What is your assessment of how Ghana has handled the Covid-19 pandemic?
YOFI GRANT: Ghana was one of the first countries in Africa to move swiftly and impose tough restrictions at the start of the outbreak. The country has handled the situation fairly well, imposing the lockdown at the right time. We also had a policy of tracking and treating cases very early in the game. When it comes to tracing, technology has enabled us to identify the patient’s contacts and test them,
regardless if they are symptomatic. As such, we are able to identify existing and potential hotspots. The country has used drones to deliver test samples and find people by triangulating with the help of service providers, and a number of software programmes have been used to trace and track. Technology has been an imperative aspect of the response.
How has Ghana’s private sector responded to the pandemic?
GRANT: Across the continent, the business community has played an important role in the response to the pandemic, and moves by the private sector in Ghana have been impressive. The private sector responded to the government’s call for assistance and many donated materials that were needed by frontline workers in the fight against Covid-19, such as bodysuits, goggles and face masks. Importantly, a number of CEOs established the Ghana Covid-19 Private Sector Fund, whose first project was to build a 100-bed isolation and treatment facility just outside Accra, which as of late May 2020 was nearing completion. The centre will have been built in just six weeks.
Ghana is facing two major challenges: the pandemic and the drop in oil prices. In what ways do you expect the economy to be affected in the medium term?
GRANT: Because the oil industry has been heavily affected by falling prices, we are certainly going to see a decrease in government revenue. However, oil is just one commodity and not necessarily the driver of the economy. While the future would have been brighter had prices remained high, the most significant issue we are seeing is disruptions in the value chains of agriculture and industry, as production is affected by
factories being closed.
It is not only factories that are shut, but borders as well. Because we cannot import and export as before, trade has been affected. However, Ghana has continued to export traditional goods such as fruits, so it is possible that the situation will stabilise in the medium term.
Before Covid-19, the economy was projected to grow by 6.9% in 2020, but that figure has been amended to 1.9% because of the economic ramifications of the pandemic. A committee composed of different ministries and the GIPC has been formed to identify measures to reset the economy, recover and move forward.
To what extent will the crisis help to develop local production capabilities in sectors such as agriculture and industry?
GRANT: We quickly saw how global trade and logistics were negatively impacted by the pandemic, and realised that our local players had to step in. As such, we encouraged many companies in the beverage and textile industries to manufacture goods that were needed, such as hand sanitiser, alcohol, masks and body suits for frontline medical workers. For instance, masks made from Ghanaian fabric are being produced and used extensively, and have even become fashionable. We ensure that these coverings comply with international standards, which reduces the need to import masks. In some instances the private sector has purchased these products and donated them to the government. While this has been a challenging situation, it has led to great opportunity for local industry and we believe the manufacturing momentum will continue beyond the pandemic.
Looking to the future, what are some of the major changes that you expect to result from the pandemic?
GRANT: The disruption in international trade will drive many African countries to start looking inwards; trade will continue, but the value will likely decrease. I foresee the continent tapping its potential and renegotiating its position after the crisis. Africa is home to some 60% of arable land in the world, and as
such, the continent is an important agricultural resource internationally, as many countries do not have enough land to grow food despite increasing demand. Moreover, the continent will continue to be one of the most attractive investment destinations in the world, with over 30% of the global mineral resources required by other countries to grow.
Still, what Africa requires is diversification and a focus on education, as it will be home to one-third of the world’s population by 2050. There has been a tacit acknowledgement by many leaders on the continent that this is the moment for us to rethink our strategy going forward.