Africa’s super-rich asked to step up in the fight against Ebola

2014-11-09 18:00

Scores of Africa’s business heavyweights and billionaires were expected to attend a fundraising conference at the African Union (AU) in Ethiopia this weekend, but by Friday, there were only a few of the richest people on the continent in attendance.

The AU wants to raise $100 million (R1.1 billion) to fight the Ebola epidemic.

African Rainbow Minerals executive chair Patrice Motsepe, FirstRand CEO Sizwe Nxasana, MTN CEO Sifiso Dabengwa, Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala and Amabubesi CEO Peter Moyo were all on the list of South Africans set to attend.

The AU’s call for the continent’s major businessmen and corporations to fund its Ebola containment effort is “late, but better than never”, says one of the businessmen attending the forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this weekend.

Kola Karim, CEO of Nigerian conglomerate Shoreline Energy and one of the businessmen at the forum, said the stated target of $100?million was possible to achieve. He had approached his company’s board to contribute up to $1?million, he told City Press before the event this week.

The AU has already sent 100 personnel in various capacities to help affected countries contain the virus and has rounded up another 2?800 to join the containment effort.

Getting them on the ground and fully resourced was another matter, which is the primary purpose of the AU fundraising event, said Karim. “If there are enough doctors there, we can contain it.

“We don’t want these 2?800 African doctors to arrive there and have to wait on US or UN aid. It is a targeted budget. I’m sure we will raise it,” said Karim.

Practically speaking, the event is about getting “serious-minded businessmen around a table to support this – and to keep it from becoming a talk shop”, he told City Press.

The forum had extended invitations to “100 of the top drivers of change” from the continent’s private sectors, said Karim, including billionaire buinessmen such as Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote and Tony Elumelo of United Bank of Africa.

“The fundamental problem is that the international press just shows you a map of Africa saying ‘Ebola’,” said Karim.

With increasingly dire estimates of the economic consequences if the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone is not contained within the next two months, there is an increasing confluence of medical and economic responses.

The UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, under which the World Health Organisation is working, is still missing 36% of the $260?million budget it has asked the world for to contain the virus by the end of the year.

Economic interventions are starting to overtake those aimed at quarantine, treatment and burial as it becomes clear that the outbreak is already maiming the region’s economy and state capacities.

The enormous “mobilisation” of almost $1?billion by the World Bank Group includes hundreds of millions in loans to businesses via its private sector financing arm, the International Finance Corporation.

Increasingly dramatic estimates of what the outbreak could do economically if it is not contained by the end of this year have been led by the World Bank.

According to the World Bank, the lost gross domestic product in the three countries will be about $3.8?billion by the end of 2015 – in the best-case scenario.

If the outbreak is not contained and spreads to the urban centres of larger neighbouring countries, the damage increases exponentially.

This “high Ebola” case assumes that the virus spills over into a number of other countries, including Nigeria, infects 200?000 and kills 100?000 people.

The cost would be $33?billion, which is how much lower the World Bank estimates the combined gross domestic product of the whole west African region will be compared with the previous pre-Ebola World Bank forecasts.

Analysts at Ecobank, in which Nedbank recently bought a 20% stake, have called the analysis “too pessimistic”.

The $33?billion estimate would involve a large outbreak in Nigeria, where the first cases of Ebola seem to have been successfully contained almost immediately, the bank said in a research note.

The economic impact is, however, more widely spread and not necessarily well captured in gross domestic product numbers, which reflect major investments, while the actual damage will be felt by small-scale agriculture.

Fear, as well as quarantines, are keeping people from farming and harvesting.

The Ebola outbreak has caused almost 5?000 deaths resulting from 13?000 known infections – but these numbers could be largely underestimated.

The results of the interventions so far are uneven. The World Health Organisation is now producing weekly situation reports.

This week, it reported that the new cases in Guinea seem to be stabilising. In Liberia, they are seemingly declining, but in Sierra Leone, they seem to be rising.

Where is the money going?

The “business to rescue” fund is intended to replenish the special emergency assistance fund for drought and famine in Africa, which was created by the AU in the 1980s and is administered by the African Development Bank.

The fund disbursed money earlier this year for Ebola containment, but has run dry.

Both Nigeria and Senegal have been declared Ebola-free after 42 days without new infections.

Van Rensburg was a guest of the African Union. They covered all his expenses and travel costs

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