Welcome to Next Africa, a weekly newsletter of where the continent stands now — and where it’s going next.
South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has been put on leave, just as the nation’s long-awaited and much-criticized Covid-19 vaccine rollout is getting underway.
He’s embroiled in a scandal over a communications contract at his department that didn’t follow proper procedures and is alleged to have benefited his family. He’s denied wrongdoing but will now need to clear his name.
For the politician who was first praised for a rapid lockdown, then pilloried for failing to secure vaccines, it’s embarrassing. For South Africans, it’s emblematic of the government’s troubled vaccine program that’s been set back in turn by ineptness and misfortune.
Mkhize’s department failed to engage directly with pharmaceutical companies to buy vaccines in 2020, even as four firms announced trials in the country.
Then as it scrambled to do so, the first vaccines it secured — AstraZeneca shots made under license in India — were found in February to be less effective against a virus variant first identified in the country. The delivery of Johnson & Johnson doses, packaged in South Africa and reserved for the government, has also been put on hold because of an ingredient mix up in the U.S.
“There’s no doubt we were late in the game and we were at the end of the queue,” said Martin Kingston, the vice president of a business organization that’s helping the government distribute vaccines. “How would we know that the variant emerges in South Africa is going to have 22% efficacy for AstraZeneca?”
With just over 1.5 million doses administered in the nation of 60 million people, South Africa has vaccinated a smaller proportion of is population than Zimbabwe or Angola.
Bad luck not withstanding, most analysts agree that Africa’s most developed country could have, and should have done better.
News & Opinion
Budget Day | Three East African states are betting on an economic recovery from the coronavirus fallout to boost revenues and lower fiscal deficits projected at a combined $16.4 billion in the year starting July 1. Finance ministers of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania presented their 2021-22 budgets on Thursday, projecting growth in revenue as economic activity picks up. Spending plans have been increased in the countries, except Uganda.
Virus Update | The Mastercard Foundation will provide $1.3 billion to support the coronavirus vaccination program in Africa. Funding will be deployed in partnership with the Africa Centres for Disease Control & Prevention to procure shots for about 50 million people. The announcement comes as the least-inoculated continent faces a third wave of infections amid a shortage of vaccines. Meanwhile, a 54-year old man who had received two doses of a vaccine died of the disease in Seychelles on Thursday.
Tech Unicorn | Nigeria’s biggest mobile payments company is vying to become Africa’s next unicorn, and plans to expand to Ethiopia and Mexico. Paga, whose backers include U.S. billionaire Tim Draper and former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill, boasts 17 million unique users in Africa’s most populous country. Paga processed $8 billion worth of transactions in the past four years, and could reach a valuation of $1 billion in a year or two, according to Chief Executive Officer Tayo Oviosu.
Airline Sale | South Africa agreed to sell a 51% stake in the nation’s grounded carrier to a local jet-leasing company, Global Airways, and private-equity firm Harith General Partners. The sale of South African Airways comes about six weeks after the airline emerged from lengthy bankruptcy proceedings, having reduced its workforce by almost 80% and cut liabilities. The consortium plans to invest as much as $257 million in the venture over the next three years.
Ethiopia Crisis | More than 350,000 people are facing “catastrophic conditions” in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia. Food aid is urgently needed, life-saving interventions should be scaled up and the government should allow unimpeded access to those in need, according to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme and Unicef. Tigray has been engulfed in conflict since November, when federal troops retaliated against an attack by regional soldiers on an army base.
Past & Prologue
- Ghana’s inflation rate dropped to 7.5% in May, the lowest since at least the start of 2013.
- South African current account surplus widened to an annualized 5% of GDP, above expectations.
- South African first-quarter GDP grew an annualized 4.6%, beating expectations.
- Mauritius annual inflation rate climbed to 2.4% in May from 0.2% in April.
- June 15 Nigeria, Namibia and Botswana inflation for May
- June 16 Namibia interest-rate decision, Ghana first-quarter GDP and PPI for May
- June 17 Botswana interest-rate decision, South Africa retail sales for April, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in South Africa
- June 18 Bloomberg’s June economic survey for South Africa
The Nigerian government’s ban on Twitter has triggered a wave of defiance among the country’s tech savvy, largely youthful population despite the risk of acquiring a criminal record. Demand in Africa’s most populous country for virtual private network software, or VPN, that bypasses local internet restrictions soared by 1,409% on June 5, according to Top10VPN, an independent U.K.-based review website. The figure was more than 400% higher the following day as the block extended past 24 hours. Telecommunications operators were ordered to shut down access, days after the social media giant deleted a post by President Muhammadu Buhari. About two dozen Nigerian civil-society leaders issued a statement titled “WE WILL KEEP TWEETING,” denouncing the “anti-democratic clampdown on free speech.”
— With assistance by Michael Cohen