COVID-19 in West Africa: A Security Manager’s Perspective
By most accounts, the coronavirus pandemic has not yet ravaged the countries of West Africa. Exactly why this is true no one knows for sure, but experts have offered a few theories.
One theory is the virus does not spread as efficiently in warmer more and humid climates, such as the one found in Africa and the Caribbean region. Another is that Africa has a younger population than Europe or China. And most experts seem to agree that, due to lack of testing and testing data, the actual number of cases is higher than the estimated number.
As of 12 April 2020, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control reported that 323 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed, 85 cases discharged, and 10 deaths recorded in Nigeria. The case and fatality statistics for Ghana and Senegal are similar, with Senegal reporting 250 cases as of 9 April, and according to situation reports from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Veteran Nigeria-based security manager McLean Essiene, CPP, PSP, PCI, calls these relatively low case numbers “a delayed incursion,” and he expects more spread in the future. “While some worst hit regions are now experiencing a flattening of the curves, the trajectory in Africa generally seems to be experiencing a spike,” Essiene says. “One would say that the peak is yet to come.”
What will more spread mean for security managers in the region? Essiene, who has worked in private security with a multinational corporation and a local firm, and now heads his Essimacs International Security, says that the COVID-19 pandemic will be “a litmus test” for organizations' business continuity plans and resilience systems. Those with an Enterprise Security Risk Management System (ESRM) practice will likely have a competitive advantage, he adds.
“For security managers, implementation of ESRM would have cushioned the effects of wanton disruptions in these times of uncertainties,” he says. Essiene also serves on the ASIS Human Threat Management Council and the ASIS Young Professionals Council.
In contrast, organizations without continuity, resilience, or risk management plans are more likely to struggle, he adds. “The COVID-19 pandemic would present a severe headwind to organizations without the required infrastructure in place,” he says.
In Nigeria, there is another prevalent concern related to the increasing number of coronavirus cases—inadequate hospital capacity. “COVID -19’s strain on hospitals and healthcare systems is a global challenge,” Essiene says. And Africa is among the regions with the most fragile healthcare sector, with a majority of its citizenry unable to afford daily sources of livelihood, let alone basic healthcare needs.”
Indeed, economic struggles have been a daily reality for many Nigerians for years. Thus, from a security perspective, Essiene says he expects that shortages in medical supplies and equipment, while tragic, will likely not result in widescale unrest or instability.
On a more positive note, lessons from the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa have been used to enhance preparedness for the current pandemic at the individual country level, and the Ebola responses can be scaled up in dealing with COVID-19, Essiene explains. “Similar epidemiological ways of curbing viral transmission and flattening the curves were very much adopted with Ebola,” he says.
And like Ebola, the coronavirus pandemic will undoubtedly provide some lessons for West African security managers, he adds. One is the need for increased security in the healthcare sector, and for more investment in resilient healthcare systems. Advancing these goals can be challenging, he explains, because Nigerians who can afford it still prefer to seek medical care abroad.
The coronavirus pandemic will also emphasize the importance of biosecurity, Essiene says. Many experts argue that the coronavirus originated in a bat, and some speculate that it then spread to a pangolin, and then to a human. “Zoonosis—the transmission of diseases between animals and humans—must be given global attention,” Essiene explains.
Finally, even though telecommuting had already been practiced by some in Nigeria, the mass migration to working from home caused by the pandemic “has brought about a total overhauling of the workplace environment,” Essiene says.
This, in turn, will impact security managers, he explains. Security managers will need to be tech-savvy and familiar with various user-friendly technological solutions, such as new applications for sharing and storing documents and the videoconferencing options of the future. But how those changes play out and what the “new normal” for the workplace becomes will depend on the individual organization. Security managers will then have to adapt to any changes in operation.
“The security department is not a standalone unit within the organization. Therefore, the overall organization’s strategy dictates the new workplace normal for the security function,” Essiene says.
For more COVID-19 coverage, see ASIS International’s Disease Outbreak: Security Resources page.