The Day After Tomorrow: Africa's Battle with COVID-19 and the Road Ahead

The COVID-19 pandemic has been widely described as unforeseen, and a “black-swan event”. It is, however, nothing of the kind. Scientists had long warned the world about the eventuality of such a pandemic. It is therefore nothing short of a failure of policy for the international community to have been caught unawares by the magnitude of the COVID-19 outbreak. For a long while, it seemed that the African continent had been spared the same magnitude of the pandemic that many countries in other regions were suffering. As of 30 June 2020, the continent had reported only 3.9 percent of the total global case count. Since then, however, the crisis has caught up with Africa, and at the time of producing this report, there were 736,288 COVID-19 cases (5% of all cases globally) and 15,418 deaths in the continent. Among all African countries, South Africa (68.4 percent), Egypt (4.3 percent), Algeria (3.1 percent), Nigeria (3.2 percent), and Kenya (2.8 percent) accounted for 82 percent of all COVID-19 cases reported in the continent. This report provides an account of Africa’s battle against COVID-19, maps a profile of the continent’s vulnerabilities that render it susceptible to systemic collapse, and analyses ways in which it can build resilience in the face of future crises. The report takes a systemic perspective, and provides analyses oriented around four axes—health, economic, socio-political and technological systems; and three key elements— risk, response and resilience. Even as the report is divided into these elements for purposes of clarity, it is crucial to understand the complex, interconnected nature of these systems. Inevitable trade-offs arise when crises hit, but their effects tend to cascade across systems. The devastation caused by COVID-19 in Africa, for example, is made formidable not only due to healthcare system weaknesses but also the precarity of economies, varying degrees of socio-political turbulence, as well as the inability of technology to buffer the impact of the crisis. An even more critical caveat relates to the scope of this report. The African continent is not a monolith, and capturing the nuances of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is beyond the scope of a single report. It is therefore our endeavour to provide policy blueprints and recommendations in broad strokes, and map trends rather than magnify peculiarities.