COVID-19: A Wake-up Call to Africans
COVID-19 is rampaging the globe with its tentacles of disease transmission, its wings of infections and its icy hands of death tolls. In the wake of the corona virus pandemic, almost every country on the face of the Earth has experienced the devastating impact of the pandemic.
It is interesting to note that, this has broken the communal lifestyles of people and made them to resort to lives that are barriered by physical distancing and stay at home protocols, which have been part of the ‘new normal’. It is based on this premise, that all nations have issued directives that can help prevent the spread, break the chain of infections and flatten the curve.
In most instances, the 3 t’s (i.e tracing, testing and treatment) have been recognized within the public health space and embraced by state health institutions championing the fight against the ‘invisible enemy’ (COVID-19). All African countries so far, have had their share of this ‘global pill’.
Africa with 55 sovereign states have had this pandemic storming across the continent, affecting all the 55 countries with Lesotho being the latest, and further pushing a lot of people into the net of vulnerability, destroying the economic growth potential of these nations, collapsing businesses and rendering people unemployed. It is ravaging the continent with series of catastrophic effects and knock-on impacts on individuals, households, and firms.
As of June 28, 2020, Africa has recorded a cumulative COVID-19 case of 371,600; with 9,485 deaths and 178,491 recoveries ( https://allafrica.com/view/group/main/main/id/00072212.html ). South Africa is the country with the most affected cases of the novel coronavirus with a total of 131,800 confirmed cases and Western Sahara with a total of 10 cases. The consistent increase in the number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus is worrying, unpleasant and demands drastic united efforts.
In this period of the global pandemic where borders are closed, production in most firms curtailed, with reduced economic activities and engagements, what is the fate of the African continent in the fight against this canker?
A continent that has depended so much and still depending on the western world, how can we sustainably engineer solutions to Africa’s problems that have lived with us for centuries? What is the level of vulnerability and how are we prepared as a continent to fight this ‘invisible enemy’ and live the ‘new normal’ life? These are the questions that raise our inquisitive eyes to consider how we can collectively fight and win this ‘battle’.
Over the past decades, it is evident that Africa has witnessed significant transformation across many sectors of the economy. The quest of being self-sufficient has propelled many African governments to investing in human capital and implementing social innovation programs to accelerate the development on the continent. The World Bank reports that, GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa has increased by 4.4% on average for the past two decades and it is expected to surge even higher.
Amidst these transformations and high economic growth above the global average on the continent, it is undeniable that the continent heavily depends on Western assistance and various forms of support programs from the United Nations (UN), World Health Organization (WHO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and many other recognized governmental and non-governmental organizations outside the continent for survival. The continent also depends on imports from the Western world.
It is somewhat sad that many African countries have been recipients of foreign aid after independence, to finance development projects. Current research shows that, aid accounted for about 12.4% of Gross National Product (GNP), over 50% of total imports and an estimated amount of 70% gross domestic saving and investment in Sub-Saharan Africa (Ampaw, 2000).
Available data reveals that, the continent has relied on foreign medical supplies, food imports, foreign aids, grants and loans for its survival and development. This passion for over-dependence, has rendered our health systems, weak and prone to collapse during pandemics like COVID-19.
It appears political leaders and government officials have neglected the holistic development of hospitals, and other health centres but prefer to fly to other countries for medical treatment. Interestingly, COVID-19 has highlighted inequality, widened the scope of unity, sparked the spirit of innovativeness and ignited in us, the need to be self-reliant.
Exposed to vulnerability
COVID-19, “the invisible enemy”, has further exposed the vulnerability and over-dependence of the continent on the western world. The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global community is an overwhelming situation no concerned human can ignore.
Putting Africa in the limelight reveals that Africa, even though, is the least infected of all the continents of the world with cases more than a hundred thousand, this pandemic is truly exposing the continent’s weaknesses in their health systems with knock-on effects across other sectors.
As a natural consequence, most countries look up to countries like China, America and some European countries for vaccines, test kits, personal protective equipments (PPE’s), ventilators and other very important medical supplies. Our doors for external support have always been opened quite too wide towards the reception of foreign aids, donor funds, food imports and other supplies.
Looking at the devastating effects on countries such as the US and Italy with their well-resourced and sophisticated health system, one may be frightened to the bones how the situation of Africa will be since Africa is known as the continent with the least developed health system.This is a continent with countries that still has patients and pregnant women sleeping on the floors of hospitals and being attended to on the floor, sometimes neglected during overwhelming situations.
This is a continent with countries with hospitals that do not have up to a hundred ventilators. South Sudan for instance with a population of about 11 million only has four ventilators. This is a continent with countries with hospitals with not more than ten hospital beds per 10 thousand patients.
The existing civil war in South Sudan has led to the displacement of many to refugee camps like Daabab and Kakuma in Kenya. It becomes difficult to practice social distancing as these places are chocked with people, and the regular washing of hands in these refugee camps would be a challenging situation as they hardly have access to enough clean water. How then would they practice the proper hygiene in this fight against this novel virus?
This difficult environment then becomes an enhancement center for the spread of the virus. Some African countries like Libya has been channeling resources into the civil war instead of developmental projects and structures to fight COVID-19.
Some good news!
With the above said, let's turn the wheel to some success stories and innovations on the continent as African countries endeavour to seek solutions for their countries against the COVID-19.
The quest for sustainable remedies to fight the coronavirus has ignited some light on the continent- both leaders and the youths are being innovative. There have been many success stories all around the continent. The production and development of a herbal remedy to COVID-19 by Madagascar; relatively cheaper ventilators and test kits in Ethiopia, Senegal and Ghana; the use of drone technology by Ghana to transport and deliver samples to the testing centres and the development of robots to assists in medical care provision in Rwanda.
In Ghana and Nigeria, domestic industries and some individuals have gained significant attention from their leaders as many local companies are producing handwashing machines operated with different technology, surgical nose masks, face shields, and washable and reusable mouth and nose masks.
These gains have brought new “life” to the continent. We think that the production of these test kits, sanitizers, nose masks, and the effort to use herbal medicine to fight such a pertinacious virus coupled with viable policies and investments, will contribute immensely to the fight of health crises on the continent.
Self Sufficiency: The Way Forward
The global upheaval caused by this pandemic cannot be underestimated. By revealing and exposing the vulnerabilities within our health systems; and highlighting our unpardonable desire for imported products, it has prepared minds and awaken hearts to do exploits towards the transformation of Africa. By capturing this episode, it is an unequivocally important to state that, self-sufficiency is the way to go, if the African continent is to embrace prosperity, and advance their economies.
Africa needs to build a robust and a resilient economy, build capacities, promote the consumption of locally produced products and services towards the achievement of the Africa we want. We like the thoughts of Dr Sekou Nkrumah, Africa should invest heavily in Agriculture. Thus, we need to grow what we eat, and eat what we grow! Build resilient economic and health systems using the local think tanks and innovators.
Private companies need to engage in government policies to foster development on the continent. Governments should create conducive environments for businesses to scale and thrive. From a positive and an optimistic perspective, the growth of the continent lies in the sole hands of Africans who are redefined by this pandemic and are poised to making lasting and sustainable changes on the continent of Africa. Ultimately, we need to step up as Africans, change the narratives, defy the odds and embrace self-sufficiency.
African governments must invest in research that will influence policy-making with evidence-based information, build the capacities of young, vibrant and energetic minds and further groom these built capacities to be resilient during odd times like COVID-19.
It is important to note that the change we want to see in Africa is only possible when there is a total transformation of minds of the people of Africa. We must change our political, economic, religious and social perspective towards the direction that is of the development and progress of our small communities, countries and the continent.
The rising of the new Africa with intentionally-prepared minds; consciously-poised hearts; and deliberately-minded individuals, accentuates the holistic transformation of the Africa we want. We need to invest in ourselves, build sustainable structures, develop our competencies, support and build formidable public-private partnerships and drive an all-inclusive African transformation agenda. Truly, Africa can only be built by the people of the African soil. Let’s build AFRICA.
Emmanuel Fiifi Musah, Teaching and Research Assistant, Department of Agricultural Economics, Agribusiness and Extension, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi- Ghana
Bright Tetteh, Postgraduate Student MCom Economic Science, University of Cape Town - South Africa
Philip Semexa, Undergraduate Economics Student, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi - Ghana
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