New analysis from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation unpacks ten key governance challenges for African countries on the road to recovery from COVID-19.

COVID-19 has exposed wide-ranging, fundamental challenges for African countries across the governance landscape. Addressing these is critical for long-term recovery, but without a massive step-up in vaccination rates, any recovery will be delayed and the opportunity to build a more self-reliant future squandered. This is the picture that emerges from COVID-19 in Africa: a challenging road to recovery, a new report from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation examining COVID-19’s impact on Africa and the continent’s potential to respond.

Unless it can vaccinate 70% of its population by the end of 2022, Africa stands little chance of overcoming the pandemic. However, as of 18 November 2021, just 6.8% of the continent’s population had been fully vaccinated, and only five African countries were able to meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) target of vaccinating 40% of their population by the end of 2021. The immediate priority is to get more jabs into arms by increasing access to doses and strengthening logistics. In parallel, upscaling local manufacturing capacities is vital for building Africa’s vaccine autonomy and overcoming its over-reliance on international support.

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COVID-19 in Africa: a challenging road to recovery looks beyond the vaccination issue – ‘challenge zero’ – to unpack ten key challenges, in the areas of health, society and the economy, that must be addressed to ensure a sustainable recovery and preparedness for future pandemics. Drawing on a decade of data from the 2020 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), the report assesses each African country’s performance relative to the ten challenges, highlighting success stories, identifying areas of concern, and providing insights on where to focus future efforts:

Challenge 1: No sound health policy without sound data. A chronic shortfall in reliable data is impairing sound health policymaking. Just 10% of deaths in Africa are registered and over 50% of African children do not have a legal existence.

Challenge 2: Healthcare is neither affordable nor accessible for most in Africa. Due to significant out-of-pocket expenses and insufficient public investment, in 2021 only ten African countries (representing 9% of the continent’s population), were able to provide their citizens with free and universal healthcare.

Challenge 3: Most African countries are unprepared for future pandemics. Africa demonstrated an early and relatively well coordinated response to COVID-19. However, the continent still performs worse than all other world regions for WHO International Health Regulations.

Challenge 4: In sub-Saharan Africa, being out of school means being out of learning. Extended school closures due to COVID-19 and a lack of remote learning opportunities have compounded Africa’s pre-existing learning crisis. While there have been notable improvements in staffing, enrolment, and completion since 2010, Education Quality is one of the 79 indicators that have deteriorated the most at the continental level, with 30 countries declining in this measure.

Challenge 5: Women and girls bear the brunt of COVID-19 impact, ranging from diminished economic opportunities to greater exposure to sexual and gender-based violence. Most COVID-19 mitigation measures put in place by African countries are not gender sensitive.

Challenge 6: The COVID-19 impact has further shrunk civic space and media freedom. In 2020, 44 African countries restricted at least one democratic practice as part of their COVID-19 responses with media freedom being the most violated.

Challenge 7: No social recovery without wider social safety nets. Constrained by limited fiscal space, the African average spend on COVID-19 response measures, outside of healthcare, was 2.4% of GDP, less than half the global average.

Challenge 8: No economic transformation without energy access. While almost all African countries have increased their score in the IIAG indicator Access to Energy since 2010, Africa still has the lowest electricity access of any region globally. Over 600 million Africans remain off-grid.

Challenge 9: No digital economy without fixing the digital divide. Every African country has improved in the IIAG indicator Digital Access since 2010, but, alongside the energy divide, the current digital divide remains a major obstacle to realising the continent’s economic potential.

Challenge 10: No integrated economy without adequate intercontinental transport networks. The lack of road infrastructure as well as adequate ports and rail systems is a major hindrance to a unified African economy and stymies the ability of most African nations to fully utilise their exports in the global market.

The full report can be found here.

Press release by Mo Ibrahim Foundation.