Guest Columnist By Paul Ejime
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the globe in late 2019, Africa’s 1.3 billion people were already facing the worst development indices of all the world’s regions combined with poverty, disease, socio-economic crises, political instability and insecurity rocking the continent. There has been no let-up to the growing list of calamities.
From the assassination of President Idriss Deby of Chad to the unprecedented deadly attacks on Mozambique by Islamist terrorists to the military coups in Mali and Niger, insecurity in Nigeria and across West and Central Africa, and the Sahel, coupled with the unending civil war in Somalia, the raging conflicts in Ethiopia, Libya, the rebel attacks and latest volcanic eruption in DR Congo, the adversity prognosis and projections are grim for Africa.
For some unexplained reasons, the catastrophic consequences projected for the continent from the Covid-19 pandemic have not materialized, at least not yet, going by the level of reported cases and fatalities in comparison to other regions. However, scientists have warned that it is still premature to celebrate. Covid-19 is still around, and perhaps, will remain for some time to come.
And as Africans mark Africa Day on 25th May, part of the lingering challenges from the pandemic is the inequality in Covid-19 vaccine supply or distribution, perhaps, a metaphor for the age-long inequity in the World, with Africa always at the short end of the stick.
Formerly known as African Freedom Day and African Liberation Day, Africa Day is observed annually to commemorate the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, a precursor of the African Union, which was launched in 2002.
It provides an opportunity for stocktaking on the political and socio-economic achievements of African governments and African citizens, the challenges, lessons, unmet aspirations and the way forward.
The African Union Commission is using this year’s observation, themed Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want, for the continental launch of entry into force of the African Cultural Renaissance.
But coming on the heels of the recent Paris summit on the financing of African economies in the wake of the Covid-19 devastations, there is the fear that without urgent collective actions, the objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s 2063 Agenda could be jeopardized.
Meanwhile, the United Bank for Africa (UBA) virtual Africa Conversations 2021 themed Africa to the World, took place on Tuesday. It featured discussions on wide-ranging topics from vaccine distribution to recalibrating Africa’s economic growth through structured investments in human capital, infrastructure development, making Small and Medium-Scale Enterprises (SMSE) a priority, improving intra-African trade leveraging the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) scheme, the role of youths, and how to maximize the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution of digital/technological development, especially internet penetration.
Moderated by Tony Elumelu, Chairman of Heirs Holdings, the UBA and founder of The Tony Elumelu Foundation, the panellists were President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General, World Trade Organization (WTO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus WHO Director-General
and, Mr Makhtar Diop, Managing Director of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), an arm of the World Bank.
In his interventions, President Kagame, under whose watch Rwanda has shaken off the ashes of the 1994 genocide to become one of the fastest-growing economies, said the way out of chronic conflicts in Africa “is for a change of mind-set and change in politics“ as well as “investment in one another.”
“To address the root causes of conflicts, we the leaders must exercise the political will and walk the talk,” he said, stressing that “a sense of urgency” must be brought to bear on the tackling of the problems of poverty, exclusion of women and youths and utilizing the opportunities for growth by “building systems and institutions.”
Continuing, he emphasized that “the big elephant in the room is the politics,” adding as “leaders, we must make things work.”
The Rwandan leader, known for his straight-talking approach, affirmed that he usually spoke with conviction and from experience, saying that Africa must insist on “mutual respect” from its dealings with the rest of the world.
“Poverty is not our (Africa’s) identity, and this is not where we should be,” Kagame said, adding that overcoming the myriad of problems and challenges required individual and partnership efforts. He also advised that Africa should capitalise on the CFTA initiative “not just in name but in reality.”
To the African youths, he said, “believe in yourselves; know your strengths and the limit of what you expect from others, because other people will never supply all your needs.”
Dr Okonjo-Iweala pledged the support of the WTO to re-catalyse the recovery and growth of African economies. She said the economies needed “fiscal space to breathe,” noting that the US$34 billion Special Drawing Rights (SDR) support promised to Sub-Saharan Africa by the IMF would not be enough to revive the struggling econoies, particularly the badly hit service sector.
“But we have the chance to change the tenor of growth and the WTO stands ready to lend its support,” she assured, adding that the “youths must be part of the conversation today and the future,” in the ecosystem of policy formulation and implementation.
The WTO chief therefore, enjoined African youths “not to be too risk-averse or let anything stop your imagination.”
Speaking earlier, Dr Tedros had outlined the challenges posed by covid-19 to Africa, compounded by its weak and under-resourced health systems.
The continent is 90% dependent on pharmaceutical supplies and 99% dependent on vaccine supply, amid the so-called vaccine inequality or nationalism, against Africa and the developing world. For instance, while Africa has only vaccinated some 20 million of its estimated 1.3 billion people, the UK has reached more than 50 million of its 67 million people with the first doses of the vaccine.
Dr Tedros called for “candid engagements and discussions” by all Africans, and the need to involve the youths given their vibrant energy and enterprise, in seeking collective solutions to Africa’s problems.
“We must be kind to one another and also change our mind-set,” the WHO boss added.
For his part, the IFC Managing Director Diop harped on the need for Africa to shift from the reactive to a proactive mode in conflict management and the documentation of best practices so that “lessons learned can be pieced together” for sustainability.
More importantly, he said the continent “must set goals for infrastructure development, improve Internet/digital capacity, empower and strengthen SMEs and boost intra-African trade.
Diop counselled that Africans “must not let anybody set your limit or limit your aspirations.”
On the need for collective actions, he said, “individual success is only valued if it is part of a collective success.”
*Paul Ejime, an Author and former Diplomatic/War Correspondent, is a Consultant on Communications, Media, Elections and International Affairs.