CORONAVIRUS: APRIL UPDATE:

Many words have been written about this global crisis. We have all become well acquainted with words like self-isolation, social distancing, lockdowns, herd immunity, and all those other phrases we’d never heard of just a few weeks ago.

The crucial work for us is how we prepare for the future.

We need to work out what tomorrow looks like. Our African and global economies are being trashed in order to kill off the virus but what will survive when this crisis ends?– and it will end.

Every crisis has winners as well as losers. We need to identify the likely winners, to spot the new opportunities and be ready to move quickly to nurture and grow these green shoots of recovery.

Here are just a few sectors for us to think about:

Health Sector:
We know that Africa often hosts fragile health systems that have been put under intense strain by the scale of this crisis. In some African countries, health systems have virtually collapsed under the weight of these pressures – in particular in our rural areas and informal settlements where health services barely exist.

It is has been proved that waiting for people to get sick and require hospital treatment is a false economy. Clearly preventive medicine is much more cost-effective than having sick people hospitalized and needing expensive medical care.

Governments will need to take preventative medicine much more seriously. WHO and international funding ought to be available to transform health care. The UK’s big idea after the end of the Second World War was the creation of the National Health Service to provide free healthcare for all – if African leaders could show the same level of ambition and develop basic healthcare for all it could transform the continent.

There are opportunities for companies offering distance diagnosis, drone technology to deliver drugs, and community healthcare. Companies offering nursing training and services and pharmacies will be in demand.

FinTech:
This crisis has shown the value of mobile money – cash is cumbersome compared to mobile transfer systems. Curiously although the Mpesa system is widespread in Kenya, other African countries have been much slower to take up the implementation of mobile wallets. There are opportunities to boost FinTech throughout the continent.

This vibrant sector will grow in importance. Already Visa has pumped $200million into the Nigerian Fintech company Interswitch. Chinese investors have put a further $200 million into two Nigerian FinTech companies Opay and PalmPay.

The valuations of African start-ups have been rising. In the first half of 2019, the top 15 venture capital funding rounds for African start-ups raised $286m compared to $175 million a year earlier….that a year on year growth of 60%.

It’s no surprise that many of Africa’s 640 Tech Hubs are now funded by the big tech giants like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM.

Clearly there are opportunities in this IT sector for funding and hunger for innovative new ideas.

Online Retailing:
With shopping malls suffering from the lockdown the big winners have been companies with an online presence. This crisis has seen a massive shift to online services and that will only continue and grow.

We saw how the SARS outbreak in 2003 brought the Chinese firm Alibaba to prominence. From March 2003 Alibaba’s e-commerce business added 4,000 new members a day, five times the increase over its pre-SARS rate of increase.

It supports the move towards home working which is likely to become the new normal after this lockdown. Already online platforms like Zoom and Teams have inevitably seen massive growth in usage and that is likely to become a normal part of business life.

Renewables:
The Coronavirus has taken world attention away from the massive global environmental issues. Climate Change has not gone away. And Africa is the continent most likely to suffer from the effects of climate change.

If anything the drop in global pollution levels during the lockdown has only helped populations see the benefits of clean air – do we return to our dirty polluting ways after this crisis or will the people demand a cleaner environment?

Many observers believe this could be a key change brought about by this lockdown. There ought to be opportunities for any companies offering environment solutions that will lessen the impact of Climate Change. –Renewable energy companies, clean water projects, and other environmental services ought to be in demand.

Agribusiness:
Food security has not arisen as a major worry yet – but it could so easily.

When this crisis is over there’s no reason why Africa can’t resume its bid to become the world’s breadbasket. Africa has 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land and the opportunities in this sector are massive.

There is scope for growth in this sector, including better farming technology, better husbandry, and seed selection, and a shift from subsistence to sustainable commercial farming.

Infrastructure:
Africa has almost an endless wish list of needs in this sector – everything from roads and bridges to railways and construction.

This shortfall is going to be even more important after the economic recession hastened by this crisis.

We need to put Africa back to work after this crisis and the infrastructure gap is a good place to start the recovery.

State Intervention:
This crisis has almost re-invented the importance of government. It’s become clear that when a crisis like a coronavirus strikes the private sector on its own is not enough.

Every country has needed massive government financial and logistical support.
However, the scale of the crisis has strained the capabilities of government civil servants and crisis management teams.

There ought to be opportunities for tech companies to boost new technologies to manage crises more efficiently. There are many lessons to be learned about crisis management and communications – and this will also provide opportunities for public relations companies both for government and for private entities.

Peter Burdin
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