President's Message - May/June 2020 ejournal

FlorieBy Florizelle Liser

As we head toward mid-summer, I am both saddened and inspired.  Like all of you, I am deeply saddened by the health and economic devastation caused by COVID-19 globally.   In the United States, we are far from beating the virus while in Africa, it seems the fight is in its early stages.  In the past month alone, the number of COVID cases in Africa has doubled and the continent is heading into its first recession in 25 years.  So Africa’s and America’s social and economic wellbeing is in peril.

And yet there are also many sources of hope and inspiration.  

In the United States, we are seeing a new awakening of racial and social consciousness, a push for equality and justice that is long overdue.  There are also innumerable individual acts of kindness and courage that bind us through our common humanity in the face of a deadly pandemic.   Our health care workers and first responders are doing heroic work under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.  Our companies are leading in global efforts to create medicines to treat and cure people with COVID-19; and the private sector has stepped up in Africa and elsewhere to provide humanitarian support.

As we highlighted in CCA’s recent Leaders Forum, Africa has an impressive story to tell of resiliency and leadership in the face of the coronavirus.  Many governments have responded quickly and decisively.  Leaders are making the difficult balance between lives and livelihoods to keep their economies moving forward, while mitigating the pandemic’s effects, with significant success.   African health care workers are doing incredibly courageous and vital work across the continent, often with fewer resources than in the United States.  They are a true inspiration.

COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of partnerships.  Multilateral institutions are providing critical financial and technical support in Africa.  Bilateral partners have stepped up, including the United States, even as we grapple with our own COVID crisis.  The U.S. government has contributed more than $12.4 billion to combat COVID-19, which includes more than $1.3 billion in assistance specifically aimed at fighting the pandemic in over 120 different countries. This includes more than $361 million in sub-Saharan Africa. 

The private sector is also playing a vital role.  U.S. and African businesses are adapting and finding new sources of resiliency.  The digital economy has emerged as even more critical.  Companies and institutions have adopted new innovative financing strategies.  African companies are producing their own PPE and testing kits.  They are looking at ways to become more self-sufficient in the production of pharmaceuticals and manufacturing in general while increasing their participation in global value chains. 

Together, American businesses and non-governmental organizations have provided $4 billion in donations and assistance to combat COVID-19, accounting for nearly 80% of global philanthropic efforts. U.S. companies operating in Africa just like their African counterparts, have answered the call by providing financial, logistical, technology and in-kind support across the continent.  

African governments are working together in the face of this crisis.  Preparations continue for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which is now more important than ever.  The AfCFTA should help attract investment and build wealth, helping post-pandemic recovery.  The African Union’s creation of a single African platform to procure PPE internationally is a good example of new kinds of joint action.  The African CDC has played an important role, with information, testing and coordination.  And the African Union special envoys are helping to build support for continent-wide solutions.  

Post-COVID Africa, like in the rest of the world, will likely change many priorities.  We should expect to see a greater emphasis on health care, the digital economy and (hopefully) good governance.  We may see a greater focus on improving business climates, to help economies get back on their feet, and on formalizing more of Africa’s economic activity.   

We are all trying to adapt to new realities.  CCA pivoted away from planning for the 13th U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Marrakech, Morocco, which was supposed to take place in June.   Our webinar series, “Navigating the Impact of COVID-19” featured senior U.S. government officials, business people and analysts, African ambassadors, senior leaders at multilateral institutions, African ministers, who kept us well informed and connected from the convenience of our homes.   In a four-part Leaders Forum, we were honored to host four African heads of state, the Deputy Administrator of USAID, the Secretary General of the African Continental Free Trade Area, ministers and many other senior executives, with a registered audience of  2,500 people and over 100,000 livestreaming.   CCA is finding new opportunities to add value and to highlight the good work being done by so many of our partners and stakeholders. 

Dr. Acha Leke, one of the speakers at our Forum, challenged us to reimagine society in the wake of the coronavirus.  I imagine a more interconnected, compassionate world; a world that sees Africa for its limitless potential and opportunities; a U.S. business community that focuses more on these opportunities; an African continent that fully embraces good governance and democratic values, inclusion and business-friendly policies.  I imagine Africa transformed by a new continental free trade agreement, leapfrogging technologies in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with its youthful 1.2 billion people taking an even more prominent place on the world stage.  We will get beyond COVID-19 and when we do, Africa and the world won’t be the same again.

I want to close with a word of thanks.   I am deeply grateful to our members, partners and stakeholders for your ongoing support to Corporate Council on Africa during these challenging times.   Your shared belief in the vital importance of the U.S.-Africa trade and investment relationship sustains us through the current storms.  I am also grateful to my team, who makes so much of the CCA magic happen. Thank you, stay well, and Happy Fourth of July!