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Covid-19 Politics | SADC Must Leverage Its Power

Photo by UN News

It’s logical that a travel ban on a single Covid-inflicted country in Southern Africa inadvertently includes its neighbors.

It makes sense that the sighting of a new variant – or any contagious infection, for that matter – in the SADC region spells an extremely high likelihood of contagion in our very connected geography, which is also compounded by our spongy borders, weaker screening and treatment options. Trajectories of recent Covid-19 waves in the region are a good measure of just how easy it is to share a disease between Malawi and South Africa or Zambia. But just as our whole region is bound to enjoy the widespread benefits of progress in one or a few of its countries, so will we collectively share in on the suffering that closed Western borders impose. We must accept the certainty of the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and Australia to continue picking on us as a collective.

Our article this week urges us to stop focusing on the inevitable, i.e., that in spite of its dependence on Africa, the West will occasionally fail to feign its prejudice against Africa’s people. That despite its rhetoric on equality, the pandemic has shown that the world is far from living the promise of its collective purpose for all. That refusal to embrace the fact that Omicron or Delta or any coronavirus variant will permeate a globalized world is denial of the world’s inability to solve the crisis by selectively treating its parts.

So, for the sake of our progress, Africans must stop being driven by emotion. We must focus our energies on something else.

Why? The answer is that fixating on emotions lures us away from the big picture.

This website agrees with the fact that, in its narrative, the West has callously omitted the gratitude the world owes to South Africa for dutifully singling out Omicron and reporting it. The very same West took so long to close China away from its borders when the first coronavirus originating from Wuhan appeared, instead opting to chastise China with a harsh punishment, its no nonsense words. This, in spite of a continued Chinese adamance on not revealing the origins of the virus that has now infected at least 260 million people and called at least 5.2 million people to their maker.

Since the break of the pandemic at the end of 2019, the chasm between the Global North and South has only grown. Talk of vaccine inequity has been rife everywhere in the developing world, which, in her BBC interview, Dr. Ayoade Alakija correctly identifies has been a potent ingredient to Omicron’s emergence. Even that is linear thinking, to put her words differently, and that more crucial is how one never truly knows if the virus originated from any African country at all. Today, only 7% of Africa is vaccinated.

With still unimpressive vaccine rates in Europe and many developed countries, the world is unsure what new variants will have its people for dinner next. Let’s talk about Austria, which as late as last week was forced to issue a lockdown of inhumane proportions. Only 60% of its people have been jabbed and yet is experiencing an unrelenting uptick that the sheer imagination of a consequential death toll has been enough to trigger a dictatorial gene in the country’s leadership. The numbers in Germany, the UK and France are causing enough political discomfort, whereas in the United States, no executive authority exerted by the Biden administration has successfully brought the country's fully vaccinated past that of Austria’s embarrassing 60%.

So, SADC, effectively closed out from some of its key Western trading partners, need realize that the outcries about inequality, manifested in the border closures, amount to nothing if all we seek is a level playing field. That level playing field never existed. And it might not materialize for a good portion of our future.

SADC must realize it needs to work as a unit to discern the kind of war that’s been waged on it since colonial times, which is sustained in a manner that just a single stroke of a yet-to-be understood variant of a coronavirus, whose ancestors originated far from Africa’s shores, can lead to its people being restricted from entering the West’s already infected borders.

Too entitled to notice its own rising cases – fueled by as much vaccine hesitancy as there is widespread anti-vax mythology – are potential incubators of new variants lurking in the backyard. Therefore, Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera must seek what the West needs from the SADC bloc, where he is the 2021 Chair, if we are to uncover a united potential to counter the unreasonableness perpetuated by an entitled Global North. SADC must find its convening power to unite for an actionable response. The Regional Bloc must unleash an inconvenience in the normal order of things that Western politicians would rather trade for our sought-after level playing field.

Fifteen SADC leaders plus Mr. Chakwera must exploit the huge SADC population and collective economic muscle, tools that the West frequently uses to keep us in line, to punch below the belt. We can leverage our $620 billion dollar economy, ability to rally 38 other neighbors whose own travel bans to the West are only awaiting another international crisis, and almost 1.4 billion citizens eager to become obnoxious by their refusal to be taken for granted in the global political arena.

SADC must speak less, act more.



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