with multinationals and foreign government while repressing those who dare to resist and defend the dignity and aspirations of the people.
Almost a third of the country is under the control of armed groups (jihadist terrorists, drug traffickers and other armed bandits). A situation that has officially caused 700,000 internally displaced people, around 1,000 schools and health centres closed and more than 1,000 killed (civilians and soldiers), as well as incalculable material damage. The defence and security forces regularly complain about the lack of adequate equipment (armaments, rolling stock, fuel, protective equipment, etc.)
Meanwhile the rulers plunder and divert the wealth of the country. Every day the press reveal fresh cases: embezzlement of minerals in collusion with foreign mining companies, huge sums of taxpayers’ money spent on the purchase of vehicles, the construction of bunkers in cities and in the countryside by ministers, salaries of ministers twice as high as the law officially permits, the award of public contracts to friends and members of the ruling party and its allies. The list goes on and on.
Faced with the accelerated collapse of the state, activists are trying to sound the alarm. What is the government’s reaction? Systematic bans on demonstrations, repression of protest marches, death threats, call for the murder of organisers, targeted assassinations of several heads of organisations, mass executions under the pretext of fighting terrorism, illegal and cuts in the salaries of civil servants, the suspension of wages of union officials, and mass dismissals…
Covid-19 has contributed an ‘additional’ virus to a country already on its knees.
Didier Kiendrebeogo in a leading activist in the Organisation Démocratique de la Jeunesse (ODJ) in Burkina Faso
Kenya: Epidemic of poverty and violence in the informal settlements in Nairobi
By Gacheke Gachihi and Lena Anyuolo
In Kenya, the Ministry of Health update on 24 March put the number of cases at 25. On 23 March, the number of cases was 16, with tracing of 646 people who had been in contact with the 16 under way. All of them had come through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport between 4 and 17 March. The measures to stop the spread such as self-isolation and washing hands with soap and water are critical but will unfortunately be out of reach for the majority.
The majority of Kenya’s labour force due to the Structural Adjustment Programmes of the late 1980s is casual. Which means they live from hand to mouth and depend on a daily wage. Those in salaried employment do not have full benefits as they operate on contracts. Almost all of them are not in unions and in any case often these unions are weak. All are subject to the whims of the employer. The directive to work from home and self-isolate is impractical because it forces workers to choose between earning their daily bread or staying at home and starving. The situation is even more dire for those in rural areas who rely on selling their produce to towns and cities. But the closure of markets means potentially millions will not have the bus fare to go to health care facilities for treatment or the money to buy hand sanitiser and soap.
Kenya’s health care system is in shambles. Intentionally so. Our tax contributions to the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) go towards funding private hospitals at the expense of public health facilities. On Mbagathi Way, in the capital Nairobi, the stark difference between Kenyatta National Hospital and the lavish private Nairobi Hospital shows who Kenya really belongs to. Should Kenya reach the patient levels of South Africa, where will the poor be treated? Is it in the dilapidated and understaffed public hospitals or the lavish private ones? The current directive of the health ministry to quarantine people in hotels at your own ‘subsidised cost’ of US$90 a night gives an idea of who will live and die.
Public housing in Kenya is a joke. In Mathare, a high-density area in Nairobi, 68,941 people live on in just a single square kilometre. In Kamkunji, another low-income area, 24,455 people live in a square kilometre. In Makadara, 16,150 people live in a square kilometre. In many cases people share a room that is also the kitchen, bedroom and living room. How will the workers quarantine or self-isolate? Meanwhile, the Kenyatta family is constructing luxury estate, the Northlands City, on a 11,000-acre plot along Thika Road, and will set aside 33 acres for a mall and hotel.
The state has behaved in a reckless way. The government has been condemned for allowing a China Southern Airlines flight to land in Kenya with 239 passengers on 26 February, when China was at the peak of its Covid-19 crisis. Some social justice activist argued this happened because of Kenya’s debt to China for funding infrastructure, they argued that the Chinese government was now in control of government decisions in Kenya.
After the government announced its first case of Covid-19 last week, the Social Justice Centres Working Group, a collective of social justice centres, issued a statement about the challenges of informal settlements that are densely populated. The guidelines are impossible for the poor in these settlements to follow even if their lives depended on it. The president, for example, advised citizens to work from home except those offering essential services. Yet ‘essential services’ might mean very different things depending where you sit in the Kenyan class system. For example, in the informal settlements collective public toilets are essential services, water vending is part of essential services, hawking is an essential service because this how people stay alive and feed themselves and their families. Working from home is a meaningless notion for the poor and marginalised.
A day in the house for most people living in the informal settlements means a day without a meal on the table. Such blatant disconnect from the common mwananchi [Swahili for ordinary citizen] and their lived reality shows a failed government.
As social justice activists, we demand that the government offer alternatives to the millions of Kenyans who are casual labourers and depend on daily earnings for survival.
The Ministry of Health has been in the front line, championing the use of sanitisers and hand washing, yet it has not provided a sustainable solution to the poor living in the informal settlements with no access to water. The assumption that all Kenyans can access water and soap was astonishing for a government that has privatised water and commodified basic services for the urban poor.
We demanded the government:
- Restore water supply to all the estates and slums and crack down on all water cartels extorting citizens.
- Speedily dispatch water tankers to areas that have no running water and depend on water points that are congested and expensive.
- Provide free or subsidised hand sanitisers clearly marked by the Ministry of Health.
- Equip government health centres with testing kits, trained personnel and ambulances so they can handle emergency cases.
- Control the prices of basic commodities to ensure most Kenyans can afford them, and give relief food to those who cannot.
- Stop police brutality and extortion in the informal settlements.
- Support frontline community health workers who are responding to the crisis in the urban poor.
- Provide cash grants for informal workers and homeless people.
Covid-19 is a manifestation of what Naomi Klein has described as the rise of disaster capitalism.
As a social justice movement our struggle is to fight an economic model of neoliberal capitalism that is inherently violent with torture, dehumanisation and cascading viruses, caused by an economic system that is out of control.
Gacheke Gachihi is Coordinator of Mathare Social Justice Centre and Member of Social Justice Centres Working Group Steering Committee.
Lena Anyuolo is a member of Ukombozi Library and Mathare Social Justice Centre. She is a social justice activist.
Zimbabwe: the right to life for everyone
By Tafadzwa Choto
Zimbabwe has so far recorded three official cases of Covid-19 and there are a lot of speculations that there are more cases with the government hiding them. It can also not be denied that there are some with the virus, but because there is no mass testing they are just going about and spreading it. We can only expect these numbers to keep on rising as in most cases the infected don’t display any symptoms for days and will continue to spread the infection.
The country is ill-prepared, there is no oxygen which is critical to save Covid-19 patients at the designated hospitals and clinics. The medical staff, both doctors and nurses, are also ill-equipped to handle admitted patients.
The political and business elites go outside the country for treatment together with their families leaving poor families to die due to lack of adequate health equipment, medication and lack of human resources caused by the mass exodus outside the country for greener pastures.
Visits to Parirenyatwa, Harare, Mpilo, Chitungwiza, Gweru, Mutare hospitals, among other government hospitals, are a sorry tale. The government want the health system that they destroyed to work for their benefit. The government has not prioritised procurement of ventilators for respiratory illnesses such as TB, asthma and now the coronavirus. The poor in Zimbabwe have been experiencing for two decades a rampage that has destroyed most public services, hospitals, schools and infrastructure. Ordinary people have seen their lives crushed by austerity measures, frequently dying of treatable illnesses. With this crisis caused by their corruption and their thirst for economic accumulation, the government now seeks our sympathy.
President Mnangagwa has announced measures to avoid the spread of the virus and save lives but these are not enough as they only apply to those who have money and do not address the needs of the majority. Workers both in the formal and informal sector use public transport, and the virus can easily spread in these public taxis and vans. No measures have been put in place. The informal sector including small business and vendors cannot afford to stay at home as they live from hand to mouth and are forced to go out in order to make an income.
There are funds that have been made available by the international community to restrain the spread of the virus, yet these funds could easily be abused by the government, as we have seen on countless occasions in the past. The government must also urgently come up with funds to curb the spread of Covid-19 before it becomes catastrophic.
Popular movements in the country demand:
- Government must take all necessary measures to stop the spread of coronavirus.
- Taxing of the rich to fund the controlling of Covid-19.
- The spread of coronavirus can only be combated by making testing available for everyone who has got symptoms to stop the spread of the virus.
- There is need for urgent installation of equipment such as oxygen machines that are critical at all hospitals and clinics that have been designated for the treatment of the virus.
- Nationalisation of all private hospitals as has been done in other countries to curb a disaster. No to equipping of any hospital designed for the ruling elite.
- Adequate training to our health workers on how to handle the virus victims, and they must also be given enough protective clothing. Risk allowance for all health workers.
- There is need for mass production and distribution by the government of facemasks, gloves, soap and sanitisers, and these must be freely distributed. No to profiteering through this crisis: any company that seeks to make profit must be heavily fined.
- Water deliveries to areas that don’t have water – and no water cuts during this period to ensure proper and safe sanitation.
- Workers must stop going to work but be paid their full salaries at the end of every month until the situation normalises. Those workers providing essential services must be given transport to and from work with adequate protective clothing.
- There is need for the involvement and training of community structures and churches in educating people against the spread of the virus. These people will disseminate reliable information and stop the spread of speculation that can do more harm to people, including heart attacks from falsehoods.
- Open churches, lodges and hotels to provide shelter to the homeless and those living in crowded conditions.
The only option that we have is to put pressure on our incompetent and corrupt neoliberal government to enforce measures to protect us. Already there is speculation that they are equipping themselves with the necessary equipment to cater for the elite at the expenses of the majority. We must say NO to this and disrupt any activities taking place demanding right to life for everyone. Let us practise social distance and where possible give each other solidarity. This is only possible if we come up with committees in our areas that will help educating people against the spread of the virus. We did this in the fight against cholera and we can do it again.
Antonater Tafadzwa Choto is a well-known labour activist, researcher and currently a PhD candidate based in Harare. She was interviewed on roape.net; the interview can be accessed here.
Featured Photograph: Kibera informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya (7 May 2015).
These reports show clearly the incompetence of the regimes in Africa. The ruling classes are so bereft of ideas that they take lessons from their masters in Europe and America empowering their friends and cronies at both the national and international levels. To liberate Africa from the shackles of underdevelopment and misery,the social forces need to do a lot with a view to changing the deplorable conditions of the ordinary people.
Many years after independence Africa is still behaving like an irresponsible toddler. A change is necessary if the people are to enjoy a new lease of life.The story is the same in most African countries.
But what is trending, however dreadful, holds some auspicious import: a new world order is evolving! And for it, globalization is contradicting, capitalism is falling, and regimes are failing! The Fate of History beckons!
SOUTH AFRICA: UPDATE ON DAY 1 of 21 DAY LOCKDOWN (27 March):
This morning South Africa woke to the sad news of the country’s first two deaths due to Covid-19 as we entered the first day of a 21 day lockdown. Some called last night “apocalypse eve”; others thought that today was going to be “a brave new world”. Whichever perspective you had taken, looking out from our windows and front gardens, and, mostly, onto the screens of our devices this morning, this was a strange and challenging world.
We saw, amplified, the divisions of the world’s most unequal nation. For those with money and jobs, well-stocked pantries and freezers, the day may have been an occasion for gratefulness for the South African government’s decisive action. They could slow down or even enjoy a day off with their family. People from the wealthy suburbs posted beautiful pictures of a deserted promenade along the Atlantic Seaboard. At the same time videos circulated from the streets of some of South Africa’s large townships that showed crowds out and about, shopping, queuing, socialising. A few facemasks were in sight but hardly any apparent efforts of distancing. Angry voices fumed, “What the fuck is happening in some of the ghettoes?” and “the community clearly has no sense of urgency or seriousness”. Mind you, those were the frustrations of seasoned activists and community organisers! Some were calling for the police and the army to go into non-compliant neighbourhoods and enforce the lockdown. Others cautioned though that people in the townships may not have had much of a choice and that, “you can’t really blame them because yesterday they had to make some money while their bosses were doing shopping at Makro”. If you survive hand to mouth and with inadequate access to water the protocols of social distancing and hygiene are hard to follow.
Politically, the past fortnight has been a challenging roller-coaster ride. Following President Ramaphosa’s well-considered speeches, there was a growing sense of “we’re in this together”, and even hardcore critics of the government’s neoliberal policies were calling for a truce, offering co-operation and support. But on Wednesday night the Minister of Police shocked us with a bone-chilling address that suggested an authoritarian and militaristic lockdown. Tanks rolling into the townships? The army touting big guns at the poor? Thankfully, thus far there has been little evidence of this, although some videos from last night seemed to suggest otherwise.
On the other hand, civic South Africa has risen marvellously to the challenges over the past week. Activists and communities have been mobilising and organising for support of the most vulnerable in this crisis. In Cape Town, a city notorious for its racial and class divides, dozens of community action networks have been organised in local neighbourhoods and have connected poor and middle-class areas across the city. In a few cases political demands were put forward, for instance, by the shack dwellers association Abahlali baseMjondolo, and by a broad coalition of civic organisations, workers and faith-based associations and community structures. Most of the mobilising and organising of social solidarity has been thoroughly practical though. Tons of soap and hand sanitiser have been distributed, inexpensive kits for following hygiene protocols with limited water access been developed. Soup kitchens were organised for vulnerable children when the schools, and with them their free-lunch programmes, closed last week. Even today the WhatsApp group of my neighbourhood’s CAN has been buzzing with a hands-on discussion of how best to support street people in the area.
These are strange and challenging times. Hugely unsettling. And yet, as we are moving into the unknown, HOPE has also been raising its head, very cautiously but here and there. Hope that this global crisis may become a clarion call to end the twin crises of ecological suicide and social injustice. That we may come out of this, and imagine new futures.
A view from an Indian doctor who mirrors the position for most Africans:
“Social distancing is a privilege. It means you live in a house large enough to practice it. Hand washing is a privileged to. It means you have access to running water. Hand sanitisers are a privilege. It means you have money to buy them. Lockdowns are a privilege. It means you can afford to be at home. Most of the ways to ward the Corona off are accessible only to the affluent. In essence a disease that was spread by the rich, as they flew around the globe, will now kill millions of the poor. All of us who are practising social distancing and have imposed a lockdown on ourselves must appreciate how privileged we are. Many Indians won’t be able to do any of this.”
South African socialists, trade unions and NGOs have developed an Action Programme for Covid-19, this is available from: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2020-03-24-a-programme-of-action-in-the-time-of-covid-19-a-call-for-social-solidarity/Click
The reports are very apt in each assessment of country. However what is much troubling is the destruction of the livelihood and already disadvantage health facilities access for the poor and working class. It unfortunate that Africans will be at the receiving end of Covid-19 after it sun set
Indeed also, it is clear that capitalism is never giving up, it fattening and devouring the working class.
Building on the South African Action Program (see my comment above), socialists and trade unionists in Nigeria have now gained the support of over 40 organisations in Nigeria. We issued a press statement with the Program and the then list of supporters last night. I have copied the Press Statement below:
Trade Union and Civil Society Pressure Needed to Protect the Poor Majority
The Corona virus is turning the world upside down. The response from the corrupt elite is for a lockdown until the virus goes away, but it could be 12-18 months before a vaccine is developed and distributed. Who can survive at home for that long? The priorities for the poor majority remain the same – how to obtain food, water and housing for their families and friends. We also need electricity and data to stay in touch with our friends, families and colleagues. We need mass testing and tracing of contacts to contain the virus and free healthcare for all with protective equipment for all health workers.
We are concerned about the many people who live from day to day, they cannot stay at home for weeks – what is the government doing to protect their livelihoods? The trade unions need to be active at this time to protect their members and the wider public.
We have had massive support and 30 organisations have added their names to this statement in only two days. We are still seeking more support especially from the trade unions and civil society organisations.
The full statement is included below.
More details about the campaign are available from the following:
Femi Aborisade – 0802 302 6222 (Ibadan)
Atambi Ade – 0703 102 8125 (Abuja)
Action Program – How the Poor Will Survive Covid-19
Covid-19 or the Corona virus is turning the world upside down. The response from the corrupt elite is for a lockdown until the virus goes away, but it could be 12-18 months before a vaccine is developed and distributed. Who can survive at home for that long? The priorities for the poor majority remain the same – how to obtain food, water and housing for their families and friends. We also need electricity and data to stay in touch with our friends, families and colleagues. We need mass testing and tracing of contacts to contain the virus and free healthcare for all with protective equipment for all health workers. We are however amazed that the World Health Organisation has not recommended the Cuban drug, Interferon 2B, for the treatment of COVID-19 pandemic. It has so far proved to be the most effective drug in combating the virus. It is one of the drugs approved by the Chinese Government in containing COVID-19 pandemic.
We need the power of the NLC/TUC to push for this Action Program. That will ensure that the poor majority of Nigerians do not suffer so much from a disease that was brought here by the corrupt elite flying in from London, Paris, New York and other places.
We have a particular duty to safeguard those who are most vulnerable, those who are already living with hunger, weakened immune systems and poor access to healthcare. Greater restrictions and shutdowns may be necessary, but they will only work if full support is provided to working-class and poor communities. Comprehensive measures are needed if we are to avoid disaster. Each of us must act now with our workmates and in our communities. In a society as unequal as ours, we must work together to ensure that all safety measures are shared equitably.
Income security for all
In order for people to remain at home, there must be income security for all. Government and private sector employers must continue to pay salaries or grant sick leave. All retrenchments should be stopped during this time. Self-employed, informal workers and those whose income is suspended at this time must be supported by the government with cash grants. This is to prevent movement by job-seekers and to stop people having to take the virus back to their villages.
Social protection must be extended to ensure the direct transfer of cash to households during this precarious time (with clear safeguards to minimise corruption). All defaults on rent, electricity and debt repayments should not result in penalties or sanctions. All evictions and electricity or water cut offs must be banned. A bold economic stimulus package will be required in the coming period. These measures must be developed in consultation with the NLC/TUC and other trade unions.
All households, residential institutions, the homeless and the informally housed must have easy access to water, safe washing facilities and sanitation
There must be an immediate mass-provision of safe water access points with unconstrained flow in areas where there is limited household access to water. We also need mass-distribution of safe washing facilities in community housing areas. All of these sanitation points must have access to free soap and information on the prevention of the virus. Where necessary governments should provide tankers with safe drinking water and to remove sewage.
All households, residential institutions, the homeless and the informally housed must have access to food
If we are to stay at home during this time, access to nutritious food is fundamental. The absence of the School Feeding Programme due to the closure of schools will hit many children and their families hard. A coordinated and safe roll-out of free food packages directly to distribution points in food-stressed neighbourhoods must be implemented – as has been suggested by the Federal Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and for Lagos State. Schools could distribute food parcels to their registered pupils. The poor and vulnerable, elderly, refugees, IDPs, persons living with disabilities, trafficked persons and petty traders should all be included.
Essential private facilities must be appropriated for public use to provide a unified and fair distribution of essential goods and services to all
Federal and state resources need to be focused and deployed in order to combat the epidemic. Essential services – health centres, food services, water and sanitation etc – should be identified for urgent support and extension. This may require the conversion of factories and other places of production to produce protective clothing, water tanks, soap, food parcels, ventilators and other essential medical equipment. The public and private health systems need to be regarded as one health system and coordinated in the national and public interest. This may require private facilities being taken over by the state, as happened in Spain. Finances may have to be mobilised through unconventional means. The rich may have to pay higher taxes and empty homes may have to be used to home the homeless or over-crowded. Regulations to stop price hikes should be implemented.
There are hundreds of thousands of unoccupied houses and other buildings. Internally displaced people (IDP) and homeless people should be resettled in these buildings. They should also be made available for people living in over-crowded accommodation.
Most prisoners should be released. All the cases that have been delayed must be hurriedly addressed. All prisoners on remand before their trial to be released – they are innocent until proved guilty.
Community self-organisation and local action is critical, as it our representation in national coordination
Civic organisations, community structures, trade unions and faith-based organisations will be extremely important in organising on the ground during this emergency. We must all take action where we are. Local trade union structures must be engaged, supported and given representation on state and Federal planning bodies. The distribution of reliable information, essential services and care for our people will require a massive coordinated effort from trade union and community leaders. Volunteers must be trained and organised for safe, coordinated, campaigns at street-level and for those living in institutions. Middle-class and wealthy communities and organisations have an obligation to make resources available to poor and working-class communities.
We must identify strategies to calm tensions and divert violence in our homes
Corona virus mainly kills the old and the ill. The death rate for those with the disease is probably around one in 500. We do not need to panic. But home-based quarantine will escalate family and relationship tensions, and may likely lead to more violence against women, children and others most marginalised in our families and communities including non-indigenes and foreign nationals. We need to identify strategies to calm tensions and divert violence in our homes and communities over this time. We need a strong education campaign against all forms of violence, especially domestic violence. We need to strengthen safe responses from existing neighbourhood, regional and national organisations supporting women and children.
We also need to ensure that existing ethnic and region tensions are addressed and minimised. It is all too easy to blame the foreigners and non-indigenes but we all need to work together to address this crisis.
Communication must be free, open and democratised
There must be an immediate distribution of free phone data to all, so that people are able to receive good information, contact loved ones during isolation and quarantine, and understand the measures that are in place to create safety. Access to the best international research should be free and public. There must be daily national press conferences from government leaders alongside scientists and professionals who can keep all of our people informed about the emerging situation.
The inequalities within our educational services need to be carefully considered, and mitigated, when moving to remote learning
Data and free website content must be made widely available by educational institutions for continued learning. However, there is massive inequality of access to resources such as computers, electricity, wi-fi and learning space, as well as difficult home situations that disproportionately affect poor and working-class learners, students and educators. The move to online learning should be made carefully, and as a temporary measure. We should not extend the inequalities in the education system by affording remote education to the few. Schools and universities should consider their collective role as community educators and developers facing an unprecedented shared experience. Schools, residences and dormitories should be understood as a public resource during this time, including for the safe distribution of food and other essential services interrupted by school closures.
We must prevent a nationalist, authoritarian and security-focused approach in containing the virus.
We must guard against the quick deployment of the military and police that may create insecurity in our communities and would spread the demanding of bribes. We must also prevent creating scapegoats to blame for the current crisis. Instead, we must ensure that care and resources are provided for the safety and protection of all who live in our country and in our communities.
How each of us responds to the Covid-19 pandemic will determine who we are as a society. The better we respond now, the better we will be after the pandemic. We must follow international best practice and the science that we have available to us to build an assertive response that works for the context of our own history and society. Our response must be just, equitable, and redistributive if we are to meet the needs of all our people. In times of physical distancing, social solidarity is key.
This Action Programme is being supported by the following organisations and individuals:
1. African Action Congress (AAC)
2. African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL)
3. Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN)
4. All Workers Convergence (AWC)
5. Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), Oyo State Chapter
6. Ambassadors of Change Nigeria (ACN)
7. Automobile, Boatyards, Transport Equipment and Allied Senior Staff Association (AUTOBATE)
8. Center for Awareness Reorientation and Empowerment (CARE), Africa
9. Centre for Human Rights and Social Advancement (CEFSAN)
10. Centre for Labour Studies
11. Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), Bayelsa State Chapter
12. Civil Rights Council (CRC).
13. Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)/ Transparency International in Nigeria
14. Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR)
15. Federation of Informal Workers Organisation of Nigeria (FIWON)
16. Femi Falana, SAN
17. Freedom Charter Campaign (FCC).
18. Green Peoples Environmental Network (GREPNET)
19. HipCity Innovation Centre (HipCity Hub)
20. Human Rights Agenda Network
21. International Centre for Grassroots Research and Development Initiative (InterCEGRADI)
22. Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) Oyo State Chapter.
23. Journalists for Democratic Rights (JODER)
24. Lawyers in Defence of Democracy
25. Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP)
26. Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MEHUN), Oyo State Chapter
27. National Conscience Party (NCP)
28. National Union of Agricultural and Allied Employees (NUAAE) Oyo State Chapter.
29. Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Oyo State Chapter
30. Nigerian Human Rights Community (NHRC)
31. Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Oyo State Chapter
32. Peace Point Development Foundation (PPDF)
33. Pegarsus-Zion Community and Environmental Health
34. Peoples’ Alternative Front (PAF)
35. Praxis Centre
36. Radio Television and Theatre Arts Workers Union (RATTAWU) Oyo State Chapter
37. Social Accountability & Environmental Sustainability Initiative
38. Social Rights and Leadership Forum (SRLF)
39. Socio Economic Research and Development Centre (SERDEC)
40. Take Back Nigeria
41. United Action for Democracy (UAD), Kano
42. Working People and Youth Alliance (WPYA)
43. YES Project Initiative
see my comments on the posts by Heike Becker, Femi Aborisade and Issa Shivji