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Opinion-Liberia

THE PROSPECTIVE LESSONS FROM THE COVID-19 FOR AFRICA

Dr. Mory Sumaworo

(Ph.D., IIUM)

A Liberian Academic, Researcher, and Entrepreneur.

Every challenge comes with a golden opportunity and a wake-up call for the challenged to change and get ready to be fully prepared to address a similar challenge when it occurs in the future. African nations are no exception to this general role and principle. The going global health crisis, the Covid-19, has affected every sector in both advanced and the least advanced countries. Though it is a medically related problem, it has spread its wings to the economies, trades, education, transport, and tourism sectors. This needs to knock the attention of politicians, policy-makers, and the governments as a whole on the African Continent to reduce their heavy reliance and dependence on external interventions in addressing the Continent’s socioeconomic and medical challenges.

The granters, donors are now busy with and occupied by their domestic problem to fight and bring the pandemic – that has also challenged African simultaneously – to its knees. It has been a norm for oligarchs, political elites and business tycoons to seek medical attention and consultancy by in Europe, Asia, and North America; the current system fails to build and provide reliable and sophisticated healthcare software and hardware infrastructures on the Continent. During this global health crisis, almost every sector has been severely affected in many African countries. It is however, regarded as sword with double edges or what could be termed as bitter necessity or necessary evil. This does not mean in any way that this piece is trying to justify the occurrence and emergence of Covid-19 that has claimed lives of thousands and impeded the international trade and socioeconomic activities in almost all over the world.

Nevertheless, it pressures those nations that are deeply dependent on others’ in almost everything, thought they have everything to grow and to be economically and developmentally self-reliant. But, mismanagement of resources and developmentally forgetfulness because of the begging mentality that had made the Continent complacent in everything; minor and manor to properly lead their countries and serve their populace and solve their domestics socioeconomic problems. Nonetheless, it is expected and anticipated from Africa to learn a lot of lessons from this crisis to improve its healthcare system, invest into Information Technology (IT) and Information Communication Technology (ICT) to keep students and professionals active with their respective schools and institutions through the medium of technology as it has been done by many advanced and semi-advanced nations. In addition, investing to agricultural sector is the key for Africa to be in full preparedness for unpredicted reoccurrence of such as a crisis. Lastly but the least at all, industrialization is also paramount to serve the same purpose. These four principal and primary lessons are summed up in figure (1) as depicted below.  The details of these areas are discussed as follows.

Building Resilient and Reliable Healthcare Facility (BRRHF):  

The Covid-19 has lots of lessons to teach Africa with. Atop of those are giving due credence and high consideration to the healthcare infrastructural improvement and minimization the Continent’s reliance and dependence on foreign countries to seek medical attention. Accessibility to a reliable and affordable healthcare facility in many African nations is a big challenge. This challenge is can be categorically subdivided into three families. First, the lack of hardware and physical presence of the medical facility such as clinics, hospital and clinically equipped laboratories. Second, the lack of software component of healthcare infrastructure. That is, in the case where hospitals and clinics are present physically, the spirit to operate and run them, and meet their intended purposes can be absent; well trained medical doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals may not be available. Third, the above mentioned two may available, but the machineries and medical equipment to healthcare practitioners effective and impactful may not be attainable. Thus, addressing the health crises such as Ebola, Coronavirus and even rampant tropical diseases like Malaria and typhoid can be very devastating as our current situation of Covid-19 and before it, the 2014 Ebola outbreaks illustrates.

In addition, brain drain (BD) of the African medical doctors and healthcare practitioners are set of the challenge that the Continent is confronted with. However, BD is caused by two different reasons. First, the presence of the above-discussed three major challenges that face the Continent’s fragile or weak healthcare system. Second, the lack of incentives and motivation to keep and encourage African medics and medical doctors and professional to return home and help to improve the healthcare structures and services. Generally, according to Statistics of the African Union (AU), about 70000 skilled Africans migrate from African every year. Besides, some other studies have shown that the impact of BD is pervasive when it comes to public service delivery in the healthcare sector. In too many African countries, there are more locally born physicians residing outside their country than in it. This puts enormous strain on public heath delivery on the Continent.

Furthermore, in 2015, the number of African-trained international medical graduates (IMGs) practicing in the United States of America alone reached 13584- a 27.1% increase from 2005. Astonishingly, it causes an African country between $21000 to 59000 to train a medical doctor. This is very costly and expensive. Yet, the Continent fails to maintain them to provide their services to the people in Africa due to the lack of professional incentives that persuade them to migrate. In the healthcare sector, the Continent accrues loses around 2.0 billion through brain drain in the heath sector alone (Ibrahim, 2018). To wrap up this part of discussion, there is the need for the policy-making institutions, policy-implementing organs and policy-evaluating branches of the government to highly consider policies that could help to improve the healthcare facilities on the African Continent. By doing so, medical crises such as Ebola and Coronavirus will still be the challenge, but again will not leave our people in a complete hopelessness, despair and despondency in our healthcare services.    

Investing in Information Technology (IT) and Information Communication Technology (ICT):  

It is true that Information Technology (IT) and Information Communication Technology (ICT) have considerably penetrated Africa over the last two decades or so. However, the main concentration of these technologies is on Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) services and traditional office use. That means there is still a lot to be done to expand the scope and application of IT and ICT on the Continent. Before proceeding with the neediness to increase investments in the two sectors, it is worth pointing out some basics concepts of IT and ICT. To put it simply, Information Technology is all about how a computer works and what it does through its software and hardware programs. On the other hand, Information Communication Technology is an extension of IT. All that works in IT is required in the ICT sector. Nevertheless, it stresses over other usage and application of other electronics such as telephone, radio and other devices. During health crises such as Ebola and Covid-19, there can always be an automatic shifting and adjustment in businesses, schooling, and other every-day interactions as a measure to prevent or control the virus. So, it is prudent enough for nations to be cognizant of this reality to keep their economies and schools working and avoid socioeconomic and academic stagnation as it has been vividly seen in many African nations during this global health crisis, -Covid-19. Schools have shut their doors, both physically and virtually, in many African countries, while in other parts of the world, the schools and learning institutions are only physically closed but virtually opened and accessible by students through online and distance schooling systems. If this can teach the African policy-makers and educators with a lesson, it really teaches them to start highly considering E-learning programs attached to schools and universities.

This is very paramount to keep students continuously connected with their schools under whatever circumstances. It is doubtless to say that the Covid-19 has caused serious setbacks on learning outcomes in many parts of the world, even in those with sophisticated educational and E-learning systems. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as of March 30, they estimate 87% of the world’ students – that is 1.5 billion learners – have been affected by school closure. More than 180 countries have shut school doors nationwide. It is a fact that nations without E-learning platform are more likely to be dangerously affected by the closure of the schools as compared with the systems that invested in their E-learning infrastructure prior to the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has to also be noted that undisrupted schooling is a key for morally, ethically and pedagogically upbringing of children nowadays. That is why since 1920 and because of unpreceded investment in education, especially the primary level, there have exponential increase on the percentage of the world’s young population enrolled in primary schools, which is estimated at 90% as compared with 40% in 1920 (Winthrope, 2020).

To maintain this great achievement in primary education in the world, there is the need to rigorously invest in both traditional and virtual learning systems, – face-on-face and online schooling programs- as an innovative and alternative way to keep schools going on at whatever situation. To achieve this end, these following measures must be considered. First, fight digital illiteracy among students and teachers. Second, affordability of the Internet and other means to facilitate out of traditional classroom learning and teaching systems. Finally, deurbanization of the means and ways to online teaching and learning program; electricity, the Internet and electronic devices. This is every important because these basic social goods are not available in many parts of rural areas in Africa.    

Investing in Agricultural Sector (IAS):

During this global health challenge, international supply chains have been affected as well. That means, the food importation to many African countries also have to be affected. Though this should have been prevented if proper investments were made in the favourable agricultural environment in Africa. It is estimated according to Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, an astute agri-economist and the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB) that ‘Africa’s annual food import bill of $35 billion, estimated to rise to $110 billion by 2025, [ it] weakens African economies, decimates its agriculture and exports jobs from the Continent. Africa’s annual food import bill of $35 billion is just about the same amount it needs to close its power deficit’ (Shaban, 2017). Furthermore, Africa has all it takes to be a global food powerhouse if proper and fair investments are made in the sector. The Continent possesses around 600 million hectares of uncultivated arable land, roughly 60% of global total (Obasanjo, 2012), with an envious agricultural climate in addition to its youthful population that could be motivated to be fuel for its AGRI-REVOLUTION that could revolutionize the African economies.

 Covid-19 has revealed and exposed Africa’s vulnerability in times of global crises in terms of self-sufficient in food production. It has sent a wake-up call to

the leaders both politicians and business persons to reconsider investments in the agricultural sector for two principal reasons. First, it is highly anticipated to make a huge revenue and create wealth and wealthy people. Some experts believe that future billionaires and millionaires will not emerge from any other sectors but agribusiness on the Continent. Second, investing in agriculture reduces the fragility and vulnerability of the Africa in terms of self-sufficient in food production whenever crises that impede international trade such as Covid-19 occur in the future.    

Industrialization and Finished Products Production (IFPP):

The Covid-19 has taught and shown to Africa how important industrialization and Finished Products Production (IFPP) are. The major suppliers had shut their doors with the attempt as a preventive measure to reduce the further spread of the virus and protect their people against it. This, without doubt, has serious effects on consuming markets and economies like Africa. If one visits major supermarkets, electronic stores and building materials industries in many African nations, one would find that almost 95% are imported from china and other major exporting markets. Yet, the Continent is blessed with material and human resources to produce most of these basic commodities within and even export them to other markets. However, failure to invest and prioritize industrialization causes Africa lots of losses in almost every sector. For instance, the Chocolate industry, Ghana and La Cote d’ivoire combinedly and jointly export 2/3 of Coco in the world which is estimated at about US$ 6 billion.

Meanwhile, the chocolate’s market is about US$100 billion. If these two countries could have processed what they produce they would have become the largest chocolates industries in the world with an estimated of US$ 66.6 billion. Thus, creating thousands of jobs and becoming industrialized nations in this field. Liberia has been one of the major exporters of Iron Ore, timber and rubber with no considerable processing capabilities and factories in the country, the situation that has serious economic implication since it began to export those resources. For instance, since Firestone Rubber Company started its operations in 1926, it has relatively contributed to the economy of Liberia, but the government failed to negotiate and convince the company to establish a factory that could produce and manufacture some derivatives of rubber such cars’ tires, shoes and so forth, as a plan of industrialization of Liberia’s economy. If that was done, it would change the trajectory of Liberia’s socioeconomic growth. But unfortunately, it has been exporting millions of tons of rubber without adding industrial value to it, and no nation has a sustained economic growth relying to exporting row materials without manufacturing. The point here is that industrialization and finished products production would really help the Continent during these difficult times of Covid-19 where international trade and shipping industries have been badly affected. Africa could have a peace of mind in terms of not worrying about the acute shortage of basic commodities that are mainly imported, unfortunately. 

Conclusion:       

It is a fact that very challenge is an opportunity in itself for the challenged to change for a better and shift the paradigm. This principle is adaptable by nations as well if they wish to do away from what does not go well for their socioeconomic growth and wellbeing of their people. Having said that, the Covid-19 has presented and offered lots of lessons for African nations to change the way they have been doing development businesses as whole and handling the healthcare delivery system in particular. The pandemic has made it clear that it is time to practically change the mindset from being heavily dependent on foreign aid in providing the basic goods and services to citizenries on the Continent to a more sustainable and self-reliability approach. It therefore, serves as a wake-up call for the many African nations to invest in the following critical areas: First, the healthcare system to handle medical and health related issues domestically with changing the status quo of medical tourism that has been a sign of being a wealthy or elite on the contentment for decades. Second, investing in agriculture would certainly enable Africa to be self-reliant in food production, even if the international trade is unexpectedly affected by whatever reasons such as Covid-19. Third, improving IT and ICT to enable schools, universities and learning institutions to continue their normal academic activities in a situation where it becomes a challenge for to use physical and traditional learning infrastructures. Lastly but not the least at all, staring considering industrialization would help to trim and reduce the need to foreign suppliers of basic goods and commodities.

It is a time for the nations such as Africa’s to change as globalization will take a different dimension after this crisis, – Covid-19. According to Singapore’s Prime Minister during his address to the virtual meeting of this 2020’s ASEAN summit ‘This crisis will fundamentally change globalization, there will be control of people across borders, governments will intervene to prevent over dependency on other countries for food, medical products and other essential goods. The keywords are preventing over dependence on the other countries for food, medical products and other essential goods. Now, it is time for Africa’s leaders, politicians and policy-pundits to start working on alternative ways of heavily reliance on foreign nations and institutions in handling its economies and crises, medical, civil, political, economic and so forth.   


  About the Author:

Dr. Mory Sumaworo, (Ph.D.)

Dr. Mory Sumaworo, (Ph.D.) A Liberian academic, entrepreneur and Founder and Executive Director of the African Institute for Development Research. An adjunct Lecturer of Public International Law and Diplomacy @ the Foreign Service Institute, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Liberia. Email: mory6140@gmail.com.  

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