As the month of April comes to a close, we are facing an invisible enemy that has brought Europe and the US to their knees. Everybody is ringing the alarm bells for Africa. And we are all here, sitting around in our pajamas asking ourselves:
“Is Africa ready for this?”
A week ago, a French Foreign Affairs memo predicted the worst, civil unrest and regime change throughout the continent. And unfortunately, we are witnessing the first signs: A prison riot in Chad, South African police firing tear gas into crowds, Citizens tearing down a testing center in Cote d’Ivoire, as well as incidents in Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe to mention a few..
But, it is a fact that African governments have reacted to the virus much faster than most Western countries, understanding quickly that the economic costs of inaction far exceed the cost of measures inflicting economic pain. African leaders quickly closed markets, schools, and places of worship, initiated social distancing measures and banned public gatherings, and imposed partial or full lockdowns.
Botswana initiated a 3 week lockdown with less than 20 confirmed cases, and has closed its schools for 6 months. Ghana just announced an extension of its 3 week lockdown, which Ghanaians had been eagerly awaiting to end this weekend. South Africa extended their lockdown to 5 weeks, and has gone so far to ban alcohol and cigarette sales. The whole continent reacted quickly and with decisive action weeks ago, when it instituted a 14 day quarantine for anyone that entered the continent by land, air, or sea — and anyone that crossed borders within the continent.
Our continent has a rapidly closing window of opportunity to take decisive action to get the virus under control, and many of our leaders appear to understand this, which is encouraging.
We also have the experience of having handled Ebola pretty well, and our continent has a very youthful population compared to Western nations. Now, companies are coming out with new, cheaper, and more accurate tests. Some medical reports are even claiming to have evidence that the BCG tuberculosis vaccine, which is mandatory for most Africans, could help fight Coronavirus. And of course, we all hold onto the hope that the virus is less effective in warmer climates along the equator.
So not everything is doom and gloom, but there is a question that keeps us all awake at night:
When will Africa get back to “normal”?
The world is changing and this crisis will mark a tipping point for us all as individuals, governments, and institutions. Nobody seems to know what the right actions are to get rid of the virus. There are two things we know:
- The virus is here and spreading.
- Traditional consulting services are not the answer.
What should we do now?
Look back at World War II and we remember the speed of America’s mobilization for the war effort, the precision with which the Manhattan Project was spun-up to deliver the most powerful weapon in history, and finally the decisive post-war doctrine implemented through the Marshall Plan and the apparition of the Bretton Woods system.
Here in Africa, we think the World should have taken some lessons from the Ebola crisis. During his presidency, Barack Obama urged governments in America and internationally to implement pandemic response readiness, and warned of the consequences of not doing so.
With over 5 billion citizens now under various lockdown measures around the globe, we will see more deaths caused by the economic slowdown than the virus itself — especially in Africa.
To get through the virus and see through recovery, Africa does not have the ability to add $5 trillion to its balance sheet. But African countries and the international community are doing what they can in a new world that is defining itself each and every day.
South Africa has passed a $170 million stimulus for industrial firms, supplemented by a $170 million donation from the Motsepe, Oppenheimer, and Rupert families. Ghana has announced a $100 million package and is planning a second for $219 million. Senegal is leading the way, with a $1.7 billion stimulus amounting to 7% of its annual GDP, while Cote d’Ivoire is working on a package of $2.8 billion.
The World Bank has deployed $370 million continent-wide as of 2 weeks ago, and is racing to reprogram billions in current project commitments. Last week, the African Development Bank announced a $10 billion facility for the continent. And just a few days ago, the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund announced a freeze on $20 billion in sovereign debt payments through the end of the year, with an additional $12 billion in freezes under consideration.
And more help is coming. The World Bank plans to deploy $160 billion worldwide over the next 15 months. The IMF, which issued almost $200 billion in Special Drawing Rights after 2008, is likely to take similar action soon. And Africa’s Bank, the AfDB can be expected to deploy larger sums to help African economies recover as well.
As more help comes and larger investments are made, there are many decisions to make about how best to use the finite stimulus that is available to continue navigating through and preparing for this new world defining itself in real-time.
“We must institute measures to isolate the virus and destroy it. We must make sure our populations have access to food, medicine, clean water, and energy until we can get back to business as usual. Most importantly, we must position our economies to recover as fast as possible.”
Dag Gogue, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, TRANSITLABS USA
To make this happen, and in order to get through this crisis, leaders will need the right intelligence, gleaned from the most detailed and accurate data, to guide their choices. Every government must and will implement systems that coordinate their response to the virus, and these systems must collect the most pertinent data relating to the coronavirus, and provide concrete and actionable solutions to contain and prevent the spread, help their populations make it to the other side, and put their country on the best path to economic recovery.
Every global crisis leads to extraordinary innovations and the great innovation of this crisis will be robust, decentralized systems at the local, national, regional, and continental levels for governments and institutions to make coordinated decisions in real-time.
This is the logical next step of our evolution, following the advent of such a platform for individuals called social media. And in the same way that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram enables people to communicate with each other, there will be multiple systems (decentralized Artificial Intelligence) around the globe that enable governments and institutions to communicate with one another.
This type of coordination appears to be something our leaders are thinking about as well. Last week, African Union Chairperson Ramaphosa selected 4 individuals to lead the continental coordination of Africa’s economic strategy during and after the pandemic:
- Nigerian Finance Minister during Ebola and former Managing Director of World Bank operations, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
- President of the African Development Bank during Ebola and Rwandan Finance Minister following the genocide, Dr. Donald Kaberuka
- Former CEO of Prudential and Credit Suisse, and Ivorian Planning and Development Minister in the late ’90s, Tidjane Thiam
- Chairman at Old Mutual and South African Minister under 4 presidents, Trevor Manuel
Africa is not “waiting to see what happens.”
Here at TRANSITLABS, we’ve also been thinking deeply about technology solutions for the coronavirus crisis. We started by focusing on everything that every African government needs to think about as it seeks to isolate and kill the virus while helping those in need get through, including contagion monitoring and management, medical countermeasures development and tracking, healthcare and protective equipment inventories and allocations, supply chain needs identification and acceleration, and constant, consistent, and compartmentalized communication of the latest data within governments, between governments, and with the public at large.
But the most important objective, the objective that must now become front and center, is making sure that we build solutions that facilitate the swiftest and strongest recovery for the continent.
In the mid-19th century, enlightened rule with the goal of combining modern advances with traditional eastern values was the foundation of the Meiji Restoration.
This crisis, which has us all on our heels, could actually be the wildcard that unlocks the ever-elusive “future of our continent”.
The time has come for Africa’s Restoration.
This is the moment when leaders need to do what they have been elected to do, and lead. They need to be quick, tough, and decisive. We can all learn something about that from the man that led America to victory in the largest crisis of the last 100 years.
Let’s leave it there. Thanks for taking the time.
Stay safe, keep your parties small, and to our fellow Africans in China, “stay strong”.
This is a guest blog by Patrick McGee.
About Patrick: He is half Irish, half Zimbabwean. For the last two and a half years, he was the Lead Investment Relations Officer at the African Development Bank and conceptualized/designed the Africa Investment Forum. Before that, he spent 10 years managing government and private sector relationships at the World Economic Forum. Last month, he left my role to become a Director at TRANSITLABS USA, a data analytics company based in Washington DC that works with local, state, and federal governments in the United States and Africa.
He can be reached at Patrick.McGee@TRANSITLABS.com.