Access to Covid-19 to vaccines will propel Africa’s recovery from its first recession in over two decades, World Trade Organisation director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said.
In the Africa’s Recovery Talk Series, It’s your turn, organised by UN Economic Commission for Africa this week, Okonjo-Iweala said vaccine inequity has seen Africa, Latin America and the Middle East recovering slower than economies in North America, Europe and many parts of Asia.
“Access to vaccines [on the continent] is very limited and everybody knows that the numbers are abysmal. Even though last month we had an increase of 1.1bn doses in the world 45% more than in May, those of them ended on the arms of people in developed countries,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
“We need to find a way to get adequate access to vaccines to our countries and we couple that with trying to implement fiscal stimulus. We have little fiscal space to be able to do it so let’s focus on getting the vaccines now. That is the first step to get us on the path of sustainable recovery.”
She said after the access to vaccine has been secured the continent can combine forces while what it has done on the pandemic. Okonjo-Iweala said an all Africa response showed the continent could act as one.
“We showed that we could act as one; many innovations were put in place: the Africa Vaccine Taskforce, the medical supplies platform, they appointed envoys to mobilise financing, and Africa CDC was put in place and strengthened. All this gave us the kind of leverage we needed to be able to dialogue with the rest of the world and I think it will result in more vaccines coming in the next few months,” she said.
“A continental approach is the first thing. Can you imagine if we can have an all Africa approach to adding value to our products, to investment on the continent? What if we say we want to develop a pharmaceutical industry from an African point of view, some countries manufacture inputs and others finish the product?”
Okonjo-Iweala said there is also need to encourage the youth and improve digital infrastructure as they are starting “amazing businesses” on the internet and the empowerment of women and micro medium and small enterprises could propel recovery and help financial inclusion. Over half of micro medium and small enterprises on the continent are run by women.
Okonjo-Iweala said there was need for a facility to bring down the price of bonds and improve the liquidity in a number of countries.
You [ECA] are trying to put in place a liquidity and sustainability facility, to get a repurchase market on the continent which we don’t have so that we have a way of increasing the demand for our sovereign bonds bringing down the price making liquidity available on the continent. Can you imagine if we had that, that will put additional resources into the pockets and revenues of our governments and that could help us drive prosperity?
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said women and youth are Africa’s biggest resource.
“50% of Africa’s population are women. For the US government this is how you drive prosperity on the continent. Their entrepreneurial spirit has to be nurtured,” she said.