Coronavirus: Africa providing leadership, experience, innovation;
but also facing greatest challenges
Salih Booker, President and CEO,Center for International Policy
As the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory illness spreads across Africa, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the first African head of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned, “My continent should wake up.” The number of cases of the coronavirus in African countries has been small relative to countries in Asia, Europe and North America but have been increasing rapidly over recent weeks. The continent’s weak public healthcare infrastructure, combined with conditions of overcrowding and extreme poverty on the world’s fastest urbanizing continent make this pandemic extremely threatening to the considerable economic, political and social progress Africa has seen over the past decade.
In the face of this looming disaster, Africans are providing global leadership, experience-based knowledge and innovative thinking as the continent mounts its own defense and joins the international campaign for cooperation to defeat Covid-19.
President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, the only African country that is a member of the G20, appealed to the group to ensure that the wave of lockdowns and travel restrictions do not prevent medical supplies from reaching Africa. Last week, the G20 pledged $5 trillion in economic stimulus measures “to counteract the social, economic and financial impacts of the pandemic,” with particular attention to countries in Africa, where health systems and economies may be less able to cope with the challenge and many countries must also meet the needs of refugees and displaced persons.
Several African countries’ past experiences in defeating outbreaks of the Ebola virus should help to shape African and international strategies for combating Covid-19.
And Africa’s capacity for innovation is already showing the way, from the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) issue of a $3 billion “fight Covid-19” bond to the private South African company that launched a software program to provide information on the coronavirus outbreak via WhatsApp which was quickly adopted by the WHO.
Sadly, U.S. leadership in addressing the Covid-19 emergency has been missing nationally and internationally. While the U.S. was also slow in years past to respond to African public health priorities of crisis proportions — the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the Ebola crises — a combination of public pressure from activists and faith communities, along with key politicians, moved the U.S. government to provide real leadership in funding, personnel and technical support to fight those enormous challenges. In the era of Donald Trump, Africa may need to look to other G20 members and China for such international partnerships to complement its own efforts.
In this inaugural issue of the weekly U.S. Africa Policy Monitor, produced by the Africa Program of the Center for International Policy, we compile a wealth of news and analysis relevant to understanding current events in Africa and the U.S. policies that help or hinder the continent’s own efforts to advance its economic, political and social development. A majority of selections this week deal with the coronavirus pandemic and while we are supportive of African efforts to stop the spread of this new disease, we are equally concerned by the potential use of this crisis by certain governments (such as Algeria, Egypt and Malawi) as a pretext for further repression of civil society movements for human rights and democratic change.
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