Jean-Jacques Cornish

Africa maintains an economic lifeline threatened by COVID 19

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The cliche is that a visiting journalist traditionally relies on taxi drivers to get the grif on the country he or she has just landed in.

I rely on watching where people hang out as a barometer of what is happening.

Large numbers of young people lazing about during working hours shouts unemployment to me.

It tells me that countries of the Maghreb and the Middle East where I have observed this have grown up economic problems.

In those oil-rich countries of the Gulf I see men drinking coffee, smoking nargilla  and chatting in the cafes it tells me that their wives are keeping house and cooking the delicious but laborious meals that only oppressed women have the time to prepare.

The other large gatherings in these salubrious lands are outside the offices of the foreign exchange firms.

The people there are workers from Africa and other poor countries paying the premium and completing the tiresome paperwork to send money home to their families.

Remittances to Africa are a massive industry.

They amount to $48 trillion a year, according to the World Bank.

This money from more than ten million Africans working abroad eclipses both aid paid to and foreign direct investment in their countries.

Calling this a lifeline is a rank understatement.

The workers pay dearly to maintain this.

They work without protection from exploitation, social benefits and medical aid.

They pay nearly 9% commission, at least three points higher than counterparts sending money to other parts of the globe.

When the COVID 19 lockdown began this year, the World Bank was predicting a 24% reduction in remittance to Africa.

The prospect of fewer people being permitted to go abroad to earn money to send home was devastating.

The World Bank this week rather pulled its neck in.

Its latest migration and development brief  forecasts that remittances will be 9% lower this year and 6% down in 2021.

Economically painful, without doubt. But Africans, who have proven wrong the apocalyptic expert medical predictions of how damaging the corona virus would be to their countries with the poorest medical facilities on the planet, have confounded the economists too.

We learn from the central bank in Harare that diaspora remittances to Zimbabwe increased by 45 percent to $658 million during the first nine months of 2020.

Zimbabwe joins Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and the DRC.and top remittance earners south of the Sahara.

Remittances from the three million Zimbabweans living abroad are a key source of foreign currency

Last year Zimbabwe earned $635 million in remittances.

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.