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Use pandemic response to build a more self-reliant Africa

Discussing the impact of COVID-19 on Africa, the 2021 Ibrahim Governance Weekend (IGW) heard that Africa has demonstrated strong and coordinated leadership in response to the pandemic, and the continent can now leverage the recovery from the crisis to build lasting change for generations to come.

Held in a virtual format for the first time, the IGW brought together prominent voices from across Africa and beyond, including 100 members of the Now Generation Forum, a network of young African leaders from over 40 countries. Discussions were informed by the Foundation’s latest research: COVID-19 in Africa one year on: impact and prospects, a comprehensive analysis of how the pandemic has impacted health, politics, society and economics in Africa.

Across the three days, contributors called for urgent action to ensure that Africa is vaccinated as soon as possible, and outlined the opportunities ahead for a sustainable, African-led recovery. Concluding the event, Mo Ibrahim, Founder and Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, said:

Crises are useful in understanding what doesn’t work and how we need to change. We cannot continue to rely on old paradigms and empty commitments. We need to build a different Africa. We need to move forward and be self-reliant, leveraging the integration of our continent and the full potential of our youth.

The first session of the Ibrahim Forum – Lessons from the pandemic: an urgent call to strengthen Africa’s health capacities – explored the impact of COVID-19 on health systems, access to vaccines, and how African nations can address the critical issue of inadequate basic healthcare capacity. Delivering the keynote address, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization, said:

The pandemic has underlined why it’s so important to invest in Universal Health Coverage, based on primary healthcare and strong community engagement. How can we take on a new and deadly virus if we cannot provide care for basics like maternal healthcare and the treatment of diabetes? Global health security begins in our local clinics and health systems.

In the second session – Managing the fallout: setbacks in democracy and rights, and new triggers of instability – panellists discussed how COVID-19 has impacted the political and social landscape across Africa, with setbacks to recent progress in education and gender equality, and is exacerbating social unrest. Delivering the keynote address, Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations, said:

The pandemic has reversed many of the development gains we have witnessed in recent years and made our task of achieving the SDGs by 2030 even more difficult. For the first time in two decades, we are seeing a rise in extreme poverty. Many informal workers in Africa, the majority of whom are women, have lost their jobs or experienced a dramatic loss of earnings. School closures and digital divides are jeopardising hard-fought gains in learning. While progress towards gender equality might be pushed back a generation.

The final session – Looking ahead: a key opportunity to reinvent Africa’s growth model – looked at the opportunity to create more resilient, sustainable and self-sufficient economies, in response to the pandemic laying bare stark vulnerabilities in Africa’s growth model. Delivering the keynote address, Dr Donald Kaberuka, Special Envoy on COVID-19, African Union, said:

Africa’s demographic momentum is unstoppable. For a long time in the years to come, there will be more African doctors, more African engineers, more African farmers, more African economic actors than from elsewhere in the world. We have to figure out how, within the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, we provide opportunities for our young people.

During the IGW, H.E. Mahamadou Issoufou, Former President of Niger, was honoured as the recipient of the 2020 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in Africa Leadership. Speaking during his one-to-one conversation with Mo Ibrahim at the conclusion of the weekend, President Issoufou said:

I am passionate about African integration and I can see that this is a passion that you, Mo, also share. We will work hand in hand to bring about the Africa we want: a prosperous Africa, a united Africa, a peaceful Africa, and an Africa managed by our children.