ESA COVID-19 Situation Report – Second Quarter 2021



Africa suffered its worst recession in more than 50 years in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as its GDP declined by ↓2.1%. Fortunately, a strong rebound is expected for 2021, with GDP forecasted to increase by ↑3.4% this year. Despite the collective rebound, the impact of the pandemic has been felt by every African, especially the poorest individuals. GDP per capita is estimated to have contracted by ↓10% in nominal terms in 2020, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB)[1]. Because of the pandemic’s lower-than-expected impact on Africa, the recession in 2020 was not as severe as the AfDB projected earlier. Nevertheless, the greater African region is getting to terms with the plethora of unintended consequences which the pandemic has created. One of them is the impact on cross-border trade flows within our region.

This report contains a brief overview of the flow of goods for the 24 respective countries in the East and Southern Africa (ESA) region. The update is the eighth of its kind and covers the period of April to June of 2021. Unfortunately, as has become the case lately, it is almost impossible to report on any matter without mentioning the impact of COVID-19.  As 2021 has continued, this regrettably remains the case.

Part of the new normal business environment is dealing with the ever-changing entrance and exiting restrictions at borders in terms of goods and people. As the COVID-19 virus spreads and mutates, constraints posed by countries changes and aligns with presented risks. This change affects the way people are doing business abroad and dealing with life in general. Many developed countries have been able to vaccinate most of their population while developing countries are falling far behind. The African continent has been dealing with various hostile conditions to curb the spread of the virus and the devasting effects on economic growth.

1. Continent summary

Alarmingly, most parts of Africa have now entered their third wave of COVID-19 infections, where certain countries have seen an average of approximately 20% to 30% surge in cases recorded since May 2021. Initially, it was believed that the continent was spared the worst of the pandemic. However, the picture has subsequently changed, with sobering statistics showing a much different picture. As of June 2021, the African continent surpassed 5 million COVID-19 cases. Moreover, while Africa accounts for only 2.9% of global cases, the continent holds a 3.7% fatality rate in absolute terms.

The gravity of the situation is compounded with some studies indicating that seriously ill COVID-19 patients are far more likely to die in Africa than anywhere else in the world[2]. The World Health Organization (WHO) set a goal for the African continent to try and vaccinate at least 10% of its population by September 2021 to curb the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, nearly 90% of African countries are set to miss this goal which is much lower than the goal for wealthier nations[3].

The previous version of this update reported that almost all African countries received COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX scheme, supported by the WHO and other multilateral bodies. These vaccines are essentially sourced from the Serum Institute in India. However, India was unable to keep up with export demands and ceased international distribution due to the country’s own urgent needs for vaccination[4]. Consequently, the primary reason most African countries are struggling to meet the WHO objective is the ongoing short supply of vaccines available for developing nations. Apart from a decline in vaccine supplies from India, wealthy nations are still amassing vaccines to ensure herd immunity. Some relief lies with countries like France and the United States, who have pledged to share their vaccine supplies with the African continent. In addition, the United Nations and African Centres of Disease Control (CDC) have urged countries to donate surplus vaccines to Africa where they are direly needed[5].

The current statistics show that, within the African context, vaccine rollout initiatives have so far not been successful. Only two out of every 100 people in Africa have received a vaccine. This number is in stark contrast to high-income countries, where the average vaccinated individuals is 68 per 100 people. As noted in June 2021, less than one per cent of the African continent’s population has been fully vaccinated, and Tanzania, Burundi, and Eritrea are yet to receive vaccines. In late March, South Sudan and Nigeria did receive vaccines. However, due to the expiry date, South Sudan and Nigeria could not distribute all the vaccines effectively and had to send some doses to neighbouring countries such as Togo and Ghana. Meanwhile, the Democratic Republic of Congo reported that the government could not administer most of the 1.7 million AstraZeneca doses received under the COVAX scheme. The expiry date was 24 June 2021, which led to many doses being sent to other countries[6].

Unfortunately, apart from limited supplies of vaccines with a short shelf-life, many African countries struggle with financial and logistical resources and civil and political unrest. Some African countries need to deal with difficult conditions when distributing vaccines to far-fletched areas only accessible via boat or foot. Due to the sudden receipt of vaccines, many African countries could not prepare and plan effectively for the rollout. Concerns were raised over increased cases of blood clots found by vaccinated individuals, creating scepticism. Many believe that this situation has been another facet limiting vaccine rollout procedures in the continent[7]. Apart from these challenges, African countries should reflect on lessons learned from the first receipt and rollout of vaccines and ensure proper coordination by all leaders and stakeholders.

China, Russia, and the UAE have donated vaccine doses to various African nations as a short-term solution. However, as 99% of Africa’s vaccines are being imported, long-term plans should revolve around producing its own vaccines. The WHO pledged in June 2021 to set up a “technology transfer hub” in South Africa to start producing mRNA vaccines within the next nine to twelve months. The manufacturing of the vaccine is being led by a South African company called Afrigen Biologics & Vaccines. In contrast, in terms of vaccine deployment, South Africa will rely on a French company called Biovac[8]. This initiative is set to benefit the whole continent. Apart from South Africa, Uganda’s president Museveni recently commissioned the privately-owned Biological Drugs and mRNA (Messenger Ribonucleic Acid) vaccine facility in Matuga, Wakiso District, which is set out to provide vaccines within the next six months[9].

Besides the humanitarian impact of the pandemic, moving cargo across borders through any modality has become increasingly complex with the closure of borders and accompanying restrictions. As such, there has been an ongoing battle in terms of COVID-19 testing for cross-border truck drivers. As a result, various actions have been launched to find a standard, workable solution for the continent at large.  For example, in Botswana, the following update has been provided:

  • Local drivers and foreign drivers – PCR test is valid for 72 hours.
  • Botswana also mandates each traveller to do an antigen test at government cost for each border crossing, irrespective of producing a valid PCR test.
  • Should one not have PCR test results, they are mandated to do it at the cost of P 500.

For Zambia, the following update has been provided:

  • No exception, 72 hours validation for all drivers.

Attempting to combat the current differing approaches, the WHO’s Regional Office for Africa has developed a “Harmonized strategy for PoEs[10] surveillance, laboratory testing, and transnational response to COVID-19 for Cross border truck drivers[11]. The key objective of this strategy is to “ensure a harmonized approach to COVID-19 surveillance and contact tracing at PoEs with a special focus on long-distance truck drivers and their crew/assistants”. As such, the document encourages Customs Administrations tests using approved NAAT testing methods (EIA or antigen detection, specifically a reverse-transcriptase PCR). The RPSG hopes that these measures will better facilitate the flow of cross-border goods, as the region depends on trade and the continued international supply of goods, especially in the large quantities of vaccines destined for Africa.

2. Impact on trade

1. Global merchandise trade

a. World Trade Organisation’s Goods Trade barometer:

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) released its latest “Goods Trade Barometer[12], noting the strength of the trade recovery. The barometer – a composite leading indicator for world trade – shows a reading of 109,7 is nearly ↑10 points above the baseline value of 100 for the index and ↑21.6 points y/y. The following side-by-side figures indicate the recent uptick.

Figure 1 – WTO Goods Trade barometer

Source: WTO

The WTO notes that the latest barometer reading is broadly in line with the WTO’s current trade forecast issued on 31 March[13], which predicted an 8% pickup in the volume of world merchandise trade in 2021 following a 5.3% decline the previous year. The WTO further reports that all the barometer’s component indices were above the trend in March 2021, with the most significant gains seen in:

  • Electronic components (115.2)
  • Export orders (114.8)
  • Airfreight (111.1)

In summary, the immediate outlook for global trade bodes well for the rest of the year, with the effects of the pandemic forecasted to be wiped out entirely by the end of the year. Nevertheless, the outlook should be viewed with a cautionary approach. Many of the forecasts by the WTO (and indeed the IMF) were made before the delta variant wreaking further havoc globally and in Africa.

b. IMF World Economic outlook:

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) released their “World Economic Outlook” in April 2021[14], noting that global growth is projected to be ↑6% in 2021 and ↑4.4% in 2022, after an estimated historic contraction of ↓3.3% in 2020. “The upgrades in global growth for 2021 and 2022 are mainly due to upgrades for advanced economies, particularly to a sizeable upgrade for the United States (1.3 percentage points) that is expected to grow at 6.4% this year,” the Washington-based organization said. The forecast for South Africa shows a growth of 3.1% in 2021 – an improvement of 0.3% from the 2.8% January forecast. In addition, the group forecasts annual growth of 2% in 2022 for the country.

A key takeaway is that most industries will continue to flourish as most economic indicators have rebounded positively against the horrendous year experienced in 2020. The following figure highlights the bounce back.

Figure 2 – Global imports, Contributions, by types of goods and region (year-on-year percentage change)

Source: IMF

The sharp rebound in international trade in the second half of 2020 reflects pent-up demand for consumer durables (cars) from advanced economies and resumption of supply chains in emerging markets. In summary, the IMF notes that:

  • the overall upward revision reflects additional financial support in a few large economies,
  • the anticipated vaccine-powered recovery in the second half of 2021,
  • continued adaptation of economic activity to subdued mobility.

Were the most prominent drivers of the upward revision to forecasts. Nonetheless, the IMF notes that high uncertainty surrounds this outlook, related to the pandemic’s path, the effectiveness of policy support to provide a bridge to vaccine-powered normalization and the evolution of financial conditions.

c. UNCTAD Global Trade Update May 2021:

In May 2021, UNCTAD released its monthly “Global Trade Update[15], noting that world trade has rebounded to the COVID-19 crisis much better than expected and when compared to previous crises. Indeed, UNCTAD notes how trade has hit a record high in the first quarter of 2021, increasing by 10% y/y and ↑4% q/q. Significantly, global trade for the first quarter of this year exceeded pre-crisis levels, rising about ↑3% relative to Q1 2019. Several determinants have continued to drive the recovery in trade, most notably the strong export performance of East Asian economies.

Despite the impressive rebound, the growth is not yet shared among all nations, not all goods and services. Nevertheless, goods were the main driver, as trade value was higher than the pre-pandemic level. At the same time, trade in services remains substantially below averages. The following figure summarises the world trade up and to Q1 2021.

Figure 3 – World trade growth and value (2016 – present)

Source: UNCTAD

As illustrated, UNCTAD expects trade to continue growing into 2021. Trade growth is expected to remain stronger for East Asia and developed countries while still lagging for many other countries. Interestingly, for South Africa, UNCTAD estimates Q1 trade in goods imports at ↑25% and exports at ↑36% relative to 2020 averages. For Q1 trade in service, UNCTAD estimates imports at ↓1% and exports at ↓26% for the same period.

Collectively, the value of global trade in goods and services is forecast to reach US$ 6.6 trillion in Q2 2021. This figure is equivalent to a y/y increase of ~31% relative to the lowest point of 2020 and ~3% to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019. In essence, UNCTAD notes the following aspects to be the most critical factors that will characterize global trade during 2021:

  • Uneven economic recovery,
  • Reshoring and nearshoring trends,
  • Government interventions and policies affecting international trade,
  • Macroeconomic instability brought by higher levels of debt,
  • Lasting changes in consumer spending.

2. Ocean freight industry

Consumer demand continues to surge, especially with the growing global vaccine rollout, although challenged by ongoing equipment imbalances and incidents like the grounding of the Ever Given in the Suez Canal in March 2021. Congestion and delays caused by constant attempts to curb COVID-19 infections are still a reality. Nearing the shipping industry’s peak season as the global economic recovery accelerates, shipping backlogs at Yantian Port in South China forced many carriers to divert vessels, causing major carrier scheduling woes and global ripple effects.

These constraints, coupled with a spike in demand, has meant that global freight rates have surged exponentially. According to the “World Container Index” (WCI) compiled by the UK-based maritime research and consulting firm Drewry, the average composite index currently stands at an approximate US$5 533 per 40-ft container, US$3 546 higher than the five-year average of US$1 987 per 40 ft container.[16] The following analysis by Drewry refers to the global and African container throughput situation. Even in the face of exponential freight rates, container throughput is expected to remain high. However, across all regions, only Africa registered an increase for the month of April, coming in at 6.7%.

Figure 4 – Global container throughout index (January 2012 = 100)[17]

Source: Drewry Maritime Consultants

Drewry notes that:

  • After the record jump experienced earlier in March, the index fell by ↓2,5% to 137.6 points in April. However, Drewry notes that yearly growth of 13.8% reinstates that volume recovery is well underway.
  • The African region index recovered strongly by 39.6% annually. Specific South African hubs recorded strong growths in April 2021, allowing for a 6.7% growth rate.

Ongoing challenges in the global maritime industry regarding equipment shortages and surging freight rates seem to have become the norm post-pandemic. It is, however, coupled with solid throughput predictions for at the least the rest of the year. As COVID-19 waves and restrictions continue to surge across the globe, so will the maritime industry shape and turn to adjust.

3. Airfreight industry

IATA recently released their monthly “State of the region: Africa & Middle East” update for May, with the following key headlines:

  • The economic scenario continues to improve across the three key economies that IATA tracks.
  • Global cargo volumes reached the highest level in IATA’s time series history in March, although their growth softened modestly compared with February.
  • Industry-wide CTKs rose by ↑4.4% versus the pre-crisis levels and ↑0.4% m/m from February.

The following side-by-side figures show the current state of the cargo market, with changes measured in CTKs.

Figure 5 – Cargo tonne-kilometers

Source: IATA

IATA notes that cargo capacity has been recovering from the temporary fall in early 2021 when some airlines grounded passenger aircraft amidst new virus spikes. As a result, industry-wide available cargo tonne-kilometres picked up ↑5.6% m/m in March and were approximately ↓12% below the pre-crisis levels. Finally, in a coup for the continent, African airlines performed the strongest of all regions, with CTKs up just over ↑23% compared to the pre-crisis levels in March 2019. As was the case throughout 2020, the Africa-Asia market remained the key driver behind the swift recovery.

4. Road freight industry

Some insightful geofencing data captured by the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (FERSATA) investigates the cross-border delays and associated costs experienced at several regional border posts. It is important to note that only certain SADC borders are currently included in the analysis. The following graph shows cross-border queue times and transit times of specific SADC border posts. Kazungula, Nakonde and Ressano Garcia shows the highest queueing time.

Figure 6 – Cross border delays in some selected SADC border posts (in hours)

Source: TLC & FESARTA.

The following figure illustrates a similar picture to those above, this time from a corridor perspective.

Figure 7 – Cross border delays in some selected SADC trade corridors (in hours)


A delay is considered when either the cross-border queue times or cross-border transit times exceed two hours. The graphs above indicate that the various border-crossings and trade corridors have recently experienced cross-border transit delays, especially cargo moving through the Trans Kalahari and North-South trade corridor.

Many factors have contributed to the delays and costs experienced at various SADC border posts in recent days. Ongoing issues at Beit Bridge are causing significant delays, and further delays are expected as Zimbabwean President Mnangagwa Announced Level 4 Lockdown Regulations recently. In addition, shortages of Port Health staff continue to cause delays at multiple border posts around the region.

3. Country summary

The following section summarises some policy actions of ESA governments to counter the COVID–19 effects.

1. Angola

Due to rising COVID-19 infections, authorities enforced another phase of restrictions on 10 May, which only recently ended (8 June). As a result, limited international air travel was permitted for citizens, and non-resident travellers who transited through Brazil and India could not enter the country[18].

Amid the restrictions, the pan African investment platform for the energy sector, Energy Capital & Power (ECP), launched a massive campaign to promote Angola’s oil and gas sector. These developments include both at home and abroad, building on the enormous success of its exclusive partnership with the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Petroleum and Gas[19]. This campaign forms part of various international appearances to showcase the country’s energy opportunities to foreign investors. In addition, some exciting news in June 2021 was shared regarding Etihad Airways, which would soon be operating the Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates)/Luanda/Abu Dhabi route, effectively improving the connection between the country and the Northern and Eastern Hemispheres[20].

2. Botswana

International air travel has resumed allowing residential and foreign travel (excluding tourism) to and from all the major commercial airports in Botswana since May 2021. There is, however, a nationwide curfew in place, with no movement of people allowed without a permit between 10 pm and 4 am[21]. Ground crossings have resumed at most border posts, including Kazungula Road (which was finally opened as a One-Stop Border Post in May[22]).

According to the latest national situation report shared with the WHO, the Zambezi region has recorded only 1 350 positive cases since the pandemic in Namibia in April 2020. The Zambezi region shares borders between Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana[23].

On a positive note, Botswana, Africa’s largest producer of diamonds, managed to unearth two unbelievably big diamonds in just one month – June 2021. A mining company in Botswana has announced the unearthing of a 1 174-carat diamond, which is believed to be the third-largest diamond in the world[24].

3. Burundi

In response to Burundi’s adverse conditions, the World Bank sent a US$6 million grant from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to support communities. The main aim of the funding is to help restore degraded landscapes and intensify sustainable land management practices that are hoped to strengthen future food value chains[25].

The Gatumba border (bordering the Republic of the Congo) was closed in March 2020 as part of the fight against the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. It opened only recently at the beginning of June this year[26]. Commercial flights to Burundi are currently operating at a reduced capacity, while land borders connecting to Tanzania and the DRC are open. All other land and maritime borders are closed except for goods and cargo[27].

4. Comoros

As of March 2021, COVID-19 restrictions had not changed significantly since their enforcement last year. International flights are ongoing since September 2020, provided that the Comorian government approves the country of origin or destination. Regionally markets close daily by 4 pm and remain closed on Sundays. Some academic activity has resumed, but no public gatherings are allowed. Sea borders are closed, although local operators may flout official directives[28].

5. Djibouti

International travel to and from Djibouti via air, land and sea is allowed, although restricted. As of 21 June 2021, all passengers arriving in Djibouti must show evidence of a COVID-19 vaccination or will have to spend ten days in quarantine in their own accommodation. No Djibouti nationals or foreigners can travel via or from South Africa, India, or Brazil due to concerns about COVID-19 variants. Public gatherings of 10 people and more are prohibited[29].

Despite challenges posed by the pandemic, Djibouti is fostering growth, especially within the logistics and international trade industry. Air Djibouti (Djibouti) and Ethiopian Airlines (ET, Addis Ababa), as well as the Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority (DPFZA), have signed an agreement to develop the Port of Djibouti into a sea-air freight logistics hub. This exciting development will be able to process more than 400,000 tonnes of goods from China into Africa. The project aims to create a sea-air cargo logistics hub, posing a rival to Dubai’s trade. Ethiopian Airlines plan to double their existing cargo operation through this strategic partnership, allowing Air Djibouti and the Djibouti Shipping company opportunities.

6. Eritrea

As of June 2021, international and domestic flights are still suspended until further notice. Occasional charter flights are organized by Embassies residing in Asmara. Although the internal travel ban implemented in September 2020 has been lifted, Eritrea’s land borders are closed. However, public and private transport is allowed on the roads, and restaurants and shops have reopened[30]. In November 2020, Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afwerki, ordered federal troops to overthrow Ethiopia’s rebellious ruling party within the northern Tigray region. As a response, Tigray’s government forces fired missiles at Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, in the early stages of the war. This year, Eritrea agreed to withdraw its troops from Ethiopia after facing allegations that they committed atrocities, increasing diplomatic pressure in March.  The EU and the US requested that Eritrean soldiers be removed from Tigray after reports of looting, rape, and assaults in refugee camps[31].

7. eSwatini

As of July 2021, international commercial passenger travel is still allowed with stringent protocols to prevent the spread of the virus. Travel within Eswatini is possible, but roadblocks, unexpected protests and road closures could occur whereby travel after 6 pm is not permitted. In addition, from 14 June, all retailers have been asked to close doors at 7 pm due to civil unrest.[32]

8. Ethiopia

Ethiopian authorities sent a notification early in June that all passengers arriving in, departing from, or transiting Ethiopia must validate their COVID-19 RT PCR test via the Africa Union Trusted Travel or UNDP Global Haven systems. These systems generate a digital Trusted Travel reference code for a COVID-19 test, which must be presented. From 1 July 2021, paper certificates are no longer accepted without a digital reference code. Land borders are open with strict measures in place. As per an update received on 24 June 2021, schools, universities, and day-care centres are banned from operating until appropriate safety measures are agreed upon. Additionally, public space and transport restrictions apply[33].

As per recent news, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali invited troops from Eritrea into his nation to stand against the ruling party in Tigray, which have caused extreme havoc among the country and consequently trade. As a result, the US and the EU have suspended their foreign aid initiatives[34]. On a lighter note, a new container terminal has opened in the semi-autonomous Somaliland region and is expected to serve as a primary trade gateway for landlocked Ethiopia. It is hoped that it will further enhance trade relations among East African and Gulf countries. In addition, Somaliland is building a Berbera free trade zone and corridor, together with major road projects which intends to strengthen connections with Ethiopia[35].

9. Kenya

Air travel to and from Kenya is possible with strict measures in terms of COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. On 29 June 2021, the nationwide curfew was extended for an additional 60 days. Except for essential service workers, everyone must stay at home or indoors during curfew hours (from 10 pm till 4 am). Government authorities announced on 1 May 2021 that restaurants and eateries may open to customers, provided they comply with public health protocols. All bars across Kenya must close at 7 pm, while public and private gatherings are still prohibited[36].

10. Lesotho

As from an update received in July 2021, there are no further COVID-19 restrictions based on travel from and into Lesotho. However, COVID-19 testing measures are still in place at all places of entry. A curfew is mandatory from 10 pm till 4 pm, and public and recreational gatherings are prohibited. Land borders are open and functioning at different time slots. Shops and restaurants can operate following strict COVID-19 measures[37]. In addition, the country is staying vigilant regarding the rise in infections in its neighbouring country South Africa, and screening cargo and people movement.

11. Madagascar

As of July 2021, international flights are still suspended. Cruise ships are not permitted to berth either. The national state of emergency only recently ended after it was suspended for another 15 days at the end of June 2021. Gatherings of more than 400 people are not permitted, and a curfew from 12 am to 4 am is in place in the regions of Analamanga (including the capital Antananarivo), Anosy, Haute Matsiatra and Vakinankaratra[38].

12. Malawi

Malawian airspace opened at the end of January 2021. However, regulations changed in June 2021 as a precautionary measure due to a surge of COVID-19 infections in neighbouring countries. As a result, Malawian authorities closed their borders to national citizens and residents and cargo movement. In addition, to ensure the integrity of presented COVID-19 certificates at Malawi’s borders, the Ministry of Health (in collaboration with the African Union and Africa CDC) implemented an online system verifying COVID-19 certificates from 1 July 2021[39]. Mangoes have been one of Malawi’s most driven export markets, especially when food scarcity in the country intensifies, but recently mango crops have been threatened by the Bactrocera dorsalis fly spreading across the region endangering Malawian livelihoods[40].

13. Mauritius

New lockdown restrictions have been announced from 1 May 2021, allowing shops and public transport to open. Travelling restrictions have recently been lifted, and as of 15 July 2021, international travel without vaccinations is allowed into the country subject to PCR testing and a mandatory 14-day stay in a hotel. Entrance to public beaches is prohibited, and restaurants are only open for takeaways and deliveries[41]. Amidst the challenges posed by COVID-19 restrictions, ongoing trade interests between India and Mauritius have been one of the country’s focus areas in terms of growth, specifically highlighted by the opportunities presented by the new African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA)[42].

14. Mozambique

On 27 June 2021, new COVID-19 restrictions have been put in place for a period of 30 days. The new restrictions include a mandatory curfew in all provincial capitals and some district capitals from 11 pm to 4 am. In addition, public beaches, swimming pools, and gyms have reopened subject to strict COVID-19 preventing measures. All travellers are permitted to enter the country, and those showing no evidence of COVID-19 testing are requested to quarantine for 14 days[43]. To help boost Mozambique’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, the World Bank recently approved a US$115 million grant to strengthen the national health systems’ preparedness and capabilities, especially among women and young children[44].

15. Namibia

Recently, Namibia’s COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines have changed, as airports, seaports, and land borders are open albeit managed by strict COVID-19 protocols. A nationwide curfew is in place from 10 pm till 4 am. Public transport operations are limited to essential travel, and recreational areas are closed[45]. About three months ago, Namibia’s trade minister Lucia Lipumbu launched the very exciting Import/Export (IMEX) digital platform aimed to reduce the time and cost to trade, actively improving the country’s competitiveness. Through the Department of International Trade, the Ministry of Industrialisation and Trade will steer roadshows to create awareness of this exciting new platform among traders and foreign investors[46].

16. Rwanda

Since February 2021, COVID-19 restrictions have been slightly eased, whereby borders have opened albeit restricted after it was closed for several months. However, after a global surge of new variants of the virus, Rwanda’s government has taken additional measures. All passengers arriving from India or Uganda must self-quarantine for seven days upon arrival, irrespective of a negative test result or proof of vaccination. From 1 July 2021, a national curfew will be reinstated from 6 pm to 4 am, and social gatherings are prohibited in the City of Kigali and other places. Schools and higher education institutions are closed[47]. Growth prospects amid the pandemic are looking promising for Rwanda as the government has just signed an agreement, constituting a concessionary loan valued at USD15 million, with the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), the economic development arm of the economic development the UAE government. The project is set to develop and rehabilitate the Rambura – Nyange section of the Rubengera – Muhanga road, connecting Southern and Western provinces[48].

17. Seychelles

Government authorities in Seychelles have announced that COVID-19 restrictions would be maintained at least till mid-July 2021, as infections have slowed down significantly. Travellers are allowed to enter the country regardless of vaccine status, although a valid negative PCR – test is compulsory. However, visitors from or via countries such as Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Pakistan, and South Africa within the previous 14 days are banned from entering the country. A nightly 11 pm – 4 am curfew is in place, and schools and public spaces are gradually reopening subject to strict curbing measures[49].

18. Somalia

International air travel from and into Somalia and Somaliland is subject to proof of a negative PCR test upon arrival/departure. In addition, on 22 March 2021, the Somali authorities put various control measures in place to help stop the spread of the virus (excluding Somaliland). These include a national night-time curfew as well as restrictions in terms of public travel and business[50].

19. South Africa

South Africa introduced a risk-based, 5-level approach to lockdown restrictions. As of 28 June 2021, the country has gone under level 4 lockdown as the virus engulfed its citizens in the third wave of infections coupled with a new deadly Delta variant. The restrictions were extended until 25 July 2021, comprising a national curfew from 9 pm till 4 am and limited regional travel from and to hotspots such as Gauteng. Public gatherings are prohibited, and schools have closed. International airports are restricted to travellers but open for cargo movement. Sea borders and land borders are open; however, these are subject to strict COVID-19 protocols. Various bottlenecks have been experienced at almost all of South Africa’s border posts. In addition, a lack of Port Health officials leads to the temporary closure of certain ports without proper notice. This situation has caused significant delays for truckers and companies trying to get back on their feet throughout the year.

20. South Sudan

Since last year, international travel restrictions have eased in South Sudan, whereby domestic and international flights have reopened subject to a negative COVID-19 test result. Land borders are operating, with the other restrictions remaining in place. These include wearing a mask and limitations regarding public gatherings[51]. As in Somalia, civil unrest has led to many warnings from travel agencies not to visit the country.

21. Tanzania

Travel restrictions both domestically and internationally have been eased quite significantly in Tanzania. All land and sea borders are open, and all flights are operational, subject to COVID-19 testing measures, although flights from India have been suspended. In addition, domestic restrictions have been lifted, although wearing a mask in public areas is recommended[52].

22. Uganda

Commercial flights from and to Uganda are operating, although land borders are restricted to cargo and registered tourist vehicles only from 18 June 2021. Furthermore, public and private movement is prohibited, and a national curfew from 7 pm till 5:30 am has been extended. Moreover, gatherings at places of worship and for sports are not permitted till 30 July 2021[53]. To improve the vaccine rollout system, the president of Uganda commissioned a Biological Drugs and mRNA (Messenger Ribonucleic Acid) vaccine facility in Matuga, Wakiso District, in July 2021. The aim is to make COVID-19 vaccines readily available, whereby manufacturing is scheduled to commence in the next six months[54].

23. Zambia

Zambia’s land borders are open under tight screening, and flights operate, although certain international flights are limited. Domestically pre, primary and secondary schools have just reopened after a 21-day closure. Other public spaces are open, albeit subject to strict COVID-19 curbing measures[55].

24. Zimbabwe

International travellers are permitted to enter the country with a valid negative COVID-19 test result. On 29 June 2021, authorities announced that travellers from high-risk countries which reported any new variants, such as the Alpha or Delta variant, are requested to self-quarantine for at least ten days. Restaurants are open for takeaways, and bars are closed[56]. Congestion at the Beitbridge border post is still posing challenges to traders. Even though the border has been closed to non-commercial traffic since January 2021, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority advised in early May 2021 that the border will see worse congestion due to upgrades scheduled for the following six weeks[57].

4. ESA COVID-19 statistics

Africa, being the second largest continent globally in both area and population, faces challenges posed by political tensions, severe poverty, terrorism, damages due to floods and deadly diseases. Economic growth prospects for the continent looks detrimental amid the third wave of COVID-19 infections. In addition, residents are left vulnerable to the virus due to limited vaccine supplies and other resources. In total, the East and Southern Africa regions accounted for around 56% of Africa’s population.

Figure 8 – East and Southern Africa’s share in Africa’s total COVID-19 cases[58]

Source: WHO

The ESA region’s percentage of African infections has declined since the end of January 2021 but has picked up slightly since May 2021, when the third wave of infections hit most African countries. Still, South Africa accounts for most COVID-19 cases in the ESA region, with over 1.8 million positive cases reported at the time of writing. Ethiopia has the second-largest number of positive cases (over 285 601), followed by Kenya (over 181 239).

Figure 9 – Distribution of infections across the East and Southern Africa Region[59]

Source: WHO

5. Vaccine rollout recommendations

World Customs Organization

The World Customs Organisation (WCO) [60] has documented some key lessons from the African continent’s vaccine rollout initiatives. As noted in April 2021, 47 countries have rolled out vaccine programs on the African continent, and around 17 million doses have been given to its citizens. The WCO vaccine learning agenda team has built a dynamic database on sharing valuable information with all African countries. In addition, they are set to create various case studies focusing on positive vaccine experiences and challenges faced by African countries through eight countries who participated. This platform is set out to assist African countries in learning from others on how challenges were overcome and risks mitigated, especially for future endeavours focused on curbing the effects of the virus[61].

The most evident constructive lessons learned have so far been categorized into four different sections. These include the importance of early planning, delivering vaccines across their lifespan, digital communication platforms and communication strategies to mitigate risk in various areas of the entire process[62].

  • Planning and preparation are vital.

Ghana, the first African country to receive vaccines from the COVAX facility, was able to distribute vaccines among 470 000 citizens, targeting areas hardest hit by COVID-19 infections in only 20 days. This rollout included 60% of its first phase target population and around 90% of its health care workers. Intense and strategic logistical preparations and coordination were vital in Ghana to establish community mobilizers to ensure vaccines were made available to older people residing in far-flung communities. An electronic pre-registration system implemented by Angola helped ensure that the right people were getting vaccines and that these people knew where and when to get them. It was most helpful when collecting data to ensure the safe distribution of vaccines, especially once the second distribution phase had to be planned. In addition, the country invested heavily in cold chain logistics and storage facilities to secure capacity for the following months. In other countries such as Mauritius and Rwanda, advanced vaccine rollout simulation exercises and strict safety procedures helped ensure a smooth rollout process.

  • Existing health services serves as a strong foundation.

Several African countries could use past initiatives and experiences obtained when dealing with previous widespread deadly diseases. For instance, Rwanda used an existing system previously designed to support the fight against Ebola, enabling them to distribute vaccines easier and faster. They had the necessary capacity to store and transport vaccines under special conditions, and trained teams could successfully roll out vaccines at the central, district and community levels. Angola had to ramp up their systems and plans to deal with the deadly outbreak of yellow fever in 2017 and build its COVID-19 vaccination drive on these existing systems. The COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Ghana was leveraged on years of experience dealing with initiatives aimed at eliminating the wild poliovirus together with other routine immunization campaigns. Over 40 countries in the WHO African Region used the WHO’s COVID-19 Vaccine Country Readiness Assessment Tool to guide and monitor preparations.

  • Communicate early, tactically, and constantly.

According to WHO, communications should start early to prepare communities to receive the vaccine and must be part of broader outreach plans to stop the spread of the disease. Despite limited vaccine supplies, many African citizens were eager to get them. In some instances, countries had to deal with people’s uncertainty about getting the vaccine, especially among older adults. Ghana’s communication and awareness campaigns aimed at demand generation for COVID-19 vaccines were strong, incorporating precise audiences and messages sent via radio, TV, social media, trained spokespeople, influences and other organizations. PA systems used to communicate in rural areas were used to ensure all communities were well informed. Prior public assessments and analyses were done to ensure prompt communication tactics aligned with public concerns over time. As a result, they could get the information published quickly, relying on facts and figures to build confidence.

  • Broad partnerships and coordination are essential.

A prominent national venture such as a vaccine rollout plan needs a holistic approach that includes the whole society from the Ministry of Health, partnerships across government and social leaders from the beginning till the end of the project. Strong leadership and coordination are crucial and have been proved essential in countries that have shown early successes. Countries such as Ghana, Angola, Mauritius, and Rwanda advised that as official resources are over-stretched in such a rapid critical initiative, multi-sectorial partnerships at national, district and local levels were crucial. The demand for vaccines was established by considering the effect of cultural and or religious leaders on communities.

As of April 2021, less than 2% of the 780 million COVID-19 vaccines doses distributed globally have reached the African continent. For most African countries, the major challenge has been obtaining more doses as some countries are rapidly running out of supplies. Others are facing challenges posed by a lack of funds or limited planning. In addition, no country is safe until all countries can create a herd immunity against the virus. To ensure the African continent is not left behind, the WHO Africa made a strong appeal to the international community to assist where possible.

6. Regional Economic Communities

Some of the regional economic communities in East and Southern Africa created promising initiatives aimed at helping the region to have fair access to vaccines and focus on ways to fast track the movement towards Herd Immunity. Thus, even though certain factors have slowed down the progress, RECs are focusing on moving forward.


On 11 May 2021, the Ministers of Health of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) discussed recommendations to mitigate the effects of the pandemic in the region. SADC Executive Secretary, Her Excellency Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, advised that the SADC region supports expanded and equal access to vaccines. Furthermore, additional emphasis should be placed on improving the capacity in the manufacturing and research of vaccines and medicines for COVID-19 and other diseases. This capacity should be built at the regional and national levels and should incorporate alternative solutions. She also applauded the Expanded Technical Committee for Coordinating and Monitoring the Implementation of the SADC Protocol on Health for developing guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures that aim to facilitate cross-border movements of goods and public health surveillance at entry points. In addition, Health Ministers asked WHO to assist SADC countries in identifying and tackling new variants. The aim is to build complex genomic surveillance capacities, ship samples to sequencing laboratories and or provide technical guidance, financial or other supplies for laboratory purposes.

During this meeting, the Health Ministers urged member states the following[63]:

  • To continue strengthening the existing disease control actions, including epidemiological surveillance, strategic testing and increase routine systematic sequencing of representative samples of SARS-CoV-2 isolates from across the country whenever possible.
  • To share information on the administration and receipt of the types of vaccines and the number of doses. This sharing will assist in strengthening the monitoring of vaccine coverage in the region.
  • To Strengthen the Regulatory Capacity of National Regulatory Agencies (NRA) to allow vaccine assessment. The aim is also to maintain and improve the trust in the COVID-19 vaccine among communities.
  • To ensure the vaccination of SADC citizens residing in SADC terrains or alongside borders including, but not limited to, diplomats, migrants, and students.
  • To share experiences and challenges that were overcome in manufacturing, distribution, and the management of vaccines. This information should include any prospects of investors willing to establish manufacturing sites in the SADC region.
  • To allow for a steady resumption of economic activity, member states were urged to continue using COVID-19 Test Certificates and gradually move towards vaccine certificates until herd immunity has been reached within the region.


With ever-changing restrictions placed on the movement of goods and people within the ESA region and African continent, it has become much more challenging for all stakeholders to conduct business. Ongoing business activity is vital for African economies to survive and grow. Many African business models are still a long way from capturing technological advances which allow for remote functioning. In addition, limited COVID-19 vaccine supplies and distribution capabilities capture the unique challenges faced by African citizens and further business owners.

The current situation that African countries are facing will be overcome by sharing obstacles encountered and successful solutions. Ultimately strategic planning, coordination, and ongoing communication between all stakeholders on national and regional levels are vital to ensure the successful drive of Herd Immunity within the Eastern and African region.

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[58] Author’s own calculations using WHO data collected over the period.

[59] Author’s own calculations using WHO data collected over the period.

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