• Programme Director;
• Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada;
• Ms. Mala Khanna, Assistant Deputy Minister, Sub-Saharan Africa, in the Government of Canada;
• Members of the various Parliaments, Your Excellencies;
• African Union Representatives;
• President of the Canada-Africa Chamber of Business;
• Trade Unions;
• Business leaders;
• Ladies and gentleman.
Askia Mohammed I, also known as Askia the Great of Timbuktu, rose to power in the late 15th century. As an emperor, military commander, and political reformer, Askia the Great of Timbuktu strengthened his empire and made it the largest empire in West Africa’s history through policies that resulted in a rapid expansion of trade with Europe and Asia, the creation of many schools, and the establishment of Islam as an integral part of the empire.
Askia allied himself with the scholars of Timbuktu, encouraged learning and literacy amongst the people, and ensured that the region’s academic institutions produced the most distinguished scholars – ushering in a golden age for the city and offering us knowledge that reconstructs the world view of African history in the Middle Ages.
He consolidated his vast empire by establishing harmony among the conflicting religions and political elements, and under his leadership, his Empire flourished until it became one of the richest empires of that period, earning Timbuktu the title of the “The Centre of Learning” and “The Mecca of the Sudan”.
The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) recent figures in their Latest World Economic Outlook Update Growth Projections, suggest that it will take the intellectual grace and political prowess of Askia the Great of Timbuktu, for Africa to find its feet, rise, and claim its position as the economic powerhouse that the world has been so eagerly waiting for.
The greater sub-Saharan Africa region is expected to grow only 3.7% in 2021, which is considered the slowest recovery in the world compared to advanced markets, other emerging markets and developing economies.
By comparison, the US, UK, and emerging and developing Asia will grow at 7%, 7%, and 7.5% respectively.
“This mismatch reflects sub-Saharan Africa’s slow vaccine rollout and stark differences in policy space,” said Abebe Aemro Selassie, director of the IMF’s African Department.
The IMF lays out three crucial priorities for the world’s post-Covid-19 recovery: containing the spread and effect of the pandemic especially through vaccinations; economic measures to kick-start growth; and investing in the future by being climate change conscious and lowering carbon dependence, and increasing access to and use of digital technologies across the board.
When looking at the continent through the lens of these 3 key priorities, the outlook is not bright for a post-Covid-19 recovery of Africa.
Strictly looking at the pandemic, our vaccination efforts are slower than others, and this is also due to vaccine nationalism, export restrictions, restrictive patents, limited vaccine manufacturing infrastructure on the continent, and demands for booster shots in advanced economies.
This leaves the continent with only 4% of its population fully vaccinated compared to advanced and many emerging market countries which have vaccination rates close to 60%.
Africans have found themselves battling a second, third wave, and impending fourth wave, exacerbated by rising unemployment, food insecurity, social unrest, drop in trade, decrease in tourism, gender-based violence, and climate change.
Albert Zeufack, Chief Economist for Africa at the World Bank, said: “Fair and broad access to effective and safe COVID 19 vaccines is key to saving lives and strengthening Africa’s economic recovery. Faster vaccine deployment would accelerate the region’s growth to 5.1 percent in 2022 and 5.4 percent in 2023—as more containment measures are lifted, boosting consumption and investment.”
None-the-less, Sub-Saharan Africa is set to emerge from the recession with a rebound currently fuelled by elevated commodity prices, a relaxation of stringent pandemic measures, and recovery in global trade, however, remains vulnerable.
Apart from mounting fiscal pressures and rising debt levels, research papers and reports from across the board highlight Africa’s unique position of low baseline development, to make radical decisions and implement innovative measures that will see a more sustainable and inclusive economic recovery.
It is important to remember that within every crisis there is also opportunity.
Existing challenges also present favourable circumstances to transform the economy, strengthen food security, create jobs, and open up a flourishing market for exponential trade.
In the words of writer and theologian, C. S. Lewis:
“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
It is important for us to acknowledge that the despair experienced in Africa is a collective struggle, and that finding meaning in the process of recovery signifies a rare opportunity to chart a course of healing for all people on the continent. It is a chance for all African nations to examine the fundamental changes during the pandemic, what needs to be addressed, and what opportunities exist to rebuild our political, economic and our social structures. It is a golden opportunity to consider our shattered history and make sure that this time we leave no one behind.
If the longer-term effects of this crisis are to be mitigated, now is the time to focus on how to develop sustainable economic growth and employment. Now is the time for strategic leadership, making it easier for businesses to invest, reduce barriers to trade, and democratise access to technology.
For only when we reinforce our multilateral responses through a unified sense of solidarity, a willingness to learn, collaborate and encourage innovation, will we pave a road durable enough for all African people to cross.
And, it is in that spirit of international, Pan-African solidarity that we shift the position of the continent amongst the global community towards a profound transition that is visible in the efforts of organisations such as the African Union.
The legendary Kwame Nkrumah, the first post-colonial President of the Republic of Ghana, in his 1964 Speech at the Summit of the then Organisation for African Unity, now known as the African Union, said:
“We must unite for economic viability, first of all… so that our vast resources and capacity for development will bring prosperity for us and additional benefits for the rest of the world…”
Although the unity and economic integration of Africa was a dream for our forebears such as Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Abdel Nasser, Modibo Keïta, and Sékou Touré to name but a few, their forward looking thoughts have continued to inspire us all and live on in the African Union’s establishment of an African Continental Free Trade Area.
This agreement boosts intra-Africa trade through: trade policy; trade facilitation; productive capacity; trade related infrastructure; trade finance; trade information; and factor market integration. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement brings together fifty-four African countries with a combined population of more than one billion people and a combined gross domestic product that is considered the world’s largest growth market by potential.
By creating a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, expanding trade through better harmonization and coordination, and enhancing industry competitiveness, production, and market access, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement holds the potential to contribute significantly to eliminating poverty, creating jobs, and improving food security.
This kind of economic empowerment has the turn-around capability that can see Africa’s trade vulnerabilities and acutely limited participation in the global market, to be a thing of the past. Less will the reliance be on the suffocating traditional forms of trade that the continent is more commonly known for.
Since its colonial history to the postcolonial present day, Africa has been pursued as a supplier of human power through slavery and raw materials. And so, the scene was set for a dominance of foreign powers and international institutions – a power imbalance that subordinates the continent’s labour, resources, natural habitats, governments, and leaders.
The African Continental Free Trade Agreement allows an opportunity to reduce dependence on exports and strengthen Africa’s bargaining power among foreign corporations and markets to increase domestic investment and lift many out of hardship.
As we may observe, the realisation, advancement and progress of free trade in Africa is of significant consequence to the population of every nation on the continent and carries with it an outcome of dignity and humanity – basic elements of civilization that should exist freely and in abundance across borders.
What we start to notice is that it is only through collaboration, cooperation, and solid partnerships that a profound transition can be made to open Africa’s markets to the world and end famine, suffering, and human rights violations on the continent.
And so, Africa needs partners who are committed to a prosperous African community of nations, collaborators who advocate for the African Union and who contribute to the formation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
One such trusted partner in the quest for economic liberty and humanity in Africa, is Canada.
But one may ask the question to Canada: “Why Africa?”
The Business Council of Canada states that:
Canada has made trade diversification a key priority in its policy and in its 2018 Fall Economic Statement, the federal government committed to making Canada a more globally connected economy by increasing overseas exports by 50 per cent by 2025.
The Business Council of Canada reiterates that this is an ambitious goal that will require a comprehensive export strategy focused on high-growth markets where Canada underperforms.
Canadian trade diversification discussions have often focused on the Asia-Pacific region with the rise of Asia’s middle class as a highlight. Although it is agreed that this region must continue to be a focus, we must also see Africa’s large and untapped growth potential as a region that deserves much attention. And I concur with the Business Council of Canada that meeting Canada’s trade diversification target will simply not be possible without a solid Africa strategy.
Economic analysis commissioned by the Business Council of Canada suggests that if Canada seized the opportunities in Africa, Canada’s exports to the region could reach USD 6.6 billion in 2030, representing a growth potential of about USD 4.1 billion over the coming decade.
The Council’s research clearly highlights the economic potential of Africa and also identifies promising opportunities for Canadian businesses.
A major opportunity that will help enable and fully realise the promise of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, is closing Africa’s infrastructure gap. We know that the appetite of international investors for African infrastructure projects remains encouraging, but for the continent to ease movement across its borders, achieve its trade goals and truly commit to ending poverty, infrastructure investment must more than double and continue to grow into the next decade.
As free trade takes strain elsewhere in the world and global protectionism rises, Canada and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement have the potential to fill a widening gap by making use of the dynamic energy of a new generation of traders.
Indeed, this is a new generation as Africa is home to the largest youth population in the world, and thus we possess the privilege of engaging with an electric energy that only Africa can infuse into the evolution of its future. Listening to the voices of young people, harnessing their innovations and inventions, empowering young people with education, and offering them experience as entrepreneurs, is key to reimagining a Pan-African era of prosperity.
A forward looking partner such as Canada and their investment into Africa’s youth, has the capacity to place young people in the centre of development.
And so, when considering Africa’s Economic Restart after COVID-19 and the Vital Role of Canada as Africa’s Trusted Partner, we must take cognisance of the impact of the decisions of leaders in governments and corporate companies today on the future of youth tomorrow. We should consider the implications of a future that we, as leaders, may not be a part of: a future where climate change is a lived reality, where natural resources are but gone, where human encroachment on wildlife habitats strike a deeper imbalance in the ecosystem, and where the lack of equilibrium manifests in the transmission of more pandemics.
As leaders, we should be the trusted partners of the youth who inherit this earth and who will succeed the trade agreements we put in place today. How we better manage the world’s resources for the good of all humanity in the years to come, is the next step in building trusted partners.
In order to achieve a global ideal that highlights the continent’s economic strength and optimism amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we must acknowledge, with urgency, that sustainability is key to survival and that Africa’s youth and most vulnerable, are our greatest resource to invest in and nurture.
Connecting the continent; securing sustainability; and enabling the African restart for a new global growth engine, is only possible if we make Africa once again “A Centre of Learning” not only for Askia the Great of Timbuktu, but for all Africans to heal and rise.