While Europe gets back on track from COVID-19, the recovery of African countries is undermined by vaccine inequality. The S&D Group’s ‘Africa Week’ initiative seeks to address this.
We are neighbors, but we don’t know each other enough. We share borders, we share a sea, we share challenges, but our communication is still full of stereotypes, misconceptions and a heavy burden from the past. This why the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament are determined to strengthen our dialogue and our cooperation with Africa. Despite the global storm of the pandemic and its consequences at all levels, our commitment to Africa remains unshaken. After a year-long COVID-19 induced break, the fifth edition of ‘Africa Week’ will take place between February 8 and 10 as a contribution to reshaping EU-Africa relations.
COVID-19 drastically worsened billions of people’s lives and exposed the weaknesses of unilateralism and far-right politics. Millions of jobs were blown away, inequalities were magnified, and many were driven into extreme poverty, while vulnerabilities of small businesses were exposed with a majority of them grinding to a halt across the globe. While hundreds of millions were forced into poverty, the fortunate few became richer during the pandemic. The World Bank states that the number of people living in extreme poverty rose to as many as 150 million by the end of 2021.
Hit hardest by the unrelenting wave of poverty are African countries; their recovery has been undermined by vaccine inequality while Europe gets back on track. It is a sad tale for our sister continent. ‘Africa Week’ will bring together European and African personalities to address these issues. We will welcome politicians, young people and civil society, joining us to discuss democracy, health, climate change, the digital transition, inequality and decent jobs in the lead up to February 17 to 19, when the Intergovernmental EU-Africa Summit will finally be held.
Developed countries are ironically at a stage of delivering booster shots to their populations while in Africa, less than one in 10 health care workers have been fully vaccinated. In general, G20 countries have received 15 times more COVID-19 vaccine doses per capita than sub-Saharan African countries. This is not acceptable. For the S&D Group, no one is safe until everyone is safe. This was supposed to be the lesson we drew from the spread of Omicron, and new variants will remain a possibility due to the failure to decisively deal with the disparities.
Vaccine manufacturing in Africa, and for Africa, is therefore essential to end the pandemic; the continent cannot rely on supplies from abroad. This method has proven ineffective and must be discarded. It cannot be business as usual. Without patent waivers, it will be difficult to realize a scaling up of production of COVID-19 vaccines in low- and middle-income countries, now and in the future. It leaves the poorest vulnerable and exposed, yet puts the world at risk of new uncontrolled waves of new variants. In this context, the world is only as strong as its weakest members. Even for those with a selfish and narrow agenda, their best interest is served by helping Africa in particular, and dealing with vaccine inequality in general.
A socially-just approach is the only way out of the crisis. Our values of solidarity must go hand-in-hand at this stage, there are no sound alternatives. These values remain the only sustainable compass for intervention, the only pathway to a sustainable and mutual economic and social transformation. This is one way of ensuring the EU-Africa partnership remains on course and that the talks of an equal footing, respectful dialogue, mutual ownership and shared responsibility do not melt into mere rhetoric.
However, COVID-19 and the challenges it brings remain the tip of an iceberg. The old challenges still need solutions, and our talks must continue to devote time to fighting climate change, the reducing of CO2 emissions and global warming whose effects are perennial floods and drought, among other natural disasters. Paradoxically, the region that has contributed the least to global emissions is the continent set to be worst hit by extreme weather with perennial floods, drought and shorter rainy seasons. As a result, we have hundreds of thousands of Africans displaced, famine, food insecurity, disruption of ecosystems, lack of potable water, hydroelectricity challenges and livestock depletion.
The realization of a solid, future-proof Green Pact between the EU and Africa, as rightly proposed in the European Parliament’s resolution of March 25 2020, is a step toward a green and energy transition. Therefore, the EU’s proposal of a new EU-Africa Green Energy Initiative with a goal to support large-scale, sustainable electrification programs and investments in renewable energy generation is a commitment that must be emphasized in our message. A green recovery in Europe that doesn’t take Africa with it does not serve the interests of a mutual beneficial relationship. It breeds a vicious cycle of aid without development.
More important are commitments to inclusivity, which must also be sensitive to our demographics; we therefore propose talks anchored in intergenerational governance. We look at innovation young people can offer in dealing with the climate emergency to create a nexus of experience and forward-looking development. We posit a dream of Africa with our digital exhibition modelling future infrastructure.
In our ‘Africa Week’ events, we focus on the impact of technology on economies; we look in-depth at the infrastructure deficit in Africa to provide sustainable models against a background of the growing number of extractive Chinese interventions. We also venture into talks on empowering women through digital activism and we take the opportunity to celebrate diversity through a cultural event.
Beyond just neighbors, we must also become partners, but partnership can only be based on justice, solidarity and mutual respect. Join us for this week of cross-cutting talks with intensive debates to shape a new progressive EU-Africa partnership.
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