By Thandi Tobias
In its fight against the spread of COVID-19, our continent faces a massive challenge that requires unprecedented levels of unity and coordinated action. To prevail, we have to grasp without hesitation what the World Health Organization (WHO) has described as a ‘window of opportunity’ while it remains open for us to do so.
While our continent is home to many of the world’s fastest developing nations, it is also home to some of the most vulnerable. It is a known fact that the high prevalence of malnutrition, anaemia, malaria, HIV/AIDs, and tuberculosis among our people, puts our continent in an unfortunate position; one in which high death rates happen easily. That is why the country’s leadership had to act swiftly and decisively.
As Africans, it is essential that we focus on coordinated efforts in our shared battle against COVID-19. Africa spans both hemispheres and consists of 55 member states. Our combined efforts and determination can and will see us through this challenging period. The second and follow-up virtual meeting of the ‘AU Bureau of Heads of State and Government’, held in April 2020, ended with solid plans for a more unified African response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to presentations by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, Dr John Nkengasong, Director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Bureau was also addressed by French President Emmanuel Macron.
All the heads of state in attendance expressed a shared apprehension over the unknown impact this virus stands to have on the health of citizens of Africa, as well as the unforeseeable economic impact it will have. The Heads of States and Governments discussed three broad themes and agreed to proceed to pursue several key solutions:
There was unanimous agreement on the urgent need to establish better humanitarian and trade corridors among countries; something they agreed would require cohesive efforts from all participants. All decisions would be in the best interest of the continent and its people. This will also enable Africa to speak with one voice on Africa’s priorities. African leaders also agreed on the need for an immediate lifting of all economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe and Sudan, as no African state would be left alone to fight against the spread of COVID-19. It was resolved that without the burden of sanctions, Zimbabwe and Sudan would be better positioned to save lives.
Africa requires the production of medical supplies and equipment. The heads of states and governments called for international cooperation, support towards up-scaling local production of needed Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs), medical supplies such as masks, gowns, ventilators, and other support devices, all of which are greatly needed in the continent.
Furthermore, the AU commended rapid action initiatives such as the ones coordinated by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Jack Ma Foundation. Working with the World Food Programme and Africa CDC, they mobilised and distributed over one million diagnostic tests, six million masks, and 600,000 PPE items to all African Union member states in less than a week.
The AU is taking a multi-stakeholder approach towards raising needed financial and other forms of international support to strengthen the fight to flatten COVID-19 growth in Africa. The gathered Heads of States and Governments also noted the progress made in operationalising the African Union’s COVID-19 Response Fund, which was established on in March 2020. Members pledged the sum of US$12.5 million and an additional US$4.5million to the Africa CDC.
To win the battle against COVID-19, protect its citizens and, by extension, citizens of the world, the AU calls for the support pledged by the G20, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to be delivered without further delay. It also calls for these institutions to review their disbursement policies to unlock higher levels of flexibility, speed, and Africa’s access to the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDRs). In addition, the AU also supports the call for a comprehensive stimulus package for Africa and the immediate suspension of interest payments on Africa’s external public and private debt. Such measures would benefit all Africans, as greater fiscal space would be created to resource the battle against COVID-19.
In conclusion, allow me to remind you all, of our South African concept of Ubuntu – I am because you are – which also rings true in the hearts of all Africans and, I hope, inspires people around the world. It is in the spirit of this shared humanity that Africa’s call is made for the global support of our resilient, yet fragile continent.
*Thandi Tobias is the Chairperson of Brand South Africa; the official marketing agency of South Africa with a mandate to build the country’s brand reputation and to improve its global competitiveness.