The Covid-19 pandemic has weakened economic prospects across Africa, with real GDP in Africa projected to contract by 1.7 percent in 2020 (equivalent to a drop of 5.6 percentage points).[_] The crisis has left millions of children out of school, derailed vaccination programmes and caused the amount of people facing hunger and extreme poverty to rise significantly – undoing years of progress.
Nonetheless, it is becoming increasingly clear that African governments have played a critical role in ensuring the continent’s Covid-19 trajectory is more favourable than that of much of the rest of the world. The rapid decisions and the early measures put in place, along with the behaviour change seen across the continent to limit the spread of the disease have likely contributed to Africa’s relatively low rates of Covid-19. Behind the scenes, crisis-management structures at the heart of government responses in countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Sierra Leone have been essential.
These structures – also called command structures or Covid-19-response war rooms – have highlighted not only how coordinated government responses can manage crises but provide clues for how governments can accelerate the delivery of results for their people. These insights and lessons need to be applied to Africa’s economic and social recovery and transformation.
The Africa Delivery Exchange (ADX) will convene government leaders and practitioners from across Africa at the end of November to explore how Centre of Government leaders can build upon the successes of effective Covid-19 management strategies and strengthen Centre of Government delivery capacity in order to accelerate Africa’s economic and social recovery. ADX 2020 will be co-hosted by the Government of Kenya’s Presidential Delivery Unit, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI). This is the second edition of the event, which brings together delivery officials from across Africa, with a focus on those based in presidents’ or prime ministers’ offices, to share lessons and insights with each other. More than 100 government officials from 20 countries will convene at this year’s ADX which is taking place virtually on 24 and 25 November 2020.
The 2017 edition of ADX focused on several infrastructure projects that were led by Government Delivery Units (GDU), such as the Rwanda’s $300 million Kigali Convention Centre. This flagship infrastructure project plays a fundamental role in Rwanda’s strategy for growth in its tourism sector. The 2017 Exchange highlighted the role of Centre of Government leaders in changing how government operates, as well as the need to work in both a “top-down” and “bottom-up” manner by being simultaneously decisive and consultative.[_]
In 2020, Government leaders from across Africa will meet in a starkly different context, with the Covid-19 pandemic’s far-reaching impact on the health and economic well-being of low- and middle-income countries at the top of everyone’s mind. It is fair to say that the pandemic has only increased the urgency for government action and the pressure on leaders to deliver results for their citizens.
For many countries, the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in regular briefings between the head of state and key government leaders on the coronavirus’s spread and health infrastructure gaps (e.g., PPE supply, hospital bed capacity, etc.). This regular communication was focused and most effective when it was accompanied by clear delegated authority to crisis coordinators. Some countries designed new crisis-support structures, while others modified existing structures to clearly delineated levels of decision-making across sectors and geographies. Governments with a successful health response adopted this “new” way of working, while other governments struggled with disengaged political leadership or unempowered, unskilled personnel in leadership positions.[_] The government’s health response exposed additional pitfalls, such as structures with narrow mandates and uncoordinated, ad-hoc processes with unclear messaging that caused public confusion. Governments who adopted these best practices and avoided these pitfalls have fared significantly better in managing this health crisis. Many of the learnings from the Covid-19 health response translate into governments’ efforts to stimulate economic recovery at this critical juncture.
To coordinate Africa’s economic recovery, delivery mechanisms in the heart of government and in key implementing agencies can play an essential role in focusing government leadership on solving implementation problems for the most catalytic reforms and programmes. A recent report from TBI titled “Taking Control: How the Centre of Government Can Unlock Economic Recovery” identified five key Centre of Government capabilities that must be revitalised in this new era: (i) Leadership through active oversight from the Head of State, (ii) Personnel with empowered crisis coordinators and a strong mandate for delegated authorities, (iii) Structures specific to the crisis and appropriate delegation across institutions, (iv) Systems with transparent and consistent communication, and (v) International Cooperation including resource mobilisation.
A number of African governments are making the most of these government capabilities, as they balance the Covid-19 health response and economic recovery. The government of Rwanda made a significant effort to stimulate international resource mobilisation with a specific matching ask of $100 million from the international community into an economic recovery fund aligned with $100 million put in by the government of Rwanda. In Kenya, the government launched an Eight-Point Economic Stimulus Programme, valued at Sh53.7 billion, which is aligned with the government’s medium-term “Big 4 Agenda” development programme. The Kenyan government’s efforts blend the use of new and existing structures. Learning from these examples, governments have an excellent opportunity to capitalise on their capabilities to achieve their economic recovery objectives.
Now is the time to accelerate delivery capacity in the heart of government and critical agencies that are key for Africa’s economic and social recovery, so that the urgency with which many African governments tackled Covid-19 can drive the continent’s transformation going forward.