Success v failure: Is there one Africa COVID19 story?

 In analysis, infographic, Social Media

Updated Weekly

Over the past few months, as we have scored through and collated the data from a huge number of sources, to share our weekly updates on what African countries are doing to tackle COVID19, we have noticed that many others writing on the same topic tend to see what is happening in very black and white terms, as if there is a single story. Case studies are shared of current successes – like Mauritius. While elsewhere data is selectively chosen to imply that testing rates on the continent are universally poor.

Yet, our cross-continental, comprehensive data, week after week, has tried to demonstrate that such simplicity is at best misguided, at worst it is misleading. We need to look deeper and comparatively, provide context that people inside and outside of China can recognise. 

So what does the detailed, comparative data reveal this week? 

We have previously discussed the “mixed” results we are seeing – with some countries making progress and others struggling. This week we see this developing even more into a “divided” continent – divided between those countries struggling to contain COVID19 and those countries who have understood what it takes to stop the virus.

But which countries sit in which camps? How are the continents’ largest economies faring? Are the most populated countries facing the steepest challenges? Are the poorest countries being overwhelmed? And is it only isolated islands that seem to be getting to post-COVID19 status, or are there others?

Our infographic below suggests there is no linearity or underlying physical or economic factors that determine success or not. What matters most, and as we have suggested in previous editions, is the actions of governments – democratically elected or otherwise – to encourage their citizens to avoid risky behaviours and create the right conditions for them to do so. 

Take Namibia, Seychelles, Uganda, Eritrea, and Lesotho. What marks out these 5 countries? So far, none of them have seen any COVID19 deaths. Despite the fact that 4 of the 5 countries detected their first cases in mid-to-late March. How? A range of techniques: Eritrea has reportedly focused on community management of tracing and quarantine; Mauritius on very strict lockdown.  These are all worth exploring.

How about what marks out Mauritius, South Africa, Djibouti, Seychelles and Cabo Verde? These are the 5 countries testing the most per capita on the continent. South Africa is 23rd in the world for absolute numbers of tests done so far, while Mauritius is 16th in the world for tests per capita.  Yet Mauritius is the most densely populated country in Africa, while Djibouti is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 171 out of 189 countries and territories in the last UNDP Human Development Index.

How about Botswana, Lesotho, Mauritius, Mauritania and Zimbabwe? These 5 countries have so far tested at least 200 people to every detected case in their countries. That’s well above the WHO suggested test:case ratio of 10-30. Yet, these 5 countries were ranked – in order – 121st, 60th, 153rd, 33rd and 10th worst on the 2020 Fragile States Index. Bound together by action, yet literally spanning the entirety of a governance index.

What links the countries that appear to be struggling is just as broad.

Let’s take Algeria, Cameroon, DRC, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia and Sudan. According to WHO data, in 2014, Algeria was 3rd best on the continent for health expenditure per capita, while DRC ranked 2nd worst.  Yet, these 6 countries are testing the least compared to the number of cases they have. 

Similarly, the countries with the largest numbers of cases are not only the most populous, nor the poorest. The countries with the highest amounts of deaths so far include South Africa and Sudan – at opposite scales of the GDP per capita spectrum. Some of these countries did detect cases earlier than many other African counties (such as Algeria and Egypt), but Sudan, for instance, detected its first case on 15th March. Nigeria on 11th March – the day WHO declared COVID19 a pandemic.

Hence, we see in our data a sort of “bifurcation” – those countries clearly making real progress, those that seem to be in difficulty, and those we still need to watch carefully.

Our recommendation to the governments of this last category – the as yet “undetermined” – is to  continue work to “flatten the curve”, and learn from the successful examples so far – to get new relevant ideas and techniques. The signs are there that many are doing so. Last month 23 African countries were mandating mandatory use of masks. Now 30 are. Over the last month, African countries have more than tripled the total tests completed – from around 785 thousand to now over 2.3 million. If this momentum can be maintained or increased, it will make a huge difference. African countries are also making use of support from others. China’s medical teams have been to 11 countries on the continent so far. We hope more health support from China and traditional donors will be directed to the countries that are struggling the most, urgently. 

However, we also see worrying signs. Suggestions of opening up to international travel could be premature. This week Mauritius had a set back as 2 returning nationals who had tested negative before flying to Mauritius several days later – while in quarantine – tested positive. Similarly, allowing large gatherings may invite potential for “super-spreader” events, which will make tracing and controlling spread very challenging, potentially creating “second waves”. 

Hence, we also recommend continuing to be cautious about opening up – the costs could be overwhelming.

Check out the data below, and let us know your reflections and suggestions for further lines of enquiry.

To find out how Development Reimagined can help you, your organisation or Government during the COVID-19 outbreak please email the team at .

Special thanks go to Rosie Wigmore, Rosie Flowers and Jinyu Chen for their work on the graphic and collecting/analysing the underlying data.

The data was collated from a range of sources including: government websites and media reports, the IMF policy tracker; the US Chamber COVID19 Dashboard; Our World in Data, Africa CDC and Worldometer. Data on Chinese medical teams is drawn from Chinese state media reporting. Our methodology is entirely in-house, based on analysis of social distancing categories and other trends.

If you spot any gaps or have any enquiries, please send your feedback to us at, we will aim to respond asap.

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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.