Prosperity Deferred for the African Century
Like a biblical pincer movement the Covid-19 virus and increasing swarms of locusts are threatening to decimate Africa’s impressive socio-economic progress achieved over these past decades.
The awful reality is that G20 countries may not have the resources to rescue African countries of this dual dilemma should the situation spiral out of control because of their own respective overwhelming economic burdens of battling the pandemic including the global commonality: food security. Frighteningly the global food chain is at the brink of snapping making the African continent more vulnerable and isolated as the potential for mass starvation looms.
Many of Africa’s 54 countries have made enormous socio-economic progress in the 21st century that has lifted millions from abject poverty. The global economic downfall and plagues of locusts threatening to devour East Africa’s food supply could push millions back into poverty.
The following chart entitled Covid-19 Could Push Half Billion People Into Poverty provided by Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (Oxfam) formed in 1995 by a group of NGOs, and presented by Statista, an online German statistical firm, 9 April 2020 shows this risk to millions in various regions indicating that almost 85 million, divided equally between Middle East/North Africa and Sub-Sahara Africa. This not only represents a humanitarian crisis like no other but certainly mass social unrest that could turn most of the African continent’s countries into failed states.
‘Locust-19’ & Mass Starvation
A cascade of the worst possible scenarios is already underway with the emergence of record-breaking swarms of locusts devouring crops within war-torn areas, high reliance on food imports with strong US dollar and little foreign reserves.
The Wall Street Journal 20 April 2020 article Africa Braces for a Wave of Locusts, provides a short but profound comprehensive overview of the looming crisis. To paraphrase the critical points in the article:
· World organizations and the African Development Bank are shortly expecting a second wave of locusts – dubbed ‘Locust-19’ – which may be 20 times larger than the first wave (a swarm the size of Manhattan) – or about half the size of Western Europe and the same time of the start of the planting season.
· Commodity exports are limited.
· Shipping costs have tripled.
· Not only is there is a severe shortage of pesticides to combat the second wave locusts’ breeding grounds but many of these areas are in war-torn areas and difficult to access safely without the cooperation of rebel groups. If allowed to lay their eggs, the third wave of locusts will be 20 times larger than the second (which was 20 times larger than the first!).
The following chart entitled Where Reliance on Food Imports is Highest 30 April 2020 provided by the World Bank and presented by Statista indicates the additional vulnerability many smaller African countries in their ability to purchase foodstuffs with closed borders.
Furthermore historically because of under-developed infrastructure there is limited infra-Africa movement of goods. Even with a robust relief effort it would be a logistical nightmare not only for landlocked countries but also those with ports because of poor infrastructure from port to inland destinations at the scale required.
Finally acerbating the pandemic and food shortage, pollution has played a detrimental role in the reduction of life expectancy in many African countries. The following chart March 2020 entitled Where Air Pollution Is Reducing Life Expectancy The Most provided by The Journal of Cardiovascular Research and presented by Statista, indicate the countries where pollution has a profound impact of life expectancy.
Several experts and government officials have stated that the African countries have two components working in their favor to minimize the pandemic’s rage:
1. First is African countries’ decades of experience in successfully managing infectious diseases with limited resources and outdated equipment.
2. Second African countries are observing and learning from on-going case studies in developing countries with respect what strategies have worked.
Forecasting how the pandemic will impact particular African countries will be exceptionally difficult because its spread of Covid-19 within the same regions can be uneven. For example the pandemic has hit Indonesia far harder than nearby Malaysia; devasting fatalities in Iran but little in Iraq and growing in India but hardly touching Pakistan, high death tolls in Spain vs. far fewer in Portugal even when adjusted for population differences.
There are valid arguments to explain the disparities one of which is that certain countries’ inability to obtain sufficient testing kits or provide enough testing.
Notwithstanding each African country will have to assess their level of risk with respect to the movements of citizens who crisscross their borders such a tribal families whose territories share two countries, cross-border trade and geographical locations, and take whatever precautions they can afford.
[Originally published 4 May 2020]
Copyright 2020 Cerulean Council LLC
The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.