Author: Sciences Po student Claire Riobé summarizes the debate session of the third edition of the Paris Peace Forum.
Debate title: Bolstering Africa’s response to Covid-19: How can joint African and international efforts defeat the pandemic and its side effects?
Date: 11 November 2020
In a one-hour conference moderated by Agence France Presse (AFP) Africa Director Boris Bachorz, four speakers took the floor and discussed a coordinated response to the Covid-19 crisis in Africa.
On 15 April 2020, as the African continent was being hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, 18 world leaders called for an urgent debt moratorium and the creation of a global health and economic aid program. The initiative argued for action in four areas: support for African health systems, support for research, economic support, and humanitarian aid. Seven months later, has this coordinated call made any difference? What concrete actions need to be implemented today to help the African continent withstand the multiple shocks caused by the Covid-19 crisis?
The debate is open, and the discussion, taking place online, begins. Louise Mushikiwabo, Secretary-General of the Organisation internationale de la francophonie (OIF), began by highlighting the exceptional resilience, creativity, and innovation shown by African countries during the pandemic. “As an African woman living in Europe, I was struck by Africa’s realistic approach to dealing with this crisis. Although the pandemic is still not entirely under our control, I was struck by Africans’ resilience and unwavering patience. I also witnessed people innovating, with very little means”.
Koen Doens, Director-General of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Partnerships (INTPA), reacted to this opening statement: “Before Covid-19, the African continent was vibrant, resilient, creative… in other words, a continent with which Europe wanted to redefine its relationship. And this is the Africa we witnessed during the crisis. Mr. Doens also reasserted Europe’s commitment to support Africa in its fight against the pandemic and to move forward in an equal partnership with the continent: “We would like to begin a new co-creative approach to build partnerships adapted to our future together“.
Among the topics discussed, the social and economic impact of the crisis on the African continent was a significant part of the conversation. While acknowledging the inequalities and dysfunctions that predate the pandemic on the continent, all speakers agreed that Covid-19 was a challenging episode for African countries’ economies. Tidjane Thiam, the African Union’s Special Envoy for Covid-9 response, mentioned the importance of closing the massive financial gap that most African countries face. The Ivorian banker also stressed the importance of including private lenders in the debt moratorium to allow African countries to free up sufficient financial space to relieve their citizens.
For his part, Mo Ibrahim, the Anglo-Sudanese entrepreneur and Founder and Chairman of the foundation that bears his name, reacted to his colleague’s remarks and shared his concerns about African debt. Mr. Ibrahim noted that Africa cannot continue to rely on raw materials exports and must now diversify its economy. Louise Mushikiwabo also considered this an important topic. She noted that “The distribution of money is an issue that will become central to the politics of many African countries in the months and years to come.”
Addressing the rest of the speakers with humor, Thiam was optimistic: “You know, I love football, and I can tell you: in the face of this pandemic, [the African continent] has played a good first half. Now we have to make sure we win the whole game.” To which Mo Ibrahim replied, “We need to be as careful as possible, because the second half of the game is going to be tough […]. We need to make sure that we consolidate the good work that African countries have done so far in dealing with the pandemic”.
The hour-long online discussion ultimately raised several perspectives regarding Africa’s response to the pandemic. Each speaker noted the importance of learning from this crisis and applying these lessons to future African policy. Ms. Mushikiwabo, Mr. Doens, Mr. Thiam, and Mr. Ibrahim also stated that no African country can isolate itself from the pandemic and that no citizen will be safe until everyone is safe.
By Claire Riobé