NEXT year promises to be even tougher for leadership than 2020. This is because in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was unfolding with very little known knowledge of the virus and how to prevent it. The year ends on a terrible note; the virus is still circulating and resurging, second or third waves are unfolding with reports of new strains of the virus; economies have been shredded due to the reactive approaches early in the year which include nationwide lockdowns, resourcing public healthcare services and providing aid to those on the economic margins.
These approaches will either no longer be applicable or some of them will need to be intensified amid limited resources. Take for example, very few economies can survive second nationwide lockdowns, while the majority of poor people will instead choose to risk contracting the virus than starve in lockdowns. On the other hand, whatever has been done to strengthen the public healthcare system, will need to be doubled — not only in the short term but long term as the pandemic is still with us.
The challenges ahead are not only limited to whether countries will remain reactive or prefer proactive approaches, but the national economies will need to be revived without fail. In fact, the best way to address the pandemic now is to revive or sustain economies for the sake of ensuring the masses have access to livelihoods and that the public healthcare system gets the resources required to address the demand arising from the pandemic. This will require strengthening COVID-19 prevention measures at home and at work. Tough as it may be to accept, it is important that we start viewing the current situation as the new normal that should be accompanied by new adaptive behaviour and innovative ideas.
Economic revival has proven to be possible and faster, mainly in the United States of America where their economy is almost back to pre-crisis levels because they quickly implemented strategies that adapted to the new realities. This may not be the case for small and struggling economies and yet this is where economic recovery is needed most.
In most poor countries in Africa, the impact of the pandemic is felt largely from shrinking economies than the virus itself. This is largely because the majority of the people live in sparsely populated and remote rural areas where transmission rates have been low and yet they were hugely impacted by lack of supplies due to travel and movement restrictions imposed elsewhere or outside their countries.
Thinking outside the box, transparency and reducing corruption will be more necessary now than before to help rural populations navigate these challenges. As 2020 has demonstrated, when crisis hits, countries prioritise themselves before their neighbours and others. The year 2020 has also exposed that corruption does not keep those in leadership safe. They too can be affected and it is important that they ensure improved access to essential services for everyone’s sake. The message that came out clearly this year is the need for countries to be more self-sufficient and reduce dependency for basic supplies and services.
For these reasons, it is now critically important for African countries to work with what they have to sustain their people and boost their economies. Doing so will require strengthening the capacity of small to medium farmers and traders to ensure continuous food production and trade at that level. This will help cushion poor communities in the event of new economic shocks resulting from the pandemic. Maybe it is also time we revive the agriculture production input sector so that we do not have to rely on imports.
Linked to that is ensuring well-organised and effective telecommunications, online banking and transport systems. This will help improve online trading and information sharing and minimise unnecessary human movement while ensuring that goods are timely produced and delivered. Online trading also has the advantage of eliminating the unnecessary middlemen — often the breeding ground for corruption.
One lesson drawn from this pandemic is that we do not always need to travel or meet to do business. Small-scale farmers and traders too can adopt online and virtual means of doing business. It is therefore important to ensure access to internet is not constrained by unnecessarily high prices. Access to internet must be seen as a basic human requirement, a development enabler and, therefore, a human right. Take for example, the rest of learning this year was done virtually, so was part of business. We are in a new normal and, therefore, governments must take strategic decisions to ensure improved internet access.
The mining sector in Africa was one of the most affected industries. The reasons for this are simple. In Africa, we mine to export and when global economies ground to a halt with all markets and logistic support on shutdown, it means we were stuck with unprocessed mineral ores which we could not move and sell. And that meant reduced or no income.
If governments work on improving beneficiation from these minerals, it simply means we could continue processing and, therefore, retain employment in the mining and related processing sectors while continuing operations tapping on local markets as we wait for global markets to open again. In other words, we did not need to shut down mining and processing operations because of external logistic shutdowns.
Lastly, leadership has to redefine their corruption practices, that is if they think corruption must continue. Corruption and externalising resources is not only stupid but detrimental to their own lives. The country lost lives that could have been saved at our own poorly-resourced local hospitals. This is because those who steal think when they fall sick they will be flown out of the country. The pandemic has shown that even those opportunities can be shut down. Time to think normal.