ADDIS ABABA, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) — African Union (AU) foreign ministers on Thursday concluded the 40th ordinary session of the AU Executive Council as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, insecurity and socio-economic development took center stage.
Topics such as the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasing threats of insecurity from conflicts and terrorism, and the socio-economic development on the continent dominated the two-day session.
The session of the AU foreign ministers was held at the headquarters of the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, physically for the first time since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
The ministers emphasized that progress in vaccination against COVID-19 on the continent remains very slow, and made increasing access of all Africans to the vaccines a priority for the AU.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the session, AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat noted that the continent needs 454 billion U.S. dollars to respond to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.
Other mechanisms that have been put in place to support Africa’s fight against COVID-19 include the establishment of the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust as a centralized purchasing agent on behalf of the AU members, to secure the necessary vaccines and financing resources for achieving Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy, which targets vaccinating a minimum of 60 percent of Africa’s population.
The Executive Council session also underscored that the full operation of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is underway, will also strengthen the AU’s capacity to support member states’ public health institutions to detect, prevent, control and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats.
Meanwhile, the meeting concluded that the socio-economic impact of the pandemic has translated into a recession witnessed for the first time in decades, and has led to rising inflation and a debt burden on member states.
UN Under Secretary General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, Vera Songwe, also highlighted the depressed economic growth, and a high level of unemployment.
“The economic cost of managing the pandemic has been high. Debt to GDP (gross domestic product) has risen from 40 percent in 2014 to almost 70 percent today. While in 2014, only four African countries were at high risk of debt distress, today 17 countries are at high risk of debt distress. Already, four countries are in debt distress,” she said.
The two-day ministerial meeting, which preceded the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU slated for Feb. 5-6, discussed a host of issues, including the AU’s financing, African candidatures within the international system, the implementation of Agenda 2063, and institutional reforms, among others.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of the AU as a successor to the Organization of African Unity.