The African Development Bank (AfDB) plans to support African countries to have quality healthcare infrastructure and ensure the continent develops its pharmaceutical capacity as well as produce required vaccines within the continent.
The bank also wants developed countries to extend the period of debt repayment and forgiveness in such a way that the period of deferment continues to be helpful to African countries.
Speaking on Africa’s Debt and Growth in an exclusive interview with CNN ahead of the launch of the bank’s African Economic Outlook 2021 on Monday, March 15, 2021, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, the President of the bank, said the bank projects a growth of 3.4 per cent in the year ahead, even as the continent faces a critical future unless there is a debt relief.
Adesina pointed out that COVID-19 related spending has swollen many countries borrowing; and without more aid, 39 million Africans stand the risk of falling into extreme poverty this year. More than 30 million Africans are already in the extreme poverty bracket.
He said Africa had never seen anything like this before. Growth last year was projected at 2.1 per cent.
“That’s the lowest growth rate for 50 years in Africa. You don’t see the virus but the effect of it are just so mindboggling. The GDP of Africa went down by 175 billion dollars. Last year we had 30 million people fall into extreme poverty. This year, that trend continues with 39 million people going into extreme poverty, hunger and all that. It’s been just quite a lot.”
However, he said it was not all negative. “We projected that Africa will grow back. We projected 3.4 per cent back this year; but all that is conditional on two things: Access to vaccines and the issue of debts.
The AfDB President noted that the issue of vaccine was a big problem. You know so far 40.6 million vaccines have been delivered in Africa and people can’t even get a shot in the arm. That 40.6 million is only 1 per cent of what we need; talk less of having 60 per cent of herd immunity. So we are way off the mark on that.”
He emphasised the need of Africa to have access to the vaccines and the need to have vaccine solidarity, pointing out that although those concerned are doing a great job, “the amounts are still in miniscule as far as we are concerned.
”We need to actually have global solidarity on this; but beyond that, there must also have vaccine justice, making sure that everybody has the vaccine.”
Dr Adesina cautioned that “If we deal with this pandemic in one part of the world and don’t deal with other parts, we are going back to square one. So, absolutely we must make sure that we ramp up access to vaccine. Africa needs it in quantity, it needs it on time and it needs it on an affordable price.”
On how long it would take to get herd immunity across Africa, the bank’s President said “the faster we get the vaccine, the better. You know, I just told you we got only 1 per cent right now in terms of people getting the jabs in their arms; and so to get a heard immunity, it would be at 60 per cent, so you are looking at, at least 840 million doses.
“I don’t see that happening in another year of two because at the slow pace of producing the vaccine and getting them out, it’s going to be very difficult. I’m quite concerned about that because the longer it takes for Africans to get vaccinated; you know Europe says you can’t travel if you do not have vaccine passports, so people are going to think that Africa is going to be the last to get access to vaccine. I don’t want that to happen.
“For us as AfDB, we are looking beyond the current situation. We are looking at medium and also long term. I can’t accept that 1.4 billion people have to be running from pillar to post looking for vaccines.
”We at AfDB have therefore decided that we are going to support Africa to have quality healthcare infrastructure and also make sure that it develops its own pharmaceutical capacity and also producing vaccines in Africa; not running from pillar to post.”
He agreed that the resultant lockdown has created a dire economic situation across the continent leading to loss of jobs, more poverty and hunger. This, he said, has the tendency of worsening social, economic and political fragility of countries.
“A lot of young people lost jobs, and so for us, it’s how do you build back, making sure you have economic resilience. Of course doing that with climate resilience; also make sure that we can secure the health of the populations with health resilience.
”Now the political dynamics of this is very important because when young people can’t find jobs, it can really worsen social, economic and political fragility of countries.
“So, everything comes back to making sure that we support Africa, the global community rallies round Africa to meet the fiscal deficit that it has. We were looking for $154 billion last year – that was all. Developed countries were spending over $9 trillion, the G20; but Africa couldn’t just get $154 billion.
”There is need to be a total change in that, to make sure that Africa gets the resources to expand its fiscal space; and in particular the issue of debt, because you can’t really run up the hill with a backpack that is full of sand.”
He stressed that Africa is not looking for a free pass. “We are just looking for equitable way in which the issue of Africa’s fiscal space actually gets downward. We’ve been working with the G20, with the debt suspension initiative, which was done for many African countries.
”But that’s only about $5.3 billion; and that did not cover more than $3.4 billion of the amount of bilateral debt that is actually there. That’s quite small. I think that needs to be extended so that the period of deferment continues to be helpful for African countries.”