COVID-19 and its Impact on Africa
IndraStra Global

COVID-19 and its Impact on Africa

By Meghna Ria Muralidharan
Center for African Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India

COVID-19 and its Impact on Africa | By Meghna Ria Muralidharan

Since the last few months, the world has witnessed sudden chaos inflicted upon the global public health and the international economic system. For a change, the global political scenario is not being controlled by one or two major powers, but governments across the world are trying to counter a similar challenge, adopting new mechanisms from total lockdown and quarantine to develop immunization. The virus may have originated in Wuhan in China but is having an adverse effect on countries across different continents.

Asia and Europe may have been the worst hit by COVID-19, but the biggest question making news is the impact of this pandemic on the African continent and the readiness of these countries to tackle the challenge. Various existing challenges obstruct the African countries from proactively handling the current situation. Lack of public health facilities, infrastructure, dwindling economy, and leadership are some of the already existing challenges that most of the African countries have been facing.

Considering its deep and close ties with China, it is a fact that anything that happens to China’s economy will have an adverse effect on the world at large and Africa, specifically. China over the years has been Africa’s leading economic partner and millions of Chinese have been residing in different countries across the African continent. Similarly, thousands of Africans taking advantage of the significant scholarships provided by various universities in China have been studying in some of the major cities. To add further, Chinese investments, infrastructure projects, and training programs have increased African productivity. However, with the current economic condition of China and the closing down of the Chinese market to the outside world, there is a high possibility that the African economy will be the worst hit due to its high reliance over the Chinese imports.

How are the Africans dealing with this situation?

The coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the African continent. Though the number of confirmed cases and deaths are comparatively less, an upward trend is being witnessed in the total number of cases in the last few days. According to the WHO report issued on April 4, 2020, there are approximately 8,426 confirmed cases and 300 deaths. The outbreak, witnessed in Algeria for the first time in Africa, has been spreading to different parts of the continent in a very short time. With limited political tools and a lack of transparent information available, it is quite challenging to understand the impact the pandemic is having on the African continent. Although there is no clear picture highlighting the extent to which the countries are getting affected, specific changes are visible at the geopolitical level.

South Africa, Egypt, Algeria, Kenya, and Morocco are some of the worst affected and countries such as Mozambique, Rwanda, Guinea, and Eswatini have also reported cases of COVID-19. The total number of cases during the first week of March was comparatively less, and eight countries had no confirmed cases, but the number has gone up towards the end of March, and currently, only four countries have no confirmed cases. Lack of healthcare infrastructure and porous borders have played a primary role in the growing number of cases.

Out of the 54 countries, 33 countries in Africa are considered as least developed and of these, 22 countries are most vulnerable to such infection outbreaks. Almost, a large number of countries in Africa are unfavorable in different areas, ranging from healthcare facilities to basic hygiene. Another alarming factor is that many of the people in Africa live in unfavorable conditions, thereby forcing them to migrate to different places and stay in non-sterile environments. Under such circumstances, there are high chances of the virus spreading, and a large number of individuals getting infected.

Though there are many factors that challenge the African continent, Africa has an added advantage and prior experience to pandemics over the outbreak that is effecting America, Asia, and Europe. Firstly, the continent’s recent experience of viruses such as Ebola, Malaria, and HIV. This experience has provided many countries with the infrastructural support required to tackle the viruses but insufficient health infrastructure and access to clean water across the continent continues to be a major sign of concern. Secondly, as COVID-19 has entered the African continent comparatively at a later stage gives the continent an added advantage in fighting this health emergency. The response of many of the African countries to the outbreak has been comparatively better as the rate of speed and the level of impact of the outbreak were detected at its nascent stage. Immediate measures such as suspension of international flights, sealing of borders, limited curfew practices, suspension of academic activities, extensive disinfection work and quarantine were implemented in the initial phase itself.

Geopolitical implications of the outbreak in Africa

With many of the African countries dependent on China, the economic impact can be witnessed in African countries as both the demand and supply chain will be affected adversely. This negative impact of the outbreak can and will be witnessed both in international politics and economics. With the oil prices falling to their lowest levels in the last two decades some of the major African oil-exporting countries such as Algeria, Libya, Gabon, Angola, and Nigeria will face the heat of the dwindling oil prices. The damage of the global outbreak will have severe implications on the economy as compared to its health sector. In the current scenario, negative trends in stock markets, the decline in the demand for goods, commodity prices, the value of currencies and interest rates, are some of the main factors that are pushing the countries towards the global economic crisis. Though the western government may identify certain mechanisms to overcome the economic crisis, this will be a major challenge for many of the African countries. Along with the economic impact, weak and strained health care system especially in SubSaharan Africa, the chances of the spreading of the virus are comparatively higher thereby increased mortality rate as compared to Europe, America, and Asia. Along with economic and healthcare impact, the geopolitical ramifications should not be ignored. The outbreak could fundamentally affect the power dynamics thereby threatening the equations of the African countries with some of the key players in the international system. 

Conclusion 

Therefore the cost of the Coronavirus outbreak is seen impacting countries across the world, and in such a situation, the collaboration of the government and the citizens is the need of the hour. The African government has been proactive and implemented various measures to fight this global health emergency. Along with the government, private laboratories have also been set up to carry out a testing facility. Many of the African countries have also adopted e-payment options, one of the many ways to curb the spread of COVID-19. Countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe have ordered a lockdown for a brief period of time.

At this crucial period of time, international organizations like World Health Organisation and other regional organizations need to collaborate and provide basic healthcare facilities to countries that lack the ability to do so in order to prevent the spreading of the virus. A Large number of medical personnel need to be deployed in various African countries. Thus it will be interesting to see whether the African continent will be able to counter the virus or will succumb to it like that of Europe and Asia. 

About the Author:

Meghna Ria Muralidharan (ORCID ID: 0000-0003-1187-3280) is currently pursuing her MPhil in African Studies from the Center for African Studies, SIS, JNU. The author extensively works on the topic such as India-Africa Relationship, Energy Security, Peace and Conflict in Africa and Diaspora Politics

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this insight piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the IndraStra Global.