At the UN General Assembly in New York, the Democratic Republic of the Congo President Félix Tshisekedi highlighted the measures put in place by African nations to combat the deadly coronavirus – but stressed that the continent cannot overcome the disease alone.
Instead, Tshisekedi insisted it will require dedicated support from the international community on both the public health and economic level to ensure that Africa – and by extension, the rest of the world – is finally safe from COVID-19. As acting chair of the African Union, his words carry additional weight as they don’t simply represent his personal or even his country’s position, but rather that of the entire African continent.
Tshisekedi’s exhortations echo those of his fellow African heads of state, with the “no one is safe unless we are all safe” mantra repeated with regularity. Namibian President Hage Geingob was particularly vehement in his address, dubbing the disparity in the availability and administration of vaccines between wealthy and impoverished nations “vaccine apartheid”. His criticisms are based upon the fact that over 82% of vaccine doses the world over have been acquired by rich countries, while less than 1% have gone to their low-income counterparts. As for Africa, under 4% of the continent’s 1.38 billion populace have been fully vaccinated to date.
On the other hand, Tshisekedi’s speech focused much more on the achievements of his continent – but without neglecting to mention the long road ahead and the help that Africa will need to traverse it. “For its part, Africa has not folded its arms and does not intend to capitulate to any kind of fatality of fate. On the contrary! It has put in place a common continental strategy against COVID-19,” he said, pointing to its COVID-19 Response Fund and a medical supply distribution platform.
Economic stimulus imperative
However, Tshisekedi did encourage richer nations to follow up on their promises and deliver the requisite aid to help Africa overcome its current crisis. “In the context of the current health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, African economies are in dire need of financing to recover, especially as domestic efforts to cushion the impact of the pandemic and limit its collateral damage have been grossly inadequate compared to the wealthier countries. As a result, the emerging recovery is likely to be uneven, widening the gap between Africa and the rest of the world.”
Tshisekedi devoted particular attention to the IMF’s $650 billion Special Drawing Rights (SDR) fund, just $33 billion of which has been set aside for African nations. Overall, a mere $54.5 billion of the fund has been earmarked for 82 of the planet’s poorest and most debt-vulnerable nations, while 58 high-income countries are set to receive $438 billion. As a result, Tshisekedi has called for a redistribution of those funds, with Africa’s share tripled to $100 billion – a point of view shared by French President Emmanuel Macron and widely discussed at the Paris COP21 Summit in 2015.
In keeping with the ambitious agenda announced upon his assumption of the African Union hotseat earlier this year, the DRC president also drew attention to the need for fiscal support to continue far beyond the fallout from COVID-19. Estimating that climate change would result in a 15% reduction in agricultural yields, as well as unpredictable impacts upon the continent’s coastline, Tshisekedi suggested that Africa would require some $30 billion per annum to deal with those consequences, rising to $50 billion by 2040.
“The Democratic Republic of Congo calls for the acceleration of the effective provision of resources by the IMF, without forgetting the imperative to alleviate the debt of African countries and to materialise all the promises made to Africa in compensation for the sacrifices made in order to protect humanity against global warming,” he said.