A five-nation survey by GeoPoll in Sub-Saharan Africa has found that 60 per cent of those employed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic have not been able to work as a result of the outbreak, and nearly half of those are unsure if they will have jobs to go back to.
An even larger proportion, at four out of five of those polled in the survey of 2,500 respondents, reported that their income has decreased during the pandemic, with those in informal jobs, particularly in trade and agriculture, reporting the most widespread and largest falls in incomes.
Overall, some 60 per cent of formal sector workers reported income falls, but 88 per cent of informal sector workers reporting reduced earnings. The International Labour Organisation estimates that the informal sector accounts for over 80 per cent of the workforce in sub-Saharan Africa.
“The closure of borders, restrictions on movements, and suspended education and hospitality sectors has wrought financial havoc across the African nations studied, with those in informal employment being hardest hit” said Roxana Elliott, VP Marketing & Content, GeoPoll.
The survey was conducted remotely via SMS from June to July 2020.
It was run through GeoPoll’s mobile surveying platform, which enables safe and effective data collection via SMS, voice call, and other modes even when in-person research cannot be conducted.
The full GeoPoll report, which covers income bands, types of employment and the impact on earnings in each of the countries is attached report.
Economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed East Africa’s growth projection for 2020 down to 1.2 percent.
However, this growth rate outstrips other African regions and is forecast to rebound to 3.7 percent in 2021, according to the African Development Bank’s East Africa Regional Economic Outlook 2020.
The projection is under the baseline scenario that assumes the virus is contained by the third quarter of this year.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the region’s economic growth was projected at more than 5 percent, well above continent’s average of 3.3 percent and global average of 2.9 percent.
Simon Kiprono Chelugui, Cabinet Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Labour, said East African countries could overcome the effects of COVID-19 and turn their economies around by mitigating the external and domestic risks.
“We need to implement a decisive and coordinated response to contain the spread of COVID-19; mitigate its health and socio-economic effects; accelerate structural transformation; improve the investment climate, and maintain the peace and security of our region,” he said.
According to the Poll, the lifting of restrictions is unlikely to repair the damage quickly, with only 57 per cent of the previously employed saying they still have work to return to once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
Moreover, just 6 per cent of the respondents reported they have sufficient funds to cover their household expenses for more than five months, and most are already running down their savings or relying on credit.
Altogether, 30 per cent said they would be covering most of their expenses next month through borrowing, and 28 per cent by using savings.
Moreover, during the pandemic, almost half of all respondents have taken an extra loan to help cover household expenses.
“With many sub-Saharan Africans still excluded from borrowing, the impact of the pandemic on income and employment, which has hit the lowest income earners the hardest, will make paying for basic expenses such as food and rent a challenge for millions over the coming months,” said Roxana.
Despite the harsh economic effects being felt, a majority in the nations studied believe their governments should prioritize protecting people from the virus, rather than focus on reopening economies.
Of the countries studied, Nigeria was the only one in which a majority feel that reopening the economy should be a priority.
However, it was also found that those whose income has decreased significantly were more likely to favour reopening economies.
Julius Mukunda, Executive Director of the Civil Society Advocacy Group in Uganda, last week said in order to nurture growth, East African nations must stamp out corruption, and invest in areas in which the region has unique strengths, such as food production, not only to provide food, but also income for farmers to help them to mitigate the effects of COVID-19.