Africa in the news: Nigeria, climate change, and Tunisia updates

Volunteers of the Lagos food bank initiative prepare for a food aid distribution in a community in Oworoshoki, Lagos, Nigeria July 10, 2021. Picture taken July 10, 2021. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

COVID-19 maintains lingering economic disruption in Nigeria

On Tuesday, Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics and the United Nations Development Program reported that approximately 20 percent of workers in Nigeria lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the joint research examining the pandemic’s impact on Africa’s largest economy uncovered a staggering 33 percent unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2020. Informal-sector workers particularly struggled to access credit and funding to stay open as commerce slowed. Notably, losses across sectors were not uniform, as more than half of the businesses surveyed managed to retain their staffing levels, a finding which the authors say suggests that Nigeria maintained “pockets of resilience” throughout the pandemic.

In related news, on Wednesday, JP Morgan announced markedly lower economic growth forecasts for Nigeria than the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Central Bank of Nigeria. JP Morgan now predicts that the Nigerian economy, which contracted by 1.79 percent in 2020, will grow by only 1.5 percent in 2021. The IMF and Central Bank of Nigeria had estimated GDP growth to be about 2.5 and 3 percent, respectively, for the country this year. JP Morgan explained its prediction of a weaker outlook on the country’s “continued lack of foreign-exchange liquidity, underlying economic weakness, an emerging third wave of Covid-19 infections and a slow rollout of vaccines will likely slow the recovery process.”

For more commentary on COVID-19’s impacts on Nigeria’s economy, see: “Understanding the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the Nigerian economy.” For more on strategies for creating jobs for Africa’s youth, see the paper, “Addressing youth unemployment in Africa through industries without smokestacks: A synthesis on prospects, constraints, and policies.”

Gabon wants payment for its role in the fight against climate change; South Africa takes steps to reduce emissions

Earlier this week, officials in Gabon stated that the country will be seeking payment for its role in the fight against climate change. Importantly, in March of last year, a study published by the journal Nature found that many areas of the Congo Basin were showing signs of reduced carbon uptake and specifically predicted that, by 2030, the basin will absorb 14 percent less carbon than over the previous 10 to 15 years. This decrease in the carbon-absorbing capabilities of the Congo Basin will be detrimental to the fight against climate change given the area’s key role in regulating moisture transport, rainfall patterns, and the global climate. In fact, according to the study, while the Congo Basin is the world’s second-largest rainforest behind the Amazon, it stores more carbon over the same area of land. Gabon, which is home to 12 percent of the Congo Basin, has managed to protect its share of the rainforest, making it one of the few carbon-negative countries in the world.

In related updates, on Thursday, September 23, South Africa’s cabinet adopted new, ambitious emissions reduction targets. As a result, South Africa, Africa’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, is now aiming to reduce emissions to between 350 million and 420 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2030. This announcement comes ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in November where South Africa’s state-owned power company, Eskom, plans to ask for funding to help finance its shift from coal to renewable energy sources. Similarly, an announcement by the Minerals Council of South Africa stated that South African mining companies plan to invest $2.7 billion to construct 2,000 megawatts of power generation capacity. According to Bloomberg, persistent power cuts by Eskom have pushed mining companies to develop power plants, and mining companies have shown a willingness to move away from power fueled by coal as investors become more attentive to the climate crisis.

In other climate news, a startup in Benin has been building computers from jerrycans—plastic containers used for carrying liquids. The startup, BlowLab, has not only been utilizing recycled jerrycans, old computer parts, and other recycled materials to build computers, but has also been teaching others how to build their own for free. These computers are also cost-effective: A traditional office computer can cost between 300 and 350,000 CFA francs ($0.54 and $625) while the “jerrys” can cost between 100 and 150,000 CFA francs ($0.18 and $266). BlowLab has also announced plans to make these computers available to schools in remote areas.

Tunisian president declares rule by decree

On Wednesday, September 22, Tunisian President Kais Saied announced new measures that will allow him to rule by decree, ignoring stipulations in the current constitution. The measures, which include bestowing himself with the power to unilaterally issue legislative directives and appoint cabinet positions, come on the heels of Saied suspending the Tunisian parliament and sacking the prime minister on July 25. The actions of the past few months have drawn criticism from Tunisian political rivals as well as from Western donors, who have pressured Saied to take steps toward finding a new prime minister and reinstating democratic rule. On Thursday, four political parties in opposition to the president (who ran as an independent)—Attayar, Al Jouhmouri, Akef and Ettakatol—released a joint statement condemning Saied’s decision, stating, “We consider the president has lost his legitimacy by violating the constitution.” The party with the greatest representation in Tunisia’s parliament, Ennahda, also rejected Saied’s claim and had previously called his suspension of the parliament a “coup.”

In Wednesday’s announcement, Saied indicated that he would form a committee to draft amendments to the 2014 constitution with the goal of eventually establishing “a true democracy in which the people are truly sovereign.” In the meantime, Saied indicated that the preamble to the 2014 constitution and any clauses that do not contradict his new legislative and executive powers will still be enforceable.