Africa widens its social safety net

The Covid-19 pandemic and its economic consequences risk pushing 40 million Africans into extreme poverty, according to the World Bank. From the start of the pandemic, governments implemented social protection measures under the leadership of the IMF and the World Bank.

It was almost a global reflex. As the Covid-19 pandemic circled the planet earlier this year, countries adopted social protection measures to mitigate the economic effects of containment devices. 125 countries around the world have thus increased the size of their social safety net, according to the World Bank. Africa was not left out with sometimes spectacular announcements. In South Africa, the country most affected by the pandemic on the continent, the government put on the table in April a general increase in social allowances for the poorest for a period of six months. To this end, it has allocated an envelope of 50 billion rand, or approximately 2.6 billion euros. However, the measure quickly proved insufficient in view of the social disaster caused by the confinement which caused the loss of two million jobs to the economy, and caused great tensions.

In Senegal, anticipating possible malnutrition problems, the government launched a rice distribution program. One hundred thousand tons for a million households. The implementation of this device was not without difficulty, leading the Minister in charge of Community Development – Mansour Faye – in a controversy about alleged embezzlement.

When the state pays the bills

In several countries, the state has chosen to pay the bills in order to relieve households. This was the case in Côte d’Ivoire. One million households have thus saved two months of water and electricity bills between April and May. In Burkina Faso, the government has spent six billion CFA francs to pay off the water bills of the poorest. Some countries have preferred the technique known as “helicopter money”, the state distributing cash without consideration to certain sections of the population. In Togo, the Novissi program makes it possible to pay, via mobile payment, 10,500 CFA francs for a man and 12,250 for a woman, each month. So far, according to official data, 580,000 people have benefited from this manna that fell from the sky. In Guinea, a total of 150,000 households have started receiving the Guinean franc equivalent of $ 25 per month.

States often combine social measures and plans to support the economy, articulating the response both on the safeguard of jobs and the preservation of purchasing power. Thus, Senegal has put in place an “economic and social resilience program” of unprecedented scope, in order to support businesses, households and the health sector with 1,000 billion CFA francs, or 1.5 billion dollars. ‘euros. In South Africa, it is an amount of 500 billion rand, or 24.6 billion euros, supposed to irrigate the economy. Côte d’Ivoire, which has increased support measures for private and public companies, has taken into account the need to help its many SMEs, with a fund of CFA 100 billion, but also the informal sector which is endowed with an envelope of an equivalent amount. All the international financial institutions like the World Bank also insist on the need to come to the aid of the informal sector. Because eight out of ten employees in Africa work informally, and these workers are usually the big forgotten of social protection.

Africa can do better

Still, these nets are still often too small. For example, the NGO Oxfam points the finger at Kenya which has cut taxes for the richest and big businesses but is not helping the poor enough even as unemployment is skyrocketing. Nigeria is also poorly ranked by Oxfam. Although President Buhari set up the first social protection system in the country’s history in 2017, the authorities did not spend enough money this year to help the poor. As a result, malnutrition and extreme poverty have exploded in the most populous of African countries. Whether in mega-cities like Lagos or in rural areas.

In general, the Covid-19 pandemic and its social consequences have dramatically widened inequalities, Oxfam alert which underlines in a report published in early October « that no country on earth has done enough to reduce inequalities ».

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