COVID-19 is a wake up call for Africa – Diop (Part 2)

This is the second and final part of an exclusive interview with Ms Ngone Diop, the Director of the Economic Commission for Africa, Sub-Regional Office for West Africa. In this segment she talks about the continent of Africa and the financing required to revive the economy hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and growing debt. The interview was conducted on the sidelines of the ongoing Eighth Africa Regional Forum for Sustainable Development in Kigali, Rwanda.

Africa is a continent endowed with human and natural resources, but the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, even though hasn’t been as devastating as predicted in terms of infections, has left a deep economic impact. The pandemic is therefore being viewed as a wake-up call for the continent.

The continent with an estimated over one billion population is rich in renewable and non-renewable natural resources. Africa produces more than 60 metal and mineral products and is a major producer of several of the world’s most important minerals and metals, and new discoveries continue to be made. But the continent is saddled with growing debt and declining economies. Currently, the average debt in Africa is 70 per cent.

African countries continue to export their natural resources as raw materials. Value is added to these and resold to Africa.

Ms Ngone Diop believes that the answer to Africa’s economic transformation lies in adding value to its resources.

“We have all we need to transform our economies. What prevents us from adding value to our natural resources?” She asks.

“You would say for many years we have inherited this kind of division of labour. Others have also inherited that, but they have changed,” she said referring to the situation where Africa produces raw materials to feed industries in developed economies.

Citing the example of palm oil, she said when palm oil was taken from Africa and introduced in other continents, these countries went ahead to use palm oil in producing beauty products and so on. These countries she said transformed the product with value-addition.

She argues that Africa needs to accelerate the pace of development, and to attain that, countries on the continent must invest in the education of the youth, that make up about 60 per cent of the population.

She advises African countries to train their own populations, especially the youth with the know-how. “You don’t need to bring other people because they would leave with the expertise. You want to give the expert knowledge to the youth,” she said, because that’s how to keep the know-how on the continent.

She believes that the way to go for the continent is to invest in what she describes as the four dimensions of demography – employment, entrepreneurship, education and health, and if “you have governance, all that mobility and territory are key to addressing this total transformation.”

“All these variables for change are mutually reinforcing. Requires good governance, requires vision that is transformed to policies and requires those policies to be translated. Because we are very good at formulating policies, we are good in taking decisions, launching frameworks, but the missing link is moving from the normative policy to actual transformation and it is so urgent,” she said.

“If you look at the trajectory of Africa’s development. Soon after independence there was economic boom. Countries experienced economic growth. But that economic growth was from selling our natural resources – raw,” she said.

Ms Diop urged African countries to transform the small things they have and design their economies to respond to their needs and develop solutions for themselves, otherwise they won’t be able to achieve sustainable development.

Commenting on the theme for the Conference of African Finance Minsters, COM 2022 scheduled for March this year, “Financing Africa’s recovery in the era of COVID-19, finding new grounds.”, she said the theme was arrived at after a long process of engagement initiated by the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Vera Songwe with the Ministers of Finance.

She pointed out that the ECA took serious view of the potential of the pandemic to exacerbate Africa’s already faltering economic and financing situation. She noted that Africa hasn’t been very badly affected by the pandemic in terms of infections, which have been very low compared to other parts of the world.

“But when it comes to the economic impact, it is very deep,” she said.

Africa is currently facing increasing debt averaging 70 per cent, she indicated.

She stated that Africa’s financing needs have been exacerbated and increasing.

“Only for health and social protection we need $100 billion financing, another $100 billion for economic stimulus now, and for assisting African countries for four years as part of economic recovery, we need another $420 billion,” she said.

She also said Africa’s financing gap is estimated at $2.5 trillion and indicated that there is also the challenge of climate change.

“If we don’t address climate change and if we don’t respond to climate mitigation, other parts of the world would continue their development trajectory without Africa. Even though we don’t contribute much to climate change, we are hard hit than any other region by the effects of climate change,” she said.

According to Ms Diop the Africa group of climate negotiators estimated that Africa would need $2.1 trillion for climate action by 2025, adding that developed countries committed themselves to provide additional resources to developing countries. Out of the $100 billion the developed countries committed to provide for climate action, 80 per cent was disbursed, but Africa received only 20 per cent, she said.

Ms Diop further urged African leaders to engage their people so they can own their development.

“We need support because we are affected by global issues we are not the key actors in, as a matter of fact we also support others. But we need to lead the way in finding African solutions to African challenges. Whoever wants to be part of this solution would be welcome,” she added.

She urged African countries to empower their youth and women to contribute in developing the continent.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Read the Part 1 of the interview here.

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