As part of the Compact with Africa (CwA) initiative and the German Reform Partnership (RP) Program, the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) recently organized a peer learning event where three dozen stakeholders from countries across Africa exchanged experiences about the impact of COVID-19 on governance. Participants identified good practices, explored common challenges and developed recommendations for better crisis management.
The closed event took place on January 28. Participants ranged from senior government officials to representatives of civil society, development partners, and governance experts from the six participating RP countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, and Tunisia. Both the RP and CwA are designed to accelerate investments with development impact for all participating countries.
Key findings from two new ACET research papers—Reform Partnership Governance and COVID-19: Scan of COVID-19 governance-related policy actions and Responding to COVID-19: An overview of governance issues—set the stage for the moderated discussion, which also incorporated ACET’s policy priority plan for post-COVID growth and recovery, published last year.
Participants explored challenges and responses on a wide range of topics, including political leadership and trust, domestic resource mobilization, civic engagement, human rights and the rule of law, and more. Over the course of the discussion, several lessons for the future emerged.
Resource mobilization needs to be innovative. All countries participating in the discussion faced serious difficulties with resource mobilization as a consequence of COVID-19, especially as international collaboration and support have been less robust than expected. Countries that depended on donor aid were forced to find creative ways to mobilize resources internally and from the diaspora. Going forward, participants agreed, fiscal discipline and building trust will be crucial in rolling out post-pandemic reforms that will address ongoing domestic resource challenges.
They also agreed that, while the diaspora is quite resourceful in responding to a pandemic in resource-constrained developing economies, countries with well-coordinated diaspora initiatives or networks could benefit even more. In Ethiopia, the diaspora provided support in the form of cash and property donations, among other assets. But it also helped fill professional expertise gaps in the country’s COVID-19 task force on a broad range of issues, including the development of epidemiological models that were crucial to the country’s pandemic response.
Improved access to social protection is essential. Many African countries struggled to meet the needs of the poor, vulnerable and unemployed in the absence of well-structured social protection programs that are also accessible for the un-banked, the informal sector, rural communities, and marginalized groups. Some governments, however, were able to quickly and cost-effectively disburse cash allowances to vulnerable people whose livelihoods were affected by the pandemic. In Morocco, for example, the government rapidly allocated an allowance of up to 200 EUR to more than 15 million people who lost their job due to COVID-19 with a transparent social protection platform.
Considering the large proportion of the population living below the poverty line and without access to social safety nets, participants also agreed that successful pandemic response measures should take into account the unique socioeconomic and governance situation of African countries—or finding the best balance between saving lives and saving livelihoods. Some participants felt many African countries failed to fully take this into consideration with harsh and expensive lockdowns.
Structural reforms should be addressed. Even as countries rightly focus their efforts on dealing with the immediate financial and health crises, long-term structural challenges—such as youth unemployment, food insecurity, and conflict, among others—should not be overlooked. Participants expressed concern that in some cases, pandemic mitigation policies had actually led to structural reforms being deprioritized. The strain on health systems has underscored the importance of such structural reforms, since some countries with sustained, long-term health infrastructure programs have proven more capable of meeting the health demands of their citizens during the pandemic.
Collaboration and coordination is critical. The pandemic has forced African countries to become more resilient and innovative, such as through new crisis management mechanisms. In some cases, emergency approaches have also helped strengthen governance, oversight and coordination, especially between the public and private sectors.
In the early days of the pandemic, many African economies struggled to get access to key medical supplies from the international market. Countries such as Morocco and Ghana boosted the capacity of various industries to pivot towards the production of some essential goods to support the country’s COVID-19 mitigation measures. In Ethiopia, at the height of the pandemic in 2020 Ethiopian Airlines seemed likely to go bankrupt after the company lost more than $1 billion. With support from the government, the airline pivoted to cargo business and has since been a major player in the global supply chain of COVID-19 medical equipment.
Participants agreed that countries should scale up efforts to build strong local industries that can provide critical goods and services and seize those opportunities to add value to what they produce locally.