Blog: Consular chambers to the rescue of businesses: The COVID-19 crisis in French-speaking Africa
Placed at the centre of their national or local business ecosystem, the consular chambers¹ in Africa have effectively been mobilized to mitigate the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has on businesses.
The Permanent Conference of the Consular Chambers in Francophone Africa (CPCCAF) conducted a survey on the 'role of consular chambers in managing the Covid-19 crisis', covering 31 chambers and organizations within its network of 17 countries. The survey has revealed alarming findings.
The results show a drop in sales for nine out of ten companies across French-speaking African countries, while eight out of ten companies experienced temporary closings and export difficulties. Companies in the Sahel region (Mali, Niger, Chad and Senegal) suffer greater impacts. Forecasts from the African Union show that imports and exports from the continent could drop by 35%, which accounts for around €250 billion². In addition, difficulties in purchasing inputs have affected three-quarters of businesses.
Businesses call out for support
The survey results show that companies would need support in the area of logistics and input supply (23.3%) and cash management (16.6%). Results also indicate companies' need for support in their relations with external operators and suppliers as well as with training staff. To this effect, one in three responding chambers organized relevant training for companies.
With a focus on specific sectors, 50% of companies in wholesale and retail trade requested support from the chambers in the CPCCAF network, compared with 30% and over 23% respectively of companies active in the services and crafts sector. The industrial and agricultural sectors are also severely impacted. Moreover, even though the CPCCAF survey questions did not address the informal sector, many chambers expressed their concerns, especially with regard to the consequences of government confinement measures.
Whether countries have chosen to establish total or partial confinement or a curfew, these measures will inevitably lead to serious economic, political and social consequences. A third of the surveyed chambers estimate that between 20% and 40% of businesses have been forced to close due to these confinement measures.
A survey conducted by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Antananarivo, Madagascar reveals that 30% of the companies were forced to close temporarily. In addition, according to the African Union, more than 20 million jobs are threatened by COVID-19 in Africa³.
The chambers play a decisive role in managing the crisis
Three-quarters of the interviewed chambers and intermediary organizations report having been mobilized by public authorities to provide their expertise in supporting business during the crisis.
In Niger, for example, public authorities asked the Chamber of Commerce and Industry to assess the business impact of government measures that limit the spread of Covid-19. In the meantime, one in two CPCCAF chambers decided independently to carry out surveys to assess the impact of the crisis.
Various measures have been put in place, many of which one can find in the International Trade Centre's 15-Point Action Plan, including awareness and prevention actions, as well as using digital platforms and technologies to increase the competitiveness and agility of small businesses to reach customers.
One in two chambers organized information sessions to disseminate preventive and containment practises and to inform businesses about the measures taken by their governments. Many chambers, for example in Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire and Niger, have mobilized their companies to manufacture masks.
In addition, more than 43% of the interviewed chambers have set up digital platforms that allow them to keep in touch with their businesses. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Benin for example, has set up a marketplace that brings together potential buyers and Beninese companies producing or selling sanitary products (hydro-alcoholic gels, masks, gloves, packaging).
The COVID-19 crisis, however, reveal how real the digital challenges are in Africa. Two-thirds of the chambers in French-speaking Africa were unable to promote teleworking due to lacking adequate digital tools and devices within companies. To solve this, some have encouraged companies to adapt their leave systems. Chambers, including the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Gabon, have made their premises available to accommodate the National Monitoring and Response Committee of COVID-19.
Consular chambers remain resilient and resourceful
The COVID-19 crisis highlights the central role consular chambers play in supporting businesses, but also in advising public authorities. Given their role as private-sector representatives, the chambers have shown their capacity to react to the crisis efficiently by implementing support and monitoring solutions and ensuring that companies remain accompanied. The innovative solutions against the impacts of the crisis, such as the Beninese marketplace, reveal the chambers' capacity for mobilization and resilience for small business.
¹ Including Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CCI), Chambers of Trades and Crafts (CMA), and Chambers of Agriculture (CA).
² Gérard Gérold , Mathieu Mérino . Covid-19 and Africa : first reflections. Note n ° 28/20 from the Foundation for Strategic Research published on April 24, 2020.