Cape Town — Africa faces 10 key governance challenges it must resolve in order for it to fully recover from the Covid-19 outbreak, according to this report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. And unless the continent can vaccinate 70% of its population by the end of 2022, its chances of overcoming the pandemic will be severely reduced.
Only 6.8% of the continent's population was fully vaccinated by November 18, 2021, while just five African nations are predicted to meet the 40% population vaccination target set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) by the end of 2021.
The ten challenges discussed in the Covid-19 in Africa: a challenging road to recovery report relate to the continent's capacity to secure sustainable recovery in the areas of health, society and the economy. The report also draws from a decade's worth of data from the 2020 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) to determine each African country's performance relative to the ten challenges.
"From early in this crisis, our Foundation and other African voices have been warning that an unvaccinated Africa could become a perfect incubator for variants. The emergence of Omicron reminds us that Covid-19 remains a global threat, and that vaccinating the whole world is the only way forward. Yet we continue to live with extreme vaccine discrimination, and Africa in particular is being left behind," said Mo Ibrahim, Founder and Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
Challenge 1: Reliable data is essential for health policies
According to the report, civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) are a key enabler for policymakers to assess the needs and composition of their constituencies and are equally crucial for citizens to access public services through the acquisition of an official identity. However, capacity is still low in much of Africa. With birth registration free of charge in only four of 24 countries in Western and Central Africa, civil registration capacities in Africa are in dire need of development.
The Covid-19 outbreak has only exacerbated existing institutional deficiencies. In March 2020, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) sent a five-question survey to all 54 African countries to determine the impact of Covid-19 on CRVS systems. Of the 34 country-based civil registration services to have responded, 75% reported to be either disrupted or discontinued.
In addition, Covid-19 vaccinations have presented an additional barrier for CRVS systems. This is due to the need for vaccines to be administered according to priority groups (more notably with treatments that require two jabs) along with the need to create and issue vaccine certificates.
Another complication lies in the fact that unregistered populations present the risk of being excluded from vaccination campaigns. In nations like South Africa which introduced vaccine registration systems requiring valid identity documents, the country's unregistered population amounts to more than 15.3 million. This means nearly 30% of the country's inhabitants may be excluded from the vaccination campaign.
Challenge 2: Accessibility and affordability are the two main barriers to healthcare in Africa
Covid-19 has pinpointed structural weaknesses in Africa's health systems. The 2020 IIAG shows that Access to Healthcare, though better on average in 2019 than in 2010, has started to deteriorate since 2015. This is driven by a deterioration in Healthcare Equality in this time period, making it a priority area for African countries to address.
Furthermore, no African country met the target of spending 15% of its government budget on public health in 2018, the latest available data year. In 2021, only ten African countries provide their citizens with free and universal healthcare. Prioritising investments in Universal Health Coverage (UHC), particularly in primary healthcare and local health systems, will help countries tackle the Covid-19 pandemic fallout and provide a more secure and healthy future for all
Challenge 3: Readiness for future pandemics is low for most African nations
The spread of the Covid-19 outbreak was exacerbated by the fact that most countries globally, particularly the wealthiest nations, were caught unprepared for a pandemic. The IIAG indicator measuring Compliance with International Health Regulations (IHR), a WHO framework assessing country preparedness for global health emergencies, had been stagnating since 2015.
At the same time, the frequency of zoonoses (human diseases or infections transmitted from animals to humans) saw a considerable increase. About one new disease is emerging every year, making a future new pandemic likely and pandemic preparedness a key target in preventing an outbreak from becoming another global crisis.
Challenge 4: Out of school - Children's education massively affected by Covid-19 pandemic
The 2020 IIAG shows that between 2010 and 2019, Africa has progressed in education enrolment, completion and equality but regressed in education quality. School closures due to the pandemic made the underlying learning crisis worse, given the scarcity of remote learning tools, amplified by low digital access and a lack of devices. Higher dropouts are also linked to extended school closures, putting at risk gains made over the last decade in education enrolment and completion.
This is of particular concern for girls and young women and is set to have wider implications for the prospects of Africa's youth, the continent's strongest asset. Fallouts in education will impact employability in a labour market where already more than 90% of young people work in the informal sector and where youth unemployment rates are high and have been impacted even further by the economic impact of the pandemic.
Challenge 5: Women, girls bear the brunt of the impact of Covid-19
According to the 2020 IIAG, gender equality in the continent has started to follow a positive trajectory since 2015, while still lower in 2019 than in 2010. But these signs of progress are now being put at risk by the severe consequences of the pandemic for women's health, economic and social situation. The worsening legal situation regarding gender-based violence on the continent is an area of particular concern already outlined by the 2020 IIAG.
Challenge 6: Covid-19 impact has further shrunk civic space, limited media freedom
Results from the 2020 IIAG indicate that participation, rights and inclusion, including civil society space and media freedom, have been deteriorating well before the onset of the pandemic. The implementation of Covid-19 containment measures and the related restrictions have added further strain to participatory and civic spaces, as seen most notably in the restriction of media freedom. This has happened against the backdrop of decreasing trust by citizens in their political leadership.
Challenge 7: Without wider social safety nets, social recovery may see greater difficulty
The pandemic's arrival in Africa highlighted the continent's lack of social safety nets, leaving many of its most vulnerable citizens exposed. Beyond this, many were still excluded from newly introduced social safety nets due to data gaps, informality, and budgetary constraints.
The IIAG indicator Social Safety Nets is a cause for concern with a low continental score and no progress between 2010 and 2019. The fragility of fiscal revenues is evident in the limited mitigation packages African countries were able to provide in comparison to other regions. The mobilisation of additional revenue has been cited as means to strengthen the provision of social safety nets.
Challenge 8: Energy access essential for economic transformation
Energy access is a prerequisite for transforming the continent's economies and achieving development goals such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or the AU's Agenda 2063. Without energy access, chances of bridging the digital divide or leveraging the continent's digital potential will be slim. Energy access will also be essential for the development of infrastructure and for the implementation of the AfCFTA. The IIAG indicator Access to Energy shows that energy access has improved at an increasing rate between 2020 and 2019, going up in all but two countries, Libya and Mauritius. A total of nearly 600 million citizens still lack electricity.
Challenge 9: The digital divide must be repaired for the sake of a digital economy
The 2021 Forum Report and Ibrahim Governance Weekend discussions have pointed to the digital economy as an area of promise for the continent, not just for the economy, but also for education and health. However, the use of digital devices and the development of digital literacy is cited as a hurdle that restricts internet coverage and access to electricity, creating a digital divide.
This is highlighted by the low standing of the Digital Access indicator in the 2020 IIAG, the second-lowest in 2019. However, the continent was moving in the right direction prior to the pandemic. If this momentum is maintained post-pandemic, African countries can improve performance in this area and leverage their digital potential.
Challenge 10: Integrated economy requires adequate intercontinental transport networks
Africa's trade structure was laid bare amid the pandemic, hitting many of the continent's economies critically. This also affected the implementation of the transformational African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Introduced in January 2021, AfCFTA was conceived as a means to create a single African market that could transform the continent's place in the world economy, building local supply chains, diversifying the economy, creating jobs and fostering resilience in the face of future crises.
However, committing to the removal of 90% of tariff barriers, as outlined by the AfCFTA, has been cited as a major restriction with the success of an integrated Africa-centric trade model dependent on addressing non-tariff barriers, particularly the continent's transport infrastructure. Without the infrastructure to ease movement within the continent, intra-regional trade will continue to be costly and inaccessible, regardless of tariff reductions.