By Mphatso Nkuonera, Mana:
Vice President Salous Chilima on Tuesday addressed the 21st Common Market for the Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) summit in Egypt with a call for the regional block to move swiftly in adopting digitalisation and developing economic recovery plans following the devastation of the Covid pandemic.
Chilima—who during the Sadc Summit in Lilongwe urged member states to embrace digitilisation and e-government—is representing President Lazarus Chakwera at the summit.
He said there was urgent need for Comesa to develop a robust economic recovery plan in order to build back economies because soon Covid will no longer be an excuse to people.
“The Covid pandemic has reversed some of the gains that we had achieved over years in our respective countries. We, as Malawi, also have had our fair share of the negative impact that the pandemic caused on the economy,” he said.
Chilima said on regional level, the value of Comesa’s total exports to the world decreased by 27 percent from $123.4 billion in 2019 to $90.3 billion in 2020, while the value of Intra-Comesa total exports declined by 11 percent from $10.9 billion in 2019 to $9.7 billion in 2020.
“What is more worrying is that the uptake of vaccines in the region is currently less than three percent. Therefore, as a response, we need to develop a robust economic recovery plan.
“We need to build back. We need to build resilience. Soon Covid 19 will no longer be an excuse to our people. As a regional group, we must find a way to move on with life and build back. More importantly, we need to provide leadership in sensitising and enticing our people to get vaccinated,” Chilima said.
He also singled out climate change, lack of industrialisation, existence of non-tariff barriers, transport and logistics problems, supply-side constrains, and cumbersome border procedures as some of the major challenges facing the region.
“Time has come for Comesa and Africa region to change the state of affairs. We should not allow ourselves to be drawn into a system where we produce and export raw materials and whereby value addition or beneficiation is done elsewhere and finished products sold back to us,” Chilima said.
He emphasised that accelerating digitalisation will be game changer for the Comesa region towards a digital economy in the face of Covid pandemic.
He also urged member states and the region to also stay alert in this digital world and pay greater attention to consumer protection with respect to cyber-security in the digital economy.
The last Comesa Summit was held in Lusaka, Zambia, in 2018.