COVID-19 in Africa: a challenging road to recovery

New analysis from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation unpacks ten key governance challenges for African countries on the road to recovery from COVID-19
By Mo Ibrahim Foundation
Africa COVID-19 in Africa: a challenging road to recovery
DEC 6, 2021 LISTEN

Dakar and London, 6 December 2021 - COVID-19 has exposed wide-ranging, fundamental challenges for African countries across the governance landscape. Addressing these is critical for long-term recovery, but without a massive step-up in vaccination rates, any recovery will be delayed and the opportunity to build a more self-reliant future squandered.

This is the picture that emerges from COVID-19 in Africa: a challenging road to recovery, a new report from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation examining COVID-19’s impact on Africa and the continent’s potential to respond.

Unless it can vaccinate 70% of its population by the end of 2022, Africa stands little chance of overcoming the pandemic. However, as of 18 November 2021, just 6.8% of the continent’s population had been fully vaccinated, and only five African countries are predicted to meet the World Health Organization (WHO) target of vaccinating 40% of their population by the end of 2021. The immediate priority is to get more jabs into arms by increasing access to doses and strengthening logistics. In parallel, upscaling local manufacturing capacities is vital for building Africa’s vaccine autonomy and overcoming its over-reliance on international support.

COVID-19 in Africa: a challenging road to recovery looks beyond the vaccination issue – ‘challenge zero’ – to unpack ten key challenges, in the areas of health, society and the economy, that must be addressed to ensure a sustainable recovery and preparedness for future pandemics. Drawing on a decade of data from the 2020 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), the report assesses each African country’s performance relative to the ten challenges, highlighting success stories, identifying areas of concern, and providing insights on where to focus future efforts.

Mo Ibrahim, Founder and Chair, Mo Ibrahim Foundation said:

From early in this crisis, our Foundation and other African voices have been warning that an unvaccinated Africa could become a perfect incubator for variants. The emergence of Omicron reminds us that COVID-19 remains a global threat, and that vaccinating the whole world is the only way forward. Yet we continue to live with extreme vaccine discrimination, and Africa in particular is being left behind.

“The impact of COVID-19 has thrown into stark relief a spectrum of complex governance challenges facing African nations. I hope this report, informed by a decade of data from the Ibrahim Index, serves as an essential resource for policymakers, the private sector and civil society as they work to put Africa back on the road to recovery.”

- Africa needs to build its health sovereignty

A chronic shortfall in reliable data is impairing sound health policymaking. Just 10% of deaths in Africa are registered and over 50% of children in Africa do not have a legal existence. The IIAG underscores a stuttering recent performance in the indicator Civil Registration.

Significant out-of-pocket expenses and insufficient public investment mean that for most Africans, healthcare is neither affordable nor accessible. In 2021, just ten African countries, representing 9% of the continent’s population, provide their citizens with free and universal healthcare. The IIAG indicator Access to Healthcare remained almost static at the continental level between 2010 and 2019.

Africa demonstrated an early and relatively well coordinated response to COVID-19. However, most African countries remain unprepared for a future pandemic. The continent performs worse than all other world regions for WHO International Health Regulations.

- The pandemic threatens recent social gains across the board

Extended school closures due to COVID-19 and a lack of remote learning opportunities have compounded Africa’s pre-existing learning crisis. While there have been notable improvements in staffing, enrolment and completion since 2010, Education Quality is one of the 79 indicators that have deteriorated the most at the continental level, with 30 countries declining in this measure.

Women and girls have been particularly impacted by the pandemic, ranging from diminished economic opportunities to greater exposure to sexual and gender-based violence. Most COVID-19 mitigation measures put in place by African countries are not gender sensitive.

COVID-19 has further shrunk civic space and media freedoms across the continent. 44 African countries restricted at least one democratic practice as part of their COVID-19 response, with media freedom being the most violated.

- Real potential for transformative economic recovery provided key hurdles are overcome

Social safety nets to protect the most vulnerable need to be strengthened. Constrained by limited fiscal space, the African average spend on COVID-19 response measures, outside of healthcare, was 2.4% of GDP, less than half the global average. The African average value for the IIAG indicator Social Safety Nets has stagnated since 2010. Upscaling domestic financial resources is critical but, concerningly, the IIAG indicator Tax & Revenue Mobilisation has deteriorated since 2015.

While almost all African countries have increased their score in the IIAG indicator Access to Energy since 2010, Africa still has the lowest electricity access of any region globally. Over 600 million Africans remain off-grid. Every African country has improved in the IIAG indicator Digital Access since 2010, but, alongside the energy divide, the current digital divide remains a major obstacle to realising the continent’s economic potential.

The recent creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the largest free trade area in the world, has the potential to transform intra-regional trade and reduce Africa’s dependence on external demand and supply. However, inadequate transport networks still pose a major hindrance to a more integrated continental economy.

Ma Soukha Ba, member of the Foundation’s Now Generation Network and a contributor to the report, said: “COVID-19 has served as a wake-up call for Africa. The old model of stagnating at the bottom of global value chains and competition between neighbours to export low-value products is not serving us well. If Africa is to leverage the opportunity of the fourth industrial revolution – not just as a consumer but also as a producer – we will need a sustained focus on nurturing the continent’s human capital.”

COVID-19 in Africa: a challenging road to recovery provides ranks and trends for each African country relative to these ten challenge areas. By benchmarking each country’s performance against continental trends, the report serves as a critical resource for all those wanting to explore how Africa’s 54 countries can prioritise resources for an effective recovery from COVID-19.

The report draws on data from the 2020 IIAG, which covers the period 2010-19. To learn more about the Ibrahim Index, visit #IIAG.

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