#WTFuture: Post-COVID-19 possible futures in Africa
will it ever be business as usual again on the African continent? Earlier this month (April) we hosted our first online USB Leader’s Angle where speakers Dr Njeri Mwagiru, Senior Futurist at the Institute for Futures Research (IFR), and Dr Lize Barclay, senior lecturer in Futures Studies and Systems Thinking at USB, navigated the uncertainty of post-COVID-19 futures in Africa.
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COVID-19 and Disasters: Africa’s Preparedness and Resilience
COVID-19 is a public health crisis facing the whole world with multiple challenges. How is Africa positioned in terms of preparedness to respond, and resilience to disasters such as COVID-19?
Dr Mwagiru says it is necessary to apply strategic foresight to respond to disasters like COVID-19 in the best ways possible thinking about alternative futures. “I want to frame it around concepts of disaster risk management.
“COVID-19 is a global disaster – a public health pandemic – and it is not the only disaster we are currently facing. We are facing multiple disasters, like climate change as well,” she says.
She says COVID-19 offers an opportunity to think about Africa’s preparedness and resilience in a broader context as well. “Prior to the disaster we are all quite familiar with the statistics around the continent. We have low human development index performances, we have a low per capita income, our infrastructure development is not up to scratch and we have a high disease burden. We already have multiple challenges so I think COVID-19 also offers an opportunity to think about our preparedness and resilience in terms of that,” she says.
“It is an opportunity to respond to band aid solutions to this particular crisis as one possible situation amongst many but it is also perhaps an opportunity for meaningful and deeply rooted change and transformation so that we really begin to build our priorities,” Dr Mwagiru says.
Preparing for Disasters Using Technology: Gaming Simulation
What role can technology play in understanding and preparing for the future, in terms of disease and other potential disasters? Dr Barclay says gaming simulation plays a significant role and is important in terms of disaster and disaster readiness.
“Shakespeare wrote, All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. Now what gaming simulation does is, it sets a stage to rehearse possible futures,” she says.
“This is because systems have players, rules, golds and teams that can collaborate or compete. Gaming simulation provides the freedom to run your infinite scenarios so it plugs into those things we don’t always think about or want to think about. The ‘What if?’” she says.
COVID-19 and Insights for African Futures
What lessons are we learning amidst this pandemic that can provide insights to Africa’s futures?
Dr Mwagiru says: “We do have the tools, access and methods like foresight and futures thinking that can assist us to anticipate possible alternative futures and allow us to play a number of possibilities using for instance, scenario planning.
“Another lesson we are learning is the need for agility in our planning and this is very important to keep in mind going forward for organisations and communities. We’re beginning to see the agency of different axes. I think the COVID-19 pandemic has really shown the cooperation and collaboration possible at leadership level,” she says.
Opportunities for Tech Start-ups in Africa
What opportunities have been created for tech start-ups in Africa in dealing with the virus itself and the social and economic dimensions associated thereto?
“The technology start-ups, and not just medical technology, has been absolutely invigorated in many parts of Africa,” says Dr Barclay. “We’ve seen a strong growth in Rwanda, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Morocco, the countries that were most impacted by COVID-19, but their tech eco system mobilised almost immediately.”
She also adds that a lot of mobile money platforms were taking off, even in very remote areas. “It’s specifically designed to work on a lower level or cheaper type of mobile phone with slower internet speed. We’ve also seen a growth in app development,” Dr Barclay says.
Focus on South Africa
In this video Prof André Roux, head of the Futures Studies programmes at USB, is in conversation with Doris Viljoen, senior Futurist at IFR, about what the possible short and medium term futures for South Africa could be.
>> Watch it now