AFRICA’S ECONOMIC RECOVERY:
Financing robust post-pandemic growth
Africa’s pandemic recovery requires investments that build the foundation for the region’s future
Africa’s future never looked brighter than it did during my time serving as the World Bank’s vice president for Africa from 2012 through 2018. The continent was home to the world’s fastest-growing economies—a growth fueled by high commodity prices. Free trade was becoming a reality with the rapid approach and realization of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. Political instability was largely under control. And, even in the midst of an Ebola outbreak, the continent largely succeeded in containing the worst health and economic impacts of that virus.
Today, from my position as the managing director of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), I still see Africa’s potential clearly—a global economic driver, digital innovation hub, and model for green, resilient infrastructure. But I am also concerned about Africa’s future, especially for the young people coming of age in a time of great uncertainty. Conflict is on the rise, and the number of countries falling into instability is increasing. The impacts of climate change are worsening each year. And while COVID-19 has affected everyone, it has not affected everyone equally: This truth is especially salient for Africa, which saw decades worth of economic and social progress erased almost overnight.
Millions of people on the continent have already been pushed into poverty. Millions more are teetering on the brink. Africa’s youth is Africa’s biggest asset, but only if they have the opportunities and skills needed to build a better future.
If we do nothing, we risk losing them.
We cannot allow this to happen.
The path forward is clear: We must come together, as public and private actors, to ensure an inclusive, resilient recovery. We must unite around one shared and audacious goal: To create a more equitable and resilient world coming out of the pandemic than the one we had going into it.
As someone who has focused on the Africa region and broader development issues, both professionally and personally, I believe in this vision for our future. I especially believe in it for Africa. And I know private financing will play an essential role in getting us there.
Private sector investments have been critical to Africa’s pandemic response. In the last fiscal year alone, IFC helped mobilize more than $6 billion in investments that helped develop vaccine manufacturers, boost financing access for small businesses, support regional trade, and fund green and digital projects on the continent. These efforts saved lives and jobs during the height of the crisis.
But much more will be needed in the months and years ahead. The pandemic exposed and exacerbated existing vulnerabilities in many countries’ physical and social infrastructures. Addressing these vulnerabilities will be key to ensuring no one is left behind as we move from response to recovery. Moreover, it will also safeguard against future global crises that could otherwise derail hard-fought development gains.
A few issues in particular require our urgent attention.
First, a healthy and resilient economy relies on healthy and resilient people, which vaccines help to support. While important progress is being made in this space in response to COVID-19, there are larger gaps in Africa’s immunization coverage that still need to be filled. Consider this: Almost 10 million African children each year do not receive the final dose of the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP) vaccine.
We need more partnerships between the private and public sectors that can help reduce the continent’s reliance on vaccine imports. Increasing regional production will support more affordable and widely available vaccines—saving lives and protecting Africa’s valuable human capital.
Second, we all know that trade is the lifeblood of any economy—but a lack of trade finance is holding Africa back from reaching its full economic potential. The continent’s trade finance gap was more than $80 billion before COVID-19, and it is certainly larger today. This gap makes it harder for goods to move across borders and for businesses to innovate, create jobs, and drive economic growth.
Development finance institutions like IFC have an important role to play in increasing the availability of trade financing in Africa. But these commitments must be supported by both the public and private sectors to ensure that demand is being met and money keeps flowing.
Third, the pandemic demonstrated that digital access is no longer a luxury reserved for a privileged few, but a necessity for all. The next “Bill Gates” may very well come from Africa—but only if we close the digital divide.
Creating secure, reliable digital infrastructure is an urgent priority for the continent—and harnessing the power of the private sector is the fastest and most effective way to accomplish it. Universal and affordable broadband access is within reach for Africa, but we must act with intention and coordination to seize it.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, private sector financing will be essential to addressing both climate change and Africa’s growing energy needs. We cannot forget that 578 million people in Africa still lack energy access—cutting them off from educational opportunities and the entire digital economy.
Electrifying Africa is not up for debate. It needs to happen, and it needs to happen as quickly as possible. But how it happens is just as important. By supporting blended financing options, creating a pipeline of bankable projects, and embracing innovative mitigation and adaptation solutions, we can get power to every household in every country—sustainably.
We find ourselves at a once-in-a-generation moment of possibility. We have the chance to create a better, greener, and more inclusive future for Africa. That vision is within reach. But we will only be able to seize it by prioritizing long-term investments over short-term fixes. Building infrastructure, lifting up small businesses, nurturing people—these are the investments that pay off for generations to come. They are the investments that will build the foundation for Africa’s future.
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