Dr. Efem N. Ubi is a senior research fellow and head of the Division of International Economic Relations at Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos, Nigeria. He is also an adjunct research fellow and visiting scholar, Institute of African Studies (IAS), Zhejiang Normal University, Jinhua, China.
The article reflects the author’s views .
Recent articles on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that first appeared at the close of 2019 have specifically focused on orienting and advising people on self-hygiene and on how to prevent against contracting the virus. However, little attention is given to the inherent economic, political and social problems arising from COVID-19 pandemic in Africa and its implication for the future of the continent. Right now, as the pandemic is spreading across the globe, fear looms in Africa.
The fear is two-fold: first, African economies are weak as shown by the deteriorating and worsening social conditions. While Africa accounts for around 17 percent of the world’s population, it only accounts for about three percent of global GDP. Meanwhile the total GDP growth of the continent is about 3.7 percent. The continent statistics not only demonstrate the failure of governments to steer development for the continent, but unfortunately, with the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, a looming global recession, and the drop in commodity price, the future of the continent further portends gloom if not well managed; second, many African leaders are not as competent as people have expected them to be when it comes to facilitating development in the country.
Five factors paint the African scenario now and in the future. First, with the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, the African situation is totally worst-off in many ways because like every other stuff, nearly everything needed to fight the COVID-19 War are imported and begged-for, from simple medical equipments like mask, protective kits etc; medications; to food. From all indication, not many African countries are “self-sustaining and reliant.” Most depend solely on importation of finished products from the advanced economies. The truth is that, “Dependent survival is in earnest a source of failure.”
Secondly, many African countries economies are subject to the “commodity trap.” They rely solely on export of commodities for revenues. Thus, any external shocks affecting commodity price affects their domestic economy.
Thirdly, agriculture, a sector that employs more people is in a dismal state in Africa. Many African countries have not moved away from subsistent farming and do not encourage mechanized and cooperative farming. Food production is low, with no value chain.
Fourth, unemployment in Africa is huge. Many graduates do not have jobs and cannot sustain themselves. Invariably, the lockdown in many countries will escalate poverty.
Fifth, it is a known fact that, the health sector in Africa is the worst of them all. While African leaders have refused to fix the health sector, they prefer to travel to advanced countries for their treatment. It is only COVID-19 pandemic that has engendered many African governments to put in place ad-hoc palliatives.
Indeed, COVID-19 has unearthed the true state of inherent problems of leadership and governance in many countries of Africa and has further shown how inept leaders in many countries of Africa are, and more so, open bare the porosity and paucity of Africa’s economy and development.
Thus, what guarantee a nation’s victory in war is multifaceted and includes four important factors: technology (industrialization), a robust economy with huge reserves, agriculture and food production, and a credible population. In other words, such a nation must be to a considerable extent self-reliant and self-sustaining; this however, does not negate interdependence.
Today, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) portends a lucid example for all nations, both developing and developed to emulate in their fight against the war on COVID-19. It is important to recapitulate here that China is the world’s second largest economy and contributes about 30 percent to the global economy. And since the “opening-up” policy in 1978, the Chinese economy has remained the production house of the world. In the “People’s War” against COVID-19, China proved that the above-mentioned indicators are indubitable guarantor to its victory. On March 19, 2020, the number of new domestically driven cases in China fell to zero, except imported new cases in from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world. On the contrary, COVID-19 cases in the U.S., Spain and Italy have surpassed that of China during its peak of the pandemic. Cases in U.S alone has exceeded 300, 000. Meanwhile, the global infectious rate is now over one million and still counting.
The question is, if it is proving very difficult for the developed countries of the West with robust economies to win the COVID-19 war, how easy is it for the developing countries of Africa with dilapidating domestic economy to win? Thus, while the fears of contracting the virus and the resulting death exist, the ultimate fear for many people in Africa is the possibility of their government being able to battle this pandemic on many fronts. This, therefore, highlights the importance of international cooperation and assistance to Africa that could help the continent better tackle the situation. But it also requires the governments in the continent to take quick action and keep in place strict social distancing rules to stem the spread of the disease.