Listen up, Covid-19: If we die in droves, we’ll return even stronger

Saturday May 02 2020

The whole of mankind is set to pick big lessons from the pandemic, especially with the real chance of rolling back climate change having been demonstrated. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA | NMG


They say the darkest hour comes before dawn but Africa’s darkest hour is taking so long before sunrise! The African renaissance has been predicted by many, starting with the independence freedom fighters.

But two decades after independence we were already calling their time in power the lost decades.

Even their more sophisticated successors have not delivered even a quarter of the economic welfare commensurate with our resources. The wait has been long, but now it seems the decades-long darkest hour is coming to an end, being heralded by raising the black curtain of coronavirus.

Whether Covid-19 kills 10 million or 10,000 of us, Africa will emerge stronger and smarter. The question is whether Africans will take the lead or smart outsiders will come and take the lead, but Africa will see a spike in investments. It is not I saying, but economic experts who have already predicted so.

Understandably, the only sector where they don’t see a post-Covid boom is tourism. But who knows, we might even see a new form of ‘permanent tourism’ where ageing westerners will seek to retire in warmer Africa for a longer life.

What is immediately making even chronic optimists among us feel proud are the innovative initiatives already being taken by Africans. Of course, these are initially in response to the Covid crisis itself, but so did past crises like the Second World War bring big developments in all spheres of life including air transport, satellite communication, decolonisation, women emancipation and even finance models, to mention but a few.


In Uganda, we are already seeing changes happening in different industries like sugar for example. Sugarcane farmers have been crying for lack of market following the dumping games by some players.

But now they are looking at small-scale cane crushing and processing to serve new markets like that for alcohol-based sanitisers, which have become a basic necessity of life.

And now suddenly everybody wants to own a bicycle yet almost nobody wanted one just a month ago! Now cycling is the thing and even the dumbest policy maker should be pushing for the provision for cycling in all physical planning, what with the spike in air cleanliness or decline in pollution witnessed after a mere few weeks of suspending motorised, fuel-burning transport.

And what has our nascent automotive industry been doing during the lockdown? They teamed up with the medics and designed affordable artificial lungs–so called ventilators–to save Covid-19 patients.

They didn’t wait to be whipped like US President Donald Trump whipped America’s GM (complete with his typical choice insults) to start making ventilators.

The Ugandans built theirs to cost a mere five or so per cent the price of ventilators on the world market that cost $25,000. Africa is simply going to start doing many things for itself instead of begging.

Of course, the whole of mankind is set to pick big lessons from the pandemic, especially with the real chance of rolling back climate change having been demonstrated. A month of lockdown saw pollution falling nearly 50 per cent in many cities of the world.

With its low levels of industrialisation, Africa is most likely going to focus on clean energy rather than go through the dirty energy phases. Societies with low investments in technology tend to adopt new technologies faster than those than have big investments to lose.

It is in order now to ask where the capital to invest in the new technologies will come from. Fortunately, there is a lot of wastage that has to stop which will free large amounts of funds.

Think of the hundreds of millions of dollars that poor African states have been spending of medical tourism for their elite.

Then there were the “benchmarking” trip that members of Parliament have been making overseas, with little to show in terms of application of knowledge acquired.

Those two particular activities will not be happening for at least a couple of years. There, is your investible capital for landing the African firmly into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]