In order to recover rapidly from COVID-19, Africa must focus on building sustainable health, education and food industries, with income support for women, attendees at the opening ceremony of this year’s African Economic Conference (AEC) heard on Tuesday.
The virtual 2020 AEC, titled Africa beyond COVID-19: Acceleration towards inclusive and sustainable development, has rallied together leaders and experts to examine the pandemic’s impact on Africa, its responses, and how the continent can collectively rebuild, focusing on sustainable development.
In a speech to open the flagship event, Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde said African countries should incorporate gender considerations in their responses to the pandemic.
“Getting women in building back better after this COVID-19 will require dedicated and increased fiscal resource allocation to smart investments in health, education, and consequently the contribution to development,” she reiterated.
President Zewde said the continent must tap into its unique African values in order to achieve a resilient recovery. “We in Africa have a unique tradition of solidarity…We have a culture of sharing whatever we may have as a community and it is a great value that should not be overlooked in our suggested solutions.”
The three-day conference is jointly hosted by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the African Development Bank.
In her welcoming speech, Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the ECA, said African countries need additional concessional financing and private sector-led investments to ensure their long-term recovery.
“As we strive to catalyze recovery, we must embrace the opportunities offered by the pandemic, including the window of opportunity created by the decline in fossil fuel prices, which have enhanced the economic viability of green investments in renewable energy,” Songwe said, adding that private sector investments will help fill Africa’s large infrastructure deficits, particularly in the area of energy.
The ECA is also calling for Multilateral Development Banks to be recapitalized and stressing the need for such institutions to adopt a more proactive and countercyclical financing posture, including bringing their equity-to-loan ratios more in line with their commercial counterparts.
The socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on African nations has been extensive. A vast proportion of populations do not have access to social protection and face substantial gender inequalities regarding access to education and health, exacerbated by the pandemic.
In remarks delivered on his behalf, African Development Bank Group President Akinwumi Adesina restated the Bank’s commitment to working with other institutions to build a resilient and forward-looking health defence system for Africa.
“With these few examples of the disproportional impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, we as policymakers, researchers, development partners, and champions of policy change are challenged to design solutions that leave no country or community behind,” Hanan Morsi, Director of the Macroeconomic Policy, Forecasting and Research Department at the African Development Bank said, reading his speech.
In the wake of COVID-19, the African Development Bank has deployed a mix of financing instruments to support its regional member countries to tackle the pandemic and its impact. Since March 2020, the Bank has approved about $3.4 billion in funding to support member countries under its Crisis Response Facility (CRF), of which about 97% was in the form of Crisis Response Budget Support (CRBS) operations.
These operations are designed to strengthen health systems to facilitate the safe reopening of economies; enhance economic resilience to protect jobs; and strengthen social protection systems to protect vulnerable communities and businesses.