ECA leads discussion on Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown exit strategies

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 7, 2020 (ECA) – African countries are turning their attention to lockdown exit plans as they seek to limit economic and societal damage with figures from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) showing the continent losing about 2.5 percent of its GDP in one month or $65 billion.

Panelists on an ECA online global debate on Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown exit strategies agreed Africa could not sustain prolonged lockdowns, especially as 40 percent of the continent’s populace was struggling to survive daily as food shortages mount.

But much needs to be done for the exit strategies to be successful, the panelists, including UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the ECA, Ms. Vera Songwe, Spain’s Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation Minister, Ms. Arancha Gonzalez Laya, and Chief Executive Officer of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Agency, Mr. Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, agreed.

“Test, test, test. That is the big issue. Our leaders are now all working really hard to get test kits out to ensure that we can test more, test better and test faster,” said Ms. Songwe, adding this was crucial to curb the spread of the contagion.

She said Africans were not against lockdowns in general.

“It is not about lockdowns. It is about protecting lives. Lockdowns are costing us an incredible amount of money, $65 billion a month. We cannot afford it but we cannot afford to lose lives either so what we need to do is to come back quickly into an exit strategy that allows us to grow back again and grow back in a way that is sustainable.”

For his part, Mr.Mayaki said; “We need smart lockdowns which allow an intelligent exit strategy where the most vulnerable and the local communities are really preserved in terms of quality of life.”

He said as Africa moves towards opening up, there were two critical conditions needed in place to ensure exit strategies succeeded, that is availability of data and coordination. 

“If you don’t have the right data to know what the numbers are, how you trace and how you treat, then your exit strategy is affected in terms of efficiency,” Mr. Mayaki said.

He said medium, small and micro enterprises (MSMEs) will be key to revitalizing Africa’s economies once nations start exiting lockdowns. 

For her part, Ms. Laya shared Spain’s COVID-19 experiences and pledged her country’s support to Africa.

“It’s important to realize that nobody will be safe until everybody is safe. This pandemic requires big doses of global cooperation. If we are to protect our own citizens’ lives, we need to be talking about other citizens’ lives too,” she said. 

“What worries us most now is keeping this spirit of cooperation to ensure that we do not see further fracturing in our societies with the growth of inequalities; further fracturing of the global community with the division of the world in blocs; further fracturing of our economies. We have to push also for cooperation and multilateralism.” 

Rwanda's Minister Finance Minister, Uzziel Ndagijimana, said his country was taking steps to ease the COVID-19 lockdown to revive its economy. He emphasized the importance of data and coordination in COVID-19 exit strategies. 

Mr. Kennedy Odede, CEO of Shining Hope for Communities, a grassroots movement based in Nairobi, Kenya, said he feared uprisings and disturbances on the continent due to rising inequalities.

“People are struggling and would rather die of the virus than being locked down. Things may explode if we do not work together to address issues on the ground,” he said.

Mr. Haroon Bhorat, Professor of Economics and Director of the Development Policy Research Unit, University of Cape Town, talked about the need for immediate short term plans evolving around food security; vulnerable households left worse off by the pandemic; and severe economic contraction by both large and small firms, among others.

He said Africa, in designing its exit strategies, needs to look at the indirect effects of COVID-19 like trade, FDI and commodity price channels and their impact on poverty reduction and growth. 

For his part, Mr. Moustapha Mellouk, Founder of Casablanca Media Partners, said; “As countries move out of lockdowns, media has critical role to play in informing citizens, stimulating confidence, optimism, and trust among populations.”

Panelists also talked about the need for good governance on the continent in dealing with resources availed to fight the pandemic, mental health and food security with Ms. Songwe stressing the importance of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and making sure food is allowed to move across borders to avert hunger.

More than 1,400 people attended the online debate.


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Issued by:

Communications Section
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Addis Ababa
Tel: +251 11 551 5826