COVID-19: A Blessing to Africa’s Scientific and Technological Progress

By Tazoacha Francis

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic situation has been unique in Africa and is reshaping various aspects of African society. Though many see the pandemic as a catastrophe in different spheres; others have seen it as a blessing. In fact, the pandemic has come to awaken the sleeping giant in African scientific and technological realm.

Since independence, African countries have been interested in making political gains, often against scientific and technological development and economic growth. Today, with the emergence of COVID-19, African countries are putting some sort of controls on politics where appropriate to flourish science and research in the management of the health care crises due to pandemic. Therefore, there is an increased appreciation of research by decision-makers in response to the current disasters. This has, therefore, proven that an evidence-based approach to public policy and actions can be effective across the domain.

The pandemic has today again proven that policies informed by the knowledge that are produced in this way are important roadmaps to offshoot much-needed impact in Africa’s development. This can be illustrated by the Made-in-Rwanda-Policy, which is being encouraged in Rwanda that enables local knowledge to be integrated into the country’s knowledge base and development activities. The country has set up a research facility to collate the efficiency of local knowledge around medicinal plants, allowing its national health systems to draw from local information and experience. While this is still embryonic, and its success has not been fully documented, discussions with Rwanda’s investors under the Knowledge Systems Innovation study designate that this has enabled affordable and locally grounded health solutions to be developed.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 experience equally demonstrates the dire need to strengthen the bonds between research and innovation in Africa. Existing research systems – for example, medical research centers and Centers for Disease Control – have produced a great deal of information on the best ways of responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, for example on the protective equipment and data that are needed. In line with this evidence, many small businesses, entrepreneurs, and community-based organizations are being innovative – producing COVID-19 preventive kits such as face masks, ventilators, and hand-washing machines that are affordable for poor people. This has gone a long way to mitigate the spread of the disease in poor areas.

New livelihood opportunities and capabilities have also arisen from such technological modernization initiatives. Some explicit examples of the COVID-19 related innovations in Africa were displayed during a simulated session of African pacesetters in the face of Covid-19, organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 20 May 2020. These included creative solutions from Ghana on developing a three-wheeled medical ambulance to supply medical needs in hard-to-access rural communities; response kits developed in other African countries, including South Africa, Kenya, Guinea, and elsewhere; and attempts to develop indigenous cures, such as an organic tonic in Madagascar, Archbishop Samuel Kleda’s herbal cure for COVID-19 and many other solutions.

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Tazoacha Francis is the Director of Peace & Security at the Nkafu Policy Institute. His areas of expertise ranges from Peace-building, Conflict Resolution, Governance and Democracy.