Alternative Responses for Fighting Coronavirus in Africa

The world is at war against the coronavirus pandemic. The Hajj, one of the Five Pillars of Islam is being cancelled, despite the unprecedented nature of the decision for the Muslim world and the financial dividend this may represent for Saudi Arabia. Each country is fighting against this common enemy, but global solidarity is being tested and must prevail. Right now, the world’s commitment to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is more relevant than ever before.

This pandemic shows deep inequalities between those who can afford to work from home and those who live day by day and won’t feed their families if they stop working. Africa must pull together its resilience, its culture of solidarity and its survival capabilities.

An Africa COVID-19 strategy would recognize these facts:

  • African lifestyle and gregarious instinct, with the tendency to associate in and enjoy social activities makes its people more vulnerable to a contagious lethal pandemic (They eat, pray and socialize in very close circles);
  • Poverty affects millions of African households, slum dwellers, migrant, rural and domestic workers, street venders who count on their daily work activities to survive and with no or little social safety nets;
  • Women and children are disproportionally affected by poverty and exogenous shocks;
  • Lack of access to water and soap for many, including those using public latrines;
  • An inadequate health system;
  • Border porosity;
  • Bureaucracy and red tape;
  • Weak capacity to act fast in an emergency situation;
  • History of corruption in humanitarian relief efforts;
  • Rapid translation of the health crisis into an economic and social crisis affecting the informal sector but also SMEs in the formal sector leading to countries inability to mobilize domestic resources.

The UN has presented the data, demonstrated how the pandemic is linked to all SDGs, addressed the socio-economic dimensions and provided policy guidance for combating COVID-19. We propose here additional Africa-grown actions that may be undertaken at global, regional and national levels in solidarity with state and non-state actors:

Actions that the UN and other global partners may support include:

  • Suspension of the payment of debt service as proposed by the meeting of African Ministers of Finance held in March in South Africa to be directly invested into fighting COVID-19 and its social impacts.
  • Efforts towards cancelation of the multilateral debt as expressed by President Macky Sall. However, resource collected from debt cancellation should be entirely directed towards restoring Africa’s malfunctioning health systems;
  • Support for strategies to mobilize domestic resources from non-essential budgetary allocations such as slush funds that exist in many African countries.
  • Target and mobilize wealthier countries and visionary leaders to show solidarity and help the most impacted and poorest countries access protective medical gears, and medical staff.

Actions that could be undertaken at regional level:

–     Given that the infections are essentially imported, cross border surveillance mechanisms would empower often neglected interconnected cross border communities to develop early warning signals, while airports are closed;

–     Given the exceptional COVID-19 circumstances, countries under the Franc CFA Monetary Zone, should engage into a discussion with the two Central Banks of the monetary zone and with the French government to request repatriation of their financial reserves deposited within the French public treasury. Countries like Cameroun, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Senegal, members of Franc CFA monetary Zone, are among the most COVID-19 hit African countries.

–     Creation of a regional Coronavirus independent oversight Committee with national level representations including parliamentarians, experts and CSO leaders working closely with the regional economic commissions and the ECA.

Actions that could be undertaken at national level:

  • Mobilize domestic resources from non-essential budgetary allocations such as slush funds. Senegal is advised to lead by example. The President, Speaker of Parliament, and Presidents of the 2 major councils advising the government, receive each money from a slush fund entitled “Fonds Politiques”, voted in Parliament and with no requirement to account on its allocations. Many observers are advising the President, who receives over one million US dollars per month from that slush fund, to put an end to these political funds and channel them towards fighting the pandemic and its social impacts.
  • Establish a national coronavirus independent oversight Committee to monitor prioritization of interventions, proper expenditure mechanisms and delivery of medical material and emergency relief to families and small businesses impacted by the economic downturn of the pandemic. This committee will have a strong communications outreach and link up with the Regional Coronavirus independent Oversight Committee. It may monitor the management of the fund and define the performance outcomes and indicators.
  • For example, in Senegal, this national committee may work with and monitor the fund established by President Sall (“Force COVID-19”). Force COVID-19 received considerable contributions from Senegalese citizens, private sector and its diaspora and will host the government’s mobilized funds.
  • The national communications strategy and its messaging content must be contextualized and take into account:
      • Social and economic implications of social distancing and confinement that exposes multiple inequality issues between the very few that can isolate themselves and work from home and people living in extreme poverty and stressed about the ideas of being confined because they live in overcrowded houses and need to go out every day to feed their families.
      • Understanding and addressing the African lifestyle: promiscuity in the habitat and in sharing a meal (apart from a few exceptions, we eat in the same bowl and often by hand); sanitation (many households and communities in informal urban settlement and urban areas use common latrines);
      • Unavailability of water and soap especially in public places like markets, mosques and churches.

Last but not least decision makers should articulate at global, regional and national and local levels, COVID-19 gender dimensions taking into account that:

  • Women are disproportionately infected by the coronavirus. As of 2 April 2020, 54% of women are infected compared to 46% of men in Senegal.
  • The confinement has a differential impact on women. These factors must be taken into account in formulating policy:
  • increased gender-based violence as experienced in China, in Italy and France;
  • increased unpaid care workload when all family members are staying at home (cooking, water fetching, cleaning, etc.);
  • increased challenges for women to find resources to feed family, especially women headed households;
  • additional burden to support sick people;
  • more challenges in accessing sexual and reproductive health services;
  • loss of revenues for women to realize their immediate needs;
  • lack of representation of women in the leadership of the response including in the media;
  • Need for psychological assistance for women.

Subsequently, responses to the pandemic including stimulus packages, should be informed by the pandemic’s specific impact on women and girls.

 

Written by Yassine Fall, Economist, Senegal (3 April 2020)

 

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