On Wednesday, April 29, the Africa Center hosted a virtual roundtable on the impacts of COVID-19 on US commercial policy toward Africa. The private discussion featured Ms. Victoria Whitney, the Chief Operating Officer of Prosper Africa, and Mr. Andrew Herscowitz, the Chief Development Officer at the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). Ms. Aubrey Hruby, a Senior Fellow at the Africa Center, moderated the conversation, which included representatives from the US Agency for International Development, the DFC, the Export-Import Bank of the United States, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the US Department of the Treasury, the US Trade and Development Agency, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, in addition to private investors and other relevant Africa watchers.
In their remarks, the speakers outlined how Prosper Africa and the DFC are adapting to the pandemic and called upon participants to share perspectives on how to optimize their work in the current economic climate. Their feedback included the observation that investment had slowed but not ceased, and that the pandemic is accelerating digitalization and increasing demand for mobile transactions. In this environment, development finance institutions are prioritizing current deals and those with direct COVID-19 relevance; though coming out of the crisis, areas of US competitiveness will include edtech and renewables. Intended as a collaborative learning session, the discussion touched on how the US government stands to improve the messaging of its COVID-19 response, emphasizing the role of the American private sector.