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Op-Ed: Africa’s People-led Approach To Combat COVID-19 Shows Signs Of Progress And Leadership

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By Thandi Tobias

In its fight against the spread of COVID-19, our continent faces a massive challenge that requires unprecedented levels of unity and coordinated action. To prevail, we have to grasp without hesitation what the World Health Organization (WHO) has described as a ‘window of opportunity’ while it remains open for us to do so.

While our continent is home to many of the world’s fastest developing nations, it is also home to some of the most vulnerable. It is a known fact that the high prevalence of malnutrition, anaemia, malaria, HIV/AIDs, and tuberculosis among our people, puts our continent in an unfortunate position; one in which high death rates happen easily. That is why the country’s leadership had to act swiftly and decisively.

As Africans, itis essential that we focus on coordinated efforts in our shared battle against COVID-19.  Africa spans both hemispheres and consists of 55 member states. Our combined efforts and determination can and will see us through this challenging period. The second and follow-up virtual meeting of the ‘AU Bureau of Heads of State and Government’, held in April 2020, ended with solid plans for a more unified African response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to presentations by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr John Nkengasong, Director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Bureau was also addressed by French President Emmanuel Macron.

All the heads of state in attendance expressed a shared apprehension over the unknown impact this virus stands to have on the health of citizens of Africa, as well as the unforeseeable economic impact it will have. The Heads of States and Governments discussed three broad themes and agreed to proceed to pursue several key solutions:

1.    Stronger inter-continental links for greater African solidarity

There was unanimous agreement on the urgent need to establish better humanitarian and trade corridors among countries; something they also agreed would require cohesive efforts from all participants.  All decisions would be in the best interest of the continent and its people.  This will also enable Africa to speak with one voice on Africa’s priorities. African leaders also agreed on the need for an immediate lifting of all economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe and Sudan, as no African state would be left alone to fight against the spread of COVID-19. It was resolved that without the burden of sanctions, Zimbabwe and Sudan would be better positioned to save lives.

2.    An aggressive medical response

Africa requires the production of medical supplies and equipment. The heads of states and governments called for international cooperation, support towards up-scaling local production of needed Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs), medical supplies such as masks, gowns, ventilators, and other support devices, all of which are greatly needed in the continent.

Furthermore, the AU commended rapid action initiatives such as the ones coordinated by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Jack Ma Foundation. Working with the World Food Programme and Africa CDC, they mobilised and distributed over one million diagnostic tests, six million masks, and 600,000 PPE items to all African Union member states in less than a week.

3.    Fundraising efforts

The AU is taking a multi-stakeholder approach towards raising needed financial and other forms of international support to strengthen the fight to flatten COVID-19 growth in Africa. The gathered Heads of States and Governments also noted the progress made in operationalising the African Union’s COVID-19 Response Fund, which was established on in March 2020. Members pledged the sum of US$12.5 million and an additional US$4.5million to the Africa CDC.

Africa’s Call

To win the battle against COVID-19, protect its citizens and, by extension, citizens of the world, the AU calls for the support pledged by the G20, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to be delivered without further delay. It also calls for these institutions to review their disbursement policies to unlock higher levels of flexibility, speed, and Africa’s access to the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDRs). In addition, the AU also supports the call for a comprehensive stimulus package for Africa and the immediate suspension of interest payments on Africa’s external public and private debt. Such measures would benefit all Africans, as greater fiscal space would be created to resource the battle against COVID-19.

In conclusion, allow me to remind you all, of our South African concept of Ubuntu – I am because you are – which also rings true in the hearts of all Africans and, I hope, inspires people around the world. It is in the spirit of this shared humanity that Africa’s call is made for the global support of our resilient, yet fragile continent.

Thandi Tobias is the Chairperson of Brand South Africa; the official marketing agency of South Africa with a mandate to build the country’s brand reputation and to improve its global competitiveness.

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The Secret Formula For Changing Lives In Africa

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When Covid-19 struck, Coca-Cola, which has dominated FORBES’ lists as one of the world’s most valuable brands and innovative companies, deployed its resources and leveraged its distribution networks to make a difference in Africa’s economies and communities. Here’s how they did it.

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Egypt’s Blueprint For A Better Tomorrow

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Through the AfCFTA and their own Vision 2030 blueprint for economic enhancement, Egypt is preparing to emerge as a world leader in the global economy.

“We have a lot of determination and we own a lot of capabilities and natural resources that can put us in the lead in the world.”

H.E. Abdel Fattah President al-Sisi

            As Egypt embraces the initiatives behind the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) and H.E. Abdel Fattah President al-Sisi ‘s Vision 2030, the country is on track to completely revitalise its economic landscape. Vision 2030, Egypt’s blueprint for transforming the economy into a global powerhouse, is focused on specific pillars that are aimed at empowering sectors and enhancing the country’s potential through youth development, technology, ICT, urban development, industry and infrastructure. On Egypt’s efforts to become an economic world leader and its commitment to the AfCFTA agreement, H.E. President al-Sisi said, “We have a lot of determination and we own a lot of capabilities and natural resources that can put us in the lead in the world.” Vision 2030 seeks to take advantage of Egypt’s natural resources and its key geographical location in Africa to remove barriers to intra-African trade and increase the investments across the continent. Adherence to the agenda will improve connectivity to link the continent by rail, road, sea and air and will boost trade, spark growth and create jobs.

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In order to realise these goals, Egypt must first prepare its most valuable asset: its people. Egypt has a growing young population, where about 62% of the population is under age 29. This creates near limitless opportunities as the country strives to penetrate new markets and develop its “Made in Egypt” brand. Not only that, but Egyptian youth are also unique in their worldview. The post-revolution generations in Egypt are empowered with visions to change the future of their country, and companies are meeting this passion with training opportunities and education. Mohamed Shalbaya, CEO of PepsiCo, says, “The DNA of Egyptians, especially after the revolution, is ‘I want to achieve something’. Once you give them the right education, the right training, they excel. In the past two, three years, we have had 33,000 training hours for employees, and that gives us the edge because once they train, they can excel. Generation Z wants to be entrepreneurs, and we help them with that.”

In addition to training, many initiatives to nurture ideas and invest in talent are in place, such as innovation centres and incubators for entrepreneurial growth. Hala El Gohary, CEO of ITIDA, says, “In 2013, ITIDA established TIEC: the Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre. Its main mandate is to develop the entrepreneurship ecosystem by developing talent from the universities, giving them the basic education around how to create their own companies and to develop business plans.” Technology centres exploit the youth’s propensity for technology, creating opportunities to innovate business and penetrate new markets via the internet.

The TIEC also houses an incubator and an accelerator to help establish start-ups in the country. Gohary continues, “President al-Sisi launched a programme for capacity development for 10,000 African youth and 100 start-ups. ITIDA has been mandated to deliver this initiative. Last year, we worked with about 3,000 youth out of Africa and Egypt and we delivered 30 start-ups. The idea is to have these 3,000 make their own company, and some of them did. In the first year, we helped the most prominent start-ups showcase their products.” With a driven and dedicated youth that are ready to become entrepreneurs, Egypt’s future is in good hands.

Technology development and the ICT sector not only appeal to the capabilities of Egypt’s youth but have also proved to be invaluable in the country’s human capital development endeavour. Egypt has been working diligently toward innovation and digital infrastructure for the benefit of all. H.E. Amr Talaat, Minister of ICT, says, “What is driving the telecom growth are internet penetration, more fixed broadband and more households with a computer. As for the IT sector, that’s a transformation on which Egypt is embarking impressively.” H.E. Talaat continues, “We need to create an ecosystem that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship. We are inviting start-ups into ideation camps, matchmaking forums, creating innovation hubs across the campuses of universities so that students can form teams, aggregate their solutions and focus on specific goals.” A strong digital infrastructure opens many opportunities and plays an innovative role in the overall wellbeing of the African continent.

In terms of urban development and infrastructure enhancement, the Central Bank has launched an EGP 50 billion programme to aid real estate developers to finance housing units for middle-income families. As the sector influences other industries, supporting real estate development and the local industry is one of the government’s priorities. For the 2020/2021 fiscal year, Egyptian government investment expenditures have been increased from EGP 150 billion to EGP 230 billion to expand various development and service projects nationwide. The New Urban Communities Authority fiscal budget has also been increased, amplifying construction company expansion.

The goals of the AfCFTA and Egypt’s Vision 2030 is to empower African industries, accelerate intra-African trade via a continental geographic zone in order to boost the continent’s position in the global market. Overall, the initiatives seek to strengthen the common African voice in global trade negotiations, a position that is long overdue. The Minister of Industry and Trade, H.E. Naveen Gamea, says, “The AfCFTA is a big step towards the economic integration through the actual liberalisation of trade, as it achieves major strides in the rates of economic development, and regional and continental integration through the productive and commercial integration based on competitive edges and building value-added chains across the continent. Egypt is keen to achieve tangible results in the fields that can lead to the regional economic integration and development, connecting civilisations and cultures of the African countries and deepening the cooperation with the international partners, as well.”

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Focus on Namibia: The Vision Which Is Breaking Down Boundaries To Expand Namibia’s Infinite Horizons

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On 21 March 2020, Namibia’s President Hage Gottfried Geingob was sworn in for his second term on the very same day the nation celebrated its 30 years of independence. Present at the celebration, a sure sign of Namibia’s peaceful and stable governance since independence, were the nation’s two prior presidents His Excellencies Dr Sam Nujoma and Dr Hifikepunye Pohamba, as well as the Presidents of Angola, Zimbabwe and Botswana. A grand and worthy augury for the future of continued progress, collaboration, growth and freedom for the nation.

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Indeed, under President Hage Gottfried Geingob’s guidance, Vision 2030, the nation’s long term plan for industrialisation, is taking a very defined shape. Aided by the complementary Harambee Prosperity Plan fast-tracking the nation’s development, Namibia’s fifth National Development Plan  (NDP5) highlights four pillars in order to target growth “In our development plan, we are trying to create an inclusive financial sector,” Hon. Carl-Hermann Gustav ‘Calle’ Schlettwein, Minister of Agriculture explains. An emphasis on education and a focus on SME development has been key to this inclusivity. “We allocate quite a few funds to our training programmes for SMEs,” states Baronice Hans, MD of Bank Windhoek. In recent years, Namibia’s Ministry of Education has highlighted the importance of vocational training. “At Letshego Bank, we are dedicated to improving livelihoods and promoting financial literacy initiatives,” claims Ester Kali, CEO of Letshego Bank. CEO of the Development Bank of Namibia, Martin Inkumbi details the Bank’s dedication in supporting the nation’s youth: “We have introduced a special lending product for targeting youth.”  This, combined with a dedication to improving ease of doing business has been crucial to growing Namibia’s industries. “We have very favourable tax laws as well as lots of incentives,” confirms Patty Karuaihe-Martin, CEO of NamibRe. Vetumbuavi Mungunda, CEO of Standard Bank concurs, “Namibia has the key pillars of stability that are imperative for any business. There is political stability, social stability, a strong rule of law and a good judicial system.”

“We will live with the concept of ‘unity in diversity’ with diverse languages, cultures and religions. We live in harmony and celebrate each other with love. We welcome people from other countries with respect and care that is our valuable tradition as Namibians.”

President Hage Gottfried Geingob’s inauguration speech, March 2020

Namibia is also extremely well established within the global economy with excellent market access from an export point of view. It is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Southern African Customs Union and has preferential trade agreements with SADC, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and East African Community (EAC). With  borders on Angola, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia, the role of transport and logistics in Namibia has also been key to its economic development. Strategically located half way down Namibia’s coast, Port Walvis Bay, Namibia’s largest commercial world-class deep-water port, provides the SADC region with the quickest and shortest route to Europe and North and South America and a gateway for export and import of goods by neighbouring countries. “The government has invested quite a lot of money to extend and put a container terminal in Walvis Bay so that this hub can handle more containers and enhance trade,” reveals Hon. John Mutorwa, Minister of Works and Transport.

Awarded top position for the best roads in Africa by the World Economic Forum (WEF) for several consecutive years, Namibia’s road network has also been key in its contribution to the economic growth of other SADC countries. “We have about 47,000 km of road network of which 9,000 is bitumen road. In addition to that, we have four transport corridors, which are mostly serving our neighbouring countries and, by implication, the rest of Africa,” confirms Conrad Lutombi, CEO of Roads Authority of Namibia.  Namibia’s ICT instrastructure, ranked one of Africa’s best, provides a different sort of connectivity to neighbouring countries.  “Telecom Namibia also provides data connectivity to neighbouring countries via the SAT3 and WACS submarine cables,” explains Armando Perny, Acting CEO of Telecom Namibia.

As part of Vision 2030, Namibia is also determined to promote its Blue Economy Strategy 2017-2022 which addresses the development of marine mining, tourism, port infrastructure and services in an ecologically sustainable manner. . “We have a very long coastline and a very large maritime area which has a lot of potential,” states Immanuel Mulunga, MD of NAMCOR. Currently, Namibia’s fisheries contributes to about 15 % of total exports and is the country’s second biggest export earner, after mining and the third largest contributor to GDP. Namibia is also world leader in recovering diamonds from the sea. “Namibia has been a diamond mining economy for a long time,” elaborates  Tom Alweendo, Minister of Mines and Energy . “We are currently exploring the sea through the development of unique technology.” Indeed, in May 2019 Namibia pioneered a distinctive form of marine diamond recovery which is also highly environmentally sustainable.

Namibia has a long history in mining and is replete with several minerals. “Namibia is a big country with a low population and lots of natural resources. Name it and we have it: minerals, fisheries, tourism, natural resources,” concludes Reinhard Gärtner, CEO of Namibia Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).Today, due to first-class infrastructure and the ease of doing business, it is the nation’s best performing economic sector through the production of diamonds, uranium, copper, magnesium, zinc, silver, gold, lead, semi-precious stones and has the potential to lead the way towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “The great potential the country has as far as mining and mineral resources are concerned is evident,” claims Mark Dawe, Country Manager of B2Gold Namibia. “Everything is about re-establishing a natural environment.” 

Farming also supplies nearly two-thirds of the population with an income, undeniably highlighting the importance of agriculture for Namibia’s economy. Ian Collard, CEO of Namib Mills states: “Namibia is currently a net importer, so we grow our business based on import substitution.” In February 2020, Namibia became the first African country to export red meat to the United States with state-owned Meatco’s shipment to Philadelphia of 25 tonnes of beef. “We penetrate the most advanced markets, like the US and China because we have made serious investments in our infrastructure,” declares Mwilima Mushokabanji, CEO of MeatCo.

Namibia’s horizons are limitless and today provide nation and continent with the opportunity for expansion as its policies and strategies work to crack open the nation’s immense capacity for potential and possibility.

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