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Parishioner at the Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi Parishioner at the Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi   (AFP or licensors)

COVID-19 in Africa: Serious social and economic shocks ahead

Beyond the health emergency, COVID-19’s devastating toll on Africa is already being felt. Africa is on the path towards a social and economic emergency.

Vatican News English Africa Service - Vatican City

Africa might still appear to have relatively low COVID-19 cases and fatalities, yet beyond the health emergency, a devastating social and economic crisis is already unfolding.

Listen to what African Finance Ministers are saying

The Vatican COVID-19 Commission - a Commission created by Pope Francis under the guidance of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development has made a passionate appeal to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to focus some of their urgent attention to events unfolding in Africa. The COVID-19 Commission, in particular, appealed to the IMF to double its lending capacity to at least US$2.5 trillion. The Commission is also urging the IMF to allow European countries lend their unused Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to African countries and press the United States to overcome its opposition to the issuance of new SDRs. The Commission’s urgent request is propelled by the certainty that even though Africa has not fared badly in terms of the health emergency, economically, Africa is the worst hit continent by the COVID-19 shock.

“Lenders, both private and public, should pay attention to African Finance Ministers’ requests for an extended debt standstill of two years, and a further request of US$300 billion in new highly concessional financing, expanded access to credit, and debt cancellation. Admittedly, this is a great deal to ask for, but we highlight the urgency of the situation and rich nations, the IMF and World Bank should not delay what is urgent,” said Fr. Augusto Zampini, the Adjunct Secretary at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. He was speaking when he addressed the press after a Webinar on the encyclical, Fratelli Tutti. The Webinar was organised by the Africa Task Force of the Vatican Covid-19 Commission.

No money for essential sectors in Africa

Already the situation on the continent is becoming critical. African governments have no means to import necessary goods as they face foreign exchange shortages and more importantly have no funds for financing essential services such as health, education, and social services. Fr. Zampini further appealed to both the World Bank and the IMF to heed Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, urging those with means to come to the assistance of those who do not.

Heed Pope Francis’ encyclical, Fratelli Tutti

Fr. Zampini, quoted Fratelli Tutti on Page 67 - “The parable eloquently presents the basic decision we need to make in order to rebuild our wounded world. In the face of so much pain and suffering, our only course is to imitate the Good Samaritan. Any other decision would make us either one of the robbers or one of those who walked by without showing compassion for the sufferings of the man on the roadside. The parable shows us how a community can be rebuilt by men and women who identify with the vulnerability of others, who reject the creation of a society of exclusion and act instead as neighbours, lifting up and rehabilitating the fallen for the sake of the common good. At the same time, it warns us about the attitude of those who think only of themselves and fail to shoulder the inevitable responsibilities of life as it is.”

Heavily indebted African countries

International trade and investment are down as a result of COVID-19. Low oil prices have also negatively affected oil-producing African economies. Domestic trade is equally down while in some African countries, the informal sector is feeling the brunt of the lockdowns and restrictions imposed by governments. Without government cushions, many informal businesses might not survive. The worst-hit African countries will be those that are heavily indebted. Some are already on the verge of defaulting on debt servicing.

20 October 2020, 14:37