The plethora of political economy in Africa during Covid-19

31 July 2020 | Columns


A global pandemic such as the coronavirus has indicated that globalisation can change in an instant, with various factors deciding how nations could operate within the ambit of their territories. The African continent has not been spared. To understand the Africa that we are in now, we need to analyse where we have come from. Even though the continent is still in transition from an agrarian lifestyle to that of the modernised era, it is still highly focused on agriculture, human labour, subsistence farming and informal economic activities. In the past we had invaders that settled on the continent, while claiming to 'discover' it, but in essence they left the continent to fend for itself and solely depend on the West for development. Against this background, the continent is in transition to economic development and self-sustenance. However, most countries are still classified as low-income. In terms of global pandemics, there have been two notable ones: The Aids pandemic in the 1980s and the H1N1 influenza, better known as the Spanish Flu, in 1918. The Spanish Flu, however, was more catastrophic as it affected a wider population. At the time, 500 million people tested positive and at least 50 million people perished, including Africans. In fact, 2% of Africa's population was wiped out by the virus within six months. Ironically, the virus was deadlier in the second wave. After the lockdown and quarantine periods were lifted, the virus reignited again and spread even faster. Which begs the question: Are we ready to handle the second Covid-19 wave?

Test of governance

During this pandemic, global governance is heavily tested. Currently, health systems are struggling to cope, particularly in Africa, as facilities are inadequate, testing equipment is lacking and people who have lower standards of living struggle to access basic services. Politically, the countries with authoritarian governments used the pandemic as another way to impose stricter regulations with stiffer lockdowns. In countries such as Uganda, Burundi and Guinea, there have been reports of harassment and beatings of citizens on the streets. Furthermore, there has been an attempt to silence the opposition, as well as journalists. Africa and several other countries that are classified as 'Third World' are feeling the biggest pinch due to the lockdown restrictions. Various businesses have closed down, families have lost their livelihoods and nationally trade has been inactive. According to statistics of the African Union, there have been more than

700 000 positive cases, which is certainly alarming.

Collective effort

This calls for a collective effort across the continent to curb the virus from spreading further. Simultaneously, we ought to see whether multilateralism is effective. Multilateralism is intergovernmental organisation that unites nations for a common purpose. In Africa, they include the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Covid-19 calls for shared responsibility to tackle the virus at a faster pace. SADC has recognised the importance of cross-border trade as essential to stimulate economic activity, hence it has established monitoring systems at borders to test truck drivers. Namibia and Botswana, on the other hand, have built facilities at their main international airports to monitor any arrivals that may have symptoms. Finally, the African continent within the last two years has agreed to establish the African Continental Free Trade Area, which seeks to increased trade amongst African nations to create self-dependence, as opposed to seeking major assistance from overseas. It is hoped this will accelerate economic development and create manufacturing industries, including pharmaceutical companies that can produce locally made medicine, and cut out the bureaucracy and highly inflated prices of overseas medicine.

*Tuikila Kaiyamo is a scholar of international relations. He can be reached at [email protected]