Today is 7th October 2020. Coronavirus has claimed more than 34 million lives. Vaccines are not in circulation yet. The negative impacts of the pandemic on economic activities will not disappear quickly. Forecasts and projections have been scary. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development projects that cross border FDI flows will plunge by 30% to 40% between 2020-2021. According to the World Bank, the baseline forecast envisions a 5.2 percent contraction in global GDP – the deepest global recession in decades.
In a former post, Investing in Africa – Covid-19, Businesses and Digitization, we confirmed that inadequacies in Africa’s workplace have been laid bare by the pandemic. However, the pandemic is not just a crisis; it is a wake-up call for Africa. What is required is new, creative thinking about how to make the continent more resilient, inclusive and dynamic as it faces new realities and new risks. Today, we will explore Africa’s dynamic responses to current challenges in the workplace and education system.
In our previous post, we explained how employers across the continent have transitioned to telecommuting, which is a work arrangement that permits employees to work from home or outside their traditional workspaces. They are using video conferencing platforms to conduct staff and client meetings. They are also adopting tech solutions that enable them to shift the bulk of their operations online.
With the exception of a few essential service providers, large organizations swiftly directed their staff in various locations to work from home. Ringier One Africa Media (ROAM), a media company with operations in eight Sub-Saharan African countries is one of those organizations. On 24th March 2020, it signaled its readiness to adjust by announcing that it required its 400 employees to work remotely, as part of its efforts to protect them from the Covid-19 virus.
Organizations are also taking advantage of Africa’s digital space by convening virtual management and shareholder meetings, in order to maintain the process of decision-making which is key to corporate governance. The United Bank for Africa Plc (UBA) is a Pan-African financial institution offering bank services to more than twenty million customers, across 1,000 business offices and customer touchpoints, in 20 African countries. On April 29 2020, UBA held its first virtual Annual General Meeting. In attendance were representatives of relevant regulatory bodies, shareholders, management and staff of the organization. Similar industry leaders like Guaranty Trust Bank Plc and FCMB Group Plc have since followed suit.
Further, businesses have adopted strategies that have allowed more staff and customers to transition from routine cash payments to online transactions. Paga, a mobile money organization with 500 employees and a presence in two African countries is one of such. On 24th March 2020, it announced strategies to reduce cash handling, in order to slow the spread of Covid-19. It adjusted its fees so that merchants can accept payments with its platform for zero fees.
Finally, with growing unemployment, more people are seeking part time freelance and gig work on the Internet. More Africans are freelancing on platforms like Fiverr, Upwork and Freelancer. Although Israeli, it is notable that Fiverr is now worth more than $5 billion. The company’s share price rose 2.16% on Wall Street on Friday to $153.01, to give a market cap of $5.34 billion. This means that its share price has risen more than sevenfold since its IPO 16 months ago.
As much as it affects the workplace, Covid-19 has had manifest implications for the education sector. UNESCO says that 9.8 million African students are experiencing disruption in their education.
In Nigeria, a few state governments (e.g. Ogun, Kwara and Lagos) have made provisions for continued learning via local television and radio. That is, following the indefinite closure of schools, as declared on 19th March 2020 by the Federal Government. This is also the case in Ivory Coast and Botswana. The University of Ghana conducts online classes and has since negotiated free internet data with telecom companies.
In Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia, universities have partnered with governments and internet service providers in order to afford students free access to select educational websites. In March, Eneza education partnered with Safaricom Plc to deliver free revision materials to Kenyan students for 60 days. Private organizations have adopted similar strategies in Egypt, Libya, Liberia, Tunisia, Morocco and South Africa.
While #WorkFromHome and #LearningNeverStops strategies are admirable, their plausibility raises important questions. That is, against a backdrop of the twin challenges we have identified many times before – power supply and internet access. In Africa, these are effectively crippling the digital solutions necessary for the period.