Africa, like much of the rest of the world, has slammed on the brakes. As of today, May 28, there have been over 125,000 cases on the continent, while nearly 3,700 people have died from the disease.
While the case load is still relatively low in a population of over one billion people, many fear these numbers could get much worse. Economies and health systems on the continent are straining.
The World Bank predicts that Africa could see -5% GDP growth in 2020. Supply chains are breaking, many countries are in some form of lockdown, and a serious food crisis looms.
Contrast this with only four months ago.
At the start of 2020, the continent boasted four of the fastest growing economies in the world, topped the list of global economic reformers, and looked forward to an overall growth rate of over 3 percent, above the world average.
Africans buzzed with Afro-optimism, unifying around an ambitious, continent-wide African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
There is still time to prevent this from fully unravelling.
The African Union is coordinating a continent-wide response and has named four special envoys to help with the effort.
Many African governments have taken quick and decisive action that has saved lives and livelihoods.
But Africa is less able to respond than much of the rest of the world.
Many African countries entered the crisis with weak health systems, fragile budgets, high debt levels, and high food insecurity. Even before COVID-19, one third of Africans lived in extreme poverty — 70% of the world total.
African ministers called for an immediate infusion of $100bn from international resources to respond to the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis.
And the world is responding. The World Bank and African Development Bank announced billions of dollars of credit and assistance.
The U.S. government is providing over $170m in aid. The G-20 and IMF have suspended debt payments to many African countries.
I applaud these efforts, especially in light of the serious needs here in the United States and elsewhere in the world.
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U.S. companies are also demonstrating their resiliency and partnership in the face of existential financial challenges. Some have made sizeable in-kind and financial contributions to counter COVID-19 in Africa.
U.S. health care companies are leading global efforts to find a vaccine, antivirals and diagnostics. Many of them have Corporate Social Responsibility projects in Africa focused on the COVID-19 response.
They are partnering with NGOs, supplying free ventilator and other medical training, advising on supply chain best practices, and more. Many African companies are responding as well.
But clearly more needs to be done. Africa urgently needs more debt relief.
We must support the most vulnerable populations, including refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons. African governments and their international partners need to prioritize health sectors and health security, which has been historically underfunded on the continent.
This is a time to diversify supply chains, shore up logistics to ensure adequate food supplies, and seize with new vigor the opportunities provided by ICT and advanced technologies to build resilience and innovate.
I am confident that Africa will return to the optimism and promise of only two months ago. Africa is facing the crisis head on and, as African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina recently put it to me, “our collective humanity is at stake.”
As 18 African and European leaders recently wrote, “only victory in Africa can end the pandemic everywhere.” Trade and business depend on global interconnectivity.
More than ever, countries need the private sector, to provide financing, deliver solutions, create jobs and help recovery. U.S. companies stand ready to be strong partners.
If ever there was a time to renew our commitment to global collaboration and the well-being of all people, now is that time. For Africa’s and all our sake.
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