Image courtesy of African Feminism

African Feminist Post-COVID-19 Economic Recovery Statement

The statement is below:

Dear Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Dr. Donald Kaberuka, Mr. Tidjane Thiam, Mr. Trevor Manuel and Mr. Benkhalfa Abderrahmane,

We write this letter to you in your capacities as the Special Envoys that the African Union has mandated to mobilise international support to address the coronavirus pandemic in Africa. We are a constellation of African feminists who are steeped in pan-African visions for a liberated Africa. These visions enable us to dare to believe that there are ample solutions and resources to the many pandemics that our continent faces. We are part of various communities, formations, sectors and disciplines including law, feminist organising, fund mobilisation, economics, land and agrarian rights, health, cultural production, development studies, food sovereignty, tax justice, ecological work inter alia.

We need solutions and COVID-19 has provided us with an opportunity to reimagine African political economies. This moment requires a pan-African response that creates an enabling environment for people and movement led economic work, including but not limited to cooperative and solidarity economics, to be given the support and space to flourish. COVID-19 needs to be a turn-around point from orthodox laissez-faire models and overly financialised states. This crisis is an opportunity to dislodge structural inequality and re-frame the political economy which contributed to this tipping point. We have been actively working on, producing data and building ground up movements since structural adjustment. Most of us – like yourself – lived through Structural Adjustment Programs and the hollowed states that remained. The financial crisis of 2008 was an acute rupture of globalisation and a reminder that unfettered markets cannot be the primary arbiter of wealth and economic distribution. Our states in all their imperfection are the tangible entities where we reside, produce, consume and eventually will be laid to rest.

The credit crisis was enormous and pervasive, and it altered our world in ways we are still realising. Sadly though, any crisis can seem banal and even invisible. People adapt and come to accept the changes wrought by crisis. This cannot be the case here. The resilience of market logic has taken hold and flattened markets to the extent that economic orthodoxy and neo-liberal forms of production are viewed not just as coincidences of globalisation but rather the natural order of our universe. COVID-19 has flattened that universe and we have the chance to reframe state capacities and the draconian measures that they often use to enforce social order in a fragile time.

Initiatives like the African Charter for Popular Participation for Development, the UN New Agenda for Development of Africa vision 2020, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) have not yielded substantive dividends. If the sum total of all these previous initiatives has brought us to this moment, we need to rethink our options. We need a deeper re-orientation of African development which goes beyond COVID-19.

As Africa now moves towards raising increased financial support in response to the impacts of the pandemic, the weaknesses of dominant policy templates and development financing models must no longer compromise the autonomy of African states to effectively deliver the mandate of Africa’s people. African “growth” over the last twenty years has been accompanied by pervasive unemployment, whilst wealth and inequality gaps are now at their highest levels. Decades of reduced public spending has left millions without access to basic services such as healthcare, whilst the movement towards privatising those services and resources (including water and energy) further compromises equitable access as a result of basic services being commodified and subject to market rules and shareholder needs. Meanwhile, the tunnel visioned policy focus on industrial and export-orientated agriculture has failed to deliver food security for Africa. Additionally, the lack of investment in localised food systems that center food sovereignty has had detrimental impacts on African biodiversity and climate resilience.

The gender dimensions of prevailing policy models are still not fully acknowledged or considered, including how those models deepen women’s economic inequality by exploiting their labour inside and outside the home; invisible, poorly paid, unpaid, and insecure. As COVID-19 continues to move across the continent, the absence of social safety nets needed by women due to their greater fiscal precarity in the face of economic shocks has exposed the failures of a development trajectory currently prioritising productivity for growth over the wellbeing of African people. Indeed COVID-19 has made evident what feminists have long emphasised: that the profits made in economies and markets are subsidised by women’s unpaid care and domestic work–an essential service that even the current pandemic has failed to acknowledge and address in policy.

We have history on our shoulders which requires us to reflect strongly and honestly about the repercussions of continuing on this dogmatic debt track. We are soliciting funds while Africa has a net capital outflow of money. What posterity does this offer future generations? We are concerned about the forms and sources of finance and the accompanying conditionalities. In past generations these have increased our burden of unpaid work on African women. We have the feminist hope and expectations that your plans for this continent are in alignment with a progressive, forward looking vision. COVID-19 has shown us where our structural weaknesses are and history has shown us that old ways are not working.

We call on you to ensure that you create an open, inclusive and transparent process to shape how you undertake the work and interpret what your efforts at mobilising support produces. This process needs to move beyond just including ‘expert economists’ to also include groups which have been thus far marginalized by the current economic model. In light of this, we would like to begin a conversation with you. We want to hear your thoughts and vision for African countries, African economies, resource mobilisation and African peoples beyond COVID-19. We would like an audience with you to discuss this further, including through a webinar. There are more crises coming our way and we want to support co-creative futures thinking. Below is a set of recommendations we want to put forward as the first step in our engagement.

Read more in English, Portuguese, Swahili, French and Spanish here.

Statement in Arabic can be found here