The devastation that has been caused by the novel Coronavirus across the world is manifesting itself in epic proportions. The virus has brought the world to a standstill. Many governments across the world have put in place lockdowns and other travel restrictions as a way of containing the spread of the virus.
In this light, a lot of trade has been suspended. Citizens have been ordered to stay home because of the deadly coronavirus prompting the business to come to a standstill. As lockdowns are being put in place, there is a need to consider individuals who have bee highly affected. The economic dynamics of Africa are not linear – most people are thrust in the informal sector. The luxuries of having a steady job that comes with a healthy salary at the end of every month is alien to them. Their survival depends on going out to make a living. It is difficult to tell these people to stay at home. They may want to stay at home, but the circumstances at that home are not favorable for a decent existence.
African economies are mostly dominated by informal trading. It accounts for around 30 to 90 percent of all non-agricultural jobs. It makes up more than 40% of these countries’ Gross Domestic Product. The impact of informal trading permeates almost every aspect of life in African countries. It is this money that brings food on the table, that sends children to schools, that buy the clothes and all other essential goods and services for existence. The majority of Africans are not allowed to have bank savings, credit cards, and online commerce to stay at home for long periods.
The fact of the matter is that the force of global inequity reveals itself with more intensity in Africa than anywhere else in the world. Most people rely on “day-to-day, cash-based commerce.” With more travel restrictions being put in place, it means that the source of livelihood for these people has been stripped away from them.
The conversation is not restricted only to those in the informal sector. Whether one is in the formal or informal sector, they still must pay for basic amenities such as water or electricity. But without going to work, the money to pay for these bills is not readily available. It becomes a strain on many families and individuals to keep up with the bills.
The inability to buy large stocks of food means that these people must continuously go out to replenish their food supplies. The risk to be infected with COVID-19 is high, and the best way to stem this is by staying home. But informal traders are caught between a rock and a hard place – life must be preserved, but they are recording big losses too.
This is where governments must step in – be kind and help the vulnerable people. Bills must be slashed temporarily, and food supplies must be allotted to vulnerable families. A good example has been Rwanda, where President Paul Kagame ordered free door-to-door food distribution for the most vulnerable. With many livelihoods interrupted, it is now the social duty of the government to lead and oversee efforts to feed these people. In Ghana, citizens have been given free water and about 400,000 people have been given free food. On top of that, electricity will not be switched off because of outstanding bills. Health workers are getting a 50% pay rise and are also enjoying a tax break for 3 months.
This is the kindness that should be exhibited by other African governments. Tax breaks should be implemented since most people are not going to work. Fiscal policies need to be tweaked so that people are not constrained. It would even be wise for governments to buy produce from farmers and distribute this to the most marginalized communities.
Lockdowns are likely going to be extended. Rwanda and South Africa have already extended the lockdown by two weeks. As lockdowns are being extended, the onus continues to lie with the governments in providing and taking care of their people. The more considerate governments are going to be, the more bearable the lockdowns will also be.
The precarious survival mode that most Africans have been put in needs to be ameliorated by efforts from government laden with kindness and compassion.