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Fact Sketching

Cartooning for Peace and the Sahel and West Africa Club present

Fact Sketching

 

The Fact Sketching series is produced in collaboration with Cartooning for Peace. Each month, a drawing accompanied by a text offers an alternative look at what is at stake in the Sahel and West Africa. 

Created in 2006 at the initiative of Kofi Annan, Nobel Peace Prize and former General Secretary of the United Nations, and press cartoonist Plantu, Cartooning for Peace is an international network of cartoonists committed to the promotion of freedom of expression, Human Rights and mutual respect among people upholding different cultures and believes, using the universal language of press cartoons. 


Africa and COVID-19

When a global virus meets West African local realities

Gado (Kenya) 

What happens when a global virus meets West African local realities?

West Africa and the Sahel were already grappling with conflict and a serious food and nutrition crisis prior to the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. With the spotlight now on Covid-19, pre-existing crises run the risk of being neglected. In this context, the Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat (SWAC/OECD) prepared a policy brief taking stock of some of the potential impacts of the pandemic and outlining a number of policy implications to help support government action. It hightlights the importance of putting the informal economy and local initiatives front and centre of response strategies, increasing synergy and co-ordination in the face of multiple crises, accelerating continental integration and reaffirming the centrality of food systems for the region.

 

The debt conundrum

African finance ministers called for a co-ordinated emergency economic stimulus to the tune of USD 100 billion, including the waiver of all interest payments on public debt and on sovereign bonds, to provide immediate fiscal space and liquidity to governments during the crisis. Following suit, the Paris Club and the G20 Finance Ministers agreed on a time-bound suspension of debt service payments for the poorest countries, for which all West African countries qualify. Notwithstanding, certain countries are breaking with the initiative over the terms of the deal that some deem too restrictive, while others are pushing for the reintroduction of special drawing rights as a way to create the needed liquidity.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a six-month debt relief for 25 poor countries, 11 of which are West African, to enable them to channel more resources in the fight against Covid-19. The question remains about how to treat Africa’s “Covid-contaminated” debt as it appears that temporary relief leaves long-term issues on the table.

Calls for debt relief for African countries (cancellation of public debt and restructuring of private debt) have been echoed by G5 Sahel foreign affairs ministers as well as by the heads of state and government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC), for their part, have agreed on a method for reporting debt relief as official development assistance (ODA).

 

Tokens of solidarity

The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) released the Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the Socio-economic Impacts of COVID-19 report and launched a UN Response and Recovery Fund to support low- and middle-income countries. In order to curb the “hunger virus” that harms particularly fragile states and vulnerable populations, the African Development Bank, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the G5 Sahel pledged USD 20 million in aid to forcibly displaced people and their host communities in the Sahel.

Chinese mogul Jack Ma and the Alibaba Foundation, with the help of Ethiopian Airlines, delivered Covid-19 prevention materials, including 1.5 million testing kits, 6 million masks and 60 000 protective suits to be distributed throughout Africa. In a second donation to all African Union (AU) countries, Jack Ma announced the shipment of 500 ventilators, 200 000 suits and face shields, 2 000 thermometres, 1 million swabs and extraction kits, and 500 000 gloves. This was followed by a third donation including 4.6 million masks, 500 000 test kits, 200 000 clothing sets and face shields, 2 000 thermal guns, 100 body temperature scanners and 500 000 pairs of gloves. This equipment was dispatched by the UN Solidarity Flight, which distributes World Health Organization (WHO) cargo transported by the World Food Programme (WFP). The deliveries were directed in accordance with the continental response plan laid out by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), to which Korea donated 2 million masks. The European Union (EU) has made an initial contribution towards the implementation of the joint continental strategy for the Outbreak with a EUR 10 million grant and Japan has also contributed with a USD 1 million grant. Many other foreign governments have sent funding, supplies and doctors directly to sub-Saharan African countries. Cuban medical brigades stand ready to help African countries upon request as they did during the Ebola outbreak.

The demonstration of South-South solidarity and global support is complemented by reverse linkages, with some 20 Somali doctors sent to Italy to help contain the spread of Covid-19 or with Egypt supporting the United States.

Within Africa, Morocco showed pan-African solidarity by delivering medical aid to several countries. Francophone and English-speaking intellectuals of the continent mobilised around a more participative public debate on Covid-19, strengthening the continent’s agency, as well as the importance of articulating an endogenous narrative.

 

An interdependent world

The AU Deputy Chairperson declared that “nobody is safe if one person is not safe.” Africa is part of a fully fledged solution that includes scientific researchers experienced in managing infectious diseases and a rich biodiversity. From this standpoint, it can make important contributions to the process of developing vaccines and adapted therapies. Controversy has broken out over a traditional Malagasy remedy (Covid-Organics) being used to treat the virus, raising questions on validation processes, from clinical research to patenting to overall intellectual property rights, especially when applied to traditional knowledge.

Finally, several African presidents and the Chairperson of the AU signed the call for uniting behind a people’s vaccine against Covid-19 to be available to all, in all countries, free of charge.


Continental responses

Brandan (South Africa) 

Continental responses

The African Union (AU) and its Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) are leading the continental response to Covid-19. After a meeting of African Health Ministers on 22 February 2020 (the first case of Covid-19 in West Africa was detected in Nigeria on 27 February), the AU set up a Task Force for Coronavirus (AFCOR), developed a joint continental strategy for the outbreak, established a continent-wide anti Covid-19 fund for AU member states and individuals from the continent and beyong to contribute to, and put in place a framework to engage youth in the response to the pandemic. The AU Chairperson appointed a group of special envoys to mobilise international economic support. The AU Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) released a white paper emphasising the impact of the many “known unknowns” of the pandemic. The pan-African organisation also launched the Africa Medical Supplies Platform to pool procurement and purchase certified medical equipment. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), all African countries now have Coronavirus lab testing capacity.

 

The West African responses

Regional organisations, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), are providing strategic plans, co-ordination platforms, and watch committees. The West African Health Organization (WAHO), which is ECOWAS’ specialised institution responsible for health issues, has conducted regional training for healthcare workers and distributed diagnostic testing kits and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as medicines including chloroquine and azithromycin, to its 15 member states. It also displays daily online Covid-19 regional updates. An extraordinary summit of heads of state directed WAHO to implement the Regional Plan of Action for Response to Covid-19, decided to support the local production of agricultural products as well as pharmaceutical and protective health equipment manufacturing, and to waive import restrictions across ECOWAS countries for essential goods.

 

Sanitary measures versus local realities

More than one-third of West Africans have no handwashing facility at home and up to 86% of people across the continent depend on informal labour requiring daily face-to-face interactions. The impact of the measures taken to stop Covid-19 are likely to stall economic activities at all levels: global commodity trade, as it is the case for oil exports in Nigeria or cotton production in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Togo; regional integration, thereby delaying the advent of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA); and local food systems, that are impacted by the disruption of supply chains. As a result, some countries are adopting palliative measures including the distribution of food and basic necessities, the provision of social safety nets and even the introduction of universal income, while others are now backpedalling on the severity of lockdowns initially declared or are attempting to articulate smart lockdown exit strategies in support of the recovery of micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and vulnerable households.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa warned that Africa could lose half of its gross domestic product (GDP) growth due to the disruption of global supply chains and failing commodity prices. Other forecasts even envisage a recession for the first time in 22 years. The global dimension of the crisis and its induced travel bans greatly affect remittance flows and international tourism. West Africa’s regional value chains are severely affected, notably in the domains of agriculture and pastoralism, aggravating an already alarming food and nutrition situation. The United Nations has warned of the rapid deterioration of the Sahel crisis that is linked to conflict, food insecurity, inequalities and, now, the Covid-19 pandemic, highlighting that, as of 11 May 2020, the Sahel Humanitarian Response Plans have received just 11% of the requested USD 2.6 billion.

Parallel to policies set up by governments, Africa’s financial institutions are proposing assertive responses to mitigate the socio-economic fallout from Covid-19. The African Development Bank has set up a USD 3 billion social bond and a USD 10 billion Covid-19 response facility. The Central Bank of West African States is supporting credit institutions and companies to face the outbreak. The West African Development Bank is providing XOF 120 billion in concessional loans — XOF 15 billion to each of its eight member states — for urgent measures to be taken in dealing with the health crisis and its consequences.


An African exception?

Glez (Burkina Faso) 

An African exception?

Home to a majority of the world’s poorest people (90% by 2030) and many fragile countries, Africa is vulnerable to Covid-19. Its demographics — a median age of 19 years old — might limit the direct impacts of the virus. However, the very large number of people whose immune systems are already weakened by nutritional deficiencies and chronic disease, could accelerate its spread. In arid zones, regular sand storms expose populations to dust-related respiratory diseases.

In addition, the increasing number of dense and often polluted urban agglomerations, with little possibility for social distancing, the dominance of the informal economy, which depends on daily face-to-face contact, and the mobility of seasonal workers, will challenge efforts to fight the virus. Without the buy-in of affected communities, ill-adapted and restrictive measures could expose African coutries to unrest and disorder.

It is true that, for the time being, the pandemic appears to be spreading at a slower pace in Africa than elsewhere in the world and with a lower mortality rate. It is also true that the number of tests carried out is very low (with the exception of South Africa and Ghana) and that “Africa is ill-equipped to respond to the deadly coronavirus outbreak”, according to the World Health Organisation. The “African exception” to the virus is therefore a hypothesis that should be considered with caution.

 

In the Sahel and West Africa, the pandemic adds an additional layer to pre-existing crises.

The region is currently experiencing both an impending food crisis — 17 million people are expected to need  food and nutrition assistance for the lean season of June-August 2020 — and an increase in political violence as clusters of conflict in Central Sahel, Lake Chad and Libya have claimed the lives of 92 000 people since 2011. The African Union (AU) Bureau of Heads of State and Government warned that the Sahel needs special attention in light of terrorist activities, and has pledged solidarity with the countries in this region “who have to fight the twin scourge of terrorism and Covid-19.” And G5 Sahel foreign ministers have called for increased vigilance on the spread of terrorism at a time when governments are focused on combating Covid-19.

In addition to having a limited health workforce, most West African countries lack hospitals equipped with intensive care units (Burkina Faso has just 11 ventilators for about 20 million people) and, when they do exist, these top-tier health facilities are distributed unevenly across national territories.

African health systems have suffered from severe cuts in social spending imposed by the structural adjustment policies put in place in the 1990s in response to the conditionalities set by the international financial institutions. The state of health in Africa is further weakened by shrinking fiscal space: low tax revenues (as low as 5.7% in Nigeria in 2019, for example) and rising public debt limit countries’ abilities to finance expenditure.

Yet, in April 2001, AU countries met in Abuja, Nigeria, and committed to allocate at least 15% of their annual budget to improve the health sector. By 2014, no West African state had met this target, but the commitment was reiterated during the ECOWAS Extraordinary Summit which took place following the Ebola outbreak in the region and, once again, during the recent Extraordinary Session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government on the situation and impact of Covid-19.


The opinions expressed and arguments employed herein do not necessarily reflect the official views of OECD Member countries or Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Members. This document, as well as any illustration, data or map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area.