Africa’s security conundrum, lessons from covid19 pandemic. While presenting a paper on Africa’s need for strategic security to the 32nd Ordinary Summit of African Union Heads of State in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, President Yoweri Museveni warned thus; “Unless Africa integrates economically and politically, it stands the risk of being overrun by external forces as it happened at colonialism”.
He warned that for Africa’s future to be guaranteed, the continent must leverage its big population through unity. The day was Monday 11th February 2019 and ten months later on December 31st 2019, Chinese doctors reveal an outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 aka covid19 in Wuhan China.
This global coronavirus outbreak exposed the doomsday nightmare scenario Africa faces in case of a military confrontation with Europe, America and China. The continent was expected to be the worst hit by the covid19 pandemic due to the fragile health systems, high burden of respiratory and diabetic diseases, densely packed but also disorganized urban centres.
These factors made the population vulnerable, the outbreak could spread like wildfire hence increasing the level of its lethality. In fact, according to Imperial College of London modelling, Africa was expected to lose 300,000 people at best or 3,000,000 at worst by end of 2020. Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organization warned Africa then to “wake up” to the COVID-19 threat and prepare for a worst-case scenario.
Somehow Africa has defied all these nightmarish predictions and made great efforts to contain the pandemic. Lives have been saved thanks to the hard-working and dedicated healthcare workers and the combined efforts of communities and political leaders. However, the continent is not yet out of the woods, the pandemic is still with us and Africa continues to lag behind in vaccine accessibility.
At the start of the pandemic though, because covid19 had no known cure and less information was available to scientists and politicians, all countries went into a lockdown as the best preventive measure. This meant cutting off much of the physical interaction among the international community. African countries that largely import everything became stranded and suffered shortages, patients who received specialized medical treatment abroad died or their ailments became worse and chronic.
At the height of the pandemic, Africa was left on her own when sharing much needed medical supplies, she is still on her own now during the vaccine accessibility. What has Africa learned from this pandemic? What can she leverage going forward in order to protect her citizens from being overrun by the next global health pandemic that might be worse or a military invasion over global dwindling resources?
Political federation; accessing covid19 vaccines has set the stage for the need to federate already. There are four ways in which Africa accesses these vaccines; either through Covax facility, a WHO initiative, the second option is that each country deposits money at African Union and Africa buys as a single client, thirdly, each country may buy directly from the manufacturer or their retailing systems, and lastly from donations. Lone purchases have largely failed because manufacturers sell in bulk and retailers are expensive, hence pool-buying.
Despite the fact that Africa has 17% of the world’s population and accounts for 30% of the global healthcare burden, the continent lags behind the inability to manufacture and distribute its own vaccines and drugs. Africa also has the least expenditure on healthcare globally at 3%. This is because of the endemic poverty caused by poor leadership, foreign interference, colonial states that have struggled to unite inhabitants leading to civil wars and vulnerability to external aggression. Therefore, African leaders must reflect on the fact that our institutional capacity to handle complex global challenges will depend on our ability to unite economically and militarily.
Collaboration; research and development in healthcare is very expensive, hence requires pooling resources to succeed. Currently, Africa manufactures only 1% of its vaccine needs because a handful of under-resourced private companies are in production. Improving the situation requires substantial investments but many African countries don’t have the money to inject into the sector.
The solution is to amalgamate resources and set up research centres for vaccines under regional bodies or African Union. As we have seen, most of the covid19 vaccines available now are being manufactured by partnerships due to costs involved eg Oxford University and AstraZeneca have Covishield, the Pfizer vaccine by the American pharma giant Pfizer and German company BioNTech.
Here in Uganda, it would have been better if Jena Herbals Uganda Ltd of covidex, Gulu University of covilyce 1 and Kazire Health Products of vidicine had combined their efforts with government support to figure out a cure or vaccine for covid19. Spreading resources too thin undermines the quality of research outcomes.
Strategic Defense Initiative; Our healthcare vulnerabilities mirror those in the military, modern weapons that Africa needs to protect herself are very expensive both at research and purchase levels. An Apache helicopter costs $75m, Abram tank $10m and an F-15EX fighter jet about $87.7m. We have not counted the training and munitions plus maintenance. Research costs in these technologies are very expensive, only governments can afford them.
But even if Africa could afford the purchases, she will be buying from nations that are potential enemies. Which foe is mad enough to furnish the opponent with state of art weaponry? This explains vaccine hesitancy in Africa, people don’t trust the source due to past crimes against them.
The only way Africa can circumvent this vulnerability is to set up some kind of Africa Strategic Defense Mechanism. Otherwise right now no country on the continent can deal with an attack by strategic weapons like nuclear missiles, Submarine Launched ballistic missiles even detect the presence of stealth bombers in the skies.
Interstate, Intrastate and extra state security; a few days ago, United States, Britain and Australia launched what is termed as “The Aukus Pact” in which Australia will build nuclear-powered submarines. Of course, the whole agreement is aimed at stemming China’s raise in what is becoming the world’s geopolitical and economic centre of gravity.
Africa is growing fast, soon it will attain that very geopolitical and economic gravitational pull, is there any single country on the continent that can balance this force? Unfortunately not, does this pose a danger to Africans? Of course yes if the rest of the world needs her for survival.
Internal organisational weaknesses coupled with ideological bankruptcy in many African states have undermined her security and economic development. States like Mali, Mozambique and the Central African Republic are relying on foreign mercenaries from out of Africa to fight internal rebellions. The failure by these states to build capable armies and the reluctance by other African sister countries to intervene risk the entire continent’s security by providing early military bases to potential enemies.
Uganda’s capacity to defend herself internally gave her leeway to intervene in Liberia, later Rwanda, South Sudan and now Somalia. These intervention relationships help Africa build economic and military synergies that can be leveraged for prosperity While Africa has been able to weather the covid19 pandemic storm with a small fraction of the nightmarish fatalities predicted by “experts” for the last two years that have left Scientists marvelled, can the current African military preparedness replicate the same resilience in case of an attack? I honestly don’t think so.
By Magezi Kirinjju