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Socio economic implications of the spread of Covid-19 in Africa

By Shem Chaibva

During the early stages of the outbreak of the deadly new corona virus (COVID-19), the widespread belief among ordinary Africans was that COVID-19 was a Chinese and Western disease, and had the mistaken belief that Africans were invincible to the new virus.  However, reality set in when the disease started to ravage the continent, albeit at a slower pace than in China and Western countries. There are several repercussions for Western companies following the likely widespread of COVID-19 in Africa.

Given the relatively low rates of COVID-19 infection in Africa so far, there is a feeling among the populace that African governments are over-reacting to the pandemic. For example, in Zimbabwe, where there is one confirmed death and eight infections so far, the government has already declared a state of disaster. Ironically, during an outbreak of cholera in 2008-09, which claimed over 4 000 people, no such sate of disaster was declared.

There is the general perspective that Western and Chinese companies are seeking to capitalize on the pandemic at the expense of Africa in several ways. There is real concern that any vaccine against COVID-19 that will be eventually developed by the Western companies, would be imposed on the African populace, and may increase infection rates if live vaccine is used. The Africans fear that these drug companies might also want to use Africans as guinea pigs in their search for an effective vaccine against COVID-19.  Although this may sound ridiculous, it is a suspicion which must not be ignored.

The perspective is that Western and Chinese companies aim to gain financially from a likely widespread of COVID-19 in Africa. From the supply of medicines to manufactured goods, the Western companies stand to gain from the COVID-19 outbreak in the continent. Currently, all protective and sanitation materials such as masks, overalls and disinfectants are imported from Western countries and China. This imposes an economic burden on the poor African countries. To make matters worse, the effectiveness of these so-called "protective" materials is doubtful, given the continuing rise in infection rates in such Western countries as Italy, Spain, USA and United Kingdom.

All in all, the ultimate beneficiaries are the Western companies, because unfortunately, there is no plan for transfer of technology to empower the local industries. Furthermore, the adverse environmental impact of the disposal of these protective materials will need to assessed and appropriately mitigated.

Africa does not need to "burn down the house" in order to defeat COVID-19. Unfortunately this is what seems to be what is happening with this pandemic. Following in the footsteps of Western countries, African countries have adopted the "national lockdown" approach as a way to try and curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The current lockdowns declared in most African countries, Zimbabwe included, will benefit Western and Chinese companies in the long run. This is because local struggling companies are not resilient enough to survive the 21-day shutdowns.  The "lockdown" will also decimate the informal sector which is the basis of most African economies. For example, in Zimbabwe, the informal sector accounts for 90% of employment. This will result in massive unemployment. On the other hand,  Western and Chinese companies have a bigger financial support base, and can recover faster. For example, Western multinationals which operate in China are now reported to be back in business now that the pandemic in China seems to be under control.

Although COVID-19 is said to affect the elderly more, this is cold comfort for Africa, which is a region that has the youngest population compared to other regions. Vulnerability to widespread COVID-19 in Africa is more related to underlying health conditions , of which Africans have a disproportionate share. The prevalence of HIV – AIDS and malnutrition in Africa make it plausible that younger people in Africa could be more susceptible to COVID-19 than other regions. Health systems in Africa are also already stretched in dealing with ongoing disease burdens like malaria and Ebola. This means that there are fewer resources now in Africa to deal with widespread COVID-19, which is now increasingly inevitable.

Measures to try and contain the virus such as national lockdowns, social distances, factory closures and travel restrictions are going to cripple supply chains, reduce output, hit commodities and send confidence on a downward spiral.

China is the largest importer of oil from African countries such as Angola. With disruptions caused by COVID-19 in China itself coupled with the current depressed price of oil (e.g. the current $23 per barrel), many African countries will not have the necessary resources to fight COVID-19.

The adverse impacts of the spread of COVID -19 in Africa will inevitably include the following:
•    Unemployment and widespread poverty
•    Hunger
•    Political instability
•    Political and economic domination by the West and China
•    Civil unrest
•    Dysfunctional economies
•    Decimated populations

Shem CHAIBVA is a Freelance Environmental Scientist Based In Harare.
Email: chaibvas@gmail.com
Mobile: 0773 001 696



Source - Shem Chaibva
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