Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 Response

The scale and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic clearly rises to the level of a public health threat that could justify restrictions on certain rights, such as those that result from the imposition of quarantine or isolation limiting freedom of movement. At the same time, careful attention to human rights such as non-discrimination and human rights principles such as transparency and respect for human dignity can foster an effective response.

This document provides an overview of human rights concerns posed by the coronavirus outbreak, drawing on examples of government responses to date, and recommends ways governments and other actors can respect human rights in their response.


There’s no such thing as just ‘following the science’ – coronavirus advice is political

Jana Bacevic

As we’re seeing in this pandemic, politicians tend to favour the evidence that supports their argument

At this stage in the coronavirus crisis, the government seems to have made error after error. The UK was slow to enforce a lockdown that seemed inevitable, shortages of personal protective equipment contributed to unnecessary deaths and it seems doubtful the government will meet its self-imposed target of 100,000 tests per day by the end of this week. While other European leaders have laid out roadmaps for how they plan to lift the lockdown, explaining the science informing their respective approaches, the UK’s own exit strategy remains unclear. Until the identities of 23 members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) were revealed by the Guardian, they were shrouded in secrecy.

There is no such thing as the ‘best science available’. Scientists regularly disagree

Yet at every turn, the government has told us that it is “following the science”. Its strategy, we are told, is informed by the “best science available”. Though scientific evidence can be a sound justification for government action (or inaction), the relationship between science, politics and society is far more complex than the government would have us believe.

To begin with, there is no such thing as the “best science available”. Scientists regularly disagree about different issues, from theoretical approaches to methodologies and findings, and decisions about what kind of scientific advice is taken into account are highly political. The individuals, disciplines and institutions that are invited to the table reflect the distribution of research funds, prestige and influence, as well as the values and objectives of politicians and policymakers. When it came to austerity, for example, the former coalition government ignored the warnings of many macroeconomists in favour of evidence that supported its worldview. If there is no “magic money tree”, there is certainly no magic “best science” tree either.

The purpose of scientific advisory committees such as Sage is to distil existing scientific research so it can inform policy. But the remit of such advice is limited by the questions that politicians ask in the first place. In emergency situations, these questions sound less like “What is the best science on [X]?” and more like “What kind of intervention is likely to prevent [Y]?” What policymakers choose to prioritise at these moments is a matter of political judgment. Is it the lives of the elderly and the ill? Is it the economy? Or is it political approval ratings? These decisions matter. It also matters what questions politicians don’t ask, such as whether coronavirus will disproportionately affect people from black and ethnic minority communities, or whether the effects of lockdown will be worse for women.

Politicians tend to favour the kind of science that aligns with their existing preferences. In the worst case, this can lead to cherrypicking data, pejoratively called “policy-based evidence”. But it needn’t be that extreme. For instance, studies suggesting a very high transmission rate for Covid-19 have been coming out of China since January, and Neil Ferguson, whose team was behind the study cited as precipitating Britain’s change of course in managing the pandemic, first sent his report to a Cobra meeting on 24 January. In February, studies suggesting that a substantial proportion of Covid-19 cases may be asymptomatic appeared in scientific journals. Evidence supporting general social distancing was already there. It took a political change of direction for this kind of data to be presented as “the science”.

This tells us something important about the social nature of scientific knowledge. Scientific models are estimates, not oracles. Scientists can tell politicians the conditions under which their models are likely to work, but they are not responsible for creating those conditions. Blaming epidemiologists for the consequences of the government’s Covid-19 strategy is like blaming climate scientists for not preventing the climate crisis. Scientists can provide evidence, but acting on that evidence requires political will.

When it comes to policymaking, economic and political considerations tend to take precedence. Britain’s delay in enforcing a lockdown was at least in part due to the desire to postpone, if not avoid, an economic recession. The government’s decision to keep schools open was motivated by its desire to allow people to keep working. The refusal to join the EU PPE procurement scheme was probably intended to favour local suppliers, as well as to avoid being seen as not “delivering” Brexit.

The one kind of “science” whose role in the government’s response isn’t clear is the science of surveying and shaping public opinion. The evidence list of SPI-B, the Sage subcommittee on behavioural and social interventions, lists 16 polls and surveys conducted between January and March, tracking risk awareness, perception, and public approval for different kinds of governmental interventions. Of course, it is possible to argue public approval is necessary for measures to be effective: if people disagree with certain measures they are more likely to evade them. But this ignores one important aspect about the relationship between science, politics and public opinion:people’s opinions about science are shaped by how facts are presented in official guidelines and in the media.

In this sense, public health advice – which, throughout most of March, focused on handwashing and isolation of symptomatic cases – might have led to a self-fulfilling prophecy: if people believed the official guidelines, it is not surprising they would have been reluctant to support stricter lockdown and social distancing. It was only after a number of independent experts, including the editor of the Lancet, Richard Horton, started openly questioning the government’s strategy, that public opinion overwhelmingly shifted in favour of a lockdown.

As long as both the results of these surveys and the Sage and Cobra minutes remain confidential, there is no way to tell exactly how the perception of public approval for different kinds of measures shaped the government’s strategy. But focusing attention only on one element in this chain – “the science” – eschews questions of political responsibility. How science is turned into policy depends upon political and economic calculations, as well as on the moral and ideological commitments of politicians, political parties and policy advisers. It’s rarely, if ever, just about the “science”.

Jana Bacevic is a sociologist at the University of Cambridge

Source: The Guardianhttps://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/28/theres-no-such-thing-just-following-the-science-coronavirus-advice-political?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_News_Feed&fbclid=IwAR0GUoau4eGk2qusG7g0n_mgIRYzrMDFfJdj05LAu18l0tZ5_8iaf1pLAO0

Changer !, par Pr Mary Teuw Niane

Changer n’est pas facile ; abandonner les vieilles habitudes qui deviennent certitudes à force d’être répétées ; remettre en cause notre manière de faire qui s’impose à nous comme une routine instinctive, inscrite dans nos manières de penser ; avoir le courage d’aller à contre courant de l’image que l’opinion a façonnée pour nous dans la position où nous sommes ; refuser les avantages alors que les moyens illicites d’en profiter sont disponibles ; s’abstenir d’ostentation lorsque griots et laudateurs sont prêts à nous bâtir une généalogie et un hymne trafiqués ; accepter l’humilité de toujours apprendre, se former et se cultiver ; avoir le courage de s’investir au service de son pays et de son peuple sans rien demander en retour que le juste salaire qui nous revient ; vivre sa passion, son engagement et son amour pour son prochain, son peuple, sa patrie plus que sa propre personne, sa propre famille ; enfin inscrire son projet de réussite personnel dans le grand programme d’émancipation de son pays et de l’Afrique.

Changer, c’est avant tout, décider, accepter, trouver un avantage moral, éthique, spirituel, intellectuel, avoir un intérêt à changer. Nous le savons, les mentalités survivent longtemps après la disparition des conditions matérielles qui leur ont donné naissance.  Comment alors dans une société qui a une tendance atavique à toujours revenir sur ses pas, à ramener les vieilles habitudes sous des oripeaux plus destructeurs, à couper les têtes qui débordent, à ensevelir l’individu sous le diktat de la communauté plus préoccupée par sa survie que par sa transformation, l’individu peut-il assumer son individualité et son autonomie pour s’en extirper et oser une remise en cause salvatrice ? Et pourtant tel devrait être le destin de l’intellectuel africain ! Entre le pouvoir, les pouvoirs qui imposent soumission et exécution de directives écrites, le plus souvent non écrites et plus contraignantes, les exigences d’une représentation sociale de la réussite, de l’utilité et de la considération, il est difficile de trouver un chemin taillé à sa propre personnalité, sans tambours, ni trompettes, sans heurts, pour bâtir un engagement patriotique sincère à construire son pays.

Le changement de mentalité, le changement tout court, la naissance d’une forte communauté ouverte et engagée dans la transformation de la société, passent par l’éducation et la formation qui doivent transcender l’éducation et la formation disciplinaires qui sont certes très importantes. Cependant elles ne suffisent pas à former les citoyens nouveaux qu’impose la marche vers le monde nouveau qui se construit sans notre permission. De la Chine communiste aux États-Unis capitaliste, la formation de la citoyenne et du citoyen est au cœur du projet de société mis en œuvre. Ce n’est pas une affaire de système économique et social encore moins une question idéologique, c’est la prise de conscience de la nécessité de mobiliser toute la société vers la réalisation d’un objectif dont il faut la convaincre de son bien fondé et l’engager librement, volontairement à être partie prenante de sa mise en œuvre. 

Tout est en train de changer sous la pression des idées, des fake news, des nouveaux outils, des méthodes, des moyens de pression, de la manipulation et de la soumission des esprits. L’Afrique, les pays africains sont soumis à une pression  énorme et constante venant de l’extérieur. La peur, la perte de confiance en soi, la perte de confiance par rapport aux autorités et à toutes les autorités, la création de multitudes de nouveaux pôles dont la légitimité est fabriquée par les médias et les financements extérieurs, sont aujourd’hui une des faces de l’influence extérieure en plus des pressions sur les autorités en place. Cette pandémie du COVID19 devrait nous instruire : combien de millions de morts du covid19 a-t-on déjà prédit pour l’Afrique ? Cette prédiction macabre ne s’est pas estompée qu’on nous annonce des millions d’africains victimes de la famine ! Il est à parier que le marché mondial de la misère est très florissant sur le continent africain ! Les modèles endogènes sont niés, les réussites, en dehors des officines secrètes qui nous les imposent, sont déconstruites, les responsabilités individuelles sont bannies car, dit-on, relevant d’application de simples injonctions de forces extérieures. Cette manière de voir infantilise les africains et l’Afrique. Elle est bénéfique pour tous ceux qui travaillent, avec beaucoup de moyens, de cerveaux et d’intelligences africains, patiemment, ouvertement et dans l’ombre, à la balkanisation des africains, des territoires, des pays et de l’Afrique. 

Changer, c’est aussi admettre que nous avons des héros, des savants, de bonnes et de mauvaises autorités, des compétences, des traitres, des criminels, des mécènes, des adultes, des ouvriers, des paysans, des femmes, des jeunes, chacun doit être entièrement responsable de ce qu’il fait et non de ce qu’on pense qu’il fait. Changer, c’est aussi admettre que nous avons des valeurs qui favorisent la transformation de la société, la reddition des comptes, l’émulation, la sanction positive et négative (sa guémigne khassaw na sa doomu ndey moo la koy wakh, waaw goor baakh na ci kuy liggeey, etc.). Effectivement changer, c’est bâtir une société dans laquelle chacun est responsable, peu importe qui l’inspire, il est le seul responsable devant la société et le peuple souverain. Refusons d’être les véhicules inconscients de l’indignité africaine qui veut que derrière ou dans la tête de presque chaque africain, il y ait une personne étrangère qui soit la maîtresse de ses pensées ou de ses actes. Une société sans repères, sans modèles, sans valeurs, est vouée à l’effondrement et à l’assujettissement. Rassurons-nous, nul modèle, nul héros n’est parfait ! 

Changer, c’est faire confiance à nos ressources humaines, à nos compétences, à nos entreprises, à nos capitaux, à notre esprit d’innovation, à nos esprits créatifs, etc. Changer, c’est protéger et préserver notre environnement et nos ressources naturelles. Changer, c’est aussi prendre l’investissement humain comme une partie du capital, c’est nous imposer dans certains segments prometteurs du marché international, bâtir des espaces de souveraineté économique et financière qui sont les leviers sur lesquels nous nous appuyons pour bâtir notre émancipation économique et sociale.

Changer est une affaire individuelle et collective, mais aucun changement qualitatif, général et collectif n’est possible, s’il n’est porté par l’autorité politique, les autorités politiques, les pouvoirs publics, les communautés, les femmes et les jeunes.

Le changement, la culture de changement seront mûrs lorsque les écrivains, les poètes, les artistes s’en empareront, alors par l’écriture, par  la magie du verbe, de l’image et la symphonie des corps, le peuple subjugué, conquis et convaincu, adhèrera aux transformations économiques, sociales et culturelles.

Unis et engagés, nous vaincrons.

Mary Teuw Niane. Ancien ministre de l’Enseignement Supérieur de Sénégal.

African song “Pata Pata” revived to spread word on COVID-19.

The popular song by the late Grammy-award winning singer Miriam Makeba has been re-released with new lyrics to spread information about coronavirus to vulnerable communities Pata Pata means “touch touch” in Xhosa.The new version sung by Beninese


Epidemics in Africa at the turn of 21st Century A continuous threat to people, a major challenge for health systems

Marie Roseline Darnycka Bélizaire

Daogo Sosthène ZOMBRE

This paper is a contribution to the upcoming Vol. XI of the UNESCO book series on the General History of Africa, temporarily entitled Global Africa Today.

Note: The French version can be read at the end of the English version

This chapter discusses three key aspects of the problem of epidemics in Africa. Their trail in relation to international trade, their recurrence and key prevention strategies undertaken by the countries, their early detection and effective response.

An epidemic is defined as the rapid and sudden spread of an infectious disease proliferating to a large number of people in an area. A pandemic, meanwhile, is the spread of an epidemic to a whole continent or to the whole world. Outbreaks can be bacterial or viral. They are, in most cases, highly contagious with a very high rate of propagation. Epidemics have always represented a great challenge for humanity. Communities are often considerably marked by loss of life, economic depression and social mayhem. Often of unexpected origin and of unidentified past trail, they have been known to decimate between 20-30% of the population of affected communities. In 430 BCE for example, a smallpox epidemic shrunk the population of Athens in Greece by 20% (Retief, Cilliers, 1999).

This contribution provides a brief update on major epidemics in Africa in the early 21st century with a focus on Sub-Saharan Africa, and on response measures outlined by the countries, with the help of partners, to minimize their impact.

Exchange and spread of epidemics to Africa

The Justinian Plague, which began in 541, lasted nearly 200 years and killed about 50 million people in the Middle East, Asia and the Mediterranean basin, and by the year 567 spread to North Africa brought along by travellers. Europeans travelling in this part of the continent described a series of raging infectious diseases in the 18th-19th century. Most of them probably introduced by immigrants from Europe or the Middle East. The third plague pandemic began in the late 19th century (1894) in Yunnan in China. It struck Madagascar in 1896[i].

A number of diseases, becoming endemic in Africa, have also been introduced from other continents. Such as cholera. First encountered in the Indian subcontinent (Sarkar, Kanungo, Nair, 2012), the disease spread worldwide, in the 19th century along the trade routes. The six pandemics after cholera have killed millions of people on every continent. The current pandemic, the seventh, started in South Asia in 1961 and reached Africa in 1971, where cholera is now prevalent. Smallpox has also been imported into Africa in the 16th century by European settlers (Collins, Burns, 2014). This disease was introduced in 1755 in Cape Town, South Africa, by infected Europeans from east India. In 1864-1865, a major epidemic struck Namibia and Angola; it practically led to the annihilation of trade due to the depopulation of central Angola. In the 20th century, the influenza pandemic, commonly known as “Spanish flu”, which Chinese origin is still uncertain, and which resulted in the loss of 20-50 million victims worldwide, pursued its rampage in North and South Africa in the last months of 1918 (Philips, 2014).

More recently, in the early 21st century (in 2000), a Meningococcal NmW135 cerebrospinal meningitis epidemic spread from Saudi Arabia. It travelled across the African continent, including Burkina Faso, Niger, Central Africa, Senegal and Chad. In 2002, this strain resulted in more than 1447 deaths in Burkina Faso (Nicolas, 2012). Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), first reported in China in 2002, affected South Africa in April 2003[ii].

The extraordinary expansion in connections, especially by air, has shortened distances, brought people closer and transformed our world into a very tightly connected “village”. The latest report of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), dated 02 January 2017, indicates that the total number of passengers travelling on scheduled services reached 3,700 million in 2016 worldwide.

Africa has witnessed 3% of the world market for international passenger air traffic expressed as revenue passenger kilometres (RPK); the African international air traffic market rose from 2.3% in 2015 to 5.7% in 2016[iii]. The exchanges have had a positive impact on African economies, but have also increased the risk of spreading infectious diseases not only within the continent but also from Africa to other continents and vice versa. The first two decades of the 21st century have henceforth witnessed an increase in the number of outbreaks compared to the last decades of the 20th century.

Africa, permanently exposed to risks of epidemics

With its environmental, economic, social and cultural characteristics, Africa was and still is in the 21st century a continent where communicable diseases spread easily and rapidly. They are frequently deadly.

The continent has undeniable environmental assets: steady climate and rich biosphere, mainly in tropical and equatorial regions. However, this situation is also conducive to the proliferation of disease vectors (mosquitoes) and of microorganisms responsible for various diseases affecting a large number of its inhabitants.

According to scientists, yellow fever has evolved in Africa since 3000 years before our

era. It was exported to the American continent on ships carrying captives from West Africa, at the turn of 17th century[iv]. Typhus and tuberculosis appeared during the 17th century in Africa. The spread of epidemics on the continent is due to economic and sanitary conditions: a capped slice of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dedicated to health, inadequate health care systems and poverty limit people’s access to them. Rituals and beliefs based on myths and legends, form the basis of much behaviour detrimental to health. The great majority of Africans officially proclaim to be Christians or Muslims but don’t actually let go of their local religions or customs[v]. For example funeral practices, with washing and dressing the corpse, lengthy vigils, prayers for the dead and the burials to which relatives and friends attend in large numbers. In Guinea, 60% of the EVD epidemic is a result of partaking in the washing and dressing of a relative[vi]. Other practices likely to promote the spread of epidemics include eating off the same plate, using only the hands in places with very poor hygiene conditions or sleeping on the same large mats, or frequently visiting the sick.

                   Figure 1: Epidemics frequency between 2000 and 2006

Moreover, despite the recommendations laid out by the Conference of Ministers of Education of the African Union in 2005[vii], the education rate remains low on the continent: In 2016, 26% of illiterate adults in the world lived in Sub-saharan Africa[viii]. All these socio-cultural factors contribute to the spread of outbreaks.

In accordance with the requirements of the International Health Regulations, dating from 1969 and revised in 2005, commonly known as the IHR, countries must notify to WHO epidemics affecting them and posing a threat to the international community. As a reminder, the IHR impose on the Member States to put in place the minimum requirements to detect, notify and respond, in a timely and adequate manner, to public health emergencies. It is organized around 19 technical areas.

Figure 2: Geographic distribution of epidemics in Africa

The WHO region of Malawi[ix] has recorded 602 infectious incidents (including poliomyelitis) from November 2000 to December 2006 (fig. 2). For this period, the Democratic Republic of Congo reported 12.29% (74/602) of the epidemics, an average of 14 infectious incidents per year (full period 2001- 2006), at least one epidemic per month; it is followed by Nigeria: 10.13% (61/602). Uganda and Kenya were also very affected, with more than 30 reports. However, there may be a discrepancy between these figures and the exact estimate of disease burden because many of the cases are not diagnosed due to weaknesses in surveillance systems and fears from countries of negative impacts on the population, trade and tourism.

The most common diseases are the cholera, yellow fever, meningococcal meningitis, measles, wild-type poliomyelitis, typhoid fever and shigellosis. There were in total 164 cholera epidemics from 2001 to 2006. In 2003, 18 cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) were reported.

From 2011 to 2017[x], a total of 447 outbreaks were reported in Africa. The polio epidemics are excluded, a critical illness which is the subject of a very special reporting process throughout the above mentioned period. The most common infections are of zoonotic viral origin. However, pathogens of bacterial and parasitic origin also play an important role in the multiplication of epidemics on the continent. The most affected countries have common characteristics: vast territories, a high number of inhabitants, a low Human Development Index (HDI) between 0.353-0.527 (14). They have benefited from the programme to strengthen the epidemiological surveillance system for part of the studied period (fig. 2).

The analysis of outbreaks per year during the second decade of the 20th century, shows a curve with peaks of over 70 incidents in 2012 and 2016. The situation was fairly stable between 2013 and 2015 with rates ranging between 61-63 epidemics. It should be remembered that the years 2014-2016 were particularly marked by the deadly EVD epidemic. However, outbreaks are on the rise since the beginning of 2017. In 39 countries, a total 134 outbreaks occurred during the year 2017; the most common are due to viral haemorrhagic fever (28%), cholera (10%) and measles (8%).

Fight against epidemics and prospects

            Measures to combat epidemics are of a logistics, operational and financial nature. To protect people, the African countries are getting organised: opening of quarantine wards in hospitals, building of medical centres and clinics, raising public awareness and implementing prevention policies by vaccinations (routine immunization and mass campaigns). With the multiplication of vaccines and antibiotics, some diseases, previously devastating – such as smallpox, meningitis, measles, cholera, tetanus or diphtheria – saw a significant reduction of their impact on mortality in Africa[xi].

In 1998, the WHO African Region Member States have developed an Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) strategy across the continent. The first edition of the IDSR Technical Guide has been widely adopted and adapted throughout the African region at the beginning of the 21st century (2001) (18). This surveillance integrates and empowers communities to actively involve them in prevention strategies (community-based surveillance). This makes it possible to set up early warning systems and quickly organize the response. The social mobilization of populations is therefore essential for the implementation of this strategy (18).

If, between 2014-2016, the Ebola outbreak was a potential threat to regional and global health security, it nevertheless allowed to draw attention again to the implementation of the IHR 2005 and the need for countries to have strong health systems to respond to sanitary incidents. Aware of this situation, the governments have adapted to the different global and regional strategies, in terms of readiness and response to public health emergencies. Between 2016 and early 2018 on the African continent, 35 countries conducted an assessment on their readiness and response to public health emergencies. A joint external audit assigning scores to the IHR 48 core capacity indicators was carried out, while identifying priority measures for each country according to its capacities at the time of the assessment. These priority measures must be used to develop a national action plan for health safety to which all affected partners must align.

These strategies go beyond the tackling of epidemics only. Indeed, the Countries are intensifying their capacities to be ready and respond to all hazards (biological, chemical, radioactive, natural disasters) capable of causing a public health problem of international scope. The initiatives were put in place in collaboration with various partners (Global Fund[xii], GAVI[xiii], IHP+[xiv], HHA[xv] and others) who are active in health programmes on the continent. Key agreements were drawn up with Pasteur Institutes for the identification of certain types of infectious agents causing epidemics and for quality control in laboratories diagnostics. The same with the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA (CDC Atlanta) in terms of quality control and the enhancement of laboratories capacities, epidemiological surveillance, training in field epidemiology. Operations development partners (multi-lateral or bilateral cooperation, international NGOs) have been active in the support of access to care initiatives for populations and have thus contributed to the bolstering of global health security. The United Nations System (SNU) supports governments in all aspects of epidemic management and other health emergencies. In 2005, the sectoral responsibility approach was adopted by the UN to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian action. The WHO, on the other hand, as a leader in the health sector, encourages and continuously advocates active leadership and a more substantial commitment from governments in identifying their needs and management of aid. It provides support in development support and availability of manuals and guides; it promotes wide-range training in all countries of the continent. It assists countries in adopting key strategies for managing epidemics.

On an operational scale, the Countries have put in place coordination mechanisms, at both national and multinational level, in collaboration with partners, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the communities themselves. Many countries have established health emergency operations centres. There is an endeavour to consolidate national programmes for prevention and control of infections, the treatment of cases, the empowerment of national laboratories, epidemiological surveillance and logistics emergency development which includes setting up of emergency services in locations identified during periodic risk assessments.

The tackling of the EVD epidemic has highlighted the importance of getting people involved in risk management. This has optimized the chances of obtaining convincing results. By being more aware of life’s hazards, and their anticipation, populations can better protect themselves through the acquisition of knowledge and a change of behaviour drawn from memory, life experience as well as family education. Community involvement is essential to counteract outbreaks. Although much of the response and prevention strategies must be implemented and coordinated by the State, to be effective, the fight must include a set of actions undertaken by communities that integrate them into their cultural practices. On the other hand, these actions must also lead to a remedy in funerary rites to guarantee the safe and dignified burial of the deceased as asserted by the communities. The lessons learned from the tackling of the EVD were highlighted in the recent handling of the plague epidemic in Madagascar in 2017, where steps have been taken to ensure that burials respect local customs while also respecting health rules.

Governments need to foster close cooperation with the communities through health campaigns so that the remedies in cultural behaviour happen naturally by integrating health concepts into the daily lives of people. Communities need to be actively involved in public health for them to benefit and to gain more from services and get better results in terms of impacts on the lives of individuals. The Countries must work with the communities to obtain their collective and individual commitment to fight epidemics. It is now imperative to involve the community in public health actions outside epidemics to ensure that the conduct is consistent during periods of epidemics.

Mass vaccination programmes at multinational level were held across Africa in the fight against polio, measles and meningococcal meningitis. In 2010, the meningitis belt countries launched a massive vaccination programme against meningococcal meningitis A, using a revolutionary vaccine that provided immunity for more than ten years. More than one hundred million people were vaccinated between 2010 and 2015 and more than 116 million in 2017.

In 2006, “the Yellow Fever Initiative” was launched to ensure the global supply of yellow fever vaccine and boost immunity in populations. From 2007 to 2016, thanks to this initiative, 14 countries conducted preventive vaccination programmes against yellow fever, more than 105 million people were vaccinated.

After the epidemic, the WHO member states (193 countries) adopted a new programme designed to address all risks that may endanger public health, in an adaptable manner, swiftly and with the principle of “no regrets”. This programme helped to meet the immediate needs of populations’ health affected by crises and at the same time lowered their vulnerability[xvi].

On the financial side, most countries have formulated their own plans for the speedy provision of resources. The regional economic communities, the Arab Maghreb Union, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the Community of Sahelo-Saharan States, the Economic Community of Central African States, the East African Community, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the South Africa Development Community (SADC) ensured coordination at the sub-regional level. In 2012, the African Public Health Emergency Fund was created. It is funded by contributions from all 47 members of the WHO African region which purpose is to help countries in difficulty. It is actually a solidarity fund for epidemics. Countries also have the opportunity to appeal to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) established by the United Nations System. Other logistics partners and donors also have fast financing mechanisms for emergencies available to countries in difficulty; the aid is either paid directly to governments or through international NGOs[xvii]. Via the Regional Disease Surveillance Systems Enhancement (REDISSE), the World Bank has supported the countries of West Africa in enhancing animal and human health systems to fight against infectious diseases

This project with a budget of US $ 114.06 million covers the period 2017-2023 and comprises five main components.: i) surveillance and information systems, ii) laboratory capacity enhancement, iii) emergency readiness and response iv) human resource management for effective disease surveillance and preparedness for epidemics, and v) strengthening of institutional capacity of Project Management and Coordination.

Thus, epidemics remain a major public health issue in Africa. The continent is the epicentre of health challenges of the 21st century. Significant grappling efforts are being made by countries and the international community, with encouraging results and sustained enthusiasm. However, whilst some diseases are becoming scarce, “new micro-organisms” are emerging, resistant to antimicrobials and threaten to destabilize not only health systems but also African economies, making the fight against epidemics a significant component of development. It is also important to note the presence of other humanitarian crises (armed conflicts, massive displacements of populations, terrorism) which increase the risks of epidemics and hinders their tackling. Nevertheless, African States should use the fight against epidemics as an opportunity to enhance their health systems as a whole and to advance towards the establishment of a universal health system, for a population deprived of basic health care cannot ensure its economic and social development.


Collins RO, Burns JM., 2014, A History of Sub-Saharan Africa, Second Edition, chapter 12, “Diseases and crops, old and new” p.190-199, Cambridge University Press.

Nicolas P., 2012, Épidémies de méningite à méningocoques dans la ceinture de la méningite (1995-2011) et introduction du vaccin méningococcique A conjugué, Med Sante Trop, 22 , p 246-258.

Retief FP, Cilliers L., 1998, “The epidemic of Athens, 430-426 BC” S Afr J Med., Jan, 88 (1), p 50-53.

Phillips H., 2014, “Influenza Pandemic (Africa)”, International Encyclopedia of the First World War 1914-1918, online 2014, online access on 22 July 2017. Available at: https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/influenza_pandemic_africa

Sarkar BL, Kanungo S, Nair GB, 2012, “How endemic is cholera in India?” The Indian Journal of Medical Research, 2012, 135 (2), p 246-248.

[i]Geneawiki, « Nos ancêtres et la peste », online access on 22 July 2017, available at: https://fr.geneawiki.com/index.php/Nos_anc%C3%AAtres_et_la_peste.

[ii] World Health Organization (WHO). Preparedness and response. Cumulative Number of Reported Probable Cases of SARS. 11 July 2003, online access on 22 July 2017, available at: http://www.who.int/csr/sars/country/2003_07_11/en/

[iii] International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In 2016, increase in airline traffic and profitability were important elements of air transport, online access on 5 July 2017, available at: https://www.icao.int/Newsroom/Pages/ES/traffic-growth-and-airline-profitability-were-highlights-of-air-transport-in-2016.aspx

[iv] Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Office of Surveillance, Epidemiology and Laboratory services. Scientific Education and Professional Development Programme. History Timeline Transcript of Yellow fever. Online access on 1 July 2017, available at: https://www.cdc.gov/travel-training/local/HistoryEpidemiologyandVaccination/HistoryTimelineTranscript.pdf

[v] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Histoire générale de l’Afrique, volume VIII, L’Afrique depuis 1935, chapter 17, p 533-553, Online access on 22 July 2017, available at: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001843/184344f.pdf

[vi] World Health Organisation (WHO), Alerte au niveau mondial. Obstacles à un endiguement rapide de la flambée de maladie à virus Ebola, 11 August 2014, online access on 22 July 2017, available at: http://www.who.int/csr/disease/ebola/overview-august-2014/fr/

[vii] African Union (AU), Document of UNESCO, « Education and culture in Africa’s quest for development », Conference of Ministers of Education of the African Union (COMEDAF II), 1st Ordinary Session 8-11 April 2005 Algeria, online access on 22 July 2017, available at: http://ocpa.irmo.hr/resources/docs/COMEDAFII_Unesco_EdCultRole-en.pdf

[viii] UNESCO Institute of Statistics, Information Bulletin of the UIS, September 2016, 38, online access on 28 juin 2017, available at: http://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/fs38-50th-anniversary-of-international-literacy-day-literacy-rates-are-on-the-rise-but-millions-remain-illiterate-2016-fr.pdf

[ix] The WHO African region comprises 47 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, plus Algeria for North Africa.

[x] The analysis was conducted in March 2017 by the Infectious Risk Management Programme of the WHO new Health Emergencies Programme. The data was collected until February 2017 and yet incomplete for 2016.

[xi] World Health Organisation (WHO), Statistiques sanitaires mondiales 2014, online access on 23 July 2017, available at: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/131954/1/9789240692688_fre.pdf?ua=1; World Health Organisation (WHO), La santé des populations: les mesures efficaces. Le rapport sur la santé dans la Région africaine 2014, online access on 22 July 2017, available at: http://www.aho.afro.who.int/sites/default/files/publications/2446/ARHR-2014-fr.pdf?ua=1; World Health Organisation (WHO), Activités de l’OMS dans la région africaine. Rapport biennal 2014-2015 de la Directrice régionale, online access on 22 July 2017, available at: http://www.sante-tchad.td/attachments/article/36/Rapport%20Biennal%20de%20la%20%20%20DG.pdf

[xii] Established in 2002, the Global Fund is an international public-private financing mechanism and not an executive agency. The Global Fund, however, works in partnership with countries and executive agencies to improve health prospects.

[xiii] GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation): Established in 2001, the GAVI Alliance is a global public-private partnership that brings together developing countries, private and public partners, international organizations and the vaccine industry in industrialized and developing countries to increase access to vaccination in the most deprived countries.

[xiv] IHP+ (International Health Partnership): created in 2007, it aims to improve MDG prospects and ensure universal access to health services.

[xv] HHA (Harmonization for Health in Africa): regional mechanism established in 2006, includes the regional directors of the United Nations institutions and development agencies active in the health sector.

[xvi] World Health Organisation (WHO), Statistiques sanitaires mondiales 2014., online access on 23 July 2017, available at: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/131954/1/9789240692688_fre.pdf?ua=1; World Health Organisation (WHO), La santé des populations: les mesures efficaces. Le rapport sur la santé dans la Région africaine 2014, online access on 22 July 2017, Available at: http://www.aho.afro.who.int/sites/default/files/publications/2446/ARHR-2014-fr.pdf?ua=1; World Health Organisation (WHO), Activités de l’OMS dans la région africaine. Rapport biennal 2014-2015 de la Directrice régionale, online access on 22 July 2017, available at: http://www.sante-tchad.td/attachments/article/36/Rapport%20Biennal%20de%20la%20%20%20DG.pdf

[xvii] World Health Organisation (WHO). Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) 2010.

YOUTH ON THE FRONTLINE AGAINST COVID-19. New section with videos

Sixteen includes now a new section with videos aimed at sharing stories of young women and men working on the frontlines against the pandemic. https://sixteens.fr/videos-media/

We start this new section with videos sent by young scientists and environmental activists who represent the Cuban chapter of the Caribbean Youth Network on Climate Change, launched at the Second UNESCO Science School for the Caribbean, last December in Havana, Cuba.

They are actively engaged now in a wide scope of activities in national programmes to fight the COVID-19, from working long hours in labs, assisting in epidemiological community tasks, supporting services of health care centers, running the information networks, and assisting in food production.

Lázaro Márquez (Cuba), Coordinator of the National Biosphere Reserve of Guanahacabibes (Western Cuba), and member of the Caribbean Youth Network on Climate Change, shares his experiences about fighting the COVID-19 (29 April 2020)

Yanelis Peña Guerra (Cuba), National Coordinator of the Cuban Network og Young Environmentalists and member of the Caribbean Youth Network on Climate Change, shares his experiences about fighting the COVID-19 (30 April 2020)

Luis David Almeida, General Coordinator of the project ‘Manglar Vivo’ (live Mangrove), Jessica Pedraza Azúa, Chief of the Department of Informatics of the Ministry of Technology, Science and the Environment (CITMA) and Liana Aguilera Ramírez, member of the Caribbean Youth Network on Climate Change, share their experiences about fighting the COVID-19 (28 April 2020)

YOUTH ON THE FRONTLINE AGAINST COVID-19. The voice of youth and younger professionals must be represented in national plans for the post COVID-19 era

Conservationist points to ‘glaring gaps’ in Economic Recovery Committee

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Cat Island Conservation Institute (CICI) founder and executive director Nikita Shiel-Rolle has joined critics of the newly formed Economic Recovery Committee, pointing to glaring gaps in an open letter to the prime minister.

In offering her suggestions, Shiel-Rolle noted that the establishment of the Committee is “a much-needed step towards re-imagining what a sustainable and resilient Bahamas looks like”.

“The committee as it stands is comprised of economic leaders who represent the old Bahamian economic model – a dependence on finance and tourism,” she said.

“The finance sector and tourism have been the driving engine of our economy for decades. In the current COVID-19 world we must now re-imagine and take to heart the subject of diversifying our economy.”

She continued: “Furthermore, while we are recreating our economic engine in the immediate shadow of COVID-19 we cannot forget the real and pressing matters as it relates to climate change and how COVID-19 and the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian presents a glimpse of real and existential threats to the Bahamian people.

“All development plans going forward be them health-related, education, environmental, or economic must take into account The UN Sustainable Development Goals. Of utmost priority must be to include the science of climate change to inform our national development plan.

Shiel-Rolle said: “A most unfortunate situation would be for millions of dollars to be spent to drive economic recovery only for our economy to take a third hit because the realities of climate disasters and the need for climate adaptation were not taken into account.”

Shiel-Rolle, who also founded Young Marine Explorers, noted officials must ensure the new economic model engenders holistic sustainability while ushering in innovative, empowering and diverse economic opportunities that allow Bahamians to live in harmony with nature.

“I encourage you to identify experts in small island sustainability, sustainable natural resource use and management, community conservation, arts and culture, and climate action to add to your committee,” she said.

“Additionally, as the recovery committee should be planning for the long term future economic stability of The Bahamas the voice of youth and younger professionals under the age of 40 must be represented. The minds that are creating our new economic model should be representative of all Bahamians, which must include individuals who understand the nuances of life in the Family Islands.

Shiel-Rolle added: “Lastly, I would like to remind you that experts come from all backgrounds and that academic credentials should not be the sole determining factor for economic innovation.”

Nikita Shiel-Rolle is the founder and executive director of the Cat Island Conservation Institute (CICI) in The Bahamas, founder of the Young Marine Explorers, and one of the coordinators of the Caribbean Youth Network on Climate Change supported by UNESCO.

Eyewitness News, 26 April 2020


YOUTH ON THE FRONTLINE AGAINST COVID-19. Activities of the Caribbean Youth Network on Climate Change (CYNCC) in Cuba

Members of the Network, representing youth institutions and organizations of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA), the Youth Technical Brigades (BTJ), the Environment Agency (AMA), the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO-Cuba), the Institute of Meteorology (INSMET), are linked, from social isolation, to conduct research and social awareness as part of the national programmes for the sanitary emergency of COVID-19. This responds to a call from the government to contain and mitigate the spread of the disease. Since the declaration of the pandemic in the national territory, training and awareness-raising actions have been carried out in the communities.

Social studies have been carried out in the affected territories and in the most vulnerable sectors of the population for care and treatment. A sociodemographic observatory has been established to monitor effects of COVID-19, with the aim of reducing vulnerabilities.

The participation of young researchers in Temporary Working Groups for the fight against  the pandemic, has allowed them to assume key responsibilities in the processing and analysis of different indicators that are necessary for the study the of the virus and its impacts in the population of the country.

The collaboration between the Institute of Meteorology and the Ministry of Public Health includes analyses on the influence of climate conditions on the behavior of the pathogen and on the human organism. This work has yielded evidence on the circulation of the virus, and its specific impact on tropical weather conditions. In addition, young members of the network are actively working on the preparation of  a weather information service requested by the Ministry of Health (MINSAP), as well as on the critical review and analysis of scientific articles that link weather variables with the virus.

Other youth actions include support to epidemiological inquiries in communities, social assistance to vulnerable population groups, and tasks related to patient care in isolation centres established by the Ministry of Health.  

The scientific output of other young members of the Network is expressed in articles, in studies linked to perceptions of climate change and ecosystem-based adaptation measures, all of which are contributing to the national country reports to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change.

The Youth Technical Brigades, under the leadership of a member of the Network, supports productive work in key sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, to meet crucial local demands of food in times of pandemic and social isolation.


Jessica Pedraza Azúa , specialist at the Ministry of Technology, Science and the Environment (CITMA) and member of the Network, comments on her experiences in Covid-19 times:

In my case, as a young specialist in information and communications technologies applied to sciences and environmental activities, I have supported through social networks the dissemination of messages that promote social distancing, the perception of risks related to the virus, the rational use of water at a time when the country faces a serious drought, and in relation to electricity saving measures that are positive for the environment and the economy”.

I have developed measures to ensure the vitality of the computer networks of all entities of the CITMA), taking into account that a high percentage of the staff is working from home as part of the measures adopted by the Cuban Government. I also work on improving connectivity in high-impact entities for science and the environment, which contribute to the information needed by of our researchers.

Ensuring and promoting timely and accurate information on COVID-19, climate change, the environment and science, are, from isolation, my greatest contribution nowadays.”

“COVID-19: Social science revisions, women and rights”, by Hania Sholkamy

Dr. Hania Sholkamy, professor at the Social Research Center of The American University in Cairo, and member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the UNESCO Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme offers three succinct comments on the current pandemic.

1. The pandemic, and the global reactions to it, invite social science revisions rather than social science assertions. The incredible speed with which science and technology have geared up to suggest options, solutions and analysis is understandable given the nature of the challenge. But the soft voices expressing social concerns or analysis (that I have read or noted) could potentially and should urgently think of the future and how society can organize itself to meet new demands for a humanity/ covid-19 coexistence. In other words, what does social science have to say and how can it contribute to a fair and effective response?

2. Lockdown is an experience that women in patriarchal societies knew well. The ways in which distancing further undermines the weak can enable thinking about equality and capability that factors in location and isolation. The gender aspects of this new world are troubling as on the one hand health and social careers are now recognized as heroes and many of them are women, on the other the prospect of lay-offs, winding down of informal and occasional work arrangements, heavy burdens of home making and lack of access to technology and to tools of connection with non-domestic allies are unfairly affecting women.

3.The vast challenges and breakdown in education is well recognized by UNESCO but how are governments being advised on the moral and rights-based approach to dealing with these breakdowns in resource poor countries?

“Covid-19 vs. Intercultural Dialogue: What Impact?”, by Fethi Mansouri

Professor Fethi Mansouri, UNESCO Chairholder, Cultural Diversity and Social Justice, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia responded to Ann-Belinda Preis, Chief of the UNESCO Intercultural Dialogue.

Ann-Belinda Preis (ABP): How is the COVID-19 pandemic impacting the social fabric of societies across the world? 

COVID-19 has obviously been a very important event globally. It is primarily a health challenge but it has also been a deeply social challenge. It has impacted societies, individuals and communities in many ways.

Probably one of the obvious challenges is how to minimise the health risks of the way we used to live our lives, which depended very much on contact and mobility and travel. All of the sudden we are in a situation where all of those things needed to be cut down. People had to avoid others, they had to embark on a social distancing practice. They had to also make sure that they have all that is required for them to survive and to live away from their places of work, places of worship, places of entertainment, places of sports etc. etc.

So I think the challenge has been multidimensional and it has meant that we really had to rethink the way that we operate, as individuals, as groups and as communities.

And the more we go deeper into the pandemic in terms of its spread, the deeper these challenges also become, as people are starting to perhaps feel the strain of living and working in ways that do not allow them to interact.

And as we know, human beings are primarily social beings; they need the social interaction to be able to sustain what they do and they need the exchange and the contact, and they need to move around. So a lot of the characteristics that shaped our modern, or even post-modern life, have been impacted severely by COVID-19. 

Part of the impact of COVID-19 is not only the impact on individuals and on communities, but also the challenge of, for instance, educating the youth. And as we know, more than a billion young children the world over have now been impacted and they no longer go to schools, and that creates a lot of challenges in terms of how to ensure that those young people continue to receive their education through distance or online teaching, and there is obviously the impact on the global economy which is estimated to be in the vicinity of 10% of global GDP. That is a massive, massive hit to the global economy which will impact societies in the medium to long term, and again those kind of disruptions really reinforce and highlight the extent to which COVID-19 has been a challenge to the global community that is very much unlike any other challenge we have seen, at least since World War II. 

ABP : How does lack of contact and social interaction impact the broader Interculturla Dialogue (ICD) agenda, which is built on connectivity, contact and exchange?

This is perhaps where COVID-19 presents a significant challenge to the ICD agenda. Intercultural dialogue has, as one of its core premises, contact between people. And the reason why we have contact as a core premise is because there is an assumption that when people get to know one another, prejudice might be reduced, and that issues of discrimination might disappear.

So COVID-19 and its emphasis on social distancing means that a lot of what we would like to achieve through intercultural dialogue, in particular in bringing people together, bringing communities together, bringing diverse communities together (and diversity here means diversity of ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, nationalities etc.).

I think all of that now is being impacted because social distancing, whether it’s happening at the local level or whether it’s happening, as we know now, globally, means that we eliminate all forms of contact between individuals, between communities and between societies. And as we now know, not only are there restrictions on mobility and travel between countries, but there are restrictions even within countries, between cities and there are restrictions within cities between neighbourhoods and between communities.

The other challenge to ICD of course, is that intercultural dialogue is in itself an essential tool that we will need in the post-COVID-19 environment. We will need to renegotiate a new global compact, a new social contract, and I think dialogue will have to play a key role in that. So it is being perhaps compromised right now but it has a big role to play in the post-COVID-19 world that will emerge.

ABP : How are communities overcoming the access and support gaps recorded across societies?

It is interesting that of course societies and communities responded in ways that reflect the extent to which they have certain characteristics, they have certain structures, they have certain attributes, and also the extent to which they are developed, or not developed, or less developed. And across all those types of societies, communities have engaged in very creative ways in responding to COVID-19.

Be it responding to, really the problematic issue of social distancing, and we’ve seen a lot of videos of how communities have become creative, and how they maintain contact with their neighbours, with their loved ones etc. But also we’ve seen that a lot of communities have mobilised to raise, to collect and to distribute resources to those who are in need. And we’ve seen many initiatives whereby people have acted in a way that reflects a stronger solidarity locally than probably what was thought to be possible.

And we are still seeing many new initiatives across communities where people are not only spreading the message of needing to keep certain hygiene practices, in relation to washing hands and to getting the message across, but also in terms of ensuring that in particular those most vulnerable in our societies, the elderly, the disabled, those who are lacking in economic means, are able to access what they need to be able to survive in isolation. And I think we are seeing that kind of new form of solidarity emerge in the context of COVID-19. Now the challenge is how we are going to maintain that post-COVID-19 in terms of a new kind of global ethics.

And in all of this, of course social science has a very important role to play in understanding the dynamics of certain societies and why certain actions or certain initiatives might work better than others

ABP: What is the role of humanities and social sciences research in all of this?

COVID-19 is primarily a public health challenge, we all know that. It is about a very quickly-spreading virus and the challenge, the first challenge, is how the global community works together to stop the spread of this virus, or to “flatten the curve” as we are now referring to it. But also what we know is that COVID-19 has really presented itself as also a deeply social challenge, and as we know from previous experiences with other pandemics, we have to really listen to social research to understand how messaging works, to understand how human behaviour works, to understand how certain strategies may work in particular conditions, and other strategies do not work in those same conditions, and what we need to do to adjust the settings so that certain policies, certain strategies, might be optimally successful.

And in all of this, of course social science has a very important role to play in understanding the dynamics of certain societies and why certain actions or certain initiatives might work better than others. We need to be able to couch the public health messaging in ways that reflect our understanding of the local specificities, both in terms of cultures, in terms of social norms, in terms of values, in terms of behaviours.

There is no surprise that now there is a lot of reflection on why East Asian countries have managed to bring the spread of the pandemic under some sort of control much quicker than other societies in the West. There are many reflections now on the values in those East Asian societies, in particular the priority of collective, if you like, of the collective good – that someone has always to put the community ahead of their own interest.

Whereas in Western societies, we are still very much attached to the notion of individual rights, to the notion of liberties and the notion of “I can do what I want to do”, and so to get a message that goes counter to that is obviously very difficult to sustain. And again this is where we think that humanities and social sciences research has a big role to play.    

ABP: How do we envisage a post-COVID-19 global community? What challenges lie ahead?

There is no doubt that post-COVID-19 it will not be business as usual. Well at least we hope to not be business as usual. Why? Because if anything, COVID-19 has really exposed many positive but also many negative aspects of the global world order.

For a start, the interconnectedness is there to see; if there is a problem somewhere on planet Earth, doesn’t matter where it is, it will have serious implications for the global community, and therefore it is in the interest – the best interest – of the global community that we work together to build and scale up the preparedness of all societies to the dangers of pandemics like COVID-19.

As we know, the strength of the health preparedness will be as good as the least strong public health system in the world. That is, if we allow a particular society not to have the requisite means to really combat the spread of COVID-19 for instance, it means that the virus will not be suppressed and it means that the virus will re-emerge at some point in time and it will keep on presenting a challenge to all of us globally.

So that interconnectedness is a key message that we need to understand, but we need to understand in ways that we develop, for instance, economic goals in ways that we work with less developed and underdeveloped societies, to build their capabilities across a whole lot of areas, including health, including economics, including employment, including creative innovation.

So I think we really need to understand what we need to do differently post COVID-19 so that every single individual living in every single country in the world will have a fighting chance of being able to fight against the spread of pandemics. So I think social inequalities, as reflected in this particular challenge, is one thing that we need to look at differently post COVID-19 because failure to do so means that the price is going to be extremely high for the global community.

Diversity is a core advantage and it needs to be upheld as a core advantage in the face of global challenges

ABP: How can we all contribute to building a more equitable global community post-pandemic?

Every individual has a role to play and regardless of where you are located, you have a role to play. I think starting with issues of inclusive design of policies, also issues of being not only tolerant but respectful of diversity. And unfortunately some of the problems we saw in the immediate aftermath of the spread of COVID-19 is a spike in racism against particular communities, and so I think all of us have a role to play in ensuring that we do not start to be even more divided as communities, more divided as individuals, and that we develop the solidarity that is required for us to face up to challenges, major global challenges.

And this time it is COVID-19, but we know that climate change will remain as a big challenge, we know that economic inequalities will remain as a big challenge, we know that the digital gap, the growing digital gap globally, will remain as a critical challenge.

And for those challenges to be overcome we will rely on every individual, every single citizen in every single jurisdiction to do the right thing, which is to embrace an ethics of care towards all human beings regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, rather than simply to say that we will only reserve our care, or all the good values, for people who look like us or people who live right next door to us, or for people who share our worldviews.

Diversity is a core advantage and it needs to be upheld as a core advantage in the face of global challenges. COVID-19, climate change, economic sustainability; all of these challenges will require us to operate differently as individuals, as communities and as societies.


Professor Fethi Mansouri, PhD, is Director of the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University in Melbourn, Australia. He is UNESCO Chairholder, Cultural Diversity and Social Justice and UNESCO UniTwin Convenor, Inter-religious Dialogue and Intercultural Understanding (IDIU) (http://www.unesco-cdsj.com/)

Email: fethi.mansouri@deakin.edu.auhttps://www.fethimansouri.com/

http://www.adi.deakin.edu.au | http://www.unesco-cdsj.com/

Recent/Current Scholarly Books:

(2019), ‘Contesting the Theological Foundations of Islamism and Violent Extremism’. Palgrave, NY.https://www.palgrave.com/br/book/9783030027186

 (2019, 2nd ed in French): ‘L’interculturalisme à la croisée des chemins: perspectives comparatives sur les concepts, les politiques et les pratiques. UNESCO Publishing, Paris.https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000369243

Open letter from African intellectuals to leaders over COVID-19

Dozens of prominent intellectuals, writers and academics from across Africa have co-signed an open letter addressed to the continent’s leaders, asking them to use the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to spur “radical change” in direction.

“In the call, we urge African leaders to also think beyond the current crisis as a symptom of deep structural problems Africa has to confront if it is to become one day sovereign and an actor that contributes to the new global order,” Amy Niang, one of the academics behind the initiative, told Al Jazeera. “We are calling for a second independence.”

Read the open letter below:

Letter Addressed to African Leaders Concerning the COVID-19 Crisis

The threats that are hanging over the African continent with regards to the spread of COVID-19 demand our individual and collective attention. The situation is critical. Yet this is not about mitigating another ‘African’ humanitarian crisis but to diffuse the potentially damaging effects of a virus that has shaken the global order and put under question the bases of our living-together.

The coronavirus pandemic lays bare that which well-to-do middle classes in African cities have thus far refused to confront. In the past 10 years, various media, intellectuals, politicians and international financial institutions have clung to an idea of an Africa on the move, of Africa as the new frontier of capitalist expansion; an Africa on the path to ’emerging’ with growth rates that are the envy of northern countries. Such a representation, repeated at will to the point of becoming a received truth, has been torn apart by a crisis that has not entirely revealed the extent of its destructive potential. At the same time, any prospect of an inclusive multilateralism – ostensibly kept alive by years of treaty-making – is forbidding. The global order is disintegrating before our very eyes, giving way to a vicious geopolitical tussle. The new context of economic war of all against all leaves out countries of the Global South so to speak stranded. Once again we are reminded of their perennial status in the world order in-the-making: that of docile spectators.

Like a tectonic storm, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to shatter the foundations of states and institutions whose profound failings have been ignored for too long. It is impossible to list these, suffice it to mention chronic under-investment in public health and fundamental research, limited achievements in food self-sufficiency, the mismanagement of public finances, the prioritization of road and airport infrastructures at the expense of human well-being. All of this has in fact been the object of an abundant specialized research, except that it seems to have escaped attention in spheres of governance on the continent. The management of the ongoing crisis constitutes a most glaring evidence of this gap.

On the necessity to govern with compassion

Adopting the all-securitarian model of ‘containment’ of northern countries – often without much care to specific contexts – many African countries have imposed a brutal lockdown upon their populations; here and there, violation of curfew measures has been met with police violence. If such containment measures have met the agreement of middle classes shielded from crowded living conditions with some having the possibility to work from home, they have proved punitive and disruptive for those whose survival depends on informal activities.

Let’s be clear: we are not advocating an impossible choice between economic security vs. health security but we wish to insist on the necessity for African governments to take into account the chronic precarity that characterizes the majority of their populations. Yet, as a continent that is familiar with pandemic outbreaks, Africa has a head start in the management of large-scale health crises. However, it should gird itself against complacency.

Here and here, civil society organizations have shown tremendous solidarity and creativity. Despite however the great dynamism of individual actors, these initiatives could in no way make up for the chronic unpreparedness and the structural deficiencies that states themselves will have to mitigate. Rather than sit idle and wait for better fortune, we must endeavor to rethink the basis of our common destiny from our own specific historical and social context and the resources we have.

Our belief is that ’emergency’ cannot, and should not constitute a mode of governance. We must instead be seized by the real urgency, which is to reform public policy, to make them work in favor of African populations and according to African priorities. In short, it is imperative to put forth the value of every human being regardless of status, over and beyond any logic of profit-making, domination or power capture.

Beyond the state of emergency

African leaders can and should propose to their societies a new political idea of Africa. For this is a question of survival, fundamentally, and not a matter of rhetorical flourish. Serious reflections are needed on the functioning of state institutions, on the function of a state and the place of juridical norms in the distribution and the balancing of power. This is best achieved on the basis of ideas adapted to realities across the continent. The realization of the second wave of our political independence will depend on political creativity as well as our capacity to take charge of our common destiny. Once again, various isolated efforts are already bearing fruit. They deserve to be heeded, debated and amply encouraged.

Furthermore, PanAfricanism also needs a new lease of life. It has to be reconciled with its original inspiration following decades of shortcomings. If progress on continental integration has been slow, the reason has much to do with an orientation informed by the orthodoxy of market liberalism. In consequence, the coronavirus pandemic reveals the deficit of a collective continental response, both in the health and other sectors. More than ever, we call upon leaders to ponder the necessity to adopt a concerted approach to governance sectors related to public health, fundamental research in all disciplines and to public policy. In the same vein, health has to be conceived as essential public good, the status of health workers needs to be enhanced, hospital infrastructure need to be upgraded to a level that allows everybody, including leaders themselves, to receive adequate treatment in Africa. Failure to implement these reforms would be cataclysmic.

This letter is a small reminder, a reiteration of the obvious: that the African continent must take its destiny back into its own hands. For it is in the most trying moments that new/innovative orientations must be explored and lasting solutions adopted.

The present letter is addressed to leaders of all walks of life; to the people of Africa and to all those that are committed to re/thinking the continent. We invite them to seize the opportunity of the coronavirus crisis to joint efforts in rethinking an African state in the service of the well-being of its people, to break with a model of development based on the vicious cycle of indebtedness, to break with the orthodox vision of growth for the sake of growth, and of profit for the sake of profit.

The challenge for Africa is no less than the restoration of its intellectual freedom and a capacity to create – without which no sovereignty is conceivable. It is to break with the outsourcing of our sovereign prerogatives, to reconnect with local configurations, to break with sterile imitation, to adapt science, technology and research to our context, to elaborate institutions on the basis of our specificities and our resources, to adopt an inclusive governance framework and endogenous development, to create value in Africa in order to reduce our systemic dependence.

More crucially, it is essential to remember that Africa has sufficient material and human resources to build a shared prosperity on an egalitarian basis and in respect of the dignity of each and everyone. The dearth of political will and the extractive practices of external actors can no longer be used as excuse for inaction. We no longer have a choice: we need a radical change in direction. Now is the time!

Have signed:

Wole Soyinka (Nobel Prize in Literature 1986)
Makhily Gassama (Essayist)
Cornel West (Princeton University)
Kwame Anthony Appiah (New York University)
Henry Louis Gates Jr (Harvard University)
Cheikh Hamidou Kane (Writer)
Odile Tobner (Librairie des Peuples Noirs, Cameroon)
Iva Cabral (daughter of Amilcar Cabral, University of Mindelo)
Olivette Otele (Bristol University)
Boubacar Boris Diop (American University of Nigeria)
Siba N’Zatioula Grovogui (Cornell University)
Véronique Tajdo (Writer)
Francis Nyamnjoh (University of Cape Town)
Ibrahim Abdullah (Fourah Bay College)
Sean Jacobs (The New School)
Oumar Ba (Morehouse College)
Maria Paula Meneses (Coimbra University)
Amadou Elimane Kane (PanAfrican Institute of Culture and Research)
Inocencia Mata (University of Lisbon)
Anthony Obeng (The African Institute for Economic Development and Planning)
Aisha Ibrahim (Fouray Bay College)
Makhtar Diouf (Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar)
Koulsy Lamko (Writer)
Mahamadou Lamine Sagna (American University of Nigeria)
Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco (Economist, Mozambique)
Touriya Fili-Tullon (University of Lyon 2)
Kako Nubupko (University of Lome)
Rosania da Silva (University Foundation for the Development of Education)
Amar Mohand-Amer (CRASC, Oran)
Mame Penda Ba (Gaston Berger University of St Louis)
Medhi Alioua (International University of Rabat)
Rama Salla Dieng (University of Edinburgh)
Yoporeka Somet (Philosopher, Egyptologist, Burkina Faso)
Gazibo Mamoudou (University of Montreal)
Fatou Kine Camara (Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar)
Jonathan Klaaren (University of the Witwatersrand)
Rosa Cruz e Silva (Agostinho Neto University)
Ismail Rashid (Vassar College)
Abdellahi Hajjat (Free University of Brussels)
Maria das Neves Baptista de Sousa (Lusiada University of Sao Tome e Príncipe)
Lazare Ki-Zerbo (Philosopher, Guyana)
Lina Benabdallah (Wake Forest University)
Iolanda Evora (University of Lisbon)
Kokou Edem Christian Agbobli (The Universite du Quebec a Montreal)
Opeyemi Rabiat Akande (Harvard University)
Lourenço do Rosario (Mozambique Polytechnic University)
Issa Ndiaye (University of Bamako)
Yolande Bouka (Queen’s University)
Adama Samake (Felix Houphouet Boigny University)
Bruno Sena Martins (Coimbra University)
Charles Ukeje (University of Ile Ife)
Isaie Dougnon (Fordham University)
Cláudio Alves Furtado (Federal University of Bahia, University of Cap-Verde)
Ebrima Ceesay (University of Birmingham)
Rita Chaves (University of Sao Paulo)
Benaouda Lebdai (Le Mans University)
Guillaume Johnson (CNRS, Paris-Dauphine)
Ayano Mekonnen (University of Missouri)
Thierno Diop (Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar)
Mbemba Jabbi (University of Texas)
Abdoulaye Kane (University of Florida)
Muhammadu M.O. Kah (American University of Nigeria & University of the Gambia)
Alpha Amadou Barry Bano (University of Sonfonia)
Yacouba Banhoro (University of Ouaga 1 Joseph Ki-Zerbo)
Dialo Diop (Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar)
Rahmane Idrissa (African Studies Center, Leiden)
El Hadji Samba Ndiaye (Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar)
Benabbou Senouci (University of Oran)
José Luís Cabaco (Universidade Tecnica de Mocambique)
Mouhamadou Ngouda Mboup (Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar)
Hassan Remanoun (University of Oran)
Salif Diop (Universite Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar)
Narciso Matos (Mozambique Polytechnic University)
Mame Thierno Cisse (Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar)
Demba Moussa Dembele (ARCADE, Senegal)
Many Camara (University of Angers)
Ibrahima Wane (Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar)
Thomas Tieku (King’s University College, Western University) Jibrin Ibrahim (Center for Democracy and Development)
El Hadji Samba Ndiaye (Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar)
Jose Luis Cabaco (Technical University of Mozambique)
Firoze Manji (Daraja Press)
Mansour Kedidir (CRASC, Oran)
Abdoul Aziz Diouf (Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar)
Mohamed Nachi (University of Liege)
Alain Kaly (Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro)
Last Dumi Moyo (American University of Nigeria)
Hafsi Bedhioufi (University of Manouba)
Abdoulaye Niang (Gaston Berger University of Saint-Louis)
Robtel Neajai Pailey (University of Oxford)
Slaheddine Ben Frej (Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciencees of Tunis)
Victor Topanou (Universite d’Abomey-Calavi, Bénin)
Paul Ugor (Illinois State University)
Djibril Tamsir Niane (Writer)
Laroussi Amri (University of Tunis)
Karine Ndjoko Ioset (University of Wuerzburg and University of Lubumbashi)
Magueye Kassa (Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar)
Lionel Zevounou (Paris Nanterre University)
Amy Niang (University of Witwatersrand)
Ndongo Samba Sylla (Economist, Senegal)

17 April 2020https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/open-letter-african-intellectuals-leaders-covid-19-200417140154396.html