Africa Has the Potential to Lead its Continent's Humanitarian Response

Social Issues

  • Author Alfred Ew Davies Jr
  • Published November 18, 2020
  • Word count 1,550

International news reports recently highlighted Africa’s success in containing the pandemic in several countries. Officials attribute the relatively low numbers to planning, technology, and the willingness of its citizens to follow recommended protective guidelines. These successful outcomes are pivotal, underscoring the continent’s ability to leverage resources to overcome a crisis in the region, such as utilizing support from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and coordinating large-scale collaboration.

Africa’s Response to the Pandemic

Wear a mask and stay home. These are two main actions Africans follow to achieve fewer Covid-19 infections and deaths per capita than most developed areas in the world. Despite reaching one million cases in August, Africa has countries that have followed the recommended guidelines and successfully contained the disease.

For instance, the Republic of Rwanda’s 12 million population had 2200 cases and eight deaths in total by August. The country’s response was swift. By following the news of the virus in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, officials prepared for the possibility of its transmission to the continent. After the first few cases, Rwanda implemented a total lockdown, closing airports, and schools. The country’s digital infrastructure also helped by allowing citizens to purchase products remotely.

Reducing physical interactions and implementing contact tracing were vital steps. Officials also integrated technology and innovation in the containment process, which is pivotal to minimizing risk. For example, medical professionals in Africa used drones to transport Covid-19 samples. Young nationals in Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo created ventilators with local supplies and materials.

The continent of Africa has experienced close to 18,500 deaths in nearly 875,000 cases. Comparatively, India has 8.9 million cases and 131,000 deaths. Hand washing points, masks, and education are necessary for continuing containment and recovery. The debate over the viability of masks in containing the virus has given way to clear data, which confirms that areas enforcing mask mandates have fewer virus infections per capita than areas not requiring masks.

The crucial role of non-government organizations (NGOs) in the battle to save African lives may cause officials to rethink the role of these groups in a coordinated response to Covid-19 and other humanitarian problems on the continent. Some areas such as Nigeria have large populations in close proximity, exacerbating risks for higher infection rates. Those nationals without proper sanitation or clean water need help. In developed countries, citizens wash their hands frequently. In other areas, some nationals cannot even take a weekly bath.

Experienced relief groups are ready to step in and assist by constructing water tanks, digging wells, building hand-washing areas, and distributing supplies. However, funding is necessary to support local and national NGOs in addressing widespread, systematic problems in Africa. The impact of meager resources and closing missions is a less robust pandemic response, which affects trade and employment, rendering many areas of the continent unliveable for the residents who call Africa home.

NGO Role in Africa

Humanitarian groups in Africa provide support in several ways, including affording access to clean water, increasing educational opportunities, and improving health care outcomes. NGOs are key to combatting widespread poverty and misfortune on the continent. For more than 25 years, these organizations have supported the population with money from aid dollars. This rapidly growing sector receives donations to support the work they perform.

Competition for money is steep, as countries such as South Africa have more than 100,000 NGO groups registered. More than 125 international NGOs operate in The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Covid-19 is one of many concurrent challenges faced by the region, which includes DRC, Southern Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR), Nigeria, Kenya, and other countries. From natural disasters to genocide, multiple issues highlight the need for monetary support for humanitarian groups.

The survival of NGO intervention is crucial, as these organizations also play a vital role in combating systemic civil and human rights abuses by fighting to bring about radical change through the courts. Unfortunately, some hard-fought victories against evictions, systemic racism, and unfair employment practices are short-lived against the tide of unrest and conflict, which forces citizens to grapple with how to survive in the current system.

Some critics call for a change to the NGO system, which sometimes gives more power to outside groups instead of government organizations or the people. However, NGOs still have an important role to play in the continent’s struggle against injustice and poverty.

Economic Impact

In 2019, a report on anti-NGO legislation noted that 11 African nations have already implemented measures to curb NGO activity, seven countries are considering such legislation or have policies pending, and six countries have had measures to restrict NGO activity tossed out by courts, rejected by politicians, or abandoned by the government. These measures seek to reverse civil rights gains, which hold the governments accountable. This trend is a part of a larger global withdrawal from democratic policies.

Veiled attempts to restrict NGOs also come in the form of legislation relating to finance, cybersecurity, and money laundering. By requiring mandatory registrations and, in some cases, frequent renewals for NGOs, countries may restrict the freedom of assembly that is inherent in a democratic society. Further, restrictions and limitations on funding from foreign sources render many NGOs incapable of meeting the overwhelming needs of African nationals.

NGOs are combating such policies by meeting with legislators, protesting, and forming coalitions. If successful, these anti-NGO policies and laws may severely impact the ability of international and local NGOs to help those in collapsing states and areas of extreme turmoil. Lack of assistance is forcing many African nationals to leave home, migrating to other countries, and continents.

African Expatriation

Expatriate numbers from DRC and other areas are staggering. According to the UN, more than 900,000 DRC refugees are living in other African countries, and more than five million are displaced within the country. In 2016, a new wave of violence and human rights abuses caused a loss of life, destruction of schools, and closure of businesses, leaving DRC citizens struggling to survive.

This outmigration trend is not new. Since 1960, the region has experienced violence and economic challenges, which prompt nationals to migrate from Africa to Europe and other continents. The post-colonial era brought immigrants from Belgium, forcing displacement from conflicts. In 1970, a strong economy in the region was sparked by exporting natural resources, such as copper, diamonds, and uranium. However, the global commodities collapse in 1973 adversely impacted the region’s economy. In 1980, the situation was dire. By 1990 genocide, war, and violent conflicts led to the forced migration of 1.2 million nationals of DRC. The region’s economy has shown steady improvement since 2003. However, challenges in the area remain.

Resurging violence, epidemics, racism, and unemployment fuel mass displacement. Refugees from DRC, Sudan, CAR, and neighbouring regions find support from NGOs. Yet, funding for international and local humanitarian organizations is limited from efforts to curtail NGO activity in Africa and struggles to control the money flowing to humanitarian organizations in the region.

Solutions to the Crisis

Major reforms require in-depth planning and focused execution, allowing nationals to offer input on the process. A five-part plan that includes collaboration among fiscally responsible national governments, investment in human development, job creation, and full integration of responsible NGOs is vital to securing a healthy, democratic, and successful region.

Investment in Human Development

Education is the key that allows global citizens to advance in the human experience. Tapping into each person’s potential begins with elevating the way that the individual views the world and his or her place in it. Preparing the region’s children and adults for professional and trade opportunities is an investment in the future of Africa.

Job Creation

Globally, employment is fueled by small businesses and large corporations. The region’s rich commodity resources are substantial incentives for large corporations to invest heavily in the area. Partnering with large businesses to bring jobs to the region will help to stabilize employment, opening possibilities for nationals to prosper. As the economy improves, small business development is essential to ensuring a robust economic outlook. Small businesses fuel growing economies by allowing creativity and innovation to thrive.

International Collaboration

Halting the violence is essential to drawing citizens home and immigrants to the region. By collaborating with international bodies and governments, DRC, CAR, Sudan, and neighbouring regions may find support to thwart terrorism and develop armed forces capable of combatting bad actors and protecting citizens.

Africa’s future rests in the ability of its citizens, government organizations, and international leaders to rethink the humanitarian response. The violence that grows out of discontent with an inability to survive must be overturned by planning major reforms, such as job creation, education, and safety. Front-line NGOs play a vital role in combating the challenges that face African nations. Experienced groups with direct access to the people hold the best chance of providing immediate support to address dire humanitarian challenges.

However, in the long-term, grassroots organizing and robust response are needed to catapult struggling nations into a new era of progress. If African nations can use technology and innovation to contain a pandemic, the continent has the capabilities to overcome its growing challenges. From raising funds to creating change, Africa’s technology, planning, and population buy-in are the seeds that may spark economic and humanitarian progress beyond national borders, through remote areas, and across the continent to usher in a new era of health and prosperity.

Alfred EW Davies JR of the Hekima Institute of Peace Studies and International Relations (HIPSIR) in Kenya, A Liberian and an experienced humanitarian Program manager and Consultant with several years of experience supporting needed populations in crisis and conflict context.

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