By Nana Asamoah
The last several months have seen a ghastly number of deaths all around the world from the raging pandemic. Clearly, some parts of the world have suffered more deaths than others. But it is not just the deaths even though losing loved ones is chiefly painful. It’s also the associated lockdowns, measures and restrictions that have abruptly, interruptedly and significantly reshaped our way of living, thinking and the choices we make. Suffering is Africa where the pandemic has further laid bare the already existing monumental challenges faced by the continent. Challenges that are growing, not abating and needs to be countered.
Africans can see the challenges posed by coronavirus and all those other existing challenges, produced by various historical and political contexts, as separate or Africans can start to see the clear common theme and start to produce a genuine African strategy to deal with them. Yet, if one key lesson is to be learnt from the pandemic, it is that one should desist from playing the futurist game and be more “presentist”. And in as much as this might be the case, people should also know for a fact that the present situation we find ourselves in will not last forever.
The facts are these. The coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions will end. It may seem difficult to imagine now, but this virus will be defeated. We will one day leave our mask at home and return to the streets, re-establish our routines, revive our economies and return to deal with the old problems that we already faced. This opinion is furthered by the huge vaccination campaigns already underway around parts of the world.
More importantly, the end of the pandemic will present a window of opportunity to rethink the future of Africa. The direction Africa goes and the choices Africa makes will have enormous impacts on the lives of Africans for generations to come. Choices matter a great deal, as individuals and as a collective. And to make these choices so that Africa can prosper and ensure that Africans have a better thriving future, here are five crucial battles that needs to be won.
Battle #1: Transformational Leadership
Of the many things the pandemic has laid bare, it has very much revealed the character of nations and people. Thus, the way a country does business will significantly be different in the aftermath of the pandemic. Put simply, things will be different. To thrive, countries will need transformational leadership. This will mean managing the present from the future and setting very high targets to fully harness the energies of citizens. To harness energies, schedules must be implemented uncompromisingly yet flexible enough to respond to changing situations. And let there be no doubt, this kind of leadership will need to be steered by a formidable winning team comprising of individuals of different abilities, who during the discharge of their duties must be held accountable for their actions in every step of the way, to consistently focus on long – term national aspirations in a politically and economically stable environment.
Battle #2: Understanding unique advantages and grasping emerging opportunities
A successful post-pandemic 2020s will depend on understanding advantages and grasping opportunities in the midst of limited resources (time and money). Relentless focus on these advantages will aid decide how best to sequence the various initiatives within each area and aspects of an African life and provide Africa with its own vision for transformation. This way, Government can not only identify national priorities but can also assess which activities deliver the great majority of these priorities.
Battle #3: Mindset renewal
Much has already been seen, said and heard about changes to social norms that the pandemic has brought about. Thus, I need not say much about it. However, for Africans to thrive in the post-pandemic 2020s, there ought to be profound changes in social norms, work ethos and professional etiquette necessary for both immediate and long-term progress. Among these changes should be zero tolerance for personal irresponsibility. This quite simply means launching a fierce attack on corrupt practices in daily dealings; eschewing dependency, laxity and inefficiency, carelessness with public infrastructure and property; shunning schemes that promises ‘getting rich quickly by any means” kind of thing, and; steering clear of the habit of just complaining instead of being part of the solution. If mindsets are changed, societies are not just bent to be built ethically but these societies are guaranteed to be built to last.
Battle #4: Agricultural productivity and its related issues
The promise of agricultural development remains the single most important factor (though by no means the only one) for making food insecurity history. During the pandemic, food shortage has risen to the top of the agenda making it more urgent than ever. The rapid proliferation of coronavirus and subsequent shutdowns led to unprecedented adverse trials in the agriculture sector. And it should be equally clear that if chances are not taken, food shortages will continue to worsen in the aftermath of the pandemic. The goal is to realize that this will be a long-term problem that compels a long-term solution. This solution shall entail investing in and implementing innovative strategies to trigger a radical improvement in agricultural productivity; focusing on new crops and animal products to boost incomes; and supporting projects within the agriculture sector with high potential for transferability and adoption. Further, smallholder farmers must be empowered throughout the continent to create food and nutritional security from the bottom up.
Battle #5: Industrialization
Before governments jumped in to save economies during the pandemic, a good lesson from the pre-pandemic time was that home-grown, export-oriented industrialization led by private entrepreneurs (local and foreign) unlocks broader opportunities for sustainable growth. More importantly, this continues to hold as the pandemic is being brought under control. In this context, it would seem only logical that Africa embarks on a post-pandemic industrial drive led by private entrepreneurs with governments providing the foundations and elements for a level playing field. On the part of entrepreneurs, this drive has to be focused on specific sectors where Africa has a comparative advantage in as well as other manufactured goods that are in high demand in the region and the world. On the part of governments, minimizing the frequency and intensity of policy reversals should be a focus, reviewing labour laws for flexibility and upgrading infrastructure should be a commitment. These are necessary to unlock and attract foreign direct investments (FDIs) from the outside world.
To sum up, alongside beating this pandemic, Africa needs to deliver on development and progress. Africa is now at that development tipping point. And if the end of 2019 signaled the end of a decade but the beginning of one of the deadly viruses of our lifetimes, the sight of an end to this pandemic is the perfect time to reflect on the battles ahead to deliver the life-changing improvements that Africans expect. As it has always been said about Africa, history and geography are not destiny but choices are. And in the rarest of windows, the pandemic has not just offered its share of problems, it has also offered a moment of opportunity. A moment to be on the move and make the 2020s a defining decade by addressing the continent’s challenges and realizing its opportunities. These challenges when addressed as part of the post-pandemic recovery efforts will be crucial in the future development of Africa. It will help sustain broader social and economic progress. Nonetheless, no matter how Africa chooses to approach the 2020s, Africans should take a moment to reflect and remember that despite what Africans might choose to do, Africa will continue to reach new heights of prosperity and progress. There is much to be proud of.