The COVID-19 pandemic has had severe effects on our countries and yet it has also united us in a manner reminiscent of the solidarity that the OAU led against apartheid South Africa.
While we are not yet at a level that allows a focus on post COVID recovery, it will be logical to use our precious unity to devise solutions that allow Africa to grow together.
This crisis has created an unprecedented opportunity to devise innovative responses to new challenges and problems. The Executive Council may need to initiate an AU led reflection on what next and how should we co-ordinate?
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Continent in March 2020, African countries have made huge strides in containing the spread of the virus. The achievements recorded so far can be attributed to the proactive initiatives undertaken by all of us as a collective under the decisive leadership of the AU Bureau with the support of the Chairs of the RECs, the AfCDC and the Chair of the AU, HE President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The most important public health measure to prevent COVID-19 is a vaccine. For the past year, efforts have been underway to find vaccines that are both safe, affordable and effective. We finally have achieved the goal, with a number of vaccines having undergone clinical trials and passed stringent safety tests. The production of the vaccine has begun in earnest.
However, vaccines are costly. All countries must get vaccines and must get them speedily. It is vital to the global containment of COVID-19 that vaccination takes place in all countries and among all populations. We are all aware of the challenges of accessing vaccines for the Global South, particularly for Africa.
The developed North, which has substantial financial resources, has purchased the largest stocks, while we in Africa are struggling to get our fair share. The painful irony is that some of the clinical trials for these vaccines were carried out in Africa. In other cases, vaccines are packaged right here on the continent, yet we struggle to access them for our populations.
This is one of the strategic opportunities we should address through advice and leadership of our AU subsidiary bodies. Our Agenda 2063 envisions a bold, confident capable efficient African Union able to address tasks presented by an emergency of this enormity.
In an attempt to act, India and South Africa have proposed a TRIPS waiver in response to the pandemic. We have called on the World Trade Organisation to temporarily waive specific TRIPS obligations related to the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 for a defined period and within defined parameters.
If agreed, this 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.
Beyond the pandemic, we also have to ensure our AU executes our agreed reform agenda effectively. We have adopted many decisions since launching the AU, yet we have not yet build fully functional machinery with quality execution, appropriate financial administration and management and a key focus on development.
We have made progress in 2021. The implementation phase of the AfCFTA is underway and that is history. We call on AU Member States to finalise all the outstanding issues by June 2021, as agreed during the Extraordinary Summit of 5 December 2021. The vision of Agenda 2063 is realisable if we act with energy and determination.
As South Africa relinquishes its Chairship, we cannot ignore the important issue of the budget situation of the Organisation and its implications for the implementation of the priorities of the AU. We must become self-sufficient. Even more critical in the maintenance of peace and security on the Continent is the Peace Fund. We continue to call on our fellow member states to contribute to the fund so as enable the Continent to play a leading role. In entrenching peace and security.
We have entered a new year, a new focus and a new leadership. Our theme for this year, is entitled: “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building a Prosperous, Peaceful, Integrated and Resilient Africa in the Context of Multi-sectoral Challenges.” The theme highlights the contribution of Arts, Culture, and heritage as catalysts for our socio-economic development and created an opportunity for us to showcase these attributes.
By Dr Naledi Pandor,
Chairperson of the Executive Council of the African Union, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa