Trevor Manuel: Africa offers great investments thanks to urbanisation, free-trade agreement

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Trevor Manuel, former finance minister and the current chairperson of Old Mutual.
Trevor Manuel, former finance minister and the current chairperson of Old Mutual.
elvira wood
  • An essential part of the post-Covid-19 recovery is the roll-out of vaccines, says former finance minister Trevor Manuel.
  • He highlighted that only 1% of the adult population in Nigeria has been vaccinated.
  • But Manuel stressed the opportunities offered by Africa, thanks to a young population and other factors like urbanisation and the continent's free trade agreement.

Core to the post-Covid-19 recovery is vaccination, says former finance minister Trevor Manuel.

Manuel was speaking in his capacity as chairperson of Old Mutual, during a virtual conference hosted by the international organisation Global Steering Group (GSG). GSG promotes investment that is beneficial for the environment and society.

In his address, Manuel noted the economic impact of the pandemic, especially on the poor. "… [M]ost contributing economic sectors were devastated as the economy shut down. Mining ground to a halt a similar fate a way to trade and the massive demand slump. In so many countries, tourism receipts reduced to zero, and remittances dried up completely. Governments had virtually zero tax revenue," he said.

In contrast to other parts of the world, most countries in Africa lacked the social safety nets to support their populations, he said. The African economy effectively shrunk 3.3% during 2020, compared to growth of 3.8% in the prior year. According to the African Development Bank's African Economic Outlook Report for 2021, the continent's economy during 2020 suffered its worst recession in 50 years, Fin24 previously reported.

"We need to focus on the post Covid recovery. And essential part of this is vaccination rollout," said Manuel.

"… [I]n Nigeria, a country of some 200 million people, only 1% has been vaccinated when compared to the vaccination rates attained in the G7 countries. This is a disaster that can and must be averted," he said. "Unfortunately, the vaccine nationalism has mirrored the approach of capital flows."

According to data from the University of Oxford, less than half (45.7%) of the world's population has at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Only 2.3% of low-income countries have received at least one dose.

As at 6 October, for most of Africa, less than 10% of the population was fully vaccinated.

Manuel however highlighted that Covid-19 was not continent's first exposure to epidemics, and therefore the health system had developed its own resilience after being hit by Ebola, TB, HIV and AIDS and various waterborne diseases.

Manuel also lauded the innovations on the continent with regard to digital finance - in the form of M-Pesa in East Africa. "These have held up remarkably, but these are often the product of very small but successful and high impact investments," he said.

Manuel noted further opportunities for investment on the continent, given its youthful population - 60% under the age of 25 - as well as the African continental free trade agreement.

Realising Sustainable Development Goals - such as ending world hunger, poverty and ensuring affordable and clean energy - could possibly unlock $1.1 trillion of investments, Manuel said. 

"Looking ahead, the greatest opportunities for impact investments will arise from new investments into urbanisation, including the provision of bulk services such as water, energy and broadband.

"But more importantly, meeting the demand for new housing and the concomitant job creation opportunities," said Manuel.

As it stands, Africa accounts for 16% of the world's population but only receives 4% of the world's foreign direct investment flows, he said. "That's about a third of the flows received by developing Asia in about an eighth of what developing countries receive. This is a strong and empowering rationale to seek to reverse the current trends," he said.

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