Covid-19 in Africa: Kenya, Côte D’Ivoire and Ghana disprove generalisations

Sam Mwale
By Sam Mwale

Former economic advisor to the Kenyan Cabinet

Posted on Tuesday, 29 March 2022 11:41

Worker cleaning Kenya’s court of arms at Treasury Building during the budget reading 2020/2021. The budget worth Kenya Shillings 3.2 Trillion seeks to jump start an economy ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic.//SOPAIMAGES

At the height of the pandemic, it was widely predicted that Covid-19 would be an ‘economic calamity’ for Africa. Yet, fast forward a year later, and while it is true that some African countries are still struggling with recovery, some of the continent’s nations have bucked the predictions and shown surprising resilience in the face of global pressures.

Rising inflation, massive job losses, and the effects of the pandemic itself have been felt across Africa. Early in the pandemic, leading voices and commentators feared the worst for the continent, with predictions of catastrophic outcomes, economically and socially.

Headlines in the West warned the continent could be facing an ‘economic calamity’ while others asked ‘Is Africa headed for a financial crisis?’

While this was no doubt meant with sympathy, the temptation at the time by non-Africans to group different economies together to better sell a dire scenario for the continent, meant directly ignoring the inherent difference and strengths of many of its individual economies.

Some countries came out strong

When the pandemic hit, some countries suffered a severe shock, but Kenya’s economy demonstrated remarkable resilience. At the tail end of last year, the World Bank highlighted Kenya’s resistance to the Covid-19 shock, noting that its output for the first half of 2021 had risen above pre-pandemic levels and that its GDP was recovering quickly.

The Kenyan government significantly mitigated the pandemic’s effects in Kenya to the global average, and these efforts were underpinned by the strength of its private sector’s response and resilience throughout the worst of the crisis. While certain parts of the economy, such as tourism, were inevitably hit, Kenya was able to register strong commercial activity and achieve high real GDP growth.

Côte d’Ivoire was another economy that has bounced back from the pandemic, with its real GDP still attaining 1.8% real GDP growth in 2020, after strong levels in the years prior. In 2021 it was back to pre-pandemic levels of GDP growth, and the same is expected for this year thanks to stable exports and robust domestic demand.

Ghana’s economy also fared well. The country took a little longer to return to pre-2020 levels, but its economy grew by 6.6% in the third quarter, which, while lower than 2019, was still a healthy figure. The economy grew by more than six per cent in the year before the pandemic underpinned by strong foreign direct investment. Ghana benefitted from a strong energy sector, and stable democratic rule, qualities that put it in a good position to withstand the pressures of the pandemic.

The ability of these economies to bounce back quickly was not some economic miracle, but rather the direct result of the groundwork laid by their governments in the years preceding the pandemic, the sensible measures put in place, and the responses of the private sector to the pandemic. What was unusual was not their success, but rather that outside observers had bet against them.

As their doom-laden predictions showed, far too many in the West were willing to group Africa’s disparate economies together into one homogenous bloc without taking into account the inherent strength of certain nations. Far too many observers find it convenient to make generalisations about African economies, but this elides real differences and reflects wider issues with the attitudes that they have towards Africa.

From the recent Moody’s downgrade of Ghana’s credit rating, which was condemned by the AU for failing to factor in the country’s new fiscal measures, to the consistent accusation that African nations are charged higher rates than nations with similar or even worse credit ratings in other continents, there is widespread suspicion amongst African leaders that Western thinking about African economies remains lazy and built on clichés that lead to cavalier decisions.

Bottom line

The reality of economic, social, and even political outcomes in Africa during the pandemic has confounded the headlines seen in Western media over Africa’s future, health policy, and economic stability. It is worth looking back to the negative predictions and assessing where they went wrong. It came from a concern and desire to partner with Africa, and Africans, but from a limited Western perspective.

It is time to accept that Africa’s heterogeneity requires diligent and nuanced pronouncements. This in turn requires a better understanding and incorporation of African voices and thought leadership in discussing the continent. The successes of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Kenya show that African economies have lessons to teach the world about pandemic resilience, these lessons must not be lost to generalisation.

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