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Perspectives on Africa’s future amidst covid-19

ADEZE OJUKWU

Can coronavirus improve Africa’s future?

Will the pandemic, codenamed, COVID-19 sink or soar the continent stretched by prodigious problems? These are the questions in the public space.

For some pundits, it seems impossible that Africa will be unscathed by the pandemic that has decimated more advanced societies.

Optimists however, insist that the plague will not sink the region, but will rather spark widespread renaissance.

Prominent African intellectuals, including Nobel Laureate Prof Wole Soyinka, said ‘Africa has sufficient material and human resources to build a shared prosperity on an egalitarian basis.’

They took this position, recently, in a letter, saying ‘an inclusive governance framework and endogenous development, will create value in Africa and reduce our systemic dependence.’

Cesar Augusto Abogo, Minister of Finance, Economy and Planning, Equatorial Guinea, expressed similar optimism in a World Economic Forum (WEF) publication entitled: ‘3 ways COVID-19 could actually spark a better future for Africa.’

Abogo, a seasoned economist, social entrepreneur and a member of WEF’s Africa Regional Strategic Group, said the region’s innate capacity was instrumental to its victory over previous disasters.

His words: ‘Gathered in an august venue, the guardians of the global architecture responsible for eradicating poverty spoke convincingly and articulately about the world of tomorrow. They concluded that by 2030, we would end up, to quote Oscar Wilde, in a country called Utopia.

‘As 2018 dawned, the same global architecture presented us with a new story: The end of Utopia. In December 2019, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), launched its Human Development Report, “Beyond Income, Beyond Averages, Beyond the Present: Human Development Inequalities in the 21st Century.’

‘The conclusion was: While humanity is progressing, something is just not working in our globalized society. A new generation of inequalities, beyond basic capabilities, is emerging and threatens to render people living in developing countries obsolete in the future,’ Abogo noted.

‘Combining the alarming World Bank report with the no less alarming UNDP report, the picture is not one of optimism. Not only was the aspiration to eradicate poverty by 2030 not going to be met, but a new inequality gap was opening up.’

According to the financial expert, these challenges had previously been the focus of the WEF Regional Strategy Group (WEF RSG) of which ‘I had the privilege of being a member. One of the ideas was irrefutable. Africa must leapfrog into the Fourth Industrial Revolution or risk being left behind.’

‘In 2019, as well as in previous years, several countries – including my country, Equatorial Guinea – made important policy decisions to define and prioritize national development aspirations, in alignment with the UN’s Agenda 2030 and the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063.’

Additionally, to take advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we scaled up our investments in ICT and technology and in developing the capacity of our youth.’

‘And then, COVID-19 arrived. In just a few short months the world has changed. When we return to “normal”, it will be a “new normality” and a brave new world.’

‘COVID-19, he stressed is ‘an existential crisis, severely testing Africa’s social, economic and political resilience. In a post-COVID-19 world, leaders will have to rethink prior assumptions and find new balances for individual and collective behaviour.’

‘What I am absolutely certain of is that opportunities will emerge. Innovative minds previously imprisoned by institutional inertia and interest groups will rise to the challenges that we collectively face.’

‘What will the brave new world post COVID-19 look like in Africa?

Said he: ‘African Development Bank (ADB) estimates that Africa will lose between $35 and $100 billion, due to the fall in raw material prices caused by the pandemic. WEF estimates that global losses for the continent will be $275 billion.’

Obviously, Africa’s inequality gap will worsen in the coming years.

He, however, identified new developments and positive changes across society.

‘Today, African States are developing strategic and in-depth approaches to human development, regional integration, digitalization, industrialization, economic diversification, fiscal and monetary policies, and international solidarity.

‘They are rethinking the causes of the continent’s underdevelopment and coming up with feasible solutions,’ which will undoubtedly be good for all.

‘In 2001, African leaders pledged to invest around 15 percent of their budgets in health. By 2020, only five countries have fulfilled this promise. No one doubts today that the health sector in Africa will be strengthened by COVID-19.’

‘In mid-March, a Togolese activist, Farida Nabourema, mocked African elites, who used to go to Europe to have their ailments treated, saying: ‘I would like to ask our African presidents who travel to Italy, Germany, France, the UK and other European countries for medical treatment, please, when are you leaving?

‘African countries, will have to put in place social protection systems to mitigate the suffering of the continent’s most disadvantaged. Kenya and Equatorial Guinea offer excellent examples of countries that have regulated and put in place social protection systems that will survive and outlast our battle against this common enemy,’ he added.

According to him, Africa’s poor pharmaceutical capacity has been a source of amazement. Bangladesh, a poorer country than many African countries, produces 97 percent of the national demand for medicines, in contrast to Africa which is almost 100 percent dependent on imports.’

‘This last note has triggered another debate: the necessary industrialization of Africa, to transform and add value to the continent’s vast and valuable raw materials. Many African countries have already been deprived access to COVID-19 essentials. Excessive global demand has relegated Africa to the back of the queue. This is an early warning and lesson for Africa.

‘But there is much reason for optimism. The AU is in discussions with Madagascar over the Artemisia Annua tonic, a herbal remedy that Andry Rajoelina, President of Madagascar, presented to the world as Africa’s solution to COVID-19.’

‘Our enthusiasm as Africans is rooted in a wounded self-esteem. We have been victims of marginalization. The power to regain our dignity has too often been stripped away. Today, nestled in the souls of all Africans is a rational expectation, an unshakable faith that the most important resource that Africa needs in order to rise up is none other than Africans themselves.

No one will help us if we do not help ourselves. Africa is no longer asking to be taught how to fish. Africa is already going fishing and rowing towards the utopia enunciated in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) and AU agenda. In spite of dire predictions and apocalyptic narratives, humanity always has a way of striving for a better future.’

Certainly the health crises is scouring Africa’s intrepidity to chart a better tide for its beleaguered populace.

Its motley challenges and prospects will continue to spark divergent responses, due to apparent peculiarities, worsened by this zoonotic infection.

The debate has become more vociferous, as leaders grapple with intractable corruption and infrastructural decadence.

Hopefully the influx of COVID-19 aid, will be prudently managed to engender urgent investments in public health and socio-economic services.

.Ojukwu, a Hubert H. Humphrey alumnus and public policy analyst reviewed this treatise, as part of a series on Africa’s standing on SDGs.

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