The most important in this week’s headlines out of and concerning Africa, for those who need help catching up.

In this week’s news, social media falls for a polygamy hoax, the WHO urges Africans to be vigilant about the Zika virus, and Zimbabwe declares a state of disaster over drought.

Mosquitoes, such as this Aedes aegypti, are the primary carriers of the Zika virus. Wikipedia
Mosquitoes, such as this Aedes aegypti, are the primary carriers of the Zika virus.

Social Media Falls for Eritrea’s Forced Polygamy Hoax

It’s no secret that people on social media sometimes have difficulty telling a fake news story from a real one.

Last week, the Standard, a Kenyan news company, claimed on their website that the Eritrean government had recently passed a law requiring all men to have at least two wives. The story quickly spread across social media and eventually to legitimate news platforms.

However, it was quickly discovered that the story was a satirical piece, and that no such law had been passed in Eritrea.  Last month, the Standard website posted another satirical piece, this time claiming that President John Magufuli of Tanzania had outlawed mini-skirts because they contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS. This story also went viral before it was found to have been a hoax.

Both these stories highlight the changes that are taking place in African media, and some of the problems with media in general. In order to increase traffic, untrue stories with attention-grabbing headlines are sometimes published, sometimes on accident, and sometimes purposefully. These stories are then spread on social media, thanks to their outrageous claims.

In the United States, such articles are often referred to as “clickbait,” designed simply to increase traffic to the website without offering quality information in exchange. These and similar incidents also show the biases of readers: if they view something a certain way, they will accept information that supports their viewpoint without questioning its authenticity.

Africans Urged to be Vigilant About Zika Virus Epidemic

After being criticized for their slow response to the Ebola epidemic, the World Health Organization(WHO) is getting ready to face the Zika virus in Africa. The virus has been found in numerous countries around the world, particularly in countries in South and Central America.

The WHO is concerned about the disease in Africa for two reasons: it is a mosquito transmitted disease, and it was first discovered in Uganda nearly 70 years ago. Because of this, scientists in Uganda are on high alert: they are currently keeping tabs on what types of mosquitoes carry the virus, and where they can be found.

However, the disease may still show up in unexpected places: infected mosquitoes or their eggs can stow away in commercial trade shipments or in a traveler’s luggage, and there has been at least one case where the virus was transmitted through sexual contact.

Despite the media panic over the disease, the WHO and other experts remind people that it is generally not a fatal disease, and is nowhere near Ebola in terms of severity. Eighty-percent of people with Zika do not develop any symptoms, and in the 20% that do, the symptoms are usually mild and resolve in a couple of weeks. The only real risk is to developing fetuses whose mothers were infected during their pregnancy.

Zimbabwe Officially Declares State of Disaster as Drought Continues

President Robert Mugabe has officially declared a State of Disaster in Zimbabwe as a result of the ongoing drought.

The official declaration now means that international aid agencies can step in to provide food and other goods to those affected. Twenty-six percent of the population – around 2.4 million people – are struggling to find food, and in some regions, up to 75% of crops have failed. The drought is caused by an El Nino weather pattern, which has brought low amounts of rainfall to Zimbabwe, South Africa, and other nations in the Southern part of the continent.

The drought has lead to other problems as well, such as less power being produced by the country’s hydroelectric dams.


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