At UN, Africa urges fiscal help against virus ‘apocalypse’

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In this image made from UNTV video, Alassane Ouattara, President of Cote d'Ivoire, speaks in a pre-recorded message which was played during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Thursday Sept. 24, 2020, at UN headquarters, in New York. (UNTV via AP)

JOHANNESBURG – African nations came out swinging on the third day of the United Nations annual gathering of world leaders Thursday, calling for dramatic fiscal measures to help economies survive the coronavirus pandemic — which one leader called the “fifth horseman of the apocalypse.”

Africa's 54 countries estimate they need $100 billion in support annually for the next three years, pointing out that it’s a fraction of the trillions of dollars some richer countries are using to revive their economies.

As some world powers go their own way during the crisis — what Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa called “the blind pursuit of narrow interests” — the African nations that make up more than a quarter of U.N. members are leaning hard into multilateralism.

Reminding fellow leaders of what brought the U.N. to life 75 years ago, President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea said the victors of World War II “had conflicting interests but were able for a moment to unite and were able to place the salvation of the world above their own interests.”

Now, the world is nearing 1 million confirmed COVID-19 deaths — though experts believe the real toll is likely higher — and untold others are dying from other diseases and hunger.

Debt cancellation is needed to free up more resources to tackle the crisis, African heads of state said. Meanwhile, Africa has tilted into its first recession in a quarter-century, stalling years of success that saw several countries among the world's fastest-growing economies.

The president of one of them, Ivory Coast, called for the extension of a G-20 debt moratorium beyond the end of this year and the issue of special drawing rights at the International Monetary Fund.

“I call on all Africa’s partners to take bolder measures,” Alassane Ouattara said, noting that the fight against COVID-19 and its economic effects has represented 5% of the country’s GDP.