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COVID’s Aftershocks: Can Africa help fix a broken system?


A roundup of the latest news, stats, and analysis of COVID-19’s impact in Africa. View our data tracker and sign up for our weekly newsletter. This week, we look at progress on a malaria vaccine, the not-so-good records broken at the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings, Africa’s role in a new vision of global finance, and more.

Top news

Default tip of the iceberg: Hunger and blackouts are the immediate symptoms of global economic fallouts, which will see growth stall at 3.6% in 2022 and reach 4% in 2023. Sri Lanka is already in debt default, and Bloomberg analysis suggests Turkey and Egypt could be next in line, potentially followed by Tunisia, Ghana, and Ethiopia. Meanwhile, governments should be wary of rising food prices, which – when combined with inappropriate government responses or corruption – have triggered a number of food riots in the past two decades. Meanwhile, a blame game appears to be playing out at the highest levels. Russia is working hard to embed a narrative that food security challenges are caused by western sanctions on Russia rather than its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine

Finance chiefs walkout: In a historical first, no communiqué was released following several key meetings at last week’s World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings, including a G20 finance ministerial meeting. A stunt usually reserved for radical activists was staged by finance ministers last week, as they walked out when Russia started to speak during their ministerial meeting.

Time for new rules: At the meetings, the African constituencies called (again) for the IMF Board to add a sub-Saharan African chair. This is part of a broader agenda for a “new Bretton Woods” – a restructuring and reimagining of the 1944 conference that paved the way for the creation of the World Bank and IMF. UN Under-Secretary Vera Songwe joined the call for increased African leadership roles, and asked for more “velocity and volume in financial flows” – i.e., more SDRs and more efficient mechanisms to recycle and access them. Hear! Hear!

If it’s broken…fix it: At the Spring Meetings, China committed to join the creditor committee that’s restructuring Zambia’s debt. It’s a big step forward for Zambia. The country has waited a year and a half for official creditors to form a negotiating committee under the G20’s Common Framework to start restructuring as much as $17.3 billion of its external debt. None of the three countries that have applied to the Common Framework have reached an agreement to date. It leaves those countries in limbo and other indebted countries hesitant to apply. If it’s broken…

Hidden win: 12 countries pledged a historic $40 billion in SDRs to the Resilience and Sustainability Trust, which aims to help countries prepare for climate change and future pandemics. That’s $5 billion short of the IMF’s target, but still represents notable progress. Belgium also signaled its intent to add to the pledge. In total, $60 billion has now been pledged in SDRs against the G20’s $100 billion target, with Saudi Arabia pledging a record 66% of the allocation it received from the IMF in August. In a plot twist, Saudi Arabia allocated most of these to Egypt, which is facing major challenges given its dependence on Russia and Ukraine for wheat. But that also means the host of this year’s COP Climate conference is in the pocket of a Petrostate.

Block-chained: The Central African Republic became the second country globally to approve Bitcoin as legal tender. Just 11.4% of people in CAR have access to the internet, which is necessary to buy, sell, and exchange Bitcoin. Lawmakers approved the move unanimously, with leadership saying it puts CAR “on the map of the world’s boldest and most visionary countries.” Detractors, including the IMF and opposition in CAR, warn of Bitcoin’s volatility; its value has historically dropped by 30% in just one day. CAR also has significant ties to Russia, causing suspicion that the move could fit into a wider geopolitical power play as the country seeks to loosen ties with France – its former colonizer that instigated the currency used by CAR and other West African countries.

A tale of two vaccines: It’s World Immunization Week, and a new malaria vaccine nearing the finish line could save tens of thousands of lives annually. Malaria kills nearly one child every minute, amounting to almost 700,000 deaths in 2020 alone. Paradoxically, this long-awaited, life-changing advancement comes as COVID-19 vaccines are in oversupply, but vaccine inequality persists. Just 16% of people living in Africa are fully vaccinated. That falls to less than 13% for people in low-income countries. Ghana has launched a renewed vaccination campaign, but distribution remains a challenge. Meanwhile, cases are on the rise again in South Africa: positivity rates rose for the sixth consecutive day to just over 17%. Aaannd drumroll… Pfizer has been accused of blocking buyers from sharing the price of their coveted COVID-19 antivirals, allegedly pressuring UNICEF to sign non-disclosure documents.

Damned if you do: With health inequality on the rise, there are growing calls for a shift away from focusing on one disease at a time. Concerted efforts to tackle COVID-19 have contributed to diminished investments against other diseases since the start of the pandemic. Deaths from malaria and tuberculosis increased in 2020, and HIV testing fell by 22%. While some experts are calling for a renewed focus on COVID-19 immunization efforts in countries with low vaccination rates, others advocates are preparing for the next pandemic. Governments reliant on donor health funding are caught in the middle, worried that the attention and resources they’ve received during the pandemic could disappear as the rest of the world moves on from the pandemic. Consider this your weekly reminder that the pandemic isn’t over.

The Big Bug Bang: The world’s insects are facing a double, compounding existential threat from habitat loss and climate change. A new study found a 63% decline in insect numbers for climate-stressed farmland areas with habitat loss. And while agriculture is a driver of climate change, it is also heavily affected by it. Africa has already seen a 40% productivity growth loss in agriculture due to climate change. Given that 87% of crops depend on insects to survive, less buzz is not a good thing. Experts are blaming climate change for South Africa’s recent historic deluge, which delivered nearly a year’s rainfall in 48 hours, killing around 450 people. President Ramaphosa said now is the time to act on climate change – though the country is heavily dependent on burning coal for energy.

Tag and Trace: A major international body established to protect against child labor and militia profiteering in rare mineral mining has been accused of laundering tainted ore from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The International Tin Supply Chain Initiative (ITSCI) tags and traces tantalum, tin, and tungsten (3T) to safeguard their supply chains. But minerals obtained from validated mines in one region amounted to less than 20% of the nearly 83 tons of 3T minerals tagged there – signaling that it likely absorbed 66.4 tons of minerals obtained unscrupulously. These minerals are needed for the green energy transition.

More reads

  • An oil company PR firm coined the term “carbon footprint.” Yeah, it matters. (Mashable)
  • What a new oil refinery could mean for Nigeria. (Bloomberg)
  • The division of the world was laid bare at the Spring Meetings. (Devex)
  • The drive to vaccinate the world against COVID is losing steam. (The New York Times)

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