The relentless push to vaccinate the continent won't help Africans
Today African leaders are arriving in Brussels for a summit to discuss everything from vaccines to counter-terrorism efforts with EU leaders. As the FT reports, Charles Michel, president of the European Council, wants a “new alliance between Africa and Europe” while French president Emmanuel Macron announced, with Rooseveltian flourish, that the bloc was seeking a “New Deal with Africa”.
It is a highly ambitious plan, not least because relations between the two continents have soured during the pandemic for a whole host of reasons. As the FT notes, there is resentment among African leaders about the discriminatory travel bans against certain African countries late last year as well as helping to fuel to “vaccine apartheid” by hoarding Covid vaccines.
But this is where the FT is incorrect. In fact, Africa has had far more success than Europe in its handling of the Covid pandemic, and vaccines have not played a central part in that. Only 11% of the continent is vaccinated, and yet it has fared much better in terms of deaths, hospitalisations and case numbers than Europe. So why is there such a big push for delivering vaccines to Africa?
In fact, whenever Africa has adopted European-style practices during the pandemic, things have turned out much worse. Thanks to night curfews, border closures and heavy restrictions, large swathes of the African continent have suffered immensely, with hundreds of thousands slipping below the poverty line. Consequently, the continent is now suffering from 10-year high food prices, the effects of which have been especially punishing in African countries that have pursued more stringent lockdown measures. According to a new WSJ report, in Uganda, for instance, “trucks have been backed up for weeks along [the country’s] border with Kenya since new COVID-19 rules came into force at the beginning of the year”.
This is why the western narrative, promoted by the likes of the FT, Bill Gates and the EU, that Africa needs vaccines to overcome the pandemic is so misguided. Africa does not face the same problems as the West. Different continents — and countries — require different policies: a vaccine may work for countries with elderly populations, but it is not needed in Africa, has a much younger population.
It is therefore absolutely misleading to suggest that increasing vaccination of Africans is what will serve as a panacea to her increasing economic challenges. Indeed, Africa is dealing with a number of problems, ranging from a spate of coups across the continent to soaring food prices. But the idea that vaccines will deliver us from all these dangers is completely non-sensical and harmful. Such narratives are harmful to the continent, and I hope that African leaders will say as much to EU leaders today.