The Dilemma of Covid in Africa

I grew up in the nineties in Zimbabwe. The hallmark of Zimbabwe in the nineties was the Economic structural adjustment program famously touted ESAP.

ESAP was one of the many drives by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the African continent to make the mostly command South African economies more liberal.

Most of Africa had been under colonization pre- the 1960s.To break from the shackles of colonization African countries found respite in the tactics and friendship of Eastern countries such as China and Russia in fighting their colonial masters. The systems and structures of communism and socialism worked very well to fight the scourge of colonialism and so many African countries received their liberty steeped in the lessons of Mao-Ze Dong and Joseph Stalin.

From the war room mantras to the economy and daily life African states more so South Saharan states emulated the great principles of the Stalinists. It made sense. The economies were agricultural based and the euphoria of independence clouded everything. The populations were still relatively small so the war economic policies continued post independence.Until the people became more educated due to more opportunities previously not afforded to the black masses, until those at the forefront of the liberation struggle started to bear fruit off their labour by being at the forefront of black empowerment programs receiving albeit leaving others behind, until the population boomed as more food and resources became more available, until globalization and African economies needed to open up.

Pro-people policies and pro-poor policies meant African governments including our own Zimbabwe placed more emphasis on health for all, education for all and agriculture being the mainstay of the economy. Despite the success of these programs they caused a strain on the fiscal and monetary elements of governance. Public funding was too high. Public corporations too many, with central government paying the bills, or writing them off and a high wage bill for civil servants choking the life out of the economy. African governments had to do something.

Then came the candy in the form of the International Monetary Fund. Candy l say because it offered an instant high but lacked in real nutrition. The I M F meant well. The call to liberalise the economies had worked in places like Singapore and other smaller European countries and so was touted to work in places like Zimbabwe. Governments were encouraged to allow demand and supply to work – allow the free market forces to work they said. Convert public entities into private institutions they said. It had worked elsewhere so why would it not work in our scenario.

Wind back to the nineties. The IMF dangled their huge financial packages to rescue the economies and African countries needed the financiers. Markets were liberalized and the rest as they say is History!

Being a nineties teenager l fell in love with the subject of Economics. I wanted to be an economist. It was exciting to be an economist. I was introduced to the stock exchange through a program by the Zimbabwe stock exchange to introduce young learners to the exchange. l carried big economics books in my school satchel. lt was exciting! After all our form four class of 1995 produced the very best results the school had seen in our Cambridge Ordinary level exams in the Economics subject. Yes Cambridge. 15 As and 25 Bs in Economics for that year in our class. l had an A too. It became my ticket to do Advanced level. Anyone who passed economics with an A deserved to go to A’level. Such where the times and the Euphoria.

However these economic adjustments programs were a disaster. The big financial institutions came with their own antidotes for African problems. They thought just because it worked elsewhere it would work here. However our economies haemorrhaged and the masses suffered, corruption took foot and the gap between the rich and the poor increased and as a result people become disenfranchised. Then came land reform with its advantages and its many disadvantages that had a domino effect to the crumble of our economy and everything truly fell apart, creating opportunities for despondency and opposition politics. Unfortunately it was the descent into the abyss for Zimbabwe.

Unfortunately the entrance of Covid -19 presents the same dilemma for our African
continent. Covid -19 is real and its impacts are real just like the issues in the nineties. It’s called the novel Covid virus by some scientists and news outlets because indeed it’s a novel sickness. We know nothing about how to handle it but deal with it as we go. Asia, Europe and America have been dealing with this disease much earlier than in Africa and have developed responses tailored to their situations and their abilities, regular washing of hands, face masks, social distancing, isolation, quarantine, early testing, lockdowns and shut downs. The health systems are stronger, the economies better and the social protection mechanisms more robust and timely. The governments have not held back neither their central banks. It’s a well oiled system but it too has struggled under the brunt of Covid.

Africa has had time before the disease has truly landed. However the dynamics in third world countries are just different than in Europe and the Americas. Our world systems are so different. The bulk of our populations stay in rural areas, in ghettos, in slums and in overcrowded cities. Our health systems are archaic and years of corruption and looting has left our social protective systems weak and unable to cope with the magnitude of a virus like Covid should it truly take hold. Our testing systems are poor and limited. Our doctors underpaid and ill equipped. It will be like a tornado when it truly comes.

Our African governments have not stood still and waited. Countries have introduced various lockdown measures to help flatten the COVID -19 curve. Our numbers have remained relatively low and it would be prudent to have them that way. The lockdown measures are helping do the job but herein lies our Covid Dilemma.

This Covid virus response needs an Afrocentric approach and not necessarily a copy and paste of the interventions seen in Europe and China and America. We do not have the communication capabilities or the information technology. Our economic systems are just not strong enough. The cure might be more catastrophic than the disease. In implementing lockdowns and shutdowns and other means it’s also important to come up with our own home grown African solutions. It’s great to see the herbalist being afforded a chance to offer their solutions, because like it or not people use home remedies like steaming and have been doing so for generations.

We don’t throw the baby with the water. We as Africans ought to be innovative in our approach while following practical advice. It is possible that some might not have soap in these trying times or in rural areas, do they stay without washing hands or do they use ash. It is up to us as Africans to also offer our own solutions without necessarily feeling like our opinions and our voices don’t matter.

Of course the world is full of misinformation and disinformation but some practical solutions exist in our day to day systems. The world is always quick to offer solutions to third world countries without conferring with the third world countries, dangling huge financial packages to lure desperate African countries. Of course Africa needs help but however Africa must also be assertive and strong it’s an opportunity to do so and be the leading light. The virus for Ebola came from within Africa. If we can have business magnates like Strive Masiyiwa and Dangote running big African industries with mostly an African workforce we surely can also do more as a people regarding the challenges brought by Covid to the African Continent. People are going about their business as usual. Water is a challenge so is information dissemination . If African countries do not develop African solutions and mitigation to Coronavirus we will truly have an African Covid pandemic.

I am a social change Entrepreneur working in rural Victoria Falls. My own experience is that we need to deliver information in a way that rural people understand and young people because our population is made up of at least 60 % rural people with the bulk not having mobile phones or the methods to power their mobile phones because in rural areas here the information and knowledge is distorted and people view the lockdown as a passing phase with some people still thinking of how they celebrate the holidays of Easter and independence the old way, we need new creative ways of ensuring social protective systems that ensure safety and continuity. Everyone talks of online learning but a spare a thought for those form fours out here without access to mobile phones let alone the data-what is to happen to their learning. That is why l work with an organisation called Global sojourns giving circle that empowers girls and strengthens communities. Why do l tout this organisation….because it allows us the helpers on the ground deliver African solutions to African problems. Unfortunately our observations are that not enough correct information is going about, posters and banners are needed, WASH resources are needed ,the nature of our resources make social distancing difficult. Our health delivery systems are too far for the rural person and the people sometimes are too ignorant. We might actually be having a ticking time bomb in Covid in Africa!

The liberation wars in Southern Africa worked because the liberation movements adopted strategies fit for the terrain and geography ,where able to mobilize people and resources and every one played their part.

It’s important not to have tunnel vision in a crises as this but to see the bigger picture.

It’s not only governments duty to play a part ,we all have a responsibility, the silence of the church has been deafening in this crises especially here in Southern Africa. Church does not meaning gathering only, it’s a reference to the body of Christ, Our clergy men, Prophets and Bishops needed to speak more to the people and offer moments of comfort and a strong voice of hope but this role has been taken more by comedians and social commentators, but the opportunity and chance is still there! Is it that as the body of Christ we have become more centered on the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life and the deceitfulness of the riches? Events of Covid are not anything new to those who are avid pupils of the word of God. May the voices of African clergy arise to offer hope and comfort through media platforms as Twitter and Facebook and all other social media in this season as we search for African solutions to an African Covid problem.

It is no longer the responsibility of the west to help us, it never was. We need to arise as African people in responsibility, ubuntu, United and with a prayerful mind, together we will defeat the scourge of Covid supporting the work of our leaders in all the spheres of influence God placed

Source: Sefelepelo Sebata, Social Entrepreneur

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