COVID-19: Africa’s economic recovery must leave no one behind

Edwinah Orowe, June 2020
A young man using a wheelchair on a road in Kenya.
Samuel, a jobseeker from Kenya.

By late March 2020, most countries in Africa had reported cases of COVID-19. And in each of these countries, at the heart of lockdown and restriction measures has been the question of the economy.

Many people in this part of the world, and particularly people with disabilities, work in the informal sector. This means that unless they can leave their house every day, they are unlikely to meet their basic needs – primarily food. For them, the situation is dire. Those people with disabilities who were in a bad place before COVID-19 are now in a terrible place, and after COVID-19 their situation will be even worse. This is because they are at the lowest level of income generation. They might be a small tuckshop owner in Tanzania selling just enough to buy food for the day, the person by the roadside in Malawi selling sweets and roasted groundnuts, the welder in Uganda or trainee mechanic in Kenya at a local garage, or the tailor at the local market in Mozambique…

These people with disabilities are not in any government system that is likely to benefit from the various economic recovery proposals that are being passed across governments in Africa. When things become too tough, they are forced to sell what little merchandise and equipment they have to buy food.

We have seen economic recovery strategies made by governments, and commitments touted across the media and in press statements. Ministers of finance are reading budgets and stating how they have set aside millions of dollars for commercial banks to lend institutions. We are seeing a reduction on certain taxes, economic stimulus packages with special grants to be given at lower interest rates for people who are struggling, and enterprises to enable people to borrow and keep their businesses opened.

But we haven’t heard of any deliberate moves to ensure that people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups can access these economic stimulus packages. Where a certain percentage of resources have been allocated to disabled people’s organisations, other restrictions have made this difficult in practice – for instance, the caveat that a person must belong to a group or can only borrow through a group. This pushes people with disabilities further away as in many communities the stigma surrounding disability does not allow people with disabilities to be accepted in groups as key contributors with dreams and aspirations.

Creating an equal world requires people to have a fair chance to access opportunities. In the case of the pandemic, it’s about ensuring that people are not left in a worse situation than they were before COVID-19. Our governments have a duty to ensure that the road to economic recovery leaves no one behind. It’s not enough to read macro policy instructions and big picture ideals – these should be accompanied with clear processes that address the complexities of key populations such as people with disabilities, and the contexts in which they live.


Sightsavers logo.Edwinah Orowe
Edwinah is Sightsavers’ advocacy adviser for the East, Central and Southern Africa region, based in Kenya.

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