Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, April 30, 2020 (ECA) – The coronavirus crisis will not affect ongoing efforts to strengthen the relationship between Africa and the European Union, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Ms. Vera Songwe, said Wednesday.
Speaking during a webinar organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) on whether COVID-19 was threatening relations between the two continents, Ms. Songwe said the relationship between Europe and Africa could only get stronger.
“If there is something that this crisis has shown us, it is that as a global world we are alike, we are similar. It is a pandemic that knows no boundaries and knows no economic classification,” she said, adding reinforcing links between the two continents was good for both sides.
Ms. Songwe said while Africa was asking the EU and other partners for a two-year debt moratorium and a $100 billion stimulus package to inject liquidity into its economies, the continent was doing a lot by itself to fight the pandemic.
“There’s a lot of work on the continent by the continent to address this crisis,” she said, adding the Africa of today was not the same as the Africa of the 1970s and 1980s where 75 percent of its nations were classified as heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC).
“The continent today is a continent that has really developed. When there was HIPC 75 percent of African countries were low income. Today only 25 percent of African countries are low income. Our economic structure has changed fundamentally and the conversations we have must also change and align with this new Africa that has changed.”
Seventy-five percent of Africa’s middle income countries import some of their major needs from Europe.
“Let’s not forget that we were already connected and probably have to connect even more,” said Ms. Songwe, adding it was, however, sad to note that some 54 countries, including some in Europe, had closed their borders to the export of pharmaceutical and agricultural products leaving many African nations in the lurch.
“We cannot a build a joint society and a global society with that kind of a reaction. We need to come together and understand how we can create a balance to the demand. If we can keep these supply chains open, then maybe the need for additional support won’t be as huge.”
She also spoke about the importance of Africa investing in food storage to minimise post-harvest losses of staples which she said were exceptionally high.
Ms. Songwe said technology was also critically important to ensure the more than 20 million people who are expected to fall into poverty due to the coronavirus crisis are tracked and fed.
For his part, EESC President, Luca Jahier said; “We all know that no country nor continent can fight the coronavirus pandemic alone. Europe has undertaken but needs to fully implement a whatever it takes strategy for its sister continent too. Together we can find and build solutions that work for Africa and for Europe alike. Because in this crisis it is only by helping each other that we can help ourselves.”
“We have a keen interest to partner with Africa especially at this moment because what we are going to do in this moment will influence our future a great deal.”
Mr. Jahier noted that Africa's external debt was not completely in the hands of the Breton Woods institutions and other Western countries as China held around 40 percent of it.
“Reaching an agreement towards debt relief will not be easy and requires international negotiation,” he said.
Mr. Ranieri Sabatucci, the EU’S Ambassador to the African Union, was also on the webinar.
He said there’s support for the call on debt relief by the World Bank, the IMF and others for the most vulnerable countries “but this process needs to be transparent”.
Mr. Sabatucci said it was very difficult to predict the eventual evolution of the health crisis, adding focus should also be put on the economic crisis emanating from COVID-19.
“It is important to prepare ourselves that there is going to be a food crisis in the short term,” he said.
The European Commission last month proposed the basis for a new strategy with Africa through a document offering to strengthen EU-Africa cooperation through partnerships in five key areas: green transition; digital transformation; sustainable growth and jobs; peace and governance; migration and mobility.
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