As soon as Africa recorded its first case of coronavirus in mid-February, multiple projections on the disease’s impact on the continent were made. Though it is still difficult to ascertain how COVID-19 is evolving on the continent due to very limited testing and research at national levels, four months after the coronavirus outbreak, here are some of the most important effects of the pandemic on Africa in health, socio-economic and politics.
1. Impact of Covid-19 on Health
According to Africa CDC data, all 55 countries in Africa are now affected by COVID-19. The numbers on June 12, 2020 (9 am East Africa Time) show 216,446 reported cases, 5,756 deaths and 97,068 people recovered. Specifically, these data showed that:
- Southern Africa appears to be the most affected region (for total cases) with 61,772 Cases 1,239 Deaths 33,156 Recoveries. But northern Africa is very close behind in terms of total number of cases (61,615) and recorded more deaths (2,454) than any other region. It is to be noted however, that the Northern African countries were the first to begin testing and have, on average, tested in larger numbers than the rest of the continent except South Africa.
- South Africa, which is the country that has tested the largest number of people (1,028,399 tests), is the country with the highest number of Covid-19 positive cases with 58,568 cases, while Egypt has the highest death rate with 1,377 fatalities.
- The 10 most affected countries (South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Algeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Morocco, Sudan, Senegal and DRC) account for 166,864 positive cases out of the 216,446 cases reported, i.e. more than 77% of the continental record. Once again, these are, for the most part, the countries with the highest testing numbers.
- Health facilities are overcrowded with growing number of COVID-19 leading to patients with high burden diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria lacking access and/or adequate care. In most countries COVID-19 is predictably having a negative impact on access to healthcare in general.
- Increase of Sexual and gender-based violence: Across Africa, governments, police and activists report an increase in attacks against women and girls who are locked up with an abusive partner or parent. In the first week of confinement, the South African police received 2,320 complaints of domestic violence, an increase of 37 per cent. As a result, on May 6, 2020, 6 African countries joined 53 others to sign the Joint Declaration on Protecting Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Promoting Gender Equality during the Covid-19 Crisis.
On the basis of official figures to date, Africa appears to be the least affected continent by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is clear that the impact of the virus appears for the moment much less catastrophic than anticipated by everyone. However, the truth is that these numbers are only telling part of the story.
Given the newness of COVID-19, research is also at very initial stages. Several factors are being examined that may explain the seemingly reduced impact in Africa.
- Demography – In other parts of the world, COVID-19 has had devastating effects on the elderly. In a continent where 60% of the population is less than 25 years old, youth may be providing resilience to the disease.
- Heat – Though the research is far from conclusive, some studies appear to show that the virus is less potent and multiplies less quickly in hot, humid environments.
- The Malaria Advantage – Malaria medication including the now famous hydroxychloroquine may provide some protection from coronavirus. Given the prevalence of malaria in Africa and the large percentage of the population that have taken malaria treatment, this may be providing some resistance to COVID-19. Many of the remedies both clinical and herbal developed and used against COVID-19 in countries such as Benin, Madagascar and Cameroon use anti-malaria components as a base.
- Less Travel – Africans travel less, and the continent only receives about 5% of the world’s tourists. Given the coronavirus was largely spread by travellers, Africa may have simply not “received” the virus in as large quantities as the rest of the world.
While it is clear that COVID-19 is present and that numbers of infected are climbing, it is also clear that the disease is not behaving in Africa as it did in other parts of the world. Unfortunately for now, the level of testing and the research do not permit conclusions beyond these initial observations. We are still far from getting a true picture of the African COVID-19 story.
Evolution of numbers in Africa as of June 16th
2.Economic effects of Covid – 19 crisis
The African Union commission Forecasts show a negative growth from 3.4% to between -0.8% to -1.1% due COVID-19 outbreak. (1)
There have also been significant disruptions in some of the continent’s economic dynamics:
- Decrease in export revenues due to weak global demand for raw materials. This concerns both oil exporting countries such as Angola or Nigeria and mineral exporting countries such Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Tanzania just to name a few. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) estimates COVID-19 could lead to Africa’s export revenues from fuels falling at around US$ 101 billion in 2020. (2)
- Decreased in diaspora transfer. The World Bank estimates that as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, remittance flows to Sub-Saharan Africa are expected to decline by 23.1 percent to reach $37 billion in 2020 in comparison to $48 billion in 2019.
- Increase of the unemployment rate due to the cessation/ reduction of activities. The African Union notes that the pandemic could cause the loss of nearly 20 million jobs on the continent.
- Tourism, which accounts for a consistent percentage of some African countries Gross Domestic Product (GDP) like Morocco (12.3 million tourists), Egypt (11.35 million tourists), South Africa (10.47 million tourists), Tunisia (8.3 million tourists), Zimbabwe (2.57 million tourists) are witnessing a deep contraction, as is the airline industry that contributes to it. A recent study from the African Union estimates that the tourism and travel sector in Africa could lose at least $50 billion due to the pandemic outbreak and at least 2 million direct and indirect jobs (3) . The International Air Transport Association (IATA) on its own estimates the economic contribution of the air transport industry in Africa at USD 55.8 billion, supporting 6.2 million jobs and contributing 2.6% of the continent’s GDP.
- Food insecurity due to trade disruptions, lower agricultural production, food shortages, rising food prices, fewer imports and transport difficulties. The United Nations estimates that nearly 30 million more people could fall into poverty and the number of acutely food-insecure people could significantly increase. In addition to climate change, growing violence, agricultural disruptions, locust plague in East Africa, there is therefore an urgent need to provide adequate responses to food insecurity so that post-coronavirus Africa does not sink into starvation.
While the health impact of COVID-19 in Africa is uncertain, the economic impact is not. The African economy is suffering greatly and will continue to suffer throughout 2020 and more than likely 2021. As many as 49 million people may be pushed into extreme poverty because of COVID-19, 27 million of them live in Africa.
- Political impact of the Covid – 19 crisis
While the political impact of COVID-19 is at various levels, we will take a close look here at the impact on elections.
- The 2020 Electoral Calendar
Elections in Africa are still for the most part precarious operations which in many cases have direct impact on the levels of violence, security and stability in the country. COVID-19 puts countries which have elections scheduled in a dilemma. To hold or not to hold? Both options entail significant risks.
Table from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies
- To hold or not to hold elections in this context?
Over 30 elections (presidential, legislative, municipal and regional elections) were scheduled this year in Africa.
- 10 of the 12 presidential polls are scheduled as of June 2020
- Over 10 elections (legislative and other local elections) are also scheduled in the same period.
Countries are caught between holding elections on schedule and risking the lives of millions. Some countries such as Burundi (general elections of 20 May 2020) and Malawi (presidential elections scheduled for 2 July 2020, have decided to go on with elections as scheduled. A few weeks after intensive campaigns former President Nkurunziza of Burundi is dead and his wife is undergoing treatment for COVID-19 in Nairobi. Other countries have decided to postpone as Ethiopia has done with its legislative elections. Neither solution is ideal.
Elections held in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic will:
- By default, extend mandates of current elected officials which poses the challenge of legitimacy and could be problematic in many countries
- More than likely limit the participation of citizens in a key moment for exercising political rights.
- Provide cover for actions of fraud and corruption in the countries where this is already a problem.
- Put the country in a budget dilemma where it must choose between providing resources to fight COVID-19 and providing resources to organize elections.
With either solution, in countries where political stability is precarious, there is a risk of increased instability, insecurity and violence.
4 – The urgency of an effective, systemic, comprehensive and sustainable response
An analysis of the direct effects and repercussions of COVID-19 in Africa shows that while there is still much uncertainty in many areas, it is unquestionable that effective management of the crisis requires a real paradigm shift in governance in many African states. Proactivity, anticipation and evidence-based planning should be central to the vision and actions of every leader and every government.
Furthermore, it is imperative for our states to really put the human beings that are their citizens at the heart of decisions and policymaking. The African Union, development partners, international organizations and RECs that design and implement programmes with countries need to be supporting and insisting on systemic solutions that now more than ever, address the practical needs of citizens as the utmost priority.
For the last 25 years, STRATEGIES has worked with local, regional and international organizations in the areas of governance, management systems, planning, capacity building and more. Through its work, STRATEGIES! supports government agencies, organizations, international and regional institutions in developing effective and innovative strategies to address the complex challenges of improving local, national and regional governance structures in various areas in Africa.
Today more than ever, STRATEGIES! believes that there is a need to accompany political, economic and social actors on the African continent in developing appropriate responses to mitigate the effects of the current crisis and put in place robust systems to enable African communities to bounce back stronger than ever by building resilience to crises as a whole.
In the current context imposed by the COVID-19 and characterized by the closing of the borders and reduced mobility of people, STRATEGIES! and its team of consultants have adapted quickly, developing tools and processes that allow us to continue to support clients and partners from a distance.
In this COVID-19 period, the health of individuals, companies, organizations and governments is at stake. We must preserve all. At STRATEGIES! we continue to develop solutions to enable organizations maintain their performance and achieve their goals.
-  Impact of the Coronavirus (COVID 19) on the African Economy, African Union, 2020
-  https://www.uneca.org/stories/eca-estimates-billions-worth-losses-africa-due-covid-19-impact
-  https://www.policycenter.ma/opinion/impact-covid-19-tourism#_ftn6 AUC (2020), Impact of the Coronavirus (COVID 19) on the African Economy, African Union Commission, Addis-Ababa.
By STRATEGIES ! Team : Franck ESSI, Vanessa TCHINDJE & Joel S. SOSSO Njanga (Consultants)