In the heart of Ouagadougou, the Rood Woko market, the largest in the capital of Burkina Faso, is almost extinct. In its usually noisy and crowded aisles, traders watch for the arrival of customers with brooding faces. Two old craftsmen in boubou kill time while discussing on their small stool. A little further on, a salesman automatically hails the rare passers-by in front of his sports shoe stand “ made in China “. His gaze is blank. “I haven’t eaten since yesterday”, breathes Yacouba Kuanda, 21 years old.
How many are there in his case? Dozens, hundreds surely. Five months after the reopening of markets in Ouagadougou, closed on March 26 in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the recovery is long overdue. While Burkina Faso has been relatively spared from the pandemic, with just over 2,400 officially registered cases and 65 deaths since March, the economy has been hard hit by health restriction measures and the slowdown in world trade. In particular the informal sector, which represents around 40% of the GDP.
In Rood Woko, which has more than 3,000 locations, there are several thousand – there is no precise data – to live on “getting by”. From fruit and vegetable sellers to shoe shineers, barbers and street clothes vendors, almost all are part of the informal sector. “These people have neither legal status nor social protection, they do not benefit from sickness, retirement or paid vacation benefits. In the event of a shock, they are very vulnerable ”, explains Seydou Zangré, secretary general of the National Informal Economy Council.
According to national estimates, nearly 90% of workers work in the sector, including agricultural activities. At the height of the global health crisis, “Supply chains and trade came to a halt overnight, suffocating many precarious workers, with no savings to resist. Some have seen their stocks of fresh produce rot, others have depended on the sale of imported products “, explains economist Boukary Sawadogo, who heads the Approved Management Center, a support structure for small and medium-sized enterprises.
“Sometimes we go a day without eating”
Behind his piles of colorful fabrics, Rasmané Ouedraogo is impatient. It’s past 11 and he’s just had“Only one customer since this morning”, laments, frowning, the one we call here “Razo”. He has been running this traditional loincloth shop in Rood Woko for twenty years with his ten brothers and sisters, and he had never known “Such a crisis”. Since March, its turnover has plummeted to 25,000 CFA francs per day (38 euros), compared to 100,000 to 150,000 CFA francs before the epidemic. Barely enough to pay the store rent. After the borders were closed and towns were quarantined, the closure of 36 markets in the capital for almost a month was “The blow too much”.
“We had to stop everything overnight, stay at home and tap into the last savings”, says the 42-year-old merchant, father of three children. Since then, customers have become scarce, capital has melted and the seller is struggling to replenish his stocks. The price of certain fabrics imported from China or the sub-region has increased because of the difficulties of supply. “In the evening, we divide the profits, it makes 2,000 to 3,000 francs each, I give the family 2,000 for meals, I try to set aside 1,000, in the end there is nothing left and you have to start again the next day “, Razo saddens. A life ” day by day ” to which are reduced countless sellers.
“If you don’t go out to work, you don’t eat at night”, summarizes Hyacinthe Compaoré, the designer of the shop next door. He tries to provide for his wife and two children, aged 3 years and 8 months, with the 500 to 1,000 CFA francs he earns every day – half as much as before. A little further down the street, Mohamadi and his elderly father are also trying to ” to fight “ despite a drop of more than 80% in their daily turnover. In April, they were forced to swap their family loose fabric store for a makeshift stall on the street. “No longer enough to pay the rent, we have nothing left, it even happens that a day goes without eating”, explains the 23-year-old son, who, like his two 21-year-old brothers, had to give up his studies because he could not pay the school fees at the start of the school year. “I had to pass my baccalaureate this year, I dream of joining the air force, but too bad, my father cannot be alone”, continues Mohamadi, who improvises as an itinerant trader in the evening to “Look for customers”.
At 68 years old, 40 of whom spent in this market, his father, Omar Barrien, dreams of a retirement that has become impossible. “I am tired, I have a problem with my eye, but I cannot pay the doctor to treat me, nor allow me to stay at home”the old man mutters, his eyes hidden behind thick sunglasses. Now he is recovering ” farewell “.
Containment has worsened inequalities
According to forecasts from the Ministry of the Economy, the Covid-19 should cost Burkina Faso four points of growth for the year 2020 (from 6 to 2%), with a general slowdown in economic activities, “All sectors combined”. On April 2, President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré announced a series of socio-economic measures in favor of the most precarious households, such as the suspension of rents on the markets, the payment of water and electricity bills during three months and the establishment of a solidarity fund of 5 billion CFA francs for the benefit of actors in the informal sector.
But in Burkina Faso, where 40% of the population lives below the poverty line, containment measures have worsened inequalities. According to a study by the Belgian NGO Broederlijk Delen, it is mainly women (52%) who have had to suspend their activity since the start of Covid-19 and preventive measures. “In the informal sector, they mostly work in small markets and get their supplies from wholesalers. This whole economy they depended on collapsed “, explains Tocoma Sy, the local NGO representative.
In this landlocked Sahel country, already worrying food insecurity threatens to worsen. One in four households has not been able to access basic foods since the start of the crisis, according to a World Bank study.
On April 20, when the central market reopened, the message was clear: “We cannot afford the luxury of shutting down our economy because there is a disease. We must learn to live with this disease by protecting ourselves and respecting all barrier gestures ”, had defended the mayor of the capital, Armand Béouindé, in front of a crowd of sellers impatient to find their stall. In the alleys of Rood Woko, poverty and famine are more fearful than the coronavirus.
Summary of the series “The African economy facing Covid-19”