The corona virus has arrived in Africa. Verena Le Chuiton, Director of the KfW office in Burkina Faso, reports on how the office is maintaining operations under the difficult conditions and where the greatest dangers are currently to be seen.
About Mrs Le Chuiton
Verena Le Chuiton, political scientist and economist, has been working for KfW Development Bank since 2008. Since 2017 she is director of the KfW office in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
Normally, the eight members of staff of KfW’s office in Burkina’s capital Ouagadougou would now be in the German House, sharing the premises with their colleagues from the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit. However, at the beginning of March the first Covid 19 cases also occurred in Burkina Faso, with closures of schools, mosques and churches, restaurants and finally the markets. Before the last airlines stopped operating and the airport was closed two weeks ago, many expats left. The German Embassy did not ask us to go; we were simply leaving for our upcoming Easter holidays. However, it was with a bad feeling we got on the plane without knowing when exactly we’d be coming back.
One of my colleagues is now working from home in Madagascar, another from the south of France, the furthest distance between the team members is 8,000 kilometres. They work from four countries in three different time zones, everyone from home. Also in Ouagadougou, because the situation there has not improved. Reliable figures are not available, however.
Twelve intensive care beds for about 20 million inhabitants
In the whole of Burkina Faso, a country with around 20 million inhabitants, there are – as of March – only twelve intensive care beds. Our office manager, Chimène Ouédraogo, reports that she was able to get disinfectants and masks for everyone in time. "We saw how quickly everything was sold out in Germany and were still able to react," she says. The office also looked into the rotation principle of the KfW colleagues in Frankfurt. Two staff members now come to their usual workplace at different times to process incoming mail – in Burkina Faso there is still a lot of business being done through letters. The other colleagues work from home. The security situation has been tense for several years now due to various terrorist attacks, so everyone is prepared to use their laptops at home. According to Chimène Ouédraogo, colleagues in the KfW IT department have been very responsive and thus a great help in providing the necessary infrastructure.
It is very important to keep in regular contact, mostly by telephone. Especially since nobody knows when normality will return and we can all work together in one office again. I myself am back in Frankfurt with my family.
The protection measures against the corona virus in Burkina Faso surpass anything ever seen before – even the Ebola epidemic of 2014 and 2015. Curfews and market closures have been imposed for several weeks. For many people this simply means the loss of their livelihood – because during the day merchants earn the money they need to buy their families’ dinner with.
In this tense situation, it is anything but self-evident that all office colleagues are able to work remotely and also have Internet-enabled telephones to exchange messages or skype. Provided there is no power cut in Ouagadougou, not unusual at 40 degrees Celsius in the shade, as it is midsummer in Burkina Faso.
Some people are still hoping that the virus will disappear quickly as the heat rises. If the crisis lasts longer, the consequences for the population will be dramatic. The country is home to around 840,000 internally displaced persons who have fled the terror of Islamist groups and who already need to be cared for by international organisations. If the rest of the population now became dependent on aid deliveries, the disaster would be underway.
KfW Development Bank has offices in more than 70 countries worldwide.Overview of our offices
Quarantine slows down some KfW projects
It is therefore all the more important that the projects supported by KfW Development Bank continue to be implemented in the usual quality. Fortunately, our stakeholders in the public administration are very motivated, easy to join and working. However, their freedom of movement is also restricted, as my colleague Emmanuel Sandaogo, responsible for the agricultural sector, told me. "In one of my projects to promote irrigation agriculture, 83 construction sites lie idle because the towns affected by Covid-19 are under quarantine. The project staff cannot go to the countryside to inspect and carry out acceptance of works. If the sites are not completed before the rainy season starts in July, we will lose an entire year before the fields can be used to grow rice."
To ensure that our projects do not dry up financially speaking, KfW office in Ouagadougou is now taking up the challenge to assure our capacity for treating disbursement requests as quickly as possible. Despite all necessary protection measures, our procedures run smoothly: Last week we treated among others a transaction in favor of the West African Health Organization, supporting emergency measures during the crisis.
Published on KfW Stories: 15 April 2020.