In Africa, law enforcement blunders in the name of the fight against COVID-19

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(Johannesburg) Lashes or fire, tear gas, humiliations: in several African countries, the security forces responsible for enforcing drastic measures to fight against the coronavirus multiply the slippages, forcing the authorities to react .

Béatrice DEBUT, with AFP's African offices

France Media Agency

On the poorest continent on the planet, confinements, movement restrictions and even barrier gestures against the virus are extremely difficult to apply in megacities or overcrowded neighborhoods whose populations survive day to day .

The same scenes of disobedience are repeated everywhere in Africa, where more than 5300 cases, including 170 fatal, have been officially registered.

Compact queues are forming in front of supermarkets, in violation of the rules of social distancing. Small, non-essential shops, including liquor stores, remain open despite bans.

PHOTO ROGAN WARD, REUTERS

Often, the muscular reactions of the security forces, with sometimes well-established traditions of repression, resemble each other, in the name of protecting the health of citizens.

In Uganda, police admitted on Friday that they had shot and injured two men who they claimed were trying to oppose travel restrictions. The day before, police and soldiers had beaten up fruit sellers and market customers gathered in the public square.

These reactions outraged Trade Minister Amelia Kyambadde, who called on the police to “refrain from hitting”. “Please explain to them (the instructions) on community radios,” she pleaded.

The military was forced to apologize.

“Humiliation”

In Kenya, where a curfew is in effect, the Inspector General of Police called for an investigation into the death of a teenager killed by gunfire who was allegedly fired by the police in a slum in Nairobi.

On Friday, in the port city of Mombasa, hundreds of people waiting for a ferry were dispersed with tear gas, even before the curfew came into effect. Riot police attacked people with lashes.

“It is unjustified and inappropriate […]. Why inflict such atrocities? Reacted the governor of Mombasa, Hassan Joho.

In Africa, “it seems that the only known way for the authorities to manage the population is violence and humiliation,” denounced Shenilla Mohamed of Amnesty International.

Mausi Segun, Africa director of the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), called on governments to “quickly investigate” the abuses of the security forces and to “punish” the culprits .

In South Africa, where total confinement has been imposed, the police have taken up files in which the police are accused of having killed three civilians.

On Monday, the president of the country Cyril Ramaphosa called to order the security forces which, he said, “must always act within the framework of the law”. Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula condemned the “abuses” of the soldiers.

Videos of citizens forced, by police or snickering soldiers, to make inflections circulate abundantly on social networks in South Africa or Senegal.

“Psychosis”

Similar situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Images of a policeman wearing a mask and hitting a man on the ground, screaming in pain, provoked anger.

Especially since the scene takes place before the eyes of the Kinshasa police chief, Sylvano Kasongo.

“The fight against the spread of #COVID 19 […] must not be at the expense of human rights, ”warned Canada's Ambassador to the DRC, Nicolas Simard.

An official decree required the police to “respect the measures taken, firmly […] and respect the dignity of the human person”.

Police officers were also filmed beating passers-by in Senegal and Burkina Faso, where a curfew was imposed.

“We are in a state of law which ignores the right to survive”, reacted John Nana, actor of civil society in Burkina.

The security forces “demonstrate their skills on civilians […], while a few kilometers” from the capital Ouagadougou, they “took the potty” in the face of jihadists who reign terror in the country, he denounced.

Finally, in Côte d'Ivoire, approximately 450 people were arrested for non-compliance curfew.

They “are subject to caning,” denounced the Ivorian Human Rights Movement (MIDH). “This is unacceptable and adds to the psychosis created by the coronavirus. “