Africa needs to be self-reliant in the face of the latest vaccine and Covid-19 politics, speakers at the Kusi Ideas Festival said Friday.
Speaking during the opening ceremony of the third Kusi Ideas Festival in Accra, Ghana, Nation Media Group Chairman Wilfred Kiboro challenged the continent to build on its own ideas to develop its own capacity to deal with the pandemic.
“We need to get out of the slumber. We have amazing human resource, even with the limited resources. Reflecting on what the last two years has taught us, I see we have a continent that is resilient and can actually turn around its fortunes through innovation, and building on its own capacities,” Dr Kiboro said.
The continent is now facing a pariah status from Western countries over the latest coronavirus variant – Omicron, even as it battles low vaccine uptake, stifled by poor distribution, and access.
“We are now meeting in Accra to look at what the two years have taught us. Then, we were told that Africa was going to be wiped out by Covid-19. And here we are, resilient that any other continent. We have survived better than the naysayers,” he said. “We have risen to the occasion. At the start of the pandemic, only three countries could test for Covid. Now, we have made progress -- all countries can do it.”
In the last two years, the continent has also witnessed a boom in ideas and innovation as countries tried to work around the fears of the pandemic to keep their economies running and afloat.
Dr Kiboro said the continent's innovativeness kept most of the countries open, as young people turned the fear of the pandemic into a positive and found innovative means to help in the public health campaigns run.
“We witnessed a boom in innovation. Ghana and Rwanda were collecting samples with drones. Uganda had its biggest coffee sales. Kenya’s Revitalise firm, based in Kilifi, became the continent’s largest producer of syringes. In 2020, they did over 70 million syringes. We saw innovation by students in Africa -- from ventilators to hospital beds and such. That is the spirit of Kusi ideas,” Dr Kiboro said.
The continent has also been challenged to push its own ideas and stories, which will help eliminate stereotypes pushed by Western media.
“The strategic importance of Africa telling its own stories is important. The stereotype characterisation of the continent has been here for years and we now need to change that, change what people say about Africa and tell our own stories. We need to influence the direction of the narrative," Dr Kiboro said.
This year’s festival, in its third edition, will be seeking to draw lesson from the last two Kusi festivals held in Rwanda's capital Kigali in 2019, and Kenyan city Kisumu in 2020.
“We need to purpose to leave this festival with a commitment to do better. For the next two days, we shall have panellists discuss Africa’s infrastructure and the opportunities to improve it. We shall also see discussions touching on Intra African trade, politics of Covid vaccines, vaccination apathy, technology, innovation. All this will be done to enable Africa create African wins in the next century,” Dr Kiboro said.
“The return of the African diaspora is also an important area of discussion this year, given the huge intellectual and financial capital they bring, which Africa needs to tap. Finally, we shall also talk about the open borders, and why it is important for the continent to grow. Let us invent the Africa we want tomorrow. We need to see our continent take its place in the international community.”
Speaking at the festival, Wamkele Mene, Secretary General of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat, castigated Western countries for turning the continent's biggest public health crisis into a political chess game in the last two weeks.
Mr Mene termed the current vaccine politics as modern-day colonialism, and apartheid.
“What we are seeing around the world is exactly what the apartheid regime did. These restrictions are imposed because we are Africans. This points now that we must accelerate our ability to manufacture and produce vaccines, generic drugs, to improve public health and position ourselves for industrial development capacity and ensure that we rely less on others to improve our public health.”
“We are confronting a public health nightmare that has recently become a political crisis in the last 10 days. This pandemic has caused the Africa burden, especially on the economies, inducing a recession. The expected growth rate and recovery in the continent will be the slowest among world regions given the small rooms Africa has on fiscal and monetary space.”
Mr Mene challenged African countries to diversify their markets post Covid-19, adding that the Kusi IdeasFestival offers a better chance to see how the continent transforms.
“When global supply chains are interrupted, then the continent suffers immensely. And the pandemic has shown that with our dependence on Asia, mostly China and India, then the continent is at a weak position. We see most of the food, pharmaceutical imports, and in 2019-20 period, we saw the continent struggle, as it sought to manage the pandemic.”
Africa has now been challenged to accelerate industrial development through regional value chain.
“Together with MasterCard Foundation, we have developed a private sector strategy focusing on agro-processing, auto motive sector, pharmaceutical, and transport and logistic sectors, based on potential of import substitution and existing value chains. These value chains have the potential to contribute $11 billion in production and $5 billion in trade creating almost a million jobs. This strategy will help in improving investments in the continent, and guide the private sector where to invest,” Mr Mene said.
AfCFTA also said that the continent must use the new strategy tool to address the imbalance seen in the intellectual property rights around the production of the Covid-19 vaccination.
“As it is, only 7 per cent of African countries are fully vaccinated yet most Western countries procured over five times of the vaccination they required, with most looking at booster shots. This now means that Africa must use this as lesson to manufacture vaccines, push its own agenda, and avoid this vaccine politics that leave the continent at disadvantage,” he said.