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Bouncing back from the brink

Why Africa must close the resilience gap as the world falls apart

With the war in Ukraine leading to supplies of gas, fertilizer, wheat and other essential commodities to the world choked off, never has the adage “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” seemed smarter. A four-year-old can see that buying the majority of Europe’s gas from Russia alone is a dumb policy. However, four-year-olds don’t run Governments, which is why Russia can now inflict such pressure on Europe, Africa and beyond as it weaponises its comparative advantage.

The notion of comparative advantage, where countries focus on industries where they have a competitive edge in the world, was developed by the British economist David Ricardo in 1817. Ricardo promoted the benefits of this form of international trade, which has dominated economic development ever since and has its current manifestation in globalisation.

Globalisation has brought benefits to the world such as lower prices for many goods and services, as well as economic growth for a number of developed and developing economies. But globalisation has also had brought some less positive impacts. For example, in many cases domestic manufacturing or agriculture has been decimated as production moves to lower cost countries. Aside from the tragedy of unemployment, lost skills and the rise in carbon emissions from transporting goods around the world, another serious impact of globalisation has been the damage done to resilience.

Over the last few years, we have had drought, locusts, Covid, war, climate change, inflation, rising energy and food prices, geopolitical muscles being flexed, wild fires, heat domes, monkeypox and China’s zero tolerance policy on Covid. Sometimes it seems like there is a new curved ball every day. Longer term shocks haven’t gone away either such as water scarcity, growing demand for protein, loss of nature, the growth of non-communicable “lifestyle” diseases such as, stroke, heart disease, some cancers and diabetes, along with poor nutrition, social alienation and poverty to name but a few of the oncoming trains heading our way.

So, resilience, our ability to withstand shocks to the system, has never been more important. Yet the march of globalisation started back in 1817, has eroded our resilience and left us vulnerable to malign natural and man-made crises. We are seeing the consequences of weakened resilience right now in Africa particularly. While the need to invest in domestic agriculture and manufacturing is urgent, the continent’s ability to do so is severely compromised by high levels of debt experienced by Africa’s governments.

This is where the global community needs to come together, not to lurch to the extreme of protectionism and pulling up the drawbridge, but to strengthen global resilience and spread our risks so we are better prepared. Because if every nation is more resilient, we are all more resilient. When we are stronger together as a global community we can not only deal with the horrors ahead but we can adapt more rapidly and thrive on change rather than be crippled by it.