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Coronavirus: What African Countries are Doing to Help People to Eat Amid the Lockdowns

Stuck at home because of the lockdown, 25-year-old Ugandan Richard Kabanda is worried about feeding his family.

The motorbike taxi driver, who used to earn about $2 (£1.60) a day, has had no work since the government banned public transport last month as part of measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“We are going to die because there is nothing we can do,” he told the BBC from his house, which is in a slum, close to the swamps by Lake Victoria.

“We are going to die inside our homes because we will run out of food yet we’ve been told not to leave our homes.”

How to balance lives with livelihoods

Once his savings had run out, he had hoped to benefit from a food distribution programme that the government promised to 1.5 million of those most in need.

His experience was typical of the more than four out of five African workers who survive day-to-day in the informal sector and have no access to state assistance.

African governments, including Uganda’s, are now facing a policy conundrum.

Stall holders in Uganda's capital, Kampala, were asked to sleep with their produce during the lockdown to prevent them moving around
Stall holders in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, were asked to sleep with their produce during the lockdown to prevent them moving around

Many acted swiftly with lockdowns or restrictions on movement as the spectre of coronavirus approached the continent. But the authorities are also aware of the toll these measures are taking on their citizens.

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They are now grappling with how to move into the next phase of how to contain the virus and restart the economy.

“Getting the balance right between people’s lives and livelihoods is the big trick for poorer countries,” said Ronak Gopaldas, director of the South Africa-based risk management company, Signal Risk.

“If people don’t work, they don’t eat. Ongoing lockdowns are unsustainable in their current forms.”

People in the informal sector make up more the 80% of the workforce across the continent
People in the informal sector make up more the 80% of the workforce across the continent

Few African countries have social safety nets to catch people if they lose their jobs.

The precarious existence for those workers in the informal sector, and the large numbers of relatives who rely on them, means that the halting of economic activity could spell disaster.

So what are African governments doing to cushion their citizens from the impact of unemployment?

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Written by How Africa

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