Covid-19 calls for self-reliance and globalism in equal measure

The world has basically shutdown; shutdown by a disaster that has not been seen before.

Covid-19, which had largely been confined in Wuhan, China has spread so fast, killing thousands and threatening the life of millions across the world.

 The virus, which the World Health Organisation, has already declared a pandemic has become a global war, wreaking havoc in parts of Asia and Africa, much of Europe and the Americas.  

 In Uganda, the first case was confirmed on March 22 and the number has been growing, albeit slowly, to above 53 case by April 10.

 One would say the slow numbers has been because of a quick government response that partly shut down the country and limited movements of Ugandans.
Government has taken very strict measures some of which seriously infringe the livelihoods but all for the greater good.

 Interestingly, leaders across the political divide are united with the citizens in supporting the implementation of critical measures that in few weeks will be crucial to inform Ugandans of the extent to which the country has found the virus.

 However, whereas we are aware of the cross-cutting damage that Corona will have on the Ugandan economy, my discussion today will focus on trade and development that is likely to take a long time before it shakes off the effects of the pandemic.

 Corona caught the world unaware but for countries that had been building some buffers, they will come out less damaged or even stronger.

In over three decades, researchers and trade policy stakeholders have been calling for regionalism and integration into the global value chains as key for development.
 
This, coupled with the push to enhance free trade, tourism and internationalisation of production and consumption and improved technology, had sought to ease to access goods and services through reduced production costs.

 In Africa, researchers and trade policy analysts, have been advocating for regional value chains, with many ideas floated.

 Already, different agreements have been signed and some, such as the East African Community, have been implemented, albeit with some setbacks.

 Free trade and improved technology have been some of biggest benefits with traders able to order and pay for products from any part of the world.

 While this has been done, entrepreneurs have been slow in taking on manufacturing, choosing to mainly engaging in trade.

 This is dangerous, especially at such as time when, we have closed ourselves to the rest of the world. 

 While we still have some avenues that will make international trade easier such as the various e-commerce platforms, regional and international trade faces will become harder and more uncertain as countries restrict exports, especially for essential products and medicine.

 The big question now is, can our domestic industry produce and supply what we demand?

 This is rather a complex issue because our industries heavily rely on imported inputs to produce.

 As countries take measures to contain Corona, it is increasingly hard to access those inputs. The mass production needed to address the crucial needs during war time demands tremendous domestic capacity which we currently lack.

We must therefore increase our domestic capacity through deliberate measures and strategic innovations that can enhance self-sufficiency.

 This requires a well-coordinated and supported response at both local and international level to enhance production, which can only be done with factors such as technological transfer, machinery supply and opening up of markets for our products.

As Uganda fights Corona, we can only stay home to support our soldiers on the frontlines - the health workers and emergency response teams at national and district levels.

This war can be won but we should use it as a lesson to prepare for future wars, which might even be worse.

 The kind of preparation we will need is to be more self-reliant such that restrictions in the international markets do that cripple us, at least easily.

For now, it is safe to say, we are heavily reliant on international trade but it would have been better to rely on it for exports than imports.
 Mr Munu is a PhD candidate, Institute for Globalisation and International Regulation (IGIR)

Faculty of Law, Maastricht University, The Netherlands (Email: [email protected]/[email protected]

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