The world to come
I have just read another article on Africa and COVID-19, in addition to some comments I received. As always, there are many opinions regarding what will happen in Africa. Africa is finally appearing in the newspapers! But, I wish it is for a positive reason. The Coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic have now arrived in Africa, not with the virus that is attacking Europe right now or the one that infected China in the beginning. It is true that the numbers of deaths and infections are low, and that most African countries have decided to take drastic measures just like China, Italy, Spain, France, England, or the USA at the very beginning. The hope is that COVID-19 will not attack places with a younger population (71% under 25 years) or more rural places than Europe. Sub-Saharan Africa has more than 900 million inhabitants; 18 million are refugees. According to World Health Organization data, it has 5,000 (43 countries) ICU beds and 2,000 ventilators (41 countries); let say in South Sudan with 12 million inhabitants, 21 ICU beds, and 4 ventilators. To date (April 24, 2020), more than a thousand people have died of coronavirus in Africa and some twenty thousand have been infected in 52 of 54 countries according to government information and with doubt in most cases. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, between 300,000 and 3.3 million people are at risk of dying from the disease if appropriate measures are not taken.
What are and what will be the economic and social consequences? It is difficult to give a very reliable statistics on Africa, but we could say that over 60 percent of the economy is informal; that is, it is carried out through small sales and small like family-run businesses. The confinement to which the population has been forced, although it has not eliminated this trade because of vital impossibility, has certainly reduced it. The question is, how people live or how are they going to live in this informal economy during the time of confinement; some may wonder if this confinement is possible in the majority of places in Africa. On the other hand, trade between African countries has been drastically reduced and migrants who regularly send part of their wages back to their countries of origin. Again, the question focuses on the livelihoods of migrants and their families in this situation.
Africa’s largest trading partner is undoubtedly China: the “Center Kingdom”. From Africa, they extract a large part of the raw materials for their factories. The plans confessed by Xi Jinping, Chinese Prime Minister, to make the country the world’s leading power by 2050, that includes the construction of communications system by land, and by the sea, around the world (New “Silk Road”); above all, it has built ports and airports. The construction of immense infrastructures, oversized for the country’s current needs, focused a large part of its investments on Africa. African countries have received credits for an amount impossible to calculate, among other things because of Chinese opacity, for the construction of these infrastructures that will serve Chinese commercial interests. I am simply giving you a hint. On April 15, the G20 approved a declaration regarding millionaire aid and on the delay or cancellation of the debt of African and American countries; China had great difficulties in this. We cannot expect anything else when the Chinese economy has fallen by 6.8% in the first quarter of 2020; let us bear in mind that it needs a significant annual growth of at least 5%-6% to maintain its internal cohesion. We could also refer to the fall in tourism. The African countries, the Africans, are going to have a very bad time. Perhaps, let us hope, they will die less than in Europe or in the United States because of COVID-19, but the consequences will be tremendous.
Latin America and the Caribbean are also experiencing the presence of COVID-19. Fortunately, some countries have learned from the successes and mistakes of others and have taken drastic measures, others have not learned; populism of any sign is much more than harmful in these cases. The figures are very overwhelming on the night of April 23: 121,544 people infected with COVID-19; in the last 48 hours, more than 20,000; more than 6,000 deaths in the last two days. For the United Nations, the greatest economic crisis in the history of the region is approaching. With the prices of raw materials at historic lows; remittances from migrants reduced very significantly and tourism paralyzed. After a few years of very weak growth, the outlook is bleak.
I ask you to listen to the clear and tremendous picture for the Americas presented by the United Nations report. The Gross Domestic Product of Latin America is estimated to fall by 5.3% as a whole, with Venezuela with a fall of 18% being the most affected, and the Dominican Republic with 0% being the least affected. What will happen to Haiti and Venezuela? Unemployment in Latin America and the Caribbean will increase from 8.1% to 11.5%, with the number of unemployed rising from 26 million to 38 million. Not counting the millions of workers in the informal economy, who are counted as employed. We will find ourselves with 30 million poor people.
In the future, there is no doubt that the global chains of production of goods and services must be modified; at present they are interrupted by the closure of borders or the suspension of production in key countries. For this to be possible, one of the solutions is for production chains to be shorter; in other words, we must tend to produce goods and services in the same area of the world. What are the economic areas that appear to be most likely for the future: the USA, East Asia, and Europe. Where do we situate Africa and Latin America-Caribbean? The only possible future, if we do not want to fall into irrelevance, is to take a significant step forward in the integration between the countries of Africa and to the corresponding countries of America. American integration is much more possible and viable, although both are desirable. After the COVID-19 crisis, there will be greater supervision and intervention by states and supranational organizations in the economy and the financial system. What will be the design of the world in the future? We will have to wait, but only until the health crisis is over.
From the United Nations, all are insisting that it is more urgent than ever to implement the Agenda 2030 of Sustainable Development Goals. This is not the last “setback” that this humanity is going to encounter GLOBALIZED FOREVER. The temptation is to look only at the immediate, the COVID-19, and its crisis, but it is necessary to look at the broader picture. Let us hope that generosity does not remain within each economic zone. ODS 17 contains corresponding targets for enhancing partnerships, and in particular, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development will be the subject of the next blog post.
As a Church and as a Congregation of Claretian Missionaries, we have to review our priorities. Concretely, the function of the Solidarity and Mission area (Mission Procure, JPIC, PROCLADES), in all and every country, it will be more important than ever. Like the rest of the countries of the world, Agenda 2030 will help us to find the right path.
Miguel Ángel Velasco cmf
Antonio A. cmf (Translator)