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‘Legislative Development in Africa’ is a deeply researched book

“Legislative Development in Africa: Politics and Postcolonial Legacies” is written by Georgetown University political scientist Ken Opalo. Opalo’s writing, argument and evidence are clear and compelling, so much so that the book got me — someone who has largely avoided studying political institutions for most of her career — interested in learning even more, not just about legislatures in Africa but also in Europe, Asia and Latin America. (To illustrate important regional parallels, he draws on examples from Chile, Japan and early modern Europe.)

Studying legislatures is important. As Opalo explains in this book, the history of democratic government “is one of the rise of legislatures as enforcing both horizontal and vertical accountability.” By horizontal accountability, he means political accountability among elites, and by vertical accountability, he means political accountability between elites and the broader public.

In “Legislative Development in Africa,” Opalo argues that more powerful autocrats — politically secure chief executives confident in their ability to win any open conflicts with legislators — were more likely to grant some independence to their legislatures. He further argues that authoritarian legislatures with that nominal independence were the “institutional anchors” of later democratization.

Opalo takes an in-depth look at legislatures in Kenya and Zambia during authoritarian rule. He acknowledges that in the post-colonial period presidents held significant power. At the same time, he illustrates that even in periods dominated by all-powerful presidents, legislatures had different levels of power.

While the Zambian legislature worked essentially as a rubber stamp to decisions made by a powerful president, for instance, the Kenyan legislature had some bargaining power. All legislative outcomes during the period of study were consistent with the chief executive’s preferences — which meant that neither the Zambian nor the Kenyan legislatures had independence over the “ends.” But in Kenya, legislators at least had power over the bargaining process that shaped those laws, which is what Opalo calls “means independence.”

“Legislative Development in Africa” is a deeply researched book. Opalo collected detailed data on the Kenyan and Zambian legislatures covering 50 years, including information on bills, budget allocations, legislative sessions and the rules that allowed legislatures to constrain chief executives. Opalo also compiled data measuring legislative strength across Africa to demonstrate how his findings extended beyond the two in-depth case studies.

This book makes important contributions to our understanding of African politics and legislative politics more broadly. First, Opalo’s book sheds light on a branch of government that many scholars of African politics have ignored. Because presidents wield so much power across the continent, little attention has been paid to the variation in legislative power across Africa. (An important exception is work by the late political scientist Joel Barkan, upon which Opalo’s research builds.)

Another important contribution of Opalo’s book is what it offers to scholars of legislative politics beyond Africa. Particularly as analysts warn of a “third wave of autocratization” and the growing authoritarian turn among democracies, Opalo’s work on authoritarian legislatures joins work by others on authoritarian institutions that could provide relevant, timely insights.

Perhaps even more importantly, the findings in Opalo’s book have implications for people and organizations wanting democracy and accountability to take root in authoritarian or recently authoritarian countries. Opalo’s book states “legislatures are the sine qua non institutions of representative democratic government.” The details of Opalo’s analysis suggest in particular that democracy promoters might focus on supporting organizational development — e.g., investing in legislative record keeping and research support — to promote legislative development, which could increase both horizontal and vertical accountability.

Among the lessons we learn from this week’s Saba Saba protests in Kenya is that the path to full democracy — what political scientists call democratic consolidation — can be long. Opalo’s important book suggests we also look to the long history of political development to identify opportunities to continue on the path to democratic consolidation.

Source: ‘Legislative Development in Africa’ is a deeply researched book

Medical Oxygen Runs Low As Coronavirus Cases Soar in South Africa

(JOHANNESBURG) — The coronavirus storm has arrived in South Africa, but in the overflowing COVID-19 wards the sound is less of a roar than a rasp.

Medical oxygen is already low in hospitals at the new epicenter of the country’s outbreak, Gauteng province, home to the power centers of Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, visiting a hospital Friday, said authorities are working with industry to divert more oxygen their way.

Some of the hospital’s patients spilled into heated tents in the parking lot. They lay under thick blankets in the middle of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, with a cold front arriving this weekend and temperatures expected to dip below freezing.

South Africa overnight posted another record daily high of confirmed cases, 13,674, as Africa’s most developed country is a new global hot spot with 238,339 cases overall. More than a third are in Gauteng.

“The storm that we have consistently warned South Africans about is now arriving,” Mkhize said this week.

A nurse at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital — the third largest hospital in the world with more than 3,000 beds — painted a bleak picture, saying new patients with the virus are now being admitted into ordinary wards as the COVID-19 ones are full.

“Our hospital is overloaded already. There has been an influx of patients over the last two weeks,” the nurse said, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give interviews.

More and more colleagues at the hospital are testing positive daily for the virus, the nurse said, “even people who are not working in COVID wards.”

Already more than 8,000 health workers across Africa have been infected — half of them in South Africa.

How the country struggles to manage the pandemic will be amplified in other nations across Africa, which has the world’s lowest levels of health funding and health staffing.

The continent as of Friday had 541,381 confirmed cases, but shortages in testing materials means the real number is unknown.

South Africa’s surge in cases comes as the country loosens what had been one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, with even alcohol sales banned until June 1. Now restaurants have sit-down service and religious gatherings have resumed. The economy was hurting and needed reopening, authorities said.

But nervous officials in Gauteng province have called for stricter lockdown measures to return. On Friday, Gauteng Premier David Makhura announced he had tested positive with mild symptoms.

“We must double our efforts,” he said in a statement, urging people to wear face masks, wash their hands and distance themselves.

Warning signs keep flashing. Hospital beds in all provinces could be full within the month, the health minister said this week. On Friday he said a team is looking at 2,000 additional beds for field hospitals in Gauteng.

In addition to the bed shortage, many hospitals are grappling with limited oxygen supplies to treat patients with the respiratory disease.

Guy Richards, director of clinical care at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg, told the AP they are extremely worried.

“Even a big hospital like ours has difficulty supplying sufficient amounts of oxygenation for our patients. The same thing is happening at Helen Joseph (Hospital), and this is a major problem,” he said.

At the field hospital in the Nasrec Expo Center in Johannesburg none of the 450 beds have oxygen, said Lynne Wilkinson, a public health specialist who is part of a volunteer effort that’s calling for 100 oxygen concentrators. The purity and volume of oxygen is lower in the portable and usually temporary devices.

Sourcing them is a problem because they’re bought up by the private sector, even private individuals, she told the AP: “They keep them at home.”

Eight hundred new beds will be built at the field hospital, and the health minister on Friday said the facility would receive 1,000 “oxygen points.” But that will take weeks, Wilkinson said.

While there’s amazing camaraderie among volunteer health workers, “the patients are scared, very, very scared,” she said. “If you can’t breathe and you’re not sure you’re able to get oxygen, it’s a very anxiety-provoking situation.”

Tshwane District Hospital, which the health minister visited Friday, is now devoted completely to COVID-19 patients, said Veronica Ueckermann, head of the COVID-19 response team at Steve Biko Academic Hospital, which includes Tshwane District Hospital.

“Currently we are stretched but we are still coping in terms of our wards, our sisters and doctors are working extremely hard,” she said.


Bram Janssen and Cara Anna in Johannesburg contributed.

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Source: Medical Oxygen Runs Low As Coronavirus Cases Soar in South Africa

Africa could have COVID-19 vaccine in Q1 if human trials work: S.Africa trial lead

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Africa could have a COVID-19 vaccine in the first quarter of 2021 if human trials underway in South Africa succeed, a university professor heading the trials said on Thursday.

A volunteer receives an injection from a medical worker during the country's first human clinical trial for a potential vaccine against the novel coronavirus, at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, South Africa, June 24, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 experimental vaccine is one of 19 being tested on humans globally in a race to find vaccines to stop a pandemic that has killed more than half a million people so far.

It is also being tested in Brazil by Oxford University scientists who are working with British drugmaker AstraZeneca on development and production.

“A vaccine could be made commercial as early as the beginning of next year,” said Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at University of Witwatersrand who is leading the South African trial.

“But it is completely dependent on the results of clinical trials,” he cautioned, adding that out of the 19 potential vaccines being tried out, the most positive outcome would be if even two succeed.

Trials will depend on 2,000 volunteers aged 18-65 years who will be monitored for 12 months after vaccination to asses its efficacy.

Madhi, however, said early results could be seen by November or December.

“The timing of an efficacy read-out depends on when we have approximately 42 Covid-19 cases at least one month after vaccination,” he said.

COVID-19 cases in Africa topped half a million as of Wednesday, with almost 12,000 deaths.

Madhi said governments must put in an upfront purchase order for the potential vaccine.

A number of countries, including the United States and several in the European Union, have struck deals with drugmakers to reserve supplies of the experimental vaccines, even before they have been approved.

“(The) big challenge is we are looking at requiring billions of doses of vaccine. It is really going to be how companies can scale up and make it affordable and accessible,” said Pontiano Kaleebu, director at Uganda Virus Research Institute.

African manufacturers have not manufactured a single vaccine in the last 25 years, Madhi said.

Reporting by Promit Mukherjee; reporting by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

Source: Africa could have COVID-19 vaccine in Q1 if human trials work: S.Africa trial lead

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