Editorial: Beyond Covid-19; What is Africa’s future after the pandemic?

The World Economic Forum (WEF) on May 11 suggested that there are three ways the Covid-19 pandemic could actually spark a better future for Africa. The three sparks that could light a flame include: strengthening the health sectors, rethinking social protection for the vulnerable and industrialisation.

Since most countries attained independence, leaders from virtually every African country have travelled abroad for medical services, leaving their people at the mercy of dilapidated health systems. Covid-19 brought forth the fact that during a pandemic African countries are on their own, and that the people and their leaders are in the same boat. That fact will undoubtedly force a rethink to prioritize investment in health systems.

With a large informal sector, issues like social protection for the vulnerable has never featured in policy frameworks but the pandemic has forced it into a top policy consideration. Indeed, WEF acknowledges Kenya and Equatorial Guinea as two African states that are offering excellent examples of countries that have regulated and put in place social protection systems that will survive and outlast our battle against this common enemy.

The crisis forced quick innovations, with some universities coming up with contraptions of ventilators. The WEF article noted that the continent’s poor pharmaceutical capacity has been a source of amazement to locals and foreigners alike. Bangladesh, a poorer country than many African countries, produces 97 percent of the national demand for medicines in contrast to Africa, which is almost 100 percent dependent on imports. Several other articles on post pandemic Africa that came out in May such as the McKinsey’s report, ‘‘Reopening and reimagining Africa: How the Covid-19 crisis can catalyse change’’, highlight similar opportunities presented by the crisis. The continent, therefore, must ride on the wave of creativity and innovation to build a sustainable manufacturing sector.

The people have proven the fact that they do not have to import some of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) required mostly in the healthcare sector.

Already, Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) through the National Standards Council has in the recent past developed some specifications on critical care ventilators, reusable cloth masks and a standard on protective clothing for the purpose of building local capacity to mitigate against the pandemic.

The crisis has shown the critical importance of self-reliance that many of the simple imports that Africa imports from other countries should cease.

If the continent builds better supply chains, better value addition and reduced waste especially in food, Africa could easily be self-sufficient in food. The current food import bill of $35 billion according to Africa Development Bank could be converted into capital to develop a resilient manufacturing sector.

Unlike in the past, WEF has rightfully noted that African States are developing strategic and in-depth approaches to human development, regional integration, digitisation, industrialisation, economic diversification, fiscal and monetary policies, and international solidarity. In short, they are rethinking the causes of the continent’s underdevelopment and coming up with feasible solutions.

Africa’s underdevelopment is partly caused by failure to integrate trade within the continent. Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), noted in a recent article that the share of intra-African exports as a percentage of total African exports has increased from about 10 percent in 1995 to around 17 percent in 2017, but it remains low compared to levels in Europe (69 percent), Asia (59 percent), and North America (31 percent).

Africa’s internal market, not exports to other places, will matter more for the continent’s growth. It means that the growing digitalization will grow Africa-specific solutions such as mobile money just as China’s startups in the digital space have grown within a very short period of time.

The news about the delay of the start date from July 1, 2020 to next year does not reflect desire to see Covid-19 as a spark for a renewed Africa. The pandemic has opened African eyes that in a crisis most countries retreat to their core constituency. The continent must arise and invest in health systems, respond to emerging crises with innovation and seek to become self-reliant. Basic necessities like medicine, food and other essentials should be manufactured locally.

The launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area must be fast-tracked irrespective of the state that we are in, specifically the coronavirus pandemic, to ensure continental self-sufficiency.


Floyd’s Death in U.S. Spurs Protests and Outrage Across Africa

The killing of an unarmed African-American by a white police officer in Minneapolis is sparking outrage across sub-Saharan Africa, with protests staged in Kenya and Nigeria and political leaders voicing angry criticism.

Several dozen people gathered peacefully outside the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, on Tuesday, while small groups of people braved heavy rain to demonstrate on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.

The protestation from Africa add to international pressure on American authorities to ensure there is justice for George Floyd, who died after a police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill. The objections are all the more stinging given that many African nations have been at the receiving end of U.S. criticism for violating their own citizens’ rights.

“Black people the world over are shocked and distraught by the killing,” Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said on Twitter. “It cannot be right that in the 21st century the U.S., this great bastion of democracy, continues to grapple with the problem of systemic racism.”

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairman of the African Union Commission, said the continental group condemned the killing “in the strongest terms” and rejected the continuing discriminatory practices against black citizens of the U.S.

The series of recent killings of African-Americans “has sharpened the focus on inescapable realities that American society places a perilously low value on black lives,” South Africa’s ruling party said in a statement. “It is deplorable that almost 70 years since racial segregation was abolished in America, people of color are still routinely slaughtered for the color of their skin.”

Nigeria’s government joined in the condemnation and called for those responsible to be held accountable.

“We hope that greater efforts be made to restore confidence between the police and the black communities,” said Garba Shehu, President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman. “ We equally urge that incidents like this should not be allowed to happen again.”

In Zimbabwe, the government summoned the U.S. ambassador to explain a White House official’s remarks suggesting the southern African nation is exploiting protests over Floyd’s killing. That came after Senator Marco Rubio said on Twitter that “foreign adversaries” used social media to stoke and promote violence in the U.S. and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien later identified Zimbabwe as one of the candidates.

Nick Mangwana, a spokesman for Zimbabwe’s government, said the nation doesn’t consider itself an adversary of the U.S. government.