Remarks delivered by H.E. Wavel Ramkalawan, President of the Republic of Seychelles during the conference of the Renew Europe Group in the European Parliament and its Delegation for the Pacific, Africa, and the Caribbean (RENEWPAC) under the theme “Europe
14 April 2021 | Foreign Affairs
- Renew Europe President and former European Commissioner Dacian Ciolos ;
- Co-President of the ACP JAP - Louis Michel;
- Distinguished delegates.
I am honoured to address this august virtual meeting themed “Europe & Africa: Rebuilding the future.”
The virtual mode of the conference attests to the unusual situation that the entire world finds itself in due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The entire global economy and society has been significantly disrupted by Covid-19. The consequential lockdowns, while necessary for health and safety, resulted in mass production shutdown, global supply chain interruptions, adverse impact on global capital markets, severe upsets of trade and drastic reduction in demand across all sectors of the global economy.
For most African economies, the lockdowns, curfews, closure of markets and mines, restrictions on cross-border movements and strict restriction measures left a trail of anguish. This included massive job losses and rising food prices, coupled by the plunge in commodity prices. All this has serious ramifications on current and future production capacities.
It must be remembered that most African countries were already facing economic challenges before Covid-19. The pandemic has therefore, aggravated the vulnerability of citizens of the continent, a significant percentage of whom were already living in extreme poverty as countries grappled with climate shocks, energy deficit, rising debt levels, acute food and water insecurity, high chronic malnutrition, livestock diseases and crop destruction caused by dry spells, flash floods and migratory locusts.
As Africa and Europe continue to aspire to the highest standards of democratic governance, we must remain aware of the many abuses of human rights that continue to ravage our countries. The struggles may be different in some ways, but at the end of the day, be it that we are fighting for the rights of Africans born with albinism, protecting the girl child or simply having fair electoral process, both Europe and Africa have to do it together.
As we reflect on the theme and seek to rebuild a future together, Africa and Europe must draw the critical lessons we have learnt from Covid-19.
One of the immediate lessons is the fact that we are all weak or strong together. While the pandemic started in one part of the world, it quickly spread across the world to become a global phenomenon, everyone’s concern.
Since the pandemic is global, our responses to it, including access to vaccinations, ought to be global as well if we want a secure future, let alone a future. It is clear that no one is safe until everyone is safe. News of some wealthy countries that are entering into direct agreements with vaccine developers to secure millions of doses for the exclusive use of their own citizens, thereby limiting the supply of vaccines available for low- and middle-income countries does little to guarantee global safety from the pandemic.
European and African Parliamentarians should have serious conversations regarding ensuring adequate funding to the financing mechanisms supporting access to the Covid vaccines, in particular the need for international development agencies, including the European Union, to prioritise funding the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, for instance, in order to secure vaccine access for low- and middle-income countries.
In view of the above, I wish to reiterate the call by the World Health Organisation to ensure equitable distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine by ensuring that the distribution criteria are clear, ethical, rights-based, and include metrics for ensuring vaccine access for prioritised populations.
As we ponder on the post-Covid future, we need to prioritise building local capacities not just for industry and trade but also capacity of the state. The Covid-19 experience has revealed significant capacity gaps in African states, and it was not a coincidence that where state institutions were weak, the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic was also poor.
Indeed, we need to give priority to building the capacity of the state to respond to future pandemics and natural disasters, including the health systems. There is a compelling case for national investment into building health systems and supply chains not only for the deployment of Covid-19, but also to cater for the provision of health services to the citizens who are already reeling from the effects of the pandemic.
Increasing crippling debt is also hampering the capacity of African states to respond to Covid-19 and put in place viable post-Covid economic recovery programmes. This conference should therefore, based on the evidence available, seriously consider debt cancellation and debt restructuring for some African countries by European and other international creditors.
The post-Covid future that Europe and Africa must seek to leverage on is multilateralism, including in trade. While we have witnessed growing pockets of scepticism towards multilateral trading system, our collaboration should seek to build on the gains we have made over the years.
On its part, Africa is moving to consolidate and advance its continental market integration objectives and to unlock its full productive capacity through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Africa views the AfCFTA as the opportunity to reconfigure its supply chains, build local capacity and to expedite the establishment of regional value chains that will boost intra-Africa trade.
The AfCFTA will also assist Africa to address the traditional teething trade and economic development challenges such as market fragmentation, smallness of national economies, over reliance on the export of primary commodities, narrow export base due to shallow manufacturing capacity, lack of export specialisation, under-developed industrial regional value chains, and high regulatory and tariff barriers to intra-Africa trade amongst others.
Europe should therefore, partner Africa in the implementation of the AfCFTA and assist the continent to boost intra-Africa trade, improve economies of scale and to establish an integrated market. Through technological transfer and related financial and technical support from the Europe, Africa should be able to unlock and catalyse its industrial development capacity and be able to export value-added products rather than raw materials as in the past.
Europe should view the AfCFTA as an opportunity rather than a threat since it will help to improve Africa’s competitiveness in its own markets and globally. This will make Africa a competitive investment destination for the European investor community since the continent will be open for business based on a single rule-book for trade and investment.
As I conclude, allow me to invite you to tap from Africa wisdom in the form of a proverb which best describes how Europe and Africa must join hands in rebuilding the future together. It says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
I thank you.