President Uhuru Kenyatta: Africa, Caribbean must 'wake up' on Covid-19, debt

President Uhuru Kenyatta

President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Photo credit: File | PSCU

President Uhuru Kenyatta has rallied his peers in Africa and the Caribbean region to form a joint response for future pandemics and have a common stand on debt.

In his opening statement the first African-CARICOM (Caribbean Community) Summit, President Kenyatta said the pandemic had showed the poor in Africa and the Caribbean that they will suffer more unless they strengthen their medical research capabilities.

“In the early days of the pandemic, we experienced serious challenges with the supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), medical oxygen and ventilators,” he said at the virtual event on Tuesday.

“This, my brothers and sisters, is a wake up call for us in the developing world. We must do what it takes to build our own manufacturing capacity for vaccines and critical medical supplies. In addition, we must strengthen research, surveillance, and monitoring capacity in order to mount effective responses to Covid-19 and other such pandemics.”

On debt, he noted that sustainability remains a challenge in many African countries, a problem that has been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We need to come together to build on the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) and the progress achieved in facilitating higher pandemic related spending by, inter alia, proactively seeking strategies to increase revenues while at the same time prioritising on spending that enhances the productive capacity of our economies,” he said.

The DSSI is an initiative of 20 richest countries across the world, G20, which provides for bilateral creditors to give limited holidays on loan repayments. During the pandemic, these countries provided about $5.7 trillion in repayments holidays, allowing the poor to utilise the money for healthcare emergencies.

Kenya was among the countries that got a suspension from repayment to China, but that holiday has since expired.

Kenya owes about Sh4.1 trillion to external creditors including China and the World Bank.

The DSSI, however, does not alleviate debt obligations, which means it does not address sustainability of debt owed.

President Kenyatta said debt levels in the region are “clearly, a task that calls for resourcefulness and innovation in the face of the pandemic.”

His South African counterpart, President Cyril Ramaphosa, called for technological strengthening as a necessary tool to fight climate change and health challenges.

“Just as we have worked together to access vaccine doses for our people, we need to share experiences, expertise and technology to better respond to Covid-19 and future pandemics,” President Ramaphosa said.

They spoke at the first ever summit of the African Union and Caribbean Community members. The event, initially scheduled for September last year, was pushed back due to Covid-19. Having failed to organise a physical conference, leaders agreed to converge virtually.

Participants of the virtual meeting also included Caricom Chairperson, Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda, Rwanda President Paul Kagame, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, OACPS Secretary-General Georges Rebelo Pinto Chikoti, Caricom Secretary-General Dr Carla Barnett among other dignitaries.