President Cyril Ramaphosa says the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic has breathed new life into the cause for African unity.
The President was addressing the nation through his weekly newsletter.
This month marks two years since the first COVID-19 case was detected on the African continent.
“Our experience of managing COVID-19 has emboldened the nations of Africa. It has shown us that resources and capabilities exist across our own continent to deal with emergencies of this magnitude. It has reminded us that we have world-class institutions like the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention that must be supported and capacitated to fulfill their mandates.
“It has given renewed momentum to the project of political and economic integration, which has been strengthened by the advent of the AfCFTA,” the President said.
The continent has, to date, recorded at least 11 million cases of the virus with some 246 000 deaths occurring as a result of the infection.
President Ramaphosa said although the numbers remain devastating, the African continent has defied “dire predictions” about the impact that the virus would have on the continent.
“Several reasons have been suggested for this ‘paradox’. These include the continent’s relatively young population, experience in fighting outbreaks of disease, exposure of the population to previous infections, and limited travel connections in many countries,” he said.
The President highlighted that the unity shown by the continent while facing the deadly pandemic has also been crucial.
“Another reason that has been suggested is the rapid response of the African Union to the pandemic, driving a coordinated response and unified strategy. This strategy mobilised resources to fortify national health systems, set up an online platform to secure medical supplies, undertook a continent-wide drive to acquire vaccines, and drove effective public health communications.
“At a time when decisive leadership was called for, the leaders of Africa stepped up,” he said.
President Ramaphosa reflected that as the spread of COVID-19 spread accelerated across the world, the African continent realised that “our continent could not rely on the generosity of wealthy countries”.
He said many of these countries pledged support to Africa but then hindered recovery from the pandemic by, for example, imposing travel restrictions.
“[The pandemic] has shown us how fragile our global partnerships can be, particularly in a global emergency. Most importantly, it has strengthened our collective resolve to step up pressure on developed economy nations to give us not charity, but our just dues.
“But nowhere has this been more apparent than in the unacceptable practice of developed countries buying up and hoarding all available COVID-19 vaccine stocks in quantities far exceeding the needs of their populations. This as vast swathes of the so-called developing world struggled to access them for their people,” he said.
President Ramaphosa highlighted that the establishment of the mRNA technology transfer hub based in Cape Town is a vital step for the continent to manufacture vaccines for its own people.
“We will continue to make the case 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 World Trade Organisation (WTO).
“Without being able to manufacture our own vaccines, an equitable recovery will not be possible,” he said.
President Ramaphosa emphasised that the continent is determined to solve its own challenges.
“We must uplift ourselves by making our own medicines to treat our people and save lives. We must develop our own economies through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), promoting investment and tourism within Africa, accelerating industrialisation, and driving green growth and low-carbon development. We must end all conflict and entrench democracy and good governance.
“Africa has found a new voice. It is bold and unapologetic in its expectations of our partners. At the same time, we are determined that Africa’s challenges must be, are being, and will be, solved by Africans themselves,” he said.