Thabiso Scotch Mufambi & Leslie Chimbama
Harare – The founders of the Organisation of African Unity – among them Julius Nyerere, Haile Selassie, Kwame Nkrumah and Gamal Abdel Nasser – dreamt of an economically and politically emancipated continent.
Fifty-eight years later, with the OAU now the African Union, the continent has made some headway, particularly as regards decolonisation, but is still heavily dependent economically on America, Asia and Europe.
The AU celebrated its 58th anniversary on May 25, with this year’s theme being “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want”.
For the second year running, there were few public festivities due to COVID-19, with the pandemic not only taking a health toll, but also showing up gaps in Africa’s economic infrastructure.
Africa has embarked on its largest vaccine programme to date with the World Health Organisation (WHO) saying 49 African countries have so far rolled out mass inoculation campaigns.
However, WHO says just one percent of the 1.3 billion COVID-19 vaccines distributed globally have found their way to Africa.
“We’re in a very tough spot when it comes to supply,” says Dr Richard Mihigo, the WHO immunisation and vaccines development programme co-ordinator. “What is crucial for Africa is that we urgently use all the doses we have to protect our most vulnerable populations.”
About 40 of the AU’s 55 member states are overly reliant on vaccines sourced through the Covax facility and the Serum Institute of India. But India is reeling from a spike in infections and deaths, and cannot presently supply Africa at initially anticipated levels.
“We understand the urgent challenges in India – and WHO is helping however we can – but we hope that second doses will arrive in Africa quickly to give people full immunity,” says Dr Mihigo.
Also of concern has been the low uptake of vaccines amongst populaces, with just eight countries having so far used all doses availed through Covax. Lack of funds, inadequate training and vaccine hesitancy have been cited as reasons behind the less than impressive statistics.
“Commitment and domestic resourcing is crucial,” says Dr Phionah Atuhebwe, the WHO Africa new vaccines introduction officer. “When the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire applied to receive vaccines from Covax that require ultra-cold chains, the government was willing to send the presidential jet to go and get the kit. That is the kind of commitment our countries need.”
The recurrent question, though, has been: Is African unable to invest in its own internal vaccine manufacturing capacity?
Indications are that Africa spends just 0.5 percent of its GDP on research and development, significantly behind the global average of 2.2 percent.
According to the Africa Centres for Diseases Control and Prevention, the continent currently manufactures a paltry one percent – or 12 million doses of vaccines – with the rest being imported. This is due to lack of investment in local pharmaceuticals.
Only six countries have capacity to produce vaccines for yellow fever, rabies and tetanus: South Africa, Algeria, Senegal, Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia.
Christian Happi a molecular biologist at the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics and Infectious Diseases in Nigeria says: “Africa did not invest in COVID-19 vaccine development when we could have produced a vaccine for the African population.”
Politics & Economy
Having witnessed 25 years of economic growth, the continent has suffered a recession attributable to the pandemic.
The IMF estimates that Africa requires in excess of US$250 billion for its economic revival efforts for 2021-2025.
At a summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron on financing Africa’s post-pandemic economic recovery last week, it was noted that “Absent a collective action, the financing and objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s 2063 Agenda will be compromised”.
President Macron said the summit had presented Africa with a new deal in its economic revival efforts.
“We have taken the first step in what we have agreed to call a New Deal with Africa,” he said.
He said he would assist Africa to vaccinate at least 40 percent of its population by the end of 2021; and the IMF said it would avail US$33 billion to Africa in Special Drawing Rights – far less than the US$100 billion lobbyists like the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development have been agitating for.
But the big issue has been why African leaders, led by AU Chairperson President Felix Tshisekedi of the DRC, made a beeline to Paris when President Macron summoned them?
With the natural resources at Africa’s disposal, the human potential it possesses, and the limitless growth opportunities available, does the whole continent have to dance to the tune of France? This is the same France that still collects a “colonial tax” from several West African countries.
It would be instructive to recall that in 1957, then French President François Mitterrand said, “Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century”; and how decades later in 2008, Jacques Chirac reiterated: “Without Africa, France will slide down into the rank of a third (rate) power.”
France is not doing Africa any favours, it is acting out of self-interest – something observers say Africa should also start doing.
On the political front, Africa Day once again rolled by with the continent contending with instability.
In North Africa, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic remains a colony of a fellow AU member, Morocco. To the west, Chad recently lost its president to bullets from rebels and Mali – in the same week as Africa Day – had its second coup in a year. In the east, Al Shabaab continues to be a thorn in Kenya and Somalia’s side; and in Southern Africa, Mozambique and the DRC are reeling from insurgencies.
Despite the immense political, economic and health challenges, the AU remains focused on its long-term plan, Agenda 2063.
Adopted in 2015, Agenda 2063 is “the strategic framework for delivering on Africa’s goal for inclusive and sustainable development and is a concrete manifestation of the pan-African drive for unity, self-determination, freedom, progress and collective prosperity pursued under Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance”.
A key component of Agenda 2063 is the, African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), which became operational on January 1, 2021. It is the world’s biggest free trade pact in terms of number of countries involved, with a market of 1.3 billion people and an estimated GDP of US$3.4 trillion.
“This is not just a trade agreement, this is our hope for Africa to be lifted up from poverty,” said Mr Wamkele Mene, the Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Secretariat, at the virtual launch early this year.
In addition to AfCFTA, the AU is also focused on projects to:
- Connect all African capitals and commercial centres through a high-speed train network;
- Accelerate intra-African trade and boost Africa’s trading position in the global market place;
- Development of the Inga Dam in DRC to generate 43,200MW of electricity;
- Remove restrictions on Africans ability to travel, work and live within their own continent;
- End all wars, civil conflicts, gender-based violence, violent conflicts and prevent genocide;
- Establish an integrated African air transport market;
- Strengthen Africa’s space industry;
- Create an African virtual and e-university; and
Develop an Encyclopaedia Africana to provide an authoritative resource on the authentic history of Africa and Africans.