COVID Has Heightened Conflict, Deepened Depression, Say Central African Leaders

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened problems of conflict, terrorism, and scarce resources in Central Africa to plunge millions of people deeper into poverty. That's according to members of the regional bloc CEMAC. CEMAC heads of state Wednesday called for solidarity to improve living conditions in the six-nation economic bloc.

During a virtual heads of state summit Tuesday, the central African leaders said the advent of COVID-19 forced the closure of many businesses and caused millions of workers to lose their jobs.

Cameroon’s President Paul Biya is chairman of the CEMAC heads of state conference. He says it is regrettable that many people are reluctant to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Biya says it is not possible for CEMAC to attain herd immunity when fewer than 5% of its close to 60 million people have agreed to be vaccinated against COVID-19. He says CEMAC member states should make sure all their people are vaccinated against COVID-19 so that the economic bloc can get to the crucial point of revamping its economy to fight against hardship.

Christophe Mbelle is an economist at the University of Yaounde. He says the COVID-19 crisis increased unemployment by between 60% and 70% across CEMAC countries.

Not even pharmaceutical companies were immune to the effects of the pandemic.

Mbelle says local companies only produced 5% of medicines needed by central African countries last year. He says in 2020, CEMAC countries invested more than $269 million to import drugs from Europe and America. Mbelle says if not for COVID-19, he is sure the $269 million would have been invested in home industries to create jobs and improve the well-being of suffering civilians.

The six nations of CEMAC are dealing with multiple crises within their borders in addition to COVID-19. Cameroon and Chad are fighting Boko Haram terrorism on their common borders with Nigeria.

Cameroon is fighting armed separatists in its English-speaking western regions. The U.N. also says that rebels have continued to challenge authorities in the Central African Republic with unending clashes since 2014.

The region is also dealing with the effects of climate change. This week, CEMAC said several thousand people fled intercommunal violence sparked by conflicts over water from the Logone River that separates Cameroon from Chad. The Lake Chad Basin Commission says the lake's water resources have diminished by 70% within the past 50 years, and several million people in the area lack water and food.

Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, issued a statement Tuesday after her virtual participation in the CEMAC summit from Washington. She said in 2020, COVID-19, combined with an ensuing decline in oil prices and security issues, had led to a deep recession and imposed a heavy toll on CEMAC member states.

She said the countries’ fiscal positions were weakened and external reserves depleted.

Georgieva said CEMAC must accelerate the vaccination campaign to ensure a sustainable economic recovery.

CEMAC anticipated a 2.8% economic growth rate in 2021. In April, though, the Bank of Central African States, which serves as the central bank for CEMAC countries, cut the anticipated growth rate to 1%, saying COVID-19 was slowing the economy.

Source: Voice of America