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COVID-19 Pandemic Pushes Rwanda into Recession, Severely Impacts Human Capital

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The Rwandan economy has fallen into its first recession due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic and could potentially compromise years of gains in poverty reduction.

Released today, the 16th edition of the World Bank Rwanda Economic Update, Protect and Promote Human Capital in a post-COVID-19 World, says the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to have dropped by 0.2 percent in 2020, compared to a projected expansion of 8 percent before the COVID-19 outbreak.

This dire economic effect has severely adverse implications for households, as thousands are facing unemployment, revenue losses and increased consumption prices are pushed into poverty. The Economic Update estimates that, because of the lockdown, social distancing, and increased costs associated with the pandemic, the poverty headcount is likely to rise by 5.1 percentage points (more than 550,000 people) in 2021, with more than 80 percent of the new poor in rural areas.

“The severity of the effect is due at least in part to the fact that the crisis hit where it hurt the most, travel and hospitality services, which are the sectors  for which the country has invested massively in recent years through its the MICE (Meetings, International Conferences, and Events) strategy. The crisis calls for the rebalancing of the growth strategy, with more emphasis on rural related activities and greater emphasis on regional integration to reduce vulnerability to international shocks,” said Calvin Djiofack, the World Bank Senior Economist.

The report notes that the Government of Rwanda initiated a swift and robust response to the pandemic, with the adoption of the Economic Recovery Plan (ERP) estimated at US$900 million over the two fiscal years 2019/20 and 2020/21.The recovery plan aims to scale up social safety net programs for the most vulnerable, build key infrastructures, and support strategic enterprises, including small- and medium-size enterprises.

Social safety nets programs have already reduced poverty by 1.2 percentage point in 2020, the report says, and could reduce poverty by 1.7 percentage points in 2021 if the government undertakes the expansion planned in the ERP.

The report points out that, in the absence of decisive actions, the adverse effects on education and health, have the potential to reduce long-term productivity and slow down the country’s long-term growth potential. The long closure of schools and lower household income are likely to reduce school enrollment, as many students seek employment. An estimated 3.5 million students have been out of school, and statistics indicate that the share of students in total employment increased from 3.4 percent in February 2020 to 8.8 percent in August 2020.  

The report acknowledges that the government’s swift and efficient response to the pandemic has largely mitigated the potentially significant negative impact on essential health and nutrition services. Rwanda has experienced some disruptions in the delivery of health services, but, the report notes, these appear to be largely transitory. However, continued efforts to ensure coverage of nutrition and health services to vulnerable households are essential to avoid a deterioration in the productivity of future workers.

The 16th edition of the Rwanda Economic Update also recognizes that the impact of the pandemic disproportionately affects women, in part because (according to the recent labor market survey) women are more likely to be seasonal workers (44 percent versus 31 percent of men) and are more likely to be taking care of a sick relative (4 percent versus 1 percent).

The unprecedented impact of the crisis heightens the urgency of ensuring the availability of strong and adaptable programs and policies to mitigate poverty, and to safeguard the health, schooling, and employment of the population,” said Rolande Pryce, the World Bank Country Manager for Rwanda. “By further expanding the coverage of well targeted safety net interventions and prioritizing investments in human capital, Rwanda can quickly and effectively mitigate the effects of the shock and lay the groundwork for future resilience.

Some of the actions proposed by the Rwanda Economic Update to protect and improve human capital in Rwanda include accelerating deployment of COVID-19 vaccines to contain the pandemic, combating the poverty impact of the pandemic by expanding coverage of social safety nets, improving targeting accuracy to make social safety nets more cost-effective, and expanding social insurance to the informal sector, and reducing learning losses through optimization of remote education due to the COVID19 disruptions, improving skills and strengthening accountability in education.

* The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), established in 1960, helps the world’s poorest countries by providing grants and low to zero-interest loans for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve poor people’s lives. IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 76 poorest countries, 39 of which are in Africa. Resources from IDA bring positive change to the 1.6 billion people who live in IDA countries. Since 1960, IDA has supported development work in 113 countries. Annual commitments have averaged about $21 billion over the last three years, with about 61 percent going to Africa.

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Africa Today

Eritrea: Release journalists and politicians arrested 20 years ago

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The Eritrean authorities must immediately and unconditionally release 21 journalists and politicians who were arrested in a sweeping crackdown on dissent 20 years ago, said Amnesty International as it launched a new campaign #WhereAreEritreasDissidents

The arrests of the journalists between 21 and 23 September 2001 followed the arrest on 18 September 2001 of politicians popularly known as G-15 and the banning of independent media after they had published an open letter urging reforms.

“It is unconscionable that these brave prisoners of conscience are still languishing in jail 20 years since they were arrested for exercising their human rights, with no word from the authorities on their current circumstances, and that the ban on independent media remains in place,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.  

“Days have turned into months, months into years and now years have turned into decades of unending anguish for these detainees, their families and loved ones. We call on President Isaias Afewerki to take meaningful steps to bring an end to this travesty of justice.”

The journalists arrested between 21 and 23 September 2001 are Dawit Isaak, Seyoum Tsehaye, Dawit Habtemichael, Mattewos Habteab, Fesseaye “Joshua” Yohannes, Amanuel Asrat and Temesegn Gebreyesus, Said Abdelkader, Yosuf Muhamed Ali and Medhanie Haile. The politicians – all members of Isaias’ ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) – include former Vice-President Mahmoud Ahmed Sheriffo and his wife and independence war heroine Aster Fissehatsion, and former foreign ministers Haile Woldetensae and Petros Solomon. Nine of the politicians and journalists have previously been reported to have died in detention, a claim the Eritrean authorities refuse to confirm.

“There are also many other politicians, journalists and activists that were arrested and detained without charge before September 2001 and since then and they must be released too,” said Deprose Muchena

Some of the high-profile detainees in Eritrea include former Finance Minister Berhane Abraha, who was arrested in September 2018 following his publication of a book considered critical of President Isaias, and Ciham Ali,  the daughter of the defected former Minister of Information Ali Abdu, who was arrested in 2012 aged 15, as she tried to flee the country.

Amnesty International has documented extremely poor prison conditions in Eritrea, in some cases amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Prisons in Eritrea are generally overcrowded, with inadequate water and sanitation facilities and providing poor-quality food and drinking water.

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Multiple reports of alleged human rights violations in Tigray

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photo © UNHCR/Hazim Elhag

UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet on Monday deplored “multiple and severe reports of alleged gross violations of human rights, humanitarian and refugee law” committed by all parties to the conflict in Tigray. 

In an update to the UN Human Rights Council (OHCHR) on the situation in the northernmost regional state in Ethiopia, Ms. Bachelet said the conflict has “continued unabated,” and “risks spilling over to the whole Horn of Africa”. 

In the last few months, “mass detentions, killings, systematic looting, and sexual violence” have created “an atmosphere of fear and an erosion of living conditions that resulted in the forced displacement of the Tigrayan civilian population. Civilian suffering is widespread, and impunity is pervasive, she said. 

Joint investigation 

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also informed the Council on progress made in the joint investigation by the OHCHR and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) following the conclusion of the fieldwork phase of the report. 

The full range of information collected is currently being analysed, but Ms. Bachelet said it was already clear that cases documented comprise multiple allegations of human rights violations. 

These included attacks on civilians, extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances. Sexual and gender-based violence has also included gang rapes, sexualised torture and ethnically targeted sexual violence. 

Violations by all parties 

According to Ms. Bachelet, Government forces and their allies continue to be implicated in allegations of human rights violations

Reports also suggest that people of Tigrayan ethnicity have been detained by law enforcement officials on ethnic grounds, mostly in Addis Ababa. 

She noted that incitement to hatred and discrimination were also documented targeting people of Tigrayan ethnicity, as well as attacks on journalists and the suspension of media outlets’ licenses and shutdowns of Internet and telecommunications in Tigray. 

Ms. Bachelet added that Tigrayan forces have also allegedly been responsible for attacks on civilians, including indiscriminate killings resulting in nearly 76,500 people displaced in Afar and an estimated 200,000 in Amhara. 

More than 200 individuals have reportedly been killed in the most recent clashes in these regions, and 88 individuals, including children, have been injured, she said. 

There have also been reports of the recruitment of children into the conflict by Tigrayan forces, which is prohibited under international law. 

Avoid national division 

Ms Bachelet urged the Government of Ethiopia to accept the recommendations of the joint investigation report that will be issued on 1 November 2021 and to give human rights and humanitarian actors unhindered access. She called for all parties to immediately end hostilities and negotiate a lasting ceasefire to “avoid the risk that Ethiopia will be torn apart”. 

WHO airlift 

 The largest single shipment of humanitarian cargo to date has been airlifted to Ethiopia by the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN agency said on Monday. 

85 metric tons of life-saving medical supplies were flown by a charter flight from WHO’s Logistics Hub based in Dubai to in Addis Ababa on Friday. The supplies, including essential medicines, trauma and emergency surgery kits, infusions, consumables, equipment, and cholera kits, are enough to address the urgent needs of more than 150 000 people. 

“This delivery will help bolster our efforts to provide relief to hundreds of thousands of families who are grappling with a difficult humanitarian situation,” said Dr Boureima Hama Sambo, WHO Representative in Ethiopia. 

Currently, nearly 2.5 million people are in need of health assistance from WHO and partners. The shipment to Ethiopia wrapped up a historic week for the WHO Dubai Logistics Hub. Four times the weekly average has been dispatched with over 450 metric tons of medical supplies valued at more than $ 4.3 million in support of cholera outbreak response in Nigeria, critical shortages of medicines in Afghanistan, and trauma and surgical supplies to Syria and Yemen.  

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Republic of Korea offers support for smallholder farmers in Mozambique

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The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) donated US$5.7 million through the World Food Programme (WFP) for a project to support smallholder farmers in Sofala Province, central Mozambique.

The project will improve food security and livelihoods with a focus on climate resilience for smallholder farmers and will be implemented from this year in the districts of Chemba, Maringue and Caia in Sofala province and will benefit 36,000 smallholder farmers and their families until 2025.

The programme will work with the Ministry of Land and Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the National Institute of Meteorology (INAM).

Mozambique is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change. Over the past three years, five tropical cyclones (Desmond, Idai, Kenneth, Chalane, Eloise and Guambe) have caused human and material damages mainly in central Mozambique.

H.E. Ambassador Sung Jun Yeo said that he expects the project is going to be successfully implemented and 36,000 smallholder farmers and their families will have the capacity to maintain a stable livelihood and secure food through the project. “We hope that the friendly relationship between the Government of Mozambique and that of the Republic of Korea is firmly established through various grant aids from the Korean Government via KOICA,” emphasized the Ambassador.

“This generous donation from the people of Korea through KOICA will help change the lives of Mozambicans most affected by climate change“, said Antonella D’Aprile, WFP Mozambique Country Director. “By supporting smallholder farmers to become climate resilient, we are also protecting their livelihoods and food security of their families and communities. We thank KOICA on behalf of the people that we serve“.

The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) was established as a governmental agency dedicated to providing grand aid programs of the Korean government in 1991. KOICA endeavors to combat poverty and support the sustainable socioeconomic growth of partner countries. By doing so, KOICA establishes and strengthen friendly ties with developing countries.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

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