Covid spares Africa, but some governments take advantage of it to unleash repression and civil conflicts

In Africa, there are 1,494,524 cases of Covid-19 , half of which in South Africa, and 33,152 deaths, two thirds of which are also in South Africa. They are few compared to the world total which on November 29 was 61,869,330 cases and 1,448,896 deaths. So far the "second wave" of the pandemic in Africa has not arrived and the first has had much less serious consequences than expected, despite many states having introduced few measures to contain the infections. Tanzania even decided after the first few weeks that life had to continue. The first case was identified on March 16 and the government closed schools, requiring public transport to carry fewer passengers and for bars and restaurants to limit the number of patrons. Markets, shops, production activities, all places of work and worship remained open. Then, on April 29, when there were 509 cases and 21 dead, the President of the Republic John Magufuli announced the suspension of reports on the progress of the pandemic so as not to scare the population. “We have a number of viral diseases, including AIDS and measles – Magafuli replied to the critics – our economy comes first, it must not stop, life must continue. The other African countries will come to us to buy food in the next few years, while they will suffer the consequences of having stopped their economies ”.

Even where limits on economic and social activities have been introduced, on the whole Covid-19 has not interfered with political life, any more than other diseases. Voting took place in Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Guinea Conakry and Burkina Faso. The candidates organized their election campaigns, with the usual rallies of supporters. On the day of the vote, long queues were formed as usual in front of the polling stations. Rather, it has happened that some heads of state and government have taken advantage of the coronavirus .

In Uganda, the pandemic served as a pretext to arrest Bobi Wine, the candidate in the presidential elections scheduled for January, the main opponent of President Yoweri Museveni, in office since 1986 and determined to stay there: the accusation against Wine is having spread the coronavirus … deciding to hold a political rally. Its supporters did not take it well and organized protests which were severely repressed. In the capital Kampala alone, police killed 45 demonstrators.

In Angola and Ethiopia, on the other hand, governments eager to buy time to consolidate the majority parties have taken advantage of the pandemic to postpone the vote. Local elections should have been held in Angola, but have been repeatedly postponed, the last time being in September, and now they are indefinitely. In October, violent anti-government demonstrations shook the capital Luanda, repressed with the usual brutality by the police who carried out dozens of arrests. Unauthorized protests resumed in November: for the right to vote and also against corruption, police violence and unemployment. They were dispersed by agents in war gear who attacked demonstrators and wounded several.

In Ethiopia, the postponement of the vote was the occasion that the Tigray People's Liberation Front (Tplf) was waiting for to give the signal for the revolt against the federal government. In March, when there were 25 confirmed cases in the country out of a population of nearly 110 million, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed decided to postpone the elections until the pandemic ends. In September, the Tigray region decided to go to the polls anyway. Prime Minister Abiy declared the illegal vote and the outcome, all in favor of the Tplf, null and void. The showdown between the government and the TPLF continued in the following weeks until on 4 November the TPLF attacked and occupied a military base of federal troops in Macalle, the regional capital. Abiy immediately reacted by ordering a military offensive which ended on November 28 with the entry of federal troops into Macallé.

Tigray claims to fight for its right to self-determination threatened by the federal government, but the real stake, as always in Africa, is the control of the national economy to the loss of which the leaders of the TPLF do not resign. Tigris represent only about 6 percent of the population, but they have controlled the country's political and economic life for almost 30 years, since in 1991 the Tplf overthrew the military government of Mènghistu Hailé Mariàm, the Negus Rosso. Meles Zenawi, leader of the Tplf, has since ruled with an iron fist, systematically repressing dissent, as President of the Republic, from 1991 to 1995, and as Prime Minister, from 1995 until his death in 2012.

The beginning of the tensions between the government and the TPLF dates back to 2018 when Prime Minister Abiy accused, in truth quite rightly, previous governments of corruption and violations of human rights by removing many key elements of the TPLF from office. Then a year ago, in December 2019, Abiy decided to merge the ethnic-based parties that made up the EPRDF, the governing coalition that in 2015 won 100 percent of parliamentary seats, in a single party, the Party of Prosperity. The Tplf refused to join the PP arguing that the premier's initiative aimed to dismantle the country's federal structure and replace it with a centralized system of government.

Thus began the political crisis which now risks triggering a civil conflict. The fleeing TPLF fighters and their leaders could take refuge in the mountains and from there launch a guerrilla war against the federal government. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will not stop until Tigray is under full control. Debretsion Gebremichael, the Tigrinya leader, has repeatedly declared in recent days that the TPLF is determined to fight the "invaders" and that it will never lay down its weapons. It is believed to have around 250,000 well-trained fighters.

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This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Atlantico Quotidiano at the URL on Tue, 01 Dec 2020 04:54:00 +0000.