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Let us change the narrative on Africa in the United States -AfDB President

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African Development Bank President Dr Akinwumi A. Adesina has said that a concerted effort to change the narrative on Africa in the United States is necessary to attract increased investments into the continent.

He said the need for advocacy in the United States made having an African Development Bank office in Washington a matter of importance, and that he would be pursuing approval with the Board of the African Development Bank Group.

Meeting with African ambassadors at the chancery of the Embassy of the Republic of Congo in Washington on 1 October, Dr Adesina said: “We are a responsive and solutions bank at the heart of Africa’s development, and at the core of our work as a multilateral development bank, there is a very clear strategy to fast-track Africa’s development.”

In a comprehensive tour d’horizon of the Bank’s priority agenda, Dr Adesina began by thanking the ambassadors for their strong support for his re-election to a second consecutive five-year term last year under the leadership of their Dean, Ambassador Serge Mombouli of the Republic of Congo.

Speaking to the Bank’s core objectives, he drew the ambassadors’ attention to the UNDP’s assessment, which showed that if Africa achieved the Bank’s High 5 priorities, it would have achieved 90% of both the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Promising results at scale

The African Development Bank chief told the ambassadors that the results already spoke for themselves. In the past five years, he explained, the Bank, through its High 5s, had positively impacted the lives of 335 million people. He said that 21 million people had gained access to electricity, 76 million people to agricultural technologies to ensure their food security, and 12 million people had gained access to finance through the investee companies the Bank itself had invested in. He also revealed that 69 million people had benefitted from improved transport infrastructure, while 50 million people had benefitted from improved water and sanitation.

“This is the kind of scale on which we work,” Dr Adesina said, explaining that the desired level of development will not come about by small projects but by those of scale. 

Countering Covid

The Bank chief said the Covid-19 pandemic had made the challenge of development tougher, with 5 million Africans infected by the virus and more than 200,000 lives lost. The Bank, he explained, had moved quickly, launching a $10 billion crisis response facility to provide fiscal support to countries, and going to the international capital markets to launch a $3 billion fight Covid-19 social bond – the largest social bond denominated in US dollars ever done in the world.

Dr Adesina decried the vaccine nationalism by developed countries. He said Africa had only fully vaccinated 24 million people, a mere 2% of its population. “In Africa we have 4.4% of the population receiving one dose, and 1.8 % of the population receiving the second dose. Compare this to 70% in Europe and 56% right here in the United States, respectively,” he said. “So, while developed countries are moving to booster shots, Africa is still struggling to just get basic shots.”

An African healthcare defense system

The African Development Bank president said Africa must learn some critical lessons from this experience. “Africa cannot, and Africa must not, outsource the health security of its 1.3 billion people to the generosity and the benevolence of others,” he stressed. “Africa must ensure health security for its people with a good healthcare defense system. Another virus will come, and we cannot be in this situation where we are not able to respond or where we are the last to be able to get access to vaccines.”

Dr Adesina said Africa must develop its indigenous pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity. He said this was important not only for Covid-19, but also for other viruses to come after Covid-19. As part of efforts to revamp Africa’s quality healthcare infrastructure, the African Development Bank is investing $3 billion dollars to support pharmaceutical and vaccine production on the continent.

Debt management

The issue of debt sustainability also had resonance. The Bank president and the envoys agreed that the75% rise in Africa’s debt to GDP and the continent’s quantum $845 billion of debt was a matter of grave concern. The share of Africa’s debt from private and commercial debt has risen from 17% in 2002 to 40% today. Most of this is high yield short-term debt. 

SDRs

Dr Adesina said the recent issuance of $650 billion special drawing rights (SDRs) by the IMF offered a unique opportunity to support countries going forward. He commended IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva for her role in making this possible, as well as support from US President Joe Biden and US Treasury Janet Yellen.

While Africa is the least resourced region to tackle the continual effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the continent only stands to receive $31 billion out of $650 billion in SDRs. Dr Adesina advocated a reallocation of SDRs by developed countries to developing countries, and to Africa in particular. He commended French President Emmanuel Macron for his leadership by example in recently announcing France’s donation of 2% of its own allocation of SDRs to Africa.

Climate

The group learned that the Bank was spearheading efforts to help Africa tackle climate change; and that it had doubled its allocation for climate finance to $25 billion by 2025 with 40% of its total financing going to climate finance. While Africa contributes less than 4% of greenhouse gases, it does suffer from it and has been found – by the International Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – to be heating up faster than the rest of the world – 10 years faster than originally projected.

“This is why the Bank is responding. We are increasingly applying more of our resources to climate adaptation,” Dr Adesina said. “Today, 67% of all our climate finance is in adaptation, which is the highest of any international financial institution in the world.” He quoted UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ recent commendation of the Bank’s leadership when he said at the UN General Assembly: “The African Development Bank has set the bar in 2019 by allocating half of all its climate finance to climate adaptation. Some donors have followed their lead. All must do so.”

Dr Adesina also spoke about the Bank’s collaboration with the Global Center on Adaptation to mobilize $25 billion for African climate adaptation.

Energy

Outlining the Bank’s efforts to light up and power Africa, Dr Adesina spoke about how the institution was harnessing the extensive sources of solar, hydro, wind and geothermal power. He highlighted the Desert to Power project, a $20 billion investment by the Bank and its partners to create the world’s largest solar zone in the Sahel. It will help to develop 10,000 megawatts of electricity and provide electric power to 250 million people.

Environment

On the environment, the Bank president spoke of efforts to protect very fragile and vulnerable regions of the continent from the impact of climate change. He talked about the Great Green Wall initiative launched by the Bank and the African Union, designed to provide an environmental defence shield in the Sahel and the Sahara against desertification.

Trade and investment

On trade, Dr Adesina said the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) represented a huge opportunity to transform Africa with a combined GDP of $3.3 trillion, the largest free trade zone in the world. He said the size of consumer and business expenditures in Africa would rise to $6.7 trillion by 2030. “Africa is no longer a continent that can be ignored,” he said. “And if you are not investing in Africa, the question I would ask is: where in the world are you investing?”

Infrastructure

The ambassadors were presented with several examples of Bank-financed infrastructure projects that were impacting development across the continent. The Bank has invested over $40 billion in infrastructure, working closely with the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development.

“The African Development Bank is the largest financier of infrastructure in Africa – far above the World Bank and far above any institution that you can find,” Dr Adesina told his audience. 

Investment opportunities

Dr Adesina said Africa’s massive infrastructure needs presented viable economic investment opportunities for institutional investors in Africa and those from the United States.

“This is the time to change the investment narrative on Africa in the United States,” he stressed. “The African Development Bank is developing strategic alliances and partnerships, taking advantage of the new outlook of new US administration.

“We are working closely now that the US Development Finance Corporation, The Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Corporate Council on Africa, the United States Trade Development Agency, USAID, and of course, the Department of Energy, PROSPER Africa, and the US Exim Bank to launch a new approach of working together to massively direct US capital investments to infrastructure in Africa.”

The African Development Bank president applauded the US government’s Build Back Better World launched by President Biden. He enjoined the ambassadors as African diplomatic envoys in Washington to help to make this initiative a huge success, describing it as a unique opportunity for Africa. “It is time to expand US investments in Africa at scale,” he stressed.

Africa Investment Forum

While on the subject shoring up US investments in Africa, Dr Adesina spoke about the forthcoming Africa Investment Forum, an annual forum organized by the African Development Bank, which has become Africa’s premier investment marketplace. He said it presented the perfect opportunity to attract greater US investment in Africa.

The ambassadors learned that the maiden edition of the forum in 2018 mobilized $30.7 billion of investment commitment interests to Africa – and this in less than 72 hours.

The Bank president said: “Some people used to think that Africa was not bankable, I know Africa is bankable. I just don’t know where your bank is. You should bring your bank to Africa.”

He said that in 2019 the African Development Bank mobilized $40 billion in investment interest – again, in less than 72 hours. This included a $24 billion transaction for liquefied natural gas in Mozambique and will make Mozambique the third-largest producer of liquified natural gas in the world. 

The African Development Fund 16th Replenishment

The African Development Bank president called on the ambassadors to support the 16th replenishment of the African Development Fund, the Bank’s concessional lending window, which it uses to support low-income and fragile states. He said it was desirable that the African Development Fund be allowed by donors to go to the capital market, just like the World Bank Group’s International Development Association (IDA) had gone to the capital market.

“We have equity in the African Development Fund of $26 billion. But we can go to the capital market and raise an additional $33 billion that we can use to scale up support for African economies, especially low-income countries,” Dr Adesina told the ambassadors. “Your advocacy with donor countries, especially the United States Treasury, and the mobilization of strong support for this is crucial.”

A physical presence in Washington

Finally, the African Development Bank chief said the need for advocacy and for changing the narrative on Africa in the United States made having an African Development Bank office in Washington a matter of importance, and he would be pursuing approval of this with the African Development Bank Board. “It is very important that Africa’s voice be heard. It is very important to have the mindset on Africa change,” he said.

Dr Adesina concluded by emphasizing that “Africa was not begging for help. Africa is an investment destination for the United States, and it must be respected by all, as the frontier of investment in the world.”

Enthusiastic support

The African ambassadors showed enthusiastic support for the Bank’s agenda and commended Dr Adesina for his leadership. They decried the imposition of vaccine passports by developed countries, which was found to be discriminatory against travellers from Africa. They agreed on the need to change the mindset of Africa as a welfare continent that only received but rather one that had a lot to offer.

The ambassadors thanked Dr Adesina for his guidance and welcomed the continued technical support of the Bank, which they felt would make up for the technical expertise that they did not necessarily have in the areas of the Bank’s comparative advantage. There was broad agreement that a Bank office in Washington was timely.

The group said they were engaging with the new administration in Washington and found that there was a new mood in Washington – an interest in doing business with Africa. 

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Bringing dry land in the Sahel back to life

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Workers preparing tractors to start ploughing in Burkina Faso. ©FAO/ Giulio Napolitano

Millions of hectares of farmland are lost to the desert each year in Africa’s Sahel region, but the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is showing that traditional knowledge, combined with the latest technology, can turn arid ground back into fertile soil.

Those trying to grow crops in the Sahel region are often faced with poor soil, erratic rainfail and long periods of drought. However, the introduction of a state-of-the art heavy digger, the Delfino plough, is proving to be, literally, a breakthrough.

As part of its Action Against Desertification (AAD) programme, the FAO has brought the Delfino to four countries in the Sahel region – Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal – to cut through impacted, bone-dry soil to a depth of more than half a metre.

The Delfino plough is extremely efficient: one hundred farmers digging irrigation ditches by hand can cover a hectare a day, but when the Delfino is hooked to a tractor, it can cover 15 to 20 hectares in a day.

Once an area is ploughed, the seeds of woody and herbaceous native species are then sown directly, and inoculated seedlings planted. These species are very resilient and work well in degraded land, providing vegetation cover and improving the productivity of previously barren lands. 

In Burkina Faso and Niger, the target number of hectares for immediate restoration has already been met and extended thanks to the Delfino plough. In Nigeria and Senegal, it is working to scale up the restoration of degraded land.

Farming seen through a half-moon lens

This technology, whilst impressive, is proving to be successful because it is being used in tandem with traditional farming techniques.

“In the end the Delfino is just a plough. A very good and suitable plough, but a plough all the same,” says Moctar Sacande, Coordinator of FAO’s Action Against Desertification programme. “It is when we use it appropriately and in consultation and cooperation that we see such progress.”

The half-moon is a traditional Sahel planting method which creates contours to stop rainwater runoff, improving water infiltration and keeping the soil moist for longer. This creates favourable micro-climate conditions allowing seeds and seedlings to flourish.

The Delfino creates large half-moon catchments ready for planting seeds and seedlings, boosting rainwater harvesting tenfold and making soil more permeable for planting than the traditional – and backbreaking – method of digging by hand.

“The whole community is involved and has benefitted from fodder crops such as hay as high as their knees within just two years”, says Mr. Sacande. “They can feed their livestock and sell the surplus, and move on to gathering products such as edible fruits, natural oils for soaps, wild honey and plants for traditional medicine”.

Women taking the lead

According to Nora Berrahmouni, who was FAO’s Senior Forestry Officer for the African Regional Office when the Delfino was deployed, the plough will also reduce the burden on women.

“The season for the very hard work of hand-digging the half-moon irrigation dams comes when the men of the community have had to move with the animals. So, the work falls on the women,” says Ms. Berrahmouni.

Because the Delfino plough significantly speeds up the ploughing process and reduces the physical labour needed, it gives women extra time to manage their multitude of other tasks.

The project also aims to boost women’s participation in local land restoration on a bigger scale, offering them leadership roles through the village committees that plan the work of restoring land. Under the AAD programme, each site selected for restoration is encouraged to set up a village committee to manage the resources, so as to take ownership right from the beginning.

“Many women are running the local village committees which organise these activities and they are telling us they feel more empowered and respected,” offers Mr. Sacande.

Respecting local knowledge and traditional skills is another key to success. Communities have long understood that half-moon dams are the best way of harvesting rainwater for the long dry season. The mighty Delfino is just making the job more efficient and less physically demanding.

Millions of hectares lost to the desert, forests under threat

And it is urgent that progress is made. Land loss is a driver of many other problems such as hunger, poverty, unemployment, forced migration, conflict and an increased risk of extreme weather events related to climate change.

In Burkina Faso, for example, a third of the landscape is degraded. This means that over nine million hectares of land, once used for agriculture, is no longer viable for farming.

It is projected that degradation will continue to expand at 360 000 hectares per year. If the situation is not reversed, forests are at risk of being cleared to make way for productive agricultural land.

Africa is currently losing four million hectares of forest every year for this reason, yet has more than 700 million hectares of degraded land viable for restoration. By bringing degraded land back to life, farmers do not have to clear additional forest land to turn into cropland for Africa’s rising population and growing food demands.

When Mr. Sacande talks about restoring land in Africa, the passion in his voice is evident. “Restoring degraded land back to productive good health is a huge opportunity for Africa. It brings big social and economic benefits to rural farming communities,” he says. “It’s a bulwark against climate change and it brings technology to enhance traditional knowledge.”

A version of this story first appeared on the FAO website.

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South Africa’s Covid-19 Response Gets a $750 Million Boost

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A volunteer carer called Trinity is working in a COVID-19 field hospital in Nasrec, Johannesburg. IMF/James Oatway

The World Bank Group Board of Executive Directors today approved South Africa’s request for a $750 million development policy loan (DPL). This loan will support the Government of South Africa’s efforts to accelerate its COVID-19 response aimed at protecting the poor and vulnerable from the adverse socio-economic impacts of the pandemic and supporting a resilient and sustainable economic recovery.  

The DPL supports the implementation of South Africa’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP) and is well aligned with the World Bank’s Crisis Response Approach aimed at protecting lives, livelihoods and supporting a more inclusive and resilient growth path. It reflects priorities to modernize the country’s social protection and health services and to improve delivery systems which will apply even beyond the pandemic. It also enhances financial sector stability, specifically the establishment of a deposit insurance scheme. It further supports South Africa’s commitment to climate change. 

“The World Bank budget support is coming at a critical time for us and will contribute towards addressing the financing gap stemming from additional spending in response to the COVID-19 crisis,” says Dondo Mogajane, Director General of National Treasury of South Africa. “It will assist in addressing the immediate challenge of financing critical health and social safety net programs whilst also continuing to develop our economic reform agenda to build back better.”  

The funding is a low interest loan that contributes to the government’s fiscal relief package while reinforcing South Africa’s decisions on how best to provide relief to the economy and those worst affected by the current crisis. The loan complements support by the International Monetary Fund, the African Development Bank, and the New Development Bank as part of the Government of South Africa’s broader financing strategy to access external financing from international financial institutions.  

“With this DPL, we have partnered with the government to provide much needed relief from the impacts of the most serious economic crisis South Africa has experienced in the past 90 years, while tackling long-standing challenges to growth and development. This support aims to put the country on a more resilient and inclusive growth path by leveraging South Africa’s strength to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 crisis through their strong social safety net and by advancing critical economic reforms,” says Marie Françoise Marie Nelly, World Bank Country Director for South Africa. “This financing builds on our new World Bank Group Country Partnership Framework (CPF)  2022 – 2026, jointly developed with the government in July 2021, to help stimulate investment and job creation.” 

As the second largest economy in Africa, South Africa’s economic performance has spillover effects on other countries in the region. Its recovery and successful economic development will provide an economic boost to the whole region. 

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1.5 million children lack treatment for severe wasting in Eastern and Southern Africa

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photo: WFP/Marwa Awad

At least 1.5 million children are not receiving life-saving treatment for severe wasting in Eastern and Southern Africa, warned the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Friday. 

The number represents almost half of the estimated 3.6 million children in urgent need, who are not being reached in time to save their lives or keep them from permanent development damage.

For UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Mohamed M. Fall, “nothing is more devastating than seeing children suffering from severe wasting when we know it could have been prevented and treated.”

Mr. Fall highlights “some outstanding results and success stories”, thanks to the support of donors and partners, but says “the impacts of COVID19, climate change and conflict are creating the perfect storm where needs are quickly outpacing resources.”

For him, “the time to act is now.”

Crises pile up

Across the region, families are dealing with multiple crises, including rising levels of food insecurity, economic deterioration, disease outbreaks, unprecedented cycles of floods and droughts, and conflict.

Millions are having to reduce the quantity or quality of the food they eat in order to survive. In many cases, families are forced to do both.

For UNICEF, this is a looming and preventible tragedy that can, and must, be averted.

Prevention remains the best way to ensure that children survive, avoid permanent cognitive and physical damage, and evade the life-long suffering that results from childhood malnutrition.

With unhindered access and predictable funding, UNICEF believes it can work with partners to save the lives of nearly every child admitted for severe wasting.

The agency is asking for $255 million to scale up its emergency response in 2022. 

Countries in the spotlight

In Angola, where people are facing the consequences of the worst recorded drought in 40 years, UNICEF and partners managed to scale up its response in the most affected provinces (Cuando Cubango, Benguela, Namibe, Huíla and Cunene), with approximately 40 per cent more children treated in 2021 compared to 2020.

In Ethiopia, the country with the largest child population in the region, the agency and partners reached an estimated 500,000 severely wasted children in 2021, but many children in the war-torn north, still need of life-saving support. 

Across four regions, families are struggling for survival as a severe drought takes hold following three consecutive failed rainy seasons. According to the latest data, more than 6.8 million people in drought impacted areas will need urgent humanitarian assistance by mid-2022, many of them children.

In South Sudan, an estimated 1.4 million children under five, are acutely malnourished, including over 310,000 children suffering from severe wasting. 

Last year, UNICEF and partners treated more than 240,000 children, but the situation remains urgent, as floods have killed cattle, washed away food and fields, and blocked humanitarian access.

In Madagascar, where three years of consecutive droughts created one of the worst food insecurity and nutrition crisis in decades, UNICEF and partners last year helped avert a feared famine for many families in the southern part of the country.

UNICEF and partners reached almost double the number of children with treatment for severe wasting when compared to 2020. This is estimated to have saved the lives of at least 55,000 children under five years of age.

In Somalia, more than 255,000 children received treatment for severe wasting last year. With the country undergoing one of the worst droughts ever recorded and suffering from continued violence, 1.3 million children under five, are likely to suffer from wasting this year.

In Kenya, at least 65,000 children were reached in 2021 with treatment services for severe wasting. Right now, an estimated 2.8 million people are food insecure, with 565,044 children suffering wasting -123,000 severely so – and the situation is expected to deteriorate further.

Finally, in Mozambique, insecurity continues to have a negatively impact. Last year, some 38,000 children received treatment for severe wasting, up from 10,000 the year before. 

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