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Key findings
  • On average across 16 countries, one-third (33%) of citizens said a member of their household had lost a job, a business, or other primary source of income due to the pandemic, while 6% said a household member had become ill with COVID-19.
  • On average across the 15 countries where governments provided relief assistance for vulnerable households and businesses, only about a quarter (27%) of citizens reported receiving such aid. The demographic profiles of who received aid varied widely by country.
  • On average across 14 countries where lockdowns or curfews were imposed, only a quarter (25%) of citizens said their households found it easy to comply with these restrictions.

The COVID-19 pandemic plunged Africa into its worst recession in more than 50 years, causing a 2.1% drop in Africa’s gross domestic product in 2020 and pushing about 30 million Africans into extreme poverty in 2021. Already grappling with poverty and unemployment, the continent lost about 22 million jobs in 2021 (African Development Bank Group, 2021, 2022).

In a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus, at least 42 African countries enforced restrictions such as lockdowns, curfews, border closures, travel bans, and the suspension of

sports and recreational activities, all of which hindered income-generating activities (African Development Bank Group, 2021).

Governments and international development partners put in place a variety of economic support schemes aimed at buffeting the effects of the pandemic on vulnerable households and businesses (World Bank, 2020; UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa, 2021). While stimulus packages were designed to protect socio-economically vulnerable groups, studies show

that fewer than two in 10 citizens and businesses benefited from government COVID-19 aid in 2020 (Human Rights Watch, 2021a; African Union, 2020; International Labour Organization, 2021).

In spite of governments’ pledge to be transparent in the use of funds, the relief programs were plagued by corruption, fraud, and lack of transparency regarding procurement processes, expenditures, and beneficiaries (Human Rights Watch, 2021b; Oduor, 2021; United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2020).

Afrobarometer surveys conducted in 16 African countries in 2020/2021 show that few citizens reported benefiting from relief assistance offered by their governments. Many saw their governments as distributing assistance unfairly and said that at least some of the funds meant for the COVID-19 response were lost to corruption. Many also expressed distrust of government COVID-19 statistics. Despite these criticisms, majorities in almost all countries approved of their governments’ overall handling of the pandemic.

While many citizens supported lockdowns as necessary, most also found it difficult to comply with the restrictions. Many citizens supported school closures to limit the spread of the virus but said the closures lasted too long. Citizens also indicated a willingness to put some democratic freedoms on hold in order to protect public health during a crisis but voiced concerns that politicians were using the pandemic as cover to increase their power.

Josephine Appiah-Nyamekye Sanny

Josephine is Afrobarometer's acting director of communications.