Africa facing the coronavirus challenge

Yet Africa is less affected by the coronavirus than the rest of the world. This relative preservation owes much to the continent’s demographic profile but will nevertheless result in a severe economic recession. Especially in countries exporting raw materials. Deciphering.

The coronavirus epidemic, which started in China in early December 2019, has turned into a pandemic and is now spreading across the entire planet. The American Johns Hopkins University, whose Covid-19 tracking system is referred to, estimated on 13 May that 4.3 million people were infected worldwide and more than 291,000 died. Under these conditions, and even taking into account the very likely failures in the detection systems in place, Africa’s apparent low exposure to the coronavirus is of concern: with 2,463 deaths and just under 72,000 cases of contamination confirmed by the African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC Africa), the continent seems (for the time being) relatively spared.

As of 13 May, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Africa: 71845 (2463 deaths).
Sources: Johns Hopkins, CDC Africa /Infography: African Arguments

To explain this, many doctors and scientists point to the African demographic profile as « favourable » for better protection against the disease, as several studies have confirmed the causal link between the most serious forms of coronavirus and the age of patients. The continent’s population is the youngest in the world, with a median age of 18 years, according to figures from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
As a result, many analysts believe that Africa still has a window of opportunity to implement on a large scale social distancing measures (bans on gatherings, curfews, closure of public places, etc.) that will enable it to deal effectively with the pandemic. Better still, some countries on the continent (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Conakry, DRC, etc.) have been able to capitalize on the lessons learned from Ebola hemorrhagic fever (more than 11,000 deaths between 2014 and 2016) to take the necessary action very quickly, while the populations in the regions concerned have retained the right reflexes (washing their hands, keeping their distance, etc.).
As for the coordination of health policies – steered by CDC Africa, it has made it possible to set up screening systems for suspect cases at sensitive points such as borders, which are now deployed throughout almost the entire continent. Quoted in early May by the French daily Le Monde, Dr. Nkengasong, the director of the African Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC Africa), proudly noted that, in early February, « there were only two countries – Senegal and South Africa – able to make a diagnosis at that time. They are now 48 ».

Socio-economic consequences

But beyond the health impact, the coronavirus pandemic will have other, equally insidious consequences for African populations. In its report « Africa’s Pulse 2020 », published on 9 April, the World Bank warns that sub-Saharan Africa is heading straight into recession, « the worst in 25 years », according to Albert Zeufack, its chief economist for the Africa region. A contraction in economic activity that will come primarily from South Africa, Angola and Nigeria, three of Africa’s leading commodity exporters. Partial or total shutdown of extractive activities (mines. hydrocarbons…), storage capacities that have reached saturation point, postponed investments… Since the outbreak of the crisis caused by the coronavirus and the concomitant collapse of global economic activity, African countries exporting primary resources are facing an unprecedented depression. Oil, a major economic provider in many countries on the continent, has seen its price more than halved since the beginning of the year, with prices now hovering between $25 and $30. Five years ago, the price of oil was still over $100.

As a result, in Nigeria, Congo, Chad, Angola, Algeria and Gabon, countries that are highly dependent on this windfall, budget forecasts based on prices of 50 or 60 dollars a barrel have been urgently adjusted downwards, with the social disruption that this implies (reduced social spending, increased insecurity among the population, etc.). Nigeria, the continent’s leading economic power and sub-Saharan Africa’s leading oil producer, has already announced that it will need to borrow $7 billion to deal with the crisis. An appeal for financial aid that will mechanically increase the country’s debt burden « precisely at a time when it has to spend to stop the spread of the coronavirus and provide support to vulnerable people, » say analysts from the British think tank Chatham House. As for the African Union (AU), it estimates that « nearly 20 million [jobs], both in the formal and informal sectors, […] are threatened with destruction on the continent if the situation persists ».

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A fear shared by many organizations, such as Oxfam. In a report entitled « The Price of Dignity », released on April 9th, the NGO states that « between 6 and 8% of the world population could fall into poverty », that is to say half a billion people, which « could constitute on a global scale a ten-year decline in the fight against poverty, and a thirty-year decline in certain regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East or North Africa », conclude the authors of the study. This is the cruel dilemma of the coronavirus crisis in Africa: at a time when governments across the continent are shutting down entire sectors of their economies to curb the spread of Covid-19 and in the absence of social safety nets, the choice is between dying of hunger or disease.