Lockdown measures in Africa have set back socioeconomic futures by 20 years, argues Professor Toby Green

31 Aug 2022

Global pressure on African countries to impose lockdown measures has set back the continent’s economies and infrastructures by 20 years and accelerated social inequalities, argues a new article in the Journal of the British Academy.

Commodity currencies’ to COVID loans: Africa and the global inequality, past and present, by Professor Toby Green (King’s College London), explores the structural framework of indebtedness and inequality that has characterised Africa’s interactions with the rest of the world during periods of socioeconomic turbulence.

Published in Volume 10 of the Journal, the article links COVID loans provided by global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to a lineage of debt responsible for structural inequalities dating back to the precolonial era.

Professor Green argues that the socioeconomic futures of many Africans, and associated economic infrastructures, have been set back by 20 years due to the imposition of lockdown measures to contain a virus that affected the rest of the world more. Describing this as the “21st-century iteration of medical colonialism,” he argues that the measures were disproportionate and disastrous in the African context, so African nations should not have to pay the bill for them.

An Oxfam report in 2021 found that 85% of the 107 COVID loans negotiated by the IMF to ease the immediate debt crisis caused by COVID in poorer countries were tied to future austerity programmes to pay for them. According to Professor Green, this will erode critical public infrastructures such as healthcare and education.

Professor Green won the British Academy’s Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding in 2019.

Toby Green, Professor of Precolonial and Lusophone African History and Culture, said:

“The dire economic situation unfolding in Africa because of the policy responses to the pandemic symbolises much of the world’s relationship with the continent. For centuries, economic and political globalisation has increased the debt burden on African countries during times of socioeconomic turmoil. Now African economies are engulfed by a socioeconomic crisis triggered by the global response to the pandemic, leaving future generations tied to the COVID debts. We should therefore recognise these COVID loans as a radical continuity of existing trends rather than a natural response to the pandemic.”

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