‘SDGs achievable despite COVID-19’

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Africa may have lost some momentum on its quest to achieve the sustainable development goals by 2030 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic but the continent can fast track and get back on track, Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Executive Secretary Vera Songwe has said.

In a conversation with Zeinab Badawi during the Centres for Disease Control Annual Review 2019, Songwe much could be done through partnerships and collaboration to ensure Africa regains ground lost to COVID-19.

“We could have lost some momentum on 2030 but if we all come back together quickly, we may not have lost that much and we can use that as an opportunity to fast track a few things,” she said.

She shared initiatives being undertaken by ECA and its partners to help contain the pandemic, including the debt standstill call for all African nations, the Africa Communication and Information Platform for Health and Economic Action (ACIP), the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) pharma initiative, among others.

ACIP is a mobile based tool for two-way information and communication between citizens and governments. It furnishes national and regional COVID task forces with user-generated survey data and actionable health and economic insights that will enable authorities to better analyse pandemic-related problems and implement appropriate responses.

The AfCFTA-anchored Pharma Initiative is a pilot project that seeks to develop the capacity of African countries to ease the burden on their health systems through localized production of medicines, pooled procurement, and a harmonized regulatory and quality framework.

“We are beginning to use telecommunications more to provide information and we can use ACIP for digital ID down the road as well. These are huge investments in ICT that are going to be needed,” Songwe said, adding the CDC should invest in energy and ICT in Africa, besides shoring up existing businesses; ensuring more risk sharing, injecting liquidity and making payment moratoriums for firms they work with on the continent.

On the need to create a new sustainability and liquidity facility to cut borrowing costs for African governments, Songwe said: “I don’t think that Africa’s problem is the debt problem. Africa’s problem today is the liquidity problem. If we do not solve the liquidity problem, we will drop into solvency problems and from the debt cause other problems.

“When we talk about debt on the continent we always take it as something negative. You need to be able to borrow to be able to grow… the question is about the rate of return on the investment and this is where the question of getting cheaper rates comes in.”

She said Africa will grow faster and get people out of poverty faster with private investments at much cheaper rates, adding work was underway to attract a new kind of investor to the continent. – Economic Commission for Africa

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