•Afreximbank boss calls for prioritisation of AfCFTA
Some global business leaders and African presidents have stressed the need for policymakers in the continent to look inward and adopt measures to create enabling environment for businesses to thrive post-COVID-19.
This, they said, is vital in rebuilding the African economy that has been damaged by the virus.
The leaders and experts made the call yesterday at the United Bank for Africa’s (UBA) 2020 Africa Day Conversations, with the theme: “Growth, Jobs, and Sustainable Development Amidst a global Pandemic,” that was moderated by the Chairman of the bank, Mr. Tony Elumelu.
Some of the panelists included President of Senegal, Mr. Macky Sall; President of Liberia, Mr. George Weah; United States Senator, Mr. Chris Coons; President, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Mr. Peter Maurer; President and Founder, Africa CEO Forum, Amir Ben Yahmed; Donald Kaberuka.
Elumelu reiterated the need for job creation and for empowering youths in Africa.
Elumelu, who is also the Founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, spoke on the need to mobilise everyone and explained the necessity to discover a more fundamental solution to Africa’s challenges through collaborative efforts.
He said: “This is the time for us to deal with the situation we have and also forge a better situation for everyone, acting again collectively. “This is not the time for finger-pointing but for a collaborative effort by governments and organisations to fight the pandemic globally.”
Elumelu called for cooperation among stakeholders if Africa is to have a quick recovery from the pandemic.
“There is a need to flatten the curve, we need global co-operation to stem global depression. Africa requires a large stimulus package and we need long-term solutions to prevent a cycle of debt,” he added.
The President of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Prof. Benedict Oramah, who was also among the panelists, said Africa must leverage the opportunities that the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) provided to facilitate trade and economic growth in the region.
He said: “The pandemic has taught us that there comes a time when every group of people fends for themselves and there comes a time when you must be independent. I hope that the message that this pandemic is teaching us about independence will help us to integrate our continent better so that we will trade better, invest among ourselves better and promote our growth and development as a people without always looking out for others to bail us out.
“The pandemic has shown so many weaknesses we have across our continent, not only from the point of view of infrastructure but from the appropriate economic policies that would help drive growth and also help manage events of the kind we are experiencing today,” he added.
He said many African countries were not prepared for the shock that came with the pandemic.
“The priority for our governments should be to make sure that the AfCFTA gets implemented without delay. If there was any doubt about the importance of that agreement that our leaders so courageously put in place about two years ago, this COVID-19 pandemic has told us that this is the way to go,” he stated.
He said building a sustainable supply chain within the continent was pertinent.
Oramah said: “We have to put away all reservations we have so we can build supply chains across Africa. This is the only way we can begin to foster dynamic growth in our continent.
“If we do not do that, we would remain perpetual commodity exporters and we have seen what perpetual commodity exporters suffer when we have events like this as oil prices have crashed and there was no market for it.
“At the same time, companies and countries were looking for medicals and pharmaceutical supplies and we did not have the infrastructure to produce them as well as the capacity and we were waiting to be supplied from outside. And the supply chains were all disrupted.
“So, the AfCFTA is the answer and we must waste no time and use this opportunity to overcome whatever challenges that we may have at or country level and even collectively as a continent.
“When we start with it, we would be able to build the health infrastructure, manufacturing base, physical infrastructure that would connect so that when we are confronted with events like this, we would be able to handle them.
“Another thing we need to do is to build a domestic capital market. Today, we have 55 countries, the stock exchanges are fragmented, not liquid and quite small, many economies do not have strong financial systems and I have never seen any continent that developed without a strong financial system.”
In his contribution, Coons said collaboration among the countries in Africa would aide economic recovery.
“I look forward to the future of Africa and its development. Before the pandemic, we have supported strong and significant investments to unlock the potential of Africa and to provide for more robust growth and foster partnership.
“It is important first to look at the rate in which African leaders have responded well and quickly and so far the response has gone fairly well.
“I am encouraged by the progress by the AfCFTA, by the ways in which the African Union emerged from Ebola stronger and I support the multilateral institutions that we would need in order for all of us to prevent future pandemics and to recover from this one.
“As the world’s youngest continent, there are ways that we can partner to invest in and create excitement among African youths,” he added.
He stressed the need for entrepreneurial development in the continent.
Speaking on how to rebuild multilateralism globally, he criticised the United States President Donald Trump’s stance.
Weah established how collaborations worked in his government in an attempt to stem the sufferings brought about the pandemic.
“In Liberia, we have taken measures to ease the financial burden on vulnerable businesses in the informal sector by providing small loan assistance to SMEs and traders. “In addition, we are working with commercial banks to manage the repayment of loans as well as to create stimulus packages for citizens,” he said.
The Secretary-General of the African Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), George Chikoti, who was also among the panelists, said the task of economic recovery on the continent rests on both the government and the private sector.
“The responsibility of COVID-19 does not rest on the government alone, the private sector needs to play a big role in lifting the burden of the pandemic. African governments need to accept the support of the private sector in alleviating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa,” he said.
The Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Achim Steiner, noted that digital connectivity was essential for connectivity in the region.
“Digital connectivity is very crucial to connect schools to the internet. We need to address inequality; also, the virus has put a spotlight on Africa’s healthcare system. Africa needs to look at intermediate strategies like micro-insurance to ramp up this sector. Healthcare has the ability to make a large percentage of the occupation fall into extreme poverty,” he added.
Maurer said there was need to look at pandemic as part of a broader health system which needs stabilisation.
“We must do more than life-saving. This pandemic has illustrated the weakness of health, water, sanitation and social systems, and we have to heavily invest into the stabilisation of these systems,” he stated.
On his part, Yahmed said: “We have to get away from the commodity-driven model, which has failed in creating prosperity. “Secondly, self-reliance should be one of the major objectives. The pandemic is a wake-up call for Africa – creating new streams of revenue and self-reliance by the African continent.”
Kaberuka also said what Africa needed to tackle the pandemic was something unusual, adding: “it is not business as usual. It is not marginal action, it is radical action.”