Insights on the PSC- Ministerial session on access to Covid-19 vaccines

Health Pandemics

Date | 22 May, 2021

Tomorrow (22 May) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) will convene its 998th session, at the ministerial level, under the theme ‘Access to vaccines against COVID19 pandemic in Africa: Challenge to human security’.

Algeria’s Foreign Minister, Sabri BouKadoum, chairperson of the ministerial PSC session, is scheduled to make the opening remark. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chritophe Lutundula, representing the Chairperson of the AU for 2021, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, Naledi Pandor, representing the AU Champion on COVID-19 response, and the AU Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat will deliver remarks. Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development is expected to brief the Council. Others expected to make statements during the session include Michel Sidibé, the AU Special Envoy for the African Medicines Agency, John N Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO).

This session focuses on the most pressing issue of this moment with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa, namely the threat that Africa’s lack of access to the COVID-19 vaccines presents to human security on the continent.

Since its outbreak in Africa early last year, the virus has so far claimed the lives of over 126,000 people, while the number of cases is currently over 4.6 million, according to the data from Africa-CDC. And of the five regions, southern and northern Africa have respectively recorded the highest number of cases by far. While the death toll and number of cases related to COVID-19 have been far worse in most western countries as compared to Africa, the spread of the virus and the rate of infection remains to be a serious concern. There continue to be AU member states recording increasing incidents of COVID-19 cases. 21 AU member states have reported fatality ratios higher than the global fatality ratio of 2.1 %. Significant number of African countries have also reported the presence of new variants of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa cautioned in his opening address during the 34th AU Assembly in February 2020 that COVID-19 ‘is not only a severe health emergency, it is also a grave economic and social crisis’. Indeed, in the African context the devastating socio- economic impacts of the pandemic is feared to outweigh its impacts on health and safety of people. In one of its first sessions on the virus, the PSC, in its communique of the 918th session, noted ‘with deep concern the profound socio-economic consequences of COVID-19 within Africa.’ According to United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the far-reaching economic impacts of the pandemic include “falling demand for Africa’s commodities; capital flight from Africa; a virtual collapse of tourism and air transport associated with lockdowns and border closures; and depreciation of local currencies as a result of a deterioration in the current account balance”. In terms of the socio-economic wellbeing of the peoples of the continent, this would entail disruption of access to basic necessities, loss of jobs and livelihoods, rising food insecurity and falling of millions of people into extreme poverty.

The health and the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic is not without consequences for the stability and peace and security of the countries of the continent. Arresting the spread of the virus and instituting measures for the social and economic recovery of the countries of the continent is not only an African but also a global imperative. Unless the pandemic is contained, there is a risk of its continuing spread and even more worryingly its mutation into more contagious and more deadly variants.

The AU report on COVID-19 pandemic in Africa presented to the AU summit in February 2021 pointed out that ‘the only way in which we can prevent COVID-19 transmission and deaths while at the same time protecting African economies and societies is to successfully immunise a critical mass of the African population with safe and efficacious COVID-19 vaccines.’ Africa will need 1.5 billion doses of vaccine in order to vaccinate 60% of its population—the estimated minimum requirement for achieving ‘herd’ immunity. Yet, Africa’s path to access COVID-19 vaccines is very narrow. There are four challenges militating against Africa’s access to vaccines against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first of this is the phenomenon of vaccine nationalism. Predictably, rich countries have been purchasing and hoarding supplies of the vaccine for the prior utilisation of their own communities. As South Africa’s Foreign Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor pointed out in her opening address to the Minister’s meeting during the AU summit, the economically well-off countries of the north ‘has purchased the largest stock, while we in Africa are struggling to get our fair share.’ Thus, these countries with only 16 percent of the world population have bought up 60 percent of the world’s vaccine supply. Restrictions of exports, pre-production commitment of COVID-19 vaccine supplies by the few manufacturers and the hoarding by wealthy countries of excess supplies have left countries in the global south, including those in Africa, with very limited access. Not surprisingly, only less than 2% of the world COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Africa.

The COVAX facility is a major avenue for access to the COVID-19 vaccines for many countries in Africa, although it can only supply 20 % of the required doses for achieving ‘herd immunity’. With much of the existing supply enlisted to meet the request of wealthy countries and the eruption of a new variant of the COVID-19 pandemic leading India into suspending export of vaccines for meeting pressing domestic needs, there is now a risk of the COVAX facility not being able to deliver the second round of shipment of the vaccine. This situation has led the WHO to warn that ‘trickle down vaccination is not an effective strategy for fighting a deadly respiratory virus.’

The second challenge is, what is the market-based approach to the production and procurement of the COVID-19 vaccines? While the world is facing an extraordinary pandemic, the production and procurement of vaccines is based on the ordinary mechanisms of the market. The monopolistic protection that the few pharmaceutical companies enjoy means that they control not only the scale of production of the vaccine but also who accesses such limited supply, when and with what price, thereby accentuating existing inequalities between various regions of the world. This has resulted in what the WHO Chief called ‘artificial scarcity’. As the WHO Regional Director for Africa aptly put it, the resultant limited stocks and supply bottlenecks are putting COVID-19 vaccines out of the reach of many people in Africa.

The third challenge for access to the vaccine is the absence of the requisite strategic infrastructure on the continent for producing and manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines. It is this structural condition that has exposed Africa to be completely dependent on outside sources for strategic medical supplies, hence for it to be left behind in access to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the two-day access to vaccine virtual summit that Africa CDC and the AU convened on 12-13 April 2021 that attracted the participation of some 44,000 people, it was reported that Africa, a continent of 55 AU member states and 1.2 billion people, produces only 1% of the vaccines it administers. The remaining 99% is imported, highlighting the hitherto policy failure of governments and the extreme vulnerability of the continent.

The fourth challenge is that of logistical capacity for rolling out the vaccines. So far, about 37.8 million vaccines have been supplied to multiple member States, through the Africa-CDC. Of these, over 24 million have been administered, indicating that there are member States who, having been supplied with the vaccine, fail to administer them in time. This is also indicative of the lack of preparations on the side of some member States to effectively and efficiently administer the vaccine as soon as they receive it.

There have been efforts, as part of Africa’s response to the pandemic, to address some of these challenges. The AU had established the COVID-19 African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) to accelerate access to funds for the procurement and delivery of the vaccine doses and promote access to vaccines. AVATT has been engaged in mobilizing sources of funding and presented financing options in order to meet the $6.1 billion funding gap for the procurement and administration of the required number of doses in Africa.

In an important development, in its decision (Doc. Assembly/AU/5(XXXIV)) on the 2020 AU Chairperson’s report on the response to COVID-19, the AU Assembly acknowledged ‘the need for equitable and timely, access to the COVID-19 vaccine to all AU Member States which will require additional mechanisms to ensure at least 60% of the Continent’s population is vaccinated.’ This is a clear acknowledgement of the inadequacy of the pre-existing strategy that was premised on a market-based approach focusing on procurement of vaccines manufactured by the existing limited number of monopolistic pharmaceutical companies. Accordingly, the AU Assembly, noting that ‘exceptional circumstances exist justifying a waiver from the obligations of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) specifically for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19, decided to support the proposed WTO Waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the Prevention, Containment and Treatment of COVID-19 as contained in WTO document IP/C/W/669.’ Underscoring the strategic importance of this, Pandor told her counterparts during the AU summit, the temporary waiver by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) of specific IP obligations related to prevention and treatment of COVID-19 ‘would enable countries in Africa and elsewhere to access active pharmaceutical ingredients and benefit from technology transfer, including the know- how to manufacture vaccines in Africa at a cheaper cost.’

In terms of expanding sources of supply, apart from the limited number of major manufacturers that currently dominate the supply chain, it would be of interest for tomorrow’s session to explore how African countries may establish, within the AU COVID-19 pandemic response framework, partnerships for securing access from the various types of COVID-19 vaccine producers. Doing so within the AU COVID-19 pandemic response framework would ensure standardized contracting and safe supply of vaccines produced in China, Russia and India.

Given the centrality of addressing the structural vulnerability of the continent for human security by building capacities for manufacturing strategic medical supplies within the continent, the issue of addressing the structural lacunae in Africa’s capacity would be of major significance for tomorrow’s session. As highlighted during the April 12-13 AU summit on vaccine, there is a need for Africa to prioritize the mobilization of the required financial resources, expand medical research capacities, secure policy commitment of states for domestic purchasing of vaccines and the establishment of the requisite regulatory mechanisms that meet international standards. In this regard, the session may serve as an opportunity for calling on member States to ratify the treaty on the African Medicine Agency. Similarly, African countries need to deliver on the commitments that they have made under the 2001 Abuja Declaration, particularly as it relates to allocation of 15% of their annual budget to the health sector.

Finally, in addition to efforts aimed at ensuring access, more work needs to be done by member States in terms of putting in place plans for the rolling out of the vaccines and capacitating their public health institutions to administer the vaccine timely to avoid non-use and expiry of the vaccines.

The expected outcome of the session is a communiqué. The PSC is expected to reiterate its previous pronouncements relating to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Africa. It may also reiterate the AU summit’s decision that access to COVID-19 vaccines is the most effective avenue for not only containing the spread of the virus but also preventing further mutation of the virus and limiting the devasting costs to the socio-economic wellbeing of people in Africa and the world. In this regard, the PSC may call for the WHO to declare the COVID-19 vaccine as global public goods. The PSC may call on members of the international community to heed the appeal of the WHO for sharing their excess stock to African countries through the COVAX and AVATT. Council may also encourage African scientific research institutes to persevere in their efforts to produce COVID- 19 vaccines and urge member States as well as the private sector to support the efforts of such institutions. The PSC may reiterate the support of the AU Assembly to the call for the temporary waiver by the WTO of specific IP obligations related to prevention and treatment of COVID- 19 as the most critical avenue for overcoming the current limitations for generic and more accessible production of the vaccines. The PSC may also call for international cooperation and solidarity particularly through openly sharing vaccine manufacturing technology, intellectual property, and know-how through the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool. The PSC may also call on Africa CDC to expand its engagement on access to vaccine with a view to establish partnership with all vaccine producers both for procuring speedy access and for purposes of technology transfer and sharing of know-how. The PSC may also welcome the conclusions of the summit on access to vaccines and the proposed plan for Africa to build and expand its vaccine manufacturing capacity from the current 1% to 60%. The PSC may also call on AU member states to ratify the treaty establishing the African Medicine Agency and urge member states to meet the Abuja Declaration target of allocating at least 15% of their budget for improving the health sector.


Insights on the PSC Session - The Socio-Economic Impact of COVID19 on Peace and Security in Africa

Health Pandemics

Date | 30 June 2020

Tomorrow (30 June) on the last session of the month, the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is expected to hold its latest session on the novel coronavirus (COVID19), this time with a focus on the socio-economic impact of COVID19 on peace and security in Africa.

It is expected that PSC members will conduct the meeting through video teleconference. The AU Commissioner for Economic Affairs Victor Harison is expected to deliver a remark to the Council. Africa CDC and Department of Social Affairs will make presentations. Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa Vera Songwe is scheduled to make a presentation as well. Additionally, Founder and Executive Director of the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) Vasu Gounden will deliver a presentation.

Since the outbreak of the virus, the AUPSC has been undertaking discussions to assess the multiple impacts of the pandemic on the peace and security of the continent. The discussion on Tuesday is a follow up of this ongoing discussion with a particular focus on the socio-economic impacts. As the Director of the African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) aptly put it, COVID-19 could be “a national-security crisis first, an economic crisis second, and a health crisis third”.

According to data compiled by the Africa CDC, the virus has already infected more than 350 thousand people across the continent and 9 thousand people have so far lost their lives. The spread of the virus has shown major surge during the course of the past month. This spread has as yet to reach its peak.
More than the health crisis, what has actually been worrying for Africa is its devastating socio-economic impacts. In one of its first sessions on the virus, the PSC, in its communique of the 918th session, noted ‘with deep concern the profound socio-economic consequences of COPVID19 within Africa, including the fall in commodity prices and the attendant loss of national resources’.

For tomorrow’s session, it would be of interest for members of the PSC to receive update on the scale of the socio-economic impact of COVID19. Based on UNECA’s projections, “Africa will be hard hit by the projected medium to long-term social and economic impacts of the pandemic”. The drop in GDP could lead to stalled economies and exacerbate historical structural inequities in most African economies. The pandemic has affected social interaction and significantly reduced economic activities because of the series of measures, including social distancing and stay at home orders, undertaken to contain its rapid spread. This has had enormous implications for the lives and livelihoods as well as socio-economic wellbeing of Africans, particularly those vulnerable groups of the society who earn their living from the informal economy. In this respect as well, the PSC expressed its deep concern about ‘the pronounced negative impact of COVID19 on the informal sector, which is the source of livelihood for the majority of the population in both, rural and urban areas.’

Africa’s economy is likely to enter into recession perhaps for the first time in decades with a projection of a 1.1% growth rate this year in the best-case scenario and a contraction of -2.6 per cent in the worst case. The economic impact of this crisis will have ripple effects across different sectors. This has been manifesting itself in various forms, and according to UNECA, these include “falling demand for Africa’s commodities; capital flight from Africa; a virtual collapse of tourism and air transport associated with lockdowns and border closures; and depreciation of local currencies as a result of a deterioration in the current account balance”.

Also, of interest for tomorrow’s session is the impact of the pandemic on regional integration processes on the continent, including in the implementation of some of the flagship projects of Agenda 2063. It has been pointed out within AU that Africa was making progress towards implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) to boost intra-African trade but now this has been upended because of the pandemic. Simultaneously, as much of the adverse consequences are linked to the excessive dependence of Africa on global supply chains, COVID19 also underscored the imperative of investing in the ACFTA and continental economic integration.

All the negative consequences of COVID19 on the economy are undermining the gains made over the past decades in making a dent on poverty and exasperate already existing socio-economic difficulties. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the pandemic will likely increase poverty and inequalities jeopardizing the well-being of millions of people for many years to come. In this regard, the International Growth Centre estimates that 9.1% of the African population may have already been pushed into extreme poverty. The Centre also estimates that the pandemic is” likely to make the savings of about 30% of the population [in sub-Saharan African countries] essentially vanish, removing all resilience capacity to future shocks”. The reversal of the development gains that the continent made, the fall of millions of people on the continent into extreme poverty, and the expected limited or absence of economic opportunities particularly for the youth that accounts for the vast majority of the continent are all potential areas of concern for political stability and peace.

Many African countries find themselves facing the risk of becoming food insecure. The World Food Programme has already warned, for instance, that “the number of acutely food insecure people [in east Africa and the Horn] is likely to increase to between 34 and 43 million from May through July due to the socio-economic impact of the pandemic”. This coupled with the multiple crisis affecting the region, including the massive outbreak of desert locusts and flash floods threatens to wipe out the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

Another area of interest for members of the PSC during tomorrow’s session is the efforts underway to limit and mitigate the socio-economic adverse effects of COVID19 in Africa. The UNDP argues, ‘[d]evelopment trajectories in the long-term will be affected by the choices countries make now and the support they receive’. Leading experts, such as former UNECA Executive Secretary, pointed out that Africa needs ‘a stimulus package of at least 5% of GDP, either in the form of capital mobilization, or in the form of debt relief or restructuring, or support for the social sectors’. Similarly, the UN Secretary-General also launched an initiative for mobilizing $200 billion, which he said is required, for delivering economic relief package to prevent the worst impacts of the pandemic. It is to be recalled that the Bureau of the AU Assembly, among others, urged G20 countries to provide an effective economic stimulus package that includes relief and deferred payments. In this regard, the Bureau called for the waiver of all interest payments on bilateral and multilateral debt, and the possible extension of the waiver to the medium term, in order to provide immediate fiscal space and liquidity to governments. Furthermore, the Bureau also urged the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, African Development Bank and other regional institutions to use all the instruments available in their arsenal to help mitigate against the scourge and provide relief to vital sectors of African economies and communities. UNECA points out that these measures need to include direct support that will keep households afloat and businesses solvent with particular focus on the vulnerable sections of the society.

No doubt, the socio-economic impact of the pandemic varies from countries to countries given the different strengths and vulnerabilities. For this reason, one of the issues that requires attention during tomorrow’s session is identifying how the socio-economic impact of COVID19 would affect transitional processes of countries in transition, peace processes and the peace and security dynamics of countries in conflict.

As far as African countries not affected by conflict prior to COVID19 is concerned, it would of course be difficult to argue in terms of a direct causal link between the socio-economic impact of the pandemic and its possible ramifications for stability. But there is no doubt that the institutional capacity of governments in Africa are being stretched to the limit. Indications are also that domestic violence and crime are on the rise and there is a sense of frustration and disillusionment particularly on the part of people who depend on the informal sector and most affected by the socio-economic impact of COVID19. The potential of this socio-economic situation eventually eroding societal cohesion and becoming a source of instability cannot simply be overlooked. ‘If not controlled early, the pandemic could quickly morph into humanitarian, socioeconomic, development, and political crises, with profoundly destabilizing effects’, UNECA warns.

The expected outcome of the session is a communiqué. The AUPSC is expected to assess the corona virus situation in Africa and the response efforts in the continent. It may wish to express appreciation to the ongoing national, regional, and continental efforts to mitigate the socio-economic impact of this pandemic. In particular, the Council may commend the measures taken by African governments and African people including CSOs and business to implement socio-economic response to save lives and livelihoods. It may also wish to commend the work of some of the regional and continental organizations in support of these national efforts.

The Council may note the various implications of socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 to the peace and security of the continent. In this regard, it may wish to emphasize on the impact of the pandemic on fragile countries, which require urgent attention and look at ways and means of extending support and solidarity to those countries. In this context, while welcoming the Sudan partnership meeting of 25 June that mobilized a much needed financial support to sustain the transitional process in Sudan, the PSC may renew its appeal to the international community to provide much needed support and, reiterating its the communiqué of 928th session, urge follow up on call by the UN Secretary-General for a $200 billion economic relief package to avoid the worst consequences of the socio-economic impact of the pandemic. It may further look at the underlying structural issues that expose Africa’s vulnerabilities to shocks and reflect on measures that could be taken at various levels to address those vulnerabilities. It may also encourage greater synergy at the national, regional, and continental efforts to provide effective socio- economic response to protect the wellbeing and livelihood of the African people. Beyond the immediate and short to medium term emergency response efforts, the Council may also wish to look at how Africa could ensure a better socio-economic recovery while also trying to promote and maintain its peace and stability.


Insights on the PSC Session - Briefing on the impact of COVID19 on Living Together in Peace

Health Pandemics

Date | 27 May, 2020

Tomorrow (27 May) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is expected to hold its 928th session on the impact of COVID19 on Living Together in Peace. It is envisaged to be a video teleconference session.

Held under PSC Chairperson of the month, Mafa Mosothoane Sejanamane, Ambassador of Lesotho, who will make an opening statement, the session is expected to receive updates from the Commissioner for Social Affairs, Amira El Fadil and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). Zainab Ali Kotoko the Executive Secretary of the Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA) and Solomon Ayele Dersso, Founding Director of Amani Africa, are scheduled to deliver briefings to the PSC.

The first time the PSC dedicated a session on ‘Living Together in Peace’ was in November 2019. At that time the format of the meeting was an open session and the PSC decided to hold annual sessions to commemorate the day. However, tomorrow’s virtual meeting will be a closed briefing for PSC members.
The UNGA Resolution 72/130 adopted on 8 December 2017 designated 16 May as the ‘International Day of Living Together in Peace’ ‘to promote peace, tolerance, inclusion, understanding and solidarity, and to express its attachment to the desire to live and act together, united in differences and diversity, in order to build a sustainable world of peace, solidarity and harmony’. The major principles and values of harmony and compassion articulated in the resolution are particularly relevant and timely during the current fight against COVID19.
The briefing is expected to commemorate the international day amidst a global pandemic. It is thus taking place at a time that precisely requires global solidarity as well coordination and mobilization of global efforts to mitigate the spread of the pandemic. As much as the values of living together are most in demand at the moment, there are also concerning global trends of increased hostility and tension.

Tomorrow’s briefing offers an opportunity to reflect on how the pandemic has impacted the global order, how multilateral institutions are adapting and the effects on peace and security in Africa. As it can be discerned from ongoing developments the values of living together and solidarity have been put under immense strain as the response to the pandemic has become highly politicized. This has further exacerbated already brewing tensions among global powers. It would be detrimental if African issues are entangled with these geostrategic big power deepening tensions.

Also, of note are the emergence of unilateralism and inward-looking approaches, that are impeding not only cooperation but also the operation of the market in medical supplies and services. A global problem most certainty requires a global solution. Moreover, for any national responses to be effective it is necessary that others are also able to muster the response necessary to ensure that no resurgence and global spread of the virus repeats itself. This means global responses should be inclusive by taking into consideration the particular needs of developing countries. This is why a greater solidarity is needed to ensure that developing countries are supported in not only fighting the health hazard but also in mitigating the socio-economic losses.

Indeed, the socio-economic fallouts from COVID19 is feared to result in more devastation than the pandemic itself. In this context, the application of Living Together in Peace necessitates that measures are taken to prevent the wiping out of the investment put towards poverty reduction and social development. Initiatives that fall in this category include the establishment of the COVID19 response fund of the AU, the recent appeal of the UN Secretary General for a global support package of more than $200 billion and the related joint call of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights for restructuring or relieving of the debts of African countries.

At the national level it is high time to also demonstrate particular compassion and solidarity to vulnerable and marginalized groups that face high level of exposure and will be disproportionately affected by the virus and the socio-economic consequences. Among others economically disadvantaged households, refugees, internally displaced persons, migrants and asylum seekers require specific protection measures. There is a great risk of widening socio-economic inequalities given that the pandemic and its impact will particularly hit certain groups more than others. Thus, this requires government’s efforts in bridging gaps within communities by particularly targeting the most vulnerable section of society.

Amani Africa’s briefing will focus on the peace and security impact of COVID19. More particularly, it will provide an overview of the major security trends, conflict situations and the impact of the pandemic on ongoing conflict prevention and management efforts. Hence the various measures taken to contain the spread of the virus and their effects on planned elections during the year, on mediation, implementation of peace processes as well as peacekeeping operations will feature in the briefing. In line with the theme of the session ‘Living Together in Peace’, the briefing will highlight the need for increased global solidarity in addressing the humanitarian and socio-economic fallouts in the continent.

Resolution 72/130 highlights the need to promote the culture of peace and non-violence and underscores the importance of respect for religious and cultural diversity across the world. Multiple incidents of xenophobic attacks, discrimination and mass deportation of migrants have taken place in various parts of the world following the spread of the virus. All of these components are deterrent to effectively respond to the pandemic. As also underlined in the resolution the importance of awareness raising and education is particularly important to cultivate tolerance among communities. During this global pandemic it is critical that communication materials and messages of leaders on prevention, transmission and treatment of the virus should be strictly informed and backed by scientific findings and recommendations of health experts. This plays a key role in fighting misinformation that leads to stigma, discrimination, fear and suspicion.
In this process of awareness creation and communication, elements in the resolution related to interfaith dialogue to foster national cohesion can also be useful. In addition to the scientific community, many governments have also worked closely with religious leaders to reach out, inform and educate people on COVID19. In this regard it is extremely important for many countries and world leaders to reconcile scientific findings, religious and traditional practices. While accommodating religious and cultural diversity it is important however that strict measures are put in place against untested traditional herbal remedies that may derail control of the spread. While indigenous knowledge and practices have a great value it is also important that any form of treatment should go through a rigours process of test and trial before being distributed.

During its 891st session the PSC underscored the importance of promoting living together in peace through regional integration and free movement of people. However, to contain the spread of the current pandemic mobility of people and goods have been highly restricted. These limitations will most likely delay the various milestones set by the continent towards greater cooperation and integration. Nonetheless it will be important for the Council to also note that practices related to social distancing should not undermine ongoing efforts of solidarity and living together. Indeed, it is essential to physically distance while living together under the common ideals of solidarity, harmony and unity.

The global call on cessation of hostilities is another initiative that needs to be followed up. This call is particularly essential for Africa given that there is steep increase in the number of confirmed cases across the continent. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has noted a 32% increase of new cases over one week alone. As of 24 May the total confirmed cases have reached 107,412. Although currently the cases in Africa are only 2% of the global cases, however these numbers are most likely to rise and the only way the devastation that may result from the spread of the virus in conflict situations can be prevented is if a humanitarian truce is observed by conflict parties.

The expected outcome is a communiqué. The PSC may primarily underline that countries cannot defeat COVID19 in isolation through unilateral measures. At the regional level the PSC could urge for more support to the AU COVID19 response fund and the work of Africa CDC and the necessity of African countries showing compassion and solidarity with the most vulnerable including refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in their response to COVID19. The PSC may underscore that the fight against COVID19 should unify the world to live up to the ideals of living together in peace, harmony and tolerance and support the WHO. It may reiterate previous calls by stressing that only when all countries defeat the pandemic that the world wins the fight against COVID19. It could also welcome the call of the UN Secretary General for a global response package of $200 billion as a measure consistent with the values of Living Together in Peace and for avoiding the worst consequences of the socio-economic and humanitarian fallouts of the pandemic. The PSC could also emphasize the need for access to diagnostics and therapeutics and reiterate the call for access to any eventual vaccine and treatment.


Insights on the PSC Session - Update on the progress in controlling COVID-19 and its impact in Africa

Health Pandemics

Date | 19 May, 2020

Tomorrow (19 May) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is expected to receive an update on the progress in controlling COVID19 and its impact in Africa. A representative from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expected to brief the Council.

The update is expected to cover the developments since the last PSC briefing held on 6 May on the spread and control of COVID19. According to the Africa CDC figures as of 17 May the number of confirmed cases in 54 African countries have reached 81,307 with 2704 death and 31,078 recoveries. Since the last briefing, over the past twelve days the number of cases has almost doubled.

It is expected that tomorrow’s session will review the progress made in terms of enhancing testing capacity. It has been noted in our analysis of the previous session that Africa CDC has launched the Partnership to Accelerate COVID19 Testing (PACT): Trace, Test & Track (CDC-T3), among other issues to support for the testing of one million Africans in 10 weeks, support for the deployment of one million community healthcare workers to support contact tracing and coordination of medical equipment distribution. It is of interest to PSC members to receive update whether and how far this plan is being rolled out.

The other but related issue expected to feature during tomorrow’s session include the continental acquisition and distribution of diagnostic kits and reagents to scale up testing on the continent. In order to increase Africa’s procurement capacity of PPE and various medical equipment that the Africa CDC is preparing to launch a digital purchasing system. The platform will allow African governments to come together and jointly place orders of testing materials and PPE. The virtual platform will also directly link governments with suppliers and companies in China. This will also be particularly beneficial to guide countries that have funds but need further information on available suppliers.

The initiative is a direct response to Africa’s limited access to vital recourses, which is undermining early detection, tracing and the overall preventive efforts. African countries have been heavily marginalized from the global market due to their inability to offer competitive bids. The orders are small in quantity, thus the pooled orders through the continental platform will provide countries with increased advantage to compete in the global market. The tool will support African governments to navigate the global market, which is highly competitive and is experiencing a steep increase in prices and it’s overwhelmed with demands. As pointed out by the Africa CDC Director, the important element in this process is volume and this requires for African countries to join forces and mobilize.

One of the major limitations, highlighted in our analysis of the previous session, to control and monitor the spread of COVID19 in Africa has been the restriction of access to diagnostic kits, reagents and personal protective equipment (PPE), despite the pulling of resources by Africa to procure these at market value.

These restrictions of access have triggered reasonable fears that when a vaccine is developed African and other countries in the developing world may not have easy access. As part of the effort to address this, three African leaders and more than 140 global figures including 50 former world leaders signed an open letter calling for what President Cyril Ramaphosa, AU Chairperson, called ‘people’s vaccine’. AUC Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat and Director of Africa CDC John Nkengason have all joined this global call.

The call was primarily aimed at fostering global solidarity in creating a more equitable global response mechanism by ensuring that no one is left behind. The open letter made a request on three major areas and for their implementation to be conducted under the leadership of the World Health Organization (WHO). The first is to make global sharing of all COVID19 related knowledge, data and technologies compulsory and available to all countries. The second is the establishment of a global and equitable rapid manufacturing and distribution plan, funded by developed countries, for the vaccine and all COVID19 medical products and technologies. Third is ensuring COVID19 vaccines, diagnostics, tests and treatments are provided free of charge to everyone in all countries.

The other important development that is expected to feature in the briefing is the draft guidelines on easing the COVID19 lockdown in Africa prepared by the Africa CDC. Under the leadership of the Department of Social Affairs the draft guideline was presented to the members of the coordinating committee of AU’s continental response to COVID19 including health ministers and Regional Economic Communities (RECs).

Although Africa is relatively at an earlier stage of the spread of the virus compared to the rest of the world, countries have started to ease restrictions and lockdown. Thus, the guideline is timely and essential to inform national policies by setting standards and precautionary measures that are necessary to avert any major spread of the virus. In this regard it will be important for governments to balance between resuscitating their economies and protecting people’s health and managing the spread of the virus. It is extremely important that governments follow the strict procedures set by health experts and to ensure that the easing of lockdown takes place gradually and with caution.

The lifting to restrictions on movements and the ease of lockdowns is also expected to facilitate the delivery of the much-needed life saving assistance and humanitarian support to the large number of displaced communities. In this context, the PSC may also reiterate its previous calls on the need for humanitarian assistance to remain uninterrupted during the pandemic.

The update may also shed light on the ongoing work the Africa CDC is doing with regards to engaging member states that are recommending and distributing herbal remedies to treat COVID19. The Africa CDC has worked closely particularly with the government of Madagascar to have a better understanding and information on the suggested herbal remedies and to potentially undertake research on their safety and effectiveness. This is a worrying trend and recommending herbal remedy to treat the virus contradicts WHO and Africa CDC guidelines. The PSC may also strongly urge for increased caution in this regard to prevent any misinformation that may lead to the intensification of the spread.

The expected outcome is a communiqué. The PSC may commend the efforts of the Africa CDC and may welcome the virtual platform set up to facilitate pooled procurement of PPE and equipment. The Council may underline the predicament faced by many African countries in the global market and the importance of the platform in bridging this gap by enabling countries to have access. The PSC may underscore the importance of the global call urging for a fairer global system that allows all countries to benefit from information, technologies and medical resources to combat COVID19. The PSC could also underscore the importance and necessity of continental level investment not only for addressing COVID19 but also for dealing with future pandemics. The PSC could applaud the launch of the Partnership to Accelerate COVID19 Testing (PACT): Trace, Test & Track (CDC-T3) and urge that the efforts for scaling up testing are speeded up. The PSC may also urge governments to adhere to the established WHO and Africa CDC scientific standards and guidelines and adopt all the necessary precautionary measures in the course of the relaxing of COVID19 response measures.


Insights on the PSC Session - Briefing on the spread, control and implications of COVID-19

Health Pandemics

Date | 06 May, 2020

Tomorrow (6 May) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is expected to have a VTC briefing on the spread, control and implications of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in Africa. It is expected that the Director of Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) John Nkengasong will give the main briefing.

It is to be recalled that during its 918th session dedicated to the impact of the pandemic on the peace and security of the continent the PSC has requested the Africa CDC to continue providing regular briefings on COVID19. Subsequently, the PSC also received a briefing on the humanitarian impact of COVID19 with a focus on the situation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from the Commissioner of Political Affairs.

In tomorrow’s briefing, it is envisioned that Africa CDC will present an overview of the current situation across Africa including the spread of the virus, what the trend in the spread of the virus tells us and where Africa stands in terms of reaching the peak. Since the first confirmed case was reported in Egypt on 14 February, the spread of the virus over the course of March and April has covered all parts of the continent. The spread of the virus has skyrocketed by many folds.

According to the Africa CDC daily tracking of the spread of the virus, as at 5 May, 53 AU member states have reported 47,118 confirmed cases of COVID19 and 1843 deaths and 15,587 recoveries. Despite the fact that the continuing accelerated rise in the spread of the virus, Africa CDC expresses concern that the number of confirmed cases does not tell us the full story. As Nkengasong pointed out to the medical publication Nature, ‘the count is likely to be an underestimate; Ethiopia has run about 11,000 tests – only 10 for every 100,000 people’. During the press briefing late last week, he also noted that testing in Africa is very limited, noting that with 1.3 billion people the continent has so far tested less than 500,000 people, which is less than 500 per million.

All indications are that the real picture of the spread of the virus remains unknown. This means that it is not clear if the worst in the spread of the virus in Africa has already passed. Indeed, the expectation is that Africa has yet to reach the peak in the spread of the virus.

While underscoring the imperative for scaling up testing, it is expected that Nkengasong will inform the PSC the various factors hampering testing on the continent. He has already pointed out that ‘lack of access to diagnostics is Africa’s Achilles heel.’ Despite the increase in the capacity of African countries to test, appropriate regents for testing are not available on the market. The tragedy is that while African countries have the funds to pay for regents, they cannot however buy them. This is not only on account of the disruption of the supply chains but also restrictions that countries adopted on the export of medical goods and the race by the powerful to acquire whatever COVID19 tests are available.

Moreover, in addition to diagnostics the briefing may also highlight the tools and resources needed for prevention and management of the pandemic including personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators and other respiratory equipment.

It is expected that the briefing will also give update on ongoing efforts by the Centre in line with the implementation of the Africa Joint Continental Strategy for COVID19 Outbreak. On 21 April, Africa CDC has launched the Partnership to Accelerate COVID19 Testing (PACT): Trace, Test & Track (CDC-T3), among other issues to support for the testing of one million Africans in 10 weeks, support for the deployment of one million community healthcare workers to support contact tracing and coordination of medical equipment distribution. As part of these ongoing efforts towards scaling up the continental testing capacity, the AU has established a COVID-19 Diagnostic Laboratory in the AU PANVAC in Bishoftu, Ethiopia. This initiative is also important in supporting and speeding up the production of test kits within Africa.

Given the nature of the pandemic, enhancing the coordination of response at national and Regional Economic Communities (RECs) level is critical for the effectiveness of the response. Particularly establishing continues information and data sharing as well as transparency will enable policy makers to identify patterns across countries and regions.

Also important for Africa is the effort for pulling resources together and source the necessary supplies for enhancing the capacity of the continent in fighting COVID19 at the level of the AU through Africa CDC. According to Nkengasong this would allow African countries to negotiate as one large customer, rather than as many small buyers fighting for a seat at the table.

On 29 April the Bureau of the Assembly held its third virtual meeting on the continental response on COVID19. The Bureau met with representatives of RECs. The discussion focused on the level of infection and on the spread at the regional level. The data from Africa CDC shows that Norther region with 17,700 cases is the region with the highest number of cases, followed by West Africa with 13,000 cases. The Bureau and representatives of RECs reiterated support to the efforts of Africa CDC particularly in relation to increasing testing capacity to ensure that in the next four months 10 million tests are undertaken through AU PACT initiative. Moreover, the Heads of State and Government endorsed the call for debt cancellation and the development of relief packages.

The other point, which the PSC may also address, is around measures taken by government to contain the virus particularly around imposition of lockdowns and restriction of movement. In this regard the increased use of excessive force by security officers has been a concerning trend. In many cases the pandemic is being used as a pretext to enforce repression on individuals and communities. The PSC may urge member states to observe established human rights standards when applying measures to contain COVID19.

The Africa CDC, in line with the guidelines shared by the World Health Organization (WHO) has been continuously providing scientific and evidence based analysis and technical expertise to member states. However there has been an increased approach by certain member states, which are at times antithetical to the established scientific method. The PSC may utilize tomorrow’s session to address this concerning trend. It may urge member states to strictly follow the guidelines developed by the WHO and Africa CDC when disseminating information on the prevention and management of the pandemic. Misguided and unscientific measures will put people in danger and worsen the level of infection. It is also important to note that given that COVID19 is a novel virus, the findings on the disease are still evolving.

While the expected outcome of the session is not known during the production of this ‘Insight’, it is expected to be a communique. The expectation is that the PSC will welcome the work of Africa CDC and express the importance of enhanced support for its work. The PSC could also underscore the importance and necessity of continental level investment not only for addressing COVID19 but also for dealing with future pandemics. The PSC could applaud the launch of the Partnership to Accelerate COVID19 Testing (PACT): Trace, Test & Track (CDC-T3) and urge that the efforts for scaling up testing are speeded up. The PSC may also call on the international community to ensure that Africa has market access to diagnostics and to this end restrictions on the export of medical materials should be lifted to allow Africa to have the necessary inputs for rolling out and scaling up testing, which is critical in the effort to contain the virus. It may reiterate its support to governments for their efforts in fighting COVID19 and urge them to continue exercising maximum caution as some of them ease the restrictions imposed as part of the effort to contain the spread of the virus. The PSC may urge member states to ensure that their COVID19 responses including provision of public health information are in line with the global and continental guidelines established by the WHO and Africa CDC.


Insights on the PSC Session - Briefing session on the peace and security impacts of COVID19 in Africa

Health Pandemics

Date | 14 April, 2020

Tomorrow (14 April) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is scheduled to hold a briefing session using the other new format of its meeting, namely via virtual teleconference (VTC). It is envisaged that the session will focus on the implications of COVID19 on peace and security in Africa. Introduced as a measure to enable the PSC to work continuously, following a trial remote meeting on zoom on 8 April, arrangements are made with AU IT experts for the first VTC meeting of the PSC to be held tomorrow.
It is anticipated that John Nkengasong Director of Africa Centre for Disease Control (Africa CDC) will join the session to deliver the briefing. Invitation has also been extended for Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus, the Executive Director of the World Health Organization (WHO), to present a briefing. The expectation is that these interventions help establish how the novel coronavirus (COVID19) affects peace and security, clarify the gravity and various dimensions of the impact and proffer recommendations on mitigation strategies.

The virus, which first emerged in China, has now affected 1.7 million people and killed more than 100, 000 others in countries from all parts of the world. So far, COVID19 cases have been reported in 52 member States of the AU, with a total of about 14,000 infected people and 747 deaths, according to the latest statistics released by the Africa CDC. The threats that the pandemic poses have prompted the convening of two meetings of the Bureau of the AU Assembly remotely.

As the novel coronavirus (COVID19) spreads rapidly across Africa and member states started to take measures for preventing and containing the spread, the AU Chairperson, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa convened two virtual meetings of the Bureau of the AU Assembly on 26 March and 3 April respectively. The communique of the first meeting warned that ‘poverty, poor sanitation, an existing disease burden, overstretched health systems and extreme urban population density mean that the pandemic could explode in an even more catastrophic way than has been seen thus far in Africa.’ Underscoring the need for urgent prevention measures and collective action, the meeting decided the establishment of a continental anti-COVID-19 Fund to which the members of the Bureau to immediately contribute US $12,5 million as seed funding.

In the second meeting, focusing on the socio-economic impact of COVID19, the Bureau highlighted, in the communique it adopted, ‘the devastating socio-economic and political impact of the pandemic on African countries.’ With the Bureau focusing principally on the public health response and the socio-economic consequences of COVID19, it paid little attention to the peace and security impacts of the virus in Africa. There were only two peace and security relevant issues referenced in passing. Thus, the communique stated the need for giving special attention to the Sahel in the light of terrorist activities and the imperative to establish humanitarian corridor. Yet, no less grave in the African context the public health and socio-economic dimension of the pandemic is its impact on peace and security. Indeed, the Director of Africa CDC, John Nkengasong, is quoted for noting that the coronavirus could be a ‘national security crisis first, an economic crisis second and a health crisis third’ depending on how African countries respond to the pandemic. Indeed, the prospects of the impact of pandemic on peace and security in Africa is very dire and even if difficult to measure, it can involve risk of a widespread breakdown of peace and security at a scale unprecedented since the AU came into operation. Given the risk of deterioration of the situation of countries in conflict, the relapse back to new forms of conflict of countries in transition and the descent of other into instability due to pressure related to COVID19, the significance of tomorrow’s session of the PSC cannot be overstated.

The concern on the peace and security impact of COVID19 arises from a number of factors. The first of such factors is the impact of the spread of COVID19 in countries with conflict. For these countries including those on the agenda of the PSC namely Central African Republic, Libya, Mali and Sahel, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan and countries in Sahel and Lake Chad Basin, it would have the effect of worsening the security situation and the humanitarian impact of conflicts. Countries in the Sahel region, which are already facing the threat of terrorism and violent extremism, will now have to wage another battle against the spread of COVID-19. The insecurity coupled with poor health care infrastructure and capacity also has the effect of limiting efforts for containing the spread of the virus with potentially devastating consequences for conflict affected populations and the most vulnerable among them.

A related concern arises from the disruptive impact of COVID19 and the measures adopted to contain it on national, regional and international efforts for conflict management and resolution. As UN Secretary-General warned on 25 March the pandemic threatened to divert international attention and resources from resolving ongoing conflicts and supporting peace processes.

The first consequence of the impact of COVID19 on conflict resolution efforts is that ongoing peace processes come under increasing stress. Indeed, some peace processes have stalled, while others are facing delays. For instance, the PSC has learned from its latest meeting on the situation in South Sudan that COVID19 would affect the timelines and implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan. The second consequence is increasing risk of escalation of violence as conflict parties seek to use the situation for gaining military advantage. Examples in this respect include the spike in terrorist attacks observed in the Lake Chad basin and the attacks on hospitals reported in Libya.

For members of the PSC, the impact of the pandemic on AU peace support operations notably the AU Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), the ad hoc coalitions authorized by the PSC namely the Multinational Joint Taskforce (MNJTF) and the G5 Sahel Joint Taskforce and the joint UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). PSC member states, particularly contributing countries would be keen on measures taken to safeguard the personnel of these missions from COVID19 and to adjust the operation of these missions including rotation of troops or planned drawdown of troops.

The other factor for concern arises from abuse by some in government of the anti-COVID19 measures for clamping down on dissenting political voices, opposition political parties and civil society organizations. Related to this is also the excessive use of force by security forces against civilians, fueling resentment and tension. As security forces resort to draconian measures, as leaders in Kenya, South Africa and Uganda admitted, to curb the spread of this deadly disease, human rights and civil liberties will be at risk. This could trigger resistance from affected communities, leading to the eruption of instability and where the capacity of governments gets stretched beyond limits, resulting in breakdown of law and order.

This is directly related to the human rights dimension of the mandate of the PSC as provided for in Articles 3 and 19 of the PSC Protocol. In this context, a major area of interest for the PSC is how to ensure that measures taken for containing COVID19 are done within the bounds of applicable AU human rights standards, within the framework of the communique of the 866th session of the PSC including the guidance that the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) provided through its 24 March statement.
In countries where contested transitions are underway or where elections expected to be contested or closely fought are scheduled, the pressure resulting from both the spread of COVID19 and its socio-economic consequences is sure to deepen existing fault lines, thereby triggering simmering political tensions to boil over. Major peace and security issue would thus arise where changes to election schedules are made due to COVID19 without minimum consensus among various political forces or where elections are held amid the disruption that the pandemic caused to electoral politics. The situation can be particularly dire for countries going through a fragile transition. Sudan is already facing dire economic conditions and hundreds came out to the streets in Khartoum few days ago in protest against the transitional government.

Finally, the peace and security of African states also stands to face major test from the social instability that the socio-economic impact of the COVID19 measures could trigger. Irrespective of how countries fare in dealing with the public health dimension of COVID19, it is unlikely that any country can escape the dire socio-economic consequences of the pandemic. According to a study of the AU, the disruption that the anti-COVID19 measures that countries in the world adopted and the spread of the virus have caused on economic activities could lead to a loss of 20 million jobs. The World Bank also warned that the pandemic is expected to push African countries into recession in 2020, the first time in 25 years. Trade and investment flows have declined significantly, and the tourism and airline industries are already hit very hard. Many in Africa who depend on the money that their kit and kin in the diaspora send for their survival will feel the pinch as remittances dry up as do the majority of people who depend on the informal sector. Governments are also feeling the impact of foreign currency crunch. The damage that these economic consequences would have on the livelihood of millions of people, the majority of whom are young people, is sure to fuel social tension and put citizens and governments on a collision course.

Other areas of concern for tomorrow’s PSC session include the humanitarian impact of the virus as COVID19 measures disrupt humanitarian supply chains, movement of humanitarian actors and access to those in need of humanitarian assistance. Countries hosting huge number of refugees and internally displaced persons will bound to face an enormous burden posing serious protection challenges. In this respect, an issue of particular importance for members of the PSC is the steps that need to be taken not only to protect IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from COVID19 but also from humanitarian disaster that may result from lack of supply of humanitarian assistance. This raises questions on how the AU assists in restoration of humanitarian supply chains and facilitate humanitarian action and support for humanitarian actors.

Recognizing the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to the maintenance of international peace and security, the United Nations Secretary-General has called for an immediate global ceasefire. Chairperson Moussa Faki has also echoed the urgent call by the Secretary-General underscoring the need to silence the guns and mobilizing all our efforts in the fight against COVID-19.

The expected outcome of the session is a communique.

It is expected that the PSC will express grave concern about the impact of COVID19 on peace and security in Africa noting in particular the risk for a widespread breakdown of peace and security on the continent at a scale unprecedented since the AU came into existence, reversing gains made through the investment that the AU in partnership with the international community mobilized over the years with consequences for continental and international peace and security that are difficult to contemplate.

The PSC may also urge that particular attention is given to countries in conflict not only in terms of facilitating the provision of the required technical, medical and socio-economic support but also in supporting conflict resolution efforts in those countries. Welcoming the call for global ceasefire by the United Nations Secretary-General, the PSC may call of the AU Commission and Regional Economic Communities working alongside the UN to support efforts for cessation of all hostilities by conflict parties.

Having regard to the implications of COVID-19 on the AU’s conflict prevention, management and resolution efforts including contributions to AU Peace Fund, the PSC may underscore the need to reinvigorate the AU peace and security architecture in light of this new and emerging challenge in order to help address the threat for a widespread breakdown of peace and security on the continent. The PSC may urge the AU Commission working with relevant RECs/RMs to initiate communication with member states for assessing peace and security risks and helping them initiate mitigating measures. It could also request that AU regional and liaison offices, PSC authorized or mandated missions expand their focus to cover the peace and security impacts of COVID19, while ensuring the safety and security of their personnel.

Regarding elections taking place in Africa this year, Council may call upon member States to undertake the necessary consultation with political stakeholders and build national consensus on the way forward. It may also appeal to governments to undertake their COVID-19 response efforts without contravening their commitments to respecting applicable human rights principles as provided for in the ACHPR statement of 24 March.

Given the direct consequences of the socio-economic impact of the pandemic on peace and security in Africa, the PSC may welcome the communique of the first virtual meeting of the Bureau of the AU Assembly establishing the special fund and urge member states and others to contribute to the fund. The PSC may also similarly welcome the outcome of the second AU Assembly Bureau meeting, particularly the call 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 and for rapid and concrete support as pledged by G20 and the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, including flexible disbursement policies and IMF Special Drawing Rights (SDRs).

The PSC could also underscore the critical role of Africa CDC and the imperative for collective global action in the fight against COVID19 and reiterate the support expressed by the Chairpersons of the Union and the Commission to the WHO under the leadership of Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.


Insights on the PSC Session - Mitigating the threat of Health epidemics to Peace and Security in Africa 

Health Pandemics

Date | 16 May, 2019

Tomorrow (May 16), the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is expected to hold it 850th meeting on mitigating the threat of health epidemics to peace and security in Africa with a particular focus on Ebola. The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expected to brief the Council. The World Health Organization (WHO) is also expected to make an intervention. Apart from Hope Tmukunde Gasura, Ambassador of Rwanda and Chair of the PSC, who will be delivering the opening statement, representatives of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and United Nations Office to the AU (UNOAU) are also expected to deliver a statement.

In the briefing the CDC is expected to provide update on its work since its establishment in 2017 and the challenges it faced. This presents an opportunity for reviewing progress made through CDC in putting in place a framework for prevention of and responding to epidemics. It is to be recalled that at its 511th session, the PSC requested the AU Commission to review the AU Humanitarian Policy Framework with a view to developing a comprehensive disaster management protocol and filling all existing gaps in the coordination of the Commission’s responses to disasters and emergencies consistent with Article 15 of the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council and other relevant AU instruments’. This raises questions about the relationship between CDC and the AU Humanitarian Framework.

In terms of current issues, the briefing will be mainly focusing on the most recent Ebola virus outbreak in the North Eastern part of the DRC and the volatile security situation in the region.

On 1 August 2018, the Ministry of Health of the DRC declared a new outbreak of Ebola virus disease in North Kivu Province. As of 7 May, a total of 1600 confirmed and probable Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) cases have been reported, of which 1069 have died. This is the tenth Ebola outbreak in DRC and the second largest outbreak recorded of Ebola after the 2014 epidemic in West Africa which killed more than 10,000 people in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

The outbreak has mainly affected North Kivu and Ituri provinces. The role of CDC and how it worked with others such as the WHO in the efforts for containing the Ebola outbreak is one of the issues of interest for PSC members. Perhaps a pressing issue that the areas of the DRC affected by the outbreak have given rise to is the interface between control of the outbreak of an epidemic like Ebola and the security situation.

Unlike the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, the efforts for controlling the outbreak in the DRC faced two major security challenges. The first is the fact that the affected provinces are conflict areas, where armed conflicts and violence are obstructing the provision and access to public health services. In some instances Ebola response activities have been suspended. The security factors have also increased the risks of disease spread both within DRC and to neighboring countries, although the epidemic hasn’t crossed borders yet. Second is the direct attack against responders to the crisis. Armed groups have deliberately targeted Ebola Treatment Units (ETU) and health care workers. Since the beginning of the year alone three ETUs in Butembo and Katwa have been burnt down and health facilities and equipments have been destroyed. A WHO epidemiologist has been killed in Katwa and beginning of this month Mai-Mai militia groups have attacked an ETU in Butembo. Both towns of Butembo and Katwa which are the Ebola hotspots continue to be severely affected by persistent infection.

WHO records show that beyond Katwa and Butembo, EVD transmission is highly intensified in Mandima, Mabalako, Musienene, Beni and Kalunguta hotspots, which collectively account for the vast majority (93%) of the 303 cases reported almost within the last month.

The compounded effects of the deteriorating security situation, fear and mistrust among communities towards aid agencies and workers have also severely hampered the response process. This has also resulted in the very low number of families reporting their symptoms to health officers. In this regard the newly elected president Felix Tshisekedi addressed the challenges that emanated from suspicion and rumors and urged population to cooperate more with following instructions. It also called on armed groups to surrender through disarmament programs.

This will be the first time since the outbreak, for the PSC to hold a session dedicated specifically to the epidemic and the security situation. When the PSC met last time at its 808thsession that took place in November 2018, it called for a regional response. The Council urged ‘the political, military and health authorities of the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda to enhance their cooperation to contain the epidemic’. It further requested the Chairperson of the AUC in consultation with MONUSCO and WHO, to provide substance to the regional strategy. During this meeting the PSC may recall this previous decision and follow up on progress.

The UNSC 2439 (2019) resolution, although it condemned the killing of health workers and called for cessation of hostilities, the violence has worsened since. Despite the presence of United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) the security incidents have escalated. This is partially given that MONUSCO is limited to provide support within its area of operations which are more related to traditional peacekeeping operations. Although the resolution recognizes the leadership of WHO in this context, the deteriorating security situation requires a more robust protection response for of health workers and communities.

Moreover WHO has stated that only 74 million USD has been received from the total required amount of 148 million USD. However, without stability and security, it’s unlikely that the international community provides additional resources or experts to the affected areas. The lack of commitment from all belligerent groups to cease attacks poses high risk in the fights against EVD outbreak and in effectively containing it in North Kivu and Ituri provinces. Despite these challenges and risks however the WHO has announced that the Ebola outbreak in DRC is not yet a global public health emergency.

The high rates of population movement taking place from the EVD outbreak affected areas to other parts of the country and across fluid borders to neighboring countries particularly during periods of heightened insecurity further elevates the risks of spread. DRC shares borders with multiple countries in the various regions of the continent including with countries that are experiencing political instability and that do not possess a robust health care system. This puts an already vulnerable large group of population into further exposure to health hazards.

In light of this context, the briefing is expected to provide an overview of the existing security challenges in responding to the epidemic. The multiple security hurdles which continue to inhibit access to EVD affected communities and the provision of treatment will be highlighted. By shedding light on the magnitude of the potential risks if operations continue to be hampered, the briefing may also put forward a set of recommendations on ways to enhance response. Through the PSC, presenters may call on the various actors to elevate security and protection measures and for further attention by actors at the national, regional and global levels.

The expected outcome of the session at the production of this Insight was not known. However the PSC may issue a communiqué that calls on the immediate cessation of hostilities and for a strengthened protection for health workers and treatment centers. It may call on the international community to provide the necessary resources and support in fighting the epidemic. Also important is for the PSC to receive a report on how the prevention of and effective response to epidemics is integrated into the African Peace and Security Architecture and the mandate of the AU Humanitarian Agency.