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East Africa: UN Offers Bleak Outlook for Region Due to Covid-19

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Only four East African countries are still on course to record positive economic growth in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Mama Keita, the head of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca) sub-regional office for Eastern Africa.

South Sudan leads with an estimated 4.1 percent GDP growth, followed by Ethiopia and Tanzania on 1.9 percent each and Kenya on 1 percent. Ms Keita was presenting an online presentation of Uneca’s latest report Economic and social impacts of Covid-19 in Eastern Africa published on November 24-25.

The region will see a sharp GDP growth slowdown from 6.6 percent in 2019 to 0.6 percent in 2020, a Uneca statement quoted Ms Keita says.

The report analysed the economic impacts of Covid-19 in 14 countries within the sub-region: Burundi, Comoros, DR Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

“The effect of the pandemic on growth has been uneven across the region. While the region has generally been adversely affected by this crisis, the impact has been more severe for countries dependent on tourism,” the report says, singling out Seychelles and Kenya where tourist arrivals were down 94 per cent and 91 per cent respectively between August 2019 and August 2020.

While Kenya received 162,000 tourist visitors in August 2019, the number had dwindled to just 14,000 by August this year.

Containment measures

According to the report, eastern Africa has remained one of the least affected on the continent from a direct pandemic perspective, but its labour market has been the worst hit on the continent, with an estimated 38 million jobs lost so far.

“As of October 2020, most countries in the region had confirmed infection and death rates significantly below the continental average. This could be partially attributed to the strict containment measures adopted early on by some countries to mitigate the spread of the pandemic and its relatively youthful population. However, the rate of testing is also relatively low,” the report says.

According to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the region had reached 258,514 with 5,011 dead by Wednesday of last week.

The report quotes Unesco estimates that closure of all educational institutions has affected at least 96 million learners in the region, seven per cent of whom are “primary school-aged or younger.”

The long-term social and economic impact include a reduction in expected years of schooling, poor nutrition for lack of school lunches, increased exposure to violence and exploitation, childhood pregnancies, and increased challenges to mental development of children.

Finally, the report calls on policymakers in Africa to encourage digitisation of trade as the pandemic has “highlighted the importance of the digital economy and the challenge of the digital divide.”

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