A few links on the situation with COVD-19 in Niger.
You can follow case counts across Africa here. UNICEF put out its first situation report on COVID in Niger last week (.pdf):
The first case in Niger was reported on March 19, 2020 in the capital city Niamey. By April 12, six regions are affected; however, the hotspot remains Niamey with about 98 percent of cases.
For a New York Review of Books collection of letters from around the world, Rahmane Idrissa wrote a short and evocative portrait of life in Niamey amid the early stages of the virus’ arrival there:
The day I returned to Niamey, Niger’s capital, there was a tense citizen demonstration against a huge war-profiteering and cover-up scandal involving the top brass of the ruling party. Three people died in the repression. The Corona Effect was immediately visible in the fact that the international media—especially Radio France Internationale, an influential outlet in French-speaking countries—barely registered the event.
When the president made a speech forbidding all gatherings of more than fifty persons, the main reaction in the public opinion was that he was battling the citizens’ anger, not a virus. And when a first case was announced, people were skeptical because someone had the idea of a viral social media prank, broadcasting on WhatsApp a message in which he claimed to be the so-called “corona-patient,” that he was healthy and that his “case” was all a government plot.
Eventually, the sense of menace sunk in, but in slow motion. Cases are coming in a trickle. No one I know has got it and I know no one who personally knows anyone who’s got it. Yet the continuous flood of startling information from abroad has persuaded general opinion that this is real, like the stench of something odious that’s on its way.
In terms of government policy, it’s worth watching France24’s interview with President Mahamadou Issoufou from earlier this month (French-language interview and English summary here). Issoufou is clearly very worried but has rejected speculation about Sahelian states collapsing.
On April 15, the World Bank approved a loan of nearly $14 million for Niger:
The Niger COVID-19 Emergency Response Project will support the government’s plan by supporting rapid procurement of critical medication and equipment needed for treatment of coronavirus infections. In addition, the project will support the government’s campaign to mitigate the spread of coronavirus by raising awareness throughout the country of how to prevent the spread of the disease. The project will focus on strengthening preparedness through early screening, detection and treatment of patients; as well as as well as improved laboratory capacity and surveillance.
There has been serious unrest in Niamey (French), including a major incident where authorities prevented an attempt at holding group prayer on Sunday, April 20; riots followed in different parts of the city. Worth bearing in mind is that, as with past riots in Niger (and elsewhere), religion is not necessarily the sole or even most important issue in protests that may initially seem mostly inspired by religious concerns.
Religious actors’ response is critical, however – although the top religious leaders and bodies do not necessarily have credibility with young protesters. In any case, unfortunately, on the eve of the pandemic’s spread to Niger, the country lost one of its most prominent shaykhs, Djabir Oumar Ismaël, the imam of the central mosque of Niamey and the president of the Islamic Association of Niger.
He passed at the age of 58 (French), ten years after taking over the position from his father Oumar Ismaël. COVID was not the cause, from what I’ve read.
Obviously the country has many other prominent scholars, but a transition at the top of one of the country’s most important religious bodies is an extra wrinkle in the COVID-19 response.
Meanwhile, the Islamic Council of Niger (of which the Islamic Association is a part) has issued a communiqué (French) urging Muslims to “abstain from all gatherings” during Ramadan, which will begin later this week. Studio Kalangou recently held a forum of religious leaders (Muslim and Christian) in Zarma, a language I don’t speak, but the link is here.
The pandemic response is also heavily affecting the conditions migrants are facing:
Deportations from Algeria to Niger have been a continuing trend since late 2016, with figures decreasing last year only to begin growing again from February onwards. The migrants, who were arrested during police roundups in Algeria’s coastal cities and forced to travel for days in overloaded trucks, were usually offered assistance by the IOM to return to their countries of origin.
But now amid the pandemic, they are forced to quarantine in tent facilities set up in the military border post of Assamaka, where temperatures touch 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), or in the southern city of Arlit.
With borders closed all across West Africa, they risk being stuck in Niger much longer than they expected.
To say the least, Niger is facing numerous serious challenges.