Session 12: The impact of Covid-19 on Africa
Moderator: Dr Jean-Marc Rickli – Head of Global Risk and Resilience, GCSP
Dr John Nkengasong – Director, Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention
We are seeing a delayed pandemic: Africa has not been spared but will merely see the effects later. We know how to test, as we have had our fair share of infectious diseases, but tests and reagents are not always available.
Overall, the African Union Commission and national governments reacted quickly. In a meeting on 22 February, the African Union endorsed a Joint Continental Strategy to prepare for the pandemic by limiting transmission, limiting deaths, and limiting harm. Good communication and cooperation among Member States is crucial in this regard.
High-level meetings have taken place regularly, and Special Envoys have been named for various response areas (the economy, health etc.). We need to continue with our strategy to increase testing, improve contact tracing and community-level healthcare. To do so, we need 1 million additional community healthcare workers.
Mr Gervais Rufyikiri – Executive-in-Residence, Global Fellowship Initiative, GCSP / former Vice President of Burundi
Looking at Burundi, we see that the government has mishandled its response. The pandemic was initially not taken seriously, and the response only came after a hospital publicly warned about the pandemic. Official sources list very few cases; there are likely a lot more. Healthcare infrastructure is insufficient, meaning that most Burundians end up living in fear or dying at home.
The government has obstructed the spread of information on the pandemic. Local media are forbidden from covering it, which is a blatant human rights violation. Some public health measures have been taken, but they are insufficient and badly enforced. Rumours flourish as a result, with some even claiming that the death of President Nkurunziza was in fact due to COVID-19.
The government is also trying to use the pandemic to strengthen its position. For instance, it used it as a pretext to keep electoral observers away from the elections in May. The WHO’s representative in Burundi has even been declared persona non grata.
Ms Mausi Segun – Executive Director, Human Rights Watch, Africa Division
Human Rights Watch uses a framework of 5 intersectional areas to monitor the application of emergency powers by African states:
1) Access to information and technology: ensuring that populations get the information they need to protect themselves, as well as countering misinformation.
2) Application of containment measures for people in custody, such as prisons. They are often overcrowded and must not be allowed to become infection clusters.
3) Migration. Asylum seekers, refugees and IDPs are vulnerable populations that are sometimes excluded from public healthcare and palliative economic measures.
4) Poverty and inequality. Lockdowns are especially hard for low-income people and those relying on the informal sector. Economic safety nets must therefore be equitable.
5) The abusive enforcement of measures, whether through the use of excessive force or using public health measures as a cover to repress political opponents or LGBT persons.
Ms Susan Stigant – Director of Africa Programs, United States Institute of Peace
Africa does have a success story here. The African Union and its Member States have, overall, been able to formulate a multilateral approach on key issues, including supply chain needs and community mobilisation. The ongoing discussions around debt relief are particularly encouraging.
Still, the Economic Commission for Africa expects growth to slow from 3,2% to 1,8%, which will mean an additional 27 million pushed into extreme poverty. Many Africans rely on informal urban employment, making them vulnerable to this shock: up to 200 million jobs may be at risk.
In discussing peace, we need to talk about resilience. And resilience relies on a stable relation between state and society. Trust in public service delivery (health, roads, water etc.) and in the state as a provider of security is fundamental. African leaders will need to ensure that all steps are taken to fight the virus while at the same time keeping the momentum towards political transition alive. Involving civil society and opposition groups will be crucial to achieve this resilience.
Mr Ralph Ramiya – Executive-in-Residence, Global Fellowship Initiative, GCSP
There are opportunities for Africa in this crisis, as COVID-19 acts as an accelerator of already existing trends. Which opportunities could be accelerated in this way?
1) The international community, and the donor community, has the potential for more immediate, direct and innovative interventions. Some ways to do this, like cash disbursements, have been discussed in the past: we now need it to become the norm, not the exception.
2) We need to make the response to COVID-19 as localised as possible. 1 million additional community healthcare workers is an excellent place to start.
3) Despite what we may read in the headlines, multilateralism is the future. Those countries able to leverage a multilateral response to the pandemic will be at an advantage. This is true for developed countries, even more so for the developing world. The African Union is well placed to provide this multilateral framework, building on the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, which could lessen the region’s dependence on the EU and China.
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