How can we ensure we build solutions to facilitate the swiftest and strongest recovery for the continent? Patrick McGee looks for the answers.
As we face an invisible enemy that has crippled Europe and the United States, many are ringing alarm bells for Africa. Sitting around in our pyjamas we are asking: “Is Africa ready for this?”, “Am I ready for this?”
There have been predictions of civil unrest and regime change throughout the continent. And we are witnessing the first signs: a prison riot in Chad, South African police firing tear gas into crowds, citizens destroying a testing centre in Côte d’Ivoire, plus other incidents in Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe.
But African governments have reacted to the virus much faster than most Western countries, understanding quickly that the economic costs of inaction far exceed the cost of measures inflicting economic pain. African leaders quickly closed markets, schools, and places of worship, initiated social distancing measures and banned public gatherings, and imposed partial or full lockdowns.
Africa has a rapidly closing window to get the virus under control, something many of our leaders understand. As President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana said: “We know how to bring the economy back to life. What we do not know is how to bring people back to life.”
We also have the experience of having handled Ebola pretty well, and our continent has a very youthful population compared to Western nations. Our companies are coming out with new, cheaper and more accurate tests.
So not everything is doom and gloom, but there is a question that keeps us all awake at night: When will Africa get back to “normal”?
The world is changing and this crisis will mark a tipping point for us all as individuals, companies, governments, and institutions. Nobody seems to know what the right actions to take are to get rid of the virus. There are two things we know: (1) the virus is here and spreading, and (2) traditional consulting services are not the answer.
So what now?
As we look back at World War II, we note the speed of America’s mobilisation for the war effort, the precision with which the Manhattan Project was spun-up to deliver the most powerful weapon in history, and, finally, the decisive post-war doctrine implemented through the Marshall Plan and creation of the Bretton Woods system.
Here in Africa, we think the world should have taken some lessons from the Ebola crisis. During his presidency, Barack Obama urged governments in America and internationally to implement pandemic response readiness and warned of the consequences of not doing so.
To get through the virus and see through recovery, Africa does not have the ability to add $5 trillion to its balance sheet.
But African countries and the international community are doing what they can in a new world that is defining itself each and every day.
South Africa has unveiled a $26bn fiscal stimulus package, which represents 10% of its GDP, Senegal has moved forward with a $1.7bn stimulus amounting to 7% of its annual GDP, while Côte d’Ivoire is working on a package of $2.8bn.
The World Bank has deployed $370m continent-wide and is racing to reprogram billions in current project commitments. The African Development Bank has announced a $10bn facility for the continent. And the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund have announced a freeze on $20bn in sovereign debt payments through the end of the year, with an additional $12bn in freezes under consideration.
As assistance becomes available, leaders must decide how to prepare for a redefined future.
As more help arrives and larger investments are made, there are many decisions to make about how best to use the finite stimulus to navigate through and prepare for a world redefined. To make that happen, leaders will need the right intelligence, gleaned from the most detailed and accurate data, to guide their choices. Every government must implement systems to effectively coordinate their response to the virus.
Every global crisis leads to extraordinary innovations and the great innovation of this crisis will be robust, decentralised systems at the local, national, regional, and continental levels for governments and institutions to make coordinated decisions in real time.
This is the logical next step of our evolution, following the advent of social media. And in the same way that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram enable people to communicate with each other, there will be multiple systems (decentralised Artificial Intelligence) around the globe that enable governments and institutions to communicate with one another.
This type of coordination appears to be something our leaders are thinking about as well. African Union Chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa has selected four individuals to lead the continental coordination of Africa’s economic strategy during and after the pandemic: former Nigerian Finance Minister and former Managing Director of World Bank operations, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; former President of the African Development Bank and Rwandan Finance Minister following the genocide, Dr. Donald Kaberuka; former CEO of Prudential and Credit Suisse and Ivorian Planning and Development Minister in the late 90s, Tidjane Thiam; and Chairman at Old Mutual and South African minister under four presidents, Trevor Manuel.
Here at TRANSITLABS, we’ve been thinking about technology solutions for the coronavirus crisis. We started by focusing on what every African government needs to think about as it seeks to isolate and kill the virus while helping those in need get through.
The list includes contagion monitoring and management, medical countermeasures development and tracking, healthcare and protective equipment inventories and allocations, supply chain identification and acceleration, and constant, consistent, compartmentalised communication of the latest data within governments, between governments, and with the public at large.
But the most important objective, the objective that must now become front and centre, is making sure that we build solutions to facilitate the swiftest and strongest recovery for the continent.
In the mid-19th century, enlightened rule with the goal of combining modern advances with traditional Eastern values was the foundation of the Meiji Restoration. The current crisis, which has us all on our heels, could actually be the wildcard that unlocks the ever-elusive “future of our continent”.
This is the moment when leaders need to do what they have been elected to do. They need to be quick, tough, and decisive. They need to lead.
Patrick McGee was lead investment relations officer at the African Development Bank (AfDB), where he conceptualized and designed the Africa Investment Forum platform. Since March 2020 he has been a director at TRANSITLABS USA, a data analytics company based in Washington DC that works with local, state, and federal governments in the US and Africa.