COVID-19: THE DEEPER BURDEN FOR AFRICA.
By Ubaka Okofu
Whether as primary or secondary victims, there is almost no gainsaying that the African continent might end up as the worst victim of the COVID-19 pandemic that is currently holding the world by the jugular.
As in previous cases, the African continent has largely been caught pants down. Not only because of our lackadaisical or ragtag approach to matters of emergency, but the fact that the African continent , whichever way it is seen, it is still a largely poor sphere of the planet when contrasted with several other continental masses. Indeed, it is about the worst in global rankings on the poverty challenge.
In less than a fortnight for example, the Chinese government was able to build a specialist hospital customised to evacuate reported cases of those infected with the virus to be quarantined and treated. One wonders if any African country has the financial muscle to rise up to such exigencies.
Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Senegal and Nigeria are countries in Africa with early recorded cases of the virus. Quite important of all, and most pertinently, economic proximity, diplomatic relations and colonial ties cannot be ruled out as factors related to the incidence of contacting the virus. For instance, Northern Italy, which is currently a hot-spot of the pandemic in Europe has strong business ties with Wuhan and Wenhou where the virus was said to have originated from. One is not surprised that Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria have all recorded cases of the virus. The proximity between Italy, France and the aforesaid African countries may very well account for the presence of the virus in those countries.
Whether as primary or secondary victims, or indeed both, except something drastic is done, the current economic indices of Africa would almost inevitably worsen at the end of the day. Without mincing words, the pandemic, earlier than expected, is imposing a deep burden on the economy of the continent. Worse hit at the moment are the tourist sector and the aviation industry. Kenya, South Africa, Botswana and Lesotho are already bleeding from a scorching shortfall in patronage of that sector. The exchange rate of the US Dollar had also shot up in the wake of the spread of the virus to Africa.
Stacking up financial reserves in currency and gold that is enough to bail out and resuscitate a depressed economy may be reason why China and other developed countries may walk out of the scourge with minimal economic casualties. This is one aspect of the African economy that is in total crisis. The extreme consumer economies that we have and sustain in Africa make it absolutely difficult to ward off the imminent danger which the pandemic poses for the continent. We literally cannot do without Europe and Asia for a minute. This may not in actual sense look like the good side of the almighty globalization that has been touted about for years now after all. In times like this, we should be able to streamline business and diplomatic ties as long as the carnage lasts. But, this may put the entire continent in serious economic jeopardy if attempted. Reasons such as stated above make one flutter with fear should the scourge of Coronavirus take a sweep on the continent which presently reeks in abject poverty and the associated petrifying neglect in health care.
With the statistics of affected persons and the number of those killed globally by the disease, Coronavirus, I am inclined to say deserves a more holistic approach in its handling. The world must rally support for Africa where health facilities are grossly inadequate. Should it escalate as much as the already sordid cases in France, Italy and Iran, curtailing the spread of the disease in Africa may be much more difficult considering the porous borders of African countries.
We must look closely at ties between countries with established and lethal cases of the virus and those in Africa. Proximity between Tunisia and Algeria to France cannot be ruled out for the recorded cases of the disease in those countries. China has taken a bold step by exporting medical personnel to countries where the pandemic has a strong hold. France, Italy and Iran have recorded more casualties of the epidemic than any other countries on the watch list, and they are the first beneficiaries of the Chinese medical largesse.
African countries may have to breach contractual and diplomatic demands to keep the virus at bay. All international entry ports must be subjected to heavy scrutiny. The fact that the disease can be transmitted quickly through the slightest bodily contact with infected persons makes humans the focus. African countries must channel all efforts toward scrutinizing nationals from countries with notorious cases of the virus. We have a lot of Chinese doing business in Africa. We may not necessarily quarantine them. But, what they do and where they go must be of apparent concern to the authorities.