Africa’s post-Covid economic recovery will be an uphill battle

South Africans waiting in a queue to receive food aid near Laudium suburb in Pretoria, South Africa, May 20, 2020.
South Africans waiting in a queue to receive food aid near Laudium suburb in Pretoria, South Africa, May 20, 2020.
Image: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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It is said that Sundiata Keita, the founder of the Malian empire, first walked at the age of seven. After this he went on to become one of the world’s greatest warriors and the founder of an empire whose progressiveness, reach, and might would astound poets, writers, travelers, historians, and archaeologists for centuries to come.

A recent IMF report suggests that Africa will require Sundiata-esque grace to rise up and leap(frog?) into the global economy. The predictions are bleak. The global economy is projected to grow 6% in 2021. This year, sub-Saharan Africa will grow at only 3.5% up from 2020’s figure of -1.8% while the US, UK, and emerging and developing Asia will grow at 7%, 7%, and 7.5% respectively.

The IMF outlines three key priorities for the world’s post-Covid-19 recovery: Curbing the acute effects of the pandemic especially through vaccinations; fiscal and monetary measures to jumpstart growth sectors; and investing in the future by lowering carbon dependence and increasing digitalization.

In all of these areas, the continent’s outlook is not promising. When it comes to the pandemic, a deadly cocktail of vaccine nationalism, restrictive patents, and limited vaccine manufacturing infrastructure has left the continent with just over 1% of its population fully vaccinated.

In terms of monetary and fiscal policies, though some governments did initially try to cushion citizens with social and economic safety nets in the earlier stages of the pandemic, those have mostly stalled or been discontinued as the pandemic drags on. Citizens have found themselves battling a third wave, but being further downtrodden by rising unemployment, food inflation, and increased taxes. This is even before looking at countries where many are skeptical about loans obtained in the name of fighting Covid-19.

Given the more urgent priorities of combating the virus and its devastating socioeconomic effects, the IMF’s third level of measures have only been implemented insofar as they aid the continent in dealing with those first two areas.

We can only hope that when this chapter of Africa’s story is chronicled, it will be in the form of a brief footnote, a la Sundiata’s first seven years, before delving into the following chapter, that of Africa’s eventual rise.

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