Africans have the chance today to take control of their economic futures but only a united response will have a lasting, long-term impact, says Alexander Cummings, former Chief Administrative Officer at The Coca-Cola Company, former Presidential Candidate and Leader of Liberia’s Alternative National Congress Party.
In many parts of the world, from London to New York to Beijing, the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic has begun in earnest. Supported by vaccine programmes – some more efficient than others – many countries are allowing people to edge slowly out of the restrictive conditions that have governed many of us and are implementing support programmes to spur the reinvigoration of their economies.
Unfortunately, my country Liberia and most other African countries are slower to benefit from existing vaccine supplies and, as a result, we will have to work harder to recover from the damage the pandemic has inflicted on our economies. This will be a difficult task – but with a challenge of this size comes opportunity.
I believe we Africans have the chance today to take control of their economic futures and work together to create a system that allows countries of all types, from smaller nations like Liberia to more advanced economies, to be more competitive on the international stage.
Africa’s problems require a united response
As I discussed at a think-tank meeting earlier this month, we all operate in the same ecosystem, afflicted by the same challenges that can have a decisive impact on progress. A united response to these issues – including environmental problems like drought, national security threats from terrorist groups and health emergencies like Ebola – is the only way to have a lasting, long-term impact that can materially improve the international context in which we all operate. The African Union-led Great Green Wall project is a great example of long-term, cross-border planning that will benefit millions of people across Africa.
During my years at Coca-Cola, I saw first-hand the value that was created by the cooperation of the “golden triangle” of private sector, NGOs and government players. Time and again we worked with aid agencies and government partners to create sustainable change. Programmes to supply clean water to an afflicted region, to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS or to improve the supply of power to an area cut-off from the grid all involved collaboration and had wide-reaching benefits and economic ramifications that allowed local innovators and businessmen to thrive. Under these initiatives, everyone benefits.
By improving collaboration at an international level, whether through bilateral agreements between neighbours, through the African Union, regional bodies like Ecowas or more local associations like the Mano River Union (encompassing Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire), there is a real chance to increase cooperation on issues that provide the foundations for economic progress. This means a harmonisation of trade policies and the facilitation of the movement of goods and services, removing barriers to trade and allowing people to make the most of the competitive advantages not just of our own countries but our neighbours too.
There remains a substantial gap between the economic development of African nations and their partners in the EU and Asia. While sub-regional leaders like South Africa can play a significant role in the development of their immediate neighbours, it is up to national governments to understand what their unique offering and skills are and implement policies to exploit and develop them.