Working Paper
Africa’s lockdown dilemma

High poverty and low trust

The primary policy response to suppress the spread of COVID-19 in high-income countries has been to lock down large sections of the population. However, there is growing unease that blindly replicating these policies might inflict irreparable damage to poor households and foment social unrest in developing countries.

We investigate this concern using Afrobarometer data from 2019 for 30 sub-Saharan African countries. We create a multidimensional index of lockdown readiness based on living conditions and explore its relationship with forms of trust and the potential for social unrest.

The index reveals that just 6.8 per cent of households overall and 12.2 per cent in urban areas meet all conditions for a lockdown. We further show that weak readiness is not offset by high levels of social trust, which can be vital for effective public health interventions.

As such, strict lockdown policies may not only be difficult to enforce, but also heighten the risks of conflict.