Controversies after Côte d’Ivoire imposes coronavirus measures

By André Silver Konan
Posted on Monday, 23 March 2020 16:13, updated on Tuesday, 24 March 2020 15:29

Virus Outbreak Vulnerable Countries Ivory Coast
Residents of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, wear masks to protect themselves from the coronavirus as they walk along a street, on March 19, 2020 (AP Photo/Diomande Ble Blonde)

Several controversies have erupted in Côte d’Ivoire over how the government is managing the health crisis and imposing restrictive measures on citizens. But many Ivorians are observing that certain public figures are getting special treatment while parliamentary business is continuing on as usual.

Under a burning sun, two ministers from President Alassane Ouattara’s administration stand facing dozens of confined people inside the National Institute for Youth and Sports (INJS) in the Abidjan suburb of Marcory on Wednesday.

They are trying to calm an angry crowd of people who have been caught-off guard by quarantine measures the government took the day before their arrival in the capital.

After exiting their plane, these passengers from Paris were brought to this student centre that had been requisitioned by the National Security Council, (Conseil national de sécurité – CNS).

READ MORE: Alassane Ouattara: ‘I did it my way’

Series of measures

Three days earlier, at the end of a meeting chaired by President Ouattara, the CNS adopted a series of measures including “the suspension, for a renewable period of 15 days, of all flights to and from countries with more than 100 cases of coronavirus”, such as China, France, Italy, the UK and the US.

As well as the “quarantine of those presenting symptoms and those who have had contact with coronavirus patients in centres requisitioned by the state.”

Since then, a flurry of controversies over the management of the health crisis has hit Côte d’Ivoire.

Certain public figures receive special treatment

Just when the government reported good news that the country’s first coronavirus-infected patient had recovered, members of the public expressed their outrage over the special treatment given to certain people close to the regime.

Football striker Max Gradel, former president of the Ivorian Football Federation Jacques Anouma, the family of music artist A’Salfo, and even family members of the Minister of Water and Forests Alain-Richard Donwahi and former minister Adama Bictogo supposedly succeeded in escaping quarantine measures imposed on the rest of the country.

Most of these individuals were travelling in business class on the flight from Paris and all made it home without having to stop at the INJS for a quarantine.

The situation nearly sparked a riot among the quarantined passengers, forcing A’salfo to admit his “guilt” and apologise to the public.

“I am sincerely sorry for what happened. I truly feel guilty, as it was unfair to have my family quarantined outside of the INJS. I offer my sincere apologies,” said the music artist.

READ MORE: African countries proactive response to coronavirus epidemic

Sixty-one Chinese nationals land in Abidjan

The day after the announcement of restrictive measures, 61 passengers from China disembarked at the Abidjan airport after a layover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In violation of the strict rules imposed by the government, the travellers ended up at the border police rather than in quarantine.

A civil servant captured a video of the scene which quickly went viral, provoking an outcry among the population and forcing authorities to escort the Chinese nationals to the INJS.

In this tweet,  one man says “a hundred Chinese poured into Félix Houohouet Boigny international airport in Abidjan on the afternoon of March 17, 2020, by Ethiopian Airlines.

Initially denied by the authorities, the information was confirmed just a few hours later by the Minister of Health Eugène Aka Aouelé on television.

In an attempt to justify the break with protocol, the minister indicated that the 61 individuals “had been living and working in Côte d’Ivoire before the health crisis.”

READ MORE: Africa faces a coronavirus catastrophe

An Ivorian parliamentary meeting gets the green light

And then, another controversy – this time more political – broke out, fuelled by Henri Konan Bédié, President of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (Parti démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire – PDCI).

“The government gave the green light for the Ivorian Parliamentary Congress to be held this Tuesday in Yamoussoukro to legislate on the Ivorian Constitution, with more than 550 attendees,” said Bédié.

He also condemned “this regrettably stubborn attitude that places political calculations and selfish interests above the health of the Ivorian people and human life.”

The government had previously prohibited all gatherings of more than 50 people.

Bottom line

In the meantime, the number of patients testing positive for COVID-19 has risen from six to nine.

Innocent Gnelbin, the president of a new, modest political party called Force aux Peuples, is calling on the government to be transparent, while also asking it to demonstrate greater responsibility. “Coronavirus doesn’t have a passport, visa, preference or social class,” said Gnelbin.

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