Apart from fixing the health problem and redressing the vaccines inequity, Africa can achieve quicker economic recovery by initiating short-term economic policy actions and getting more fiscal stimulus into her economies, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has said.
Also, to create a sustainably stable African continent, Africa must begin to invest in one another, by thinking about one another’s wellbeing and progress, the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, has said.
Okonjo-Iweala and Kagame as panelists at the third UBA Africa Day Conversation moderated by Founder, Tony Elumelu Foundation, Tony Elumelu, on Tuesday.
Other members of panel include the DG, World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Ghebreyesus, and the Managing Director of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Makhtar Diop.
On how Africa could recover fast from the negative impact of COVID-19 pandemic, Okonjo-Iweala said the developed countries were able to achieve that because they have been able to implement massive amount of fiscal stimulus.
While the developed rich countries have made available 28 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) in various stimulus packages, emerging markets have mobilized about 6.9 percent, while poorer countries have managed to put together just about 2 percent.
“If we want to recover, it is important the whole discussion on restructuring debts and giving African economies fiscal space to breathe, so that we can invest not only on the health side, but on the economic side. This is how we are going to recover,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
The WTO DG Africa’s playing a crucial role in the recovery process.
“Our youth are what we have. They are our gold. If we mobilise our youth productively to try to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we will surely achieve the target.
“I am very proud of what the continent has done so far; the coming together of leaders to try to build a one-Africa approach to solving the problem, by building the vaccines acquisition group; by building the medical supply platform; by bringing together the COVID-19 envoys to which I was privileged to be one and supporting Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in this crisis.
“But if we are to recover sustainably from this crisis, we have to correct the vaccine inequity that is so evident in the world today.
“The fact that we have vaccinated so little of our population is not acceptable. The fact that we import 99% of the vaccines and 90% of the pharmaceuticals is not acceptable.
“The IMF did a study recently, which showed that if we spend additional $50billion to vaccinate 40% of the world’s population by 2021, and 60% by 2022, we will be able to reverse this vaccine inequity, and the world can gain $9trillion more by 2025. Compare $50billion to $9trillion that we can get if we did this right, apart from additional $1trillion in tax that could be collected.
“It is important for the world that the vaccine inequity is reversed and Africa benefits from it. We cannot recover sustainable without reversing the vaccine inequity.
“Africa has to fight for it. Whether getting more vaccines in from outside production, or manufacturing.
“I assure you he WTO stands ready to keep the supply chains open for this manufacture. We had meeting to talk about how this additional production can be financed.
“When we reverse this inequity, we will be able to create the type of platform and hope for our young entrepreneurs who have shown the world that African can be part of the present and also very important part of the future,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
On immediate policy actions by African countries to address the vaccine inequity and catalyze economic recovery and growth in the continent, the former Managing Director of the World Bank said all Africa needs to do is to solve the existing health problem.
“We have said enough about that. The next few actions is to see to the short-term economic policies side.
How can we get more fiscal stimulus into our economies?
“If we want to recover, this is why it is important the whole discussion we are having on restructuring debts and giving African economies fiscal space to breathe, so that we can invest not only on the health side, but on the economic side. This is how we are going to recover,” she said.
She noted the push by all African Presidents for the issuance of new special drawing rights (SDRs) at the IMF for which about $650billion has now been agreed, with Africa’s share put at about $34billion, with prospects of getting more allocation. “We (Africa) can use this to help implement more fiscal stimulus, so that our economies can have the ability to recover.
“We can use part of that for the liquidity for the private sector. In rich countries, the private sector has gotten access to credits and liquidities, many more small and medium enterprises have been able to recover. Africa needs to do that too,” she said.
Also, the WTO DG said Africa needs to look at how to revive the services sector, in view of the huge dependence of most countries on tourism, logistics, like aviation.
“How to get those industries revived is very important. These are all in the short-term.
“In the medium to long term, we have to diversify our economies. We are too vulnerable to movements in commodity prices. We have seen it during this pandemic. The commodities we depend on have seen a lot of fluctuations; be it mineral or oil and gas.
“The countries that are doing better on the continent are those that have more diversified economies.
“We should take advantage of the AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Agreement) to specialize some of our countries in production; trade more with each other and the outside.
She said her hope for AfCFTA is founded on her firm belief in the AfCFTA to bring change.
“I am proud that our Presidents have signed on to this agreement. But to make it work, I think we need to do a few more things, like address the logistical issues that prevents the continent from benefitting from trade within the continent.
“Some parts of the continent are doing a little bit better than others. We still have lorries lining up at borders. We are looking for digital passports, so that they can move easily.
“East Africa is doing a little bit better with movement of goods and services across borders.
“Others need to do that also to make it easier to move goods from one part of the continent to another. That needs investments in infrastructure. But movement of people can also make it much easier.
“If we want the AfCFTA to work, we must make services and people flow easily across borders.
While she remains hopeful that thd AfCFTA would work, the WTO DG said Africa does not really have a choice.
“If we want to change the tenure of growth in Africa; rely more on ourselves and less on the outside, export more, specialize and add more value to our raw materials, we have got to make this AfCFTA work. The WTO is expectant and waiting to support the continent to make this work,” she said.
On resolving the incessant crises and conflicts across Africa, the Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, leaders in Africa should focus more on preventing the crises and conflicts than seek to resolve them.
“We (Africans) should rather ask ourselves what we should be doing, or should have done to prevent the crises and conflicts from happening in the first place.
“It’s been decades since we have had crises of different kinds. The best thing African leaders and other Africans who play different leadership roles can do is to invest in one another, or at least thinking about one another’s wellbeing or whatever it takes for us to create a stable and sustainable African continent.
“But the continued emergence and spread of crises, like the conflicts in different parts of the continent – from Nigeria, Mozambique, Central African Republic, Chad. I think we need to invest more time and resources and mindsets as well, to say we need peace, not the things we often talk about.
“We must put in place good politics, first, domestically in every country. There are other issues to need to deal with across countries. We can’t just switch off conflicts or crises unless we invest in addressing the root causes of these problems
“This is a task that one does not carry out or achieve results just like that. We need to walk the talk. When we meet every time, whether at home or at other sub-regional meetings to address problems, we need to put a sense of urgency and be serious in doing the rights things, rather than just talking about it.
“We have crises, we have poverty we need to address to create the opportunity for growth across the continent with the youth, women and building systems and institutions.
“We can’t drop the ball right in the middle of it for smaller selfish interests or benefits and forget about the continental interest,” he said.
Kagame cited example of the AfCFTA that has been created, saying Africa must capitalize on that and benefit from it so that we don’t just have it in name, but in real practice.
“We need to realise the benefits of the AfCFTA. And we will not realise the benefits until countries agree to work together in peace and security and stability.
“What we have now is that we are doing very good things on one hand, and on the other we just miss the opportunity doing those things that would give us our future. It’s a big challenge.
“But I think we need to do the things that will give us results than just turn it into an academic exercise,” Kagame said.
On how Africa can ensure fair and equitable access to the vaccines for all, the DG of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Ghebreyesus, identified “vaccine nationalism” as a major problem.
“The share of vaccines that Africa gets is only 1.5% of what is deliverable. This is grossly insignificant.
“The problem is vaccine nationalism. It is difficult to find any diplomatic word for this. Some are calling it vaccine apartheid.
“We need to have an honest discussion on this. From the WHO side, that’s what we are trying to do. Although we encountered some challenges when we began saying this. But telling the truth is important in order to overcome the problem,” he said.
On the solution to this pandemic, the WHO DG said the world should agree on the importance of cooperation.” “There are three ways countries can engage each other – cooperation, competition and confrontation.
“For this pandemic, we cannot choose competition and confrontation. The only option is cooperation, because the pandemic is a common enemy.
“Cooperation starts from sharing what’s available to fight the common enemy everywhere. When we say shared, it is not charity. You have to pay for it.
“It is actually in the interest of the whole world, particularly the interest of the develop countries to share. They are better protected when they share than when they try to protect only their people.
“So the immediate solution now is sharing. The good news in the last two weeks is that the US has announced about 80 million doses to share.
“Other countries, France, New Zealand, Norway. Sweden, Denmark have already announced similar gestures. Hope this will continue to help us in dealing with challenges we have now.
For the immediate and long-term solutions, Tedros said Africa needs to increase the volume of vaccines it manufactures.
“We have to look at technology transfer – voluntary licensing. AstraZeneca has started it. We have to encourage others to do. That could include intellectual property waiver. The US and many other countries have supported. We should use all options available to deal with the problem,” he said.
The Managing Director of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Makhtar Diop, said Africa should note that the times of crisis calls for resilience and fierce adversity.
“The world is difficult. We need to transform it. This challenge is what has brought this meeting.
“Progress has been made in important elements. We now have an opportunity to change and transform the face of our continent.” “Transforming our continent means creating jobs and ensuring growth, which we need to have strong small, medium-scale enterprises and companies to employ the youth.
“We can do it if we take advantage of what we are committed into, by promoting free trade among Africans, by promoting the local value chain in Africa to be able to have more transformation in our continent.
“We can start with pharmaceutical and vaccine industry. Today, we are working together on this,” he said.
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