|2024 Social Policy in Africa Conference|
The SARS-CoV-2 virus unleashed a global (Covid-19) pandemic.
As of April 2023, the total global confirmed cases of infection were 762,790,388, and the total global confirmed deaths were 6,897,012. At the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the predictions for Africa were dire. The predictions turned out to be exaggerated. The confirmed infection in Africa was 5,382,790 by 14 April 2023, and the confirmed fatality was 140,681. Against a global population share of 16.72 per cent in April 2023, Africa’s infection share was 0.7 per cent, and the share of the death rate was 2.04 per cent. However, these figures hide substantial regional and national variations. South Africa alone accounted for 75.66 per cent of infections and 72.93 per cent of fatalities.
Similarly, the impact of the pandemic on Africa’s economies varied. With the widespread national lockdown measures, South Africa’s GDP contracted by 16 per cent in the first and second quarters of 2020, with an annualised growth rate of -51 per cent. Nigeria’s economy contracted by 6.1 per cent in the second quarter of 2020—the steepest decline in 10 years—aggravated by a sharp decline in oil prices, its primary foreign exchange earner. Unemployment increased to 27 per cent. In Kenya, while the economy contracted by only 1.5 per cent, unemployment doubled to 10.4 per cent in the second quarter of 2020. Average working hours declined from 50 to 38 hours per week. A third of household-run businesses were not operating, with revenue falling 50 per cent.
From the complete dependence on import for testing equipment to the absence of any vaccine project, the pandemic laid bare the adverse impact of four decades of the retrenchment of Africa’s developmental projects and investment in national systems of innovation.
The impact of the pandemic was most severe at the level of households. With the informal economy accounting for 85 per cent of employment in sub-Saharan Africa, most households depend on daily revenue intakes, severely impacted by public health mitigation measures, including restrictions on movements. Lay-offs in the formal sector compounded the livelihood impact. These had severe gender dimensions.
The livelihood shock that the Covid-19 pandemic produced has had different degrees of impact on the population depending on the pre-pandemic social policy architecture in place, with the post-adjustment period segregated social protection system that rely on social registers (targeting databases) on the one end of the continuum and the Mauritian welfare system at the other end of the continuum. To what extent did the Covid pandemic expose the limitations of stratified, segmented and segregated social policy architecture in place? To what extent did the more universalist social policy regime provide adequate responses to the health and livelihood impact of the pandemic?
To what extent have experiences of the strengths and weaknesses of the pre-pandemic social policy architecture inspired critical debate and reflections in the post-pandemic period? What are the post-pandemic options for social policy reforms under consideration in the different African countries? Indeed, has there been any introspection of the strengths and weaknesses of pre-pandemic social policy designs or have countries simply ‘moved on’?
These questions are particularly pertinent considering the socio-economic conditions in the post-pandemic period. While economic activities have recovered, several countries are faced with rising levels of inflation, cost of living distress, fiscal constraints, and, in several cases, rising debt distress. In several cases, there has been a return to austerity measures that adversely impact different social policy domains. To what extent are these post-pandemic conditions adversely affecting the feasibility of a more inclusive and equitable social policy architecture?
Conference Call Document and Thematic Areas
Panel Proposal Submission