What you need to know:
- South Africa is the prime target of the new pandemic apartheid, and for the wrong reasons.
- Since Covid-19 erupted two years ago, it has left in its wake a trail of devastation.
Africa is facing two existential threats. Besides being on the receiving end of the effects of climate change, the continent is rapidly becoming a target of a new Covid-19 apartheid. Paradoxically, South Africa is the prime target of the new pandemic apartheid, and for the wrong reasons.
The rise of the new pandemic apartheid is traced to Angelique Coetzee, South Africa’s renowned medical professor and physician who, on November 24, 2021, put humanity on notice that the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant was on the prowl. Subsequently, on November 26, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated Omicron as a variant of concern.
From the outset, fear loomed that the variant would be sensationalised. The WHO even cautioned that it is still too early to determine whether Omicron is more contagious, more deadly or more resistant to vaccines than previous Covid variants.
Despite the agency’s warning against travel bans, South Africa and the larger continent are paying a heavy price for Dr Coetzee’s transparency and contribution to humanity. Now recast as “the cradle of the new virus” and epicentre of the Covid-19 Omicron variant, South Africa and the African continent are the target of the new Omicron apartheid. The United States, Japan, Israel and several other countries slammed international travel restrictions on African nations, ostensibly to slow its international spread.
Ironically, the global map of Omicron tells a different story. By December 2, only four out of 55 African countries (South Africa, Botswana, Nigeria and Ghana) featured in the global Omicron map of nearly 30 countries compared to 19 out of 46 countries in Europe, North America and Australia. Perhaps it is Africa that should have imposed travel restrictions on the real epicentres of Omicron!
Trail of devastation
Expectedly, Covid-19 – and its variants – is at the heart of the geopolitics of the new Cold War era. The conference discussed, among other things, China-Africa solidarity against the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change as top on the agenda during the Eighth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in Dakar, Senegal on November 29-30, 2021.
Out of adversity, FOCAC strategists have seen opportunity to consolidate the largest power bloc in the global South comprising 2.83 billion people and 55 countries or more than 28 per cent of United Nations member states.
Since Covid-19 erupted two years ago, it has left in its wake a trail of devastation. It has also tested China-Africa cooperation in a public way. But it has provided an opportunity for South-South solidarity.
In his address to the 2021 FOCAC delegates, Chinese President Xi Jinping underlined solidarity in fighting Covid-19 as a key plank of post-conference FOCAC agenda. China and Africa, he said, will take a scientific and people-centered approach that puts lives first and waives intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines to bridge the immunisation gap by ensuring the accessibility and affordability of vaccines in Africa.
Obviously, solidarity demands massive resources to contain the pandemic. In addition to vaccines already dispatched to Africa, President Xi announced that Beijing will provide an additional one billion vaccine doses to Africa. These include 600 million doses as donation and 400 million doses to be provided through joint production by Chinese companies and respective African countries. Additionally, China will undertake 10 medical and health projects for African countries, and send 1,500 medical personnel and public health experts to Africa.
Threat to humanity
Indisputably, this is so far the largest vaccine assistance plan undertaken by a single country to help Africa overcome the pandemic. It will help the African Union achieve its goal of vaccinating 60 per cent of the African population by next year. Vaccine multilateralism by China and other countries will trump the pervading wave of vaccine nationalism and nip incipient Covid-19 apartheid.
Together with Covid-19, climate change has also been rightly described as an existential threat to humanity and the future of our planet. The Dakar conference resolved to deepen Sino-Africa cooperation on climate change and to collectively explore different pathways for reaching a resource-efficient, low-carbon and socially inclusive economy.
Prior to the Dakar conference, President Xi had addressed the UN General Assembly in September where he declared that China would stop building coal-fired power plants overseas, including in Africa, a crucial step towards reversing climate change on the continent.
In Dakar, Beijing identified promoting green development as the cornerstone of cooperation with Africa. As part of its solidarity with Africa in combating the impact of climate change and promoting green development, China announced that in the next three years, it will undertake 10 green development, environmental protection and climate action projects for Africa.
Prof Kagwanja is CEO of Africa Policy Institute and Adjunct Scholar at the University of Nairobi and National Defence University.
This article is an excerpt from a paper, ‘China-Africa Cooperation on Climate Change and Fighting Against Covid-19’, presented at the International Conference (online) on: China-Africa Cooperation in the New Era organised by the China Africa Institute, Beijing, on December 2.