Africa in Review 2021

Abayomi Azikiwe
Sudan: Crowds of people marched in different parts of the Sudanese capital and other cities in demonstrations to reject military rule. October, 2021

Part I: Continuing Pandemic Highlights Public Health Crisis

From the lack of vaccines to the discovery of the Omicron variant, the continent is struggling to recalibrate its developmental trajectory

A gathering entitled “1st International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA)” took place during mid-December organized by the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (ACDC) based at the African Union (AU) headquarters located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the longstanding problems related to the lack of public health infrastructure on the continent of Africa and its resultant social consequences.

In late November of 2021, scientists in the Republic of South Africa detected the Omicron variant of coronavirus. South Africa has been on the frontline in the battle to contain the pandemic since the country has more confirmed cases than any other state on the continent.

Statistics from the final days of 2021, indicate that South Africa has detected 3.4 million COVID cases while more than 90,000 people have succumbed to the disease. The population of South Africa is rapidly approaching 60 million.

The overall number of coronavirus cases in Africa stands at 8.6 million with 222,000 deaths reported from the disease. These figures, like those in other geo-political regions of the world could very well be underestimated. The lack of testing, particularly in developing countries, could conceal the magnitude of the public health crisis on the continent and internationally.

In specific reference to South Africa, instead of being applauded for its scientific discovery, the western capitalist countries led by the United States, immediately imposed a travel ban on South Africa and seven of its neighbors. It was reported that the Omicron variant sample was taken from someone in Botswana which shares a border with South Africa. However, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Namibia, Malawi, Eswatini and Mozambique were included in the sweeping and apparently arbitrary measure.

The travel ban was issued during the holiday season when countries in Southern Africa rely on tourism to bolster their foreign exchange earnings. After announcing the ban due to the appearance of Omicron, the decision by the administration of President Joe Biden and other western leaders, came under intense criticism. Charges of racism and double standards came from a myriad of sources both within and outside the African continent. The ban was lifted in late December of 2021.

Omicron has been noted as substantially more transmissible than the dreaded Delta variant which has resulted in the hospitalizations and deaths of millions of people internationally. Since the advent of the pandemic in early 2020, there have been approximately 284 million known infections and more than 5.4 million deaths.

There are far more detected cases in the U.S. than any other country where 53.3 million infections and in excess of 820, 000 deaths have been devastating to the economic and social stability of the population. The presence of Omicron has only accelerated the number of infections prompting disruptions in the labor force, industrial supply chains, educational services, among other issues.

In Africa the economic impact has been substantial since in several of the most advanced states restrictions on gatherings, schooling and travel rendered millions idle. The decline in domestic and world trade has posed challenges to the AU member-states making the recent CPHIA summit quite timely.

The three-day conference was addressed by scientists, medical practitioners, businesspeople, government officials and social scientists. After the conclusion of the event, a statement was issued which read in part that: “Over 140 African policymakers, scientists, public health experts, data experts, and civil society representatives presented the latest learnings and research from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the actions needed to better guard against current and future health crises…. The opening ceremony was followed by a plenary discussion on the epidemiology of SARS-COV-2. This included a presentation by Prof. Salim Abdool Karim, Director of the Center for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), who is among those leading research into the Omicron variant. Explaining the variant’s trajectory in South Africa, he emphasized the need to continue trusting and implementing strong public health interventions. ‘There is no need to panic. We’ve dealt with variants before, including those with immune escape. Closing borders has almost no benefit. Public health systems work, public interventions like masks and social distancing work. Let’s use them,’ said Prof. Karim. Other presenters featured included Prof. Penny Moore, Virologist, University of Witwatersrand, and Prof. Ibrahim Abubakar, Dean, Faculty of Population Health Sciences, University College London.” (https://africacdc.org/news-item/first-international-conference-on-public-health-in-africa-closes-with-urgent-call-for-a-new-public-health-order/)

Plans for Vaccine Manufacturing in Africa

There has been much discussion emanating from the African continent through the ACDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) on the question of vaccine inequality. Some have gone as far as to categorize the disparities as “vaccine apartheid.”

The fact that only 10% of eligible Africans living on the continent have been fully vaccinated illustrates clearly the international division of healthcare access. These grim statistics has drawn sharp comments as well from the Director Generals of both the ACDC, Dr. John Nkengasong, as well as Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the WHO. Both of these institutions find it unconscionable that western states are providing widespread availability to boosters, while most Africans have not had even one dose of the numerous vaccines available.

There are other medicines which are used to treat COVID that are not accessible to most people in Africa and other developing states. However, there are operations underway in Africa where coronavirus vaccines are being produced in partnership with international institutions.

Even prior to the advent of COVID-19 two years ago, the African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative (AVMI) was formed. Its mission is described on its website as being: “Looking beyond the provision of vaccines in emergency situations the AVMI will coordinate efforts of African vaccine manufacturers and other interested parties, who have a vision to see Africa produce its own vaccines and biologicals for both routine and emergency situations. Working with governments, regional bodies, NGO’s, the private sector, academic institutions, and relevant key opinion leaders AVMI aims to create, through partnerships, an environment on the African continent, which is conducive to the emergence, development and sustainability of vaccine and biological manufacturers that meet global quality standards.” (https://www.avmi-africa.org/about-us/who-we-are/)

In July it was announced that Pfizer and BioNTech would collaborate with South Africa’s Biovac Institute to “fill and finish” the production process of COVID-19 vaccines for shipment to other African states. According to Reuters: “The agreement comes as Pfizer and BioNTech try to sway World Trade Organization (WTO) members from supporting a waiver on some intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines. It will make Biovac – a joint venture between the South African government and private sector partners – one of the few companies in Africa processing and distributing COVID-19 shots, and the first to do so using the mRNA technology.” (https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/pfizerbiontech-strike-south-africa-covid-19-manufacturing-deal-with-biovac-2021-07-21/)

Egypt is working in conjunction with the People’s Republic of China in its vaccine manufacturing and distribution project. China has developed its own coronavirus vaccines which are being shared with numerous African states. The process of manufacturing is essential in closing the gap between the continent and other geo-political regions.

Xinhua news agency in China says of the joint project with Egypt that: “The vaccines are being produced by Egyptian Holding Company for Biological Products and Vaccines (VACSERA) as per an agreement signed in April with Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac. ‘Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and in response to the global need of vaccines, we prepared ‘Factory 60’ inside one of the factories and production lines of VACSERA to produce COVID-19 vaccines in partnership with China’s Sinovac,’ said Egyptian Health Minister Hala Zayed in a recent tour inside VACSERA factory in Agouza district of Giza province near downtown Cairo. The minister pointed out that the Sinovac production line inside VACSERA factory in Agouza can meet the local needs of vaccines with a production capacity of 200 million doses annually.” (http://www.news.cn/english/africa/2021-09/07/c_1310173667.htm)

These joint operations related to COVID-19 vaccination production are being planned or are already underway in other states such as Senegal, Morocco and Algeria. Nonetheless, the demand for vaccines of all types along with adequate pharmaceutical and medical equipment require greater cooperation among African states in regard to the acquisition and manufacturing of these products. (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01048-1)

In the medium and long-terms, the manufacturing of healthcare necessities combined with scientific medical research will require the socialization of production. The last two years has revealed further that the 1.3 billion people on the continent cannot afford to wait for the charitable contributions of the West and other geo-political regions of the world.

Moreover, the democratization of healthcare resources on a global scale entails a protracted political struggle against world capitalism. Consequently, a united Africa will be in a much better position to acquire what is essential to effectively compete within international community.

Part II: Regional Conflict and the Role of Imperialism

From the western to the eastern regions the struggle against destabilization continues

Since 2020, the number of military interventions in African politics has accelerated.

However, what is often overlooked is the role of western governments and their military institutions in the deliberate undermining of national and regional stability.

The North African state of Libya is a prime example of the devastating impact of the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the State Department and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) under the direction of Washington when a decade ago the oil-rich state was destroyed. This imperialist project was the first full operation of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) founded three years earlier in 2008.

Today Libya remains mired in chaos failing on at least three occasions to establish a United Nations brokered functional government of national unity and to stem the persistent internecine warfare in the country. On December 24 elections were scheduled to take place. Nevertheless, the elections could not occur as a result of the incapacity of the elites to establish a coherent political system based on the interests of the majority of people within the society.

Under the Jamahiriya political dispensation headed by the late Col. Muammar Gaddafi, Libya had become the most prosperous state within the African Union (AU). The state was a bulwark of support for national liberation movements and social justice causes across Africa and the world.

Over the course of the last decade, Libya has become a source of conflict and instability throughout North and West Africa. Human trafficking has endangered lives of nationals and millions of migrants funneled through the country enroute to the Mediterranean and the European continent.

When looking at the current security situation in Mali, the origins of the present crisis beginning in 2012, can be traced to the Pentagon-NATO mission in Libya. The rebel groups which were recruited, paid, armed, coordinated and promoted by the imperialists had no consistent ideological orientation that could lead to the creation of a modern political state.

The rebel insurgencies in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and other states in the West Africa region follow a similar pattern. The focus of these armed groupings has been to create insecurity and destroy whatever development which exists.

Mali opposition parties and mass organizations were dissatisfied with the role of the former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita for several months in the aftermath of a disputed parliamentary election. The AU immediately attempted to intervene after the coup to encourage the restoration of civilian rule. An interim administration was established with the aims of transitioning to multi-party elections in the near future.

Problems involving the interim arrangements resulted in yet another coup in ten months. Col. Assimi Goita, the leader of both the 2020 and 2021 coups was trained in Pentagon war colleges in the U.S. The U.S. has groomed military figures such as Goita along with Col. Mamady Doumbouya, providing an explanation as to possibly why the AU has not been able to dislodge either of these men from state power.

Col. Doumbouya, as has Col. Goita, openly defied the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which had imposed sanctions in conjunction with the AU. Both military leaders are able to hold on to power while allowing transnational corporations to continue their exploitation of African land and resources.

The Federal Republic of Nigeria, the most populous state on the African continent, has proven incapable of resolving the Boko Haram insurgency in the north of the country since 2009. Current President Muhammadu Buhari, a career military official, ran for office in 2015 saying under his leadership Boko Haram would be defeated in six months.

Not only has Boko Haram continued to terrorize the people of the northeast it has spread to other contiguous states in the region such Chad, Cameroon and Niger. The group under the guise of radical Islam, has engaged in kidnappings, extortion, murder and sexual assault of children. The inability of the federal government to end the insurgency has created an atmosphere of greater insecurity in other regions including the northwest, central and south.

During 2021, Buhari was quoted as requesting the relocation of AFRICOM headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany to Nigeria. Such statements illustrate the lack of a strategic outlook among the current leadership of Nigeria with its more than 200 million people. What people should tell Buhari and other African leaders who believe that a greater Pentagon presence will translate into higher levels of national security, is that quite the opposite is true.

Since the advent of AFRICOM the security situation within the AU region has worsened. Until Africa can initiate its own independent military system to maintain security in the face of constant imperialist destabilization and exploitation, the overall development of the continent will remain stifled.

Horn of Africa and the Strategic Interests of Imperialism

The conflicts in Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia are all related to a similar effort to determine the economic future of these important states. Ethiopia is considered by many contemporary historians as the cradle of human civilization. Sudan has a history that is just as ancient and pivotal as Ethiopia. Somalia as well, with its location on the Indian Ocean and in close proximity to the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Peninsula, is coveted by Washington and Wall Street.

All of these states have natural resources which are important within the world economic system dominated by capitalism and imperialism. Sudan has enormous petroleum and other energy deposits along with Somalia. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project (GERD) provides the potential for a major enhancement of hydro-electric capacity in the East and North African regions.

U.S. machinations in Ethiopia has drawn the attention of many Africans within the continent and internationally. In many cities in the U.S. and around the world the #NoMore movement has gained recognition. Within the Ethiopian media there are numerous references daily to the need for unity against the hegemonic efforts of Washington. The rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is being groomed by Washington once again to takeover the government in Addis Ababa. The sanctions imposed by President Joe Biden are a continuation of the misguided foreign policy by the U.S. against Africa and its people. With the defeat of the latest rebel advances in Ethiopia, the administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has won respect among African people and genuine anti-imperialists around the globe.

A beleaguered Transitional Military Council (TMC) leadership in the Republic of Sudan are approaching the point of being further exposed for its inextricable links to imperialism. The democratic movement in Sudan is central to the overall crisis in the Horn of Africa. Egypt, which is the second largest recipient of aid from Washington, next to the State of Israel, is working feverishly to undermine the transformational process in Sudan and Ethiopia. Following its lead from Washington, Cairo has politicized the negotiations with the Abiy government over the filling of the GERD project. Sudan is being swayed due to the political orientation and economic vulnerability of the military junta.

Egypt wants to secure a permanent role for the western-backed military interests in Sudan. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was a military official who retired from the army to run for head-of-state after overthrowing a civilian administration in 2013. The U.S. cannot afford a politically independent government in Egypt, which is a gateway to the rest of Africa, West Asia and Southern Europe.

Pan-Africanism Becomes Critical to the Discussions Around Security  

Pan-Africanism is being demonstrated to a new generation of Africans. The only solution to the security crisis in Africa is unification.

The masses in Sudan and Ethiopia have pointed towards a new direction in political organizing and resistance to imperialism. Biden’s foreign policy in the Horn of Africa has incentivized the unity among Ethiopians, Eritreans and other peoples from around the continent. Any talks related to achieving stability in the Horn of Africa, West Africa and other regions must consider the destabilizing effect of imperialist militarism. Through the purported military training of the armed forces, to the supply of weapons and techniques of warfare, the U.S., France, Britain, the European Union (EU) and NATO have deeply penetrated the structures of the post-colonial African state.

During the coup in Conakry in May 2021, the presence of AFRICOM troops were strongly in evidence. These military leaders could not act with this degree of impunity absent of the full backing of transnational corporations, international finance capital and their security apparatuses. Stability and security will only be realized once the resources, land and labor of African people are retaken and used for the benefit of the majority.

Part III: Unification is Essential to Progress and Development

Economic stagnation requires immediate attention to foster qualitative growth and advancement

At the beginning of January of 2021, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) officially launched its ambitious efforts to unify the economies within the African Union (AU) region.

The plans stemmed from discussions which extend as far back as the 1950s and 1960s when the early Pan-Africanists and socialists in independent states and burgeoning national liberation movements recognized the need for breaking the colonial bondage imposed by Europe and the United States.

These detrimental links to colonialism and imperialism could not be thoroughly broken without an economic base from which to assert genuine independence and sovereignty. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the founder and leader of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) which pioneered the liberation of the Gold Coast (Ghana), stated at the independence ceremonies on March 6, 1957, that the independence of this former British colony was meaningless unless it was connected to the total freedom of the African continent.

A series of symbolic and substantive initiatives occurred between 1958 and 1963 including the Ghana-Guinea-Mali Union; the alliance of anti-imperialists states labeled the Casablanca Group; the Conference of Independence African States; the All-African People’s Conference; and the eventual founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa. The OAU was transformed into the African Union between 1999 at the Sirte conference in Libya through 2002 when the transition was completed in Durban, South Africa.

Of course, Dr. Nkrumah during the years between 1945-1972, wrote extensively on the necessity of African unification. The union of African governments and people would encompass the national economies, the trade unions, youth, women, military institutions and the establishment of a continental market based in socialist planning.

The urgency under which Nkrumah and other Pan-Africanists and anti-imperialists acted during the 1950s and 1960s was met with the obstinance and obstructionism of the colonial and neo-colonial power centers in Western Europe and North America. Today there are 54 independent AU member-states on the continent while the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) remains in a valiant fight to gain independence from the Kingdom of Morocco. Yet the economic and consequent genuine political independence remains elusive.

The AfCFTA has its Secretariat based in Ghana, which served as the fountainhead of Pan-Africanism and national liberation between 1957-1966, when Dr. Nkrumah, the president, was overthrown in a military coup backed by the U.S. and other imperialist governments. Other national liberation movements in the former Portuguese colonies, Rhodesia, South Africa, and Namibia were compelled to take up arms in their struggle for independence.

Africa Renewal in a report on the activation of AfCFTA said of the situation that: “The new market, created under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement is estimated to be as large as 1.3 billion people across Africa, with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of $3.4 trillion. This has a potential of lifting up to 30 million Africans out of extreme poverty, according to the World Bank. ‘This is not just a trade agreement, this is our hope for Africa to be lifted up from poverty,’ said Wamkele Mene, the Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Secretariat, at the virtual launch event. It is also expected to boost intra-African trade, promote industrialization, create job, and improve competitiveness of African industries on the global stage.” (https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/january-2021/afcfta-africa-now-open-business)

These aspirations will not be met in the short term due to the ongoing structural impediments to African unification and development. The dependency on foreign exchange payments for raw materials, agricultural products and bilateral trade agreements with the imperialist states and institutions are designed for the benefit of the West. Consequently, a redirection of economic priorities is required to achieve economic growth that is qualitative and sustainable.

This same report from Africa Renewal reveals: “The pact will also empower women by improving their access to trade opportunities. Women make up the largest share of informal traders, representing 70 per cent to 80 per cent in some countries. ‘Today is a historic day for Africa. In 1963 the founders of the Organization of African Unity had a vision of creating an Africa common market. The start of trading under the Africa continental free trade area today is an operational start towards the Africa common market. It has been a long journey of focus, determination and resilience,’ said Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, at the launch.”

However, there are other aspects which are critical to the success of the AfCFTA, that being the defense of African sovereignty amid the continuing legacy of imperialist plunder through enslavement, colonization and neo-colonialism. With the fracturing of nation-states, albeit inherited from the period of classical imperialist domination, represents a clear threat to the economic and social advancement of the majority of the 1.3 billion people. The AU needs greater political unity and efficacy to ensure that the societal underpinning necessary for market integration which can only be the logical outcome of the AfCFTA program.

Mozambique Security Crisis and the Southern African Development Community (SADC)

All along the Indian Ocean coast of East Africa there have been monumental discoveries of strategic energy resources over the last decade. From Somalia, to Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, natural gas and petroleum deposits are to be found in abundance.

Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony for five centuries, has overcome a national liberation war, a civil war, only to be challenged in the present period with an insurgency which has halted a monumental liquified natural gas project in the Cabo Delgado province. Islamic rebels claiming to represent the interests of the local population have disrupted the extraction and production process while dislocating hundreds of thousands of people inside the country.

The 16-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) has been drawn into the conflict since the rebels represent a warning to the entire subcontinent. Southern African has been the most consistent in fostering regional unity and therefore serves as a model for the rest of the continent. Although several nations within SADC have deployed troops to northern Mozambique along with the Central-Eastern African state of Rwanda, the problems of destabilization have not been resolved.

Eyewitness News based in the Republic of South Africa said of the contemporary situation: “Nearly 4,000 Mozambicans have fled their villages in a month due to intensifying jihadist attacks in Niassa, a province neighboring insurgency hotbed Cabo Delgado, a government official said Friday. Militants terrorizing the gas-rich northern Cabo Delgado province for the past four years have in recent weeks shifted their attacks to the west into Niassa. ‘There are 3,803 displaced so far. These are people who fled from areas targeted by attacks in Mecula district,’ Felismino Patricio, a government spokesman in Niassa province, told AFP by phone.

The latest displacements add to the more than 820,000 that have fled the insurgency in Cabo Delgado since 2017.” (https://ewn.co.za/2021/12/31/thousands-flee-as-mozambique-jihadists-shift-attacks)

These problems, which are by no means unique to the SADC region, require the attention of the AU and its Peace and Security Council (PSC). If the insurgency cannot be contained, it portends much for the future of similar development projects on the continent whether in the Horn of Africa, West Africa, the Northern region and the equally mineral-rich states of Central Africa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Chad. The indispensable demand for African wealth within the world economic system must become an asset rather than a grave liability for the people as the 21st century proceeds.

Climate Change and the Failure of Global Consensus

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) took place during late October and early November amid a two-years resurgence in mass action globally to end environmental degradation and its concomitant socioeconomic consequences. Mozambique and the SADC region are not only battling the insurgency within Cabo Delgado they are facing renewed climate disasters such as Cyclone Idai and Kenneth.

Internal conflict and the cycle of underdevelopment further threatens the capacity of governments and the people to maintain social stability. Dislocations from imperialist-influenced conflicts are compounded by the failure of the industrialized capitalist states to curb the production and distribution of harmful toxins into the atmosphere. The deforestation of large swaths of territories not only destroys communities, it results in the weakening of the ability to reproduce the essentials of a national and regional economy.

The role of the U.S. and other western states in delaying the imposition of a cohesive international environmental policy based upon mandates and timelines, illustrates the necessity of challenging the existing global division of economic power and labor. The Pentagon is by far the world’s greatest polluter, yet these issues were not adequately addressed at COP26 and other forums related to the impact of climate change.

Consequently, Pan-African unification programs cannot ignore the struggle against imperialism and its various manifestations. The hegemony of the U.S., Britain, the EU and their allies around the planet must be removed as an obstacle to the well-being and social advancement of the majority.

Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of Pan-African News Wire , an international electronic press service designed to foster intelligent discussion on the affairs of African people throughout the continent and the world. The press agency was founded in January of 1998 and has published thousands of articles and dispatches in newspapers, magazines, journals, research reports, blogs and websites throughout the world. The PANW represents the only daily international news source on pan-african and global affairs.