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Africa opportunity Edwin Remsberg/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Africa’s Opportunity

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened Africa’s political and economic problems, and increased its funding needs, the crisis may yet trigger bold initiatives in international relations, trade, debt sustainability, and foreign investment. Will Africa and the world seize the chance to chart a new and better course?

In this Big Picture, Harvard University’s Célestin Monga urges US President Joe Biden’s administration to rekindle the US-Africa relationship at the symbolic, strategic, and operational levels. Likewise, Carlos Lopes of the University of Cape Town shows why Africa and the European Union – the region’s main trade and investment partner – should revamp their ties and build a stronger, more equal partnership. And Hippolyte Fofack of the African Export-Import Bank and Pat Utomi of the African Union’s Pan-African Private Sector Trade and Investment Committee explain why Africa must demand a level playing field from the World Trade Organization.

Turning to the pandemic’s impact on debt sustainability, Paola Subacchi of the University of London’s Queen Mary Global Policy Institute warns that repayment moratoria for African countries, including under the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), will not solve the problems caused by large-scale Chinese lending. Even if the DSSI is fully implemented, argue Brahima Coulibaly of the Brookings Institution, former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and Vera Songwe of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, multilateral lenders will still need to close Africa’s pandemic-response funding gap.

But Johns Hopkins University’s Anne O. Krueger doubts that the DSSI’s shortcomings reflect its limited scope and scale. She argues that rich countries should provide poorer ones with pandemic-related necessities, rather than relying on imprecise debt-relief efforts that relieve pressure on governments to embrace growth-enhancing reforms. In a similar vein, the Ecobank Foundation’s Carl Manlan and Efosa Ojomo of the Clayton Christensen Institute urge African leaders to emulate China and target the continent’s 165-million-strong diaspora in order to attract more foreign direct investment.

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