At the largely virtual Africa Day celebrations this year the current African Union Chair South African President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke of “a new Africa”.
So what will this “new Africa” he imagines actually look like?
President Ramaphosa believes the Covid-19 pandemic has started to create a unity that Africa aspires to but which has all so often proved elusive:
“Day by day, across our continent, we are seeing the unity that is our strength being put to the service of saving lives and supporting the vulnerable.”
In webinar after webinar there’s no doubt that many African business and political leaders share President Ramaphosa’s optimism. They sense this pandemic is a turning point to bringing about the change everyone on the continent is hungry to see.
While Africa hasn’t yet suffered the ravages of the Pandemic on the scale that has hit countries like Brazil, the UK and USA, the impact has still been devastating. In contrast to those countries African leaders saw the risk early and acted quickly. Within days of the first case being reported in Egypt African Union Chair Cyril Ramaphosa summoned a meeting of African Union leaders. He put his own South Africa into lockdown before a single death had been recorded and set up a forum where all Africa’s Health and Finance Ministers could meet each week in virtual conference to co-ordinate resources and intelligence with the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
President Ramaphosa also assembled an all-star team of senior Africa leaders like the former Head of the African Development Bank Donald Kaberuka and the former Nigerian Finance Chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to co-ordinate the battle with the pandemic and to come up with ideas for the post-Covid Africa.
One key component of their recovery plan is the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) to create the largest free trade area in the world and encourage African manufacturers to trade with their neighbours, develop industrialisation, and reduce the traditional dependency on imported goods. The ACFTA will create a single market of more than a billion people, worth three trillion dollars.
They will also solicit solutions from more than 600 Tech Innovation hubs across the continent. Africa’s digital revolution will emerge from these hubs, bringing new innovations in e-commerce, distance learning for schools and universities, and new opportunities in agribusiness and renewable energy.
The Covid-19 crisis has brought about the realisation that Africa has great opportunities in health care. Africa currently imports most of its ventilators, masks and personal protective equipment for its doctors and nurses along with almost 100% of its drugs and medicines to the tune of $15 billion a year. There are massive opportunities here for African companies to produce many of these materials themselves and develop local supply chains.
Undoubtedly Africa has taken Covid-19 very seriously and responded quickly – if President Ramaphosa’s “New Africa” is to become reality the challenge will be for this pan-African collaboration we’ve seen these past four months to be taken into the post-lockdown world and implemented.
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