Undoubtedly, the Covid-19 pandemic is unfolding as the worst global health emergency since the formation of the United Nations 75 years ago.
In its trail, this “common and invisible enemy against humanity” has infected 44 million people globally, claimed 1.2 million lives and destroyed economies, families and communities. It has effectively pushed the world to its worst recession.
The key to containing the rapidly spreading disease lies in forging global solidarity against it. As United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres aptly remarked, “Global solidarity is not only a moral imperative, it is in everyone’s interest.”
It is in this context that the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), inaugurated in October 2000, is emerging as the fulcrum of China-Africa solidarity against Covid-19. Arguably, this solidarity within the aegis of FOCAC has partly contributed to keeping the virus at bay in much of Africa.
With 1,748,335 confirmed Covid-19 infections and a death toll of 42,151 by late October, Africa has some of the lowest numbers in the world. The Africa Centres for Disease Control (CDC) also showed that the continent had recorded 1,430,558 successful recoveries by October 29, one of the highest in the world.
Despite low numbers, solidarity is still required to contain the virus, which is turning its fury on the continent. With 719,714 cases and 19,111 fatalities, South Africa is the worst-hit by the pandemic in Africa. It accounts for 41.17 per cent of Africa’s Covid-19 caseload and 45.34 per cent of its deaths.
Solidarity with China, the first country to be hit by Covid-19, will help the continent weather the worst public health storm in recent decades. When the crisis struck in December, Africa and the world showed solidarity by delivering protective equipment to China. The Chinese are now returning solidarity to Africa.
On the policy front, Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted an extraordinary China-Africa summit on solidarity against Covid-19 in Beijing on June 17. China has shown solidarity against the pandemic by sharing experience, sending experts, medical equipment, personal protective equipment and diagnostic kits to all corners of the continent.
In early March, China dispatched 5.4 million face masks, over a million test kits and thousands of protective suits to Africa. In late June, China’s National Health Commission reported that nearly 1,000 Chinese medical personnel are working in Africa.
Medical experts from more than 30 African countries have held webinars with their Chinese counterparts on how to better handle the Covid-19 outbreak. Beijing is giving Africa 30 million test kits a month, as well as 10,000 ventilators and 80 million masks.
Moreover, China’s charities and private sector have also joined the trail, giving medical supplies and donations to Africa. The Jack Ma Foundation has donated millions of medical supplies to all 54 African countries.
Today, the “FOCAC zone” – comprising China and 54 African countries with an estimated 2.79 billion people or nearly 35 per cent of the world population – forms the largest global solidarity block against Covid-19.
This solidarity block is contributing immensely to the global efforts to keep the pandemic away from some of the world’s poorest countries. With the weakest public health capacity globally, Africa is a sitting duck for a new Covid-19 wave.
A debt crisis loomed as the pandemic pushed most African nations deep into recession. FOCAC has provided the largest economic bailout in human history involving countries in the Global South. Between 2000 and 2018, China has given about $206 billion to support diverse sectors of development in Africa.
This comprises an estimated $86 billion between 2000 and 2014, $60 billion in 2015 and another $60 billion in 2018 – in addition to bilateral funding. In the spirit of FOCAC solidarity and within the setting of the ‘Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against Covid-19’ in mid June, Beijing threw a lifeline and cancelled Africa’s interest-free loans. It also embarked on bilateral negotiations with African nations to ease the debt burden on governments.
Facing the future, FOCAC provides a useful framework for the re-industrialisation of Africa to boost its capacity to respond to diseases. When Covid-19 struck, Chinese manufacturing moved to Africa to help solve supply-chain problems experienced from January 2020.
China and Africa have since cooperated in research and local production of PPEs, medical equipment and medicines. Solidarity is now needed in training medical professionals and caregivers and to reverse the impact of brain drain.
The author is Chief Executive of the Africa Policy Institute