The coronavirus pandemic has deepened challenges faced by landlocked developing countries (LLDCs), particularly those in Africa.
Before the outbreak of the health crisis, these countries already faced great challenges as a result of their geographical locations – they are remote, have no direct access to the sea and face high transport and transit costs, impacting their speed of development.
This was said by Francis Ikome, Chief of the Regional Integration Section in the Economic Commission for Africa’s (ECA) Regional Integration and Trade Division, during a presentation at the just-ended 39th Meeting of Committee of Experts of the Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.
He said the Vienna Program of Action for Landlocked Developing Countries for the Decade 2014–2024 was a holistic framework to address the challenges facing these countries. Mr. Ikome said Africa has the biggest stake in the Program because the continent is home to the largest number of landlocked countries in the world. Of the world’s 32 landlocked countries, 16 are in Africa, and 13 of these are also least developed countries (LDCs).
The Vienna program of action was adopted by the international community in recognition of the complex challenges facing LLDCs and their special development needs. According to Mr. Ikome, with COVID-19 prompting border closures, the pandemic had further isolated African LLDCs from world trade, disproportionately affecting them with high exposure to commodities trade.
He said well-functioning transit transport services and procedures were essential to ensure people in LLDCs have timely access to essentials such as medical products and basic goods during and after the health and economic crisis triggered by COVID-19. He also stated that LLDCs in Africa have performed poorly compared to LLDCs in other regions, with their growth declining from 5.1 per cent from 1998 to 4.0 per cent in 2019.
Even though there has been growth in digitalization for instance, Mr. Ikome said LLCDs in Africa had recorded lower growth in mobile telephony numbers and digitized facilities like the Internet, compared to other LLCDs. When it comes to energy, the African LLDCs also have lower access to electricity compared to other LLDCs and the global average. He said increasing electricity and Internet access in Africa’s LLDCs was key to their economic recovery from COVID-19.
Mr. Ikome said the ECA in 2019 conducted an energy modelling training as part of building capacities of African policymakers. “Some States are working on regional power pools and leveraging green energy resources,” he said.
To address the challenges facing the LLDCs, Mr. Ikome said there was need for development partners, the UN system, international and regional organizations and the private sector to continue supporting these transit countries with technical, financial, and capacity-building support. He also urged LLCDs to take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
“All LLDCs should ratify and implement the agreement, working with ECA on country-specific strategies to maximize gains from the AfCFTA,” he added. The theme of this year’s Conference of Ministers is Africa’s Sustainable Industrialization and Diversification in the Digital Era in the Context of COVID-19.