▪︎”Debt relief for Africa without commercial debt not sustainable”
By Laolu Akande, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media & Publicity, Office of the Vice President
In order to effectively contain the spread of the Coronavirus disease across the globe, the deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine should be done in an equitable and affordable manner rather than on the basis of the highest bidder, according to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN).
The Vice President stated this on Friday at the virtual 2020 EURAFRICA Forum themed “Towards a realistic Euro-African partnership during and beyond the COVID-19 era”.
The summit featured presentation from notable global leaders including the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Antonio Guterres, the Prime Minister of Cape Verde, Mr Ulisses Correia Silva, among others speakers.
The EurAfrican Forum aims to foster stronger collaboration between Europe and Africa, and better promote a shared green and inclusive growth, among other objectives.
Speaking on the need for an equitable distribution of vaccines to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, Prof. Osinbajo said the first thing that comes to mind “is to ensure widespread and equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine.”
According to him, “Europe should work closely with Africa to ensure that when a vaccine is finally deployed it should not be on the basis of the highest bidder but rather be made available at an affordable and in an accessible manner.
“This is a matter that should not be taken for granted. We saw during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, in richer parts of the world, that orders for test kits and reagents by African countries were deemed too small and tended to be ignored.”
Further stressing the point in support of Africa and developing countries in general, the Vice President called on the European Union to support the initiatives aimed at promoting vaccine access to poorer countries.
He said “although Nigeria does not have the resources or means to pre-pay for a COVID-19 vaccine, we are fortunate to be a GAVI supported country and we urge the EU to lend support to GAVI’s effort to ensure equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines under the COVAX initiative. This way, poorer countries and their citizens will get the vaccines that they need at the same time as the rest of the world.”
Emphasizing the need to review the state of partnership between Africa and Europe, the Vice President said the summit offered an opportunity for both continents to share perspectives on matters of mutual interest.
According to him, “A global crisis calls for global partnerships. If COVID-19 exists in any part of the world, it remains a significant threat to every part of the world.
“The partnership between Africa and the European Union is good platform for both sides to work together on economic recovery and rebuilding of health systems. It is also equally important that we become even stronger advocates for closer international cooperation to tackle the fall out of COVID-19.”
Prof. Osinbajo also spoke about Nigeria’s efforts in mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, noting that Nigeria’s “priority is to ward off a deep recession.”
He said “we developed an Economic Sustainability Plan consisting of measures to support local businesses, retain and create jobs and to improve the circumstances of the most vulnerable.
“The Plan bolsters our health interventions and promotes the use labour-intensive methods in key areas like agriculture, light manufacturing, housing, and facilities management.”
Raising the issue of debt relief for Africa in the era of COVID-19, Prof. Osinbajo said given the continent’s previous structural vulnerabilities and limitations, debt relief involving commercial debts was desirable.
According to the Vice President, “We continue to experience huge financing gaps, huge debt servicing obligations and foreign exchange shortages. It is clear then that we need all the help we can get.
“The Debt Servicing Support Initiative of the G20 is welcome and will no doubt bring some relief to relevant African countries. However, it remains inadequate because it does not address the problem of commercial debt service obligations.”
Continuing, he said “the share of commercial debt is almost two thirds of debt service in Africa so any debt relief arrangement not involving this segment is unlikely to succeed.
“Getting relief on commercial debt servicing will require the cooperation of bondholders and ratings agencies which is why the African Union Special Envoys on COVID-19 are engaging with them actively. Nigeria calls on the EU to lend its weight to this initiative which is very important for Africa.”