UN Chief: Virus Could Push Millions of Africans Into Poverty

A woman wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus, has her temperature checked by a security personnel before entering a grocery shop at Tembisa township in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
A woman wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus, has her temperature checked by a security personnel before entering a grocery shop at Tembisa township in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

May 20, 2020

United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, warns about the danger of the COVID-19 in Africa, both from the disease itself and causing increased levels of poverty.

“It will aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease.  Already, demand for Africa’s commodities, tourism and remittances are declining…. millions could be pushed into extreme poverty

“The U.N. said the low numbers could be linked to minimal testing and reporting, pointing to a World Health Organization warning that the pandemic “could kill between 83,000 and 190,000 people in 47 African countries in the first year, mostly depending on governments’ responses.”

“To help address the devastating economic and social consequences of the pandemic, Guterres said Africa needs more than $200 billion and “an across-the-board debt standstill for African countries” unable to service their debt, “followed by targeted debt relief and a comprehensive approach to structural issues in the international debt architecture to prevent defaults.”

“These are still early days for the pandemic in Africa, and disruption could escalate quickly.  Global solidarity with Africa is an imperative – now and for recovering better. Ending the pandemic in Africa is essential for ending it across the world.

“I have been calling for a global response package amounting to at least 10 per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product.  For Africa, that means more than $200 billion as additional support from the international community.

“I also continue to advocate a comprehensive debt framework — starting with an across-the-board debt standstill for countries unable to service their debt, followed by targeted debt relief and a comprehensive approach to structural issues in the international debt architecture to prevent defaults.” 

 

Secretary-General António Guterres records a video message on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on children. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Secretary-General António Guterres records a video message on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on children. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

ReadUN: Impact of COVID-19 in Africa

Read my earlier articles on COVID-19 in Africa:

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

 

 

China’s Belt & Road Needed to Revitalize World Economy: CGTN

May 18, 2020

Below are excerpts from my article on the strategic role of China’s Belt and Road in today’s world economy, published by CGTN 

The global economic breakdown ignited by the COVID-19 pandemic entails China and its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) playing an important role in restoring health to the world economy. While Western nations are still struggling with COVID-19, and are months away from beginning to refurbish their economies, China has already started its recovery, following its earlier success in combating the coronavirus.

The collapse of nations to conditions resembling the Great Depression and the inability to contain the deadly virus have belied the alleged success of globalization. The underlying flaws of the deregulated post Bretton Woods financial system, which has become an international gambling casino to make fast money, are now nakedly revealed. Given the breakdown of the present global financial system, it is urgent that leading nations issue a call to convene a conference to initiate a New Bretton Woods system, which values human life over making money.

For civilization to progress, a new economic architecture dedicated to ending poverty, and promoting productive economic growth is compulsory. Without question, the United States and China will have to perform outsized roles in establishing a new paradigm of political-economic relationships among nations, notwithstanding current tensions.

Read the entire articleBelt and Road Needed to Revitalize World Economy

Gambari COS for Buhari: Right Man at Right Time for Nigeria

President Muhammadu Buhari-left and his new Chief of Staff, Prof Ibrahim Gambari-right. (Politics Nigeria)

Gambari COS for Buhari: Right Man at Right Time for Nigeria

Lawrence Freeman

May 15, 2020

President Muhammadu Buhari has unexpectedly chosen an exceptional new Chief of Staff (COS), Professor Ibrahim Gambari, (his friends call him “Prof”), to replace the recently deceased Malam Abba Kyari. Over these many years, through meetings formal and informal at the United Nations, Washington DC, Abuja, and Darfur, I have come to respect Prof. Gambari as an honorable and thoughtful Nigerian leader. During our many discussions, his depth and breadth of strategic thinking was evident and contributed to my knowledge of Nigeria, Africa, and the United States.

President Buhari and Prof Gambari know each other well. Prof Gambari served as the Minister for External (Foreign) Affairs between 1984 and 1985 under General Buhari’s military regime before it was overthrown in a coup. It should be remembered that during that time period, when the government of Gen. Buhari resisted the “Washington Consensus” and the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), the Naira was worth $1.34 dollars. Following the regime change of the Buhari-Gambari partnership, the Naira was immediately devalued to 25 to $1. As it is said, the rest is history.

Not a career politician or member of the foreign service, Prof Gambari as ambassador headed the Nigerian Mission to the United Nations from 1990-1999 and had the distinction of serving under five heads of state during his tenure. Recognizing his experience and diplomatic skills, Prof Gambari upon leaving the Nigerian Mission was appointed Special Adviser on Africa to the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan from 1999 to 2005. He was the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2007 under Secretary-General’s Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon. Prof Gambari was later appointed head of the Joint African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) from 2010-2012. As head of the 26,000 man UNAMID force, Prof Gambari navigated a difficult peace keeping operation between the government of Sudan and those international forces who were intent on a Khartoum regime change.

Nigeria in Difficult Times

Nigeria is experiencing multiple tribulations. Its economy is suffering with 40% of its 200 million population living in extreme poverty and the majority of Nigeria’s tens of millions youth are unemployed. Infrastructure is inadequate, especially the lack of daily accessibility to electrical power for consumers and commercial enterprises. Furthermore, the murderous Boko Haram is still operating in the northeastern section of the country. Worsening the condition in Nigeria is the COVID-19 pandemic, which could potentially explode given the insufficient healthcare needed to contain and combat the effects of the coronavirus. The collapse of the price of oil now fluctuating below $30 per barrel has caused significant shortfalls in Nigeria’s revenue and its ability to accumulate foreign exchange. Nigeria’s national budget has been thrown into turmoil because it was predicated on a minimum price of $50 per barrel.

Essential priorities for Nigeria, which I have discussed with government leaders:

  • A national economic growth  plan that benefits all geographical sections of the nation
  • Massive building of physical infrastructure including an urgent mobilization to upgrade and expand healthcare
  • Reverse the shrinking Lake Chad and transform the Lake Chad Basin by implementing Transaqua, an inter-basin water project supported by President Buhari.

Stark weaknesses of globalization have vividly surfaced due to the spread of COVID-19, which has caused devastation, and will likely continue throughout 2020. As a result, the world is crying out for a New International Economic Order to replace the currently defective international financial system. A new paradigm for development that values human life above debt service, prioritizes economic growth, and the elimination of poverty. Nigeria and its people, whose potential has been recognized since the liberation of the continent from colonialism, should play a leading role in this economic transformation of Africa.

To begin the process of accomplishing these goals, President Buhari, in the remaining years of his second term, will need the support of a trusted group of counsellors.  It is my hope that my friend, Prof Gambari, a first-class strategic thinker, and a patriot who cares deeply for Nigeria, will galvanize this effort.

Below I provide excerpts from an article I wrote about Prof Gambari in March 2002, because of their relevancy today.

Professor Gambari discussed the effects of “debt over-hang” on Africa’s development. “The heavy debt burden of many countries is robbing them of their sovereignty, and impeding their pursuit of economic and social policies. The sad part is that debt overhang is hitting generations that had little or nothing [to do] with its contraction. As the UNDP poverty report observes, the ‘truth of the matter is that demands debt servicing are no longer a matter of money, but a source of the excruciating impoverishment of people’s lives.’ ”
While not attacking globalization directly, Gambari diplomatically discussed the consequences for African economies–the unequal benefits from the globalization process.” Globalization, “driven by market and capital expansion, often pays little attention to governance of these markets and their repercussions on people,” and does not guarantee “equity and human development.” The results of globalization are that “Africa’s share of world trade has declined from 40% (1980s) to less than 2% at present.”

Read my outline for the development of Nigeria: Guardian of Nigeria Publishes “Proposal for Nigeria’s Future” by Lawrence Freeman

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

WFP’s David Beasley Warns of Potential Famines in Africa & Mideast Due to COVID-19

The COVID19 virus arrived in Africa weeks after it hit Asia, Europe and North America. But now, says Berkeley economist Edward Miguel, the virus poses grave risks for Africa and its 1.2 billion people. (AP photo by Patrick Ngugi)

The effects of COVID-19 on food supply chains in developing nations that are already suffering from hunger and acute food insecurity could be more deadly than coronavirus itself, according to David Beasley, Director of the World Food Programme (WFP). Speaking at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC on May 8, via teleconference, Beasley told his audience that, if economic conditions continue to deteriorate and endanger the production and distribution of food to impoverished nations, we could witness famines in Africa, and other parts of the world. “You could have 150,000 to 300,000 people die of starvation every day for several months—at a minimum,” he said. In a six-month period of time that equals between 27 to 54 million deaths. Beasley reported, as he did last month to the United Nations Security Council, that 821 million people around the world go to bed hungry and another 135 million are on the verge of starvation.

The fact that almost 1 billion of our fellow human beings are suffering from these levels of food insecurity is proof of the failure of globalization and an indictment of the current monetarist based financial system. With an abundance of fertile land, growing food and delivering food is a matter of investment in infrastructure. There are no valid objective reasons for any human being to go without food. The world needs a New Bretton Woods System, designed to lift all nations out of poverty, as President Franklin Roosevelt has intended. Nothing short of a global rebuilding of our world economy is required.

WFP’s David Beasley warns of dire famines in Africa, Mideast if COVID-19 supply chains damage continues

Watch video presentation below by World Food Programme Director, David Beasley 

A warning from the World Food Programme

Reuters published on May 7, a graphic report: Virus exposes gaping holes in Africa’s health systems, which quantifies the shortages in Africa of physicians, ventilators, intensive care beds and tests for COVID-19.  This deficit in healthcare infrastructure endangers millions of African, who are already suffering from food insecurity, poverty, lack of clean water, and lack of adequate electricity and other basic necessities of life. From March 30 to May 10, the number of COVID-19 cases in Africa has increased from 4,760 cases and 146 deaths to 64,214 cases and 2,344 deaths. That is an increase of 1300% and 1600% respectively in six weeks. If Africa is at the beginning of the  coronavirus curve, and the virus grows exponentially, as it has in other nations, then Africa will not be equipped to handle the magnitude of the crisis.

Read my earlier articles on COVID-19 and Africa

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

Ethiopian & Nigerian Leaders Want Debt Cancellation; UNGA President: Infrastructure for Food and Health

Informal economy in Africa (courtesy Grandmother Africa)

May 7, 2020

Human life in Africa is threatened more by the COVID-19 pandemic than any other continent due to the appalling living conditions for the majority of the population.  During lock-down conditions, millions of Africans are faced with the choice of trying to just subsist day by day working in the informal economy to make enough money to feed one’s family or stay home and go hungry.  However, the informal economy itself is part of the problem, since it no health insurance, no unemployment insurance, and income is precarious at best. The very existence of the informal economy is a malignancy that should have been eliminated decades ago, and replaced with an industrialized economy.

The International Labor Organization (ILO), estimates the total world labor force is 3.3 billion people, and about 2 billion of them, or 61% of the total, are working in the informal economy. The vast majority of such informal workers (93%) are to be found in the Third World. In the first month after the pandemic hit their countries, laborers in the informal economy suffered an average 60% drop in their income. Now, 1.6 billion of those 2 billion informal workers—almost 80% of all informal workers—have lost their jobs or are about to. Tragically, Africa has 86% of its labor force working in the informal economy-the highest of all continents.

RFI reports that Nigeria, with over 200 million people, has 40% of its population living in life threatening poverty. According to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), from September 2018, to October 2019, 82.9 million Nigerians earned less than 400 Naira-($1) per day. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), which compromises the majority of the continent with almost 1 billion people, 41% live in extreme poverty-$1.90 per day or less. The NBS reports that poverty in Nigeria’s rural areas is more than 50 percent. The economic cruelties of life in Nigeria typify conditions throughout SSA.

Muhammadu Buhari
Muhammadu Buhari Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Image

Life is More Precious Than Debt

Prior to COVID-19 pandemic, African nations required a debt moratorium to save the lives of their people. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic intersecting the existent conditions of poverty, food insecurity and lack of healthcare infrastructure, Africa leaders are demanding debt cancellation, to prioritize addressing the economic and health needs of their nations. Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Ethiopia and Nigeria are asking for debt relief.

Following Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy’s op-ed in the April 30 edition of the New York Times, PM Abiy wrote  on May 1, that there is an “urgent need for the Global Health Pledging Conference.” In his essay, “ PM Abiy: A Pledge to Combat COVID-19 in Africa, he  outlines the urgency for debt cancellation.

Up to now, there has been a huge disconnect between the rhetoric of rich-country leaders – that this is an existential, once-in-a-century global crisis – and the support for the world’s poor and developing countries [is more] than they seem willing to contemplate. Indeed, until last week, African countries were spending more on debt payments than on health care.”

“In 34 of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 45 countries, annual per capita health spending is below $200 – and barely reaches $50 in many of these countries. Such low levels of spending make it impossible to fund acute-care hospital beds, ventilators, and the drugs needed to confront diseases like COVID-19. Paying for doctors, nurses, X-ray technicians, and other health professionals, together with their equipment, can seem almost like a luxury.”

Nigerian President Mahammadou Burhari, echoed PM Abiy’s demand for debt cancellation, in a May 4 meeting with heads of state from the Non-Aligned Movement. President Buhari “urged official lenders to help cushion the pandemic fallout with outright debt cancellation,” according Alonso Soto of Bloomberg. The article reports that, “nearly half of Nigeria’s outstanding external debt is with multilateral lenders, led by the World Bank Group with $10.1 billion. Beijing-based Export-Import Bank of China is the second-biggest creditor with loans totaling $3.2 billion, while Eurobonds account for $10.86 billion or 39% of external debt.”

The author with Amb Tijjani Muhammad-Bande at the Nigerian Mission to the UN-August 2019

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the United Nations General Assembly, discussed how the spread of the coronavirus is a threat to those already suffering from poverty and food insecurity in a May 1, op-ed by published by Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. In his statement, Preventing a Pandemic Induced Food Emergency, Ambassador Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, head of the the Nigerian Mission to the UN, wrote: “two billion people did not have regular access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus.  Indeed, hunger has been on the rise globally for the past four years

“The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating pre-existing inequalities, putting immense strain on tenuous systems; and plunging those in the most precarious contexts deeper into poverty and hunger.

“In many places, travel restrictions aimed at containing COVID-19 has reduced access to markets; and the purchasing power of millions of people has been decimated as a result of an exponential increase in unemployment rates.  Moreover, school closures have disturbed the main source of nutrition for over 370 million children around the world.

“Those suffering from hunger are at greater risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms as a result of associated health conditions, such as malnutrition and non-communicable diseases, which compromise the immune system. Compounding this is the fact that those who are hungry are often trapped in poverty and do not have access to health services, water and sanitation facilities, or indeed the space to quarantine or practice social distancing.

“In both our rapid response to the pandemic, and our long-term planning, it is imperative that we link food security to health interventions and investment in infrastructure.” (emphasis added)

 

For more analysis of COVID-19 and Africa, read my previous posts below:

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed: Debt Cancellation for the World to Survive

Coronavirus testing supplies being unloaded at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in March.
Credit…Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Lawrence Freeman

May 1, 2020

Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has made an audacious salient call for debt cancellation for low income countries. It was published in the Opinion section of the April 30, New York Times, Why the Global Debt of Poor Nations Must Be Canceled, (printed in full below). PM Abiy is correct, debt cancellation is absolutely necessary to save lives and for developing nations to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. To compel a nation like Ethiopia to spend almost half of its revenue on debt service, while its people are suffering from a perfect storm of Desert Locust swarms, food insufficiency, and a weak healthcare infrastructure, is immoral if not criminal. PM Abiy wrote:

“At the very least, the suspension of debt payments should last not just until the end of 2020 but rather until well after the pandemic is truly over. It should involve not just debt suspension but debt cancellation…

“These steps need to be taken with a sense of urgency. The resources freed up will save lives and livelihoods in the short term, bring back hope and dynamism to low-income economies in the medium term and enable them to continue as the engines of sustainable global prosperity in the long term.

“In 2019, 64 countries, nearly half of them in sub-Saharan Africa, spent more on servicing external debt than on health. Ethiopia spends twice as much on paying off external debt as on health. We spend 47 percent of our merchandise export revenue on debt servicing…

“The dilemma Ethiopia faces is stark: Do we continue to pay toward debt or redirect resources to save lives and livelihoods?”

PM Abiy’s analysis of the urgent need for the cancellation of debt service is relevant to the exacerbating effect of COVID-19 in Africa’s rising food insecurity.

image
Smoked fish produced in Ghana is sold all over the country and in neighboring Togo – as long as transport routes and borders can remain open for the movement of food to markets. Credit Jane Hahn/Oxfam America

COVID-19 Worsens Food Crisis

In the month from March 30 to April 30, COVID-19 cases in Africa rose from 4,760 to 37,296-800% increase, and the total of deaths from 146 to 1,619-1,100% increase.  Experts are legitimately concerned, that millions more may die from hunger and poverty as a result of the needed efforts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Closing borders, stay at home orders, loss of income, interruption of supply chains, and disruption of traditional animal migration cycles inauspiciously contribute to amplifying food insecurity.

“If the pandemic worsens, as many as 50 million more people could face a food crisis in the [Sahel} region,” according to Coumba Sow, Food and Agricultural Organization Resilience Coordinator for West Africa in her interview: FAO: COVID19: 50 Million in Sahel Could Face Food Crisis. Coumba Sow reports that across West Africa, 11 million people need immediate food assistance and that this number could rise to 17 million in the period from June to August. She says that it is “crucial to anticipate COVID-19’s impacts on agriculture, food security and the lives of vulnerable women and children. Ensuring that food systems and food supply chains are maintained is one of the most important action to take at national and regional levels.”

The World Food Programme (WFP) projects that the number of people facing acute food insecurity could rise from 135 million to 265 million in 2020 as a result of COVID-19.  According to the WFP, five of the countries that had the worst food crisis in 2019 were located in Africa; Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Arif Husain, economist for the WFP said: “COVID-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are hanging by a thread. It is a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat it they earn a wage. Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock—like COVID-19 to push them over the edge.”

Mauritanian herders (Courtesy of UN-FAO)

 A New Financial Architecture Required

While debt cancellation is essential, international and federal mechanisms are required to issue i.e. create new lines of credit to build up nation-wide advanced healthcare infrastructure, which all African nations lack. This endeavor should be part of a much larger undertaking to place African nations on a path to become developed industrialized economies.  I discuss the importance of emerging nations  to generate physical economic wealth in my earlier article: World Needs New Economic Platform to Fight COVID-19. Trillions of dollars of new credit must become accessible for African nations to address the dearth of infrastructure in energy, roads, railroads, and healthcare, that is literally killing Africans, every day. Successful transformation of African nations requires an urgent focus on nurturing combined manufacturing-agricultural processing industries. Speaking at a Johns Hopkins webinar on April 22, Gyude Moore, former Liberian Minster of Public Works (2014-2018) emphasized that creating manufacturing jobs is essential to transitioning to a more developed economy.

What has been glaringly brought to the surface by the combined COVID-19 pandemic and the malnourishment of Africa’s population is; that the global economic-political system of the last five decades has failed. A new financial architecture is compulsory to save lives and put civilization on the trajectory of progress. This new financial architecture should encompass the following essential missions in Africa:

  • Cancellation of debt
  • New credit generation for physical economic growth
  • Massive investment in hard infrastructure
  • Urgent mobilization to establish modern health infrastructure
  • Significant upgrading of manufacturing and agricultural sectors

It is unacceptable in the twenty-first century for every nation not to be equipped with advanced modern healthcare infrastructure.  One of the most egregious defects of globalization is that nations have become dependent on imported food from thousands of miles away because it is somehow construed to be cheaper than producing food at home.

Nations exist to foster the continuation of a human culture moored to the conception that human life is sacred. There is no equivalency between servicing debt and safeguarding human life.  Money really has no intrinsic value. Banks are mere servicing bureaus of an economy.  Governments legitimately create credit to generate future physical wealth to benefit their citizens. When borrowing or lending arrangements fail to benefit society then they should be restructured or cancelled. Such financial reorganizations have been achieved many times throughout history.

PM Abiy has brought to the attention of the world, a profound underlying principle that should govern all national and international policy: the promotion of human life is supreme, monetary instruments are not.

Delaying the repayments to the Group of 20 is not enough.

By rime Minister of Ethiopia. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, 2019

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — On April 15, Group of 20 countries offered temporary relief to some of the world’s lowest-income countries by suspending debt repayments until the end of the year. It is a step in the right direction and provides an opportunity to redirect financial resources toward dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

But if the world is to survive the punishing fallout of the pandemic and ensure that the economies of countries like mine bounce back, this initiative needs to be even more ambitious.

At the very least, the suspension of debt payments should last not just until the end of 2020 but rather until well after the pandemic is truly over. It should involve not just debt suspension but debt cancellation. Global creditors need to waive both official bilateral and commercial debt for low-income countries.

These steps need to be taken with a sense of urgency. The resources freed up will save lives and livelihoods in the short term, bring back hope and dynamism to low-income economies in the medium term and enable them to continue as the engines of sustainable global prosperity in the long term.

In 2019, 64 countries, nearly half of them in sub-Saharan Africa, spent more on servicing external debt than on health. Ethiopia spends twice as much on paying off external debt as on health. We spend 47 percent of our merchandise export revenue on debt servicing. The International Monetary Fund described Ethiopia as being at high risk of external debt distress.

The dilemma Ethiopia faces is stark: Do we continue to pay toward debt or redirect resources to save lives and livelihoods? Lives lost during the pandemic cannot be recovered; imperiled livelihoods cost more and take longer to recover.

Immediate and forceful action on debt will prevent a humanitarian disaster today and shore up our economy for tomorrow. We need to immediately divert resources from servicing debt toward responding adequately to the pandemic. We need to impede a temporary health crisis from turning into a chronic financial meltdown that could last for years, even decades.

Ethiopia must spend an extra $3 billion by the end of 2020 to address the consequences of the pandemic, while our balance of payments is set to deteriorate. Increasing health care spending is essential, irrespective of debt levels, but we have less money on hand, and much of it is due to creditors.

A moratorium on bilateral and commercial debt payments for the rest of this year will save Ethiopia $1.7 billion. Extending the moratorium till the end of 2022 would save an additional $3.5 billion.

Low income countries can use the financial resources freed up by cancellation or further deferment of debt repayments to invest in our battle against the pandemic, from providing necessary medical care to our citizens to ameliorating our financial difficulties.

In October, the I.M.F. reported that the five fastest-growing economies in the world were in sub-Saharan Africa, which includes Ethiopia. In early April, the World Bank reported that sub-Saharan Africa would face its first region wide recession in over 25 years and the region’s economy could shrink by as much as 5.1 percent.

This is not a result of bad policies, mismanagement or any other ill typically associated with developing economies. The recession will be the product of the coronavirus outbreak.

Preventing or at least minimizing the recession is critical to maintaining years of hard-won economic gains across the continent. The current moratorium in bilateral debt collection until the end of the year will help, but it won’t be enough, given the gravity of the challenge we face.

The moratorium must be extended until the coronavirus health emergency is over or canceled altogether. The creditors need to do this unconditionally.

Official bilateral creditors are no longer the principal source of external debt financing for many developing countries. Private-sector creditors, including investment banks and sovereign funds, are. They should play their part in the effort to rescue African economies from permanent paralysis with a sense of solidarity and shared responsibility. It would help avoid widespread sovereign defaults and chaos in the market.

And it would be morally indefensible if resources freed up from a moratorium in bilateral debt collections were to be used to pay private creditors instead of saving lives.

Most of our countries managed to borrow funds on the back of solid economic performance and highly promising and evidence-based development programs and trajectories. Nobody foresaw this promise being derailed by a once-in-a-century event such as the coronavirus pandemic.

Under these circumstances, there is no room for traditional arguments such as moral hazard. Low-income countries are seeking relief not because we squandered the money but because we need the resources to save lives and livelihoods.

It is in everybody’s enlightened self-interest that the borrowers be allowed breathing space to get back to relative health. The benefits of rehabilitation of the economies of the hardest-hit countries will be shared by all of us, just as the consequences of neglect will harm all of us.

Read: New Economic Order Required to Combat COVID-19 in Africa

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

 

 

International Cooperation and Collaboration Needed to Save Lives in Africa From COVID-19

COVID-19 consequences will be ‘profound’ in Africa: WHO (courtesy of Anadolu Agency)

International Collaboration and Cooperation is Necessary to Fight COVID-19 in Africa

Lawrence Freeman

April 26, 2020

While the current number of total cases of COVID-19 in Africa is comparatively low, the potential for mass deaths across the continent is ominous, according to a study issued by the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa (UNECA): UNECA COVID-19 Response: Protecting Lives and Economies in Africa

If Africa, is to stem the elevated projected rate of morbidity and mortality from the coronavirus, it will require a massive infusion economic and medical assistance. In the last week COVID-19 cases in Africa increased by 46% from 16,000 to 26,000 with 1,200 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

With civilization experiencing a pandemic that has upended all normalcy, affecting the very fabric of our social, economic, and political life on this planet, only a collective international effort will succeed in defeating this deadly invisible enemy. No alliance is more important in this war against death than that of the United States and China, which have the two largest economies.

 

(Courtesy Development Reimagined)

COVID-19 and Poverty Killing Africa

According to the analysis by the UNECA, COVID-19 in Africa: Protecting Lives and Economies, a low estimate of .3 million to as high as 3.3 million lives could be lost due to COIVD-19. The study also estimates that from 2.3 million to 22.5 million could require hospitalization, and .5 million to 4.4 million would require critical care. A minimum of $44 billion will be required for emergency healthcare.

The causes for these horrifying projections include:

  • 56% of the nearly 600 million Africans who live in urban areas-336 million, live in slums
  • 66% of Africans do not have access to household hand washing facilities
  • Prevalence of underlying medical conditions especially HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malnutrition
  • An average of only 1.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people
  • 94% of Africa’s stock of pharmaceuticals are imported

I have written that Africa has a deficit of an estimated 1.8 million healthcare workers. The average for sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is an absurdly low 0.21 doctors for 1,000 people compared to Italy with 4.2 physicians per 1,000. Twenty SSA nations have .08 doctors or less per 1,000 of their citizens, with several at levels of 0.03 and 0.02 doctors. Over twenty-five SSA nations have 1 bed or less to treat 1,000 of their population

In addition to the conditions listed above, the informal economy is another major factor contributing to the projected high rate of African fatalities, the informal economy. Africa has an extraordinarily large percentage of its labor force, between 70-80%, employed outside of conventional hourly wage, and salaried employment. These jobs, if you can call them that, primarily involve hawking consumer goods on the street, selling in congested markets or from makeshift store fronts, barely provide a living, and have no health or unemployment insurance. For the majority of Africans, if you do not work, you do not eat. Thus, Africans are faced with the life threatening dilemma of obeying sheltering in place or starving their family.

Informal economy in Africa (courtesy Grandmother Africa)

According to the UNECA study, the economic consequences for Africa from COVID-19 could be devastating.

  • Economic growth could drop from 1.8% to -2.6%
  • From 5-29 million pushed into extreme poverty-$1.90 per day
  • 19 million jobs lost
  • Increased borrowing, devaluation of currencies, and plummeting commodity prices

“To protect and build towards the Continent’s shared prosperity, $100 billion is needed to urgently and immediately provide fiscal space to all countries to help address the immediate safety net needs of the populations,” reiterates Vera Songwe, UN Under Secretary-General and Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Africa, according to Africa Renewal

Poverty, and lack of basic infrastructure, especially electricity has been killing Africans for decades. In the current conditions of this deadly pandemic, poverty, unarguably will be the biggest factor in the death rate from COVID-19. According to a recent report Strategy to Defeat the Pandemic, released in EIR magazine, SSA has:

  • 14% of the world’s population
  • 60% of the world’s extreme poor
  • 70% of those worldwide lacking access to electricity
  • 20% of urban dwellers worldwide living in slums

They highlight the case of Nigeria, which typifies the conditions throughout SSA. Nigeria has 200 million people, 41% living in extreme poverty, 55% with no access to electricity, and 55% of their urban population living in slums. Citing Time magazine, EIR reports that Nigeria has only 500 ventilators per 2.5 per million people, 200 times less per capita than the US that has 170,000 ventilators for 330 million people.

Africa and the world cannot afford to lose millions more of our fellow human beings to death and poverty. Our failure over the last half century, to eliminate poverty, hunger and install a quality healthcare system, following the liberation of African nations from colonialism, has proved fatal.

Slum in Nigeria (Courtesy of Global Village)

Slums in Nigeria (courtesy Global Village)

End Geo-Political Warfare Against China 

For humanity to defeat this deadly virus, global cooperation is imperative. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump, for opportunistic reasons, has succumbed to appalling and unjustified attacks on China. President Trump has placed a higher priority on his re-election, by appealing to the prejudices of his base of supporters, than leading a worldwide military style  campaign against COVID-19. While not as extreme as some in his administration, President Trump has joined the chorus from both the Republican and Democratic parties in blaming China for the spread of COVID-19. His recent attacks on the WHO, alleging collusion with China, and subsequently cutting off funds to the WHO, is a case in point. The WHO is being unfairly scapegoated as part of geo-political crusade vilifying China.

Not surprising, the instigation against China comes from British Secret Intelligence MI6. On April 15, John Sawers, former chief of MI6 (2009-2014) told Reuters, “China concealed crucial information about the novel coronavirus outbreak from the rest of the world and so should answer for its deceit.” He told BBC, “There is deep anger in America at what they see as having been inflicted on us all by China, and China is evading a good deal of responsibility for the origin of the virus, for failing to deal with it initially.”

Since then, more wild unsubstantiated claims from the Trump administration have been launched accusing China of creating the COVID-19 at its virology lab in Wuhan. President Trump has vacillated in deciding whether China created the virus intentionally or accidently, with no evidence at all presented to substantiate these allegations.

Africa’s Survival

If, the projections of fatalities resulting from COVID-19 are correct, Africa will need assistance from all its partners. The scale of this crisis demands it. The United States and other Western nations must extirpate the geo-political ideology that treats African nations as pawns in countering China. Africa needs basic infrastructure. Roads, power, railroads, clean water, hospitals, etc. are crucial for Africa’s survival. Speaking at a Johns Hopkins webinar on April 22, Gyude Moore, from the Center for Global Development, and former Liberian Minister of Public Works (2014-2018) unequivocally recognized that China is performing a unique task in Africa. He told his audience that if China were to stop building infrastructure in Africa, there would be no one to fill that vital role. Contrary to many Africans who foolishly believe that China is colonizing Africa, Moore stated, “China should not leave the continent.”

As I and others understand, including Gyude Moore, Africa’s infrastructure requirements are so enormous, that all of Africa’s partners can share in developing this huge continent, whose population is expected to double to 2.4 billion in the next 30 years.

It is imperative that saving lives and defeating this coronavirus be the foremost concern of all citizens, leaders, and institutions. Let us use the occasion of this perilous time in our history, to jettison all prejudices, grievances, ideologies, and small mindedness, to aspire to be the noble and generous human beings the Creator intended us to be.

Read my two earlier reports on COVID-19 in Africa:

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

 

 

 

 

Today, More Than Ever, The World Needs Leadership Like Franklin Roosevelt

Franklin and Eleanor at the 1941 inauguration
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt riding in an open car, from FDR’s third inauguration. January 20, 1941. FDR Library Photograph Collection

April 15, 2020

I publish below, FDR: Leadership in a Time of Crisis, by my longtime friend and authority on American History, Nancy Spannaus, for two reasons. One, to commemorate April 12, the 75th anniversary of the passing of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States. More than just remembering a great President, we must look to his quality of leadership that the world desperately needs today.

Humanity is faced with the most profound crisis, possibly ever, with the pandemic COVID-19. We have witnessed the deaths of tens of thousands of precious souls, tens of millions of people forced out of work, the once hailed globalized supply chains disrupted, and fears of starvation in the developing sector, and possibly, in the advanced sector as well, in the not too distant future. The Bretton Woods financial system, which is already bankrupt, is on life support from the Federal Reserve and other centralized banks, and our “just in time” economy has failed miserably to weather this crisis.  The global lack of a sufficient-redundant healthcare infrastructure has proved murderous, and we are no-where near the end of devastation from this deadly virus.

Leadership should not just be left to our public officials, who have been deficient, in the last five decades, in creating a healthier economy for our planet of 8 billion people. Let us use this perilous moment of our civilization, to take the time, now, to reflect on what we must do, not only to survive this present crisis, but to guarantee a more prosperous future for all nations.

ReadWorld Needs New Economic Platform to Fight COVID-19

Read: New Economic Order Required to Combat COVID-19 in Africa

 

FDR: Leadership in a Time of Crisis

Read the entire Second Inaugural Address

Africa Manufacturing Must be Geared Up to Fight COVID-19

There are not enough ventilators in the world right now for the world’s needs, so we must move quickly to do our part, says the writer. Picture: Simon Orlob/Pixabay
There are not enough ventilators in the world right now for the world’s needs, so we must move quickly to do our part, says the writer. Picture: Simon Orlob/Pixabay (courtesty of iol.co.za)

April 8, 2020

Below are two important articles on how South African nations are responding to the coronavirus.

According to author, Ramasimong Phillip Tsokolibane, South Africa can retool its manufacturing capacity to begin production of ventilators.  These life saving machines will be essential to save lives as the coronavirus proliferates across the African continent, especially in South Africa. As of today,  April 7, Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 10,789 cases of COVID-19, 536 deaths and 1,122 recoveries for 52 nations reporting.South Africa has 1,749 cases,13 deaths and 45 recoveries. For a country with less than 5% of Africa’s total population, it has 16% of the total cases-the highest among all African nations.  South Africa being the most industrialized nation on the continent should take up the challenge of gearing up production of ventilators, and lead other African nations by example in responding to this pandemic.

Tsokolibane writes: “To survive, the severely ill need ventilators, the machine that helps you breathe or breathes for you, when the airways in your lungs are too swollen and inflamed for you to breathe on your own. We have only about 6 000 of them. Ten times as many will not be nearly enough at peak levels of the pandemic. A ventilator can cost R180,000 or more.”

“We must plan on making at least 80,000 ventilators for South Africa! The government should issue letters of intent to purchase from multiple manufacturers who meet the needed specifications. We must make at least 27,000 for Zimbabwe! Make more for Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Mozambique, DR Congo, and others. We must make more than we expect to need, because they must be on hand everywhere; a person who needs a ventilator now, may be gone before someone can go across town to fetch one.”

Read: Why South Africa Must Start Manufacturing Ventilators Immediately

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The Zimbabwean reports on a significant initiative underway in Zimbabwe: “The government has turned to its tertiary institutions with engineering and technology capacity including University of Zimbabwe, Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT), Great Zimbabwe University (GZU), Midlands State University and the Harare Institute of Technology, among others, for production to meet local demand…Higher education minister professor Amon Murwira told Quartz Africa the hand sanitizers, masks and gloves were made to meet the standards of the WHO…”

Zimbabwe’s universities are manufacturing masks, gloves and hand sanitizers to beat coronavirus

 

Food Shortages and COVID-19 in Africa: Interviews With Lawrence Freeman

Breaking the cycle of food shortage in Africa with fertilizer and technology (courtesy of Global Farmer Network)

April 7, 2020

UN warns of food shortages across globe

Please view this 7 minute interview with Lawrence Freeman on PressTV. Watch: Interview: COVID-19-Hunger in Africa

In this interview with PressTV, Mr Freeman discusses the implications of the food shortages in Africa as a result of the spread of the coronavirus. He said: “The morality of world is on trial. Life has to be put above everything else.”

According  to The United Nations World Food Program (WFP), the coronavirus pandemic could cause food shortages for hundreds of millions of people across the globe. The WFP said “Africa is the most vulnerable continent. It added that for many poor countries, the economic consequences of COVID-19 outbreak will be more devastating than the disease itself.”

COVID-19 Pandemic in Africa

In the first 15 minutes of this programs, Mr. Freeman discuses the implications of the coronavirus in Africa. Watch: COVID-19 Pandemic in Africa

Africa Union Needs to Demand More

The communique released by the African Union on April 3, does not go far enough. The AU should be leading an all out effort to save lives in Africa and a full mobilization to build-up Africa’s weak healthcare infrastructure. Read: African Union: COVID-19

For more on COVID-19 read my two recent articles below.

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com