Africa’s Strong COVID-19 Response Surprises International Observers

Despite the gloomy predictions, African nations have shown a remarkable resilience. Photo: MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko

Lede: The African continent has so far managed to avoid catastrophic predictions but African resilience and solidarity is needed to limit the consequences of the health crisis.

Rabat – The World Economic Forum (WEF) indicates that Africa has responded well to the threat of COVID-19 through strong measures and relatively good adherence. The Geneva-based NGO promotes public-private cooperation and has seen three crucial factors for Africa’s success.

As the COVID-19 virus spread across the world  earlier this year, many commentators feared the worst for Africa. The continent’s below-average healthcare facilities and perceived poor governance was expected to heavily impact its response to the crisis. With global solidarity reaching a breaking point and rich countries grappling a growing death toll, experts and observers unanimously expected the worst for Africa.

Despite the gloomy predictions, African nations have shown a remarkable resilience and African citizens have generally adhered well to measures. 

Since July at least, COVID-19 cases have notably declined in Africa. The continent’s figures stood in stark contrast with the global average: Africa was reporting fewer infections and more recoveries while the global caseload continued to grow at a rapid pace. For  the WEF, the continent’s early measures, young population, and relatively low mobility have been the most determining factors in its resilience to the pandemic.

In another positive appraisal of Africa’s COVID-19 record, the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that Africa’s above-average performance is due to socio-ecological factors, combined with “early and strong public health measures taken by governments across the region.” The socio-ecological factors that have contributed to Africa’s relatively low death toll include low population density and mobility, the African climate and the continent’s young population.

“The downward trend that we have seen in Africa over the past two months is undoubtedly a positive development  and speaks to the robust and decisive public health measures taken by governments across the region,” said the WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti. 

After shock

COVID-19 cases have remained relatively low in Africa while the continent’s  death toll has so far been limited to 36,085, well below even the UK’s 42,202 deaths. But the patently asymmetrical global financial order could mean Africa is still due an economic aftershock that could cost more lives.

In the aviation industry alone, Africa is set to lose 4.5 million jobs in 2020 because of the economic consequences of COVID-19. The shock is even worse for jobs in the informal sector, which account for two out of every three jobs on the continent. The COVID-19 crisis has seen commodity prices drop, reducing African exports while tourism has similarly ground to a halt.

Foreign direct investment is set to plunge from $45 billion in 2019 to between $25 billion and $35 billion in 2020 according to the UN. As capital inflows dry up, Africa continues to see a massive outflow of capital to developed countries. The UN estimates that $88.6 billion leaves the continent through illicit capital flight. 

Illicit capital flight refers to the outflow of untaxed capital, often revenues of corruption or organized crime. Wealthy African elites that stash the proceeds of their corruption in EUrope and the US continue to drain 2.7% of North Africa’s GDP and 10.3% of West Africa’s GDP. This large scale robbery fuels corruption and handicaps progress.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development has called to reverse this trend. Improving tax collection could raise an additional $110 billion per year in African countries.

On the bright side, though, the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in increased collaboration within Africa. While most leaders in the developed world prevaricated and embraced “vaccine nationalism,” the feeling across Africa has been that solidarity is more important than ever. 

That continental solidarity is needed to face the second wave of distress likely to hit Africa in the form of a post-COVID-19 economic aftershock. Strong government action, as was seen in the fight against COVID-19, could now be aimed at illicit capital flight and turn a crisis into an opportunity to reduce corruption and increase tax revenues. 

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