Post COVID-19,Africa Will Need To Learn To Fend For Herself Without Handouts From The West

In its trail of destruction, COVID-19 has been indiscriminate. From the rich and developed Western countries to the oil-rich Middle Eastern countries to Africa, the Coronavirus has left the entire world reeling from its far-reaching impacts with no respect whatsoever for each individual country's socio-economic status.

Unlike in the movies where heroes and heroines from the West always swoop in at the right moment to save the world from catastrophe be it from a climate disastera rogue asteroid, and even a pandemic, the COVID-19 crisis is showing that even the rich and forever-a-step-ahead "first world" countries are not immune, literally and metaphorically, from its wrath.

For Europe and America, the economic and health impact of the virus has been nothing short of dire. With their fancy and modern healthcare systems, European nations like the UK, Spain, and Italy are seeing their citizens dropping like flies every day while America—apart from the dying populace—is also seeing unemployment rates that have never been seen before.

Although Africa has been hitherto spared in terms of the intensity of the virus, it has not been unaffected nonetheless. The health impact of the virus might not have yet peaked but the economic impacts are already apparent. In order to try to keep the virus contained, most African governments have imposed lockdowns in order to limit movements within their borders. These locks downs— although done with the best intentions—are proving and will prove to be economic disasters for most African countries, Botswana not being any different.

With her two bread-basket sectors, mining and tourism, having been severely affected by the crisis, Botswana finds herself in a rather difficult position. Today, the country's Minister of Finance and Development delivered the grim and rather expected news that the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the country's economy will not be light. The economy is projected to shrink by 13%, almost twice as bad as the global average and a far cry from the country's projected 4% growth.

This is terrible news for a country that, just a few months ago, had set out plans for attaining high-income status by the year 2036, a feat that required an average of at least 6% year-on-year economic growth. But failing to reach high-income status is currently the very least of the country's problems. Making sure that the country's economy does not totally crumble as a result of the COVID-19 crisis is the most pressing issue at the moment.

Unlike in the past when African countries could always look to the West for handouts in the form of foreign aid, things will be very different post-COVID-19. To rebuild their economies after this scourge, the comforting solace of knowing that help was always coming from the West will not materialize as these savior countries will also be licking their COVID-19 wounds and trying to keep their own houses in order.

Although this loss of a helping hand in difficult times will without a doubt make the post-COVID-19 economic response very much difficult, it can prove to be an advantage of some sort—a long-needed wakeup call. Ever since they acquired independence from European dynasties back in the 50s to the 70s, most African countries—Botswana inclusive—have relied significantly on foreign aid to fund development and although it has contributed immensely to most of these countries' development, it has also created a culture of lethargy within governments as they have dragged their feet in devising sustainable channels of revenue knowing that cheques from the West will supplement their national budgets.

"Give a man fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime", goes the age-old metaphor. Post COVID-19, no West country will be giving out free fish so the question becomes, did Africa learn any fish-hook throwing skills during the good years of handouts from the West? Does Africa have the capability to fend herself without a helping hand from the West? This is a difficult question to even contemplate because any answer apart from the affirmative would mean disaster for the continent which has already been through so much socio-economically.

Scary as her post-COVID-19 economical prospects are, all is not lost for the motherland. If governments can use this crisis as an eye-opener and lesson about the need for economic self-reliance, it would prove to be a valuable lesson that would serve the continent well going forward. If African governments can realize— through this crisis— the importance of supporting local entrepreneurs and innovators, the importance of effectively fighting corruption, the importance of diversifying their economies, the importance of efficient governance, the importance of curbing economic inequalities and so on, all that will be lost because of COVID-19 will at least be made up for by all those lessons.

If, however, everything goes back to the way it was pre-COVID-19, the endless corruption; the bureaucratic red tapes; the lethargy in governance, etc, all that would have been lost due to the crisis would have been for nothing and unlike in the past where we could always expect saving grace from the West, this time we will be on our own.