As this publication goes to press, the number of recorded Covid-19 cases in Africa has surpassed the 8 million mark, according to data published by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The third wave of infections appears to be easing off in certain countries, with South Africa, which accounts for nearly 36% of all cases on the continent, announcing the lifting of some lockdown restrictions in mid-September. But vaccinations remain a major challenge, despite efforts by the international and African communities to bolster the continent’s vaccine supply chain, and local attempts to ramp up vaccine programmes.

The inequity of vaccine distribution in terms of social justice and economic recovery remains a hot-button issue, and is referenced several times in this publication. While vaccination rates have reached over 60% in the world’s wealthiest nations, data from the World Health Organization shows that eight in 10 African countries look unlikely to hit the globally set target to vaccinate just 10% of their populations.

“It seems rather unfair that Africa as a continent is now left to the tail end of economic recovery, simply because it is so dependent on the goodwill of vaccine-producing nations,” noted a participant at a recent Africa trade-focused roundtable discussion, the full write-up of which features in this publication.

On the economic front, however, there is a faint glimmer of hope, with a March 2021 World Bank report predicting that the continent’s Covid-19-induced recession could be less severe than previously anticipated, with GDP contracting by 2% in 2020 – the lower end of last year’s forecast range. The World Bank credits the gentler decline to a slower spread of the virus and lower Covid-19 mortality on the continent, as well as strong agricultural growth and faster than expected recovery in commodity prices. Its report points to “a potentially strong and varied recovery in the coming years”, if African countries deepen reforms that encourage investment, create jobs, and enhance competitiveness. In 2021, economic growth is forecast at between 2.3 and 3.4%, and is dependent on policy measures adopted by countries in the region as well as the international community, it says.

In this GTR+ Africa annual publication, our trade and economic overview provides an outlook for trade and explores some of the key challenges the continent must overcome. Elsewhere, we report on some of the human rights violations and regulations in commodity sectors; we uncover the trends shaping project and export financing on the continent; and we take a look at some of the initiatives being rolled out by Africa’s burgeoning trade tech industry. This issue’s roundtable discussion write-up, featuring influential figures from across the trade industry, brings together a number of these themes in a conversation about the continent’s journey towards an inclusive, cohesive and sustainable post-pandemic reality, and the role that trade finance plays in Africa’s recovery.