Poor infrastructure, logistical hurdles and high prices are some of the challenges that have long affected Africa’s food supply. With border closures and night curfews, the pandemic has exacerbated these problems.
In the busy market of Baba Dogo — a town located northeast of Nairobi, Kenya — Irene Kwira sells clothing she imports from China, Uganda and Tanzania.
Kwira’s supply chain broke when the coronavirus pandemic hit the world and forced many manufacturing industries to shut down businesses and countries to close borders.
Kenya took similar measures to limit the spread of the virus.
“This meant that we could not get our goods easily because they could not reach us,” Kwira told DW. “So the returns were low and we would buy goods at a higher price because the demand could not match the supply.”
Kenya closed its borders and allowed only essential goods to be imported and transported throughout the country.
The government’s decision on what counts as essential services also made Kwira’s job of selling her stock exponentially more impossible. “It’s difficult to send goods timely to my customers within the country due to the curfew,” Kwira said.
Kwira isn’t the only merchant affected by the pandemic. Shoe seller Nico Manyasia has battled to stay afloat and keep clients happy. “Goods cannot reach the customers in good time,” Manyasia said, adding that merchants must wait weeks to get their deliveries.
Medical supplies affected in Ghana
In Tamale, Ghana’s northern region, the road leading to the Janjori Kukuo health center is so severely damaged that vehicles often fall into deep potholes. Located in the remote part of the north region of Ghana, the facility is one of many poorly resourced centers, but still serves several communities in the Nanton district.
Many rural health centers in Ghana currently lack personal protection equipment (PPE). In an effort to solve the shortages, the government announced that it was partnering with the private sector to fill the gaps. However, there has not been a reliable supply chain to health facilities, specifically to rural areas.
“If a patient comes here as an emergency case, what are we going to do?” Vincent Ayamga, a nurse on duty, told DW. “We are not even well protected,” he said. “We have no PPEs.”
Ayamga’s colleagues work to reduce infants’ fevers without gloves or face masks. That has been their predicament, especially during the pandemic.”They came and gave us the protective clothing only once,” Nasamu Nimatu said.
Nimatu and the other health workers couldn’t get supplies from the capital, Accra, because of poor road connections.
It’s a challenge that most health centers in rural areas face, but it has gotten worse, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. Regional hospitals and health centers depend on national ambulance services during emergencies.
Research conducted by NORSAAC, a non governmental organization, at 90 health facilities across Northern Ghana in May found that most facilities in the area were not ready to manage suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases due to insufficient logistical infrastructure.
Ghana, Kenya logistic challenges mirrored across Africa
Kobo360, a leading global logistics platform in Africa, has registered over 31,527 deliveries across Africa during the COVID-19 crisis. The importance of their business has been magnified as companies scramble to secure their supply chains.
The company’s CEO, Obi Ozor, reckons companies spend 7 to 14% of their revenues on logistics. “It was crazy when these things happened in the first week. Nobody had a clue what to do,” Ozor said, referring to chaotic decisions made in various countries early March when most African nations registered coronavirus cases.
Kobo360 transports about 99% of all goods in Africa. But delivering the goods to the final destinations has become a big challenge. Cargo drivers have to put their lives on the line, as most of them are exposed to the virus.
Then there is also corruption. “The drivers who we’ve been begging to drive, they go on the road and different authorities extorting money from them,” Ozor told DW.
To avoid risking the lives of his employees, Azor had to reduce the number of his staff transporting cargos across the continent. In regular times, Kobo360 transports minerals and raw material like cement. “I moved all the trucks to take care of pharmaceutical supplies.”
And while COVID-19 has hammered economies, for Ozor, at least, it has forced African governments to modernize. “digitalization has become a centerpiece of what any organization is doing today,” he said, adding that the use of technology became mainstream ability for government and startups to improve the service delivery.
Initially, when many countries went into lockdown, people were generally eager to wait it out. But the coronavirus has had a delayed effect on the African continent, and the threat of COVID-19 has been lurking for months.
Maxwell Suuk in Ghana and Andrew Wasike in Kenya contributed to this report.