Keeping Africa ‚Afloat‘: EU Set to Discuss Debt Relief While Civil Liberties Are at Stake

Written by | Thursday, April 30th, 2020
@Eubulletin

While countries across Africa and the Middle East are bracing for more economic headwinds, EU countries are set to discuss a request for debt relief from five Sahel countries as part of efforts to help them cope with coronavirus, European Council chief Charles Michel said Tuesday (28 April). One of the countries worst affected is Lebanon, which is seeing a financial collapse, with unprecedented inflation and a plunging Lebanese pound, prompting protesters to flout the curfew in Beirut and second-largest city Tripoli, yelling “We want to eat, we want to live.” and “Dying from the coronavirus is better than starving to death.”
After video talks with the leaders of the “G5 Sahel” countries — Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad — Michel said the international community needed to do more to help Africa tackle the pandemic. Africa is seen as particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, with experts fearing the continent’s weak health systems may not be able to stem the spread of the virus. On the economic front, the slump in demand for minerals and tourism combined with the effect of lockdowns to slow the contagion looks set to hammer African economies.
“I think there is a legitimate question, how is it possible to support the African countries by opening this political debate about debt relief,” he said. The IMF expects Africa’s GDP to shrink by 1.6% in 2020 — its worst result ever recorded — while the World Bank has warned the region could slip into its first recession in 25 years. The G20 grouping of the world’s largest economies agreed earlier this month to a standstill in debt payments for the world’s poorest nations, many of which are in Africa.
From Middle East to North Africa, several Arab countries have witnessed – what some have referred to as ‚second Arab Spring – mass protest movements bring down longstanding political leaders over the past year. Now, faced with the Covid-19 outbreak and mounting economic strife, regimes try to exploit the situation to grab even more power. In Algeria, authorities appear to have instrumentalized coronavirus-related restrictions to deliberately silence internal dissent. But although the pandemic has also taken its toll on the protest movement, for activists in Algeria and elsewhere across the region, giving way to the pandemic isn’t an option.
Protesters in countries such as Sudan, Iraq or Lebanon have largely been driven away from public spaces due to fears of contracting the novel coronavirus — and as a result of government measures to curb the outbreak. As a result, protest camps have thinned out across these countries. As most governments across Africa and the Middle East, be they at the helm of democracies or autocracies, have severely curtailed civil liberties to prevent the virus from spreading, the EU should balance its commercial interests and the need for debt relief measures with the protection of democracy and human rights.

Article Categories:
Africa · GLOBAL EUROPE

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