Cover photo: Imposing strict measures to control the coronavirus in places like Timbuktu, Mali, may be difficult. Photo: Joan Baxter
The COVID-19 crisis opens up time for contemplation and communicating with friends — if you’re privileged enough to have a place to “stay the blazes home,” one that is large enough to permit some freedom of movement and for storage of food so that daily shopping trips aren’t a requisite to a daily meal, enough money to pay for food to see you through the self-isolation period, and, of course, a telephone, and you can afford to purchase credit so you can use it and access the Internet at home to communicate with family and friends.
A fair number of people here in Nova Scotia don’t have any of the above.
And in lots of other parts of the world, the vast majority of people don’t.
I had a very powerful reminder of this when I read a remarkable piece of writing about the crisis in the African context, called “COVID-19 — Crisis upon Crisis in Africa: An Ecofeminist Perspective.” It came from WoMin, the African gender and extractives alliance, which “works alongside national and regional movements and popular organisations of women, mining-impacted communities and peasants, and in partnership with sympathetic organisations.” Among other things, it researches the impacts of extractive industries on peasant and working-class women.
The WoMin essay begins:
The novel Coronavirus has triggered a significant global crisis, with the harshest impacts being felt by the poor and working classes across the world. On the African continent, this ‘new’ pandemic encounters numerous other crises of climate heating, environmental degradation, unemployment and rising poverty, land grabs and widespread hunger, increased violence, specifically violence against women, and civil conflicts in many countries. Crisis layered upon crisis leaves the majority of Africa’s people, and vulnerable people in particular, under or malnourished, with immune systems already weakened by diseases linked to poverty and rising temperatures and living without proper housing, water and sanitation services necessary to safeguard against disease and ill health. Most of Africa’s people are at grave risk in this moment.
Reputable scientists, academics, analysts and organisations are linking COVID-19 to the encroachments of extractivist capital upon forests and ecosystems as corporates pursue profit through ranching, logging and mining. The logic of reducing nature and its beings to assets to be exploited for profit therefore lies at the very heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, the very same logic that is causing the global climate crisis.
The WoMin essay then lists a few of infectious diseases that have ravaged the world over the past half century, most of which come from wildlife, and can be traced to the rapid expansion of extractive industries — palm oil and cocoa, livestock production and mining — that have destroyed habitat with “violent encroachments upon nature’s land and forests.” And it offers important explanations of why African countries are so vulnerable to this new crisis:
By and large, the state of readiness of African countries to deal with the deadly coronavirus has been gravely undermined by the hollowing out of state capacity by successive neoliberal structural adjustment policies and the accompanying privatisation of key public services — education, health care, water and sanitation — under the direction of International Finance Institutions (IFIs), such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The rise of the extractives sectors in Africa in the past decade or more, has led to the vast looting of Africa’s wealth …
The readiness of African states and African peoples to respond to the pandemic, which both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention project will ‘surge’ by the end of April 2020, is further undermined by the climate crisis and its particular impacts on our continent.
According to WoMin, the responses by African states to the pandemic are not dissimilar to those in other parts of the world. But there are enormous challenges:
…extreme poverty with the majority of people living hand to mouth, a livelihood reality which is greatly undermined, if not fully disabled, by lockdowns and curfews; limited COVID-19 testing; inadequate access to water and sanitation to practice the recommended hygiene measures; limited if no income or food relief for citizens; broken down health services which barely function outside of a pandemic …
The essay concludes that:
…colonialism, followed by structural adjustment/s, neoliberal reforms and new colonisation which unfolds through the wholesale raiding of Africa’s natural resources, continue to eviscerate African states and their ability to serve their citizens. Our states are totally incapacitated, and crisis layered upon crisis leave most African citizens without any protections or support as they confront COVID-19 seemingly quite alone. From informant reports, the most significant aid is not coming from the state but rather from neighbours, community members, faith organisations and small businesses. States now search out emergency funding to respond to a crisis which has been created and perpetuated, in part, by the very same lending institutions. There is little hope for our continent in such responses.
WoMin provided important context for the stories I was hearing from friends on the African continent.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been receiving messages from friends in several African countries where I’ve lived and worked over the decades, asking how I am doing in the time of COVID-19 and expressing concern about my family’s health and situation.
In return, I’ve been asking them how they were doing, and asking them for their stories — to fill me in on what is happening in their lives and how things look in their countries as the coronavirus creeps into, and then starts to spread like mad, in their countries. With their permission, I’ve put together a few of their stories for the Halifax Examiner. These are not journalistic accounts, just excerpts from personal conversations we’ve had, which provide vignettes on how the COVID-19 crisis is playing out on another continent.
Joan Baxter lived and worked for three decades in seven African countries. She is the author of five books about Africa. Joan now lives and works in Nova Scotia, and is a frequent contributor to the Halifax Examiner.