Business and UN leaders to chart the path forward for a sustainable Africa
Africa’s private sector has traditionally been a key driver of economic growth, job creation and innovative solutions for a myriad of challenges facing the African people. The Covid-19 pandemic coupled with other forces such as digitization and globalization will be the stress test to addressing other emerging issues as captured under by the Sustainable Development Goals such as climate change.
Examining the private sector’s response in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic exposes the agility, creativity and determination of the African people.
Kenya’s private health sector responded by supporting the government “walk the talk”. Kenya has a robust private sector and established coordination structures that existed before the pandemic. The private sector has supported containment activities including public awareness campaigns, testing and other rapid response initiatives.
A team of companies in e-commerce, manufacturing and micro-distribution created a platform called Safe Hands Kenya to deploy free soap, hand sanitizer, cleaners, disinfectants and masks through hundreds of thousands of distribution points.
Elsewhere, necessity has been the mother of invention. In Ghana, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and Incas Diagnostics invented an optimized Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) kit to support the national testing regime.
South Africa launched a national ventilator project to manufacture medical equipment that helps Covid-19 patients to breathe. Distillers and chemical companies such as Distell and Sasol in southern Africa adapted production lines to manufacture hand sanitizers. Garment manufacturers in almost every country sewed protective clothing for doctors and nurses.
If there is a silver lining to the health emergency triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that this resourcefulness and self-reliance will stand African businesses and governments and civil society well as they begin to chart their recoveries.
Another lesson is the importance of collaboration. Across the continent, telecom groups have worked with health ministries to set up Covid hotlines with advice on how to prevent and manage infection. Call any phone in Ethiopia and you will be greeted with a jingle on the importance of washing hands. In South Africa, a public-private partnership with Uber and other transport companies has enabled South African patients suffering from chronic diseases to receive their medicines directly at home, without the risk of being infected by going to hospital.
But perhaps the most important thing we have learnt from this pandemic, in Africa and elsewhere, is that companies are only as healthy as the communities they serve. And it is this insight that has driven banks, utilities and telecom companies to extend lifelines to their customers. During lockdown, Burkina Faso’s water and electricity utilities waived payment for women entrepreneurs in the fruit and vegetable sector, in recognition of their key contribution to family incomes.
In Nigeria, the Bank of Industry cut interest rates and granted a moratorium on principal repayments for businesses adversely affected by Covid. Kenya’s biggest telecom operator Safaricom waived fees on small mobile money transfers during the outbreak, as well as doubling bandwidth to support those working from home.
African businesses are trying to do their best to help the continent’s response to the pandemic remain a sustainable one. “The African continent’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has provided valuable lessons for the rest of the world in meeting this challenge,” said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “Global solidarity with Africa is an imperative—now, and for recovering better.”