Uhuru: Debt relief and vaccines crucial for recovery of developing countries 

Wednesday October 06 2021
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta. He told an audience in a pre-recorded statement that the world must learn from the “flawed” multilateral system that has largely failed to bring on board everyone. PHOTO | PSCU


President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday reiterated his call for supportive debt relief and vaccine access for poor countries, arguing they will be the two most important areas to help the world beat back the Covid-19 pandemic.

The President told an audience in a pre-recorded statement that the world must learn from the “flawed” multilateral system that has largely failed to bring on board everyone, but argued developing countries will bank on reduced debt burdens, more vaccines, and easier channels of trade to recover.“As tax revenues have dipped due to the contraction of economic activities, and the increase in the debt burden, the fiscal space to provide a safety net to vulnerable groups in many of our countries has, equally been significantly constrained,” the President said in a pre-recorded statement.

He spoke at the official opening of the opening plenary of the 15th session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which opened on Monday in Bridgetown, Barbados.“The inequality in the sharing of vaccines reflects a multilateral system that is deeply flawed. To date, recovery has been unbalanced reflecting faulty lines that existed before the pandemic. There have been substantial differences in GDP growth between regions and countries, and a sharp divergence in income gains, amongst social groups,” the President said.

The President had been calling for vaccine equity and debt relief in most of his recent speeches, a stance now adopted by the African Union. Developing countries argue that debt relief, emergency funding more trade and access to vaccines will protect them in spite of poor health care systems.The International Monetary Fund, for example, created an emergency fund, known as the Special Drawing Rights, to help countries fight the pandemic crisis.

But critics have argued the SDRs worth $650 billion, which are based on quotas of IMF members, have benefited developed countries more. Last week, more than 250 civil society activists and organisations wrote an open letter to the IMF, asking that the allocation be increased to $3 trillion and that “economies are in less need of SDRs given their access to a wider array of monetary and financial tools for the response and recovery.”

They argued that it was “essential that the recent allocation be quickly followed by rechanneling a significant portion of advanced economies’ SDRs to developing countries,” an idea IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva has agreed could help.“Wealthy countries received more than $400 billion of the relief aid while developing countries received around $235 billion,” said Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA, one of the NGOs that appended their signature on the open letter. “Wealthy countries can't use the special currency and should donate it to poor countries being ravaged by the pandemic.”


The NGOs argue developing countries can use emergency funds to support weak healthcare systems, social programmes and environmental conservation.President Kenyatta later arrived in Bridgetown on Tuesday morning, his second trip to the Caribbean, to attend the summit as well as tour several countries in the region. But the UNCTAD Session, a quadrennial event last held in Nairobi in 2016, itself had been delayed for a year as the world battled Covid-19 and travel restricted.

The conference has seen various leaders arrive in person, an indication of thawing restrictions on travel. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the world may not recover from the pandemic unless there is improved vaccination for all to meet the set target of 70 percent adult population vaccination by June next year.“An uneven recovery is leaving much of humanity behind,” he said in Bridgetown on Monday.“And until we get serious about vaccine equity, recovery will be stuck at the starting gate. Wealthy countries have far more vaccines than their people.”Nine in ten Africans have not received a single dose, while just 4 percent of the continent’s 1.3 billion are vaccinated against Covid-19, something the UN chief said was an “outrage.”

“I see four glaring challenges, which if not addressed, make any notion of prosperity for all a distant dream. Debt distress, systems starved for investment, unfair trade, and a climate emergency that leaves small island developing states like Barbados perilously vulnerable,” Mr Guteress said. UNCTAD, created in 1964 is a UN agency that seeks to regularise trading rules, for the better of developing countries to access key markets. This year, the UNCTAD15 is seeking to move the world “from inequality and vulnerability to prosperity for all…” and promises to “leave no one behind.”In 2016, the UNCTAD delegates had agreed in Nairobi to focus on improving multilateral trade and development, inclusive economic growth, local manufacturing and implementation of the 17 targets contained in the Sustainable Development Goals. Most of these have been derailed by the pandemic, conflict or inward-looking policies of countries.

And the President said the agency’s role may be key in helping with recovery as it pools all types of economies.“International and national actions taken today will have lasting impact on the strength and sustainability the post Covid-19 recovery. “As you may be aware, protectionism is on the rise; and glaring inequalities in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, has revealed flaws in the multilateral framework,” he said.