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Reporting on COVID-19 in Africa: A Collaborative Story Idea List

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What is the best way into the COVID-19 story? Pick an angle. No matter what your beat is, the pandemic is seeping into almost every story. In response, the Kampala-based African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) created a running list of story ideas on COVID-19 which stretches across beats: from agriculture and food to the economy, education, religion, sports, and arts and entertainment.

Find out more about the story idea list in GIJN’s next webinar Investigating the Pandemic: The Threat to Africa on Thursday May 14 at 9am EDT from ACME’s Executive Director Dr Peter Mwesige. He’ll be speaking alongside Dayo Aiyetan, executive director of the International Center for Investigative Reporting in Nigeria; Mia Malan, the editor-in-chief of the Bhekisisa Center of Health in South Africa; and Joshua Olufemi, the founder of Nigeria-based Dataphyte. Asha Mwilu, special projects editor at Citizen TV, Kenya, will be moderating.

Here are the categories:

Agriculture and Food 

  • How has the decline in international prices for major food commodities affected your country’s major traders? What commodities are most affected? Has the impact of this decline trickled down to rural markets?
  • How have current or predicted food crises in your country been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • What is the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable communities working in the informal agricultural sector?
  • What programs, if any, are in place to address urgent concerns for the nutritional status of children in families that rely on school feeding programs, or humanitarian donations to fill food gaps?
  • How are households that are dependent on food production and livestock rearing managing disruptions in the supply chain of agricultural inputs, and the inability to access livestock markets?
  • Have nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoralists been affected by border closures? How are your government and local authorities working with these communities to ensure that livestock migration routes are not blocked or severely interrupted?
  • Have food safety measures moved up the policy priority list in your country because of COVID-19? What policy conversations are taking place about this in government, civil society, and communities to prevent food loss?
  • Whose food security and livelihoods are most at risk due to the pandemic?
  • What has been done to ensure consistent supply and sale of staple foods and nutritious foods during containment periods?
  • How have curfews, lockdowns and public transport bans affected smallholder farmers?
  • How has the pandemic increased the vulnerability of farming communities in countries affected by recent locust invasions, and irregular off-season rainfall and floods? What post-pandemic recovery efforts are in place to support these communities?
  • What non-perishable goods are in high demand in cities and rural centers at this time? Have prices gone up for non-perishable foodstuffs like maize, millet, cassava flour, dry beans, peas, groundnuts, and simsim?  Are food suppliers able to meet the rising demand?
  • What emergency food relief distribution systems have been set up in the country to feed vulnerable communities? What are these systems, who is managing them, and are they serving the intended purpose? What are the opportunities for food distributors to participate in these relief efforts? What are the challenges in accessing food relief?
  • How have COVID-19 prevention measures affected the supply of seeds, veterinary medicines, fertilizers, and insecticides? What are domestic and international suppliers of agricultural inputs doing to ensure limited interruptions to their delivery systems?
  • What are the consequences of border closures for agricultural exports and imports for both small-scale and major traders? Have prices of agricultural products been affected by this?

Economy and Finance

  • How has the decline in prices of globally-traded commodities like oil, gas, minerals, and food impacted your economy? What is being done to provide buffers or support to protect your country against these price shocks?
  • How is your country participating in regional and continental measures to address the economic challenges presented by COVID-19?
  • Who is providing financing to address the economic and fiscal impact of COVID-19?
  • As parliaments across the country approve supplementary budgets and governments obtain new funding, are they being transparent about how this money is being utilized? Who is in charge of managing these funds? Are transparency and accountability standards regarding the use of public resources being upheld?
  • Has your country’s monetary policy changed to deal with the economic slowdown? What fiscal policy adjustments are under consideration?
  • What is your country doing to prevent a recession, or, worse, a depression?
  • What are the challenges for small and medium enterprises during the containment period?
  • How are offline-driven businesses using the closures to adjust their operations by shifting online? Are employees undergoing training to manage business online? What types of businesses are doing this, and to what effect? What are the needs or challenges of moving a business online?
  • What business opportunities has the COVID-19 pandemic created in your country? How have they been exploited? Who is exploiting them?
  • What is the impact of closures on manufacturing? Have supply disruptions led to a decrease in the availability of local or imported manufactured goods? What is the net cost of these disruptions in the manufacturing sector?
  • What measures have governments and revenue authorities put in place to mitigate tax hardships on the business community?
  • How have the mining and petroleum sectors been affected by the slowdown in business? Which countries are hardest hit by a lack of buyers? How has the decline in commodity prices affected mining and petroleum operations?
  • Has there been an increased demand for water and electricity as a result of the wash-your-hands campaign? How are the utility companies managing this increased demand, or the public pleas to lower charges?
  • The implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area is set to start in July 2020. How are negotiations for Africa’s first continent-wide trade agreement affected by COVID-19? What are its prospects for enabling economic recovery and boosting investment in the continent after the pandemic?
  • Are businesses and individuals insured for any COVID-19 impact? COVID-19 is a new disease and is not specifically listed in existing insurance contracts, but is there room for insurance cover for business interruption, product losses, or death? How are insurance companies responding to this matter?


  • What is your country’s strategy on administering high stakes examinations and assessments? What new approaches to exams and learning assessment are being considered?
  • How are the free education resources provided by your government, schools, and NGOs being used or adapted by families? What are the challenges in accessing and using these resources?
  • What are public and private schools doing, or not doing, to support “remote” student learning?
  • What are the challenges for parents with limited education and resources in facilitating child learning at home? Is there any support from the education ministry, schools, or civil society organizations?
  • How are students coping with school closures?
  • What communities exist online and offline to support teachers, parents, and school workers? What information is being shared in these communities, and how is it being used?
  • What tools are available to parents with learning difficulties?
  • How are institutions of higher education using distance learning options? What challenges exist in implementing distance learning, and how are universities and colleges responding to the needs of their students and teaching staff?
  • What is the fate of school support staff? Are they still on the payroll? Have they received any assistance from government or school managers? 


  • Are historically marginalized and underrepresented groups included in your country’s COVID-19 strategies? How is this being done? Who is missing from the table? Who has been ignored?
  • Who is monitoring the management of humanitarian and financial assistance to your country to support its coronavirus containment response? What is your government doing to ensure transparency in the use of this assistance? What accountability loopholes exist  that may fuel abuse of the assistance?
  • What is being done to address the digital divide in your country, if the lockdown has moved education, work, and public information online? What are the debates about accessibility and affordability of internet access? How is the private sector and government responding to this?
  • How have “stay at home” or “shelter in place” directives affected the hearing and disposal of court cases? How have partial or full lockdowns affected the execution of court orders?
  • What impact has the ban on the use of public transport had on access to court for vulnerable and indigent people?
  • What is being done to stop corruption among law enforcement officers, government personnel, or political appointees charged with the responsibility of delivering services at this time? If corruption in administering containment measures exists, what nature does it take, and who is behind it?
  • What key government activities have been suspended or postponed because of the pandemic? How has this affected government responsibilities, such as making legislation or conducting elections and censuses?
  • How are communities in hard-to-reach areas accessing information on COVID-19? What is the government doing to ensure access to information?
  • How has the outbreak of coronavirus impacted government transparency? Has it led to an increased flow of information or a decline in accountability? How have citizens’ perceptions of their government and elected leaders changed because of this?
  • How are local government authorities adapting new public health regulations to contain the spread of COVID-19 in their constituencies?
  • How are government offices without online options managing their duties? Have any disruptions in service been experienced, and to what effect?
  • How has the judicial system responded to COVID-19? What do any new changes mean for citizens’ access to justice?
  • How much money has been spent on the COVID-19 response in your country so far? What. exactly, is the money being spent on? What is taking the lion’s share of expenditure?
  • How much has been received in donations towards the COVID-19 response? Who are the donors?
  • How has social distancing affected government business at the central and local government level?
  • What does the pandemic reveal about the strengths or weaknesses of your country’s social protection systems?
  • What measures are in place to protect people in detention facilities from a coronavirus outbreak? In the event of an outbreak in a detention facility, what systems are in place for treatment and control? Are there plans to depopulate detention facilities at this time?
  • In instituting preventative measures, are governments ensuring that the rights of citizens are protected? What are the risks or realities of government overreach and over-regulation? How have they led to human rights violations?
  • How has the public reacted to government measures to curb the spread of COVID-19?
  • How might your government be using its COVID-19 response to suppress civil liberties, silence the media, or consolidate power? What evidence of this exists? Who is abusing their power? Who is most affected?


  • How is African research and innovation on other critical health challenges being used to address the study and treatment of COVID-19?
  • What health justice mechanisms have been incorporated into your country’s COVID-19 response systems to limit inequitable health outcomes? Have health disparities increased or reduced as a result of the pandemic?
  • What models have informed the public health measures adopted by your country to address the COVID-19 pandemic? What are the limitations of this modeling? How have the models changed over time as they are applied to real-world data?
  • Are HIV prevention activities continuing during the containment period? What measures are being taken to ensure the safety of volunteers, healthcare workers, and clients during the delivery of prevention services?
  • What is being done to ensure that people living with HIV have access to a sufficient supply of antiretroviral treatment? What are the challenges in delivering treatment? What innovations have been made to deliver multi-month prescriptions or refills to people living with HIV?
  • Are the rights of patients being treated for COVID-19 being protected? How might fear of the spread of the pandemic be fueling the abuse of patients’ rights? Who is advocating for patients?
  • What clinical management of COVID-19 patients is your country implementing? How successful are its treatment protocols? What challenges are doctors and nurses experiencing in treating COVID-19 patients?
  • What is happening behind the walls of the institutional quarantine areas?
  • What happens after a person recovers from COVID-19? How long are people still at risk of transmitting the virus? What does the science say about this, and what is still unknown?
  • What support exists for people with mental health disorders? How are healthcare workers prepared for a predicted spike in mental illness during the containment period?
  • Do the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach people have access to free or affordable testing and care? Which communities are most at risk because of limited access to treatment?
  • Does your country have systems in place to ensure continued access to family planning, and skilled antenatal, delivery, and post-natal care? Can it ensure the proper treatment of sexually transmitted infections?
  • How have voluntary blood donations been affected by COVID-19? What are blood donation organizations doing to ensure steady supplies at this time?
  • What role are the less recognized medical professionals, such as pharmacists, laboratory technicians, EMTs, and respiratory therapists, playing in COVID-19 containment? What has been done to ensure their occupational safety?
  • Have health and epidemiological systems in your country been recapitalized to deal with COVID-19? Where have the resources to do this come from, and what impact has any resource reallocation had on other sectors?
  • Will the disruption of international trade affect the supply of essential medicines, medical sundries, and equipment in your country? How?  What systems have been put in place by pharmaceutical boards and pharmaceutical authorities to ensure stable distribution of essential supplies?
  • Where healthcare systems are stretched by efforts to contain COVID-19 outbreaks, what care responsibilities are being placed on women and girls who usually bear the responsibility for caring for sick family members? How are these women and girls impacted by this increased burden? What support exists for them?
  • In early March, several governments announced restrictions on exports of medical products and ingredients. This means that the delivery of paracetamol, some antibiotics, and generic medicines from the largest suppliers of these goods to Africa is interrupted. Has your country already begun to suffer because of this? What contingency plan exists to plug the holes created by reduced imports?
  • How has COVID-19 changed or shaped public sector messaging about hygiene and nutrition? What is the response of citizens across the country to this new messaging?
  • Has the closure of higher learning institutions had an impact on the support that student doctors and nurses offer support hospitals? Many students provide much-needed support by conducting tasks like observing patients, allocating beds, and administering medication. Has this led to increased pressure and demands on hospital staff? Are tutors from the closed institutions stepping in to support hospital staff? How?
  • What measures have been instituted to reduce the risk of infection by healthcare workers in hospitals across the country? How prepared are health workers for COVID-19?
  • How are the COVID-19 call centers coping?
  • How, exactly, does the institutional quarantine system work? What goes on in the places where suspected cases, or those returning from high risk countries, are quarantined?
  • There have been reports of bribery at airports and other entry points, perpetrated by those who  did not want their relatives or themselves to be quarantined. How did this happen? Which powerful government officials or private citizens were involved?
  • What is the capacity of national and regional referral hospitals, in terms of intensive care beds, skills, and equipment?
  • How are regional referral hospitals and private hospitals preparing for a probable wide-scale outbreak of COVID-19? What contingency plans are in place to support clinical services?
  • What contingency plans are in place in the likely event that hospitals are flooded with COVID-19 patients? What do health workers and experts make of all these plans?
  • With resources focused on preventing and containing coronavirus, how are countries prepared for existing and future disease outbreaks? Has COVID-19 exacerbated the existing disease burden?
  • What has COVID-19 revealed about the strengths or weaknesses of the health care system in the country?
  • Where are the efforts being made, globally, to find a treatment or vaccine?
  • How does the coronavirus test work?


  • What skilled workers have experienced a drop in the demand for their services since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • What are the prospects for temporary and itinerant workers during the containment period? How are governments responding to a lack of social and economic protections for these people?
  • What are the general health and safety obligations of employers in your country? What is being done to ensure employers are complying with government regulations to protect their employees?
  • With labor externalization services suspended for most countries, what support exists for people employed through labor externalization companies? What help, if any, do they have from your country’s diplomatic stations?
  • What sectors are most affected by mobility and work disruptions? Education, tourism, entertainment, hospitality, electronics, luxury goods? What impact has this had on the labor force employed by these sectors? What does it mean for investment and expansion plans?


  • Has the pandemic affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance to your country? Are resources intended for assistance being diverted to support COVID-19 efforts, and with what outcomes?
  • What has COVID-19 revealed about the social and economic inequalities in your country?  How are government and non-government actors responding to the realities presented?
  • Has the care and support for survivors of gender-based violence been disrupted by the pandemic? What risks does this pose for vulnerable people, particularly women and girls?
  • How are coronavirus prevention measures being implemented in communities that live in water-stressed environments? Are there any government or non-governmental organizations working to supply safe, clean water at this time?
  • What are the gender dimensions of COVID-19? How have women been affected by the containment period, school closures, and the economic slowdown?
  • Have people with disabilities been adequately catered for in this containment period? Do they have access to information through the media, community, and government channels that is appropriate for them? What supportive measures are in place from government, civil society, and community-based organizations for people with disabilities?
  • There is a fear that refugee settlements are most likely to be hard hit by COVID-19, due to a lack of essential services like medical care and potable water sources. How have host countries prepared for this likelihood?
  • How are containment protocols being implemented in densely populated refugee camps and settlement areas?
  • How have border closures affected the economic and social life of border communities?
  • How is your government addressing the needs of people living in informal settlements? Is it still providing other services to prevent, detect, and treat diseases in these communities?


  • Who are the “silent heroes” in your country’s coronavirus fight? Who is at the forefront of public communications, health sector responses, or community efforts to address COVID-19? Profile as many as you can.
  • What is it like to be a frontline physician treating COVID-19 patients?
  • What social innovations have been developed, or are being developed, to help the most vulnerable in society during the pandemic?
  • How are people who tested positive coping with hospitalization and treatment?
  • What is COVID-19 like through the eyes of these patients, or their relatives and caregivers?
  • What is COVID-19 like through the eyes of suspected cases who tested negative?
  • What is COVID-19 like through the eyes of patients who have recovered?
  • What personal safety measures against COVID-19 are leaders in your country taking?

Public Works and Infrastructure

  • What major infrastructure projects have been affected by closures and the economic slowdown? What key milestone dates could be missed? What strategies are in place to ensure financial and human resources are intact to complete these projects in a timely manner?
  • How will large infrastructure projects being financed by Chinese financial institutions, or implemented by Chinese companies, be affected by COVID-19?


  • How are faith communities in your country responding to the pandemic?
  • How have containment measures changed faith-driven service and charity in your country?
  • Is access to sacred spaces, shrines, and other places of African traditional worship restricted? How are adherents of traditional worship adapting to these measures?
  • Has COVID-19 narrowed or widened the gap between science and religion in your country? What debates are surrounding this “clash of ideas”?
  • How are faith leaders in your country provided support to perform religious sacraments and rituals for communities and people in need? Do lockdown and containment measures allow them to continue in this service? If not, what are they doing to meet people’s needs?
  • What pastoral care are faith leaders able to provide at this time, and how are they doing this?
  • Are any faith leaders playing a pivotal role — whether positive or negative — in containing the spread of the novel coronavirus, and to what effect?
  • What role are faith-based organizations playing during the crisis?
  • What does worship look like around your country in this period?

Sports, Arts, & Entertainment

  • Are there any relief programs in your country to support players in need due to the shutdown of sports activities?
  • How has COVID-19 changed people’s physical activity and exercise habits?
  • How much revenue has been lost due to the cancellation of music concerts, arts events, and sports activities? What strategies are being developed to recover this revenue in the future?
  • What are sportspeople doing during the containment period? What are clubs and managers doing to minimize harm to players, particularly for contact sports?
  • How are people engaged in the performing arts handling the shutdown of their activities? Who is most affected?
  • How are sports and entertainment celebrities using their platforms to educate and inform the public about COVID-19 prevention methods? Who is leading the charge, and to what effect?
  • Which artists are using online tools to remain connected to their audiences at this time? Are any of them monetizing these channels?


  •  How have various African countries responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?

This story originally appeared on the ACME website, and is cross-posted with permission. Send further story ideas suggestions to the ACME website, through their social pages, or via email.

The African Centre for Media Excellence is a Kampala-based independent, nonprofit professional organization committed to excellence in journalism and mass communication in Africa. ACME employs a long-term approach in which practical training workshops are complemented by mentoring and coaching.


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