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History Repeating Itself in Africa with COVID-19 Crisis

As of today, COVID-19 has killed over 135,195 people and infected over 5,066,568 people throughout Africa. 

This is a familiar story. We’ve been here before. From 2014-2016 at least 11,310 people died across West Africa in the worst Ebola outbreak on record. 

Ebola has emerged again on a smaller scale multiple times with the most recent outbreak happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in February, and an epidemic also being declared in Guinea at the same time. 

According to data from the World Health Organization in 2017, 403,000 African people died from malaria — despite the fact that malaria is treatable. 

Africa’s Vulnerability to Pandemics and Epidemics 

The majority of Africans don’t have adequate access to water, healthcare, and food because of government decisions to adopt policies pedalled by the World Bank and the IMF have decimated public services. Then there is the privatization of land across the continent, which causes land grabs that have forced displaced people into densely populated areas looking for work. 

The rise of industrialized agriculture, which has failed to keep the promise of reducing hunger, has also starved our soils of nutrients through the promotion of synthetic fertilizers. Plus, market demands on monocropping have decreased the diversity of crops necessary for a balanced and nutritional diet in our communities. 

As if this compounding devastation wasn’t egregious enough, add in a rapidly deepening climate crisis that is also causing more water shortages and droughts. Health infrastructure continues to be inadequate partly because of  a lack of political will to address the draining of resources from the African continent (illicit capital flight alone robbed Africa of an average  $88.6 billion USD between 2013 and 2015); And, on top of all of this, rising authoritarianism has criminalized communities organizing to change these conditions.

COVID-19 has deepened the severity of the crisis we as Africans are in, a crisis caused by many overlapping factors. 

Top-Down Failures 

Just as the current crises Africa faces are complex, so must be the responses. Unfortunately, there isn’t a successful track record of that — to the detriment of African lives. Crisis after crisis, aid and funding institutions have made choices that sideline and undermine effective communal response. Across the world, Black people are severely impacted by these poor decisions. International NGOs squandered millions of dollars that were intended for the Haitian people after the devastating earthquake in 2010. Four years later, a flood of funding went to international NGOs instead of going directly to community health institutions in African nations to fight Ebola. For example, hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on various top-down responses, including 11 treatment centers in Liberia built by the United States military which saw a total of 28 patients. This happened in spite of Liberian activists and health professionals call to use those funds for strengthening Libera’s strained health infrastructure, instead of building these new ebola treatment units. 

Movement Solutions

The multi-dimensional response of community health workers and institutions, who mobilized an education and treatment campaign, played a critical role in containing the Ebola outbreak in West African from 2014-2016. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached West Africa, Nous Sommes la Solution (NSS), a women-led food sovereignty movement of 500 rural women’s associations from Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ghana, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Guinea, launched into action. Some of their members who were unable to source other foods as borders were closed, resorted to eating the seed that they had saved for the next planting season. 

A member of Nous Sommes la Solution (NSS) on their rice farm.

Aware that livelihoods of these communities are tied to the food they grow, NSS rolled out a program to quickly supply communities in Burkina Faso and Senegal with – mostly rice – seed in time for the planting season. Had NSS not mobilized to support their member farmers with additional seeds, they would have been deprived of up to a year’s supply of rice upon harvest – a devastating blow. NSS’ ability to stay connected to their communities despite the pandemic made it possible for NSS to not only learn about the challenge, but also to respond quickly and efficiently.

The People for People fund is supporting movements like Nous Sommes la Solution, who are not only on the frontlines responding to crisis after crisis — but are also building transformative new economies, food sovereignty, and just climate futures. 

By Luam Kidane , Regional Director - Africa