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This week, universities in Zimbabwe gave the country’s Coronavirus campaign a boost when they teamed up to form something of a manufacturing hub for masks, gloves and hand sanitizers. Even though these products were not being made at a major industrial scale it was still a rare piece of good news coming out of the southern Africa country which is still in the throes of one of its worst economic downturns since independence.

But it was also one of few pieces of news out of the continent in recent weeks which involved a coronavirus response about manufacturing anything. Most technical, non-health strategies have involved using software platforms, developed by local startups, to identify weak spots in public health systems.

The reason we’re not hearing about factories and the like might be obvious to long-term Africa watchers because over the last 40 years the share of manufacturing in Africa’s GDP has kept falling. Unlike East Asia, which came out of its “developing” stage through industrialization, Africa has been watching its economies—and jobs—shift to service sectors.

The received wisdom in recent years has been that African countries could benefit more from this shift if they improve some fundamentals like trade logistics. “Changing prospects for manufacturing and the growing relevance of industries without smokestacks may make us rethink the sources of structural change in Africa,” wrote Brookings fellow John Page in January.

Even Africa’s most advanced economy South Africa, which has a strong industrial base by Sub Saharan Africa standards, is seeing this shift as its manufacturing sector has stagnated in recent years. As part of the government’s Fourth Industrial Revolution strategy, president Cyril Ramaphosa says that by 2030 he wants an economy using “technological innovation to revolutionize manufacturing and industrial processes and energy provision and distribution.”

But this difficult, uncertain period has had a lot of economists, policymakers and politicians thinking the unthinkable in recent weeks as the sheer scale of the global challenge we all face continues to unfold. For Africa, the combination of collapsed supply chains, the lop-sided “interdependence” of Africa’s economies on the global system and an increasingly problematic over-reliance on China will surely have more local policymakers and advisors reconsider current trends.

It would be unreasonable to expect every African country to become a multi-sector manufacturing hub, but one of the promises of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is various member countries could specialize in areas of strength and boost the continent’s overall productivity of manufacturing, access to cheaper products and jobs.

That’s is the hope.

— Yinka AdegokeQuartz Africa editor


Coronavirus is forcing Nigeria’s leaders to confront the broken health system they rarely use. Nigeria’s history is replete with high-level government officials seeking medical treatment abroad. But, with airports shuttered amid the outbreak, There’s a growing list of infected officials will have to face the stark shortcomings of the public health system that continues to exist on their watch.

South Africa is leading the continent’s coronavirus testing challenge thanks to private labs and HIV expertise. While most African countries struggle with large-scale coronavirus testing, South Africa’s scientists and private labs are galvanizing the country’s forceful response, writes Sarah Wild from Johannesburg. Just as important, local medical researchers also investigating the outbreak armed with more than two decades of experience with HIV are looking to develop local vaccines.

Ethiopia is opening up its mobile money market to new players. The increasing liberalization of Ethiopia’s $80 billion economy is being extended to its mobile money sector. As part of economic reforms, the country will now allow new entrants offer mobile money services to its 105 million citizens, reports Samuel Getachew from Addis Ababa.

African art got a big boost after a stay home lockdown took one of world’s top auction houses online. With the UK under lockdown, the first-ever online-only edition of an African art auction event at Sotheby’s London saw the number of bids jump by nearly 50% and opened up to new, younger bidders, reports Ciku Kimeria.

Across Africa, a reliance on the informal sector threatens effective coronavirus lockdowns. The lockdowns and movement restrictions imposed by several African governments in response to coronavirus outbreaks are at odds with the precarious financial realities of Africans in the informal economy. From Lagos, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Accra and Harare, Quartz Africa reporters find informal traders and customers continue to transact out of necessity and desperation.

The significance of three African NHS doctors being among first to die in UK’s coronavirus battle. With the UK’s revered National Health Service (NHS) overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic, the human cost for staff has seemed inevitable. But, with the first wave of deaths including two Sudanese doctors and a Nigerian doctor, Olu Alake explains how how health systems from wealthier nations have come to rely on medical professionals from the world’s “poverty capitals”.

The journalist turned agent who changed the fortunes of African players in European football. Former football journalist, agent and later president of one of Europe’s biggest clubs, Pape Diouf died this in his native Senegal. In Yaounde, Daniel Ekonde learned from former Cameroon international Joseph Antoine Bell how Diouf played an instrumental role in helping African-born and second generation African players becoming stars in European football.


•Rocket Internet, the German tech incubator known for replicating tech business models, has sold its 11% stake in pan-African e-commerce giant, Jumia. The sale follows the steady dip in Jumia’s share price since listing on the New York Stock Exchange last year.

Kasha, the Rwandan e-commerce platform, raised $1 million in investment from Finnfund, the Finnish development financier. With its business model of focusing on serving solely female customers, Kasha expanded to Kenya last year.


The coronavirus lockdown in Africa’s largest city opens the door to increased generator pollution. A marked drop in air pollution has been a recurring features of coronavirus induced-lockdowns globally, from China to Europe. But as Yomi Kazeem explains, in Lagos where electricity remains unreliable, millions of electricity generators will be working overtime to power homes, worsening pollution in residential areas.


Changing the pitch.Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley accelerator, was forced to move its recent demo day online. Like so many other things that coronavirus has affected, it could permanently change the way startups raise money. Startups already face numerous risks, but experiments like these could help it weather the storm.


Why Stella Nyanzi is challenging Uganda’s president. “I refuse to be repentant,” Stella Nyanzi, the bête noire of Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, tells Abdi Latif Dahir for a New York Times profile. Nyanzi has been a thorn in Museveni’s side for several years and has spent time behind bars for charges such as being obscene or using foul language against the 75-year old president.

Coronavirus started in China, but Europe became the global hub for its spread. There have been conspiracies and debates about the Chinese origins of the Covid-19 virus which has brought the world to a grinding halt. For The Intercept, Joe Penney was interested in how the virus spread to countries around the world including Africa, Latin America and beyond. He found Europe was the source of the index case in more countries than previously acknowledged.


MEST Africa Challenge. A tech startup pitch competition for early-stage startups in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Senegal, Ethiopia or Tanzania. (April 18)

World Food Prize. The $250,000 award is seeking nominations for individuals who have “demonstrated exceptional achievement” in “enhancing food production and distribution and increasing food availability and accessibility to those most in need.” (May 1)

*This brief was produced while listening to Fela Kuti’s No Agreement covered by Classica Orchestra Afrobeat (Italy)

Our best wishes for a productive and ideas-filled year ahead. Please send any news, comments, suggestions, ideas to You can follow us on Twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day.

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