Sub-Saharan Africa’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery prospects do not look promising as recent events portray a mostly grim picture of a region that may not get back to its pre-pandemic normal before the end of 2023, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has assessed.
According to an IMF note, released earlier this week on April 13, the majority of countries south of the Sahara are projected to continue suffering from the pandemic-induced disruptions even after other regions of the world have effectively dealt with the crisis.
Africa – and sub-Saharan Africa, in particular – was initially projected to be the theater of a large COVID-19 catastrophe.
While most of such bleak projections have not been borne out, African countries’ mostly inadequate healthcare systems and the lack of a COVID-19 vaccine rollout throughout Africa have raised concerns that the continent is once again set to lag behind the global curve in terms of post-COVID-19 recovery.
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The IMF attributed its bleak projections to the worrying rate of COVID-19 vaccinations across sub-Saharan Africa.
Abebe Aemro Selassie, director of the IMF’s Africa Department, said the continent’s grim post-COVID figures are “due to the region’s persistently limited policy space, but also in part to the slow pace of the immunization campaign, which is not expected to reach at least 60 percent of the population by the end of 2023 in most countries.”
He added that, “in the long run, government resources may not be enough” to meet many Africans’ hopes of getting back to the pre-pandemic economic outlook.
According to official projections, sub-Saharan countries will need no less than $425 billion of public spending over the next five years to hope to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of COVID-19 response and post-pandemic recovery.
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For Aemro Selassie, the sad truth – and the consensus among most Africa watchers – is that the sub-Saharan government’s stuttering economic performances and nonreassuring management record suggest they are nowhere near the level required to mobilize the funds needed to ensure a rapid economic recovery.
The gloomy projections come as most observers agree that the pandemic only exacerbated a bitter truth that some African governments and opinion leaders are often quick to mask with feel-good narratives and false reassurances. The idea is that the continent – especially sub-Saharan Africa – has consistently lagged behind the global curve on most economic transformation and human development metrics.
In a recent “point of view” article , Cristina Duarte, the special adviser on Africa to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and a former finance minister of Cape Verde, argued that Africa’s failure to industrialize and be a part of the global technological race is the main reason for its “economic malaise” before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the past decades, post-colonial African governments have focused on managing poverty when genuine development comes from creating wealth, she argued. As a result: “Millions of Africans are not only on the wrong side of the digital divide, they are on the wrong side of many divides—lacking basic health and public necessities such as electricity, clean water, education, and health care.”
To reverse the dire trend, Duarte concluded, Africa must embrace the digital revolution by investing in innovative research. But rather than go back to their pre-pandemic reality, the goal of African governments ought to be to “remake” their societies and “build a better reality that recognizes the need for innovation, particularly digital technologies.”