The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged the world into the worst recession since World War II.[1] African nations – even with their low contraction and mortality rate – are suffering the most severe economic impact;[2] this is partly because Africa, prior to the pandemic grappled with baseline vulnerabilities such as corruption and poverty the implication of which is that governments and their policies were quick to trivialize issues of global concern not particular, only, to African nations. COVID-19 arrived at a moment when prospects for many African nations were promising: the continent was on track to continue its economic expansion with growth projected to rise from 2.9 percent in 2019 to 3.2 percent in 2020, and 3.5 percent in 2021;[3] also, positive projections were being reached in poverty reduction, health and technology[4]. In proffering an answer to the impact of COVID-19 on African nations, one must bear in mind that the impact of the pandemic is (will be) uneven as measures taken in African countries differ alongside its stringency. Also, adaptive capacity of nations to restrictions and lockdowns differ, and importantly, the pandemic offers Africa some opportunities especially as it relates to developing technologies that replaces in-person activities.


In the main, COVID-19 will sink African nations into a macroeconomic supply and demand shock which will arrive in three successive waves[5]. The first wave (which is already happening) will come from China through weakened trade channels and lower foreign direct investment. Least developed nations such as Zambia, Mauritania and South Sudan will be harshly hit because, unlike nations like South Africa or Ghana, they do not have alternatives to China as a buyer nor do they have viable alternatives to their commodities for sources of export. Specifically, the IMF earlier predicted South Sudan to be the fastest growing country in the world by 2020 but mainly due to oil exports to China[6]. The second wave will arrive from OECD[7] countries due to demand slump associated with the lockdown (this is in fact already happening): countries in North Africa and majority of West African economies depend on the European Union for at least 50% of their trade (exports). The third wave will come from internal demand and will be driven by disruptions in household and business spending and will particularly hit South Africa having strict confinement measures. The Continent is presently suffering severe economic fallout principally because majority of its nations are monopolistic exporters of crude oil whose price has had a historic collapse: the UN Economic Commission for Africa estimates the losses linked to the collapse of oil at USD 65 billion[8]. A cushioning measure will be diversification particularly to areas in which the world is still taking baby steps. A good example is Morocco which is now poised to generate huge revenue by leveraging on the solar potential on the deserts around it to increase electricity production.[9] Leveraging massively on technology, thermal power[10]and cogeneration[11] will mean shifting African nations from concentrating solely on crude oil, stifling the supply-demand shock as well as addressing baseline vulnerabilities (such as absence of electricity and environmental pollution) at the same time. A case of killing three birds with one stone.

Secondly, development financing in Africa, regardless of the source of revenue, will be severely disrupted. This will be worsened by unsustainable debt shock: already, Nigeria has recorded an external debt of $27.68bn due to the pandemic (the highest since the Paris Club debt in 2006).[12] The tax base of African nations continues to shrink as domestic industries lose massive revenue.[13]For example, African Airlines lost $4.4 Billion in revenue in the first three months of 2020; China, one of Africa’s biggest sources of investment and main trading partner saw its Purchasing Managers’ index hit an all-time low between January and February 2020; stock markets since February have seen the worst hit since the 2008-2009 stock market crash– as domestic and external finance sources dry up, Africa’s development will be stagnated for a very long time post-COVID-19. The best bet for African nations will be to concentrate on erasing the shock caused by the pandemic and bring economies back on track. Financing any development project in Africa Post-COVID-19 will be very difficult except development projects majorly target use of local resources with very minimal financing such as Morocco’s Desert to Power project above.  

Lastly, African nations will face food security crisis which will have lasting impacts on policies and economic responses.[14] Most African nations are net importers of basic food and crisis-induced shortages will severely impact availability. West and East Africa will be most hit: in August 2020, more than 17 million people cutting across Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Gambia and Liberia were recorded to be in critical food security situation;[15] this might grow into the worse inflation crisis ever witnessed in Africa post-COVID-19. All hope is however not lost: the Agreement on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which began on January 1, 2021 is poised to eliminate tariffs on 90% of intra-Africa goods, aid in the movement of capital and people between countries which will ultimately impact positively on food availability. The World Bank predicts an added $76 billion in income for the world through the agreement[16].


Conclusively, early reports showed that Africa’s economy is expected to be between US$349 Billion and US$643Billion smaller in 2030, than earlier pre-COVID-19 estimations; however, this might in fact not be so given many recent positive projections. The start of the AfCFTA, revenue-boosting projects that were on track in some African countries (Morocco, Kenya) pre-COVID-19, as well as some technological development which the pandemic is enabling African nations leverage on. For example, Nigeria already began talks on developing its E-sports sector, also, technologies bridging in-person activities are increasingly being developed in the education sector in almost all African nations. COVID-19 is a crisis that has shown our vulnerability as a Continent, however, this pandemic will end, but the future of Africa’s economy, commerce, contracts and legal responses depend on learning its lessons.


Susan Chioma Omeh is currently a final year law student at the University of Nigeria. She is particularly interested in areas of law touching on non-traditional legal ideas. These include Intellectual Property Law, Data Protection, Energy law, Tech law as well as Corporate Finance, and Investments. She is an award-winning writer and enjoys providing solutions either through volunteering, writing for competitions or entering into public speaking competitions. These aside, she enjoys the drama stage.

PHONE NUMBER: 08137858749



[1]The World Bank, “COVID-19 to Plunge Global Economy into Worst Recession since World War II” (World Bank June 2020) <https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2020/06/08/covid-19-t0-plunge-global-economy-into-worst-recession-since-world-war-ii> Accessed January 2021


[3]World Economic Situation and Prospects 2020, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN, May 2020) <https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/world-economic-situation-and-prospects-wesp-mid-2020-report.html> Accessed December 2020

[4]OECD, “OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus: COVID-19 and Africa” (OECD, May 2020) <www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/covid-19-and-africa-socio-economic-implications-and-policy-responses-96e1b282/> Accessed December 2020


[6]About 98% of its total exports are to China. See “OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus: COVID-19 and Africa” (OECD, May 2020) <www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/covid-19-and-africa-socio-economic-implications-and-policy-responses-96e1b282/> Accessed December 2020

[7]The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

[8]ECA, “ Economic Impact of the COVID-19 on Africa” (ECA 2020) <http://www.uneca.org/sites/default/files/uploaded-documents/stories/eca_analysis_covid-19_macroeconomiceffects.pdf> Accessed December 2020

[9]Luchelle Feukeng, “Morocco: Ongoing discussions with AFDB on implementing ‘Desert to Power’ “, (Afrik 21, 2019) <www.google.com/amp/s/www.afrik21.africa/en/morocco/-ongoing-discussions-with-afdb-on-implementing-desert-to-power/amp/> Accessed January 2021

[10]Power produced from steams emanating from below the Earth’s surface

[11] A processin which heat escaping from powerplant or industrial process is used to generate electricity

[12]Proshare Content, “Coronanomics (14) – Nigeria’s Debt Profile -Swimming in Deep Waters” (Proshare, June 2020) <www.proshareng.com/news/Nigeria%20Economy/Coronanomics–14—-Nigeria-s-Debt-Profile—Swimming-in-Deep-Waters/51705> Accessed January 2021

[13]OECD, “OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus: COVID-19 and Africa” (OECD, May 2020) <www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/covid-19-and-africa-socio-economic-implications-and-policy-responses-96e1b282/> Accessed December 2020

[14]OECD, “OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus: COVID-19 and Africa” (OECD, May 2020) <www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/covid-19-and-africa-socio-economic-implications-and-policy-responses-96e1b282/> Accessed December 2020


[16]Amanda Shendruk, “The World’s Largest Free Trade Area Starts up on January 1, 2021” (Quartz, December 31, 2020 <https://qz.com/1951523/what-is-the-african-continental-free-trade-area-afcfta/amp/> Accessed January 2021