Trevor Manuel. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Trevor Manuel. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Former finance minister Trevor Manuel has been appointed as one of the four AU special envoys tasked with mobilising international support for the continent’s fight against the economic challenges resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

He will team up with former Nigerian finance minister and former MD of the World Bank Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; former finance minister of Rwanda and former president and chair of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Donald Kaberuka; and former Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam.

Their task will be to solicit the support pledged by the Group of 20 (G20), the EU and international financial institutions.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, the AU chair, announced the appointments ahead of the virtual spring meetings of the G20, World Bank and the IMF this week. The meetings are expected to discuss the pandemic and its impact on emerging economies.

Government ministers across Africa have called for the suspension of debt interest payments and for the waiver of the principal debt of fragile states.

Leaders of the World Bank and the IMF have expressed support for debt relief to help poor countries strengthen their health systems.

The EU will also provide guarantees and has pledged €3.25bn (R64.35bn) for Africa in response to the pandemic, with €2.06bn earmarked for Sub-Saharan Africa and €1.19bn for North African countries.

IMF MD Kristalina Georgieva recently estimated the gross external funding needs for emerging markets and developing countries to be in the trillions of dollars. They can cover only a portion of that on their own, leaving residual gaps of hundreds of billions of dollars. She noted that the IMF had a lending capacity of $1-trillion (R18.14-trillion) and had received requests for emergency funding from more than 90 countries.

Announcing the appointments, Ramaphosa said international finance institutions needed to support African economies that were facing serious economic challenges with a comprehensive stimulus package for the continent, including deferred debt and interest payments.

Manuel, who formerly headed the National Planning Commission, was appointed in 2018 by Ramaphosa as an investment envoy to engage domestic and international investors as part of the country’s national investment drive.

“The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been global in both scale and reach, and this necessitates co-ordinated international action to capacitate all countries to respond effectively, but most particularly developing countries that continue to shoulder a historical burden of poverty, inequality and underdevelopment,” Ramaphosa said.

“The sentiment expressed in two recent letters written to the G20 by a group of world leaders and a team of esteemed economists underscore[s] the importance of bolstering health systems in poorer countries; this can only be done with the support of the international community.”

It was necessary, Ramaphosa stressed, to contain the pandemic and ensure that already ailing economies and financial systems did not collapse.

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