President Cyril Ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Image source: GCIS

Only a unified and coordinated response offers Africa the best possible chance of containing the COVID-19 outbreak.

To achieve this, the continent’s leading business people will have to be a catalytic proponent confronting what President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his capacity as African Union chairperson, has called one of Africa’s defining modern-day challenges.

President Ramaphosa made the remark while addressing leading African businesspeople and various heads of state during a virtual meeting on Wednesday.

“The continent’s private sector is well placed to assist in many of our most pressing challenges. Combining our resources, we can implement the screening, testing and contact tracing programmes that have proved effective in limiting the spread of the virus,” said the President.

He said the business community could shift manufacturing infrastructure towards the production of essential medical goods and collaborate in assuring the resilience of existing supply chains for essential products like food and pharmaceuticals.

During the meeting, President Ramaphosa emphasised that the AU’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic on the continent will be underpinned by principles of pan-African unity, solidarity and coordination.

“The private sector is a vital part of Africa’s efforts to combat Coronavirus and develop continental cooperation on stimulus measures to manage the economic impact of the pandemic.

“I have addressed letters to numerous world leaders making a strong plea for support for international assistance from our multilateral and bilateral partners for Africa’s COVID-19 strategy,” he said.

During a recent Bureau of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, leaders acknowledged COVID-19 as an unprecedented public health disaster, and that urgent action is needed to stem the tide of the virus on the continent.

President Ramaphosa said: “We agreed on the need for a comprehensive and coordinated continental approach, and that the AU, Regional Economic Communities and all health institutions should redirect their efforts to stopping the spread of the virus.”

At the meetings, leaders recognised the critical role of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the fight against communicable diseases in Africa in general and the fight against COVID-19 in particular.

The Bureau agreed to the establishment of an African COVID-19 Fund, to which the Member States of the Bureau initially contributed $12.5 million as seed funding and called on all AU Member States, the international community and philanthropic entities to contribute to this Fund.

“We also agreed on the need for G20 countries to provide a comprehensive stimulus package for Africa,” President Ramaphosa said.

This, he added, would need to include deferred payments and the immediate suspension of interest payments on Africa’s external public and private debt to create fiscal space for COVID-19 response measures.

“Given the urgent need for medical supplies and equipment, we called for international cooperation and support, while increasing local production on the continent,” the President added.

In recent weeks, President Ramaphosa said he addressed letters to numerous world leaders, making a strong plea for support for international assistance from multilateral and bilateral partners for Africa’s COVID-19 strategy.

In general, the response has generally been positive, with various partners making pledges, offering debt relief measures and providing concrete support in the form of medical supplies, the President said.

As part of the work to mobilise international support for Africa’s efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, President Ramaphisa has appointed Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, Dr Donald Kaberuka of Rwanda, Mr Tidjane Thiam of Senegal and Mr Trevor Manuel of South Africa as Special Envoys of the African Union.

In the main, the Special Envoys are tasked with soliciting financial support for the continental effort from G20 countries, international organisations (including the UN and its respective agencies), the international donor community and the African and international business communities.

“I underscored the need for a comprehensive, robust economic stimulus package for Africa.

“This economic injection should support both the continent’s immediate humanitarian needs and place the continent on a path towards economic recovery,” the President said.

During these meetings, President Ramaphosa said he encouraged the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the African Development Bank and other regional institutions to use all available instruments to help combat COVID-19 in Africa.

The funds mobilised by the Envoys will support the Africa Joint Continental Strategy for the COVID-19 Outbreak. – SAnews.gov.za

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