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A Responsible Response to Covid-19

Human Development

Hogan Lovells’ annual Africa Forum returned in an online form, providing a platform for speakers including former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Africa Finance Corporation chief executive Samaila Zubairu to lay out the challenge ahead post-pandemic.

Balancing growth and recovery from Covid-19 while living up to environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals are the key challenges facing Africa, according to experienced political, business and legal sector leaders speaking at yesterday’s online Africa Forum, run by international law firm Hogan Lovells.

Keynote speaker Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female head of state as president of Liberia between 2006 and 2018, acknowledged that Covid-19 had made it a difficult time for Africa and the world, noting that a minority of Africans had access to suitable and reliable medical treatment, and that there was a lack of food and medical supplies, while circumstances which allowed for social distancing and sanitary conditions were too few. Sirleaf was pleased that the African Union and governments were responding to the crisis, which is , and praised the resilience of ordinary Africans, saying “our continent will survive this pandemic, but the effect and the needs are enormous”.

She called for further funding and debt flexibility and warned that unless there was a unified response “[we are] all ultimately susceptible, but also we risk all other aspects of our collective existence and enduring partnerships”. Governments should ensure that the “greatest assets to business – people – are heathy and well”, she added, warning that leaders “do not take away, without giving back.” Sirleaf called for proper consideration of the environment and sustainability when building the energy systems that are necessary for the continent’s economic growth and relief of poverty. “Africa faces a higher burden than most in changes to the climate,” she said, continuing that it was time for the continent to take charge of its own destiny: “Is Africa ready to assume full responsibility for its development? Yes, Africa is ready.” She continued: “Admittedly in many places, systems and institutions are weak,” and acknowledged the need to respond more robustly to ESG issues.

The former president was outspoken about a need for more women at the top of government, saying “women have a radar for injustice” and warning of the pandemic’s gendered impact. She challenged Africa's male presidents to remove obstacles to growth and transformations of societies, concluding with a call to the wider world, arguing that Africa had given its best for the West’s development, and that it is time to change that.

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