The outbreak of the novel coronavirus — COVID-19 — has been impacting life on all levels of society and business for the last couple of months’ for many, recalibrating their understanding of normalcy at every possible juncture. Globally, countries have been closing their borders, suspending many flights (even all in some cases) and putting nations on lockdown in an attempt to contain the virus.
While the medical industry has rallied behind the cause, how can the rest of us do our part? For many the best efforts are simply to stay put and limit movement? However, what about business? As advocated by many international institutions, it is vital that Governments facilitate the continued operation of shipping and ports under their jurisdiction to allow the transport of marine cargoes so that supply chains are not disrupted and to allow the global economy, and society as a whole, to continue to function throughout the pandemic.
The aim of this paper is therefore to provide an update on the current experience across the East and Southern African (ESA) region regarding the movement of goods. As COVID-19 infections began to increase — Africa experiencing the delayed wave as is many times the global case —countries across the continent are closing their borders in a desperate attempt to keep their people safe and maintain overall health. Below is a summary of how each of the 24 ESA member countries have responded to the virus in terms of transport, movement of people and trade.
Concern is mounting as infections in Africa started accumulating. The continent is stricken with unemployment and poor living conditions along with a serious lack of medical infrastructure. Seventy-one per cent of employment in Africa is informal, which means that the majority of the continent’s people will not be able to work and earn an income in strict lockdown. One of the concerns pointed out by the UN is the prevalence of HIV/Aids in Africa, especially Southern Africa. In addition to this only 34 per cent of households in Africa have access to facilities which allow them to wash their hands properly. There is an overall concern for the continent.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) estimates that should African economies prove to be resilient and governments put efficient policies in place to stabilize economies, their overall estimated growth in GDP will drop 1.4 per cent from 3.2 to 1.8. However, the group estimates that in a worst-case scenario, the continent’s economy could contract by up to 2.6 per cent in 2020.
Figure 1 shows UNECA’s projections for Africa’s GDP growth as initially estimated (blue), best-case scenario (yellow), middle-case scenario (orange) and worst-case scenario (red).
Figure 1 – Potential impact of Covid-19 on Africa’s GDP growth
On April 9 President João Lourenço announced that the State of Emergency in Angola will be extended by an additional 15 days, ending on 25 April at 11:59 pm. The government has stated that the country is however facing a high level of disobedience by members of the public. During the first period of lockdown the National Police has seized around 1 500 motorbikes and 700 vehicles, closed down 60 unofficial markets and detained 70 shop owners. Thus, the government also implemented a “sanitary fence” on 13 April from 11:59pm which prevents the inter-provincial movement of people via any form of transportation, be it land, sea, air or rail (source).
The Angolan Press reported that the country has received around 55-tons of sanitary and related equipment and goods during the first period of lockdown ending on April 11. They estimated that SADC partner, South Africa, would be sending an additional 100 tons in the coming weeks. Both essential and non-essential cargo is allowed to move across the country’s borders in any mode of transportation (source).
Botswana went into a strict 28-day lockdown period on 2 April. Botswana’s Parliament announced on April 9 that the country will be under state of emergency for six months. This has been opposed and criticized by the ruling opposition, claiming that this opens the door for high levels of corruption and irregularities, especially with regards to tenders (source). Trade is expected to continue with no restrictions on goods entering the country.
On 30 March Burundi closed its borders not only to people entering the country, but also to any cargo entering the country. However, on April 13 the Burundian government announced that all cargo will be allowed into the country in accordance with the decision made by the East African Community to allow the free movement of goods within the EAC region (source).
The Union of Comoros has not yet reported any cases of COVID-19. The National Agency for Maritime Affairs made a similar announcement allowing for cargo but strictly prohibiting the movement of people. All ports remain open without restrictions for trade (source).
Djibouti has been in lockdown since March 23, with only essential services operating under strict sanitary conditions. Cargo is allowed to move as normal with no restriction on goods being imported or exported. There have however been some disruptions in the supply chain, with a significant slowdown in all forms of transport, especially road transport (source).
On April 14 Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority (DPFZA) announced that it will be granting free terminal handling charges to Ethiopian export cargo for 60 days, starting 16 April (source).
Eritrea entered into a 21-day lockdown period on April 2. The country announced that although commercial flights and the movement of people across borders have been suspended, cargo was allowed to move across borders (source). However, a highly publicized shipment of COVID-19 supplies originating from Addis Ababa, donated by Alibaba, never made it to Eritrea. The shipment of goods was destined for a group of African countries including Kenya, Djibouti and Eritrea. It is speculated that the goods were not delivered due to the fact that the Eritrean officials never cleared the plane carrying the cargo to land (source).
On April 9 the Prime Minister of Eswatini, Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini announced that the country will remain in partial lockdown until May 7. The Prime Minister indicated that the borders would remain closed with the exception of essential travel including nationals returning home and the movement of cargo and services across borders. The country is not yet in full locked down, although all employers have been requested to allow as many employees as possible to work from home and that essential businesses should continue to operate at full strength (source).
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared a state of emergency on April 2. He added that the country’s borders will remain shut with exception to essential imports. The landlocked country relies on Djibouti and Kenya’s seaports for trade which, due to the cross-currents of the virus, will be drastically reduced (source).
President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a 21-day lockdown starting on April 6 (source). Part of the restrictions will be to inhibit people from moving across borders or even between cities. All cargo is allowed to move across borders. Kenya has reported that due to a decline in exports, container availability is severely limited. There has also been reports of severe congestion in road transport, especially at border posts (source).
Lesotho sealed all borders to all forms of travel as the landlocked country, geographically encircled by South Africa, tries to keep the virus at bay and prevent it from entering its borders (source). The country is however allowing the movement of essential cargo across its borders. The Minister of Finance, Moeketsi Majoro has pleaded with nationals in foreign countries to remain where they are with the country’s health care system under tremendous strain (source).
President Andry Rajoelina imposed a lockdown in the island’s three main cities stating there may be easing in the coming weeks (source). Although all cruise ships have been banned; cargo ships are allowed to all ports, although they are operating at a reduced capacity (source). Travel between islands, including the Union of Comoros, Mayotte and Reunion Island has been suspended (source).
Health Minister Jappie Mhango declared a 21-day nationwide lockdown, starting on April 18. The country’s borders will remain open to trade, however with strict health and safety measures in place (source). After pleas from the Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition, however, the Malawi high court has temporarily barred the government from implementing the 21-day lockdown (source).
On April 10 Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth announced that the country’s lockdown will be extended to May. Although the country’s borders are closed for the movement of people and open to trade (source), delays have been experienced (source). Air Mauritius has been forced to go into business rescue as the embattled airline could not weather the Covid-19 storm (source).
Mozambique declared the country’s first ever state of national disaster on April 1. The country’s borders remain open to trade but are operating at reduced capacity leading to time delays. The country’s coal exports are expected to continue during the lockdown period (source).
On April 14 the Namibian Government announced that it would be extending the lockdown until May 4. Namibia has maintained a free flow of all cargo across all ports of entry during its lockdown period. The movement of cargo is however impaired and drastically slowed down by the screening process and safety measures. Hippy Tjicikua, Walvis Bay Corridor Group CEO stated that this is in spite of the fact that the volume of cargo entering the country has decreased drastically (source).
President Paul Kgame extended Rwanda’s lockdown for the second time to April 30. The country has closed all borders and suspended all commercial flights, while goods and cargo are allowed to move across borders. The country did however close its land borders to Burundi for a period of time in retaliation to Burundi’s refusal to allow trucks carrying essential cargo to enter the country (source). However, as Burundi announced that the country’s borders will remain open to trade, Rwanda followed suit. All borders are operating at minimal capacity (source). Unrest is growing within the country with increased accusations of police brutality becoming more frequent (source).
Seychelles entered into a 21-day lockdown period on April 9 (source). Air Seychelles suspended all domestic services on April 10 until May 1. Cargo flights to assist the import export supply chain are continuing but are under heavy strain (source).
Somalia’s government announced a ban on international flights in and out of the country which is extended to cargo flights. Seaports are still operational (source). The police in the Puntland area have banned all vehicles, passenger and cargo, from moving in or out of the state. The State instituted a curfew and lifted taxes on rice, sugar and cooking oil in an attempt to lighten the strain on the people (source).
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on April 23 that the nationwide lockdown will be phased out in five levels with the country entering into level four on 1 May. This will allow some businesses to open. The country’s ports remain open to cargo allowing only essential cargo to move to intended destination as per the International movement document. Non-essential cargo will be kept into storage facilities until after lockdown. This will impose a serious financial burden to Trade as containers (FCL) and other conveyance packing equipment can’t be de-stuffed, allow the return of empty containers or use in packing of containers for Exports. Ports are operating at a reduced capacity which has resulted in delays.
South Sudan has imposed a ban on international flights with the exception of cargo flights. Land borders remains open and operational as the landlocked country heavily relies on these ports to obtain essential goods. Strict health and safety measures are however in place. Although the country’s borders remain closed for the movement of people, corruption has affected the ability to contain the spread of the virus (source).
Tanzania is one of the few countries that resisted the World Health Organization’s recommendation of total lockdown. Tanzanian President John Magufuli refused to allow churches to be closed and to prevent congregations from meeting (source). He stated that “Coronavirus should not be a reason to destroy our economy at all,” The country has however put a ban on all international flights. The movement of cargo across borders is allowed with strict health and safety measures in place (source).
President Yoweri Museveni announced that the nationwide lockdown will be extended to May 5, with all the same measures still in place. All commercial flights are suspended, while cargo flights will continue as normal. The president also stated that no foreign national will enter the country through land or seaports except for those transporting goods into the country (source). The Minister of Health however indicated that the road border between Uganda and Kenya is one of the country’s main concerns as a truck driver bringing cargo from Kenya to Uganda has recently tested positive for the virus (source).
President Edgar Lungu has decided against the recommendations of the World Health Organization not to implement a full lockdown due, largely to concerns regarding the ability of citizens to obtain food and income. The Zambian Minister of Health did however announce that Kafue town will be placed on lockdown due to the rapid spread of the virus in this specific area. The landlocked country is heavily dependent on trade for both essential supplies and income, thus the country’s borders remain open. Due to health and safety precautions, delays are being experienced at all ports of entry (source).
President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced on April 19 that the country’s lockdown will be extended for an additional two weeks (source). The country’s economy and people are of great concern as the majority of income is generated through informal trade. Law enforcement of burning fresh produce to enforce the lockdown has created tension. Essential cargo is still allowed to move across the country’s borders with strict screenings in place (source).
Updates and recommendations from Regional Economic Communities in East and Southern Africa
In a report written by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Business Council, governments are implored to look at both monetary and non-monetary measures to protect their businesses. The report recommends that businesses focus on restructuring their current models or employing newer models such as working from home, digital meetings, virtual office spaces and remote operations managements. Governments are urged to reduce the cost of local production in cooperation with the industry (source).
The East African Community issued a statement that all partner states were expected to implement 100% entry and exit screenings on transit passengers. Partner states are expected to facilitate the free movement of all goods and services along with ensuring that the people involved in these processes are continuously screened and kept safe. The Minister of Health for the EAC indicated that partner states should assist anyone in their country trying to get to their home country if this is an EAC partner state (source).
The Southern African Development Community has announced a set of guidelines for member states to facilitate the flow of essential goods while limiting the movement of people across borders. SADC encouraged governments to categorize pilots and crew and cross border truck drivers as essential services to facilitate their movements. They listed food, medical equipment and supplies as well as medicine, personal protective equipment, fuel and coal, agricultural inputs and supplies, and all goods needed in the production and processing of foodstuffs. as essential goods.
The group stated that the movement of goods not included in the list should be discussed between member states. Member states are encouraged to introduce or enhance single window processing and inline platforms for the clearance of imports. Inter-state movement should be suspended with the exception of the movement of cargo and people returning to their home countries (source).
The vast majority of ESA countries have entered into various degrees of lockdown in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. This has not only placed substantial strain on the region’s economic activities but has also on its people. There are growing concerns for food security, income generation and — in some countries — even social unrest with reports of police brutality. The closure of borders to the movement of “non-essential” goods in some countries, has led to a number of inhibiting supply chain constraints, notably port and border-crossing congestion, supply chain narrowing and mismatches of supply/demand for critical supplies.
Nonetheless, the efforts of the respective governments are having an effect. The screenings and prevention of international movement of people appears to be curbing the spread of the virus. The figure below illustrates the number of confirmed cases of infection in the ESA region.
Figure 2 – Confirmed cases of infection in East and Southern Africa
Evident from the figure above is the fact that the confirmed cases of infection have increased at a much slower rate than reported in countries such as China, Italy, Spain and the United States. This reaffirms the fact that pro-active decisions taken by African governments were necessary in saving many African lives. Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that although many lives have been saved, livelihoods are threatened.
Most ESA countries that have announced lockdown have subsequently issued further varied extensions, which, as it currently stands, will run deep into May. This means that further uncertainty will remain present, which results in a number of important economic questions for extended role players (and indeed all individuals alike). How will ESA countries re-start their economics in the aftermath of the pandemic? How can ESA countries mitigate the lasting economic impacts experienced by the pandemic? What steps need to be taken next to ensure that all the efforts up and to this point has not been wasted? These are all important questions to raise, highlighting the fact that a critical balance needs to be struck in terms of life versus livelihood in the next time period. In conclusion, it is the aim of the RPSG to produce subsequent updates of this kind in order to review the effects of the varied extensions of lockdown in ESA countries.
Table 1 – Covid-19 spread and border closures in East and Southern Africa – end-April