Africa needs capability and technology to provide solutions when crises hit, AU summit hears

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Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), arrives for a dinner at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, on 17 May 2021.
Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), arrives for a dinner at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, on 17 May 2021.
PHOTO: Ludovic Marin/AFP
  • Africa should find ways of dealing with health, climate change, nutrition and cyber security challenges.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic stretched economies and broke societies that are already battling famine and human rights abuses.
  • African economies lose 3-16% of GDP annually due to malnutrition and the solution is in investing in nutrition.

For Africa to address health, climate change, nutrition and cyber security challenges, the continent needs the capability and technology to provide solutions when crises hit.

This was what Vera Songwe, the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said in her address at the opening of the 40th African Union Ordinary Session of the Executive Council.

The Cameroon-born career economist and banking executive noted that Africans need to build resilience in the face of increasing challenges, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Africa is surviving the health pandemic but our economies are stretched and our societies are broken. The economic cost of managing the pandemic has been high. The debt-to-GDP has raised from 40% in 2014 to almost 70% as we speak. While in 2014, four African countries were in debt distress, now 17 countries are high risk and four are already in debt distress. It's a testing time for our economies and people," she said.

She also pointed out that hunger was one of the continent's biggest challenges and that one-in-five people are food insecure.

"Africa is not on track to meeting the SDG (sustainable development goal) 2 (to) end poverty and ensure access for all to sufficient food. Food prices have been rising, they pose threats to purchasing power and simmering civil unrest."

She said:

Undernourished children are negative for Africa's future. African economies lose 3-16% of GDP annually due to malnutrition. Investment in nutrition is a smart economic investment because every dollar invested yields $16 in return.

Malnutrition leads to a situation where Africa lags behind the rest of the world in all facets of life because the future is compromised by hunger, she added.

"Our most powerful insurance policy must be a healthy population. Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, addressing the challenges of health, nutrition, cyber security, and climate change doesn't require solutions today. They require the capability and technology to provide the solutions when the crises hit."

Addressing the same audience, Senegal's foreign affairs minister Aïssata Tall Sall said that given the health crisis, and security issues such as terrorism and coups, the summit is the best platform for leaders to plan to have a peaceful Africa going forward.

She said:

We need to gain new momentum in the partnerships in Africa in order to take more account of our interests. Rationalising our work is important.

Foreign ministers of member states and representatives of international institutions joined the executive council of the AU in the ordinary session.

The theme of the two-day session is: "Building Resilience in Nutrition on the African Continent: Accelerate the Human Capital, Social and Economic Development."

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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