The politics of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa part II

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 7/30/2020, midnight

A few weeks ago, this column looked at the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Africa. This week, here’s a second look.

The U.S., with a population of 350 million people, thus far has the highest rate of COVID-19 infection in the world. The U.S. is also ranked as the most advanced nation, in terms of medicine and science, in the world.

The U.S. is a nation-state, a country. Africa is a continent of 54 independent countries (the African Union, but not the United Nations, recognizes 55 independent countries) in Africa. As of the end of July, 2020, the continent of Africa was reporting 789, 226 cases of COVID-19 infection, with over 447, 026 recoveries thus far, and 16,715 deaths. Those stats compare favorably with the states of New York and California.

Clearly, bettors against Las Vegas odds would be cashing out big winnings right now as the world would have bet against that set of stats. Certainly, most of the world was betting on Africa being overwhelmed by this disease. Maybe that will happen in the foreseeable future. As of the first 200 days of the pandemic, however, Africa has not been the TAG.

Moreover, when one compares mortality rates—percentage of COVID-19 deaths over population—again Africa more than holds its own. Great Britain’s mortality rate is 15.2 percent, France is at 13.7 percent, Italy is 14.3 percent, Spain at 10.4 percent, Egypt, one of Africa’s hardest hit countries is at 5.0 percent, the U.S.A, is at 3.4 percent, and South Africa, the continent’s country with the largest number of cases, is at 1.61percent.

It seems the former colonial powers are getting hammered by the COVID-19 virus much more than African countries are.

Again, that could all change within the next few weeks, but so far, the least expected countries are not the ones at the bottom.

Why? No one has thus far presented a reasonable single explanation for that situation. Perhaps it has to do with the presence of so many prior medical situations in Africa which brought forth therapeutics and actual cures for tuberculosis, HIV-Aids, and the continuing fight against malaria. Perhaps it is because a majority of Africa’s inhabitants currently are youth (less than 35 years old). Perhaps it is because European tourists carrying the disease were blocked from entering most African countries (Egypt, which recorded Africa’s first case, got the disease imported through tourism).

Also, in some African countries there was an immediate leadership response. President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa immediately ordered a nationwide lockdown in March after the first case appeared in South Africa. He banned all public travel except for essential workers, and closed all taverns and restaurants, etc. In May, he re-opened the country (probably too quickly), and cases have been rising quickly since then in all the major population centers, including Cape Town (the legislative capital), Pretoria and Johannesburg. South Africa is now ranked number 15 on the world leaders in number of infections, but has not dragged the rest of Africa with it.