Coronavirus: can African countries afford lockdowns?

eNitiate | Aljazeera | Coronavirus | Feature | 15 Mar 2020 -1

As the world continues to feel the devastating effects of the Coronvirus, including the latest announcements by South Africa, Kenya, Gabon, Ghana, Namibia and Morocco that travel bans are to be effected, schools closed and large gatherings banned; the question that weighs heavily on many Africans’ minds is whether African countries can afford lockdowns?

Expressed differently, will the continent be able to employ this extreme measure with success to stem the Coronavirus tide? 

eNitiate | Aljazeera | Coronavirus | 15 Mar 2020 -1

To assist with some informed input, I looked at data of top 10 African countries by latest active Facebook users.

eNitiate | Top 10 African Countries | Active Facebook Users

It is worth mentioning that I am approaching this topic specifically from a digital analytics point of view.

3 in 4 active Facebook users in Africa come from the top 10 countries. In addition, 2 in 4 Africans come from these top 10, out of a total of 55 countries (including the Western Sahara).

You can also read more about the top 10 African countries on Facebook by clicking on the RELATED POST button below.

Data points considered for this blog

I selected 4 data points extracted from the Global Digital 2020 Report to attempt to answer the question posed in the title of this blog, and they are:

  • Urbanisation; 
  • Literacy Rates;
  • Internet Penetrations; and
  • Mobile internet Speeds

It will become clear in the rest of this post why I selected the data points above.

Urbanisation can improve the ability of citizens to access health information and facilities quicker. But it is a double-edged sword.

Common practice has been that the closer people are to cities and major towns the easier it is to access amenities including health facilities. This partly explains the high urbanisation trend that Africa experiences.

Here is a graph that shows the extent of urbanisation of Africa’s top 10 countries: 

eNitiate | Global Digital Report 2020 | Africa's Top 20 | Countries by Facebook Users | Urbanisation | 15 March 2020

The global urbanisation average is 55%. Ethiopia, Kenya and Egypt are below this average.

However, the downside of urbanisation is the health hazard that comes with the overcrowding challenges resulting from inevitable unplanned urbanisation in many of Africa’s cities including Lagos – the continent’s largest city of more than 20 million people, Cairo, Nairobi and Johannesburg.

Given the need for social distancing that is helpful for minimising the spread of Coronavirus, overcrowding is certainly going to pose a health risk for many of the continent’s cities. 

Literacy is key to ensuring that disseminated written messages can be read and shared widely

I looked at both overall literacy and that of females. In Africa’s case where patriarchy is still entrenched in many societies, women tend to be the gender that gets burdened with looking after sick family members, more so than the men. 

Here is a graph that shows literacy rates of Africa’s top 10 countries: 

eNitiate | Global Digital Report 2020 | Africa's Top 20 | Countries by Facebook Users | Literacy Rates | 15 March 2020

One of the biggest challenges related to Coronavirus has been the dissemination of misinformation.

eNitiate | Aljazeera | Coronavirus | 15 Mar 2020 -5

Misinformation thrives in circumstances where literacy levels are lower. In this case, Health authorities in Ethiopia and Nigeria may battle to seed correct information effectively through the social channels, especially online. 

Internet penetrations can play an important role in the wide distribution of correct Coronavirus information

This is provided that there is access.

Here are internet access stats of Africa’s top 10 countries by Facebook users:

eNitiate | Global Digital Report 2020 | Africa's Top 20 | Countries by Facebook Users | Internet Penetrations | 15 March 2020

Of the top 10 African countries, it appears that Ethiopia may not be able to effectively leverage online media for wide distribution of Coronavirus messages due to low internet penetration.

High mobile internet speeds enhance quick and wide distribution of Coronavirus content that includes animated videos and infographs

According to allconnect, a good internet speed is minimum of 25 mbps. ‘These speeds will support most online activity, such as HD streaming, online gaming, web browsing and downloading music.’

In all the top 10 African countries, access to the internet using mobile phones is in the high 90%. 

The average global mobile internet speed is 32 Mbps. 

The graph below shows the mobile internet speeds of the top African countries.

eNitiate | Global Digital Report 2020 | Africa's Top 20 | Countries by Facebook Users | Internet Speeds | 15 March 2020

Referring to allconnect’s note about the minimum decent mobile internet speed of 25 mbps, only 3 of the top 10 countries meet this requirement. 

The implication? Many of the Coronavirus messages that are communicated using video and infographics are not reaching the intended consumers due to slow mobile internet speeds.

Back to the question: can African countries afford lockdowns?

Read individually and jointly, the 4 data points above give pointers about the ability of African countries, using the top 10 by active Facebook users as a proxy, to handle the lockdowns that seem to be one of the most effective ways to arrest the fast spread of the Coronavirus.

Based on the analysis in this blog, indications are that this extreme measure that was successfully executed by China, and is currently being tried by Iran, Italy, Spain and France; is going to be a massive challenge for a sizable number of African countries. 

eNitiate | Aljazeera | Coronavirus | 15 Mar 2020 -2
eNitiate | eNews | Coronavirus | South Africa | President Cyril Ramaphosa |15 Mar 2020 -1

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