Notice to African presidents, COVID-19 will shrink your security forces

Security personnel in a number of African countries are aggressively implementing lockdown and curfew measures announced by their respective presidents.

While the security organs, mainly local police, are working under their primary mandate of implementing law and order to enforce the directives, their modus operandi makes them a potential chain for contracting and spreading COVID-19 in their communities.

Arresting and detaining people either to release them a few minutes later or put them in custody defeats the purpose of efforts to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.

This is simply because one of the detained people might be positive in which case they will, very likely, infect not just their fellow detainees but the police officers, too. The new infected cases will in turn contaminate the next people they come in contact with.

This person does not need to have the obvious symptoms such as fever, dry cough or a cold; asymptomatic cases are equally infectious.

It is therefore ironic or myopic of security officers to crackdown on people defying the lockdown or curfew by beating or roughing them up.

Much as the idea is out of good will, that is, to stop those suspected of potentially spreading the virus in their communities, it violates advice by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to maintain a distance of at least one meter.

The purpose of the lockdown measures is to reduce or cut close human-to-human contact through social-distancing, thereby curbing the number of new infected cases.

The use of violence by police (and the army) to enforce “orders from above” or out of sheer impunity is not new or even surprising, especially, in countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In this case, concerned citizens, rights activists and legal experts are already raising questions about the legality and feasibility of these presidential directives.

Now, more than ever, is not the time to arrest people for the sake of extorting bribes or mere oppression to exercise power over civilians.