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What can Africa learn from coronavirus pandemic?

By Stephine Ogutu | April 19th 2020

On April 14 this year, the US President, Donald J Trump directed his administration to defund the World Health Organization (WHO), a move that has faced unequivocal criticism from leading health experts and many world leaders. But Africa must step back and re-think on how this impacts. WHO has played a huge role in Africa in managing health crises like Ebola, HIV/AIDs among many other health issues. It has funded numerous research designed to strengthen the continent’s health systems.

This move by Mr. Trump serves as a monumental lesson for African leaders. Africa must stop over-relying on aid from Western Countries, China, and other Asian countries. Halting funding to WHO by the US should send worrying signals to African leaders that soon the West may decide to completely cut every form of funding to the continent. Then what next? We all know the role that the US government-funded projects and International NGOs play in Africa. What happens when these development partners pack and leave due to funding constraints? Already, quite a several major US government-funded projects are shutting in Africa. In Kenya, America’s PEPFAR halted support to Kenya’s blood bank and we are already feeling the pinch.

In the past 10 to 12 years, there has been an insatiable appetite for debts in Africa. The critical concern is not just about the amount of debt, but the rate at which it has accumulated, and the shift towards non-concessional debt, especially commercial debt, which is costlier and more vulnerable to changes in financing conditions. According to the April 2018 edition of the Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the median level of public debt in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) as at end of 2017 exceeded 50 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). About 40% of low-income developing countries in SSA slid into debt distress or are at high risk of debt distress. For developing countries, the IMF recommends that external and domestic debt combined should not exceed 50 per cent of a country’s GDP as this may cripple the economy and key government developmental initiative.

According to a report by the World Bank published on October 2019, Accelerating Poverty Reduction in Africa, the share of Africans living in extreme poverty has fallen substantially—from 54 per cent in 1990 to 41 per cent in 2015—but due to high population growth during the same period, the number of poor people in Africa has increased from 278 million in 1990 to 413 million in 2015. This means that close to half of the continent’s one billion population faces poverty as a daily reality that they live in and feel. For far too many of the African people are burdened with it and it robs us of the dignity that should be the inherent right of any human being. The performance of African governments will be judged by how successful they are in reducing and ultimately eradicating poverty and creating prosperity for all citizens.

Africa stands to gain more from eradicating corruption

A report released by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa constituting 10-member High-Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa chaired by former South African president Thabo Mbeki found out that between 1970 and 2008, illicit financial flows were over $800 billion from Africa. Even with an improved economic environment in Africa, there seems to be a spike in the illicit financial flows that is estimated at $50 billion per year, which is quite a huge resource. One can imagine what the impact of that resource would be on Africa’s development in terms of infrastructure and social sectors, schools, hospitals, jobs etc. 

Citizens must continue fighting for a fairer economic order. It should not be lost to anyone that the minerals that the world depends to move their industry and manufacturing are mostly available in Africa where those who own these minerals by birthright have remained poor while our minerals have brought vast wealth for nations and people outside our continent. It is worth pointing out, also, that not only don’t we get the fair share of the wealth once extracted, our lands, environments our ocean are left devastated by the process and competition to gain control over the minerals has often led to insecurity in various African countries.

The Africa of today needs a new wave of visionary leaders with a renewed commitment to fighting corruption while reflecting a recognition that good governance is key to fostering growth and economic development. The link between growth and governance is especially strong on this resource-rich continent, where people stand to gain more economically from reducing corruption than anywhere else in the world. The African Union should start thinking of forming an Africa Health Organization (AHO), African Food Program (AFP). I know we have an excellent African Agenda 2063 that will remain a dream if we don’t get visionary leaders in individual countries to implement this 50-year strategy launched in 2013.

We have to start believing in our ability to tackle the challenges we face as a continent. This COVID 19 pandemic has reminded us now more than ever that we have a moral and constitutional obligation to elect visionary leaders with integrity and development mindset and goodwill to transform Africa into an economic powerhouse in the global arena.

The writer is Development Communications Specialist with vast experience working with local and international development partners in Sub-Saharan Africa implementing projects designed to achieve SDGs and Vision 2030.

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