By Ken Giami

The whole world may seem to be on Pause and lockdown following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people and businesses. Still, African entrepreneurs, businesses and organizations cannot afford to be on Pause. The challenges faced by companies at this time are no doubt, mindboggling. Yet, if there were one word that encapsulates the identity and the very essence of companies operating in the African business environment, that word would be’ resilient’. Lockdowns and social distancing must not be taken as a business holiday for companies, entrepreneurs and organizations. People can effectively work from home and hold business meetings with different tools and technology currently at our disposal. Globally, forward-thinking organizations are adapting to the present-day challenge, but committedly working to continue to serve their clients and contribute to solving some of humanity’s problems and meeting their customers specific needs.

Hence, for businesses and entrepreneurs looking for an outlay of reasons why they should dust-up their dreams and visions, roll up their sleeves and do the required work necessary, so they are fully prepared to thrive, even more than ever; then find the reasons below.

1. Africa’s continued survival and future depends to a great extent on the response of businesses to this challenge: – COVID-19 no doubt represents an unprecedented challenge, but it is a challenge all the same. However, African companies have never shied away from problems, as it is the challenges that they address that ultimately provides the opportunities they ride onto future business successes and triumphs. Businesses in Africa have been at the forefront of innovating and implementing best practices in corporate governance and problem-solving on the continent, despite sometimes very challenging business climate. Companies on the continent are known for signposting effective organizational behaviour and management to the public sector, to the extent well managed public sector organizations are said to be run as a private sector organization. Hence, private sector organizations should support governmental bodies at all level to fight the spread of the virus and facilitate a return to normalcy by deploying their problem-solving expertise, financial resources, and diverse skills-set to COVID-19 national and regional responses. Companies and organizations on the continent must, therefore, rise to the challenge and innovate their way out of the present difficulties, not just the health challenge but for economic reasons too – as they have always done. Africa’s continued survival and future would, in no small extent, depend on the response of companies to this challenge.

2. The continent is already behind the rest of the world in most development indicators: – Before the arrival of the virus, the continent already had its hands full of age-long challenges it had been grappling with, ranging from colossal youth unemployment, infrastructure deficits, significant gaps in our education structures, climate change and ecological issues to the now more glaring problems in our healthcare delivery systems – which we have always known, among others. It is also a known fact that with issues of corruption in governmental circles, and weak institutions in some African countries, the African private sector has shown that, comparatively, it is a significant driver of growth on the continent. Hence, now more than ever before, businesses must not go on holiday, not for a day, but continue to put in the bold and decisive actions that would help in addressing the myriads of issues that must be dealt with. The success of the private sector in the telecommunications industry and the financial services industry is a pointer to the possibilities that the private sector in Africa represent at this period of global crises.

3. Progress in the eradication of extreme poverty on the continent must be sustained: – As of 2015, according to a report by the global think tank, Brookings Institute, most of the poorest people in the world lived in Africa, with 27 out of the 28 poorest nations in sub-Saharan Africa. This represented over 90% of the world’s poorest. However, due to a concerted effort of all stakeholders including international development partners, governments, and especially a robust African private sector aggressively creating jobs, the percentage of the world’s poorest in Africa reduced to about 70% in 2018, with one in three Africans living below the global poverty line. And from projections from the World Data Lab, as of March 2019, more Africans were escaping extreme poverty than the number of those born or falling below the poverty line. Also, projections by the International Futures (IFs) modelling platform at the University of Denver, projected that sub-Saharan Africa would account for roughly 60% of the world’s poorest people by 2020. While these numbers do not call for celebrations, as the continent is still disproportionately poor compared with the other continent, It does show that there has been a gradual but steady progress in lifting the African people out of extreme poverty. This progress must be sustained, and the private sector holds the key, working in concert and with help from governments, African development finance institutions, international development partners, and other strategic partners.

4. A shrinking of the Continent’s GDP Growth: – According to a recent report by McKinsey, initial analysis of COVID-19’s economic impact finds that Africa’s GDP growth in 2020 could be cut by three to eight percentage points, with African economies potentially facing losses between $90 billion and $200 billion in 2020 alone. Hence, the advent of the virus portends a worsening future not just for an already battered health system, but also an economic crisis of massive proportions, if all stakeholders do not adopt concerted and bold efforts – especially the African private sector. Also, the pandemic, coupled with natural disasters in some countries as well as the oil-price shock being currently faced by commodity-driven economies, could potentially tip African economies into a recession. African businesses and entrepreneurs must then do the hard but necessary work required not just to survive but be ready to take advantage of new opportunities when the lockdowns are over, and the virus is defeated, as it will be.

5. The world as we knew it might have changed forever: -Remote work, remote learning, homeschooling, more online meetings and hangouts could very possibly become the new normal. So clearly, African businesses should embrace the times and re-invent and re-imagine their business models, operations and processes in their business continuity plans, so as not to risk playing catch up and possible extinction, when things return to some normalcy.  

As we adjust to the unfolding new normal, African businesses, entrepreneurs and organizations cannot afford to put their corporate goals on Pause, or its’ leaders fall to the easy trap of endless television watching or following series on Netflix, but it is a time to commit to working even more hours than ever before – focusing on navigating the times, and re-inventing the business. It is the time to ensure liquidity by strategically pushing out your products and services, innovating new products and services that are suitable to the times, and taking advantage of any stimulus packages from governments. It is the time to stay top-of-mind and continually engage with your clients and stakeholders through strategic media campaigns, as well as participating in CSR efforts aimed at stopping the spread of the virus or cushioning the impact of the virus on vulnerable populations in our communities.