From South Africa to Morocco the virus has presented challenges compounding the legacy of imperialism
In the Republic of South Africa, a new variant of the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) virus, (501.V2), has appeared largely impacting people in the coastal areas of KwaZulu Natal along with the Western and Eastern Cape.
This country of 60 million has been the hardest hit by the pandemic among the 55 member-states of the continental African Union (AU).
During late December, the government announced the grim statistics revealing that there had been over one million diagnosed cases of the virus. Within this number more than 28,000 people have succumbed to the disease while approximately 80% of those infected are categorized as fully recovered.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, early-on in the pandemic, imposed strict measures in the attempt to mitigate the spread of the highly infectious disease. Curfews were enacted while many sectors of the economy came to a screeching halt.
Nonetheless, as in the leading industrialized states of Western Europe and the United States, the pressures of the capitalist system compelled municipalities, provincial and national governments to reopen the production and service sectors of the economy prior to the introduction of a vaccine designed to suppress the spread of the pandemic. In the western industrialized states, there was the advent of second and third waves of infection which sickened and killed hundreds of thousands placing unprecedented burdens on healthcare systems.
South Africa, due to the rise in infections, has reintroduced restrictive policies banning the sale of alcohol and closing drinking establishments in the most highly affected areas of the country. Minister of Health, Zweli Mkize, said that KwaZulu Natal has the highest number of infections among all nine provinces. The course of events prompted the reinstitution of level three restrictions which had earlier been lifted due to both a temporary improvement in the infection rates as well as the need to reverse the economic decline which further aggravated the already existing high levels of unemployment and financial instability.
According to a report published in Eyewitness News, a South African based online publication, says of the current situation that: “During an address by the National Coronavirus Command Council on Tuesday (December 29), Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma explained how restaurants and casinos may continue to operate even with the sale of alcohol banned after President Ramaphosa moved the country back to alert level 3. The minister added that beaches in all hotspots were to remain closed, meaning that only Northern Cape beaches were allowed to be open.” (https://ewn.co.za/video/12270/alcohol–beaches-and-restaurants–dlamini-zuma-outlines-level-3-rules)
South Africa stands out in comparison to the other 15 member-states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) where the rate of infections has been relatively low. In neighboring Zimbabwe, the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently sounded the alarm when an uptick of infections was reported. Overall, in Zimbabwe, there have been 354 deaths out of 13,000 reported cases of the virus.
The SADC region has emphasized the need for greater trade volumes among the member-states. This imperative is in line with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which has become operationalize in the recent months. Efforts are ongoing to integrate financial transaction systems to facilitate cooperation. (https://www.sadc.int/news-events/news/sadc-records-notable-progress-financial-markets-and-regional-integration/)
Consequently, there is serious attention paid to transport guidelines regulating the protocols for truck drivers delivering goods across the existing national boundaries. In a recent article published on the SADC website which is designed to reflect the views of drivers in the region, it noted: “Most truck drivers said COVID-19 should be a wakeup call to officials in each country to employ proper measures of dealing with pandemics in future without compromising trade between countries, and come up with comprehensive policies that would ensure speedy service delivery at the border posts. They were of the view that even though comprehensive guidelines and protocols have already been developed by international organizations such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), East African Community (EAC) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), a World Health Organization-co-ordinated and harmonized approach is required to tackle the pandemic.” (https://www.sadc.int/news-events/news/truck-drivers-hail-guidelines-movement-goods-curb-covid-19-sadc-eac-comesa-region/)
Of course, the export-driven economies inherited from colonialism in the SADC region is the underlying cause of the present crisis fueled by the pandemic. All states in the sub-continent need greater resources for healthcare, medical research and government-involved interventions to provide primary medical treatment including testing for COVID-19 and other serious diseases.
Morocco and the Maghreb Responds to COVID-19 Pandemic
The Kingdom of Morocco has been severely impacted by the virus where there are 423,000 confirmed cases and 7,000 deaths (as of December 24) resulting from the disease. During the last week of December, the government declared overnight curfews in the major cities of Casablanca, Marrakesh, Agadir and Tangier.
The country is reporting 2,000 confirmed cases per day in the recent period. 91% of people infected are recovering while the mortality rate is reported to be 1.7%.
With the discovery and application of several coronavirus vaccines around the world, the question for Africa is, how can the continent access and distribute these vital medicines among its 1.3 billion people. Morocco announced in late December that it has purchased millions of doses of vaccines from the United Kingdom (UK) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC)).
An Associated Press report noted on this large-scale acquisition: “Morocco announced it has acquired 65 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from China’s Sinopharm and Britain’s AstraZeneca, as the north African kingdom prepares to launch a COVID-19 vaccination program that aims to immunize 80 percent of the country’s adult population. Health Minister Khalid Ait Taleb announced the figure at a Cabinet meeting Thursday (December 24). The government didn’t indicate whether the vaccines were purchased or provided by Covax, the global project to provide vaccines to developing countries, or a combination of both. His ministry said Friday that Morocco has not yet received the vaccines.” (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/morocco-acquires-65-million-covid-19-vaccine-doses-from-china-uk)
In Tunisia and Algeria, the pandemic has reached people within the highest echelons of society. Tunisian Prime Minister Hicham Mechichi declared in mid-December that he was cancelling a delegation to Italy after Minister of Finance Ali Kooli had tested positive for COVID-19. More than 4,000 people have died from the pandemic inside the country.
The Tunisian Ministry of Health on December 24 said that due to the new variant the government was placing restrictions on those who seek to travel there. Anyone coming to Tunisia must test negative prior to arrival and then agree to quarantine for 14 days in a hotel or a home.
A statement issued by the health ministry emphasized: “All travelers coming to Tunisia must present a negative PCR test for the coronavirus within 72 hours before the trip…. with the possibility of conducting a second lab test for coronavirus on the seventh day of quarantine to ensure that the person is free of the disease, thus reducing the compulsory quarantine to a week.” (http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-12/25/c_139616811.htm)
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune returned from receiving medical treatment in Germany after contracting COVID-19 in October. The president addressed a television audience from a German convalescing center on December 15, two weeks prior to his return where he appeared to have lost weight. He noted in the address that he was on the road to recovery.
After returning to Algeria on December 29, Tebboune spoke over national television where he seemed in good health. The president discussed how difficult it was being away from Algeria and wished the people a happy new year. Algeria has reported nearly 99,000 cases of the virus and 2,745 deaths.
The North Africa region over the last decade has been a center for political upheaval beginning with the uprising in Tunisia and Egypt during 2010-2011. Later in 2011, the U.S. and NATO-engineered counter-revolution in Libya which deposed and assassinated Col. Muammar Gaddafi led to the destruction of the most prosperous state in Africa which maintained anti-imperialist and socialist-oriented policies. COVID-19 will only worsen the existing crisis stemming from the failures of the so-called “Arab Spring” and the systematic eradication of the Jamahiriya system in Libya. Neighboring states such as Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Egypt, among others, cannot claim that the social conditions of the working people, farmers and youth have improved since the advent of greater U.S.-NATO penetration of the military and governance structures in North and West Africa.
World Capitalist System Hampers Capacity of AU to Address COVID-19 and Other Public Health Concerns
Even though the U.S. is the largest economy internationally, the mismanagement of the pandemic has resulted in a catastrophic situation for tens of millions of people. The failure of the administration of President Donald J. Trump to effectively and rapidly address the pandemic and to enact a uniform federal response, in part, led to his electoral defeat on November 3.
Considering the dominant role of Wall Street, the Pentagon and the White House in global affairs, it is not surprising that the world economy is sinking deeper in financial malaise. Africa which still maintains a dependent position within the world economic system is facing a difficult period in the immediate future. The AU member-states must view the AfCFTA initiative as a matter of urgency.
The continent will be forced to rely on its own resources as it relates to economic recovery through further structural integration in the financial, trade and security spheres. Moreover, the AU has to move independently in seeking the vaccine and other effective treatments for COVID-19.
However, the existing pandemic, which is the focus of the globe, is not the only healthcare concern in Africa. A resurgence in polio cases in several states in recent months after the announced defeat of this disease in August by the World Health Organization (WHO), is illustrative of the need to maintain vigilance in the public health arena.
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Tuesday December 29, 2020