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Updated Apr 7, 2020

World Health Organization guidelines on how national governments should handle COVID-19 is not a one-size-fits-all. For most African countries, full lockdowns and calls for self-confinement force their poorest citizens to choose between infection and starvation. Millions are subsistence farmers who need to go out in public marketplaces to buy seed and fertilizer. Millions of others live in cramped conditions, often with insufficient access to clean water and food under normal conditions.

To offset the economic suffering, and in turn more successfully encourage Africans to abide by preventative guidelines, Rachel Strohm, co-founder of the non-profit Mawazo Institute, suggests a variation of lockdowns and supplemented income more tailored to Africa’s needs. If markets must stay open for the survival of the poor, staggered lockdowns could help better manage the flow of people into marketplaces. Public transport, a lifeline for rural communities, could be sites to hand out masks and hand sanitizers, as was done in Taiwan. 

Finally, there’s scaling up cash transfer infrastructure. Many Africans work in the informal economy, so Denmark-style policies that reward businesses for keeping their workers employed isn’t transferable to most African economies. Hence, direct cash transfers to citizens would be a quick and efficient means of ensuring that they can subsist during the pandemic.


Why It Matters

Globally, pandemic responses have wreaked havoc on even the strongest economies. For sub-Saharan Africa in particular, the exponential growth of COVID-19 is likely to seriously affect small and medium-sized enterprises, push the poor into greater economic precarity, and reduce investment in key sectors such as education, transportation infrastructure, and telecommunication. Policies in the vein of what Strohm suggests could stave off worst-case outcomes for Africa’s economies and help to sustain the gains made over the past decade in poverty-reduction across the continent.

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