As the effects of Covid-19 faded away, economic recovery started to kick-off. However, the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war and the severe drought affecting the Horn of Africa disrupted the momentum. After a 4.7 percent rebound in the growth rate in 2021, sub-Saharan Africa is expected to slow down to 3.6 percent in 2022 and 3.7 percent in 2023.
Africa accounts for only 1.49 percent of global confirmed cases of Covid-19. The low uptake of Covid-19 vaccines represents a major risk to regional and global recovery, though. Food insecurity due to limited supplies and rising food inflation also pose an obstacle to the reduction of poverty and inequality. Moreover, weak fiscal buffers and tightening global financial conditions will complicate building back better with escalating debt. Thus, strong international cooperation is needed to save lives from food insecurity, create a safe world and support the recovery process.
A healthy world is built on a vaccinated Africa
The world is not safe unless Africa is safe. During the 2021 Global Health Summit, world leaders committed to fully vaccinate at least 70 percent of population in every country by 2022. By November 1st, full vaccination rate in Africa was about 23.2 percent, with only three countries having crossed the 70 percent mark.
Interventions through the Covid-19 Vaccine Delivery Partnership (CoVDP) have enhanced the vaccination rate of 34 countries in dire conditions (which, by January 2022, had only reached 10 percent or less of their population) 28 out of these are African. Today, six have surpassed the 30 percent mark; 7 are within the 20-30 range; and only 6 are below 10 percent. While this is a significant improvement, the continent and the world remain highly exposed to more cases and to the emergence of new variants.
To enhance equity in access to Covid-19 vaccines, in October 2020 India and South Africa made a proposal to the World Trade Organization for a broad waiver of Trade-related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement covering Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments. In June 2022, only a partial patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines was offered. The WTO promised a further review of the deal again after six months. If pushed forward, this could extend the waiver to cover the production and supply of Covid-19 diagnostics and therapeutics, which are critical in detecting new cases and new variants. The G20 support is crucial to turn this promise into a reality.
In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) technology transfer hub offers an alternative to achieving vaccine manufacturing in Africa. In early 2022, the WHO announced that six countries had received the tools needed to produce mRNA vaccine, including Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia. Clinical trials are expected to begin at the end of 2022, with the final mRNA vaccine probably receiving a final approval by the end of 2024. Therefore, Africans urge G20 members to remain committed to the expansion of sustainable local and regional manufacturing capacity for vaccines, therapeutics and other essential medical products in developing countries. This would be the only way to realise health sovereignty, as promised during the G7 summit in June 2022.
An unbearable debt
Africa’s fiscal position remains weak, with negligible buffers and rising public debt. When Covid-19 hit, the G20 came up with the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) to support low-income countries in responding effectively to the pandemic. Out of the 73 participating countries, 33 were from Africa. While the program ended in December 2021, about 60% of the DSSI countries are still at high risk or in debt distress.
With a disrupted growth recovery, public debt is bound to worsen, unless the G20 creditors agree to accelerate restructuring schemes. Beyond the DSSI, G20 agreed on a Common Framework for Debt Treatment to provide debt relief to DSSI-eligible countries. In early 2021, Chad, Ethiopia and Zambia requested debt restructuring under the Common Framework. One year later, despite some noticeable progress , debt restructuring is still going through negotiations, straining the meagre resources of these impoverished countries.
African Leaders are then urging a swift implementation and extension of the DSSI under the Common Framework. In addition, international cooperation must urgently support also those countries that have signed agreements under the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative promoted by the World Bank and the IMF.
By the end of 2022, 123 million people or 12 percent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to face acute food insecurity. This is mainly due to disruptions in the global supply chain and to the export restrictions on food products imposed by several countries. The most affected ones are low-income countries in Africa. The consequent rise in the cost of living among the vulnerable groups complicates efforts to address poverty and inequality. Some countries have already witnessed protests, including Ghana, Guinea, Mozambique and Sierra Leone. Timely and quick interventions are necessary to avoid a wave of discontent across the whole continent.
The worst drought in 40 years is also exacerbating food insecurity In the Horn of Africa. At least 36.1 million people are estimated to suffer because of severe drought, including 24.1 million in Ethiopia, 7.8 million in Somalia and 4.2 million in Kenya. Millions of livestock have died, crops destroyed, and many people displaced in search for water and food. Like Covid-19, food insecurity makes saving lives the most urgent priority for international community.
Lifting of export restrictions on food and fertilisers is critical to restore a free flow of goods through international markets. Funding investments in sustainable agriculture and water conservation is necessary to support adaptation, in addition to increasing financial aid to initiatives on food security and emergency funds. As the world has gathered in Sharm El-Sheikh for COP27, concrete commitments should be made to support vulnerable groups affected by frequent and intense drought conditions.
The Africa Continental Free Trade area became operational in 2021, its key objective being to unlock internal trade in the continent and open new export routes, with the aim of reforming regional supply chains. The G20, in partnership with local leaders, should support Africa to build strong regional supply chains, as well as signing trade agreements with the continent for global trade.
Africa can rise from shocks and achieve sustainable development, but only together with and supported by the rest of the world.