The Cultural and Social Challenges to Slowing the Pandemic in Africa

  • 11th May 2020
  • by secretary

8 May 2020. By Chris Macoloo. The coronavirus was slow to make its way to Africa, but it is now there in full force and will be difficult to contain because of certain cultural and social behaviors.

The entire African situation, from weak health systems, to ingrained cultural practices, to millions of people living and traveling in very close quarters, makes it less likely that the continent will have the kind of sharp but relatively short epidemic experienced in China and South Korea. The impact of a long-lasting virus outbreak would have debilitating effects on people and economies across the African continent.

Of all the preventative measures, three are particularly difficult to enforce in Africa: 
  1. maintaining social distance, 
  2. avoiding shaking hands, 
  3. and staying at home.

Maintaining social distance:

  • To streamline the utilization of the water sources without generating crowds, communities could be encouraged to form water management committees, as is already done in some rural areas. These committees would develop locally appropriate strategies to avoid crowding.
  • Governments should use this crisis as an opportunity to accelerate the widescale provision of basic sanitation facilities. There are inexpensive, low- or no-water showers and toilets, such as Ecosan no-water toilets, that could be immediately provided to communities. Toilets would be accompanied by hand washing stations.
  • Motorcyclists and other private transportation providers could be given subsidized fuel to discourage them from carrying excess passengers. This is a feasible solution now because of the low price of oil.
Avoiding shaking hands:
  • If hand shaking is discouraged, there will need to be replacement greetings. 
  • It is unlikely alternatives can be imposed by the government. Instead, communities should be encouraged to develop their own greetings that maintain and communicate acceptable attitudes about respect and neighborliness.
Staying at home:
  • Governments need to take positive actions that meet peoples’ real needs.
  • One such program are cash transfers. Households should be provided with enough money to purchase basic necessities including food. A version of this is being piloted in Nairobi. Kenya’s government is also providing monthly stipends to people 70 years and older who don’t have a pension.
  • Another potential government program is rent assistance. Some landlords are exempting tenants from paying rent for the next three to four months.
  • Governments should encourage encourage mobile money transfers, which have become increasingly popular in Africa, as a way for people to avoid physical contact. For example, the largest telephone company in Eastern and Central Africa has temporarily removed the transaction charges when people pay for goods using MPesa’s mobile money platform. In addition, it has doubled the amount of money an individual can transact in a day.

Niyi Akinmolayan, a Nigerian filmmaker has created a 90-second animation to help youngsters understand why they have to stay at home after schools in Lagos were shut and public gatherings were banned.