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The Covid response – Africa must fly and soar


THE year 2020 will forever remain the year when most events world-wide were postponed or cancelled. It will also be remembered as the year the economic and military might of the world’s most developed countries was found wanting and became overwhelmed by the onslaught of the Covid plague.

To date close to 31 million people have been infected world-wide and almost 1 million (123 per million of the world’s population) have died from the virus. In the UK, with a population of 67 million, 400,000 have so far been infected and more than 41,000 have died (an alarming 328 people per million). The virus has highlighted health inequalities in the West, with people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities dying disproportionately from Covid-19. Africa, however, has proved more resilient. The
death rate on the African continent is estimated at 26 people per million, with 1.4 million infected out of a population of 1.28 trillion. The total death rate in Africa to date is approximately 34,000 people –
much lower in absolute and percentage terms than in the UK.

The doomsayers are confounded

Those who predicted a huge death toll in Africa have been proved wrong. The continent has a more robust recovery rate for those infected with the virus than elsewhere and has had far fewer deaths
than anticipated. By and large African governments have taken responsible measures to protect their citizens, while Western governments have been slow to understand and address the gravity of the

This pandemic may well show the rest of the world that Africa must and can take care of its own. It should also be a wake-up call to African leaders that they do not need to be dependent on the West or East to fuel our own development. Throughout the pandemic, the command economies of the east have been secretive and the authoritarian regimes in the middle east have been harsh. This notwithstanding,
their reactions have been more decisive than those of Western liberal countries, whose vacillation over civil liberties and economic considerations has resulted in a loss of control – causing increased death,
suffering and economic hardship. Despite government support, unemployment in the West is increasing, recession is looming and the prospect of a further full lockdown is very real (local and regional ockdowns
are already in place). African economies will also suffer, but to a lesser degree – partly due their as lower general pace of life and less vibrant economies.

The African reaction to Covid has been largely disciplined, with most countries following the rules round the washing of hands and wearing of protective equipment. The high density of people in urban areas has been a challenge to social distancing, but it has nevertheless been practised, with a reduction of numbers at churches, funerals, weddings and all other social events. Most in Africa have accepted these changes as necessary sacrifices to beat the virus.

Amidst the global pandemic, the Jerusalema dance challenge is rocking the entire world – a powerful symbol of how Africa can rise above the doom and glum of coronavirus and be a force for hope and inspiration. Other examples of hope abound. African entrepreneurs are exporting face masks produced with African prints to the rest of the world and have already adapted to online trading.
African scientists are researching a cure for the virus using traditional medicines – remedies that provided immunity from diseases and viruses before the advent of modern science (although some
important heads of state are touting hydroxychloroquine as a cure). We can but imagine what the big pharma companies will do if a cure comes from African research into roots, barks and leaves of plants. Will it set the scene for a more ethical approach to medicine in the whole world? Will big pharma have no choice but to come and buy our research and set up production plants in Africa?The pandemic has forced African politicians, government officials and businessmen and women to stay at home to take care of business. The curb on their overseas travel for healthcare and shopping, asquerading as official business trips has surely saved African countries a lot of money in airfares, per
diems and other expenses. Now more than ever African leaders must develop home grown health care systems and make them world class.

Africa must signal to the world that it is ready and open for business, especially when most people in the West are working from home, have greatly reduced face to face social interaction and live their lives
more and more online. The fact that Africa is thus far beating the pandemic while other countries and continents are falling short should motivate African governments to accelerate their cooperation and create a more robust African unity and take advantage of new opportunities. The UK, for example, is
struggling with Brexit and the pandemic and has recently subsumed its Department for International Trade into its Foreign Ministry. It has less aid to give because its economy seems to be at a perilous point
and would surely welcome more trade with Africa, especially as the EU and USA are also batting with the fallout from Covid.

At the time of the worst health crisis in the world in generations, both the West and East have largely abandoned Africa. Our leaders should sit up and take advantage of this new normal. Now is the
time to encourage and energize the African people, who have proved strong and resilient in the face of the virus.
As Aggrey of Africa reminded us, Africa must learn to be independent of  outside interference. We have been told too long that we are chicken, but we are eagles, so let us spread our wings and fly and soar.

’Ade Sawyerr

Ade Sawyerr is a management consultant at Equinox Consulting who works on enterprise, employment, and community development issues within the inner city and black and minority communities in Britain.  He comments on social, economic and political issues and can be contacted at or

originally published in Africa Briefing

online Magazine September – October 2020 Edition

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The Matters Arising blog is a collection of thought-provoking, thought-leadership pieces sprinkled with some blue-sky thinking on pertinent issues affecting African communities both in the diaspora and at home. It includes articles on culture, politics, social and economic advancement, diversity and inclusion, community cohesion topics. It is also a repository of the political history of Ghana, traditions of the Gadagme people of Ghana, and the Pan-African politics of Kwame Nkrumah. Read, enjoy, like, share, and join!


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