Africa Has More Leverage on Pandemic Inequities Than It Realizes

Africa Has More Leverage on Pandemic Inequities Than It Realizes
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the media after meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in Pretoria, South Africa, Nov. 23, 2021 (AP photo by Themba Hadebe).

If anyone was hoping for a post-pandemic renewal of international cooperation in a world still feeling the aftershocks from Brexit, Donald Trump’s presidency, trade wars and global supply chain disruptions, they would likely be disappointed today. International relations in 2020 were driven primarily by the politics of aid and mask diplomacy. The second year of the coronavirus pandemic has been all about vaccines, geopolitical competition and travel restrictions. 

In a July edition of my Africa Watch newsletter, I noted that the rhetoric of renewed multilateralism heard at global summits and other international fora at the onset of the pandemic ultimately gave way to provincialism on the part of wealthier, more industrialized countries—primarily, but not exclusively, in the West. That development, particularly in its manifestation as vaccine nationalism, has disproportionately affected Africans, only 7 percent of whom are fully vaccinated. According to the World Health Organization, or WHO, only 20 African countries have vaccinated at least 10 percent of their population

As if the continent’s low vaccination rates weren’t enough of a burden, the global reaction to the new omicron coronavirus variant has been every bit as predictable as it has been deplorable. When the WHO announced late last month that researchers in South Africa and Botswana had identified the new COVID-19 variant, no sooner had the ink dried on the global health body’s declaration than a wave of travel bans were slapped on seven southern African countries, including South Africa, by the U.S., the U.K. and the European Union, as well as Canada, Israel, Australia, India, the United Arab Emirates and several other countries. As noted by Tulio de Oliveira, the researcher who led the team of South African scientists that identified the new variant, blocking commercial flights from South Africa also meant blocking the country’s means of importing the chemicals needed to help him and his fellow researchers keep track of omicron’s spread. 

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review