Africa’s Coronavirus Challenge

 In op-ed, personal

The decision whether to evacuate their citizens from China is just the first hurdle for African countries amid the outbreak

To evacuate or not to evacuate. That is the question.

African governments are currently struggling to decide whether to evacuate their students and citizens from the epicentre of the coronavirus, Hubei Province. The only way to decide is together. This is why.

Right now in China, African governments are facing a conundrum. My firm Development Reimagined is the only consultancy to have crunched the numbers, and we estimate that at least 15 African countries have over 100 students and citizens in the epicentre of coronavirus in China – Hubei, a province with a similar sized population to Tanzania. In total, we estimate that around 4600 African students and citizens are, with the millions of Chinese residents and other international residents, currently on lockdown as part of the measures the Chinese government has put in place to control this mysterious virus – for which there is as yet no known vaccine.

On the one hand, having the students and citizens remain in the lockdown zone is risky. Yes – the Chinese government, doctors and nurses and researchers are working 24 hours to treat victims, find a vaccine and avoid new infections, and even build new bespoke hospitals, but according to news reports the current public hospitals are full to the brim with potential and confirmed patients. Before the crisis hit Hubei, few African (and most other) embassies knew exact numbers of citizens in the province, so while they too have been working around the clock to get student’s details – including through student’s unions and associations as well as using China’s main social media app We Chat – it is possible that the Embassies have missed many stuck in their dorm rooms, alone and worried about what next.

So far, only one African citizen in China have been confirmed with the virus – a young Cameroonian student. The only other non-Chinese cases so far are from Pakistan and Australia. However, Ambassadors or their embassy representatives are unable to visit the zone, which means their only means to verify the safety and health of their citizens is through remote contact, or notification by the Chinese authorities. It is a real wait and see scenario.

On the other hand, extracting the students and citizens from Hubei – as the US, Japan, UK, South Korea, Australia and India have done already – presents its own major risks.  First, the Chinese government has requested foreign governments to not evacuate their citizens. Approval must be sought and of course – there are costs for chartering flights. Where countries have, say, under 50 or so students or citizens in lockdown – as is the case for, we estimate, 25 of the African countries -logistics are even more challenging. Furthermore, no African country has a consulate in Wuhan. Second, the Chinese government and the WHO advise that those who are evacuated should be under quarantine for 14 days on their exit from China.  This makes sense for the protection of other countries’ citizens – the incubation period for corona is believed to be 10-14 days. That means African governments need to have spaces where they can ensure quarantine conditions and facilities to house and monitor a mix of students, families, elderly and children, all with varying conditions and needs. Countries such as the UK have reportedly found military barracks where this is plausible, but on the African continent such facilities are few and far between. Hence, it is only some of the wealthiest nations in Africa to date that have evacuated –Algeria, Egypt, Mauritius, Morocco and Seychelles so far, with Algeria also helping to evacuate some Tunisian, Libyan and Mauritanian nationals. The evacuating countries all rank within the top 5 for GDP in absolute or per capita (PPP) terms.  On a WHO index measuring whether countries provide all the possible health and related services that their population needs, within Africa Algeria scores highest at 70% – against an average for the entire region of 48%.  Indeed, both Algeria and Egypt donated millions of masks and other medical equipment to China as they evacuated.

Last but not least, evacuation at this stage sets a precedent. If the virus spreads across China, with further lockdowns in key cities, the pressure will build to evacuate from there too, with potentially far larger numbers of citizens affected. Seychelles has indeed already decided to evacuate all its 51 citizens from China.

That said, quarantine is necessary for those who travel independently from China to African countries and show symptoms. We have already seen several suspected cases on the continent – first in Cote D’Ivoire, then in Kenya, Ethiopia, Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan and most recently Angola and Algeria. Interestingly enough, few of these have been Chinese nationals. The vast majority have been Africans. This is not a huge surprise – Chinese travel to African countries in comparison to the rest of the world where coronavirus cases are on the rise – such as Thailand, Japan and the US – is literally a trickle. Four percent of all Chinese tourists go to Africa, for example. And with the Ebola crisis still a very recent memory on the continent, while detection at the airport for coronavirus requires different sets of medical equipment, the set-up is essentially the same. It is also less of a challenge to isolate one or two or even a few suspected individuals within national hospitals.

These pros and cons are why the evacuation decision is extremely difficult for individual African nations. The pressure is intense. African Ambassadors in China are facing backlash from students and citizens that think they don’t care. Meanwhile, at home, countries such as Liberia are scrambling to check their databases to try to check on the health of their recent arrivals from China – including their own nationals. Citizens are fearful of the virus and concerned about Chinese citizens in-country. Stories are already emerging in Kenya, for instance, of tourist groups with possible infections, fuelling tensions and revitalising old and essentially racist viewpoints about Chinese customs and etiquette.

What to do in these circumstances? Whatever the answer, a coordinated response is essential. Why? Two reasons. First, because of power dynamics. The African continent has more poor countries than any other continent, and therefore if these poor countries act as individuals they may find it difficult to negotiate and establish the agency they need. Second, a coordinated response is essential because Africa’s borders are porous. It is estimated for instance that the West African population is seven times more mobile acrossborders than elsewhere in the world. That means that what happens or doesn’t happen in one country affects the others. We only need to look at how Ebola spread to understand this. Several countries initially failed to detect it or diagnose cases quickly enough, and also failed to educate their population about the required response – exacerbating the crisis and leading to delays in containment.

Coming back to China, evacuation from coronavirus is not the only area where a coordinated response is required. There are many other more longer-term policy areas, beyond a crisis response, where coordination is critical. My firm – Development Reimagined – is constantly working to support African Ambassadors to coordinate and share views and experience on issues such as trade, investment, debt management and more.

However, we find that such coordination is not yet sufficient or consistent when it comes to China. African leaders may have come together to create the world’s largest free trade area in 2019, but on the coronavirus issue, despite 53 embassies having representatives in Beijing, they are miles apart. Save for Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, the African governments continue to make their own individual, national decisions without checking on others, although the consequences – as they were with Ebola –are continent-wide.

Why no coordination? The African Union (AU) has had a representative office in Beijing since November 2018, but it is only now staffing up. For coronavirus, the AU and does not have any health experts in situ to be able to provide coordinated support with authority. Furthermore, the mandate of the Africa Center of Disease Control (ACDC) – whose headquarters China is constructing in Ethiopia, and to which the Gates Foundationhas just pledged an additional $5m to help deal with the coronavirus – is helpful on the continent for diagnostics and coordinating the border response, but it has no mandate to act in China.  This leaves a huge gap in capacity on the ground in China, to act decisively and in a way that balances all the risks across the continent.

How to solve this urgent coordination challenge? Can the continent – or even its regional bodies – together decide whether to evacuate or not to evacuate?

On Sunday 9th February, the 33rd African Union Summit will begin, and provides a crucial opportunity for leaders to coordinate and determine the way forward. A special session should be convened immediately before the summit for the leaders to receive a briefing from AU CDC and WHO experts and not only discuss but plan their response, based on a range of scenarios. The scenarios should range from quick containment of the virus – in which case urgent provision of additional medical and food supplies to the estimated 4600 African citizens in Hubei may be sufficient – to widespread lockdown in China – in which case consistent evacuations from China and pooled quarantine facilities in various parts of the continent with the best resources – may be required. The leaders may even seek the support of its most wealthy business people in providing financial or in-kind resources to support these efforts. For example, Aliko Dangote already has a Foundation devoted to African health issues.

To evacuate or not to evacuate is the big question facing African governments right now. As per the continent’s broader strategy and work with China, the question should not be answered as an individual concern by each African country. Given the continent’s need for development, coupled with porous borders, it should be a question the continent urgently grapples with together, kicking off a broader process for more strategic and intentional engagement with China.

By Hannah Ryder, Development Reimagined CEO. This article was originally published on The Diplomat on February 4th 2020

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Ngugi


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Research Analyst

Edmond is a research analyst who is passionate about sustainable development, innovation, and the environment. Passionate about climate financing, he firmly believe there is a more reliable system to promote equality, growth, and welfare in societies without affecting the ecosystem. Through his skills, knowledge and experienced gained over 7 years, he wants to make an impact in the world of development. Edmond holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Korea Development Institute and a BA Degree (Honors) in Business from University of Derby.


    Founder and CEO

Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE's International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.


Deputy Director

Leah Lynch is Deputy Director of Development Reimagined (DR), and head of the China office. Leah has over 10 years of experience in development and has lived in China for over 8 years. Leah has also travelled extensively around Asia and Africa for research. Leah supports the strategic direction of the team across China, with a mission to deliver high quality research on sustainable development and poverty reduction. Leah is also Chair of the Sustainability Forum at the British Chamber of Commerce in China, providing direction on sustainability initiatives for British and Chinese business. Leah has also consulted on various evaluations on UK aid (ICAI) and is a specialist on development cooperation from the UK and China. Leah has also consulted on various UN projects, including providing support to the UN China team during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Prior to DR, Leah was at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) China, supporting the UN’s portfolio on communication strategies, China’s South- South Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Before UNDP, Leah lived and worked in Kenya developing sustainable water policies for the Kenyan government.


China-Africa Policy Analyst

Yike Fu is a Policy Analyst and has been responsible for leading numerous areas of work, including on debt analysis in Africa and beyond, and China-Africa trade and investment logistics and analysis. She is the co-author of “African Debt Guide”, in which she challenged the narrative that Africa is in the midst of a new debt crisis by analysing data back to the 1970s and adopting new metrics to present the real story behind the data. She also developed a benchmark to compare the financial distribution of development partners such as the UK, US, Japan, France and China in Africa. Prior to her role at DR she worked at the International Finance Corporation and African Union Representational Mission to the US. She holds a Masters in International Affairs from George Washington University.


Research Analyst

Judith is a Research and Policy Analyst, where she specialises in Africa-China relations, international development, and diplomacy. During her time at Development Reimagined, Judith has co-authored several articles published in The Diplomat on debt and China-Barbados relations and was quoted by China Daily in a piece on Women Rights in China. Previously, Judith worked as a research analyst for an Advocate and Commissioner and Oats office in Kenya.


Policy Analyst

Ovigwe specialises in geopolitics with particular reference to Africa in a changing Global Order. He is adept at critically analysing the politics of contemporary development processes and providing insight into the geopolitical interests that influence them. His work includes research, publications, tailored briefings and advising on global and regional trends, and issues at the nexus of geopolitics and development. Ovigwe appears frequently in media around the world such as Al Jazeera, TRT World, SABC, CGTN, BBC Radio, and other platforms.


Policy Analyst

Jing leads China-African health and agriculture cooperation research at Development Reimagined, having managed our FOCAC Policy Analysis and Advocacy project. She is also the co-author of “China-Africa Health Cooperation under FOCAC Umbrella”, in which she analysed China’s commitments around health cooperation since the first FOCAC summit and deepdived into four African countries’ health overview, challenges and cooperation with China as cases studies. Before DR, Jing worked at GIZ Cambodia on M&E of a disability advocacy project. She also worked as a translator with Chinese medical team in Benin.


Trade Policy Analyst

Patrick is an International Trade Policy and Trade Law Expert with over 5 years of experience. His expertise includes trade law, trade policy analysis and regional integration. He is currently engaged with Development Reimagined as a Senior Trade Analyst and was the lead author of Development Reimagined's recent Report on Africa-China Relations titled "From China-Africa to Africa- China: A Blue Print for a Green and Inclusive Continent-Wide Strategy Towards China." and “Reimaging FOCAC Going Forward.” Patrick has previously consulted for the East African Community, UNECA and for the Kenya Ministry of Trade.


Senior Policy Analyst 

Rosemary is our Senior Policy Analyst. She is a skilled policy analyst and has previously worked as a UK civil servant. She is studying Human Rights at Birkbeck, University of London with a research focus on international law in the context of health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.


Project Manager and Africa-China Communication Assistant

Jade is a Project Manager for Development Reimagined’s flagship project Africa Unconstrained, which focuses on financing needs and debt vulnerabilities of African countries. Her research focuses on China-Africa development finance alongside debt vulnerabilities, infrastructure needs and South-South cooperation. She has worked with a breadth of stakeholders from China, Africa and the wider international community, including governments, private sector, NGOs and civil society. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications, including The Africa Report, The China-Africa Project, The Diplomat and more. Jade holds a Master’s in China and Globalisation studies from King’s College London.


Programme Manager

Rosie is the Project Manager of Africa Reimagined (AR) at Development Reimagined (DR) where she supports high-end African brands with entering the Chinese market by operating services such as trademark protection, Chinese market research, Chinese partnership building, and Africa to China logistical support and import/export services. Rosie has worked with DR for over two years now with proven success in helping high-end African brands navigate the Chinese market. She is extremely passionate about her work because more African brands selling in the Chinese marketplace means African countries can export MORE value-added goods, create MORE jobs and foster MORE innovation in African countries.

Rosie is also alumni of the School of International Studies at Peking University in Beijing where she is also an editor at the Peking Africa Think Tank. PATT is led by a diverse group of scholars who specialise in African Studies within the context of Sino-Africa relations.



Lauren has lived in six countries from the Americas to Europe and Asia and speaks both French and Spanish proficiently. At Development Reimagined, Lauren’s research focuses on climate action both in the Asia-Pacific and in Africa, and how countries are using tools such as SDGs and Covid-19 action to build a more climate-resilient future. She holds a Masters in International Relations from Leiden University.



Etsehiwot holds a Masters’s degree in Development Studies from the London School of Economics. She has diverse experience in humanitarian and development issues by working in both multilateral organizations and international non-governmental organizations. Etsehiwot is currently a consultant focusing on the SDGs and development finance.


Economist Consultant

Dibekulu is an economist by training. He holds an MSc in International Development Studies from Palacky University Olomouc, an MSc in Development Economics from the University of Clermont Auvergne, and an MSc in Economics, Finance, and International Integration from the University of Pavia. At Development Reimagined, he works as an Economist consultant. He has strong data analysis skills, with research interests centring around development finance, impact assessment, food security, and agricultural insurance.


Project Manager

Osaru is a health professional with an MSc in Health Systems Policy and an interest in women’s health and population management. At Development Reimagined, she applies her health sector experience to global health research and collating locally applicable development insights from China.


Research Analyst

Ferdinando’s research at Development Reimagined is centred on South-South Cooperation dynamics, specifically on the analysis of Chinese investment and debt flows in Africa and their linkages to African industrialisation. He is currently a Yenching Scholar at Peking University, after having graduated from the University of Cambridge with an MPhil in Development Studies.


Research Analyst

David is a Research and data analyst at Development Reimagined. His scholarly focus is mostly on interdisciplinary research in demographic economics and development with interests in migration, economic development and policy, education, health and subjective well-being. He is currently a PhD scholar at Nelson Mandela University from which he also holds Economics and Statistics and respectively.


Research Analyst Kenya

Ivory is a Kenyan lawyer with experience in policy research and analysis. She also supports the communications team at DR. Ivory speaks English, Swahili and French.


Research And Data Analyst China 

Joy Ene is a Research and Data Analyst at DR. Joy is passionate about African/global development, poverty eradication and trade policies between underdeveloped and developing countries. She is also a fourth-year student of International Economics and Trade at the  Liaoning University, Shenyang, China. She serves as the President of the Student Union, Liaoning University, International Students chapter.


Research Analyst 

Chensi Li is a research analyst. She has previously worked for local NGOs in Nigeria and Cameroon and think-tanks in China.  Her research areas include Sino-African relations, African foreign affairs, public diplomacy, state-building and national governance.

Yixin Yu

Research Analyst 

Yixin is a Junior Research Analyst and her focus areas is on public-private partnership and entrepreneurship. She has over three years of working experience in both private and public sectors in Ethiopia. She was the China Liaison Officer for project ‘Partnership for Investment and Growth in Africa’ at International Trade Centre, where she accumulated rich experience in investment and trade promotion


Founder and CEO

Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE's International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.