COVID-19 has already started driving up the “black tax” following the creation many new dependents, whose business are more affected by the pandemic hence worsening inequalities in East Africa as millions are relegated into poverty.
“Black tax” is a term used to refer to the amount of money African workers give to parents, siblings and extended family members as support for all sorts of expenses to ease their financial burden.
“Many poor people lost their small informal businesses, while big corporations such as technology, communication and e-commerce companies earned windfall revenues since all services went digital during these past two years,” Teddy Kaberuka an economist based in Kigali said.
According to him, the pandemic has aggravated income inequalities, because many people have lost their jobs while livelihoods and consumption slowed down production.
‘‘some sectors were affected more than others, for instance the tourism sector which employed a large number of people from the low income cluster was gravely affected, hurting livelihoods.’’ Teddy added.
What is certain is that the economic destruction is real and worse in Africa.
The most affected people are from the poorest communities, hit by indiscriminate lockdowns, reducing the hand-to-mouth economy to almost nothing.
People dealing in lower rung jobs like security guards, cleaners, porters and construction workers, life stopped, and many were without savings.
In less than two years, the pandemic has undone decades of efforts to lift communities out of poverty through education and economic growth.
Some vulnerable families who sold their property to educate at least one of their children with a hope that he or she will pull the family out of poverty, have ended up losing these economic pillars to the pandemic.
Many women in Africa also lost their informal businesses, yet the financial burdens often fall on their shoulders.
Author Yuval Noah Harari once argues that the human race is capable of overcoming any existential threat. He predicts that even if a plague attacks, the human race will unite and deal with it which is still early days in this COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite efforts by regional governments to achieve food security through elaborate plans and policies, the region remains food deficient.
Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Somalia are all currently facing different levels of food deficiencies due to aftershocks of COVID-19.
According to the East Africa Food Security Outlook from June to January 2022 as published by the Relief Web, food assistance needs will remain high and above average in Somalia, southern and southeastern Ethiopia, and northern and eastern Kenya through at least early 2022.
The Covid pandemic has also continues to affect food insecurity, especially among urban households in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda and refugees in Uganda.
In Kenya, the government has put more than 12 out of the 47 counties on red alert with government figures showing that about 400,000 people are facing starvation in the coastal region alone.
Some 12 counties are on drought alert, according to the National Drought Management Authority.
According to the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 2.1 million people in the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya are severely food insecure, following two consecutive seasons of poor rains, which have hampered crop production.
Limited access to food aggravated by the loss of income and closure of markets in some counties due to has left over 532,000 children under five years and 93,300 pregnant.
From January to July, humanitarian organisations in Kenya reached 491,000 people with critical assistance, including food and agricultural inputs, treatment for acute malnutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as health, education and protection services.
Harry Kimtai, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation, said that investments in agriculture will only be sustainable with proper regulations and policies, which the national government is trying to do after devolving the agricultural sector to the counties.
“The government has put in place programmes to sustain our food systems by involving processing and storage. The biggest challenge is post-harvest losses due to poor storage infrastructure,” Mr Kimtai told a virtual food summit that discussed ways to ensure sustainable food systems.
In Sudan, for instance, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) estimates that poor macroeconomic conditions as well as protracted conflict in parts of Darfur, Kordofan, and Red Sea states and widespread seasonal floods are pushing food assistance needs nearly 50-60 percent above the five-year average.
In Rwanda, the country’s Meteorology Agency warned that parts of Eastern and Southern provinces are likely to face unusual dry spells similar to those that befell the country in 2016, 2010 and 1996.
The agency announced the outlook on August 27, while releasing the September to December rainfall seasonal forecast.
The former Prime Minister of Ethiopia and AGRF Board Chair, Hailemariam Dessalegn, said that a lot needs to be done to increase food production and make the region food-sufficient through inclusive agriculture.
“We must work collaboratively to ensure that policy, technology and finances respond to the needs of our farmers. This is critical to achieving zero hunger across the continent and around the globe,” he said.
In Tanzania, a recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics said that most farmers in the country have not embraced irrigation. Only 5.2 percent or 411,108 farmers out of a sample 7.8 million practiced irrigation farming in the country.
Although this is an increase compared with a decade ago, the development still signals slow implementation of irrigation and agriculture policies.
In Uganda a lot of business has been shut down and some reduced workers due to COVID-19 lockdown leaving many staving and unable to cater for families.
Thousands of Ugandans faced and still facing food shortage in cities and towns due to restrictions announced by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni as a way of cumbing the spread of corona virus pandemic.
Nearly 90% of the city and town dwellers in Uganda live in suburbs and slums where curfew was implemented limiting their working hours yet majority survive on night business.
Uganda has 140 districts, 10 cities, and 40 towns with most of the people in urban areas having migrated from villages.
According to Thomas Kapo Kigozi, a local leader in Kampala, at least five people have died from hunger in the capital during the second lockdown before being lifted by president.