African Development Bank President calls for debt relief

In an exclusive interview on CNN’s First Move with Julia ChatterleyAfrican Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina called for debt relief as the continent suffers from the coronavirus pandemic:

“Africa is not looking for a free pass. We’re just looking for a way in which Africa’s fiscal space gets dealt with.”

The African Development Bank’s (AfDB) economic outlook warns that without more aid 39 million Africans are at risk of falling into extreme poverty this year. Adesina discussed the worrying figures, “The GDP of Africa went down by $175 billion. Last year, we had 30 million people went into extreme poverty. This year if that trend continues, 39 million people going into extreme poverty, hunger and all of that.”

Adesina cautioned that the economic outlook was not all bad news, but that any positives rely on access to vaccinations. He told Chatterley, “We project that Africa will grow back. We project 3.4% grow back this year, but all of that is conditional on two things, one is access to vaccines, secondly the issue of debt.” He continued, “I think that’s important to improve access of Africa to vaccines. We need to have vaccine solidarity, COVAX is doing a great job but the amounts are still minuscule as far as we are concerned.”

Adesina also stressed the need for global cooperation to end the pandemic, “If we deal with this pandemic in one part of the world, and we don’t deal with other parts of the world, we’re all going back to square one.”

KEY QUOTES

Adesina on the AfDB economic outlook:

“We’ve never seen anything like this before. We projected last year -2.1%, that is the lowest growth rate in 50 years in Africa. You don’t see the virus, but the effects of it, it’s just so mind boggling. The GDP of Africa went down by $175 billion. Last year, we had 30 million people that went into extreme poverty. This year if that trend continues, 39 million people going into extreme poverty, hunger and all of that, it’s been just quite a lot.”

Adesina on the importance of vaccines for economic recovery:

“The issue is that’s not all just negative, we project that Africa will grow back. We project 3.4% grow back this year, but all of that is conditional on two things, one is access to vaccines, secondly the issue of debt. On the issue of access to vaccines, earlier on this show I was listening to that, that is actually a big problem for us because we don’t have that luxury. So far 14.6 million vaccines have been delivered in Africa. And people can’t even get shots in their hands. And that 14.6 million is only 1% of what we need actually to get to 60% of herd immunity. We are way off mark on that. I think that’s important to improve access of Africa to vaccines. We need to have vaccine solidarity, COVAX is doing a great job, but the amounts are still minuscule as far as we are concerned.”

Adesina on the prospect of herd immunity in Africa:

“The faster we get the vaccines, the better. I just told you that we’ve got only 1% right now in terms of people getting the jabs in their hands. So to get a herd immunity, you need 60%. So you’re looking at at least 840 million doses. So it’s going to take — I don’t see that happening for another year or two because of the slow pace of producing the vaccine and getting them out. It just going to be very, very difficult and I’m quite concerned about that. And of course, the longer it takes for Africans to get vaccinated, of course now you see Europe saying you can’t travel if you don’t have the vaccine passports, people are going to think Africa is the last zone to get access to vaccines. I don’t want that to happen. So for us at the African Development Bank we also have to look beyond the current situation, looking medium term and also long term.

Adesina on the need to produce vaccines in Africa:

I can’t accept that 1.4 billion people have to be running from pillar to post looking for vaccines. We at the African Development Bank have therefore decided that we’re going to support Africa to have quality health care infrastructure and also make sure that it develops its own pharmaceutical capacity. We ought to be producing vaccines in Africa.”

 Adesina on the difficulties of lockdown and social distancing:

“If you look at it, during the pandemic, it started with the lockdowns. The lockdowns had a lot of impact on poor people. Social distancing was impossible because a lot of people were living in very poor neighbourhoods, very poor ventilation. For many people they have the risk of dying from hunger than actually from dying from the Covid-19 situation. So, when people who don’t have access to food, who don’t get access to work because a day without work is a day without food. And so, that will actually create unrest, because citizens get so nervous and so upset and young people have lost a lot of jobs. And so, a lot of work has to be done. For us, it’s how do you build back. Making sure you have economic resilience.”