OP-ED | China must pay reparations to Africa for its coronavirus failures, By Obiageli Ezekwesili

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The covid-19 pandemic has dealt a severe injury to Africa’s development prospects and worsened the conditions of its poor and vulnerable. Although there are calls for voluntary international aid to support the continent during this difficult time, this is far from the best solution.

 

Passenger being screened at an airport                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The continent must be accorded damages and liability compensation from China, the rich and powerful country that failed to transparently and effectively manage this global catastrophe. Africa’s economic gains since the last global crisis have been eroded. It is time to make offending rich countries pay the poor ones a global risk burden tax for delaying their rise out of poverty.

Today, Africa is home to more than 70 percent of the world’s poorest people, with more than 400 million living below the poverty line. It is no surprise that it is disproportionately vulnerable to this crisis. It should not suffer even more because yet another powerful country failed to act responsibly.

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China should immediately announce a complete write-off of the more than $140 billion that its government, banks and contractors extended to countries in Africa between 2000 and 2017. This would provide partial compensation to African countries for the impact that the coronavirus is already having on their economies and people.

The analysis of the balance of compensation due to Africa can then follow from discussions with the Africa Union and its member countries, alongside global and regional organizations including the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the African Development Bank and the European Union.

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Our world is long overdue for a change of approach in the way it manages global risks that leave the poor worse off due to failures of the rich and powerful. The current model of development assistance is broken and can never deliver any real change of fortune for the most vulnerable. We need a new model that strengthens people to engage in the design of their pathway out of poverty and builds economic resilience.

The current conditions mirror what happened during the 2008 global financial crisis. In my time as the vice president in charge of the World Bank’s operations in Africa, we had to mobilize internal and partner resources to mitigate the severity of the economic recession suffered by the continent. Exogenous shocks dealt a lethal blow to the countries’ decade-long steady rises of economic growth, which had averaged 5 to 6 percent annually until tumbling to 2.4 percent in 2009.

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This sharp fall ended Africa’s upward economic growth trajectory and sent per capita income tumbling. It increased inequality and the number of Africans in absolute poverty. Such fragile and low economic growth rates for a continent with one of the world’s highest concentrations of young people and annual population growth rate of about 2.5 percent is a key reason for widespread multidimensional poverty — a threat that carries seeds of global insecurity and instability.

 

Obiageli “Oby” Ezekwesili is a former vice president for the Africa region at the World Bank and a former minister of education for Nigeria. This opinion article was originally published on the Washington Post; the views expressed in it are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect African Newspage’s editorial policy.

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