Why Covid numbers earned Rwanda slot on EU’s ‘safe’ list

Saturday July 04 2020

A laboratory technician fills a syringe with a Covid-19 trial vaccine in Thailand on May 23, 2020. PHOTO | MLADEN ANTONOV | AFP


Burundi's new President Evariste Ndayishimiye has got good political instincts, after all. He has declared that Covid-19 is the country’s “biggest enemy’’. It was a huge change from his predecessor Pierre Nkurunziza, who died suddenly last month weeks before he was due to step down.

Nkurunziza, a man of God, adopted a hear-no-virus-see-no-virus approach, downplaying its dangers and claiming the Lord was protecting Burundians.

Ndayishimiye went along with Nkurunziza’s line, even though, going by his position now, he didn’t believe it. It might have helped him, he lived to be president.

These are easy political points that Nkurunziza, the “Eternal Supreme Guide”, left on the table for Ndayishimiye to pick. The Burundian president has now cast himself as a man of science, not a caveman.

In Tanzania, President John Magufuli, who was Nkurunziza’s soulmate on matters coronavirus, has long moved on, opening up the economy, declaring that the Almighty had banished the virus from the republic. Since April 26, Tanzania hasn’t been released regular Covid-19 data, so we will have to believe that this issue is in God’s hands.

At the start of the pandemic, this column reported on some fellows who were thinking about which economies would gain international confidence on Covid-19. Would it be the ones that had low infection rates — real or decreed by supreme leaders; or the one that even if they had high cases, were transparent and had shown technical competence in dealing with the virus?


This week we had our first answer. The European Union formalised a list of 14 “safe” non-EU countries whose citizens would be permitted into the bloc from July 1.

There were four countries from Africa; Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Rwanda. The US wasn’t included in the list, but Americans can travel there if they have residency in one of the safe countries.

The devil is in the criteria by which the EU decides if a country is safe enough. It includes: An infection rate equal to or lower than the EU's two-week average. A stable or downward trend, and the country's overall handling of the pandemic including their health care infrastructure, testing capacity and especially the reliability of the data it provides.

Makes sense. If you reopen your economy, and say tourists can come and won’t even be quarantined, they will come because they desperately want to see a giraffe.

They will if they are confident that they will not contract the virus from their hotel or the tour guide; know which places to avoid because they are high risk; and that if they get coughy, they will get a reliable test quickly.

For the record, by the close of Wednesday, the combined reported confirmed Covid-19 cases for all of the East African Community were 10,384. Algeria had 13,907, more than the whole lot. Morocco too, with 12,956.

We end in South Sudan, which was suspended from the African Union, because of its arrears of $9 million. This newspaper interviewed its ambassador to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative to the AU, James Morgan.

The reason Juba had defaulted, he said, was that the AU didn’t send them an invoice and come collecting. There must be prizes for men like Morgan.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]