According to the Bank, growth in West Africa, which had been projected to expand by 4.0 per cent by year-end, was now projected to contract by -2.0 per cent in the same period.
The report noted that as a result of the pandemic, growth in the region could fall further by as much as -4.3 per cent in a worst-case scenario, as countries that depend on oil and tourism for foreign exchange and fiscal revenues would face reduced fiscal space and heightened external account imbalances, stoking a build-up of public debt.
This, notwithstanding, the report said West Africa’s budding youth population offers a strategic workforce that could be harnessed for employment and economic growth amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that is devastating the continent and global economies.
Speaking during the virtual launch of the report, Director-General, Regional Development and Business Delivery Office for West Africa,
, said the region’s young population offered an opportunity to help speed up economic recovery.
However, she said the labour force participation rate for the working population had consistently declined since the beginning of the millennium from 64.2 per cent in 2000 to 58.5 per cent in 2019, noting that the report proffered policy recommendations to address the decline and reverse current trends.
Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, said the country was working with partners like AfDB on economic measures to minimize the impact of COVID-19.
Similarly, Ghana’s Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, said the economic impacts of the pandemic on the region had shown the need for economies to focus on building resilience in strategic sectors and accelerating regional integration.
In his remarks, Senior Director, Nigeria Country Department, AfDB, Ebrima Faal, said partnering with global technology companies could create avenues for research and development to boost skills development for the future.
The Regional Economic Outlook report highlighted developments in the region with particular emphasis on “Skills Development and Education for the Workforce of the Future,” and also investigated the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the report, the region ranked low in the human capital index, which measures the mobilization of the economic potential of citizens and has implications for the region’s capability to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
Although West African countries have made improvements in school enrolment over the last two decades, retention rates remained low with poor outcomes especially in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Yet, the increasing demand for these skills would define the future of work in view of the unfolding technological revolution.
The report said policies needed to be put in place to accelerate improvements in digital infrastructure to meet the increasing demand for digital services; create incentives for private sector investment in skills development; and scale-up public expenditure in education to enhance the skills of the region’s labour market.
The report urged countries in the region to bolster their health care systems and increase funding to train and equip frontline health workers.“Importantly, enhancing healthcare preparedness and building early surveillance and preventive mechanisms are crucial in saving lives. A coordinated regional approach may be more effective than fragmented country level interventions to avoid the spread of infections across borders,” the report stated.
The findings and policy suggestions contained in the Regional Economic Outlook offers robust options for policymakers at both the national and sub-regional levels, to confront the challenges of sustainable economic development through skills development for the future of work post-COVID-19.