Africa and The Coronavirus Pandemic

When COVID-19 broke out in January 2020, many believed it would be contained swiftly, and that it would become a faint memory. In March 2020, when it was clear that this virus was determined to invade every country on the globe, curiosity began to arise surrounding the preparedness of governments to tackle the issue. I remember musing in conversations, saying “If that virus enters Nigeria, we are finished”. And this was a popular assessment, in many African countries, due to bad governance, which tends to have poor infrastructure making it difficult to trust their ability to manage crises such as a pandemic. Hence, why the predictions of the death rate were dismal at best, thankfully that was not the case. The pandemic has had something to teach everybody on the planet, ranging from the value of loved ones to that of a 4-day working week. Through all this, Africa’s countries, have many potential takeaways, here are a few.

As the world becomes increasingly reliant on technology, African countries simply must make a shift towards the development of this sector. One major manifestation of this is in the reduced usage of cash and a large focus on digital financial services. Contactless cards are all the rage in Western countries, currently, but Africans do not have to follow suit exactly; this can be accomplished in a uniquely African way. For instance, many Africans do not possess email addresses, differing from other regions that use these as citizens’ unique identifiers. For most of Africa’s countries’ this role is fulfilled by mobile phone numbers, which was brilliantly factored in through Kenya’s established ‘M-Pesa’, a virtual banking system that provides e-transaction services through a SIM card.

This shows that technological development is a sector in which Africa does not only participate but thrives, and with the pandemic increasing our reliance on technology, so too will the opportunities for Africa to develop. The pandemic has caused a surge in reliance on digital technology for financial services, and fintech unicorns are sprouting up from Africa, examples being Flutterwave, Expensya, Jumia, and many others that pave the way for financial inclusion in Africa. Governments must support these businesses in order for Africa to enter a new age of technological advancement and catch up with the rest of the globe.

The West is Not the Answer

The pandemic succeeded in showing, very clearly, that African countries must stop looking to the West for solutions to African issues. When the Omicron variant was discovered by brilliant scientists in South Africa, a variant already present in Europe, many Western countries proceeded to ban travel from the region and restricted travel from other African countries. This rash response sparked international outrage and was rightly critiqued as “hypocritical, harsh and not supported by science”, by Cyril Ramaphosa. It showed that when put in a position to either support and collaborate with African nations or shun and disparage them, Western countries are likely to choose the latter. This incident also shed light on the ‘vaccine apartheid’ taking place, in which the disparity between the Global South and West on vaccine access was highlighted. The issue here is that Western governments have handed over control of the vaccine to profit-chasing corporations that have monopolized production and have been selling largely to the richest countries. When one considers that Britain has fully vaccinated 67% of her population, while Africa (the whole continent) can only boast of 3%, it is clear that African governments must cease reliance on handouts from the West and look inwards for solutions.

We are Stronger than We or Anyone else Believes

As mentioned earlier, projections regarding how African countries would be impacted by the pandemic were grim, with experts predicting a far higher death rate than reality. Western countries were stupefied, claiming that underreporting was taking place. Why else would Africa, though representing 12.5% of the global population account for only 4% of COVID-related deaths? The answer as explained by Richard Wamai, a professor of global studies is that though we don’t have large economic resources to deal with pandemics, “We still have very large and strong health programs on the continent, largely because of all of these historic experiences with infectious diseases.” African countries learned from outbreaks of Ebola and yellow fever, for example, so strong local health measures, a strong sense of civic duty and swift government responses were in place to combat the virus. In Rwanda and Sierra Leone, for instance, HIV and Ebola equipment were repurposed for Covid tracking, testing, and quarantining.

Other unexpected factors such as the young average age of 19.7 aided in fewer deaths, so while the rest of the world has been scrambling to think of why Africa is performing much better than expected, simply did not understand the strengths possessed by nations. The pandemic has still devastated the economies of African nations, making initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) of paramount importance. Governments must look to other African countries to promote free trade so that economies can recover from the shock of lockdown and other measures because if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that the answers to our issues can be found within; we should not be so easily underestimated.

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