EU-Africa Development Strategy: COVID-19 and Challenges of Protecting Africa’s Fragile Regions

Written by | Thursday, April 1st, 2021

Spain, which now holds the six-month rotating EU presidency, has aspirations to help create a new EU development strategy in Africa, the country’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez has said. The Foco África 2023 plan, presented on Monday (29 March), covers a range of development plans, from economic road maps to strategies to meet targets under the UN’s sustainable development goals to be implemented by 2030. With the Foco África Plan, Spain hopes to forge a new concept of EU development policy, which would help developing countries create their own revenue resources at the local level, discouraging and curbing illegal migration flows and human trafficking networks. “We want to turn this decade into Spain’s decade in Africa. That is the soul of this programme,” Sánchez stressed. “Spain is increasingly closer to Africa and Africa increasingly closer to Spain and also to Europe,” he said, adding that “Africa can count on … Spain’s voice in the EU.”
The strategy presented by the Spanish government includes a number of targets ranging from the promotion of peace and security, sustainable economies, regional integration, gender equality and debt relief, to measures aimed at tackling climate change and irregular migration. But any any EU development strategy in Africa also needs to take into account the challenges lying ahead for large-scale vaccination in the context of longer term effects of COVID-19 on conflict and fragility in Africa. „The EU’s performance as a global health actor during this pandemic has been mixed,“ Sophie Desmidt and Ashley Neat write in a policy brief published by the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM). „It has attempted to act as one bloc under ‘Team Europe’, supported global health initiatives such as COVAX, and financed research and innovation initiatives. However, it has also been criticised for over-ordering vaccines and for the relatively small amount of funding geared towards COVID-19 relief.“
As countries continue to deal with the socio-economic effects of the pandemic, they are now turning their attention to vaccination. Yet in a context of geopolitical competition surrounding vaccine procurement, Africa has been unable to secure sufficient doses of COVID-19 vaccines. The challenges are even greater for highly fragile and conflict-affected countries, where poor health infrastructure, limited access, security challenges and misinformation will make vaccination an arduous task. There is a real risk that the most vulnerable communities in Africa will be left behind. Without sufficient access to vaccines, the prolonged social, economic, health and political impacts of the pandemic are likely to exacerbate existing problems for the most fragile and conflict-affected regions. Taking all this into account, the ECDPM brief puts forth recommendations on how the EU can support equitable access to vaccines in fragile and conflict-affected regions in Africa as part of its external action, including: continued and increased support to COVAX; waiving intellectual property rights over COVID-19 vaccine technology; upscale investments in early warning, local health systems, and social safety nets; incorporate health more strongly as part of the EU’s external and diplomatic action; supporting vaccine access in conflict settings; curbing the spread of counterfeit vaccines and misinformation.

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