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COVID’s Aftershocks: Putin creates economic, hunger and political crises in Africa

A roundup of the latest news, stats, and analysis of COVID-19’s impact in Africa. View our data tracker and sign up for our weekly newsletter, and read on for a look at the converging crises caused by COVID, climate change, and conflict, including the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine on Africa, a hunger emergency, and a dire climate warning.

Top news

Hunger emergency: Amidst a historic drought threatening 13 million people in East Africa with severe hunger, the rise in grain, fertilizer, and fuel prices resulting from Russia’s war in Ukraine is exacerbating an already dire problem. A gas shortage persists in some parts of Kenya despite government interventions. The cost of wheat has risen 80% over the past six months, causing the price of bread in Sudan to roughly double. Median food inflation across Africa is 10.6%. Fertilizer prices have more than doubled in low- and middle-income countries over the past year, potentially impacting this year’s crop yields. We’ve pulled together the latest data on the impacts to Africa of Russia’s war in Ukraine in our Data Dive.

Arrested development: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could cut global growth by 1% and drive up low- and middle-income countries’ debt service requirements to $310 billion in 2022. This compounds the debt crisis in Africa that was already exacerbated by the pandemic and, according to the UN, will generate financial aftershocks that could push some low-income countries “into a downward spiral of insolvency, recession and arrested development”. In response, Afreximbank announced $4 billion to help African countries respond to import price increases and to stabilize commodity export revenues; Kenya alone could lose $100 million in export revenues because of sanctions imposed on Russia. The French government has stepped up with a new food security initiative aptly called FARM. Two weeks out from the IMF / World Bank Spring meetings, now would be a good time for governments to prepare new financial pledges of Special Drawing Rights to help African countries respond.

Massacre in Mali: Russian-backed mercenaries from the Putin-affiliated Wagner Group have been implicated in an alleged massacre of 200 people in Mali. The Malian government has labeled the victims ‘terrorists’. But conflicting reports suggest civilians were killed, worsening a recent spike in summary executions at the hands of government forces in Mali. Russia is the principal arms supplier to many African countries – Algeria, South Sudan, Angola and Uganda get more than half of their national arms from Russia – and it has military cooperation agreements in place with more than half of the continent. The Kremlin has also (allegedly) used disinformation campaigns to gain political influence in 12 countries, and secured access to natural resources in several others. This disinformation reportedly includes false information that western COVID vaccines cause heart attacks.

Unfriendly gesture: Russia warned countries ahead of a UN vote on Thursday on whether to suspend the country from the Human Rights Council that a ‘yes’ vote or even an abstention would be considered an ‘unfriendly gesture’. Russia’s recent gestures have been a lot more than ‘unfriendly’, but this shows the pressure some African countries will face in these votes. While the resolution to suspend Russia passed, only 10 African countries voted in favor, with 24 abstaining, 9 opposing, and 11 not voting at all. Half the countries that abstained in other recent votes condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were African.

Climate S.O.S.: It’s “now or never” for countries to take action to prevent irreversible consequences of climate change, warned the IPCC in its latest climate report. ⏳ Global emissions will need to peak in the next 3 years to limit global warming to 1.5°C. That’s a very slim window, and countries have ‌failed to make the necessary changes. Poor countries, which have done the least to cause the climate crisis but will bear the brunt of its impacts, are asking for financial support to cut emissions and adapt to climate change’s consequences. But the $100 billion a year in climate finance that rich countries pledged to give to low- and middle-income countries still hasn’t materialized. Limiting the world to 2°C of warming would cost less than current subsidies for carbon-heavy industries. In some good news, $200 million has been pledged to help African smallholder farmers adapt to climate change and $150 million has been raised to protect South Africa’s rhino population.

Germany 1 : US 0: Germany is co-hosting a COVAX Summit this week, aimed at raising $3.8 billion to fund vaccine delivery and pandemic preparedness as the world contends with 1.5 million new COVID-19 cases every week. It’s a welcome display of leadership. The Biden Administration postponed its promised COVID-19 Summit, and efforts to get the US Congress to approve new global pandemic funding have stalled. The IMF launched a new plan to manage the long-term risks of COVID-19 – which hinges on, you guessed it, vaccine equity. They predict that $15 billion in grants is needed in 2022 to avoid worst-case pandemic scenarios, plus $10 billion in annual support thereafter. Meanwhile, a new COVID vaccine equity index by Christian Aid and the People’s Vaccine Alliance highlights that “no big, rich country is doing nearly enough” to promote global vaccine equity. Louder for the people in the back. 📣

Foundational leadership: At a time when we need to take big risks, ONE partners The Open Society Foundations, Gavi: the Vaccine Alliance, and MedAccess announced a $200m risk sharing initiative to help countries procure COVID-19 vaccines. The procurement guarantees will help COVAX respond to country requests for additional doses (including variant-adapted doses) if (or when) there is a demand spike.

Free the patents: Botswana became the first African country to approve Corbevax, a patent-free COVID-19 vaccine developed in the United States. Corbevax is currently used in Bangladesh, India and Indonesia. In addition, NantWorks, a US biotech company founded by South African-born billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, announced the construction of a manufacturing facility in Botswana that will produce vaccines and cancer drugs after its scheduled completion in 2026. ✨

She leads: Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan has only been in office one year, but she’s already rebuilding the country’s relationship with the IMF, secured a potential $10 billion in private investment, and is ramping up Tanzania’s COVID-19 vaccine campaign. March marked two years since Tanzania recorded its first COVID-19 case, but the country’s previous president, John Magufuli, denied the local spread of COVID-19. Magufuli died last year from reported heart failure, after advocating for prayer and the use of herb-infused steam in place of vaccines to combat COVID-19. Only 5% of the population is fully vaccinated as of 30 March 2022, with over 75% of its available vaccine supply used.

COVID Take Off: In your latest reminder that the pandemic isn’t over, London’s Heathrow Airport went into chaos mode on Monday as flights were canceled with staff off sick from the virus. Rising cases in Europe could be a sign of things to come as African countries follow the trend of lifting COVID-19 measures. Only 15.3% of Africa is fully vaccinated, but most countries have abandoned preventative health measures like social distancing, masks, and capacity limits in public spaces. Germany had its highest ever daily cases with a 7-day average of nearly 257,000 cases. France had over 160,000. In March, only 27% of countries in Africa achieved the WHO’s recommended testing rates, making low case levels across Africa harder to interpret.

Other reads

  • In 11 African countries, over 40% of the total population don’t have enough to eat. We’re tracking the trend in the Africa COVID-19 Tracker.
  • ONE launched the JobsNowAfrica Campaign to help create 15 million decent jobs in Africa each year by 2025.
  • ONE’s #MythorVax 2.0 launched on TikTok to combat vaccine hesitancy and misinformation in African countries.
  • ONE’s David McNair highlighted the need for more action from the IMF in a piece for Carnegie Endowment, and, in a piece for the Institute for Research on Public Policy, highlighted what Canada can do to respond to the aftershocks of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • Why a new HIV antiviral will not reach those who need it most. (Twitter Spaces)
  • Nigeria’s democracy is in peril as the country “descends into lawlessness”. (Council on Foreign Relations)
  • Why getting a job isn’t always a ticket out of poverty. (Stears Business Nigeria)
  • Nigeria looks to fill the gas gap left by Russia’s war in Ukraine. (Bloomberg)
  • How China’s zero COVID-19 policy could trigger greater food shortages. (Financial Times)
  • The Daily podcast explores why reported COVID cases and deaths are lower in Africa. (The New York Times)
  • Blaise Compaore’s conviction is a major victory for the rule of law and citizen power in Africa. (Council on Foreign Relations).

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