France to reallocate Africa aid money for the fight against coronavirus

France will reallocate almost €1.2bn of African development aid to the fight against coronavirus as part of President Emmanuel Macron’s effort to focus international attention on the health and economic impact of the pandemic on the continent.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the country’s National Assembly on Thursday that “the needs are immense” in Africa as he called for more resources for the healthcare system, testing and scientific research. “We will, without a doubt, need to envisage a humanitarian airlift from Europe to deliver aid to Africa, said Mr Le Drian, adding that there should be a moratorium on interest payments or even cancelling or restructuring African countries’ debts.  By Thursday, Africa had more than 11,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases in almost 50 countries, with 575 deaths.

Health officials have said the real caseload is likely to be much higher. The funding announced on Thursday will consist of €1bn in loans to provide short-term liquidity to African countries, their state development banks, health agencies and non-governmental organisations. Only €150m will be in the form of grants, according to a statement from France’s AFD development agency.

The money will go to the 19 countries that are usually the focus of France’s development efforts, including Senegal, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic and Guinea. Some of the aid may also go to countries elsewhere with historical ties to France such as Madagascar.
A senior Elysée spokesman said there was an urgent need to put Africa higher on the agenda and to co-ordinate the international response, particularly on the debt relief African countries would require if they were to fight the pandemic effectively. “As everyone is focusing on their own challenge, there is a risk that Africa might be out of the picture. This is why we were very focused to put Africa on the agenda,” the spokesman said. “

African leaders have been very vocal on debt relief and President Macron has decided to be very supportive of that,” the spokesman said, adding that the discussion needed to go beyond waiving interest payments on bilateral and multilateral debt at next week’s IMF-World Bank spring meetings. “The next step is to go from suspension to debt write-off.”

Paris was not being purely altruistic, the official said. “If we manage to overcome the pandemic in Europe and it goes out of control in Africa, all our efforts will be pointless. This is not only a matter of solidarity; this is a matter of overcoming Covid.” In addition, Paris is backing a plan by the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria to use $500m to combat the respiratory disease. France is also planning to finance African scientific research on the virus, given the continent’s experience in fighting infectious diseases such as Ebola. Mr Macron spoke to several senior African leaders last week including Cyril Ramaphosa, president of South Africa and current chair of the African Union, as well as Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, and Abiy Ahmed, prime minister of Ethiopia.