Coronavirus could kill off a third of jobs in Africa: WEF

16 April 2020 - 16:02 By Tanya Farber
Informal and formal workers alike will be hit by major job losses caused by the global pandemic.
Informal and formal workers alike will be hit by major job losses caused by the global pandemic.

A third of workers in Africa are likely to lose their jobs as the coronavirus sinks economies and changes how we live.

This is according to Elsie Kanza, head of Africa for the World Economic Forum, which took part in a live virtual press conference on Thursday afternoon alongside the WHO African Region and Africa’s arm of the Red Cross.

“Africa will face its first recession in 25 years as the economic squeeze becomes clear,” she said.

Kanza added that 80% of workers on the continent are in the informal sector, and that a third of them, as well as a third of formal-sector workers, are likely to lose their jobs.

She added: “This is too high. We also don’t know when the restrictions will be lifted and we are also seeing disruptions in food value chains.”

She said every part of the chain, from planting, to logistics of distribution, to the role of shops and restaurants, had all been disrupted.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, who heads up the WHO’s African region, said the most powerful solution for Africa was for people at grass roots level to understand the virus, how it spreads, and how to each take responsibility for preventing spread, even in the most difficult circumstances.

She said that physical distancing was very difficult in some contexts in Africa, and that “staying indoors is not possible when we take into account the size of dwellings, the size of families, and the climate”.

However, “grass roots people can feel a sense of agency in this crisis”, she said, “and I have faith that African communities can do what needs to be done, but it is our duty to help people understand in accessible and non-technical language what it is about and then support them”, she said.

Also, as many shop for food at crowded markets, protection measures such as masks become essential, as do clear instructions to practise physical distancing.

“Very strong communication about those measures is vital,” she said.

According to Dr Simon Missiri, regional director for the Red Cross in Africa, “Africans are in a way better prepared, as they know how to manage hardship. For generations, they have developed mechanisms on how to deal with such circumstances and it is our job to build on that and support them.” 

He said we cannot simply “copy and paste strategies from western countries that are not going to work in Africa”.

He said an important innovation was “volunteers going into informal settlements in their own communities to provide masks and give information that is tailor-made for that community”.

He said: “We all want to know the date for when this horrible story is over, but we just don’t know. It’s a long journey. It’s a marathon. It requires sacrifice. The other side of the equation is loss of life.”