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African Union appoints ex-Credit Suisse boss as envoy for virus support

JOHANNESBURG (The Southern African Times) – The African Union (AU) has appointed former Credit Suisse boss Tidjane Thiam and several other dignitaries as a special envoys to solicit international support to help the continent deal with the economic impact of the coronavirus. 

The envoy team, which was named by the AU chairman, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, also includes former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, and Donald Kaberuka, former president and chairman of the African Development Bank. 

Manuel is now chairman of insurer Old Mutual. Ivory Coast-born banker Thiam left Credit Suisse in February this year after a scandal over the surveillance of another executive.

The envoys will be tasked with “soliciting rapid and concrete support” pledged by the G20, the European Union and other financial institutions, the AU said in a statement. 

“These institutions need to support African economies that are facing serious economic challenges with a comprehensive stimulus package for Africa, including deferred debt and interest payments,” Ramaphosa was quoted as saying. 

Thiam is one of several prominent Africans who has called for a standstill on debt to private creditors amid the outbreak of coronavirus, which threatens many African economies already facing headwinds from factors such as plummeting oil prices.

In just two years from 2015 to 2017, African external debt payments doubled from an average of 5.9% of government revenue to 11.8%. At 32%, the proportion of debt owed to private lenders is almost equal to the 35% owed to multilateral institutions. 

Private creditors include Thiam’s former employer Credit Suisse, which is currently fighting Mozambique in court over a $622 million loan. 

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