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Africa’s economic winter, Lagos tries to shut down, China’s South Africa envoy

This story was published on our Quartz Africa Weekly newsletter, News and culture from around the continent.
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Hi, Quartz Africa readers!

It’s getting cold

Most of us have watched the slow, slow, quick, quick rate of coronavirus spread across Africa over the last fortnight. The concerns about the potential outsize impact of a viral outbreak simultaneously hitting multiple African countries are completely justified.

Even the best prepared African countries—several have had recent experience with viral outbreaks including Ebola—may still struggle because of what the World Health Organization identifies as “fragile health systems” and weak infrastructure.

As this newsletter went to press, well over a 1,000 people had been infected with the virus across nearly 40 African countries. The best we can hope for is the spread does not wreak the type of havoc as we’ve seen in some countries.

However, even if Africa somehow avoided the worst of the human toll, it’s going to be near impossible to avoid a major economic hit. Not only are African countries fully integrated into the global economy but many states are often playing a weak hand as exporters of commodities whose prices have been falling precipitously. And for those who are importing goods their currencies are losing value against the dollar in an uncertain global economy. For several countries they have both of these challenges even as international investors start to turn away from Africa to worry about the problems at home.

“The pullback from African markets as well as a projected decline in export revenues has led to depreciations of local currencies,” writes Brahima Sangafowa Coulibaly, director of Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative. “These exchange rate depreciations will push up local inflation and trigger monetary policy and financial tightening.” This means the repayments on the rising dollar debt we’ve been writing about recently will be even more difficult to cover.

The impending economic downturn has seen the UN Economic Commission for Africa estimate the continent will see growth drop to 1.8% from a previous estimate of 3.2% due to, among other things, the disruption of global supply chains and a crash in oil prices that will cost up to $65 billion in export revenues.

Brookings lowered its forecast for Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP growth in 2020 to between 1.5% to 2.5% from a previous forecast of 3.6%. Coulibaly thinks even if African governments are quick to contain the spread of the virus and global conditions stabilize, the region’s growth will decline by one percentage point. The worst case scenario of long-lasting pandemic and slow global economic recovery will see a decline of two percentage points.

Yinka Adegoke, Quartz Africa editor

Coronavirus and Africa

Africa starts to lock out the world to slow coronavirus’ spread. Governments across the continent are taking unprecedented steps to slow the spread of coronavirus. With a majority of index cases on the continent being incoming foreign travelers, African nations have imposed restrictions on travelers from countries worst affected by the outbreak.

Facebook, Twitter join African governments to dispel coronavirus misinformation. Anxiety around the growing number of African coronavirus cases is  proving fertile ground for misinformation. But, from WhatsApp bots and prison penalties to fact-checking tools, governments, with the aid of social media giants, are pushing back against misinformation.

South Africa is taking drastic steps to save its high-risk population from coronavirus. South Africa’s government is stepping up measures to combat coronavirus particularly for patients with existing health conditions. The stakes are much higher for the 7.7 million people living with HIV, explains Sarah Wild in Johannesburg.

Americans are turning to one of Africa’s most common prescribed drugs to battle coronavirus. Donald Trump’s premature declaration chloroquine have been approved for coronavirus treatment is driving interest in the drug in the US. For Africans however, a familiarity with the drug—and its side effects—have been fostered by decades of malaria treatment, Uwagbale Edward-Ekpu explains.

Africa’s largest city is trying to shut down to beat coronavirus—that’s easier said than done. Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, has announced social distancing policies including shutting down schools and banning large gatherings. But as Yomi Kazeem writes from Lagos, cultural and lifestyle nuances as well the deeply entrenched pull of religion suggest the measures will prove difficult to enforce.

Five stories from this week

Zimbabwe offers land as compensation to evicted white farmers. A controversial land reform program 20 years ago under late president Robert Mugabe saw 4,000 farmers lose ownership of their land. Through long-winded negotiations, the cash-strapped country is trying to reverse the policy, reports Farai Shawn Matiashe in Mutare, Zimbabwe.

Big infrastructure projects in Africa are great for international investors not Africans. New research shows while there is often a short-term boom with major infrastructure projects in Africa there is evidence that big infrastructure investments can exacerbate economic fragility.

Even a global pandemic won’t be enough to trigger a work-from-home revolution in Nigeria. As the threat of the coronavirus outbreak continues to grow, startups to major corporates in Nigeria will adopt work from home policies. But those plans will face serious barriers to productivity given uneven access to electricity and reliable internet.

Huawei says its surveillance tech will keep African cities safe—activists worry it’ll be misused. China’s Huawei became the dominant telecoms tech firm in Africa by working closely with governments. Yet, as Samuel Woodhams finds, a lack of regulatory safeguards and privacy legislation leaves citizens open to misuse by authoritarian-leaning governments.

How China’s South Africa ambassador became its chief US troll on Twitter.  Ambassador Lin Songtian is different from your typical Chinese diplomat, in fact he’s different from most diplomats. Since joining Twitter just seven months ago, he has made a name by criticizing US policy and president Donald Trump with a level of confidence which suggests, writes Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu, he has explicit approval from his government.

Chart of the week

The Chinese-made, sub-$100 smartphone is Africa’s fastest-growing handset. In the fourth quarter of 2019, more than half of all smartphones sold in Africa cost the owner less than $100 and was more than likely made in China. Overall, phone shipments in Africa were up 3.8% during the period.

Better, cheaper

The Dealmaker

•How the UK’s “fund of funds” influences investment financing in Africa with a long view. CDC Group, the UK’s development finance agency, is driving investment on the continent with over $1 billion committed each year to a mix of direct investments and increasingly into small to mid-sized funds, writes Dominc Dudley from London. So far this year, the agency has already committed over $80 million toVC funds including Verod Capital, Adiwale Partners, Mediterrania Capital Partners III and TLcom’s TIDE Africa Fund.

Y Combinator, the US seed accelerator, has selected 12 African startups for its latest cohort. In addition to training and pitching to investors at the end of the program, the startups will also receive $150,000 in funding in exchange for 7% equity.

•Grindstone Accelerator in South Africa received $1.5 million in investment from the SA SME Fund. The funding will see the accelerator double the number of startups accepted in its cohorts.

Quartz Membership

Fertility facts. Often, fertility has much more to do with gender and class barriers than it does with pure physiology. Obstetrician Mary Jacobson walks us through the misconceptions around infertility and how to combat them in our field guide to the business of fertility.

Other things we liked

How Sudan’s culture is starting to loosen up in a post-Bashir world. Since the success of the revolution that helped topple Sudan’s former president Omar al-Bashir there have been big changes in the culture. But as Reuters‘ Aidan Lewis finds, even as culture and fashion start to loosen up there are still many of the old challenges, particularly for women for whom many of the old restrictive Islamic laws remain on the statute books.

The problem with the chocolate industry’s supply chain. Despite several high-level agreements between buyers and suppliers of the chocolate industry, the supply chain, particularly around cocoa farms in West Africa continue to feature issues from child labor and abuse. For Africa’s A Country, Zeb Larson explores whether a radical idea to block imports from Côte d’Ivoire will start to change things for the better.


University of Cambridge Visiting Research Fellowships. The four month fellowship is seeking African candidates with expertise in any field in the social sciences, arts or humanities. (April 6)

Mandela Rhodes Scholarship. Applications for the scholarship is open to African applicants aged between 19 and 29. (April 16)

Keep your eye on

Guinea votes in referendum (Mar. 22). Even as talk of an internet shutdown looms, Guinea will be going to the polls on Sunday (Mar. 22) to vote in a constitutional referendum which could effectively enable president Alpha Condé to run for another two six-year terms.

*This brief was produced while listening to Mae Africa by Badoxa feat. Yasmine (Portugal)

Our best wishes for a productive and ideas-filled year ahead. Please send any news, comments, suggestions, ideas, advanced hand-washing tips and best wishes for Manu “Big Blow” Dibango infected with the Covid-19 virus to You can follow us on Twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day.

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