Premise Snapshot: Africa and COVID-19

Premise Snapshot: Africa and COVID-19

By Theodore Reuter, Saleel Huprikar, Ryan Muldoon | Geospatial Data Scientist, Data Scientist Intern, Global Operations Specialist

The COVID-19 pandemic has marched its way across the globe, with confirmed cases on every continent and in every country. There are over one million confirmed cases and 50,000 attributed deaths. To date, Africa has not been hit as hard as other continents though it has the potential to become the new epicenter of the pandemic. This is due to several factors: spotty and incomplete health care coverage, governmental inefficiencies and uneven infrastructure that will challenge any response effort. In order to continue providing actionable information to authorities across the globe, Premise has been monitoring COVID-related sentiment and behavior across its network of Contributors, especially our networks in Africa.

Premise has been conducting an international survey since March 2nd, which focuses on the economic impact of COVID-19. Thus far, we have collected 335,000 responses from across the globe, where 32,000 have come from our largest networks in North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt) and sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria and Kenya). Comparing responses across these three distinct areas of Africa—the east coast, west coast and the north—gives us a range of insights across the continent. This allows us to characterize the different responses these regions are demonstrating to the growing pandemic. 

COVID-19 first arrived in Africa relatively early — the first confirmed case came in Egypt on February 14, which happened to also be the day the first death was recorded in Europe. The first confirmed case in Latin America, in contrast, did not come until nearly two weeks later — February 26 in Brazil. Unlike Europe where confirmed cases and deaths skyrocketed in the first few weeks (Italy was completely locked down by March 9), the disease did not appear to gain the same momentum on the African continent. Algeria and Nigeria recorded their first cases in late February (February 25 and 28, respectively). Morocco and Tunisia confirmed their first cases in early March (March 2 and 4, respectively), while Kenya did not record its first case until March 14, an entire month after Egypt. As a result, these regions are at very different stages of infection, with the countries in North Africa all having between 500-1000 confirmed cases, while Nigeria has only 184 reported and Kenya 110. 

This uneven spread has led to uneven government responses; to date, Morocco and Tunisia have taken the strongest measures, issuing nationwide shelter-in-place orders on March 18 and 20, respectively. Egypt, Kenya and Algeria began experimenting with overnight curfews for a growing number of areas between March 24-27, while Nigeria just issued stay-at-home orders for three of its states last week. (March 30 for Lagos, Ogun and Abuja, its most populous states.) As suggested by the different rates of exposure and strength of government response, the responses from Contributors in these countries are correspondingly varied as shown below.

Economic Anxiety

Each of the areas in Africa we surveyed showed statistically significant percentage point increases in the reported levels of anxiety about their national economies’ fates during the period of collection. What differed dramatically was both the rate of percentage point increase and the ultimate level of concern. In North Africa, despite having some of the earliest diagnosed cases on the continent, Contributors’ overall concern about their economies remained low; only 30% agreed with the statement: “The economy will get worse before it gets better.” In contrast, Kenya, which documented the appearance of coronavirus much later (a full month after Egypt), had the highest initial and final levels of concern regarding their economy. In fact, Kenya’s initial level of concern was higher than the final reported levels of concern of the other African countries we examined. From this, it seems that our Kenyan Contributors are substantially more concerned about the future of their economy. At the time of writing, nearly three-quarters of Kenyan respondents indicate some level of concern.

The high level of anxiety could be what spurred the Kenyan government in late March to move with such alacrity—their response was among the fastest on the continent. (Tunisia and Morocco also moved quickly, taking approximately two weeks after the first diagnosis to initiate their response.) However, the Kenyan measures were more subdued—the overnight curfews implemented there are on the moderate end of stay-at-home restrictions compared to the complete lockdowns seen in Europe and North America. (As well as Tunisia and Morocco.) Even though the data shows the level of economic concern in North Africa is low, it has steadily been rising, causing governments across North Africa to respond differently to the COVID-19 pandemic. As was previously noted, Tunisia and Morocco moved much faster than Algeria and Egypt to enact containment measures, despite each government facing higher casualty numbers than Kenya and Nigeria, suggesting uneven importance placed on the citizens’ economic concerns. 

Nigeria falls somewhere in the middle of these two regions, albeit much closer to the North African responses in terms of initial, final and percentage point increases in levels of economic concern, which potentially led to a slower, weaker government response (their limited statewide shelter-in-place orders were the latest among our surveyed countries). This is in contrast to Kenya, whose government acted quickly despite the comparably low numbers of confirmed cases. (184 and 110 for Nigeria and Kenya to date, respectively). It seems the Kenyan government’s response reflects its citizens’ concerns, while the Nigerian government seems content to take a much more gradual approach. We will see what effect these choices have on both their economies and their populations in the weeks to come.

Willingness To Be In Public Places

Despite the more muted (albeit rising) levels of economic concern (Kenya notwithstanding), each of the countries we examined experienced larger increases in the percentage of people for whom COVID-19 is having a moderate or major impact on their willingness to be in public places. Each of these countries also had higher final rates of concern overall in comparison to those economic responses. Unsurprisingly, Kenya saw the largest increase from 56% to 83%, with their initial level of concern again being higher than every other country’s final tally. What’s interesting is that the regions that were less concerned about the fate of their national economies in response to the virus seem more concerned about being in public to potentially catch it. Nigeria went from 37% to 51% while North Africa went from 22% to 44%, with both those regions’ initial and final numbers being higher than their respective responses on the economic question. So while they may not be as concerned about their pocketbooks (yet), they certainly seem concerned about being in public spaces, opting to stay home whether their governments mandate it or not. It will be interesting to see if these gaps persist or whether the economic concern eventually catches up to the public place ones.


The impact of COVID-19 in these areas of Africa is already clear in the data, and unfortunately, things are likely going to get worse. Based on the experiences of most other affected nations to date, these countries appear to be entering the exponential growth phase, with cases tripling in both Kenya (31 → 110) and Nigeria (65 → 184) in the past six days alone. Several of the North African countries also saw rapid increases this week, with cases in Tunisia and Morocco nearly doubling in six days (Tunisia: 227→ 455, Morocco: 345 → 708). As one would expect with the diversity of Africa, there is a range of government approaches and the efficacy of these various methods will be revealed as the pandemic runs its course. Due to the rapidly changing situation, Premise will continue to closely monitor sentiments from these countries and report on their behavior as these countries’ infections rise so that authorities can take appropriate action.

About Theodore Reuter, Saleel Huprikar, Ryan Muldoon

Theo Reuter is a Geospatial Data Scientist who is passionate about data and how it can be used to tell stories. Recently graduated from the University of Maryland College Park with an MS in GIS, he has been hard at work at Premise since January 2020 providing mapping, scripting and spatial data analysis, leveraging the spatial nature of the data Premise collects.

Saleel Huprikar is a Data Scientist intern, who joined Premise Data in February of this year. He recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied Economics, Mathematics and Statistics. Saleel is very passionate about the intersection of statistics and social sciences; he recently published a research paper in the Berkeley Economic Review that analyzes how state-level and local-level economic conditions (e.g. cost of living) affect people’s attitudes towards a federal minimum wage increase using a statistical regression framework. At Premise, Saleel has been involved in developing and implementing statistical methodologies in order to help Premise understand the data that it has collected and establish an analytical strategy for future data collection.

Ryan Muldoon is a Global Operations Specialist who oversees the collection of real-time data in the world’s most challenging regions. With a degree in Philosophy and a background in Marketing Analytics, he sits at the intersection of data generation and interpretation. Ryan joined Premise Data in October of 2019.