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North Africa slowly rebounds after severe Covid-19 shock

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In places, the North African desert hosts good mineral deposits. Image credit: Halima Bouchouicha from Unsplash

North Africa slowly rebounds after severe Covid-19 shock

Although Covid-19 had a severe impact on the North African region, countries like Egypt and Morocco have done well to claw back some of the losses during the last year.

Egypt’s prospects for 2022 looks good as the oil industry and tourism kicks into gear after being hard hit by the global pandemic. The country has become a hot spot for junior mining exploration companies with mouth watering gold deposits spread throughout the Eastern Desert region of the desert.

One of them, London listed Altus Strategies, recently announced good results from field reconnaissance work at the company’s 100% owned Gabal Al-Shaluhl (348km2) and Wadi Jundi (696km2) projects.

Altus’ subsidiary, Akh Gold, holds four gold exploration projects totalling 1,565km2 in Egypt. These projects were granted this year as part of a competitive international bid round undertaken by the Egyptian Mineral Resources Authority which attracted a large contingent of international investors.

A negative 2020

Although the future in one or two North African countries looks positive, real gross domestic product growth in the region was largely negative in 2020, at -1.1% with a -5.1-percentage point drop in 2019.

According to the African Development Bank’s 2021 edition of the North Africa Economic Outlook report North African economies experienced three shocks in 2020: the Covid-19 pandemic, a collapse in oil prices and a steep drop in tourism.

Growth was also cut short due, in part, to sharp contractions in the region’s main trading partners. This output loss was found to be less severe than projected on account of prompt interventions by governments to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.

North Africa slowly rebounds after severe Covid-19 shocks

Egypt managed to achieve positive growth (+3.6%), one of the few countries in the world to do so in 2020. On the other hand, Libya’s economy contracted by -60.3%, Tunisia’s by -8.8%, Morocco’s by -7.1%, Algeria’s by -4.6%, and Mauritania’s by 3.6%.

Overall, macroeconomic variables of regional countries deteriorated. The average fiscal deficit nearly doubled (from 5.7% of GDP in 2019 to 11.6% in 2020) and the current account deficit extended from 4.9% to 8.8% of GDP.

The report notes that the Covid-19 pandemic has markedly reduced North African countries’ resilience. The crisis has also significantly eroded fiscal space. Amid prospects for a protracted recovery in key sources of income for the region – oil and tourism – oil exporters faced a double impact brought about by lockdowns and severe oil market fluctuations. This was particularly the case for Libya.

Some countries face liquidity problems

The report finds that if the pandemic continues into 2022 and beyond, some countries will likely face liquidity problems in servicing their debt repayments. Over the period 2021-23, North Africa’s financing needs are estimated to exceed USD180-billion to adequately respond to the crisis and support the recovery. Strained fiscal positions will limit government support measures in many countries. Much more emphasis will be placed on ambitious reforms to rekindle robust, sustainable, equitable growth while avoiding further deterioration of fiscal and debt.

Proposed measures for damage control  

In the short term, the report proposes various measures for damage management. The African Development Bank recommends, among other things, limiting the spread of Covid-19, providing relief for vulnerable populations, overcoming vaccine-related challenges, and developing capacity for debt sustainability analyses.

Some of the medium-term proposals include investing in digitalisation, supporting small and medium enterprises, and enhancing domestic resource mobilisation.

Economic and export diversification requires attention in the long term, along with investing in public goods to ease regional disparities and foster inclusive growth. The report also calls for the deepening of regional integration in the context of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement.

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