Covid-19, A Challenge Within a Challenge for Africa’s Bottom Billion.
In the face of humanity facing a global tragedy with the Covid-19 pandemic, I write this piece with a sombre mood and concern of the impact of this pandemic on Africa’s bottom billion. This Covid-19 pandemic has not even spared the world’s top economies despite being the global trend setters of advance healthcare standards and disease control. Record numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths are being registered in the G7 countries (USA, UK, Italy, Germany and France) than in the African countries hosting the world’s bottom billion. With the current trend, Covid-19 has managed to invert the Infectious Diseases Vulnerability Index (IDVI INDEX) between these advanced world countries and their counterparts in the third world African countries. The premise of the IDVI Index is based on the theory that, infectious diseases flows from poor vulnerable disease prone third world countries to the developed countries. Despite the preparedness to pre-empt infectious diseases in these advance countries, Covid-19 has managed to breach and overwhelm the best-established healthcare systems in the world and brought their economies to a grinding halt. Indeed, the expression; “when America sneezes, the whole world catches a cold” might as well be replaced by “when China sneezes, the whole world shivers”.
The lower numbers of Covid-19 related cases and deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa should however not be a cause of celebration of the continent evading the pandemic. As sneaky as Covid-19 has shown itself to be, its impact already seen in the advanced countries should prompt the African governments and their respective regional bodies to adopt a pragmatic approach in the earnest to deal with its spread. The approach should however be driven more by the primary needs and economic wants of the bottom billion than the few in power who are mostly beneficiaries of advance healthcare systems of the advance countries. One important lesson learned from this pandemic is the fact that Africa’s political elite who have been beneficiaries of healthcare system in the advance foreign countries at the expense of the continents bottom billion are now locked out of their undeserved privileges. If anything, Covid-19 has managed to force them to use the same healthcare system they have neglected for so long.
Addressing the challenges brought about by this pandemic urgently calls for Africa’s ingenuity to problem solving. The immediate challenge is however yet again that of dependency on foreign actors. With the world’s advance economies from whom we are dependent being overwhelmed by Covid-19 and their economies brought to its knees, these countries will most likely become detached from Africa’s plight. The dire need to tackle the economic fallout caused by this pandemic will see foreign aid on which our policy makers have become accustomed to dry out. The only feasible plea for the dependent African countries to access foreign aid will only be based on humanitarian grounds and the economic consideration of health as a global public good.
This global pandemic has come to teach us the important lesson of investing in our own health and healthcare systems. Economic principle dictates that, Health is primarily a private good with its benefits enjoyed at a personal level. At the national macroeconomic level, health is still a private good with aspects of public good characteristics. This basic economics premise forms the moral obligation of why investing in our personal health and building healthcare infrastructure at the national level is paramount. The economic wellbeing and prosperity of Africa’s bottom billion is dependent on the health of its populace and the capabilities of its institutions to provide healthcare and healthcare infrastructures.
The other biting impact of Covid-19 currently felt by Africa’s bottom billion is associated more with the implementation of the population lock-down than the spread of the virus itself. Africa’s bottom billion are more dependent on an informal economy driven by daily subsistence living. The lock down of this demographic without sustenance is rather more of a condemnation to starvation and deprivation of livelihoods in the face of the pandemic. The lack of options will certainly result in tough choices of choosing between the lesser of two evils. For the urban dwellers most of whom are cramped in slums and whose day to day living is mostly subsistence labouring, the choices even become more dire. The resultant effect of the deprivation of livelihood without sustenance in the face of a pandemic will trigger mass migration back to the rural areas. This reverse migration will potentially disperse the Covid-19 pandemic further into the rural areas creating more complexities in the containment efforts. In addition to these realities, the implementation of the lock-down has seen the raise of draconian policies and brutality mated against these poor people by the law enforcers.
While other countries have adopted a harsh and draconian tactics, countries like Rwanda should be commended for adopting a proactive humanitarian approach by providing a safety net for its citizens and aliens. Rwanda is one of the first countries that provided food and healthcare to the people in a well-orchestrated manner. This has enabled its population to remained calm and vigilant in the face of this pandemic.
The economic fallout from this Covid-19 pandemic has seen many countries in the advance world scramble to intervene in their market economies and prop up their business sector to provide some macroeconomic stability. In the African countries hosting the bottom billion, the economic fallout is grimmer. A few of the Sub-Saharan African countries with their meagre coffers are trying their best to overcome the impact of this Covid-19. Rwanda’s approached of being proactive in providing food and healthcare and being prudent in its economic and financial management has enable the country to secure an emergency loan of US$109.4 million from the IMF to fight Covid-19 and stabilise the economy. Meanwhile, for oil dependent countries like South Sudan already burden with massive external debt, corruption, poor financial management, collapse of the oil price, political failures and deprivation of its citizens, the economic fallout is much more precarious. The calamity and economic reality brought by this Covid-19 pandemic should be a game-changer for many of the Sub-Saharan African countries hosting Africa’s bottom billion if they are to remain as viable economies. With this experience, the need to fundamentally change and completely revolutionize their economies is a matter of urgency.
The success of circumventing the effects and the associated economic impact of this Covid-19 pandemic lies in our human ingenuity and intellectual capital in comprehending the diverse variables that will impact us from the individual level to the global humanities level. As economics dictates and as highlighted by the World Health Organisation, health is a private good with its benefits enjoyed by the private individual. At the national macroeconomics level, health is still a private good of the nation with characteristic of public good benefits to the country and its citizens. The premise of national investment on healthcare and healthcare infrastructure is therefore a natural right and responsibility for the wellbeing of a nation. If the Sub-Saharan African countries are to achieve some progress in building better healthcare system that can withstand the shocks of global pandemics at the scale of Covid-19 or even more severe future outbreaks, then they must break away from dependency and adopt ingenuity and innovativeness to problem solving and economic management. Covid-19 is a pandemic that has come to teach us a lesson. The model adopted by countries like Rwanda is seeing results in its economic transformation and wellbeing of the nation that is currently been enjoyed by its citizens. The African countries hosting the continent’s bottom billion should adopt similar models and get serious to building the necessary infrastructures and capacity.
The author is a member of the South Sudanese diaspora based in Perth. Western Australia. Professionally, He is a geologist/Economist with executive education and specialty in minerals exploration and minerals and energy economics. He can be reached on Moses.Sei@geologist.com