COVID-19 In-depth Analysis

Coronavirus response in West Africa and the Sahel: Human rights must not be forgotten

Regional unity is the strength against the pandemic in West Africa and the Sahel. But be careful not to forget fundamental human rights.

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In the face of the unprecedented health crisis that is destabilizing the global economy and disrupting the lives of billions of people around the world, the mobilization and solidarity of all is a human necessity and a strategic priority. The efforts made by individual countries, important as they are, will not be enough in the face of a virus that knows no borders, nationality, religion or ethnicity.

Regional unity is the strength against the pandemic in West Africa and the Sahel. But be careful not to forget fundamental human rights.

The countries of West Africa and the Sahel are not spared by this threat. This health crisis comes on top of the many challenges, particularly of a security nature, that already affect the development, peace and stability of that region. To face this unprecedented ordeal, governments – supported by all public and private institutions – have swiftly taken a series of necessary measures to protect populations and curb the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Responsible multilateralism

The various initiatives undertaken by regional and international partners bring hope to millions of people in West Africa, the Sahel and beyond. They also attest to the need for responsible multilateralism to address this crisis.

At the international level, the United Nations (UN) has launched a $2 billion coordinated global humanitarian response plan to fund the fight against COVID-19 in the world’s poorest countries; and called for the cancellation of the debt of African countries. In addition, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, has launched a campaign for a global ceasefire in conflict zones to allow medical personnel and hospital services to provide the necessary health assistance to children and adults infected with the virus. The UN is also working to mobilize partners such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) to address the crisis in a coordinated and effective manner and to organize a way out of it.

At the regional level, the Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS have demonstrated their determination and willingness to do everything possible to protect the citizens and residents of the Community and to combine their efforts to find a lasting solution to the health crisis. At their last extraordinary summit, they decided to implement a range of ambitious measures to intensify and coordinate their actions to combat COVID-19, to draw up a plan to combat its spread and a post-pandemic economic recovery plan, to support the most disadvantaged social strata, to strengthen regional cooperation in research and experience-sharing on the virus and, lastly, to urge Member States to contribute to the Continental Response Fund against COVID-19 in Africa.

They also decided to issue long-term treasury bills and bonds to finance critical investment needs, to support the private sector and revive economies; to provide substantial support to the social sectors (distance learning tools, strengthening of health systems and facilities, easy Internet access, etc.), to deploy through the Central Banks, tools, means and significant liquidity to support the financial sector in providing assistance to the private sector, especially small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs), and microfinance institutions in providing support to the informal sector; to mobilize additional resources from the international community to address the economic and social challenges confronting Member States; to implement urgent measures to support the local production of consumer goods, including agricultural products, thereby reducing the import bill for these goods; to set up a support programme for the pharmaceutical and health protection equipment manufacturing sector, whose output covers barely 20% of the region’s current consumption needs.

Inclusion and equality

Also in the region, ECOWAS and the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) are major partners and stand in solidarity with governments and populations in their fight against COVID-19. In this regard, they also recalled two essential ideas that the context of crisis and emergency should not make us forget.

The first is that it is essential that the responses implemented by governments in the region take into account the respect for human rights, inclusion, gender equality, the prevention of violence against women and the fight against stigmatization.

The second concerns elections. 2020 is a year of elections. After Togo where presidential elections were organized last February, five other presidential elections are scheduled to take place in Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Niger. It is important that the decision to maintain or postpone these elections be taken on the basis of an inclusive political consensus and taking into account the recommendations of medical experts.

The ECOWAS Commission and UNOWAS will continue to work together to help the region emerge from this ordeal stronger and more united.

Jean-Claude Kassi Brou is the president of the ECOWAS Commission. He holds a PhD in Economics, an MBA in Finance from the University of Cincinnati and a Master’s degree from the National University of Cote d’Ivoire.He began his professional career at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1982, first as a Senior Economist and served mainly in Senegal from 1990 to 1991 as IMF Resident Representative. Until his appointment as President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou served as Minister of Industry and Mines in Cote d’Ivoire since November 2012.

Mohamed Ibn Chambas is a Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS). Before joining UNOWAS, he was the African Union-United Nations Joint Special Representative for Darfur and Head of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur. From 2010 to 2012, Mr. Chambas was Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States. He served as President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), 2006-2009, and Executive Secretary, 2002-2005. A former Member of Parliament of Ghana, Mr. Chambas served as Deputy Foreign Secretary of Ghana in 1987 and Deputy Minister for Education in charge of Tertiary Education from 1997 to 2000.

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