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European, African leaders call for massive help for Africa

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African officials have joined forces to appeal for billions of dollars in financial assistance

NEARLY 20 European and African leaders have made a joint appeal for a massive international effort to boost Africa’s coronavirus response, saying that “only a global victory that fully includes Africa can bring this pandemic to an end”.

The appeal signed by the leaders of France, Ethiopia, Germany, South Africa and other nations, published in the Financial Times, calls for dramatic measures that include an immediate moratorium on all debt payments, public and private, until the pandemic is over. It comes ahead of a meeting on Wednesday by finance ministers of the G20 forum on economic cooperation, which includes the US, China, India and others.

African officials have joined forces in recent days to appeal for billions of dollars in financial assistance and improve their position in the global competition with richer countries for badly needed medical equipment. The African Union appointed four special envoys to mobilise support and created a platform to help the continent’s 54 countries bulk-buy medical goods at more accessible prices.

While virus cases among Africa’s 1.3 billion people total more than 16 000, health experts have said the continent is weeks behind the US and Europe in the pandemic and the rise in cases looks alarmingly similar to Europe’s.

As the world braces for potential waves of the virus, the joint appeal says no region will be safe if Africa, with largely weak health systems, is left to fend for itself.

An “unprecedented effort” is required, the appeal says, directly addressing the World Bank and IMF. “We must deploy a huge economic stimulus package of at least $100 billion” to give Africa the resources it needs to fight the virus.

The IMF on Monday approved $500 million to cancel six months of debt payments for 25 of the world’s most impoverished countries, including 19 African ones, so they can help tackle the pandemic.

On Wednesday, the IMF said sub-Saharan Africa could see -1.6% growth this year, “the lowest level on record.” Recent strides in development could be reversed, it said, and “no country will be spared”.

Calls for assistance have been growing at the highest levels. In his Easter message, Pope Francis called for debt forgiveness for the world’s poorest countries, saying they are being hardest hit by the pandemic and must not be “abandoned”.

Africa’s debt-to-GDP ratio has climbed from 30% in 2012 to 95% today, said French President Emmanuel Macron in an interview posted on Wednesday with Radio France Internationale. “So we absolutely must help Africa to strengthen its capacities to respond to the health shock, and we must help it to respond economically to this crisis,” said Macron.

It is a moral, human duty, Macron added, also calling on China, a major lender to African nations, to help. 

Macron recently made a similar call at a video conference for G20 leaders. He’s also pushing for debt rescheduling and, in some cases, debt cancellation.

The UN Economic Commission for Africa has said the pandemic could seriously dent already stagnant growth in many countries, with oil-exporting nations like Nigeria and Angola losing up to $65 billion in revenue as prices fall. “Livelihoods will be wiped out in a way we have never seen before,” Ahunna Eziakonwa, the United Nations Development Program regional director for Africa, has said.

The new appeal, signed by all European leaders of the G20, welcomes a European Union plan for a pledging conference in May.

And as fears grow that resources to tackle other crises on the continent – from hunger to conflict to malaria and HIV – will be drained by the pandemic, the appeal urges humanitarian groups to protect their aid budgets.

Meanwhile, the World Food Program should lead an effort to deliver food and other critical needs to people, including refugees and migrants, in a growing number of African countries under lockdown, the appeal says. Millions of informal workers and others who rely on daily work for their next meal have been affected.

“No region can win the battle against Covid-19 alone,” the appeal says. “If it is not beaten in Africa, it will return to haunt us all.”

– AP