Institutional capacity in public healthcare systems, law enforcement and regulatory agencies, as well as the capacity of the state to commandeer production of essential goods and services, have become decisive interventions in this pandemic. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose conservative government had for years underfunded the public sector, confirmed this unequivocally when he thanked the National Health Service (NHS) for saving his life after he was hospitalised with the coronavirus.
We have President Cyril Ramaphosa to thank for his leadership in mobilising national, continental and global public and private resources to enhance our capacity to tackle this pandemic. The admirable collaboration between public and private healthcare institutions has laid an important foundation for a well-resourced and -run National Health Insurance (NHI) system. We can learn from Britain’s NHS about what works and what doesn’t, so we can build our NHI on a firmer footing.
There is no wisdom in hankering after the old socio-economic development models that brought us to the multi-layered global crises (climate, health and socio-economic) we face today. Post-pandemic socio-economic restructuring has to go beyond traditional notions of privatising state-owned enterprises and smaller government. The entire global socio-economic system we have relied on has been exposed as fragile and a threat to both rich and poor in our society. No economy can prosper while excluding the energies and talents of the majority of its youthful population, as we have done since 1994.
We need to transform our economic and social relationships to build an inclusive prosperous democracy where wellbeing for all people and the planet are sustainably promoted. Such a system would have to dispense with traditional ideological hangovers of pitting the private and public sectors against each other. We have to leverage the strengths of our very well-developed private sector while broadening its base, recognising that its narrow base is a weakness and a missed opportunity for the entire society.
The future of the global economy lies in innovative enterprises that service the needs of local communities, as well as those of the nation and beyond, in mutually supportive ways. Lessons from China and other successful East Asian countries show how leveraging the strengths of both private and public sectors enabled them to build solid resilient systems able to withstand crises.
Small, medium and microenterprises have struggled to thrive in our society. This is largely because of both legal and institutional biases against them that undermine their access to credit and other essential support. Why should these enterprises be legally permitted to only access no more than a tiny two-and-a-half percent of assets held by major funds, despite being estimated to account for 98.5% of the formal economy and provide 28% of jobs? We need to fundamentally rethink this approach as we restructure our economy and strengthen support for sustainable livelihoods in all local communities across the country.
The Covid-19 crisis presents an invaluable opportunity for Africa to take advantage of its diaspora and get ahead of yet another round of colonialism in the new world order. The rise of nations leveraging the diaspora and minds of its people is well evidenced by the Jewish in the development of Israel; the Indians, especially the ones in the US, spearheading the technological revolution of India; and the Chinese contributing immensely to the development of the modern China through the ‘Bamboo network’.
Africa’s leaders need not despair nor look too far for African minds committed to developing practical strategic ways to integrate existing progressive policies and to innovate. Young African leaders across the continent are a responsive catalyst ready to be leveraged in the efforts to overcome the global Covid-19 crisis.
Tim Akano, a Nigerian entrepreneur, reflecting on lessons the global lockdown has for Africa, concluded in an online article that African leaders are the only ones who have the obligation to focus on promoting the continent’s interests. Africa needs to harness its comparative advantages – people and natural assets – to shape a future that leapfrogs a traditional linear development model that condemns us to servicing the needs of others in a lopsided global economy.
I have taken the liberty of modifying the seven points he listed as “must-dos” for Africa to emerge out of this emergency stronger:
South Africa needs to take advantage of our president’s term as chair of the African Union to strengthen our continental links, not as leaders but as partners with other countries to actualise the African Free Trade Agreement.
We need to strategically leverage the unique advantage of Africa – a demographic endowment of a young population of 800 million. Investing in the talents and energies of these young people is essential to building a formidable continental platform of innovation and creative industries, as part of the restructuring of our continental economies for the 21st century in the post-coronavirus era.
This is a moment of great opportunity and we dare not let it slip through our fingers.