Due to the ongoing pandemic, the World Bank has declared that the number of people living in extreme poverty, subsisting on less than US$1.90 per day, is expected to increase for the first time since 1998. While middle-to-low income countries have made developmental progress since then, their economies remain fragile: the COVID-19 pandemic will likely push an additional 40-60 million people into extreme poverty (World Bank, 2020).
The World Bank estimates that Africa needs US$100 billion in order to tackle this pandemic (World Bank, 2020). In regular times, over 532 million people in Africa receive monetary assistance, only from Canada (Canadian International Development Platform, 2019). We can only assume that this number has increased since the start of the pandemic. With limited governmental financial help, debt burden, and a healthcare system often ill equipped to fight COVID-19, Africa’s recovery might be a long one if the international community chooses not to lend a helping hand to the continent. Despite all these challenges, the pandemic also brings an opportunity for the international community to test the success of past efforts and adjust strategies to best support African countries.
The current situation: the two sides of the coin
This pandemic offers its load of challenges, but we’re also seeing a glimmer of hope, with stories of resilience, perseverance and adaptability. Our work with local Kenyan entrepreneurs reminds us everyday that some positive is coming out of this crisis.
In Kenya, to limit the spread of the virus, the government enforced a country-wide lockdown and curfew, in addition to increasing transport prices to encourage working from home. While working remotely is not a possibility for all, many are adopting tools to conduct their work in this new environment. Individuals, businesses and even schools are being forced to become digitally savvy at dizzying speed. Entrepreneurs are leveraging technology to become less reliant on walk-ins and reinvent their business for long-term sustainability. They find themselves building and scaling their online presence, creating new digital native products, adopting video conferencing technologies to connect with customers, suppliers, other employees, opening up to export markets in neighbouring countries to compensate for lower domestic demand, and so on.
With schools closed, many women, often the parent responsible for child care, have found themselves unable to work. However, work-from-home policies are giving parents an opportunity to spend more time with their children, and considerably less time in traffic and transportation, as Nairobi happens to be the 4th worst city for commuting in the world.
From a health perspective, we notice the launch of several healthcare enterprises that seek to bridge gaps in healthcare services. While the numbers of COVID-19 cases for Africa seem promising compared to other developing countries, the continent facing roughly 15% of the US’ 3 million cases (Africa News, 2020), the accuracy of these numbers is uncertain due to insufficient testing. For example, entrepreneurs build mobile applications to better respond to emergency calls or manufacture medical equipment to conduct more tests.
If anything, this pandemic has demonstrated how adaptable and resilient local entrepreneurs are, and how critical small and medium businesses will be in the relaunch of Kenya’s economy.
International aid going forward
Sub-Saharan countries are generally top recipients of financial aid. For example, in 2017, Kenya received US$899 million in foreign aid from the USA (Concern USA, 2019), making it part of the top 10 countries to receive the most help. Recently, the World Bank Group approved US$50 million in immediate support to Kenya, to deploy towards medical diagnostic and blood transfusion services, food security, nutrition, and schooling (World Bank, 2020). These funds precede the US$100 billion the World Bank Group plans on raising for Africa over the next 15 months, intended to protect those in need, support businesses and strengthen economies.
While the global community is fighting COVID-19, governments, philanthropists and development agencies continue being spread thin across a larger number of new and uncertain issues. The current crisis offers a real test to all the institutions that have supported Africa over the past years: did the interventions work? Have we managed to provide Africans with sustainable solutions tailored to their local realities?
Short-term temporary fixes are, without a doubt, needed in certain circumstances. They can prevent people from dying of hunger or disease, amongst other life-threatening situations. But it also creates a form of dependency on foreign nations’ generosity. It is often said that to give a man a fish is to feed him for a day, but to teach him how to fish, is to feed him for a lifetime. This pandemic provides us with the opportunity to teach ourselves and others how to fish, to learn how to build solutions that bring sustainable change, replacing the “band-aid” ones currently in place.
About our peers abroad
The coronavirus pandemic has closed borders and encouraged individuals to buy local. While we face our own problems and support the people nearest to us, we must not forget about our peers abroad. This pandemic offers us the opportunity to bring not only relief, but sustainable change to Sub-Saharan countries in need. We must continue to work together to defeat the virus and help developing countries get back on their feet.