“As the coronavirus swept across the world, Africans had a growing sense that they were on their own. If there were going to be a savior, it would be Africans themselves.”
As the coronavirus swept across the world, experts predicted Africa was doomed. Pandemics are not new to Africa, but, unlike HIV/AIDS or Ebola, COVID-19 came from outside. By the time it arrived on the continent, Africa’s usual partners were inundated with their own crises.
Throughout the continent, Africans had a growing sense that they were on their own. If there were going to be a savior, it would be Africans themselves.
At the start of the crisis, African governments took quick and decisive action. With very few exceptions, they shut down while cases were still in the single or double digits, implemented contact tracing, and flooded the airwaves and social media with information explaining the situation and how to stay safe.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who in January began his term as Chairman of the African Union (AU), brought together African leaders to have a unified voice at the G20 and other global forums. The AU started several initiatives, including a procurement platform to be launched by Econet CEO Strive Masiyiwa, which will help countries get scarce medical supplies, while favoring African-manufactured goods.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) and the African Export-Import Bank launched multi-billion-dollar funds. In a coordinated effort with other regional institutions, including the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC), Trade and Development Bank (TDB), Africa50, and others, they launched public and private sector initiatives that have helped strengthen supply chains and support Africa’s own CDC.
“Within a few weeks, textile factories refurbished to manufacture masks and bio suits. Breweries started churning out hand sanitizing gel. Entrepreneurs developed rapid test kits and low-cost ventilators.”
In early March, Africa produced almost no medical supplies. Within a few weeks, textile factories refurbished to manufacture masks and bio suits. Breweries started churning out hand sanitizing gel. Entrepreneurs developed rapid test kits and low-cost ventilators. In South Africa, Paramount Group migrated from an aerospace company to a medical production facility in a mere 48 hours.
Two of Nigeria’s business giants, Aliko Dangote and Herbert Wigwe, launched the Coalition Against COVID (CACOVID), and were soon joined by more than 50 major Nigerian companies. The private sector initiative is vastly expanding Nigeria’s capacity to test, building hospitals and isolation centers throughout the country, and providing food for the poorest 5 percent of Nigerians, about 10 million people, many of whom lost their livelihoods when the country shut down.
So far, Africa has had far fewer cases than expected, but the economic impact has been widely felt. With people not able to earn a living due to lockdowns, there is a risk that an economic crisis could become a political crisis. Africa’s powerful economic and development institutions are heavily focused on addressing the economic fallout and planning for a post-COVID-19 Africa.
“In conversations with top African leaders and experts across the continent, there is no doubt there will be a tragic loss of lives and livelihoods, but there is also surprising optimism for Africa’s future.”
Against a backdrop of more than a decade of “Africa Rising” narratives, COVID-19 has given Africans a chance to show themselves and the world what they can do. The pandemic has not put Africa on a new path, but it has accelerated the journey.
In conversations with top African leaders and experts across the continent, there is no doubt there will be a tragic loss of lives and livelihoods, but there is also surprising optimism for Africa’s future.
Like other major global shocks, COVID-19 and the resulting economic crisis may create shifts in global relationships and the world order. Having fought this battle largely powered by their own resources, Africans may emerge standing a little taller, taking up a bit more space on the world stage, and even renegotiating global relationships.
Right now, Africans are focused on putting up a good fight against the crisis, but one day we may look back and see that for Africa, COVID-19 was an inflection point that transformed the continent.
The following are leading African voices (edited for clarity and brevity) that are part of guiding the continent through COVID-19 and beyond.