By Charles Ike-Okoh
WED 26 MAY, 2021-theGBJournal-The conversation yesterday of African leading voices at a panel session discussion-the UBA Group Africa Conversation-has come at a moment it is most needed.
Ever since the coronavirus pandemic hit the African shores late 2019, the domestic and continent wide debate over how to quickly recover from the devastating impact of the crisis created by the pandemic has been dominated by the siren calls for ‘’sustainable and resilient’’ recovery.
Every country in the continent have dedicated to drawing up and implementing economic recovery programmes around the opportunities presented by the pandemic.
The host, Tony O. Elumelu, Philanthropist, Chairman of Heirs Holdings, Founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation and widely regarded as one of Africa’s most influential business leaders, heads a broad-based private sector organisations, and has worked tirelessly to string together partnerships with the public sector to build capacity, sustainability and resilience. He and his allies have spoken out against vaccine inequity as well. Still he and his allies face considerable challenge.
The UBA Group Africa Conversation-held also to commemorate the Africa Day-is therefore welcome.
The Rwandan President H.E Paul Kagame, opened the conversation. Unsurprisingly he touch based first with the need for partnerships.
‘’They are important,’’ he said, ‘’for example we are working with partners to build Africa’s vaccine manufacturing capacity. ‘’But we can also learn to invest much more of our budget in our national health systems. The private sector, of course, has a big role to play in this.’’
When we talk about the emergence of the new Africa, that means a continent that is confident in our ability to meet the needs of our people.
He hoped that next health crisis does not catch Africa unawares like the current coronavirus pandemic crisis.
The World Health Organisation Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in his opening remark spoke broadly on the impact of the pandemic and touched on the partnership built that gave birth to the COVAX Facility which has benefited many African countries.
‘’Although Africa has not yet seen the same scale of devastation from the COVID-19 pandemic as some other regions, the impact and scale has been profound for lives, livelihoods, our systems and economies,’’ he said.
According to WHO boss; ‘’our poor and vulnerable are hit the hardest. Africa has not escaped COVID-19 and we cannot let down our guards. What is happening now in many other parts of the world can also happen in our continent. With the support of COVAX, 47 countries in the African continent have started vaccinating however, the volumes of vaccines are nowhere near enough.’’
‘’So far Africa has administered just over 25 million doses or 1.5% of the global total. This is very tragic. We are working day in and day out to bring immediate solutions for the equitable distribution of vaccines doses. But it is clear that Africa cannot rely solely on imports of vaccines from the rest of the world. We must build that capacity not only for COVID-19 vaccines and for other vaccines and medical products. The cooperation of the private and public sectors will be essential in this effort.
I know that this is an area that President Kagame views very strongly about, and is working towards, taking concrete action. That involves working with the African Union (AU) to establish the African medicines agency. WHO will continue with its financial and technical support to establish the African Medicines Agency (AMA) and to build a strong regulatory institution for Africa.
More than anything else, the pandemic has demonstrated that health is not a luxury item but simply and outcome of development. It is a human right and prerequisite for social and economic development.’’
Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) spoke to the resilience of African youth and reflected on ‘’Africa day’’ means for the continent and its people.
‘’I will think, from my own part, that our youth is what we have. Youth is gold to us if we can mobilize our youth productively,’’ he said emphatically.
On the pandemic and the effort to recover, she said, she is very proud with what the continent has done so far in coming together as the leaders try to build a one Africa approach to the pandemic by building vaccines acquisition group, by building the medical supply platform, by bringing together the COVID-19 envoy of ‘’which I was privileged to be one,’’ she said to underscore the benefits of partnerships.
A strong advocate of vaccine equity, she let her emotion into the disproportionate supply of vaccines that has left much of the population of the continent unvaccinated.
‘’ The fact that we have vaccinated so little of our population is not acceptable,’’ she said to drum home her disappointment.
‘’But if we are to recover sustainably from this crisis, we have to correct the vaccine inequity that is so evident in the world today. That fact that Dr. Tedrous mentioned that we import 99% of our vaccine and 90% of our pharmaceuticals is not acceptable.’’
Still, it is worth remembering that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) just did an interesting study where they showed that of we spend $50 billion additional to vaccinate 40% of the world’s population by 2021 and up to 60% by 2022.
According to the WTO boss and former Nigerian Minister of Finance, ‘’we would be able to reverse this vaccine inequity and the world can actually gain $9 trillion more dollars by 2025. The numbers are staggering. Compare $50 billion to $9 trillion that we could make if we did this right. And we could collect an additional $1 trillion is taxes. So it is important for the world that this vaccine inequity is reversed and Africa benefits from it. We cannot recover sustainably without it. So, we have to fight for it, whether is by getting more vaccines in from outside production or by manufacturing our own and the WTO stands ready to do its bit to keep supply chains open.
When we reverse this inequity we will be able to create the type of platform and hope that will give our young ones among us epitomised by someone like Sola Akinlade, the founder of Paystack, who addressed presidents at the recent Paris Financing Africa Summit and showed the world that Africa and its youths can be part of the present and also a very important part of the future.’’
Makhtar Diop, IFC’s Managing Director, part of the panellists came forcefully in on building resilience and transforming the continent.
‘’Today is Africa Day and it came at a time of crisis so what it means for us is resilience at the face of adversity. When I talk to President Kagame, he will always challenge us. He used to say to one thing to me-the world is difficult, so what? Let us transform it, and I think this challenge is what brings us together. I think we have an opportunity to change the face of our continent,’’ he said.
According to Diop, ‘’We now have an opportunity to transform our continent. Transforming our continent means create jobs to create growth and to do that we strong SMEs- small scale enterprises, start-ups to employ the youths. We have an opportunity to do that. We can do that if we take advantage of what our community is doing to achieve free trade among Africans. We also need to restart our vaccine and pharmaceutical industries.’’
The UBA Group Africa Conversations was largely focused on Africa’s development in the areas of the economy and finance, trade, health and the unity of the continent. The event also celebrates the this year’s Africa Day in commemoration of African unity.
The Theme of the Conversation held virtually is ‘’Bringing Africa to the World’’.