Distinguished Guest Speaker Dr. Acha Leke: COVID-19 And The Path To The Next Normal for Africa

ALA co-founder Dr. Acha Leke gave a lecture to ALA students recently, our first in-person Distinguished Guest Speaker since the pandemic lockdowns. He was speaking aptly on how COVID-19 affected Africa, and what opportunities it has presented.

Dr. Leke presented on how COVID-19 has devastated jobs across the continent, especially in the informal sector. He showed how a lack of infrastructure in our countries meant that we were ill-prepared to fight the pandemic. The very low vaccination rates on the continent are also partly because Africa doesn’t have the infrastructure to manufacture and distribute the vaccines at the scale we need. However, drawing from his wealth of experience as an advisor to the private and public sectors across sub-Saharan Africa, he showed where the opportunities lie for Africa as well. 

“The decision you make in a crisis is the most crucial, as it affects what happens to you afterwards,” he said, illustrating with a graph how companies that pivot during a crisis enjoy a much stronger long-term growth than those that don’t. 

“All sectors were affected by COVID-19. The most affected were airlines, tourism, oil, and gas. The least affected were healthcare, as people basically had to use their services, telecommunications which serviced people working from home, and retail and banking which pivoted to servicing home delivery and e-commerce.

Though Africa suffered 30 million equivalent full-time job losses in 2020 through redundancies and salary reductions, Dr. Leke said it could bounce back. He shared nine ideas or principles that could drive the rebound:

1. Accelerate Africa’s digital transformation.
2. Renewed focus on the needs of vulnerable urban populations.
3. Transform Africa’s healthcare systems with a focus on resilience and equity.
4. Strengthen sector competitiveness through consolidation and innovation.
5. Reshape manufacturing with focus on self-reliance.
6. Catalyze formalization of African economies.
7. Prepare for a more active government role in the economy.
8. Forge stronger social contracts between societies and government.
9. Sustain and strengthen regional and pan-African cooperation. 

Dr. Leke’s dense and thought-provoking talk attracted lively participation from our students, no doubt aided by the stash of book prizes that the speaker brought with him, as they discussed and debated the pandemic, and what lay ahead.

It was a fantastic illustration of why Dr. Leke has continued to be a firm favorite as a speaker and inspiration to ALA students through the years. Dr. Leke’s talks and thought leadership will continue to be a great inspiration to Africa’s next generation of ethical and entrepreneurial leaders who are being brought through at ALA.

Dr. Leke is a senior partner at McKinsey & Co in the Johannesburg office. Prior to joining McKinsey, he worked on novel techniques to linearize high power amplifiers for wireless applications, while completing a PhD in Electrical Engineering at Stanford University.

He also received an MS in Electrical Engineering and an MS in Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management from Stanford University, as well as a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering summa cum laude, with a minor in Economics, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he graduated as the first Black Valedictorian in the school’s history and was elected to Tau Beta Pi and Eta Kappa Nu.

Previous speakers at the Distinguished Guest Speaker series include Dr Musimbi Kanyoro, and former US Ambassador Patrick Gaspard.