Kieran Whyte discusses the impact of COVID-19 in Africa. He is a Partner and Head of the Energy, Mining and Infrastructure Practice, at Baker McKenzie Johannesburg
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has resulted in mass production shutdowns and supply chain disruptions due to port closures in China, causing global ripple effects across all economic sectors in a rare “twin supply-demand shock”. With South Africa having just reported its first cases of COVID-19, Africa is beginning to feel its full impact and plans to control and manage the humanitarian challenges of the virus are underway across the continent. Economically, the effects have already been felt – demand for Africa’s raw materials and commodities in China has declined and Africa’s access to industrial components and manufactured goods from the region has been hampered. This is causing further uncertainty in a continent already grappling with widespread geopolitical and economic instability.
The number of cases is reportedly slowing down in China, increasing expectations that it will eventually reach a plateau and be brought under control. However, in early March the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development noted that “annual global GDP growth is projected to drop to 2.4% in 2020 as a whole, from an already weak 2.9% in 2019, with growth possibly even being negative in the first quarter of 2020″, with global markets plunging in the days thereafter.
Although Chinese growth will fall in the short term, it is expected to rebound quickly, some suggesting this could even happen in the second quarter of 2020 when the virus will hopefully be contained. In the meantime, central banks are implementing measures to mitigate the effects of the virus on the economy, cutting interest rates and injecting liquidity into the banking systems in some countries.
In early March, the World Bank announced it would commit USD 12 billion in aid to developing countries to help them to deal with the impact of the virus and limit its spread. The Bank said it would prioritise the most at-risk countries. The World Bank also introduced a pandemic bond in 2017, which, as part of the Pandemic Emergency Finance Facility intended to provide money to help developing countries in the event of a pandemic reaching certain thresholds and conditions. So far, these criteria have not been met and the bond has not paid out.
Uncertainty regarding the spread of COVID-19 is high and its impact on Africa is expected to be serious, given the continent’s exposure to China. So far, cases have been reported in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, DRC, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Togo and Tunisia. If there is a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 in Africa it could overwhelm already weak healthcare systems in the region.
According to ratings agency, Fitch, the Coronavirus outbreak will have a downside risk for short term growth for sub-Saharan African growth, particularly in Ghana, Angola, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Zambia, South Africa, Gabon and Nigeria – all countries that export large amounts of commodities to China.