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Ghana: Coronavirus – the unseen enemy

News from 2020-05-14

The world is under the spell of the corona virus, the so-called ‘World War III’ without weapons is destabilising economies, claiming lives and threatening social cohesion. Ghana, the home country of Isaac Hagan – a local expert in the KfW office in Accra, located in West Africa and with a population of about 31 million people, was not spared by this enemy.The usual handshake or hug, social and business gatherings, busy roads and markets have been interrupted. The President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, has said, ‘we are not in normal times’ – we are at war – the battle is against Covid-19.

Following Ghana’s first 2 cases of imported coronavirus on 12th March 2020, the Government has implemented measures such as observing Covid-19 safety protocols and partial lockdown. During the 3 weeks’ restrictive movement, when I moved out of my apartment only twice to nearby shops to buy food items, only essential services were allowed to operate physically. Although I usually trim my hair every other week, for more than 1 month now, just like my wife and son, my eye has not seen the salon – safety first. All sectors of the economy and institutions are affected – hotels, airlines, schools, other businesses, religious and social gatherings. Many informal workers, including my sister – a hairdresser, who is now staying with us - have been lost their jobs and are living on their meagre almost exhausted savings. Even formal jobs are on the red line, projected revenues are falling, employers are cash-strapped, microfinance institutions are facing liquidity challenges, real incomes have fallen partly due to increased food prices, etc. At the market where I went with my wife to buy food items prior to the lockdown, to our surprise, some food prices like gari (usually very cheap), yam, etc. had hiked more than 100% within a short period.

Empty street and closed shops in Amman
Before Corona: colourful activity at the fish market in Takoradi.

Like all my colleagues in the KfW Office Accra, I am now working from home (WFH). At least, WFH has saved me the usual traffic jam stress while I can still deliver timely results. I have seized the opportunity to participate in an online course on ‘Supporting SMEs during Covid-19’ and intensifying family devotion. My son, who is happy to have me home all the time, prefers me to do everything for him – change diapers, bath, dress, feed him, etc. Sometimes, I have to ‘hide’ from him in order to do a work-related conference call, for example, otherwise, he will just take over the phone. As for my wife, she is happy to have extra hands at home to support with house chores and take care of our boy. With respect to KfW projects, some activities have slowed down, project timelines interrupted and partners’ response delayed. I am, nonetheless, in regular communication with our partners and being occupied with corona-related measures to help curb the effects of the pandemic.

closed shops
Isaac Hagan with son Phanuel working from home.

In the meantime, Ghana has secured a 1 billion USD interest-free loan from the IMF to help close the financing gap that has been created by the pandemic. The government has also put together a 219 million USD Coronavirus Alleviation Programme for households and businesses. This will directly benefit my family as the government provides free water as part of this package. The Central Bank of Ghana has reduced the policy rate from 16% to 14.5% and the primary reserve requirement from 10% to 8% in order to create more liquidity for the banking sector. In effect, the Ghana Association of Bankers has announced a stimulus package to support pharmaceutical, hospitality, manufacturing and services sectors. Many institutions and individuals are contributing in several ways, including donations to support the defeat of Covid-19.

The flip side of coronavirus and its consequences should also be looked at. Increased e-business, online or tele education, online churches, e-medical consultation and other social engagements have led to a new drive for expansion in digitisation. Invention and innovation are the order of the day in Ghana – automated and mobile solar hand washing machine, data from viral strain of Covid-19, local production of face masks and medical supplies, possible development of Covid-19 vaccine, etc. WFH, being new in Ghana, is interesting and discussion as to the employer liability, employee responsibility, benefits and challenges is ensuing. I have seen enhanced family bonding as a plus.

At the time of this article, Covid-19 which began in China had spread to 52 African countries, except Comoros and Lesotho, with cases of almost 32,000 and death above 1,400. Ghana’s case has risen to 1,550 infected with 11 people dead, 12 out of 16 regions are affected. The hardship that this brings on Africa has led the G-20 and other development partners to provide delayed debt repayment relief and credit to the continent. “The virus knows no borders’, as the German Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas puts it. The pandemics calls for a close international collaboration to fight the common unseen enemy, carving for ourselves a future of growth, transformation, development and prosperity.

deserted street in Amman
Empty streets in Accra – an unusual view.