Today (20th April 2020) Ghana became the first African Country to formally lift its lock-down. Why? To save lives. In three weeks Ghana has conducted almost 70,000 targeted tests and developed plans for test centres in its 16 regions, according to President Akufo-Addo. Some will be allowed to return to work, whilst other restrictions (including school and sports) remain in place. The move is delivered under a banner of greater preparedness yet also underscores the often neglected other-side of the story of this Crisis.
“Wash Hand”… “Stay at Home, Protect The NHS, Save Lives”. Different countries have adopted their own rhythmic mantras, many of them crafted with brand-agency-level sophistication to ring deep in the inner depths of our consciences (the aforementioned from the UK). And it’s working; the masses have developed a deep sense of responsibility for encouraging compliance and in many cases disdain for those who contravene or even express views to the contrary.
Ghana itself led with a national campaign headed by a hugely striking message by President Nana Akufo-Addo ” We know how to bring the economy back to life. What we do not know is how to bring people back to life.”
This message was poignant. Yet at the time President Akufo-Addo, alongside fellow African leaders, were all too aware of the deep dichotomy of choice they would face to ultimately achieve the same end-goal – to save lives.
Wash Hands – with what water and soap?
Stay at Home – home in densely populated areas is inherently no different to outside!
Save the NHS – what NHS?
This is the harsh reality of some people’s existence in the most challenged of regions. Layer on top the fact that 70% or more of Africa’s workforce are in ‘unstable’, ‘vulnerable’ jobs and you have the perfect storm. Africa’s workforce is disproportionately aligned to informal or manual orientated economic activities. These are sectors most impacted in COVID-19 lock-down scenarios. In the most grim (but not uncommon) cases, the choice becomes – to stay at home, not work and die of starvation or to carry-on, gamble with one’s own life and that of one’s community.
It is for this reason the balancing act of the (largely) Northern Hemisphere of the world, between saving lives vs and saving economic growth / quality of life becomes far more impossible on the Continent, where the choice ultimately lies between saving lives and saving lives (in the short term).
This is the situation today and we can’t magic our way out of it in the near future. However we must start work today to reform the Continent’s economic and employment structure. Reform our welfare policies, our reliance on external aid and resources exports. We must broadly optimise for long-term models of economic and social development to ensure that our future generations and their leaders never again find themselves between the same proverbial rock and a hard place.