The past 20 months have been a very bumpy ride for Africa, as indeed for the rest of the world, as the Covid-19 pandemic shattered the best-laid plans.
By October 11, the number of confirmed Covid-19 deaths in Africa had reached 214,177, with the total cases nearing 8.4 million, representing 3.58 percent of the global total. At the same point, cases globally were more than 234.6 million, causing nearly 4.8 million deaths.
Considering that Africa’s population is equivalent to 16.72 percent of the total world population, optimists think the continent dodged a bullet by carrying only 3.58 per cent of the global Covid-19 burden, as it were.
That, however, is of little comfort to the people who lost their dear ones, and the millions whose lives have been upended or ruined by the economic blow of the pandemic. East Africa’s media have painted a very gloomy picture over the past nine months. Every week newspapers have carried stories of bloodied local, regional or international companies either closing down or shuttering their operations and sending workers home.
Tourism, the mainstay of most East African countries’ economies, took a severe hammering. The six-member states of the East Africa Community lost 92 percent of their tourism revenues due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the bloc’s secretary general, Peter Mathuki.
Tourist arrivals to the region fell from 6.98 million before the pandemic to 2.25 million at present. Although he is optimistic about a full recovery, Dr Mathuki projected that it would happen “within a span of less than five years,” in other words, not by this Christmas.
However, if we cast our gaze wider, there are many hopeful signs. On December 10 and 11, 2021, the Nation Media Group is convening its very successful pan-African conference, the Kusi Ideas Festival, in the Ghanaian capital Accra, to explore these signs of renewal and recovery.
This will be the third Kusi Ideas Festival, under the theme “How Africa Transforms After the Virus”. We see not only renewal and recovery, but also transformation emerging from the virus crisis. For example, there are indications of an increase in urban plot sizes across East Africa as a direct response to disruptions of both global and local supply chains. This has significant long-term implications for the cost of food and deliveries from farms to markets.
There are also indications of a swing towards organic fertilisers, with all the possibilities that the pivot could hold for a better ecological order in these environmentally challenging times.
At the wider trade level, Morocco’s Tanger Med Port handled nearly six million containers in 2020, an increase of 23 percent compared to 2019, at a time when some major ports in the world were recording negative growth or glad to see growth of between one to five percent. This, according to Tanger Med officials, was a result of shippers deciding to consolidate rather than stop at three or more ports, to deal with the new risks posed by Covid-19.
We witnessed a sterling show from Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its leadership on a continental response to the pandemic, that gave new credibility to pan-African institutions and way of working.
Today, 41 countries have ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which is working to bring together 55 African countries with a combined population of more than one billion people and a combined GDP of more than $3 trillion. Remarkably, 13 of the 41 ratifications happened during the pandemic, as did indeed the official handover and commissioning of the AfCFTA Secretariat Building in Accra, by President Nana Akufo-Addo on August 17, 2020.
One of the reasons we are holding Kusi 3 in Accra is the opportunity to be in close proximity to the AfCFTA nerve centre, and because we believe trade and pan-African collaboration are the glue that will heal the Covid-19 wounds.
Kusi 3 will look at these transformations and their likely impact. And it will also drill down into a whole range of other sources of energy, innovation centres, and explore the wonderful things the young people of the world’s most youthful continent have created. During the pandemic, for instance, Senegalese-born TikTok star Khaby Lame amassed the second-biggest following of any account on the widely popular social media platform with nearly 120 million — and helped propel TikTok’s rapid growth on the continent.
In countries like Uganda, where health insurance was lagging behind car insurance, the pandemic period has for the first time reversed that.
And in a game-changing moment for Africa, in a first, the World Health Organisation just recommended a ground-breaking malaria vaccine for children at risk in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions with moderate to high malaria transmission. The recommendation is based on results from an ongoing pilot in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has reached more than 800,000 children since 2019.
Having to contend with the many problems we face daily, Africans often don’t give themselves enough credit for their achievements. On the balance, I think we have something to celebrate in the way we are emerging from this crisis. We shall toast to that on the beach at Accra in December.
Stephen Gitagama is Group CEO of Nation Media Group.