Faced with the huge challenge of fighting the coronavirus, Africa should rely more on the ingenuity and resilience of its civil society and show that, through technology, a third way is possible. Thirty-six leading figures leaders from tech, civil society, academia and politics call upon Africa to make a quantum leap in the health field
Africa has been hit hard by the brutal reality of Covid-19. The danger of the pandemic for Africa cannot be underestimated, both as a health crisis and an economic one. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the continent could have millions of cases if nothing is done to stop the spread of the epidemic. In several countries extreme action was taken, including country lockdowns. And in some cases, law enforcement agencies overstepped the mark, firing on their citizens to enforce containment policies. Already, ten people have died as a result of these tragic incidents.
But in the face of this emergency, we hope that African states will do more than “copy and paste” the measures taken by countries of the North. Indeed, we believe that the unprecedented challenges posed to the continent by the pandemic call for an endogenous and innovative response which will address the singularity of this crisis.
Confinement and social distancing are often impractical in Africa. There’s a sinister irony in ordering homeless populations to “stay at home”. The cities of Kinshasa and Lagos, which are trying to quarantine their populations, are proof of the economic and even political complexity to lock down African cities. Meanwhile, the weak health systems throughout our continent leave little hope for the effective treatment of patients affected by this insidious and cruel disease. One only needs to look at the number of beds per capita which is less than 1 per 1000 in most African countries.
Finding the best response to a multidimensional crisis
Nevertheless, this highly contagious virus is forcing governments to act urgently. The risk of hasty, irrational, and counterproductive decision making is even greater. This goes hand in hand with the widespread crisis of confidence, not only towards the capacity of health systems but also in the entire political class, fuelled by an accelerated flow of misinformation. In the highly peculiar climate of this pandemic, it is necessary to avoid at all costs that this crisis of confidence does not extend to the relationships between citizens themselves.
We are convinced that African civil society holds the key. The current crisis could give Africans the opportunity to make a quantum leap in the health field, and accelerate the use of telemedicine, the roll-out of digital IDs, mobile payment along with online learning services, geolocation services, and shared mobility tools. Some of these already exist, others are waiting to be invented.
The active collaboration between African tech communities across the continent is helping relieve saturated or failing public services and re-inventing models for public-private partnerships. Access to basic and essential services, health care, food baskets, group investments for villages or districts… civic digital solutions should and can be implemented in cities as well as in rural areas.
CivicTech can make a difference
Connected health solutions (e-health) and the Open Science movements offer new possibilities and will ultimately help make the epidemic manageable. Collaborative platforms linking African and international scientific networks make it possible to share interdisciplinary research methods, good practices and fight against the infodemic of fake news that spreads even faster than the virus itself.
These digital common goods also play a decisive role in the digital sovereignty of the continent which must be considered in the broader sense, as it is as much about their ability to generate and collect useful data as it is about guaranteeing expertise. They help bring about local innovations made by Africans for Africa and enable new collaborations between the state and civil society.
One of the challenges facing Africa is to secure the most reliable information possible. Freedom of information also implies the freedom to access open data and to democratise their use amongst the masses, with a constant concern for pedagogy. Informing populations in real time also means involving them in the fight against the epidemic so that they do not have to choose between death and social disintegration.
The rest of the world, particularly Europe, cannot afford to miss this historic challenge with Africa. For if the latter does not succeed in controlling the epidemic, it is feared that it could be the source of new waves of contamination, as Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed pointed out in a recent speech. International tech communities are already connected and share data with their African peers, driven by multilateral agencies and public or private initiatives.
Innovations such as enpremiereligne.fr in France, Hack4Covid in Tunisia, #StopCoronavirusRDC in DRC or Ana M3ak in Morocco are just waiting to be replicated. Tech solutions that make their services free for African civil society actors also deserve massive support.
In this challenge, Africa must once again demonstrate its ingenuity and rely on the resilience of its civil society as well as the creativity of its youth. The continent could then show the world a third way to deal with the pandemic.
Aminata Touré, former Prime Minister of Senegal, President of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council; Albert Pahimi Padacké, former Prime Minister of Chad; Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, CEO, African Union Development Agency; Juliana Rotich, co-founder of BRCK and Ushahidi ; Nathalie Delapalme, Executive Director, Mo Ibrahim Foundation; Rebecca Enonchong, CEO of AppsTech; Raissa Malu, international education consultant; Monique Barbut, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification; Dr Richard Kojan, Anaesthetist, President of ALIMA; Patrick Muyaya Katembwe, Member of Parliament of the DRC; Hamza Hraoui, communicator, co-founder of Maan; Abdelmalek Alaoui, former editor-in-chief at La Tribune Afrique; Stephan Eloïse Gras, entrepreneur and researcher; Claude Grunitzky, President of True Africa; Zineb Laraqui, lawyer, founder of Jurisprudence.ma; Mamane, humorist, UN climate ambassador for the Sahel; Jean-Claude Eale, initiator of Digital Forum Africa; Adrien Duguet, co-founder of Enpremiereligne. fr and Citipo; Ousmane Ly, doctor and consultant, former Director General of the National Agency of Telemedicine and Medical Informatics in Mali; Houssem Aoudi, co-founder of Cogite Coworking Space, founder of Afkar, Wasabi and TEDxCarthage; Khaled Ben Jilani, investor and activist; Erik Hersman, co-founder of Ihub and BRCK ; Bontle Senne, writer, digital activist and head of digital transformation at Virgin Media; Ali Mnif, entrepreneur and activist; Edith Brou, tech influencer; Aina Dolapo, innovation journalist; Anas Oulmidi, doctor at Marrakech University Hospital; Gladys Kalema-Zilusoka, veterinarian and CEO of Conservation Through Public Health; Oscar Ekponimo, CEO of Chowberry Inc.; Bruktawit Tigabu Tadesse, co-founder of Whiz Kids Workshop; Sinatou Saka, journalist specializing in digital entrepreneurship in Africa; Gregory Grellet, co-founder of Enpremiereligne.fr; Hawa Samega, blogger and co-founder of Kunafoni. com; Ali Taleb, student at UM6S and co-founder of Dir Iddik; Jacques Jonathan Nyemb, lawyer, administrator of the Cameroonian employers’ association; Tomi Davies, president of the African Business Angel Network.