No cases of Covid-19 have been reported in Zimbabwe to date, despite numerous claims on social media and several suspected cases. Picture: Reuters/Ognen Teofilovski
No cases of Covid-19 have been reported in Zimbabwe to date, despite numerous claims on social media and several suspected cases. Picture: Reuters/Ognen Teofilovski

Coronavirus a litmus test of whether Africans can work together under pressure

By Victor Kgmoeswana Time of article published Mar 8, 2020

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Coronavirus (Covid-19) has docked in South Africa. On the heels of the news that the economy shrank 1.9% and 0.8% in the fourth and third quarters of last year, respectively, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), added to our woes.

“We confirm that a suspected case of #Covid19 has tested positive. This is not as a failure but as a success of our health systems to be able to detect and rapidly identify cases. The case has been self-isolated at home since the onset of symptoms and is receiving treatment.”

Only the day before the NICD confirmed testing “181 persons for SARS-CoV-2, of whom 132 have met the case definition for persons under investigation”. All results, the message said, came back negative.

People like me have bemoaned the slow pace of intra-Africa trade since the ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. AfCFTA secretary general Wamkele Mene told a summit, organised by the Black Business Council (BBC) in Midrand on Wednesday, that he would be setting up office in Accra, Ghana, to give practical effect to the trade agreement.

Not so fast, SG Mene! The true test of intra-Africa collaboration capacity is going to be whether we can contain the outbreak.

Not long ago, the Global Economic Prospects report of the World Bank adjusted its 2020 Sub-Saharan Africa’s regional growth forecast down 0.2 points, to 2.9%. Unless we can tame the disruption promptly, we also might ask the World Bank to trim its expectation of an average 3.2% expansion during 2021 and 2022 as well.

The only hope of South Africa shaking off the recession lies in upping its trade and investment in Africa. Well, the rest of the Africa economic promise has been pommelled by the virus. At the BBC Midrand summit, everyone was talking about suspending their travel outside South Africa.

This week, several events were put on hold, postponed or cancelled. These include the annual Africa CEO Forum, held six times since 2012 by the International Finance Corporation and the Jeune Afrique Group. This year would have been the third occasion for Abidjan, Ivory Coast, to host it - tomorrow and Tuesday. In Dakar, Senegal, the March 13 launch of the Basketball Africa League was deferred.

Elsewhere, Facebook’s annual Global Marketing Summit in San Francisco and the Google News Initiative Global Summit were similarly affected.

With the postponements many hotels, tour operators, car rental businesses and airlines forego revenues factored into their growth projections. Travel and tourism contributed 1.5 million jobs (and R425.8 billion) to the South African economy in 2018. A total of 8.5% of Africa’s GDP (about $194.2billion) according to the 2019 Jumia Hospitality Report Africa was tourism-related; a 5.6% annual spike - making Africa the world’s fastest growing tourism market after Asia Pacific. The two regions’ tourism is all but paralysed by Covid-19.

One can tell President Cyril Ramaphosa to keep his job and its attendant grey hair. Covid-19 is the litmus test of whether Africans can work together under pressure - and its lessons will be carried over to AfCFTA. Let us pray.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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