Last week our continent celebrated Africa Day (May 25 2020). As the African Union chair, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa chaired a virtual meeting of African heads of states and declared: “The challenge of this pan- demic has shown how Africa is able to work together to solve its own problems. 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.”
While we celebrate our continent’s resilience and determination to go it alone, we have to acknowledge that we are no island. In this pandemic no country is self-sufficient; we need each other, and we need our international partners to help us to emerge from this pandemic.
The predictions about the economic and health impacts of Covid-19 on Africa are dismal. The global economic slowdown is disrupting supply chains and suppressing demand for African exports, which will impact tax revenues of governments. Fiscal shortfalls and increasing pressure on currencies will increase job losses, decrease foreign direct investment (FDI) and accelerate negative economic growth, with many of Africa’s young populations facing hunger, poverty and lost opportunities.
As African citizens, we can’t overcome these challenges alone. We need to collaborate as never before, and revive and consolidate the international connections that we have for the good of those in our communities.
As chair of the Southern Africa-Canada Chamber of Commerce (Sacancham), I recently participated in a webinar hosted from Toronto with multiple stakeholders from the private and public sector in Canada and across Africa. I was heartened by the urgency and conviction of this important international solidarity partner that is known for its impartiality, diplomacy and impeccable humanitarian track record.
Canadian Small Business, Exports and Trade Minister, Minister Mary Ng, discussed the role of the diaspora in deepening Canada-Africa trade and investment during this time while highlighting Africa’s essential place in Canada’s trade diversification. The country’s role as a respected broker on the continent was reiterated on the webinar, as it supports our ideal for The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) — which will be the largest free trade zone since the advent of the World Trade Organisation.
During the conference call, McKinsey also presented its report, Tackling Covid-19 in Africa: An unfolding health and economic crisis that demands bold action. The report warned that Africa’s GDP could be cut by three to eight percentage points in 2020. McKinsey’s report encourages us as African governments, private sector and development institutions to double down on our already proven resolve and significantly expand existing efforts to safeguard economies and livelihoods across Africa.
The report highlights the opportunity to take bolder, more creative steps to secure supply chains of essential products, contain the health crisis, maintain the stability of financial systems, help businesses survive the crisis, and support households’ economic welfare.
We can only double down if we work together. Now is the not the time for our leaders to be introverted, but to strengthen collaboration among ourselves, to tap into international partnerships and to get cracking on plans for our post-Covid economic recovery.
Africa and all her countries have an important role to play on the global stage. Former South African President Nelson Mandela was one of our recent pioneers that opened the eyes of the world to the Africa continent and and put us on a global stage. Mandela’s global appeal helped to rebuild South Africa after 1994 when the state coffers were decimated. There are many strong African leaders who could pick up the mantle of “Madiba magic” at this time, including Ramaphosa, who is currently serving as AU chair.
My appeal to all African citizens right now is to get bold, to get creative, to open up your post-1994 directories and tap into the networks of our solidarity partners so that we can provide immediate relief and start planning for our urgent, necessary recovery. Together as citizens and in partnership with international hands and our friends we can make good on our advances.
During a recent graduation ceremony in America, former President Barack Obama left graduates with the words that I think are applicable to all of us in this crisis: “Finally, build a community. No one does big things by themselves. Right now, when people are scared, it’s easy to be cynical and say, ‘Let me just look out for myself or my family or people who look or think or pray like me.’ But if we’re gonna get through these difficult times, if we’re gonna create a world where everybody has opportunities to find a job and afford college, if we’re gonna save the environment and defeat future pandemics, then we’re gonna have to do it together.”
There is much at stake and perhaps this pandemic is the jolt that we needed to strengthen intra-country collaboration and revive international friendships that have never had more purpose than now.
Greg Nott is the chairman of the Southern African-Canadian Business Chamber and sits on the board of the Nepad Business Foundation. He is a director of Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa and is the head of the Africa team based in Johannesburg. He is also the lawyer of Olympic athlete, Caster Semenya.