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Covid has NOT killed Africa

· Africa


Africa is neither a continent ravaged by the pandemic nor a post-Covid El Dorado. Perpetuating the lie that Africans are inherently backward, dysfunctional and passive and should be pitied and therefore “saved” is nonsense. It’s equally haughtily ignorant to see it as the world’s next El Dorado market of 1.4 billion consumers just waiting for second-tier Western product dumping and innovations that ignore African realities and needs. 

Africa doesn’t need charity or exploitative investments rooted in colonial ideology. Nor does it need more “enlightenment” from those who are stuck in a savior complex or a Wild West mindset. Neither is Africa the next growth market to be “cracked open” like a kola nut or a faucet of opportunity to be tapped by European and American thirst for post-Covid profits. 

The Covid-19 pandemic is now going on its third year. While it has devastated Europe and the U.S., it has been much less severe across Africa. he African continent has by and large been spared the disaster that health officials in Europe and the United States feared would sweep across the continent, killing millions and destroying fragile health systems.  

Rather than bodies lying around the streets, as foreseen by philanthropist Melinda Gates, or wasting away life in a hospital bed like so many thousands of Europeans or Americans, Africans have not been catastrophically struck down by the viral outbreak. They have instead risen to the occasion by innovating. 

Africa has done way better than Europe or the Americas 

The total estimated number of infections and deaths across the African continent is 10.45 million and 234 thousand, respectively. This is less than those recorded in the UK alone, which has a populationof 64.8 million (4.8% of Africa’s population) and has a cumulative total of 15.3 million infections and 152 thousand deaths. The European Union, with an estimated population of 197.1 million (14% of Africa’s population) has so far had 331 million infections and 5.5 million deaths, while the U.S., with a population of 332.4 million (23.7% of Africa’s population), has had 146.6 million cases and 921 thousand deaths.  

Scientists are still mystified as to why Africa, particularly countries South of the Sahara Desert, has done much better than the U.S. or Europe, despite the fact that in Africa obtaining accurate data is more difficult than elsewhere; that pandemic response across the continent has been somewhat uncoordinated - some governments denied the infectivity and seriousness of the problem (e.g., Tanzania) while others refused to implement global prevention strategies (e.g., Zambia and Madagascar); that the region does not have the vaccines and resources to fight the pandemic; and that less than 6% of the population is vaccinated. 

But thanks to Africa’s epidemiological know-how that Western countries don’t have and to its ability to proactively respond early and effectively to the pandemic and develop and provide cost-effective, readily available and accessible testing kits (Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana are leading examples), Africans South of Sahara Desert have shown the rest of the world how to turn a problem into an opportunity by using creativity and innovation to overcome a deathly challenge in a way that can improve life and living.  

Africa leads in resilience, partnerships and innovation 

In Africa, the Covid-19 pandemic has, in fact, not only spurred innovation but also increased solidarity, showing the rest of world how resilience and partnerships coupled with human potential are the basis for making headway towards solutions and recovery through the pandemic and beyond. Not only was the African Union one of the first regional institutions to adopt a Joint Continental Strategy for the COVID-19 Outbreak at the pandemic’s outset, but throughout Africa people have been looking inward for the innovations that will move the continent forward. The average African, instead of spiraling downward into division and blame-mongering, has, to paraphrase Dr. Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, Deputy Director of the Africa CDC, been looking ahead to anticipate the needs of the next generations and envision a better future. Africans, especially youths, are looking to each other and working together to build the communities, the countries and the continent that we all know are possible.

A new report, entitled Through the Pandemic and Beyond,  by the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and UNDP, shows how the evolving partnership in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the exemplary societal resilience across sectors, coupled with the sheer determination by Africans to cautiously minimize the health impact and the social disruption and economic consequences of the pandemic, has led to a boom in innovations that have bloomed into a myriad home-grown solutions not just to tackle Covid-19 -- including virus-testing robots, contact-tracing apps, non-invasive testing kits, foot-operated hand-washing stations, oxygen machines, drone medicine delivery service, genome sequencing, AI-powered healthcare chatbots and much more -- but also to improve logistics and distribution, develop manufacturing, increase education, uplift agriculture, and stimulate better public-service delivery.  

But this DOES NOT mean that Africa is the post-Covid El Dorado. Many are betting that the African Continental Free Trade Area and full tariff liberalization (for example, of the vehicle manufacturing and food processing sectors) will unlock billions of dollars in regional trade as the continent stands to reap the benefits of the world’s largest single market. 

However, the AfCFTA is not a free-for-all trade agreement. It’s not an invitation to a new scramble for African wealth. It’s not an opportunity for U.S. or European businesses to compete for a combined consumer and business spending potential of $6.7 trillion by 2030. It’s not a new battleground for influence over human capital or access to and control of natural resources.  

The AfCFTA is above all an opportunity to invest responsibly in Africa’s development. Thankfully, the increase in digitalization, innovation, and regional collaboration trends are on the continent will have the lasting impact of changing people’s mentality from “We need you” to “You need us” because “Yes, we can”.  

Africa is the driver for post-Covid recovery 

Dismissing the efforts of African governments to deal head-on with the Covid-19 situation and that of Africans themselves to turn a problem into an opportunity for growth ignores the complexities and nuances of an entire continent of 54 countries. It also evidences the groupthink and bandwagon effects resulting from poor and selective data analysis. Exclusive focus on Africa’s consumer potential “waiting” to be transformed is just plain ignorant of African contextual and cultural realities. 

Africa has not languished for the past six decades. Despite having lost time and space for its own autonomous development to slavery and colonial exploitation and their consequent destruction of once strong and democratically-rooted indigenous institutions and societal organization, and despite having been carved up by lines drawn on a map, saddled with small and landlocked marginally viable states and despoiled by resource grabs, the continent has not been drained of its own potential. 

If from the 15th – 19th centuries, African backs and lives provided the critical boost for the wealth and industrialization of Europe and later the United States (Born in Blackness by Howard French, 2022), today African innovation and resilience provide the critical boost for building back a better post-Covid world.  

Africa is today’s leading driver of all that is new and promising after Covid. It is, once again, a linchpin of the world’s machine of progress and a protagonist for positive change. It is providing the critical boost that will ensure the competitive survival of America and Europe is possible by making their economics viable and competitive.    

Astrid Ruiz Thierry, Principal, Upboost LLC



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