Africa in the news: COVID-19, Côte d’Ivoire, and energy updates

FILE PHOTO: The Blue Nile River is seen as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam reservoir fills near the Ethiopia-Sudan border, in this broad spectral image taken November 6, 2020. NASA/METI/AIST/Japan Space Systems, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo/File Photo
Editor's note:

This blog was updated on June 21 to reflect the correct organizations co-leading COVAX.

COVID-19 cases surge in Africa, and Tanzania takes steps to join COVAX

Reported COVID-19 cases are surging across Africa, with more than 20 countries experiencing an increase in week-over-week case count by over 20 percent. On June 17, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional director for Africa attributed the spike in cases to a third wave of the virus sweeping across the continent and warned about increased risk of overwhelming Africa’s underdeveloped health care system. Five countries—South Africa, Namibia, Uganda, Tunisia, and Zambia—now account for 76 percent of the continent’s confirmed new cases. Efforts to accelerate inoculations are slow, and only 0.79 percent of Africans are fully vaccinated, as the continent’s access to vaccines has slowed due to financing and competition for vaccine supplies with wealthier nations.

In related news, on Thursday, Tanzania, which remains 1 of 4 African countries to not yet begin a national vaccination drive, announced it is seeking to join COVAX—the global vaccine-sharing initiative co-led by Gavi, the WHO, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). Since the death of Tanzanian President John Magufuli, who had firmly denied the spread of the virus in the country, the government has instituted measures to contain the pandemic . Joining the COVAX initiative promises to bring COVID-19 vaccines to Tanzania in the coming weeks. However, international agreements to supply COVAX with vaccines have fallen short, as India, a major manufacturer and supplier of the immunization, prioritized inoculating its population as it battled a brutal second wave of the pandemic.

Gbagbo returns to Côte d’Ivoire; US Supreme Court dismisses lawsuit

On Thursday, former Côte d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo returned to the country for the first time since his arrest 10 years ago. The former president, who had been in power for nearly a decade, was arrested in 2011 and sent to The Hague to await trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC) after 3,000 people were killed in the aftermath of his 2010 electoral defeat. Gbagbo, the first head of state to be tried by the ICC, was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, but the ICC acquitted him in 2019—a ruling that was upheld in March of this year. Although some of his former opponents argue Gbagbo should be imprisoned in Côte d’Ivoire, the government has welcomed his return, citing the need for reconciliation in a country not far removed from a civil war.

In other Ivorian news, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a lawsuit on Thursday that accused Cargill Inc and Nestle of knowingly helping perpetuate slavery at cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire. According to Reuters, the Supreme Court’s 8-1 ruling reversed a lower court decision that allowed the lawsuit brought on behalf of child slaves from Mali who worked on said farms. The Supreme Court indicated that the case lacked evidence that the defendants committed the alleged wrongdoings on U.S. soil.

Study finds that solar and wind can help mitigate GERD conflict in northeast Africa

As disagreements continue among Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a recent study in Nature Report shows that reliance on the facility can be alleviated by expanding solar and wind power within the region. Integrating these energy sources within the same grid as GERD could help create a “win-win situation” where power can be supplied while maintaining the river’s natural flow and navigating seasonal changes, according to experts. The dispute stems from Egypt’s concern over how Ethiopia’s decision to begin filling the reservoir will affect the flow of the Egyptian Nile River—the lifeforce of Egyptian agriculture.

The study comes at the introduction of Sudan’s first wind turbine, which is expected to provide power to 14,000 people. It took 19 days and seven vehicles to transport the turbine from the Netherlands to Port Sudan and then to a future windfarm facility in Sudan’s northern state of Dongola. Construction and maintenance of the turbine will also provide training and job opportunities for equipment engineers within the region. Sudan does not have many energy alternatives as the country does not have an oil or gas reserve and, like others in the region, depends on hydroelectric power for the majority of its energy generation, but that source is vulnerable to climate change given the reliance on rainfall patterns.