Wealthy countries failing Africa during pandemic, presidents say

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Wealthy countries are failing Africa, with pledges of financial support and debt relief falling well short of the continent’s needs as it battles the COVID-19 pandemic, several African presidents said on Tuesday.

Developed economies have channelled trillions of dollars into health initiatives and economic stimulus at home. But the presidents – from Kenya, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Niger – said they could not afford such measures in their own countries.

“We’re not in a position to protect companies, to preserve jobs. There’s an injustice that is again being exposed by COVID-19,” Senegal’s President Macky Sall said during a virtual roundtable organised by the New York Forum Institute think-tank.

While Africa, with a limited capacity to test, has recorded just a fraction of the world’s coronavirus cases, it has been hit hard by the economic fallout from global trade disruptions, falling oil and commodities prices and the lockdowns deployed to fight the disease’s spread.

Africa has called for a $100 billion stimulus package from wealthy nations, forgiveness of bilateral debt and a suspension of private debt service.

“More must be done,” said Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, a former senior official at the International Monetary Fund. “There’s been a selfishness on the part of industrialised nations for decades.”

Last month, the Group of 20 wealthy economies backed an IMF and World Bank call for a suspension of bilateral debt service for the world’s poorest countries.

Not all African countries qualify for the initiative however, and some that do have not requested relief fearing it could impact future access to capital markets. Lenders, meanwhile, have shown little appetite for broad relief on Africa’s private debt.

President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, which is eschewing the G20 initiative, said the world had a duty to give Africa the fiscal space to take care of its people.

“This is not a handout. This is support based on a crisis that was not created on the African continent,” he said.

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