Nine African Union (AU) leaders on Friday held talks remotely on how their countries can collectively join in the battle against the Covid-19 global pandemic.
Held via video link, the conference, which is a second and a follow-up meeting among African leaders, aims to design a continental response mechanisms to cope with the adverse effects of the coronavirus on African countries.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is the AU chairperson, convened the discussions in the presence of leaders of the AU Bureau of Heads of State and Government member states.
They included Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, President Abdel Fattah al Sisi of Egypt, President Ibrahim Keita of Mali, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Leaders of Ethiopia, Rwanda, Senegal and Zimbabwe also attended the meeting.
The AU Bureau received presentations from Dr Tedros Adhanom, the director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr John Nkengasong, the director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and President Emmanuel Macron of France, according to an AU statement.
The heads of states highlighted the unprecedented threat that Covid-19 presents to the health of African citizens and to the continent’s hard-won developmental and economic gains.
They also recognised the need to establish humanitarian and trade corridors in a spirit of African solidarity and integration and agreed to establish continental ministerial coordination committees on health, finance and transport in order to support the comprehensive continental strategy.
They underscored the need for a comprehensive and coordinated continental approach, and to speak with one voice on Africa’s priorities.
“Cognisant of the devastating socio-economic and political impact of the pandemic on African countries, the Bureau reiterated the need for rapid and concrete support as pledged by the G20 and other international partners, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund,” reads the AU statement.
“It is critical that these institutions review their current disbursement policies to display flexibility and speed, including raising the availability of IMF Special Drawing Rights (SDRs),” further reads the statement.
The Bureau called for a comprehensive stimulus package for Africa, including, deferred payments, the immediate suspension of interest payments on Africa’s external public and private debt in order to create fiscal space for Covid-19 response measures.
Given the urgent need for medical supplies and equipment, the heads of states called for international cooperation and support even as local production on the continent is enhanced
“Lifesaving supplies including personal protective equipment (PPEs), masks, gowns, and ventilators and other support devices are urgently needed,” the leaders said in a joint communiqué.
The Bureau commended the rapid action coordinated by Ethiopian PM Ahmed and the Jack Ma Foundation in mobilising and distributing, with the support of the World Food Programme (WFP) and Africa CDC, over one million diagnostic test kits, six million masks and 600,000 PPEs to all AU member states in less than a week.
The leaders further urged for the immediate lifting of all economic sanctions imposed on African countries.
They called for an immediate lift of bans imposed on Zimbabwe and Sudan in order to allow the countries to adequately respond to the pandemic and save lives.
The AU has repeatedly called for the lifting of these punitive sanctions, which the Bureau considered as “intolerable and inhumane” under the present circumstances.
The Heads of States and Government thanked, President Emmanuel Macron of France for his strong support for Africa during the Extraordinary G20 Summit.
“The Bureau expressed its support for the proposals (President) Macron has raised regarding a comprehensive approach to mobilising international support for Africa’s health, economic, humanitarian, and medical research priorities, which are aligned with the in African position,” the AU bureau said.
Following the discussions, the Ethiopian prime minister said that the African leaders agreed on the need for joint leadership to reverse the Covid-19 crisis.
“With updates on actions taken and challenges the continent faces, we also have discussed on the need for collective leadership to circumvent the adverse effects of the Covid-19 crisis,” PM Ahmed said on Twitter.
“A coordinated African approach is critical as we pursue economic responses with global partners,” he added.
The AU Bureau also acknowledged China’s support and solidarity with Africa.