African solidarity to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the continent

Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu provides an overview of the AU COVID-19 Response Fund

The African Union (AU), together with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), launched a public–private initiative known as the AU COVID-19 Response Fund. The intention of this initiative is to mobilise at least US$150 million for immediate needs to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, and up to US$400 million to support a sustainable medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic that is currently spreading across the continent. The Response Fund is also expected to pool the resources required for sufficient medical supplies, support the deployment of rapid responders across the continent, and provide socio-economic support to the most vulnerable populations on our continent.

The aim of the AU COVID-19 Response Fund is to forge and strengthen African solidarity. African countries need to tackle this pandemic collaboratively, considering that most of our countries have constrained or no fiscal space – Prof. Wiseman Nkuhlu

Complementary to these efforts are the AU special envoys, who have been appointed by the AU chairperson, His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa, to mobilise international support for Africa’s efforts to address the economic challenges that African countries will face as a result of the negative effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on national economies. As a result, eminent African personalities – such as Trevor Manuel, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Dr Donald Kaberuka and Tidjane Thiam – have been appointed and tasked with soliciting rapid and concrete support, as pledged for instance by the G20, the European Union (EU) and other international financial institutions. One of the tasks of the envoys is to negotiate for debt relief, to give African countries fiscal space to be able to redirect some of those resources that would otherwise go towards servicing debt, towards fighting COVID-19.

I must emphasise that the key raison d’être of the Response Fund is to forge and strengthen African solidarity. It must therefore be regarded as one of the most significant steps in the direction of achieving African transformation through the use and marshalling of African resources where they are most needed. African countries need to tackle this pandemic collaboratively, considering that most of our countries have constrained or no fiscal space.

Thus far, a number of African countries have contributed to the Fund, which currently stands at US$23 million. The African Sovereign Wealth Fund, as well as other African foundations, are likely sources that will contribute to the AU COVID-19 Response Fund, given the strong sense of solidarity that has been built over the years with member states. There is a growing appreciation among African countries in the advantage of working collaboratively as this has positive outcomes, such as the procurement of medical supplies on more favourable terms, making sure that there are mechanisms in place that guarantee the good quality of medical supplies, and making these medical requirements available to African countries on acceptable terms.

It was important to launch a joint, Africa-wide initiative such as this, as some African countries are too small to negotiate separately with the suppliers of much-needed medical supplies – for example, personal protective equipment (PPE). We must also not forget that the intellectual capital for some of the medical supplies which are crucial to fighting COVID-19 are owned by major international conglomerates. Therefore, it makes sense – and it is out of necessity – to organise the best expertise on the continent to analyse the issues, prepare a plan and negotiate jointly on behalf of all of us. This way, we think that African countries will be assured of both quality and fair prices.

The idea is that once the quality and fair prices have been successfully negotiated, each country will place their orders using the internet platform that has been established, through African experts working collaboratively. Operationally, the Response Fund will be managed through the services of the Africa CDC, whose capacity has been significantly enhanced as part of the response to COVID-19. The Africa CDC has the capability to determine what is needed, as well as what medical supplies are required and where they should be obtained. In this regard, the Africa CDC will fulfil the role of the Secretariat. It will develop a strategy that will ensure that disbursements and allocations from the Relief Fund are based on the need of each country, and which will be managed by the principles of transparency, timeliness, effectiveness, independence, accountability and equity. Our role, as the board of trustees, is to provide oversight of the process and to ensure that there is proper governance, as and when the Respond Fund is utilised.

Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu was recently appointed as a trustee on the African Union COVID-19 Response Fund. Professor Nkulu was the first Black Chartered accountant in South Africa. He has served as Economic Advisor to President Mbeki and was the Chief Executive of NEPAD. He is the Chancellor of the University of Pretoria and a founding member of ACCORD’s Board of Trustees.

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