The Covid-19 pandemic is a global threat that has captured the international community’s attention. As it unfolds, the need for stronger international cooperation and condition of policy actions is growing to avoid a protracted situation. Reported confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Africa account for only 2.5% of global cases, but the effects from the instituted containment measures are devastating, especially given inadequate buffers to appropriately respond. As a result, for the first time in over two decades, sub-Saharan Africa’s GDPcontracted by 1.7 percent in 2020 and about 30 million people were pushed to extreme poverty, reversing the progress made. This essentially demonstrates the disruption the pandemic has in sustaining the momentum to implement the SDGs. Africa’s Covid-19 vaccination rollout commenced early in the year but is lagging with less than 10% having gotten at least one vaccine. The global goal to vaccinate at least 40% of the population by the end of 2021 may be delayed, heightening the risks against the global recovery. Immediate multilateral action to address vaccination challenges in Africa is a priority in making the world safe and putting the continent on a sustainable recovery path.
The G20’s contribution to Africa’s economic recovery
The G20 is recognized as a primary platform for international economic and financial cooperation. Its close working relationship with the IMF and the World Bank gives it a strategic position in driving global economic growth and international monetary and financial stability. It is in this context that the debt service suspension initiative (DSSI) was implemented as a short-term multilateral solution in relieving debt burden for low-income countries in this period . Nearly all low-income countries from Africa benefited from this initiative and other debt relief facilities provided by the IMF and the World Bank. The Common Framework for debt treatment has also opened a window for debt restructuring option and three countries from Africa have made their request so far. That said, a delayed recovery, with DSSI extension ending in December 2021, may find low-income countries unprepared to meet their debt service obligations. As such, low-income countries’ debt burden remains a critical item in the agenda for international multilateralism to avoid another HIPC. The allocation of SDR worth US$650 billion was a welcomed move by the IMF; however, finding options for voluntary channeling of SDRs from members with strong external positions to benefit low-income and vulnerable middle-income countries is what will help relieve the pressure with debt burden that these countries are facing. The G20’s support in coming up with a lasting solution to the growing debt burden for low-income countries will go a long way in putting them on a sustainable recovery path.
A new dawn for multilateralism in the continent?
The launch of the African Union (AU) in 2002 consolidated the multilateralism path for Africa. The AU saw all African leaders converge on strategic interests in increasing cooperation and integration of the African states. And, with a focus on exploiting the continent’s potential to realize growth and development, this has served to ignite an issued-based cooperation. And true to the commitment, the AU 2063 Agenda, which was launched in 2013, demonstrates clearly that African leaders are ready to work together in propelling the continent’s development agenda. Further, the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, which began operations in January 2021, is redefining trade relations in the integration processwhilst opening doors for continental negotiations for trade with other partners. Moreover, the ongoing reforms that have seen the establishment of the Africa Union Development Agency-New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA-NEPAD) which is targeted to coordinate and execute priority regional and continental development projects as well as negotiate cooperation with other development partners are strengthening the AU’s governance structures. This momentum is necessary for the continent to deepen multilateralism inside and negotiate for strategic partnerships outside.
Is Africa under-represented in the G20?
During the G20 Summits, the AU’s Chair and AUDA-NEPAD's Executive Director are invited as observers. Only South Africa, which is a middle-income country, is a permanent member of the G20 from Africa. The EU, plus three of its member countries, are permanent members of the G20. Africa, home to over 80 percent of low-income countries who cannot meet criteria of membership to G20, requires more representation through the AU.Interestingly, most G20 members have strategic interest in Africa and some are advancing bilateral relations with AU and individual African States. As Africa strategizes in reengineering the recovery, these development partners should take the opportunity of sitting at the same table to come up with a multilateral approach for Africa with the AU at the negotiation table. As a forum for international economic and financial cooperation, the G20 should have the AU as a permanent member to represent the continent in promoting inclusive multilateralism and preserving its legitimacy.
Rose Ngugi is Executive Director at KIPPRA and Co-Chair of the T20 TF8 on Multilateralism and Global Governance.