When the Covid-19 pandemic sent the global economy into a recession, the East Africa region was not spared. According to UN Economic Commission for Africa's Economic and Social Impacts of Covid-19 in Eastern Africa report, the region's labour market has been the worst hit on the continent, with an estimated 38 million jobs lost.
Presenting the report during the 24thMeeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts, Ms Mama Keita, head of ECA in Eastern Africa, said that the region will barely grow in 2020 with only four countries on track to experience positive growth in 2020. South Sudan leads with 4.1 per cent GDP growth, followed by Ethiopia and Tanzania with close to 2 per cent and Kenya with 1 per cent.
Eastern Africa's growth will slow down considerably to 0.6pec cent in 2020 from 6.6 per cent in 2019
Ms Keita has stressed that the Covid-19 pandemic amplified debt vulnerabilities in the region. "Before the crisis, there were five countries with debt-to-GDP ratios exceeding 50 per cent in 2019 (Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Seychelles). Now, the pandemic has increased the likelihood for this problem to worsen in the region and spread to more countries", she said.
On the social side, Ms Keita explained that even though Eastern Africa has a lower incidence of COVID-19 cases compared to the rest of Africa, most countries present critical gaps in the their national health systems.
The report she presented notes that in terms of the financing of the health system, as well as its quality and adequacy, East Africa was unfortunately ill-prepared for a pandemic. "Most of the Eastern African countries spend less than USD50 per capita on health, which is less than half of the African average which is of 114 USD per capita per year (2017 data)..
The report highlights that the right balance and sequence between health and economic and social policy interventions continues to be critical. It also stresses the impact of COVID-19 on education, leading to school closures that affected 96 million learners in Eastern Africa. Ms Keita said that while many governments have introduced remote teaching strategies, access to technologies such as the internet, television, and radio is limited in low-income countries, especially among poorest households.
The report urges policymakers in Africa to harness digitalisation and digital trade as the pandemic has highlighted the importance of the digital economy. "Firms, employees and students with access to digital infrastructure have not been as economically affected by the pandemic as those with no access".
The report analysed 14 following countries covered by ECA the Subregional Office for Eastern Africa: Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
Click here to read : The abridged version of the Economic and social Impacts of Covid-19 in Eastern Africa report