Sub-Saharan Africa faces first recession in 25 years

By Business Reporter


GROWTH in Sub-Saharan Africa has been significantly impacted by the on-going coronavirus outbreak and is forecast to fall sharply from 2.4% in 2019 to -2.1 to -5.1% in 2020, the first recession in the region over the past 25 years, according to the latest Africa’s Pulse, the World Bank’s twice-yearly economic update for the region.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is testing the limits of societies and economies across the world, and African countries are likely to be hit particularly hard,” said Hafez Ghanem, World Bank Vice President for Africa.

“We are rallying all possible resources to help countries meet people’s immediate health and survival needs while also safeguarding livelihoods and jobs in the longer term – including calling for a standstill on official bilateral debt service payments which would free up funds for strengthening health systems to deal with COVID 19 and save lives, social safety nets to save livelihoods and help workers who lose jobs, support to small and medium enterprises, and food security.”

The Pulse authors recommend that African policymakers focus on saving lives and protecting livelihoods by focusing on strengthening health systems and taking quick actions to minimize disruptions in food supply chains. They also recommend implementing social protection programs, including cash transfers, food distribution and fee waivers, to support citizens, especially those working in the informal sector.

The analysis shows that COVID-19 will cost the region between $37 billion and $79 billion in output losses for 2020 due to a combination of effects. They include trade and value chain disruption, which impacts commodity exporters and countries with strong value chain participation; reduced foreign financing flows from remittances, tourism, foreign direct investment, foreign aid, combined with capital flight; and through direct impacts on health systems, and disruptions caused by containment measures and the public response.

While most countries in the region have been affected to different degrees by the pandemic, real gross domestic product growth is projected to fall sharply particularly in the region’s three largest economies – Nigeria, Angola, and South Africa – as a result of persistently weak growth and investment. In general, oil exporting-countries will also be hard-hit; while growth is also expected to weaken substantially in the two fastest growing areas – the West African Economic and Monetary Union and the East African Community – due to weak external demand, disruptions to supply chains and domestic production. The region’s tourism sector is expected to contract sharply due to severe disruption to travel.

The Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region paid $35.8 billion in total debt service in 2018, 2.1% of regional gross domestic product (GDP), of which $9.4 billion was paid to official bilateral creditors (about 0.7% of the regional GDP). Given that the region may need an emergency economic stimulus of $100 billion – including an estimated $44 billion waiver for interest payments in 2020 – the report notes a debt moratorium would immediately inject liquidity and enlarge the fiscal space of African governments.

“Due to deteriorating fiscal positions and increased public debt, governments in the region do not have much room for wiggle in deploying fiscal policy to address the COVID-19 crisis,” said Albert Zeufack, Chief Economist for Africa at the World Bank. “Africa alone will not be able to contain the disease and its impacts on its own; there is urgent need for temporary official bilateral debt relief to help combat the pandemic while preserving macroeconomic stability in the region.”

The COVID-19 crisis also has the potential to spark a food security crisis in Africa, with agricultural production potentially contracting between 2.6% in an optimistic scenario and up to 7% if there are trade blockages. Food imports would decline substantially (as much as 25% or as little as 13%) due to a combination of higher transaction costs and reduced domestic demand.

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