By: Lola Abdulai

Early commentary just a few months into the coronavirus pandemic predicted that African countries would not fare well as the pandemic’s impact was felt in economies across the globe.[1] However, despite being the second-most populous continent on the planet, as of October 14, 2020, the continent accounted for just over 1.2 million coronavirus cases and less than 28,000 deaths.[2] In assessing the world’s regions for the lowest incidences of infections, the African continent is second only to the Western Pacific’s island-nations.[3]

Luckily, the African Union and its 55 member states realized the importance of continuing with a major trade objective before their success in dealing with the pandemic was noticed.[4] The Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, an agreement meant to span the entire continent, has continued towards implementation despite COVID-19,[5] with plans by the African Union for work to continue virtually.[6] In its August 14 press release, the Union noted that attention would focus on digital platforms’ security and reliability as negotiations moved online.[7]

However, things turned around, at least to the outside world, when more and more outlets began to acknowledge that African countries had actually fared among the best in the world through their COVID-19 response.[8] Some argue that this is thanks to the public health initiative mounted in response to the Ebolavirus outbreak in West Africa and the AIDS epidemic.[9] Now, as acclaim is due to African countries and the continent can flex its success on the world stage, it must be asked—how much longer will the rest of the world underestimate the second-most populous continent?

African countries should not settle for acknowledgment from their global peers. Instead, they should invest more in their continental neighbors. While not all African countries have been ratified into the Africa Continental Free Trade Area yet and may not benefit from the agreement’s initial start in 2021, those countries should not hesitate to benefit from this moment. Instead, these countries should take advantage of already established bonds of partnerships, such as the continent’s regional economic communities, eight of which formed the bedrock of the African Union — Community of Sahel-Saharan States, Arab Maghreb Union, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, East African Community, Economic Community of Central African States, Economic Community of West African States, Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and Southern African Development Community.[10] Of course, while countries should still follow the precautions they have taken that have led to success in containing the spread of the virus thus far, African countries should also explore the plethora of opportunities for productivity that have rung in as a result of the virus.

[1] Douglas Zhihua Zeng, How Will COVID-19 Impact Africa’s Trade and Market Opportunities?, World Bank Blogs (June 2, 2020), (“The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to hit African economies extremely hard.”); Judd Devermont & Eric Olander, COVID-19 Is an African Political Crisis as Much as a Health and Economic Emergency, Ctr. for Strategic & Int’l Stud. (Mar. 18, 2020),

[2] COVID-19 Situation Update for the WHO African Region, External Situation Report 33, World Health Org. Reg’l Off. for Afr. (Oct. 14, 2020),

[3] Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard, World Health Org. (Oct. 16, 2020, 10:11 AM),

[4] Prinesha Naidoo & Manus Cranny, Africa-Wide Trade Deal Will Push Ahead Despite Coronavirus Wrath, Bloomberg (June 23, 2020, 1:14 PM),

[5] Id.  

[6] In Wake of COVID-19, African Union to Keep AfCFTA on Track with Digital Technology, Afr. Union (Aug. 14, 2020),  

[7] Id.

[8] Cara Anna, As US Struggles, Africa’s COVID-19 Response is Praised, AP (Sept. 22, 2020),; Denise Chow, Africa has held off the worst of the coronavirus. Researchers are working to figure out how., NBC News (Sept. 25, 2020, 6:00 AM),; Alexander Winning, Puzzled scientists seek reasons behind Africa’s low fatality rates from pandemic, Reuters (Sept. 28, 2020, 10:29 PM),; Simon Marks, In Tackling COVID-19, Africa Gives World Lesson, Voice of America News (Oct. 7, 2020, 6:53 PM),

[9] Karen Attiah, Africa has Defied the Covid-19 Nightmare Scenarios. We Shouldn’t be Surprised., The Washington Post (Sept. 22, 2020, 9:22 AM), See generally Ebola virus disease, World Health Org. (Feb. 10, 2020),

[10] United Nations Econ. Comm’n for Afr., (last visited Oct. 13, 2020).

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