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Recovery slow but achievable for Sub-Saharan Africa

By Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya | | Updated: 2021-04-16 19:41
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A worker packs alcohol at a liquor store as the sale of alcohol for off-site consumption will be prohibited over the Easter weekend, amid the spread of the COVID-19, in Johannesburg, South Africa, April 1, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Sub-Saharan Africa's economies are bound to recover from last year's coronavirus shock and grow again this year according to the IMF's six-monthly economic outlook for the region published on Thursday. The agency attributes its expectation of a slow recovery to a slow delivery of vaccines to Africa and the lack of resources to stimulate economies.

In its latest "Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa" report, the IMF says that the path to recovery and overcoming the long-lasting effects of the pandemic will be difficult. However, policymakers must strive to deliver vaccines, while restoring the health of public balance sheets harmed by the crisis.

"Many advanced economies have secured enough vaccine doses to cover their own populations many times over and are looking to the second half of the year with a renewed sense of hope. In Africa, however, with limited purchasing power and few options, many countries will be struggling to simply vaccinate their essential frontline workers this year, and few will achieve widespread availability before 2023," the IMF says in the report.

However, the agency says that increased exports, higher commodity prices and a recovery in private consumption and investment are expected to reverse last year's average contraction in the region's economies of 1.9 percent.

Abebe Aemro Selassie, the director of the IMF's African Department, said that since the last assessment of Sub-Saharan Africa's Regional Economic Outlook in October 2020, the region has confronted a second pandemic wave, which outpaced the scale and speed of the first. He added that many countries continue to face or are bracing for further waves, particularly as access to vaccines remains scant.

"The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the region's economy. The estimated 1.9 percent economic contraction in 2020 is somewhat less severe than anticipated last October, but it is still the worst year on record. While the region is projected to grow by 3.4 percent in 2021, per capita output is not expected to return to 2019 levels until after 2022," Selassie said.

He also noted that restrictions on the dissemination of vaccines or medical equipment should be avoided because faster than anticipated vaccine supply or rollout could boost the region's near-term prospects.

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