A fortnight ago, life was pretty normal in Africa – open markets, weddings, funerals – while Europe, China and increasingly other parts of the world had become locked down as a result of the rampaging coronavirus. In the past week, though, the region has joined the rest of the world, locking down cities and states.
Isn’t it a wonder that with the high traffic between London and Lagos/Accra, and between Paris and Abidjan/Douala, the virus had not overtaken West Africa before the lockdown started? Is it not an absolute wonder that while presidents and cabinet ministers go into quarantine in Europe for the virus, their African counterparts whose culture practically runs on body contact are walking mostly uninfected?
Well, Africa has finally joined the rest of the world in locking down. But the move is largely preemptory, apart from South Africa where the virus has really become a potent threat.
For whatever reasons, optimists are thankful that this global pandemic has not been significantly added to Africa’s crises of both terrorist and kakistocrastic dimensions. The human toll remains insignificant and incomparable to ebola which was the plague last time.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Corona virus (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
A novel coronavirus (CoV) is a new strain that had been previously indentified in humans. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019 nCoV) officially named Covid-19 by the WHO occurred last December in Wuhan, in China’s Hubei Province. Ever since, over 800,000 people have been infected worldwide, with about 40,000 deaths at the end of March.
Hardest hit are the United States (174,750 with 3,402 deaths), Italy (101,739 with 11,591 deaths), Spain (94,417 with 8,269 deaths), China (81,518; 3,305 deaths); Germany (68,180; 682 deaths); Iran (44,605; 2,898 deaths); France (44,550; 3,024 deaths); UK (25,150; 1,789 deaths); Switzerland (16,186; 395 deaths); and Belgium (12,775; 705 deaths).
In Africa, South Africa has most cases at 1,353, with three deaths; Algeria, 716 with 44 deaths; Egypt , 656 with 41 deaths; Morocco 574 with 33 deaths; Tunisia 362 with 10 deaths; Burkina Faso 264 with 12 deaths; Cameroon 193 with six deaths; Senegal, 175, no deaths; Cote d’Ivoire 168 with one death; Ghana 152 with five deaths. Nigeria came in next with 135 cases and two deaths.
But while Africans cheer themselves on the low human toll of the coronavirus on them, there is an angle at which the continent is wide open to the pandemic – economic.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit world trade, and Africa not being a closed ecosystem has been hit. The moment China which is the world’s major workshop locked down, shutting factories and halting import of raw materials and fuels, the global economy ran into trouble.
Africa is a major exporter of crude oil, parading Nigeria, Angola, Algeria, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and others including new entrants, Senegal, Ghana, Chad, Uganda etc. All of them took a hit the moment oil prices headed south as a fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Africa is also a major exporter of raw commodities, both mineral and agricultural. From gold, bauxite, silver, titanium to cocoa, banana and timber, Africa is a major player. All the exporting nations took a hit as the world shut down.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) says that the GDP growth rate of Africa for 2020, originally projected at 3.2% may drop as low as 1.8%. Crude oil exporters alone are projected to chalk up losses of some $65billion.
Besides commodities, the service sector will fall victim too. Tourism which is a significant revenue earner for the continent is already taking a hit as airlines halt services. The ECA says that previous crises left the continent with losses of up to $7.2 billion – pointer to where the continent might end up with this current one.
Fiscal projections by most countries would be thrown off-balance as a result of shortages in revenue. These foreign exchange revenue shortages would adversely impact food and pharmaceutical imports resulting in inflationary pressures. The continent may end up with $10.6billion of unanticipated healthcare expenses this year, the ECA says.
Interestingly, high profile dignitaries and governmental leaders, across the world, have been sucked into the pathological tentacles of the coronavirus.
First to cause a stir was the President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who early March suspended his duties and went into self-imposed quarantine for the coronavirus. He later tested negative for the virus.
But one recent high profile victim of the pandemic is Nadine Dorries. And to know that this lady, who is in charge of managing the health and sanitary well-being of all British citizens, has become a victim of coronavirus, comes across as a comical incident. Quite paradoxical.
Nadine Dorries, the Health Minister of the United Kingdom, has embarrassingly found herself in the coronavirus quarantine ‘cage’ after testing positive to COVID-19. She has since been discreetly put into isolation for the time being (or at time of filing this report). And she’s since been quoted as saying that she had already taken all the advised precautionary measures.
Africa has recorded some high profile victims too. The cooronavirus has taken the life of the Cameroonian music maestro, Manu Dibango – a rave of the 1980s. In Nigeria, the powerful Chief of Staff to President Buhari as well as a couple of high profile governors have tested positive to the virus and are in quarantine.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), in its preliminary assessment of trade impact, says the world’s most affected economies as a result of the global pandemic, are the European Union, the US, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. With such statutory restrictions of mass movement of people across international borders, the travel and tourism industry has been very adversely affected. And fashion’s pauper world of cheap, secondhand clothes which thrives in West Africa has been feeling the chills of business freeze as trade flows ebb.
People are being urged to desist from buying secondhand clothes from China, Vietnam, Europe and other coronavirus-plagued regions. There have been urgent warnings that buyers of such clothes might, sooner than later be donning cheap fancy wears seething with killer pathogens of the coronavirus brand.
Local fashion industry is singing that it’s safer, lovelier and more fashionable to patronize Nigerian, Beninese, Togolese, Ghanaian, Ivoirian, Sierra Leonean, Liberian and sundry West African textiles and tailors. This would not only help boost the process of wealth-distribution, it would, as well, lead to innovative job-creation and export-oriented businesses in the fashion industry across the sub-region.
Jean Diourf, an Ivorian, observed: “It’s ever tempting to buy secondhand clothes because they come cheap and rather fanciful. But then with corona virus, buying cheap could lead to inviting untimely death. Mieux vaux suffrir que mourir (It’s better to suffer than to die.) When one is alive, there’s always hope.
“With the greed and unscrupulous practices of the exporters of such secondhand material it’s likely that the clothing of dead and surviving victims of corona virus could be foisted on the ECOWAS market.
“With governments of the advanced world finding it extremely difficult to cope with the financial, medical and socio-economic challenges of the global pandemic, it would be disastrous if such a plague is let loose across the West African coast”.
Back home, in Nigeria, the storm of the coronavirus is touching life and living, outside the health sector.
The Director General of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr Muda Yusuf, assessed the situation thus: “The outbreak of coronavirus, some weeks ago, has profound implications for Nigeria’s economy. It poses a major threat to Nigeria’s macroeconomic fundamentals, the impact of which may be systemic and for-reaching”.
The head of state, President Mohammadu Buhari upped the ante about the seriousness of the crises when he recently declared that “corona virus is affecting revenues”.
With oil being the mainstay of the economy, the president’s fiscal worries got echoed by the Minister of Finance and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, who declared that the nation would not be able to reach 80 percent of the revenue performance of 2019. She put across her economic findings during the public presentation of the 2020 budget proposal.
As Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states get locked down, ditto Ghana’s Accra and Kumasi; Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal declare states of emergency with curfews; Burkina and Mali imposing curfews too, residents are already feeling the economic crunch. That’s where the pain will be for most Africans while the coronavirus pandemic lasts.