COVID-19: Amidst Pandemic, OBJ Urges Africa Not To Allow Collapse of Agric And Manufacturing Sectors

Former president Olusegun Obasanjo has urged African leaders not to allow the ravaging Covid-19 disease to cause the collapse of the continent’s Agric-Business and Manufacturing sectors if the region is to bounce back after the pandemic.

He also called on Africa to take seriously these two sectors, ensuring that they are not heavily affected by COVID-19 as they remain central to the continent’s efforts post-Covid survival.

Obasanjo’s thoughts were contained in this week’s issue of ACCORD 2021 series of the COVID-19 Conflict and Resilience Monitor where he made a case for Africa’s self-resilience and finding home-grown solutions for the continent to bounce back in particular from the socio-economic devastations caused by COVID-19.

Observing that the two sectors were important areas which have not been severely impacted by the disease, the former Nigerian president said leaders across the continent must pick lessons from how other continent’s were able to manage the scourge.

“The pandemic first emerged in China, the epicentre then shifted to Europe, and then to North and South America. If these regions of the world that have been heavily infected and affected by COVID-19, are able to implement measures to bounce back then we in Africa must do the same by learning from their experience and by devising our own home-grown solutions.

“There are many lessons that Africa must draw from the other regions in terms of how they have handled the pandemic, and then together with our own efforts, we can seek ways to advance the various frameworks for the continent’s socio-economic development and overall security and general progress.

“I believe that the most important aspect for Africa are the areas that we must not allow to degenerate and these are agri-business and manufacturing, which by and large have not been severely impacted upon by COVID-19. We must take advantage in parts of Africa, which enjoy good rainfalls, to ensure that we do not relax in our efforts to sustain our agri-business.

In the two-paged paper titled, “Deepening Africa’s Continental Trade & Economic RELATIONS Amid Covid-19” Obasanjo’s submission which states that COVID-19 is a pandemic whose effect has not been limited to Africa alone, also charged that the continent “must be able to feed ourselves, and this pandemic must be taken as an opportunity to make sure that Africa is self-sufficient in staple and essential food items. Africa should save $44 billion being spent on importation of food annually. I believe that the one major lesson that COVID-19 has taught us is that we should be self-reliant in food and nutrition and in essential agribusiness implements and domestic appliances.

“Other sectors of the economy have been badly affected by COVID-19 in Africa. These include air travel, air transportation, hospitality, and tourism and we will have to see how the rest the world, where such sectors have equally been adversely affected, find solutions to manage the impact.”

Looking at trade, the submission underlined the importance of clarity in knowing that the disease “has only delayed, but not derailed, the operationalisation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).”

The former leader therefore called on the region to desist from the view that the AfCFTA is now off-track due to COVID-19 especially as the necessary arrangements including the setting up of the Secretariat and the appointment of key officials have been done.

“However, we must be mindful of, and appreciate the fact that some aspects relating to the full operationalisation of AfCFTA require physical contacts, which cannot happen at this stage because of the measures put in place to deal with COVID-19.

“While it is true that COVID-19 has opened up opportunities to use online platforms and modern technologies to communicate, when we are talking about matters of trade and movement of goods, there is a limit to what you can do. COVID-19 measures have put some restrictions on movement of goods and people, on physical and personal contact, and these have affected business transactions,” he reiterated.

He applauded measures put in place to check the spread of the scourge in the region, adding that “these barriers were put in place in order to make sure that there is no transmission of people who are affected and who may carry COVID-19 from one place to another. I also believe that, at times, delays may even allow you to be extra careful and therefore better prepared when you are launching something like the AfCFTA.

“So, this delay may actually give us an opportunity to do the extra hard work that requires some time so that when we eventually go into operation we are battle-ready, and do so in full force. I genuinely believe that nothing will happen that would derail the full implementation of AfCFTA, if anything, Africa must use this situation to fully prepare itself for the operationalisation once most of these restrictions are lifted.”

Accordingly, he commended the opening up of the continent to allow the movement of people and goods by sea, road, and air, even as he believes that it rekindles hope of the implementation commitments to strengthen intra-African trade through the eventual full operationalisation of the AfCFTA.