President's Message - July/August 2020 ejournal

Florie By Florizelle Liser

Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is adapting to a “new normal.”  

In September, for the first time in history, the UN General Assembly will not take place in New York. For the first time ever, a U.S. election will take place during a pandemic. A number of well-known companies in the U.S. and Africa are going out of business and many U.S. schools will open online or offer a hybrid fall semester. We are being forced to think about what was previously unthinkable. In the post-COVID “new normal”, we will all need to anticipate and adapt to what last year seemed unimaginable.

Some of this will be highly disruptive. Supply chains and labor markets are realigning. The travel and hospitality industries may take years to recover. The conference industry is transitioning to hybrid and virtual-only events. The pandemic has already highlighted social inequalities and we can expect some of these to grow worse. Reduced or significantly altered consumption patterns are changing business models, with potential long-term impacts on consumer demand. 

But some of these previously unthinkable changes will be positive. COVID-19 has already brought new business opportunities for the health and digital sectors.   Reimagined supply chains can strengthen localization and job creation. COVID-19 has strengthened the role of digital learning, e-commerce, telemedicine, and other innovations that are already reshaping our lives in positive ways.  For many governments and companies, remote work will become much more common, with potential cost savings but also less connectedness.  

All of these trends will shape trade, competitiveness, and investments globally - including in Africa.  Africa entered this crisis in a good economic place, with predictions of 3-4 percent annual growth. Many African governments have responded to COVID-19 with decisive actions that have helped contain the health impact. 

Nonetheless, Africa’s first recession in 25 years will bring higher unemployment and continued difficult economic choices. According to the World Bank, even an optimistic forecast for Africa in 2020 – a 3 percent drop in GDP per capita – will leave 13 million more Africans below the poverty line.  

Despite the devastating health impact and economic pain, the “new normal” in Africa could also bring some of the same advantages seen on the global stage – more investment in digital technology and the health sector, more local manufacturing, and more use of remote and e-solutions. In a new world that increasingly delinks talent from geographic location, Africans could find new opportunities to plug into companies and global employment opportunities and supply chains. The pandemic has also given new impetus to the "ESG" movement – concerns for the environment, social justice, and governance.  This may affect the way extractive and other industries operate in Africa.  It could also be a boost for African women entrepreneurs.

Life will go on, in Africa as elsewhere, with some adaptation, and some things will likely change forever.   How the “new normal” looks will depend in part on the innovation and flexibility of the private sector.  In part, it will depend on the role of government post-COVID and whether African governments seize the opportunity to accelerate governance and economic policy reforms. And it will also depend on the support of international partners, including the United States.  

The United States is playing an important part in responding to COVID in Africa. The U.S. has been a strong health partner in Africa for decades, bilaterally and through multilateral organizations. New U.S. tools such as the Development Finance Corporation and Prosper Africa and its many USG partnering agencies can play a key role in Africa’s recovery and in positioning U.S. companies to succeed as new opportunities emerge on the continent.  American companies are continuing to explore opportunities in Africa, despite the significant headwinds in the U.S. and global economy.  

Over the past few months, CCA’s virtual programs have highlighted areas where U.S. and African companies and governments are collaborating to prepare for the best “new normal” possible. In a three-part series of virtual dialogues focused on blended finance, we highlighted innovative ways that corporate, government, and non-profit funding are and can continue to be excellent sources of new investment and trade funding in Africa’s “new normal.” Many speakers noted the increased importance of funding SMEs and of using blended finance to reduce risk.  CCA’s webinar on digital solutions explored the heightened role of technology in mobile money, e-health, e-commerce, and data, particularly for SMEs. Our virtual dialogue about the newly launched African Medical Supply Platform (AMSP) — established by the African Union as a single coordinated tool to meet Africa’s COVID-19 health needs — pointed to greater collaboration on the continent in the face of the pandemic.  Hopefully, this all-of Africa approach will continue to be part of the “new normal,” especially as the African Continental Free Trade Area evolves.  

We look forward to a productive Fall and invite you to participate in CCA’s UNGA events that will focus on the partnership of the U.S. government and private sector in African economic recovery. 

Before I close, I extend my congratulations to Hon. Akinwumi Adesina who has been re-elected to serve a second five-year term as president of the African Development Bank. We at Corporate Council on Africa look forward to more collaborations with President Adesina and the AFDB in the nearest future.

As always, we greatly appreciate the continued support of our members and friends and we remain dedicated to working with our partners and key stakeholders to promote U.S.-Africa business, trade and investment. Please stay healthy, safe and connected as we all navigate this future together.