Addis Ababa — Beyond the dark cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic is a silver lining of a more sustainably prosperous Africa. This was the message from the panellists who gathered virtually on the first day of the 2020 African Economic Conference.
They were speaking during the first session, exploring an inclusive and sustainable economic solution for Africa following the adverse social and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To emerge stronger from the pandemic, African governments were advised to put in place transparent and accountable governance structures, that would ensure inclusivity and fiscal sustainability.
Dr. Hanan Morsy, Director of the Macroeconomic Policy, Forecasting and Research Department at the African Development Bank (AfDB), said the pandemic gives a "one-in-a-century chance" to build a better Africa going forward. She referred to concerted efforts by several African governments to leverage on digital technologies such as online learning as a means to curb the spread of the novel Coronavirus.
Dr. Morsy was joined by speakers from the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Although economic growth in most African countries was on a positive trajectory pre-COVID-19, debt vulnerabilities had started manifesting. And with the adverse effects of the pandemic, most of the countries 'governments were forced to increase spending to boost their health systems, forcing them into more debt. However, Bartholomew Armah, the Director of the Macroeconomics and Governance Division at ECA, allayed fears over the high debt levels, noting that with time, domestic sectors such as manufacturing would pick up. He called for recapitalization of multilateral banks such as the African Development Bank, to continue providing concessional loans to African countries during this period. He added that,
"Multilateral development banks need to be less conservative in lending processes to provide more resources."
Dorothy Jane Anika, the Convener of Young Women in Political Party Leadership (Kenya), called for people, especially women, youth and minorities to be at the heart of budgeting. "People need to see the human face and human feeling in the response to COVID-19," Anika said.
Sanjay Pradhan, Chief Executive Officer at Open Government Partnership, described COVID-19 as a "a crisis in democracy", warning that with a lot of money going into stimulus packages, there is a risk of engendering corruption. But he pointed out that there have also been encouraging examples of how governments have been working together with civil servants to address some of these challenges.
Pradham insisted that the goal of a stimulus package should be to help get people out of poverty, rectify societal inequities, and build a citizen-centred democracy.
Dr Morsy added that the priority of any intervention should be to save lives and livelihoods, while expanding the efficiency of safety nets. She also said it was important to support viable companies facing liquidity constraints. But even more critical for a continent that has no fiscal space, there was a need for Africa to get the most returns possible from the limited resources it has.
The three-day event hopes to find solutions for a continent that has been hit hard by the pandemic, reversing years of progress that many countries had made in the fight against poverty and unemployment.