COVID-19: Demand for More Responsive African Leaders.
The World Health Organization (WHO) ‘s March 11 recognition of COVID-19 as a global pandemic has removed any doubt about the threat that the virus poses to every country in the world.
The virus has now been detected in 205 countries or areas, with more than a million confirmed cases and more than 42,000 killed. Though Africa remains one of the regions with the fewest cases, the number of countries affected has increased over the past week. As of this writing, nearly 5,400 cases have been registered in 49 countries with 177 deaths reported.
This virus is developing at breakneck speed; unfortunately, Africa’s health systems, Disaster Preparedness and Response Appropriations remain a challenge. Budget financing from the contingency fund to support health preparedness and response strategy is still low; with Africa’s most exceptional economy, Nigeria, spending only 2.7 Million USD, Average Uganda with 1.2 Million USD. In contrast, counties like Somalia and Sudan have no Monetary and Macro-Financial Policy Measures to contain the spread of the virus compared to the US with 104 Billion USD which will be devoted to health infrastructure and specifically for COVID-19 testing facilities, personal protective equipment, ICU beds and ventilators.
As prevention remains the best measure to go against COVID-19: social distancing, restrictions on public gatherings, and frequently washing hands; Africa finds its implementation hard mainly due to traditional factors because social cohesion and public gatherings are of great importance in Africa. For example, weekly attendance of a religious service is highest in Africa with rates as high as 82% in Uganda and Ethiopia.
Extended families traditionally share the burdens and bounties of life together, eating meals from the same plate.
Take again washing hands as a simple costless measure, some 40 per cent of Africans live in a water-stressed environment in which obtaining access to clean water -let alone soap- is an insurmountable daily hurdle.
The 2014 -Ebola Crises- which lasted two and a half years and resulted in more than 28,600 cases and 11,325 deaths—exposed the inadequacy of health care systems in Africa. Although valuable lessons were learned from past outbreaks, and health systems have been strengthened since then, there are still critical gaps in preparedness. These vital gaps pose the greatest extortions in Africa, especially on commodity-sensitive economies.
The COVID-19 pandemic will have significant effects on trade, tourism, financial markets, jeopardizes already tenuous food security, and freezes Africa’s slowly limping technology. Oil exports will fall down, shortage of US Dollar will prevail, and employment from tourism sector will significantly decline to posture a negative impact on the continent’s economy.
As a matter of fact, Africa also lags behind from global information sharing and Surveillance technology because African societies live under unfounded conspiracy theories and self-serving politicians. This confronts us to opt either for a national isolation or for coordinated continental efforts.
Yet every crises is an opportunity, we must hope that the current pandemic will help Africans realize the acute danger posed by continental disunity. African leaders have to come up with a common plan of action as they promote platforms for information sharing.
This COVID-19 pandemic has given every country in the world-map a challenge to illustrate what it can do on its own to serve and protect its citizens against the spread of this virus.
China, for example, started to closely monitor people’s smartphones, making use of hundreds of millions of face-recognizing cameras. Through this experience, the Chinese authorities can not only quickly identify suspected coronavirus carriers, but also track their movements and identify anyone they came into contact with.
Again, when COVID-19 hit South Korea, testing became the course of action and that seems to have set the country apart from other nations. They have tested one out of 145 people so far; this helped them not to experience any lockdown in the country. Now South Korea will re-open schools on April 6. The Foreign Minister, Kang Kyunga-wha said in a statement “We aim to open our schools on April 6 – the right to an education is a crucial part of our social values. We’ve postponed school openings twice, now we’re saying we can’t deprive our children of their right to learn. That means we have to do everything in the due course to maintain the spread at a manageable level.”
And lastly, US challenges Africans, US has tremendously invested and generously financed its health care system which enhanced the availability of ventilators, electricity, and oxygen during this time of health crises; Uganda for example as an African country has 0.1 ICU bed/100,000 population, in contrast, the United States has 34.7 beds/100,000 population.
On the other hand, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore claim the most successful efforts to contain the Coronavirus epidemic and African countries must borrow a leaf from them. Though these countries made use of scientific applications, they have relied far more on extensive testing, on honest reporting, and on the willing co-operation of a well-informed public. In our African setting, community empowerment stands out as the best measure to contain the virus since a self-motivated and knowledgeable population is usually far more powerful and effective than a policed, ignorant society.
Many of these countries who have succeeded to either contain the virus or develop a vaccine do not retain a younger median age than Africa nor do they own exclusive natural resources but the problem lies in the responsiveness of African leaders. Are African leaders willing to learn from the epidemics in their history like Ebola, or are they prepared to cope with useful lessons from the other world?
Basing on Yuval Harari’s statement of, “Yes, the storm will pass, humankind will survive, most of us will still be alive – but we will inhabit a different world“; I pose this question to my fellow Africans, ‘Shouldn’t we affirm that COVID-19 should drive Africa to inhabit a new and more responsive leadership style?
Yes, I agree with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiye Ahmed, when he wrote, “Only global victory can bring this pandemic to an end” but still the call for continental unity and continental transformation is central and much needed than ever.
Africa must divert its developmental aid to domestic priorities, mobilize national resources to develop health care systems and food security and invest vastly in technology. The continent must come together to collaborate, coordinate, share lessons learned, and assist each other to combat the pandemic as we strengthen our social institutions and the governance system.
@Luqman Yasin Gelle