To many, the question of how a single threat can spiral into a global crisis that challenges global governance, economic stability and human existence remains unanswered. Humans are forced to a new normal.  A new normal  of overlapping shocks –  inequality, hunger, insecurity, climate change, coronavirus – a world of converging risks.  

The global climate movement has long warned about the devastating potential of climate change, alluding to how it might rattle our systems to breaking point. But few could have expected that the cracks in our institutions would reveal so soon, let alone on a global scale.

If there is one thing that all pandemics have in common, it is that they hit the poorest and the most vulnerable the hardest. They act as threat multipliers, forcing the middle class downward, poor households to extreme poverty, and those living in extreme poverty to survive if they can or perish if they must. We can consider the coronavirus crisis as a performance test on our institutions, beaming light on their vulnerabilities and the urgent need to build resilience. 

In Africa where many countries still contend with high levels of illnesses almost unknown in developed countries like malaria, tuberculosis, and typhoid, it is only dreary to imagine the impact of a global pandemic like coronavirus, considering the fact that other problems still exist –  problems – extreme poverty across the continent, locust swarm in East Africa, water crisis in south Africa, Terrorism in the lake Chad, and unemployment painting urban cities black. 

This is not to say Africa has given in to playing victim completely, as countries like Senegal, Madagascar, Ghana and South Africa are leading an aggressive response to the virus. Senegal’s Institut Pasteur de Dakar has designed a $1.00 quick diagnostic testing kit that delivers result in 10 minutes and a 3D printed ventilator that costs $60.00 against the imported one that would normally cost $16,000. 

Ghana has implored drone technology to speed up testing,  Madagascar has developed and even started exporting a clinically-tested herbal solution and South Africa is offering social reliefs, food assistance and financial stimulus. This is commendable.

The Role of the Government

The government was structured to be a social-welfare organization that should work for the benefit of the common people with no motive of maximizing profit. The result? reduction in slacks in any of our systems; we stay prepared for shocks, protect lives and save livelihoods. 

Unfortunately, a borrowing culture, import-dependent economy, corruption and obsolete ways of doing things has left both the government and citizens begging for palliatives. 

This forces me and 85% of Africans who live under $5.5 dollar per day  to question the foundation upon which democratic governance is built – the social contract. Thomas Hobbes famously said that in a “state of nature”, human life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”, and to avoid this, free men agree with each other to establish a political community, through a social contract in which they all gain security in return for subjecting themselves to an absolute sovereign, one man or an assembly of men – the government. 

It is thus only normal to ask what then happens when the government fails to deliver on their own part of the contract?. When citizens are forced to sit at home hungry and vulnerable to a pandemic.  Countries like Nigeria are beginning to provide an answer to this question, as citizens defy lockdown orders to work, protest and defend their communities from robbery attacks. Social disobedience and upheaval becomes inevitable. 

Building Climate Resilience In Africa

Despite the coronavirus and lockdown, residents of Northern India have for the first time in decades, found healing in viewing the Himalayas from over a 200km distance, as the skies are clearer and air cleaner. 

Yet, there are worries that these emission declines, caused by coronavirus, might be short-lived and have little impact on the concentrations of carbon dioxide that have accumulated in the atmosphere over decades, especially if we go back to our old carbon-intensive ways of doing things. 

In the aftermath of the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, greenhouse gas emissions shot back up by 5.1% even though there was an initial dip, and this pattern of a swift rebound has already begun to play out in China, where emissions fell by about 25% as the country closed factories and put in place strict measures on people’s movement to contain the coronavirus, but have since returned to a normal range. 

This leaves us to two important lessons: First, a carbon-neutral world is possible. Secondly, it will take a structural change and collective effort to achieve, which the coronavirus has shown is possible.  

Just like the emergence of the coronavirus,  steeper and more frequent global shocks are in store, particularly without serious climate change mitigation efforts, but we can flatten the curve on climate change too. And this starts now, by asking questions, especially about Africa’s Post-recovery plans. 

Are the socio-economic recovery plans within minimum carbon-emission levels? Does it incorporate a transition to a low-carbon future? Are there plans to build more resilient institutions, taking lessons from coronavirus?  or it will be business as usual?. 

The 2019 UNEP annual Emissions Gap Report states that emissions would have to start falling by an average of 7.6% per year to give the world a viable chance of limiting the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5C.

Post-covid, Africa will need to focus on investment in green technology, climate-smart agriculture and resilient infrastructure, reforestation instead of land clearances, divesting from coal and embracing renewable energy, and become more involved in climate negotiations –  ensure well-written rules concerning Paris Agreement Article 6, hold defaulting/developed countries accountable and push them to scale up their commitments – financing that reaches the minimum $100 billion/year pledge, and more ambitious targets that will help Africa not only build resilience but also support mitigation efforts.

On the macroscale, Government will have to scale up commitment to Universal Health Coverage, criminalize corruption and improve justice systems. They will also have to priotize redistribution of wealth and creation of an active middle-class population, while also committing to building stronger institutions that will be founded on self-sufficiency and service to all.

If the government fails yet again, it will take more than a miracle to prevent a much deeper economic, social and political turmoil, that will be paid for with the lives and livelihoods of millions, maybe billions. 

Coronavirus is the first of many pandemics, even in this decade, and whether we will repeat current patterns of mismanagement and abuse, or chart a more proactive and resilient course through the risks that lie ahead is a crucial decision for us to make.