Posts

Vaccine Diplomacy in AfricaGlobal COVID-19 vaccine distributions aim to combat the pandemic. However, not all rollouts are equally fast and smooth and coverage is inconsistent. The COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Africa is indicative of vaccine inequity. Vaccine nationalism and vaccine inequity will only prolong the pandemic in the long run. Vaccine diplomacy in Africa is important to ensure that no continent goes overlooked.

Diplomacy in Global Health

According to Dr. Peter Hotez, a leading expert in global health, vaccine diplomacy employs vaccine delivery and distribution to advance global health by eliminating diseases. It also has the potential to advance international relations and neutralize conflict, among other pragmatic uses. Governments recognize that COVID-19 negatively impacts economic development, national security and foreign policy interests.

Global health is increasingly important in an age of globalization as governments become more connected. Governments use vaccine diplomacy to improve relations with other countries. Hotez recognizes the three elements of global health diplomacy as core diplomacy, multistakeholder diplomacy and informal diplomacy. Core and multistakeholder diplomacy can best describe COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy in Africa.

The Initial Success of COVAX

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) co-leads the COVAX initiative aiming to develop and distribute COVID-19 vaccines equitably across the world. This is an example of multistakeholder vaccine diplomacy in Africa. Since the COVAX rollout began, GAVI has reported on its successes and shortfalls in Africa. Africa’s preparedness has paid off.

GAVI reported that nearly 40 African countries had national vaccination plans in place before rollouts began, smoothing the way for rapid and smooth rollouts. However, a lack of preparedness among some countries and dwindling vaccine supplies create challenges. GAVI emphasizes that as of April 2021, “less than 2% of the 780 million COVID-19 vaccine doses given globally have been administered in Africa.” Ongoing vaccine donations will be necessary to sustain COVAX’s strong start in Africa.

Vaccine Diplomacy in Africa

In addition to initiatives like COVAX, several countries have employed the concept of core diplomacy to donate millions of vaccines more directly. China is a major participant in this type of vaccine diplomacy in Africa. According to Think Global Health, several African countries have received pledges of free doses from multiple donors. In May 2021, in an act of diplomacy, China announced that it was donating COVID-19 vaccines to at least 40 African countries.

Distribution often ties closely to political agendas rather than a country’s actual needs. Of the 72 total beneficiary countries chosen by China, 70 are partners in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, “an ambitious global infrastructure project that aims to increase Chinese influence, develop new investment opportunities and strengthen economic and trade cooperation.”

Prioritizing Africa

In a move toward vaccine equity, on June 3, 2021, the White House announced its plan to donate 80 million vaccine doses by the end of June 2021, most of which is promised to COVAX. While the donation is immensely helpful, of the first 19 million donated doses, Africa will receive the smallest portion of five million doses despite experiencing a 20% weekly surge in COVID-19 cases.

Vaccine diplomacy in Africa is important to ensure the continent does not go overlooked. As cases in Africa surge, the need for vaccine equity grows more urgent. If one continent goes unvaccinated, all continents are unprotected. With more countries in support of vaccine diplomacy, efforts to combat the pandemic will have greater success.

– McKenzie Howell
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Africa
COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa account for only 2% of vaccinations the world administers. Meanwhile, other countries are close to vaccinating the majority of their populations. This is a glaring example of the dangerous vaccine inequity burdening developing countries. The United Nations Security Council recently called for accelerated availability of COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa. A statement that all 15 members endorsed emphasized the need for “equitable access” to quality, affordable COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines. With wealthy nations buying a disproportionately large amount of the world’s vaccine supply, it is imperative that developing African countries receive the proper aid and resources to implement proper vaccination programs across the continent. That is where China comes in.

China’s Efforts

China has thus far set the precedent in the global response towards increasing COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa, pledging to provide vaccines to over 40 African countries. China has described its actions as purely altruistic. To back this up, China has either been donating or selling the vaccines at favorable prices. Foreign Ministry official Wu Peng told reporters that “We believe that it is, of course, necessary to ensure that the Chinese people get vaccinated as soon as possible, but for other countries in need, we also try our best to provide vaccine help.” So far, the Chinese efforts to counter vaccine inequity have been quite successful. China has already committed half a billion doses of vaccines to African countries. By engaging in “vaccine diplomacy,” China has been able to expand its influence in Africa through tactful, yet charitable actions.

However, Wu makes the important distinction that “Aid alone cannot solve Africa’s vaccine issues. We must support local manufacturing of vaccines in Africa, even though this is difficult due to (low) levels of industrialization.” While difficult, initiating the local manufacturing of vaccines will have monumentally positive effects in curbing the disease. Starting in June 2021, Egypt will be able to start locally producing China’s Sinovac vaccine. Sinovac has not only provided Egypt with advanced technical guidance in producing the vaccine, but also the rights to manufacture and pack the vaccine domestically. China hopes to replicate this in other African countries.

US-China Rivalry

Boasting claims of being able to produce at least 2.6 billion doses by the end of 2021, China will likely continue to lead the way in vaccinating a large portion of the world’s population. In light of China’s generous distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, many have criticized the U.S. for hoarding vaccines. In response to this, President Joe Biden has now pledged to donate an additional 20 million vaccine doses. Certainly, the continued proliferation of aid from wealthy nations will help to increase the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa. Developed nations cannot hoard vaccines or vaccine technology and expect the pandemic to end. The pandemic will not end until the current state of vaccine inequity disappears.

– Conor Green
Photo: Flickr

6 members of The African Continental Free Trade Area have a panel discussionThe New Year has brought a host of new possibilities, and in particular, for Africa. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement went into effect on January 1, 2021. The expectations are high for the continent.

AfCFTA is the largest free trade conglomerate in the world; 55 countries signed on to AfCFTA, consisting of 1.3 billion people and a gross domestic product of $3.4 trillion. Moreover, expectations have determined that 30 million Africans will be able to improve their income, leaving poverty behind. The move could remake Africa as a new power for trade, both internally and externally. However, the agreement is contingent on some key workings to reach the full potential of AfCFTA’s reach.

China and AfCFTA

The contingencies are large and focus on infrastructure, policy and eliminating tariff and non-tariff obstacles to improve and enhance continental trade. Some of these contingencies require funding beyond continental borders.

China, the burgeoning world power, is making its presence known in Africa, folding the continent into its monolithic project, The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The initiative would give incentives for Chinese investors to support infrastructure, trade and industrialization in Africa.

The BRI pivots on the ancient “Silk Road,” which were the trade routes that flowed in and out of China to the West and beyond. The Han Dynasty established the road in the year 220 B.C.E. It was over 4,000 miles long, connecting the Middle East to Central Asia and eventually, Europe.

The updated Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road combine to make the BRI. The initiative invests in railways, highways, energy pipelines and benefits from streamlined border crossings. Folding in over a billion African workers and consumers is tantamount to its success. Through the initiative, China and AfCFTA have a great interest in working with each other.

Infrastructure

Africa is receiving funding for infrastructure already. In fact, China is the top investor in the African infrastructure of any foreign country. This is a much-needed economic boost for the continent.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa’s chief for energy and infrastructure, Dr. Robert Lising, placed a price estimate on what would allow AfCFTA work. He pointed to estimates the African Development Bank put forth amounting to $130-$170 billion per year.

He stated that “This is a huge amount of money so China’s involvement is definitely welcome… In addition, we all know that there is available capital and equipment linked to China’s involvement in Africa’s infrastructural development.” He also pointed out that China’s competitive involvement would lower prices, benefitting Africa. Additionally, he mentioned that while Western involvement is welcome as well, Western forces often come with conditions, whereas China does not.

He said that “If you want to reap the full benefits of the AfCFTA, you need regional infrastructure development… If you want to close the gap in infrastructure development in Africa, you need to bring in all the partners including China through the BRI.” He reminded others that Chinese involvement in African infrastructure is not a new thing, happening for the last five decades. Citing the completion of Nairobi to Mombasa rail lines and the Addis Ababa to Djibouti line to support his claim.

A Partnership of Need

A round table discussion that the Center for China & Globalization organized and held in December 2019 further supports Dr. Lising’s thoughts. Isabel Domingos, ambassador from Sao Tome and Principe at the conference lays out a plan for mutual benefit. She stated that “China has needs and Africa also has needs; China has potentialities and Africa also has potentialities. We have the African Continental Free Trade Area that can be one place to promote both sides, and find a place to deepen the cooperation between China and Africa.”

While there remain anxieties over the confluence of Chinese involvement in AfCFTA, the consensus is clear; the involvement of foreign capital in AfCFTA is crucial. China stands to gain from its involvement and has the capital available that the African continent needs.

China and AfCFTA are a strong match. As Africa continues on its current trends of globalization, China can heed the call. The entire world will watch the results as a blueprint for international involvement.

– Christopher Millard
Photo: Flickr

Chinese Investment in Africa
China’s rise to economic prominence is unparalleled in modern history. In just 40 years, China has become the manufacturing center of the world, built an enviable infrastructure system and created a robust middle class by lifting 800 million people out of poverty. The regime has also expanded Chinese investments abroad, funding a wide range of projects in far-flung corners of the globe. China’s international strategy has met with skepticism from the West due to allegations of corrupt business practices and sketchy dealings between often authoritarian states. This article will explain the effects of Chinese investment in Africa specifically, exploring the impact through the perspective of the international community, China itself and the receiving African nations.

The Extent

The value of Chinese investment in Africa since 2005 has passed $2 trillion. Chinese investment has many dimensions but primarily focuses on infrastructure and resource extraction. The regime’s plan to extract and ship resources through Chinese-built infrastructure connects more foreign markets to China as part of an ambitious megaproject called the Belt and Road Initiative. In doing so, China benefits by ensuring its supply of material needed to further economic growth and receiving nations benefit through job creation and economic diversification. Additionally, Chinese entrepreneurs own over 10,000 businesses on the continent.

One can only accomplish a proper understanding of foreign influence in Africa comparatively. Chinese interests in Africa are primarily commercial, but raise alarm bells in the West due to the scale of China’s acquisition of hard assets. Meanwhile, the West has had cultural and political interests in Africa for centuries, interests that continue today through the presence of Western military bases, political boundaries and cultural footprints of language and religion.

The Benefits

The ease and effectiveness of Chinese investment have provided many benefits for African nations. From its perspective, China provides fast access to capital and prompt delivery of services and workers. Additionally, Chinese loans do not need receiving nations to meet the ethical restrictions that organizations like the IMF require. The nature of Chinese investment often produces tangible results. Infrastructure projects increase access to transportation, healthcare, education and telecommunication services for ordinary Africans. Resource extraction diversifies the economy and can immediately sell to China’s booming market, as Chinese trade to Africa generally eclipses $100 billion every year.

Outside of investment, China plays an active role in addressing poverty on the continent. In 2018, the regime approved a $60 billion aid package and currently participates in five U.N. peacekeeping missions in Africa. In general, African nations view China as a valuable ally with no history of colonialism, but also as an avenue for successful economic development.

The Concerns

While the economic benefits of Chinese investment are numerous, allegations about the regime’s business practices and intentions are of justifiable concern. The lack of accountability measures and regulatory mechanisms on the continent have led corrupt actors to hijack many Chinese-funded projects. In many cases, extraction and infrastructure markets are more concerned with connecting resource markets to China than considering the needs of the population. The influx of Chinese entrepreneurs and cheap goods have also decimated domestic industries such as the Nigerian textile market.

Additionally, Chinese investment projects often lack sustainability regulations and native Chinese laborers frequently dominate them. In fact, every million dollars of Chinese investment only creates 1.78 jobs for African citizens. Chinese lending practices have also received criticism for creating trade imbalances and debt for countries unable to pay them back in time. Finally, Chinese intentions are hard to ascertain, and as their economic influence grows, so does their ability to influence Africa’s diplomatic and political landscape.

The Solutions

Despite the shortcomings of Chinese investment in Africa, there are policy and organizational solutions actively addressing these issues. The findings of international organizations such as the U.N. and WHO can influence the state of Chinese business dealings. In particular, the Ease of Doing Business Index and WHO influence provides international awareness and transparency to Chinese investment projects. African nations have also realized the need to implement more effective regulatory mechanisms in order to combat corrupt dealings.

Additionally, nations such as Nigeria and South Africa have accepted deals from the U.S. and E.U. as a way to mediate Chinese diplomatic influence. China has also sought to improve its image, improving procedural transparency and establishing NGOs throughout Africa. The Beijing Gender Health Education Institute has opened a division in Africa, where it seeks to empower LGBTQ individuals by producing documentaries and spreading visual works. Transnational NGOs with Chinese offices such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the “Free Lunch for Children” campaign have started operating in Africa as well.

Despite uncertainty dominating it, Chinese investment in Africa has provided undeniable benefits to ordinary Africans. Ensuring that Chinese actions receive mediation will take the concerted effort of international institutions and accountability mechanisms. With concentrated reforms and an open diplomatic dialogue, Chinese financial support will be instrumental in helping the international community alleviate global poverty.

– Matthew Compan
Photo: Flickr

Roads in Latin America
In 2010, the United Nations declared the Decade of Action for Road Safety, calling upon governments to take the actions necessary to reduce the 1.3 million annual traffic deaths that plague modern society. For Latin America in particular, where 60 percent of roads remain unpaved and the rate of deaths from traffic fatalities stands at twice that of high-income regions, this was and is an incredibly pressing issue. That is why, as the Decade of Action for Road Safety comes to a close in 2020, it is important to reflect on what governments have done to build safer roads in Latin America, and how they can continue to carry the torch in securing the future of the region’s most vulnerable.

Taking Action on the Ground Level

Efforts to improve road safety have traditionally fallen into one of a few categories. Awareness campaigns, such as Salvador, Brazil’s Life Not Traffic program, invest heavily in training drivers on proper road etiquette, as well as lobbying for stricter drunk-driving laws. For Salvador and other Latin American cities, in particular, educating the youth through programs like “child drivers of the future” is also a major priority, as traffic deaths are the leading cause of death for Latin Americans ages 15-29.  So far, the results of these efforts are striking. In just eight years since its initial launch, Life Not Traffic has contributed to a 50 percent drop in traffic fatalities in Salvador.

Structural solutions, on the other hand, focus on pinpointing areas of improvement in regard to material conditions on the road, as well as looking at safer and more efficient ways to control the flow of traffic. The construction of roundabouts to replace traditional four-way intersections, for instance, has led to a 50-70 percent drop in traffic fatalities and a 30-50 percent drop in traffic injuries. Meanwhile, increased investment into speed and red-light cameras is also yielding promising results.

Structural solutions can also bring economic benefits, such as in the case of Tocantins, Brazil, where times of rain have historically inhibited the region’s road network, depriving Tocantins’ residents of access to Brazil’s urban population centers. To combat this issue, the World Bank has funded the construction of more than 700 concrete bridges in cooperation with local authorities, which has both increased employment and the average wage of the region’s agricultural workers. Safer, more reliable roads have also meant a rise in the percentage of children attending school in Tocantins, which has had the added effect of opening up more work opportunities for Tocantins’ female population.

Obstacles to Improvement

The World Bank’s work in Tocantins is a particularly salient example in this case, as it highlights the traditional obstacles to improving Latin America’s road infrastructure, as well as the steps necessary to overcome them. For one, there is the problem of geography. Where conditions in European and North American nations are, for the most part, agreeable to road building, tall mountains, thick jungles, expansive deserts and urban centers hamper Latin America. These, in combination with the region’s low population density, have made road-construction very costly.

However, while geographic conditions certainly make the task of building better roads more difficult, the real crux of the issue lies in the lack of funding that Latin American governments are able to devote to infrastructure. Estimates from the Inter-American Developmental Bank indicate that the region faces an annual infrastructure-spending shortfall of around $100-150 billion, due to regional governments’ issues with fiscal deficits and mounting public debts. As a consequence, programs aimed at both improving and expanding the region’s road networks frequently go underfunded, leading to the need for foreign aid and investment.

Foreign Aid Successes

Indeed, recent years in Latin American have seen an increasing number of successes in road improvements due to foreign aid, though economists estimate that still more aid is necessary before Latin America will be able to bring its infrastructure on par with the rest of the world. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, for instance, has provided $26.8 billion in infrastructure-related loans to Latin America since 2005, including financing a major highway in Bolivia that should bring significant economic benefits to the region after its completion in 2021. The United States, for its part, has also recently launched a new initiative to encourage more private U.S. financial investment into Latin America’s roads and other infrastructure.

In addition to building new roads, many new organizations have also taken root in the region with an eye on other means of improving road safety. The Latin NCAP is one such organization, launched under the umbrella of the U.N.’s Decade of Action for Road Safety, which has published over 100 safety assessments for new vehicles since 2010, helping to keep Latin America’s drivers safe before they even step in the car.

While much work remains when it comes to building safer roads in Latin America, it is undeniable that foreign aid has led to major improvements for the region’s inhabitants.

– James Roark
Photo: Pxfuel