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What are the critical issues facing Africa in 2019?

Africa cannot rely on the rest of the world to drive our economic development.

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People cross the Farafenni Bridge after its inauguration by Senegal's president and Gambia's President on January 21, 2019, in Farafenni - AFP

There has been a lot of good news around Africa recently, and many countries are achieving high economic growth rates – Senegal, Ivory Coast, Kenya, and Ethiopia come to mind. And this is not happening by accident – over the last decade there has been an incredible paradigm shift in most countries, with a recognition that:

  • a country can only be prosperous with a strong private sector – that is, a model of state-led growth cannot succeed
  • countries need to compete globally to build their private sectors, including creating a conducive business environment

This evolution in thinking has been supported with progress on many key measures, including the World Bank Ease of Doing Business rankings of African countries. Rwanda in particular needs to be cited for its outstanding performance, jumping from 41stin the world to 29th, ahead of countries like France, Netherlands, and Switzerland– remarkable (Mauritius remains the top African country at 20th).

However, despite the considerable progress Africa has made, the reality is that we are not growing fast enough.

According to the AfDB’s 2019 African Economic Output report, 2018 growth rate was 3.5% and the projected growth rate for 2019 is 4.0%. This is still below the growth rate required to keep unemployment stable on the continent.

The reason we continue to struggle to reduce unemployment despite the progress in approach to the continent’s economy and the bright spots across the continent in the last decade is because the giants on Africa ; Nigeria and South Africa continue to slow down the continent’s economy.

In the case of both Nigeria and South Africa, 2018 growth was only 1.9%, dragging down the continent’s performance. We will have ample time during the year to examine the country specific issues holding back Nigeria, South Africa, and others. 

For now, let’s examine the overall economic issues for Africa. Here are the 2 biggest issues:

  • The global economic headwinds, their impact and implications for Africa
  • The incredible achievement-in-making that is the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA)

Let’s discuss each of these in turn.

In 2017, there was the concept of globally synchronized growth – that is, strong economic growth occurring in all the major markets – USA, EU, and China – lifting economies around the world. There was an optimism that after 9 years of anemic growth following the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2018, global growth was going to take off. This optimism proved to be short-lived.

As we enter 2019, we face a barrage of global negative economic news that has been building for some time. Some of the issues include:

  • Slowing growth in Europe; this was inevitable given Europe’s rapidlyageing population which seems to have taken leaders by surprise. Slowing growth is a particular problem when combined with high indebtedness, which is a problem in the Eurozone, most acutely in Italy.
  • Fiscal challenges in the US, where the structural deficit at the Federal level has been exacerbated by recent tax cuts, cuts which are unlikely to lead to higher growth, basically because wealthier people don’t spend much more as they earn more
  • High and opaque levels of indebtedness in China. China’s economic miracle for the last decade has relied on ever increasing amounts of debt, often concealed in opaque structures. Recent economic data show this construct is coming to an end, and China’s mal-investment (particularly in real estate) may finally be catching up.

Of course, we all know 3 economists have 10 opinions about the future and it is not our purpose here to predict economic developments in 2019-2020.

The implication for Africa, however, is that Africa cannot rely on the rest of the world to drive our economic development. We need to build a resilient economy that will allow Africa to increasingly proposer, independently of what happens in the rest of the world.

In fact, if we look a little further in the future, by 2050 there will be 3 major poles of population in the world – Indian sub-continent, East Asia (China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam primarily), and Africa. Each of these poles will have 2 billion people. The population in the rest of the world will be shrinking (and shrinking in East Asia as well).

In this world, how can Africa prosper? Well, if we sell raw materials to others – with little or no value added – we will continue to be poor. So we need to sell higher value goods and services. Who will we sell these to? It is unlikely we will sell into Europe and North America because with aging and shrinking populations, it is challenging to sell into these markets (which would require displacing existing suppliers in a shrinking market). Would we be able to sell to China? Unlikely. India? Perhaps some things but not enough.

The market that is most critical for our prosperity is in fact Africa. Africa can only become richer if Africans sell to Africans. There is no other path.

This brings us to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). We believe that Africans should applaud themselves with the remarkable progress AfCFTA has made in a very short period of time. In a world where divisions and fractures between people are becoming greater and greater, and politicians exploit these divisions to sow hatred and discontent, Africa has chosen a different path.

The Africa Union and Afrexim Bank have stepped up to drive this new pan-Africanism, based on economic prosperity and the private sector. In a very short period of time,

  • AfCFTA was signed in Kigali, Rwanda on March 21, 2018
  • 49 member- countries of the African Union have signed the AfCFTA (SEE MAP)
  • 18 countries have ratified the agreement (The proposal will come into force after ratification by 22 of the signatory states)
  • UNECA predicts a 52% increase in intra-African trade by 2022 if AfCFTA is implemented

This is remarkable progress and all those who are driving this new pan-Africanism should be applauded.

So as we look forward to 2019, Africa faces an uncertain economic environment in the rest of the world. But we must use our cohesion and drive the progress of AfCFTA to ensure our future prosperity.


The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect News Central’s editorial stance.

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Op-Ed

Nigeria: Skydiving Without a Parachute Albeit Hopeful

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The polarization in Nigeria today is akin to that of the sixties-the very kind that left a scar in our history.

Besides the polarisation, the standard of living have worsened, heightened by the effect of coronavirus and other sundry economic issues. Sadly, it reminds me of Fantine in Les Miserables who sold her front tooth to buy food-I pray we don’t get to that point.

When Victor Hugo wrote his famous book, it was in reaction to societal happenings. My reactions to the state of Nigeria today, is comparable to a skydiver skydiving without a parachute yet counting on gravity’s grace.

Nearly everything is against us; the economic indices and the general state of play. It makes me more sad when the presidential spokesperson says “wailers should calm down”.

I wail for God and country and I want the best for my country. I will constantly wail until things get better. Perhaps Nigerians can give the leadership a chance at redemption, just so we see if they would turn a new leaf, a new page.

Let’s see how they will fight Covid-19 in 2021. I’ll also like to see how hitherto proposed infrastructural project will help the people. Maybe, somehow the CBN will work at harmonising forex. Maybe, just maybe the security situation will get better.

Perhaps a record number of people will move into middle class in 2021 after living on less than a dollar daily for years. These are my hopes as a Nigerian and if these are what qualify me as a wailer, I will continue to wail for God and for country.

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Op-Ed

Watching America Unravel: A Nigerian’s Perspective

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Watching America Unravel

For some people, Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom was their first experience with the idea that America may not be the greatest country in the world. The gaspin the room when Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) expressed his doubt about it hints at how Americans may feel about the idea that something they’ve been told all their lives and one that may have formed the basis of sneering at people from other countries, may, in fact, be untrue. It’s how I feel when confronted with the facts that gnaw at the assertion that my country – Nigeria – is the giant of Africa. 

Granted, Nigeria is so called mainly because of her population, but also because of its political power and wealth back in the day. It may be hard for many people to fathom this, but the Naira did not always cower at the sight of the Dollar. 

For some of us, we’ve always felt we are way better than many of our neighbours in other countries; yet today, I have seen Ghanaians, who were once learning filmmaking from Nigerians, produce such beautiful pieces that Nollywood – Nigeria’s film industry – can barely match. That is just one of many examples. 

Here is another – according to internetworldstats.com, Kenyans have an internet penetration of 87.2% while Nigeria has 61.2%. While some would raise intelligent arguments about population and other factors, one truth stands out; the average person in Kenya has better access to internet service than I do and that doesn’t help me when I’m in the middle of those very interesting and engaging Twitter wars between Nigeria and Kenya. So, we may lag behind most countries in the arts, tourism, internet penetration, healthcare, and infrastructure, but the Giant of Africa, we are.

Much like Nigeria, America’s might lies in numbers and stories. According to ‘the media’ (we’ll catch up with this guy later), America is the greatest country on earth. When I watch American movies, I can see why and how Americans would believe that. Americans always save the day. American superheroes save the world and the American SWAT team can do all things; but these pale when held against real news stories and statistics that mirror the realities of the American experience. I still cannot get over the fact that conversations around gun legislation are so polarised. To me, it is probably the most interesting thing about America – that people would worry more about guns than life, even their own lives. I know that I may be biased because I live in a country where people don’t just own guns. Apart from that one incident where a distant relative strutted out of his house with a dane gun and fired it into the sky to mark the new year, I have never been in doubt about how guns make me feel – threatened. Even at the hands of my country’s law enforcement officers, guns are a source of trepidation. So, I know that they are not playthings and I find it baffling that Americans don’t mind the risk of putting guns in the hands of “unstable people”; especially because they are notorious for this. According to the American Center for Disease Control, 39,740 people died from gun violence in 2018. Americans are supposedly smarter and this sounds like a no brainer, but what do I know. “The second amendment was put there for a reason” and every gun needs a home.

Well, a country where people have so many unchecked security loopholes would not be my first choice. Nobody wants to leave his house thinking, “if I drive carefully and no drunk person runs me over, maybe someone will hit me during a mass shooting at the mall; but thank goodness for 911. I know help will show up in time”. As a Black person, this is heightened by the thought that anyone – even the police – may hurt me just because they feel threatened by my existence.

But why do I care at all, you may wonder. I am Nigerian and I live a safe distance from white supremacists, greedy pharmaceutical companies, and trigger-happy white people. All these should not be my business especially because I have many problems of my own. In an episode of ABC’s Boston Legal a citizen sued the United States for the ethnic violence in Sudan. The argument was that America’s declaration of interest in the fight against terrorism “wherever it thrives” made other countries that would have stood up to help Sudan, to hold back. Shirley Schmidt (played by Candace Bergen) the prosecuting attorney, asked that if America couldn’t rise to the occasion, it should say so. That’s how I feel about America in many ways.

As we wade through this pandemic, one can hardly quantify what the mixed signals from America have caused governments and individuals outside America, who still look to her as the greatest country in the world. One day, COVID-19 is a small fly and the next, it’s a serious issue; one day Hydroxy-Chloroquine is the answer and the next, it isn’t. One day, bleach can probably work to clear the human system and the next, it resumes its seat on the table of substances that are unfit for ingestion. In the words of Shirley Schmidt, “maybe as a compromise, we can get the US government to declare ‘hey, not our problem’. That way, the world will be on notice that someone else can “play hero” and we can turn our attention to a country like New Zealand, that is swift with a response to gun violence and pandemics and has a better healthcare system. 

One may also ask, if all these are true and America is not the greatest country in the world, why are Africans still flooding U.S. embassies to get visas? Say hello again to our friend ‘the media’. Good stories make good believers and the American media does a fantastic job. I also believe that for most of us, it’s the devil we know. Our family members are there, we’ve learned their culture through movies, etc., we know the language and even if Black people are sometimes killed for no reason, we know we’ll find our own there as opposed to searching for countries that are even more welcoming of immigrants. The rules are more explicitly spelled. The risks too.

Americans complain about their current president so bitterly. I understand we are watching the deterioration of her democracy under his leadership, but I know this man. His kinsman has been my president since 2015 and will remain so until 2022, all things being unequal. If he berates women, embarrasses his state and office, has been part of efforts to oppress certain parts of the population, is uncouth with his words, and lacks empathy; he is pretty much my current president. The only difference is, Trump seems to love pressers but we haven’t had one with our President for years. It doesn’t also help that ours isn’t tech-savvy enough to handle his own Twitter account. 

We know your demons, America and even if our issues are louder than yours, we can risk living with them. We can also live with the fact that, according to one of your journalists, Will McAvoy, America is “7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in the labor force and number 4 in exports.” 

I will confess that beyond all the justifications I have given for my interest in America’s unraveling, there is a more interesting and selfish truth: while I live with the realities of my ailing country, I watch with an embarrassing amusement as Americans wake up to their problems and cry out so loudly over things like health insurance, dwindling respect for democracy and value of life; because as it appears, you are warming up to things my friends and I have lived with, and thrived in spite of. Over the years, we have tried to say that we who go out of our way to do honest work in this country deserve respect in the way you write about us in your movies and books, but all you have always chosen to hear and see is that we are all corrupt alms-seeking beggars. 

Well, what if all I know about America is racism, drug addiction, a corrupt government, mass shootings, and the Capitol take over?

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Op-Ed

The Choice of Deploying COVID-19 Vaccine in Nigeria and The Science

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By PI Imoesi

Recently I read in the news how Nigeria is preparing to procure the COVID-19 vaccine for her citizenry. Is anything wrong in procuring a COVID-19 vaccine? Certainly not, but is there a need for a rush? No. In this piece of write-up, I will address why Nigeria shouldn’t be in a rush in getting the COVID-19 Vaccine, the type of COVID-19 vaccine we should be aiming to procure, and the need for a robust nation-wide seroprevalence study before contemplating on a vaccine.

The current COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t had a devastating effect on the African continent as initially predicted due to the poor healthcare system, poor social amenities and a high population density. Apart from South Africa, the abysmal testing on the continent is completely insignificant in spite of many African countries flouting the COVID-19 non-pharmaceutical interventions.

This is equally applicable in Nigeria a country of over 200 million people, and since the start of the pandemic, Nigeria is yet to test 1% of her population.

Despite the slow testing pace, nonadherence to COVID-19 guidelines, the total death recorded in the country is less than 1500. Some have doubted the accuracy of reported deaths, but when compared to the average death rate over the same 10-month period of the previous year(s) no surge is apparent.

Due to the flouting of precautionary measures aimed at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 disease, one could deduce, a possibility of widespread infection rate in the population. But for reasons yet to be established scientifically, many of the cases in the country are mild or asymptomatic.

Chances are that many Nigerians may have already contracted the virus, recovered without knowing, and by extension acquired a certain level of immunity. Since many of the precautionary measures are completely flouted, there is the possibility of continuous exposure to the virus and depending on the level of immunity based on previous exposure, there could be a risk for continuous reinfection.

In recent preprint paper from Imperial College, London, it was reported health workers with continuous exposure to the virus had no changes in the rate of antibodies positivity. Also, in a recent study conducted 16 – 18 weeks after the first lockdown in the United Kingdom, and published in Science Immunology, it was reported individual with mild or asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection had neutralising antibodies and complemented by multi-specific T-cell responses at 16 – 18 weeks after infection. However, it is unclear how long this level of immunity could last, and the same goes for the current vaccines.

Before deploying a COVID-19 vaccine in Nigeria, it is highly necessary to conduct a large scale seroprevalence study in densely populated cities and towns across the country. This robust study will help establish the true representation of Nigerians with the antibody against SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The situation of COVID-19 in Nigeria is not high burden compared to countries such as South Africa, Brazil, United States of America or the United Kingdom etc. Therefore, the need for hastened mass vaccination may not be so urgent.

Also, the current COVID-19 vaccine is yet to undergo a clinical trial in a black dominant population. And in terms of case fatality rate, cases in Nigeria or Africa are far less compared to western countries, and the average median age of the country is 18.1 and life expectancy 55.8. Based on these peculiarities and the behavioural pattern of the virus in our clime, it is highly essential a clinical trial of the vaccines be carried out. For instance, the Oxford AstraZeneca is currently under clinical trial in Indian under the name COVIShield in line with the Indian Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation.

There have been instances where a few vaccines such as polio and typhoid vaccines proven to be effective in a western population failed to stimulate immunogenic reaction in an Indian population. Also, since the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is currently under clinical trial in Kenya, it is imperative Nigeria and many other Africa countries wait for the final clinical data.

When we finally decide to procure a vaccine, a number of factors should be considered: one, is the vaccine tested on a black dominant population? Has the vaccine undergone thorough clinical trial of Phase I, II, and III? Are the clinical findings published in a reputable peer-review journal? Do we have the right mode for storage? For emphasis, no vaccine is licenced against COVID-19, the current vaccines are authorised for emergency use only. This implies if a COVID-19 vaccine is to be use in Nigeria, such vaccines should undergo thorough clinical trial.

For instance, the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine recently published their data in The New England Journal of Medicine and Lancet Journal respectively. In contrast, there is the COVaxin (Indian), SputnikV (Russia) and SinoPharm (China), these vaccines have been greeted with several controversies within the science community due to lack of transparency.

If we must procure a vaccine in Nigeria, we should be considering the Pfizer/BioNTechModerna or Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. However, since the logistics to deploy the Pfizer/BioNTech requires -70 degree and the Moderna -20 degree; the Oxford AstraZeneca stored at 2 – 8 degrees seems to be the best suitable option for our clime. In terms of cost, the Oxford AstraZeneca cost about £3.00 compared to the Moderna £15.00 and £25.00 for the Pfizer respectively.

I will recommend first, the Oxford AstraZeneca, next Moderna (-200C) and finally, Pfizer/BioNTech if we have the -700C storage capacity. My recommendation is premise on the thoroughness of the development of these vaccines and the transparency; also, the clinical trial data are published already in peer-review journals.

The government of Nigeria should be critical in picking a vaccine backed with reasonable efficacy data in a black dominant population. It is clear the virus as behaved differently in Africa and this should be put into context before procuring any form of COVID-19 vaccine.

PI Imoesi, Ph.D.

Molecular Neuroscientist and Research Fellow, 

Institute of Medical Sciences,

School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition,

University of Aberdeen.

Scotland, United Kingdom.

Work-profilehttps://www.abdn.ac.uk/people/peter.imoesi/

Blogwww.drimoesi.com

Emailpeter.imoesi@abdn.ac.uk

Follow my twitter handle @DrPI_Imoesi.

Hyperlinks:

Rush-vaccines: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/01/scientists-criticize-rushed-approval-indian-covid-19-vaccine-without-efficacy-data?fbclid=IwAR2zS4FaH9VFoumwHZCnM_C8BH7qUITTuHUsdavJHdBTFpEKrHLuixjdvkY

Imperial College Preprint: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.10.26.20219725v1

Moderna: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2022483

Pfizer: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2034577

Discordant neutralising antibodies: https://immunology.sciencemag.org/content/5/54/eabf3698?fbclid=IwAR2AWyxPqW9K3F2cIb_oMgmH4bgMDdNEKZmyUoGBF9px6Doi6RVJ5qi0DA0

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