In this week’s Monitor Jean-Claude Kassi Brou (President of the ECOWAS Commission) and Mohamed Ibn Chambas (Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel) reflect on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the West African and Sahel regions and the way that the countries have shown solidarity in their response.
Professor Ramesh Thakur argues that panic-driven lockdown strategies could kill more people in Africa than COVID-19 itself. Taking into account the low infection rates, living conditions and economic realities, he claims that the test, isolate, treat and trace approach seems to be a more appropriate policy response for Africa.
Staying with the lockdown theme we share a report from the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) that has identified seven lockdown exit strategies. In Africa, at least 42 countries have imposed partial or full COVID-19 related lockdowns. These restrictions pose considerable economic costs that, in turn, threaten lives, put livelihoods at risk and exacerbate poverty. It is thus important that there are sound governance strategies put in place to manage the COVID-19 response. We also look at how the continuation of arrests related to violations of lockdown measures are expected to increase tensions between states and citizens.
Professor Carlos Lopes highlights that COVID-19 provides Africa with an opportunity to re-think the role of the state in economic policy, and to contemplate a different set of rules and norms. He argues that our COVID-19 policies should recognize public services as public goods that need to be properly funded, and that they should be recognized as investments in social capital, not liabilities.
Lastly, Professor Matthias Basedau and Mora Deitch introduce a model that outlines some of the main variables that will determine which conflict scenarios are likely to materialise as a result of COVID-19. They find that while the pandemic is a unique shock, large-scale organized violence will only occur indirectly – through economic and political conditions.
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Livelihood insecurity & economic impact
COVID-19 provides Africa with an opportunity to re-think the role of the state in economic policy – Carlos Lopes
The coronavirus has demonstrated that we can do many things that seemed impossible before. We are now allowed to think it is possible to contemplate a different set of rules and norms. There is a dramatic return to Keynesian policies by those who once kept at arm’s length what they considered a sin: to recognize public services as public goods that are to be properly funded. Treating them as investments in social capital instead of liabilities. There is now a recognition that the key role of the state is back.
Before COVID-19, the IMF’s economic growth forecast for the continent this year was 3.2%, with 16 African countries among the 30-best performing in the world, and more than half of the population on the continent living in countries with 5% economic growth or more. In just a few weeks all the above changed. The competition is now to assess the amount of damage COVID-19 will cause. McKinsey predicts a loss on the continent of between $90 and $200 billion this year; the World Bank estimates an economic contraction of between 2.6% and 7%, while the African Union predicts a more modest drop of 1.1% from earlier growth projections if the crisis lasts a few months.
Based on data from Johns Hopkins University and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 May 2020
The Impact of Lockdowns on African Countries – UNECA
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers are confronted with decisions that may prove to be among the most difficult of their careers. To contain the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented measures are being taken globally. In Africa, at least 42 countries have imposed partial or full lockdowns on the movements and activities of their people. Experience around the world suggests that such interventions effectively suppress the spread of COVID-19. The lockdowns, however, pose considerable economic costs that, in turn, threaten lives, put livelihoods at risk and exacerbate poverty.
The UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) issued a report that has identified seven lockdown exit strategies. While there is no simple exit strategy for each African state, the report has prioritized the need to ensure that there are sound governance strategies put in place to manage the COVID-19 response.
COVID-19 lockdown related arrests continue to impact on state-citizen relations – Marisha Ramdeen
The lockdown measures that were put in place to contain the spread of COVID-19 has resulted in a rise in arrests for non-compliance with state of emergency regulations, or other preventive measures. A month into the lockdowns, countries such as Angola, Morocco, Mozambique, South Africa, Eswatini, and Tunisia continued to have incidents where people were arrested for failing to abide by the rules and regulations.
The continued arrests of citizens for violations of lockdown measures is expected to increase tensions between states and citizens. While some break the law and are arrested, there are equally citizens showing compliance with the regulations. What will strengthen trust between citizens and state institutions will be the manner in which security agencies conduct themselves when monitoring compliance with lockdown measures.
Political Unrest or Violence
Pandemic Fallout: Will the Coronavirus lead to more violent conflict in Africa? Matthias Basedau and Mora Deitch
Some have warned that the coronavirus pandemic might lead to hunger, riots, instability, and civil war, especially in Africa. How likely are such worst-case scenarios?
As dynamics are still unfolding, and even sophisticated forecasting cannot sufficiently model the effects of an unprecedented crisis, reliably predicting the political impact in Africa and elsewhere remains a difficult task. However, it is possible to outline the main variables that will determine which conflict scenarios are likely to materialize as a result of the “virus shock”.
The causal chain we have outlined concentrates on domestic factors and conflict in Africa, but all variables are subject to international influences (and may play out to various degrees in other world regions). Our simplified model – an ideal-type of a causal chain – includes seven steps. In short, the pandemic is a unique shock, but large-scale organized violence will result only indirectly – through economic and political conditions.