Cyrille Ramaphosa | Africa is on a new path to self-reliance
African countries have had to contend with wealthy nations promising partnership, solidarity and cooperation, but at the same time acting in ways that are holding back the continent’s post-pandemic recovery, writes Cyril Ramaphosa.
Dear South African friend,
Africa’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic is a story of defied expectations.
It has now been two years since the first case of Covid-19 in Africa was reported. Even though the infection burden remains high – to date, Africa has recorded more than 11 million cases – grim predictions about Africa’s ability to withstand the health impact of the pandemic have not materialized. .
Some have called it the African Covid-19 paradox, according to which despite widespread poverty, poor living conditions, underfunded national health systems and limited resources, the pandemic is being effectively managed in several African countries.
Several reasons have been suggested for this “paradox”. These include the continent’s relatively young population, experience in fighting epidemics, people’s exposure to previous infections and limited travel connections in many countries.
Africa’s Remarkable Resilience
Another reason that has been suggested is the rapid response of the African Union to the pandemic, resulting in a coordinated response and a unified strategy. This strategy mobilized resources to strengthen national health systems, set up an online platform to secure medical supplies, undertook a continent-wide campaign to acquire vaccines and conducted effective communications on public health.
At a time when decisive leadership was needed, African leaders stepped up.
Over the past two years, African countries have built remarkable resilience that will be invaluable for future health emergencies of this nature.
Faced with massive global shortages of medical equipment and diagnostics at the start of the pandemic, African countries turned to local manufacture of disinfectants, personal protective equipment, Covid-19 test kits and ventilators.
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There is another side to the story of Africa’s defied expectations, namely the realization that as the global crisis unfolded, our continent could not rely on the generosity of rich countries. . We had to do things on our own.
African countries have had to contend with wealthy nations promising partnership, solidarity and cooperation, but at the same time acting in ways that are holding back the continent’s post-pandemic recovery. One example is the travel ban imposed late last year on South Africa and several other countries in the region in response to our scientists’ detection of the Omicron variant.
But nowhere has this been more apparent than in the unacceptable practice of developed countries purchasing and hoarding all available Covid-19 vaccine stocks in quantities far exceeding the needs of their populations. This as large swaths of the so-called developing world struggled to access it for their people.
Resources and capacities
Our experience in dealing with Covid-19 has emboldened African nations. It showed us that resources and capacities exist on our own continent to deal with emergencies of this magnitude.
It reminded us that we have world-class institutions like the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that need to be supported and strengthened to fulfill their mandate.
It showed us how fragile our global partnerships can be, especially in a global emergency.
More importantly, it has strengthened our collective resolve to intensify the pressure on countries with developed economies to give us not charity, but our just due.
The countries of the North have a responsibility to support Africa’s development in large part because of the role that many of these countries have played in the plunder, pollution and impoverishment of our continent.
Last week, I attended the 6th Summit between the African Union and the European Union (EU) in Brussels. There, African nations laid out their expectations of partnering with the bloc as we strive to recover from Covid-19 and manage the effects of climate change.
We welcome the support that EU countries continue to provide to the sustainable development of Africa in a way that builds our capacities and brings the continent closer to self-reliance.
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Last year, South Africa was chosen by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the first site for a vaccine technology transfer center. On the sidelines of last week’s summit, the WHO announced that six African countries, including South Africa, will receive the technology needed to produce mRNA vaccines at scale for the continent.
We will continue to advocate for building Africa’s capacity to produce its own vaccines, including through a temporary waiver of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights at the Organization World Trade Organization (WTO).
We welcome the commitment of the AU-EU summit “to constructively engage in favor of an agreement on a comprehensive WTO response to the pandemic, which includes trade-related aspects as well as to intellectual property”.
Without being able to manufacture our own vaccines, a fair recovery will not be possible.
Building a better Africa and a better world is the cornerstone of South Africa’s foreign policy. For Africa to play a full and equal role in global affairs, we must first address the development challenges of African people.
We must rise by making our own medicines to heal our people and save lives. We must grow our own economies through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), promoting investment and tourism in Africa, accelerating industrialization and driving green growth and low-emission development of carbon. We must end all conflicts and anchor democracy and good governance.
Thanks to our experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, the cause of African unity has found new life. It gave new impetus to the project of political and economic integration, reinforced by the advent of the AfCFTA.
Africa has found a new voice. He is bold and unapologetic in his expectations of our partners. At the same time, we are determined that Africa’s challenges must be, are and will be solved by Africans themselves.
With my best wishes.
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