Thursday, April 23, 2020

Africa Could Take ‘a Generation’ to Recover from Coronavirus, Says Kagame 
Rwanda’s president says continent needs at least $100bn in foreign support to weather shock

Traders wear protective masks at the Kimironko market in Kigali, Rwanda as they wait for shoppers to stock up on essential items © Maggie Andresen/Reuters

David Pilling, Africa Editor
Financial Times
APRIL 20 2020

Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, the first country in Africa to impose a lockdown to combat coronavirus, said that without co-ordinated action and innovation, some economies on the continent could take “a generation or more” to recover from the shock of the pandemic.

African countries, he said, needed international support of “$100bn and probably more” this year alone, though he said this was “a fraction of what wealthy countries are already injecting into their economies with the stroke of a pen”.

“We are expecting speedy and decisive action,” he told the Financial Times in written responses to questions. “Raising the availability of SDRs is one mechanism that can make a difference quickly,” Mr Kagame said, referring to proposals that the IMF create or reallocate special drawing rights — a form of liquidity support — to poorer countries.

“But more important than the specific implementation method is consensus around ensuring that Africa has the tools to end the pandemic and avoid a major depression.”

The World Bank has predicted Africa will sink into its first continent-wide recession in 25 years as a result of the coronavirus shock, as global trade contracts in the commodities on which many of its economies rely. Growth in the region is forecast to fall from 2.4 per cent in 2019 to between minus 2.1 per cent and minus 5.1 per cent, in a continent with population growth of 2.7 per cent.

Mr Kagame said he was confident progress could be made following what he called “good engagement” from “partners such as France, Germany, China and the US”.

After a G20 pledge last week to suspend debt payments from the poorest countries until the end of the year, Mr Kagame said more would be needed, though he was less strident in calling for debt write-offs than some leaders.

Vera Songwe, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, has warned of cascading defaults if more is not done to alleviate the debt burden of some African countries.

Mr Kagame said: “We shouldn’t be looking for excuses to cancel debt for its own sake. If there is another idea that would achieve the same results, that is welcome. Stimulus is stimulus, no matter the mechanism.”

The Rwanda president, who has effectively led the country since his Rwandan Patriotic Front seized power during the genocide of 1994, struck a cautiously optimistic note that his government could control the virus. By Thursday, the central African country of 12m people had 138 confirmed cases with no deaths, according to official figures. It was testing about 1,000 people a day, he said.

“We are not taking any chances. We are doing what we can to rein in this pandemic. We have been identifying, testing and isolating positive cases, and are now mostly focused on tracing contacts.”

The World Health Organisation last week warned that, although there were only 17,000 confirmed cases in Africa with some 900 deaths, infections could leap to 10m within three to six months, according to its provisional modelling.

“It’s difficult to make a long-term estimation because the context changes too much,” said Michel Yao, head of emergency operations for WHO Africa, who added that public behaviour could radically alter modelling assumptions. The number of people who died from the west African Ebola epidemic from 2014 was much lower than worst-case projections, he said, because people had changed their daily activities, including altering funeral practices.

Landlocked Rwanda, which depends heavily on tourists and visitors to a state of the art convention centre for foreign exchange, closed itself off to all commercial air traffic from March 19, earlier than many other countries.

Two days later it shut its land borders with Burundi, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania, except for goods and cargo, and imposed a nationwide lockdown. It has also shut three national parks that are home to gorillas and chimpanzees because of the danger posed to primates by Covid-19.

The security forces are reported to have made widespread arrests of people violating social-distancing measures, but Mr Kagame denied reports that two people had been shot for such offences. “The incident was actually not related to the lockdown, but two citizens still died,” he said, adding that the shooting was being investigated.

Mr Kagame refrained from criticising US President Donald Trump’s suspension of funding to the WHO, but praised the UN body’s actions in Africa.

“Today we are at a point where the WHO needs support from all of us so that it can do its job effectively,” he said. “If any country has concerns about the performance of the WHO, there are ways to address that without compromising the pandemic response.”

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