Covid-19 shakes Horn of Africa: Socio-economic and Humanitarian impacts

Abiy, the would-be Authoritarian in Ethiopia

Abstract  The countries in the Horn of Africa are encountering the perilous of the emerging deadly coronavirus. These countries are already struggling with destitution, deep-rooted conflicts, and coronavirus over burdens. And since March last month, there are plummeting covid-19 cases in the region. So, this paper examines the socio-economic and humanitarian dimensions.

Introduction   Ethiopia and Kenya announced the first cases of coronavirus in March last month. Though, the eruption of Covid-19 in the region was less than one month, but the level of the spread is peculiar. 

The countries in the region are desperately struggling to throttle the spread of the virus to the society. Because, the people of these countries are susceptible to any transmission diseases given its weak health infrastructure, destitution, deep-rooted conflicts, poor sanitation and urban crowding. Moreover, the people’s livelihood is depended on their daily work. With all these challenges, the countries of this regional bloc are already restricted the flights from several countries in a bid to combat the dissemination of the virus.

But, mostly horn of Africa countries have a trade relationship with China where the virus was originally found, and this contributed the spread of the Covid-19 in the region. The flipside, when the governments in the region embarked obeying the WHO’s guidance and instructions regarding limiting the spread of the virus, the people are not taking seriously. Because, most of their livelihood is hand-to mouth, and the governments cannot cover their lives. For instance, many of the developed world such as North-America and Europe, when they started banning the movements, and imposed social distancing, they began providing the people food items and other necessary stuff.

Also, South-Korea where I am currently studying is giving every family a financial support in order to manage their lives. But, African countries, notably horn of Africa their governments don’t afford economically to feed their people during this tough-moment. And this inconvenience led public disobedience. For instance,

Kenyan government imposed night curfew, but the people are still doing their businesses in the day shift, and this unripe decision because who says corona doesn’t spread in the day shift? In Somalia, though the government is reiterating by day adopting Social distancing and staying home, but no one listens, and the people are still having their ordinary gatherings. Furthermore, the people who are using masks are so limited in these countries. And this recklessness and temerity can increase the potential spread of the deadly Coronavirus.

On the other hand, in March, 30 this year IGAD leaders met via zoom meeting in a bid to forge a collective plan for the region to combat the nascent pandemic coronavirus, aka Covid-19. Though, Eritrea was missed out that paramount meeting. The aim of this summit was pioneering a regional response strategy and fundraising for emergency, while suggesting for a globally coordinated effort to tackle this emerging virus. Yet, there is no conspicuous en masse efforts to defeat the virus. 

Factors contributed the spread of Covid-19 in the region

Since WHO announced that, coronavirus is a pandemic in March, 11 this year, Covid-19 was spreading the whole African continent, especially horn of Africa. The region has an enormous Diaspora community who live in Europe, North-America and Asia. So, when those people started returning back their home, maybe some of them are already get infected, they transmitted the virus to the people. For instance, Ethiopian Airline is the only African-owned flight which travels continentally. So, the first cases of coronavirus were found those came in with this air from countries who have found coronavirus cases. Though, lately the region restricted the flight from the countries with coronavirus cases, but the virus is in the house already. 


This chart elucidates the total number of coronavirus cases, death toll and the recovery level. 


CountryInfectedDeath tollRecovery
Ethiopia 135375
Kenya 46524167
Eritrea 39026


The latest coronavirus cases number in the region is 2,473. 

These countries have common challenges such as widespread unemployment rate, recurrence of droughts, famine, flooding and diseases. With all these misfortunes which already the region is confronting, Coronavirus is another sticky situation on the region. Because, the poor health system in the region, the governments who mostly tended lip service, pseudo administrations and the people who are mostly clueless and oblivious all these obstacles uplift the vulnerability level. 

For instance, until Wednesday, 08, April this month when the first death case was witnessed in Somalia, people used to be reluctant about the government’s awareness toward the pestilent coronavirus. And when the government, or the international organizations like WHO says something about the deadly virus, plenty of Somalia people were skeptical and shambling to abide by the precautionary measures. And within the people is asking each other, if we remain our home, who is going to be feeding us? This critical question is still pending and lingering everyone’s mind. Because, most of the Somali people’s livelihood depends on their daily live activities as a (hand-to-mouth). And the government doesn’t afford currently to provide the citizens a food during this pandemic era. That is why, in Somalia the awareness of the virus in ineffective because the people became amok and intractable.  Because of negligence, Somalia is leading the list number two in terms the people contracted with novel coronavirus after Djibouti. 

Socio-economic repercussions of Coronavirus in the region

Africa as a whole, and horn of Africa as a particular is susceptible to the precarious of this coronavirus because of her openness to international trade and migration. And there are two main factors which driven by this susceptibility namely internal and external. 

  1. Internal impacts come from the swift spread of the coronavirus in the continent because of the conspicuous vulnerability and the lack of proper health services in the continent. And this morbidity and susceptibility led suspension of the economic activities, especially a reduce in domestic demand in tax revenue. Furthermore, increase of the public consumption toward safeguarding their health. Because, mostly the people in this region don’t receive a health care moneys from their countries, instead they rely on themselves.  
  2. External impacts emanate from the direct trade relationship with Europe, Asia and USA. These continents are currently suffering because of the spread of the cocid-19. Moreover, the tourism sector diminishes drastically, and the decrease in remittances from the Diaspora community. And all these misfortunes are occurring while the continent is in a critical phase of the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Though, covid-19 did not spread the African continent juxtaposing to the other continents like Asia, Europe and America, but many health experts are skeptical about this issue. They believe that, the limited testing is indistinct the real number of cases. But, they predicted if covid-19 spreads drastically the continent, it will cause tremendous cases because of the high vulnerability and morbidity in the continent. 

In late March, this year, the UN representatives in Somalia Swan evoked that, there is an immense need for unity and solidarity among the Somali people in order to collectively fight against the pandemic coronavirus. The special representative of UN in Somalia appealed the Somali people to put aside any conflict, mistrust, bad blood and disagreement among them during this tough-moments of Covid-19. And only togetherness and collectively, we can curb and contain the nascent coronavirus which becomes inevitable. He adds that, the UN is ready to help Somalia government shoulder-by shoulder including the testing materials, the isolation of the suspected and infected people.  

Humanitarian aspect

The eruption of Covid-19 in late last year exacerbates the humanitarian crises caused by security and governance fragility in Africa, especially horn of Africa. The region is already overwhelmed by humongous IDPs caused by internal conflicts, terrorist attacks and climate-driven. And there is already egregious poor sanitation, lack of nutrition and insufficient health services. 

For instance, OCHA reported last year, 2019, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ethiopia peaked 3.2 million people. And there are several factors driven by this unprecedented number including communal-violence and climate shocks. And these misfortunes led Ethiopia food insecurity which utmost impacts on pastoralist and agro-pastoralist households, especially the largest region in Ethiopia, Oromia. 


On the other hand, Kenya hosts loosely half a million of refugees and asylum seekers who mostly came from Somalia, South-Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). And these refugees are thoroughly depending on aid. In 2019, closely 2,000 of Somalis are voluntarily returned to Somalia under the assistance of UNHCR. Most of Somali refugees in Kenya had driven by the bloody civil war which had erupted in Somalia in 1991.

Kenya was already suffering because of these big fat refugees, though the European Union (EU) was supporting them. Since 2012, EU has given the Kenyan government more than 170 million euros as a humanitarian aid. EU allocates this huge fund for emergence preparedness and building the resilience in those communities live in the Arid northern part of the country (North-eastern). With all these enormous moneys from EU, Dadaab and Kakuma refugees are bemoaning yet lack of enough food, sanitation and health services. And this pandemic covid-19 is a new threat to the refugees because of their vulnerability. And social-distancing during the corona age, is impossible in the refugees’ camps. So, this egregious susceptibility and morbidity can contribute negatively the spread of the virus among the community.  

Eritrea, a small country in the horn of Africa crippled its economy by international sanctions since 2002, and experienced since independence one-man rule is confronting humanitarian crises also.  

Since Eritrea got her independence in 1993 from Ethiopia, the country is ruling by the incumbent President Isais Afwerki under iron fist. The incumbent oppresses the dissenting voices, arrests the journalists, crushes civil society, political parties and religious groups. Additionally, the system commits of all families of human rights abuses. Moreover, the system imposes military service as a mandatory by the age of 18. And this reckless decision taken by the Eritrean government resulted by international condemnation. In 2016, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry evoked that, the Eritrean government commits by crimes against humanity. 

Eritreans were already complaining about the humanitarian issues, and now, they are encountering the perilous of the Covid-19. The Eritrean government announces April,1 a 21-day of national lockdown when the corona cases reached 22 in order to throttle the spread of the virus. The government is reiterating remain home slogan. Also, the Eritrean government requested the Eritrean Diaspora community to support financially their country so as to combat this inevitable and an invincible pandemic virus. 

Somalia, a country ravaged by war and religious extremists, is a notorious when it comes to the humanitarian crises, conflicts, instability and natural disasters. The latest Human right watch’s report in 2019 indicated that, the total number of the Internally Displaced People (IDPs) reached zenith at 2.7 million. There are tremendous reasons which had driven the dim situation that Somalia is undertaking including the legacy of the civil war and conflicts for the last three decades, the Al-Shabaab presence in the country and the recurrence of the droughts, famines, flooding and the outbreak of the diseases like cholera. 

And now, since Somalia was announced the first corona case in March last month, the situation was exacerbating. Because, the country was already sufficiently fragile, and the level of the vulnerability was high in terms of humanitarian situation. And this respiratory coronavirus adds-on the burden. Additionally, Al-Shabaab is controlling still some parts of the country, and it’s not easy to deliver such areas any awareness related the precautionary measures of the Covid-19. Also, people who live in the IDPs camps are infirm and susceptible any transmitted diseases including coronavirus. Moreover, the sanitation in the camps is so bad, and social-distancing is rarely to happen. With all these problems can uplift the corona cases in the country.

Djibouti, the smallest country in the region with less than 1 million inhabitants. In the country, there is humanitarian crises for the last two decades because of the prolonged droughts. The humanitarian situation was deteriorating since the country receives enormous migrants from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and currently Yemen. These migrants mostly head to the Arab-Gulf countries through Yemen. The poverty rate is so high over 85% of the rural population is food insecure. The land is almost arid because of the heat where only 0.01% in the country is arable. Also, there is severe shortage of rainfall. The chronic drought, the migrants from the neighboring countries, the rare rainfall seasons aggravated the humanitarian plight in the country. 

Since, the first corona case was witnessed in Djibouti March, 19 last month, the humanitarian situation in the country was worsening. Because, Djibouti is small and poor country, and already was paralyzed her economy by climate shocks and prolonged droughts. 

The infectious covid-19, is another burden to the country. In this regard, the World Bank (WB), April this month has offered to Djibouti $5 million in order to fight and respond the deadly virus, aka covid-19. This support money is allocated for prevention, respond, quarantine sites and the treatment of those get affected. Additionally, this money will also contribute getting health care services which can fit the citizens. Because, Djibouti government alone cannot handle and combat the pandemic coronavirus. 


The contagious Covid-19 is jeopardizing and paralyzing the continent’s economy. As Bloomberg indicated in its report in late March that, Africa desperately needs an emergency economic stimulus of $100 billion. And this money was allocated the preventive measures, and to improve Africa’s poor health care system. Additionally, this huge donation contributes building the social safety nets, and also equipping the hospitals in order to handle and treat those tested positive.

The report mentions also that, the African-continent, the hospitals have an average of just 1.8 beds for 1,000 people. This dismay reality is crystal clear how Africa is susceptible to this coronavirus. Because, the hospitals were already fed up for other diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/Aids. And this nascent Covid-19 fizzles out and demoralizes the hospitals. 

On the other hand, the weak health system in the whole continent, notable the horn of Africa can enable covid-19 to spread so fast in the region because the protracted humanitarian crises which was already present. That is why, the Chinese billionaire Jack Ma offered the second donation to all 54 countries of Africa. And the donation comprises on ventilators, suits, face masks, thermometers, gloves, swabs and extraction kits. Apart from these big fat donation, he abetted the African leaders to learn something from how China succeeded its combat against the deadly covid-19. 

Anwar Abdifatah Bashir (Freelance Journalist, Author and Independent researcher). He focuses on Horn of Africa Geopolitics. The writer is currently undertaking his Fourth-Postgraduate Degree on Global governance and Political Economy at Korea Development Institute (KDI) in South-Korea.