NAIROBI, KENYA – Three years ago almost every country in Africa agreed to a continental free trade area designed to lower tariffs and stimulate the economy. However, due to the restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the agreement has yet to be fully implemented.
The World Bank says the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement created the largest free trade bloc in the world and has the potential to lift 30 million people out of poverty.
The deal cuts tariffs between African countries and, according to the World Bank, could increase Africa’s combined GDP by $ 450 billion by 2035.
However, this prospect may not materialize as many countries in Africa have yet to fully open their economies due to health restrictions to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Kennedy Adede, founder of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), which works in poor neighborhoods in Nairobi, says the lack of job opportunities needs to be addressed.
“People are going through a lot of hardship, people are more afraid of dying of hunger than dying of this virus, and that has become a challenge. How do we solve that? So this is not just about the vaccine alone,” said Adede. “It takes a multi-angle [approach] to fight this economically so that we can create more jobs. When you think of Africa now, the young people’s population is scary and if they don’t trust our words, we’re gone. “
In a recent webinar, John Nkengasong, director of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the free trade area would thrive if Africa were better prepared to deal with the pandemic.
âIt really is our job in public health to continue to ensure that we put the public health agenda at the center of political dialogue, at the center of economic dialogue. Check out the damage the pandemic has done to our continental pursuit of a continental free trade area. I will argue that without this pandemic, all this pursuit, the development agenda would have been on a very different level today on the continent, âNkengasong said.
Almost 18 months after the pandemic started, only 2.5% of the 1.3 billion people in Africa are vaccinated. The African CDC wants to vaccinate 60 percent of the population by the end of 2022.
According to the agency, Africa had received 123.5 million vaccine doses by mid-August. The continent secured the vaccine through bilateral agreements and COVAX, a global initiative aimed at bringing a vaccine to developing countries.
African countries will also share around 400 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses made in South Africa.
But Nkengasong says Africa is still not getting enough vaccine.
âWhen COVID was just starting it was very difficult for anyone in Africa to know someone who died from COVID, but now we know that it is a common thing and that drives you to see lines of people out there . The first doses of vaccine that we delivered on the continent ended up in the trash partly because we were dealing with misinformation. The challenge we have now is for people to say we are here with open arms, ready to get the jab, but the jabs are not there, âsaid Nkengasong.
Africa’s economy is still expected to grow 3.4% this year, but that has no impact on the tens of millions struggling to find stable incomes as the virus takes jobs and lives.