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Africa does not need to 'burn down the house' to defeat COVID-19

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In April 1914, as Europe was moving towards war, Dakar, the capital of present-day Senegal, was hit by an epidemic of bubonic plague that within a year, according to one account, wiped out nearly 15 percent of the city's population.

In response, the French colonial authorities imposed harsh measures on the African population, which included restrictions on movement, the establishment of quarantine camps, forceful vaccinations and the burning of homes. The epidemic was part of what has come to be known as the Third Plague Pandemic that circled the globe between 1855-1959, during which European administrators across Africa implemented similar measures in other colonial cities. Nairobi's business district, for example, was razed down following an outbreak in 1902.

Plague epidemics on the continent had predated the arrival of the Europeans, and Africans were not unaware of the dangers they posed. Still, in places like central Kenya, plague was not a significant cause of African morbidity and mortality. Colonial medical officials were, however, concerned about the threat epidemics posed to the extractive colonial economy, the flow of migrant labour from Africa to Europe and production in cash-crop growing areas. The measures they imposed on the locals were unpopular, and Africans quickly became loath to cooperate with the colonial authorities or to report cases in their homesteads knowing it meant the destruction of their homes. More than a century later, a similar dynamic is at work as the world confronts yet another pandemic.

Since it was first identified in China in late December, the coronavirus has swept across the world, killing thousands and wreaking social and economic havoc on a massive scale. Disregarding the advice of the........

© Al Jazeera