With the outbreak of COVID19 in the world, a lot of silent policies, programmes and projects in various countries have been exposed especially in Africa. It was a like moment of doing something wrong in the darkness and then out of the blue, light sets me and you just feel like naked. COVID19 was declared a world pandemic in March 2020 and as per 5th june, it had claimed over 370,000 lives with over 6 million cases worldwide. The pandemic led to the several lockdowns as a way to limit the spread which consequently uncovered a lot of weakness in many African countries. Although the death rate has been relatively less in Africa compared to other countries, COVID19 leaves important lessons for Africa to carry on.
While addressing the nation about COVID19 guidelines, the president of the republic of Uganda said that he was in fact happy with the outbreak of COVID19 because it awoke him and his people to improve a lot of things among which included investing in import substitution industries.
Increase funding and promote commercial agriculture. On average Uganda spends less than 3% of the total national budget annually. In fact, subsistence production has remained at 68% for the last 14 years, something that should change after COVID19. During the crisis, food production continued, prices remained low because supply was enough. In fact our coffee exports grower since March. The government should there invest more in value addition, mechanized farming and other farm inputs to increase and stabilize production since food is needed in all circumstances.
Invest and enhance import substitution industrialization. In 2019, Uganda spent around shs 2 trillion in purchasing motor vehicles alone. Who knows how much Uganda spent importing medicine, laptops, smart phones, electronics, clothes, bags, construction materials, spirits and wines and others. Uganda could save a lot of money but investing in import substitution. If all these are locally produced, Uganda will emerge stronger.
Build a strong regional market for our products. With the closure of most international aircrafts, it should be a good lesson to Africa to build strong regional markets which are easily assessed. This not only reduces the costs of transportation but also enhances growth of regional economies due to the trickling down effect. When Kenya buys from Uganda and VV, all countries will develop equally.
Invest in health research and regulatory bodies. Although we give big credit to the World Health Organization in the fight against this pandemic, as Africans we have not done enough to create local solutions for local problems. COVID19 continues to affect each continent differently thus need for different approaches. When Madagascar claimed to have discovered a herbal medicine which could cure COVID19, it received resistance from WHO. This was a good moment for an African body to provide guidance. Besides, most testing kits, ventilators, continue to be imported which makes our health systems vulnerable.
Invest in national reserves such as food, petroleum products and currency reserves. COVID19 found when government had no national food reserve, fuel reserve and maybe no currency reserves. When the food distribution started in Kampala, the Office of the Prime Minister bought food from local suppliers which even increased the price of maize flour by 37% by the end of April. Had it been the president’s insistence to let in truck drivers, Uganda would have run short of fuel which would have worsened the situation. During the pandemic, all supplementary budgets were loans and grants from IMF, World Bank, UN, etc. bank of Uganda seemed to have nothing in its reserves. All this should change in order to build a resilient economy capable of handling such economic and health shocks.
Promote digital and long distance learning especially at higher institutions of learning. It is a big shame that all universities, colleges and learning institutions have not been studying during the lockdown. With the current technology, institutions of learning should design their programs to allow long distance learning. This will also increase of their revenues, for example, someone in Canada may pursue a 3 year online course at Makerere University. Lower education levels such as primary and secondary schools should also design learning models that can enable students to keep learning even when they are not within school premises.
Redesign our transport model to allow few cargo trucks and taxis operating around the central business area. Truck drivers have been the main source of COVID19 into the country. However as the president noted, there is need to revive the railway lines and water transport. This will support the Standard Gauge Railway upon completed to reduce on the usage of trucks which are not only expensive but also create damages on the roads.
Indeed, Africa will be hit hard with this pandemic because it was not prepared before. However, if it picks lessons, Africa will emerge stronger than before.
Complied by : Arinaitwe Victor: CEO- Impact Center for Applied Research