Addis Ababa — A four-day leaders forum hosted by the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) opened Tuesday with Rwandan President Paul Kagame saying Africa and the United States will remain key trade and investment partners post the crippling coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Kagame, in opening remarks to the forum on the theme Resilient U.S.-Africa Business Engagement to Drive Post COVID-19 Recovery, said; "The world is full of uncertainties right now but there is no doubt that Africa and the United States will continue to be important trade and investment partners for each other."
The United States, the President said, has been a strong supporter of development in Africa through trade, especially through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
Mr. Kagame highlighted what he said were three areas of common interest between the U.S. and Africa. These are combating the pandemic; the urgent need for coordinated action to ensure adequate fiscal space for Africa; and trade.
"Yesterday marked the 100th day since the first coronavirus case was detected in Rwanda. We have fortunately managed to keep the pandemic under control so far through a combination of lockdown policies and rigorous testing and tracing," he said.
"However, procuring adequate supplies of testing materials and protective equipment has been a real challenge for every African country. Last week the African Union launched an African medical supplies platform to pull the procurement of essential health items. This is a partnership with Africa's private sector led by Strive Masiiwa at the AU's invitation. We welcome participation by the American private sector in this effort."
Mr. Kagame also said there was an urgent need for coordinated efforts at combating the unprecedented health pandemic to ensure adequate fiscal space for Africa.
"This is essential both for the health response and also to preserve jobs and livelihoods. The United States supported the G20 initiative to suspend debt service on public debt. This was an important first step, but as the crisis drags on more will need to be done. The African Union has appointed six special envoys to represent our continent in these negotiations. Once again the backing of the United States for timely and innovative measures will be vital," he said.
Mr. Kagame said the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was also key, adding Africa was focusing on combating the pandemic as a united entity to avoid fragmented efforts.
"As these internal trade obstacles within Africa continue to fall, we look forward to strong engagement from American companies and investors working together with African firms," he said.
Ms. Vera Songwe, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, for her part also hailed Africa's efforts in tackling the health crisis collectively.
She said there was nothing wrong with African nations asking for debt standstill to provide immediate stimulus to save jobs and livelihoods as the continent prepares to build back better.
"The need for immediate liquidity is not an African-specific issue. It's a global issue," said Ms. Songwe, adding the ECA will continue to work hard to ensure African countries have more resources immediately available to them to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said it was crucial for Africa to save small to medium enterprises that form 70 percent of Africa's economy.
"If banks don't have the liquidity they need then the SMEs close down. We need to make sure that those 70 percent or our SMEs that are alive today stay alive," said Ms. Songwe, adding 20 million Africa jobs were currently on the line due to the pandemic.
She said Africa needs to build strong institutions that will stop illicit financial flows (IFFs) as nations work on improving domestic resource mobilization.
"As long as we continue to have leakages in our systems we will continue to suffer," the ECA Executive Secretary said, adding it was great that African leaders had come out clearly to say that they will transparently use COVID-19 resources coming their way.
Ms. Songwe said besides the external debt, African governments also need to pay the continent's private sector which largely goes unpaid for work done for state entities.
She also spoke about the G20's Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) and the creation of a Special Purpose Vehicle to finance Africa's debt to commercial lenders, which she said will be vital in financing private sector debt and consequently expanding the fiscal space of African countries.
Africa, said Ms. Songwe, can leverage the AfCFTA which is designed to boost intra-African trade, jobs, investments in infrastructure and financing for Africa's development as it aims to build back better after COVID-19.
Other speakers on the panel with Ms. Songwe were Mr. Akin Dawodu, Managing Director, Head for Sub Saharan Africa, Citi; former African Development Bank President and Special Envoy of the African Union on Financing the Peace Fund and COVID19 response, Mr. Donald Kaberuka; U. S. Corporate Council on Africa Chairman and CEO at Rabin Martin, Jeffrey L. Sturchio; and Mr. Albert G. Zeufack, the World Bank's Chief Economist for Africa.