Africa CDC to launch Eastern Regional Co-ordination center

The African Union (AU) through the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is set to launch the Eastern regional co-ordination center in Kenya come October 1.

The East African RCC will be launched under the theme of “Ensuring effective preparedness and response to current public health threats in the context of COVID-19 and beyond.” The RCC serves as a hub for Africa CDC surveillance, preparedness, and emergency response activities, and coordinates regional public health initiatives by Member States in consultation with the Africa CDC headquarters.

Speaking at the weekly briefing on September 23, the Director of the Africa CDC, Dr. John Nkengasong, confirmed that the institution will be launching its Eastern regional collaborative center in Kenya very soon.

“We will be launching our regional collaborating center in Kenya. There are five regional collaborating centers, i.e. Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, and Gabon. These centers have been operating, but some of them have not been officially launched. This occasion will be for launching the center in the presence of several ministers from the republic of Kenya and we invite you (the media) to be part of that ceremony in Kenya.”

Ghana faces hurdles to achieve targets set for COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Nana Kofi Quakyi, New York University

Ghana, like many of its counterparts on the continent, is contending with the fallout from the rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2 variants. Of particular concern is the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK. It is estimated to be up to 70% more infectious and 65% more lethal than the ancestral strain.

Scientists at the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens have confirmed that B.1.1.7 is now the dominant variant in Ghana based on nationwide genomic surveillance. And that it is responsible for 88% of cases in the capital city.

The ongoing surge in new infections, hospital admissions and deaths has refocused public attention on a situation that the Ghana Medical Association describes as “dire”. Intensive care units are operating at the limits of their staff and space constraints. And more young people appear to be developing severe forms of the illness.

This means that the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Ghana cannot come quickly enough. But what is the country’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy? And how well advanced are plans to execute it?

Potential pitfalls

At least 60% of Ghana’s 31 million residents will need to be vaccinated for the population to attain herd immunity. The goal of the president, Nana Akufo Addo, is that every Ghanaian will be vaccinated. But a timeline for this remains elusive as no plan has been made public.

The president has promised to procure and administer 17.6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in the first half of 2021 as part of an initial push. But there is uncertainty even around this target.

Firstly, how the country will secure this number of doses is not yet clear.

Secondly, there are questions around how the doses will be stored and distributed, as well as the capacity of the country’s existing cold chain infrastructure.

And there will be a final major hurdle to clear – convincing many sceptical Ghanaians that the vaccines on offer are safe and effective.

Constraining factors

A number of external factors are hampering Ghana’s efforts to secure the doses it needs to reach its mid-year target.

Unlike developed nations, countries like Ghana have limited bargaining power to negotiate directly with manufacturers. As a result, it is principally relying on two multilateral initiatives to procure COVID-19 vaccines – the COVAX facility and the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team. Combined, they have secured 1.27 billion vaccine doses for African nations.

COVAX is a global initiative co-led by the World Health Organisation, Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. It aims to develop, manufacture and distribute COVID-19 vaccines to all nations on a fair and equitable basis. It operates as a funding mechanism that uses the collective purchasing power of participating nations to obtain competitive prices.

Nevertheless, participating low- and middle-income countries will only receive enough vaccines to cover up to 20% of their populations.

Ghana expects to take delivery of up to 968,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of March 2021 as part of an initial batch from COVAX. These first doses have been earmarked for the nation’s healthcare workforce of about 108,000.

COVAX aims to deliver the remainder of this initial tranche of 2.4 million doses by June 2021. This should be enough to protect about 1.2 million Ghanaians with the two-jab Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. But reaching the president’s target will require about four times that amount.

This means that Ghana will have to lean heavily on vaccine supplies from the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team – an initiative being driven by the African Union. It aims to bridge the gap between the 20% population coverage promised by COVAX to participating African countries and the 60% coverage they need to attain herd immunity.

The African Export-Import Bank and the World Bank are supporting the strategy with about $7 billion in cash advancements to vaccine manufacturers on behalf of AU member states. The African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team has so far secured 270 million doses of the Pfizer, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Deliveries are scheduled to begin later this month.

In early February the sirector of the Africa Centers for Disease Control announced that 16 African nations had applied to the task team for vaccine supplies totalling 114 million doses. While the final allocations are yet to be published, Zambia, Kenya and Nigeria are set to receive 42.7 million.

It is not yet known if Ghana is one of the remaining 13, nor how many doses it intends to order from the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.

Ghana’s Presidential Advisor on Health, Anthony Nsiah-Asare, recently hinted that the country was also procuring vaccines through bilateral deals with some of its development partners. But these supplies are likely to be a negligible fraction of the 15.2 million additional doses required to meet the June target.

This means that Ghana’s supplies from the African Union initiative is likely to determine the nation’s ability to reach its mid-year goal of 17.6 million doses.

The groundwork

Ghana’s COVID-19 vaccination drive will face other challenges that ought to be addressed urgently.

One is a storage and distribution plan that prioritises speed and minimises waste. Public health authorities have assured Ghanaians that a comprehensive plan exists – it has not yet been made public – to make use of the country’s existing cold chain infrastructure for vaccine distribution.

This infrastructure supports Ghana’s enviable record in immunisation coverage that has helped reduce infant mortality and the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles. In 2019, immunisation coverage for essential vaccines was in excess of 90%. Ghana has not recorded a single death from measles since 2003. In addition, it was certified as having eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus in 2011.

But there are gaps. Ghana’s current cold storage facilities lack the capacity to house vaccines like those manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna because of the arctic temperatures required to store them. Both use a technology known as mRNA.

This limits the COVID-19 vaccine options available to Ghana. It also matters because these vaccines can be adapted to target new SARS-CoV-2 variants relatively quickly compared with other vaccine technologies. Having access to them could therefore determine how fast nations are able to respond to the emergence of new variants.

Ghana faces a potentially bigger stumbling block: public scepticism about COVID-19 vaccines.

Anxieties and uncertainties about their safety underlies considerable hesitancy in Ghana towards the COVID-19 vaccines. The proliferation of fake news and misinformation on social media and in certain quarters of the popular press are fanning those embers.

To meet this challenge public health authorities will have to be laser-focused on identifying and addressing both legitimate apprehensions and conspiracy theories. They will also have to be proactive in monitoring digital platforms because of the dynamic and viral nature of vaccine misinformation.

It will also be important to measure progress towards public acceptance of the vaccines. One route would be to conduct a series of public surveys to assess the evolving landscape of knowledge and attitudes. This would enable the government to identify specific misinformation that allows for more focused communication about vaccine safety and efficacy.

Much of that will also depend on media coverage. It is therefore crucial to engage the media on its role in combating misinformation

Nana Kofi Quakyi, Research Fellow, New York University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

African countries call for collaborative solutions to indebtedness

Representatives from four African countries today called for a balanced approach to growing debt vulnerabilities to help low-income African countries meet their commitments to lenders.

Ministers of finance and economy and representatives from several African countries attended the consultation along with development partners

The calls were made at a high-level consultative meeting to discuss debt vulnerabilities in Africa, jointly convened by the African Development Bank and the World Bank, in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.

Adama Koné, Minister of Finance, Cote d’Ivoire, praised the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for their assistance but appealed for more “innovative and strategic sources of funding”.

“We want to have CFA-denominated bonds on markets … Since we are not known, we have to pay a premium. If we have a guarantee mechanism, this will allow us to issue those bonds at a lower price,” he said during a panel discussion.

Representatives from Zambia and Senegal said they were taking steps to address their debt situation, while Richard Evina Obam, Minister Finance, Cameroon, supported the call for broader sources of financing, including the Islamic world.

Charles Boamah, Senior Vice-President of the African Development Bank, said the dialogue around debt sustainability “couldn’t come at a better time”.

“It is at the center of many conversations taking place currently … We here at the African Development Bank are engaged in a couple of very important discussions … a 7th GCI [General Capital Increase] and the 15threplenishment of the AFD [African Development Fund],” Boamah said in his opening remarks.

He said debt management had to take into account investment and development needs.

To reach the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] such as health, education and infrastructure, “you need half a trillion US dollars to do that,” Boamah said.

“The World Bank Group’s International Development Association (IDA) and the African Development Fund (ADF) are working together with a common mission to better address debt vulnerabilities in IDA and ADF countries,” said Akihiko Nishio, World Bank Vice President of Development Finance.  “We need to provide our clients with the resources and support needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” he added.

Over the past seven years, the public debt profile of most low and low middle-income African countries has deteriorated substantially. Twice as many countries are now regarded as facing severe debt challenges.

As of January 2019, 17 borrowing countries from the International Development Association and the African Development Fund (IDA and ADF) are deemed at high risk of external debt distress or are viewed as being in debt distress. That is double the number of countries who were in these categories in 2013.

Zambia’s growth is projected to slow from 3.7 percent in 2018 to 2.3 percent in 2019 – IMF report

Zambia’s growth is projected to slow from 3.7 percent in 2018 to 2.3 percent in 2019, lower than earlier envisages due to the impact of the drought on agricultural production, according to an IMF staff monitoring team.

Zambia, like many of its southern African neighbors, is struggling with strengthening climate impacts

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff team led by Ms. Mary Goodman visited Zambia during April 16-30, 2019 to conduct the 2019 Article IV consultation.

Ms. Goodman said growth is projected to slow from 3.7 percent in 2018 to 2.3 percent in 2019, lower than earlier envisages due to the impact of the drought on agricultural production.

“Inflation is close to the Bank of Zambia’s upper band and is projected to rise over the course of 2019. Reserves stood at 1.7 months of imports at end-March 2019,” she said adding that Zambia’s development strategy targeting a rapid scaling up in infrastructure spending has resulted in large fiscal deficits, financed by nonconcessional debt.

“The 2018 budget deficit (commitment basis) reached 10 percent of GDP (7.5 percent on a cash basis), and total public and publicly-guaranteed debt including domestic arrears at end-2018 was 73.1 percent of GDP.

“With the recent increase in yields on government paper and higher interest costs on foreign debt due to the depreciation of the kwacha, government spending in other areas is being squeezed, including on social programs and transfers to local governments. The significant buildup in domestic expenditure arrears is weighing on households and businesses and presents a risk for the financial sector.

“To reduce risks, staff recommended a large up-front and sustained fiscal effort, including: avoiding contracting any new non-concessional debt, steps to raise revenues, halting the buildup of new arrears, and aligning the pace of spending on well-targeted public investment projects with Zambia’s available fiscal space.

“With a diminished impact of the drought over time, and progress in addressing arrears, there is potential for growth to accelerate over the medium term.

Goodman said the mission welcomed the enactment of the Public Finance Management Act in 2018, which should strengthen management of public resources once the accompanying legislation has been enacted, adding that the passage of the Planning and Budgeting Bill will be important to enhance the project selection/appraisal process while the revised Loans and Guarantees Act would provide the necessary framework for medium-term debt management.

How Djibouti like Zambia is about to loose its port to China

One such African country that is exhibiting all the red flag signals of going Sri Lankan and now Zambian way is Djibouti

China-Djibouti

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh

Beijing’s cumulative loans to Africa since 2000 amounted to $124-billion by 2016, according to figures compiled by the China-Africa Research Initiative (CARI).

Djibouti is projected to take on public debt worth around 88 percent of the country’s overall $1.72 billion GDP, with China owning the lion’s share of it.

On March 2018, Djibouti signed a partnership agreement with a Singaporean company that works with China Merchants Port Holdings Co. or CMPort—the same state-owned corporation that gained control of the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka—to build the Doraleh Multipurpose Port.

In recent years, China has emerged as a key investor and a generous, ready and easy lender to African countries.

Beijing’s cumulative loans to Africa since 2000 amounted to $124-billion by 2016, according to figures compiled by the China-Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in the United States.

Angola, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo respectively, were the top beneficiaries of these loans. Angola’s oil-related loans worth $21.2 billion since 2000 total roughly a quarter of cumulative Chinese loans to the entire continent.

“Half of those loans were given in the past four years,” Janet Eom, an associate researcher at CARI, told DW. “So Africa’s debt to China is becoming more of a concern moving forward.”

While African Presidents are  at least this time round somehow exempted from the indignity of being talked down while clutching their begging bowls at western capitals before a few notes is thrown into their bowls, the readily available Chinese loans are not entirely risk free.

Economists and other international financial institutions are becoming increasingly worried that the East Asian giant under a careful disguised “debt trap” diplomacy is burying many developing and poor countries in massive debt and then forcing the highly indebted countries to hand over some of their key infrastructures’ such as the case of Sri Lanka.

One such African country that is exhibiting all the red flag signals of going Sri Lankan and now Zambian way is Djibouti.

Djibouti lies more than 2,500 miles from Sri Lanka but the East African country faces a predicament similar to what its peer across the sea confronted in 2017, after borrowing more money from China than it could pay back.

In both countries, the money went to infrastructure projects under the aegis of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Sri Lanka racked up more than $8 billion worth of debt to Chinese sovereign-backed banks at interest rates as high as 7 percent reaching a level too high to service. With nearly all its revenue going toward debt repayment, in 2017 after being pushed to the wall, Sri Lanka threw in the towel and handed over the Chinese-built port at Hambantota under a 99-year lease with China having a 70 percent stake.

Djibouti is projected to take on public debt worth around 88 percent of the country’s overall $1.72 billion GDP, with China owning the lion’s share of it, according to a report published in March by the Center for Global Development.

At the end of 2016 China owned 82% of Djibouti’s external debt.

On March 2018, Djibouti signed a partnership agreement with a Singaporean company that works with China Merchants Port Holdings Co. or CMPort—the same state-owned corporation that gained control of the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka—to build the Doraleh Multipurpose Port.

That project was completed in May 2017.

The port is significant not only because it sits next to China’s only overseas military base  but also because it is the main access point for American, French, Italian and Japanese bases in Djibouti and is used — because of its strategic location — by parts of the U.S. military that operate in Africa, the Middle East and beyond.

One concern is that the Djibouti government, facing mounting debt and increasing dependence on extracting rents, would be pressured to hand over control of Camp Lemonnier to China.

In a letter to National Security Advisor John Bolton in May, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), two members of the Senate Armed Service Committee, wrote that Djibouti’s  President Guelleh seems willing to “sell his country to the highest bidder,” undermining U.S. military interests.

“Djibouti’s now identified as one of those countries that are at high risk of debt distress. So, that should be sending off all sorts of alarm bells for Djiboutians as well as for the countries that really rely on Djibouti, such as the United States,” said Joshua Meservey, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

And that’s not all, China is not done yet with Djibouti, Beijing has been earmarked the country as one of 68 countries set to be involved in its ambitious One Belt and One Road Initiative (OBOR).

Problem is eight of the 68 countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative currently face unsustainable debt levels, according the Center for Global Development’s report.

The eight nations are Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.

As past experiences have shown the eight nations will certainly be enticed to chew more than they can swallow and by the end of it end up being even poorer than they are now.

As the cradle of mankind continues to sink deeper into debt condemning future generations to economic slavery, the late Whitney Houston feat Deborah Cox classic ‘Same Script, Different Cast’  has never rang truer.


Published courtesy of APO Group on behalf of Business Insider.

UAE Exchange Rebrands its Africa Operations as Unimoni

Parent “Finablr” has announced plans to invest USD 100 million to expand its Africa operations over the next decade

UAE Exchange, a leading global money transfer, foreign exchange and payment solutions brand, announced the rebranding of its Africa operations as “Unimoni” (www.Unimoni.com). The announcement was made by Promoth Manghat, Executive Director of Finablr (www.Finablr.com) and Group CEO, at an event held in Nairobi, Kenya, in the presence of dignitaries, partners and other guests.

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(L-R): Allen Semboze, Regional Head Africa of Unimoni, and Promoth Manghat, Executive Director of Finablr.

Short for ‘Universal Money’, the new brand “Unimoni” reflects the company’s aspirations to strengthen its global presence and provide a broader spectrum of innovative financial services to its customers. Following the announcement, Unimoni will be launched across Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, subject to regulatory approvals. As part of its Africa growth strategy, Unimoni plans to be present in 14 African markets by the year 2020, and has developed a healthy pipeline of digital payment solutions designed to cater to the specific needs of the African customers.

Promoth Manghat, Executive Director of Finablr, said: “Home to some of the fastest growing economies globally, Africa holds tremendous potential and is a critical component of our growth strategy as a group. We will continue to invest in enhancing the breadth of our reach and depth of our operations in the African continent. As a group, we have earmarked USD 100 million in investments to support our growth and expansion efforts in Africa over the next decade. As Unimoni, we will facilitate seamless and connected experiences for our customers and pave the way towards sustainable development and inclusive growth of the various African markets.” 

Through its category-leading brands such as Unimoni, UAE Exchange, Travelex and Xpress Money, the Finablr network extends across 45 African markets. With 29 branches in Africa offering affordable money transfer and foreign exchange services, Unimoni plans to significantly increase its retail footprint over the coming years. Additionally, the brand is also making aggressive investments in customer-focused technology innovations as well as collaborating with ecosystem partners to provide an enhanced service proposition to its customer base.

Speaking about the future expansion plans for its Africa operations, Allen Semboze, Regional Head Africa, Unimoni, said: “The next few years are going to be very eventful for us at Unimoni, as we set out to achieve our ambitious growth strategy. We are in advanced discussions with various ecosystem partners including Mobile Network Operators and aggregators to develop new money transfer solutions. These services will be available in four of our seven markets in Africa by the second half of 2018. We are also working on developing our digital capabilities including an online remittance platform, a white-label solution for our corporate customers and an online forex solution. While we are adopting a phased approach towards our growth in Africa, all these offerings will be live by 2020 across all our African markets.”

The rebranding exercise follows an earlier announcement made by noted UAE-based businessman and philanthropist, Dr. Bavaguthu Raghuram Shetty, Founder and Chairman of the UAE Exchange Group. In April 2018, Dr. Shetty launched “Finablr”, a holding company which, subject to regulatory approvals, aims to bring together his global portfolio of category-leading financial services brands including Unimoni, UAE Exchange, Travelex and Xpress Money under one umbrella.

IMF Executive Board Concludes 2017 Article IV Consultation with Zambia

On October 6, 2017, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation1 with Zambia.

zambia-safari-ker-downey-wildlife

Zambia Luxury Safari: Zambia, in southern Africa, is a landlocked country of rugged terrain and diverse wildlife, with many parks and safari areas.

The near-term outlook for the Zambian economy has improved in recent months, driven by good rains and rising world copper price. The economy was in near-crisis from the fourth quarter of 2015 through most of 2016, reflecting the impacts of exogenous shocks and lax fiscal policy in the lead up to general elections. Low copper prices reduced export earnings and government revenues, while poor rainfall in the catchment areas of hydro-power reservoirs led to a marked reduction in electricity generation and severe power rationing. A sharp depreciation of the kwacha fueled inflation which rose from an annual rate of 7 percent in mid-2015 to nearly 23 percent in February 2016.

Tight monetary policy succeeded in stabilizing the exchange rate and slowing down inflation to 6.3 percent in August 2017, but contributed to elevated stress in the financial system evidenced by a sharp rise in nonperforming loans and a plunge in the growth of credit to the private sector. Stress tests suggest that the banks are resilient to credit and liquidity pressures, but the financial system faces considerable risks, owing to high dependence on copper exports, rising public debt and funding pressures.

Fiscal imbalances have remained high. The fiscal deficit on a cash basis reached 9.3 percent of GDP in 2015, twice the budgeted level. On a commitment basis—taking into account accumulation of arrears and delays in paying VAT refunds—the deficit exceeded 12 percent of GDP in 2015, and remained elevated at about 9 percent of GDP in 2016. The deficit on a commitment basis is projected to decline significantly in 2017, but the cash deficit will remain elevated as the government clears arrears.

Public debt has been rising at an unsustainable pace and has crowded out lending to the private sector and increased the vulnerability of the economy. The outstanding public and publicly guaranteed debt rose sharply from 36 percent of GDP at end-2014 to 60 percent at end-2016, driven largely by external borrowing and the impact of exchange rate depreciation. Increased participation of foreign investors in the government securities market has eased the government’s financing constraint but has made the economy more vulnerable to swings in market sentiments and capital flow reversals.
The medium-term outlook for the economy is contingent on policies. Real GDP growth has picked up after a marked deceleration from 7.6 percent in 2012 to 2.9 percent in 2015.

Growth is projected to reach 4 percent in 2017. However, achieving sustained high and inclusive growth requires a stable macroeconomic environment as well as policies and reforms to increase productivity, enhance competitiveness, strengthen human capital and support financial inclusion for small and medium scale enterprises. Domestic risks to the outlook include delayed fiscal adjustment which would continue to crowd out credit to private sector and entrench an unsustainable debt situation, and unfavorable weather conditions which would affect hydro power generation and agricultural output. External risks include tighter global financial conditions and volatility in the world copper price.