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historic vaccine rolloutThe African Union (AU) has announced a deal that will send up to 400 million vaccines to 55 member states. The vaccines will go across the African continent in monthly shipments in order to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

On August 5, 2021, Cyril Ramaphosa, the President of the Republic of South Africa made this historic vaccine rollout public. He reported that the AU had purchased 220 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine in March. A possible 180 million additional vaccines can later be ordered.

How was the deal made?

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the African Union joined forces with the World Bank and other organizations to support The African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team. The team aims to provide rapid access to doses of the vaccine for the people of Africa. The team comprises ten members, including political leaders, health ministers, businessmen and philanthropists from all across Africa.

The World Bank will continue to support the AU in this historic vaccine rollout, supplying resources that will allow individual nations to purchase and distribute the vaccine. Additional assistance will come from the United Nations. UNICEF will assist with delivery and distribution management across the African continent.

Why Johnson & Johnson?

Each of the 400 million doses included in the deal will come from Johnson & Johnson.

The calculus behind this decision was thorough: Since the vaccine comes in a single dose, it is easier and cheaper to produce and administer. Moreover, the vaccine’s relatively long shelf life will ease logistical concerns. A recent study from South Africa reported high efficacy for the single-shot J&J vaccine, with up to 96.2 percent protection against death. The study also reported high protection against both the Delta and Beta variants of COVID-19 in Africa.

The most significant piece of the vaccine deal will take place right at home—part of the vaccine manufacturing process will occur in South Africa. Centralized at the Aspen Pharmacare facility in Gqeberha, South Africa, this insourcing of production will provide new jobs that will, in part, assist with post-pandemic economic recovery.

Where Africa Stands

As a continent, Africa lags behind in vaccination rates, which has placed economic stress on many nations. Vaccination rates also exemplify pandemic inequities that permeate the globe. As of July 23, 2021, only 2.2 percent of the African population has received a dose of any vaccine. In North America, more than half the population has received at least one shot.

These 400 million doses are enough to immunize more than one-third of the African population. At the same time, more work will need to take place in order for the continent to reach its 60% goal as it continues to adapt to and fight against the pandemic.

This new deal to bring in and produce vaccines provides hope that cases and deaths related to COVID-19 in Africa can decrease. It also helps cement the hope that even some of the most impoverished areas in Africa can recover from the pandemic.

Sam Dils
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Foodborne Illnesses in Africa
With approximately 41% of the African population experiencing poverty, access to food is a persistent struggle. Poor food quality often accompanies food scarcity and both can lead to foodborne illnesses. According to NPR, Africa has the highest per-capita rate of foodborne illnesses in the world. Here are five facts about foodborne illnesses in Africa.

5 Facts About Foodborne Illnesses in Africa

  1. Children are the most affected by foodborne illnesses. Children, especially under the age of five, are at an increased risk of contracting a foodborne illness.  Since their immune systems are not fully developed yet, it is also more difficult for children to fight off illnesses, particularly if they do not have access to high-quality health services.
  2. Lack of refrigeration is an underlying cause of foodborne illness. In rural villages in the Eastern Cape of Africa, many families do not have access to a refrigerator or electricity. As a result, they have to buy food daily to ensure that it does not perish. This becomes expensive, however, and is not sustainable for a low-income family. Therefore, many of these families resort to keeping food that would otherwise require refrigeration out in the open. Bacteria on food grows fastest in temperatures ranging from 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, doubling about every 20 minutes. Given that average temperatures in Africa fall within that range, Africans who do not have the means to buy a refrigerator are more prone to developing foodborne illnesses.
  3. The transportation of food in Africa is also a significant factor. A majority of Africans get their food through informal markets. The food that arrives at these markets typically originates from smallholder farms, but the safety standards during transportation are not always strictly enforced. Food contamination can happen during food production, delivery and consumption. In Africa, where food often travels long distances in hot climates without adequate packaging, contamination is more likely.
  4. Many African governments do not possess the resources to regulate food safety risks. Since Africa suffers from hunger and malnutrition, governments place an emphasis on delivering as much food as possible to those lacking it. This sometimes leads to a greater focus on quantity than quality. During hunger crises, although governments deliver food in a widespread manner, it can cause more harm if the food is contaminated. Without the resources necessary to regulate food safety, many African governments rely on international organizations that provide policy guidance and training.
  5. Africa’s food system is becoming more industrialized. While diets in Africa used to be rich in grains, many diets now primarily contain vegetables, meat and dairy products. These foods are more likely to require refrigeration, increasing the likelihood of contamination. Additionally, as more diverse diets are incorporated, there is the threat of new illnesses emerging. Underfunded clinics often lack the knowledge and resources to adequately diagnose foodborne illnesses and the emergence of new illnesses may worsen the diagnosis process.

Looking Ahead

Despite having a high rate of foodborne illnesses, progress is being made in Africa. The African Union is working to implement a continent-wide food safety authority. The initiative is set to emerge in the next year and will focus on increasing food safety protocols in markets and factories.

An organization called Harvest Plus uses a food-based approach to tackle hunger and agricultural needs by adding micronutrients to food. Through a process called biofortification, farmers add vitamins and minerals to everyday crops to sustainably bridge the gap between agriculture and nutrition. By targeting vulnerable populations around the world, the organization ensures food security in a nutritious and safe manner. Harvest Plus is confident that with consistent efforts, 1 billion people can have access to biofortified foods by 2030.

Sarah Frances
Photo: Flickr

Agenda 2063The Organization of African Unity (OAU) officially disbanded on July 9, 2002. OAU accomplished its primary goal after nearly 40 years: independence. Nearly every former European colony on the African continent had gained its sovereignty in the decades following the end of the Second World War. The replacement for the OAU came in the form of the African Union (AU). It is a new continental organization born to continue and expand on the work of the OAU. In addition, the AU created Agenda 2063 as a part of the 50th anniversary of the OAU.

The African Union

The African Union is a sort of ‘United Nations’, exclusive to the African continent. Consisting of 55 member states with its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the AU was founded on the basis of Pan-Africanism. Pan-Africanism is the ideal of collaboration and unity among all people of African descent, whether they live on the continent or not.

The AU came into being at a time of great change in the world order. African leaders found themselves struggling to keep up with current affairs and often react rather than govern. The various heads of state of the members of the AU ultimately decided that they needed a plan to make Africa the global player they believed it truly could be. As a result, they created Agenda 2063.

Agenda 2063

The goals of Agenda 2063 are to transform the nations of the continent into democratic, peaceful and innovative powerhouses that will aim to be global players in the next 50 years. Included in Agenda 2063 are what are known as the Seven Aspirations. These objectives encompass all the goals of Agenda 2063 and are crucial to the success of the agenda. The aspirations are as follows:

  1. A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development
  2. An integrated continent politically united and based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of African Renaissance
  3. An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law
  4. A peaceful and secure Africa
  5. Africa with a strong cultural identity common heritage, values and ethics
  6. An Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential offered by the African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children
  7. An Africa as a strong, united, resilient and influential global player and partner

Each of the Seven Aspirations makes up a key to Africa’s future on the world stage, particularly at its inception in 2013. Seven years on, each of Africa’s five regions is still working towards completing all of the aspirations. Some regions have had more success with some aspirations than others. However, it is important to note how much progress has been made and how much more there is to go.

Southern Africa

Southern Africa has made significant progress in Aspirations one, two and four. Protected fresh waters sites have become widely available across the region. Internet access has increased by over 200% since the Agenda was introduced. Additionally, all Southern African states have established stable peace and security councils in their respective governments. Good progress has been made in these areas. However, Southern Africa has not devoted as many resources to advancing in Aspiration five, which is crucial to an educated and culturally strong Africa.

East Africa

In East Africa, notable progress has been made under Aspirations four and six. Similar to Southern Africa, East Africa established responsive security councils across the region. This contributed to a drastic decrease in armed conflicts in the coastal areas, where piracy had been a major issue for years. Furthermore, the number of women with access to sexual health and reproductive services has seen a large increase since 2013. Despite this, Aspiration three has not seen much progress. Several states have not been able to establish heavily influential governmental institutions to get a handle on, for example, human rights issues.

West Africa

West Africa has seen substantial advancement in Aspiration two and four since the inception of Agenda 2063. The tourism industry in West Africa has seen substantial growth over the last seven years, as have fishery industries in the coastal nations. Regional access to electricity saw its highest increase in 2019. With these successes, progress has stalled in other areas, particularly in Aspiration three and five. In a region that has great agricultural potential, reports have noted that attempts to revitalize this industry have failed to meet set targets in 2019.

Central Africa

Of the five regions, Central Africa has seen the lowest amount of progress across the Seven Aspirations. The only tenet where some significant headway has been made is Aspiration two. Similarly to West Africa, many more families have access to electricity as well as the internet. Little to no progress has been made in most of the other objectives, particularly in Aspiration six and seven. This is due in part to low enrollment in primary and secondary education across the region.

North Africa

In North Africa, serious progress has been in Aspirations two and four. Notably, the number of malnourished children under the age of 5 in the region has been reduced by 97% since introducing the Agenda. In addition, the rates of malaria and tuberculosis have seen a remarkable decline, exceeding their 2019 target. However, more progress is needed in Aspiration five and six. The number of women facing violence and discrimination in the region has not seen the decreases projected in 2019.

Overall, the progress on Agenda 2063 across the continent has been focused primarily on governmental destabilization, defense and security in each of the five regions. Most states have set up individual security councils and work with one another to preserve peace and settle conflicts. On the other hand, the areas of the Agenda that have seen the least amount of progress include human rights, democracy and education in Africa’s rich culture and heritage. Individual states have held back resources that could be spent on educating their youth and preparing them for the future. This can make the continent more secure in terms of security and defense. While there is still undoubtedly a long way to go before Agenda 2063 is achieved, the progress made in the last seven years is noteworthy.

Alexander Poran
Photo: Flickr

The Elders' Advocacy in Africa
Created in 2007 by former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, The Elders is an independent group of global leaders that work together for social justice and human rights. The organization promotes advocacy through several different avenues including supporting ethical leadership and multilateral cooperation, assisting conflict countries and regions, enacting interventions for global health coverage and working with governmental leaders to enact justice for citizens. For its current activities, The Elders’ advocacy in Africa is particularly notable.

Girls Not Brides Organization

In 2011, The Elders created the Girls Not Brides organization, dedicated to ending child marriage practices. The organization is based in 100 countries and became an independent charity in 2013. The Elders member, Graca Machel, is co-founder and champion for Girls Not Brides. The organization’s efforts to improve the lives of women extends through the Elders’ advocacy work in Africa.

The African Union joined Girls Not Brides to support ending child marriages and initiated a campaign in 2014 that extended to 2017. The African Union’s and Girls Not Brides’ comradery resulted in 22 countries supporting their initiatives. By December 2017, these countries included Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, The Gambia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. 

Advocacy in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe became part of the African Union’s campaign towards ending child marriages in Africa in 2015. Through its efforts, the Zimbabwe Constitutional Court banned marriages under the age of 18. Prior to the impact of Girl Not Brides in 2016, one in three girls or 31 percent married before the age of 18. In addition, 4 percent of girls married before the age of 15.

The Zimbabwean government held to its new principles, recognizing 18 as the minimum age for marriage. The Customary Marriages Act in Zimbabwe, which previously had no minimum age requirement, restricted legal marriage to 18 years of age in 2016. In 2016, the Zimbabwean courts also revoked provisions that permitted teenage girls to marry with their parents’ consent. According to a study by the Zimbabwe Demographic and Health survey in 2015, 77 percent of women between ages 15 and 19 were unmarried in Zimbabwe versus the 17 percent that were married. Through Girls Not Brides, the Elders’ advocacy in Africa helped extend to specifically benefiting girls in Zimbabwe.

Advocacy in South Africa

Beyond Girls Not Brides, The Elders’ advocacy in Africa also extends to supporting South African health reforms. On September 6, 2019, The Elders’ chair, Grace Machel, backed health reforms in South Africa on behalf of the organization. The National Health Insurance (NHI) reforms are being proposed by the current President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, to “improve publicly funded health care and build social solidarity.” The Washington Post cites that 84 percent of South Africa’s 59 million people lack medical insurance, further highlighting the need for reforms.

The South African news source, News24, describes that under NHI reforms, the government will implement a package of health services. The package includes health services for free at both private and public medical facilities. Health care could then be more accessible with state control.

The Impact of Personal Experience

The Elders supports these reforms as a chance for South Africa to create equality in its health care systems and reduce the corruption of private insurance schemes. The promotion of universal health coverage from The Elders comes from a place of experience in its home countries. Richard Lagos, former President of Chile, and Gro Harlem Brundtland, Prime Minister of Norway, spoke out about universal health coverage reforms and the benefits to their respective countries after periods of dictatorship. Lagos and Brundtland commented, while giving speeches in South Africa, that universal health coverage is key in rebuilding civic life. The advising of the South African government comes from personal experience, hoping to better the lives of South African citizens.  News24 cites that the NH1 reforms plan to go into effect by March 2020.

Overall, The Elders’ advocacy in Africa highlights the improvements made for citizens through the creation of Girls Not Brides. However, meetings and support for African governments bring positive change. This highlights the effectiveness and reasoning of why its meetings with African leaders are vital. Through The Elders’ efforts, Africa gains both concrete developments to help girls and provide support from a place of wisdom.

Natalie Casaburi
Photo: Pixabay

The Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon
The Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon has internally displaced half a million people. Many are seeking refuge in forests with little access to medical care and portable water. Only recently has the world acknowledged the crisis, despite three years of growing human rights abuses driving the country to the brink of civil war.

The Makings of a Disaster

French and English are the official languages of Cameroon, which consists of 10 semi-autonomous regions. However, the Northwest and Southwest English-speaking regions have felt marginalized by the central government for decades.

Anglophones make up 20 percent of the population and have long complained of few job opportunities and the predominance of Francophones. When the government assigned French-speaking teachers and judges to anglophone schools and courts, anglophone lawyers and teachers felt that it violated their rights, leading to peaceful protests in 2016.

Government security forces responded by killing four protestors and arresting around 100, including several anglophone leaders. The government even banned civil society groups seeking a peaceful solution.

Escalating the Crisis

In 2017, an anglophone separatist group declared a new independent state called Ambazonia. In a pro-Ambazonia demonstration, security forces killed 17 people. The Borgen Project interviewed Mausi Segun, executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Africa, who said, “If anyone is putting the abuses on both sides on a scale, the government has the upper hand. They have the most effective military equipment.”

Security forces have killed unarmed civilians and burned down villages. Meanwhile, authorities are arresting civilians on suspicion of supporting or belonging to the separatist movement. A number of those held on suspicion are undergoing torture.

Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh, a Regional Director at the National Democratic Institute told The Borgen Project that authorities are catching civilians in a web of violence and mistaken affinity. “They can be arrested for not having their identification card,” he said.

As authorities hold anglophones in detention without trial, lose property and loved ones, resentment and distrust in the government is growing, fueling the grievances of the separatist movement. “We’re concerned the government is throwing the military, and arms and ammunition at a problem that is beyond just a military one,” Segun said.

Armed separatists have committed unlawful abuses as well, including killing security forces, kidnapping students and burning down approximately 36 schools. The International Crisis Group reported the killing of 235 soldiers, along with 1,000 separatists and 650 civilians.

Although one can blame the Anglophone Crisis on a failure of governance, Fomunyoh said that it is no longer a governance issue, “It’s now one of political insecurity.”

International Response

Cameroon now has the sixth-largest displaced population in the world. A wider conflict could threaten the entire region, impacting bordering countries such as Chad and Nigeria, who are fighting Boko Haram alongside Cameroon.

In March 2019, after three years of growing systematic violence, the U.N. human rights chief told the Cameroon government that its violent response will only fuel more violence and the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) held its first meeting on the crisis in the following May. The E.U. called on Cameroon’s government to initiate a dialogue with armed separatists and Switzerland agreed to act as a mediator.

Fomunyoh said that countries may have been slow to respond because they expected African organizations to intervene. The African Union (A.U.) is one such organization, which has intervened in precarious situations before, including South Sudan’s recent crackdown on protestors. The A.U. called on Sudan to restore civil law and expelled the country from the Union. Although the A.U. has endorsed Switzerland’s peace talks, it has yet to take further action.

Solutions

Fomunyoh said that there are three divided propositions to the Anglophone Crisis, “The Amba boys who want separation, those who want a federation and those who believe the status quo is fine the way it is,” however, the first step should be to end this violence.

All parties need to agree to a cease-fire, separatists need to allow children to go back to school and the government should release anglophone prisoners so they can be part of finding a solution. Although the idea of federalism has almost become taboo, Human Rights Lawyer Felix Agbor Nkongho strongly believes it would appease all sides.

“People would have a separation of powers. People would have the autonomy,” said Nkongho. However, the government has made promises in the past it did not keep.

Cameroon’s previous federation dissolved in 1972 under the same government. So, promises to implement any agreement will not mean anything unless the government regains trust. Segun believes this can start by holding those guilty of human rights abuses accountable. “To sacrifice justice on the order peace would only lead to more violence and a crisis later, if not immediately.”

Preventing a future crisis also requires healing from the trauma, which is Fomunyoh’s biggest concern. If the country does not make investments in healing, it could threaten future security by creating an environment where corruption thrives.

“When you have dead bodies in the street when that becomes the norm, then other abuses like assault, rape, theft, are pale in comparison,” said Fomunyoh. The Anglophone Crisis can become much direr and have unintended long-lasting consequences.

International solidarity helped South Africa’s struggle against apartheid. The AU and UNSC helped resolve Côte d’Ivoire’s post-election crisis. There is no reason that Cameroon cannot stop its Anglophone Crisis.

Emma Uk
Photo: Flickr