Europeans must not forget that an essential part of their prosperity, health and security depends on what is being played out in Africa.
Emmanuel Macron went to Kigali in order to normalize relations with Rwanda, which, under the iron fist of Paul Kagame, has become one of the most dynamic economies on the African continent and one of its key nations. With regard to the genocide committed against the Tutsi in 1994, which left 800,000 dead, President Macron has recognized the responsibility of the French political authorities and that François Mitterrand turned a blind eye to it. There are undoubtedly sound reasons for this reconciliation. However, it should not shift our gaze from the future and conceal the challenges that the Covid crisis poses for Africa.
At the beginning of the 21st century, Africa seemed at long last on its way to self-development and to asserting itself as the new emerging continent. During the first decade of this century, supported by globalization and the rise of a middle class, its annual growth rate was 5.5%, higher than the rate at which its population was increasing. This dynamic proved resistant to the 2008 crash, because, in 2018, Africa showed a growth rate of 3.5%. However, it has been dealt a slap in the face by the pandemic.
At first sight, Africa seems to have been relatively well protected because of its young population and a resilience acquired from its experience of AIDS and the Ebolavirus.
Officially, there have only been 4.8 million cases of Covid in Africa and 130,000 deaths, for 1.2 billion inhabitants. But these figures are grossly underestimated and the continent is highly vulnerable to new waves brought on by variants of the virus. South Africa is a good example, with 1.65 million cases and 56,000 deaths. The fact is, Africa has no health policies, hospitals or any pharmaceutical industry to test, care for and vaccinate the population.
The same goes for the economy. In the absence of any social buffer, 60 million people have fallen into deep poverty, and there are also 425 million who live on less than $2 a day. Africa is not well placed to be part of global recovery, which varies a great deal between countries.
At the same time, the continent is seeing a rise in violence and a decline in the rule of law. Jihadism is forever gaining ground, from Somalia to Mozambique and from Egypt to the Gulf of Guinea, not forgetting the Sahel.
Aside from the economic crisis, the Covid epidemic has brought to light the continent’s weaknesses, which may well jeopardize its economic take-off. Firstly, the countries are in decay, with inadequate health and education systems – tens of millions of children have been de-schooled, presaging a strong resurgence of illiteracy. Secondly, huge inequalities exist and the middle classes are fragile. Thirdly, there is a lack of investment and of infrastructures. Finally, there is political instability, the rule of law is not always applied and corruption is rife. In contrast, the pandemic has underlined that fact that, as in Asia and in Europe, the countries that have come off best in terms of healthcare and the economy are the ones with trustworthy governance and a diversified production structure such as Morocco, Togo, Ghana and Rwanda.
Africa is therefore at a turning point, and the direction it takes will have an effect on the course of the 21st century. For the world in general, and for Europe in particular, it presents several determining factors: its demographic (it will have 2.5 billion inhabitants in 2050 and 4.5 billion in 2100), its development, its fight against global warming, and its security.
Its progressive recovery from the epidemic must be accompanied by a global support strategy that cannot be limited to the combatting terrorism and controlling immigration, even though these may be indispensable. There are five priorities:
- To make anti-Covid vaccine available on a massive scale;
- To mobilize finance, notably in the form of drawing rights from the IMF, so as to promote recovery by targeting infrastructures and private companies;
- To strengthen education and health systems;
- To restructure public and private debt;
- To open up frontiers and set up an effective continent-wide free-trade area, creating a single market of 1.2 billion people.
The pandemic has been a sharp reminder that the 21st century will be dominated by global risks and that people, nations and continents have never been so interdependent. At a time when a new Cold War is developing between the USA and China, and there are renewed tensions with the Russian and Turkish démocratures [démocrature = a combination of democracy and dictatorship], Europeans must not forget that an essential part of their prosperity, health and security depends on what is being played out in Africa, and that it would be totally irresponsible to abandon it to viruses, poverty, violence and China.
(Column published in Le Figaro, 31st mai 2021)