As the Corona Pandemic runs rampage across the globe, COMESA region has, in the past three weeks started to bear the brunt of the disease with cases crossing the 1,000 mark Friday, March 27. Out of the 21 Member States, only three were yet to report any case. The region is however bracing for the worst and has taken far reaching measures to stave off the devastating effects on human lives and the aftermath of the pandemic on the regional socioeconomic infrastructure. In her statement issued early this week, Secretary General of COMESA, Chileshe Kapwepwe urged the regional
States to learn and apply best practices that have worked elsewhere in slowing down the spread of the virus.
“Our countries must brace themselves for increased disease burdens – social and financial burden of the COVID-19,” she said. “Let us mobilize
our human and financial resources and coordinate preventive measures to counter the likely spread of the pandemic.”
Already, Member States have taken various containment measures including restrictions on travel and congregational gatherings, working from home, encouraging cashless transactions, disinfecting public places, enhanced screening and intense public awareness.
In additional to health challenges expected, the SG also outlined the key economic sectors that will mostly be adversely affected by the pandemic, among them trade and investments, manufacturing and tourism. The most affected regions and countries are the major trading partners for COMESA, that is the European Union, China and the United States. Any economic slow-down in these countries have global repercussions given the
interconnectedness and fragmentations in production, trade and investments.
“The magnitude of the effects on trade and investments for African countries will depend on the sizes and economic structures as well as
characteristics of the various economies,” the SG noted. “For the big economies, the effects would be much larger owing to their stronger
interconnectedness with the rest of the world compared to smaller economies.”
In addition, more diversified economies will most likely experience less severe effects compared to low diversified ones in the wake of reduced
demand for exports and cut down in supply from import sources. Thus, commodity dependent countries in COMESA such as DR Congo and
Zambia and beyond, such as Nigeria and Ghana are likely to be hard hit by the crisis following reduced demand for copper and cobalt.
Services-oriented economies, such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Kenya where air transport services, financial services and tourism services
are relatively strong are more vulnerable, given the nature of the epidemic. The cancellation of air flights, travel bans and restriction of movements
of persons will slow down growth leading to job cuts.
As part of mitigation and post crisis recovery, the Secretary General says Central Banks in all countries should keep interest rates low to encourage private sector (including SMEs) borrowing to stimulate domestic production and consumption.
She notes: “Our governments must provide and sustain a conducive environment to private sector to expand production capacities and enhance
competitiveness and reduce over-reliance on extra-African imports even for basic commodities.”
In the meantime, COMESA remains in solidarity with its Members States as they face the greatest socioeconomic threat in living memory