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Sub-Saharan Africa: the long tail of Covid | RiskMap2022


Sub-Saharan Africa: the long tail of Covid

Barnaby Fletcher | Associate Director & Marisa Lourenco | Analyst

Sub-Saharan Africa is not just striving to return to its pre-pandemic state; its recovery will be accompanied by transformation. The region’s relationship to the wider world is changing, as the pandemic has both forced engagement and highlighted the limits of external support. Fiscal challenges are generally pushing governments to fiscal innovation and policy reform, although how business friendly such reforms are varies. This transformation will bring both volatility and opportunities.  

The region may have returned growth following a pandemic-induced recession in 2020, but the coming years still contain challenges. The region is forecast to lag behind the rest of the world in 2022, dragged down by high debt and limited fiscal resources to engage in prolonged stimulus spending. Even as growth picks up, living costs are rising and GDP per capita is not expected to return to pre-crisis levels until the end of 2025. Low vaccination rates mean that another wave of COVID-19 cases is not only possible but arguably likely.    


Slow recoveries have consequences. Economic grievances feed into security threats and political volatility, especially in a region where a young population is rapidly reaching working age and expecting jobs. Coup d’états in Mali, Chad, Guinea and Sudan all have specific and unique country drivers, but nonetheless represent a sharp increase in unconstitutional government change that coincides with the pandemic. Democratic success stories in Malawi and Zambia are countered by democratic backsliding in countries such as Benin and civil conflict in Ethiopia. The militancy landscape is becoming more fragmented amid increasingly unpredictable international interventions and responses. Meanwhile, slow growth exacerbates a debt crisis that is diverting public funds away from much needed investments and reforms. 

The picture for business is not, however, as bleak as it may initially appear. Cash-strapped governments are looking to the private sector to drive recoveries, continuing pre-pandemic efforts to reduce the role of state-owned enterprises. Regional and continental blocs have responded to supply-chain disruptions by pushing forward with initiatives to facilitate intra-African trade, such as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. Investments in domestic healthcare capacity, biotech industries and vaccine manufacturing have huge application well beyond the current pandemic response. Pandemic solutions provided by African tech have proved that recent excitement in the burgeoning sector is more than just a bubble. These positive trends were driving investor excitement in sub-Saharan Africa pre-pandemic, and they have not only persisted but have arguably accelerated.  

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