Changing Global Complexities Affecting Africa’s Performance Outlook, Says Ex-President Sirleaf

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Monrovia –  Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf says the world is witnessing increasing complexities and shifts in alliances amid the reordering of priorities in the wake of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.

Addressing the Annual Bruegel flagship event, which gathers high-level speakers to discuss the economic topics that affect Europe and the world, Madam Sirleaf said unexpected changes in the wake of the pandemic are changing and affecting Africa’s performance outlook.

The former Liberian President told the conference that the Covid-19 pandemic has slipped across the securities of countries’ borders to infect big and small counties alike. It is indiscriminate in its painful and crippling effects on lives and livelihoods. “The rich and the poor, the young and the old; the haves and the have nots; first worlds and third worlds; men, women and children; Christians, Muslims and worshippers of all religions; combatants on opposing sides of conflicts – all of us, everywhere, are experiencing the agonizing and collapsing effects of Covid- 19.”

Sirleaf said the Second World War witnessed a shift in world power and perception, removing Europe from the epicenter as the United States, Russia and now China and Asian nations have all risen to claim important roles and places in economic and political considerations.

Madam Sirleaf said the next century will prove to be more challenging for Europe as world powers including those that form the core of European Alliance are driving toward nationalism, populism and isolation with growing consequential threats to freedom, democracy and multilateralism. BREXIT is but one example.

The former President said the Europe of today could not have been what it is without Africa because Europe in effect, still relies heavily on Africa for raw minerals, and for cheaper production of goods. Even its advancement in technology relies on Africa’s resources. This is why she says it is important for Europe to find new ways to get to and remain at the forefront of innovation and technological development. “This means, it must compete with other areas of the world. Africa offers possible solutions which Europe should welcome and look to explore.”

In its 2019 Report the African Development Bank Group issued the following alarm, “On current trends, Africa remains off track to meet the target of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. Unless bold policy measures improve both the quality and quantity of growth, Africa would only meet the required 3 percent annual decline of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2045.”

Sirleaf said prior to the pandemic, Africa was on the rise but months later, the narrative is changing. “At the start of 2019, Africa was hailed as the rising continent. This dominant view was undisturbed by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and acts of terrorism in the Sahel. Decades of political and economic transformations moved Africa from the perception of a “big man” autocracy to improving conditions of participatory democracy resulting into changes in long-held perceptions.  Defined by the demographic dividends of a young and technologically-savvy population, Africa was regarded as the ‘young continent’ of the future.

“Ultimately, Covid-19 may best be seen not in the paralyzing effects on the global economy and that of Africa, but how the world responds to the call for a New World Order that strengthens the pillars of democratic governance, provide opportunities for women and youth, and make trade fairer. It will come to be determined in how we govern more justly, equitable and inclusively. In the end, as the scourge is global, it will come to be defined by how committed we became to strengthening the bonds of our humanity.”

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Former President, Republic of Liberia

According to the United Nation’s World Economic Situation and Prospects for 2019, Africa’s GDP was projected to increase slightly over the 3.2 percent of 2018 to 3.4 percent in 2019, and 3.7 percent in 2020. Four (4) of the ten (10) largest growth rates in the world were those of African countries with five (5) countries considered poised for rapidly-growing young economies and overall transformation.

Furthermore, Madam Sirleaf said, the Mo Ibrahim Index on Governance registered an overall continental score of close to 50 out of a possible 100. “Several countries exceeded the continental average, a testament to the growing expansion in the quality of democratic governance across a continent considered despotic in the past. Similarly, several African countries scored higher than the average 50 out of a possible 100 in Business Regulatory Environment and Absence of Restriction on Foreign Investment. This provided strong evidence of a move from public to private investments as the catalyst for economic growth.”

As an indication of demographic and global trends, the President told the conference that access to technology in Africa was growing at an astonishing pace with more than 440 million people having access to a mobile device, 230 million of which were smartphones. “This reach was expected to increase to 636 million by 2022. Such connectivity represents new opportunities for education, health and access to employment across the Continent and the global community. The introduction of an automatic fund transfer in Kenya revolutionized and improved the conduct of local trade and payment systems. This technological revolution is being replicated in other African countries.”

Madam Sirleaf said the year 2019 also brought attention to the need for Universal Health Coverage, a need accentuated by a Political Declaration of a High-level Meeting of world leaders,and  engendered a momentum to examine national health systems and the experiences including of the response to the Ebola epidemic. “Importantly also, this development drew attention to the invaluable role of healthcare workers in the architecture of resilient healthcare systems, particularly at the community level. “

Sirleaf said, that program, introduced in Liberia, as pilot for support of community healthcare workers, encouraged special attention for healthcare workers, and led to the mobilization of resources to both train and provide better pay and incentives for healthcare workers, especially those serving in rural communities.  “A successful evaluation of the program proposed extension to other countries, an initiative which is ongoing. However, to achieve the goal of sustainable Universal Health Coverage, much-needed resources will be required to both incentivize and counter an estimated shortfall of 18 million healthcare workers.”

The former Liberian President said, Africa’s progress was unarguably equally matched by challenges. “African youth, 75% of a population of 1.3 billion, faced a bleak future due to the effects of rising population and declining job opportunities. This, in turn, risks undermining the peace and stability that has prevailed in many African countries.”

In light of the growing focus on infrastructure to achieve regional cooperation and integration, Madam Sirleaf said many African countries have shifted national priorities and budgetary allocations from social services, education and health. Nevertheless she said, the shift is not without unintended consequences. “After years of neglect and or periods of instability, as is the reality for some African countries,  the quality of education and overall human capacity levels of many post-conflict and otherwise fragile countries,  to address health crises and respond to developmental challenges, are poor and inadequate.”

While asserting that Africa may be on course to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2045, the forecast is relevant because of the importance of the global eradication of poverty. “Despite this dire projection, Africa entered 2020 with the hope and promise of a resourceful continent – natural  endowments, strong institutions, youthful technocrats, an empowered civil society, and a common continental voice on international concerns.”

Former President Sirleaf said of the Africa 2063 projection, that the continent’s vision of itself, comprised targets that are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. “Africa 2063 provides collective aspirations that are included in national plans and development agendas with expected modifications for varying diversities and other distinguishing specificities that make up the rich tapestry that is Africa. At the same time, the ratified Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement and NEPAD provide useful instruments and platforms for the implementation of national agendas, policies and programs.”

While Africa has continued to depend on and look to international bilateral and multilateral partnerships to foster development, Sirleaf said, the determined goal is to deepen efforts toward breaking the chains of dependency, and fostering the continent’s development through sustainable self-efforts, and a proper management and protection of national assets.

Sirleaf stressed that her emphasis on the past tense of Africa’s potentials projections, is due in part to the challenges the  2020, Covid-19 presented the world, and Africa. “With a new reality, one we are yet to fully understand and determine. This pandemic presents multidimensional challenges globally, and risks the achievements of Africa’s development goals.”

As healthcare systems falter and collapse under the strains and stresses of COVID-19, Sirleaf averred that many African countries that have weak health systems and limited resources will be more severely impacted by the virus. “The disruption in supply chains are already exacting adverse impacts on domestic production. Balance of trades are affected as exports required to fund the imports for national consumptions are being streamlined or shutdown.”

The former President said from oil production to manufacturing and retail distribution,  previously thriving industries and businesses are withering under the effects of Covid-19 while giant economies are falling into recession as fragile states, especially those still trying to recover from the economic and social fallouts of Ebola, face even deeper challenges and adversities. “Economically-depressed communities, already overburdened unemployment and insecurities, are enduring even more job losses and reduction in incomes in desperate response measures. Many of these countries are trying desperately to resist human rights abuses, which they must, as they face the imposed conditions of isolation, contractions and restrictions in their ability to respond to the daunting challenges of Covid-19.”

Except for South Africa, Madam Sirleaf said, Africa appears to have managed the spread of the virus on account of timely measures, preventive policies and effective responses, and in some countries, due to experiences gleaned from successfully managing outbreaks such as Ebola.  “Africa is reporting 1,211,827 confirmed infections, which are predicted to increase on account of the reopening to normal conditions in many countries. However, for many African countries, the economic prospects in the next 2-3 years are dire. This is due to the decline in growth, debt sustainability, employment, domestic production and revenues. The prevailing global complexities, uncertainties, shifts in priorities, and leadership, only serve to worsen the already difficult situation.”

President Sirleaf suggested that the effective mitigating policies and determined actions can change this situation and put Africa back on track. “Of course, in this regard, the primary responsibility rests with African themselves – African leaders, civil society actors, entrepreneurs, and the African people. The absolute priority must be to bring Covid-19 to an end globally through the observance of appropriate response measures, and an outreach of needed support.”

For this to be accomplish, she said, leaders must ensure that economic stimulus is used to meet the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable in the society. “This support must also extend to small and medium-sized businesses that are the engines for job creation and income generation.”

Secondly, she suggested that partnership with the private sector must be adopted to ensure changes in policies that are aimed at stimulating growth. “This may require structural changes in policies such as shifting of economic services from state-owned enterprises with evidence of waste to more disciplined and accountable private-sector management. Moving services from the public to the private sector will spur innovation, entrepreneurship, competition, improvements in service-delivery, and increase accountability and transparency which are needed at a time of scarcity in available resources.”

Madam Sirleaf said the direct involvement of civil society and the people will be crucial in implementing the policies. “It will help to achieve public buy-ins and support for the successful and sustainable implementation of policies. More importantly, inclusion will guarantee peace and security of countries. All of these prescriptions are necessary, and yet, insufficient. To succeed, there must be transparency and accountable governance through legitimately democratic and responsible leadership. This quality of leadership, committed to policies of inclusion, is the key to unlock the door to enduring success.”

Nevertheless, Madam Sirleaf said, Africa cannot do it alone. In his letter to the G-8 on behalf of African Countries, President Nana Kufour-Addo said, “It is clear that the exigencies of the pandemic require substantial investment in strengthening health systems as well as funding stimulus packages.” I cannot agree more, and in this context, I join in the call for access to additional concessional financing through easing of restrictions on Special Drawing Rights. This will be critical to reducing Africa’s future debt burden and nullifying the need for infusion of fresh capital.”

Sirleaf said these measures relate largely to support through the International Monetary Fund. To put it bluntly, more will be required. “The World Bank, the European Union, international specialized institutions and bilateral programs will be needed in a fairer and more equitable manner so that small, poor and fragile states are not tragically left behind.

African-owned and resident institutions must be called upon to play major and leading roles in the recovery process. The continent’s premier financial institution, the African Development Bank, has been a growth catalyst through its 5 operational priorities, (Infrastructure, Energy, Technology, Integration and Governance). The AfDB must, therefore, also readjust and realign prevailing policies in the interest of equity for the lower income countries, while prioritizing support with specificity in alignments with national agendas. Departing from practices of the past, partnership support for capacity building and participation of Africa in non-governmental research and professional institutions, must seek to provide the resources and the opportunities that enable these national and or domestic institutions to develop into first class entities that can deliver competitive services and outstanding results. This will ensure the effective implementation and sustainability of national programs and projects. Simply put, the future of Africa must be driven by Africans.”

The former Liberian President says support for the African Center for Disease Control to join world scientists in the development of vaccines is key. Also key, she added is the support for the Africa Center for Economic Transformation to take the lead in support to African countries in their economic recovery efforts.

Madam Silreaf said the changes in global leadership, policies and politics may also have lasting political and economic effects on Africa. “Where these changes realign and offset priorities on multilateralism, freedom and democracy, they will correspondingly take on redound on Africa. After all, Africa is a member of the global community.  Global values and priorities understandably influence Africa’s values and priorities. These values and support have been critical for Africa’s performance to date, and are critical to defining future successes.”

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