Misc 02/01/2021

Africa, left at the back of the queue

The continent does not have the capacity to acquire or produce vaccines

David Soler Crespo
2 min
Alumnes de Zimbàbue rentant-se abans d’entrar a classe.

ValenciaAfrica has surpassed 2.5 million cases of coronavirus this week, six months after Europe did so, despite having almost twice the population of the Old Continent. The health impact of the coronavirus in Africa has been nowhere near what some agencies had predicted: in April, the UN even predicted up to 3.3 million deaths by the end of 2020, but the continent has just reached 60,000 deaths, the same as France.

However, the pandemic has been a reality check for Africans. Multilateralism has been put on hold in the national interest and Africa has been left at the bottom of the queue. In the initial phase of the pandemic, the restriction of more than 70 countries to export medical equipment posed a great risk for Africa, which imports 94% of all the medicines it needs, mainly from the European Union, from which more than 50% arrives. Now the lack of capacity to produce, procure and distribute vaccines threatens recovery.

The continent produces less than 1 per cent of vaccines globally, and many countries have electricity and transportation problems, which make it very difficult to maintain the low temperatures required for some preparations. In addition, it cannot compete in monetary terms with more developed countries. South Africa and India have joined in order to debate in the World Trade Organization a suspension of intellectual property rights on coronavirus vaccines to make them cheaper. All this means that Africans are the last to receive the vaccine. The director of the African Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, John Nkengasong, assures that mass vaccinations will not begin until mid 2021 and that it will take three years to immunize 60% of the population.

Drowned in economic crisis

Unlike the virus, the economic crisis associated with the pandemic has indeed hit Africa hard. 2020 has been the first year of recession in the last quarter century, and recovery will depend largely on what happens outside. The lack of foreign tourists led to a 70% drop in business in the first eight months of last year in a sector that accounts for 7% of regional GDP. In addition, seven of Africa's fifteen major trading partners are among those most affected by the pandemic, and 60% of the added value of African exports is related to European production.

Massive dependence

Africa manufactures only 12% of the products it exports outside the continent, which generates an excessive dependence on raw materials such as oil, which represents almost two thirds of exports to third countries. However, manufactured products account for 40% of exports within the same continent. The implementation of the African Free Trade Agreement, which came into force yesterday, eliminates 90% of the fees and hopes to boost trade between African countries by 82%, which currently only accounts for 17% of total exports.

However, what is most worrying is the external debt. The money owed by African countries has multiplied from 17% of continental GDP in 2000 to 40% in 2019. The G-20 has only extended the deferral of debt payments until May 2021 after the reluctance of some powerful nations, such as China. The Asian giant is the first creditor and represents 13% of the continental debt, with 143 billion dollars lent to all countries since the beginning of the century.

Ahead of it are only private creditors, who represent 27% of the debt. The refusal of some of these creditors to extend debt repayment has caused Zambia to default and it is feared that other countries such as Chad, Ghana and Angola will find themselves in the same situation.