How can Africa build on the solidarity shown during the coronavirus pandemic to achieve the continent’s development goals in the post-COVID world?
That was the question posed at a webinar hosted by the African Union’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council (AU-ECOSOCC) and the African Development Bank’s Civil Society and Community Engagement Division to mark Africa Day 2020.
Senegalese singer and activist Youssou N’Dour, Zambia’s Minister of Health Dr. Chitalu Chilufya and African Development Bank Vice President Dr. Jennifer Blanke headlined this special session, held on 26 May. Part of a COVID-19 awareness webinar series launched in April that aims to inform and empower African citizens on the appropriate responses to the coronavirus outbreak, the online forum drew hundreds of participants from political, civil society and development spheres who logged in from across the continent as well as north America, Israel, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.
During the session, Minister Chilufya spoke to the need for coherent coordination among all stakeholders to mitigate the impact of the virus on the health of Africans and to ensure a brighter economic future.
“We believe a healthier population is productive and will drive the financial agenda of a nation. Investing in human capital is imperative now. For this, Zambia has embraced a multi-faceted approach that includes all sectors; civil society organizations, government organizations, political organizations, academia, media organizations, religious leaders, members of public. They all play a role in the sustainability of a country,” Chilufya told participants.
Dr. Jennifer Blanke, the African Development Bank’s Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, said the COVID-19 crisis could exacerbate inequalities in education, health and employment opportunities that exist on the continent. She stressed the importance of working together after the crisis, focusing on Africa’s youth and women.
“We need to harness Africa’s talent. So many African women have great ideas but cannot obtain finance. The African Development Bank has an initiative that supports talented women entrepreneurs to make their business ideas a reality,” she said.
“Also, young people in Africa are a true force for progress; they see challenges everywhere which are in fact business opportunities. They understand how to use technology to help Africa leapfrog to better services. Just as mobile banking overcame a lack of bank branches, the shortage of doctors in many areas can be remedied with telemedicine solutions and other businesses,” Blanke added.
Thomas Kwesi Quartey, Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission, struck a similar note:
“We also have to support women, young people to combat COVID-19. At times like this, solidarity is more important than ever before. [In the words of] Kwame Nkrumah, the forces that keep us together as Africans are increasingly greater than the forces that keep us apart,” he said.
Grammy award winner and former United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Youssou N’Dour said Africa should focus on raising awareness of development goals, using the influence of famous artists.
“We must rely on the cultural sector, on events such as concerts, because they add value. Influential artists can for example help the Bank reach its High 5s. Imagine using well-known artists as ambassadors who work and cooperate with those on the ground, in the field. Imagine the number of people they could reach with their messages,” N’Dour said.
The continent should seize the opportunity presented by COVID-19 to mobilize its resources for the future, said Vanessa Moungar, Director of the Bank’s Gender, Women and Civil Society Department.
“Let’s maintain this momentum and continue building a social and economic development model based on community participation and regional integration. A strong partnership between governments and civil society is essential. Engaging with civil society means being able to reach people at the bottom of the pyramid and improve the impact of development actions,” Moungar told participants at the webinar’s close.
The Bank and AU-ECOSOCC plan two additional COVID-19 awareness webinar series sessions focusing on youth and education in Africa.