Africa like many regions across the world had a turbulent 2020.

The COVID-19 crisis tossed the continent in several directions and threatened to sink many of its economies. While countries across the continent have managed to curb the spread of the virus and are working actively towards a vaccine rollout, the anxieties unleashed by the pandemic from the previous year still persist.

The region experienced its first recession in 25 years, threatening to upend decades of hard-won economic progress. According to the World Bank, economic activity contracted by 3.7 percent last year, and growth is forecasted to remain at an average pace of 3 percent between 2021 and 2022.

As the rest of the world gets jabs, Africa risks being left behind. This has severe ramifications for its debilitating economy and its already vulnerable 1.3 billion citizens. There is also an imminent risk that living standards will drop dramatically with millions of people being pushed into extreme poverty, erasing all the progress made in the past decade.

In Nigeria, the most populous nation on the continent, the decline in oil prices combined with the nationwide lockdown forced it into its second recession in 5 years with the economy shrinking by around 4.1 percent in 2020. However, Nigeria is slowly nursing its economy back to life. It recently came out of its recession in the fourth quarter as growth in the agriculture and telecommunications sector offset the drop in oil production and led to a weak 0.11% increase in GDP growth.

In South Africa, rising COVID-19 cases, low commodity prices, high unemployment, structural challenges and power cuts may worsen its economic position. For the rest of the continent, the picture that has been painted by economic forecasts and estimates is far from idyllic. The tourism and hospitality industry, which accounts for almost 18% of GDP and 25% of employment, in countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Seychelles, Mauritius, Comoros, Cabo Verde, and other island nations will slow growth. In West and Central Africa, the decline in growth is expected to be driven primarily by oil exporters whose economies will feel the impact of crumbling oil prices. In non-resource-intensive countries, such as Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, growth will be sluggish but will remain positive due to robust growth in the agricultural sector.

Despite the challenges that abound in the region, there are also opportunities that can be leveraged to steer the continent away from the brink and accelerate the rate of economic recovery. One of such opportunities is the commencement of trading under the AfCFTA on the 1st of January. The trading bloc has immense potential for the continent in terms of trade, employment generation, regional integration and industrialization. However, its success will largely be dependent on the ability of nations to harness their comparative advantage and foster mutually beneficial relationships.

Beyond the economic consequences, there are also social and political issues that have emerged in the past few months. While most of these occurrences, from #EndSARS to the Mali coup and the Ethiopia Tigray conflict have been looming long before the pandemic arrived, it is still a testament to the fact that a huge proportion of Africans are dissatisfied with the quality of governance and leadership or the lack thereof in their countries.

The chances of things returning to business as usual on the continent are slim. This pandemic deviated from the typical boom and bust cycle that global economies have become accustomed to over the past decades. It was a rude awakening for the entire world on the need to build robust systems and frameworks that can withstand an economic crisis of this magnitude.

This article explores what 2021 holds for the continent, with a focus on the priorities for governments, the challenges that may inhibit growth and the opportunities that can be harnessed to ensure that the region is on the right path to full economic rejuvenation.

Priorities

  1. Economic recovery

Recent vaccine approvals raised hopes of a speedier recovery across the world. But, in Africa, the chance of a vaccine-fuelled recovery is uncertain. Moreover, a second wave and a new strain of the virus could hinder expected progress and magnify the negative effects of the pandemic in the short, medium and long term.

Bouncing back from this economic shock is the number one priority of the continent. Nevertheless, what this would look like will vary across countries depending on demographic composition, fiscal strength, policy measures and macroeconomic fundamentals. The level of regional GDP in 2022 is expected to remain below the level forecasted in January 2020. The languid growth is a result of continuous outbreaks in several economies that have prevented the full resumption of economic activity, especially in service sectors such as hospitality and tourism.

The road to economic recovery is threatened by a liquidity crisis driven by COVID-19. African governments spent between 1 to 7% of their GDP in 2020 on stimulus packages and welfare programs. The financing gap in the region is also widening alarmingly – around $290 billion – which will put brakes on the recovery process. In the absence of external financial assistance, several countries will struggle to ensure macroeconomic stability and meet the essential needs of their people.

In 2021, growth will primarily be driven by an improvement in exports and commodity prices as the world economy rebounds, alongside a recovery in both private consumption and investment. It will also greatly depend on how quickly countries are able to vaccinate their population and stimulate economic activity, primarily in non-oil sectors.

To mobilize external support, African authorities must clear the air of uncertainty by committing to improved accountability and transparency frameworks. Several countries including South Africa, Chad, Kenya, Uganda and Cameroon amongst others have put in place mechanisms to monitor and evaluate COVID-19 related spending through independent audits of crisis-related spending and by making crisis-related procurement information publicly available. These measures will not only plug leakages in their economies but will also create a favorable environment to attract foreign investment.

2. COVID-19 vaccines, Africa’s best shot at a recovery

The next phase in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is vaccination. While Africa has been spared the health costs in comparison to other parts of the world, it has felt the economic and social impact of the pandemic. An effective vaccination strategy is pivotal in reconnecting Africa to the rest of the world and ensuring a smooth post-pandemic recovery.

However, it is not that simple. Africa faces the problem of affordability, availability and accessibility of vaccines.

Many African countries are cash-strapped. The fiscal capacity of African states has further been constrained by the pandemic, and as such financing vaccine procurement and delivery will be a herculean task. The continent will have to rely on COVAX, a co-financing vaccine procurement facility set up to ensure fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for lower-income countries across the world. This global effort is co-led by Gavi, the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). COVAX is expected to provide 88.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to 47 African countries. The COVID-19 vaccine should be available for use in Africa in mid-2021. Even so, it could take years to secure the requisite doses to immunise 60 per cent of the continent’s 1.3 billion people – which is the threshold for achieving herd immunity.

During the WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the 148th session of the Executive Board, he expressed that “More than 39 million doses of vaccine have now been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries. Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country. Not 25 million; not 25 thousand; just 25”.

These staggering figures have raised many valid concerns on vaccine nationalism and the moral obligation of developed countries when it comes to ensuring equity and fairness in vaccine availability and distribution. Africa might struggle to vaccinate its burgeoning population if the global north insists on this “my country first” approach.

While COVAX is a start, it is certainly not sufficient to meet the vaccination needs of the continent. Likewise, there are several impediments to wide-scale vaccine distribution. These include poor transport infrastructure and distribution systems, fragile health systems to effectively execute large-scale vaccination programs and insufficient cold storage systems to preserve the vaccines at the stipulated temperature. As such, each country will need to design its own vaccination prioritization and distribution strategy to fit its own reality and based on demographic composition and epidemiological data.

3. Climate change

Climate change is a hot topic globally. At the end of this year, world leaders are expected to come together in Europe to upgrade national climate plans under the Paris Agreement, reinforcing the urgency of the issue. It is even more heated in Africa as the region is predicted to face the disproportionate impacts of climate change and environmental degradation. Despite having the lowest carbon emissions and contributing the least to global warming, climate change poses a serious risk to African economies, infrastructure, water and food systems, public health, agriculture, and ultimately livelihoods.

In 2019, Africa was severely hit by extreme weather events such as Tropical Cyclones Idai and Kenneth which had far-reaching humanitarian and economic impacts. Countries in Southern Africa such as Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe were at the forefront of the crisis with around 3 million people being displaced. Drought-prone countries on the continent are also facing food insecurity as the number of undernourished people increased by 45.6% since 2012, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Climate change will significantly lower Africa’s GDP through channels such as reduced agricultural activity and labor productivity, lowered crop yields and human health costs. Estimates suggest that COVID-19 will cost the world economy up to 5% of GDP. Meanwhile, climate change in Africa is already costing most of the continent’s economies between 3% and 5% of GDP annually with some countries experiencing losses of up to 10% of GDP. This highlights that climate change poses a far greater risk to lives and livelihoods than the COVID-19 pandemic thus far and as such both issues should be treated with the utmost priority.

Climate change also has implications for health on the continent. Africa has a high burden of climate-sensitive diseases and low preparedness and response capacity at the institutional and community levels. The rise in temperatures combined with changes in rainfall patterns will amplify the transmission of infectious disease across the continent by creating an enabling environment for diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and yellow fever to thrive.

The alarm bells of an impending global pandemic have been ringing for several years but, very few paid attention. Climate change is one of the most defining problems of our time and should be adequately addressed as such before it snowballs into a bigger issue akin to the current pandemic we are currently facing. For African countries, attending conferences at Davos and signing agreements is not enough. There needs to be a feasible action plan to ensure mitigation and adaptation at a communal, national and regional level. In the journey towards a post-covid society, climate change should be prioritised to ensure that we meet the needs of both people and the planet.

4. The Fourth industrial revolution

The world is on the brink of a fourth industrial revolution which is characterized by technological breakthroughs such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, quantum computing and so on. The 4IR is expected to raise global income levels and improve the standard of living for populations around the world. For example, AI, the Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain technology can improve data gathering frameworks and analysis which will drive evidence-based and data-driven policymaking at all levels of governance.

In the past few months, the pandemic has emphasised the importance of technology and digitization. Social distancing and lockdown measures forced individuals, firms and nations to reconfigure the way they live, work, learn, relate with one another and even govern. This paradigm shift, fostering what is now popularly termed as the “new normal”, will accelerate efforts towards technological advancement across the world, but Africa risks being left behind again.

Across the various indicators, infrastructure, education and technology access that are necessary for the 4IR, the continent is struggling. Electricity is still epileptic across many countries on the continent, internet penetration is low and data costs are increasingly high. Most of the growth in the continent’s ICT sector has been spearheaded by expanding mobile digital financial services in countries like Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda. In 2017, Africa only used about 1 percent of the world’s total international Internet bandwidth and the percentage of individuals using the internet in the region was 28.2%, in comparison to the global average of 53.6% in 2019.

Moving beyond current models of innovation, entrepreneurship, and digital growth on the continent is imperative. The 4IR has benefits for several sectors including agriculture, healthcare, education and financial services.

The primary challenge for the continent is addressing the infrastructural gaps that will stymie the 4IR and adequately equip its predominantly youthful population with the knowledge and skills to thrive in the emerging new world of work. African governments need to reboot their system and get to work so they do not miss out on this unique opportunity to radically transform their economies. The private sector must also be a part of this agenda as they will attract investment, provide technical expertise and foster transparency and accountability.

5. Gender equality

Consider the story of Nefisat, a young girl attending secondary school in a rural village in the Northern region of Nigeria. The pandemic arrives, forcing schools across the country to shut down and students like Nefisat to stay at home. Unlike her peers in private schools in urban areas who have access to e-learning materials, Nefisat does not own a laptop, mobile phone and has no access to the internet. She spends most of her days at home caring for her extended family and taking on additional domestic work. A few weeks later, her father loses his job at the community center where he works as a security guard and is forced to start farming to ensure that his household of ten has food on the table. After several months of hardship, a suitor comes knocking and he decides to marry Nefisat and her sister off to ease the financial burden. In the blink of an eye, Nefisat becomes a child bride and her aspirations of going to medical school shattered. For every girl like Nefisat, there are many more across the region who have been stripped of their education and economic opportunity as a result of the pandemic.

While most people’s lives and work have been negatively affected by COVID-19, women will feel the adverse impact on both their lives and livelihoods. The magnitude of the inequality is profound and could potentially reverse the milestones achieved over the years towards improving gender equality and human development in Africa.

Women makeup 65% of the health workforce in Africa and are putting their lives at risk in the front lines; making them more vulnerable to infections and death. Furthermore, as a result of the increasing pressure on health systems, access to essential services such as contraception, abortion, maternal health, menstrual hygiene products and services have declined.

Women in the continent already bear the brunt of unpaid and low-paid care work. However, the burden of household tasks will increase with more people staying at home due to school closures and lockdown measures. Women will also suffer from widespread job cuts, as around 70 – 80% of African women mostly work in the volatile informal sector.

At the peak of the lockdown last year, more than 120 million school girls were at home. During that period
numerous reports of child abuse, exploitation, domestic violence and child marriage were reported. Anecdotal evidence identifies a surge in calls to domestic violence hotlines across several countries. Many women and girls were stuck at home with their abusers and had limited access to protection services and social support. For example, South Africa which is infamous for its high rate of sexual abuse and assault on women reported 87,000 cases of gender-based violence in its first week of lockdown. 

In terms of education, girls are more likely to drop out of school to look for jobs or get married and support their families due to the increased economic hardship triggered by the pandemic. Thinking back to Liberia’s encounter during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, when schools reopened girls’ enrolment failed to return to pre-crisis levels, 8 out of 100 girls were out of school before the epidemic and this number skyrocketed to 21 in 2017. History might repeat itself across several countries if the appropriate policies are not enacted to ensure that girls return to the classroom.

Africa still has a long way to go in achieving gender parity. For the most part, cultural practices, religion and societal norms still shape the future of many young girls today. The pandemic highlights the stark inequality that exists between men and women, especially in the precarious labour market. Governments must consider gender dynamics, roles and responsibilities when drafting responses to tackle the pandemic. Likewise, women must be at the forefront of policymaking to guarantee that their needs and interests are adequately represented in any post-pandemic recovery plan.

Challenges

  1. Debt management

Debt has been rising on the continent and the pandemic will aggravate the situation. Over the past few years, many African countries have increased borrowing and capital expenditure to fund ambitious infrastructure projects particularly in the power and transport industries in a bid to address severe infrastructural deficits and serve the needs of its rapidly growing population.

The unexpected costs of procuring vaccines and expanding welfare programs incurred by governments due to the pandemic have widened fiscal deficits which is translating into increasing debt and debt distress. As such, debt management and forgiveness will be at the top of the agenda for several countries this year.

Between 2010 and 2018, the average public debt increased from 40 to 59% of GDP, thus, making sub-Saharan Africa the fastest-growing debt accumulation continent in comparison to other developing regions. Equally, oil-exporting and heavily indebted poor countries (HIPCs) such as Cameroon, Angola, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Chad were at the frontline of the impending debt crisis. 

Last year Zambia became the first African country to default on its debt since the pandemic started with its debt to GDP ratio at 120%. Based on IMF recommendations, African countries are expected to keep their debts below 55% of GDP. The World Bank projects that average sub-Saharan African debt will hit a peak of 67.4% of GDP in 2021.

The looming debt overhang could potentially stifle investment and economic growth for years. This has prompted international lenders across the world to intervene and adopt steps that will lower unsustainable debt stocks for the poorest countries. Last April, the World Bank’s development committee and G20 finance ministers endorsed the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) which includes 40 African least developed countries (LDCs). Private creditors are also participating in the initiative on comparable terms.

Since its inception on May 1, 2020, the initiative has provided about $5 billion in relief to more than 40 eligible countries. The suspension period initially set to end on December 31, 2020, has been extended to June 2021. In January, Chad became the first country in Africa to request for relief under the DSSI as it faces a liquidity crisis prompted by a high debt burden and shrinking revenue base. Two days later, Ethiopia sent an application. Zambia joined the list shortly after.

Although these channels for debt relief and debt suspension are necessary to ease the burden in the region’s fiscal space, there are strings attached. African governments face a conundrum because if their private debt is restructured, they risk being downgraded by rating agencies like Moody’s or Fitch, which will make it painfully difficult for them to borrow in the future and deter future investments.

The rising debt level on the continent is a source of concern for borrowers, lenders and the wider international community. African Finance Ministers have their work cut out for them over the next few years. Strategies and initiatives to manage debt growth and reshape the public debt profile will be pivotal in ensuring that the scars from the pandemic are not permanent. Even so, debt must be used in productive expenditure and revenue-generating activities that raise productivity, create jobs and increase economic output.

2. Political instability

From the Horn to the Sahel, political instability is one of the many factors that has contributed to economic stagnation and lacklustre development in Africa. Historically, corruption, ethnic tension, marginalization and resource struggle have been the key drivers of conflict in the region.

The contractionary effects of the COVID-19 pandemic including lower economic activity, unemployment, growing poverty and lack of welfare programs on the continent might trigger demands for social intervention by citizens. We also expect a continuity of popular protests and trending hashtags in countries such as Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire and Uganda, as seen in 2020.

In 2021, at least 18 African countries are expected to go to the polls. This is occurring amidst a second wave of the pandemic, a new strain of the virus and ongoing political conflict in places like Chad, Ethiopia, Libya, Niger and Somalia. In adherence to social distancing protocols, campaigning strategies will have to adopt a different approach, moving from the streets to social media. While this is necessary to curtail the spread of the virus and foster widespread participation, there are also implications for press freedom and individual liberties which have been historically abused by aging leaders on the continent. A flashback to what happened to Bobi Wine in Uganda last month does not offer much hope.  

The political and governance challenges in Africa are dismaying, but not insurmountable and tackling them is pivotal to ensuring a seamless post-pandemic recovery. African citizens and leaders must be vigilant to ensure that the pandemic does not become an excuse to indefinitely postpone elections for political advantage and enforce authoritarian and anti-democratic measures under the guise of public health. 

3. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

The SDGs, also known as the Global Goals, are 17 time-bound targets across key sectors such as healthcare, education, employment, energy, infrastructure, and the environment. These interlinked goals serve as a blueprint for poverty reduction, improved welfare and inclusive economic growth.

African governments have made significant efforts to endorse the SDGs and infuse them into national strategies and development plans, nonetheless, there is still so much to be done. The task of achieving the SDGs will be even more daunting with an ongoing global pandemic that has deep-reaching humanitarian and economic impacts. According to the 2020 SDG Index and Dashboards Report, North Africa is the best-performing region on average, while Central Africa is the worst-performing.

The pandemic will have both short and long-term impacts across the SDGs.

The short-term impact is on human welfare (SDG 3), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), food security (SDG 2), and poverty (SDG 1). There has also been an impact on (SDG 4) and (SDG 5). But it is not all bad news. The environment has been doing better as a result of the decline in economic and industrial activities across the world. Climate action (SDG 13) has benefited from a drop in global carbon emissions and (SDG 11) from decreased air pollution.

While COVID-19 will hinder the capacity of African nations to successfully deliver sustainable development, the SDGs can also serve as a framework for protecting lives and livelihoods both in the short and long term. It presents an opportunity to design better-coordinated responses between different stakeholders and achieve the agenda of “leaving no one behind” by 2030. To achieve the SDGs in Africa, leaders must abandon the “one size fits all” approach and tailor solutions to fit current realities. This could be through strengthening implementation capacity across all levels, promoting national ownership and domestication of the goals, improving statistical capacity, installing monitoring mechanisms and ensuring adequate resource mobilization.

4. Health

The COVID-19 pandemic shifted the attention of the public health sector away from other diseases raging the continent. The disruption in healthcare services alongside the diversion of resources to combat the pandemic has left many people with chronic illnesses helpless.

Recent Ebola outbreaks in countries like Guinea constitute a challenge for the continent and could be catastrophic if not managed properly. Also, tropical diseases like malaria have not taken a break and are still killing thousands. This is likely to intensify in 2021 as both financial and human resources are prioritized for managing the pandemic.

During the 2014 Ebola crisis in West Africa, diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS led to a surge in more deaths than Ebola because the epidemic disrupted local health care systems. We are already witnessing a similar trend with the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the WHO, in 2020, measles campaigns were suspended in 27 countries and polio campaigns were paused in 38 countries, exposing at least 80 million children under the age of one to measles and polio. Additionally, a 25% disruption in access to effective antimalarial treatment in sub-Saharan Africa could lead to 46,000 additional deaths, a WHO report suggests.

We cannot choose between saving lives from COVID-19 versus saving lives from other diseases. The continent must do both. Health officials and institutions urgently need to contain the pandemic while also ensuring that their focus on COVID-19 does not lead to an increase in co-morbidity, such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis-related deaths.

Opportunities

  1. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA)

After several years of planning, deliberation and negotiation, trading under the AfCFTA commenced on the 1st of January 2021.

Intra-African trade is one of the lowest worldwide (15%). This figure is particularly perplexing, especially when compared to Europe (70%), North America (55%) and Asia (45%). Furthermore, Intra-African trade costs are 50% higher than in East Asia (the highest intra-regional cost in developing regions). Thus, the emergence of this agreement is vital to foster trade relations in the continent. The economic benefits of the agreement are captured in the figure below.

The implementation of the AfCFTA is expected to improve the welfare of Africans, GDP, and boost intra-African trade. It is also expected to promote industrialization, create productive employment, and raise the continent’s competitiveness on the global stage. The agreement will further encourage female empowerment and gender parity efforts by improving the access of women to trade opportunities. As we know, women make up a significant share of informal traders – around 70 percent to 80 percent in some countries, so this pact has immense transformative potential. In the words of Wamkele Mene, “This is not just a trade agreement, this is our hope for Africa to be lifted up from poverty”.

2. China-Africa relations

For the past 31 years, China has maintained a tradition of sending its Foreign Minister to Africa for his first trip of the new year. Even amidst a global pandemic that has prevented travel across the world, China still showed up for a five-country tour to Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Botswana, Tanzania, and Seychelles. This act in itself is a symbol of the strong relationship that has been built between Beijing and the continent over the past decades.

Diplomatic trips aside, the political and economic relations between China and Africa have grown exponentially with trade volumes increasing from about $11 billion in 2000 to $192 billion in 2019. In 2019, the largest exporter to China from Africa was Angola, followed by South Africa and The Republic of Congo. Likewise, in the same year, Nigeria was the largest buyer of Chinese goods, followed by South Africa and Egypt. China is also the biggest provider of financial support for infrastructure projects on the continent.

In 2021, China-Africa relations will be dominated by health diplomacy and economic recovery. With a COVID-19 vaccine well underway, African governments will urge China’s state-owned pharmaceutical group SinoPharm to provide an affordable vaccine alternative for its citizens. Even so, it could be a double-edged sword. If the SinoPharm vaccine proves to be successful, China will be lauded. But, if the vaccine is ineffective or has severe health effects, it could damage China’s already fragile reputation on the continent.

Conversations on stimulating economic growth will also be at the forefront of China-Africa relations in the coming year. Although, what this would look like remains vague. It could take the form of infrastructure projects, refinancing existing deals, debt forgiveness and health diplomacy. The triennial 2021 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) is expected to take place in Dakar, Senegal, sometime this year, either virtually or in person. This will be an important milestone and an opportunity for both parties to solidify their commitment to charting a path towards a post-pandemic economic recovery.

In spite of the longstanding camaraderie between China and the continent, China’s ballooning influence on the continent has been a topic of widespread scrutiny and debate, particularly in regard to its impact on economic development and institutional reform in African countries. This is because China’s financial support for Africa is often in the form of long-term loans rather than grants, fuelling a “debt trap” that China may take advantage of if African countries are unable to pay back.

Of course, this is all speculative and despite the understandable skepticism, China is an important part of the continent’s future. Since the early 2000s, Chinese government aid, investments and infrastructure loans have facilitated infrastructural development, increased productivity, bolstered economic growth and raised living standards in many African nations. The charge, however, is on African leaders to ensure that it is a mutually beneficial relationship that does not compromise the autonomy, resources and political stability of the continent.

3. US-Africa relations

With Trump out of the White House, US-Africa relations would look quite different moving forward. But what exactly does this entail?

The Biden-Harris campaign listed a set of objectives for Africa policy across areas such as immigration, health, education and the economy. The core objectives of the administration include promoting and preserving democratic systems, fostering diplomatic relations, encouraging diversity and inclusion and youth leadership development via the YALI programme amongst other things. Also, former Obama administration officials who worked on the continent are likely to return to help President Biden achieve his ambitions. So, it is possible that US-Africa relations would look very similar to the Obama administration which was characterized by a robust US presence on the continent.

Biden is also competing with Beijing. The East Asian country has deepened economic and diplomatic ties with the continent while the US lagged behind during the Trump era.

China is currently Africa’s largest trade partner and the largest bilateral lender to several African countries, creating an asymmetric power dynamic with room for aid-dependency and in extreme cases, neo-colonialism. China has also strengthened Sino-African educational ties surpassing the United States and the United Kingdom. More recently, in a time where countries are practicing vaccine nationalism, Xi Jinping has committed to supporting African countries with priority access to a successful COVID-19 vaccine developed in China.

While China, Europe, and the United States have deepened their connection with Africa over the last decade, the next decade is going to look quite different. Other major players such as India, Russia, and key actors in the Middle East have seen potential in the continent and are already making their intentions known.

Ultimately, it does not matter who is in charge at Washington DC, the onus is on African leaders and heads of states to foster economic growth and development in the continent. As President Obama rightly said, “we must start from the simple premise that Africa’s future is up to Africans”.

In conclusion, Africa should not waste a good crisis.

The path to a robust and resilient recovery would not be easy but is absolutely necessary to move forward and secure an inclusive and prosperous future for all. Growth in the region is not expected to return to 2019 levels until 2022. For some of its largest economies including Nigeria, South Africa and Angola, real GDP will not return to pre-crisis levels until 2023 or 2024.

Despite the bleak outlook, COVID-19 also presents opportunities for the continent to build back better. The goal of African governments should be to finetune strategies and strike a balance between the various policy objectives they intend to achieve. This entails prioritizing the economy, healthcare, education, political stability, governance, and so on. Furthermore, structural and governance reforms must occur to strengthen resilience, adapt and mitigate the impact of climate change, improve the ease of doing business, improve the rule of law, strengthen governance and enhance development outcomes at community and national levels.

With fewer resources at their disposal, African policymakers will face some difficult choices in the year ahead. A tighter fiscal space driven by rising debt levels, shrinking revenues and significant financing gaps implies that Africa may struggle to adequately address the needs of its people. But it is not an impossible task, with the right tools, people and policy, the continent’s economic health will recuperate in no time.

Thank you for reading,

Stephannie


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