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A scientific staff member works in a secure laboratory, researching the coronavirus, at the Pasteur Institute in Dakar on February 3, 2020. (Photo:Seyllou / AFP / Getty images)

A scientific staff member works in a secure laboratory, researching the coronavirus, at the Pasteur Institute in Dakar on February 3, 2020. (Photo:Seyllou / AFP / Getty images)

Africa Is Relying on its Own Forces in Fight Against Covid-19

The African Union must, more than ever, reinforce the scientific cooperation among its member states in order to insure our common health sovereignty.

Aminata Touré

It is certainly too soon to draw some lessons on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, since it continues to dramatically affect significant segments of the world population and still remains a puzzle—an enigma—for the world scientific community.

Still, based on certain observations, we can make some preliminary remarks for the African continent.

The phenomenon of globalization, described by its advocates as cast-in stone, a sui-generis universal construct, is quickly turning into a self-encapsulation of nations states left to their own devices. Unseen in the recent history of humanity, this house of cards is on the verge of collapsing on a global scale.

The quasi-universal closing of borders, the massive repatriation of expatriates to their countries of origin, and the stoppage of nearly all international airline transportation around the globe today severely undermines the myth of a unified global village. That myth, brought by the dynamics of globalization and the inevitable centralizing mechanisms of world production and development, led to seemingly unstoppable trends of geo-spatial markets and trade mobilities.

But the sad reality is that Covid-19 has revealed a dark side of this dialectic of globalization. Beyond the celebrated allure of robustness, integration, and interdependency of its constituent part, we discover that globalization is genuinely devoid of those essential virtues of solidarity and subsidiarity. 

For more than a month, African countries have been obliged to remain confined withing their own borders.  They have had to stoutly explore their own sustainable responses to this global sanitary crisis, a crisis unforeseen just three months ago.

African governments at different levels mobilized their resources and expertise, elaborate innovative strategies, and carry out bold and novel policies to contain the spread of the virus.  In this fashion they have eviscerated the afro-pessimist naysayers, who predicted an upcoming African cataclysm. 

The earlier apocalyptic forecast predicted for Africans during the first stages of the  AIDS pandemic did not gain traction with the reality of health in the continent. A swift and efficiently well-coordinated partnership between African governments and the international community cogently prioritized the fight against AIDS/HIV, despite daunting numerous development challenges which were confronted on a daily basis.

The same efforts allow African governments to handle major health crises efficiently. 

They significantly curtail maternal and child mortality rates, even though other pressing sanitary challenges remain to be dealt with.

It is important to acknowledge that when governments embark in solving pressing and major predicaments, successful management requires fostering a patriotic stance.  Only in this way can one bring about successful development.

An emphasis on patriotism nurtures and reinforces a climate of collective citizenship, a trust and approval of the political initiatives set in motion by the nations’ respective governments: this fosters social and political stability.

This is the case of African countries which underwent through long-standing periods of sustainable economic evolution. Inclusive growth and equity in the continent began with concepts of nationhood.

International cooperation—no matter how valuable and it is—can only assist African governments in their policy initiatives to carry out their development prospects.

Within the current context, one of the first victims of the Covid-19, is undoubtedly multilateralism. The multiple mechanisms and institutional agencies operating in Africa, so far have been basically inept in swiftly handling this major health  crisis.

International cooperation has been conspicuously missing in action, or slow to react—despite the advocacy and commitment of the U.N. General Secretary.

More than ever, Africa is conscious that it can only rely on its own forces to protect itself from the devastating effects of the Covid-19.

For instance, in Senegal, at the Dakar Fann Hospital—within a department in charge of handling the severe Covid-19 cases—there are only local physicians, nurses, medical assistants and health care providers. These, and only these, exclusively Senegalese citizens, are fighting on a daily basis against this pandemic.

Here are the current facts: As of April 14, Senegal, has accounted for 299 confirmed cases of Covid-19. Of these, so far, 183 have been cured and two people have died.

Everywhere in the continent, governments are on the task, fighting to work out endogenous solutions with their own means to protect their populations.

Africa is searching for solutions, armed with its past proven resilience in the face of adversity, and its scientific proficiency in the fight against pandemics.

About scientific proficiency:  25 years ago, in 1985, Professor Souleymane Mboup, in his modest laboratory of the Aristide le Dantec Hospital, discovered the HIV 2. HIV 2 is a variant of the HIV 1, a more widely known virus known and studied by his European and American colleagues.

Covid 19 reminds us of an African proverb: “When your house is on fire, you should at first rely on your neighbors to extinguish the fire and then, rebuild your home.”

The African Union must, more than ever, reinforce the scientific cooperation among its member states in order to insure our common health sovereignty.

This is urgent, today: To put in place a genuine scientific partnership between our African universities so that we can  identify anticipatory and preventive therapeutic and pharmaceutical solutions to human suffering. Only in this way can we be ready to bring quick concerted efforts to deal with unexpected upcoming sanitary crises.

We must actively encourage the scientific African diaspora to build solid cooperation.  We must exchange network systems with our counterparts from the continent in order to erect African centers of Research and Laboratory Excellence. Only these will be capable of helping uplift widely recognized African initiatives on the cutting edge of research and development for medicinal and vaccine cures.

This is the true path to our health sovereignty.

From now on, the urgent mission of the African Union and its sub regional commissions must be to unify the fight of Africa against the Covid 19. We must blend and systematize, in concrete form, our intellect and know-how. In this way we can mutualize our resources and galvanize the exceptional resiliency of our people.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Aminata Touré

Dr. Aminata Touré is the former Justice Minister and former Prime Minister of Senegal. She currently serves as President of the Economic Social and Environmental Council of Senegal.

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