The confluence of shocks – the cascading impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and severe natural disasters – have eroded Africa’s development gains, resulting in a staggering 149 million previously non-poor Africans now facing the risk of falling into poverty.
The growing number of new poor and vulnerable people is making it harder to close the gap between the rich and the poor. Moreover, Africa currently accounts for the largest share of the world’s poor. This inevitably has a far-reaching impact on achieving the sustainable development goals and the vision of the Africa we want.
The crisis, however daunting, presents an opportunity for the African ministers of finance, planning and economic development assembling in Addis Ababa from 15-21 March 2023, to make concerted efforts on providing concrete solutions. The theme, fostering recovery and transformation in Africa to reduce inequalities and vulnerabilities, should yield long term actions to move the continent forward on a path of prosperity.
Reducing cost of trade
First, there is need for real action on reducing the high cost of trade. This can ease the burden on access to affordable goods for poor, hard-hit households that are losing out on health, education, and meaningful opportunities.
It is also time to expedite the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA) as a powerful lever for poverty reduction. The AfCFTA’s promise cuts across all economic sectors, presenting a new pathway for broad-based growth. In the agri-food sector, which is critical to overcoming vulnerabilities associated with food insecurity for the over 300 million affected Africans, ECA estimates show that the sector will yield additional US$ 43.3 billion in trade revenue by 2045 if the agreement is expedited. Additional opportunities abound in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, vehicles and transport equipment, metals, and textile, apparel and leather products.
Climate action must be mainstreamed
Second, climate action must be mainstreamed in policy development and implementation. We are living through the devastating impact of climate events that have led to the migration and displacement of some 85 million people in the region. Increasing temperatures have already contributed to a reduction by a third in average agricultural productivity growth, while the continent’s 38 coastal countries are facing climate-related threats to their blue economies.
The climate crisis is not a fringe issue. It accentuates poverty through its impact on lives, livelihoods, and economies. Governments can finance development through innovative green financing, such as investing in nature-based sequestration which can provide up to 30% of the world’s sequestration needs. At 120 USD per tonne of carbon, up to US$ 82 billion per year can be mobilized from nature-based carbon credits in Africa.
Reforming the international financial architecture
Above all, moving the continent out of these crises will require resolving the fundamental flaws underpinning the international financial architecture and acting on lasting reforms. In the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “today’s poly-crises are compounding shocks on developing countries – in large part because of an unfair global financial system that is short-term, crisis-prone, and that further exacerbates inequalities.”
Reforming the system is key to reducing the shrinking fiscal space and allowing African countries to access affordable long-term financing with better lending terms by multilateral development banks, amidst increasing risks of debt distress. These funds are needed for a new cycle of sustainable growth and a reinvigorated business and innovation climate.
The funds are also required for meeting the most urgent needs of the poor, for instance, through social protection measures. In addition, debt service relief and restructuring for the worst hit poorer countries and the extension of the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) will also help create the fiscal space for the kind of urgent spending needed.
African ministers must turn up the volume in support of the Secretary-General’s advocacy for a modified G20 Common Framework for effective, fast-tracked, and broad-based debt restructuring. Furthermore, if multilateral development banks can expand the volume of lending, including concessional lending, it could be a game changer for struggling countries.
This can be achieved through increasing their capital bases, better leveraging of existing capital and implementing recommendations of the G20 Capital Adequacy Framework Review, and re-channelling Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) through MDBs. Moreover, as long as African countries remain in need of urgent resources, the Secretary-General’s SDG Stimulus will also require a new round of SDRs, resulting in high economic rates of return on sustainable development.
For millions of the previously non-poor and for the poor who face a future of chronic vulnerability, Africa’s policy makers can use this meeting, ahead of the World Bank / IMF Spring Meetings to tip the scales towards meaningful, long-lasting change.