AFRICA AND THE COVID 19 VIRUS : THE ROLE OF CHINA ; AMBASSADOR GROBLER

Source:MFA 2020-04-08

   Africa faces immediate severe political , economic and social implications with much longer term consequences from the spread of Covid 19 . It is indeed putting Africa's governance and health systems to test. Longstanding weaknesses in health infrastructures and government delivery exist in many African countries . The World Bank / IMF estimate that the economic cost for Africa of Covid 19 are likely to be approximately 100 billion USD or 5 percent of GDP.

  Without necessary personal protective equipment for health workers, ventilators for the critically ill and adequate testing kits , Covid 19 will pose a massive threat to the future of many African countries including South Africa .As a continent already battling with HIV and Aids , T B , malaria and to an extent with Ebola together with widespread poverty, malnutrition and weak health systems , compared to the developed world  , Africa is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to combating the Covid 19 virus. 

  African leaders have therefore already begun  to mobilize to develop a coordinated response to Covid 19 . A meeting of African Finance Ministers in mid March affirmed the need for solutions that focused on protecting  jobs especially in service industries such as tourism .The Ministers also stressed that there  needs to be coordination in the procurement and distribution of much needed medical supplies and pharmaceutical.  Following this meeting Pres Ramaphosa   ,    as Chair of the African  Union , convened a meeting of the AU Bureau  on 26 March to develop a common African response to Covid 19 . The meeting was attended by the AU Deputy Chairpersons , the Presidents of DRC  , Mali , Kenya and the outgoing Chair , the President of Egypt and the current AU Commission Chair   , mr Mamatma .The outstanding  feature of this meeting was the agreement on an unified approach by all African countries in fighting the virus and the establishment of  an African Coronavirus Fund .It was also agreed to launch a wider campaign to mobilise resources   especially for the poor countries with infrastructure  challenges .

  The meeting heard that the number of African countries infected by the virus was rising daily with about 50 African countries affected  , though SA had the highest number. The African leaders agreed that Africa should coordinate its fight against the pandemic and consequently agreed to form task forces of Health  Ministers to tackle the virus in each of the 5 regions of Africa namely South ,  West , East , Central and North.

  It is also of significance that 12 former and highly respected African leaders including President Obasanjo of Nigeria , President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa , President Kikwete of Tanzania released a statement last week calling ia on the AU to implement an emergency plan to combat the Covid 19 onslaught in Africa at continental and regional level .

  President Ramaphosa was subsequently given the mandate by the the AU leaders to appeal for G20 support at the G20 Virtual meeting hosted by Saudi Arabia on 26 March .At the G20 meeting   President  Ramaphosa appealed for economic assistance for Africa to help fight the pandemic . He called on G20 countries,  particularly the more developed countries  to support financial packages for Africa to be given debt relief from the IMF and World Bank so that countries are able to halt their international payments so that they are able to  focus on fighting Covid 19 .President  Ramaphosa in fact called on the G20 and international  institutions to waive all international payments on bilateral and multilateral loans during the crisis and to support the African Coronavirus Fund .President Ramaphosa also appealed to other countries not to restrict the importation into Africa of badly needed manufactured goods such as medical supplies. 

  President Ramaphosa and Africa valued and appreciated the contribution by President Xi Jinping at the G 20 meeting which contained a number of constructive and balanced proposals focusing on the need " to strengthen confidence , to act with unity and work together in a collective response " and with a strong  focus on international cooperation . Africa welcomed the 4  broad vital issues that President Xi Jinping proposed namely : 1 to be resolute in fighting an all out global war against the Covid 19 outbreak and that the international community must move swiftly and also to improve information sharing  , strengthen cooperation on drugs  ,  vaccines etc 

  2 The need for collective response for control and treatment at the international level and the consideration of ia the establishment of regional emergency liaison mechanisms.  3 ) the need for international.organisations  to play active roles ia the WHO and 4 ) the need to enhance international macro  economic policy coordination and ia called on all G20 countries to take collective action cutting tariffs   removing barriers and facilitating unfettered flow of trade. 

  It is significant that the 4 proposals  put forward by President Xi Jinping,  to a large extent cover and overlap  with the proposals which President Ramaphosa  put forward on behalf of Africa . With these synergies that exist between China and Africa , it presents numerous opportunities  for enhanced cooperation between China and Africa on combating the spread of the virus in Africa .  In this regard the role of President  Ramaphosa as the Chair of the AU in 2020 is of significance , as it is known that he attaches great importance to the strategic friendship and relationship between Africa and China.  President Ramaphosa has in fact over the recent past often lauded the comprehensive,   resolute and thorough measures taken by the Chinese leadership and all the resilient Chinese people to stem the spread of the virus in China as well as for  the support that China is in the process of giving to Africa and SA. In this regard the President ia thanked Mr Jack Ma for his support to Africa as well as Tencent / Naspers / Chinese government support to SA on the Covid 19 virus.

  Due ia to the constructive role  and proposals by China   , Africa was , in principle  , satisfied with the outcome of the G20  meeting and felt that the   G20 leaders have recognised Africa ' s needs during the pandemic and agreed that the notion of Africa being at the" back of the line " for medical equipment like ventilators would be to the detriment of humanity .

  The statement by the G20 on 26 March  contained the following fundamental elements  all of which were also raised by President Xi Jinping as well as President Ramaphosa on behalf of Africa ; 

  - protect lives 

  - safeguard people jobs and incomes 

  -restore confidence , preserve financial stability

  revive growth and recover stronger

  - minimize disruption to trade and global supply chains 

  - provide help to all countries in need of assistance 

  - coordinate on public health and financial assistance 

  It was evident that G20 leaders realizing that African countries needed  adequate financial safety nets , that  ia the World  Bank and IMF called on members to immediately suspend debt repayments of poor countries . The G20 joint statement also  further expressed concern about poor countries , and to  help to strengthen capacity building and provide technical assistance to"  at - risk countries ," and to mobilise development and humanitarian assistance. 

  A well know and reputable South African  newspaper published  an article this week titled ; " Africa needs China's aid now more than ever ," and ia reads follows  : " As China continues to prove itself a friend in times of grave need , not only to Africa   but countries around the world , it is developing an unique leadership position in the fight against Covid 19 which may   ultimately , alter global power relations .China is showing the true meaning of ubuntu - I am because you are - and showing itself to be a responsible global leader  not only concerned with the needs of it's own citizens. The world will not forget the assistance which China provided when the stakes were high " 

  The above by and large amply not only  reflects the view of South Africa but also that of the entire continent .

  With the virus raging in Africa now in almost 50 countries on the continent , China , while strengthening it's own prevention of the virus ,  has increasingly shared its experiences with Africa and is lending a timely hand to support Africa to the best of its ability.    China has provided two batches of testing reagents to the AU and sped up to offer medical supplies ia masks and protective suits , to a number of African countries. Chinese experts have held video conferences with 24 African countries and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to exchange anti epidemic experiences and Chinese medical teams have been mobilized to participate in virus combating operations in the countries where they are stationed .

  In fact the Minister of Health of South Africa announced on 1 April that the South African Government has decided to approach China and Cuba for help in the combating of Covid 19 .The Minister added that the focus was mainly on China because of its wide experience in containing the virus and Cuba for its medical expertise. The Minister emphasized that China was going to be " used as an example " for South Africa " in fighting the spread of Covid 19.

  The Minister elaborated that SA has in fact also asked China and Cuba to send doctors to SA soonest . South Africa currently has  1462 confirmed cases  of Covid 19 with 5 deaths with the highest number of cases in the provinces of Gauteng ( 663 )   , Western Cape ( 353) and KZN ( 206 ) . The Eastern Cape to date only have 17 confirmed cases .

  In order to counter criticism against this announcement to request support from China   , by elements in SA   , I  made this statement to the media and on the social media : 

  "   It is  truly sad that at a time when the world desperately needs concerted international / multilateral cooperation , solidarity and compassion to overcome this devastating crisis , that some people prefer to play the counter productive " blame game " spewing distorted and  questionable    facts and in the process regrettably  displaying an ugly prejudice and bias which unfortunately contribute to the  fuelling of a shameful stereo typing of China   and in fact " racial hatred " towards the Chinese people . The Chinese people have suffered significantly over the last few months but received wide praise for the comprehensive , resolute and thorough manner in which they stemmed the  spread of the virus in China . 

  It's against this background that I commend the decision by President Ramaphosa  and his government to request assistance from China , who stands ready to support SA .

  This is a further statement I made to the media and on social media in response to  " Western inspired criticism of China ' s handling of the virus in China : 

  "  China has received wide praise and recognition from ia the WHO and other international organisations  , the Secretary General of the UN  , President Ramaphosa 

    ,  from the AU and individual Heads of State / Government in Africa and elsewhere  globally etc for the comprehensive,  resolute and thorough measures adopted to contain the virus in China. This example was unfortunately not followed by many countries and their was furthermore  a distinct lack of leadership and concerted and effective action to contain the spread of the virus in those early stages . The USA  , the UK   Italy and others are good examples where the initial responses  in dealing with the virus , proved to be woefully inadequate for a number of reasons . 

  As a result political  leaders in these  countries were subjected to scathing criticism from various quarters  for their initial dithering and lack of  coordinated action to contain the virus . In an endeavour to counter this criticism and allegations,  those leaders mainly in the " West " have now decided to unleash a vicious " blame game " campaign gainst China , to conceal and detract from their own   regrettable lack of effective and focused actions and conduct to contain the virus timeously " 

  Africa and China know that solidarity and international cooperation are the most powerful weapons to overcome Covid 19. Africa is full well aware that China will firmly join hands with Africa  and other countries  to fight the pandemic and safeguard global health towards a better and healthier world and to enter a new phase for a shared future for humankind. 

Appendix:

Copyright © 2004, Secretariat of the Chinese Follow-up Committee of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation
Contact us Address: No. 2, Chaoyangmen Nandajie, Chaoyang District, Beijing, 100701 Tel: 86-10-65962810,86-10-65962827