After twenty months of pandemic, the road to recovery promises to be difficult for African states. Even if the continent has fewer victims of Covid-19 than Western countries, it pays a heavy price in economic and social matters.
According to the latest report of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, published Monday, December 6, the health crisis risks in particular wiping out years of progress made in the fields of education, civil liberties, parity and access to care. “The pandemic has deepened pre-existing economic and social inequalities. It is a factor of crisis and conflict which risks aggravating already unstable political situations ”, warns Nathalie Delapalme, Executive Director of the Foundation.
Based on a set of indices measuring the annual performance of countries in different areas – from health to education, rule of law and security – the report details the challenges facing the continent. in 2022. He points to vaccination against Covid-19 as an essential prerequisite. “If we do not speed up vaccination, there is little chance that Africa will take the path of recovery”, alert the Foundation.
However, as of November 18, 2021, only 6.8% of Africans were fully vaccinated, a proportion ten times lower than in G7 countries. Of the 7.6 billion doses of vaccine administered worldwide, Africa received only 2.9%. The World Health Organization (WHO) had set as a target the complete vaccination of 40% of the population of the states of the continent by the end of 2021: only three countries – the Seychelles, Morocco and Mauritius – have achieved this to date.
At this rate, it appears difficult to envisage the vaccination of 70% of the African population by the end of 2022, as recommended by the WHO in order to achieve collective immunity. The risk in the event of failure being to transform “The continent as a variant incubator”, valued Nathalie Delpalme.
Prepare for future pandemics
Due to the precariousness of their health system, “Most African countries are not prepared for future pandemics”, warns the report. Thirty states experienced a sharp deterioration in the index concerning access to health care between 2015 and 2019, in particular Guinea-Bissau, Uganda, Namibia and Libya. Overall, on the continent, seeking treatment remains unaffordable for the overwhelming majority of the population, due to the lack of payment of costs by the State.
Thus, public spending in sub-Saharan Africa peaks at 1.9% of GDP, against 5.9% on average worldwide, despite the commitment made in 2001 in Abuja (Nigeria) by African leaders to devote at least 15% from their budget to public health.
Only ten countries provide free and universal health care to their citizens. Gold, “It would cost less to increase prevention and preparation than to react in an emergency”, Nathalie Delapalme analysis, for whom “It is imperative to invest because other pandemics will appear ».
Ensure sovereignty in health matters
Today, Africa accounts for 25% of the global demand for routine vaccines, but is 99% dependent on imports to meet its needs. Likewise, 95% of medicines come from other continents.
The authors of the report nevertheless see this imbalance as a lever for growth, if African states manage to produce their own doses for a continent which represents 18% of the world’s population and which will continue to grow. Because, even if a dozen African players are now involved in the manufacture of vaccines, they mainly operate at the bottom of the production scale (filling and finishing, packaging and labeling, import and distribution). “We must strengthen these production systems and start now to build vaccine autonomy to reduce the dependence of the continent”, advocates the study.
The health crisis seems to have acted as an accelerator: in April, the African Union, in partnership with the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention, set the target of local production of 60% of annual vaccine needs. classics by 2040.
But, even in the event of the deployment of massive vaccination campaigns, millions of people risk being excluded for lack of legal existence. In fact, half of African children are not registered in the civil registry. On the continent, only 10% of deaths are recorded, against 90% in Europe. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation calls on African countries to systematize the drafting of civil status documents to make health policy effective. In ten years, the Civil Status index has deteriorated massively on the continent. Only Algeria, Namibia and Cape Verde progress, while Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Egypt regress sharply.
Guarantee the protection of civil liberties
As in other regions of the world, the health crisis may have been accompanied by a shrinking civic space. The health emergency thus served as a pretext to limit gatherings or demonstrations against government policies or to reduce press freedom. The Foundation notes that, even if the decline in freedoms, rights and democracy has been observed since the 2000s, there has been a before and a after-Covid.
“Between March 2020 and June 2021, 40 countries imposed at least once significant restrictions on media freedom,” note the authors of the report, who note at the same time that, since 2015, “The media have become more partial, government censorship has increased, as has the harassment of journalists.” The situation has particularly deteriorated in Burundi, Algeria, Ghana, Kenya and Benin. In the Congo, for example, a national television presenter was suspended after asking a question deemed “Inconvenant” to a minister on Covid-19.
While several African countries are facing a democratic crisis, the pandemic and its management have amplified the mistrust of the populations towards their leaders.
Ensuring a sustainable economic recovery
Faced with the pandemic and the recession in which the continent has plunged – the first for thirty years – several avenues of recovery are being mentioned.
The report calls for strengthening intraregional trade, the weakest in the world (15% against 67% for Europe). The continent is thus depriving itself of a considerable lever for growth. “In 2019, 90% of African countries’ exports went primarily outside the continent”, notes the Foundation, which hopes that the Zlecaf, the largest free trade area in the world, being created, will “Revolutionize the place of the continent in the world economy”. This would require making the improvement of transport networks a priority.
Another essential element of economic transformation: access to energy. Some 600 million Africans are still not connected to the electricity grid. The economic and health consequences are serious: nearly three quarters of hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa do not have reliable food. Only four countries – Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Seychelles – currently provide full access to electricity.
African states are also called upon to reduce the digital divide in order to take advantage of a generation of entrepreneurs in tune with the new economy. While the continent has the largest number of mobile bank accounts in the world, only ten countries provide internet access to more than half of their inhabitants.
Bringing students back to school and protecting girls from gender-based violence
The digital divide has also deprived millions of young people and children of distance education. In sub-Saharan Africa, 89% of students do not have a computer at home and 82% do not have Internet access. A generation of young Africans thus missed an average of twenty-six weeks of lessons.
Girls were also more exposed to sexual and gender-based violence during confinement. In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly a million schoolgirls are at risk of dropping out of school for good because of a pregnancy that began when schools were closed. Surveys in South Africa, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and Uganda indicate that at least 70% of women have experienced an increase in violence since the start of the pandemic. One of the challenges for African states will therefore be to strengthen the fight against gender inequalities in order to preserve the considerable progress made in recent years.
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Education, health, freedoms: the heavy price paid by Africa to the Covid-19 pandemic