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COVID -19’s impact on the livelihoods of informal traders in Zimbabwe

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The measures of halting the COVID-19 epidemic have landed a heavy blow on the informal sector of Zimbabwe. The COVID -19 pandemic has posed live threats and also a severe economic shock. The Worldometer reported that, to date, 216 countries have been affected by the COVID-19. Of note, there are approximately 7,872,620 confirmed cases, and death neared 432,475 globally. The informal markets around the globe have not been spared and specifically Africa. Noteworthy, the International Monetary Fund (2018) argued that Africa possesses the most significant informal economy. Likewise, the majority of Zimbabweans livelihoods depend on the informal sector.  The negative economic impact rises simultaneously as the countries scramble to curtail the deadly disease. Against this backdrop, the mitigation measures imposed by some countries have, however, left some communities and families in a difficult situation. Zimbabwe is one of the countries that embarked on robust measures to curtain the disease. For instance, it issued a decree that people must stay at home; however, no meaningful policies, tax relief, or financial bailout were put in place to protect the marginalized and informal traders’ livelihoods. However, the majority of households in Zimbabwe are impoverished and survive on hand to mouth.Zimbabwe failed to provide stimulus packages to cushion the informal businesses and informal traders’ livelihoods.

The meltdown of the Zimbabwean economy and the rise of the informal sector

Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown and political turmoil emerged around 2000. The rampant and violent land reform program crippled the agriculture sector, which was once the backbone of the economy. Additionally, the imposition of sanctions by the US and the EU in 2003 and 2004 further strained the already fragile economy. The Southern African country continues to face poor governance, corruption, low level of investment, high level of unemployment, drought, shortages of essential commodities, an unjustified increase of primary products, and other challenges. As such, it became a fertile ground for the booming of the informal sector and shrinking of the formal area. The manufacturing, textile, and clothing industries collapsed. Recently, almost 90% of Zimbabweans worked in the informal sector, such as trading and self-employment.

Further, some Zimbabweans who are formally employed are indirectly involved in informal part-time jobs to supplement the low salaries. For instance, some are cross border traders. The majority of the Zimbabweans are living below the poverty datum line and require urgent food assistance. Zimbabwe is also experiencing large scale electricity outages. On top of all these challenges, Zimbabwe, like all other countries, is faced with the COVID -19 epidemic. Amidst of these crises, the government placed mitigation measures like lockdown. At the time of this writing, the formal markets were not allowed to operate except those that sell foodstuffs. Zimbabwe was on level 2 of lockdown, but schools, universities, the movement of people, and  large gatherings, was still restricted.

Impact of COVID -19 control measures on the livelihood of the informal traders

Bouey (2020) reveals that informal businesses are the engine of the economy in most countries. Like any pandemic, the lowest-paid workers and informal traders are likely to be more affected economically. The informal traders are affected because they are neither able to work remotely or possess savings to cater to an economic downturn. Most African governments usually shut down informal markets by force during global pandemics. For instance, the Zambia government employed military force to shut down informal markets amid the 2018 cholera outbreak. Farmers and informal traders lost their fresh produce, and their livelihoods were crippled. The bulk of the informal traders lacked proper shelter, food among other necessities. During the Ebola outbreak 2014-15 in Liberia and Sierra Leone, most households required economic support as the government shut down the informal markets. The World Food Program Analysis reported that restrictions and market closure in Central and West Africa negatively affected 80% of smallholder farmers and informal traders. In the same vein, the Al Jazeera (2020) noted that containment measures ushered economic hardship to casual workers in Kenya, yet they constitute 83.6% of the whole workforce.

Most informal workplaces are still closed as the government has set up some minimum requirements for a workplace to open. Most of the informal traders cannot afford requirements set by Zimbabwean authorities. Over-congested informal markets such as Mbare Siyaso, Mupedzanhamo Market, 4th Street, Glenview Area 8 Furniture Complex, and Gazaland lack supporting structures, water, and sanitation. These areas are threats of spreading the COVID -19 pandemic. The measures imposed by authorities are almost impossible as the government fails to provide the supporting structures to their citizens such as stable water supplies. Resultantly, after two months of no income, most informal traders are mired in absolute poverty. While this might be the case, the poor are further marginalized. Most vulnerable families are further exposed to poverty, reduced access to health care, and missed meals for children. Evans (2020) denoted that the economic impacts of COVID-19 have a drastic effect on the well-being of communities and families.

Informal traders face dual contests both on supply and demand sides. Some informal traders have no option except to stay home with their children as schools and movements is restricted. Moreover, the supply chain is profoundly affected, resulting in a lack of parts of intermediate goods. There was a sudden loss of revenue and demand for informal traders and SMEs. Their ability to function was hindered, contributing to liquidity shortages. Fear and uncertainty were caused by lost income as consumers were laid off by their employers who were no longer able to pay them.  The direct impact of the shutdown is the decreased level of the output of most economies. The consumer’s expenditure dropped, the decline in GDP, reduced demand for goods and services. According to the international labor organization, COVID-19 could contribute to increased unemployment by up to 24.7 million. Most informal traders are struggling to pay rentals, electricity, and water. Worse, the authorities destroyed some illegal structures of the informal traders as a measure of containing COVID-19 without first considering the consequences as far as the livelihoods of informal traders are concerned. The probability of resuming business by many informal traders is very slim.

The impact of COVID-19 is severe to informal sector of Zimbabwe attributed to lower resilient levels. It shall be a struggle for informal traders to rebuild connections with their former networks as the supply chain has disrupted. Most informal traders, due to their size and financial capacity, lack adequate knowledge to lighten the shocks, lack flexibility resilience of withholding shocks. Most require the latest adopting strategies and technology as well as digitization, lack personal protective equipment (PPEs), such as hand sanitizers and masks, because of their irregular and insecure incomes.

On a positive note, fresh markets have been allowed to operate, including Mbare Fresh Market, Sakubva Fresh Market, among others. The informal traders’ organizations also embarked on a massive program to mobilize resources. As such, some informal traders received materials such as sanitizers and masks throughout the country. However, some informal traders did not benefit from this program. Moreover, the demand for fresh produce has dropped because of reduced travel and decreased human traffic. Resultantly, income could be low, and women might be affected more since they make up a significant percentage of the informal traders. Some informal traders have resorted to operating from their home, raising hygienic concerns, which might contribute to the outbreak of the COVID -19 epidemic. Currently, some informal traders have flooded the streets of Harare after two months of no income since the announcement of a decree that ordered all people to stay home.

 The government of Zimbabwe should develop long-term solutions for a future pandemic to minimize the adverse effects on informal traders’ livelihoods.  A careful tailor-made strategy to accommodate all Zimbabweans should substitute a one–size– fit all approach.

The government challenged to be proactive in the mitigation of the adverse impact on the informal sector. A stimulus package is required to cushion the informal economy. Prioritization and efficiency of expenditures are urgently needed. Authorities must come up with a way of assisting the affected informal traders in a fair and non-politicized manner. The Zimbabwe government should draw lessons from other countries and strengthen its safety nets, such as subsidized health and cash transfers. Namibia has come up with social safety net policies to cushion the informal sector. For example, it has come up with an emergency income grant for all workers who lost jobs. On the same stem, South Africa and Rwanda have taken bold steps to protect their economies, such as some packages for the poor. Kenyan officials have also accepted a pay cut. The government should prioritize the provision of essential goods and services such as mealie meal sanitation and water to all residential areas. Long queues undermine the curtail measures and might contribute to the time bomb of the COVID-19.

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Africa

African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter

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The crisis in northern Ethiopia has resulted in millions of people in need of emergency assistance and protection. © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

A group of African intellectuals says in an open letter that it is appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia. The letter, signed by 58 people, says the African Union’s lack of effective engagement in the crisis is deplorable. The letter calls on regional bloc IGAD and the AU to “proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict”.

The letter also asks for “all possible political support” for the AU’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose appointment was announced on August 26, 2021. A United Nations Security Council meeting on the same day welcomed the former Nigerian president’s appointment.

Earlier in August 2021, UN  chief Antonio Guterres appealed for a ceasefire, unrestricted aid access and an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. He told the council these steps were essential to preserve Ethiopia’s unity and the stability of the region and to ease the humanitarian crisis. He said that he had been in close contact with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had received a letter from the leader of the Tigray region in response to his appeal. “The UN is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue,” he said.

August 26, 2021 was only the second time during the conflict that the council held a public meeting to discuss the situation. Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and the United States requested the session.

Fighting between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front broke out in November 2020, leaving millions facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.

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Africa: The G20 Must Recommit to Covax

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It is one year since the international community gave its backing to the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) facility to lead a worldwide effort to end the acute phase of the pandemic. The initiative aimed to ensure that every country, and not just those with sufficient money or resources, could access life-saving vaccines once they became available. As G20 health ministers prepare to meet in Rome on September 5-6, they are in a position to ensure that COVAX fulfills its mission.

A year ago, no one knew when or even if it might be possible to develop a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19, let alone the 20 that are available today. But since making its first international deliveries in February, COVAX a partnership established by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance has delivered more than 235 million vaccine doses to 139 countries, and expects to deliver another billion doses in the fourth quarter. Only China, India, and the United States have delivered more. This start to the largest and most complex vaccine rollout in history has given hope to millions of people and laid solid foundations for how we respond to future pandemics.

Yet, so much more could, and should, have been achieved by now. It is unacceptable that only 1.8% of people in low-income countries have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 82% in high- and upper-middle-income countries. This shocking inequality is as economically senseless as it is destructive to human life, with the latest estimate of the cost of the slow rollout amounting to $2.3 trillion.

The world was woefully unprepared for a pandemic, and this is reflected in the challenges COVAX has faced. By the time initial funding arrived, wealthy countries had already locked up early vaccine supplies. Export bans affecting key suppliers, and difficulties experienced by many manufacturers in scaling up production to the required level, also undermined COVAX’s ability to access doses early.

Given increasing global vaccine inequity and the rise of new, more contagious coronavirus variants, we must put these challenges behind us. Thanks to the support of almost all G20 governments, alongside that of foundations and private businesses, COVAX has now raised nearly $10 billion and secured more than 600 million donated doses. All the preparations are in place for the most comprehensive vaccination effort that the world has seen.

Based on the committed orders COVAX has placed with vaccine manufacturers and the additional donations, hundreds of millions of new doses should now be available each month. We need to make sure they reach poorer countries and get into people’s arms. To avoid further delays, and for the facility to succeed, we need support from G20 leaders in four key areas.

First, we need doses, and we need them now. The premise of COVAX was always that the facility should be able to negotiate and buy its own doses. With our early vaccine access compromised, donations have played a vital role in maintaining our ability to keep doses flowing to those most in need. Of the 600 million doses pledged to COVAX to date, 100 million have now been delivered. We need more, and soon, with longer shelf lives and greater certainty so that recipient countries have time to plan their rollout. This can be achieved without jeopardizing high-income countries’ national vaccination efforts.

We also need G20 leaders to support our call for transparency. COVAX has legally binding agreements with manufacturers for more than four billion doses, but has all too often faced delays in accessing them. Without greater clarity regarding firms’ order books, it is impossible to know whether these holdups are due to production challenges or preferential treatment for bilateral arrangements. Insisting that manufacturers are transparent about their order timelines can ensure a level playing field where no one particularly those living in developing countries gets bumped to the back of the vaccine queue because of another bilateral deal.

In addition to ensuring that manufacturers keep their commitment to COVAX, governments should make global vaccine access their highest priority. Countries with pending orders for doses that they currently do not need should allow COVAX to take their place in the queue so that we can get doses to needy countries now.

Finally, lower-income countries require continued financial and technical support for their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. Strengthening national health systems will help these countries to ensure delivery of doses and mitigate the pandemic’s secondary effects, and will leave in place infrastructure critical to future global health security.

By recommitting to COVAX, G20 leaders will recommit to a multilateral solution that builds on the astounding scientific progress of the past year. Based on COVAX’s latest forthcoming supply forecast, when topped up with doses through bilateral deals, equitable COVID-19 vaccine access can protect up to 60% of the adult population in 91 lower-income countries. This would represent a huge step toward the WHO target of 70%, which is needed to suppress the coronavirus everywhere, and COVAX represents the best opportunity to achieve it.

Failure would mean more lives lost, broken health-care systems, even deadlier and more transmissible variants, and a pandemic with no end in sight. The G20 must not allow that to be an option.

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More African Countries Register Russia’s Sputnik Vaccine

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Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is a specialized technical institution of the African Union (AU) that strengthens the capacity and capability of Africa’s public health institutions as well as partnerships to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks, based on data-driven interventions and programmes.

During the outbreak of the coronavirus, the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), was established by African Union, as a component in support of the Africa Vaccine Strategy and was endorsed by the AU Bureau of Heads of State and Government on 20th of August 2020.

Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), has emphasized: “Africa has to team up with development partners to achieve its 60% continent-wide vaccination in the next two years. I think that is why we should as a collective of the continent, and of course, in partnership with the developed world make sure that Africa has a timely access to vaccines to meet our vaccination targets.”

An official media release in February 2021, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team from the African Union (AU) informed that Russia would supply and deliver 300 million Sputnik V vaccines to Africa. That step was intended to support African countries to attain their targeted immunization of 60% of the population by the year-end. That vaccine story disappeared, but instead what become so common is the speedy registration of Sputnik V on bilateral basis in various African countries.

According to the latest, Nigeria has become the 68th country in the world to approve the Russian vaccine. The use of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine has been approved in Nigeria, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said in an official statement.

“The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund) announces the approval of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine against coronavirus by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control of Nigeria (NAFDAC). Nigeria has become the 68th country in the world to approve the Russian vaccine. Total population of all countries, where Sputnik V is approved for use, now exceeds 3.7 billion people, which is nearly half of the global population,” the statement said.

“Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa, and the approval of Sputnik V will provide for using one of the safest and most effective vaccines in the world. Sputnik V is based on a proven human adenoviral vectors platform and is successfully used in over 50 countries. Approval in Nigeria will make an important contribution to the country’s fight against the pandemic,” CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) Kirill Dmitriev said.

Besides Nigeria, other African countries have registered Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Reportedly, the vaccine has been registered in Algeria, Angola, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Tunisia, the Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe.

Russia’s drive to share Sputnik V vaccine, of course, offers a chance to raise its image and strengthen alliances in Africa. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation has made efforts promoting the vaccine using all its channels. But supply and delivery have largely lagged behind, the pledges have simply not been fulfilled. Russian authorities have oftentimes said that they would step up efforts for fruitful cooperation in combating coronavirus in Africa.

Promising more than can be delivered appears to be a universal problem with coronavirus vaccines, and it is a real risk for Russia as well, said Theresa Fallon, Director of the Brussels-based Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies. “They have won the gold medal for creating this very effective vaccine,” she said. “But the problem is how are they going to implement production and delivery?”

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), with profit motivation, has attempted supplying the Russian vaccines through, Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, from the Monarch family and a third party in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to a number of African countries. For instance, the Republic of Ghana reportedly signed US$64.6 million contract for Sputnik V vaccine from Russia through Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum. It was double the price from the producer as reported in the media.

On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin has noted, in a speech early September, that advanced countries that produce vaccines against the coronavirus do little to protect humanity from the pandemic.

“The benefits of vaccination are enjoyed mostly by advanced economies. The bulk of the vaccines is made there, and it is used to protect their own population. But very little is being done to protect humanity in the broad sense,” Putin said at the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, the Far East of Russia. “This is very bad for the producers, because all this boomerangs around the globe. For instance, in Africa the level of protection with vaccines is minimal, but contacts with the African countries continue. There is no getting away from this. This infection will return again and again.”

According to an official release obtained late February, the Sputnik V vaccine the following advantages:

• Efficacy of Sputnik V is 91.6% as confirmed by the data published in the Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most respected medical journals; It is one of only three vaccines in the world with efficacy of over 90%; Sputnik V provides full protection against severe cases of COVID-19. 

• The Sputnik V vaccine is based on a proven and well-studied platform of human adenoviral vectors, which cause the common cold and have been around for thousands of years. 

• Sputnik V uses two different vectors for the two shots in a course of vaccination, providing immunity with a longer duration than vaccines using the same delivery mechanism for both shots. 

• The safety, efficacy and lack of negative long-term effects of adenoviral vaccines have been proven by more than 250 clinical studies over two decades. 

• The developers of the Sputnik V vaccine are working collaboratively with AstraZeneca on a joint clinical trial to improve the efficacy of AstraZeneca vaccine. 

• There are no strong allergies caused by Sputnik V. 

• The price of Sputnik V is less than $10 per shot, making it affordable around the world. 

In February, peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet published an analysis from Phase III clinical trial of the Russian vaccine, showing its 91.6-percent efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19. The Sputnik V vaccine was developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

Sputnik V was registered in Russia on August 11, 2020 as the world’s first officially registered coronavirus vaccine. Russian vaccines have advantages as no deaths have been reported after vaccination with the Sputnik V, Alexander Gintsburg, Director of the Gamaleya Center, the vaccine developer, said and was reported by TASS News Agency. “As of today, no deaths after vaccination with Sputnik V have been registered,” he said.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) is Russia’s sovereign wealth fund established in 2011 to make equity co-investments, primarily in Russia, alongside reputable international financial and strategic investors. RDIF acts as a catalyst for direct investment in the Russian economy. RDIF’s management is based in Moscow.

In Africa, during first of September, the coronavirus-related death toll has topped 196,190, while more than 6.9 million recoveries have been reported. South Africa accounts for a majority of coronavirus cases and deaths across Africa – 2,777,659 and 82,261 respectively. The death toll in Tunisia climbed to 23,451, and 664,034 cases have been confirmed. Egypt recorded 16,736 deaths and 288,441 coronavirus cases.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia is ranked second to South Africa (308,134 cases and 4,675 deaths) and is followed by Kenya (235,863 cases and 4,726 deaths) and Nigeria (191,805 and 2,455). The total number of COVID-19 cases has reached almost 8 million in Africa, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa.

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