Coping with the huge economic shock in Africa

An interview with Alain Le Roy.

©UN Security Council, Photo: UN News

Alain Boinet: Faced with the consequences of the Covid pandemic-19, 18 African and European Heads of State and Government and heads of international institutions, including President Macron, have called for a common response for Africa. What were the main commitments made at that time?

Alain Le Roy: This initiative was launched in a column published on 15 April in Jeune Afrique and the Financial Times, at France’s suggestion. It includes commitments to strengthen the mobilisation of the international community in the response to the Covid in Africa through four pillars: strengthening health systems, economic support, humanitarian support and support for African research.

Within this framework, what is your mission, how and with whom do you act to concretize these commitments?

The mission I have been given is that of special envoy of the President of the Republic to coordinate the implementation of this initiative by the various French entities, in liaison of course with our various partners, particularly European ones.  I am therefore in regular contact with the five special envoys appointed by the African Union for this initiative to ensure that we are working in the same direction in order to make these commitments concrete, particularly vis-à-vis the G20, the IMF and the World Bank.

How and to what extent will France’s aid contribute to this initiative?

France is very active in the various international forums and with its African partners to ensure that the commitments will be kept. At the bilateral level, it has already announced €1.15 billion in aid through AFD’s Joint Health Program which includes €150 million in grants, most of which has already been allocated to various health projects, including through NGOs, and €1 billion in loans that are currently being allocated. In addition, France has made commitments to increase its contribution to the WHO, GAVI, Unitaid, to finance the ACT-A initiative, which France wanted to finance and which relates to diagnostics, treatments, vaccines and health systems, … As well as its plea to make future vaccines global public goods, as now admitted by the WHO General Assembly, a major step forward.

What is the estimate of the means needed by Africa and how and by whom should they be mobilized and implemented? How can this support be translated into action between debt moratoria, debt cancellation and the provision of additional financial resources?

There are many different estimates of Africa’s current needs with regard to the Covid, the most credible being those of the African Union and the United Nations, which range between $100 and $200 billion. The European Union and its various member states, the IMF, the World Bank, China, the African Development Bank, numerous bilateral and multilateral development banks and many others are helping to meet these needs.

With regard to the debt of African countries, I would remind you that France chairs the Paris Club and co-chairs the G20 working group on debt with Korea, and that it was at France’s insistence that the moratorium on debt owed to official creditors was approved by all G20 members.  This moratorium is currently being put into operation and a public point will be made at the end of the meeting of the G20 finance ministers on 18 and 19 July.

© G20, 2018, photo : UN News

In the autumn, decisions will be taken on the extension of the moratorium and country-by-country debt sustainability analyses will be carried out to determine when the debt should be cancelled.

What are the next deadlines and what do you expect from the next G7 in this regard?

As far as the G7 is concerned, no date has yet been set by the US Presidency for the summit; we would obviously have liked the G7 to give this initiative strong support.

With regard to the G20, under the Saudi Presidency this year, the next deadline as indicated is the meeting of the finance ministers on 18 and 19 July; as for the summit of the G20 heads of state, it should take place on 21 and 22 November.

In the meantime, of course, there are a great many meetings at a technical level.

NGOs and Coordination SUD are concerned about the risk of insufficient additional funds separate from ODA. What is your response to them?

It is clear that ODA is never sufficient, as all countries have particularly strong budgetary constraints in this period of global economic crisis due to the pandemic.

But we must nonetheless highlight the major efforts made for Africa during this period, in billions of euros, by France, the European Union and its Member States, the emergency aid from the IMF and the World Bank, the African Development Bank and all the other players, including in terms of guarantees for the African private sector, which is suffering particularly badly. It is essential that the African private sector, which is a major provider of jobs and which has developed considerably over the last twenty years, should continue to have access to bank financing.

Beyond the unavoidable urgency, this crisis will have a serious impact on the Sustainable Development Objectives for 2030.  How can we support and accompany the efforts of African countries to achieve the 17 SDO objectives in the service of populations, particularly the most fragile and in crisis situations?

The current response is, of course, a response to the emergency, but each State and each intervening institution, whether African or non-African, must take to heart in its interventions the need to continue to work towards achieving the 17 SDO objectives, which have been approved by all and remain absolutely relevant. The long-term dimension must remain in everyone’s mind. In any case, France is paying particular attention to it.

What are the results that would make it possible to say “mission accomplished” for the 18 Heads of State, Government and international institutions and the countries of Africa?

It’s hard to say. Obviously, the first important result would be that the health crisis remains limited and that the number of people infected by the Covid or who have died because of it remains close to current levels. And that the crisis has been an opportunity for all African health systems to be strengthened, which seems to us to be an absolute necessity. Then of course that the enormous economic shock that Africa is currently experiencing has not resulted in too severe a recession, and that all the remarkable economic progress recorded by Africa in recent years has not been undermined too markedly. And that the international community has responded in a convergent manner.

How would you like to conclude?

Simply by recalling that States and international institutions, despite their good will and very strong commitment, cannot do everything and that the role of humanitarian organizations therefore remains irreplaceable.

Alain Le Roy

Alain Le Roy is Ambassador of France and Honorary Master Counsellor at the Court of Auditors. He has been French Ambassador to Madagascar and Italy, as well as Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations in charge of peacekeeping operations and Secretary-General of the European External Action Service.