Africa has been battling to curb the spread of COVID-19 pandemic and to address its impacts but the socioeconomic hardship suffered is significant.
The continent has experienced a severe economic contraction of at least 2.6 per cent which comes in contrasts to the growth rate of 3.2 per cent that was forecast for 2020 before the crisis.
According to Ms Mama Keita, Director of ECA in Eastern Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our normal way of doing things but all is not dark as the crisis has created unusual opportunity, exposing that heavy reliance on imports of essential goods in sensitive areas such as medical, nutritional and pharmaceutical, is not a sustainable solution for Africa.
Ms Keita made the remarks while speaking during a Digital Forum organize by “La Tribune Afrique” that focused on preparing the next world.
Asked about the potential of the AfCFTA as part of the solution to Africa’s development in the aftermath of the crisis, Ms Keita said that the current crisis proved that Africa’s private sector, if supported, could enhance its productive capacities and supply quality goods.
“In times of necessity to acquire some products during the world that was confined, the “Made in Africa” products were valued and the private sector was compelled to use innovation and creativity to supply their local markets” explained Mama, citing the production of facemasks that occurred in many countries as an example.
Ms Keita stressed that Africa has less than 2 hospital beds per 1000 people, the bulk of its pharmaceutical needs are sourced from outside the continent, and the situation is similar as far as foodstuff such as cereals is concerned. Yet the continent’s private sector could fill these gaps if provided with adequate support.
“Governments should continue to express trust to their private sectors, just like they are trusting them at the moment with the production of masks, test kits, personal protective equipment, ventilators,” affirmed Ms Keita.
In order to be encouraged to produce and sell on the AfCFTA market, Ms Keita argues that the private sector will need to be ascertained that the demand for their products exists. “The public sector could play a major role in that regards”.
ECA has been arguing that higher level of industrial development and intra-African trade would drive the economic transformation of the continent through value-chain development, and this would reduce Africa’s dependence on commodities and generate the jobs needed. AfCFTA could be an engine to promote that industrialization, if the private sector, starts transforming locally the huge natural resources that the continent is endowed with.
At the same digital platform, Mr Romuald Wadagni, Minister for the Economy of Benin pleaded for more integrated and open Africa saying that the fragmentation of countries is a brake to our development. He made a strong plea for a more integrated financial market in Africa, which would allow the reduction of interest rates, very high at the moment and which is compromising the development prospects of the continent.
The Digital platform also hosted Mr Abdoul Aziz Mbaye, State Minister and Personal Advisor to the President Macky Sall of Senegal. He commended that in the face of the crisis, Africa is standing more resilient than some advanced countries; he said that fragility is different from fatality, and expressed confidence that the continent will be strong enough to pursue its development trajectory after the crisis.
Panellists at the Digital Platform discussed also the importance of the governments in raising the necessary awareness among the youth entrepreneurs, which could result in moving most of them from the informal sector to formal work.
About 15 million youth enter the workforce market every year, yet only 3-4 million formal jobs are created.