By Alemayehu G. Mariam
On March 24, 2020, Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, proposed a three-point plan to the G-20 to proactively deal with the inevitable health, economic and social fallout of the COVID-19 crises in Africa.
The first prong of the plan aims to create an “Africa Global COVID-19 Emergency Financing Package” to deal with the crushing USD 44 billion interest payment African countries are carrying today on their outstanding loans, which exceeds the continental budget for all health care expenses. The package would include USD 150 billion for increased budgetary support from the World Bank and balance of support payments from the International Monetary Fund. It would also require trade financing, working capital support, etc. from the International Finance Corporation.
The second prong consists of a Global Health Emergency Package which would engage the World Health Organization in strengthening the public health sector in Africa by increasing emergency preparedness and financing of health equipment purchases by the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and malaria.
The third prong proposes writing off all interest payment on government loans, partial debt write-off for low-income countries and conversion of the remaining debt into long term low interest loans with 10 years grace period before payment. Moreover, all debt repayments will be limited to 10% of the value of exports.
On March 25, 2020, PM Abiy used the Financial Times as a pulpit to aggressively push the debt burden issue in Africa must be addressed with the fierce urgency of now.
Advanced economies are unveiling unprecedented economic stimulus packages. African countries, by contrast, lack the wherewithal to make similarly meaningful interventions. Yet if the virus is not defeated in Africa, it will only bounce back to the rest of the world. There is a need to establish a facility to provide budgetary support to African countries. The issue of resolving Africa’s debt burden also needs to be put back on the table as a matter of urgency.
On April 14, 2020, PM Abiy delivered a second salvo in an op-ed piece in Bloomberg arguing the first step in Africa’s post-COVID-19 reconstruction is “debt relief for all of Africa. Africa needs an immediate emergency fiscal stimulus worth $100 billion in addition to the International Monetary Fund’s already programmed $50 billion of regular support to tackle the crisis. The crisis will not be short-lived: Additional support over the next two to three years is required.”
On April 15, 2020, G-20 finance ministers, after conducting a virtual meeting on the global economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, issued a Communique consistent with the core set of proposals presented by PM Abiy including, among others:
Time-bound suspension of debt service payments for the poorest countries that request forbearance effective May 1, 2020 and lasting through at least December 2020 with possible extension.
Temporary doubling of annual access limits to IMF emergency facilities (Rapid Financing Instrument / Rapid Credit Facility) to provide financing to countries with urgent balance-of-payments needs and support IMF’s readiness to mobilize its US$1 trillion lending capacity to meet members’ needs through augmenting existing programs or new programs.
Take emergency trade measures designed to tackle COVID-19 that avoid barriers to trade or disruption to global supply chains.
Provide substantial support to businesses, especially small and medium sized enterprises, and households most affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
Ensure sustainable public finances and repairing government balance sheets to ensure they are sufficiently robust to address future shocks.
Make targeted investment programs in the health sector in coordination with specialized institutions such as the WHO.
David Malpass, President of the World Bank Group welcomed the “temporary debt relief worth around $20 billion to low-income countries” but warned that “much more is needed”. The debt relief suspension includes $8 billion from private sector creditors. The G-20 called on other private lenders to voluntarily “participate in the initiative on comparable terms.”
On April 15, 2020, the International Monetary Fund approved six months of debt service relief for 25 low-income countries, including 19 in Africa.
Africa’s #2 deadly enemy today, after COVID-19, is crushing foreign debt
Foreign/external debt, the Black Horseman of the Apocalypse, is riding right behind the Pale Horseman of COVID-19 toting despair, gloom and doom for the people of Africa.
The total amount of external debt for the African continent is estimated at USD $417bn.
Nearly one-half of all sub-Saharan African countries are said to be on the verge of insolvency unable to service their debts and with little change of paying it all.
The World Bank has classified 18 African countries as at high risk of debt distress, where debt-to-GDP ratios surpass 50%.
PM Abiy’s three-point plan is a wake-up call for all African countries of an impending doom catalyzed by COVID-19 crises and a clarion call to the G-20 that without their help a large percentage of the 1.2 billion people in Africa will likely face imminent existential threat.
The handwriting is on the wall. As PM Abiy warned, “If the virus is not defeated in Africa, it will only bounce back to the rest of the world.”
As he observed in his Nobel speech, “I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper. For you to have a peaceful night, your neighbor shall have a peaceful night as well.”
For the world to be free from the COVID-19 plague, Africa must be free of the COVID-19 plague. Africa cannot remain sick and the rest of the world healthy.
Such is the intertwining of the fate of Africans with the rest of the world. COVID-19 has leveled the playing field and the lines are clearly marked. There is one and only one war. The invisible armies of COVID-19 against the Human Race. The choice is clear: The Human Race shall defeat the Vi-Race or the beginning of the race for the end of the Human Race in pandemics shall have begun.
I am deeply disappointed African leaders are not lifting their voices to be heard. To my knowledge, not a single African leader has taken to the international court of public opinion and pleaded Africa’s cause and case in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.
It could be that other African leaders have stepped back because PM Abiy’s voice as a Nobel Peace Laureate could command broader global attention. But that is no excuse for all African leaders to come forward and help PM Abiy do the heavy lifting.
That is why I wish to see all African leaders “lift their voice” and let the world know that we are ONE: “Facing the rising sun of our new day begun/Let us march on ’til victory is won” against COVID-19.
Let us give credit and show gratitude to PM Abiy
In December 2018, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Thank You PM Abiy Ahmed for All You Have Done for Ethiopia!” in which I personally thanked PM Abiy for what he has done in Ethiopia and reflected on the virtues of gratitude.
In April 2020, I wish to thank PM Abiy for all he has done to s,ound the alarm on the Pale COVD-19 Horseman of the Apocalypse stalking Africa and organize Africa’s first responders.
I have previously called PM Abiy Ahmed Africa’s First Responder. In June 2019, when Sudanese forces indiscriminately fired into crowds of unarmed pro-democracy street demonstrators, killing and wounding hundreds, Sudan was on the verge of civil war. PM Abiy Ahmed came to the rescue and saved the day when he got contending Sudanese factions to form a unity government.
On March 15, 2020, PM Abiy became Africa’s First Responder in the War on COVID-19. He was able to talk to Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, and make arrangements to expedite delivery of critical medical supplies in anticipation of the COVID-19 invasion of Africa. Ethiopian Airlines airlifted from China “5.4 million face masks, kits for 1.08 million detection tests, 40,000 sets of protective clothing and 60,000 sets of protective face shields.”
Each of the continent’s 54 nations received 20,000 testing kits, 100,000 masks and 1,000 protective suits in the fight to contain the spread of the virus.
By March 23, Ethiopian Airlines (a/k/a “Africa’s Air Force in the COVID-19 War”) was delivering the supplies to Eritrea, Djibouti, Egypt and Sudan.
Thank you, PM Abiy for what you have done for Ethiopia and all Africa in the life and death struggle against COVID-19.
Thank you for
Being the voice of Africa in the face of COVID-19 invasion.
Working with Jack Ma to get emergency medical supplies distributed throughout Africa at lightning speed.
Sounding the alarm so that the G-20 and multilateral lending institutions pay attention to Africa’s predicament with the fierce urgency of now.
Relentlessly pleading the cause of Africa in the court of international public opinion.
Mobilizing the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development to fight COVID-19.
Not giving up on a continent when it is so easy to give up.
Creating mass awareness and spreading the word on COVID-19 mitigation in Ethiopia.
The almost daily COVID-19 briefings to the people of Ethiopia with facts, facts and nothing but the facts.
Being the commander-in chief in the war against COVID-19 as well as the chief medical information officer and chief preacher of preventive sanitary practices.
Making Ethiopia Africa’s first responder and the equivalent of Africa’s Delta Force against COVID-19 terrorizing the African continent and for deploying Ethiopian Airlines as “Africa’s Air Force in the War Against COVID-19.”
On a very personal note: The war of the worlds and the day Africa stood still
The world can ignore Africa at its own peril.
Africa is the future of the world.
Since 2008, the GDP of the continent has expanded by nearly 40 per cent. The continent’s population will rise from 1.3 billion to 2.5 billion in 2050.
As the world greys, by 2050 Africa’s young people will be the mainstay of the global workforce.
It is estimated by 2050 the combined economy of Africa will be worth some $29 trillion, tenfold of what it is now.
Africa has the resources the world needs most including bountiful agricultural land. The largest reserves of rare earth metals essential for the global digital economy will be available plentifully in Africa.
To save the world for COVID-19, Africa must be saved!
For decades, Hollywood movies and science fiction writers stoked our imagination with stories of extraterrestrials invading earth and wreaking havoc.
In H.G. Wells’ 1897 “War of the Worlds”, the war was between the Martian Race and the Human Race. The Martians terrorized the human race and vaporized helpless Earthlings with heat rays and poisonous black smoke.
In the 1951 movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, an alien lands and tells the people of Earth that they must live peacefully with each other or be destroyed as a danger to other planets.
The real war today is not between the Human Race and an Alien Race from outer space.
The real war today is between the Human Race and an invisible Vi-Race on Planet Earth The Vi-Race known as COVID-19 is an equal opportunity destroyer.
COVID-19 is robotic, algorithmic, inexorable and inhumane. It does not care about race, religion, gender, age, class, nationality or anything else. Nor does it distinguish between humans, canines and felines. When COVID-19 comes, it rides the Pale Horse of the Apocalypse and no one will be spared.
COVID-19 has brought the mighty, mighty U.S.A. to its knees.
Americans are standing in line for handouts as “food bank lines stretch for miles as desperate Americans struggle amid economic crisis.”
That breaks my heart. I never, never thought I would witness such a disaster in America.
But thousands of Americans are lining up at the food banks not because of a food deficit but because of the moral and economic bankruptcy of the Trump administration.
Trump said don’t worry about coronavirus. “It is under control.”
Now that COVID-19 has put 22 million Americans on the unemployment line, Trump is looking for a fall guy, a scapegoat.
But remember, remember!
The third of November 2020.
But in November 2016, I knew it was the dawn of “Darkness at Noon in Amerikkka.”
So today, many of my fellow Americans, unemployed and in despair, are asking, “Brother, can you spare a dime?”
That was the title of one of the best-known American songs of the Great Depression:
Say, don’t you remember, they called me Al
It was Al all the time
Why don’t you remember, I’m your pal
Say buddy, can you spare a dime?
How U.S. (We) the mighty have fallen!
In 2020, we are living in a world at war with an enemy we cannot see, feel or touch. We face an enemy that can take us out silently, unseen and unheard.
In “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, Klaatu the alien says:
I speak bluntly. The universe grows smaller every day. I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet. But if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: Join us and live in peace or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer; the decision rests with you.
Our world grows smaller every day. It is of vital importance we must run our planet as ONE human race. If we continue our current path of violence, injustice and environmental degradation, we will make the world a pandemic graveyard.
The choice is simple with COVID-19. The Human Race can join forces against the Vi-Race and live in peace and prosperity or pursue the present course/curse and face obliteration.
The decision rests with the Human Race. We have very limited time to give our answer to the Vi-Race!