President Lazarus Chakwera officially took up chairmanship of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) with a veiled attack on rich nations to ensure equality in distribution and production of Covid-19 vaccines.
The President, who has succeeded President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique at the helm of the 16-member regional bloc for the next 12 months, said poor countries, mostly from the global south, were on the receiving end of the imbalance.
Chakwera said: “The inequalities and disparities in accessing Covid-19 vaccines are seriously hindering efforts to save the lives of millions in the Sadc and must be tackled head on.
“I, therefore, want to make a larger point to the rest of the global community. The inequalities and disparities we are seeing in the distribution and production of Covid-19 vaccines are symptomatic of an old geopolitical framework that is no longer working, no longer sustainable and no longer acceptable.”
Reacting to the vaccines issue, local health rights activist Maziko Matemba said while the leaders have rightly highlighted the disparities between the west and Africa, they failed to indicate what they are doing to ensure Sadc member States are able to produce own vaccines.
He said: “We would want to see the increase of domestic resources towards the health sector of 15 percent as a minimum to show commitment in fighting Covid-19 and other health-related challenges that are suffocating the Sadc region’s development agenda.”
Malawi and many poor countries have depended on the multi-donor facility, Covax, for Covid-19 vaccines.
In his address at the 41st Ordinary Summit of Sadc Heads of State and Government at Bingu International Convention Centre in Lilongwe, Chakwera also reiterated calls for Africa to get at least one seat on the United Nations Security Council, saying Africans have the moral duty to refuse to be of second class status in their participation in UN decisions that affect their peace, stability and sustainability.
He said: “Time has come for us to insist that Africa must have at least one permanent seat on the UN Security Council.”
On her part, outgoing Sadc executive secretary Stergomena Lawrence Tax said despite the bloc being generally stable, the region is under severe threat from various shocks.
In her farewell address at the end of her eight-year tenure, she cited high unemployment rate, poverty, disasters, pandemics, acts of terrorism, violence and cyber security threats as key risks derailing Sadc’s development efforts.
Tax said: “As I exit, the region remains generally stable, with some areas of turbulence that we need to continue to manage collectively… The region needs to remain alert while strengthening mechanisms put in place to address such threats.”
Coincidentally, she was sworn-in as Sadc executive secretary on August 18 2013 in Malawi.
Tax said while the region progressed well in terms of macroeconomic convergence over the years, on one hand, the bloc has been severely hit by a dual shock of the Covid-19 pandemic and the fall in commodity prices.
The Sadc macroeconomic convergence criteria envision creating a stable macroeconomic environment by safeguarding the bloc from excessive fluctuations due to external factors.
On intra-Sadc trade, she informed the leaders that such a variable has been fluctuating from 21.6 percent in 2016, slowing down to 20 percent in 2017 and to 19.3 percent in 2018.
On his part, African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat said in recent years Sadc has demonstrated a deeper and strong regional integration, stressing that the region has also achieved a lot of milestones worth cherishing.
Later in the afternoon, Chakwera and all visiting leaders had a luncheon at the venue before going into a closed-door session. The President was also expected to host a banquet for the visiting leaders last evening.
The summit wraps up today with the signing of various legal instruments, swearing-in of new Sadc executive secretary and the reading of a communique and later post-summit press briefing.