Holding our leaders to account about Covid-19 is important, but stepping up as citizens to be part of the solution is even more crucial, says Isaac Kwaku Fokuo Jr.
In the face of the current Covid-19 crisis, there are two key facts that we all must accept – even in the best-case scenario this pandemic will, as it has so far, negatively impact our economies and personal lives, and we are only as strong as our weakest link. We either come together to fight this pandemic or we lose miserably, alone.
Over the past three months, we have seen a litany of articles written offering varying perspectives on the impact of Covid-19 and the responses of global leaders. As informative as many of these articles have been, a good number have condemned decisions made by our leaders without offering any alternative solutions.
Here’s why this is a problem – Covid-19 is a novel virus affecting the world in an unprecedented manner, decisions made are based on a large set of assumptions and, as a result, some mistakes are bound to be made. Furthermore, information on Covid-19 – its effects, how it spreads, and effective preventive measures – is constantly changing, which means that solutions that may have been effective a few weeks ago may no longer be feasible.
Business and government leaders are currently treading a fine line between rapid decision-making to respond to the impact of this pandemic and promoting stability within their organisations and economies. Not to mention, in many African economies, the pandemic has created a zero-sum game between keeping economies afloat, which requires allowing businesses to operate as usual, or protecting lives by enacting stringent measures that limit movement to control the spread of Covid-19.
The fact that our economies and healthcare systems in Africa will struggle to absorb the impending shock of Covid-19 is not lost on our leaders. African finance ministers and other senior executives have joined to lobby for debt relief to create fiscal space to allow governments to attend to more pressing needs caused by this pandemic.
The Ministry of Health in Angola has summoned retired doctors and nurses to join in and enhance the country’s capacity to treat infected citizens. The World Health Organization (WHO) in Africa hosted a hackathon to offer seed funding to support the creation of digital solutions to combat this pandemic. The Government of Ghana announced that it will offer tax breaks to its health workers, and all healthcare workers will receive an additional allowance of 50% of their basic salary.
Mobile money has also emerged as a powerful tool to control the spread of this pandemic with service providers in Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana revising their transaction costs to promote increased cashless transactions, following directives from their governments. Other countries are extending support to their vulnerable communities – Ethiopia, for instance, has deployed some $91,000 to provide food and other necessities to disabled people and the elderly in Addis Ababa.
Multilaterals join the fight
Multilateral organizations in Africa have also been at the forefront of this fight – the African Development Bank (AfDB) launched a landmark $3bn social bond to support African countries to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on their economies. The African Union, African CDC, and the AfroChampions Initiative have launched a public-private partnership through the Africa Covid-19 Response Fund.
The COVID-19 Response Fund aims to raise an initial $150m to address the immediate need to prevent further transmission and up to $400m to support sustainable medical responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. Additionally, the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) has announced a $3bn facility, the Pandemic Trade Impact Mitigation Facility (PATIMFA), to support African countries in dealing with the economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
African presidents, prime ministers, and health ministers have also shown remarkable levels of accountability, addressing their citizens daily to provide updates on the spread of Covid-19 in their countries and the measures they are taking to combat this crisis.
These leaders have also used their platforms to communicate strong messages about this pandemic – president of AfDB Dr Akinwumi Adesina and prime minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia have been very vocal about the importance of working together to control the spread of this pandemic and alleviate its economic impact. At an individual level, the presidents of Rwanda, Zambia, Kenya, Malawi and other have taken salary cuts in support of the fight against Covid-19.
No contribution is too small
In times such as these, no contribution is too small – as we leverage different platforms to share our ideas with our leaders, we must also take collective action within our communities to fight against this pandemic. Several firms and individuals are already setting a good example of how to do this. SHOFCO, a grassroots movement in Kibera – the largest slum in Africa – has reached close to 200,000 people in its Covid-19 prevention and preparedness campaign.
The Institute for Social Transformation, a Ugandan Charity, developed the Market Garden app, which allows vendors to safely sell their produce after restrictions to promote social distancing were enforced. Individuals were also able to contribute by participating in the #AfricaVsVirus Challenge – an AfDB Ideathon to develop solutions to address some of the social and economic challenges caused by COVID-19.
Stepping up as citizens
As we fight Covid-19 together, we are all learning – from other countries, from our political and business leaders, from our youth, and from each other. By the very nature of this crisis, we will not make it through unless we work together.
We should all use our skills, networks, and resources to join the fight against Covid-19 – this could be by leading a food drive, conducting a sensitisation campaign on social media, or even developing an app to deliver an essential service.
Holding our leaders accountable at all times is justified but stepping up as citizens to be part of the solution, especially in fighting this pandemic, is equally, if not more, important. Everything we do individually and together will inch us closer to the finish line and ensure that we emerge victorious in the fight against COVID-19.
Isaac Kwaku Fokuo Jr. is the Founder and Principal of Botho Emerging Markets Group.