As African governments continue to wrestle with the economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and chart a course to recovery, experts say opportunities abound for new directions, partnerships and policy reforms. If used correctly, these lessons could give the continent more resilience to weather future shocks.
Economies throughout Africa contracted sharply in 2020, as lockdowns and supply-chain disruptions took major tolls.
Though the lockdowns were necessary, African nations lacked the finances to withstand the impact, said Uduakobong Inam, a senior lecturer at the Department of Economics of the University of Uyo, Nigeria.
“Africa could not afford a lockdown given its peculiar social and economic circumstances,” he recently wrote for Nigerian online newspaper Premium Times. “The application of this measure had dire consequences for Africa as it plunged the African economy into unending socioeconomic woes including poverty, job losses, insecurity, negative growth rates, unemployment and debt crises.”
About 29 million Africans, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, are expected to suffer extreme poverty due to the pandemic, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB).
But one of the chief lessons to be learned from the fight against COVID-19 is the importance of investing in health care and the infrastructure to deliver it.
“The severity of the pandemic, and the economic crisis it has triggered, has created a unique opportunity to address longstanding deficits in health infrastructure and services,” AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina said during the 22nd Ordinary Session of Assembly of Health Ministers of the Economic Community of West African States in Abuja, Nigeria, on November 12. “Around 30% of African populations live over two hours away from essential health services. The risk of death after surgery in Africa is double the global average.
“The lack of structural and operational efficiency results in high costs and compromised care.”
Across the board, digital technology is expected to drive the recovery. That was the message of an online summit about port modernization in late October.
“Digital technology is essential for the recovery of productive capacity, trade, and supply chain building in various countries,” said Fikile Majola, deputy minister of South Africa’s Department of Trade Industry and Competition, during the summit.
The good news is there are signs the continent’s recovery could be better than initially forecast.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy is set to grow by 3.7% in 2021, according to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) latest regional economic outlook. Although this is slower than many other parts of the world, it still marks an improvement from earlier forecasts.
“The recovery is supported by favorable external conditions on trade and commodity prices,” Abebe Aemro Selassie, director of IMF’s African Department, said in a news conference October 21. “It has also benefited from improved harvests and increased agricultural production in a number of countries.”
With the entire world dealing with pronounced supply chain disruptions, there is a need to reimagine the continent’s place in a global economy.
Africa will have a seat at that table, Inam said, as he lauded the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) for its potential to unite developing nations that will benefit from trading as a bloc.
“For a continent with weak growth statistics, AfCFTA is a welcome development and can be leveraged to deepen African countries’ integration into regional and global value chains,” he wrote. “Although COVID-19 interrupted the pace of the initiative, it still holds a lot of promise for the continent as it is a veritable tool for fast-tracking the process of economic recovery.”