The African Union’s Agenda 2063 refers to pursuing “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena.” The devastating and wide-range effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has instigated a crisis that represents both a challenge and an opportunity for Africa to strive to realise its full potential in terms of consolidating peace and development, through the cultivating culture of Pan-African solidarity and self-determination. The disease does not discriminate against its victims on the basis of race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, culture religion or financial affluence, and it has fuelled global pandemonium.
As an initial reaction to Covid-19, African governments called on their citizens to retreat within national borders, closed off international travel, and instituted militarized physical distancing lockdowns in order to “combat” the disease. However, Covid-19, through its indiscriminate attack on all people, is a wake-up call to our essential unity as human beings. The initial nation-state centric response to Covid-19, which a necessary palliative to confine the spread of the virus. While state-based responses were necessary at the outset of the disease, it has become clear that Africa needs to embrace Pan-Africanism in order to address the damaging effects of Covid-19 on governance, socio-economic well-being, public health, education and industry. In effect, the effects and legacy of Covid-19 can serve as a catalyst for deepening Pan-Africanism.
It is worth noting the AU response. Through its African Centre for Diseases and Control (CDC) and the Africa Task Force for Coronavirus (AFTCOR), the AU developed a strategy to guide a continental response, known as the Joint Africa Continental Strategy on Covid-19. On 26 March 2020, the strategy was endorsed by health ministers of AU member states, and subsequently approved by the Bureau of the AU Heads of States and Government. The limited and constrained nature of Africa’s national health budgets, in terms of facilities and health workers, means that the continent is particularly vulnerable in terms of its ability to contain and prevent the spread of the virus.
On 26 March 2020, the AU Commission also established an AU Covid-19 Response Fund, with the intention of strengthening the ability to coordinate a continental response to Covid-19. In addition, the Fund has the objective of addressing socio-economic and humanitarian consequences of the virus on African populations. These initial initiatives the Joint Africa Continental Strategy, which led to the creation of the AU Covid-19 Response Fund, are coordinated by Union are encouraging and reveal a desire to forge solidarity among the 55 members of the continental body. However, there is an urgent need to scale up the level of intervention to mitigate against the lasting legacy of the virus in the next decade, and beyond, as well as confront the underlying issues that continue to undermine the well-being and livelihoods of African citizens across the continent. Specifically, it is useful to interrogate how the AU can utilise the Covid-19 pandemic as a catalyst for deepening Pan-Africanism and promoting deeper solidarity in the post-Corona continental landscape. Concretely, Africa needs to embrace Pan-Africanism in order to address the damaging effects of Covid-19 on governance, socio-economic well-being, gender equality, public health, education and industry.
The limitations of the African Union’s Covid-19 Strategy, and the need to mitigate against the negative effects of “vaccine nationalism” means that the continent needs to strengthen the solidarity among its peoples. Concretely, governmental and societal actors need to identify how adopt a more expansive vision, than the one enshrined in the AU Covid-19 Strategy, in order to focus beyond public health, and address continental integration, governance and socio-economic well-being as pathways towards a more prosperous Africa.
The African Union’s Agenda 2063 already provides a blueprint for the African continent to purse a post-coronavirus future. The aspirations stipulated in Agenda 2063 appeal for the pursuit of an “integrated, peaceful and prosperous” continent, which is driven by its own citizens. In this regard, it is necessary to identify the practical pathways that can be charted towards: i) deepening political integration, based on constitutionalism, democratic governance, trade and free movement of people; ii) peacebuilding, transitional justice and the healing of Africa’s divided and traumatised societies; iii) sustainable economic development through embracing continental free trade and the free movement of people. This framework can further inform a post-pandemic Pan-African landscape to enable the continent to rebound from the lingering effects of the Covid-19 disease.
In concrete terms, the Agenda 2063 provisions can motivate the African continent to assert itself and become a dynamic force in the international arena. In particular, the AU and its regional economic communities (RECs) should take advantage of the impact of the pandemic to move beyond the rhetoric of harmonising their collective efforts towards achieving genuine practical coordination and efficacy in influencing, shaping and driving global agendas. Specifically, this requires African leaders to act upon urgent requirements to rethinking the foundations for global governance, in order to address the effects of Covid-19, as well as address other global challenges such as addressing the climate catastrophe and promoting stable and sustainable societies.
In order to achieve these aspirations, Africa as a continent need’s to move beyond the fraught relationship between citizens and its states, in order to forge an optimal continental force to create a new Pan-African society in the aftermath of Covid-19. Specifically, citizen mobilization, engagement and participation is necessary in order to mitigate against the democratic reversals that are currently threating to undermine the progressive gains which the continent has achieved in terms of consolidating the rule of law and the pursuit of human rights and gender equality.
The post-Covid-19 world will be a terrain in which it will be difficult to put this genie, of-our-common-humanity, back into the state-centric bottle. This does not mean that Africa’s artificial national borders will miraculously disappear in the post-Covid-19 world, in fact they will demonstrate a persistent resilience in the minds of many of the continent’s citizens. The difference will be that the fact that Covid-19 will have already demonstrated that we are continentally and globally interconnected through worldwide networks of communication and transportation. The indiscriminate nature of Covid-19 will paradoxically have also triggered the embryonic idea that we are in fact one Pan-African society, because no country on its own was able to prevent the disease from penetrating the false borders. The disruptive effects of Covid-19 can only be addressed through the collective will and action of a unified Pan-African society.
Professor Tim Murithi is the Head of Peacebuilding Interventions at the IJR