Africa and post COVID-19 economic realities
By Nnedinso Ogaziechi
There are grim projections by experts and non-experts in health and economics for Africa and the anticipated impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This, of course, stems from the fact that most African economies are so fragile that the human and economic impact of the global lockdown is projected to grossly affect the continent given the economic indices of productions, imports and exports.
In truth, a country like Nigeria seems to be treating the pandemic as though the rate of infections, deaths and recoveries are the only important issues to the economy. One does not, however, need to be a Nobel laureate in economics to understand that the pandemic is not apocalyptic. There would be life after the pandemic and the best thing is for African leaders to sit down and plan for future enduring economic sustainability and engagements for the continent and reduce dependency on other continents through aids, grants and imports.
The Round Table believes that Africa must begin to look inwards and to develop its most important assets – human capital. There must be huge investment in education and the health sector because those two hold the ace in development. To drive these two sectors, technocratic input must be embraced in ways that are as inclusive as they are transparently focused on merit. The informal sector must get more attention as one of the pillars of sustainable development.
Africa must re-evaluate its political structure to be more inclusive of women and its teeming and tech-savvy youths. The present situation where there is a seeming monopoly of the political space by fairly old and sometimes ‘professional but parochial’ politicians cannot be seen to be ready for a post COVID-19 world that is sure to be a battle for the most economically strategic and inclusive political spaces.
From the nations with the best COVID-19 strategies that saved the lives of their citizens like Taiwan, Germany, New Zealand, Denmark, Finland and Iceland etc., the leadership is by women. While not saying that any gender has the magic wand, it is obvious that given a level playing field, competence and commitment is not gender sensitive.
The African Center interview by Uzo Iweala, son of Nigeria’s former Finance and Foreign Affairs Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on the recent mother’s day was as informative as it was profoundly relevant for Africa and Africans not just at this time but for a post- pandemic period in a fast changing world that seems to be redefining global relations.
As a development economist recently appointed by the African Union (AU) as special envoy to solicit international support to help the continent deal with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is full of optimism that Africa has shown unprecedented resilience in the face of dire health and economic challenges before but must think outside the box at this time while preparing for some functional regional economic plans post pandemic.
She said that while the AU special envoys are working with WHO and the international community and donor agencies to put additional resources together to help in the race for vaccines, the therapeutics and the diagnostics materials for the global fight with an equitable distribution, Africa needs some introspection. The push to find a way to solve the pandemic problems is huge.
The human and economic damage is pushing for search to find solutions. COVID-19, according to her, is exposing the fact that capitalism has its down sides. The inequalities in the world are very evident with this pandemic. In places like the United States, certain populations like the blacks and Hispanics and other low income groups are dying more from the pandemic because most of them already have pre-existing health conditions that make them very vulnerable to the infection. To compound their problems, they still have to go out to work because they literally live from hand to mouth.
She believes that Africans must begin to take pride in the capacity they have to pull through various socio-economic problems and efforts must be made to support those structures that are inherently African.
Communities must continue to uphold the structures that lift others. The extended family system must continue to play the ‘brother’s keeper’ roles Africans are known for. The capitalist focus on wealth must begin to give way to love and caring for each other. We must continue to care about having those that can always receive help from us.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala feels that the social distancing may not work very well because structurally, the urbanisation in African cities has affected living conditions. There are slum clusters that force large groups to live very close to each other and a transportation system that is often not very well planned for safety should be a concern and needs to be better planned.
Africa must accelerate the start of the Africa Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) in ways that can help the continent economically after the pandemic. The countries must come together to discuss areas of best competences in manufacturing and be able to trade freely amongst each other in ways that can see more independence on the outside world. A situation where more than 90% of pharmaceuticals are from China, India and the rest of the world would continue to drain the resources of Africans. Borders must be made accessible to trade to avoid instances of huge inter-continental shipping costs even above other continents.
The Round Table believes that Nigerian being the most populous and economically vibrant economy on the continent must re-strategise for a post pandemic period. This period and the attendant socio-economic impact must provide food for thought and a revisit of policies. The lack of a reliable census figure and other statistical data has made it near impossible to trace the contacts of patients, distribute palliatives and generally trace criminals.
The general chaos in town planning and infrastructural deficit has made the social distancing order a near impossibility not out of refusal by the people but basically a result of either policy failure or lack of same in decades. The pandemic is not novel. There have been and there would continue to be pandemics and other health emergencies. A structural overhaul that would be in tune with cultural nuances might just be a very good plan for a post COVID-19 world.
A healthcare system that is wholly dependent on the outside world might continue to drain the resources of the country. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala believes that if Senegal can manufacture a one dollar test kit, and many other African countries can manufacture some Personal Protective Equipment out of the exigencies of this period, other nations can do better.
Nigeria must begin to invest more in education and scientific research and begin a deliberate effort to support the SMEs and youthful entrepreneurs to integrate them into the modern tech world. The continent’s Central Banks must begin to be innovative and see ways to assist in the economic rejuvenation post-pandemic.
More than ever before, the inter-dependence of the human socio-economic chain has been exposed by this pandemic. It is, therefore, left for leaders to do the needful in support of all sectors for a more sustainable future with more investment in training the human capital. The greatest loss of the world at this time is the human capital and a recovery will be dependent on the surviving human capital that are well-equipped for the future.
Are we? The dialogue continues…