July 2, 2020 / 12:08 PM / a month ago

As pandemic spreads, Congo poet warns in music video of 'empty cooking pots'

KINSHASA (Reuters) - As the coronavirus spreads in Democratic Republic of Congo, a popular Congolese poet warns in his new music video that lockdowns are leaving the nation’s many poor with no means of sustenance.

FILE PHOTO: Congolese police officers control civilians during a total lockdown amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Gombe commune of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe

With Kinshasa’s goat-grilling joints, bars and churches closed in efforts to curb COVID-19 contagion, “the silence hits us, and it’s too much!” Yekima sings in his video entitled “Mpiak’corona” released on June 27.

“They are already telling us to be careful, outside there is an illness with the name COVID,” he says in his “afro-slam” style, a blend of slam poetry and modern African beats.

“But since then, what we get is an empty cup, an empty cooking pot, an empty dinner table.”

Like most African countries, Congo introduced measures to curb COVID-19 early and has clung to the hope that it might be spared the worst due to its largely young populace. The virus has proven much more deadly to older people worldwide.

But as Europe has driven its COVID-19 numbers down, Congo government data point the other way - with known cases doubling to over 7,000 in just weeks - and a backlog in testing has fanned fears the virus has spread much further, undetected.

Already at least 15.6 million Congolese lack access to adequate food, with an estimated 3.4 million children acutely malnourished, according to the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP).

Now stay-at-home orders meant to curb COVID-19 contagion threaten to compound the hunger crisis, with businesses falling apart and food prices soaring, according to Claude Jibidar, country director of WFP.

In rural areas people cannot reach markets while in cities the daily hustle to put food on the table has been stifled by lockdowns, he said. “When the economic situation goes this drastically wrong, it turns into hunger,” Jibidar told Reuters.

Yekima told Reuters the government must do more. “We don’t want to survive this pandemic only to die of hunger,” he said.

Reporting by Benoit Nyemba with additional reporting and writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Bate Felix and Mark Heinrich

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