In line with recommendations to halt the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Africa, the Peace and Security Council (PSC) has suspended its meetings at the African Union (AU) headquarters until further notice. It has also postponed the induction of 10 new members elected at the 32nd AU Summit last February and due to assume membership on 1 April 2020. A meeting meant to take stock of the AU Master Roadmap on Silencing the Guns was also postponed.
This is in line with Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s (Africa CDC) recommendations to postpone most if not all in-person meetings and rather opt for virtual (audio or video) conferences. The Africa CDC issued those directives to the PSC on 11 March 2020.
The AU Commission, where the Africa CDC is currently based, also took measures to protect its staff in line with the Africa CDC’s advice to reduce social contact to minimise contamination. Measures decided on 17 March 2020 included working from home for non-essential staff and a system of rotational office hours for the rest. A meeting between the current chair of the AU, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, and AU commissioners to discuss the organisation’s 2020 programme of work was also postponed.
The PSC will, however, meet – probably using video conferencing – in cases of emergency. This means that the PSC must adapt its working methods to this new reality, like many other organisations globally. This applies to the AU as whole but will raise questions for the PSC in particular in terms of obtaining a quorum, reaching consensus to make decisions, and taking coordinated action in response to Africa’s pressing peace and security challenges.
Africa has seen a sharp rise in the number of cases that has tested positive for COVID-19 since early March. On Friday 20 March 1 700 people on the continent had tested positive for the virus. Many African governments are taking measures to contain its spread, ranging from semi or total restrictions on internal movement to international travel restrictions and bans from and to certain countries, on top of the increasing number of hygiene precautions people are urged to take on a daily basis.
The Africa CDC, with the World Health Organization (WHO), is supporting African countries individually while coordinating the response at continental level through, for instance, streamlining the distribution of medical equipment. The Africa CDC is providing daily updates on the spread of the pandemic through Africa and collating COVID-19 hotline numbers in African countries.
Spontaneous initiatives have also emerged, such as donations of medical supplies by the Jack Ma Foundation to assist African countries (and others). The material for each African country (20 000 test kits, 100 000 masks and 1 000 medical use protective suits and face shields) was sent to Ethiopia on 22 March. The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has agreed to use the Ethiopian Airlines cargo network to distribute this to other African countries. AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat thanked the Jack Ma Foundation for this donation to 43 countries and said the Africa CDC had been training teams in these countries in laboratory diagnostics since February.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 is further exposing gaps in the governance of several African countries, notably when it comes to the provision of basic services such as healthcare, water and sanitation, and their potential to make this pandemic more difficult to stem than it could have been with proper systems in place.
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