Good Practical Thinking About Responding to COVID-19 in Africa

Reflections on the emerging response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Africa

There is so little written yet on the COVID-19 response in Africa, but it is starting to emerge.  See here for the best piece I’ve seen so far.  And see this African Arguments “COVID-19 in Africa” site for the most engaged and practical thinking overall on this topic.  I’m going there every day and encourage anyone interested in the pandemic’s impacts in Africa and how to confront them to do the same.

The blog post on markets and cash transfers echoes our emphasis on the need for income replacement if lockdowns are to have sufficient effect (see our April 1 posting on this site), and it thinks practically about how this might be done.  It notes that most African countries already have cash transfer schemes though they would need to be vastly scaled-up.  And it emphasizes that African countries are in no position to scale-up to the extent needed.  Here is the key quote, with emphases added:

“African governments should immediately focus on scaling up the infrastructure for universal cash transfers. Aid donors must do the same. Many African countries can’t afford a huge increase in welfare expenses, especially as tax revenues fall during the pandemic. Major donors must step in to support them – ideally with grants rather than loans.  Time is really of the essence.”

The linked piece on tax revenues echoes, with much more detail, our posting from East Africa that spoke to the impact of falling tax revenues on public services. 

I now see, from the devex link they provide, that Masood Ahmed argued way back on 25 March to “Spend what it takes to fight COVID-19 in poor countries, too”:  The key quote here:

“The fundamental reality, however, is that the governments of most low-income and lower-middle-income countries … can neither borrow the money they need to mount an effective fiscal response … nor have their central banks print more local money without risking a run on their currency and a collapse of confidence … The adequacy of their response will be determined by the extent to which international financial institutions recognize that exceptional times require exceptional action.”

Well said. He lays out a comprehensive approach for doing so, and doesn’t engage in any wishful thinking about the spread somehow being rapidly stopped or the difficulty of mobilizing then deplying the massive resources that are needed to respond. 

Let’s hope that such massive multilateral initiatives, building on existing cash transfer programs in Africa and using whenever possible technologies like mobile money quickly ramp up – and by “quickly” we mean over coming weeks.  Millions of lives and livelihoods depend on it.

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