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Tony Blair: COVID-19 exposed Africa’s development landscape flaws

COVID-19 has exposed the challenges and opportunities of Africa’s development landscape, former British prime minister Tony Blair said in an African Development Institute lecture.

“We have the same problems but what we also have is a vastly increased urgency… not so much a wake-up call but a wake-up command,” said Blair.

The former UK prime minister addressed a virtual audience on Building Back Better in a Post COVID-19 Africa: The role of technology and governance as part of the AfDB’s African Development Institute’s annual Kofi A. Annan lecture series. The lectures cover a range of African and global development topics, including economics, finance, regional integration, human development and the environment.

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The series has been a forum for eminent speakers to share policy insights on development challenges in Africa ever since 2006. This year, more than 4,500 delegates from across the globe tuned into the lecture.

After retiring from office Blair launched the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change which works on supporting governments to deliver effectively for their people, working for peace in the Middle East and countering extremism.

In his first virtual lecture, Blair outlined three aspects which, in his words, would make a big difference to Africa:

  • investing in industrialisation;
  • accelerating technological innovations;
  • building capacity for institutions to get things done.

“There are components to the bank’s High 5 priorities.  There are challenges that Africa has – all of those are now given added urgency by COVID-19 and its impact.”

COVID-19: reminder that technology used effectively could change Africa’s narrative

To build back better, West Africa for instance, could capitalise on its rich source of cotton for garment production and the textile industry. Elsewhere on the continent, Africa is already leading in the digital technology space, which can be scaled up.

“Around the world you are seeing governments use technology effectively. I know this is a great ambition of the African Development Bank. This is critical,” said Blaire.

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He highlighted four Ps of government delivery – prioritisation, policy, personnel and performance management- and called on African governments to identify and focus on their comparative advantages, delivery, key transformative projects and also manage expectations.

“In the end… only Africa can do it… we are partners in Africa’s stories… in Africa’s progress.”

Development to scale through technology is key to Africa’s economic growth

Blair’s speech was followed by a conversation with AfDB group president Akinwumi Adesina who said the lecture series brought global and national perspectives to the development issues being discussed.

“We need to constantly push the frontiers of dialogue in the public sphere. Nothing is more topical today than the challenges posed by COVID-19. The pandemic has upended economic growth,” explain Adesina.

Agreeing with Blair on the importance of the culture of delivery, Adesina said agriculture offered Africa its best opportunity for industrialisation: “The key is how does Africa raise productivity in agriculture. How does it develop the integrated infrastructure in those rural areas… that will allow the creation of new economic sources of prosperity out of what it has?,” asked Adesina.

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Although the AfDB Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation Initiative allows it to reach millions of farmers with agricultural technology and is boosting yields in wheat, this needs to be scaled up. “We have a lot of pilots… The name of the game is scale,” said Adesina.

The AfDB group president cited other key interventions such as the $10 billion COVID-19 Response Facility to provide budget support to African countries and its innovative $3 billion COVID-19 social bonds.

Theresa Smith
Theresa Smith is a Content Specialist for ESI Africa.