Covid-19 and The Great Reset – Implications for Africa
By Karen Sugahara
Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic on the 11th of March 2020, the disease has caused socio-economic havoc across the globe. Pressing is the magnification of existing inequalities between the haves and have not’s – both at the micro and macro-economic level. Critically, sectors including health, education and employment have been hard hit by the pandemic. These inequalities have been evident in all these sectors. For example, hospitals have lacked the required facilities to equally handle the pandemic, millions have lost jobs while the education sector has exposed the existing and existential inequalities. As African countries grapple with the detrimental pandemic, most will suffer worse consequences, as external debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratios increase to more than 100% as states try to cushion their economies against the effects of the pandemic.
Leaders, experts and stakeholders have identified a well overdue, yet critical opportunity presented by COVID-19. The existing socio-economic systems in place have revealed the need for what the World Economic Forum (WEF) refers to as The Great Reset, as systems around the world are demanding more resilient, inclusive and sustainable social, economic and environmental infrastructures. Conventional methods of determining economic progress such as GDP have become irrelevant as capitalism, and now COVID-19, have exasperated poverty and inequality even amongst economic giants such as the United States (US).
Hence, the question that arises is what does the Great Reset mean for the African continent? Many of the inefficiencies and inadequacies experienced by African states have existed long before the arrival of COVID-19. As a relatively inexperienced continent, sustainable development has long been a debatable topic of discussion. Institutions such as the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have pursued neo-liberal models of economic and political reform as seen in the structural adjustment programs (SAP’s) and various donor conditionalities they lay out – whose effectiveness can be questioned and have been criticized for advancing the interest of the elites and private corporations at the expense of the bottom billion. Additionally, democracy in the face of the continent looks much different than in other parts of the world. Africa has forged its unique yet complicated facet of democracy, which more times than not, proves true democracy is still yet to be achieved.
Discussions to be held at the 2021 WEF meeting in Davos is to reflect on the effects of COVID-19 on economies of the world, and to further discuss the solutions to the problems faced. Klaus Schwab, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the WEF writes on redefining social constructs, working towards our responsibility to the next generation by looking into the 4th Industrial Revolution for possible solutions and the defining role of the private sector in an ever interconnected world. Some concepts such as universal healthcare and social safety nets in African socio-economics is a critical scope to explore considering the rapid rise in population. However, effective governance, fiscal sustainability, political and economic resilience are all aspects at the base to ponder on before the consideration of such progressive and new systems for this young continent. Africa must critically introspect into what opportunity COVID-19 presents uniquely for the continent, away from the typically imperialist nature of such global pandemics. Ultimately, in redefining social structures, systems and socio-political landscapes, states must mold ways of furthering African agency amidst it’s unique history and experience.
Karen Sugahara is an International Relations student at the Unites States International University – Africa (USIU-Africa), concentrating in Development Studies. Her interests are in international and sustainable development.