COVID-19: THE LAST CALL FOR GOOD
GOVERNANCE IN AFRICA
Significance: COVID-19 is endangering the lives of many Africans and threatens to reverse decades of growth the continent has struggled to build so far. The continent’s economy might drastically change due to the potential impact of the pandemic on trade and value chains, foreign financial flows, and healthcare systems. Effective mechanisms are therefore required to face the new challenges of a post-COVID 19 setting.
Africa was expected to be hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak, however, the continent has shown resilience in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic (BBC, 2020). Some underlying factors behind this apparent resilience seem to be the youthful demographic of the continent– with 226 million youth aged 15-24– representing nearly 20% of Africa’s population (Marbot 2020; United Nations 2014). The second factor of this resistance could be attributed to the continent’s experience with epidemics since Africa has suffered from numerous and deadly health crises such as Ebola and Malaria. Therefore, Africa has learned the lessons and best practices of past crises making it easier to implement containment and mitigation measures in fighting the coronavirus (Marbot, 2020). African countries such as Senegal, have demonstrated agile and courageous leadership by implementing preventive measures (ban on all events, school closures, screening and quarantine measures) 10 days after the first coronavirus case (The Ministry of the Interior, 2020). Madagascar, Tanzania, or Cameroon did not hesitate to support the use of their local traditional practices–plants and mineral substances– to prevent and treat the coronavirus disease (Ekonde 2020; Mugabi 2020). However, the region has yet to declare victory over the COVID-19 pandemic, in May 2020 the continent has reported 183 474 cases and 5, 041 deaths with 81 367 recoveries over a population of 1.3 billion people (Africa CDC 2020; World Population Review 2020). Most importantly, socio-economic consequences might be devastating on the African continent as the current health crisis is weighing heavily on the continent’s economies. COVID-19 represents nonetheless a window of opportunity to ensure Africa’s regional integration and collaboration, diversify African economies, and redirect budgetary spending in the social and healthcare sectors.
The current health crisis linked to Covid-19 is weighing heavily on the continent’s economies, which have relied either on tourism or on exports of raw materials, particularly hydrocarbons. The pandemic has brought oil prices down sharply. A disaster for many African countries, heavily dependent on the exports of fuel commodities. In March, the price of a Brent crude oil per barrel, was traded at as low as 20$ on the markets while it was still over $ 50 in February early this year (Krauss, 2020). Nigeria for instance, the main producer of hydrocarbons on the continent, is especially vulnerable to the sharp fall in oil prices since oil production accounts for more than half of government revenues (Bala-Gbogbo, 2020). Furthermore, countries such as Angola, Gabon, Congo, and Equatorial Guinea are significantly dependent on mineral raw materials including oil, representing a considerable part of the gross domestic product (GDP) (Boko, 2020). Therefore, it is essential to further diversify African economies by investing and supporting small businesses and startups in agriculture, tourism, and technology-related industries. Africa should leverage its rich agricultural resources by improving basic infrastructure and efficiency as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens food security in Africa (Ehui 2020). it is crucial for Africa to take advantage of the digital age to advance productions and services in the agriculture sector. In fact, digital technologies are an indispensable pillar of contemporary global poverty alleviation strategies (Bitange & Weiss 2017). It will arguably offer African governments new ways to tackle social challenges and boost economic growth. For example, the use of Big Data, and machine learning could greatly increase the continent’s agricultural productivity. Big data, for instance, could “provide farmers granular data on rainfall patterns, water cycles, fertilizer requirements” and “advise smallholder farmers and help guide pest monitoring efforts across the continent” (McDaniel 2020; Gumbi 2018).
As the pandemic has exposed the lack of appropriate public health infrastructures, the African Union and the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention should provide more financial resources to support public health initiatives of Member States and strengthen the capacity of their public health institutions (Africa CDC, 2020). Furthermore, African governments should invest more in advanced scientific research and experimentation to detect, prevent, control, and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and improve the quality of traditional treatments as well. In fact, the continent should enhance local traditional medicine since traditional medicine is an ancient and culture-bound method of healing, with strong identity value to the African community and has proven its effectiveness through the ages (Abdullahi, 2011 p.115). Therefore, African governments post-COVID-19 should consider healthcare practices that include both traditional and conventional “modern” medicine.
Additionally, Africa needs to reinforce intra-regional trade by developing collaborative efforts to regularize trade policies, customs controls, and lower both tariff and non-tariff barriers, and improve the infrastructures and connectivity to reduce the logistics cost. This crisis is a reminder that African countries should enhance solidarity and cooperation among countries by taking more concrete steps to realize the main objectives of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which successfully entered into force in May 2019 (Shahin, 2020). The AfCTA is the central platform of Africa’s development efforts in promoting its intra-regional trade performance and the integration of African countries’ economies by focusing on the reduction of tariffs, the removal of non-tariff barriers, and the unification of customs rules among its member states. A great step to African integration.
African countries post-COVID-19 should focus on systemic change in various sectors to promote a more sustained and inclusive development and embrace more technologies to advance productions and services. Artificial intelligence could transform basic education in many African countries and strengthen the education system, especially the training and learning related to digital skills in various sectors including the Agriculture sector. African Union member States should make structural economic changes to increase the institutional, technical, administrative, and political capacities of the state in a post-COVID- 19 world.
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By: Emamsy Mbossa Ngossoh