Fight back COVID 19 in all its dimensions
Amid mounting fears of a global recession, vulnerable people worry about food supplies, shelter, and livelihoods. Many people are subsisting on informal daily wages. The sorts of bailout packages advanced economies have put forward for their businesses and people would be extremely difficult in the African context, whose nations are not yet among those putting in place measures for social protection (WorldBank, PDF). We must find a way to create social safety nets in Africa—to preserve livelihoods, people, and the planet we share.
A major implication of the shutdown is potential non-continuity in provision of essential public services. Several decrees have called for all to stay home and where possible work therefrom. Effectiveness presupposes digital readiness – for which, thanks to the growing penetration of internet in Africa, there is some capacity; but certainly nowhere near the scale required to keep governments open. Systemic power/energy deficits further constrain viability to remain in business consistently by digital means. Further, not all key public services are yet digitalized.
Keeping essential services open will require supporting governments with quick investments into capacities for remote work, especially in social service systems, to ensure this crisis doesn’t prompt social and civil strife.
Financing and partnerships are vital
African governments require financing to prepare better, fight back, and recover stronger from COVID-19.
At UNDP, where I serve as Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa, we will work with UN sister agencies, the private sector, and other partners to support African governments and communities to procure essential equipment—including protective gear, ventilators, and testing kits—while promoting mitigation measures and continuity of critical government functions and rapidly building capacity at the country level.
As financial resources become available, we must ensure these are in grant form and do not create additional debt burdens on a continent recently assessed as on the brink of a debt crisis. No one should profit from a crisis of this nature.
African business can play a key role in bringing critical supplies to households and governments. Now is the time to show up—not for profit, but for people—through innovation and philanthropy. Stories of Senegalese innovators partnering to develop 10-minute COVID-19 test kits speak to Africa’s potential. African innovators can and should lead the way. African philanthropists should put their money where their markets are by supporting response and recovery efforts.
It is time for Africa to boost its production of essential medicines and medical equipment, as a priority. This unprecedented procurement drive confirms market availability.
Africa should invest in sustainability by quickening implementation of the African Union (AU) blueprint for Accelerated Industrial Development for Africa (AIDA) and treaties such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Prioritizing key tariff lines central to COVID-19 treatment is low-hanging fruit that AU members can harvest as we look toward the 1 July start of trading.
I commend the important work of the AU Centre for Disease Control (AU-CDC) in rolling out its COVID-19 strategy. This must be fully supported by all partners, including the G-20. UNDP looks forward to working with the AU-CDC to support implementation.
UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner has made clear that our agency’s resources are fully directed toward fighting COVID-19, and we are working closely with governments, communities, and regional institutions to respond in ways that bolster health systems, strengthen economies, and guarantee livelihoods. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s call for an urgent global ceasefire is particularly relevant to Africa. It is essential not only to bend but to “break the curve” and defeat this virus everywhere.
None of us is safe until all of us are safe and no one is left behind. That’s already one of the major lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the challenges ahead are unprecedented, we should all take hope in the words of Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”