The third Account4COVID webinar and final for 2020 sought to shed light on the socio-economic urgency imposed by COVID-19 surrounding vulnerable groups. Participants explored the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on African economies and vulnerable groups and how civic actors are informing governments’ response and recovery efforts to ensure effective dissemination of relief to beneficiaries on the ground.
The effect of COVID-19 on African economies
Dr Gabriel Pollen, Senior Researcher at The Center for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD) and Dr Fabien Nsengiyumva, the IMF Resident Representative for Cameroon spoke about the effects of COVID-19 on African economies, drawing lessons from Zambia and Cameroon respectively. Their presentations pointed to the erosion of hard-won economic gains achieved prior to the pandemic due to the implementation of public health measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. Dr Pollen’s presentation focused primarily on the effects of public health interventions which, to some extent, have led to temporary and in some instances permanent closures of factories & workplaces, reduced work hours, and restrictions on travel. All this has brought about economic consequences for African economies including: disruption of trade flows, contraction of Africa’s trade output – due to reduction of consumer spending and weakening global demand for African products (oil, cocoa, tea, coffee, flowers, copper etc.), a decline of tourism, and rising unemployment (with some sectoral variations).
Both panelists explored possible economic strategies that might help mitigate the economic effects of COVID-19. Dr Pollen pointed to prioritizing the protection of poor, vulnerable and marginalized communities by continuing to invest heavily in health, education and social services. Dr Nsengiyumva focused his presentation on Cameroon’s economic recovery strategy which consists of applying for IMF grants such as Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT), and the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) which are designed to provide immediate debt service relief so that countries have more resources available to fight the pandemic and build back better economic, sectoral, and social systems. The IMF has attached conditions linked to these COVID-19 relief grants which governments must follow, including:
- ensuring that funds are subject to the strict budgetary procedures and controls provided by the code for transparency and good governance in PFM; governments issue semi-annual reports on COVID-19 related spending;
- commissioning an independent audit of this spending and publishing the results;
- publishing public procurement contracts and beneficial ownership information of contracting companies.
Dr Nsengiyumva noted that in the case of Cameroon, the results of all COVID-19 related contracts awarded since May 4th, including the beneficial ownership information of contracting companies, are now publicly available.
The impact of COVID-19 on the livelihoods of vulnerable groups
Marta Mumbua, The Human Rights Situation Room Coordinator at Constitution and Reform Education Consortium (CRECO), presented findings on a recent study conducted jointly with Trocaire in Kenya. Elomo Andela the Partnerships Lead at COSADER, an NGO Collective for Rural Development and Food Security in Cameroon presented on the impact of COVID-19 on Cameroon’s poor urban and rural areas based on an assessment by the Nkafu Policy Institute. Both the panelists’ presentations reported an increase in the number of girls and women, particularly from poor communities, experiencing gender-based violence (GBV) including sexual, physical, and mental abuse inflicted during school closures and stay at home orders. Their presentations highlighted how poor communities are facing severe impediments to access to basic necessities like water and healthcare, a situation that is harder for women and girls.
COSADER’s presentation particularly found that job losses and high unemployment made it increasingly difficult for poor communities to afford food; increased prices and food shortages have created a food security problem. COSADER pointed to the International Committee of the Red Cross’s (ICRC) latest report which found that refugee communities and Internally Displaced People (IDPs) particularly from the North, South-West and Far-North regions of Cameroon were amongst the most affected as they are solely dependent on donor and government provisions and, as such, they often lack access to health, food, water, sanitation as well as employment opportunities. The plight of these communities has been exacerbated by the pandemic. COSADER and other CSO networks in Cameroon are taking a more collaborative approach by seeking to engage in regular and open dialogue with the government in order to find ways to mitigate and alleviate the suffering of poor, vulnerable and marginalized communities.
CRECO’s research found that even under the Kenyan government’s funding challenges, an inclusive and cooperative strategy involving citizens and civil society organisations, would have optimized restriction measures and brought greater relief to the needy. Kenyan civil society are actively campaigning for transparency and accountability in the use of COVID-19 funds by the government. They are leading a social campaign under the hashtag #StopCovidThieves to prevent further looting of limited resources meant for providing basic services, unemployment benefits, and social welfare to poor communities.
Accountability Lab Liberia is building its COVID-19 strategies on the experiences and lessons learned from Liberia’s tragic past dealing with Ebola. Nyema Richards, the organization’s Program and Learning Director, shared lessons on how they navigated the country’s socio-economic crisis emanating from the civil war and Ebola outbreak. Richards highlighted Accountability Lab’s tactics and operations to engage with the government and hold decision-makers to account in the response to the pandemic. This list includes recruiting and training staff to collect and verify data on COVID-19 donations, using local radio and social media to fight disinformation on the virus by regularly publishing bulletin in local languages and another bulletin focused on tracking governments COVID-19 donations allocation and expenditure, as well as distributing food to poor areas. Richards also noted that the work of civic actors in Liberia is constrained by contextual challenges including weak internet connectivity, unreliable electricity supply, and difficulties in collecting and disclosing COVID-19 financial data.
Our takeaway from the webinar series
The goal of this Account4COVID webinar series was to facilitate dialogue, networking, and the exchange of ideas between civil society organizations and other change agents seeking to promote transparency, accountability and participation around COVID-19 interventions in Africa. The first webinar provided an overview of select COVID-19 related transparency initiatives across Africa, including an overview of emerging opportunities and challenges concerning demands for transparency, accountability, and participation in the use of COVID-19 related funds. In the second webinar, we learned about the strategies being employed by frontline leaders seeking to prevent COVID-19 corruption in their contexts including the use of civic tech, contracting & procurement and expenditure tracking tools. For the final webinar, we learnt about the devastating social and economic effects of the pandemic on the most vulnerable populations, as well as the instrumental and economic value of local transparency, accountability, and public participation (TAP) strategies.
As the Account4COVID initiative, we take away from this webinar series an affirmation for the importance and the need to continue convening a pan-African peer learning community for the purposes of strengthening local TAP strategies. By convening those confronting failures in public resource management, countries may be in a better position to adapt and strengthen their local TAP strategies, in particular regarding the efficient allocation of limited resources in order to build back better communities and systems of governance. We are also happy to be concluding the year with the launch of the COVID Transparency Accountability and Participation (CTAP) project, a product of the collaboration between members of the Account4Covid initiative. The overall goal of the project is to promote the tracking of COVID-19 funds with a focus on seven African Countries (Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Cameroun, Malawi) using open data platforms, advocacy and peer learning. Account4COVID will continue to move forward into 2021 building learning, knowledge exchange to strengthen advocacy for openness, transparency and accountability in public finance in Africa.