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COVID-19: Initial responses of certain African countries

By Eva Maarek, Nila Wilde and Thomas Herman Herbert Smith Freehills


The COVID-19 pandemic has begun to creep across Africa over the past month and is now rapidly gaining speed in some countries. There has been concern that numerous African jurisdictions with their semi-porous borders will, much like European countries, not be capable of slowing the velocity with which the illness spreads, even if Governments have been reacting comparatively sooner to the number of cases of infection in their respective countries in comparison to countries in Europe, Asia and North America.

The US has already reported a surge in unemployment (3,3 million Americans filed for unemployment as at 26 March 2020).1 Other countries, such as France, have recently taken important legislative measures (on 25 March 2020) to reduce such side effects as far as possible by requesting employers to declare partial activity / partial unemployment (“activité partiel”) by which employees are paid up to 70% of their normal wage by the State (Décret n° 2020-325 du 25 mars 2020 relatif à l’activité partielle). Given the socio-economic disruption in Asia, Europe and the US, the question is being asked: what will be the socio-economic effect of the pandemic on African countries and how are their governments reacting?

When announcing large scale lockdown measures, South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, emphasised that the pandemic is more than an economic crisis, but a humanitarian crisis first and foremost, with vulnerable populations placed at serious risk: “this is extremely dangerous for a population like ours, with a large number of people with suppressed immunity because of HIV and TB [tuberculosis], and high levels of poverty and malnutrition”.Former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, wrote an open letter published on 30 March 2020 in which she expressed both her fears for the continent and her hope. Having governed Liberia during the Ebola epidemic of 2014 – 2015, she emphasised that “an uncontrolled contagion, no matter where in the world, and no matter how localised, is a threat to all of humanity. The world responded positively. And did so boldly.3 Likewise, the President of Nigeria, Muhamaddu Buhari, said in his most recent address to the people of Nigeria on 29 March 2020, “as individuals, we remain the greatest weapon to fight this pandemic.”4

Certain regional organisations in Africa have already begun to take steps to anticipate the effects of the pandemic, including the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) (as set out below). The African Development Bank has raised an exceptional USD 3 billion in a three-year bond to help alleviate the economic and social impact that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on livelihoods and African countries’ economies.

On an individual country basis, a number of those jurisdictions at which we have looked have not yet promulgated decrees to manage the likely detrimental effects that widespread illness could have on local employment levels and businesses, instead making announcements from the office of the President. Some countries have taken the decision to close courts, notary public offices or government offices (such as South Africa, Morocco and Nigeria). The focus to date has been on social barrier initiatives to (i) prohibit demonstrations (such as in Algeria, which is already facing political turmoil at present), (ii) prohibit public gatherings in general (including mass funerals, as in Ghana); (iii) instruct markets and restaurants to close (including Senegal and Cameroon); and (iv) impose curfews (such as Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Mali). One of the States that suffered through the Ebola epidemic in recent years is taking extreme measures immediately: Sierra Leone has no declared cases of COVID-19 at all yet, but has begun quarantining people arriving from overseas and has announced a year-long state of emergency in anticipation.

African countries have notably moved sooner than European countries to stem the flow of the pandemic. However, with the effects likely becoming apparent in the near future, countries will need to assess whether their measures are sufficient or whether more critical steps need to be taken.

We summarise below the preliminary responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by a certain number of African countries as well as two regional monetary organisations.

WAEMU

The BCEAO (the Central Bank for the WAEMU area) announced on 20 March 2020 the adoption of a series of incentives to maintain the attractiveness of the zone including:

  • increasing banks’ resources in order to increase the financing of the economy: the amount that the BCEAO grants to local banks on a weekly basis was increased by FCFA 340 billion, bringing it to FCFA 4.750 billion;
  • broadening the scope of the mechanisms available to banks to access Central Bank refinancing: the BCEAO has taken the initiative to list 1,700 private companies whose bills were not previously accepted in its portfolio;
  • implementing an adapted framework for loan repayments by companies encountering difficulties as a consequence of the pandemic: the BCEAO will request banks to grant appropriate extensions especially to small and medium enterprises;
  • supplying local banks with a sufficient quantity and quality of banknotes to enable them to ensure the satisfactory operation of ATMs; and
  • to organise, from 27 March 2020, auctions at its tender counters at a fixed rate of 2.50%, its lowest intervention rate, to provide banks with the necessary resources at lower cost, with a view to boosting their liquidity and enabling them to maintain and increase credit to the economy, at lower rates, particularly in favour of enterprises and WAEMU Member States.

CEMAC

  • To date, we are not aware of any economic measures destined to support enterprises taken at the CEMAC level. However, on 25 March 2020, the Bank of Central African States (BEAC) indicated that, in order to help sustain the local financial markets from 26 March to 2 April 2020, the BEAC will not proceed with a reduction of liquidities.
  • On 12 March 2020, the Ministers in charge of health in CEMAC countries adopted a plan to manage the availability of medicines and the strengthening of surveillance measures at points of entry (air, sea and land).

ALGERIA

As at 30 March 2020, there were 511 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Algeria and 29 deaths. Algeria entered a “stage 3” alert in respect of the pandemic on 22 March 2020.

The President has adopted several measures which have been supplemented by 2 executive decrees issued by the Prime Minister (Décret exécutif n° 20-69 du 26 Rajab 1441 correspondant au 21 mars 2020 fixant les mesures de prévention et de lutte contre la propagation du Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Décret exécutif n° 20-70 du 29 Rajab 1441 correspondant au 24 mars 2020 fixant des mesures complémentaires de prévention et de lutte contre la propagation du Coronavirus (COVID-19)), which include the following:

  • closure of land and sea borders, suspension of flights and sea services to and from Algeria, except for goods;
  • ban on export of food products and strategic goods;
  • limitation on gathering and closure of places of worship;
  • suspension of all intra-urban and inter-wilaya public transportation and suspension of railway traffic in the country;
  • demobilisation of 50% of civil servants;
  • containment in some areas;
  • closure of cafes and restaurants in major cities, starting 21 March, 2020 and until 4 April 2020;
  • regulation of the market to prevent shortages, by ensuring the availability of essential food items; and
  • USD 100 million is intended to be spent on importing pharmaceutical products.

Burkina Faso

As at 27 March 2020, 152 cases (including 5 Ministers who tested positive) and 7 deaths as a result of COVID-19 had been reported in Burkina Faso. The Council of Ministers declared a state of health emergency on 26 March 2020.

The following measures have been adopted:

  • the cities of Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, Boromo, Houndé, Dédougou, Banfora, Manga and Zorgho were placed under quarantine as of 27 March 2020 at 05h00 for a period of 2 weeks pursuant to a decision of the Council of Ministers. This quarantine means that entry to and exit from these cities is strictly forbidden to the population;
  • all schools and universities are closed until 14 April 2020 (this suspension may be extended);
  • all restaurants have been closed and a curfew has been in place across the country between 19h00 and 05h00 since 21 March 2020;
  • large markets have been closed since 25 March 2020 in the Region Centre where Ouagadougou is located;
  • public demonstrations or gatherings of people in places or venues open to the public are strictly prohibited throughout the Region Centre territory;
  • Ouagadougou and Bob-Dioulasso airports have been closed for commercial flights since Saturday 21 March 2020 for a period of 2 weeks renewable; and
  • land and rail borders have been closed, except for freight, since 21 March 2020 for a period of 2 weeks renewable.

Cameroon

With 88 confirmed cases and 2 deaths as of 27 March 2020, the Government of Cameroon announced the following measures on 18 March 2020:

  • Cameroon’s land, air and sea borders will be closed: all passenger flights from abroad will therefore be suspended, with the exception of cargo flights and vessels transporting consumer products and essential goods and materials, whose stopover times will be limited and supervised. The issuance of entry visas at Cameroon’s various airports is also suspended, as are missions abroad of members of Government and public and para-public sector employees;
  • urban and inter-urban travel should only be undertaken in cases of extreme necessity;
  • all public and private training establishments at various levels of education, including vocational training centres and professional schools, will be closed;
  • gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited throughout the country;
  • under the supervision of the administrative authorities, bars, restaurants and entertainment venues will be systematically closed from 18h00 each day and a system for regulating consumer flows will be set up in markets and shopping centres;
  • private health facilities, hotels and other accommodation facilities, vehicles and specific equipment necessary for the implementation of the COVID-19 pandemic response plan in Cameroon may be requisitioned as required by the competent authorities;
  • the Minister of Justice has ordered the suspension of all proceedings and the closing of local tribunals and courts for a period of 1 month from 18 March 2020; and
  • a local hotline telephone service has been established.

Republic of Congo

As at 28 March 2020,19 cases of COVID-19 had been recorded in Republic of Congo, with no deaths. In this context, the President announced in his most recent address to the nation on 28 March 2020 (following declarations of 16, 18 and 21 March 2020) that extended measures are being taken, including the following (with corresponding legislation expected to be implemented in the near future):

  • general confinement until 30 April 2020, including the imposition of a curfew from 20h00 – 05h00 each day;
  • a relief fund of FCFA 100 billion to confront the crisis and to assist businesses through financial difficulties they may face during this period;
  • the postponement of international events;
  • closure of schools and public places including places of worship, restaurants, bars and clubs, the prohibition of public gatherings of more than 50 people, and a postponement of international events;
  • courts, notary public offices and Government offices have not yet been closed;
  • a transit ban across the country has now been implemented; and
  • the Republic of Congo’s borders (land, air and sea) have been closed and flights coming from high-risk zones suspended.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

On 24 March 2020, the DRC made a “Declaration of National Health Emergency” and as at 29 March 2020 the country had 81 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 8 people having died. Emergency measures taken so far across the country include:

  • the closure of schools, restaurants and bars and restricted public gatherings;
  • the suspension of all flights from countries at risk and transit countries, and the closure of borders to passengers,; however cargo ships and other means of freight transport are permitted; and
  • public administrations remain open, but their activities have been significantly reduced.

Kinshasa has been isolated from the rest of the country in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus outside the capital. In Kinshasa, a three-week lockdown has been implemented. Only certain public administration employees as well as health care personnel will be able to circulate. This lockdown was initially scheduled to begin on 28 March 2020 but has been postponed to a later date.

GABON

As at 24 March 2020, 7 cases of COVID-19 had been recorded in Gabon with 1 person having died. The Government has imposed restrictions on movement and has implemented measures through 2 decrees (Arrêté n°000006 /MESRSTT/2020 du 13 Mars 2020 portant fermeture provisoire des établissements d’enseignement supérieur public et privé sur l’étendue du territoire national and the Arrêté n°000008/ PM du 25 février 2020 instituant le Comité de pilotage du plan de veille et de riposte contre l’épidémie à coronavirus au Gabon), and other legislation is under consideration. The steps taken to date include the following, which began being implemented within 24 hours of Gabon’s first identified case of COVID-19:

  • at the time of writing courts are currently closed although notary public offices remain open. Likewise, Government administrations remain open;
  • schools, places of worship and public places such as restaurants, bars and clubs have been closed;
  • public gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited;
  • the country’s borders have been closed and international flights restricted; and
  • persons who test positive for COVID-19, persons who have been in contact with that person, and persons coming from countries where the COVID-19 pandemic has been declared must be placed under quarantine for 15 days.

GHANA

As at 30 March 2020, there were 152 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ghana, with 5 deaths. The cases originate largely from the Greater Accra region and the Ashanti region. In his address to the nation on Saturday 21 March 2020, President Akufo-Addo announced certain measures restricting movement under the Imposition of Restrictions Act 1012 of 2020, in accordance with article 21 of the Constitution of Ghana “in the event or imminence of an emergency, disaster or similar circumstance to ensure public safety, public health and protection.” The measures include the following:

  • from midnight Sunday 22 March 2020, all of Ghana’s land, sea and air borders have been closed (and anyone arriving before that time on Sunday 22 March would be placed in quarantine and tested for the virus);
  • schools are closed, public gatherings (including large funerals and weddings) prohibited and public events have been suspended;
  • most Government institutions and the Registrar General (companies registry) are closed and court cases have been postponed where possible;
  • the Bank of Ghana has announced certain monetary policy measures which include reducing policy rates, extending loan periods and has also reducing reserve requirements for banks in order to provide more liquidity to banks assisting sectors of the economy in difficulty; and
  • additional personal protection equipment for frontline health workers was being procured and new and retired health professionals were being mobilised in preparation for a surge in the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

Guinea

As at 27 March 2020, 5 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in Guinea. The President of Guinea, Alpha Condé, declared a state of emergency with effect from 27 March 2020 for a period of 1 month renewable, and announced the following measures

  • all schools and universities are closed for a period of 14 days, renewable;
  • all places of worship, restaurants, cinemas, and public gathering places are closed for a period of 14 days, renewable;
  • lands borders are closed to travellers a period of 30 days, renewable;
  • all international conferences scheduled to take place in Guinea are suspended or postponed until further notice; and
  • all sports competitions and cultural events are prohibited.

Liberia

On 22 March 2020, Liberia made a “Declaration of National Health Emergency” and had taken the following measures at the time of writing (the country having 3 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as at 24 March 2020):

  • the airport is closed and flights are suspended;
  • schools and places of worship are closed and public gatherings are restricted in Montserrado and Margibi counties for 21 days;
  • there are scaled down teams working at courts, notary public offices and Government institutions but there is not yet wholesale closure of businesses and institutions;
  • the Ministry of Youth and Sports has launched a “National Youth Taskforce Against COVID-19” to help spread the message in communities as regards protection against the pandemic and to do away with myths around the virus such as the belief that young people are immune to it. The Taskforce will assist the Government of Liberia in distributing bleach/chloride, soap, and buckets;
  • given that the virus has not yet spread on such a scale in Liberia as to force lockdown measures to be taken, at the time of writing the Government of Liberia had not yet taken any financial or economic measures and had not yet published any decrees or laws on more serious measures to be taken; and
  • in order to spread the message as far as possible, President George Weah has recorded a song with gospel singers, titled “Let us stand together and fight corona virus”, on preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Madagascar

As of 27 March 2020, Madagascar had 28 official cases of COVID-19 . A 15 day Health State of Emergency was declared by President A. Rajoelina on 21 March 2020 on the whole island (Presidential Decree no. 2020-359) and the following measures have been taken in recent weeks:

  • a 15-day lockdown of the country’s two main cities and their region, i.e. the regions of Analamanga (Antananarivo) and Tamatave, where the Taomasina Autonomous Port is located, became effective on 23 March 2020 and a curfew is imposed from 20h00 to 05h00;
  • administrative services are reduced, with the exception of health, justice, public safety, water and electricity utilities and roads, and the work of courts and tribunals is slowed. However, the continuation of the activities of private sector employees will depend on the decision of employers;
  • the Government ordered the suspension of all international flights for 30 days effective 20 March 2020, and the testing of all individuals that have come to Madagascar within the 14 days prior to 19 March 2020. In addition, all transport and lines from and to Antananarivo and Tamatave has been suspended effective 25 March 2020;
  • on 26 March 2020, the Minister of Economy and Finance announced several tax relief measures for businesses, including the postponement of dates for both the declaration and payment of a variety of taxes, in particular in the tourism sector; declaration and payment of taxes via telepayment so as to limit in person interaction of persons;
  • Government has also implemented controls to regulate the sudden, artificial increase in prices of basic commodities; and
  • a hotline number has been set up so that anyone can ask for free information about the COVID-19 outbreak or report cases. An Operations Centre, “CO-COVID19”, has also been set up, stocked with medical equipment, personal protective equipment for medical staff, and medicine.

Mali

As at 30 March 2020, there were 25 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Mali and 1 death was announced on 28 March 2020. On 25 March 2020, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta declared a National Health Emergency:

  • a night curfew has been instituted across the country from 21h00 to 05h00 every day since 26 March 2020 and until further notice (Décret N°2020-0170/P-RM du 25 mars 2020 instituant un couvre-feu);
  • Mali’s land borders are closed except for freight and cargo, the markets remain open in particular for basic necessities;
  • all commercial court hearings have been suspended for 3 weeks since 19 March 2020 until 15 April 2020 but the courts’ activities concerning other aspects relating to the proper functioning of the public service, including the handling of cases of an urgent nature, will be maintained (as per a Notice to litigants and other users of the court sent by the Commercial Court of Bamako on 20 March 2020);
  • the country has closed schools and prohibited gatherings of more than 50 people;
  • however, the legislative elections, considered to be an important part of the political effort in a decision of the Inclusive National Dialogue, took place on 29 March 2020 as initially planned, but with the implementation of barrier measures.

Morocco

As at 30 March 2020, there were 516 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Morocco and 27 deaths A State of Health Emergency was declared on 19 March 2020 by a decree (Décret-loi n°2.20.292 du 16 mars 2020 portant sur les dispositions relatives à l’état d’urgence sanitaire et aux procédures de sa déclaration), and will remain in force until 20 April 2020 (and can be extended).

A number of measures have taken by the authorities, including the following:

  • closure of the borders;
  • suspension of international flights;
  • closure of ports except for goods;
  • containment (including closure of schools and mosques);
  • suspension of most of judicial hearings; and
  • a special fund 10 billion dirhams (approx. €900 million) has been established to support the various sectors affected by the crisis.

NIGERIA

As at 29 March 2020, there were 111 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria and 1 death had been announced. Frequent updates on the situation in-country are provided by the Federal Ministry of Health, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and the Lago State Ministry of Health. A Presidential Task Force was created to review measures on a daily basis and an initial injection of Naira 15 billion was provided for the purposes of a national response to COVID-19. The most populated state of Africa has taken several measures to address the crisis:

  • all international flights are suspended and land borders are closed (except for exceptional / emergency flights, eg bringing medical supplies);
  • the President announced (on 29 March 2020) that as of 23h00 on 30 March 2020, there would be a 14-day complete lockdown of Abuja, Lagos (being the COVID-19 epicentre in Nigeria) and Ogun state (a major manufacturing / industrial zone) for 14 days – the focus is on preventing inter-city and inter-state movements. People are not allowed to leave the house, with the exception of so-called “essential workers” (in the healthcare, pharma, necessity of life industries);
  • the country has suspended the issuance of visas for people coming from countries reporting more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19 and imposes a supervised isolation for Nigerians arriving from those countries;
  • the country has closed all educational institutions, markets, religious centres and leisure sports and has restricted gatherings to a maximum of 20 people (except in the above-mentioned main cities, where there is a full lockdown);
  • the country has also decided to close all of its courts by an Order of National Judicial Council of Nigeria dated 23 March 2020;
  • only cargo vessels that have been at sea for more than 14 days are allowed to dock in the ports, after crews have been tested and confirmed disease-free by the port health authority;
  • among legislation implemented is the Lagos State Infectious Diseases Regulations 2020 which prohibits, among other things, (i) the hoarding of essential supplies and artificial inflation of prices of food, medicines and other essential goods and services; and (ii) the dissemination of false information regarding COVID-19 and the promotion of unverified, untested or unapproved cures, vaccines or other medicinal treatment for COVID-19 (all such actions being offences subject to fines and/or imprisonment); and
  • Nigeria’s Parliament on 25 March 2020 unanimously approved a two-week leave of absence for all of its elected representatives to ensure their safety, after the chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari and a state governor tested positive for COVID-19 in Lagos.

SENEGAL

As at 30 March 2020, there were 127 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Senegal. On 23 March 2020, President Macky Sall declared a national health emergency by decree no. 2020-830 (Décret N°2020-830 du 23 mars 2020, proclamant l’état d’urgence sur tout le territoire national), on the basis of article 69 of the Constitution and law no. 69-29 dated 29 April 1969 related to the state of emergency.

A number of measures have been taken to date:

  • several restrictions on movement and public gatherings (night curfew between 8pm to 6am since 23 March 2020; limitations on public transportation; prohibition of processions, parades, rallies, gatherings of people and demonstrations; and closure of all mosques, school and markets since 27 March 2020);
  • all international flights are suspended and land borders have been closed from 21 March 2020 until 17 April 2020;
  • administrative services are still running with a specific adjustment to working hours;
  • all courts are closed from 14 March 2020 for a period of 3 weeks. As a result, court hearings have been suspended save for emergency proceedings;
  • public notaries and bailiffs were, for the most part, still working at the time of writing;
  • on 25 March 2020, the Council of Ministers approved a bill to empower the President to issue by ordinance, and for a period of 3 months, measures of a legislative nature, in order to meet the budgetary, economic, social, health and safety requirements to fight the COVID-19 situation. This bill should be submitted to the parliament for a vote soon; and
  • Senegal has taken a series of measures since the beginning of the crisis to support businesses and households financially impacted by COVID-19 (including through a contingency plan of €97.6 million, a response and solidarity fund of €1.5 billion and other partial corporate tax relief).

SOUTH AFRICA

The COVID-19 pandemic was declared on 15 March 2020 to be a national disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act No. 57 of 2002 (as amended). South Africa, like some European countries, has taken the decision to impose full lockdown (quarantine) measures on the population from midnight on 26 March 2020 for a period of 21 days. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the restrictions on 23 March 2020 alongside actions to alleviate the economic and financial consequences of the pandemic and numerous directives and regulations have been promulgated under the Disaster Management Act and other legislation across a variety of sectors.

As at 29 March 2020, over 1,280 cases of COVID-19, including 2 deaths, have been recorded in South Africa. South Africa is the only African country to have tested for the virus extensively so far, having administered over 20,000 tests as at 27 March 2020. Overcrowding in numerous impoverished areas make social distancing difficult in practice.

The key steps that have been taken include the following:

  • the army has been deployed alongside the police to ensure that movement restrictions are respected (failure to do so is an offence): all persons are to remain indoors except to purchase essential food and medicine or to collect welfare grants. Schools have closed along with all non-essential businesses. Gatherings of over 100 people are prohibited;
  • economic measures include: (i) the Unemployment Insurance Fund has made ZAR 30 billion available to support workers who lose their jobs because of the virus; (ii) tax subsidies for small businesses and individuals; (iii) emergency funds and debt relief for small businesses. Financial assistance will largely funded by the Industrial Development Corporation, the Department of Trade and Industry, and a Solidarity Fund to which the Government and wealthy individuals have already contributed. Further intervention is being discussed by the National Economic Development and Labour Council. The South African Reserve Bank has decreased the interest rate by 100 basis points;
  • workplaces or premises must implement the required care and maintenance procedures to prevent the destruction or significant impairment of the working areas, plant, machinery or inventory. In relation to mines in particular, the obligation on employers not to permit any employee to do any work unless the necessary precautionary measures are taken applies during the period of lock-down where mines are placed under care and maintenance (however, mines involved in the production, processing, or supply of essential goods, such as coal, may proceed with operations);
  • regulations were published under the Competition Act 89 of 1998 to (i) exempt the healthcare sector from certain restrictions on horizontal and vertical practices; and (ii) put in place a particular set of criteria by which to assess excessive pricing during this disaster period (for more on this subject, please see the HSF article published on 20 March 20205) (note that the hard-line prohibition on collusion remains intact); and
  • non-South African citizens and residents flying from high-risk countries will be denied entry into South Africa while South African citizens and residents will be quarantined for 14 days.

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