The manner in which African countries have managed the coronavirus pandemic has set an example for the rest of the world.
That was the message of the United Nations Secretary General in an exclusive interview with SABCNEWS in New York on the occasion of the global organisation’s release of a policy brief on COVID-19 in Africa.
The document addresses issues of economic strain, food security, peace and security and human rights as regions and countries grapple with best practices amidst the public health emergency.
The UN Chief lauded South Africa’s response, lamented the lack of international solidarity while pledging to do everything in his power to ensure the equitable access to and distribution of a future vaccine for call.
The policy brief is clear – COVID-19 is unlikely to leave Africa unscathed.
But that’s not to say African governments in the main, haven’t done a good job despite all the underlying conditions faced by the region as the Secretary General Antonio Guterres explains:
“Largely so, I do believe I have a lot of admiration for what is happening in Africa today. If we just think back, the forecasts that were made just one month ago would indicate that we should not have in Africa a pandemic spreading like bush-fire everywhere with hundreds of thousands, millions of people infected and the truth is, largely because of very strong prevention measures by governments and societies and from the beginning, from the very beginning sometimes without any case or with just one or two cases, very strong measures of prevention were taken and this is a lesson that should be seen by countries, namely in the developed world that acted much later.”
Guterres weighs in on South Africa’s stringent lockdown and the economic stresses and political fallout it has engendered.
“I think those measures were necessary and I understand because I am suffering to a certain extent similar measures, I am far from my family, I can’t see them, I am in a kind of semi-lockdown so I can understand sometimes the frustration of the people but one thing is clear, there is no real contradiction between the measures that are taken to prevent the diseases and the economic recovery because if we let the disease spread, there is no economic recovery that is possible. And so I hope that the population will have patience and I hope at the same time the government will be progressively finding the ways, to – in a very smart and targeted way, progressively reopen the society and the economy to minimize the socio and economic impacts of the COVID-19. But I have to say I have a lot of admiration that has been shown by the South African government in this regard.”
Guterres highlights the need for massive support towards the continent and the goal of a global package worth at least 200 billion dollars to bolster Africa’s capacity at a level commensurate to what it being seen in richer nations.
He said the UN’s Development agenda was being negatively impacted by the pandemic but urged governments to find ways to build back better and greener; while warning that addressing inequality during the recovery would be key.
And on the failure of the Security Council- particularly the major power brokers – to pass a resolution to back his call for a global ceasefire as Africa seeks to silence the guns by the year’s end.
“It is obvious that we are in a situation in which that division is not allowing the council to come together and being able to address in unity and with sufficient strength, many of the crisis situations that we have in the world and the same division is causing also difficulties in creating a global coordinated response to COVID-19.”
Despite being unable to give an assurance on the equitable access to a future vaccine, the UN Chief pledges to do everything in his power to ensure that was the case.
“Whoever discovers the vaccine should of course be paid, the costs should be covered but the patent should be free so that anyone could be able to manufacture it anywhere in the world in order for the access to be universal and not only universal but at a cost that could be affordable for any society in the international community. If we don’t do things like that, if you make it a commercial venture like any other we risk a situation in which only the rich of the rick countries will have access to the vaccine and that is politically and morally totally unacceptable.”
As the UN vows to stand by Africa during both the immediate and longer-term manifestations of the COVID-19 threat.