Work from home? Not feasible for Africa

87% of jobs in Africa cannot be performed from home

Across the world, we are dealing with the reality that the global health crisis will likely have a cruel successor — an economic crisis. Productivity across the world is being hit as many industries and workers have been disproportionately affected by lock-downs, and the pursuant ‘work from home’ mantra.

So what is the outcome of social distancing and ‘working from home’ in Africa? Well, McKinsey & Co. says that the jobs and incomes of 150 million Africans across the informal and formal sectors are vulnerable — that’s the equivalent to one-third of the entire labour force.

If one considers the make-up of African jobs vs. jobs in developed countries, the picture becomes clearer. Africa’s labour market is made mostly of the informal sector — with approximately 140 million of its 440 million labour force formally employed by wage-paying jobs. The remaining 300 million are far more vulnerable to the consequences of social distancing, as they are engaged in subsistence agriculture, informal self-employment (typically retail / trade) or work for a family member. Thus, earning a living typically relies on close contact. The overall result is that the vast majority of jobs in Africa can not be performed from home. From a sample of 11 African countries (the African countries for which the data was available), 87% of jobs cannot be performed from home.

When this is considered, one can understand the impossible dilemma that many African countries face — shutdown the country and save lives lost from COVID now; or allow the country to continue operating, and save lives lost now and in the future, from loss of baseline income and livelihoods. Perhaps the solution is closer to what we have observed in Ghana — where a lifting of restrictions came after swift moves to increase in testing, improve treatment centres, and implementing innovative solutions such as the use of drones to deliver COVID-19 tests.

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