It is hard to see how African economies will bounce back to the vibrant fast growing hubs that they were over the past two decades, the pre-corona era. Countries like Rwanda that led East Africa (and most of the World) with annual economic growth averaging 9.4 percent now looks at annual growth rates of a mere 2 percent.
When the tourism and hospitality industries reopen their doors, will tourists and holiday maker flock in triple and quadruple their previous numbers and will they do so long enough for the industries to stabilize and resume growth? Will air travel shake off the blow it has taken, will it be willing to pocket less profit to attract business or will it hike prices to capitalize the anticipated initial high demand post the pandemic?
How individual industries will raise from the ashes of the pandemic is anyone’s guess but should recovery of global economies, especially of vulnerable third world countries like those in Africa be left to the invisible hands of commerce or should concerted regional and continental strategies be tabled?
Dare I say, it seems that the continent has again been stooped into the ill fated philosophy of individualism; it has again been divided and is again on the verge of been conquered. Just like they took individual course of action when the pandemic befell the continent, countries are destined to make individual response strategies, prioritizing self over whole.
Already this autonomy approach to the pandemic has rendered regional blocs asunder. Hard earned regional integration has literally been demolished over night. Open borders and free trade zones are no more, borders have been closed and free trade zones put on hold.
Worse still, not only are the borders closed among neighbours, countries have actually started to develop some degree of animosity, each eyeing the other as the culprit that may infect it with the dreaded coronavirus.
Kenya and Tanzania are a good example, their economic rivalry had been positive up to the onslaught of the pandemic. It had led to both countries growing their economies by leaps and bounds each on the verge of achieving middle income status.
However, because of taking individual course of action in response to the pandemic, the countries have found themselves, against each other, economically speaking that is. Kenya won’t let Tanzanian cargo trucks into the country because the latter has an opposing response to the pandemic.
In fact, Tanzania, unlike all its neighbors, never placed its public on lockdown ever since the pandemic started, as such it is viewed to be at risk of having more infections and spreading them across the East Africa Community (EAC), so, one after the other, the EAC countries have closed their borders effectively, the EAC has shut its borders on itself.
That is the case across most all other regional blocs including the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) and across the continent the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), borders have closed.
The reason for the closure of the borders is understandable and valid, however, the means by which it has been done is definitely questionable. Take the EAC for example, sometime in April, the sitting Chairperson, Rwanda’s Paul Kageme had called for a regional meeting of the Heads of State to deliberate joint response to the pandemic, for one reason or another, the meeting never took place.
Actually, there has not been any regional plotted response to the pandemic to date yet there are numerous aid offers with varying conditions for individual countries. With each country making its own decision it is only hoped that the regional representative bodies are been involved to ensure these individual aid pacts do not contravene or hurt regional bloc accords.
A few years ago when, most all countries of the East African Community decided to boost their domestic textile industries and so they put a stop on the importation of second hand clothes, the US reminded each and every one of the members of their individual contractual agreements with the country.
Traders in the US were up in arms when the importation of second hand clothes into East Africa was stopped. They took it up with congress and after congress reviewed the matter it found that the East African countries are recipients of aid under several contracts including the AGOA pact that forces the countries to trade with the US unconditionally.
One by one the countries of the EAC were forced to let go of their ambitious domestic industry development plans and abide by the pacts they had signed. What is to say the same fate lays in wait over in the extended coronavirus response aid packs?
Short of uniting and making joint response strategies to the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent proposed aid, Africa may wake up, in the not so distant future, to find itself more divided, more in debt and even poorer than ever before.