“A New Deal for Africa” – Op-ed article by President Charles Michel, and more than 30 European and African leaders

In one year, the pandemic has halted a quarter-century of steady economic growth in Africa, disrupted value chains, and caused an unprecedented increase in inequality and poverty. As a result, the entire world is at risk, because the global economy could lose one of its future drivers of growth.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we can no longer treat seemingly faraway crises as distant problems. What happens anywhere can affect people everywhere. That is why addressing the impact and legacy of the pandemic in Africa is so important.

Although Africa has suffered fewer COVID-19 cases and deaths than other areas of the world, the pandemic’s impact on the continent could be more sustained, deep-rooted, and destabilizing for the entire planet. In one year, the pandemic has halted a quarter-century of steady economic growth, disrupted value chains, and caused an unprecedented increase in inequality and poverty.

But it is not only Africa that is at risk of losing its opportunity to emerge fully from COVID-19. The global economy could lose one of its future drivers of growth.

Africa has everything required to overcome the pandemic crisis and lead the world toward a new cycle of sustainable growth: enterprising and innovative young people, natural resources which can supply a local industrial base, and a highly ambitious continental integration project. But Africa does not have the instruments to recover from a crisis as huge as it was unexpected.

While the International Monetary Fund estimates that African countries will need $285 billion in additional financing by 2025, there is no recovery plan or mechanism in place to secure these resources. While other regions are now seeing signs of rapid economic recovery, Africa’s inability to combat the pandemic with the same leverages could fuel an economic and social crisis that denies its young people the opportunities they need and deserve.

International solidarity began yielding results soon after the pandemic began. Debt-service payments for the poorest countries were suspended under the G20, and exceptional financial assistance from the IMF, the World Bank, and other donors, including Europe, was made available.

But the institutions that have underpinned international solidarity for decades are now reaching their limits. They have been weakened in the short term by huge inequalities in vaccine access. They are weakened, too, by major economic divergences, which no emergency measure seems capable of stopping.

That is why a new framework, an ambitious and bold New Deal, is needed. And the first test of this initiative must be access to COVID-19 vaccines. Through COVAX, the vaccine pillar of the international community’s Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, and the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, hundreds of millions of doses will be delivered to Africa in the months ahead. Pre-ordered doses of vaccines are being shared via multilateral channels, with protection of health-care workers the top priority.

But it is not sufficient. Vaccination is the world’s most important economic policy at this moment: its benefits are measured in trillions, its cost in billions. It is the highest-yielding investment in the short term. We must therefore mobilize innovative financial instruments to increase funding for the ACT Accelerator, in order to reach Africa’s vaccination coverage target, set at 60-70% by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. We call on the IMF to recognize the use of special drawing rights (SDRs, the Fund’s unit of account) to finance this effort.

Moreover, as the Rome Declaration of the Global Health Summit held on May 21 affirms, the key to combating future pandemics is transferring not only licenses but also expertise to developing country vaccine producers. Pending the conclusion of an agreement on intellectual property currently under negotiation at the World Trade Organization, Africa must be able to produce vaccines using messenger RNA (mRNA) technology and break a deal, within the WTO, on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) regime. With the impetus of the Paris summit for African, European, and financial leaders, held on May 18, such production partnerships will be financed and move ahead in the coming months.

The second component of a New Deal for Africa is large-scale investment in health, education, and the fight against climate change. We must allow Africa to ring-fence this spending from outlays for security and infrastructure investment, preventing the continent from falling into a new cycle of excessive debt. In the short term, despite certain African countries’ spectacular success at tapping international capital markets, private creditors will not provide the necessary financial resources.

Africa needs a positive confidence shock. The Paris summit has enabled us to consolidate an agreement on a new $650 billion allocation of SDRs, $33 billion of which will go to African countries. Now we want to go even further with two voluntary commitments.

First, we need a commitment by other countries to mobilize part of their SDR allocations for Africa. As a first step, this re-channeling of resources would enable an initial threshold of $100 billion to be freed up for Africa (and vulnerable countries elsewhere).

Second, African institutions must be involved in the use of these SDRs to support the continent’s recovery and progress toward achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. This, in turn, may pave the way for an overhaul of our international financial architecture that gives greater weight to African institutions.

We call on all members of the international community to make this double commitment.

Finally, we must focus on Africa’s main asset: its entrepreneurial dynamism. The continent’s very small, small, and medium-size enterprises are the lifeline to the future for African women and young people, but the private sector is hostage to informality and under-financing. This is why we must focus on improving African entrepreneurs’ access to financing by targeting their projects’ most crucial phases, particularly start-up.

The goal of the Paris summit was to gain agreement on four goals: universal access to COVID-19 vaccines, including via production in Africa; strengthening pan-African institutions’ positions and roles within a new international financial architecture; relaunching public and private investment; and supporting large-scale financing of the African private sector. Our task in the months ahead will be to advance these goals in international fora and as part of France’s upcoming six-month term as president of the Council of the European Union.

This commentary is signed by: Charles Michel, President of the European Council; Emmanuel Macron, President of France; Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda; Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa; Macky Sall, President of Senegal; António Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal; Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón, Prime Minister of Spain; Alexander De Croo, Prime Minister of Belgium; Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission; Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia; Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi; Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chair of the African Union; Faure Gnassingbé, President of Togo; Alassane Ouattara, President of Ivory Coast; Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of Egypt; Filipe Nyusi, President of Mozambique; Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria; Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, President of Burkina Faso; Azali Assoumani, President of the Comoros; Nana Akufo-Addo, President of Ghana; João Lourenço, President of Angola; Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia; Mohamed Ould el Ghazouani, President of Mauritania; Kaïs Saïed, President of Tunisia; Bah N’Daw, Former President of Mali; Mohamed Bazoum, President of Niger; Albert Pahimi Padacke, Prime Minister of Chad; Abdalla Hamdok, Prime Minister of Sudan; Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of the Republic of the Congo; Patrice Talon, President of Benin; Paul Biya, President of Cameroon; and Moussa Faki, Chair of the African Union Commission.


Source: European Council Council of the European Union

New telecommunications operator licensed in Ethiopia

Ethiopia, one of the world’s last closed telecommunications markets, has been liberalised. On May 22, 2021, the Ethiopian government announced that a new telecommunications license had been awarded to the Global Partnership for Ethiopia – a consortium comprising Kenya’s Safaricom PLC, Vodacom GroupVodafone Group, the United Kingdom’s development finance institution CDC Group plc, the Japanese-owned Sumitomo Corporation, and the Development Finance Corporation. The award is likely to boost quality of service provision and promote access to information online, in the historically troubled country.

The newly licensed operator will compete with the state-owned Ethio telecom to serve the country’s population of more than 100 million people. Currently,  the country has low connectivity rates, with internet penetration standing at 20% and mobile phone penetration at 38.5%. Earlier in May 2021, Ethio telecom launched a mobile phone-based financial service, Telebirr, to boost the digital economy by offering cashless transactions as an alternative to an inefficient banking system. The Huawei built Telebirr is likely to face off with MPesa – the mobile banking system pioneered by Safaricom 14 years ago, whose popularity has seen it being adopted by multiple other countries and has served as a key enabler of increased financial inclusion in Kenya and beyond.

The liberalisation of Ethiopia’s telecommunications sector is part of the country’s ongoing reforms to promote social, political and economic development. Reform efforts under the premiership of Abiy Ahmed have included the release of prisoners and dropping charges against opposition actors and activists. Further, efforts have been made to reconnect mobile and broadband internet services disrupted since 2016, including reinstating access to 246 websites, blogs, and news sites that were inaccessible for an extended period of time.

Abiy was shortlisted for a Nobel Peace Prize within a year of his leadership. He went  on to win the prize in October 2019. The commitment to reforms saw Ethiopia jump 40 places up in the RSF World Press Freedom Index in 2019 and the country also hosted the May 2019 commemoration of World Press Freedom Day. A few months later, the Ministry of Innovation and Technology partnered with the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) to host the 2019 edition of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica), a landmark convening of digital rights actors from across the continent and beyond.

However, the various positive strides are marred by actions in response to the ongoing ethnic conflict. The Tigray region in the north of the country, which is currently the epicentre of the conflict, has experienced government-initiated blocks on communications, including internet access and voice calls. Meanwhile, prosecution and persecution of the media and human rights activists alongside state-sponsored disinformation propaganda in the context of the conflict is eroding the initial press freedom and governance gains.

On the policy front, in March 2020, Ethiopia enacted a new Proclamation on hate speech and disinformation, which weighs heavily on social media users and intermediaries, with hefty fines and long jail terms for offenders. Critics have argued that the proclamation undermines free speech, especially as it was passed just months before the general election, which was set to take place in August 2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the elections were rescheduled to take place in June 2021 and will likely mark a key test for democratic reforms in the country.

Indeed, the autonomy of the newly licensed private operator during the upcoming elections and any periods of public unrest is one to watch. Indications from other parts of the African continent are grim – government overreach in intermediaries operations remains a threat to citizens’ rights, political engagement and economic activity.

See this State of Internet Freedom in Ethiopia report which mapped 20 years of Government internet controls in the country.

Moreover, Ethiopia has traditionally used Ethio telecom to monitor and control citizens’ communications, a scenario it may try to replicate with the new licensee. It remains to be seen whether the new licensee will be ready to resist any illegitimate actions by state agencies to impede citizens’ access to digital information and platforms.


Source: IFEX

“New York Times” reporter kicked out of Ethiopia

In response to Ethiopia’s expulsion yesterday of New York Times reporter Simon Marks following allegations of “fake news” about the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement:

“Ethiopia’s decision to expel Simon Marks, without warning or explanation, exposes the government’s disturbing efforts to control the narrative on the Tigray conflict and its intolerance for critical reporting,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration should immediately rescind the expulsion of Simon Marks; restore his press credentials; and ensure that local and international reporters can work freely in Ethiopia ahead of next month’s elections.”

Officials in Addis Ababa yesterday summoned Marks, an Irish citizen who has reported in Ethiopia since 2019 for the Times and other publications, and drove him to the airport, where they detained him for eight hours before putting him on a plane at about 12:30 a.m. local time, The New York Times reported. The officials provided no explanation for his expulsion and in a thread on Twitter, Marks said he was prevented from going home to collect his belongings and to say goodbye to his child.

Marks’ reporting credentials were initially withdrawn on March 4, shortly after a reporting trip to Tigray during which he covered alleged atrocities including widespread sexual violence, but the journalist’s residence permit was valid until October, according to a May 13 report by The New York Times. Officials at Ethiopia’s Broadcasting Authority, a statutory regulator that has since been renamed the Ethiopia Mass Media Authority, accused Marks of “fake news” and “unbalanced” reporting about Tigray and said that his coverage had “caused huge diplomatic pressure,” according to the same report.

Michael Slackman, The New York Times’s assistant managing editor for international, said in the paper’s report yesterday: “It is alarming that the government of Ethiopia treated the journalist, Simon Marks, like a criminal, expelling him from the country without even letting him go home to get a change of clothing or his passport.”


Source: IFEX

Ethiopians in US Vow to Counter Unjust Pressures on Ethiopia

(ENA) Ethiopians residing in various parts of the United States (U.S.) have reiterated their commitment to work on countering the on-going unjust external pressures on Ethiopia.

The Ethiopians and Ethiopian origins disclosed this during a webinar held on Sunday to discuss on the current situation in Ethiopia.

The webinar held under the motto “Ethiopia on a new path”, has brought more than 500 participants from the various States of the U.S., according to Spokesperson Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

During the discussion, the participants vowed to exert efforts to counter the ongoing foreign pressures on Ethiopia and protest the attempts being made to meddling in the internal affairs of the country by some countries and international organizations.

Opening the discussion, Ethiopian Ambassador to the U.S. Fitsum Arega said Ethiopians across the nation and abroad have to exert utmost efforts in a collaborative manner to overcome the current challenges facing the country.

During the occasion, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, Sileshi Bekele said the ongoing pressures being launched on Ethiopia is also associated with the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), adding that efforts must be intensified to complete the dam in a cooperative manner so as to reduce some of these pressures.

He further called upon all Ethiopians to continue their unwavering support so as to fully complete the dam as soon as possible noting that the overall construction of the dam reached 80 percent.

Communication advisor to the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), Soliana Shimelis briefed the participants about the preparation process of upcoming election in Ethiopia.

She said the board has been striving to conduct the election in a peaceful and democratic manner.

The discussion was organized by the International Ethiopian Diaspora Society, Ethiopian Unity and Justice Center, Peace and Unity for Ethiopia Task Force in collaboration with the Ethiopian Embassy and other institutions, it was indicated.


Source: Ethiopia News Agency

PM Abiy Meets With US Senator James Mountain Inhofe

( ENA) Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has met today with United States Senator James Mountain Inhofe who opposed the recent visa restrictions imposed on Ethiopia by the Biden Administration.

PM Abiy wrote today on Face-book “I welcome Senator Jim Inhofe, a friend to Ethiopians, to his second home Ethiopia”.

The Senator last week publicly opposed the visa restrictions imposed on Ethiopia by the Biden Administration stressing that “Ethiopia needs our support as they work to end the sectarian violence.”

Jim Inhofe, a Senator from Oklahoma, is in complete opposition against the U.S decision to impose visa restrictions on Ethiopia.

“I oppose the heavy-handed visa restrictions from the Biden Administration. Ethiopia needs our support as they work to end the sectarian violence. Actions like this don’t help us get closer to a peaceful resolution,” the Senator twitted.


Source: Ethiopia News Agency

Commission Introduces 6 Point Human Rights Agenda to be Implemented During Upcoming Election

( ENA)  The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission today introduced six point human rights agenda that needs to be respected during upcoming general election in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has been making preparations to conduct general election on June 21, 2021 in which some 46 political parties are contesting.

The six  point human rights agenda for  election 2021 calls the contesting political parties to pledge for concrete human right actions in their manifesto, to commit for the protection of human rights, and ensure gender responsiveness.

Moreover, it also calls the political parties to pledge for legal and policy reform that protects freedom of movement, association, expression and access to information as well as to fully refrain from incitement, hate speech and violence.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission Commissioner, Daniel Bekele said on the occasion that introducing the six point agenda to the political parties is very necessary in order to help the political parties to participate in the election in a way that respects  human rights.

He said the agenda will help the election to underway in a peaceful manner and minimize human rights violations that may occur during the post-election period.

Daniel stressed that making human rights issue center of agenda for the election is very crucial in a bid to enable the country holds free election.

According to Daniel, the six point agenda urges the political parties to officially announce and make accountable if there is any human rights abuses are committed by members or supporters of the respective political parties.

He urged the political parties to work towards the effectiveness of the six point agendas.

Deputy Chairperson of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia Wubshet Bekele said on his part that the Board considers the six point agenda as a very necessary tool to conduct peaceful and democratic election.

He added that the board has been following the effective implementation of human rights during the election process as respecting human rights are among the crucial things in the election process.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission issued the six point human rights agenda for election 2021 in last February.


Source: Ethiopia News Agency

Ethiopia, China Hold High-Level Consultative Meeting on Strengthening Economic Cooperation

( ENA)  A high-level consultative meeting was held between the Ministry of Finance and The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China aiming at strengthening the economic cooperation of the two countries.

During the meeting, Finance Minister Ahmed Shide said that the Chinese government has been working in cooperation with the Ministry of Finance in various fields of economic development making significant contributions to Ethiopia’s economic reform program, infrastructure, and human resource development as well as the country’s industrialization agenda.

He noted that the economic cooperation between Ethiopia and China is getting stronger and stronger from time to time.

The Minister said Ethiopia draws lessons from China’s economic development model as it focuses on realizing its home-grown economic reform program and build a strong economy.

The Chinese Ambassador to Ethiopia Zhao Zhiyuan on his part  said China is committed to helping Ethiopia boost its economic prospects.

The Ambassador elaborated on the importance of accelerating the implementation of ongoing and new economic and capacity-building projects to enabling the country to achieve economic prosperity.

The meeting was also attended by the new Minister Counselor of the Economic and Commercial Counselor office of the Chinese Embassy in Ethiopia, Yang Yihang,  according to Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Source: Ethiopia News Agency