By Chukwuma Charles Soludo, CFR
This piece summarizes my contribution to an African debate. From Johannesburg to Lagos, Cairo to Dakar, Kinshasa to Kigali, Nairobi to Accra, etc the debate on how Africa should respond to the global coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is raging. At an African regional policy platform, I had expressed some of these (personal) views some weeks ago but have been encouraged by most members to circulate them in Africa beyond the platform.
This year 2020 begins a new decade that promises to be one of dreadful disruptions, with Africa holding the weakest end of the stick. In 2008/09, the global “great recession” was triggered by financial crisis in the US (world’s largest economy). Then, much of Africa was said to be decoupled from the crisis and muddled through without severe devastation of its economies. This year, a global health pandemic that has paused the global economy and certain to rail-road it into synchronized recession (if not depression) was triggered by the second largest economy, China. Unlike before, multilateralism and global coordination framework are at their weakest. National (local) self-defence is the rule. As before, the rich world with its generous welfare system and huge financial war chest, is taking care of itself (the US alone has US$2.2 trillion stimulus package). Africa is left to its fate.
Covid-19 caught the world totally unprepared, and with no proven and available medical response. Ad-hoc cocktails and learning-by-doing constitute the strategic package. In most western countries, the cocktail of response has included a coterie of defensive measures including: border closure; prepare isolation centres and mobilize medical personnel/facilities; implement “stay at home” orders or lockdowns except for food, medicine and essential services; campaign for basic hygiene and social distancing; arrange welfare packages for the vulnerable; and also economic stimulus packages to mitigate the effects on the macro economy.
Many African countries have largely copied the above template, to varying degrees. Piece-meal extensions of “stay at home” or lockdown orders as in many western countries have also been copied in Africa. But the question is: can Africa really afford lockdowns, and can they be effective? Put differently, given the social and economic circumstances of Africa and the impending ‘economic pandemic’, can Africa successfully and sustainably defeat Covid-19 by copying the conventional trial-and-error template of the western nations? In confusion and desperation, the world seemed to be throwing any and everything at the pandemic. Recall President Trump’s assertion that hydroxychloroquine “might help”? The evidence so far (from limited sample) is that it probably actually worsens the disease. The trial and error have left huge human toll and economic ruins, and there is still no solution.